Exercise is my hobby

We find too many people that view various forms of exercise as something they should do to lose weight or look better, which is fine, but there are many of us who view it as a hobby. When exercise becomes a hobby you no longer dread your workouts in fact you often think of them, looking forward to them. Developing a perspective that you are not exercising to achieve some goal, but instead it is a form of pleasure, provides you with a long term outlook. If I exercise to lose 10 pounds, what happens when I shed the 10 pounds? Maybe I will stop exercising because I have achieved my goal, but if the weight loss was just one of the results of enjoying my hobby, I am more likely to keep pursuing my hobby.

curls guy

I am convinced that exercise has a somewhat negative connotation for many people. They feel they have a limited amount of time that would better be devoted to their job, watching television, eating, drinking, or playing around on their computer, phone, or tablet. I’m not interested in listing all the benefits of exercising versus sitting around doing whatever; this should be rather obvious for most of us. The question is how do we change our perspective from something I feel I should do or dread doing to something I look forward to everyday? Here are a few ways we begin to make that mind shift:

  • consistency becomes habit and habits can be pleasurable. Being resolute in the beginning is one of the keys.
  • results tend to provide encouragement, you begin to think this is providing positive benefits for me, and this makes me want to keep doing it.
  • endorphin’s are released when exercising, providing pleasurable feelings and reducing pain in the body, yet another reason that helps you shift from I have to do this to I want to do this. In fact the mind shift becomes cemented when you find that you don’t feel good unless you have exercised that day.

As you begin to see results, and you realize all the benefits you are getting from exercising, it becomes a habit and as many of us can attest almost an addiction. Don’t be surprised if you go away on vacation and decide you just can’t sit there on the beach, pretty soon your taking a run or walk, and maybe spending some time in the resorts gym. This mind shift begins with consistently performing the activity, and it will become a high priority habit in your life. That habit will grow into a pleasurable hobby that you look forward to and yes reap all the benefits that come with it.

Namaste

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Using a Hex Bar

When I moved to Texas about 3 years ago I left my squat rack in Michigan, along with a lot of my weights. I spent a lot of time doing squats with no weights except for my body weight, and while this maintained my quads, hamstrings, and glutes I was looking for ways to add resistance. I tried dumbbell squats and they are at best awkward, so I abandoned that idea. I don’t have room for another squat rack in my game room upstairs so I did a little searching and found this thing called a Hex Bar. I looked into what you could do with this bar and found that it really is good for two exercises, including a squat/dead-lift and shrugs. The two pictures below give you an idea of what the bar and the squat/dead-lift look like in action.

hex bar squat starting position

hex bar squat ending position

I found that the squatting exercise is really a combination of squatting and doing a conventional dead-lift. The bar itself weighs 50 pounds so even if you only load it up with a couple 25 pound Olympic plates you have 100 pounds of resistance to work with. One of the things I like about this type of bar is that you can put a lot of weight on it and you don’t need to lift it over your head like a conventional barbell. It is also a great space saver for those of us with limited room for equipment. Does it work? In my experience it worked my quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back to some degree. I noticed that my legs and glutes were pretty sore for a couple days following a workout with the Hex Bar, so yes it really works.

To put less strain on your lower back and more focus on your quads and hamstrings don’t go all the way to the floor on when you are coming down for the next repetition. It also does a great job if you want to do shrugs. So if you have limited space and want to give your legs and traps a great workout the Hex Bar is definitely worth looking into. You can pick one up for around $100 – $150, plus you will need some Olympic weights to load on the bar. Here is a short video to give you an idea on how to perform the squat/dead-lift correctly with the Hex Bar:

Muscle Adaptation Tweaks

In the past I have talked about the need for progressive resistance so that you are overloading muscles to make them adapt to the heavier loads or more repetitions. This works for a while but unfortunately your body becomes accustomed to doing the same exercises, and of course your own capacity for effort can be limited along with your ability to recover. Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating that you opt out of the progressive resistance camp, but you might consider a couple tweaks to get your body to react by building larger muscles and gaining strength. Here are a couple of tweaks that can help put you get back on track, making those muscles adapt and avoid plateauing.

Tweak 1 – Reduce rest time between sets

During my chest and triceps routine I was resting about 2 1/2 minutes between sets and while this allowed me to do one set after another of push-ups, in some ways it made it too easy. Without even adding any reps I took the rest time down to 2 minutes between chest exercise sets and 1 1/2 minutes for triceps exercises. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but it made it more difficult to do the sets with less rest. So without adding weights or repetitions the intensity was increased simply by reducing the rest time.

Tweak 2 – Alternate routines

Because your body can get accustomed to doing the same exercises, your muscles adapt but growth begins to slow down. You might consider having two different routines and either rotate them using one routine on week 1 and another routine on week 2. This causes a bit of muscle confusion and will help you avoid hitting a plateau as quickly. The changes don’t have to be huge for instance:

Week 1 – Chest/Triceps Day

  • 4 sets push-ups
  • 2 sets of triceps dumbbell kickbacks
  • 1 set triceps dips

On alternate weeks perform this routine.

Week 2 – Chest/Triceps Day

  • 3 sets of dumbbell chest presses
  • 2 sets of dumbbell chest fly’s
  • 2 sets of dumbbell triceps extensions

Hopefully by limiting the rest between sets and using a bit of muscle confusion by alternating routines you can spur on continued growth, making your workouts more difficult and at the same time a bit more interesting. In addition to these tweaks make sure you are using the principles of progressive resistance to add sets, repetitions, and weight. I would love to hear about any tweaks you use to increase muscle adaptation or make your workouts more fun.

Namaste

 

Back to the 5 day split

Well after toying with a 3 days split, which then evolved into a 4 day split, I have come back to a familiar place the 5 day split. I’m not sure why I keep changing things around because I always gravitate back to the 5 day split. I guess the reasons for this are fairly straightforward:

  1. My workouts are a little shorter and less exhausting because I am focused on one or two muscle groups. This makes it all more enjoyable instead of looking at a long list of exercises and wondering when it will all be over.
  2. With the 3 or 4 day split I had to cut out some sets, but with the 5 day split I can keep adding reps and sets so I am able to do more work and put more stress on the muscles. A harder workout means faster gains in strength and size.
  3. It fits well with the work week, so every night when I get home I can look forward to a workout, keeping me focused on fitness and away from other less healthy activities such as eating or drinking.

The only negative with the 5 day split is that it consumes 5 of the 7 days in a week, and if something else comes up you can potentially miss a workout.

This is my 5 day split (high level)

  • Chest & Triceps (Day 1)
  • Biceps, Forearms, and Delts (Day 2)
  • Legs (Day 3)
  • Back (Day 4)
  • Core (Day 5)

Remember you don’t need to perform the split Monday through Friday, it is more than feasible to just perform the workout starting on whatever day of the week.  It is advisable to give yourself a rest day after completing the 5th day of the split routine, because even though you have divided up the muscle groups others still participate in an assisting role. I like to keep track of my workouts with a Google sheet (spreadsheet), so that I can record the date of the workout, weight, target reps, actual reps, and any notes for adding reps or sets next time. If you are currently doing total body workouts or shorter split routines, try the 5 days split and enjoy the gains you will make. Who knows you might just look forward to your workouts.

Namaste

Seriously

After suffering a fair amount of anguish and getting myself all worked up about things going on at home and at work I came to a simple realization that I was taking everything too seriously. The not so amusing thing about this is that it had been going on for some time now, maybe a couple of years. I look back and haven’t taken a vacation in almost 3 years, focused intensely on a number of goals, which I achieved, but all this even made me more focused. I also realized that not only did I skip vacations, I quit playing golf, and quit playing guitar. What was interesting is that these things were replaced with more study and physical fitness activities. The truth was I forgot how to have fun, or do something just for the hell of it.

seriously

Most of this stems from a kind of all in attitude, or taking things too far. So it is good to exercise on a daily basis, but when all your free time is devoted to it you become very one dimensional, and yes a bit too serious. So not only did I forget how to have fun, but I myself was boring everyone else to death. While it is always nice to move in a new direction, sometimes you abandon things you really love. I blame myself for this all or nothing approach, and all to serious attitude. So another side affect is that you become judgmental, because everyone else doesn’t share your enthusiasm for blogging, Buddhism, meditation, or yoga. Becoming too focused also narrows the acceptable things you are willing to experience because they can’t possibly compete with your path to enlightenment.

Realizations:

  • The world did not come to an end when I skipped my yoga practice yesterday
  • Enjoying what you are doing at work will not cause you great harm
  • Instead of rushing off to meditate or exercise, it is perfectly acceptable to show some interest in others first
  • While it might take a bit longer to learn something dictated by your quest, you are probably a better person for being less inwardly focused
  • You don’t have to be 100% dedicated to something to make progress, meaning you don’t need to quit doing everything else that made you happy to pursue a goal
  • As much as it pains me it is not necessary to accomplish everything on your list, especially on a weekend
  • I have been taking everything way to seriously, from my exercise routines, to my Buddhism studies, and my elimination of vices

All this seriousness and laser focus only made me more judgmental which resulted in anger and resentment instead of understanding and compassion. I couldn’t live with the fact that I was flawed and had weaknesses, and maybe even liked some of the things the common man or woman did. So I vow to lighten up a bit, have a beer, skip a few workouts from time to time, and maybe try to enjoy things a little more, and yes become less serious.

Have a great weekend!

Just a little more

In a quest to add just a little more weight, sets, or reps to your strength training routine you find your energy is not infinite. You start out with a 3 day split and pretty soon each workout is taking 90+ minutes and your completely wiped out, and worse there is no way you could keep adding sets to this already arduous workout. So what is the answer? You can try to increase intensity, but with a 3 day split you are pushing the limits of your endurance and this is no longer a lot of fun. I ran into this myself, and then created a 4 day split but over time this also became too much and I finally landed on a 5 day split that allowed me to add lots of sets and progressively increase the weight I was lifting. I’m not advocating this is for everyone as some of you might not be able to devote this many days to strength training each week, but for those that can it allows you to expand the amount of work you are doing and still get it done in a reasonable amount of time. Here is my new 5 day split routine:

Day 1 – Chest & Triceps

Day 2 – Biceps, Forearms, and Delts

Day 3 – Legs

Day 4 – Back

Day 5 – Core

strength-training-protect-brain-and-bones

None of these workouts exceed 60 minutes and most can be done in 30 – 45 minutes. This is a big advantage of a 5 day split over lesser day routines, allowing you to focus on fewer body parts and really turn up the intensity while keeping the workouts relatively short.

So next time you consider adding just a little more to your routine, think about a 5 day split.  For ways to increase the intensity of your workouts refer to one of my earlier posts Just What is Progressive Resistance?

The inactivity downward spiral

After a somewhat exhausting weekend and not getting much sleep I decided to skip my Monday morning yoga session, and then to top it off I get home tired out and decided not to do my strength training session. I was headed in the wrong direction when it came to my workouts. Of course skipping the workouts on Monday made me feel even more lethargic and tired.  Funny how when you feel tired and do the workout anyway you begin to feel better. Maybe it is just short term memory, but you tend to forget that the workout will re-energize you even though the thought of getting started is not that appealing. When I got up on Tuesday morning I half hardheadedly did some of my usual yoga workout, and then feeling burned out from working all day I skipped my strength training workout again. Finally I got my stuff together and then on Wednesday did my strength training workout, which of course made me feel better. You can see why it is so easy to get into this inactivity downward spiral and it then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The typical excuses for missing workouts might include:

  • I didn’t get enough sleep last night
  • I’m too busy and need to do something else
  • I have an injury, however minor
  • I’ll just skip this one workout and it won’t matter
  • I’m not mentally up for it

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All the above are not great reasons for skipping a workout.  Sure there are times when something might come up that is a higher priority event but those should be the exception. I like to build a little buffer in my strength training workout so that it can slide by a day or two and I can still accomplish it within a week. I do a 3 day split and this allows me some flexibility, but flexibility is not a license to succumb to the typical excuses stated previously. Remember inactivity begets inactivity and movement begets more movement. Don’t let your excuses prevent you from performing your workouts. The next time you say I’m too tired, or I can skip this one, drag your self off the couch and just go do it.

 Namaste