I Don’t Have Time To Workout!

We’ve all been there.  Most of the time I’m there.  I spend my days taking other people through workouts, and whatever energy I have left goes into chasing my kids around.  To solve this time/energy problem, I have been selecting a few intense exercises and doing them in short bursts.

Before Anne and I had children, we did 10 mile runs every Saturday and I’d spend 6 to 9 hours per week doing some sort of martial arts training.  That’s just not realistic anymore.  Plus, I hate running.

I am always trying to maintain balance in my body.  I spent a lot of years getting injured due to the fact that I would hyperfocus on one thing at a time.  That worked for a while in my 20s, but eventually the repetitive stress can start to add up.  Distance runners and powerlifters usually have some sort of chronic pain issue.  It’s a trade-off.  To win, you have to focus.  Elite athletes know what they’re getting into.

I can’t afford to be injured anymore.  My little boys expect me to carry them when they’re too tired to walk, and I won’t be able to demonstrate proper pushups if I have a torn rotator cuff.  I also don’t have as much tolerance for discomfort as I once did.

If you are also the type of person who feels obligated to train every system, but can’t seem to find enough opportunity, give this a try for a few months:

*It goes without saying that if you are new to exercise, get checked by a doctor, have someone show you proper technique, and WARM UP!!

1X PER WEEK — DEADLIFTS.  Ramping up to a heavy set of 5 reps.  (Around 30 minutes)

2X PER WEEK — BURPEES (with pushups and jumps).  You’ll know when you’re done.  In sets or all at once. (10 or so minutes)

2X PER WEEK — MONKEY BAR HANG.  Until your hands won’t close anymore. Do pull-ups if you’re strong enough.  (10 or so minutes)

2X PER WEEK — STRETCH AND FOAM ROLL THE LEAST MOBILE PART OF YOUR BODY.  I mean dedicated stretching.  Focus on that one area.  (15 to 20 minutes)

That’s it.

There are always going to be naysayers.  “You’ll never finish an ultramarathon with that workout.”  “Yeah, but what can you bench brah?”  “That’s not enough volume to separate all 36 deltoid heads…brah.”

Let me just get out in front of that in this closing.  This is not a bodybulding, powerlifting, or endurance sport routine.  If you’re worried about your delt head separation, then you probably also get 8 hours of sleep, go to things like Happy Hour, and aren’t concerned about running out of diapers.

Deadlifts build maximal strength throughout the entire body.  Every muscle.  I used to think that the chest is neglected here, but anytime I go heavy, one of my pecs will usually spasm.

Burpees will improve endurance, power, speed, and agility, along with working every muscle. (Tell me which ones aren’t burning after a hard round of burpees)

Monkey bar hangs will improve grip and upper body strength, along with shoulder and back mobility.  Working in pullups will only improve upon that.

Dedicated mobility work in a troublesome spot is pretty self-explanatory.

If you decide to give this a go, I’d love to hear about your results.

 

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Fitness Standards For Regular Folks

When people first begin the journey toward improved fitness and overall health, I find that they often don’t have a specific path toward a clearly defined goal.  This is perfectly understandable.  If a person has never really tested the capacity of their own body, fine details can seem pretty elusive.  Generally the goals entail “looking better,” or “losing weight.”  Along that road, some sort of exercise will be involved.  With that in mind, it is helpful to establish progress along an exercise continuum.

First and foremost, I am a proponent of finding something that a person is willing to do consistently.  If all someone ever wants to do is hop on an elliptical machine, that’s terrific.  Does it ignore a genuine need for strength training?  Yes.  Does it forgo the benefits of mobility work?  Yes.  Is it better than sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours, sitting in a car for 1 hour, and then sitting on the couch for 3 hours?  Emphatically, yes.  We could all be doing more, but simply doing something is a great place to start.

If a person is new to the idea of a dedicated fitness program, they might start with a simple Google search.  This can quickly devolve into a rabbit hole of overwhelming frustration.  I often run across strength training forums where I commonly see the standard, “Good strength goals for men are a 300 bench, 400 squat, and 500 deadlift.”  For the average person just starting out, this isn’t realistic, and it can be downright discouraging.  Most people can’t squat properly with any weight at all.  I personally know only 5 people on a first-name basis who can deadlift over 400 lbs, and 3 of us are fitness trainers.  Few people are doing any deadlifting at the family gym I attend.  Obviously the average powerlifter is going to hit those numbers, but powerlifters are not the intended audience of this post.

There are some terrific sites with fitness standards out there.  I personally test myself against a lot of the Crossfit standards, even though I’m not a Crossfitter.  But for the average person with little exercise knowledge, who is just looking for a basic template of realistic goals, the Crossfit standards can seem a bit esoteric and daunting.  So…if you are new to all of this, and have managed to train past the window between a New Year’s resolution and Valentine’s Day, here are some well-rounded, medium term goals that can help build a foundation toward any higher level fitness achievement.

— Finish a 5k without walking.  Barely jogging is acceptable.

— Pushups (chin to floor, perfectly planked):  Men, over 20.  Women, over 5.

— Inverted row from floor (legs straight, perfect plank):  Men, over 10.  Women, over 3.

— Front Plank (flat as a board):  90 seconds

— Bodyweight squats (below parallel):  75

— Single Leg Hip Bridge (full extension, controlled pace):  25 per leg

There will be any number of varying reactions to these standards:  “That’s weak sauce, bro,” or “Pushups are impossible!”  It is of the utmost importance to note that these standards are not going to break any fitness records — that isn’t the point.  Second, most people that I start with have severe strength imbalances:  35 perfect pushups on day one, but can’t do one squat to parallel without rounding the back and coming up on the toes.  I have also come to recognize that genetic factors for women can be all over the map in terms of upper body strength.  Petite women with shorter appendages usually have no trouble hitting 20 or more pushups in a fairly short amount of time.  Tall women with longer arms may struggle for a year just to get one good pushup.

The larger point that I want to make is that it is important to work on our weaknesses.  If you can sprint a 5k, but can’t hold a plank for 30 seconds, less time on the treadmill and more time on the floor can really benefit you long-term.  I’m a perfect example of this.  Lifting heavy things has always come pretty naturally for me.  But until I started running in my 30s, I couldn’t jog one mile without resting along the way, and it would take me hours to recover (chain-smoking didn’t help).  As I became more dedicated to martial arts training, my early progress was slowed by the fact that I simply had no stamina whatsoever.  When I switched my focus from something I could already do well, to something that had always been a struggle, it changed everything.

Not every man will be able to bench press 300 lbs.  Not every woman will be able to run a marathon.  But, over time, you should acquire enough strength and stamina to increase the odds of saving your own life in an emergency.  I have mentioned similar scenarios in previous blog posts, but I think it is important to reiterate them:

— Car breaks down in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception.  Are you fit enough to walk several miles back to civilization, possibly carrying a small child?  If you can jog an entire 5k, your odds are better.

— An overloaded bookshelf falls on top of you.  Can you use your arms and hips to get yourself free?  If you can do 5 good pushups, and 25 single leg bridges, your odds are better.

— A loose dog is coming after you.  Can you climb over a fence to safety?  If you can do 3 horizontal inverted rows, your odds are better.

Physical strength won’t save us in every emergency.  Surviving a plane crash or chemical plant explosion will mostly come down to severity and luck, but these things are exceedingly rare.  Most of us have experienced, or personally know someone who has experienced, something similar to one of the 3 scenarios I described above.  For people who spend time on the most basic levels of general fitness, hiking 5 miles to a gas station in the desert will feel like a challenging workout.  For people who don’t, it can become a life or death situation.

Practical Fitness Tips

…There are precisely 368,994,103 fitness tips in existence.  Here are a few more:

— You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.  If that includes exercise and healthy eating, you will eventually be in a lot of pain and probably die prematurely.  Everyone has their own ideas about pastime.

— If you are chronically stressed, it is an emergency.  Fix it.  First priority.  It makes no difference what you have to give up in order to do so.  (Note: Doing what you are already doing, only more frantically, will not fix it).

— Obesity is not a disability.  It is a treatable condition.  If food addiction is causing the obesity, that is also a treatable condition.

— Find a physical activity you enjoy and do it as often as possible.  If you hate running, don’t run.  If you hate gyms, don’t go to one.  If you like flying kites, do that.  If you don’t know what a kite is, stop looking at your phone.

— Make yourself do something that is challenging at least once per week.  Pushups, lap swimming, Zumba.  Pick one.

— If do you go to a gym, don’t drive around the parking lot looking for a spot closest to the door to avoid excess walking in order to enter a building in which you are going to get on a machine and walk.

— Stop eating fruit flavored candy.  Fruit tastes just like fruit.

— If you do today what you did yesterday, you will feel just like you did yesterday.

— If you do tomorrow what you did today, you can finish this sentence and put it on a stock photo of a person climbing a mountain.  Or vomiting into a mall trash can.  Depends on what you plan to do tomorrow.

— Stop obsessing about every little health detail that may add an extra 14 hours to the end of your life.  Obsessing about it cancels out any perceived benefit.  (RE: Stress + exhausting all of your friends).

— If you’re 52, stop hanging on to 22.  If you’re 22, stop calling Nirvana “classic rock.”

— If you are expecting that the preceding tips will make you look like a fitness magazine cover, they won’t.  But these things will:

Deadlifts…heavy.  Sprints…until death seems preferable.  Planks, sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts…laughing isn’t worth the pain anymore.  Pushups…all of them.  Pull-ups…until it feels like cardio.  Chicken, avocado, spinach…always.  Cake…never.  Happy hour…nope.  Twinkies…yes, if you fill them with razor blades.

Everything exists on a spectrum.

The Secret To A Healthy Bodyweight

As a good friend likes to say about most things in life…”It’s simple, but it’s not easy.”  There is no secret to maintaining a healthy bodyweight.  Unless there is an underlying metabolic issue (rare), or an addiction that requires mental health treatment, we generally just have to become more conscious about our daily habits.  I often hear people approaching this subject as if there is an ancient magical formula that can only be found by searching the farthest reaches of some tropical jungle.

Here’s the straight talk:  All of us can do this, but most of us don’t want to.  In a culture that prides itself on abundance and indulgence, we expect our struggles to be overcome in a passive manner that is seriously lacking accountability.  “The Cheesecake Factory should have known that I couldn’t resist a second helping of dessert.  I’ll sue them.”

What do you really want?  Do you want to look and feel good?  Or do you want to binge watch Netflix while polishing off a king sized bag of M&Ms every night?  The choice is yours, and so is the result.  Healthy people do healthy things.  Now…before you fall into the “Easy for you to say personal trainer and colossal douche” mind-trap, it is important to re-state where I came from:  Pack of Marlboro reds, 3 pints of vodka, Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal (super-sized) — every day for years.  After watching my life crumble from the inside out, I decided I wanted something different, and then I did something different.

Here’s an anecdote that one of my former clients shared with me a few years back.  She and her husband went on a spring trip to Boston with another couple.  My client couldn’t wait to walk around the city and take in its rich history.  The other couple wouldn’t have it.  Their legs were in too much pain as a result of diabetes and obesity.  So the couple offered an alternative: During lunch, they would spend all of their time discussing options for dinner.

Nothing will ever happen if you “start tomorrow,” and you will never have time if you don’t make time.  Incidentally, you do have time.  You just don’t want to give up resentful Facebook rabbit-holes in which you conclude that everyone else’s life is better than yours (it’s not).  Just stop it.

Without further ado, here are the keys to a healthy bodyweight (and a healthier mind for that matter).

— Drink a gallon of water per day.

— Use My Fitness Pal.

— Keep your net carbs at 100 grams or less (total carbs minus fiber).

— Get at least 7 hours of sleep.  (Turn off the screens 8 hours before your alarm is set to go off, and get into bed).

— Meditate 10 minutes every day.  (Headspace is a great way to start learning).

— Get your 10,000 steps.  (There are plenty of wearable fitness devices that can help you track).

That’s it.  6 things.  Here’s the Stephen Hawking scientific explanation:  It works if you do it.  It does not work if you do not do it.

 

 

Can You Squat Like This?

This is my client Robert.  He is 57 years old and suffers from a degenerative disc condition that wreaks havoc on his vertebrae.  Still, he is able to sit on his calves with a straight back, while keeping his weight on his heels.  Why does this matter?  Bill Burr does a hilarious bit about this in his special “Let It Go.”  You can YouTube “Old Man Face” and it comes up.

But in all seriousness, being able to squat and hinge the hips are two markers that will determine how the second half of your life will go.  If you are already starting to brace your legs with your hands to get up from a couch, your hips aren’t hinging properly.  If you bend over to pick up groceries with straight legs and a curved back, you are losing the ability to squat and hinge together.  It is just a matter of time before you either A) Can’t get up from a seated position on your own, or B) herniate a disc and end up in the ER.

If you are on the precipice of having difficulty doing either of these two basic movements, ask a fitness trainer or physical therapist to help you get back on track.  Your quality of life depends on it.

A Hotel Room Workout For Travelers

When I traveled for work, not every hotel was equipped with a gym.  Occasionally I would take a jog to explore the surroundings, but I’m a “strength first” type of guy.  Often I had to use whatever was available in my hotel room, which typically wasn’t much.  I like to keep things simple with 5 basic movements that can be progressed or regressed dependent upon ability. Usually I would do it as a circuit, but it can be done however you like.  These 5 movements will hit every major muscle group, and they still make up the bulk of my training today.

The exercises are listed in order from easiest to hardest.  I like to keep repetitions between 8 and 12 with a slow, 2 and 2 pace.  3 to 5 sets per movement.  You can mix up the exercises as you like.  If you’re not sure what an exercise is, a quick search will provide instruction.

HIP HINGE:  Hip Bridge, Straight Leg Hip Bridge, Single Leg Hip Bridge, Straight Single Leg Hip Bridge

SQUAT:  Bodyweight Squat, Lunge, Bulgarian Split Squat, Pistol Squat

PUSH:  Pushup on Knees, Pushup, 1 arm Pushup on Knees, 1 arm Pushup

PULL:  Generally you’re limited to the One Arm Dumbbell Row.  I would either use a heavy piece of luggage instead of a dumbbell, or fill a bag with full water bottles.  Use the bed as a bench.

ABS (For Time):  Plank on Knees, Plank on Hands, Plank on Elbows, Side Plank

There are thousands of exercises to choose from in each of the 5 categories, but all of these have served me well over the years, and anyone can learn to do most of them.  Especially when space, equipment, and time are limited.