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Want to be healthier in 2017? Treat your body like a business

So, this post was originally published on my LinkedIn page, but I think that it is still very relevant to share with you here. Why? Because this time of year is tough – many New Year’s Resolutions are fading because we’re getting back into our old lives, that is, our post holiday lives. And for many people, that means that they are having to make some very tough decisions on how they spend their time…

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(Consider this your mid-January pep talk…)

Right now, New Year’s Resolutions are being put to the test. And every year, one of the first resolutions to fade away into obscurity is your commitment to improving your health and wellness. Because after a couple weeks back in the office, life happens.

And you’re busy. Really busy. How can you justify taking an hour and half, several days a week, if not everyday, to exercise? After all, that’s lost productivity and you just don’t have the time, right?

If your fitness goals are teetering on the brink of collapse, I want you to consider a new strategy: Treat your body like a business.

Here’s what I mean: With your business, you’re constantly looking for ways to improve, make more money, be more efficient, and grow. Apply this same thinking to your body. How can you be healthier? How can your body run smoother? How can you move better and feel more comfortable climbing a flight of stairs or sitting in front of the computer all day? Your business is a well-oiled machine. It’s time for your body to align.

Practically speaking, this can mean losing weight, building muscle, fixing that sore knee, rehabbing your shoulder, etc. With so much of our daily lives spent working, maintaining a poor posture or enduring a sore joint due to a muscular imbalance can have a real impact on our work, much less your quality of life.

You probably agree with me. But there’s that little voice in the back of your mind saying, “yes, but there just isn’t enough time.”

I completely understand. None of us have time to workout. We don’t. There’s just too much going on. And yet…we make the time. We carve it out of our busy lives and assign some of it for working out. Fitness becomes a priority. Skipping the gym on Monday is not an option. None whatsoever. We just go. It’s as natural as showing up for a client meeting or sending an email. It just happens because it’s on the calendar or it’s part of our job.

In my mind, work and movement (and when I say movement, I am referring to any and all forms of exercise) are the same. There can’t be one without the other. In order for me to work 13 hours a day, every day, I need to spend 2.5 hours lifting weights, stretching, and if there’s time, hitting the sauna. This may not be the right formula for you, but the point I want to make is that work and fitness are more linked than you may think.

Treat your body like a business. Pencil your workout in just like it’s any other appointment. For instance, you have a meeting at 9:30 am and another at 1:30 pm, and then a workout at 5:45 pm. It’s simple when you look at it this way, isn’t it?

If having time is half the battle to fulling your New Year’s resolution, then actually doing the work is the other half. There are two strategies that work well. First, you can harness your competitive nature that has helped you in the professional world. Second, you find a way to hold yourself accountable.

Personally, I love the competitive nature of the business world. And with my own fitness, I think I’ve always been competitive with either someone else or myself. For instance, I’d compete with the girl in the gym that could easily do a handstand when I couldn’t. Or, I’d compete against the version of myself from last week, trying to add just a little more weight to the bar, or just one more rep.

Maybe you can be competitive with a neighbor or a colleague. Perhaps it’s someone who is also trying to lose 25 lbs or get the six pack abs.

Or, maybe you need to hold yourself accountable to another person. It could be a personal trainer. This way, you’re also “pocket committed” because you’re paying for a service. Or, maybe it’s someone outside the gym. I gifted a family member a subscription to Daily Burn recently. And it turns out that being accountable to me, in a fiscal sense, was the missing piece. Knowing that I was covering a monthly subscription is what made all the difference in this person’s motivation to be healthy.

Making the commitment to yourself to be healthier is no small thing. It demands time from our busy lives and requires a complete change in your lifestyle to be successful. But it’s worth it. The difference in how you can feel is reason enough to make these changes. And when you start to understand how your business and professional life can really benefit from a healthier and more productive you, I think you’ll be hooked.

I’m rooting for you :).

How to get your calves to grow

If there’s one singular body part that all of us wish was better developed, it would probably be the calves. These are the muscles that are often a true reflexion of athleticism. Big arms may be nice, but strong calves suggest a person who can really move. So, how can you get your calves to grow?

Whenever I see someone in the gym training calves it’s usually on the Smith machine and it’s typically for far too few reps. Training calves has become a filler exercise in so many people’s workout programs. We throw a few sets in here and there, but usually towards the end of our workouts. Or, when we caught a glimpse of our calves in the mirror on the day we wore those baggy shorts!

There are a couple of reasons why developing your calves is always a challenge.

First, genetics. We all know someone who just has big calves and never seems to do a thing to them. Whereas others, ectomorphs especially (yours truly), have a higher percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers combined with short muscle bellies, making building enviable calves a lofty goal.

Secondly, your calves see their fair share of exercise each and every day. Americans take around 5,000 steps a day. I should note that this is around half of what many health professionals recommend. Nevertheless, it’s clear that your calves are used to working. They see about 5,000 repetitions a day! Albeit the range of motion is shorter than what you may put them through in the gym, this amount of work is not something we can ignore.

Arnold Schwarzenegger even had a tough time getting his calves to grow. As the story goes, back in the 1960s, European bodybuilding didn’t put much emphasis on the lower body, and certainly not the calves. Consequently, it was normal for many European bodybuilders to focus on only the upper body. When Arnold entered his first international competition in 1966, he was beaten by an American who had a much more well-rounded physique.

Humbled from this loss, the young Schwarzenegger developed a laser focus on his lower legs. He cut his sweatpants at the knees and otherwise wore only shorts – all to remind himself of his weakness. And his training was intense. He would hit the calves six days a week and he lifted heavy – really heavy.

I remember reading once upon a time, that when asked by a young bodybuilder how to get your calves to grow, Arnold responded with a simple “500.” He went on to explain that he had spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 hours of training, just on his calves, to get them to look the way that they did.

Now, before you get too depressed and never wear shorts again, remember, Arnold was a champion bodybuilder. He was out to compete and to win. He also devoted several hours a day to training.

I don’t think you have to spend 500 hours to build better calves. However, I do think that you need to reconsider your approach if you’re trying to grow this area of muscle. And it’s probably more training than you would like to do. Because the gastrocnemius and soleus are postural muscles, they can be very, very stubborn. And I think it’s unlikely that 3×10 on the calf raise machine, twice a week, with 45 lbs, will do anything for you.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to calf training. Everyone’s different. You just have to try different things and up your volume.

Speaking of volume…

A word of caution as you work to get your calves to grow: Be careful on the range of motion as you start out. As you may recall from my last post, your calves are probably already tight. And lifting heavy and lifting often will probably make them tighter if you don’t keep an eye on them with the right balance of stretching, foam rolling, etc.

Plus, your Achilles is one hell of an important tendon. It’s invaluable in how you walk and run and dance, and do just about everything else on two feet. Suddenly loading it up real heavy and going through a full range of motion can lead to problems. So, take your time and train safe.

Remember, Arnold was a bodybuilder. Don’t do too much too soon. There’s no rush to get to those 500 lb calf raises :).

Tight calves? Look at your footwear

Many, many people have tight calves. Simply put, it’s largely a consequence of our sedentary lifestyles. Even the fittest among us often have to put in some extra effort to ensure that we still have good movement in this part of our leg. And for a lot of women, it’s natural to wonder, “Are high heels bad for your calves?”

Unlike back pain, which is very obvious, tight calves often go somewhat unnoticed. At least until you do something out of the ordinary like play a game of pickup basketball or go hiking. Then, overuse injuries like achilles tendonitis or plantar fasciitis tend to pop up.

But what do I mean by tight, in the first place? A good example is a guy who works an office job, seated and hunched over a computer for many hours of the day, only to go to the gym and bench press three days a week. His rounded posture and internally rotated shoulders are helping to shorten his pectoralis major muscle. In other words, his pecs are tight. And because he’s working out so much, he’s “over toning” that muscle. His pecs are hypertonic.

Similarly, many of us are constantly fighting with tight calves. Women, I think, have even more work to do if they want to keep their calves happy. Why? Their footwear. Wearing shoes with an elevated heel has a tendency to shorten both the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscle. Taking all of your steps each day in a 3 or 4 inch heel is basically training your calves to remain shortened.

This can be a real problem when you take the shoes off and try and do something more natural, say, walk on flat ground! Or, should you go hiking or play a sport, your tight calves are being asked to now lengthen and support your body in all sorts of dynamically challenging ways.

Fortunately for your calves, high heels are apparently on their way out of fashion.

From a fitness and movement perspective, this certainly isn’t a bad thing. I think you can do your feet and calves a world of good by choosing footwear with a more open toebox and a shallow to zero degree heel lift. Foam rolling and stretching can help too, but the best thing you can do if you’re dealing with tight calves is to give them some room to move and stop wearing those high heels (at least as your day to day pair of shoes)!

10 golden rules of gym etiquette

It’s no secret that this time of year brings in a lot of new faces in any gym. One of the most common New Year’s Resolutions is to join a gym. Memberships spike across the country. For many of us regulars, we tend to dread the onslaught of new members now using the equipment that we are so fond of. But anytime someone takes the leap and enters a gym – what can be a relatively frightening place for many people – that’s a good thing. And for us “regulars” I think we need to go the extra mile this January and help these new folks to feel welcome. That being said, the following is part tongue in cheek and part legitimate. Here are the 10 golden rules of gym etiquette.

  1. No curls in the squat rack

    Bicep curls are strictly forbidden in the squat rack. Enough said.

  2. Stay off your phone

    Unless you maintain an Instagram account with upwards of 10,000 followers, you don’t need to haul your phone around all over the gym. Exception: You use a workout app.

  3. Give people space

    Because distractions can be dangerous when lifting heavy weight, or even light weight. I understand that in busy gyms, space is at a premium, but do your best.

  4. Don’t distract anyone during a set

    Includes asking questions like “Dude, how many more sets do you have?” and making unnecessary noise. It can be annoying when I’m in the middle of a heavy bench set and I can hear (and feel) weights being stacked around me on the bench.

  5. It’s OK to watch people, but not to stare

    In any gym, it’s always the same thing – everyone is watching everyone. This is a major cause of gymtimidation, and I get it, when you’re a little unsure about your workout, it certainly doesn’t help to see all of those wandering eyes. But here’s a little inside information: We’re probably just watching what you’re doing for three seconds before we watch what someone else is doing. A gym can be a beehive of activity, it’s OK to look around…but not to stare.

  6. Lower your yoga mat to the floor gently

    When someone is lying on their back doing their exercises and then you come along and let your mat fall to the ground, it creates a local windstorm – and in that storm, all those nice little particles of dirt on the floor neatly land on your face. It’s gross.

  7. Don’t hog the equipment

    It’s OK to use, say, the squat rack for twenty minutes straight, but you have to earn it. If you’re doing sixteen sets of your so-volume-intense-this-just-might-work Bulgarian squat routine, and you’re keeping yourself honest with your rest periods, then by all means, stay right there and squat until you can’t drive home. However, if you’re taking a six minute rest and perusing your Instagram account while I’m hovering around and longingly looking at the barbell, then that’s a problem.

  8. No dropping the weights (unless they are really, really heavy)

    This is a common grievance for many novice lifters and one of the stereotypes of the typical muscle-bound type. Simply put, there’s a time and a place for dropping the weights: For instance, O-lifting, deadlifts, and dumbbells over 85 pounds. Otherwise, just give those weights a little guidance as you set them down, don’t leave it all up to gravity [Phil Heath: Please do whatever you want, including curling in the squat rack].

  9. Enjoy yourself

    If you aren’t enjoying the process, I think you owe it to yourself to keep looking until you find something that you really enjoy. It takes guts to join a gym and walk out there on the floor if you aren’t really “the fitness type.” But I hope you stick with it, fitness comes in so many different flavors these days.

  10. Try not to judge

    The gym is a little like a prison yard. Small factions form and there are different cliques. I know that it can feel like everyone there knows exactly what they are doing except for you, but trust me, it’s not true. Everyone in there is just doing their best, trying to become the best version of themselves.

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If you’re starting a new movement program for 2017 next week, I wish you the best of luck. Fitness is awesome, it really is. 🙂

Please share this article, I’m sure that there is someone in your circle of friends who is on the verge of joining a gym!

Thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions – and some motivation

I wasn’t sure if I would write a New Year’s Resolution themed blog post this year. It just seems so cliche. So expected from a fitness blogger like myself.

Nevertheless, here we are, but I’m not going to talk about goal setting or how to score a great deal on a new gym membership.

The question is: Should you formulate a health and wellness New Year’s Resolution?

Sure. Of course. If you aren’t quite happy with your current level of fitness, then by all means, build a plan to do something about it. And if it happens to be on New Year’s Day, then it’s a New Year’s resolution. However, I think you should consider making a December 20th resolution. Or if you stumble across this blog post on June 6th, 2017 – you can make a June 6th resolution.

You understand what I’m saying, right? Your body doesn’t know what day it is. And you don’t need to wait for a particular day on the calendar, holiday or not, to make a change in your lifestyle or fitness. Just as you don’t need to wait until tomorrow morning or next week on Monday because it’s the start to a fresh week.

What you do need to do is to take action.

And when you do decide to take action, I hope you do it for the right reasons. It’s far too easy these days to flip through a magazine or see something on Instagram or YouTube and aspire to look just like that person.

You see, there’s a lot of money involved in telling us that we’re not fit enough. That we’re overweight or too skinny. That our muscles aren’t toned enough. You know the programs. Some of them claim that you can get fit in 14 minutes a day, others say 12 minutes, 9 minutes! Pick a number and you can probably find a product promising all your wildest fitness dreams achievable within that short window.

If you do decide to make a resolution on January 1st, or today(!), I want to encourage you to really understand why you want to achieve that goal. When you feel like you have an answer, go a little deeper and ask yourself why all over again. Maybe ask why a third time! It’s important to understand the root cause for your desire to be more fitter in order to design the best implementation plan.

Personally, I started working out way back in college to get bigger. As an ectomorph body type, I’ve always been lean. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a six pack, but I was small, at least in my own eyes. I started to believe that in order to get a date or be liked by people, I had to be bigger, more normal-sized (whatever that means). Over the years, fortunately, that thinking has eroded. And in its place, I’ve learned that I honestly enjoy working out. I love the feel of a barbell in my hands, the sound of banging weights, the dynamic of a busy gym, etc.

What does working out and this whole fitness thing mean for you? If you don’t like it one bit, I hope you have the courage in 2017 to try some new things. Maybe it’s pilates or a HIIT class, maybe it’s streaming Daily Burn from your phone onto your TV.

Most of all, I hope you can have an honest conversation with yourself, away from the pitfalls of Instagram and all the glossy hard bodies in the media, about why you want to improve upon your health and fitness. I believe that when you really understand your reasons, you can then implement some truly effective methods for becoming the best version of yourself.

And when you do build out a resolution, remember that with any big challenge, there’s a dichotomy at play:

  1. There is pushing hard and putting the work in. Maybe this is you during the first three weeks of January. You’re getting up on time, you’re at the gym several days a week, you’re finally putting the right things in your shopping cart at the store (because you’ve always known what the right things were, right?), etc.
  2. But then there is also the patience. Patience with a capital “P” comes into play when you’ve been pushing hard for four or six weeks, you look in the mirror and you don’t see any difference. You see the same version of yourself. The version that you didn’t like and wanted to change in the first place.

I think that most people are at one of these two extremes. They either push it really hard in the beginning, but maybe don’t have the patience to endure. So, they fizzle out after a couple weeks or months.

Or, you’re too damn patient and you keep waiting for that perfect opportunity. For good weather or a gym membership to go on sale. Or worst of all, you’re waiting for “the right time to start.”

But the people that really succeed with their fitness and end up changing their lifestyles permanently are the ones that are pushing on both fronts. They are out there grinding and putting in the effort, but they are also being patient. Having faith in the process. These are the folks that win and make the changes.

Whenever you decide to make your resolution – I hope you do it with a clear understanding of why you want to.

Then…push on both fronts.

🙂

By Ryan Wagner

Is the pistol squat the rarest exercise in the world?

If there’s one exercise that has made me more friends in the gym than any other, it’s the pistol squat. Also known as the single leg squat, the pistol is the singular movement that everytime I work them in the gym, there’s a very good chance that someone will approach me and comment. Usually, they are either asking me why I’m doing them or lamenting about how they probably can never do them because of some excuse.

When I used to frequent a Boulder gym, I think maybe every six months or so I would see another person doing pistols. But now that I’m in Denver, at a similarly large big box gym, I have seen exactly (count it) zero people doing pistols. I think it really is the rarest exercise.

And yet, it’s relatively common for the resident trainers to coach their clients on a TRX-supported single leg quarter squat. Presumably, the first step in a progression towards a true bodyweight pistol squat, but they never seem to take their clients any further.

Truth is, very, very few personal trainers can do a pistol themselves. Ask your trainer next time to show you one if you don’t believe me. In my experience, a lot of yoga instructors come close, and can knock out one or two pistols, but they lack the strength to really maintain some good dynamic stability.

It’s a shame that more people aren’t working towards a good looking pistol. It’s a great way to build upon your body control – self dominance in Ido Portal parlance. It will also keep your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back in good working order. And from a soft tissue perspective, to get the full depth that a pistol demands, you’ll keep good tonicity and movement in your glutes and quads.

In short, if you can perform a pistol squat, your lower body is in good shape.

So, what’s your excuse?

Let’s work together to make the pistol a little less rare.

Further reading

What’s preventing you from doing pistol squats?