Monthly Archives for August 2011

Archives for August 2011

Butter Vs. Margarine: Which is Better?

I couldn't resist...

When it comes to butter vs. margarine, many consumers are confused by the differences and are unsure which might be a healthier choice.

Butter has two issues working against it.

For one, since it’s made from animal fat, butter contains dietary cholesterol; margarine, which is made from plant fats, contains none. Many individuals can process dietary cholesterol with minimal effects on their blood cholesterol levels, but other individuals – especially those with existing cholesterol issues – may see much larger impacts on blood cholesterol levels. In general, it’s recommended that we eat less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol a day. Butter contains 33 milligrams per tablespoon.

Second, butter has high levels of saturated fats. Saturated fat raises both “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels (but it doesn’t raise the so-called “good” cholesterol levels enough to justify consuming it). Saturated fat intake increases the risk of heart disease. Most people are advised to eat less than 15 grams of saturated fat per day – and yet a single tablespoon of butter contains 7 grams.

Margarine isn’t a walk in the park, either.

The issue with margarine is trans fat. Trans fats have been shown to raise “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol. It’s not a good combination. Trans fats have been linked to coronary heart disease and possibly a number of other effects like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and depression. Of course, not all margarines are created equal – and many manufactures are producing low-trans fat options. In general, liquid or tub margarines contain fewer trans fats, but read nutrition labels carefully.

At the end of the day, it’s really a matter of picking your poison. Both – or either – should be consumed sparingly. Or, alternatively, rather than spreading butter or margarine over your bread, try dipping into some delicious and heart-healthy olive oil with herbs.

11 Ways to Honor Your Body.

How will you honor your body today?

This world is full of amazing experiences, things to do, mountains to climb, people to meet and delicious foods to eat. But of all the things to do on this planet, just about all of them require the use of your body. Since we only get one body, it makes sense to be nice to it. If you’re abusive, hateful or unkind to your body, it will hinder your journey – or perhaps even worse.

It’s cliché to say that our bodies are temples. Most clichés are clichés because they contain a truth so powerful that it’s been spoken again and again (until we forget what it means). Your body is a temple of flesh and bones in which a great spirit dwells; no other space is more sacred.

Through your actions, words and thoughts, honor your body. Here are 11 ideas for doing just that:

  1. Give your body gifts. Schedule time with a masseuse or give yourself a massage with some lotion or oils. Don’t be stingy. Indulge. And feel love and gratitude instead of guilt.
  2. Do a check-in. While our bodies are our constant companion, we often neglect this special relationship. Take a few minutes to scan through your body, starting with your toes and ending at the tip of your head. Using your mind, tune into each section of your body – one at a time – and experience the sensations with awareness.
  3. Nourish your body with healthy foods. Don’t defile the temple that is your body with toxic food choices. Consume the foods that your body craves – such lean meats, fruits, water, nuts, berries and vegetables. Honor your body through each meal choice you make.
  4. Write an apology to your body. We don’t always honor our bodies with the things we do, say and think – but your body is willing to forgive. Write an apology to your body and then release any shame or guilt.
  5. Refocus your energy. Imagine if you used all the energy and effort that you expend criticizing your body’s appearance into something more productive? Free up this energy and use it to move your life forward rather than to hold you back.
  6. Express gratitude. Right now, write down 10 things that your body is doing for you. Express gratitude for the blessing that is your body.
  7. Move! There are more than 600 muscles in the human body; it is made to move! Honor your body with exercise. Walk in the park, jog with a friend, take a hike, download a yoga DVD or join a gym.
  8. Shift negative self-talk. Negativity begets more negativity, and it often expresses itself in unhealthy behavior; thoughts become actions – and these actions shape our lives. When you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk (i.e., “I look fat today…”), simply become aware of the commentary and then shift it. Focus, instead, on something else – such as an inspiring quote or mantra. Breathe energy into what you want, rather than what you don’t.
  9. Build supportive relationships. Make the conscious choice to surround yourself with people that support you, your efforts and your body. If people in your criticize your body or the way you look, redefine that friendship or relationship.
  10. Morning thanks. When you wake up, thank your body for all that it does and all that it will do. This positive energy will infuse your day with vitality.
  11. Evening thanks. When you go to bed, thank your body for all that it does and has done. Let this positive energy carry your body to sleep as it revitalizes and rejuvenates for another day.

How will you honor your body today? Let me know in the comments below.

What is Wealth Without Health?

As an investment in their future finances, many adults make use of 401k plans, social security, pensions, etc. Each and every pay period, these forward-thinking individuals set money aside so that they’ll have income during retirement.

But what is wealth without health?

A 53-year study on the measurable benefits of physical activity will be published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Researchers found that individuals who were active younger in life performed better later in life. According to lead researcher, Rachel Cooper, PhD, “Increased activity should be promoted early in adulthood to ensure the maintenance of physical performance in later life.”

In other words, the exercise performed today has a cumulative beneficial effect that is enjoyed for decades to come.

There are many aspects of aging that are beyond our control, but physical activity is one important variable we can manipulate. By moving more when we’ll younger, we’ll increase performance and strength during our elderly years. And as it turns out, increases in performance and strength improve not just the quality of life, but also decrease the risk of debilitating (and sometimes fatal) disease and loss of independence.

In the same way that financial advisers tell us to save  for our retirement when we are young, so too must we invest in physical activity and exercise. And while 69% of Americans do save money for retirement, only 30% exercise regularly. Let’s change that.

Your future self will thank you.

How to Do Forced Reps in Strength Training.

The forced reps technique is an effective strength training strategy to increase muscle mass.

The first time I encountered forced reps was while working with a trainer in Sydney, Australia. I was performing my final set of barbell bicep curls and approaching muscle failure. Just as I was about to complete my last rep, the trainer grabbed the barbell with two hands and shouted for me to continue. By assisting the movement, he was lifting some of the weight for me – and so I continued to curl. As my muscles continued to reach fatigue, the trainer provided a heavier and heavier spot – and so I continued and continued and continued until he was doing most of the work.

When we finally stopped, my arms were shaking worse than the east coast earthquake. Moreover, it took me days to recover.

Needless to say, the technique is called forced reps. And while you do need the help of a trusted spotter, forced reps can be performed with many barbell exercises – most commonly, the bench press. Once you reach failure, have the spotter lift some of the weight for you. As you continue to fatigue, he lifts more and more of the weight. You can eek out an extra 20 or 30 repetitions without any rest.

The idea behind forced sets is similar to that of drop sets. By lightening the weight, you’re able to move past your initial muscle failure and eventually approach absolute muscle failure. Forced sets tear deep into muscle tissue and thus result in increased muscle growth – and they are true shock to your system.

But a word of caution: Forced reps are extremely taxing and shouldn’t be used for each set. In fact, after completing the set of forced reps in Sydney, the trainer told me that I shouldn’t do it again for several weeks. So while they’re a great muscle building technique, don’t abuse forced reps in your routine; use sparingly.

Sugar in Protein Shake: Is It Bad?

Dear Davey,

I recently bought a protein shake, but when I got home and read the ingredients more carefully, I realized just HOW MUCH SUGAR is in it! It has over 50 grams of sugar per serving!

Is that bad? Does the sugar prevent muscle growth? Does the sugar out-weigh the protein content?

From,
Christopher

Hey Christopher,

It seems like the necessity of post-workout carbohydrates is one of the best keep fitness secrets.

Everyone knows that your body needs protein after hitting the gym – but many people overlook the importance of post-workout carbs. 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 existing muscle for this very same purpose.

And yes, even if you are on a low-carbohydrate diet, you still need to consume carbs after you exercise.

The sugars in your protein shake are carbohydrates, and so it sounds like your shake is designed specifically for post-workout consumption. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for general protein supplementation (i.e., some protein before bed), then it’s wise to seek out a lower carb alternative.

Experts recommend anywhere from 40 up to 70 (or more) grams of carbs after a workout; the 50 grams of sugar in your shake do the trick.

Interestingly, the best carbs to consume are those that are absorbed the quickest. The carbohydrates found in multi-grain bread, for example, break down slowly. After a workout, your body needs to carbs fast – so simple sugars, like those in your shake, are the best approach. Yes, I just gave you a green light to eat simple sugars. But only after a workout.

I hope that helps!

Love,
Davey Wavey

Clean With Soda – But Don’t Drink It. [Video]

As it turns out, soda can serve many useful household purposes.

And none of those purposes include actually drinking it.

I decided to make a video on the subject. And it’s something that every person on this planet needs to see.

In the comments below, let me know if it changes the way you look at soda.

Breaking Down Big Fitness Goals into Little Steps Forward.

Looking down toward Block Island's Corn Cove.

Last weekend, I went with my family to Block Island – a small chunk of land some 13 miles off the coast of my home state, Rhode Island. Block Island is a wonderful and largely untouched island (it’s considered on of the last 12 great places in the Western Hemisphere by the Nature Conservancy) with pristine beaches, hiking trails and scenic vistas that can’t be rivaled.

We followed a small path through the island’s bluffs to a beach known as Corn Cove. To get to the beach, visitors must descend a steep, 100-step winding staircase through eroding dunes and then scale a 25-foot cascade of split boulders. When considered as a whole, the task at hand seems overwhelmingly large. Looking down at the beach below from high atop the bluffs, it might even strike visitors – my mom and aunt included – as impossible.

But in actuality, the goal of getting down to the beach can be broken down into hundreds of small steps. And in and of themselves, none of those steps are actually that difficult; they’re doable. As visitors take their time and descend one step at a time, they’re soon surprised by their progress.

The same can be said about fitness. Our goals might seem unachievable or insurmountable – but in actuality, they’re really the sum total of many small and totally doable small steps.

To want to lose 20 pounds, run a 6-minute mile or add 15 pounds of muscle are all lofty goals. But really, each of those goals can be broken down into individual workouts. While each step to the beach or each workout might not seem like much, the cumulative effect of these steps is real progress.

Sometimes getting caught up in the big picture can paralyze us from moving forward. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When your goals seem overwhelming, remember that it’s only about taking the very next step.

And then the next

And the next.

Whey Vs. Casein: Which Protein is Better?

Whey Vs. Casein: Which Protein is Better?

People often ask me about the differences between whey and casein protein – and which is better. The truth is, both offer certain advantages and disadvantages.

First things first, both whey and casein are derived from milk. Whey makes up 20% of the protein content found in milk; casein is the other 80%.

The big difference between whey and casein often boils down to digestion. In a nutshell, whey protein is absorbed very quickly by the body. Casein protein, on the other hand, is absorbed slowly – and over a longer period of time.

In a recent study led by Stuart Phillips of McMaster University, researchers examined the effects of absorption time. For one group of participants, 25 grams of whey protein was consumed immediately after a workout. For another group, smaller doses of 2.5 grams were consumed 10x over an extended period of time to simulate the digestion of casein protein. Based on the resulting data, researchers concluded that the 25 gram shot of whey protein was more effective on protein synthesis.

In other words, the researchers found that whey protein is ideal for post-workout consumption. These findings have been supported by numerous other studies.

But that doesn’t mean you should write off casein altogether. Since casein protein is absorbed slowly and doesn’t result in the same spike as whey, it’s great to take during the day (or before bed) as general protein supplementation. It provides your body with a constant stream of protein fuel for an extended period of time.

The bottom line: Both whey and casein provide important benefits; supplementing with both will provide optimal results.

Where Calories Come From: Top 15 Sources of Calories.

Pizza: an American food group.

Last month, we looked at the top sources of sodium – and how it’s possible to cut back on our salt intake. Today, let’s look at the top calorie sources for the average American male. By examining where our calories are coming from, we can restructure our diet to support our fitness goals and overall health.

Here’s how the list breaks down per day, according to the National Cancer Institute:

  1. Alcohol drinks: 162 calories
  2. Yeast breads: 161 calories
  3. Cakes, cookies, pies, etc.: 157 calories
  4. Soda: 157 calories
  5. Chicken: 148 calories
  6. Pizza: 122 calories
  7. Tortillas, burritos, tacos and nachos: 115 calories
  8. Beef steaks: 89 calories
  9. Pasta: 77 calories
  10. Burgers: 71 calories
  11. Hot dogs, bacon, sausage and ribs: 69 calories
  12. Dairy desserts: 62 calories
  13. French fries: 62 calories
  14. Chips: 60 calories
  15. Nuts and seeds: 59 calories

Obviously, this list would vary from person to person and culture to culture – so you’re top 15 might look very different.

Having said that, if you’re looking to cut back on calories (i.e., to facilitate the calorie deficit required for weight loss), then numbers 1 and 4 are a great place to start. Alcohol and soda might taste great, but they’re filled with empty calories; they add to your waistline and don’t contribute any nourishment to your body. And, of course, it’s not about eliminating these things altogether if they’re something you enjoy – it’s just about drinking one glass instead of two, or consuming a little less.

Cakes, cookies and pies – coming in at number 3 – are also easy to reduce. Opt for smaller slices or seek out healthier dessert options. Fresh berries, for example, are just as delicious and much more nutritious!

For me, the biggest shocker on the list is pizza. According to the researchers, the typical American male eats 122 calories from pizza each day. That’s more than 44,000 calories per year – the equivalent of more than 12 pounds of body fat. I love pizza as much as the next guy, but I also realize that it’s a special treat. Instead of eating pizza every week, I usually splurge once a month. And instead of eating the entire pizza, I just go for a few slices. It’s an easy area to cut back.

It would be great to see nuts (number 15) higher on the list, and it would be even better to see fruits and vegetables make the cut. Maybe next year? I’m not holding my breath. 😛

How does this list compare to your diet? What are some of the areas in which you can cut back?

Dear Davey: I Want to Feel Loved.

Dear Davey,

I’m trying to lose weight and get in shape. So far, I’ve lost a few pounds and some of my friends think that I look great. Even so, I still overhear strangers snickering at my weight and kids pointing me out to their parents. I try to laugh it off but it kills me inside.

When I look in the mirror, I see a fat guy with a big heart but an even bigger belly… and I know that no one will give me a chance. I just want to feel loved and wanted, but I don’t think anyone will give me the time of day.

I’m hoping you can give me some advice so that I can see what my friends see in me.

From,
James

James,

I’ve always said that what other people think of me is none of my business. Some of your friends might have wonderful things to say about you as a person or your weight loss journey – and then some people might not. If you measure yourself through the eyes of others, you’ll always be at the mercy of the world around you and subject to the ups and downs that come with it.

To really feel good about yourself, you have to seek validation from within. I know that it sounds sappy and unhelpful, but hear me out.

Just last night, I was watching a great TED talk by Brené Brown, Ph.D. A while back, Brown decided she was going to study the differences between people who felt a tremendous sense of self worth, love and belonging and those who struggled. She committed a year to the research. One year became six and a common thread emerged from all the interviews, focus groups and data points. Brown discovered that there is one – and only one – difference between those individuals who felt self worth and those who don’t.

People who have a strong sense of self worth, love and belonging believe that they are deserving of those things. That’s it. They weren’t smarter, taller, prettier or skinnier.

Sometimes we use exercise or dieting to try and treat the symptoms of deeper issues. If you want to feel better about yourself, changing the way you look on the outside will have a limited effect on how you feel in the inside.

Through her research, Brown suggests that we learn to look at our so-called imperfections or vulnerabilities as things that make us beautiful, real and human. Whether it’s the beer gut, grey hairs or anything else, all of these things are part of you. It’s not even that in spite of these vulnerabilities that you are worthy so much as it is because of these things.

You are worthy; it’s your birthright.

Ironically, when you make this shift to be kinder and gentler to yourself, a new relationship is born. And from the more loving relationship, it’s easier to make healthier and wiser decisions – whether it’s going to the gym or making better food choices. As you become motivated to strengthen and nourish your body with movement, good food and love, your transformation comes from a place of true power.

James, you are enough. Know this.

Love,
Davey

Protein Shakes and Farting: The Smelly Truth.

No one likes to talk about it, but flatulence (i.e., farting) is a common side effect of protein shakes and powders. More than just stinky, it can be both embarrassing and uncomfortable. So what can be done about it?

First and foremost, protein (depending on it’s source, quality, etc.) can be harder for your body to break down and digest. For some people, gas and bloating is the result. However, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help find a protein supplement that results in the lowest amount of flatulence possible.

Do I even need protein powder or shakes? This question is paramount because most Americans already get more than enough protein from their diets. Protein supplementation is necessary only if your diet isn’t providing you with the protein your body needs. Generally, this is the case for athletes, bodybuilders, power-lifters and other heavy exercisers. Calculate your protein requirement; you may be able to eliminate protein supplementation – and the subsequent flatulence – altogether.

Am I lactose intolerant? Whey protein is great for building muscle, but it’s derived from milk. According to the Whey Protein Institute:

Individuals with lactose intolerance should select a pure whey protein isolate, which has less than 0.1 gram of lactose per tablespoon (20 grams). Research has shown that most people with lactose intolerance have no trouble taking this very small amount of lactose. Individuals with lactose intolerance should avoid whey protein concentrates as they usually contain lactose and the amount can vary greatly from product to product.

Alternatively, people with lactose issues may want to experiment with other protein types such as soy or hemp – though these are generally considered less effective for supporting muscle growth.

Is my protein high quality? Not all protein powders are the same. Many lower-quality options contain fillers to enhance flavor or taste. Unfortunately, they can also cause bloating or gas. And some types of protein are more digestible than others. If your current protein supplement is causing excessive gas, shop around for a new brand. It’s about finding a high quality and digestible protein that works for you.

The bottom line: Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to reduce protein-induced flatulence. But with a little trial and error, you should be able to find a protein supplement that meets your body’s needs and supports your goals without too much stinkiness.

5 Biggest Bench Press Mistakes.

There’s no doubt that the bench press is one of the most effective strength training exercises available. To make the most of your time on the bench, avoid these 5 common mistakes and pitfalls:

  1. Bad shoulder and/or back posture. When performing reps on a bench press, good form is paramount. Ensure that your shoulder blades are squeezed in and retracted. While your butt and shoulders will make contact with the bench, you should maintain a natural curve in your lower back.
  2. Improper grip. Gripping the bar properly can make a world of difference and prevent wrist injury. Grasp the bar in the lower part of your palm and ensure that your wrist is over your elbow and in straight alignment with your forearm.
  3. Negative self-talk. If you say, “I’m not going to be able to lift this,” then you probably won’t; you’ve defeated yourself before you even started. Replace doubt and negative self-talk with positive affirmations. You may still fall short – but you’re more likely to get that extra repetition in. “I think I can” will get you further than “I think I can’t.”
  4. Lifting feet off of ground. As I’ve mentioned before, elevating your feet while bench pressing is dangerous. If you’re looking to add extra challenge or variety to your workout, try drop sets, incline or decline benches, negative sets or adjusting your rest time.
  5. Lack of goals. A lot of people perform exercises like the bench press without considering the larger picture. Everything you do in the gym should be connected to a goal. Are you training for size? Strength? Endurance? Maintenance? Depending on your goal or goals, you’ll need to use the bench press differently. Spend time articulating your goals and figuring out how the bench press can help you get there.

Do you have any other bench press mistakes that you’ve noticed while at the gym? Share them in the comments below!

I Don’t Believe in “Should.”

Years back, I was eating dinner with a gentleman much wiser than myself. We were talking about a difficult situation in his life and I asked, “Do you feel like you should have done anything differently?” He enjoyed a few moments of silence before he responded by saying, “I don’t use the word should.” I didn’t understand his answer until fairly recently.

The word should implies guilt. And that guilt inspires negative feelings of shame.

When we use should in reference to the past, it’s in an effort to change that which can’t be changed. For example, I might think to myself, “I shouldn’t have eaten that extra slice of cake.” But I did eat that extra slice of cake – and nothing can undo it. Believing that I should have done things differently only leads to guilt and shame. And such negative emotions do not lead to positive transformations or change. Instead, they’re self-defeating and can create something of a downward spiral.

When we use should in reference to the future, it’s laced with hopelessness, tension and despair. For example, I might say to a friend, “I really should do more yoga.” But such a statement isn’t really a goal or intention so much as it is a personal scolding. Saying that I should do something doesn’t motivate me to do it; instead, it encourages me to feel guilty for dropping the ball or for being lazy.

Just yesterday, I was reviewing a wonderful related article by Diane Petrella, a spiritual weight release coach and personal friend. In her article, Diane encourages readers to close their eyes and say, “I should lose weight.” Then, take a moment to feel the sensations generated by your body. Close your eyes again and say, “I want to lose weight.” Take another moment to feel how your body responds.

According to Diane, “Most people experience a sense of constriction or tension when they use the word “should” but when they say the word “want” they experience a sense of openness, expansion or lightness.” This simple change can make a powerful difference.

By removing should from our vernacular and replacing it with stronger and more positive words, we align ourselves with the transformative energy that helps us make healthier decisions and achieve our goals.

Give it a try.

How to Bulk Up & Gain Mass Fast.

Dear Davey

I just recently began going the gym. I am 6 ft tall and 135 lbs. I’m 18 years old and really have been working hard to see results. I recently started creatine for an extra boost because it was hell trying to lift weights. What are some tips you can give me to gain weight in muscle and get a more cut look?

From,
Joey

Dear Joey,

It sounds like you’re ready to make the transition from twinkville to beeftown.

You’ll want to pay careful attention to your diet. For a week or two, keep tabs on what you typically eat. If you can, count the calories to give yourself a benchmark. Since you want to gain muscle mass – and since you’ve already taken the important step of hitting the gym – don’t be afraid to crank up your intake.

When someone is looking to lose weight, we tell them to create a calorie deficit. That is, they are taking in fewer calories than they are burning. For you, it’s just the opposite. You’ll want to take in more calories than you are burning. It doesn’t need to be dramatic; even a 10% or 20% increase will make a difference. If you find that you are gaining weight too quickly – or it is coming on as fat instead of muscle – you can always scale back.

Having said that, it’s not a free pass to eat cheese puffs, bonbons and make frequent visit to McDonald’s. You’ll still want to eat healthy foods including lean meats, healthy fats (i.e., nuts and avocados), fruits, beans, veggies and the like. You’ll just be eating more of them – and perhaps more frequently – than before.

When it comes to exercise, focus most of your efforts on strength training. While it’s still fine to perform some cardio (definitely no more than 30% of your gym time), acquaint yourself with the free weights. Since you’re looking to build muscle, you’ll opt for a low number of repetitions of very heavy weights – and you’ll target muscle failure. Here are some more muscle-building tips.

And yes, you may find that the creatine will help. Many individuals report significant weight gains in just the first month. Ensure that you are cycling the creatine (i.e., one week of 20 grams followed by one week of 5 grams, and an occasional week off) for best results.

Also, be realistic: As a skinny guy, you probably don’t have the frame to look like a muscle daddy. But embrace and rock what you do have – and know that many of us would give our right testicle to have your metabolism.

Love,
Davey

Bench Press with Legs Up: What’s the Deal?

Dear Davey,

I’ve seen a lot of guys at the gym bending their knees or raising their legs in some way while they bench press. What’s that about? What are the benefits?

From,
Mitch

Hey Mitch,

Like anyone who has spent some time in a free weight room, you’ve seen individuals perform the bench press (or similar chest exercises) with their feet up on the bench or in the air. It’s fairly common.

However, I’d advise against it.

I’ve talked to a number of people that perform the bench press with their legs elevated and they usually do it because they believe they’re challenging their muscles more and/or they have lower back pain and it makes the exercise more comfortable. Unfortunately, lifting your legs makes the exercise unsafe. Consider the lack of balance and risk of injury when pressing heavier weights. And when it comes to challenging your muscles, there are better ways to train for gains.

To bench press properly, you should create a wide base by spreading your feet apart. Your knees should be above your feet and most of your weight should be driving into your heels. While the bench press is a chest exercise, much of the weight is supported by your legs – and by pushing through your legs and into your heels, you can help drive the weight up. Doing this will enable you to move more weight (vs. a legs elevated position), so I’d make the argument that the traditional bench press position is both safer and more effective.

If you are looking for alternatives and variety, consider drop sets, incline or decline benches, negative sets, grip variations or adjusting your rest time.

Love,
Davey

5 Creative Drop Set Techniques.

Use these creative drop sets to up your workout game - and gains!

As I’ve mentioned before, drop sets just might be one of the most effective muscle-building techniques around.

Drops sets are a strength training technique wherein you perform a set of any exercise to failure (or just short of failure) for between 8 and 12 reps – and then drop some weight (usually 15%) and continue for additional repetitions with the reduced resistance. Once failure is again reached, additional resistance is dropped and so on.

But even standard drop sets can get old and stale, so try switching things up with the following five variations:

  1. Zero Rest Drop Sets. To perform a good drop set, it’s important to minimize rest time. Less than 10 seconds is ideal. To perform a true zero rest drop set, you’ll need two spotters. As you finish the last repetition in the set, the spotters can remove the appropriate weight from the machine. For example, you may load a leg press machine with 25lb weight plates. After each set, your spotters can remove one weight plate. You’ll be amazed at the difference a few seconds can make!
  2. Tight Drop Sets. While the typical drop set involves a 15% reduction in resistance, try something smaller – like 10% or even 5% reductions. For example, you could move from 50lb dumbbells immediately to 45lb dumbbells, and then 40lbs, 37.5lbs, 35lbs and so on.
  3. Grip Change Drop Sets. As you change your grip (i.e., wide grip vs. narrow grip, etc.) or adjust your stance (i.e., shoulder-width, feet together, toes pointed out, etc.), you place emphasis on different muscles. Try alternating between different grips or stances as you move through your drop sets to really hit each muscle.
  4. Wide Drop Sets. Instead of removing the typical 15% of resistance, opt for larger weight decreases of 20% or greater. Wide drop sets are used because they allow for a greater number of repetitions until muscle failure.
  5. Power Drop Sets. While typical drop sets require starting with an amount of resistance that allows for 8 – 12 repetitions, six is the magic number for power drop sets. Start with a 6-rep max, and then decrease the weight by 10% or 15% so that you can perform exactly six more reps at each drop. Since you’re using higher resistance levels at 6 reps (vs. 8 – 12), it’s a great way to build muscle mass.

While “enjoy” might be the wrong word to use, I hope you’re able to make the most of these creative drop set variations.

Is Soreness Required for Muscle Growth?

I'd let him make me sore.

As silly as it sounds, don’t you love being sore a day or two after a really intense workout?

In some twisted way, I think we all do. And it can be addictive; many people feel like they didn’t get a good workout unless they’re sore thereafter.

But it begs the question: Is soreness required for muscle growth?

No. Soreness is not required for muscle growth.

There is a lot that is still not understood about soreness, but it often arises after doing something new. New workouts or exercises are a shock to the body, and soreness may be part of the result. Since subsequent workouts are less of a shock, soreness tends to decrease over time.

If you’re just starting out with a new routine, you’ll probably feel it the next day. But if you’ve been training for years, you probably won’t feel the soreness. It doesn’t necessarily mean your muscles aren’t growing; it may simply mean that your body isn’t shocked in the same way.

And if you’re looking to build your muscles, sometimes no soreness is a good thing. Muscle soreness is often associated with endurance training (i.e., taking a spinning class, doing many reps of an exercise, etc.) and not the type of low-rep high-resistance strength training that stimulates muscle growth. In other words, if you do a few sets of heavy bicep curls in a low rep range (say 8 reps) until muscle failure, you probably won’t get sore. But there’s no doubt that it will grow your muscles.

Of course, if you try something different, work ignored muscles or push your body in a way in which it isn’t accustomed, then you’re likely to experience delayed onset muscle soreness. But it’s not required to gain muscle mass.

Rock Climbing: Best Workout Ever?

It's a bird! It's a plane. No, it's Davey Wavey...

You’ve probably heard someone say, “Exercise can be fun!” And you’ve probably had the immediate reaction of rolling your eyes. But not so fast!

Today, I had an opportunity to visit a local rock climbing gym. Surprisingly, they’re becoming increasingly common in old factories or warehouses around the world. For just , I received equipment, training and a day’s worth of access to the gym and rock walls. Monthly and yearly memberships are also available for discounted rates.

Rock climbing is an incredible workout for a number of reasons.

First, it combines strength training and cardiovascular exercise. You’ll be surprised how quickly your heart starts pumping and your pores start sweating. In terms of intensity, rock climbing is the caloric equivalent of about a 7 MPH running pace. For someone my size, it’s about 800 calories and hour.

Second, it hits muscles that are usually pretty difficult to exercise – namely your forearm muscles. The major forearm muscles are brachioradialis, pronator teres, flexor carpi radialis, palmaris longus and flexor carpi ulnaris – and all five get a major workout as grapple across rocks, pull yourself up and grip the holds. You’ll also work your upper arm muscles (biceps, triceps, deltoids), quadriceps and calf muscles.

Third, it’s super fun! Rock climbing something different – and it’s a lot more exciting and interesting than doing forearm exercises with free weights. It breaks your routine and can do a decent job shocking your muscles. It’s also a great idea for a creative date night. Just saying.

If I’ve convinced you to try rock climbing (and I hope I have!) then check out the international rock climbing gym directory to find a gym near you.

Kick Your Ass with Monster Sets!

Are monster sets as scary as they sound? Yes. But are they also super effective at increasing muscle volume and capacity? Yes.

Basically, a monster set is performing consecutive smaller sets of an exercise until you reach a large, predetermined number like 50 or 60 reps. To perform monster sets, you should select an amount of weight that is 65% of your one-repetition maximum. This should enable you to do about 15 reps in the first smaller set. Once you reach failure, take a quick rest. Then keep going until you reach your goal.

For example, let’s say that your one-rep max on the bench press is 150 lbs. That means you’ll probably want to use about 100 lbs of resistance for your monster set. Ideally, you’ll be able to do 15 reps in the first set. Take a quick break, then continue for another set. Maybe you can get 10 or 12 reps out of that set. Rest, and then continue. Maybe you get 8 reps. And so on until you reach 50 or 60.

Though monster sets shouldn’t be the backbone of your workout, they’re a great way to occasionally mix things up and really shock your muscles.

How to Intensify Your Workout.

Here’s a little fitness secret: You get out of your workout what you put in. And so if you’re not getting the results you want, it just might be time to up your workout’s intensity.

To that end, here are six tips to make it happen:

  1. Time the rests in between your sets. When resting between sets, most of us aim for a 60 second recovery. But, unless you are timing your rests, you’re probably resting longer. Use a watch or clock to keep track. Your break will be shorter – and your workout will be harder. For an extra bit of intensity, jump rope for your 60-second break.
  2. Add an incline to the treadmill. Even adding a 1% or 2% incline will make a huge difference in your cardio. You’ll work harder, sweat more and get a better workout.
  3. Stop cheating. Most of us cheat on our exercises. Of course, we’re only cheating ourselves and our results. Stop cutting corners. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Ensure the barbell touches your chest during the bench press. And don’t use momentum to assist your dumbbell curls.
  4. Do intervals. Running at one pace isn’t nearly as effective or challenging as intervals. To perform intervals, jog at a steady pace for a set amount of time (say, 90 seconds). Then, sprint at 100% of capacity for another set amount of time (say, 60 seconds). Repeat for 10 or 15 minutes.
  5. Up the music tempo. If you exercise with an iPod, create a playlist with fast, heart-pumping tracks. We tend to match our workout intensity to the music’s tempo; use your playlist to supercharge your workout.
  6. Minimize talking. Talking and socializing is one of the easiest ways to water-down your workout. Keep the chatting to a minimum. And if you have to, set a limit to the amount of time you’ll spend at the gym. If you know that you need to get your workout in before a certain time, it might keep the distractions at bay.

If you have any tips to up your workout intensity, share them in the comments below!