Monday, June 28, 2010

Abdominal crunches unnecessary to obtain a 6-pack

Let's be clear: I don't have a 6-pack. At least not one that is visible. I certainly have a flat abdomen but its musculature is not well defined. Of course everyone has a 6-pack, but abdominal muscles are often obscured by a layer of fat. As skinny as people think I am, I still have a layer of fat there. After all, it is rare to see a 35-year old with a six pack. Using skin-fold calipers I can tell you exactly how thick my fat layer is. I measure a skin fold near my belly button to be 14.3 mm, but that represents a skin-and-fat layer folded upon itself, so really the layer of skin and fat is half that--7.2 mm. That seems pretty thin, so I'm surprised that my 6-pack isn't showing through. But not yet. So what should I do if I want better-defined abs? The answer is lose the fat. There is no other answer. I do not need to exercise my abdominals more, because no matter how developed they are, if they are still lying underneath a layer of fat, they will not be revealed. Scooby Werkstatt posted a good piece on this.

Sometimes I wonder if I am obsessing over my newly discovered body. If I am, please allow me to do so for a little while longer. I am not endangering myself through starvation or over-training.

So, speaking of training, this entry is about abdominal muscles and I might as well talk about the crunches I do, because I am interested in developing those muscles, even if my efforts won't show when I go without a shirt.

Initially I did one type of abdominal crunch, laying flat on my weight bench with feet flat on the floor, lifting my head and shoulders upward. This is not a sit-up because I do not come all the way up. I crunch my abdominal muscles until they pull my upper body off the bench. While this seems very straightforward to me, I can't find this described anywhere in Delavier (2006), who must think my version is too mundane for inclusion in his book. Anyway, I very soon gained the ability to do 45 reps without stopping and so I looked for ways to increase the work. I got the idea from studying Delavier's (2006) other suggestions and I adjusted the level of the bench so that I was in a reclined position. This forces me to work harder to lift my upper torso against gravity for a greater portion of the movement. In a way, it makes my crunches closer to a sit-up. Maybe I should do sit-ups, but somewhere I heard they were bad for the back so I have avoided them.

For a time I also rotated my body from side to side as I did my crunches. This was supposed to work my obliques in addition to my abdominus rectus muscles. This felt awkward so I stopped doing it.

Once I could do one set of 45 crunches, I still felt I needed more of a challenge, so I added Incline Leg Raises. In this exercise I used a 20-degree vertical incline on the weight bench with my legs straight out in front of me. Then I raise both legs over my head to touch the wall behind me. I do bend my knees slightly to remove strain as I elevate the legs. This exercise is described on page 138 of Delavier (2006) and there he states: "This is an excellent exercise if you have trouble feeling work on the lower abdominal muscles." Yes, that's me. I don't want the lower muscles to miss out on getting exercise!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Upright row strengthens forearms and back

Upright row with barbell
Nine months after starting weight-training, in May 2009, I added the Upright Row to my list of exercises. Previously, I was concentrating on building my chest and shoulders, but I realized that this could still lead to a shoulder injury due to an imbalance of upper body muscles. If I strengthened those muscles on the front of the shoulder, I also needed to strengthen the muscles of the upper back. The upright row does exactly that. Standing straight with hands shoulder-width apart and palms down, a barbell is lifted from the weight bench supports up to the arm pits. I keep the bar as close to my body as possible. This exercise has always frightened me a little, because the weight is great and the palms-down position of the hands could lead me to drop the bar if I'm not careful. I remember when I first started that this exercise caused wrist pain. My brachioradialis muscles in the forearms, that function to keep the wrist straight, were not strong enough and my wrists bent as I lifted the barbell. Obviously this hurt--it felt like I was pulling the joint apart. Weight-lifting gloves with tightened Velcro wrist-wraps and of course, stronger muscles, have now proven to be effective against this problem.

Reviewing Delavier (2006) again as I write this, I see that I have been using a relatively wide-grip style of upright row. With hands shoulder-width apart, I am strengthening the deltoid muscles of the shoulder more than I am the trapezius of the upper back. I am really enjoying learning more about my own body's anatomy.

By adding the upright row to my workout, I increased the gross weight being lifted in each workout. I keep a log of these statistics, and in May 2009, I broke a weight-lifting record 6 days in a row as I increased the repetitions of the upright row from 1 rep on May 17th to 11 reps on May 27, 2009. I was using a lot of weight at the time; my bench press weight had increased from 85 pounds in mid-March to 100 pounds in late May 2009. I used the same barbell for the upright rows, so I started that exercise using 95 pounds in mid-May and increased it to 100 pounds at the end of the month. Looking back, no wonder this exercise frightened me a little; the weight really was heavy and I should have started with half that until I gained strength. But it all worked out, didn't it? I gained the strength I needed.

Also in May 2009, my work began to require a lot of hiking and I included this in my workout log. Hiking on flat land is not really a cardiovascular exercise, but it still burns calories and the terrain was not always flat. In May 2009 I broke monthly records in (1) gross weight lifted per day (1,742 pounds), (2) abdominal crunches per day (30 per day), and (3) calories burned during exercise per day (338). Due to the low intensity hiking I was doing, I did not set a record in exercise intensity, but it was respectable. I did better in March 2009 when I mixed hiking and walks with time on a stationary bike. 

The above records represent monthly averages. Here is what I was doing day-to-day in late May 2009:
  • Bench press: 15 reps @ 100 pounds
  • Rotator Cuff elastic band stretches: 34 reps
  • Dumbbell fly: 2 sets of 15 reps @15 pounds
  • Biceps curl: 15 reps @ 25 pounds
  • Dumbbell lateral raise: 2 sets of 15 reps @5 pounds
  • Abdominal crunches: 59 reps divided into two sets
  • Upright row: 9 reps @ 100 pounds
  • Bicycle ride: 75 minutes burning 769 calories with maximal heart rate reaching 127 bpm (intensity = 769/75*cardio multiplier 2 = 20.5)

Best Softball Game Ever, Even Though We Lost

Yesterday I got to play all innings of a fast-pitch softball game. My team usually has extra players and since I am not as good as most, I tend to sit on the bench for half a game or so. But yesterday we had no extra players and therefore I played right field the whole game. It was the best softball game I've been in for a long time, not because we won by a landslide--in fact, we lost the game by two runs--but because our team played really well. There were mistakes in fielding, base-running, and batting. But everyone got the opportunity to make some good plays. That is, there were great catches, great hits, and good steals. And then there were almost-catches, almost-good hits, and almost-steals that were notable because they were made by some of our worst players, including me. Here is an example: I got up to bat four times. The first time I hit a fly ball that was caught by the right-fielder. The second time, I hit a ground ball that got fielded by the shortstop, but he dropped it. He recovered and threw the ball to first base, just in time to get me out. I was running really fast and had to slow down just before the first-base bag in order to hit it with my stride; this slow-down in speed probably caused me to get out. But no one was upset; I am one one fastest runners on the team, so even my 85% effort was appreciated because it was faster than everyone else's 100% effort. The third time I got up to bat, the coach gave me the sign for a bunt. I have never, ever, bunted before--not during a game, anyway. But I wasn't nervous and I did what I was told. I bunted really well, except I forgot to hit the ball to the ground. It had too much air, and was caught by the third-baseman. Thus, it was an unsuccessful bunt in two ways. I didn't get to first, and none of the base runners were able to advance because they had to tag up. Nevertheless, my team was really impressed. John said "you did really good, considering how often we ask you to bunt." That's a great attitude, and it shows my team cares about more things than just winning a game. At my fourth at bat, I hit a line drive into right field and made it handily to first base. However, the runner at third base got caught off the bag and was tagged out. Oh well!

This is my blog, and thus most stories are going to be about me. But there is one other player on the team that is perhaps worse than I am. Ryan usually plays right field when he's not sitting on the bench (like me). But this time our infield was short-handed and the coach put him at second base. He played brilliantly. He caught pop-ups and line-drives and made no fielding errors at all. I was dumbfounded at his performance. This just goes to show that people should always be given new opportunities because you never know how well they'll do until they are given the chance. I hope the coach puts Ryan at second base more often.

I'll wrap this up by mentioning that I swam yesterday, too. I swam 1,150 yards in 45 minutes, including 3x25s that were at top speed. I think I'm getting faster. Now I've got to convert those 3x25s into 3x50s.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Swim Partner

Today I showed a friend to the pool where I workout. He used to compete on a swim team as a student (high school, yes. but I'm not sure about college), and he hasn't swam regularly for about 5 years. Nevertheless, he certainly knew what he was doing and I'd say the two of us are at about the same fitness level. The only differences are (1) he can do flip turns and I am only learning that with my coach now, and (2) I have better endurance at this point. I swam 1000 yards today, and since Brett was keeping up, I think he went that distance, too.

The benefit of having a workout partner is now so obvious to me. When I wanted to rest, Brett was still swimming. That shortened my rest period between laps. I imagine he was pushed to do more by having someone in the next lane, too.

Brett had a racing suit. I want one, too. But I'm not officially training for a race, so it would seem a little overkill for me at this point. It's like an L.L.Bean catalog: the only people who seem to buy L.L.Bean products these days are the people who want to look like professional outdoorsmen and women. But real professionals buy equally rugged but cheaper gear from other outlets. My jab at L.L.Bean aside, now I'm thinking I might have this wrong. There are lots of cyclists who go out and buy form-fitting Lycra shirts and pants, even though they never enter a race. The clothes improve one's aerodynamics (or hydrodynamics in the case of a swimsuit), and there is some aid to muscle form through the compression (As a scientist I'd like to see research on this). But neither of these benefits are biologically significant. Maybe the racing swimsuits help a swimmer shave a second off their lap times. Maybe Lycra spandex cycling outfits increase one's speed by 1 mph. The improvement is real, but too small for non-competitive athletes to worry about.  I think most swimmers and cyclists wear these outfits because it gives them a psychological incentive to perform competitively, even if they never sign up for a race.

Keeping a Regular Workout Schedule

After 6 months of working out (February 2009), I was really quite proud of myself. I had struggled in the early months to keep to a regular workout schedule, but in Jan and Feb of 2009 I worked out nearly every day. Here's what I was doing on the last day of February:
  • Bench Press: 20 @ 85 pounds.
  • Rotator Cuff Exercises: 55 reps.
  • Dumbbell Flys: 2 @ 15 pounds.
  • Biceps Curl: 30 @15 pounds.
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 30 @5 pounds.
  • Abdominal Crunches: 45 reps.
  • Stationary Bicycle: 20 min.
A few things to note. First, I see that I did a very small number of dumbbell flys. I had been doing 30 reps up until February 22 and then I went down to 5 on the 23rd and 7 on the 25th and then 2 each on Feb 28th and March 1. It wasn't until March 13th that I was back to doing 30 reps. Although I didn't make note of this in my exercise log, it is clear that I must have hurt myself. Another example for my post on shoulder instability!

Bench press with a light amount of weight
Second, the weight I was lifting for the bench press was 85 pounds. This had not changed much since I started lifting 80 pounds on November 7, 2008. Instead, I was concentrating on increasing my reps and not the weight. More reps can tend to increase slow-twitch muscle fibers that contain lots of mitochondria and blood vessels. Having this kind of muscle tissue improves systematic cardiovascular health and increases the body's metabolic rate as well as endurance of the particular muscle being trained. Given that I wanted to strengthen my shoulder joints to prevent injury, increasing endurance was a reasonable goal, as the muscles would not fatigue as quickly (muscle fatigue puts the joints at risk).

Keeping a logbook that records all the exercises done each day is a great way to monitor progress and push yourself to improve. A day that goes by without a log entry is a day where no progress has been made, and the longer the gap between workouts, the greater the risk that progress might be lost. So if I went a day without working out I would feel guilty. Again, it is an excellent motivator.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A softball triple comes to those who run fast.

Tonight I played with my church softball team. It's a coed fast-pitch league, and it's serious competition. We have paid umpires, we steal bases, we bunt, and we keep statistics for end-of-season MVP awards. We play twice a week and I usually sit on the bench for the first half of each 7-inning game. Like all other sports, my softball skills are not up to par, but I have fun. My team has grown to love and respect me, and they don't fuss much at all when I make an error.

I did fairly well tonight. I played 3 innings out in right field. I didn't get any hits my way, but I did grab a loose ball after the first-baseman missed a throw. Of course, in the heat of the moment I promptly threw it to home plate. It would have been a brilliant play except that no base runner was running home at the time, and I ignored the runner running to second base.

I got up to bat twice. The first time I walked. This was a gift. I was fully expecting a difficult pitch following full count (3 balls and 2 strikes), but the pitcher messed up and threw an obvious ball. Whew! Once on first base, I stole second. I ran to third base after a bouncing ball hit got through the infield. Later, I headed home, scoring a run. The season is halfway through, and this is only the second time I've made it home! That's just the way it is; it doesn't upset me. But I certainly do get nervous whenever I'm playing.

Practice at a batting cage
My second time at bat I hit a line-drive style ball through the infield into the outfield. I was lucky that it was between the left and center fielders, and they missed it. This allowed me to get to second base and then I kept on going because they fumbled the ball somehow. Halfway to third base I heard my teammates tell me to head back to second, but it was too late to go back. So I just ran harder and got to third without any trouble. Some days I realize that I am a fast runner. My teammates know it, too. "Don't run me down," said TZ, a teammate whom I look to for advice. He's our team's shortstop and, well, my hero on the team. Do grown men have heroes like that? I do. TZ is the definition of cool.

I did not make it to home plate after getting my triple (which won't be scored as a triple in the scorebook because of the error(s) the fielders made). The next batter bunted the ball. The pitcher retrieved it and he had to decide whether to throw it to first base or to try and get me out. I strayed too far from third base, and then realized he had decided to pick me off. I stopped running toward home and tried to get back to third base. I slid into third and avoided the tag by a seemingly lengthy amount of time. Despite that, the ump called me out and I walked back to the dugout. I knew the ump's call was wrong; my swelling confidence intact. My teammates all agreed that it was a bad call by the umpire. But the game goes on. After all, I got a triple. I was a fast runner. I was appropriately aggressive at third base. I made the right decision to slide back into third. I earned my pay.

Monday, June 21, 2010

After 3 Months of Working Out

By the end of November 2008, I was increasing the amount of weight I was lifting with each repetition, but doing fewer reps. I was also working out a lot less frequently, as responsibilities at my workplace ramp up in November. Indeed, I count only 9 workouts for the whole month. On average, each one included:

  • Bench Press: 80 pounds x 13 reps
  • Rotator Cuff: 30 reps
  • Dumbbell Flys: 8 pounds x 30 reps
  • Biceps Curl: 8 pounds x 30 reps
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 5 pounds x 24 reps
  • Abdominal Crunches: 30 reps
  • No cardiovascular activity at all!
Given the small number of workouts in the month of November, I am surprised that I continued into 2009. After all, I had just begun a few months before, and it is very normal for exercise equipment to lie dormant soon after being bought. But I kept at it, whenever I had time. Through present day I see that my November 2008 averages were a low point. I have never had a worse month in terms of gross weight lifted (418 pounds/day), Rotator Cuff exercise (an average of 7 reps per day), and cardio duration and calories burned (both zero).

Dumbbell flys on a weight bench
I added dumbbell flys to my workout because that exercise also promotes pectoralis development, just like the bench press. Dumbbell flys (or is it flyes or flies?) involve lying prone (on one's back) and holding weights in each hand with arms outstretched perpendicular to the torso. Then the weights are raised up to a point above the body. I took special note of Delavier's caution about using weights that are too heavy; apparently this exercise can tear the pectoralis if too much weight is used. Of course, I interpretted that as >5 pounds! I'm now using 17.5 pounds and could probably go higher without difficulty. I have also learned from Scooby's Workshop internet site that this exercise can injure the rotator cuff if the arms are extended below the body's plane. I have encountered contradictory information about the angle of one's elbows when bringing the weights above the body--should they be straight or bent? I keep them mostly straight with only a slight bend, as this still satisfies the idea that they should be bent, but it also requires greater strength given the longer lever system involved. I have watched lots of videos produced by Scooby posted on his website. I am really impressed with his motivation to help his viewers workout safely.

I don't think I've admitted it anywhere--ever!, but one motivating factor in buying the weight bench and doing weight training is the fact that I judged my upper body physique as lacking. In comparison to other men, my chest muscles didn't seem to be as large or prominent. I have slowly increased my chest size to the point where I am much more satisfied (see graph). But two other things make one's chest muscles more obvious in everyday life. First, the clothing style these days is for men (women, too) to wear closer-fitting shirts. Second, my posture while standing is a little hunched-over, so when I stand up straight, my chest pops out more. So I stand up straighter when I think about it, and I actually bought a few shirts in a size a little smaller than normal. Unfortunately I am too self-conscious to wear them.

Maybe by lifting weights I can make my muscles bigger, but you've probably judged by now that my self image is a little small. Being  obsessed with how I look, I know I am acting only half my age. But as I said in my Blog's description, I never really went through the typical teenager phases so I guess this is my time!

Calories Burned on a Bike Ride

Before I get started, I want to mention that I am not worried about how many calories I'm burning during exercise because I am not trying to lose weight. I am a scientist though, so I keep track of numbers and when I see a discrepancy, I want to know why. So here's the situation:

  • 22-minute bike ride in the neighborhood
  • I start first with a big hill down to a stream crossing. Then the rest of the ride is generally a slow increase in elevation all the way back to my starting point.
  • Average speed = 14.5 mph with a maximum 32.4 mph
  • Distance = 5.3 miles
  • Average heart rate = 156 bpm with a maximum 171 bpm
  • According to onboard bicycle speedometer programmed for my weight, I burned 166 calories
  • According to a fitness website in which I entered weight, gender, and average speed, I burned 288 calories.
  • According to my heart rate monitor (Timex T5G981 watch with chest strap--seems to be discontinued) programmed for my weight and age, I burned 388 calories.

So, which is to believed? Well, the speedometer on my bicycle doesn't account for the change in elevation during my ride, nor wind resistance. I would certainly be working harder when going uphill or against the wind. Thus, the speedometer is likely to underestimate calories burned.

The fitness website is imprecise because I couldn't enter my actual average speed; instead, I had to choose the 14.0 - 15.5 mph range. Plus, the same problem noted above regarding elevation change and wind resistance is unaccounted for in the website calculation.

The heart rate monitor's estimate seems most accurate to me because it is a direct measurement of my physiological condition; it knows how hard my body is working, but of course, it doesn't know what kind of exercise I am doing. So this is problematic as well, because hypothetically I could be on medication that raises my heart rate to 156 bpm and I wouldn't have to be doing any exercise. I have a triathlon friend who told me not to believe the heart rate monitor's estimate for that reason. She said the heart rate is a reflection of perceived work and not actual work. For instance, if you feel bad or are upset or are tired, your heart might be 156 bpm during an exercise than on a normal day would only raise your heart rate to 140 bpm. She is right. But I'm not sure that means there is a problem. After all, when one is feeling ill, your body is working hard to fight off infection. That takes energy, and you are burning extra calories. When one is upset, your brain is using extra calories to think about the situation. When you are tired, your heart is pushing blood through tissues that are fatigued, and...well I can't argue against this one. You would be burning fewer calories in this case because the tissues will be less efficient.

While none of these estimates of calories burned is perfect, I think the heart rate monitor is still the best of the three. As long as I am healthy and operating at average capacity, heart rate is able to take into account the physiological work I am doing, whereas the other two estimates have no way to integrate the difficulty of the course.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shoulder Instability

In summer 1997, when I was 22, I played on an intramural softball team. A fellow player gave me advice on how to improve my bat swing. I am right-handed, and he suggested that not only do I push the bat across my chest with my right arm, but I should also concurrently be pulling the bat with my left arm. This made perfect sense, as it would make use of both arms in supporting a stronger and faster swing. I took his advice on my next at-bat and it worked; I hit the ball with greater force than before, and the ball sailed into center field. However, my left shoulder was dead. It was weak for the rest of the game, and by the next day I could not raise my arm. I later got physical therapy and the injury resolved itself, but ever since then it's been fairly easy to reinjure the rotator cuff.

In fact, since I started weight-lifting in fall 2008 I have injured my rotator cuff (enough to stop lifting for a few days or weeks) at least 3 times. Actually, I've lost count, because I have also injured my right rotator cuff, too. My goal with weight-training is to strengthen the muscles and tendons in both shoulders so that I don't have to worry about old shoulder injuries, but so far that hasn't happened. It is certainly possible that I have poor lifting technique. But I also know that sometimes I simply overuse the joints. For instance, I hurt my right shoulder a few months ago after doing 6 pull-ups. I wasn't really ready for that--I don't have the strength. So I loaded muscles beyond what I had strengthened them to do, and they gave way. I have to be more patient.

Recently I have had frequent discomfort in my left shoulder. I think it started after doing another 6 pullups on June 2, 2010. But the tendons haven't had much chance to rest, since I swim 3 times a week. In swimming, my coach and I are working on extending my arms straight out in front of me to extend the catch motion of the freestyle stroke; this puts my shoulders in a position that can lead to impingement (aka entrapment). In his book entitled Strength Training Anatomy, Delavier describes this phenomenon, and it seems to fit my situation quite well:
"When some people perform exercises in which they raise the arms...the supraspinatus tendon is rubbed and compressed between the head of the humerous and the [clavicle]. Inflammation follows. This generally begins with the serous bursa, which normally protects the supraspinatus from excessive friction, and extends to the supraspinatus tendon itself, which, without treatment, ends up affecting the adjacent infraspinatus tendon posterioraly and the long head of the biceps brachii anteriorly."
Yes, this is exactly the discomfort I have experienced. I know the best treatment for this is two good weeks of rest--at least. But I don't want to stay out of the pool that long. The best I can hope for is to take ibuprofen and reduce swelling to minimize the scope of the injury. I should also lay off of the weight-lifting exerrcises that can exascerbate the problem. But again, it is the shoulder joints that I want to strengthen, so that seems counterindicated. It's frustrating.

Using an elastic band to stengthen the shoulder
 All along, since 2008, I have taken care to strengthen the small muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff. Most workout days I use an elastic band looped around the weightbench to rotate the shoulder joints. These are best demonstrated by Salo & Riewald (2008) under the exercises called "Shoulder Retraction with External Rotation," "Standing External Rotation," and "Catch Position External Rotation." I do 20 reps per arm of each of these exercises at every workout; collectively I call them the "Rotator Cuff Elastic Band Raise" or some variation thereof.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Eye Irritation after Swimming

My eye irritation did not involve redness.
 After switching to a different pair of goggles (Speedo Vanquisher 2.0), I have experienced very disturbing feelings of having "dry eye." Sometimes it is only in one eye, and sometimes it is experienced in both eyes. At first I wondered if my tear glands (lacrimal glands) were injured by the pressure the new goggles placed on the soft tissue surrounding the eyes, but with further research on eye anatomy, it seems that the glands that produce tears are located inside the eye socket, above the eyeball. The goggles do not press on this area. The goggles do compress tissue near the nose where a tear duct drains tears into the nasal passages. However, if I had damaged these ducts (by strapping the goggles too tight), then I would have wet eyes and not dry eyes because tears would be produced but have no where to go.

I therefore conclude that I have developed an allergy to the pool chlorine, and as a consequence of getting a new pair of goggles that have needed adjustment, I have gotten water in my eyes each time I wear them. I look forward to finding just the right amount of tension to use with the goggles to ensure they are comfortable but don't leak. So far, I haven't found that middle ground.

Because of this eye discomfort, I went ahead and bought a second pair of goggles that I have worn before. These are Aqua Sphere Kaiman goggles, and they fit well and don't leak with normal swimming. However, they don't work well for diving; I always got water in them after a dive, and this is why I bought the Speedo goggles. The irony is that the first time I dove wearing my Speedo goggles, they slipped down off my face to around my neck. I knew something was wrong during this lap, but I didn't know what until I stopped and discovered I was no longer looking through goggles!

First Month of Weight-Lifting

It was September 2008 and I had just bought my first weight bench. I started with a 35-pound bench press, just to make sure I wouldn't hurt myself. Of course, the barbell itself weights 20 pounds, so I only had 7.5 pounds of iron weights loaded on each end. I added more weight every 2-3 days so that by the end of the month my bench press was 60 pounds times 29 repetitions (reps). About this time I figured out that the fact that I couyld do 29 reps without needing to rest in between (a single set) meant that I should put on more weight and do fewer reps. I was just learning the jargon. I understood "reps" but I didn't know what a "set" was! This is exactly why I bought my own bench and weights. I couldn't go to a gym and ask someone these elementary questions! For the record, a "set" is the number of reps you do without stopping in between. What is the point of breaking an exercise into sets? My answer to this is that a brief rest allows your body to circulate blood through the muscles to remove the waste products generated by muscle contraction. A build-up of lactic acid, for example, will lead to muscle fatigue, and muscle fatigue will limit your ability to continue exercising at peak efficiency. So by breaking exercises into sets with a certain number of reps, you can work the muscles longer. And the more you work your muscles, the stronger and longer they will be able to work the next time you use them.

Besides the bench press, I was also doing the following at the end of Sept 2008:
  • Rotator Cuff Exercises with Elastic Band: 30
  • Lateral Raises: 28 reps @ 5 pounds
  • Bicep Curl: 30 reps @ 8 pounds
  • Dumbbell Fly: 30 reps @ 8 pounds
  • Abdominal Crunches: 30

My daily average for cardiovascular exercise was a paltry 5 min per day, burning 48 calories per day. This was based on walking once during the month, swimming once, cycling once, and using a stationary bike twice.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My first weight bench

New weight bench from Dick's Sporting Goods
It's September 7, 2008. I have bought and assembled my first weight bench. It's a model from Fitness Gear, which I have come to learn is the generic brand sold by Dick's Sporting Goods stores. It's a good bench (an older version of this--see link). The upper bench tilts up or down, and the seat tilts, too. It is solid and can hold plenty of weight. There is an adjustable foot rest of some kind at the end, and while this looks like something cool, I can't figure out what it is for. I think it is meant to hold your feet while you do situps. But no matter how I adjust it, it won't work for me. I am 6'4" and I think this piece of equipment isn't really made for someone as big as me. The other reason I think this is that the metal bars that support the barbell are placed in exactly the wrong place for me. The most proper way to do bench presses is to place one's hands directly above the shoulders. However, my shoulders are wide and the brackets upon which the barbell rests are in exactly that spot. So, my bench presses must be done with my hands placed close together or relatively far apart. Based on a book called Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier, these alternate hand positions are fine; in fact, they strengthen different parts of the pectoralis muscle: "hands closer together isolates the central part of the pectoralis; hands wider apart isolates the lateral part of the pectoralis." Through most of 2009 I was using the close-together hand position because I wanted to develop the part of the muscle that connects to the sternum. But in the end I think I was building my triceps a lot more than my chest. Well, that's fine. But in late 2009 I decided to shift my hand position to a wide grip, and this gives me a nice, satisfying burn underneath and to either side of the nipples. One way or another it's still building the pecs.

Let me list my initial workout on this day in Sept 2008:

  • Bench Press: 35 pounds x 1 set of 16 reps (I was afraid of injuring myself, so I started really light)
  • Lateral Dumbbel Raise: 5 pounds x 1 set of 15 reps
  • Bicep Curl: 5 pounds x 1 set of 15 reps
  • Rotator Cuff Elastic Rows: 16 reps
  • Abdominal Crunches: 15 reps
  • Swimming: 20 min @ intensity=7.7 (I'm surprised to see this on my list. I was not a serious swimmer back then)

Must be the goggles!

I find myself starting my blog many months after starting my workouts, so my stories won't start in the beginning. Please join me 10 months into my training program in swimming (I started in Sept 2009)...

Yesterday I had swimming practice with my coach. This is about the 35th workout session with him since I started swimming in Sept 2009. We meet for an hour each week during which time he teaches me new swim strokes, gives me pointers on how to improve the efficiency of strokes, and runs drills to improve my cardiovascular endurance.

I recently bought new swim goggles to replace a pair that I had lost. The old pair (Aqua Sphere Kaiman) leaked bad whenever I dove, but the new pair is more streamlined so it hopefully will be better (Speedo Vanquisher 2.0). So yesterday when I swam 400 yards of freestyle without resting in between laps, my coach remarked "it must be the goggles!" I had swum that far before, but it was always a mix of freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke. I'm not sure why, but my coach views freestyle as the most "professional" of the strokes, so it seems that I've got more "cred" now.

My coach also had me play a game in which he called out certain motions for me to do and I would have to do them in sequence. Maybe if he has me do those again, I'll remember what he called them. Anyway, I made a comment about how uncoordinated I felt, and he responded by saying that I was "more coordinated than most." That's an amazing observation, because it is so far from my view of myself that I can't really believe he was serious. But he was.