Posts Tagged ‘strength training’

I’ve been away for quite sometime. The last time I wrote an update was when I was still having hip issues and I got them straightened out with the help of a chiropractor. I had given thought to switching my lifting routine from Stronglifts 5X5 to Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1. The idea behind this change was to increase recovery time and to be less beaten up (squatting 200lbs 3 times a week is no joke at my body weight). However, I stuck around with Stronglifts for the better part of last month.

It’s been a little more than a year that I have been on this program and saying that I am satisfied would be an understatement. The program is amazing for anyone who has never touched weights in their lives; split routine training doesn’t mean touching weights (no offence to the aesthetic chasers). If the program wasn’t as good as it is, I wouldn’t have been on it for a year. Mehdi has done a good job creating a routine which will work for anyone.

Now if you are subscribed to the Stronglifts newsletter which Mehdi sends out everyday, you should have a pretty good idea of what the title of the post means. There was a time when he used to post videos of himself lifting pretty heavy stuff, no more though. All that is left of Stronglifts is the Stronglifts inner circle. The bottom of every e-mail from Mehdi begs people to join his inner circle of members. He also gives freebies to people who join. However, I reckon that it is a little excessive on his part to write in every e-mail “Doors are closed now but you can go here and sign up for early bird registration for my Inner Circle.” Some way or the other he always manages to link his stories to the inner circle as if the inner circle is the solution to every problem.

When he posted his videos of him lifting in his home gym, that was inspirational stuff. When I saw him for the first time, I thought I wanted to be like him. I believe he made a big mistake in marketing himself by changing his focus from posting videos to sending crappy e-mails. To be honest, I am still subscribed to his newsletter because his e-mails make me chuckle first thing in the morning. He has also shown his complete rebuttal of steroids and steroid users. He has called them cheaters and has gone as far as to prove it by citing some research studies. He also says that, “If you’re using workout gloves and using a foam pad (for squats), you are not really doing stronglifts.” I think there is a better way to convince people not to use workout gloves or foam pads. I also think it is a personal preference and nobody gives a shit about you telling them that they’re not doing your program because you said so.

Coming to the program, I think it is a fairly balanced routine.

Day 1 – Squat, Bench, Pendlay Row

Day 2 – Squat, Overhead Press, Deadlift

Work out three times a week alternating between day 1 and day 2 workouts with 5 sets of 5 reps on each lift except the deadlift which is 1 set of 5 reps. There is push, pull movements for the shoulders – the bench and the pendlays. There is a push movement overhead but there isn’t a pull movement. I think if you’re doing stronglifts you should also do pull ups/ chin ups if you want to keep your shoulders balanced.

So much for the praise of the program. Even though the program is simple to follow, there is very little information about how to properly do the lifts without getting injured. Here is where the marketing gimmick called the Stronglifts Inner Circle comes into the picture. Mehdi says that if you join the Inner circle, you can post videos of your lifts and get instant feedback about your form from other members which will help you be injury free.

First of all Mehdi, there is only so much you can see in a video. Secondly, are those members of your inner circle all personal trainers? Are they certified to provide feedback? I don’t think providing feedback is wrong. But if you are selling the membership to your inner circle to people to help themselves, then you’re making money out of nothing. You have just created a forum for people to interact with each other. There are websites like Fitocracy which do the same thing and for free. One can also post videos on youtube and have someone on facebook look at them. Why would anyone in their right mind pay for membership of a forum in which you ask questions from people who aren’t even certified to answer them?

In any case, he has done a good job making the program from Bill Starr’s/ Reg Park’s 5X5 program. However, he has not marketed himself correctly. From a stronglifter he has become a gatekeeper who does nothing except opening and closing the gates of his Stronglifts Inner Circle. Good luck to you Mehdi. May you achieve what you set out to achieve.

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As I have mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, the definition of fitness can be different for different people. Someone may want to be able to run faster, jump higher, run a marathon or lift heavy weights. My own definition of fitness keeps evolving overtime. Until now I was following Mehdi’s Stronglifts 5X5 program religiously. I like the lifts so much that I thought I could do it for life. But unless you’re a beginner starting out with light weights, squatting near maximal weights for 3 times a week doesn’t do much good. I used this website  to calculate my 1-rep maxes for the big lifts. And then I used this website to find where I stand.

Squat – Shy of Intermediate by 4lbs

Bench – Shy of Intermediate by 1lbs

Overhead Press – Shy of Intermediate by 6lbs

Deadlift – Between Intermediate and Advanced

This post is about my chronicles in the gym and some interesting conversations.

We all are familiar with the Bro’s of the gym. You can see one in the picture above. You’d find them benching 225 and then curling in the squat rack. But look at those fine legs. They are so fine, you can barely see them. I once saw such a guy in my college gym. All he got from us were bewildered looks and chuckles. Never do this to yourself, you wouldn’t look attractive. For more details refer to my post – Shut Up and Squat.

Talking of the squat, you’d see a lot of people who’d be in the squat rack. Heck my gym had 8 of them and they were all full in the peak hours. But many of these racks are occupied by people who will tell you “You’re going to bust your knees if you go deep.” And that is the point when I stop listening to them. There was this guy at the gym next to my rack who was squatting 300+lbs with depth less than a couple inches. I don’t even know what to call it as it was shallower than a quarter squat. He cranks up the weight to 500lbs (maybe he saw a girl in the crowd he wanted to impress). And proceeds to unrack the weight. He then tries to crank out a rep of his shallow 2 inch deep squat but fails. Fortunately he had the safety bars at about shoulder level which prevented the aftermath which wouldn’t have been pretty at all.

Strength and size are not necessarily the same thing. You can watch this video if you don’t believe me. So I was once deadlifting in the rack (I know it’s lame but I do it nevertheless). And there were a couple guys next to my rack deadlifting. They were twice my size if i was being conservative in describing them. If you saw them and if you saw me, you’d think I have never touched a weight in my life and they are professionals. My work set that day was to be 5 reps of 285lbs. I proceeded with my warm up sets and loaded my work weight on the bar. Just before I was about to start my work set, I turned to my right and saw that all of them were struggling with 225lbs. They couldn’t manage anything more than a couple reps with that weight. You cannot imagine the feeling of satisfaction I got. I did not feel jealous that they looked bigger than me. I was content that I was the stronger guy without having to look like the hulk.

The gym I used to go to recently had only 1 squat rack and 1 power rack. Thankfully the gym had more bro’s than folks who trained legitimately. So I’d have the squat rack all to myself pretty much all the time. There used to be this guy who used to box squat 300+ lbs. If you know the mechanics of the box squat, it is supposed to be performed with half of your max weight on the regular squat. So his max regular squat could have been anywhere from 500-600lbs. I was squatting a measly 185lbs one day with him doing his thing next to my rack. While resting between sets, he says “You’re the only one in this gym I’ve seen squat properly”. To that I said, “Well, I have the internet.” It’s true, you can find any resources on the internet these days if you want to train seriously. However, you want to make sure you’re not following people who just talk the talk and don’t walk the walk.

I like to do Kroc Rows at the end of my deadlift workout. I usually try and pick up a dumbbell heavier than 55lbs to do them. This particular day, I was to do Kroc rows with a 60lb dumbbell. In the middle of my set, a guy comes up to the dumbbell stand. He looks confused so I ask him if he needs help with something. He says he was looking for a 40lb dumbbell. I point it out to him. He picks it up and looks at the weight I am using. He puts it down, proceeds to pick up the second 60lb dumbbell and says “Let’s crank up the weight a little bit”. He then proceeds to struggle doing a couple of reps with that weight. Now just because I don’t look like I lift weights doesn’t mean I can’t does it? The best thing is the looks which I get when I load up the bar for a 100+kg deadlift. I love them deadlifts. It makes me feel powerful.

So I’ve decided to combine body weight training with my usual weightlifting which means the intensity has to go down. But then who doesn’t want to do one arm push ups, pull ups and one legged squats? 🙂

By now you have made sure you know what you’re doing in the gym. You’ve figured out your goals, challenged the PT’s routine and are doing what it takes to build muscle and burn fat. But the question is, what are you eating and when are you eating it? After I started this blog, a few people asked me for fat loss tips. It turns out, you can get stronger that’s not the hard part. The hard part is to lose the family pack that you’ve developed over the years sitting on your backside without even starting a family yet. This post is going to help anyone lose fat fast.

A lot of people crib about how difficult it is to have the coveted beach body look with the six pack abs flashing. The first thing to keep in mind is that everyone is not a bodybuilder. Bodybuilding is a sport and a tough one. In order to get ripped and shredded and look fabulous on stage with no fat on their bodies at all bodybuilders have to go through a tough time and it certainly isn’t easy, so quit cribbing. Another fact about 6 pack abs is that not everyone has the required genes to sport a 6 pack. One can be as lean as 10% body fat and still not have a 6 pack. I know it sounds demotivating but let me tell you about myself. I used to have one goal – 6 pack abs. And it never happened. I have long stopped thinking about it or even working towards it. My goal is to be fit and strong. As I have pointed out in the previous blog post celebrities are able to flaunt their beach bodies with certain photographic aids. Hence it is pointless to try to emulate them.

Coming to point now, this post is about fasting. Don’t close the window just yet, I am not talking religion here although someone must have unknowingly included the fasting ritual in religion for health benefits.

I have been doing intermittent fasting for about close to a year now. I eat the first meal of the day after 12 PM, sometimes as late as 3 PM. And I eat the last meal of the day before 9 or 10 PM. This enables me to eat in a window of about 8-9 hours. Now I can imagine a lot of you would be thinking that it is unhealthy to starve for such a long period of time; in my case 14-16 hours a day. After all, the fitness and nutrition experts of the world want you to eat 6 or even 8 meals a day! And they are dead wrong. And why would one miss the most important meal of the day – breakfast. Please see below my progress photos just 3 weeks apart. The one on the left is right before I started fasting and the one on the right is 3 weeks after.

leangains

The difference in fat from before to after is very clear. Now I have been doing this for a year, so my strength would have gone down right? Because I am skipping the legendary breakfast. To give you some perspective, I started out on Stronglifts 5X5 with an empty bar on most lifts in September 2012. My current personal bests are as follows –

Squat – 210lbs (5 sets of 5 reps)

Bench – 155lbs (5 sets of 5 reps)

Deadlift – 315lbs 1 rep max

Overhead Shoulder Press – 105 lbs 2 sets of 5 reps

Pendlay Row – 155lbs 5 sets of 5 reps

When I first started fasting and told my friends I was doing it, some of them laughed; some said I was crazy and I was going to get an ulcer. Let’s go back into the past. When humans were still uncivilized and did not have enough resources to feed themselves 6 times a day, we were still living. Turns out the human body is designed to fast. Quoting from Eat Stop Eat “A lion only hunts when he’s hungry”.

Today the amount of food which surrounds us is tremendous. We eat a meal and 2 hours later we are hungry again and we go snack hunting then. We never actually experience true hunger. True hunger is the feeling when you haven’t eaten anything for days. That is true hunger. However, not eating for a few hours or a day in a week is not hunger and would not lead to starvation. I am living proof of that. To add to that, I am more alert and get more work done in the morning when others are busy satisfying their snack cravings.

If you really want to lose that stubborn belly fat, fasting is the way to go. See this  for more scientific details on fasting. And read the book Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon. Shoot me questions if you have any, I’d be more than happy to help. As I said, stop cribbing and get to work.

No one is perfect. Even the biggest of celebrities, the best of philosophers and the strongest of athletes have their own imperfections. As promised, I am going to write about my visit to the chiropractor this last week, and how it helped me to identify my own imperfections.

imbalances - chiro

I was a little apprehensive going for a visit to a chiropractor for the first time. I told her what I thought could have been wrong with my body; the alignment of the top vertebra – atlas. I continued by narrating my experiences while lifting weights and finding that one side clearly produced more force than the other as if amount of nerve cells on one side was greater than the other. She listened to me and went on to do an assessment. There was a thermal and an EMG test to determine small temperature and current differences between the two sides of the body. The chart which you see above is the result.

On the left side you can see white lines all over the spine. The white lines represent balance between both sides. On the right side is what my back looks like. There are a couple of whites which is good, a few greens which stand for low level imbalances. And then there are blues which stand for moderate level imbalances. The reds stand for high level imbalances and the black ones are “off the chart” imbalances.

As I had suspected, there is something really wrong with my atlas which can be seen with the colorful top vertebra. Another thing which I had suspected was the right hip, notice how the two black lines branch out from it. After my assessment, I was made to lie down in a prone position. The first thing which the chiropractor did was to examine my leg lengths. She told me that my right leg was a little over an inch shorter than my left leg. She then proceeded to crack a couple bones in my back; which is called adjusting the spine. She then said I had a week left knee, which I was expecting as my left knee has given me trouble in the past. She proceeded to crack my neck and answered a few of my questions.

I came back thinking of whether it helped at all. I put on my chuck taylors and squatted down in a body weight squat and surprisingly felt better while doing so.

Yesterday I was squatting 180 lbs when something struck me.

muscle imbalances

On the left you see a normal pelvis. And on the right is my pelvis which is tilted toward the left. This makes my right leg shorter than the left and when I squat, it results in a lot more force on the right side and the left side just does the supporting due to a lesser range of motion. And this prompted me to do something which I had never ever advised anyone else to do; neither had I tried it myself. I extended my left leg a little out to the side to widen my stance in a staggered way. What this did was to adjust my pelvis to be normally aligned and distributed the force of the weight on my back evenly between the two legs. I felt the difference instantly and my right hip which had been taking a grinding over all those ruthless training sessions felt a lot better.

Now my overhead press is a similar case, I feel a lot more muscle activity on the right side and the left side just does the supporting. So I slid my right hand a little wider than my usual grip hence lengthening the range of motion on the right side. This would in turn cause the weight to distribute evenly between the two sides and it did! I was in awe. I had just found the answer to the most difficult problem I have ever faced in training. And now I am really excited to try a similar thing in my bench press and hopefully my bench pressing woes will go away too.

Do let me know what you think of this and stay tuned for more training adventures!

muscle - nervous system

I know that the post title sounds funny. Muscle virus is actually a termed coined by Elliot Hulse, strongman and strength training/fitness/health guru. I was watching a short video series yesterday when I realized that I might have a common deformity which might impact my weight lifting.

Since when I was a small kid, I have noticed that my neck is slightly tilted to one side. The tilt is so small that I never noticed it in the mirror, neither did my parents. However, when I used to go to the studio to get my picture clicked, the photographer always asked me to straighten my face. And I never understood why he said that. Over the years I came to realize that it was there and I would have to live with it for the rest of my life. I had never even thought the kind of impact it could have in my life.

I read many fitness articles and watch tons of videos everyday. And I learn something new everyday. In this video series, Elliot talks about the various muscle imbalances that might be preventing the guy from lifting heavy weights without injury or pain. In the video he talks about Atlast adjustment. So I did some research and found this video of his. Here he gives some more details about muscle imbalances and how they might be related to the nervous system. He talks about how a certain set of vertebra in the body (Atlas) floats and can be adjusted. This vertebra directs the function of the rest of the spine and hence the whole central nervous system.

The picture above shows the detailed muscular anatomy of a human (forgive me for using a male as an example, I am not chauvinistic). It just so happens that your left shoulder, lats, traps are linked to your right hip, low back muscles and both of these as a group are linked to your left leg muscles as pointed in the picture. So, if you’re stronger in the right hand side of the body, it is very likely that your left hip is stronger than your right. I didn’t know this and now it makes so much sense to me. This is the reason why I feel as stable as a rock when I kick a football with my right leg; because my left (stronger) hip keeps my body stable while I execute the motion.

Elliot Hulse calls this a muscle virus. In simple terms it is just how the muscular and the nervous system overlap. So what do you do if you find that you have such muscle imbalances or a tilted Atlas? I am going to the chiropractor to see what they can do. Other than that, in today’s lifting session I tried hard to focus all my strength on my weak side. It actually felt good and my right (weaker) hip is sore now. I would also recommend yoga and lots of stretching combined with a lot of foam rolling. Foam rolling has done so many wonders for me that I can’t even count them on my fingers.

Will update about how my session with the chiropractor goes and the wealth of information I get from there. Until then happy lifting!

Who Am I?

Posted: July 4, 2013 by Savvy Saver in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

As you guys would have guessed, I am a tube light. It takes some time for me to realize stuff. So after writing four posts about strength training, I decided I’ll write a little bit about myself and how I got bit by the iron bug.

There comes a point in your life when you realize that you’ve been doing everything wrong. It is at that moment that you decide to shuffle things up and pick up the trash. For me there have been quite a few moments like that.

At 19 years old, I was 5’10” weighing around 55kg (121lbs). I was leading a sedentary life wasting my youth away. I thought I was normal, heck everyone thinks they’re normal. It was then when something hit me hard. It was the glass door of the mess. I had lost my senses of vision and hearing and ran into the glass door and fainted immediately. The doctor said I had low blood pressure – 95/60. It wasn’t too shocking for my deluded brain. It was what happened afterwards was what changed me. I had to rely on other people to do routine stuff. Someone had to bring me food from the mess. If I had to go somewhere, I’d need someone to go with me so I don’t fall down and faint again. And they’d have to carry my stuff because I was so freaking weak.

old college

This is me in 2006

I decided that things had to change for the better when the doc told me that I had iron levels less than a girl’s normal levels. I started eating healthy and started going to the gym. I had no idea of what I was doing, but at least I was trying.

A couple of years ago, I came to the United States to pursue higher education. When I looked around at the Indian population, I saw pot bellies and sagging double chins. These were people who were barely in their twenties.

I remember I had gone for bootcamp one day and I was the only Indian there. Guess what I found? The American girls had more stamina and strength than myself.

In the country I call home, people like to eat good food and enjoy. But this doesn’t mean that you don’t take care of yourself and let your belly go beyond your toes. Oh, and you don’t need two chins; one is enough. People in the west think that we Indians are only good at math. They think that we are weak physically because we never show up on the scene in sports like Football. This is not their fault. This is our own fault for being lazy and not being conscious about our own selves.

I started training seriously in September 2012. After about 9 months of training I look like this today.

progress2

My purpose is to change the world’s perspective about India and Indians. I want to show the world that we Indians can be strong and fast. I want to create Usain Bolts and Rafael Nadals in India. And then I want to look at the people of the world as they look in awe at us Indians.

Deadift

Posted: June 29, 2013 by Savvy Saver in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

In the words of the great Jon Pall Sigmarsson, “There is no reason to be alive, if you can’t do the deadlift”.

tumblr_loc0mypy281qksqk7o1_400

If you are reading this and you are new to the world of fitness, you are going to discover the holy grail of strength training – the Deadlift.

If I were to enumerate the benefits of this lift, I would need a week. If the squat is the king of strength training, deadlift is the queen. And if you’ve played chess, you’d know that the utility of the queen is much more than the king.

Let’s start listing the muscle groups which get activated during the deadlift. Let’s start from the head.

1. Traps (Trapezius)

2. Lats (Latissimus dorsi)

3. Rhomboids

4. Small muscles between vertebrae

5. Serratus muscles of the back

6. All of the rest of the upper and lower back

7. Abs (obliques as well as rectus abdominis)

8. Quadriceps

9. Hamstrings

10. Glutes

11. Forearms

Now try and remember one exercise or one workout you did which involved or activated so many muscle groups at the same time. There’s hardly anything in the body which is not in action during a deadlift.

A lot of people are scared of this lift because it requires the use of the back and back injuries are the worst. Well if you go on a hunting trip and start treading barefoot towards a lions pride, no wonder you’d get eaten. Moral of the story is to start with light weight and move up slowly.

Let us now go over some quick tips on how to deadlift.

The first thing that you have to make sure before deadlifting is that the weight should be as close to your body as physically possible. This means that when you’re pulling the weight up, the weight should graze your shins before you lift and lockout. If your shins are soft, wear khakis/sweat pants while training.

Keep your back straight at all times. Your lumbar spine should always be tight and not curved. As long as your spine is straight, you will not hurt yourself doing this Godly lift.

Use your legs. Even though it might seem like an upper body dominant lift, quads, hams and primarily glutes have a very important role to play in the deadlift. When pulling the weight up, a cue which might help is to imagine pushing the floor away with your feet.

Chest up, head in line with torso and back straight. Also make sure your arms are not bent at the elbows. That would put the load on the biceps. Biceps being a smaller muscle group than the triceps aren’t usually accustomed to take heavy loading. If you don’t want a bicep tear like this, make sure you’re keeping your arms extended straight.

If you’re still short of reasons or scared to do deadlifts, go here. Enough talking, go deadlift some weights already!