Friday, June 11, 2010

News from the front (of the body…)

All the pieces of advice that I write here are not just for show. I am the first to apply them – and that’s why I give them to you too. I would like then to tell you a few things about my own progress.

I have been exercising for many years, and thus my body has a good base of shape and metabolism. However, I usually get a bit “off” every winter, which I correct come spring.

The same happened this year too. In the winter, I came close to 92 kilos (202 pounds) – a lot of which was muscle, but it’s still too much for my height (180 cm – 5’11’’). During the past two months, using the ideas presented here, I have lost more than 5 kilos (11 pounds), managing to keep most of the muscle.

I started early (March) so I had time to do it progressively. This is very important, because it helps you fight the inevitable plateaus.

The first thing I did was start morning cardio. Running at first, but as I increased the frequency, the body took a lot of stress. So I substituted fast walking instead.

One month later I cut all starchy carbohydrates(I kept only vegetables and fruit). This made a huge difference because the body switched to burning fat for fuel.

At the same time, I reduced gym work (both frequency and number of exercises/sets). Reps remained low and weights high however, and that’s the best way to preserve your muscle mass while losing fat.

And I am not done yet. These are the steps that will follow:
1. Start drinking black coffee before walking (caffeine is a fat burner)
2. Cut all carbs for two weeks (this is essentially the Atkins diet)
3. Add sprints to my schedule

I could have done all these from the beginning, but as we already said, step-by-step progress is very important. This way you give your body constant reasons to improve, using your “weapons” one by one. To do that of course, you need time. Nothing can replace time in these issues. Don’t let anyone fool you.

If you are starting now, you obviously don’t have this luxury. I would suggest you do only the two basic steps (light cardio every morning, cut starchy carbs) and don’t struggle trying to achieve the impossible.

Good luck!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Relaxation secrets

Apart from the gym work I do on a regular basis, I also study martial arts (and specifically Kendo, which is the art of Japanese swordsmanship). Unfortunately though – and unexpectedly – these practices are somewhat incompatible.

This happens because the weights harden the body and slightly decrease the muscles’ range of motion, while martial arts require relaxation and flexibility. Besides, the gym teaches you to use your strength. Martial arts teach you mostly speed.

In fact, during my yesterday’s Kendo session, the sensei noticed that I was better and more relaxed at the end of the session – because my muscles were exhausted by then! I also know that many martial arts masters are against classic weight training, and suggest kettlebell work.

But I still consider the gym and the weights indispensable. However, it’s good to be aware of this “side effect” of theirs, and follow these guidelines to remedy it:

1. Stretch (but not exactly like you think – we will discuss the right way in the future).
2. Devote some sessions to lighter weights and higher reps. Do the reps faster too.
3. Start an activity that promotes relaxation: martial arts (my suggestion), yoga, meditation, massage. These activities will help you see the “problem” and have it in mind.
4. Avoid stress – in general.