Monthly Archives for April 2011

Archives for April 2011

How to Even Out Uneven Muscles!

Opt for dumbbells instead of barbells and machines for better body symetry.

I’ve received a whole slew of emails from folks looking to even out uneven muscles. From uneven pecs to uneven biceps, many of us have some degree of asymmetry in our bodies. A little asymmetry is completely normal – but if there are obvious unbalances, it’s easy to take action and correct things.

The solution is simple: Opt for dumbbells. There’s nothing fancy or magic about it. Unlike machines or even barbells, there is no way for your stronger side to compensate for your weaker side. When doing a bench press, for example, it’s possible to compromise form, shift the weight and favor the strong side. With dumbbells, it’s impossible to redistribute the weight.

Moreover, you may want to train the weaker side a bit more than the stronger side – until things even out. After you perform a set, do a few additional reps on the smaller side. This will help your weaker side play catch-up.

Replacing your barbell or machine exercises with dumbbell training is an easy and simple way to gain better body symmetry.

Best Way to Get Post-Workout Carbs.

Davey,

I have a question regarding protein consumption after a work out – I have been a loyal follower of your blog and know that you are a big supporter of whey protein, which I am behind and have picked up for myself – but you also mention the importance of having carbs post workout carbs. My question is do you have a specific mix/shake/drink you make after your workout? I guess I am just confused on how to incorporate the carbs into the protein shake – please help!

Thanks,
Mike

Dear Mike,

You’re spot on about the importance of post workout carbs.

In a nutshell, the story goes something like this: When you exercise, your body makes use of both available energy and stored energy from glucose and glycogen. Eventually, the levels of energy get depleted and the body secrets the stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol eats up muscle tissue (oh no!) and converts the protein into glucose through a processed called gluconeogenesis. Long story short, the body begins to lose muscle tissue.

Taking some carbs after your workout can help prevent this.

We know that post-workout protein is necessary to help rebuild your muscles. I recommend whey protein because it is absorbed quickly. When it comes to carbs, the same is true – faster is better. As such, it’s one of the only times I’ll recommend simple carbohydrates.

So how can you do it?

One possibility is mixing your protein powder with fruit and milk in a blender. Both fruit and milk have carbohydrates, but unfortunately both are absorbed fairly slowly. Simple table sugar is a bit better, but it’s not the best. Most trainers recommend using either dextrose or maltodextrin. You can experiment with either to see which produces better results, and both are available as supplements at nutrition stores. You can mix either into your protein shake.

The amount of post-workout carbs you consume varies depending on your lean body mass (total body weight – total weight of body fat), goals and training intensity. At 158 lbs with 7% body fat, I should take about 40 grams of carbs if looking for definition – and 80 grams if I’m looking to gain muscle mass.

Hope that helps!

Love,
Davey

Top 9 Strength Training & Lifting Mistakes.

Improper form is just one of the many mistakes that exercisers tend to make.

I’ve been going to the gym long enough to have seen it all. And though I often have the urge to point out the mistakes of the gym-goers around me, I resist the urge to be that guy. But since you’ve actively solicited my advice, there’s certainly no reason to hold back.

Here are 9 of the most common strength training mistakes that I’ve encountered.

  1. Using momentum. This is huge, and I see it all the time. When you perform a movement for an exercise, it creates momentum. When reversing directions, this momentum can be used to cheat. Unfortunately, it’s not using muscle power – and so this type of cheating should be eliminated. A simple trick is to pause for a second or two before reversing directions – this will absorb the momentum.
  2. Wrong number of reps. The number of reps that you perform for an exercise is entirely dependent on your fitness goals. If you want size, you should probably aim for 4 – 10 repetitions of each exercise. If you want definition, increased endurance or strength (and not size), then you should probably shoot for 10 – 15 repetitions. Whether you are going for 4 or 15 repetitions, you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. And that brings us to our next mistake…
  3. Improper weight. Using the right amount of weight is important. Unless you are just looking to maintain what you’ve got – and not progress – then you should be fully fatigued on your last rep. If you feel like you could do another rep or two, then the weight is too light. Bump it up.
  4. Not progressing. If you’re looking to increase your size or strength, it means you’re going to need to progress to higher levels of resistance over time. Muscles don’t grow unless they are forced to grow – and doing more of the same will only get you more of the same. I recommend the 2 for 2 rule to help know when it’s time to increase the weight.
  5. Doing the same workout each day. A lot of exercisers try to train every muscle group each time they hit the gym. While this is an especially poor practice if you go to the gym often (it can result in over-training), all people will benefit from focusing on different muscle groups on different days. Instead of trying to train every muscle in 45 minute (and not really hit any of them hard), focusing on just a muscle group or two can give you an effective, deep workout.
  6. Not adding variety. Many of us get into workout routines that we like, and then we stick to it. Unfortunately, our muscles adjust to our routines – and stale routines make plateaued results more likely. Try switching things up – change the base of stability, order of your exercises or even try something new.
  7. Improper form. Improper form goes beyond the momentum-based cheating mentioned above. It covers anything from incorrect postures to not using a full range of motion. Compromised form means compromised results. If you think you may be using improper form, then work with a personal trainer – or, at the very least, perform an internet search to see the exercise performed properly.
  8. Resting too long. For most of us, 45 – 60 seconds of rest in between sets does the trick. But those seconds tick by quickly, and it’s easy to take a bit of a cat nap. Watch the clock to make sure you’re not resting too long – it will make your workout much more efficient.
  9. Exercising during pain. If it hurts, stop! Delayed onset soreness is good and healthy – but if you’re experiencing pain while lifting, something isn’t right. Continuing to exercise while in pain is a recipe for serious injury. Moreover, if a muscle is still sore from a previous workout, then it is too soon to train it again. Hold off until the muscle heals.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!

No Results from Creatine? Try This.

Creatine: Worth the hype or much ado about nothing?

It’s three weeks into my ongoing trial with creatine, and I really haven’t seen much in terms of results.

In a nutshell, creatine is a popular supplement that helps with muscle function. It’s not a steroid, and it is legal in professional sports and the Olympics. To find out if you’re a good candidate for creatine, read last week’s post.

Last week, I reported that I had gained 3 pounds since starting my creatine regimen. Creatine-related weight gain is very common among first-time users, but the gain is mostly additional water that is flushed into your body’s muscles. It’s not fat, and doesn’t give a “pudgy” effect. This morning, I stepped on the scale only to discover that I’m back to my pre-creatine body weight of 158 pounds. Moreover, when I look in the mirror, I don’t look different – and at the very most, I feel only slightly stronger while exercising.

Creatine is touted as a powerful supplement that yields great, quick results. So what gives?

  1. Non-responders. As it turns out, a small number of people don’t respond to creatine supplements. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible that I fall into this category. Moreover, frequent meat eats (like myself) tend to see less dramatic results.
  2. Water. Water intake is key to the proper functioning of creatine. The benefits of creatine occur from the flushing of water to the body’s muscles – and so it’s crucial to drink more water than usual while on creatine. I’m going to up my water intake to see if it helps.
  3. Juice. Drinking creatine with a sugary drink delivers maximum results. The insulin spike created by the fast-acting carbs in sugary substances will allow for greater uptake of creatine within the muscle cells. I’ve been taking my creatine with a carb-rich power bar, but the carbs are admittedly slower to act than something like grape juice. Moving forward, I’m going to buy juice boxes to consume with my creatine.
  4. Powder. Creatine is available in a variety of forms including power, pills and liquid. It is generally recommended that fitness enthusiasts stick to powdered creatine. Pill forms are expensive, they absorb slowly and it’s harder to adjust the dosage size. Liquid creatine is less stable, and is not advised. I’ve been using powdered creatine – so it looks like I’m on the right track here.
  5. Dosage size and loading. This is something that each person will have to experiment for themselves. Daily dosage recommendations are anywhere from 2 grams to 20 or 30 grams. I’ve been using a technique called loading. I’ve been ingesting 5 grams on my “off” weeks and 15 grams on my “on” weeks. From the studies that I’ve read, it seems that loading yields quicker short-term results, but that both loading and a constant amount of creatine yield the same longer-term results. At any rate, I may have to do some longer-term adjusting to see if it impacts my results (or lack thereof).

It’s also worth noting that alcohol tends to damper the results of creatine. But as someone that doesn’t drink, this isn’t a factor for me.

So, for me, the creatine jury is still out. Many people are big believers in the supplement. But my personal experience has been that it’s much ado about nothing. Of course, this doesn’t discount the results that other people have experienced – and it doesn’t mean that creatine won’t help you. I will try modifying my creatine regime with the above recommendations, and keep you posted on the progress.

Weight Loss 101: Everything You Need to Know.

It's important to understand the science and psychology of weight release.

When it comes to losing weight, it’s important to understand the fundamentals.

First things first, weight is released when there is a caloric deficit in the body. That is to say that an individual is taking in fewer calories than their body is burning. Since the deficit calories need to be found elsewhere, the body will use stored calories for energy. And this often results in the loss of body fat.

At its most basic level, there are two ends to the weight loss equation. There are “calories in” and “calories out”. It’s important to work with both ends of the equation.

Calories In

Let’s start with calories in. This end of the equation is all about diet and nutrition.

It seems logical that by reducing the intake of calories, the calorie deficit can be achieved. And this is partially true, but it also oversimplifies the process.

Certainly, moderately reducing calories – and especially certain types of less nourishing calories (like those from sugar) – can be an important part of a weight loss plan. But excessive caloric reductions tend to backfire. The human body is smart, and if it is severely deprived of food, then it will go into starvation mode. If the body feels starved, the metabolic rate drops to conserve calories. This, in turn, negatively effects the “calories out” portion of the equation. In other words, you can’t starve yourself to lose weight.

If you are overeating, you will want to reduce the number of calories that you are consuming – but this should be done moderately. Moreover, you should stick to healthier food options. I often advise clients to follow the “Caveman Diet,” which has an emphasis on lean meats, berries, nuts, vegetables, water, fruits and the many other healthy, nourishing foods that were available to our ancestors. Processed foods, sugars, sugary drinks and high fat foods are, in general, to be avoided or minimized.

Note: Low carbohydrate diets are also effective in reducing body fat, and offer an alternative to lower fat or lower calorie diets. If you need help in deciding whether a low-calorie diet or low-carb diet is best for you, read this article.

Calories Out

When it comes to calories out, exercise plays a huge role – and it’s why you need to stay active. By engaging in exercise, you’re able to burn additional calories – and help widen that all important calorie deficit.

I always advise a combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training.

Cardio exercise gets your heart pumping, and your blood flowing. Cardio has a number of great benefits, not the least of with is an incineration of calories. Running, swimming, biking, jogging, etc., all count as cardio. Interval training – that is, alternating between medium and high levels of cardio intensity – seems to yield the best results.

Strength training involves using forms of resistance to build your muscles. Adding muscle is important because muscle requires a tremendous amount of calories to sustain. Each pound of muscle added widens your calorie deficit. Most people use free weights, body weight, machines or resistance bands in their strength training routines.

When it comes to exercise, combining both cardio and strength training will give you the best results. And if you are just starting out, fear not: Even exercising a few times a week for 30 minutes is a great place to start – and you will experience results. For help creating a fitness routine that works with your goals, equipment (or lack thereof) and schedule, download my Ultimate Guide to Working Out. Use promo code “release” to save 20% during checkout in the next few hours only.

Conclusion

Weight release isn’t rocket science. But for a lot of us, it’s not just about the above equation of calories in and calories out. Yes, that’s the science of it. But it’s not the psychological reality for many of us. Releasing weight often requires a new, deeper relationship with our body. It’s important to understand the science of weight loss, but it’s equally important to invest time, energy and effort understanding the underlying issues. For more about building a stronger, positive connection with your body, I recommend these resources:

How to Breathe While Exercising.

Speaking of breath, this guy takes mine away. 😛

Our breath is important. This is true all the time, but especially at the gym. If you don’t believe me, try holding it for a few minutes and see what happens.

There are different schools of thought regarding breath and exercise. For heavy lifters, there are a myriad of esoteric techniques that are really beyond the scope of what most of us will ever need. But in a nutshell, the general recommendation is to exhale on the exertion (the hard part) and inhale on the easier part of the exercise.

Let’s look at a pull-up for an example. Pulling yourself up to the bar is the hard part – and so that’s when you’d exhale. Releasing back down from the bar is the easy part, and so that’s when you’d inhale. Generally, the hard part of an exercise is when you’re going against gravity. And the easy part is when you’re going with gravity.

Each repetition should be matched with a full exhale and inhale. This can help prevent hyperventilation, which often results from shallow breathing or from doing multiple reps per breath.

Breathing while exercising is so critically important because it gives your muscles the oxygen they need to operate. As such, do your best to take full, deep breaths that cause your belly to rise. Shallower breaths (like those that only cause your upper chest to rise) are not as effective. It’s also a wise idea to take these deep belly breaths with you through your day – and not just at the gym.

As a quick test, put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest and breathe normally. Which hand rises more? Ideally, it should be the hand on your belly.

Many people hold their breath on the exertion. While this is a tool sometimes used in competitive weight lifting, it’s generally inadvisable for the rest of us. It can lead to immediate fainting and even accidental death. So, please, ensure that you’re breathing!

Bottom line: Exhale on the exertion and inhale on the easy part of the exercise with full, deep breaths that inflate your belly.

10 Skinny Guy Muscle Building Tips

Dear Davey,

I am one of those guys who is very thin and eats whatever his heart desires and I will not gain a pound. I do not expect to ever be “jacked” but I would like to be fit and filled out. With that being said, do you have any work out tips for people with a build and metabolism like myself?

From,
Max

Dear Max,

So you’re one of those people. I’m sure your metabolism is the envy for anyone reading this that is trying to lose some weight. You probably won’t get much sympathy here. But there are a few things that you should know!

First, nutrition is still important. Even though you can eat whatever you want without increasing your waistline, it doesn’t mean that unhealthy food options are any better for your body. I remember reading about autopsies being done on young American soldiers who had died in Iraq. Their veins looked like they belonged in 60-year-old cardiac arrest patients. In other words, nourish your body with healthy choices.

Second, it’s important to be realistic. If your nickname is “String Bean,” or “Tommy the Twink,” then you probably don’t have the genes to look like the Hulk. All of us are given different body types, and so it’s important to create expectations within the boundaries of what is possible. Instead of comparing ourselves to other people at the gym (who have a totally different set of genes) compare yourself to… yourself. You certainly can add bulk, but it will be to a different degree. It will be bulky for you, and that’s what matters.

Beyond paying special attention to your nutrition and being realistic, the recommendations for building bulk are the same for you as anyone else. You’ll need to:

  1. Lift weights. If you want to get creative, try P90X for a serious workout.
  2. Target a low number of repetitions (4-8 or 10 at most).
  3. Be fully fatigued on your last rep.
  4. Keep pushing yourself to progress to heavier levels of resistance or weights.
  5. Fuel your body with enough calories.
  6. Consume the right amount of protein.
  7. Don’t overtrain – get rest!
  8. Continue with moderate cardio. Don’t worry, it won’t burn off your muscle.

So the truth is, with a little effort and dedication, you’ll certainly be able to add some muscle to your frame. You might not look like Popeye, but you will see some fantastic results.

Hope that helps!

Love,
Davey

Ask Davey: Am I Too Young to Lift Weights?

Hey Davey,

I’ve been working out for about a month now, and have been losing quite a bit of weight, mostly inspired by you and the blog. I’m 17, and my parents keep going on about strength training and how I’m too young to do any strength training, but they can’t seem to tell me why its bad for someone of my age. I’ve been doing a bit anyway, with fairly light weights, but I’d like to go onto bigger ones. Is there any truth to being to young? If so, when can I start?

From,
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

If you put yourself in your parents’ shoes, it’s easy to understand their concern. They probably want to know your motivations. They may worry that you are insecure with your appearance. Or that you are being picked on at school. Or even that you’re giving in to peer pressure. From their perspective, they may be concerned about an underlying problem, and so it’s best for you to be open and honest about why you’re interested in lifting weights. Communicate with your parents.

Moreover, like most people, your parents probably don’t fully understand strength training or any possible risks.

The truth is, strength training is perfectly healthy for young people, and it provides a number of great benefits such as:

  • Increased strength
  • Improved endurance
  • Faster metabolism
  • Promotes healthy body weight
  • Stronger bones
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Healthier cholesterol levels and blood pressure

Much of the concern about weight lifting in younger populations surrounds the myth that strength training stunts growth. The myth is rooted in some truth: If proper form isn’t maintained and/or the youth is engaged in excessive lifting, growth plates could be damaged. To ensure safer lifting, pay special attention to your form and don’t overly exert yourself.

Strength training is safe for young people, even much younger than yourself. And it’s certainly much safer than almost any other sport that your high school might offer. But you don’t have to take my word for it: The Mayo Clinic, The National Strength and Conditioning Association and American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend strength training in children for the above reasons.

It’s always wise to consult a physician, whether you’re an adult or child, before starting a new fitness routine. And with younger populations, supervision is recommended and heavy bodybuilding or power-lifting should generally be avoided until certain developmental criteria are met.

Hope that helps!

Love,
Davey

Are You A Sugar Addict?

The effect of sugar on our bodies is anything but sweet.

Sugar looks a lot like cocaine and acts a lot like heroin when it interacts with our brains. But is it really addictive – and if so, what can you do to overcome it?

I just finished reading an email from an obese 19 year-old boy who is unable to control his sweet tooth. He claims that even after exercising, he craves sugar and inevitably binges on the sweet stuff.

He’s not alone. Sugar is a huge contributor to America’s obesity and health problems. Sugar consumption has been linked to everything from heart disease to diabetes to cardiovascular disease and liver disease. Moreover, sugar is flushed with empty calories, meaning they are devoid of nutritional content.

In the last few years, research has been done to illustrative sugar’s addictive qualities. In 2009, a study titled Sugar and Fat Bingeing Have Notable Differences in Addictive-Like Behavior concluded that sugar bingeing causes withdrawal symptoms and cravings much like addictive drugs.

So… are you addicted? You may be addicted to sugar if:

  • When you don’t get your daily dose of sugar, you become cranky or irritable.
  • You are unable to cut down on eating sweet foods.
  • You have had a “sugar hangover”.

But fear not: Sugar addiction can be overcome. If you are looking to cut down on sugar, it’s recommended that you eat foods that are low on the glycemic index. These foods are digested slowly, and they help keep blood sugar levels stable. Surround yourself with support, and forgive yourself if you fall down or “cheat”. Get up, and keep at it.

When modifying a diet, I always recommend focusing on those delicious things that you can eat rather than what you can’t. Instead of operating from a place of weakness and deficit, you can come from a place of abundance and power. Instead of focusing on Skittles and cupcakes (and inevitably developing a craving), think about all the wonderful foods you are able to eat.

And if you aren’t addicted to sugar, use this knowledge as a cautionary tale. Keep your sugar consumption to a minimum, and do your best to get it from natural, unprocessed sources.

Are you or someone you know addicted to sugar? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Davey Wavey’s Second Week With Creatine.

After 2 weeks of creatine, I haven't experienced any dramatic changes.

Yesterday marked the end of my 2nd week using creatine. Last week, I shared some information about creatine and spoke about my experience. Just to recap, creatine is a popular supplement that aids in muscle function. It’s not a steroid, and it is legal in professional sports and the Olympics.

Creatine may be a good fit for people:

  • Between the ages of 18 – 60 and who
  • Are looking to increase muscle mass or improve strength and who
  • Exercise regularly with free weights and/or machines and who
  • Have no kidney concerns, issues with the liver or diabetes.

People who use creatine generally make use of cycles called loading. In periods lasting 5 – 7 days, creatine users alternate between low doses of creatine (1 teaspoon or 5 grams) and higher doses (as much as 4 teaspoons or 20 grams).

For my first week, I consumed 5 grams of creatine powder per day. I wanted to start slow to get a better handle on the effects it might cause. This past week marked my first cycle of loading with 15 grams per day.

To be honest, I don’t feel very different.

Creatine flushes the muscles with water, and most people experience a substantial water weight gain when first starting out. I have noticed that I’m more thirsty than normal… but my weight gain – so far – has been only about 3 pounds. It’s worth noting that the gain caused by creatine isn’t fat, it’s just additional water in your muscles.

I have felt slightly more powerful at the gym. Of course, psychological factors are hugely influential, and it’s possible that the creatine is causing something of a placebo effect. Regardless, I was able to progress to higher weights with some exercises, and/or perform an extra rep or two in a few instances. I was expecting dramatic changes with creatine, but for me, it appears to be more of a minor boost. Like the effect you’d get working out after a good night’s sleep.

Of course, it could be because I’m a meat eater. Meat is rich with creatine, and so the bodies of meat eaters are usually already accustomed to higher creatine levels. Vegetarians and vegans usually experience more substantial results while using creatine.

Nonetheless, it’s only been two weeks! And I’ll continue my creatine experiment for at least another two weeks. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

In the meantime, feel free to ask questions in the comments below!

6 Best Tips for Recovering Faster from Exercise.

Hey Davey,

I live in NYC and often go for 2-5 mile runs in Central Park. My only problem is that I’ll feel sore for at least 2 days. What is the best way to a quicker recovery?

Thanks,
John

Hey John,

First things first, a little soreness is a good (and generally unavoidable) thing. Delayed onset soreness, like what you’re experiencing, is perfectly fine, healthy and normal. If you are immediately sore, it means you have injured yourself – and that’s a whole different cup of tea.

New research shows that conditioned athletes recover faster, so one of the best things you can do is challenge yourself with a hard, heart-pumping workout. As your current fitness level increases, your recovery time tends to decrease. It’s a great long-term strategy.

Having said that, there are some things you can try that may help you recover a bit faster. They include:

  1. Warming-up. Our muscles need to be warmed up before they engage in exercise, otherwise the risk for strains, injuries and the like increases. Cold taffy breaks, but warm taffy stretches. Our muscles are the same way. A warm up need not be overly time consuming, but spend a few minutes getting your muscles ready for your workout. Before running in central park, for example, do a three minute jog.
  2. Cooling-down. Following your run in Central Park, dedicate 3 – 5 minutes to cooling down. Jogging at a gentle pace will remove some of the lactic acid from your system and help prevent stiffness.
  3. Drinking lots of water. Staying hydrated will help flush out toxins and aid in muscle recovery.
  4. Getting your post workout protein and carbs. We know that in addition to protein, it’s important to consume some post-workout carbohydrates. Doing so will help rebuild and repair you muscles, and studies have shown that it also reduces soreness.
  5. Resting! Your muscles rebuild and repair more during sleep than when you’re awake. Levels of HGH increase during sleep, so make sure you’re getting your full 6 – 8 hours.
  6. Try a cold/hot shower or massage. Some people report that a post-workout hot or cold shower can help reduce soreness and decrease recovery time. In addition, some people believe that a sports massage will help decrease recovery time, though more research is needed. It was speculated that a sports massage would help remove lactic acid, but this has been disproved by science.

You’ll notice that stretching is missing from the list. Though we’ve all been told (myself included!) that stretching helps prevent and reduce soreness, some very surprising research is proving otherwise. If stretching does have a preventative effect on soreness, it is very small. And while it may help temporarily relieve some post-workout soreness, the relief is short-lived. Stretching is great – and it may boost your performance – but its effects on recovery appear quite minimal.

In a nutshell, these six tips may help improve your recovery to some degree – but really, muscle soreness comes with the territory. On days when your legs are sore from running, do some strength training exercises involving other parts of your body – like your arms, back, shoulders, or core. Use those “sore” days as opportunities to train other muscles.

Moreover, switch up your runs. Instead of running for five miles at one pace, do 15 minutes of interval training where you jog for 90 seconds and then sprint for 60. Your body will react differently to the different workouts.

Hope that helps!

Love,
Davey

Does Strength Training Decrease Flexibility?

Gymnasts remind us that muscles and flexibility need not be mutually exclusive. And also that spandex can be super sexy.

You’ve probably heard the age-old adage that lifting weights decreases flexibility. But like so many of the things we’re told about exercise, you’ve probably wondered if it’s really true.

The simple answer is that strength training can decrease flexibility, but it doesn’t have to.

Each time you complete a repetition, you’ve technically shortened your muscles. (To be fair, muscle shortening also happens when we don’t exercise at all – or lead a sedentary lifestyle.) Over time, the shortening caused by weightlifting can add up to a decreased range of motion.

But not so fast. A recent study by the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks shows us that decreased flexibility isn’t inevitable. According to their findings, strength training exercises actually improved flexibility in participants using a full range of motion.

Of course, if you’re cutting each repetition short (i.e., stopping before your thighs are parallel to the floor in a squat), then your muscles might not have the opportunity to lengthen – and you may experience some flexibility loss.

Stretching can still be very important, though it’s important to do it properly. Dynamic stretching (stretching with constant movement, like arm circles) is great before cardio or strength training. Static stretching (holding a pose for a longer period of time), on the other hand, is best saved until the end of a workout. Doing static stretching before strength training exercises actually decreases performance and increases the risk of injury.

With your improved flexibility, you’ll also likely experience a boost in your performance.

The bottom line: Lifting weights won’t result in a lose of flexibility if you perform each exercise through your full range of motion and incorporate proper stretching.

Answered: How Many Repetitions of Each Exercise is Best?

Dear Davey,

I’ve been told by multiple people, including my yoga teacher and friends, that there is a max number of reps one can do in one set. I’ve been told it’s somewhere between 21 to 25 reps. Is this true?

From,
Ryan

Dear Ryan,

There isn’t a magic number from a scientific standpoint, but there certainly are some ranges to target. Whether you’ll target a low rep range or a high rep range depends on your fitness goals.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Low reps (1 – 6): Builds strength
  • Medium reps (7 to 12): Builds size and strength
  • High reps (12 – 15): Builds endurance

Keep in mind, you want to be fully fatigued on your last repetition. Obviously, you’ll have to adjust the weight accordingly.

Swinging a weight around 20 or 30 times won’t do much for muscle growth, but it may get your heart pumping – as is often done in aerobics classes! It can certainly be part of your cardiovascular training, though you’ll still want to seek out some strength training exercises to balance your workout.

The number of reps that’s right for you really just depends on your goals and what you’re looking to accomplish.

Love,
Davey

Being Vegan is So Gay?

As a gay person, I understand the pain of oppression. I understand what it’s like to be denied equal treatment and fairness. And I also understand that an injustice to one is an injustice to all – whether it’s with women’s rights, racial discrimination… or the mistreatment of animals.

When Ari Solomon, columnist and animal rights activist, emailed me with an article titled “Being Vegan is So Gay,” I was struck by the intersections in our movements. Ari writes:

I went vegan… because I couldn’t stand knowing that I was paying other people to do to those animals what had been done, on a much smaller scale, to me. How could I say that I believed everyone deserved to be equal and have a chance to be happy when I was eating the remains of lives that had been wrought with misery and mercilessness.

Surely, if anyone can understand the mistreatment of animals in factory farms, it should be other oppressed populations. Like gay people. If you are pushing for equal, just and fair treatment for humans – how can you turn a blind eye to the food we buy and eat?

But unlike Ari, I don’t agree that the answer is necessarily veganism.

I think the consumption of meat, when done responsibly, is a very natural and beautiful thing. When we consume life – be it plant life or animal life – we’re participating in the great cycle of life, death and renewal that keeps this planet functioning.

For me, the answer is about being a conscious eater. Instead of buying factory farm meats, I buy grass-fed meats from Whole Foods or from local, pasture-centered family farms. In fact, Whole Foods even has a 5-Step animal welfare rating so that you can see how the animal was treated. It helps the consumer make wiser, more conscious choices.

But Ari is right: Oppression is oppression. The mistreatment of animals is an injustice, and it’s hypocritical for us to turn away.

What do you think? Do you think gay people – or other oppressed groups – have a special responsibility and duty to stand up for the rights of animals?

Pros and Cons of Workout Buddies.

If he's looking for a workout buddy, I volunteer!

Is getting a workout partner a good idea? Like so many things, it depends on you, your situation and your goals.

Here are the pros:

  1. Accountability. Having a workout partner holds you to your gym schedule. You’re less likely to skip the gym if you’re planning on meeting someone there.
  2. Knowledge. Like they say, two heads are better than one. Ideally, find a workout partner that has more experience and a better understanding of fitness. You can learn from him or her, and apply any new-found knowledge to your routine. In addition, your workout buddy may be able to add some new exercises to your routine.
  3. Assistance. Having a workout buddy means you’ll have someone to spot each of your exercises. When you have a spotter, it’s easier – and safer – to push yourself to achieve higher levels of resistance or to complete additional repetitions. Moreover, your workout partner can ensure that you’re maintaining proper form.
  4. Sociability. In the same way that running on a treadmill is more enjoyable with headphones and an iPod, so too is lifting weights with another person. Having someone to talk with can make the experience substantially more enjoyable.
  5. Cheerleading. Your workout buddy can be your cheerleader, and help push you when you’re trying to get that final repetition. Having that extra kick in the butt can make a huge psychological difference.

But, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Here are the cons:

  1. Time. Unless you are aggressive in your timing, workouts tend to take longer with two people as you have an additional person completing sets and reps. A 90 minute workout might take two hours – and for some people, it’s a deal-breaker. Watch the clock.
  2. Responsibility. If your workout partner lacks commitment, you may find yourself having to push and prod him or her to get to the gym. When it’s challenging enough to motivate yourself, do you really want to be motivating someone else?
  3. Scheduled workouts. If spontaneity is your thing, having set workout dates may not be appealing. Moreover, if you’re the type of person that skips off to the gym on a whim – or sneaks in a workout when your schedule allows – you’ll probably find scheduled workouts to be yet another frustrating commitment.
  4. Sociability. While it’s great to have someone to chat with, those conversations can really cut into the workout. A 60-second rest might stretch on for a few minutes – and it all adds up to poorly managed and inefficient gym time.

Clearly, having a workout buddy isn’t for everyone. But if it is something in which you’re interested, follow some of my tips for finding one.

Have you ever had – or do you currently have – a workout buddy? What do you like about it? What do you dislike? Let me know in the comments below.

Creatine Trial Week 1: Everything You Need to Know.

It's important to have a complete understanding of creatine before deciding if it's right for you.

There’s a lot of information – and misinformation – about the supplement known as creatine.

I’m very careful about any supplements or medications that I take, and I refuse to ingest anything without fully understanding its function and consequences. So when I became curious to try creatine, I knew I’d have to dig deeper.

Turns out, creatine is one of the most popular and researched supplements available. In a nutshell, creatine is involved in making the energy your muscles need to work. For most people, taking additional creatine enables you to lift heavier weights or complete additional repetitions – which, in turn, builds additional muscle.

The biggest misconception is that creatine is a steroid. It’s not. In fact, it’s allowed in professional sports, the Olympics and the NCAA. Creatine is a chemical that is manufactured by the body – and it is naturally consumed through meat and fish.

Moreover, creatine is generally safe. It’s possibly unsafe for people with existing kidney or liver concerns or diabetes, though more research in this particular area is needed. Creatine is less effective for older populations over 60, and it should be avoided by people ages 18 and under as additional research is needed to determine safety in younger populations. As with many things, ingesting massive amounts of creatine may be dangerous, so consume it responsibly.

Creatine is probably a good fit for people:

  • Between the ages of 18 – 60 and who
  • Are looking to increase muscle mass or improve strength and who
  • Exercise regularly with free weights and/or machines and who
  • Have no kidney concerns, issues with the liver or diabetes.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to consult with a doctor or health professional before trying a new supplement like creatine.

After doing my research, I decided to give creatine a try – and to document the experience here. As carnivores tend to see less dramatic results from creatine (creatine is found in meat), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. One thing seems quite certain: Most creatine users see a dramatic increase in their weight – and it usually happens fast. Many articles claim 10 pounds of weight gain in the first few weeks of use – though most of the initial gain is additional water weight in the muscles (for this reason, it’s especially important to stay hydrated while on creatine). It’s not fat – and it doesn’t make you look flabby, etc.

Creatine is usually taken in cycles called “loads” or “loading”. For the first 5 – 7 days, people take as much as 20 grams (or 4 teaspoons). And then for the next 5 – 7 days, they take 5 grams (or 1 teaspoon). After a few cycles, people generally come off creatine. A few weeks later, they may start up again depending on their individual goals.

To be cautious, I spent my first week taking just 5 grams. I wanted to see how I felt, and how my body reacted. More than 7 days later, I haven’t really noticed many changes. My weight is fairly steady – though I may be a pound or two heavier according to the scale… but that could be anything. I did feel a bit stronger at the gym, and was able to increase my weights on a few exercises. Nothing dramatic or unusual, though.

For week 2, I’ll try my first loading of 15 grams per day (I’m weary to try the full 20!), and I’ll let you know how it goes.

I plan to continue the cycle through week 4, and probably come off the creatine for good. It’s more an experiment and learning experience than anything else – getting much bigger isn’t a goal of mine. But I’ll keep you posted on the results!

Have you ever tried creatine? If you have, share your experience in the comments below.

Is Soy Making You Gay(er)?

I cringed at the headline, “Soy is Making Kids Gay“. We’ve blamed homosexuality on just about everything, so I guess it was only a matter of time before plants took some of the heat.

Jim Rutz, the author of said article, isn’t a dietician, nutritionist or even a personal trainer. He’s a minister, and yet doesn’t hesitate to pen articles about a subject on which he’s uniquely unqualified to speak. Rutz writes:

There’s a slow poison out there that’s severely damaging our children and threatening to tear apart our culture… When you eat or drink a lot of soy stuff, you’re also getting substantial quantities of estrogens… Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality.

Before you start slipping soy to unsuspecting attractive straight guys, know that Rutz is a bit misguided. And by a bit misguided, I mean totally wrong.

First things first, soy doesn’t contain estrogen, the female sex hormone. This isn’t a theory or a speculation, but an actual fact. Soy does contain phytoestrogens, and though some properties are similar to estrogen, it’s a very different cup of tea. In actual human testing involving actual scientifically validated studies, the preponderance of evidence (including a meta-analysis or recent research in Fertility and Sterility) shows that soy neither lowers testosterone nor raises estrogen levels. Nine separate studies confirmed this.

Since the claim that soy foods result in feminized characteristics are based on the the mistaken belief that these foods contain estrogen (or even something similar), the misconception quickly falls apart in the light of real science.

As a side note, soy has no effect on sperm count, as is often rumored:

Three clinical studies have examined the effects of either soyfoods or isoflavone (the type of phytoestrogen of which soy contains high levels) supplements on sperm and semen parameters and none have found any adverse effects

If you read between the lines, it seems like Rutz is painting a picture of homosexuality as something that can be controlled. Like blood pressure and obesity. WTF?

Moreover, if soy makes you gay, it’s amazing that Japanese people (with high soy diets) have managed to reproduce for all these centuries. And somehow, despite not eating soy until age 21, I managed to become a full fledged homosexual.

The reality is that soy provides a number of benefits for men. These benefits including prostate cancer risk and blood cholesterol level reductions. Soy is also a great source of protein. Of course, it doesn’t mean you need to drink 6 cups of soy milk a day – as your mother said, everything in moderation. 🙂

P.S. Though Mr. Rutz doesn’t provide us with any actual science to support his article, I’ve included 16 references to support mine:

  1. Khosla S, Melton LJ, 3rd, Atkinson EJ, O’Fallon WM, Klee GG, Riggs BL: Relationship of serum sex steroid levels and bone turnover markers with bone mineral density in men and women: a key role for bioavailable estrogen. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 83, 2266-74 (1998).
  2. Greendale GA, Edelstein S, Barrett-Connor E: Endogenous sex steroids and bone mineral density in older women and men: the Rancho Bernardo Study. J Bone Miner Res 12, 1833-43 (1997).
  3. Sayed Y, Taxel P: The use of estrogen therapy in men. Curr Opin Pharmacol 3, 650-4 (2003).
  4. Franke AA, Custer LJ, Wang W, Shi CY: HPLC analysis of isoflavonoids and other phenolic agents from foods and from human fluids. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 217, 263-73 (1998).
  5. Pinkerton JV, Goldstein SR: Endometrial safety: a key hurdle for selective estrogen receptor modulators in development. Menopause (2010).
  6. Hamilton-Reeves JM, Vazquez G, Duval SJ, Phipps WR, Kurzer MS, Messina MJ: Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis. Fertil Steril (2009).
  7. Messina M: Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: A critical examination of the clinical evidence. Fertility Sterility (in press) (2010).
  8. Chavarro JE, Toth TL, Sadio SM, Hauser R: Soy food and isoflavone intake in relation to semen quality parameters among men from an infertility clinic. Hum Reprod 23, 2584-90 (2008).
  9. Mitchell JH, Cawood E, Kinniburgh D, Provan A, Collins AR, Irvine DS: Effect of a phytoestrogen food supplement on reproductive health in normal males. Clin Sci (Lond) 100, 613-8 (2001).
  10. Beaton LK, McVeigh BL, Dillingham BL, Lampe JW, Duncan AM: Soy protein isolates of varying isoflavone content do not adversely affect semen quality in healthy young men. Fertil Steril (2009).
  11. Messina M, Watanabe S, Setchell KD: Report on the 8th International Symposium on the Role of Soy in Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention and Treatment. J Nutr 139, 796S-802S (2009).
  12. Casini ML, Gerli S, Unfer V: An infertile couple suffering from oligospermia by partial sperm maturation arrest: can phytoestrogens play a therapeutic role? A case report study. Gynecol Endocrinol 22, 399-401 (2006).
  13. Yan L, Spitznagel EL: Soy consumption and prostate cancer risk in men: a revisit of a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 89, 1155-63 (2009).
  14. Lakshman M, Xu L, Ananthanarayanan V, Cooper J, Takimoto CH, Helenowski I, et al.: Dietary genistein inhibits metastasis of human prostate cancer in mice. Cancer Res 68, 2024-32 (2008).
  15. Xu L, Ding Y, Catalona WJ, Yang XJ, Anderson WF, Jovanovic B, et al.: MEK4 function, genistein treatment, and invasion of human prostate cancer cells. J Natl Cancer Inst 101, 1141-55 (2009).
  16. Zhan S, Ho SC: Meta-analysis of the effects of soy protein containing isoflavones on the lipid profile. Am J Clin Nutr 81, 397-408 (2005).

Shocking But True: Your Body Needs Carbs After Exercising.

You know that it takes protein to build muscles like these - but did you know it takes carbs, too?

Yes, I said the dreaded c-word. I know what you’re thinking: “Carbs are bad! Carbs are terrible! Get that Kool-Aid away from me!” But hear me out.

Many people adhere to low-carb diets to maintain a lean build. And it works. Low-carb diets can be extremely effective. Even so, there is one time when all people need to consume carbohydrates – and that is after a workout.

After a workout, most fitness enthusiasts know they need protein to rebuild and repair their muscles. As such, there’s a full spectrum of quality protein powders available. But marketers are savvy. Realizing the bad rap that carbohydrates get, most of these protein powders pride themselves on being low-carb or carb-free. While this might seem like a great selling point, it flies in the face of science and post-workout research.

When taken after a workout, carbohydrates restore muscle glycogen. And if you don’t eat carbs in your post-workout recovery meal, your body may actually break down muscle for this very same purpose. Uh-oh.

After you finish exercising, your body needs carbs – and it needs them fast. Simple carbohydrates, like the ones you might usually avoid any other time in the day, are absorbed quickest by the body, and thus they’re the ideal candidate. 40 – 70 grams of carbohydrates usually do the trick, which is basically a bottle of Vitamin Water. Nothing too crazy, though some trainers might advise upwards of 120 grams.

Here’s the bottom line: After you exercise, take a protein shake. And, in the likely event that your protein shake doesn’t provide enough carbs, grab a quick sugary drink or even a dextrose supplement. Yes, Davey Wavey just told you to drink a sugary drink. I promise, this is the only time!

How to Get Veins to Pop on Your Biceps…

Dear Davey,

Something tells me it’s genetic, but I want those bad ass bicep veins!

A friend of mine has them and he doesn’t do any of the lifting and cardio that I do. Am I not lifting enough? Am I not running enough? Please help, Davey Wavey, it’s almost beach season.

Yours truly,
Nardo90

Dear Nardo90,

Getting visible veins wasn’t something that the instructors taught us during my personal training courses, but I know where you’re coming from. It’s admittedly superficial, but still quite sexy. Beyond the biceps, I also enjoy veins in the area just below the lower abs, leading down to the crotch. Shallow? Yes. But also a bit delicious.

First things first, the amount to which your veins “pop” is determined by both your genetics and your body fat percentage. Since you can’t change your genes, it makes sense to focus on what you can control: Leaning yourself out. To make your veins highly visible, target a body fat percentage of 6% – 8% through a combination of strength training (increased muscle mass will incinerate calories), cardio (especially interval training) and proper diet. At 9% – 12% most major veins should be visible.

While veins in the forearms are easier to achieve, it’s much more difficult with the biceps, triceps and shoulders. It will take time and dedication, but if it’s very important to you – it’s possible to make it happen.

Also, keep in mind that veins are more visible after you exercise and when your body is dehydrated. While I don’t recommend dehydration as a tactic – as it’s actually very detrimental – it is how many body builders achieve the effects you see in pictures and in magazines. That, and sometimes a little help from Photoshop. 🙂

Love,
Davey

Being Healthy Doesn’t Always Mean Eating Less.

Stop starving yourself and indulge in the delicious abundance of healthy and nourishing foods available to you!

I dedicate this post to my many body-conscious gay friends who think they’re doing themselves a favor by going all day on just “half a bagel.” You know who you are. 😛

It’s time to settle another health and fitness misconception. There is a pervasive belief that living a healthy lifestyle necessitates eating very little.

While a restricted diet and portion control can be an important aspect of a weight loss routine, it doesn’t mean that tiny, unappealing portions are a requirement for all people looking to be healthy, strong or even well-defined. In fact, even though it may seem counter-intuitive, eating too little often results in weight gain due to the effects of starvation on the body’s metabolism.

People are always astounded by the copious quantities of food that I consume. They often ask, “How can you eat that much food and look the way you do?” I answer that in order to look the way I do, I need to eat the way that I eat. Though prolific in quantity, I don’t eat everything in sight. In fact, I’m very careful about the foods that I eat.

In order to power myself through my my daily workouts, a lot of fuel is required by my body. You can’t fly a jet across the ocean on a few gallons of gas, and our bodies are the same way. Almost everything that I eat is connected to my fitness goals – though I do allow myself some wiggle room.

Of course, not all foods are created equal. I look for lean, high-quality protein options that are low in sodium. I get my daily requirements of fruits and veggies. And to stay lean, I don’t overindulge in carbohydrates. Though I eat a lot, it provides my body exactly what it needs. Moreover, I allow my body to enjoy the abundance that this Earth has to offer.

There are many, many delicious and nourishing options available – it’s just a matter of connecting your meal plan to your fitness goals. I hope this comes as welcome news for people serving life sentences of tiny, pea-sized portions of cardboard food. Live, and eat!