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Saturday, 2 February 2019

The urgency of strength


By Pete Ryan


There are many attributes a human needs to thrive, one of the most time consuming to develop is strength, although strength is not the first physical attribute to fade with age (that honour goes to power – strength with speed), strength can begin to decline not too long after we reach our physical peak (mid-20’s) if we do not work to maintain or build it. There are good points, we can add to our strength at any age, but there are also bad points, strength only develops slowly, with humans often taking decades of training to reach their full potential. This can be bypassed somewhat using drugs, but for virtually all drug-free trainees 10-20 years will be needed to reach their maximum strength output. So technically an untrained person could start in their 50’s and reach their peak strength in their 60-70’s!
However there is a darker side for those who do not strength train. The body is not static, it has 2 states, anabolic (building) or catabolic (breaking down). Everyone goes through these 2 states many times each day, but generally the body is either growing, or shrinking overall. I am simplifying here as you can be losing fat and holding as much muscle as possible, but here I am talking about someone who stays about the same on a daily basis. If the muscles are worked then they tend to breakdown during the intense activity and regrow a little larger and stronger, or they are slowly removed as unnecessary if they are not used. As well as the aesthetic of looking less muscular you have countless hormonal changes[i], changes to bone density[ii] and even gut biome[iii] that all negatively affect your robustness, your feelings of wellbeing[iv], your overall health outcomes and even your likelihood of death[v].


Let’s get down to the basics, the older you are, the more important the need to begin some form of resistance training.  The older you are, the longer it will take to reach your peak strength and the lower that peak will be (assuming you started after your hormonal peak around the mid-20’s). However, it is possible you will obtain more benefits by continuing exercise into old age, than you would achieve by just getting really strong in your 20’s then stopping and relying on your previous strength levels to maintain you as you age[vi].


So, now we can agree you need to increase your strength, the question is how? I cannot answer that for you. For me I enjoy using weights and so weights are the way I add to my physical and mental wellbeing. There are people who prefer using their bodyweight, using machines or similar. It does not really matter what you choose as long as you enjoy it. Sure, one way may be better, but pick the one you enjoy and will continue with.

Ideals of strength and power differ between sexes, between sizes of humans and how old that person is. A 100 year old deadlifting 50Kg is probably a good lift (I do not know off-hand the records for the 100 year old deadlift, or if there is one?), however for a healthy 80Kg 25 year old male, 50Kg is not very impressive (assuming there are no issues that limit the lift, for some people it could be exceptional). So, although I cannot, nor would I, offer the definitive exercise programme, what I can do is offer you a general programme and allow you to change or even discard it in favour of one you prefer.

Before starting do a proper warm-up, the older or less active you are, then the more important a warm-up is ( https://veganbodybuilding.blogspot.com/2017/01/older-trainees-and-exercise-frequency.html ). My personal method is:
Foam rolling (you can check out the myofascial release book here https://payhip.com/veganbodybuilding )
Warm-up - I follow the idea of a more intense warm-up than many. For some people my warm-up could be their first workout if they are not conditioned. I will put together something about a correct warm-up soon. I try to move in most planes of motion and go from the floor to standing in a variety of ways.
Basic starter routine:

Mon

  •       Squat 3x10
  •       Overhead press 3x10
  •       Bent over dumbbell row 3x10 (each arm)
  •      Stir the pot on a stability ball 3x5 (each way)


Wed


Fri

  •      Deadlift 3x10 
  •      Shrug or high pull 3x10
  •      Bicep curl 3x10 
  •      Tricep extensions 3x10

This is a beginner routine, if some are too easy or too hard it is fine to progress or regress them to suit your current fitness levels and of course if anything hurts drop it and replace with something else. If you need any advice on changes, videos of the exercises etc, let me know in the comments and of course always consult with your health care specialist before starting any new fitness programme.

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Sunday, 17 June 2018

The adventure is the journey, not the destination


By Pete Ryan


Many people have dreams, goals and desires that they wish to achieve. You may want to be Mr Olympia, become a champion powerlifter or have 6-pack abs. Whatever the goal or dream, remember this fact. It is not the goal that is the important feature of this idea, it is the journey to that goal that will decide if you achieve it or not. In fact you may or may not actually succeed in that goal, so deciding on a goal becomes “Is the journey itself worth the sacrifice and effort”. Suppose I said you will go to the gym, drive yourself hard for over a decade and you will not become a pro bodybuilder, is the journey itself enough to drive you? If you say it is not, then I would not pick that journey. To succeed the journey needs to be enough to sustain you, you need to love the process that leads to that goal. We are not being simplistic, obviously some aspects of any goal may be dull, scary or even unpleasant, but overall you need to enjoy the process to succeed.  Winning a medal is a fleeting moment in time, a blip in your life, but the journey to that goal can take years or even decades to complete, so consider the process before you decide on a goal.  If you want 6-pack abs, but love fatty food and exciting dining adventures, then giving that all up may not be the best journey choice you could make.  Maybe just staying trim and in decent shape while still enjoying regular culinary adventures is a thing that would add depth and appreciation to your life? If you want to be the strongest man in the world, but hate the gym, then maybe you’d be better finding a goal that didn’t involve so much of life in a gym situation? You have one life, spending the majority of it doing something you do not want to do seems very wasteful of your time.


It is surprising how many people do not think of the process when they begin to choose a goal. They think of college in terms of what will give them the highest paid career, they think of jobs in terms of what will be the most financially successful. In both of these outcomes they have not thought if they will enjoy those courses or the job that follows. Let me offer you two job examples; One pays a lot, you will have a fabulous home, nice cars and all the luxuries imaginable, but you will hate the job, every workday will be long hours and you will rarely feel happiness in the job. By 50 you will begin to suffer serious stress related issues, your family life will be terrible, you will potentially suffer issues with alcohol or other abuse just to cope with the work. Or our second scenario where you find a job you enjoy a lot, it is challenging and sometimes you fail, but generally you do well, you improve. Again, you might have to work long hours, but these are productive hours with results you care about. It is a mid-income job, you are not exactly poor, but your car is a few years old, you have a small property, but you have few luxuries. By 50 you are still in good health and have a happy life generally. The first guy might retire with immense wealth and the second guy may retire with much less, but if we look back on their journey was it really worth all those decades unhappy to achieve the goal of immense wealth? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to do what made them happy for decades, but end up with less?


Before you think I am suggesting you always limit yourself, let me reverse the scenario.  Suppose you love exercise, the process of muscle growth. Now you could settle for a job or follow your dream of becoming a bodybuilder.  If the training is what makes you happy, then maybe the right goal for you to aim at is to see how far you can go in the bodybuilding field. You may just be a Mr Olympia one day, or if starting businesses is what you love to do, then maybe developing multimillion pound businesses might be the way forward for you. What I am saying is pick a process that you mainly enjoy, then consider how to make a goal from that journey.  You are more likely to be happy if you plan things that way. 


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Saturday, 26 May 2018

Training is a treadmill


By Pete Ryan


I believe that exercise has a good analogy with the person on the treadmill. If you slowly walk forward, you stay about the same, if you stop, you are going backwards. To move forward you have to run! It takes some effort to actually stay still, let alone move forward.



I believe training is the same (once you reach adulthood). As a trainee if you plod along, doing the same old pace, you will achieve the same old results.  You have seen the people in the gym who look the same after months or years doing the same things.  They often have ridged, set routines and do not focus on goals or plan their training. Let’s look at some ways you can plan your yearly training cycles.  First off a lot will depend on what you do and your goals, some people may need to lose weight, some may need to add muscle, others may use exercise to improve a sporting or leisure activity? So, your first chore has to be to decide why you want to exercise, what is the end goal?
After you have the final goal, the next is to break up your training into mesa cycles throughout the year.  If you want to look buff, you might want to break the year into 3 or 4 mesa cycles.  This will include a strength cycle, a hypertrophy cycle, a conditioning cycle and a peaking cycle (usually the peaking cycle will be just before summer, so you look your best topless on the beach).  If you are someone into a sport, you split it into off-season exercise, pre-season exercise and during the season exercise. These will probably be strength focused off-season, adding in conditioning as the season approaches and then minimal workouts to hold strength during the season (depending on the sport). Strength athletes like powerlifters or weightlifters will focus on specificity, so they will have more non-specific exercise during the off-season, then focus on their actual sport more and more as the contest approaches, then a peaking cycle leading into the contest.  This does not mean not doing the lifts off-season, but it does allow for doing variations, conditioning and other exercises to be included.



Now we have an idea of what we want to do, we now need to find ways to really push forward. A lot depends on your goals, but if you are looking at 100 pound weight loss, set intermediate goals. Celebrate every pound lost, buy yourself something nice when you lose 5 pounds.  Learn to enjoy the process, the goal is always anti-climatic, but enjoying the process continues as long as you are doing it! If you want to lift 100 pounds, but you are only lifting 50 pounds, lifting 51 pounds may not seem like much, but it is that step closer to the 100 pounds you want to get, so celebrate that. A PR (personal record) of 1 pound is as valid as a 50 pound PR, enjoy the moment. To go back to the treadmill analogy, every little PR, whether it is an extra rep, an extra pound or doing something with a few seconds less rest is just upping that pace on the treadmill a little, you started jogging instead of walking.  The only sprinters in this analogy are people new to training (or possibly people who begin taking anabolic steroids).  Those are the 2 times a person would be sprinting in this allegory, the rest of us will be walking, jogging or stopped. Throughout life we will go through times of each, will have times we move forward, times we ‘go through the motions’ and times of injury or distraction where we regress. Our goal must be to maximise the times we move forward and minimise the times we regress. You can do this by finding things you really enjoy doing, that way you will be keen to actually do the work, secondly set short term goals, so you will actually move forward slowly and not stagnate.



The final point to remember is that this is a process, so there may be goals along the way, but there is never a finish line, every goal is just a stepping stone to the next challenge, never be satisfied and never stop striving!

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Sunday, 20 May 2018

Ever forward


By Pete Ryan


You often hear the quote “I want to maintain”, or “I just don’t want to lose any strength/size”.  This might be a reasonable sounding goal and it can often be the outcome in the older trainee, but I do not believe it should be a goal. I will give my reasoning below.


The human body is a dynamic organism. It is not like a car or a bike. If you store it carefully, it will not maintain its abilities. What happens is a body is in two states.  The body is either anabolic or catabolic, so it is either growing and rebuilding, or it is consuming itself and destroying unnecessary parts of itself.  This is an on-going process that occurs all the time. Being catabolic can be health promoting by removing old or damaged cells, but it can also have a negative impact by removing hard fought for muscle, bone density, tendon durability or fascia strength. Meanwhile we have anabolic effects which involves adding tissue, this can be muscle and lean tissue, but adding fat is also an anabolic event. So, our goal is to create methods that heighten the positive effects of both the catabolic and anabolic processes in the body. We want to remove old and damaged cells, while also promoting the creation of new lean tissue with minimal increases in fat storage.


The best way to achieve these goals is through progressive resistance exercise. This can be bodyweight, or using equipment. Note the name of this type of exercise. PROGRESSIVE resistance exercise. That is the goal, but why is it important to progress, and what do we mean by progression?
Let us look at progression, or to be more precise, let’s look at non-progression. Let’s say you reach a point where you believe 10 reps of 100 pounds in an exercise is ‘strong enough’. So, you always do 10 reps or 100 pounds.  If you never go over that your body will adapt to it, you will become more efficient at the movement and you will end up with the very minimum you need to do that 10 reps of 100 pounds. Any issue, ANY problem that increases stress or stops you training will drop you below that level. As you age, it will become progressively harder to get those 10 reps. If you reached 10 reps of 100 pounds with ease at 30 years old, by 50 you will be struggling to get it, by 65 years old you probably won’t have it any more…and you will blame old age. It will not be aging that took that lift away from you, it will be the lack of progression.


Now let us look at what we mean by progression.  When we talk about progression most people think of ‘intensity’ the actually weight lifted, but that is an oversimplification of progression.  Yes if you lifted 90 pounds and later lifted 100 pounds then you have progressed, but there are other options. The amount of reps done during an exercise, a harder variation of an exercise, taking less time between sets, even trying new forms of exercise that stimulate the body in novel ways and develop new skills, all of these are forms of progression.

Most people realise that you cannot keep adding weight to an exercise (or repetitions).  There is a limit, most people will never lift 1,000 pounds or do 1,000 pull-ups in day, but you can progress by cycling exercises so throughout your life you continue to progress and move forward.
Let’s return to the person who believes 10 reps of 100 pounds is ‘strong enough’.  My argument is they should be aiming at higher numbers (let’s say 125-150 pounds for 12-15 reps), but not do it every week. They should do a mesa cycle working up to that peak and then move on to other exercises, then return again regularly and aim at equalling or ideally bettering that goal. So suppose you have four mesa cycles in a year (3 months each). Mesa cycle 1 would be get to 12-15 reps of 125-150 pounds doing the exercise, mesa cycle 2 could be doing a variation of the same exercise or working the same muscle groups using other exercises, mesa cycle 3 could be working up to 3-5 reps with 175-200 pounds of that exercise, mesa cycle 4 could be another variation that works the same muscle groups.  You can also do variations other than increasing weight or reps, think about the rest time between sets, what you do before this exercise.  So, you could cut your rest time between sets from 1 minute to 30 seconds, or if you are doing a curl, do a chin up before you do the curl.  All these things will change the results and create new demands on your body.  You have more than a lifetime of tweaks to play with. No one will ever have time to try every variable or even every type of exercise available. So, progression is possible throughout life and expect to set goals and repeatedly conquer them throughout your life, go forward, ever forward.

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