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Sunday, January 31, 2010

7 Weeks to 100 Pushups: Week 1

As I wrote last Monday, I'm trying the workout in Steve Speirs's book 7 Weeks to 100 Pushups, and I'm going to update you as I go. I've done the first week now, so here's my first report.

Can I really get to where I can do 100 pushups in a row in only 7 weeks? If this first week is any indication, it might be difficult. You may recall that the program calls for 3 workouts a week - on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday - to allow plenty of recuperation time between workouts. There are 5-8 sets of pushups in each workout, with varying numbers of pushups in each set. I've listed each day's requirements, and underneath you'll see my actual pushups (preceded by an "R", which is me, aka Ruthless Golf). For your reference, this is the only workout I'm doing other than some aerobics, and I'm going a bit easier on those here at the beginning until I see how hard this workout really is.

M: 6 - 8 - 6 - 6 - 7+
R: 6 - 8 - 6 - 6 - 11

The first day went pretty much according to schedule. I made the required number of pushups for each set, and went 4 over on the last set. (That 7+ means I should do at least 7, but I'm to try and do as many as possible over that.) I did a total of 37 pushups. (Yes, there's a place to record that on the workout chart.) I was tired when I finished, but no pain and I recovered just fine. I was ready to go on Wednesday.

Or so I thought.

W: 8 - 10 - 8 - 8 - 9+
R: 8 - 10 - 8 - 6 - 4

This was a rough day. I'm chalking it up to my attempts to do the pushups in strict form. In any exercise, there are ways to cheat, or make the exercise a little easier. A classic example is arching your back when doing bench presses with a barbell; this allows you to get some extra help from your back muscles, rather than focusing on your chest. Apparently I've been letting my elbows "fly" away from my body a bit; today I did better keeping them in, and my triceps just gave out. That last set, when I made only 4 pushups, totally drained me. I did a total of 36 pushups, almost as many as Monday, but I was beat; and when I woke up Thursday morning, my shoulders and arms felt like dead weight. (Understand that they didn't hurt, they were just incredibly tired.) I felt better after I'd been up an hour or so, but wondered how I would feel Friday.

I woke up feeling good Friday... but I had felt good Wednesday, too. If there was a difference, it was that I felt bigger. Sounds a little silly, but that's the only word I have for it. Particularly, my triceps felt a little harder to the touch (not necessarily bigger, just harder). And there may have been something to it, as evidenced by the chart:

F: 9 - 12 - 9 - 9 - 11+
R: 9 - 12 - 9 - 7 - 7

Even though I really tried to visualize my chest muscles doing the work (imagined resistance), my triceps (tricepses?) gave out on the fourth set again. But I still did more reps in each set of this workout, especially that last set, and I did a total of 44 pushups. That's almost a 25% increase over the the other days, which is definitely an improvement. If I can just get past that fourth set!

This is a good example of a plateau, or wall. I was stuck at a certain level, then suddenly made a big jump in performance. And despite breaking the total pushups plateau, I'm still hitting a wall at the fourth set. No matter what kind of workout you do, this sort of thing will happen to you occasionally. (Perhaps the program anticipates this. I notice that next Monday's chart is almost identical to this Friday's; that doesn't happen at any other time in the program.)

The charts also have spaces for total reps in each set, as well as total reps for the week. I've done a total of 117 pushups this week; the target, if you ignore the "+" in the last sets, was 126. I'm behind, but I've improved. I'll take that!

So now it's Saturday night. I've been working on this post since Thursday, so I could accurately record what happened each day; and since this will post early Sunday, I can't tell you how I'll be feeling when you read this. But although I woke up feeling a little tired this (Saturday) morning, it was nothing like what I felt Thursday. Apparently my belief that I made some kind of breakthrough Wednesday was correct. Hopefully I'll get fully recovered by Monday (if shoveling snow doesn't mess things up) and get off to a good start on Week 2.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

About That Whole Groove Thing...

It's been batted about on various blogs for the last few days - and I've commented on some of them - but since Scott McCarron's comments yesterday, I've decided to put up a post myself. Since this is an issue that affects weekend golfers as well as the pros, I think it's a suitable topic for Ruthless Golf.

I was interested to hear Tim Rosaforte on TGC today, because he agreed with what I've been saying in my comments elsewhere: I think Phil Mickelson is playing that Ping Eye2 wedge as a protest. Here's why I think so:
Late last year (it may have been as early as September; I don't remember) Phil said on TV that Callaway had submitted some wedges to the USGA that were conformed to their new rules... but the USGA had refused to approve them. He says that, as of this week, they still haven't approved them. Phil further says that while the wedges Callaway submitted are legal but aren't approved, the Ping Eye2 wedges aren't legal but they are approved. Therefore, since all that matters is whether the USGA has approved them or not, he's just playing the clubs that the USGA has allowed.
This keeps coming up in his interviews. Please note that Phil himself has said that he doesn't believe the Ping conforms, but that the issue isn't conformance, it's approval.

The USGA is the problem here. In any other sport, you can pick up a piece of equipment and know whether it's legal or not... but not in golf. If manufacturers can follow the specs set out by the USGA and still have the club rejected, then approval is a matter of opinion rather than specs. Simply put, the USGA hasn't created legitimate standards for grooves. You can define the shape and spacing of a V-groove (or a modified U-groove, as I have heard these called) in 200 words or less and have specs that anybody can look at and say, "Yes, it conforms" or "No, it doesn't conform."

Scott McCarron called it "cheating" and said that for Phil to play this wedge looks bad to the players and bad to the fans. I disagree; McCarron is just trying to make it look bad to the fans. He says this goes against the spirit of the game, but the same argument has been made against the long putter he uses. (Long putters are anchored against a player's body, and this is not allowed with any other club. In fact, the rules had to be amended to allow it. Many people argue that this is against the spirit of the game.) For Phil's part, he says he will continue to play the club, simply because all the media attention he's receiving would make it look like he had done something wrong if he took it out now.

As he says, he hasn't done anything wrong. And since the USGA says the Ping Eye2 is approved for play, without any question, there's no reason for him not to play it.

But all this infighting is just silly. The USGA should write some clear standards that don't require a grand jury for interpretation. Maybe the fact that Phil is willing to take some heat for this will give them a reason to do so, if just to stop more bad press at a time when the game doesn't need any more.

Update (3:58pm): Ryan Ballengee over at Waggle Room posted an article with more details on this ongoing war between Phil, Callaway, and the USGA. You can read it here.

Update (2/01/10, 4pm): Ryan dug even deeper into the controversy and has posted a very complete look at the problem right here, including some information you probably won't see anyplace else. Be sure to check out the comments, as he explains some of the implications there.

How Much is Just Right?

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

One frustrating aspect of aerobics (of any exercise, really) is how everybody has an ax to grind... or a program to sell. One bunch, typically very muscular and energetic, tells you that you need to do this much of this exercise to get in shape. Another bunch, typically clad in white doctor's garb and looking all solemn and knowledgeable, tells you to avoid that exercise and only do this much of a second exercise.

Of course, the first group stays in shape for a living and the second group doesn't look like they've been in shape for years. It sounds like Goldilocks and the Three Bears -- this program is not enough, and that program is too much.

How am I supposed to know when I find one that's just right? With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, I'm going to try and answer that question right now.
  • If you fall asleep during your workout, you just might be slacking off. If your pulse sounds like Keith Moon during a drum solo, you just might be working out a bit too hard. Ideally, the proper level of exercise gets your pulse rate up, but you shouldn't hear or feel it pounding in your temples.
Your heart rate is the best measure of when you're doing too little or too much. You can spot check your pulse by counting the beats for six seconds and multiplying by 10; just place your fingers over your pulse on the side of your neck or on your wrist. If you want to do it the scientific way and use a heart monitor (you can get decent models that look like a wrist watch now), you can monitor your pulse constantly during a workout. In either case you need to know what your pulse should be. Here's how to figure out your specific numbers:
  1. Start by subtracting your age from 220. This gives you your maximum heart rate in beats per minute (bpm), and it's your starting point. DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! DANGER! You don't want to get anywhere near this during a workout, even if you are in shape.
  2. Multiply your maximum heart rate times .6. This tells you the bottom of your target heart rate zone. It's 60% of your maximum heart rate.
  3. Multiply your maximum heart rate times .8. This tells you the top of your target heart rate zone. It's 80% of your maximum heart rate.
  4. During your workout, keep your heart rate between these two numbers. If your pulse rate goes up too much, slow down; if it drops below the bottom number, pick up the pace.
Let me use myself as an example. I'm 51 years old, so my maximum heart rate is 169 bpm (220 - 51). My target zone is between 101 bpm (169 * .6 = 101.4) and 135 bpm (169 * .8 = 135.2). That's not so hard, is it?

A couple more thoughts. If I'm out of shape, or I just haven't been working out for a while, I'll be better off if I keep my workouts down around that 101 figure, maybe in the 101 to 110 area. And even if I'm in shape, I probably don't want to push it right up to that 135 top; I'd probably shoot for the 70-75% range. That's 118-127 bpm.

You can get more info about target heart rates at many sites on the Web, like this page at The Walking Site. By the way, they recommend beginners stay in the 50-60% target range. I don't see any problem with that; it's just that I learned to use 60% as the bottom when I started out. Remember: It's always better to go a bit slower rather than too fast.

Friday, January 29, 2010

10,000 Steps a Day

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

The 10K Steps a Day program is an exercise program based on the Cooper point system I've been talking about the last couple of days. It's a simple way to make sure you get enough aerobic exercise to stay fit. You've probably even heard some of the golf pros talking about it; Tom Lehman and his wife Melissa have been outspoken supporters of the program.

Here's the basic idea: Given the length of an average person's stride, 10,000 steps is roughly 5 miles. Of course, you aren't walking that 5 miles all at once, and Cooper made it clear in his books that you need to get your intensity up to a certain level to get the benefits of aerobic training. However - and this is the key to the 10K Steps program - Cooper discovered two interesting facts about aerobic exercise:
  • Even if your exercise didn't reach the desired level of intensity, it could have a training effect if you just did it long enough. Got that? Maybe you walk so slow that a half-hour isn't enough to do you any good... but if you did it for several hours, the sheer length of your effort would give you a training effect.
  • Aerobic benefits were cumulative. Simply put, running 1 mile this morning and 1 mile tonight gave you the same aerobic benefit as running 2 miles all at once. (Yes, the 2 mile run would have a bigger effect on your muscular strength, but we're talking aerobic benefit here.)
That's the idea behind 10K Steps a day. If you walk 5 miles a day, even though it's in bits and pieces, it's enough to cause a training effect. According to his charts, taking over 20 minutes to walk one mile gives you no points... but walking 5 miles, even though it takes you over 100 minutes, gets you 4 points! Done 7 days a week (and we all walk some each day), that's 28 points a week, only 2 short of the Air Force fitness requirements. In the words of the Fitness Health Zone website, "10000 steps a day equals to thirty minutes of moderate physical activity on a daily basis."

If you're looking for a good way to start an aerobic program and you don't care for most of your options (running, swimming, biking, etc.), you might want to check into the 10K Steps program. All it will cost you is a pedometer (I made a quick check on the Web and found some highly-rated models for $20-25) and maybe some good walking shoes. In addition to the Fitness Health Zone site mentioned above, you can find some guidance on how to build up to 10K steps on this page at The Walking Site.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Running vs. Walking: Which is Best?

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

This may be one of the great debates of all time, rating right up there with Yankees or Dodgers and boxers or briefs. Which is the better exercise, walking or running?

It's an argument that draws almost violent confrontations between practitioners. I'm going to try and sort out some of the static for you.

Let's start with some definitions for the terms walk, speedwalk, jog, and run. It can be hard to draw hard-and-fast lines, but there are two things we can say with some certainty:
  • First, the difference between walking and running is that a walker always has one foot on the ground, while a runner is temporarily airborne. That's simple enough, isn't it? That's why some say walking is easier on the joints.
  • Second, running tends to burn more calories than walking. I think you could argue this point when you talk about speedwalking, but the average person won't be going that far. Speedwalking is best known as an Olympic sport (although some people enjoy doing it for fun), and it's darn hard.
Beyond this, things can get a bit murky. I divide them by speed this way:
  • an 8-minute mile is running
  • between 8 and 12 minutes per mile is jogging (most people will be between 8 and 10 minutes)
  • between 12 and 17 minutes per mile is speedwalking
  • anything over a 17-minute mile is walking (most people can do between 18 and 20 minutes without much trouble)
Arbitrary divisions, to be sure, but good enough for our use. In practice, most people either walk or jog. Running and speedwalking require more muscle fitness than the other two, which is why most people don't do them. I remember once trying my hand at speedwalking, using a couple of handweights. My butt was so sore, I had trouble bending over and climbing stairs for several days. (Not good when your job requires both!)

If you check our trusty aerobic charts, you'll find that jogging at 8-10 minutes/mile is worth 4 points and walking at 18-20 minutes/mile is worth 1 point... which makes jogging four times as good as walking from an aerobic standpoint. But this has to be an estimate, since we're rounding off times; Ken Cooper originally said he built some wiggle room into the figures, so you could be sure you were getting enough exercise. If you check the charts at 2 and 3 miles for these times, you'll see that gap shrinking; by the 5 mile mark, the points are 24 and 9, or slightly less than a 3-to-1 ratio.

If you enjoy jogging, which I do, then jogging is a great way to get some serious exercise in very little time. But I also enjoy walking, and that's something I can do when I don't have the energy to jog. I don't think of it as an either/or situation; you can include both in a fitness program, and should choose whichever fits in with your schedule and your personal likes... and don't let anybody make you feel guilty about it.

I mentioned the 10K steps program yesterday. I happen to think this is a wonderful adaptation of the Cooper point system, and one that almost everybody can use, even if they don't think they can do an exercise program. Tomorrow I'll give you the basics of how it works.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mike's Guide to Resistance Training, Complete Post List

This is just a listing for all the posts I did on resistance exercise. Makes it so much easier to list in the sidebar!

And remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!


Types of Resistance Training:

Different Ways to Train:

Some Examples of Bodyweight Exercises:


Working In Some Aerobics

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

If any form of exercise can be credited for the modern fitness craze, it would be aerobics. In 1968, an Air Force doctor named Kenneth Cooper published a book simply called Aerobics. It outlined his pioneering efforts to measure how much exercise AF personnel needed to pass their fitness tests. The result was a system that assigned point values to exercises based on the amount of oxygen a person's body used. (Aerobic means "with oxygen", as opposed to anaerobic, "without oxygen".)

Why was this such a big deal? Because Cooper was able to determine that AF personnel could pass their fitness tests if they got 30 points' worth of exercise each week... and the point system allowed them to determine exactly how much exercise they needed to get it. For example, an 8-minute mile is worth 5 points; do it 6 times a week, and you've made your 30 points. But you could also run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes, worth 7.5 points; run it 4 times a week, and that gives you 30 points too. In fact, Cooper used the resources of the Air Force to develop point ratings for virtually any sport you might want to try, thus giving any AF recruit the ability to get in shape... and know they were in shape.

The point system caught on quickly with the general public. In 1972 Cooper published The New Aerobics, a book aimed specifically at the weekend athlete, and the rest is history. In fact, the currently-popular 10K steps program is based on his point system.

Points are determined by both the length of time you exercise and the distance you cover in that time. For exercises like rope jumping, where you don't cover a distance, intensity is used instead; for example, 70-90 jumps per minute (jpm) don't get as many points as 90-110 jpm or 110-130 jpm.

You can find all kinds of aerobics info at In fact, you can download a free PDF of the points chart here. You may not care about passing the Air Force fitness tests, which are being altered somewhat starting in 2010 to include requirements for pushups, situps, and body composition, but the points system can still be useful to you. You can find out what the point ratings are for your current workout routine, and use the charts to help you find comparable workout levels in other exercises. This is useful, for example, if the weather forces you to change your workout. I think this may be the greatest use of the charts, because it can be hard to gauge effort levels between two different exercises.

Say you currently walk as part of your exercise program, and the charts put that workout at 3 points. It's too cold to walk, but you have an indoor bike. You can check the charts to find out how much indoor bike work is equal to 3 points. Because your muscles aren't used to the bike, you might not be able to do 3 points' worth of exercise on it, but you've automatically determined the most you could likely do. You're less likely to hurt yourself now.

The most popular aerobic exercises are walking, running, cycling, and swimming. However, the charts cover a lot of team sports, as well as things like rowing, stationary cycling, rope jumping, stair running, etc. Take some time to look through the charts; you may find an exercise you hadn't thought about, one that you'll enjoy doing.

And in case you're interested, walking 18 holes of golf counts as 3 points.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Bob Hope Classic

Winner: Bill Haas

A Monday finish for the Hope resulted in a Tuesday finish for the Limerick Summary. I hope this caused no major inconveniences for you, my dear readers.

It certainly wasn't an inconvenience for Bill Haas. With his dad Jay on site to watch (without Bill's knowledge), Bill stepped up big time to birdie the last hole. Haas, Tim Clark, and Matt Kuchar came to the par-5 18th all tied... and only Haas could commit the fowl deed. (Sorry... that just slipped out.) Bubba needed the big bird, but could only manage the small one. (Translation: Have birdie, need eagle. I know these are bad jokes, but don't worry... it gets worse.) The loss was probably hardest for Kuchar, who shot a 63 and still came up short.

As for the limerick... perhaps I should say something about the blucher remark. While my more fashion-conscious readers will have no problem with the reference, refugees from the culture of Sansabelt may need a quick lesson. According to, a blucher is "a high shoe or half boot." (Scroll down the linked page to see a picture of one.) Nicholas Antongiavanni, in his quasi-humorous book The Suit, elaborates thusly:
"Bluchers, because they are bulkier than the sleek oxford, are less formal. Among their many virtues, they are more comfortable on those with high arches, can help give mass to tiny feet, and go well with bulky cloth. But they should be avoided by those with large feet, and all but the sleekest examples look out of place with smooth, light worsteds." (p.93)
For the sake of today's limerick, simply think "boot" and you should be fine.

And so, without further ado, I present this week's rain-delayed limerick.
Haas and Clark, Watson and Kuchar –
Of these four, which three got the blucher?
On eighteen, a birdie
Put Haas minus thirty
And now he’s a first-trophy smoocher.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Limerick Summary Rain Delayed; Fitness Project Begun

It's been a pretty big weekend in golf. Martin Kaymer won the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship by one over Ian Poulter and two over Rory McIlroy. Perhaps more important than the money in the Race to Dubai were the world ranking points; Kaymer will probably jump all the way from #14 to #6 in the world, and Poulter (at #12) and McIlroy (at #10) will probably move up in the Top Ten also. Not bad! Also, the Champions Tour got off to a big start with Tom Watson and Fred Couples as the marquee pairing at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship. The two fought it out mano a mano down the stretch, until Watson birdied the final hole to win by one. On the back nine, Freddie shot 31, Tom shot 30. More good stuff.

But with the Hope Classic stretching into Monday, the Limerick Summary has been postponed till Tuesday. (For those of you keeping score, that's the first rain delayed limerick of the year.) So I thought I'd let you all know about a new fitness project I've started, since I'm trying to get back in shape like the rest of you and it's something you might be interested in.

Last year a new book came out called 7 Weeks to 100 Pushups, by Steve Speirs. All the reviews I've seen on the book have been pretty good and, since I've been really pushing the idea of building your workout from exercises you can do at home, I thought I'd check it out.

The most interesting thing about this program to me is its simplicity. The entire program is built around pushups... and not a variety of different pushups, either; just the plain old garden-variety military pushup. (There is a section detailing how different pushups focus on different parts of the body, but the main program uses just the one type.) There are 7 different workout programs in the book, and a simple fitness test that determines which program you should use. The test simply sees how many pushups (in strict form) you can do in a row.
  • 0: Preliminary program (4 weeks)
  • 1-3: Beginner 1 (10 weeks)
  • 4-6: Beginner 2 (10 weeks)
  • 7-12: Intermediate 1 (7 weeks)
  • 13-20: Intermediate 2 (7 weeks)
  • 21-25: Advanced 1 (7 weeks)
  • 26+: Advanced 2 (7 weeks)
I did 16, putting me on the Intermediate 2 plan. Using strict form for the pushups does affect how many you can do, as most people find Hindu pushups harder but I can do 20 of those without too much difficulty. (I might could have done 17 or 18 during the test if I had pushed a bit more, but I followed by own advice and stopped when I thought I had only one left in me.)

The Preliminary plan doesn't use regular pushups, but rather walks you through wall, counter, chair, and knee pushups to build your strength; you then take the fitness test again to see which workout you'll use. And, as you can see, the Beginner workouts take 10 weeks rather than 7. The workouts are set up to be challenging, but they have been adjusted for different fitness levels.

Unlike the easier daily workouts I prefer, this program is based on 3 workouts a week (M-W-F), with at least 48 hours between workouts. (Much like a weightlifting program.) That's because these are fairly heavy workouts, using 5 to 8 sets of pushups per workout with 60 seconds of rest between each. For example, my first workout in the program today is 6-8-6-6-7+. (And yes, that 7+ means you do as many as you can.) And you have charts, so you can keep up with how you're doing.

So this will be my main workout for the next couple of months, along with some aerobics. (According to Speirs, this program actually has some aerobic benefits of its own. The program reminds me of interval or circuit training.) I'll keep you updated on my progress, where I have problems, good and bad points I see in the program, etc. If the program works, it may be something some of you will want to consider; after all, the book retails for only $14.95 (I picked it up for around $11.) Given that you don't need anything else, that's cheap for a workout program.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some Final Thoughts on Resistance Training

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

I've spent two weeks talking about resistance training. There are two reasons for this: Because there are so many ways to train... and because so many weekend athletes avoid it like a doctor's glove and Vaseline®. Many feel more comfortable with aerobic exercise (which we'll discuss next week) simply because it seems simpler and more natural. After all, almost anybody can walk for 20 or 30 minutes a day, and walking is part of golf... even if you're only walking to and from the cart.

I've encouraged you to follow a home workout routine that requires no equipment or trips to the gym because I believe more of you will stick to a plan like that, and this week I tried to cover some of the big muscle exercises that you can use. There's absolutely nothing wrong with weightlifting or any other resistance program as long as you approach it intelligently and stick with it. I've just focused on something simple enough to fit into almost anybody's schedule.

Quite frankly, I suspect many of you would be pleasantly surprised by how much your health would improve merely by doing a daily routine of three exercises - Hindu pushups, half-squats, and one of the ab exercises - working up to three sets of 10 reps each, and adding 30 minutes of walking. If you spend your day sitting at a desk, it's even more critical for you.

For those of you who want to do more but don't want to spend money for any reference books like those I mentioned earlier, just remember that you can turn almost any movement into a resistance exercise by adding either self resistance or imagined resistance to it. Even if all you do is pretend you're working out at the gym, you can add imagined resistance to the moves and get a resistance workout.

The real key is just to do something, anything to start getting your muscles in shape for golf. And once you get in the habit of staying healthy, you'll be amazed how easy it is to keep it up.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Squats for the Masochist: Hindu Squats

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

Well... maybe you don't have to be a masochist to do these squats, but it helps. Hindu squats are deep knee bends that are done fast and long; some practitioners do these as an aerobic workout, pumping 'em out for 20 to 25 minutes at a time. In this case, one video is worth several thousand words!

Hindu squats are on the bleeding edge of fitness, where only hardcore fitness buffs go. Personally, I'd rather go 40 minutes on a rowing machine (which I did for several winters back in the 1980s) than do 10 minutes of Hindu squats... but to each his own.

The real key to Hindu squats is in the arms. Pay close attention to that rotary swing motion; it's what helps you keep your balance and your rhythm, and also helps make it an aerobic workout along the lines of a hard uphill run.

If you want to give them a try, I'd advise doing them S-L-O-W-E-R than the condemned prisoner athlete in the video. Inhale when you squat and exhale when you launch your body upward; it's much easier that way. And build up your reps slowly; doing too many Hindu squats too soon can result in the very knee problems you're trying to avoid.

While they're not my cup of tea, Hindu squats can be an extremely effective workout. I include them just to give you a taste of how demanding simple bodyweight exercises can be.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Squats for Almost Everybody: Bodyweight Half-Squats

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

I know some of you have bad knees, and squats are the last thing you want to hear about. However, there are squats and then there are squats; with the right technique, you might find that squats are a valuable addition to your workout. I've found videos of two different ways to squat... and today I'm going to give you additional instructions for the first one, which might help you gain a lot of leg strength without hurting your knees.

Ok, this first video shows a regular bodyweight squat. The guy who did it should have had his subtitles spellchecked, but it's still a good video; try not to laugh so hard at the subs that you miss what he's doing.

Key points in this video:
  • Feet are shoulder-width apart, with toes pointing straight ahead or just barely to the side
  • Arms are used for balance
  • Feet remain FLAT on the ground throughout the squat (this is probably different from what you're used to), which means most of your weight is on your heels
  • Your knees move straight ahead and NEVER get ahead of your toes
  • Back stays flat (don't hunch your shoulders)
Now, you probably noticed that the guy in this video never bends his knees really deep; at most, he looks like he's sitting in a chair. If you try this, unless you're really strong I doubt that you'll get that low. THAT'S GOOD. You don't need to, because we're going to add some imagined resistance to this squat!

All you need to do is imagine that a large weight is resting on your shoulders; this will cause you to tense your leg muscles, especially your quads (the big muscles on the front of your legs). Don't do it so hard that it hurts; just tense them enough to feel some pressure. Got it?

Now, slow the movement down (the guy in the video is actually going TOO FAST for our half-squat) and only bend your knees about HALF as much as he's doing. That's right - at the bottom of your squat, your knees will only be bent about 45 degrees, not the 90 degrees that you see in the video.

This half-squat is the primary range of motion most people use in the course of a day. It doesn't go low enough to put a lot of strain on your knees, but it goes deep enough (when combined with imagined resistance) to really strengthen your quads.

A lot of knee pain is simply caused by weak muscles, and this half-squat gives you a low-strain method of working the muscles. Obviously, if you try it and it hurts, don't do it. But I'm betting a lot of you with sore knees will find this exercise helps reduce your pain if you try it a few weeks.

And for you diehards out there, tomorrow I have the mother of all deep knee bends. I get tired just thinking about them...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Atlas Pushup Revisited

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

It's been nearly a month since I first wrote about Atlas pushups, but now seems like a good time to take a second look at them. Yesterday I showed you how changing the relative height of your feet and hands could change the difficulty of a bodyweight exercise. I found a couple of videos that show this principle at work with Atlas pushups (all pushups, actually).

Here's the Atlas pushup as I described it in the earlier post.

You can do this with two chairs at home, but you can see how it lets your chest go below the level of your hands, which you can't do when your hands are on the floor.

Now look at this version.

Her feet are actually higher than her hands in this one, and the pushup is now much harder to do.

The easiest pushups are done by standing upright, with your feet maybe 18 inches from the wall, and your hands against the wall at shoulder level. The hardest pushups would be the exact opposite - your hands on the floor and your feet against the wall near eye level. This is called a handstand pushup.

I'm showing you a video of a woman doing these for two reasons:
  • I want you to realize that, although this takes a lot of strength, it is not beyond a woman's ability; and
  • I want you women to see that you can build up some incredible strength without turning into the Incredible Hulk.
I actually got to where I could do 35 of these when I was 48 (although I can't right now - gotta get back in shape!), and I didn't look like the Hulk either. But believe me, you don't have to get huge to develop a shape people notice.

There are other ways to adjust the difficulty of your pushups, but this should get you started.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Triceps Exercise

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

Many people start working out for one reason: They want bigger, more muscular arms. (Yes, even women. Muscles don't have to be huge to have a nice shape.) But they tend to focus on the biceps, when the triceps (the muscles on the back of the arms) are the ones that contribute most to your arms' appearance... and strength. When you push something away from you, it's your triceps that do most of the work.

This video shows two common triceps exercises.

The first one - most often referred to as "dips" - are used even by bodybuilders, who usually use a special stand that allows them to hold their entire bodyweight above the floor; in addition, they often hang a weight around their waist to work their triceps harder. For this home version, you can also use two chairs and lower yourself between them. Or, if you're doing them in the kitchen as she is, you could simply use the edge of the countertop the same way she is using the chair.

Note also how she changes her foot positions to change the difficulty; this concept of changing the relative height between the hands and feet is often used with other exercises, especially pushups.

The other exercise, the one using a handweight, can also be done using the self resistance technique I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. All you need to do is ball up your fist as if you were holding a weight, then use your other hand to apply downward pressure as you try to raise your fist.

These two exercises may not seem like much, but they will probably give your triceps all they can handle.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Some Ab Exercises

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

Today I've found a video that claims you can get six-pack abs in 6 minutes. I'm posting this video because it shows a wide variety of ab exercises you can do. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU TRY TO DO ALL OF THESE EXERCISES TOGETHER UNLESS YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING OUT FOR A LONG TIME... OR HAVE A DEATH WISH. And frankly, there are less painful ways to die.

First, here's the video:

And now, a few observations:
  • Pick one of the exercises to add to your workout routine. You don't have to do the same one everyday - variety helps prevent boredom and promotes more balanced development - but when you're starting out, it's easier to pick just one and stick with it. If you're following my workout guidelines, that would mean sticking with that exercise for at least your first month. Your body will be used to it by then. Variety should never slow down your progress or interrupt your attempt to develop a routine.
  • Ignore the number of reps in the video. When starting out, do even fewer of them than you think you can do. Trust me, you'll think you did ok until you wake up the next morning and your abs are cramped from overuse.
  • Also do the reps more slowly than the guy in the video. Not only will you minimize the chance of injury, but you may actually improve faster. Many instructors believe that slow movements are more beneficial than ones with lots of momentum.
  • Although this guy uses a couch, you don't need one. Some of the exercises can be done using a regular straight chair, and most can be done laying flat on the floor... especially if you do the exercise slowly.
  • Different exercises work different parts of your abs. Some work upper abs, some work lower abs, and those ones he does where he twists? Those work the obliques, or sides of your torso. Ultimately you may be doing exercises that work all of those during a single workout, but don't worry about that while starting out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Aloha Swing, Complete

2010 SBS Championship
Winner: Geoff Ogilvy
While we on the mainland were freezin’,
On Maui, “G. Lover” was breezin’.
But then he got dusted
As kona winds gusted;
He blew it. Geoff wins first this season!

2010 Sony Open
Winner: Ryan Palmer
This last month, he’s been used to winning,
But Allenby found his mind spinning.
A sprint came from Stricker,
Then Ryan proved quicker;
With two wins, now Palmer is grinning.

The Limerick Summary: 2010 Sony Open

Winner: Ryan Palmer

In some ways, Charl Schwartzel was the biggest news this week. His 2nd win in a row down at the Joberg Open in South Africa (by 6 shots, for Pete's sake!) may have secured him a spot in the Masters. Some will say the field wasn't that strong; I say two wins in a row anywhere is a major achievement. Congrats again, Charl!

Over here on our little tour, the Sony Open turned out to be a real competition between Steve Stricker, Robert Allenby, and Ryan Palmer. Stricker blistered the course to post early, then Allenby and Palmer fought it out down the stretch. Palmer had only one Tour win, but Allenby hadn't won on the PGA Tour since 2001. Still, you had to figure he was the guy to beat, since posting two wins last month in Australia and South Africa. I know there will be arguments over whether Allenby folded at the end, but I'm going to give him credit for staying in there as long as he did with that ankle injury.

At any rate, here's this week's summary:
This last month, he’s been used to winning,
But Allenby found his mind spinning.
A sprint came from Stricker,
Then Ryan proved quicker;
With two wins, now Palmer is grinning.
And that's the end of the Aloha Swing. Up next... the West Coast swing!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

But I Hate to Tap...

Earlier this week, in one of her fitness updates, Apryl (Women Love Sports) posted a little video called, "I Hate to Exercise, I Love to Tap." Now, vigorous dancing is a good form of aerobic exercise (aerobics are coming up later this month, so hang in there!), but tap is so old school!

Besides, right now I'm talking about strength building. There are certainly forms of dance that focus on muscle fitness, such as belly dancing. (There's a whole show devoted to it on FitTV.) Hip hop is also great for muscle conditioning, but the royalty of fitness dancing has got to be the Latin rhythms.

When I went searching for something fun for today I thought, "What dance might everybody know?" The Macarena, of course! But I didn't go for the Los del Rio version, oh no. You all know I'm an animation nut, so I went to the show I think may be the greatest cartoon ever made... Animaniacs! It's perhaps best known for spawning Pinky and the Brain, but Yakko, Wakko, and Dot Warner lampooned everything from Fellini films to Abbott and Costello routines.

So, without further ado, I present Yakko, Wakko, Dot, her background singers Minerva Mink and Dr. Scratchensniff's nurse, and all their Animaniac friends as they perform their music video "Macadamia Nut." (And yeah, that security guard at the beginning, he really needs a workout...)

(And if you've never seen Animaniacs before, then you're in luck; you can watch the classic short Star Truck right here. As Wakko would say, "Live long and perspire!")

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hindu Pushups

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

Today we start looking at some of the exercises you might want to add to your workout, and this is one I would recommend to everybody. It's called a Hindu Pushup, and I like it because it works almost your whole body at once. Here's a video to show you how it's done; it shows you from two angles and in slow motion:

As you can see, this isn't quite like a regular pushup! In fact, some of you may be familiar with a type of pushup called a dive-bomber; the first half of this pushup is done the same way. The second half looks like the Panther Stretch Pushup I wrote about last month.

This is not an easy pushup to do. If you can do two or three of them when you start, you should feel pretty good about yourself. This pushup has a lot of benefits:
  • As I said before, it works a lot of muscle groups, so you get a lot of benefit for a little bit of time.
  • You're less likely to hurt yourself, simply because you're constantly changing the angles of your effort. A corollary to this is that it works your shoulder in a circular motion, rather than a straight out-and-back move, which helps develop balance in all those little shoulder muscles that get hurt so easily.
  • Personally, I find it helps my posture.
  • Some people say this exercise will help rehabilitate a sore shoulder. I suspect that depends on how you injured it, but I can see how the circular work might help restore some balance by strengthening some of the neglected muscles.
Some people prefer dive-bombers, and there's some argument over which one is better. I don't think it matters, as long as you do one of them. I like Hindu Pushups simply because it feels like two entirely different exercises being done at once.

How many of these you want to do is up to you. You can do them in sets, during a workout; you can do a few early in the day, a few midday, and a few at night; or you can just try to see how many you can do in a row. If you get to where you can do 50 of these in a row, I don't think you'll have to worry much about strength!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Choosing Exercises for Your Workout

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

So you're ready to start a workout program. You intend to approach this whole "getting in shape" thing intelligently, so you give yourself the best chance of reaching your fitness goals and, hopefully, so you'll enjoy the process itself.

Yesterday I gave you some overall guidance on how to workout successfully. Today I'm going to give you a few more basic principles that will help you choose what exercises will be best for your workout; then we'll spend the next few days looking at some of the typical exercises you might want to include. I'm going to focus on what I have called bodyweight, self, and imagined resistance exercises, because these require no special equipment and you can easily adjust how difficult they are.

First principle: Don't do workouts that you can't recuperate from in one day. This principle was borrowed from Charles Atlas, and I make it the bedrock of our approach simply because it helps us guard against doing too much. If you work out today and wake up the next day a bit tired, that's one thing; but if you work out that second day and then wake up tired again the next morning, you're doing too much. In that case, you would take that day off, then pick up your workout the following day but doing a little less. I know that may mean you can't do more than a couple of exercises when you first start... but that's the point. If your body can't handle it, you shouldn't be doing it! I want you to enjoy getting into shape, and I want you to see progress; that simply won't happen if you do too much starting out.

After you've been doing your workout for three months, you can stretch this rule slightly. Once a week, you can pick one or two of your exercises and do as many of them as you can, then do a less intense workout the next day, and return to your normal workout the third day. But you don't have to do it that way; it's just an option you can try if you want to... after you've been doing your workout for three months.

When you get your workout right, you'll start waking up each morning feeling GOOD and ready to attack the day. That's what we're after!

Second principle: Limit your workout to no more than 7 exercises. This one probably needs some explaining.
  • If you're going to recuperate fully in one day, then you simply can't work out as hard. After you've been working out for a while, your body will get strong enough to recuperate from more exertion, and then you can add more exercises if you like or make your existing ones harder; that's up to you. But for now, take the safe route; you'll thank me when you've been working out for a whole year and still haven't had any major injuries.
  • Using fewer exercises will force you to think about what you're trying to do and make better workout choices.
  • Fewer exercises means less time spent working out, so it's easier to fit a workout into your schedule... and you have fewer excuses not to work out.
  • With fewer exercises in a workout, changing just one or two can totally transform a workout. Result: Less boredom.
  • To get the most from a workout, you need to concentrate on each exercise; that's expecially true if you use the imagined resistance exercises. Fewer exercises means it's easier to get a good workout.
  • We'll be adding some golf-specific exercises and some aerobic work later. Don't worry, you'll get a good workout!
As time goes on, you'll find even more reasons. But this should be enough to convince you of the wisdom of this approach.

Third principle: Focus on exercises that work lots of muscles at once. If you have only 7 exercises in your workout, it follows that some exercises will have to work more than one muscle group. This saves time and promotes balanced muscle development. You'll want at least two or three of these exercises in your workout; the rest can focus on special groups where you're weak.

Fourth principle: Always work on your weaknesses. It's easy to romp through a few exercises using strong muscles, but it's those weak areas that will trip you up and cause injuries. You want to get your body strong all over. As an example, when I was working out at Gold's Gym, years of lifting boxes of books in a bookstore had given me extremely strong back muscles, but my abs were weak. My advisor specifically minimized my back workouts - just enough to make sure I kept my existing strength - and focused on my abs. This is how you work on muscle imbalances: Maintain strength in the strong muscles while building the weaker ones. So remember, work the weak muscles enough to strengthen them, and do maintenance work on the stronger opposing muscles. (Yes, I said that twice on purpose. PAY ATTENTION!)

Fifth principle: Don't do "all you can." Don't work out until you're ready to drop. There's a difference between "I got a good workout" and "I couldn't do another rep." I know bodybuilders say the last rep gives the most benefit, but that's also why so many people get hurt weightlifting. You'll need to learn the difference, but it's not that hard to learn. Here's my rule of thumb: Always stop while you've got one or two reps left in you. You'll still get a good workout, but you won't hurt yourself and you won't be tired all the time.

Sixth and final principle: Remember that progress isn't a smooth road. That simply means that you won't always see a nice linear progression of reps - you know, I can do 3 pushups today, 4 in two days, 5 in four days, 6 in six days, etc. Sometimes it's more like, I did 7 pushups for 3 days, then I spent a week where I had trouble doing 6, then suddenly I could do 10! This is called a plateau, and everybody has them. If you hit one and can't seem to break through, try the radical concept of reducing reps for a couple of days! For example, if you get hung at 6 pushups for a few days, back off to 4 for a couple of days, then try to do as many as possible the third day. Sometimes this will get you unstuck. But don't do anything to hurt yourself; remember that plateaus are your body's way of preparing to improve.

There are your basic principles. Over the next few days I'll be showing you some good exercises to use as building blocks for your workout.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mike's Fitness Guidelines Start Here...

(Ok, we've been through this before, but here we go again... Get a checkup before starting a fitness program, I'm not a doctor, follow my advice at your own risk, all disclaimers apply, yadda yadda yadda. Got it?)

Today we'll start by looking at some general principles on how to design your own maintainable fitness program. That word maintainable is important, because a routine that isn't routine won't help you at all. I want you to find a comfortable plan that you can stick with, one that you can look forward to doing each day; there's nothing worse than adding one more thing you dread to an already busy day.

To balance the hard-won lessons of a 51-year-old man who's still reasonably active (hey, I'll have you know I used to run 5 miles in 40 minutes regularly!), Apryl DeLancey from Women Love Sports has agreed to give you the perspective of a younger woman who is like the Energizer Bunny, only much cuter. I think you'll find Apryl's thoughts to be very helpful, especially since her personal fitness program is built around two sports, golf and surfing. By comparing her approach to mine, which will be about building a general fitness level with an emphasis on golf, I think you'll learn a lot more than I could show you by myself. I want you to be able to design a fitness program that specifically fits your needs, and be able to adjust it (without hurting yourself) so you don't get bored.

Apryl has already posted some information about her fitness goals and how she plans to reach them. She has very kindly collected a lot of that info, along with some links, in this post. In addition, Apryl has agreed to do a guest post for me later this month when I get into the aerobic aspect of your workouts, so be looking for that.

Let's start by looking at some very general things to keep in mind when creating a fitness program. Forgive me if some of this seems very elementary, but it's usually the simple things that trip us up.

First, you need to set some goals and decide what you intend to do. Goals are by definition measureable, which means you can look at them and easily tell whether you reached them or not. Here's a simple example: "I want to get stronger" is NOT a goal. What do you mean, "stronger"? How will you know when you've reached it? How long do you expect you'll need to reach it?

We turn that into a goal by making it something we can measure; we state it in units of measurement like inches and feet, ounces and pounds, days and weeks. "In 6 weeks I want to be able to do 20 pushups nonstop." THAT'S a goal; after 6 weeks, can I do 20 consecutive pushups? If I can, I achieved my goal; if I can't, I didn't. But the point here is that I know, without any question, whether I did or didn't make it.

Second, you need to set goals that are challenging but not impossible. It's very important to recognize that goals are simply a kind of yardstick to help measure progress; you may not achieve your goal, but that doesn't mean you failed. Maybe we only got to where we could do 15 consecutive pushups; if we could do 10 when we started, we probably didn't try hard enough, but if we could barely do 2 or 3, then I'd have to call that 6-week program a success.

Third, you can change your goals if you see they weren't hard enough or if they were too hard. Sometimes we don't know what we can do, so we don't know what our goals should be. It's ok to make adjustments as we go. In golf, we see this all the time. How many players have you heard on TV, just after a win, say "Well, I guess I'll have to change my goals now"? Remember, a goal is just a yardstick; don't make it your ruler!

Fourth, don't try to achieve your goal the first day; it's ok to start slow. You'd be surprised how many people blow it right here. They say, "I ought to be able to do this" and they do too much, hurt themselves, and then it's bye bye, fitness program.

Personally, I think it's better to go too slow than to go too fast, especially when you start trying to get back into shape. You didn't get out of shape overnight, so don't be surprised if it takes you a few weeks to get it together. Here's a good rule of thumb for you: It takes about a month to see changes of any kind. If you're learning a new exercise, don't be surprised if it takes a month to get comfortable doing it. And here's a second rule of thumb: Give yourself three months to see results, and you'll probably be successful. It generally works like this:
  • In one month, you'll get comfortable with your workout;
  • in two months, you'll start feeling the results of your workout;
  • in three months, you (and most of your friends) will start seeing the results of your workout.
And finally, don't feel like you have to start your complete routine all at once. It's perfectly ok to start off with one or two exercises; in fact, it may be better that way since you may not know exactly how much you can do. Deciding to begin by walking for 10 minutes and doing a few pushups each day - especially if you haven't exercised for a long time - may be far more productive than launching into a full-blown workout that turns out to be a little bit beyond your capabilities. Pain is NOT good, and don't believe any idiot who tells you it is. Starting small makes it easier to be sure you won't overdo it and hurt yourself; it also makes it more likely that you'll stay with it. To quote Monique from the cult classic Better Off Dead, "Try a little success. I think you will find that it suits you."

These are the most basic principles for developing a successful workout routine. If you keep these in mind, you'll virtually guarantee that you get in shape with a minimum of discomfort and and a maximum of enjoyment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Weightlifting Workout Guidelines

You've learned the basic types of resistance exercise, which generally form the basis of any workout program; now it's time to start putting a program together. We'll be going through this process for several days, possibly the rest of the month, because:
  • there are a few exercises I'm going to recommend you include, no matter what your workout looks like;
  • we'll have to add some golf-specific exercises;
  • we still have to look at aerobics, which your workout should also include; and
  • there are a few odds-and-ends you might want to add occasionally for variety.
Although I have said that I generally prefer workouts without weightlifting, I know some of you are going to want to hit the big iron... and that's perfectly ok. The goal here is to design a program you can stick with, and if weights get your motor running, then by all means go for it! I used a weightlifting program successfully for several months (I eventually got tired of it), so I decided to postpone my personal guidelines until tomorrow and give you some guidelines instead that will help you get started lifting without hurting yourself.

First of all, realize that if you choose weightlifting, this will be the primary thing you do for a workout. I know you hear the Bowflex® guys saying you can get a full workout in only 30 minutes, three times a week; and I won't disagree. The big deal here is that those workouts are going to be tough, and you will need time to recuperate from them. By the time you add some aerobics and flexibility training, along with some golf-specific exercises, your workout time will be pretty full. (And yes, while I have said in past posts that stretching and strengthening can be combined, weightlifting places such a demand on your muscles that you almost have to do your stretching workouts separately. Don't sweat it, it's just the nature of the beast.)

Preferably you'll want to get some nutrition before your workout; a protein milkshake 60-90 minutes before your workout should make sure you have plenty of energy. I was trying to gain weight, so I tried to get around 700 calories in this one; you may not need that much. The big thing here is that you don't need some powder with questionable additives. I used plain old 100% whey powder and an equal amount of low sugar/low fat weight gain powder, both chocolate since I'm a chocoholic. (Weight gain powder containers are notorious for saying you need several cups for 8 ounces of milk; I used the same small scoop that came with the whey powder, and used only one scoop.)

I mixed the powders in 8 to 10 ounces of skim milk, then added one spoon of toasted wheat germ, a banana, and sometimes a pack of Carnation® Instant Breakfast mix, a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, or some yogurt. One other thing I added that might not settle well on your stomach was a half-cup of uncooked instant oatmeal; when blended, it made the shake a bit gritty, but it was a good substitute for breakfast. I suspect the extra fiber really helped me, although it might give some people gas. Books like Dr. Susan Kleiner's Power Eating can give you other preworkout eating ideas.

If you're trying to gain weight, you probably need to eat more than you think. I started out weighing between 155 and 160 lbs, but I had to eat 3500-4000 calories a day to keep gaining! Since I was trying to eat a fairly low-fat diet, it was a huge volume of food. I suspect that was part of the reason I finally got tired of weights; I had really high metabolism and had to eat so much, it got to be a real drag. If I was doing it now, I would allow more fat in my diet. At any rate, you'll have to make sure you get enough food. I'll talk more about diet later in the month, but here's a sobering fact for you: If you're trying to maintain your weight while working out, you may need to eat 15-20 calories per pound if you're male, 13-15 if you're female. By comparison, I had to eat upwards of 24 calories per pound to gain weight! (Just for reference, those figures came from Dr. Pam Smith's Eat Well, Live Well and Dr. Susan Kleiner's Power Eating.)

Be sure you start and end your workouts with some aerobics. (Aerobics are exercises like running, walking, swimming, biking, etc. We'll talk about aerobics later this month.) You don't have to do a whole lot; 8 to 10 minutes of easy work on a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike to warm up before your workout, and another 12 to 15 at the end; the end workout can be a little harder if your body is up to it. If you want to see good results from your workout, your body needs to be warmed up when you start lifting.

Don't work out more than four times a week, and don't work your entire body every day. No matter what you may hear, you can't completely separate your upper body workout from your lower body workout. However, you can do exercises that use your legs (like squats or military presses) one day and exercises that focus on your arms (like curls and tricep presses) the next. I did these two workouts, took a day off, then did those two again, and took two more days off. Convenient, eh? If you find that you're still tired when it's time to start a new two-day cycle, either take an extra day off or reduce the length of your workout.

While you don't have to do tons of exercises, you do need to work opposing muscles on the same day. For example, work biceps and triceps together, traps and lats (upper back/shoulders and the big back muscles) together, etc. Don't overdo it and strain your muscles; pain is NOT good. And don't do heavy weights with one muscle and light weights with its opposite; that's a recipe for muscle imbalance and pain.

How many reps and sets should you do? If you're just starting out, limit yourself to two sets of repetitions; you can go to three after you've been working out for a while. As for reps, here's a general guideline:
  • 5-10 reps/set: heavy weights/build huge bulk
  • 10-15 reps/set: medium weights/build some bulk and strength
  • 15-20 reps/set: light weights/build strength and endurance
Skip the 5-10 rep sets; those are for Mr. Universe. Go with the 10-15 rep sets for most muscle groups, and the 15-20 rep sets for muscles that are really weak. This will give you the fastest results for your efforts.

Finally, make sure to learn the proper way to perform the exercises, which also means learning how to breathe; holding your breath during reps is a good way to hurt yourself. And don't forget to stay hydrated during your workout. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to absorb any water you drink; so if you wait until you're thirsty, you've probably waited too long. Sip a little when you're changing to a new exercise, and you'll probably be ok.

Those are your weightlifting basics. If you decide you really want to hit the gym, it's a good idea to find some place that provides an advisor while you get started. But at least now you know enough to avoid the worst mistakes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Old Man Par Has Moved!

On the outside chance you missed it, Charles Boyer's site Me and Old Man Par has a new home.

Charles has been developing quite a name for himself as an eloquent writer, something most of us golf bloggers (myself certainly included!) only aspire to. As a result, he's decided to create a site that's as polished as his writing... and it's a beauty!

So if you haven't been there yet, make sure you check out the Old Man's new home at and save it in your Favorites menu. And of course, you can also get there by clicking "Me and Old Man Par" in my golf blogroll.

Some Exercise Reference Books

Before we go any further, I want to give you a list of books and/or sites that can give you some direction on these different types of resistance exercises I've been talking about over the last week. People get nervous about recommendations anymore; everybody seems to have an ulterior motive to get you to buy. But I figure you're going to spend some money if you're serious about getting fit, so I'd at least like you to have some idea what you're looking for so you don't waste a lot of money. So, be it known that I have no connection to any of these authors and I don't benefit in any way if you buy their stuff; these are just books that I have either bought and liked, or borrowed from the library and liked. I've included links solely to make it easier for you to be sure you're looking at the same books I'm talking about. (In case you didn't know, you can't copyright a title.) Oh yeah, prices are suggested retail, not necessarily what you can get them for online. Ok?

First, I've already mentioned the Charles Atlas mail order course that's been available for about 80 years. It's a classic, and still very useful. You can find it at the Charles Atlas site. It runs about $45 for a download, or $50 for a printed version in a binder.

I'm a big fan of John E. Peterson and Wendie Pett. Peterson got into the Atlas stuff when he was a young kid with polio. You won't believe how he looks at 50+! His book is called Pushing Yourself to Power ($35), and it's a complete 12 week training plan. I like the book because it has so many different kinds of exercises, organized by body parts. Pett has an equivalent book for women called Every Woman's Guide to Personal Power ($30). They also did a book together called The Miracle Seven ($20), that focuses on seven exercise mini-programs of what I called "imaginary resistance." The "Miracle Seven" was devised by the late martial artist John McSweeney. If you just want to test the waters, The Miracle Seven is an inexpensive way to do it.

I have Pushing Yourself to Power and The Miracle Seven, and have given copies to friends. I like these books a lot.

Pilates is new to me, and I'm just starting to experiment with it. I tend to lean toward the mat exercises, since that doesn't cost a fortune! I've been looking over The Everything Pilates Book and Denise Austin's Pilates for Every Body ($19), both borrowed from the library. The first one appears to be out of print, but it looks pretty good if you can find a copy. I know most TV personalities seem a little over-the-top, but Denise Austin has some serious credentials and doesn't go in for the latest fads. I think it says something that her books tend to remain in print while so many others don't. I'm looking to incorporate some Pilates into my workouts, and I'm planning to start with her book.

While I don't believe you need weightlifting to get in shape, and while my own personal guidelines (which I'll post tomorrow) don't put an emphasis on them, I've had too many good results from weights (especially for rehab) to toss them out completely. If you have the time and weights appeal to you, I say go for it! For my money, the best book on weights is the classic Getting Stronger by Bill Pearl ($22). It's an encyclopedia of exercises using both free weights and machines, and I've had it almost since it came out. This is a newer 20th anniversary edition, but it's probably still great! I would also recommend Scrawny to Brawny by Michael Mejia and John Berardi ($20). Power Eating by Dr. Susan Kleiner ($17) especially helped with the nutritional aspects, which I believe is what finally enabled me to successfully gain some weight.

Last week I also mentioned that you can check out the Sandow and the Golden Age of Iron Men site, where you can learn about some of the early legends and download PDFs of some of their training manuals. I can't speak for all the material there, but you might want to check out Earle Liederman, who was a friend of Charles Atlas and considered by some to be the father of the mail order fitness program. (I believe Joe Weider tapped him to be the first editor of one of his weightlifting magazines.) At any rate, the material is free so it doesn't hurt to look.

Beyond this, you might want to look at books and sites that feature bodyweight exercises. Obviously, you can Google "bodyweight exercises" and start your searches from there. There are a number of other authors who focus on bodyweight exercises, but I have no firsthand knowledge of them so I won't mention them here.

One person I do want to mention is former wrestler Matt Furey. Peterson likes him (at least, he did at the time his book was published), and his book Combat Conditioning was something of a legend for a while. There is considerable talk going around that Furey may be a fraud. I don't know the answer to that. I can say that I have a copy of the book and think most of the exercises are too advanced for someone who isn't already in shape. The three exercises which have become his trademarks - the Hindu squat, the Hindu pushup, and the neck bridge - can be found in other books... and most people probably shouldn't neck bridge unless they're in great shape and have a doctor's ok. (Bridging is a wrestling exercise, for those who don't know.)

That's should be enough to get you started. These are books that I feel are worth the price, having paid my own good money to get them. (All except Denise Austin's book. I'm trying out the library copy for now.) Tomorrow I'll give you some of my guidelines for designing a workout program you can stick with.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Limerick Summary: 2010 SBS Championship

Winner: Geoff Ogilvy

Early on Sunday, Charl Schwartzel won the 2010 Africa Open. The defending champion, Retief Goosen, wasn't there because he was on Maui at the SBS Championship. He made a good run at it, finishing T6... but it wasn't good enough.

Lucas Glover (now the notorious "G. Lover," courtesy of David Letterman) had the lead every single day this week, but stumbled Sunday. Rory Sabbatini blitzed the course with a 10-under 63 (par at the Plantation Course is 73), falling just short as Geoff Ogilvy beat him by a stroke and successfully defended his title. For those of you who didn't hear, Geoff has now gotten 6 of his 7 PGA wins during the first 3 months of the year. (The 2006 U.S. Open is the lone exception.)

By the way, Geoff and his wife are expecting their 3rd child in about a month. Money for diapers was sorely needed!

As for my picks for the week (Steve Stricker, Nick Watney, and Sean O'Hair), I got two things right: O'Hair got a T4, and my offhanded remark that Stricker might be rusty turned out to be correct. And with that, I'll cease the "hot air" and unveil the first official summary of the year:
While we on the mainland were freezin’,
On Maui, “G. Lover” was breezin’.
But then he got dusted
As kona winds gusted;
He blew it. Geoff wins first this season!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

How NOT to Get Fit

Ok, I've covered a lot of material this week, and after yesterday's look at one of the original mail order fitness offers that actually works, I thought you might enjoy an example of one that doesn't work. Take a break from the serious stuff today and let Goofy teach you how NOT to get fit...

(Just a side note: My favorite Disney cartoons have always been the old Chip & Dale shorts, but this is my favorite Goofy cartoon. Probably because of my frustrated attempts to gain weight when I was younger...)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension Concept

I mentioned Charles Atlas briefly back when I did the post on the Atlas Pushup. Today I want to start looking at the system he developed because he not only combined several of the various resistance training methods we've already looked at, but he added a unique twist that I think might determine how well you can stick with a fitness program.

But first, a little history...

Back in the early 20th Century, mail-order fitness courses became all the rage. If you're interested in such things, you can check out the Sandow and the Golden Age of Iron Men site, where you can find out all about some of the early legends and even download PDFs of some of their training manuals. (Not the Charles Atlas course, however; that's still for sale at Charles Atlas Lmt.. It costs $50, not too much more than it did way back then!) Charles Atlas is probably the most famous of these legends.

His real name was Angelo Siciliano, and he really was a 98-lb weakling who got sand kicked in his face by a bully on a beach. That happened 8 months after he was beaten and left unconscious by a thug one Halloween. After that first beating, he tried working out at the local YMCA but all it did was make him sick. According to legend, a depressed Angelo was watching how the big cats at the Brooklyn Zoo stretched their muscles while they paced in their cages, and decided to try the same thing. After some experimentation, he successfully began to gain muscle and became quite popular at the beach! The guys there had nicknamed him "Charlie," and one day while standing in front of the statue in front of the Atlas Hotel one of them said, "Hey, Charlie, you look even better than that Atlas guy."

And Charles Atlas was born. In 1921 and 1922 he was voted "The World's Most Perfectly Developed Man," and it wasn't long until he was in the mail-order fitness business. His technique, dubbed "Dynamic Tension," combined what I have called bodyweight, self, and imagined resistance methods with isometrics. It also included advice on nutrition and what he called "magnetic personality." It was perhaps one of the first systems to see all aspects of personal development as necessary components of health. I have a copy of the course, which I bought for comparison to what I had learned, and I was amazed at how sound most of his advice is, even though it's a century later.

You may wonder why Atlas left out weightlifting. Obviously he had a bad experience with it, but why didn't he add it later on? The reason is what I think is the real genius of his method.

Remember my post about how muscle builds? When I finally was successful putting on some muscle, I had to work out 4 times a week, divide the lifting work so that I didn't work the same body part two days in a row, make sure I allowed enough time to rest between workouts, etc. With the Atlas approach, none of that matters! Charles Atlas designed his program to be done every day without strain, so you never had to worry about that. You never strain yourself and you never tire yourself out, but you build muscle every day. Because of this, you shouldn't get hurt and you shouldn't walk around feeling tired all the time.

In a word, your workouts should make you feel good! And if you feel good, you keep doing them.

Starting next week, I'll be looking at some of the exercises that fit into a workout like this. Before the month is out, I'll also take a quick look at nutrition and aerobics (endurance exercises like walking, running, biking, etc.) and some golf-specific exercises. When we're done, I hope you'll have enough information to develop a program you'll enjoy doing, as well as how to prevent boredom in your workouts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Resistance Training: Isometrics

This is the last of the resistance methods we're going to talk about, and there's a good chance you've heard of it before. There's also a good chance you don't really know what it is, since the term "isometrics" gets used incorrectly a lot.

Go back to our arm curl example again. First we used a dumbbell for resistance, then our other hand and arm, then our imagination (with a little help from the tricep on the same arm). But they all had this in common: We moved our arm through a range of motion.

Isometrics have no movement. An isometric curl would hold the arm in one position while the muscles tightened. The classic isometric exercise involves standing in a doorway, placing a hand on each side of the opening, and pushing Samson-style in an effort to shove the door jambs apart. Of course, if the house hasn't been condemned, the doorway shouldn't change its shape at all; you'll just stand there, motionless, your whole body shaking with the effort of not being able to move at all.

Isometrics can give you incredible results. There are stories of early twentieth-century strongmen who trained using isometrics exclusively. But there are some caveats to this method:
  • Because there is no motion, isometrics only build strength at the position in which you exert your effort. If you want to use them to build overall strength, you need to do them with the muscle in three or four positions. Using the curl example, you might do an isometric with the arm barely curled above your leg, then at the midway point, then with your forearm almost touching your bicep.
  • It's easy to "crunch" your muscles if you try too hard, or even pop a blood vessel. That may be the biggest danger to this method. If you overdo it, you can end up with painfully cramped muscles or worse. Despite the possible benefits from this kind of training, I don't do isometrics very much for this very reason.
So there you have it. That's 5 different types of resistance training you can mix and match in your workout program. Over the next few days we'll look at some popular methods of blending them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Resistance Training: Imagined Resistance

Let's take yesterday's method one step further. We began with a bicep curl holding a dumbbell in our right hand; then yesterday we replaced the dumbbell with our left hand and, consequently, our body strength.

Today we replace our left hand with our minds. We imagine we hold a dumbbell in our right hand - hell, forget the dumbbell; I'm feeling strong today. I've got the front bumper of a car, and I'm going to lift the entire front end off the ground!

As I start the curl, I imagine what the resistance must be like. And what happens? As my forearm slowly begins to curl upward, my whole arm starts to shake. I feel the muscles tightening, and I'm getting tired! What's happening?

It's simple, if you just think about it for a moment. The resistance to my right bicep is coming from my right tricep, the muscle on the backside of the same arm. Makes sense, right? So I'm not exercising as many muscles as with self resistance, but I'm working more than the dumbbell would. (And my tricep still feels kinda tired, even though I finished the curl a few minutes ago. Maybe I should have settled for a lighter vehicle, like a go-cart or something...)

I realize that some of you may think it sounds funny, but this technique has actually been used for hundreds of years as a part of martial arts training. Think of movies where you see a martial artist training, moving through various positions with their teeth gritted and their muscles shaking. That's a "heavy lifting" version of this technique, not advised unless you've used it for a while; however, the principle is the same. The good news is that you don't have to create a great deal of tension to get benefits from this method of training; any tension ups the muscular effort required, and it allows you to get a "resistance benefit" from movements that would be difficult to perform with actual weights.

A second benefit of this resistance method is how well it combines strength with flexibility training. You can lightly tense the muscles while stretching, and actually strengthen the muscles at the extremes of their motion. This is difficult to do with almost any other technique without injuring yourself.

Obviously, with this method we have to be a little careful about "crunching" our muscles too much. If you overdo it with this technique, the strained muscle may feel like it's cramping... for days. As long as you don't try to tense the muscles too much, you shouldn't have a problem... but you should be aware of the possibility.

Don't underestimate how much strength-training you can do with imagined resistance. It's particularly useful for muscles that can't be trained any other way, because of the angles at which you would have to apply other types of resistance.