Sunday, February 27, 2011

The journey of self education and other stuff

My boss one told me that doing the same thing for 10 years is not equivalent to 10 years' worth of experience. It's actually 1 year's worth of experience being done over and over again for 10 years. It was a simple statement, yet profound.

When you do something, you should always strive to improve yourself. Maybe you improve yourself over time and after going through personal experiences. Other times you improve by reading about the subject matter or talking to like minded souls - changing ideas and opinions.

In my career as well as my short years of being a fitness junkie wannabe I have made some stupid mistakes. I look back and realize that I have learnt a lot over the years but I also realize that I still have a long way to go. Just a moment ago I read my past blog entries and there are some that I'm kind of embarrassed about.

Most of them are when I write about direct work for certain muscle groups like the glutes, triceps, back and abs. I know now that our body functions as a whole and doing isolation work would actually not help you much. It might help in terms of cosmetics (to a certain extent) but I don't think it will help to enhance your overall strength.

Doing barbell squats will work your core, and glutes. Doing the overhead press (or any other type of presses) will work your triceps. Doing deadlifts will build up your traps in no time. You don't really need too much of direct work. But there are exceptions...

Like direct grip work. I have a sissy grip and doing direct grip work would be extremely beneficial for me. Especially when training for the deadlift. I've discovered that my grip is hindering my deadlift progress. I've a feeling if I don't do something about my grip strength it will one day hinder my chin up progress as well as my overhead press progress.

What other direct work do you think is relevant? Jason and Kev... what are your thoughts on this?

Friday, February 25, 2011

A simple thing that makes you squat better

Squatting is quite technical, come to think of it. Coach Rippetoe mentioned that the starting position of the squat i.e. your stance is very important to ensure that your form is perfect. But I'm not gonna write about that. Simply because I am not qualified.

What I am going to write about is my stupidity when it comes to squatting. This comes from the person who has read Pavel's book Power to the People front to back three times. Goes to show I can be a slowpoke at times.

Mr. Tsatsouline has always emphasized on keeping your muscle tense throughout a lifting movement. It will provide you with more strength and stability. Granted, it takes practice to consciously tense up your muscle at will. At least for me, it took some time to remember to really, really brace my abs and 'pinch a coin' between my cute butt cheeks (too much info, hahaha) when I'm about to lift.

It makes a world of difference. Tensing up my muscles definitely made the lift easier to execute. I'll try to activate more of my upper body muscles for my overhead presses. Like I said, it takes practice to consciously brace your muscles.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Talking Junk

Very often you will hear people preach about how junk food is harmful and is a common factor of why people become increasingly obese. Junk food is the root of all evil. Eat it and die! I say there is no such thing as junk food. Just like every animal has its purpose in the ecosystem, every food has its purpose when it comes to nutrition.

McDonald's is not junk food. Pizza Hut is not junk food. Neither ice cream nor jelly beans are junk food.

"But won't these make you fat?"

Answer: Honey, if you overeat something as healthy as wild salmon... it'll still make you fat. Salmon isn't junk food, is it?

It is pretty much simple maths. When it comes to fat loss or fat gain the equation goes like this:

Calorie in > Calorie out = Fat Gain

Calorie in < out =" Fat">

However, the equations above only applies to mere mortals whose most taxing activity involves racing towards the closing door of an elevator. But for fitness junkies like you and me, the rules are slightly different.

There is an ideal time for all types of food. A Big Mac would be beneficial for someone who is undertaking a muscle gain programme. When could someone like this eat a Big Mac? Post workout of course. Post workout is when the muscle absorbs nutrients like a sponge absorbs water. All those disgusting excessive calories, fat, carbs, and protein would be easily absorbed by muscles in order to repair itself after a hard session of weight training.

Same goes to sweet stuff (which are mostly high GI) like jelly beans and Coke can be consumed post workout just because the body could handle and NEEDS all those calories.

'Clean food' like chicken breast, wholemeal bread, wild salmon, salad etc (which are low GI) is best consumed on non-training days and also a few hours prior to training. This will give you 'slow burning' energy (for lack of a better analogy) that would give you steady energy output throughout your training session.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Warmups: Be smart about it

Until today I am not a big fan of warming up the conventional way. What do I mean by conventional? Hmm... okay let me just give you an example.

Your training programme for that day involves back squats, front squats, benchpress and saxon press. Before you start training you warmup by running nowhere for 5 minutes on the treadmill.

I seriously do not see the connection between running on the treadmill and weightlifting. How does running help you 'warm up' for a hard session of benchpresses and squats? Isn't it better to warmup for squats by doing... wait for it... squats? Squat with an empty bar first before you get to your main course. Or if an empty bar is your main course (don't worry, we all have to start somewhere), then squat with a pair of dumbbells. Or do bodyweight squats. Doesn't that make more sense?

That way your body gets better accustomed to what it is about to . You can run on the treadmill all you want but I bet you that it won't make you ready for an intense weightlifting session. The only thing that validates warming up on the treadmill is if you're about to have a good running session. And even then, why would you want to run on the treadmill when you're about to run outdoors?

Of Workshops, Additional Arsenal and Proper Form

Well, it seems that my first Rabbit Plan will materialize very soon. Already registered for Pushmore's Kettlebell Workshop scheduled in March. Can't hardly wait for it! Woohoo...
And if it's from the fantastic people of Pushmore it's bound to be educational, fun and challenging.

The fee for the workshop is RM 349 for non-members and the price is inclusive of a kettlebell. Hehehee... how nice. I'm pretty much killing two birds with one stone. I get to learn the proper way of kettlebell lifts and add the kettlebell to my arsenal of bells.

Anyway, Lyn of Pushmore asked what kettlebell weight was preferable to me. I was pleasantly surprised that they are making available 8kg kettlebells as well because it was made known that the choice was between 16kg (usually for the guys) and 12kg (usually for the ladies).

I'm pretty confident that 8kg is a comfortable weight for me, especially when doing turkish get ups and snatches. 12kg ones are okay, I guess, but mind you that kettlebells can feel heavier than their actual weight. Plus, when you're learning something new it is best to use a lighter weight so it is easier for you to learn the correct technique and have proper form.

That, my friend, is better than trying to act macho but end up looking like a weakling who struggles under a weight that you can't handle.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Chin Up Puzzle

If you want to improve your chinups, should you practice doing chinups more often or should you do various exercises to improve overall upper body strength?

I thought I could do chinups at one time in my life. Turns out my form and technique were terribly wrong. First of all I didn't start with a deadhang. Sadly, I discovered that at a deadhang start, I could hardly do a single chinup.

Over a period of time, I improved to a single measly chinup. Which was actually an achievement seeing that I failed to do chinups before. But then my focus went elsewhere and I spent my time doing overhead presses, bodyweight rows (using the TRX) and pushups. That's all I did.

And today out of curiosity I tried doing chinups. Bare in mind it's been a couple of months since I last did them. And surprisingly I managed to do 3 of 'em. Again, I am the first to admit the number is nothing to shout about. But I'm just curious how I managed to improve on the numbers (by 200%... hahaha...) without training for them directly.

Oh just in case you're curious. My weight is a healthy 48kilos. I'm happy with it, and I think this is my ideal weight.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Conditioning Conundrum

Strength and conditioning. They go hand in hand. But while the strength portion is pretty much straighforward for me, the conditioning part leaves me a tad bit confused. How much conditioning is too much conditioning? Or maybe too little conditioning? What kind of conditioning is best for you?

I know a hardgainer like myself could get away with very little conditioning (if at all) and not gain fat. However, my aim at conditioning is not to lose fat but just to have a decent vo2 max. Based on experience though, I can safely say I'm not made for even medium distance running. Let alone long distance.

Sprinting is okay, though. I enjoy sprinting every once in a while. Walking's cool too. Walking's therapeutic. I don't know how walking would improve my vo2 max though.

What about those days when it is cold and wet outside (which happens very often lately)? Or maybe you're just not the outdoorsy type. Do you really have to suck it up and still jog/sprint/walk just to get your dose of conditioning?

Some would recommend barbell/dumbbell/kettlebell complexes. It sure beats the monotony of jogging/walking. But there are concerns that doing complexes too often would result in joint/muscle wear and tear. It would also delay recovery as it is more strenuous compared to good old jogging/sprinting.

Hmm.. funny how I recover slower after jogging compared to doing complexes. But that's maybe because I'm not used to jogging as much as I'm used to lifting weights. Plus, you should be wise enough to use the right weight i.e. not too light but not too heavy for complexes.

Whatever it is... I think everything should be in moderation. There is a time for complexes. And there is a time for jogging/sprinting/running. Mixing it up would be best. Admittedly though, I have a preference for complexes and kickboxing.

Sigh... I miss kickboxing.

Monday, February 14, 2011


A night out with friends. Cold weather. Open air sitting. The result? Sore throat and a heavy chest. Yeay!


Note to self: ALWAYS bring a jacket along when I'm out and about. With the weird weather we're experiencing it's much safer to err on the side of caution.

My greatest fear when I get sick like this is I will lose weight. The hard earned mass that I gained. So I'm going to make sure I eat properly. No skipped meals for me. It's gonna be quite a task as I, like most people, lose my appetite when I'm not in the pink.

Hope this fever will go away soon. VERY soon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Finer Points of Overhead Presses

Woohoo! It was deadlift day today. I miss doing deads. A week without deadlifts. And when I came back to KL I did my squats first. I kind of miss squats. But not as much as I miss doing deads. But really. Today's entry is not about deadlifts now squats. It's about overhead presses.

As much as I love overhead presses, I'm unfortunately not very good at it. I constantly remind myself that strength is a skill. And like all skills, there's always a technical part to it. And in pursuit of honing the technical skills, I read a few books and looked at various credible YouTube vids on the finer side of pressing.

What I know is that you need to keep your body tense, squeeze your glutes tight (like pinching a coin between the cheeks) and hold your breath which effectively make you brace your abs while your press and slowly release your breath when you're lowering the bar to chest level.

But perhaps Coach Rip can explain it better:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rabbit Plans

Gong Xi Fa Cai! The year of the rabbit has arrived. New year, new goals. There are the things I plan to do this year:

  1. Attend Kettlebell Classes - Like I've mentioned before, I'm curious. And I don't mind shelling out a bit of cash to learn.
  2. Certification - I guess sooner or later I would want to be a certified fitness junkie. Perhaps I'd do it sooner rather than later. I've been doing some research on various certification bodies. The determining factor will not be how popular a certification is (because there are popular certifications out there, but the module is pretty much crap), but I'd place more emphasis on content. I don't plan to be a trainer anyway so why should I conform just to be accepted?
  3. Improve on my lifts - that goes without saying
  4. Read more - I'm always thirsty for knowledge. And there's so much to learn out there. I need to satiate the nerd in me.

Okay. Four is enough. For now. Maybe when I'm done with #1 and #2 (#3 and #4 is ongoing) I'll think of something else to do.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pistol Squats and Kettlebells

So I'm back in my hometown. Kind of bored with not much to do but read and watch TV (it's been raining most times, so can't really get outside). In between I practiced my pistol squats. My sister brought home her kettlebell so I fooled around with it as well. Doing a few swings and snatches.

About the pistol squats. I couldn't do a pistol squat at all prior to getting on the plane home. After reading the naked warrior and following the instructions Pavel gave in the book I could actually do a pretty decent semblance of a pistol squat. Granted, it's not perfect but at least I'm improving.

I read Pavel's book and in half a day improved my pistol squats execution. Cool, huh? Hopefully I can dish out perfect pistol squats soon.

And yes, I was fooling around with the kettlebell. It's pretty addictive, that kettlebell. The swings left me with a similar feeling to running. I was breathing pretty heavily after going through a minute or two of swinging the kettlebell. Tried to do the turkish get up, but failed miserably using a 'mere' 6kg cannonball.

That's one thing about the kettlebell: It feels heavier than it actually is. Like any other type of bells out there (e.g. barbell, dumbbell) the kettlebell commands respect. A 6kg kettlebell may look tiny and cute, but handled the wrong way, it could still lead to injury.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

License to Train

What makes a trainer good? What sets a great trainer apart from the sea of mediocre trainers out there? Is it a good personality? Many years of experience? Or perhaps a laminated piece of card saying that a person is a certified personal trainer?

The answer is a no brainer. You want all three in a personal trainer.

But what if you can’t have all three? What if you’re split between two guys with great personalities: One a certified personal trainer with not much experience and the other is someone who is not certified but has many years of experience training people with great results.

The answer’s still a no-brainer to me: I’d choose the latter. A good track record impresses me much more than a piece of paper qualification.

A fellow blogger (albeit a far more famous and influential one) said that an athlete is not a professional trainer. Hmm… Seriously? I think anyone who’s been reading this blog long enough would know that I am into lifting. And for me, given a choice between learning from ‘certified trainer’ who himself can’t lift heavy or from a professional powerlifter I would definitely choose the powerlifter any given day.

Having a certification doesn’t mean squat when all you do is just parroting from a textbook. Hey, ever heard of that certified PT who didn’t play any kind of sports (except congkak.. uhhh is congkak a sport?) in highschool that tried to train a bunch of athletes? Yeah, he got his butt kicked and laughed off the field.

I’m a very simple person. I hate arguing minute details about which accrediting body is legit and which is not. It’s as simple as this: If you know your stuff, you earn my respect . It doesn’t matter if you’re certified or not. You can have a bunch of letters after your name, but if you don’t seem to know what you’re doing or what you’re talking about please show yourself out the door.

My former trainer for example, does not have any kind of paper qualification but the knowledge he possesses is astounding. He answers all my questions clearly and provides me with reasons why he has me do certain exercises or have me eat certain foods. And that commands more respect than some certified clown who recommends exercises or diets because ‘this textbook here says so.’

For me, having a certification is more a rite of passage… a necessary evil even… for someone who has already earned his battlescars in the trenches. It serves to formalize what he already is: a great trainer. A certification is not a license to lord over uncertified trainers. And it certainly is not something that guarantees respect.

You still need to earn that the hard way.