Pushup Variations

Without further ado, I present my second attempt at an exercise video demonstration. This time, I cover pushups and variations thereof.

Pushups are often thought of as a simple bodyweight exercise and are pushed aside in favour of the infamous bench press. It’s unfortunate because pushups are a great exercise. Once again, it’s a case of simplicity being grossly underestimated. 50 consecutive pushups is an exercise worthy of only quite fit individuals. And once the standard pushup becomes a breeze, there are a multitude of variations to be taken on. In fact, there is probably no exercise like it, in its ability to get increasingly more difficult through subtle variations.

With this video, I try to go through a bunch of these variations and I’ve arranged it in an order that I believe to be from easiest to most difficult. I admit that I struggled with the single arm pushups at the end and as such, used a fancy video dissolve in order to cover it up (although with little success). Regardless, please enjoy…

p.s. For those of you interested in who the band is, it’s a Canadian band named Bedouin Soundclash from their 2006 album, Sounding a Mosaic (which, IMHO, is a fantasic album).

Is it Just Me, or is Google Having Issues This Weekend?

I know that there was planned adsense maintenance yesterday, but all weekend, I’ve been having issues getting to numerous Google sites.  Adsense ads have been flaky at best.  The URL, pagead2.googlesyndication.com has been timing out, not just on my site but on other sites.  This, in turn, has caused some slow page load times.  The sidebar has been most affected.  This isn’t so bad, but news.google.com is not working and I tried images.google.com, which returned links, but no images.

I’ve tried looking around for some information - groups.google.com mostly as news.google.com doesn’t seem to be working.  Not that it’s the end of the world or anything.  Having Google not working is far from having any real problems. I guess I’ve just grown to depend too much on the big G?

I first thought that perhaps it was my computer.  After all, I haven’t rebooted in days.  But the same problems are occurring on other machines.  My next thought was that maybe it was my ISP.  I get an error 500 when I try to sign into their site.  But I ssh’d into Dreamhost (where my websites are hosted) and used the text browser, Lynx.  It also would not go to news.google.com.  In fact, after 5 minutes of waiting, I gave up waiting any longer.

So the big Internet Crash of 2007 has perhaps finally occurred?  Maybe the “scheduled Google Adsense maintenance” had some adverse impacts.

The Benefits of Resistance Exercise for Breast Cancer Patients

It seems that there is no end to the benefits of exercising. A recent study conducted at the University of Alberta shows some benefits of resistance training for early-stage breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

The study, authored by Kerry Courneya, showed that resistance and aerobic training helped improve the self-esteem, muscular strength and lean body mass of individuals dealing with the “unfavorable changes” as a result of chemotherapy. Chemotherpy has a multitude of side effects that are generally related to these physical and mental areas. The study also found that resistance training improved the chemotherapy completion rate versus the sampled patients who were not doing any exercise.

Among women worldwide, breast cancer is the most common cancer and most common cause of cancer death. In 2007 it is expected to cause almost 50,000 deaths in the U.S. For us Canuks, we can help contribute to the possibility of a future without breast cancer by taking part in the CIBC Run for the Cure on September 30. The event will take place in 53 communities across Canada, and together we will be raising millions of dollars to help fund breast cancer research and awareness programs.

I’ll personally be running the 5k. However, 1km runs are also available in some communities for beginner runners and individuals who would be walking or are otherwise unable to complete a full run. For people who will be unable to attend a run, donations can be made at the CIBC Run for the Cure website.

Waking Early Increases Vascular Risk?

via Bloomberg

I’ve alway envied people who are capable of getting up super early in the morning. So much extra time on their hands. Time to get up to date on the latest headlines or go for an early morning jog. I tried it a couple of times, but I couldn’t get used to running in the cold darkness that the early mornings presented.

But I tend to go to sleep later in the evening (around midnight), and getting as much rest as possible is super important for maintaining muscle and a healthy weight. However, there could, in fact, be more severe consequences for not sleeping in a little longer. A recent study from the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine in Japan suggests that “getting out of bed before 5 a.m. might be bad for your health” possibly increasing the risk of “heart attack and stroke”.

The study found that “people who habitually rose before 5 a.m. had a 1.7 times greater risk of high blood pressure and were twice as likely to develop hardening of the arteries.” While the age old saying, “the early bird gets the worm” may still hold true for individuals trying to get more time to do things, the saying should possibly be revised to include a disclaimer. “The early bird gets the worm (possible side effects include heart attack and stroke).”

Soy Versus Whey Protein

It is often suggested that soy protein is not as effective as whey protein for building lean muscle mass. Many bodybuilders subscribe to this idea as if it’s a universal truth. But is it? Is Soy protein seriously less potent than whey?

According to a Ohio State University study published in 2004, like whey, soy protein produced a “statistically significant increase in lean body mass” in the subjects with little difference between the two.

Another point that some bodybuilders will make against using soy based protein supplements is the apparent high levels of estrogen found. While soy protein does contain higher estrogen-like molecules (Daidzein) than whey, they are significantly weaker than human estrogen estradiol and will not cause any problems in men.

I’m not saying that you should chuck your 100% whey protein and start using soy based protein. However, if you would rather not use protein supplements that are derived from animals, or possibly have an allergy to whey, then soy protein is a really good choice. In fact, soy based protein may even have benefits over whey. The same 2004 study suggested that while the whey sample group exhibited a deterioration in antioxidant function, the group that took the soy based protein showed a preservation of this function.

Shin Splints

Lately when I’ve been running, I’ve been getting shin splints. Shin splints are pains in the shins, caused by running, jumping or possibly even biking. For me, the pain might take a day or two to get better.

But why is it suddenly happening to me? According to wikipedia, shin splints can be attributed to landing on the heel for each stride. However, I tend to run from the balls of my feet so I can rule this out as the reason. What I believe to actually be the cause is improper foot pronation.

If foot pronation is not proper when landing, it can cause shin pain. Ideal pronation when running is to strike the ground on the outside of the shoe and roll inwards slightly. This is something that I concentrate on during the run in an attempt to correct, but the shin splints don’t go away.

I think the solution to these shin splints will be a new pair of shoes that have good arch support and a form meant for overpronaters. This may help keep my foot strikes properly aligned. Another method of shin splint prevention is to adequately warm up and stretch the shin before running - something that I rarely do.

I’d like to resolve the issue before the end of the month, when I’m scheduled to run in the CIBC Run for the Cure.

Increase your pull-up numbers

The pull-up is a fantastic exercise. It has a simplicity like few other exercises yet it does wonders for your upper body. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked and skipped out on. Few people at the gym will actually do pull-ups as part of their workout. Perhaps this is partly because many people can only do one or two consecutively and figure it isn’t worth the bother. Well I beg to differ - pull-ups are definitely worth the effort. You just have to work at them.

When I started doing pull-ups regularly at the gym, I was terrible. Without assistance, I’d attempt to wiggle my way up to the bar, legs spasming with a grimace on my face. Within a period of about 4 months, however, I was able to do 3 sets of 10 unassisted pull-ups without a problem. What was my secret?

First of all, I incorporated pull-ups into nearly every workout I did. Mostly, I’d work at 30 pull-ups as a warm up. Initially I did them on the gravitron. I was able to begin with the gravitron set to 40lbs. This was enough of an offset weight to let me do 10 reps in a row, albeit still struggling.

After several weeks, they started getting easier. I moved down to a 20lb offset on the gravitron. At this point, I also started doing 2 sets of assisted pull-ups, followed by a single set of unassisted pull-ups. The unassisted pull-ups were really broken and I was probably only doing one at a time, but I was finally doing them. It was a good feeling. Some workouts, I’d also attempt 100 jumping pull-ups - that is, hold the bar with feet on the ground or box and jump into the pull-up. In these instances, I’d work primarily on the negative, or jump up and then slowly lower myself.

Eventually, I moved completely away from the gravitron and I haven’t used it again since. To this day, I still include 30 pull-ups into my warmup or add them into a circuit of some sort.

Some people suggest lat pull-downs to prepare yourself for pull-ups, but I disagree. The key to increasing your pull-up numbers is to just keep at it. Work at them as much as possible. The more you do it, the stronger you get and the easier they will become.

More Crazy Upper Body Strength

Yep, another youtube video showcasing a guy with some crazy upper body strength and control.

His name is b-boy junior. and he’s incredibly good at break dancing. These break dancing guys all seem to have some serious upper body strength. And it’s needed too, in order to pull off those fantastic moves.

What is Fitness?

Watching a bit of the Tour de France, when the riders seem to effortlessly climb up massive mountain sides, there’s no question in our minds - those guys are in good shape. When a new 100m sprinting record is set, nobody questions the sprinter’s fitness level. A marathon runner? Yep - definitely fit. How about one of the cast on “Dancing with the Stars”? See their abs? They’re as lean as lean can be. And what about bodybuilders, gymnasts, weight lifters, firefighters, action heroes, golf players and pole vaulters? Would we classify all of these individuals as being fit? Probably. But what does that really mean?

At first, it seems a simple question. Everyone knows what fitness is. Or do we? We can easily peg a person who is fit and in shape, but are they really fit? What does it mean to be fit? Is it a low body fat percentage? Is it an abundance of muscle mass? Is it speed and agility? Is it strength? Or is it simply the ability to perform well at whatever you do?

For practical purposes, being functionally good at the day to day tasks that require some form of physical exertion may be the essence of what being fit is. The dancer is fit because she can dance well. The gymnast is fit because he possesses a significant amount of strength. But a computer programmer (like myself) wouldn’t be classified as being fit because he is good at rolling out of bed and getting to the office on time. Being fit requires additional attributes besides being able to exceed at one’s own work. In order to be fit, one must be able to do well at a variety of physical activities.

The dancer and gymnast each exceed in numerous physical abilities that contribute to their ability to perform. Strength, endurance and flexibility are just a few of these attributes. By exceeding in these multiple areas, they are also likely to do well in physical tasks outside of their domain. The computer programmer, on the other hand, may not possess enough additional abilities, outside of the scope of his or her job, to be classified as fit. While the programmer may exceed at specific tasks, he or she may not exceed in other areas. Therefore, they must work in extra curricular physical activities in order to achieve a higher fitness level.

The definition of being fit, therefore, is to not only be functionally able, but being functionally able across multiple domains. For most of us, who aren’t gymnasts or dancers, this requires going to the gym, getting out for runs and possibly taking up Yoga or Tennis or a joining a rec league of some sort.

The benefits of truly being fit, then, are significant. Many of us strive to be fit simply to be healthy and look good, but besides helping us maintain a good body weight, fitness enables individuals.

Being fit allows us to lift heavier items without injury. It lets us pick up our children or grandchildren to give them a bear hug. It helps us balance when on the roof, putting up our Christmas lights. Fitness lets us play soccer with our kids after school. It helps us run up 5 flights of stairs when we’re late for class. Whether hiking or biking, being fit helps us enjoy our environments. We can take pleasure in canoing a river or exploring the wilderness. The long walking tours when traveling abroad are easier. Shoveling snow or mowing the lawn are less taxing.

No matter who we are, what we do or what our age is, striving to be fit should be an important part of every one’s life. For being fit gives us the means to do the things that need to get done and live our lives as we wish.

Keeping on the Heels when Squatting

In my last article, I covered how low you should go when squatting. Another common squatting issue is with weight distribution and balance. In order to be completely effective, the squat must be completed with the weight primarily on the heels. Unfortunately, for many people, their weight is generally forward, on their toes. Keeping the heels firmly on the ground helps with alignment and when driving through the lift in this manner, force can more efficiently be exerted than when the heels are lifted and weight is forward.

Learning to keep weight on the heels may not be as easy as one would think. This can be due to a multitude of reasons from habit to lack of flexibility. Fortunately, once again, crossfit comes to the rescue. Greg Glassman has written a great article called, “Two Training Aids”. The article describes two “homebrew” pieces of equipment that can be made fairly easily, including a simple heel-to-floor tester that helps a squatter keep their weight on their heels. It’s an interesting read and if you’re looking to improve your squat, this tool may definitely help your form.

How Low Should I Squat?

The squat is an essential exercise. For the lower body, there is probably nothing better. It hits all the important lower body muscles with a knock-out punch and can really help tone the thighs and butt. In order for the squat to be as effective as possible, it’s important to make sure that you squat low enough.

How low is this? It’s important for the tops of your thighs to be at least parallel with the floor. I’ve seen it done at the gym where the bottom of the individual’s thighs are barely parallel. This is definitely not as taxing on the leg muscles and therefore nowhere near as effective.

Most squatting racks will be setup infront of a mirror. Unfortunately it’s difficult to trust what you see in the mirror. What you may think is parallel may be a ways off. Instead of trying to guage how low you’ve gone by eye, try squatting over a box that’s about the height of where you should be squating to. You could alternatively use a medicine ball, low bench or dumbbell. Lower yourself until you touch the box and if you can’t touch the box for each rep in a set, you’re not going low enough. Try lowering the weight.

Random Circuit Workout Generator

Hrmmm… what should I do for my workout today? As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I like to mix it up at the gym. I rarely do the same routine more than a couple of times a month.

To assist in the mixing, I’ve created this “Random Circuit Workout Generator”. Click the button and it suggests 4 exercises to group together in a circuit style workout. It’s simple and it may make suggestions that aren’t too good, but sometimes it puts together what could be a pretty good circuit.

I think some useful additions to this “tool” might be:

  • Include categories of circuit types - bodyweight, barbell, dumbbell, machine
  • Allow choice for number of exercises for circuit
  • Classify exercises with muscle groups so that the same muscle group isn’t repeated

Floor Wipers

Some nights I’m just not up to going to the gym (this is especially true on Wednesdays for some reason). So tonight, instead of heading down there, I decided to head downstairs to my home gym and do it up in the comfort of my own home. As the workout progressed, I figured I’d do a demonstration of floor wipers.

Floor wipers became all the rage when the movie, 300, came out and popularized the “300 workout“. Floor wipers are a fairly simple exercise, but they really work the upper body. Lie on the floor, under a barbell. Press the barbell and touch your feet to the right side of the bar and then to the left side. That’s a rep. In my version, I perform another press every 5 reps. Here’s the demo. It’s my “Internet video” debut :).

What to Look for in New Running Shoes

So I’m putting on my shoes for my Tuesday night run and I think to myself, “wow, I’ve had these for a long time.” Unfortunately it’s true, I’ve had my pair of running shoes for years. Well over the suggested mileage. In fact, it’s been so long since I last purchased a pair of actual running shoes, I’d actually be at a bit of a loss as to what to look for in a new pair. Fortunately we live in an age of infinite wisdom thanks to the Internet.

My wife was a member of the Running Room for one of their intro to running programs last year. She really enjoyed it and from what she’s told me, the programs are very informative and their staff are quite knowledgeable. Their website has some good tips on what to look for when purchasing running shoes.

First off, there are three shapes for running shoes - straight, curved and semi-curved. The shapes are called “lasts”, named after the wood composite form used to make the shoe. The multiple shoe shape options are available to help match various feet. Wearing the wrong shaped shoe will cause rolling off one side of the shoe when running or walking.

When running, your feet will naturally pronate or roll off various parts of the shoe. Depending on how you run, the various shoe shapes will make a difference and could save yourself from unnecessary pain or injury.

  • Overpronation is when your feet roll excessively inwards. The Running Room suggest straight or semi-curved shaped shoes.
  • For normal pronation, a semi-curved shoe is best.
  • Supination is when the feet roll outwards. If you’re a supinator, they suggest getting a curved shoe.

I’m a pronator. My feet roll inwards quite alot. I can remember my grandmother telling me that I’ll “trip over my own feet” if I don’t work on correcting the pronation. I have no idea what kind of shoes I wear, but there’s no doubt that they’re beat up and I need a new pair and I’m going to try and get the right shoes for my feet.

The Running Room suggests that I take in my shoes to one of their stores for them to examine and help me pick out the best shoe possible. I think it’s a good idea. A good pair of running shoes will last quite a while and if used on a regular basis, make a fantastic, relatively inexpensive fitness investment.