Part of this blog is a meandering discussion of body image and all that, but part of it is fitness based because a great many people ask me for fitness advice: either specific to their own bodies or just curious to know what I do myself. So I thought I’d describe my current routine for Spring.
I was contacted recently by more than one person asking about weight loss. They were now as I had been years ago: very overweight and searching for solutions to their obesity. A question that keeps coming up for people – men usually contact me, but it’s also especially prevalent among women trying to lose weight – is whether or not they should even be lifting weights. For women, there is this fear that lifting weights will turn her into She Hulk in no time, and for both men and women there is a fear that somehow lifting weights will be a waste of time inasmuch as it distracts from the person’s primary goal of losing weight (presumably through a few hours of mind-killing cardio).
Lets talk a little about why these fears are unfounded.
A friend and former student of mine was asking me a question today that dovetails with something I’ve been thinking about for a while. He contacted me through facebook and told me that he had strained his neck doing lat pulldowns and wanted to know 1) how he had done that and 2) how he could avoid doing that in the future. Basically I suggested that he was probably doing the exercise wrong, but wrong for reasons that he (and most people) aren’t aware of.
When someone is doing an exercise incorrectly, there are only a few reasons why that might be the case. The first is that they simply don’t know how the exercise is done. For some motions, like Deadlift or Squat, this can be both an easy mistake and a very dangerous one. The form for both of these motions is deceptively specific, as it should be, since failing to do this motion correctly can lead to serious and long term lower back injuries. The second (though not necessarily mutually exclusive) reason is that the wrong way of doing it is just easier and lets you do more weight and feel like you’re doing something impressive. But the reason it is easier – and the reason that way is wrong – may be surprising. And it ties in with how my friend hurt his neck.
I told him, “If you strained your neck, you may have been using too much weight. When you strain a muscle that doesn’t seem to be used for a given motion, it means that your body is recruiting secondary muscles to get through that motion (because the primary ones aren’t up to the job). It’s gonna hurt for a minute, but it’ll get better in a week or so. In the future, watch your weight and make sure your form is flawless. If you have good form in a motion, then your body can’t recruit other muscles (and if you can’t do a motion with good form, lighten the weight!)”
So let’s look at three different exercises that a lot of people are doing wrong and why they’re wrong.
(Previous week: 1, 2, 3)
Here after week 3 I’m beginning to wonder if every week is a mixed bag! Some things were great and some things were not. Though perhaps the things that weren’t great were mostly just perception and not reality – holdovers from when I was seriously fat that I haven’t quite shaken yet.
So I’m a little late on this (since I’m a couple weeks in), but I wanted to throw up a post about what my lifting routine is and why I make some of the choices I made. I’ve already described briefly what I think are the building blocks of making a lifting routine, so those rules still control, but here I’ll describe how that actually payed out in my decision making regarding my bodybuilding goals.
I’ll walk through my decision process step by step, then give an outline of the whole routine.
So I’m headed to Chicago tomorrow morning on a kind of vacation (it’s almost entirely work-related for me, but any time away from Florida is a vacation for me. Yes: I know I’m crazy. I’m trying to escape Florida in the winter). One thing I can’t ever shake when I go on vacations is that feeling of mild anxiety about leaving the stable environment I have at home where I can carefully and successfully manage my fitness routine. It’s something like the fear one may have about eating over the holidays, except that for me it’s worse because I don’t typically leave for the holidays. On Christmas it’s easier for me to eat sensibly because I’m so close to my own home. On vacation I’m completely out of my element and it feels like I have to think on my feet. It takes a lot out of me to prepare for vacations because at this point in my fitness lifecycle I really, really don’t want to collapse.
So yesterday ended with a cliffhanger that I’m sure everyone appreciated. The issue of the wrong-headedness of calorie math is kind of complex, though, so I’ll leave that for a separate article. Right now, though, I can tackle the exercise part.
As I said last time, my body is very endomorphic. It is going to gain weight much more easily than any other kind of body. Now the first thing that immediately occurred to me upon discovering this was, of course, to get depressed. So I did for a little bit and went through the typical cycle one goes through when they discover something that seems beyond horrible. (For us fat kids, that means hitting the buffet). But once that was out of my system I could look at my situation a little more reasonably and begin the process that had served me well from the start: accepting a setback, learning from it, and incorporating it into my future plans.
So, having discovered that I was at a radical disadvantage with regards to losing weight, what was I to do in order to incorporate that into my future plans? How was I to fight a battle against my body when the deck seemed to be stacked? To answer these questions basically called for me to rethink my goals: not my long-term goal (I never gave up on becoming Colossus!) but my near term goals and what I thought success looked like.
It also involved me changing how I thought about my body. Fighting my body was going to be a monstrous undertaking… but was there a way to use what seemed like a handicap to my advantage?