Hello everyone and welcome to the latest installment of Friday’s With the Ferret!
Last week we talked about volitional fatigue and the train of thought about training required to not only get the most bang for your buck but to also help you keep progressing. Staying true to that theme, this week we are going to talk about journaling or tracking our own exercises!
So why should you track your exercises (weight, reps, sets?) After all, as long as you know which exercises you are doing and performing them all to volitional fatigue you are hitting the mark, right?
Yes! But, there is flaw to that method alone, and as we all know, a complete sandwich does not stand with peanut-butter alone.
Imagine if you will, you put in a killer workout and feel like you really went beast-mode during your latest training session. Now, fast forward to your next round of that same routine again and you are trying to remember exactly which weights you used and how many repetitions you were able to complete. Unless you have a photographic memory this is no easy task! So you venture forth, select your first weight, and go to town. But, to your surprise you end up going far above your high point in the selected range before coming close to volitional fatigue.
“Oh well,” you think to yourself, “I’ll correct for the next round.”
During your next round, you start strong and then realize the weight is quickly becoming too much and your range is going to fall short this time through. Now we picked a weight that was a bit too much for our second round.
Already you can see that we’ve essentially wasted some of our potential that could have easily been avoided by taking a little time to track our last session with a few notes from a pen or pencil.
Tracking can keep you on track with little to no hassle!
Our next bit of reasoning for tracking is another simple concept that has monumental psychological effect on us as human beings.
Through tracking we can look back on previous bouts of exercise and physically see progress in quantifiable numbers. During body transformation, due to the fact that we are in our bodies every single hour of every single day and how much time we spend with ourselves, seeing physical change in our physique and taking pride in the strength we have gained can be difficult when you only have your word to take for it. So whenever we are in doubt of our hard work, we need only refer back to our notes to see the numbers increase and the exercise modalities we use go from beginner to advanced for a self-esteem and goal booster. Which rolls into a quick side note related to the topic, having numbers right in front of you makes creating quantifiable goals that much easier, “I did 15 pushups last week, next week I’m going to push that number up to 17!” Bam, easy set goal right there, and once you hit it you can refer back and revel in your amazingness!
Now it’s story time! Without having lived it or walked the path, what good would it be for me to offer you the reader advice? I mean, come on now, if I hadn’t done it myself, how could I trust my own information and expect you to trust it?
When I really started lifting heavy (through my college football career) I was under the impression that I didn’t have time or a need to quantify my exercises, I’d just hit the gym, lift big and call it a day. I won’t lie; I made great progress with strength gains and over the course of a year pushed my Squat from 185, to 275 (Not bad for having several previous knee injuries) and I pushed my Bench Press from 95 to 135. I was impressed with myself, and happy with the progress especially having no experience with power lifting previously. Here’s the kicker though, I was on a hard plateau and could only add between 10 – 25 pounds beyond that over the course of the entire following year.
Then … I discovered lifting to volitional fatigue and started keeping a notebook to track my exercises. At first, it was just an experiment; I would always see some of the biggest guys in the gym (or the leanest who would always crank out smoke-show routines) had one thing in common; they all carried around a small notebook and kept notes on their routines.
So … my findings blew my mind. I’m talking blown so hard I had to scrub brain matter off the walls for a week when I looked at the numbers and realized what had happened. Within a matter of three months (that’s ¼ of the time I had previously spent “building”) my gains exploded. Suddenly I was maxing out my squat at 315, and my Bench Press at 225 and I was accomplishing bodyweight feats I had only dreamed about, for example the hand-stand pushup.
I still question why I hadn’t started journaling sooner.
I kid you not, that is the only thing I changed. I added in organization and quantifiable ways to measure progress. This allowed me to take my knowledge and experience and apply it in ways that would continue to challenge my body and allow change to take place. I could see patterns, and switch up my routines in time to avoid a plateau because I could quantifiably see if I was still gaining or starting to flat line in any given exercise. In short, organization and tracking has changed the way I treat fitness as a whole and has opened not only doors, but windows too.
But Ferret, I don’t know where to start! I was never good at taking notes in school, now I have to take notes on myself?
Never fear! Ferret here, with some quick easy tips on quantifying without the hassle.
There are only a few important bits of information that you NEED to track to be able to pick up on your patterns and make changes accordingly.
They are as follows:
The formula is simple too; track it, when the gains slow down or stop, change up one aspect and keep on rolling.
The cool thing is, to make gains again with the same exercise; you only have to alter one of those categories to put a different demand on your body.
Weight: is a given, Rest time: by altering this you can force your muscles to respond to demands with less ATP or give them more recovery time to then increase the weight, Sets: Tack on another or drop one and add in a whole other exercise that targets the same muscle group, Reps: Less weight than normal, higher range, more weight than normal, less range.
So, what can you use? Keep it simple, a small pocket sized note book is perfect for beginning. If and when you take it to the next level and want to keep more stats on yourself, consider switching to a bigger notebook and add in other categories to consider.
Too much to handle? I am including with this post an Xcel file that I have created and use for my clients. It’s all organized for you, just print it out and plug in your data where it fits. You’ll be able to find it under the newly added section “File Archive.”
Stay classy folks!
Next week we will continue on this topic and touch on some advanced methodology of training to help us avoid plateaus and what to do when we hit one!
Happy Friday folks! Welcome to another installment of Friday’s with the Ferret.
This week, I would like to share with you the concept of volitional fatigue and my thoughts on it.
First things first … What is volitional fatigue? Volitional fatigue is achieved during a set of repetitions (in exercise) when the muscle can no longer perform the action to perfect form. You will feel lapses in the smoothness or find yourself having to “cheat” to finish repetitions beyond the point of volitional fatigue.
How many times have you done a workout routine and performed a set number of reps? Be it 12, 10, 8, 5, or 20, have you ever asked yourself why you are performing the exercise that many times? Is it arbitrary, or is there a purpose?
As a fitness professional, when designing a program I provide repetition ranges for my clients typically falling between 8 and 12. With this range, I also tell my clients two things.
One: I tell my clients to ignore the numbers I just gave them.
Two: I tell them to instead lift to volitional fatigue and use the rep range as a guide.
The next question I get is often times mid set; “How many more do I do?”
So this is where we run into our snag. We obsess over numbers and things that are quantifiable that we forget the very essence of what it is we are doing.
When a rep range is provided, or a hard number is given we do want to take that into consideration but not in the traditional way of thinking “Okay, I hit 12, so I’m done right?”
Here’s how we take our rep range and quantifiable numbers with our knowledge of what in fact volitional fatigue is to make it something productive.
Let’s take a bodyweight exercise as our first example, something simple; Pushups.
So I’m in pushup position and I am cranking out pushups, it’s my first set, I have previously done 20 pushups within a week so I am going to work under the assumption that I should be able to do at least 20 and therefor will make that my marked range.
As I hit pushup number 20, I notice that my form has not faltered yet. Therefore, I am NOT done yet. I hit 22 next, still smooth, but as I begin to pushup into number 23, about halfway up, my form pauses for a moment, and I have to swing my hips a bit and juggle my shoulders or “cheat” to finish the pushup, my form is no longer smooth and I have hit Volitional Fatigue.
Am I done now?
Yes! Once I have hit volitional fatigue, I only want to continue past that point for 1 or 2 more repetitions. Any more than that and the cheating required to continue will be too far beyond form to be considered safe and you would run the risk of injuring yourself.
So, let’s roll into our next example where we are using weight that is not our own bodyweight but free weight instead. This is where rep ranges become important, but we cannot forget about volitional fatigue.
I set myself up with a barbell and prepare to do Barbell Rows, with weight in hand and my rep range of 8 – 12 in mind, I get to work. As I get up to rep 12, I notice that my form still has not swayed, I get to repetition 14 and finally my form fades, I manage to get up to 16.
I still managed volitional fatigue so I got that part right, but I missed my range. What does that tell me?
Simply put: I selected a weight that was just a bit too low for me to reach volitional fatigue in my rep range.
Aha … so now it is starting to tie together in a meaningful way. We set a rep range not to dictate how many reps we perform, but what weight we use to reach volitional fatigue in the decided rep range.
If my rep range is 8 – 12 (for my first set) I want to reach volitional fatigue no earlier than my 8th rep, and no later than my 12th rep.
4 – 8, I want to reach volitional fatigue no earlier than 4 and no later than 8.
So, if we cannot reach the minimum number, the weight is too heavy. If we can do several reps past our highest number, the weight we have selected is too light.
Next question, why is lifting to volitional fatigue more important than just hitting a number and improving beyond that? Numbers are quantifiable after all.
It’s true that working out to volitional fatigue as opposed to a hard capped number is more difficult to quantify, and you very well may find that sometimes you’ll hit that point sooner than expected. It is also true, that working out to a specific number and then trying to do one to two more the next time is beneficial and will also produce results.
Here’s my logic though on why training to volitional fatigue is superior; every time you work out, you will be guaranteed to produce the effort required to induce change in your muscles. Yes, just using numbers is easier. But on any given day there are a myriad of variables that can affect the effectiveness of a workout strictly based on numbers (muscles optimally fueled need more thrashing, muscles over worked will cannibalize themselves, sometimes while counting you may miss a rep, etc) so why take any chances? Most of us are pressed for time already and one of the biggest excuses is “not having enough time” so why set yourself up for a situation that can fail but is easier in lieu of a situation that is more of a challenge but guaranteed?
Ridiculousness is all I can say to anyone who would choose to allow their hard work even the slightest chance of failing them.
Challenges aren’t difficult just to piss us off. They are difficult so they may teach us something valuable and earned.
So, remember your ranges, but ignore the numbers. Focus on the feeling, otherwise, you may end up keeping yourself on a perpetual plateau.
To assist you in making sure all your sets are meaningful and you don’t end up selecting improper weights many times, get yourself a small notebook and use it to track your exercise progress …
Next week, we’ll talk about the most efficient / effective ways to journal your workouts to maximize your own efficiency! Stay classy all, and lift to feeling not to number.
Greetings friends, and welcome to another Friday With the Ferret.
This week, I want to share with you my experiences with clean eating.
But first … just what the dickens is clean eating?
When I say clean eating I directly mean consuming food as close to its original shape as possible; vegetables from a garden not a can, meat from an animal not “animal parts,” and fruit as a whole not an extract.
When foods become processed some of the nutrients that naturally occur in the food become lost in the process. As well, many other things are added to it like preservatives, sodium, and chemicals with very long names!
Also, clean eating means removing excess things from your diet like excess sugars, salts, carbohydrates, fats etc, and adding in things like more fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Now, without further to do, our first point of interest is this …
Strength is built in the gym. Bodies are built in the kitchen.
Like many people I used to believe that all of my weight issues could be solved with hours upon hours of cardiovascular training. When I first began my own transformation it started with running a mile every day (Of course, that meant first walking most of it and building up to a constant speed for the entirety ;) .) My cardiovascular health began to steadily improve and initially I did start to see some weight loss; in fact I had dropped from 275 to 210 (Over about 8 months, and my height was a staggering 5’10.) Feeling much better about myself and my body image, and realizing my weight loss had slowed to a crawl, it was time for step two, hitting the iron and building muscle. Initially my weight went back up as I had started to put muscle on which was to be expected, but what happened next I didn’t understand at the time. After two years of a relatively regular weight training program with subtle variations, I had gained a good amount of muscle, but my weight had only dropped down to 200. I continued and persevered and after an additional two years had brought my weight down to 190. I felt the best I ever had in my life, I had the most muscle mass I had in my life but I was still short of my end game goals. Something was missing, but what?
I decided to try modifying my diet, removing things from it like soda (my goodness do I love Dr. Pepper,) take-out food more days out of the week than I cooked for myself, and high sodium processed foods like microwaveable meals and boxed instant make meals. I also started adding healthier choices like vegetables and fruit (which previously I ate maybe once a month …)
The changes were slow at first, as changing any behavior is difficult, but over the course of six months, my weight dropped down to 160 and my body-fat percent began to hover between eight and ten percent. I didn’t change anything beyond my diet, and my body shed an additional thirty pounds in what felt like overnight; I could see the abdominal muscles I did core work every day for for four and a half years to try and get.
So, the take away from this? “Strength is built in the gym. Bodies are built in the kitchen.”
The next lesson I learned from clean eating was this …
Gastrointestinal pain does not have to be a way of life.
*Caution* This next bit is going to be a tad-bit graphic on bowel movements, but none the less, informative, so bear with me.
For most of my life, I lived with gastrointestinal distress. To be honest, looking back on it now, the only way I can describe it is as gut wrenching physical discomfort that I had become so accustomed to, it didn’t register with my mind that there was any other way to live.
My stomach constantly talked to me, grumbling and growling, shouting at me that it could not take all the crap I was jamming down into it, but like an obedient servant to my unhealthy ways, it took it, and I turned a blind eye to its cries of pain.
The gas that I would pass at times was so heinous that it would not only clear out a room, but also bring me to tears from the noxious burning sensation it inflicted upon my olfactory system.
My bowel movements were so irregular that sometimes I would go days without one, or make several trips in one day to do my business. As well, I couldn’t go a week without clogging at least one toilet.
But … that was my life, and I didn’t know any different.
After cleaning up my diet however … I started to notice something remarkable.
My stomach stopped talking to me regularly.
I began to feel, empty inside, and not in the existentialist crisis way, but that my innards didn’t feel pressed against each other and there was no bloated feeling.
My bowel movements turned into once per day and became so regular I could set my watch by them.
I no longer had to first identify where the plunger was in any bathroom for fear of causing a clog.
I was liberated from my chronic stomach pain, and for the first time in my life, I felt good inside.
Interestingly enough now … If I start eating like crap again, my stomach goes back to feeling like it did once before. The only difference now is now that I know what eating clean feels like, the pain is now unbearable and a good reminder to keep my diet clean.
Of course, I do still treat myself to take-out, or ice cream, or soda … But now, it is exactly what those things are intended to be, a treat, and when not eaten to excess causes no more gastrointestinal distress than clean wholesome foods.
So, still don’t believe me that clean eating can change your life? I dare you to try it yourself! Make it your challenge, and record your feelings.
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of Friday’s with the Ferret!
This week I would like to expand further on our last topic about goals and getting there.
As a preface I want to state: In my lifetime I have failed a thousand times and before I am through I will fail at least a thousand more. This is the art of failing.
But wait Ferret … aren’t we trying to achieve, not fail?
And therein lays the conundrum ladies and gentlemen. This fear of failure has been so engraved into us that we spend more time obsessing over the plan its self and waiting for that perfect moment to act that we forget the very simple concept of practice and why we fall down in the first place. Before continuing on with that idea, I’d like to share a story with you.
A ceramics teacher divided students into two groups. One would be focused on quality and the other on quantity. The quality group would be responsible for a single clay pot and had the entire semester to plan and perfect their piece to submit for a grade which would be graded based on geometric rubrics and artistic merit.
The quantity group was tasked with completing fifty pounds worth of clay pieces and would be graded on the combined weight of their projects.
When it came down to the end, the quality group had spent so much time fussing over the theoretics of the project and the planning phase that their unpracticed hands were only able to produce a rough design. In comparison, the quantity group, while their first rounds of designs were rough, by the end of their fifty pound mark they started to produce refined quality pieces that showed evidence of practiced hands.
So what does this all mean? I said to you earlier that I have failed a thousand times and I would fail a thousand more, but what I left out is that for each of those failures, each of those mistakes, I also learned a valuable lesson and through failing was able to refine my practice.
Let’s take a more physical example of what I mean; when I first started working out, I knew little behind the science and the technique of what I was doing. Over the years I have caused myself injuries and improperly worked joints and muscles. I’ve lived with chronic knee pain and could never avoid ridiculous amounts of back pain following a squat and or deadlift day. I even once tore my groin muscle through improper safety techniques while using a power rack and doing squats. So in the gym, leading up to where I am now, I made many mistakes, both mental and physical. But, with each mistake I refined my form, every physical action taken brought me closer to proper technique, every injury taught me what to avoid, and every article and document I read increased my foundation of knowledge from which to work.
Today, I have been officially knee pain free for eight months. Not the weather or a heavy leg lifting day has even caused a slight nagging pain. My spine, no longer hurts after bearing an incredible load, instead, the muscles that are supposed to support it feel the stiff aches of a good workout. Beyond that, I can run further, faster, climb higher, and lift more than I ever could when I first started. I learned how to avoid plateaus and how to work through them. I learned patience, persistence, and perseverance that has now carried me through one race, and will lead me down the path of many more.
Let’s look at another example and tie it in to the quantity versus the quality. I have always enjoyed writing, but save one play and less than a handful of short stories and poems, I’ve never really been able to finish a product let alone sit down and invest my failures into it. This is because I have always been afraid of failing with my writing, but not anymore. This blog you are reading, this dedication to present an article every Friday, is my attempt at quantity. Will every article I write be gold? Absolutely not! But, I will present myself with the opportunities to fail at it and move on, to refine my voice, style, and skills so that I may transition this over to other areas of writing as well and achieve goals I have set out for myself.
So, linking back to last week’s post, specifically Step 3 of the brain book, I emphasized the importance of setting aside that time to work on the notes you left yourself in the book. The goal is not as important as the work you put in. Rather than objectifying your destination and how you want to get there, jump into the mud and get your feet dirty. If you wander down the wrong path for a while, learn all the lessons you can, because it is not the destination that is important, it is how you get there and the work you put in. Repetition becomes habit, habit becomes behavior.
Think back to when you first started learning to write your name. You knew what the letters looked like, but manipulating the muscles in your hand and teaching your brain how to work them was a challenge that required many hours over days, weeks, and months to perfect. Do you think about how to tie your shoes, or has it become just a natural part of your life?
Life is a continuity of ebb and flow. You cannot control the direction of the current as we live linearly and always travel forward, but you can always look back for new ways to move forward.
So get out there and fail, stop worrying about the process of the goal and start anywhere. You’ll learn more and be one step closer in trying and failing than you possibly can debating the best place or way to start.
“Why do we fall down?”
“So that we can learn how to pick ourselves up.”
As a preamble, I would like to apologize to anyone who may have been looking forward to a post last Friday. Due to some personal things going on in my life, I was unable to meet my own deadline and I apologize to you the reader for my slip up. That out of the way, let’s get down to the skinny …
Hello all, and welcome to the first Friday’s With The Ferret of 2014! So, with a new year beginning and so many folks out there resigning themselves to resolutions (as if starting your goals at a specific time makes a difference) I figured the topic we would cover today is goal setting and how we can forge the tenacity to see those goals accomplished instead of falling into the same trap many of us find time and time again as we start our “new versions” of ourselves.
What is the deal with committing ourselves to change when the New Year begins? Perhaps it is this manifested idea of “starting from scratch” that appeals to us or maybe it is simply just a tradition passed down from ancient times. Regardless, if you make resolutions every year and end up falling off your own wagon, not all hope is lost! In fact, just making a resolution each year is a good indicator that you have hope for yourself and desire some form of change to better your life. Hope, my friends, is the very first step.
With hope, we can imagine an ideal. Even if that ideal is farfetched and over the top, it gives us a rubric, or skeleton if you will for a goal that we can then flesh out with our own details. Hope provides us a destination on which to begin a journey towards and keeps a light burning in the darkest of times.
Imagining the destination is always the easiest part of the journey. It doesn’t take much work to achieve and can be shaped by the hope that lives inside each of us. The next step however, is the most difficult. Starting.
The question always comes down to “When to start” and “Where to start.” In one person’s life time to achieve one goal, they may find themselves starting a hundred times before they finish. I certainly know I have.
The answer, oddly enough, is a lot simpler than we all make it out to be. With a resounding NOW I tell you, NOW is the time, NOW is the place. We spend so much time fumbling with the where and when that we inevitably put it off. Because let’s face it, procrastinating is an easy job that takes no will power, discipline, or focus. You just, do it.
So stop convincing yourself that there is a better time such as “The new year” or, “next month,” “next week,” or “tomorrow.” You see, the trouble with tomorrow is, it’s always going to be a day away and it will always be easier to convince yourself that tomorrow will be better than today.
We often find ourselves struck with inspiration at the most inopportune of times. In the shower, in bed, in the car (while driving!), and really just anywhere where our mind can wander while we do a familiar activity that allows the brain to go into some form of auto pilot. So how do we transpose those moments of inspiration or those brilliant ideas into active time slots in our life?
Step One: The first step is something I like to call a “Brain Book.” A Brain Book, is a pocket sized note pad that you can literally carry around with you anywhere! Back pocket, front pocket, purse, and what have you. The important features of a brain book are for it to be easily accessible at ANY time and that it be compact enough so it may be carried without burdening you or really even reminding you it’s there until you need it.
So, now you’ve got your Brain Book … How do you make it useful?
Step 2: Moving on from actually having the brain book, we now must utilize it. Whenever you are struck with an idea (any idea at all) that you don’t want to forget or a moment of inspiration for yourself, or a notion on how to progress a goal, or a great recipe, quote, song lyric (heck, I could keep going, but you get the picture, right?) You can put ANYTHING in it that is meaningful to you. Here’s another kicker; Remember how back in school you were asked to take notes? Those of you who did not have a photographic memory and actually took the tedious time to write things down that were already said, you probably in most cases found it easier to recall things from lessons when it came down to test time. This is because when we write something down, just as when we hear it, and repeat it, we are scribing that information to different parts of our brain, and if memory games teach us anything, it is that repetition produces better results. So with that theory in mind, your new Brain Book will not only help keep your brain on track with your new way of thinking and recording, but having the permanency of pen (or pencil) on paper makes it so your thought is easily recallable. (Rather than filing it away in the mess we call a brain, it’s neat, and on paper!)
Ok, so that’s great. You have the Brain Book. You are putting your own spark notes in the book. So what do you do with all of this?
Step 3: *This is the most crucial step, and if you skip it, or put it off, you will be wasting so much potential for yourself.* You must, must, must, must, MUST set time aside for yourself (yes, for, your, self) to review your brain book, and put those ideas in to practice.
So, let’s say our goal was to eat better and we jotted down a little note that read “Nutrition.” Simple and effective, plus we know what it means to us. With the time we set aside (I’d recommend giving yourself no less than 30 – 60 minutes one time a week. Start small, baby steps. When that becomes easier to maintain and focus, add more. Just like a well-rounded fitness program, you want to progressively overload yourself. If you go for the whole thing right from the get go, you’re gonna have a bad time.) we would then want to begin dissecting our diet, making a list, or a spread sheet even of the things we eat. Then, with a little research or good advice or knowledge we already have, we can start to fill in that spread sheet with healthier options and then start planning our grocery shopping and cooking schedule accordingly to accommodate. Will you accomplish all of this the first time you sit down with your set aside time? Unless you can work like The Flash and are not human, don’t count on it. But what you should count on is starting. Starting the snowball rolling down the hill so each time you sit down with that set aside time, you have a new place to start from, which is exactly where you left off.
So now you are equipped with some bullet proof tactics. From here it’s up to you and always remember: If it doesn’t work at first … Try, try again. Don’t give up on yourself, your goals, or your future. Do not let life take you a drift in its stormy weather, learn to navigate.
Dan "The Fit Ferret": An avid enthusiast of life and seeking out adventure wherever it may lie. ACSM certified Personal Trainer and Spartan OCR Competitor.