Build a Better Back

The often neglected back is a very important group of muscles. It helps us in many functional movements, from pulling to lifting and supports our upper bodies all day long. Don’t neglect it any longer. Make it stronger with the following medley of exercises.

  • The barbell bent-over row. Remember to keep your back straight with this one. Otherwise, injury can result.
  • Rear pull-up. Yes, pull-ups are a great exercise for your back, specifically the lats. The rear pull-up, where your head goes under the bar is a little more difficult and requires a little more work. Perform them assisted, if necessary.
  • One arm dumbbell bent-over row. Knee on bench, bend over and pull the dumbbell up. Really attempt to flex the traps as you perform this exercise.
  • Dumbbell shrug. Again - more traps work. Shoulders go straight up and straight down. Bend over slightly and again, focus on flexing your traps as you come up.
  • Deadlift. Working the large bundle of muscles along the spine, the erector spinae, the deadlift also targets the abdominals, shoulders and leg muscles. Functionally, the deadlift movement is very important.
  • Back extensions. More erector spinae work, also targeting the lower back or waist. Don’t hyperextend too much. Like the other back work, focus on the muscles as they flex.

Top 10 Snacks

Let’s face it. We all need the occasional snack. But what to snack on? For fit sake, here’s a list of the top 10 snacks to keep you going when the going gets tough.

  1. Almonds. High in monounsaturated fats - the good kind. A handful of almonds a day has also been shown to lower cholesterol and keep off the lbs.
  2. Berries. Fresh berries are nature’s antioxidants. Low in calories, they’re a good snack as well.
  3. Multigrain baked nacho chips and guacomole. Again - more of the good fats. Plus, avocado is super high in protein.
  4. Pickles. Low in calories. Super low in calories. Some jars will even go as far as saying 0 calories. However, watch for the high sodium. Be choosy and look for a jar of low sodium pickles.
  5. Fat free yogurt. I know a girl who says that men eating yogurt out of the little containers is unmanly. She’s probably right, but yogurt is so damn good, it’s worth it to look like a sissy boy sometimes. High in protein and vitamins, fat free yogurt is a great snack. Probiotic yogurts are even better, helping the digestive system.
  6. Beef jerky. It looks disgusting, but smells great and tastes even better. Super low in calories. Super high in protein. Again, however, just like the pickles, watch out for the salt.
  7. An apple. Apples are simple. You can pick one up and eat it without any preparation. Apples contain no cholesterol, no fat and are fairly low in calories.
  8. A protein shake. No, don’t be fooled by the smoothies sold at the coffee pub - they’re generally loaded with calories. I’m talking about your own protein powder and water\milk shakes. They’ll kill the hunger pangs while giving your muscles the protein boost they deserve.
  9. Turkey bacon. Much lower in fat than the oinking alternative, turkey bacon can be a decent high protein snack. Cook up a bunch of strips on the weekend and keep them in some tupperware in the fridge. Need a snack? Just grab a couple strips - it tastes great cold.
  10. Carrots. High in dietary fiber, vitamin A and other nutrients, carrots are easy to pack in a ziplock for the road or to munch on while watching the tube.

Benedikt Magnusson

I think this video is great. Benedikt deadlifts 426kg (that’s over 939lbs!). He’s somewhat spastic about it, which makes it all the more entertaining, but man is he strong.

The Fit Blog - The Best Of

Best of albums are… well… the best (assuming decent artists, that is).  Actually, they’re more of filler, I think.  So, while I’m away in Greece, lounging on the black sand of Santorini, here’s a collection of my fav posts - a sort of “Best of the Fit Blog”, if you will, to tide you over until I return with some new content.

The Fit Blog Tip #4

The other day at work, I learned that many of my coworkers don’t eat breakfast! I was really quite amazed. One of them said that he did eat in the morning, but then later admitted that his breakfast consisted of a simple cup of coffee. I couldn’t believe it. So here’s a fit tip that probably won’t get read by anyone who should read it. Eat your breakfast. Even just a slice of whole grain toast with some peanut butter and a glass of milk would be better than nothing. But if you have the time, have a bowl of oatmeal or bran flakes and maybe a yogurt and some fresh fruit. Of course, some foods are way better than others, but at least eat something. When it comes to a healthy diet, skipping out on breakfast is an avoidable mistake.

Trans 333 - the 333km Run

I’ve been running 5km twice a week. I haven’t done a race in 2 years, but plan on attending the Run for the Cure on September 30th in Guelph and possibly another race in October. On a good day, 5km will take me just over 21 minutes to complete. Certainly not an olympic time, but for me it gets my heart rate up significantly enough that I wouldn’t even be able to fathom a 333km run across the desert!

That’s right, the Trans 333 is a grueling 333km “run”. It is the longest non-stop desert footrace in the World. Although it is usually held in different locations every year, in November, 2007, the race is scheduled to take place in the white Sahara desert of Egypt for the second time.

In 2006, the race was held in Niger, Africa. An interesting first hand account of the race can be found here, from one of the runners, Mark Cockbain. From what he says, simply getting to the start of the race, “The Tree of Tenere”, was a hardship. Mark then tells about his 81 and a half hour extreme run, how he trudged through the sand and rocks, with blisters and swollen feet, to cross the finish line in second place with an Austrian he was running with. His tale is definitely worth a read.

Why You Should Drink More Water

Sure, you’ve no doubt heard that you should be drinking more water. But why? Here’s a list of 7 reasons.

  • Water contains no calories. Unlike fruit juices and sugary drinks, water will hydrate you and quench your thirst while not affecting glucose or insulin levels.
  • Our bodies are more than half water. It is essential that we get enough water in our system on a daily basis to maintain ourselves.
  • Drinking enough water throughout the day will keep your organs, like your liver and kidneys healthy and working properly.
  • Drinking water is virtually free. True, many people these days purchase bottled water, but the difference between that water and the water coming out of your tap is probably minimal. Fortunately water is one of the few things left on this planet that we can still get for free (sort of).
  • Diet sodas have artificial sweeteners and other chemicals that could potentially pose health issues (although there is currently no direct evidence of this). At the very least, artificially sweetened drinks keep your “sweet tooth” wanting more sweet stuff which might come in the form of a candy bar. Water is plain tasting and could help aleviate your “need” for sweets.
  • No stains. An often overlooked benefit of drinking water is that if it spills, cleanup is simple and there shouldn’t be any worry about stains on your new shirt.
  • Ever hear of the saying, “8 glasses of water a day will keep the dentist away?” Well, neither have I. I just made it up. However, it could be somewhat true. Less sugar intake from sugary pops and fruit juices would definitely be a good thing for cavity prevention.

On Vacation!

Today my wife and I left for Greece for a 10 day adventure getaway.  While I’m gone, I’ll have some articles getting posted on a regular basis.  A good blogging tip is to stay prepared and alway have some extra posts up your sleeve.  WordPress has a future post option that’s great.  Enough blogging…  Time to relax and not think about working out or running or eating right.  Vacation is down time and I intend to take full advantage of it.

Fitness Toolbox - 60+ Fitness Related Links

Mashable, the world’s largest social networking blog, has a list of 60+ health and fitness site links.  Some of them I’ve reviewed in on The Fit Blog, but there are others there too that might be worth a look.

Check  out the list here.

More Evidence Suggesting Aspartame Safe

It goes without saying that diet colas are an extremely popular drink. These days, diet anything is popular. Despite their popularity, most people will agree that there is much confusion about artificial sweeteners, specifically aspartame, and whether or not there are any side effects from continued consumption. The confusion no doubt stems from the vigorous public controversy and the shady circumstances surrounding the FDA approval of the artificial sweetener in 1981*.

Some studies, in the past have suggested connections between aspartame and cancer. In 2005, the Ramazzini Foundation published a study in Environmental Health Perspectives that demonstrated how aspartame administered to rats caused a significant increase in leukemia and malignant tumors. The study was later dismissed as the FDA and other international food and drug bodies “concluded” that the findings had shortcomings and the cancers could not be found to be related strictly to aspartame. Although Ramazzini held steadfast to the study’s results and has since performed other research with similar findings, the food and drug administrations continue to reject them.

In 2006, a large human study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute found no significant link between aspartame and cancer. Critics of this particular study, however, are quick to point out that it looked at only a short period of consumption.

Yesterday, a press release came out highlighting a sweeping review of aspartame research studies saying that there is “no evidence that the non-nutritive sweetener causes cancer, neurological damage or other health problems in humans”. This, comes as good news for individuals weary of their aspartame consumption.

The review from an “international expert panel from 10 universities and medical schools” looked at over 500 reports dating from the 1970s to the most recent. Never before has such a group been put to the task of such an extensive review on the sweetener. The review found that aspartame, as it is consumed by human populations (including even high amount consumers), does not cause cancer promoting activity or neurological effects. The review also states that aspartame does not have any adverse effects on reproduction and despite what some recent studies have suggested, does not contribute to obesity. In fact, the review suggests that diet soda contributes to weight loss.

No matter how many reviews and studies take place, aspartame is a sweetener that is certainly going to be forever criticized, resulting in much consumer confusion. Personally, I enjoy my caffeine free diet cola. But like with everything else, at the end of the day moderation is key.

The press release can be found here.

Quick Little Workout That Will Kick Your Butt

I usually run on Tuesday nights, but my wife decided to go to the gym so I thought I’d tag along. For some reason it was a ghost town in there. It gets like that once in a while. Some nights its packed, some nights it’s seriously empty. But I like it quiet. It gives me a chance to hog an area or machine. This is a benefit of a smaller gym when several mega gyms exist in the same city (other benefits here).

I decided on the following workout.

As many sets of the following with as little rest in between:

  • 10 kipping pullups
  • 15 pushups

I managed to squeeze out 8 sets in about 15 minutes. My arms are a little sore and the calluses on my hands look terrible. But it was good. Not only does a workout like this help build muscle, but doing max sets with as little rest as possible also gets the heart rate up.

TRX Fitness Anywhere

group-hip-hinge.jpgWhile having gym equipment at hand is a serious bonus to any workout, as I’ve mentioned before, the effectiveness of bodyweight workouts shouldn’t be underestimated. By performing seemingly simple bodyweight exercises, you can still have a very good routine while benefiting from the ability to workout at places other than a smelly gym.

Enter the TRX Fitness Anywhere system. What is essentially a nylon trap with handles on each end enables you to extend your bodyweight exercise repertoire and perform some neat exercises that would be probably be difficult to do without something like it.

The TRX Fitness Anywhere strap mounts on your door, over an I-beam, or over some other structurally sound mounting point. From there, either by holding onto the handles or strapping your feet through them, you can perform a variety of interesting suspension bodyweight exercises such as the “Atomic Press” (think pushup combined with a hanging leg raise). A bunch of demos of the possible exercises are available on the TRX website.

The TRX system was developed by Randy Hetrick, during his years as part of elite Navy Seals teams for use in quarters where sufficient exercise equipment was scant. As time went on and as it became more and more apparent that he had a good fitness product on his hands, Randy made continued modifications to the system, bringing it to where it is now.

According to a NYT article, the TRX Fitness Anywhere has “entered the mainstream”, becoming part of over 1,000 gyms throughout the U.S., being used by individual trainers and for group classes. TRX has also been used for pro Football training.

The Exercise Equipment Expert has a good review and video of the TRX Fitness Anywhere system and highly praised it for not only helping to give a good workout, but for its relative inexpensiveness as well.

The Power Plate

The Fitness industry is loathe with individuals out to make a buck on unknowledged suckers, most of whom would try anything to lose weight. Turn on the shopping channel and if it’s not jewelery or a home stereo component that they’re advertising, it’ll most likely be a “fitness” product. And for a while, these items sometimes garner the interest of dieters worldwide. Case in point, the Power Plate.

The Power Plate looks like a doctor’s scale with handle bars. Step on it and turn it on and it begins to vibrate intensely. The makers of the machine say that the machine is “the premium vibration device powering a new dimension in wellness solutions for all ages, lifestyles and physical abilities.” They cite benefits of using the Power Plate, including improvement in blood circulation, increased flexibility, bone density and strength as well as decreased cellulite. And they claim all of this in faster, less frequent workouts than you would typically do.

My initial gut reaction to this is that it’s bogus - yet another expensive workout gimmick. However, a quick search in Google reveals hundreds of sites and news articles all seemingly proclaiming the vibrating machine’s greatness. Some articles even go as far as describing how celebrities like Madona have successfully used it. But I just can’t believe it. How can a vibrating platform be a substitute for a normal workout?

I could continue to write about why I feel that the Power Plate isn’t worth its $10,000 cost and why it would be the biggest paper weight purchase anyone would make, but over on, Sal Marinello has written a pretty good article that pretty much sums up what I’d have to say.

Sure the Power Plate may have some health benefits. The blood circulation and flexibility claims seem within the realm of possibilities. But don’t get trapped in the hype of self-proclaimed super machines like the Power Plate. There’s a reason why the components of a good workout routine hasn’t changed much in thousands of years. Exercise unfortunately requires work. There’s no way around it. If you want to build muscle or lose weight, you’re gonna have to get sweaty at regular intervals and spend some time actually working out.

My New Nike+ IPod

 The other day I went out for lunch with a friend and he completely convinced me to get a Nike+ Ipod for my running. Today I got it. I don’t know why I hadn’t purchased this $39CAD device ages ago. It is seriously awesome. Read on to find out about my first experience with it.
Read more, click here…