Inverted Rows – What They Are, and Why You Should Do Them

When I go to the gym, I try to keep things as simple and efficient as possible.

I’m a huge supporter of pull ups and chin ups, as those are the exercises that are a true test somebody’s fitness level in my opinion.  There’s just something inherently badass about being able to lift up your entire body, which is why competitions like Ninja Warrior require ridiculous back and bicep strength.

I know a lot of you guys are just getting started out with your fitness training, and doing a pull up seems like an absolute impossibility. That’s okay, I’d guess that 80% of this country probably can’t do one either, so don’t beat yourself up too much.  Just because you can’t do a pull up now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work out your back.  I have just the exercise for you instead: the inverted row.  Big thanks to Mehdi over at Strong Lifts for bringing the exercise to my attention.

So what the hell is an inverted body weight row you ask?  GREAT QUESTION.  In fact, it’s a question I get all the time in emails, and nobody ever has any idea what I’m talking about – which is nothing new – so I figured I’d add it to the repertoire of explained exercises here on the blog.

The Inverted Row

3743CB32D2C136941715AF47C54F6EA.standardYou’ve probably heard of the regular barbell row.  You pick up a barbell, bend over at the waist (keeping your back straight), and pull the weight up towards your chest.  I used to love these exercises – unfortunately, I could never get the form right once I moved to heavier weights and I could never isolate my back and arms completely.  Needless to say, it was an accident waiting to happen.  Luckily, the inverted row takes care of all of that.  You get to use your body weight, and there’s no extra stress on your back.  As an added bonus, you get decent core workout too.

This exercise has been referred to as the reverse bench press, as you grab a bar like you were getting ready to bench press it, but instead of lifting the weight down towards you, you’re pulling your body up towards the bar.  Let’s go SAT on this s.o.b. – “benchpress” is to “pushing” as “inverted row” is to “pulling.”  Balance FTW!

Why Is the Inverted Row Is So Great

I’m a huge fan of compound exercises, and I’m a huge fan of exercises that don’t require extensive knowledge, expensive equipment, and lots of extra bells and whistles.  An inverted row works your back, biceps, traps, and all the stabilizer muscles in between.  If you’ve been doing just pushups and bench presses, you need to start doing equal work with your back to stay in balance and away from injury.

If you want to eventually be able to do pull ups, THIS is the exercise you need to work into your routine until you can do a full pull up.

How To Do It

Let’s start with the people who have access to a gym (see a variation for No-Gym people at the end).  You know I hate the Smith Machine (boooo, don’t do squats on it like this guy! bad!) for pretty much every exercise, due to the fact that it only moves straight up and down, while your body wants to move differently.  However, this is the ONE exercise where I’m okay with using it.  Here’s what you need to do:

  • Lie on the floor underneath the bar (which should be set just above where you can reach from the ground).
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing AWAY from you).
  • Contract your abs, and try to keep your body a completely straight line. Your ears, shoulders, hips legs, and feet should all be in a straight line.
  • Pull yourself up to the bar until your chest touches the bar.
  • Lower yourself back down.

Here’s a video of Joe DeFranco doing an advanced version of this exercise with his feet elevated:


Joe DeFranco – Inverted Body Weight Row

Elevating your feet makes this exercise extremely difficult, so only do that after you’ve mastered the exercise with your feet on the floor.

If you’re still struggling and they’re too difficult, it’s okay.  We just need to back up a few steps.  Set the bar higher on the Smith machine so that when you lean back, your body isn’t at a 90 degree angle; maybe it’s only at a 45 degree angle.  This example video here shows a guy doing the exercise at less of an angle.  It takes more of your body weight out of the equation.  As you get stronger (and/or lose weight), you’ll be able to drop the bar until you’re parallel when pulling yourself up.

Some tips and tricks:

  • Don’t let your ass sag (on purpose anyway…maybe you have a saggy ass – not my place to judge).
  • Don’t flail your elbows. Grab the bar with your hands a little closer than you would if you were doing a bench press, and keep your elbows at that angle from your body.
  • Pull the bar towards the middle of your chest. Don’t pull the bar up towards your throat, or down towards your belly button.  Right in the middle!
  • Keep your abs tight. Keep your abs tight throughout the whole routine.  Your body should be a straight line the whole time, and the only thing moving is your arms
  • Think of pulling your shoulder blades together at the top of the exercise.
  • GO all the way. Don’t half-ass it.  Lower yourself until your arms are completely extended, and raise yourself until your chest touches the bar.

When should you do this exercise

When I go into a gym, my time is extremely limited, and I’m working towards developing strength.  I’ll try to do one leg exercise (either squats or deadlifts), followed by a pushing exercise (either bench press or overhead press), and then a pulling exercise (pull ups or inverted rows).  Here’s a sample two day split for me:

  • Day 1: Squats, bench press, inverted rows, dips
  • Day 2: OFF
  • Day 3: Deadlifts, Overhead Press, Pull Ups (or chin ups), Planks (Floor Swipes).
  • Day 4: OFF

Both days work my full body, I can do a full routine in less than 40 minutes, and I’m building strength.  If you can’t do dips on Day 1, you can do pushups.  If you can’t do pull ups on day 2, you can substitute assisted pull ups or lat pull downs (although I don’t like lat pull downs very much).

On the rows, aim for 3 sets of 10. If you can’t do that, do 3 sets to exhaustion, and build your way up to 3 sets of 10.  Once you can do that, put your feet up on a chair, throw some weights in a backpack, put it on reverse (so the bag is hanging in front of you), and then do the rows.

What if I don’t have a gym?

Just because you don’t have access to a gym doesn’t mean you can’t work out your back, you just need to get VERY creative.  Try these few things for example:

  • Get a really thick wooden dowel or pipe, something strong enough to support your weight.  Lie it across two of your kitchen chairs, and then lie down underneath it.  Make sure its sturdy, and the bar isn’t going to break/move on ya, and pull yourself up.
  • Use your kitchen table. Or your desk (if it’s in the middle of the room and doesn’t have a back.  Be very careful on this one.  Lie underneath your table so your head and shoulder are sticking out above it.  Grab the table edge with an overhand grip, and pull yourself up (just like it’s explained above).  Warning, don’t pull the table over with you, and make sure you’re not gonna break the thing.  Obviously this is a pretty crude way to get the job done, but it works.

Don’t forget, you want to stay in balance. Don’t just do push ups at home if you can help it, try to work out your back too.  If you don’t have a pull up bar, find a way to do some body weight rows whether it’s between two chairs or under a table.  You’re smart, get creative.

Here’s a video of me explaining how to do Inverted Body Weight Rows using just my kitchen table:


Inverted Body Weight Rows Nerd Fitness Video

Do You Care?

Before I sign off for the day, I want to get your opinion on something.  I’ve done 5 of these exercise posts now, and I probably have a few more I want to get done (just to cover the basic compound exercises that I love).  Is my description and these videos enough for you?  Or would you rather have me film my own video and explain it all that way?

I’m just trying to be a little more transparent and helpful, so let me know what you think.  If  you want me to start filming some exercise videos (don’t worry, I’ll wear lots of spandex and put on some crappy techno – thanks Tripp), let me know and I’ll see what I can do.  I don’t exactly have access to a gym that would let me film in there, but I’ll see what I can do.

Happy Friday everybody, don’t eat TOO many chicken wings this weekend. My plan is to watch lots of football, read through Spark, and hopefully beat GTA IV.

-Steve

Related Articles:

picture source: MSN health

Is Barefoot Running Really Better For You?

Screen shot 2009-11-04 at 12.24.17 AM

What if I told you running barefoot was a safer than wearing the latest $200 state-of-the-art, clinically-designed running shoe…is that something you might be interested in?

Sounds ridiculous, right? You’d might even call me crazy, which would then make you crazy by default because you’re yelling at your computer…either way I win.

Now, what if I told you Ethiopian Abebe Bikila ran a world-record 2:15:17 marathon at the 1960 Olympics in Rome…barefoot. Starting to at least see there may be some truth to this madness?  I want to discuss my the pros and cons of ditching your shoes, my experiences with running barefoot, and then teach you HOW to run barefoot if you’re will to give it a shot.

How I ended up barefoot…kinda

I few months ago, I went to the local Nike Store and picked up a pair of expensive running shoes designed to provide the “most support and padding.” As I was walking to the checkout counter, I walked past a pair of Nike Free shoes. They looked interesting, so I asked about them; the lady behind the counter responded: “oh, those are shoes meant to mimic barefoot running, which means you have practically no padding under your feet.  They’re pretty uncomfortable.”  I shrugged my shoulders, then bought my new kicks.

Fast-forward a month: my buddy Saint up in Massachusetts, the one who lost 33 pounds in 12 weeks, tells me about these funky feet-glove things called Vibram Five-Finger shoes (pictured below).  A few quick searches on the internet leads me to stories and stories and stories about how amazing they are.  In fact, Tim Ferriss, life hacker extraordinaire, wrote quite the article on these shoes, explaining they cured his chronic back pain in a matter of weeks.  They looked ridiculous, and they sounded too good to be true – I went out and picked up a pair the next day.

It’s now been two months, and my $100 running shoes are collecting dust in the closet. I wear my Vibrams to the gym every day and on an occasional jog (which I actually ENJOY now).  The first time I went running “barefoot,” my entire running style had somehow changed immediately.  I no longer took long strides and landed on my heels; instead, I took short powerful strides and landed as softly as possible on the balls of my feet.  This wasn’t done intentionally, it’s just kind of how my body adapted to running barefoot.  Considering my form changed instantly, everything suddenly clicked: this is how we are naturally designed to run!

My excitement at this ‘discovery’ was quickly overshadowed by the pain in my calves.  Despite only running for 10 minutes, it was apparently enough to keep my calves sore for many days afterward.  Why?  Thanks to modern running shoes, our feet, Achilles tendons, and calves have essentially atrophied from non-use. Remember the scene in the Matrix where Neo wakes up for the first time in the “real world” and asks Morpheus, “Why do my eyes hurt?” Do you remember Morpheus’s response?

“Because you’ve never used them before.”

Whoa.

Vibram-Five-Fingers

Barefoot Goes Mainstream

Now, the barefoot running concept has been around for quite a while (thousands and thousands of years to be exact), but thanks to books like Born to Run (which I reviewed here), recent articles in the New York Times, and products like FiveFingers shoes, the concept of barefoot running is coming out of the shadows and back into the spotlight.

According to Chris McDougal, author of Born To Run, injury rates among runners has remained virtually unchanged despite thirty years of technological advancements and hundreds of clinical studies and “improvements.”  Why is it that we can put man on the moon, clone sheep, and create the internet (thanks Al Gore!) but we can’t cut down on running injuries? Why is it that Nike has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing the world’s most comfortable running shoes, and then suddenly decides to develop a shoe at the other end of the spectrum (the Nike Free) with virtually no padding?  My guess is that they might have discovered that their shoes are possibly doing more harm than good.  Can that be proven though?  That’s what I wanted to know.

Studies on Barefoot Running

Before I went out and purchased my crazy ninja-gorilla shoes, I made sure to do the proper research and make sure they’re the real deal.  I found testimonial after testimonial of people whose chronic injuries disappeared and running times improved since switching to barefoot.  However, I wanted to track down some actual statistics and scientific studies to support all of these stories.

According to This Australian study:

  • Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble.
  • Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures.

My take: Although I haven’t done extensive long-distance running barefoot myself, I’ve done enough to understand why these conclusions make sense.  Add my experiences with the thousands and thousands of people who have become injury-free since making the switch and I can’t help but believe these barefoot people are onto something.  The author of the study goes on to say that more studies must be completed as the studies that were completed in developing countries had too many variables to be considered 100% factual proof.  However, I will bet my life savings (currently $12.30; $6.30 if I decide to eat lunch today) that more controlled studies from the United States are right around the corner.

I still wanted more proof, so I stumbled across this great marathon article: Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University (oooooooh, nerd alert):

When you walk, you land on your heel, but during running you land toward the middle of your foot on your plantar arch.  The arch acts as a spring, stretching and then recoiling, not only helping to cushion the impact of the collision with the ground, but also to help push the body into the air. Laboratory studies show that the plantar arch alone returns at least 17 percent of the energy of impact. Running shoes have largely replaced our arches, but they are neither as effective nor as durable. Barefoot runners can clearly do as well as shod runners, but it takes time to develop the strength in the foot to use our natural arch fully.

Lieberman then goes on to say that “people don’t run barefoot any more simply because they don’t have to,” he said. “The barefoot running movement is wonderful evidence of how good the human foot is for doing one of the most natural and fundamental of all human activities—endurance running.”

Alongside all the anecdotal evidence, these are two pretty strong cases in favor of ditching your shoes. However, there are certainly plenty of reasons why you SHOULDN’T run barefoot.  In the spirit of good discussion, I’m hoping this becomes the greatest debate since Frank the Tank defeated James Carville on the topic of the government’s role in supporting innovation in the field of biotechnology.  On with the negatives!

What’s Wrong With Barefoot Running?

For every person that shouts the benefits of running barefoot, there are 10 people ready to explain why it’s such a ridiculous concept.  If you take a look at the previously stated New York Times article, a majority of the comments at the end of the article come from people who have tried running sans shoes and love it, or they come from people who immediately discredit it despite having never tried it.  Some of those arguments are below:

Argument: Your feet are going to get destroyed – sure we might have adapted to run barefoot through thousands of years of evolution, but our feet haven’t adjusted to modern technology and surfaces like concrete and asphalt. Factor in loose rocks, garbage, dog sh*t, etc. and running barefoot is NOT smart.

Counterargument: Fair point.  However, if you start paying attention to where you are running you won’t have these problems.  If you are concerned with stepping on infectious stuff, try a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes, which have a thick tough underskin to protect you from debris.  I have been running on asphalt, but I can see how running on concrete could cause problems.

Argument: It’s too damn cold to run barefoot.  My feet will get frosbite.

Counterargument: I completely agree, which makes me sad because I like running barefoot.  I think I’m going to get a pair of low heel running shoes for the winter because I don’t want my toes to freeze.

Argument: “If running barefoot is so great, why aren’t barefoot runners setting records?” The same NYT article cited a race in which none of the runners who mimicked a barefoot style (type of stride and foot-placement) won.  They concluded from this study that this style of running does not make you faster.

Counterargument: I think this article is ridiculous for using this as a source, as it’s not whether or not they win, but if they’re run faster relative to themselves.  Sure the people with the barefoot style might not have won, but they might have finished faster than if they had run with a more conventional style.  The winners of the race might have run even FASTER if they had been training barefoot style, or they could have been slower.  We don’t know.  Essentially, this ‘source’ is full of holes and variables and cannot be used to either credit or discredit barefoot running.

Argument: “What about flat footed people? Without special orthopedics your foot will get even more mangled.”

Counterargument: I need to find more studies to support this theory, but if we are to believe Tim Ferriss (and I do trust the man): “[going 'barefoot' in the Vibrams] has been nothing short of spectacular for me, despite my history of flat feet.  I’ve found that my arches, and foot as a whole, feels better with less support rather than more.”

I’m sure there are quite a few more reasons to keep your uber-comfortable Nikes, so please post your arguments in the comments.

Why I Support Barefoot Running

After reading countless studies, dozens and dozens of articles, and speaking with tons of people about their experiences with running barefoot, I decided to throw caution into the wind and take the plunge.  Since making the switch, I have become a full time convert.  Other than the articles stated above, here are my reasons:

  • It makes sense to me! We’ve survived as a species for untold millennia without the use of shoes.  It’s only in the past 30+ years that we have decide to move away from unpadded shoes, trying to fix what wasn’t broken.  I ran cross-country for a year in high school and dealt with shin splints on a weekly basis: I haven’t had one issue since switching to barefoot running other than sore calves, which is already getting better
  • It’s fun, and it gets me running. I hate running, but now that I have these Vibrams I actually enjoy it.  I’m even considering running a 5k or 10k in them to raise money for a charity.
  • It makes sense for training. I exercise in my Vibrams for the same reason I use free weights instead of exercise machines at the gym. When you use machines, your movement is limited in two directions, robbing you of the use of all of your stabilizer muscles to keep things steady. Running in sneakers is no different. There are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles and tendons in the human foot. When you wear shoes, those muscles don’t get used. Running barefoot builds strength in your feet, ankles, and calves.
  • My only problem with Vibram Five-Finger shoes: I can’t get my damn workouts done, because I have to take out my headphones every three seconds to explain to somebody new why I’m wearing gorilla-feet.

How to Run Barefoot

Okay, so hopefully now you’re at least willing to give this crazy concept a shot. First things first: you aren’t just changing your shoes.  You are changing your running STYLE too, which will keep you from getting injured. Rather than try to explain it to you myself, I’ll borrow from the guys who know what they’re doing:

The barefoot running technique has been described as falling forward. It has also been described as gently kissing the ground with the balls of your feet. If you need one more concept to meditate on while running barefoot, imagine that a log is lying across the path in front of you; you don’t want to kick the front of the log with your toes. You want to step over the log with each step, keeping your knee bent and placing the ball of your foot immediately behind the log as your chest moves over the top of it.

Here’s a video from Chris McDougal, author of Born to Run. Watch the video and notice how different his running style probably is from yours:


Born to Run

Chris recently wrote a Men’s Health Article on how to run barefoot – “Imagine your kid is running into the street and you have to sprint after her in bare feet,” he says. That’s the visual: “You’d automatically lock into perfect form — you’d be up on your forefeet, with your back erect, head steady, arms high, elbows driving, and feet touching down quickly on the forefoot and kicking back toward your butt.” And then, to build the strength and balance to maintain that form over long distances, use the heel, hips, and hills principle.

  1. Wear the most neutral, low-heeled running shoe that feels comfortable.
  2. Keep your hips dead under your shoulders and dead above your feet.
  3. Use big hills to iron out the rest of the wrinkles. “You can’t run uphill powerfully with poor bio-mechanics,” Orton says. “Just doesn’t work. If you try landing on your heel with a straight leg, you’ll tip over backward.”

Some Precautions

Don’t forget Neo, you’re opening your eyes for the first time.  Here are some tips for ya:

  • Take it slow. Try 5-10 minutes a day of walking barefoot, work your way up to 10-15 minutes of jogging every 3 days, and eventually get back to your normal jogging routine. If you try to push it too hard too quickly, you can do some serious damage to your feet and calves which will keep you off the roads for quite a while.
  • Stretch! Make sure you stretch after each walk and run.  This will help eliminate the crazy soreness after the first few rounds.
  • Try Vibrams if you’re afraid of running completely barefoot.  I went with the black Vibram KSO’s, as they looked the most normal.
  • Take a look at these shoes if you’re running in bad weather. If you can’t run barefoot, you can still work on your barefoot running style.
  • Run on grass when possible, go with asphalt over concrete. Get started on grass if possible, as that will provide the most cushion when you’re just starting out.  However, running on tough surfaces will certainly make you adjust that running style quickly!
  • Have fun with it. I run “barefoot” because it gets me excited about running.  Whatever it takes to get you off your ass and out of the house, go with that: shoes or no shoes, I don’t care.

Yup, that was definitely the longest post I have ever written. If you’re still awake at this point, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  If you’ve tried running barefoot and loved it, tell the world.  If you’ve tried it and hated it, I want to know about it.  Think the studies above are full of crap?  Explain why!

What say you, NF Community?  Barefoot: yay or nay?

-Steve

Additional barefoot resources:

Picture from: Nicholas_T

Are Personal Trainers a Waste of Time?

A note from Steve: I wrote this post last night at 2AM waiting for some videos to upload for work, and then the entire post was lost thanks to me accidentally hitting “save” on wordpress when the internet crashed.  So, this post was re-written in a state of delirium this morning, so I apologize for the grammatical errors and sub-par quality.  I’ll go back through and fix tonight when I get a chance.  On with the post!

Every other morning, I go into my gym around 8AM. I walk past five or six trainers, each with their respective clients (generally overweight), either sitting at a machine or doing some crazy ass-cross training.  These clients are generally beet-red and sweating like crazy, which means their trainers are doing their job, right?  However, Despite meticulous planning, a carefully thought-out routine, and ‘peak fat-burning efficiency’ workout, the people that I see with trainers for a long period of time often stay fat.  In fact, I see a few people in this gym that haven’t changed since I started working out there back in December of 2007.  So what hell is going on?  Why aren’t these people turning their lives around?  I think there are a number of reasons, but a few stand out above others.  Let’s see why most trainers aren’t successful, why they’re necessary, and then my experiences with a trainer and AS a trainer.  Let’s start with the bad stuff:

You Can’t Outrun Your Fork

Think about it: let’s say you’re wealthy and insane and you spend 10 hours a week with a personal trainer (most people spend only 1 or 2).  That still leaves 158 hours a week for you to screw it all up.  If you have a really crappy diet, there probably aren’t enough hours in the day for you to burn off the excess calories.  Secondly, I’m gonna guess that there are always emergencies that come up: you get sick, your kid gets sick, you need to take your dog to the vet, you take your sick kid to the vet and your dog to the hospital accidentally, whatever it is.  Stuff comes up, life happens, and you miss a workout.  If you’re used to eating 5000 calories a day and burning off 2000 of them in the gym in marathon gym sessions, your weight loss train will get derailed really quickly.

A Trainer Shouldn’t Be Your First Step

Developing a workout routine is probably the 3rd thing you should address when you want to get in shape.  Your 2nd thing is your diet, and your first thing is your mental attitude.  I realize this sounds really cheesy, but it’s true.  If you show up to a gym with a crap attitude and crappy diet, that trainer is already wasting his time and your time.  Luckily for him, he’s making money on your wasted time.  What are you getting?  It’s like hiring an awesome builder to come in and build on top of a crappy foundation.  Sure the house might turn out okay, but most likely it’s gonna fall apart.  Suck.

Once you decide you’re going to turn your life around, you need to decide what’s important to you: that extra donut in the morning, or the satisfaction being able to fit into your old clothes.  Do you want to be able to play ultimate Frisbee for more than 5 minutes and not get winded, or is that Firehouse Sub really worth the 15 minutes of satisfaction?  By the way, sorry Firehouse Subs, you just happen to be the Kryptonite for my friend Jordan.  If you’re gonna turn your life around, you know that a change MUST be made in your diet first if you want to see long term results.

Most Trainers Aren’t Dietitians

If your diet accounts for 80-90% of your success, your trainer can only do so much for you in a one hour session every other day at the gym. Sure they can tell you how to eat right, strongly encourage you to eat right, but they’re probably not gonna help you with your grocery shopping and then force the right food down your throat.  When I moved to San Diego I was fortunate enough to get a trainer who told me exactly what to eat and how much of it to eat.  Of course, after that it was on me to actually stick with it.

Now, that’s if your trainer is nice enough to actually care about what you eat…which brings me to my next point.

Some Trainers Just Don’t Care

To borrow from Office Space, it’s not that they’re lazy, it’s that they just don’t care.  With the economy in the crapper, everybody is doing everything they can to make a buck these days.  In a chain gym, I’d guess that more than half the trainers there took the one-day certification, passed a test, and then started training clients with their limited knowledge.  Before I started this website, I took a basic personal trainer certification to add some legitimacy to a a new fitness website.  Of course, after getting that certification I continued to further my education by reading every book I could find, studying videos, watching other trainers in action, and subscribing to over a hundred fitness blogs that I read on a daily basis.  I’m not an expert (as I’m still relatively new to the field of health and fitness compared to the guys who have been at it forever), but I like to think that I know enough to help people and I just care more than others.

After getting my certification, I immediately started Nerd Fitness and dumped all my free time into running this site.  I could have started training clients and impacted a few lives (hopefully), but instead I had bigger plans, and wanted to create a place where I could influence others, who could then help and influence their friends, and eventually develop an army of super-strong nerds that could one day take over the world.  Up until this point, I’ve made exactly $0 with Nerd Fitness, and I could care less.  Every other day I get an email from somebody new that’s turning their life around, and that makes me happy.

Why Trainers are Important

Despite everything I’ve said above, I cannot stress the importance of what a great trainer can do for you, which is why I recommend that everybody go to a trainer at least once or twice when they start at a gym.  All of the best athletes and weight lifters in the world have trainers, I’d LOVE to have a trainer (if I could afford one), and starting out years ago I wish I had one.  This is why:

  • If you’re brand new to a gym, you’ve already decided to turn your life around, and you don’t know what you’re doing, a trainer is invaluable (that means really valuable right? if not, that’s what I was going for).  A trainer can assess your current level of fitness, hopefully give you some diet advice, and then teach you exactly how to do each exercise.  Deadlifts and squats without proper super vision suck, as you can’t tell if you’re doing them right and you could develop some bad habits.
  • A trainer makes you accountable. If you paid 50 bucks for a gym session with a great trainer, there is no way you’re skipping it because you’re tired.
  • A trainer can spot you, offer words of encouragement, and push you just outside of your comfort zone to get results.  I get 10-20% more out of a workout when somebody is yelling at me.  It’s just how it works.
  • A trainer can help you get through plateaus and mix up your routine for maximum effectiveness. When it comes to fitness, it’s much easier to follow somebody else’s plan (if you know it works) than it is to create your own.

Of course, all of this stuff above only applies to GOOD trainers, so make sure you shop around and find a good one.  Go to your gym and ask other members which trainers are the best.  If you see a fat guy with a trainer and he’s been using him for 3 years, maybe you should try somebody else.  Don’t just go with whoever they give you, because I guarantee most gyms put very little thought into who trains who.  It’s all about the benjamins, baby.

What About You?

Ever used a trainer?  Was it a waste of money, or did it change your life? Let me know, and let others know how you went about selecting your trainer and if it worked out for you. I’m sure there are plenty of us you all in the same boat!

Thanks for bearing with me today guys, have a great weekend.

-Steve

If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

Can Diet Coke Make You Fat?

Soda. Coke. Pop.

ept_sports_nba_experts-686956474-1256580685Whatever you call your carbonated beverage (it’s SODA, by the way), you’re probably already aware of how terrible it is for you.  Other than rotting your teeth, it’s also a huge reason there are so many overweight people in this country.  Check out this crazy story posted yesterday: Caron Butler (pictured) of the Washington Wizards was so addicted Mountain Dew that when he gave it up this summer, losing 11 lbs in the process, he went through actual withdrawals:

To try and give this up was crazy for me! I was going through withdrawals. I was in the bed sweating. My wife would turn over in the bed and ask “Are you OK?” Honestly, those first two weeks without The Dew [were] the roughest two weeks of my life. I’m talking headaches, sweats and everything. Before that I drank at least six 12-ounce Mountain Dews a day.

I know if you Google “soda weight loss,” you’ll find 2 million hits on how terrible these beverages are for you…so I won’t get into it.  Instead, I wanted to take a look at the effect of DIET soda on weight loss.  I know there are conflicting reports on whether or not this stuff can actually make you fat.

My Initial Thoughts Before Research

Diet soda has zero calories (generally) and zero actual sugar, which means it can’t directly make you gain weight, right?  A normal 20 oz. Coke, on the other hand, has 240 calories and 68 grams of sugar (holy ****), which definitely causes weight gain.  Now, if diet soda doesn’t have calories, it can’t contribute to the calorie equation (calories consumed vs. calories burned), which means diet soda alone can’t make you bigger.  However, is Diet Coke responsible for insulin spikes and increased appetite, which would indirectly cause weight gain?  Time to put on my nerd researcher cap and see what I can track down.

Sources I Don’t Trust

If you look up “diet coke weight gain,” you’ll find all kinds of articles that say Diet Coke is the devil.  Unfortunately, some of these articles site no sources and are written by people who are trying to sell their own supplements.  Other sites say that Diet Coke is perfectly fine for you, as it has no calories and therefore no ill effect (I would guess these articles are written by people who chug DC by the gallon).  As hopefully you’ve learned, not everything on the internet is true (shocking), and when it comes to fitness and diet our bodies are so complex that things are very rarely so black and white.

Sources I  Do Trust

After reading some of the crazy extremist websites, I tried to track down some actual studies (and not hearsay) that could prove or disprove the effects of diet drinks.  I came across this study from the San Antonio Heart Study, where the amount of diet soda consumed directly coincided with an increased chance of weight gain:

“On average, for each diet soft drink our participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years, and 41 percent more likely to become obese,” said Sharon Fowler, M.P.H., faculty associate in the division of clinical epidemiology in the Health Science Center’s department of medicine.”

Now, because diet studies always take place with people of various levels of health, wealth, genetics, and social standing, along with thousands of other variables that take place, I’m hesitant to place the blame squarely on Diet Coke.  Maybe the people who drink Diet Coke generally don’t take into consideration what constitutes a healthy diet, while people who don’t drink it generally could be more knowledgeable about their diets and thus eat better?  Maybe the heavy DC drinkers work stressful jobs (and ‘need’ the caffeine to stay alert), and the stress along with poor diet choices (from working late) is causing their weight gain?  I don’t know the full reasons and more research must be done, but the strong correlation between the two has me definitely leaning towards the “Diet Coke can make you fat” camp.  My defense your honor? Better safe than sorry.

I then came across this fantastic video on YouTube, already cued up to the proper part of the conversation where it talks about the effects of diet soda on your waistline.  I’m no scientist, but the guy makes a lot of great points in an easy to understand fashion.  Once again, I don’t have a scientific background (I was an Econ major in college), but after reading a few books on the effects of acidity and alkalinity on our diet, I would tend to agree with the makers of this video.

My Problem With Diet Soda

My big problem with Diet Coke is that I don’t know what the hell is in it.   I mean, if it tastes like soda, but doesn’t have any calories at all…what the eff are they putting in there?  Vin Miller over at NaturalBias.com (who is not surprisingly biased towards eating natural foods) breaks down the new ingredients in Coke Zero and Pepsi Max.  I’m a big fan of Vin’s and I certainly respect his opinion, as he always tends to lean towards the healthier/safer side of things.  Some of these can’t be good for you, no matter what the FDA says.  Speaking of which, I’m growing less and less trusting of the FDA by the day.  Check out this article where FDA scientists accuse their own administration of running the organization like the Mob.  Yikes.

My Conclusion

In my personal opinion, I’d say Diet Coke is the lesser of two evils if you’re trying to lose weight.  However, it’s still created in a lab with unnatural elements, and there are studies that have shown people who drink the stuff are more likely to be overweight.  Whether it’s directly the cause or simply part of a larger problem still needs to be shown, but the numbers don’t lie.  I think people who switch from a case of Mountain Dew a day to a case of Diet Mountain Dew are still going to have all kinds of health problems anyway…just a hunch. Regardless of what the FDA says, I’m not convinced that the stuff in Diet Coke and Coke Zero isn’t harmful, and I’m not convinced that because it has littler or no calories it can’t make you gain weight. Better safe than sorry, right?

My Recommendation

I recommend that you cut back on soda/sugary drinks as much as possible, even if they’re diet, if you’re trying to lose weight.  Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, give it up!  It’s not good for you.  If you’re drinking soda, don’t do so at the expense of your water consumption.  If you need “fuel” for a marathon session of Aion (a new MMORPG my friends are hooked on), you better be double-fisting some high-quality H20 with that diet Dew.  If you think water is too boring, you have to decide what’s more important: your health or your sweet tooth.

Now It’s Your Turn

These are my thoughts and opinions, but what do I know? I’d love to hear some actual stories from you guys and how soda and diet soda has affected your weight loss and health.  If you’ve given up regular soda and switched to diet and lost a lot of weight I want to know.  If you’re struggling to lose weight but you can’t kick your Diet Coke habit, I want to hear about it.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

-Steve

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How to NOT Suck at Working Out

Every day in gyms across the country, there are poor, misguided fools who kind of suck at working out.

They either don’t know what they’re doing, or they THINK they know what they’re doing when they really don’t.  You might fit into one of these groups, and that’s okay.  You’re here and reading, which is step one.

If you work out in a gym, today’s post will make sure you’re not one of those people.

Although I’m not the biggest guy in the world, I practice safe routines when lifting, I go for balance and functional movement over superficial but weak practices, I have a level head, strong convictions, and I do my best to stay up to date on the latest books, studies, journals, and information when it comes to getting strong and staying in shape.

Essentially, I’ve suck-proofed my workout routines (yeah, I said “suck-proofed”). I’m going to tell you exactly why most people suck at working out, and what you can do to suck-proof yourself:

Have a Game Plan

346990046_de4bbeca6bHow are you going to be better today than you were yesterday?

If you don’t know exactly what you expect to accomplish, how will you know when you get there?  It’s like driving a car: you start at point A, and you need to get to point B.  If you don’t make it to point B, you either got lost, or your car broke down.  Every day, I see WAY too many people wandering aimlessly in the gym, doing one set at a machine, wandering to the next, barely breaking a sweat, and then walking out of there having accomplished absolutely NOTHING.  Those people suck and are wasting their time.

Here’s how you can NOT suck:

  • Define your Point B: If you did 8 pull ups last week, this week you need to try and do 9.  If you bench pressed 100 pounds, this week you need to do at least 101 pounds to be stronger.
  • Make sure point B is possible: If you ran a mile in 9 minutes yesterday, setting your goal today at 6 minutes is ludicrous.  Set that goal at something better than previous goals, but one that’s actually reachable.
  • Make sure your “car” won’t break down: This goes along with the previous point.  Make sure you’ve had enough sleep, you’re eating well, you’re in a good frame of mind, and you’re not sick before stepping in that gym.
  • Keep your eyes on the road: Don’t wander around like a jackass.  Don’t stop and talk to everybody you see.  Don’t spend 5 minutes at the water fountain because it’s next to the yoga room full of women.  Map out your route before you get in there, put in your headphones, keep your head down, take care of business, and get the hell out of there!
  • Plan a quick route: You don’t need to spend 2 hours in a gym six days a week to see results.  Just three 45-minute weight-training sessions is enough to pack on some serious muscle if you give it everything you go each time you’re in there.  If you’re trying to lose weight, go for higher intensity and less time, rather than 2-hours of steady-cardio (ugh).

Machines and Free Weights are Not Created Equal

2539191458_f6e16c83f0Don’t be afraid to use free weights. 

I watch WAY too many people doing squats on the Smith Machine and destroying their lower backs, using the pec-deck machine and jacking up their shoulders, and doing leg-extensions and screwing up their knees.

Everybody thinks machines are safer, when in reality they’re only safer if you’re concerned you’d drop a free weight on your head or something.

Other than this, machines are actually much worse for your body.

Our bodies are meant to move in a certain way.  When you lift free weights, your body has a natural range of motion, using all your tiny stabilizer muscles to balance the weight as you lift it up and down.  When you use a machine, your body doesn’t need to use those stabilizer muscles because the machine is doing all the stabilization.  It’s these tiny muscles that keep you in balance and injury-free

If you’ve been training exclusively on machines, when you have to actually do these movements in real life (give your kids a piggy-back ride, move your roommate’s couch, or rake leaves in the back yard, that natural movement has become “unnatural” to your body and you’re way more likely to get injured.

Don’t be that guy. Here’s how:

  • Do all of your exercises with free weights or just your body weight. Machines get you started down the wrong path, do exercises that recruit as many muscle groups as possible: squats, deadlifts, bench presses and shoulder presses, pull ups and chin ups.
  • Practice Good Form. If you do your exercises with free weights with proper form, you will be strengthening your body in the right way, keeping you balanced and injury-free.  Woooooo!
  • When doing free weight exercises like the bench press, ask for a spotter – you do NOT want to drop the weight on your throat like that USC dude.  Ask the guy nearest you for a spot, let him know how many you hope to get (8 reps, 5 reps, 6 reps and I’ll need help on the last one, etc.).  Talk it out.
  • If you don’t have free weights, use your body – Check out my other article “No gym? no problem” to see how you can get a great workout using just your body weight.

Be Careful Where You Get Your Fitness Advice

The other day, I looked over at the squat rack and watched as the gym’s CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER set up an extremely overweight man (350 lbs+) to do heavy smith machine squats.  The guy could barely hold himself up but was putting his knees and lower back under even more pressure.

Now, I’m a big fan of squats, and I think they’re one of the best exercises out there for both losing weight and building muscle.  However, I shuddered just thinking about what this guy’s legs, back, organs, spine, and skeleton are doing on a daily basis just trying to carry around all that weight.  When you’re this size, body weight squats are more than enough to get a workout going…adding lots of weight on an untrained body is just asking for a knee to get blown out.  

I blame the trainer, who sucks at teaching others to not suck. Don’t fall into that trap:

  • Be careful who gives you advice – Just because he’s a “certified personal trainer” doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about.  A lot of trainers at these gyms don’t really know what they’re doing.  It’s on you: do a little bit of research online and come up with a great routine that fits your specific situation.
  • Be wary of advice from random people – I was training a client a few months back, having him do some body weight dips.  Some random dude wandered over and told us that we should be going WAY down past parallel on each dip.  I thanked the man for his advice, and then continued to train my guy to do the dips the same way he had been doing them to make sure he didn’t mess up his shoulders (which had been an issue for him in the past).  Just because he’s dishing out advice doesn’t mean it’s right.
  • If it hurts, don’t do it! Better safe than sorry.  If you’re doing an exercise and it’s causing pain (not sore muscle pain, but actual pain), you’re either doing an unsafe exercise or you’re doing it incorrectly.  Go home, look up the proper technique, and make sure you’re doing it right.  We’re all nerds, be smart about it!

It’s Not What You Lift, It’s How You Lift It

Let’s get one thing straight: nobody cares how much you’re lifting at the gym.

You’re not there to impress people, you’re not there to show off, and you’re not there to get everybody’s attention – you’re there to get stronger and live better.

Every freaking day, I walk into the gym and see people doing exercises with attrocious form.  99% of the time, it’s because they’re trying to lift too much weight.

If you’re going to do bicep curls, your back does NOT need to be involved. 

If you’re going to do a bench press, arching your back 6 inches off the bench and bouncing the weight back to the top doesn’t really count. 

If you load up 3 plates on each side of the bar and then only squat down two inches, you’re wasting your time. 

These people all suck at working out because they’re trying to do too much.  If you don’t want people laughing at you behind your back and you don’t want to get seriously injured:

  • Pick the right amount of weight – Unless you can complete each rep with perfect form, you’re cheating.  Drop the weight, make sure your form is perfect, and then add weight in small increments when you’re ready.
  • Complete a FULL REP – Watching people do “squats” at my gym drives me nuts.  If you can’t squat down until your thighs are parallel (or lower) to the floor, you’re doing too much weight.  I have so much more respect for somebody doing just bodyweight squats down to parallel than somebody loading up 6 plates on each side of a bar and then half-assing it.  If you have to, start with just the bar on your shoulders and add weight from there.
  • The more muscles you can involve in an exercise, the more efficient your workout will be. Which brings me to my next point…

Leave the Isolation Exercises to the Bodybuilders

This is true in every gym in the country: too many people are doing bicep curls, machine bench presses, calf-raises, shoulder shrugs, tricep kickbacks, and ab exercises.

Unless you are training for a bodybuilding competition or you’re already in incredible shape and need specific muscle growth, you don’t really need to concern yourself with any of these exercises.

Why?  Because you’re going to work each and every muscle with COMPOUND EXERCISES and do it in a much safer and more balanced fashion.  What should you do instead?

  • Bicep curls –  When you do pull ups, chin ups, and rows, your back, biceps, and forearms are getting a crazy workout.  Mix in bicep curls as an end-of-workout move, not the foundation of your daily routine.
  • Shrugs - It seems like everybody does shoulder shrugs (and 95% of those people are doing them wrong, which is super unsafe).  Do deadlifts instead, which works every muscle in your legs, back, forearms, shoulders…and traps.  Three sets of heavy deadlifts will have your traps poppin’.
  • Calf raises – Squats, lunges and deadlifts!  Sensing a theme yet?  Learn to love these exercises, as they’ll give your legs all the workout they need.  If you really want to work those calves extra, try running or jumping rope barefoot on off-days.
  • Tricep kickbacks and shoulder raises - Don’t concern yourself with isolating each part of your triceps and shoulders with 18 different exercises.  It’s a waste of time.  Not only that, but tricep kickbacks can wreak havoc on your shoulders! Do dips, chest presses, push ups, and overhead presses. These all work your chest, shoulders, and triceps at the same time.

Need another reason?  A body in balance is a body ready to stay strong and away from injury.  If you do just bench presses, bicep curls, and leg-extensions, all of the muscles on the opposite side of your body (quads-hamstrings, chest-back, biceps-triceps) go out of balance, which is a recipe for disaster.

Here’s how you can fix that:

  • Compound exercises are your friend: deadlifts, squats, pull ups, chin ups, bench presses, shoulder presses, and inverted rows – these exercises are your bread and butter.  Instead of doing 1 muscle group a day (which isn’t real-world friendly), do 3 days of full-body workouts utilizing some of these exercises and you’ll be a more balanced (and thus more safe) individual.
  • Don’t worry about crunches and ab workouts: When you do deadlifts and squats properly, your core (lower back and abs) are getting a super workout just trying to keep your body in balance.  Also, you could do 8 million crunches, but unless your body fat is below 10%, you won’t see your abs.  Floor crunches only give you half the range of motion and can do a number on your lower back.  Keep your ab muscles contracted for every exercise and work on cutting your body fat (it’s all diet folks), and you’ll see those abs.  If you do want to do some ab exercises at the end of your workout, try some planks, hanging knee tucks, or side planks!

Warm Up BEFORE and Stretch AFTER

  • Before: Don’t walk into a gym and immediately start loading plates onto a bar.  Get at least 5-10 minutes of warm-up exercises in there to get your heart rate going and your muscles warmed up.  This will get you ready for lifting.  If you just start lifting right away when you’re still “cold,” you could get injured, injured bad.  Here’s a good warm up routine
  • After: When you lift weights, your muscles get all contracted, tight, and jacked up.  To kick-start your recovery process, stretch those muscles out after lifting weights to spread them back out and allow your muscle building system to operate more efficiently.  According to power lifting guru Pavel Tsatsouline, “The benefits of stretching are enormous. Stretching can increase your strength by 10%. It is a lot.”  Don’t forget to stretch!  Here are some good stretching routines

Don’t be An Idiot and Other Random Thoughts

  • If you just burned 300 Calories on the treadmill, chugging a 32 oz Gatorade will undo everything you just did.  It’s like a giant control+Z for your body.  Calories in must be less than calories burned for you to lose weight.  All calories (even liquid ones) count.  Don’t be stupid.
  • Leave the pieces of flair at home. Weight belts, gloves, wrist straps, and other various “support mechanisms” can actually doing you more harm than good.  Unless you’ve suffered a serious back injury in the past, or have been instructed to wear it by your powerlifting coach, you should be able to do your squats and deadlifts without a weight belt.
  • Don’t sit on a bench and then talk for 10 minutes between sets. Other people are waiting to use the equipment, so get your sets done and move on.
  • Walk out of that gym sweating. If you don’t walk out of that gym with a shirt drenched in sweat, you weren’t working hard enough.  Give it everything you got in those 45 minutes, and make the most of your time when you’re in there.

I’m sure there are some other bits of suck-proof advice that I left out, so feel free to add your advice in the comments. If I can help just one misguided person from not sucking…I’ll consider today’s 2700-word post a success.

-Steve

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Pictures from EricMcGreggor, EyeLiam.

My Favorite Links of the Week – 10/22/09

I had planned on writing a different article for today, but my plans for yesterday afternoon got all jacked up.

With my article post half-finished, I headed over to Smith’s Olde Bar to check out a band a friend of mine had recommended: Scythian.  Well, turns out that the doors were at 8; and there was an opening act, which meant the actual band didn’t come on until 10pm.  Two hours and fifteen minutes later, my hands were sore from clapping and my feet sore from jumping up and down.  Scythian put on one of the best live shows I have seen in quite a while.  Check out their tour schedule and GO SEE THEM: kick-ass Irish music, dueling fiddles, incredible stage presence, and they all seemed like pretty cool guys too.  Back to last night: I didn’t get home until close to 1AM, and after watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (a must), I went to bed.

So, rather than haphazardly slap together the rest of that post this morning, I decided to instead pass along some articles and websites that I found interesting:

Modern Man’s a Wimp (thanks NF reader Alan!) – According to Australian anthropologist Peter McCalister, turns out we’re all a bunch of wimps…and due to continuing modern convenience we’re becoming the worst generation that has ever lived.  Suck.  Here’s a few examples at you:

  • Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.
  • Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.
  • Australian aboriginals threw a hardwood spear 110 meters or more (the current world javelin record is 98.48).

Is Barefoot Running Better For You? – Another reason I didn’t get a chance to finish my post yesterday is because I was too busy getting lost in this particular article and the 9 pages of comments that follow.  Although I don’t necessarily agree with the author here, I think she does a relatively decent job of presenting both sides of the barefoot vs. shoes argument.  However, I think her arguments for discussing why heel-toe running is faster than mid-strike or front foot strike running are pretty unfounded and her “example” isn’t very convincing.  What I wanted to draw more attention to is the comments.  Read a page or two and you’ll get quite a few laughs.  Comments, with a few exceptions, break down into three classifications:

  • People who immediately discount barefoot running, calling it stupid and ridiculous and dangerous…these people have never tried barefoot running
  • Barefoot runners who present story after story about how their injuries disappeared after ditching their shoes.
  • Probably 100 comments who talk about ‘broken glass, dog crap, rocks, and needles’ that apparently litter EVERY STREET IN AMERICA which makes barefoot running impossible (these are also people who have never tried it).  I don’t know what kind of streets these people run on, but I look down when I run, there’s not a lot of stuff to avoid, and if there is…I just don’t step on it.  I wear Vibram FiveFingers shoes to simulate barefoot running while also protecting my feet.

What I got out of this article is that practically EVERYBODY who has tried barefoot running (or running in Vibrams) loves it, and anybody who hasn’t is quite vocal about how stupid it is.  Don’t knock it til you try it folks!

How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle while on the Paleo Diet – This is for you hard gainers (like myself) trying to maintain a healthy diet while bulking up and putting on weight.  Mark Sisson over at the Primal Blueprint runs a great site for Paleo Diet eaters.

Run Tellman Run! - This dude is running from New York to California…barefoot.  He’s doing it to raise awareness (and money) to fight teenage homelessness (not to fight homeless teenagers, that wouldn’t be helpful).  He’s through most of Pennsylvania, but still has a LONG way to go.  You can track the guy’s progress, make donations, and see if he actually makes it all the way.

I Am Endorphin Dude, See Me Run! - I met Tony through Evan (the Muay Thai guy), and I loved his inspirational story.  I won’t steal most of his thunder, but back in April Tony thought he was having a heart attack, and decided to change his life around.  He just finished a half-marathon and then a 10k a few weeks later.  Tony’s dropped 50 pounds, took 12 inches off of his waist line, and now wants to help others.  Tony will be doing a interview for our site shortly, but I want to throw a shout out to the man and say congrats for finishing his most recent races!

Ong Bak 2 - NF reader Chris passed this “review” of Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak 2.  I NEED to see this movie after reading this from the review: “By the time we hit the half-hour mark he’s fought a samurai, wrestled a crocodile, and killed a vampire. Also: elephant surfing.” For an even funnier review, check out this article on Cracked that refers to the film as “action porn evolved.”

Metrocket – Metrocket is a website/blog run by my roommate Evan, who happens to be one hell of a developer.  He recently partnered with PollStar (the concert site) to develop a kick-ass iPhone App that will tell you when any music act is coming to town, where they’re playing, and how to get there.  Check out the site, download the app here (it’s free), and then go check out some live music in your area.

Happy Friday everybody! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do this weekend.

-Steve

Simple But Not Simplistic – The Benefits of Kettlebell Training

This is a guest post from Josh Hanagarne, a fantastic blogger over at World’s Strongest Librarian. I have no doubt in my mind that Josh REALLY is the world’s strongest librarian.  He’s also one hell of a writer and a great guy.  Take it away, Josh!

Screen shot 2009-10-20 at 9.23.38 PMIf I never made myself stand up, my job would never require it of me.  I am a librarian.  This means I sit at a desk, answer phones, answer questions, and do a lot of typing.  In your head, what do I look like?  You might be picturing an elderly woman with her hair in a bun.  Or perhaps a portly man in his late forties, with a poorly tied necktie and sweat stains in his armpits.

Let me tell you about my desk. It probably looks a lot like yours.  It is made of wood and is covered in papers and books.  Underneath it, however, lurks a sinister army of Russians.  Every time a get a break, and every time I take lunch, I pull my kettlebells out from under my desk and I get to work.

I am 6’8” and weigh upwards of 230 lbs. I have very low body fat and I am strong as hell.  I am also a bookish nerd.

I owe it all—except my height and my learnin’—to kettlebells.  A simple iron ball with a handle on it.  Simple, but not simplistic.

Benefits of Kettlebell Exercise

Usable Strength – Kettlebell movements force your body to move in the way it was intended.  Your body does not need to do bicep curls, and the movement rarely occurs naturally in the wild.  Kettlebells make you pull, push, twist, deadlift, and snap your hips.  They produce the ability to generate strength over and over and over.  Endurance and power.

If you want to be strong, nothing is more important than mastering full-body tension.  Tension is what protects your spine when you pick up the laundry basket.  Tension is self awareness.  Tension is king in the strength game.  Tension is useful.  Kettlebells will help you get control of your body and make it do what it is supposed to.

Fat Loss – Kettlebell work is either fast and furious or slow and grinding.  The effort required for long sets of snatches and swings turns your body into a furnace where fat is not welcome.  The grinding effort required for pressing builds muscle.  Muscle burns fat.

Simple but not simplistic.

Focus – If you read a bodybuilding magazine, you will probably read about the “mind-muscle connection.” This is just another way of saying “focus on what you’re doing and you’ll do it better.”  And yet, every time I’m in a traditional gym, I see groups of thin men in tank tops doing millions of curls, all while watching the gyrating ladies in the aerobics class.

That’s the wrong sort of focus.

When you are using a kettlebell, you will pay attention or you will pay the price.  You will learn to focus and connect your body and mind.  They will both thank you for it.

Portability – If I can take one kettlebell to the public library and annihilate myself in ten minutes at lunch, you’ll probably be able to fit it in somewhere as well.  I love barbells and bodyweight work and heavy squats, but you can’t take that stuff everywhere with you.

You can get a lot of work done with a 35 lb kettlebell.  And it’s small enough to fit into the drawer of a desk.

I could go on all day, but lunch is quickly approaching and I have some work to do while the other people in the building play on Twitter for the next hour.

-Josh Hanagarne

Get Stronger, Get Smarter, Live Better…Every Day

About the Author: Josh Hanagarne is the twitchy giant behind World’s Strongest Librarian, a blog about living with Tourette’s Syndrome, book recommendations, kettlebells,  buying pants when you’re 6’8”, old-time strongman training, and much more. Please subscribe to Josh’s RSS Updates to sty in touch.

Meet Steve Kamb

I’ve been writing on this site for about 8 months now, and I realized that I only have two pictures of me on this entire site.  I figure you guys might want to know who you’re taking your fitness advice from.  Today’s post is about who I am and how I got here.

This is Me

Hi, I’m Steve Kamb.  I’m about 6 feet tall, I weigh approximately 175 pounds, and I have about 11% body fat.  Here are my weight lifting stats:

  • Best deadlift - 310 lbs.
  • Best squat – 210 lbs (full squat to down past parallel)
  • Best bench press – 205 (6 reps, never tried to max out with 1 rep)
  • Most pull ups in one set - 14

I’m a big supporter of the phrase, “appearance is a consequence of fitness.” I’m sure I could do just chest exercises and bicep curls and “look bigger,” but I’m more concerned with building a well-balanced body: lots of squats, deadlifts, pull ups, and presses.  I know my weight lifting stats won’t win any awards, but they’re constantly climbing and I’m doing it all on my own terms.

I know there are tons of ways that I could bulk up and put on more muscle quickly (creatine supplements, high calorie shakes, and more time devoted to fitness).  However, with my day job, this website, and an actual life, I really don’t have the time or need to do that, which is fine.  I only exercise three or four times a week (for just 45 minutes), I eat well, and I’m trying to do everything I can to set myself up for a long healthy life.  Besides, I need to fit in some nerd time too: reading lots of books and playing the occasional video game.

Maybe one day when I win the lottery I can devote six months turning myself into Ryan Reynolds.  Until then, I’m happy where I am.

My Story

I’ve been skinny my entire life. I’m a really picky eater and I played a dozen sports growing up, keeping me in a constant state of skin and bones.  I don’t even like cake, which means I get made fun of at work whenever it’s somebody’s birthday.  I started college at Vanderbilt University back in 2002 and couldn’t wait to put on the “freshman fifteen.”

Welp, after four years of college, tubs of protein powder, and daily trips to the gym, I managed to put on maybe five pounds.  Suck.  Other than my abs, I didn’t have much going for me in the muscle department.  When I graduated, I moved cross-country to San Diego on a whim with my older brother.  I found a gym close to my apartment, got a few free personal trainer sessions, and suddenly realized it was my diet that was holding me back.  30 days later, I had gone from 162 lbs. to 180 lbs. (4000 calories a day will do that to ya).  It was at this point I became obsessed with fitness.  Not necessarily getting myself in incredible shape, but the whole science and process behind how our bodies work and the most efficient way to get in shape.

Picture 1After yet another cross-country move  to Atlanta in November of 2007, I landed a marketing job with Sixthman, the greatest company on the planet. In my spare time I continued to exercise and read every fitness book I could find.  It was at this point I started to formulate the concept of this site: I love writing, and I know there’s A LOT of bad information and crappy fitness products/blogs out there, so I figured why not use my powers for good and start my own damn blog!  I chose the name Nerd Fitness because it’s easily remembered, unique, and quite applicable: I’m a nerd, I like fitness. Done.

In the fall of 2008, I became a certified personal trainer. Now, I don’t think this certification is a big deal, because I believe it’s great content, accurate information, and motivational stories that will make this site successful, not some piece of paper.  Even though I’m personally trying to bulk up, I have helped quite a few people slim down, like my friend Saint who dropped 33 pounds in 12 weeks.  I love hearing about normal people who transform their lives and want to inspire others.  If you have a great story, please tell me about it and you could be featured on Nerd Fitness!

My Diet

Up until two months ago I was drinking 3 thousand-calorie shakes a day, shoveling insane amounts of food down my throat, and doing everything possible to gain weight.  I made it all the way up to 185 pounds (woohoo!), and then I read Loren Cordain’s “The Paleo Diet” and “The Paleo Diet For Athletes.”  It completely changed how I look at fitness, diet, and my overall health.  Since then, I’ve shed 10 pounds (almost all of it was water weight or fat), and I actually look bigger now than I did before.

Since reading these books and doing more research on the subject, I’ve realized that stuffing my face with meal-replacement shakes, gallons of milk, and pounds of pasta probably wasn’t the optimal/safest lifestyle.  Sure, I definitely wish I had bigger arms and more muscle, but not at the expense of my long-term health.  Now, I eat mostly real foods (lots of chicken, lettuce, asparagus, and apples), focus my time on getting stronger, and stop being so neurotic about calorie counts and timing my meals.

My Goals

I want to put on 10 lbs. of muscle by January 7th. Why January 7th?  Because that’s the day I head out to sea on The Rock Boat!  As part of my job I have to go on this floating music festival and make sure everybody is having a good time (told you it was an awesome company to work for).  Now, because I’ve switched to a Paleo Diet, I’m going to have to really try hard to find a way to eat enough calories a day to bulk up.  As far as exercise goes, I’ll be doing a variation on the Level 3 Routine found in my free e-book, A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness. It will still only be 3 days a week in the gym.

That’s my story. I’d love to hear yours: email me at [email protected] and let me know if I can help in any way.

-Steve

“The Stupidest Thing I’ve Ever Seen” Contest – Win an iTunes Gift Card!

If you’ve clicked over from my guest post, 7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Where the Wild Things Are, on the World’s Strongest Librarian, I want to say what’s up and welcome! I think Josh runs a great blog over there and I’m honored that he let me put together such a fun post for his site.

While you’re nosing around the Nerd Fitness site, hopefully you see enough stuff that keeps you here!  After downloading my free E-book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” here are the best ways to stay connected:

Okay, now that we got THAT out of the way, it’s time for the first ever Nerd Fitness contest! The winner will take home a $10 iTunes Gift Card.  Why only 10 bucks?  Because I’m broke, I don’t make a dime off of this site, and it’s a freaking easy contest…that’s why!

Picture 1The other day I came across this post on Cnet: The TrekDesk. Essentially, it’s a desk/treadmill hybrid that allows you to walk and work all at the same time.  The first thought that popped into my head was “Move over Hawaii Chair, this is officially the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”  Honestly, other than the obvious danger associated with walking on a moving platform without paying attention (think Bam from Jackass on a treadmill), this just seems like a terrible terrible idea all around.  Just because you CAN do two things at once doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

I won’t get into the importance of dedicating specific time towards your ACTUAL JOB and dedicating specific time towards exercising…that should be obvious.  Instead, I’d rather spend the rest of today coming up with even more ridiculous and dangerous fake combo-products.  I want you to come up with your own fake product promotion and post it in the comments.  I’ll be accepting entries until 11:59PM EST on Sunday, October 18th. After all entries are submitted, my friends and I will pick the one that made us say, “wow, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”  The more you can make us laugh, the better.

Here’s a few (poorly made) examples to get started:

  • The Toilet Bar Stool: Don’t you HATE when you go to a bar, chug a bunch of beers, and then have to pee during the 4th quarter of the football game?  Thanks to the Toilet Bar Stool, you can drink a beer and piss yourself at the same time without ever leaving your seat!  Coming soon: the Lazyboy Toilet (as seen on the Simpsons).
  • The Baby Carriage Dog-Rickshaw: You take your baby for a walk.  You take your dog for a walk.  Why not kill two birds with one stone?  Introducing the dog-rickshaw for babies!  Stick your baby in the carriage, strap your dog to the front end, set it, and forget it!  You can sit inside and watch Oprah while your dog takes your precious newborn for a tour of the town.  Who knows, he might even come back!

Alright guys, have at it.  Try to include fitness in your product some way if you can, but I don’t want that to be a limiting factor.  Just have fun, and try to keep it relatively clean.  (If you actually want to win, make sure you put down a legit email address when you post your comment so I can contact you).

Oh, and if you come across any actual products that are beyond stupid, post those too.  If we can’t laugh at ourselves, might as well laugh at others.

-Steve

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CrossFit – 18 Minutes and 48 Seconds of Hell

Yesterday, with the encouragement of my buddy Jordan and recent interviewees Brandi and Adam, I went to the Peachtree CrossFit Gym here in Atlanta for my first ass-kicking.  For those of you who don’t know, CrossFit is a type of gym/crazy lifestyle where you have a specific exercise routine every day that you try to finish (with perfect form) as quickly as possible.  Each day the routine is different, mixing in different exercises, building different muscles, and pushing your body to its limit in practically every way.

crossfit-kittensAlthough I have been weight training for quite a while, I know my endurance was crap before even getting there. Considering my routine was going to be a mixture of strength building, running, and endurance, I knew I was in trouble.  Oh well, everybody likes a challenge, right?

Yesterday afternoon I showed up at the CrossFit gym: a big open room in the basement of a large warehouse type building.  I walked in and immediately saw people drenched in sweat, curled over, and some were even lying on the floor.  Yikes.   I then met Liz, my trainer for the afternoon.  With a big smile, she told me that I need to sign a waiver in case I die during the workout.   The dying part was a joke, the waiver was not.  This is serious stuff we’re talking here.  After a light 400M jog, 10 sit ups, 10 push ups, and some stretching, I’m given my assignment for the day.  I have to do three rounds as quickly as possible of the following

  • 400M run
  • 21 kettlebell swings (with a 35 pound weight, although the routine actually calls for a 55 pound weight)
  • 12 pull ups (from a dead hang)

It sounded tough, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  I hadn’t done kettle bell swings before, but I can do pull ups and I can run, so I figured I’d be okay.  I’m going to give you a rough estimate of the minute by minute breakdown of how things went:

00:00 - And I’m off!  I start a light  jog down the road behind the gym to a red G painted on the ground which is exactly 200M away from the gym.

01:30 – I finish my first 400M in around 90 seconds, and I’m already winded.  Ruh roh Shaggy.

02:30 – I crank out my 21 reps of kettle bell swings, which are surprisingly difficult.  I make a mental note to go home and learn how to utilize my hips more.  I also make a mental note that I’m only on the 2nd part of the first round of this damn routine.

02:40 – Time to crank out some pull ups.  I actually felt good about the pull ups going into this because I can generally do a lot of them.  However, after running 400M and doing 21 swings I’m already gassed.  Apparently Crossfit preaches a specific type of pull up called a kip up which uses momentum, but I don’t know how to do it, so I stick with my dead hang and chug through my first set of 12.

4:00 – 10:00 – I get through round 2 somehow.  I don’t remember much of it, except for the puddle of sweat underneath me and the beginning of some delirium.  I’ve been exercising for only 10 minutes and I’m already ready to pass out.  Endurance fail.

10:01 – I begin round 3 with my 400M “run.”  I use the term “run” loosely, because I’m pretty sure at this point I’m doing that run/jog thing that is actually slower than walking.  I’m an idiot and I’m clearly not thinking straight, but I start to ask myself what Buzz Lightyear would do in this situation.  “Never give up, never surrender.”  Yup, I start thinking about Pixar movies.  That’s normal.

11:00 – As I hit the halfway point on my jog, I’m so exhausted and delirious that I see Jesus.

11:01 - Turns out “Jesus” was just a bearded homeless man peeing in the bushes.  My bad.

12:20 - I have no concept of time anymore.  I feel like I’ve been exercising for an hour.  My legs are exhausted, my head hurts, I’m kind of hungry, sweaty, tired, but damnit I’m gonna finish this thing.

15:00 - I j lust finished my last set of kettle bell swings and I’m dying.  OH GOD still 12 more pull ups.

15:15 - Liz looks at me and goes “It’s okay to swear, if that helps.”  I smile politely, and continue cursing to my cursing to myself on the inside.  At this point, Ramstein’s “Du Hast” comes over the speakers (slightly different than the god-awful techno that plays at my current gym).

15:30 – The first 5 pull ups come easy.  My arms decide to stop working on the 6th.   F*** you arms!

16:00 - I break the rest of it into 3 sets of 2 pull ups and one final pull up.  I briefly consider letting out a war cry but I figure nothing would actually come out.

18:48 - I’m done.  “18 minutes and 48 seconds. Not bad!  A lot of people don’t even get through the workout on their first try,” says Liz.  This makes me feel better.  “This is the wall of records here at the gym.  The fastest guy to complete this workout was 8 minutes and 37 seconds, with a 55lb kettle bell.”  This makes me feel worse.

At this point, I noticed a “Pukie List” for all the people who have lost their lunch from pushing themselves too hard. I laugh and say, “Well I didn’t set any records, but at least I stayed off the Pukie List!”  Like clockwork, my stomach decided that this was a jackass comment and wanted to make me pay for it.  Fearing the worst, I politely excused myself to go wander around outside the gym, trying to take deep breaths and not puke while simultaneously looking for a nice bush to puke on in case it does happen.  After one near-reversal I regain composure, drink the rest of my water, and stumble back into the gym.

After thanking Liz for pushing me to my limits, I vow to never exercise again.  I remember getting in my car and thinking that was the worst thing ever and one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever had.  And then I got home…and suddenly I wanted to know what the next workout would be, and if I could get through that one too without puking.  And then I wanted to know how fast I’d have to complete it to end up on the Wall of Records.  Suddenly the concept of putting myself through hell again sounded like a fantastic idea.  What happened to me!?

Let me set the record straight: Crossfit members are nuts. There’s no doubt about it.  Anybody who puts themselves so that level of torture, on purpose, on a daily basis has to be crazy.  And yet, I totally get it.  These people push themselves way outside of their comfort zone, past any self-imposed limit, and then show up and do it all over again the next day.  They do it because they know they can, because they have a group of people going through Hell with them, because they want to know how strong and fast they can be.  It’s awesome.

Now, Crossfit isn’t for everybody.  I bet a lot of people walk out of that gym after a free trial session and say “never again,” and then they go back to the way things were, which is fine.   I’m sure the other limiting factor is the cost of the membership (which is quite expensive).  I understand the reason for the price, but my funds are so tight right now that I just can’t afford it.  Luckily Crossfit.com lists all of its daily routines and challenges on their site, so I can continue to train on my own at my gym (without the competition and positive encouragement from my peers).  I guess I’ll see how much I can push myself on my own.

Crossfit and Liz – thanks for kicking my ass.  I hated it the entire time, and I can’t wait to do it all over again soon.

NF Readers – If you’re looking for a challenge, find a CrossFit gym in your area and go for your 1st time free.  Find out what you’re made of, and see if it’s right for you.  If you’re a member of one, or you’ve tried out a Crossfit workout, I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

-Steve

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