24 Hour Fitness

February 16, 2007

One of the most underrated – underhyped – benefits of weight training is the 24/7 calorie furnace created by slabs of lean muscle. Much like the basketball player who’s still 6’10” even when he’s tired, your toned physique is burning fuel when you’re on the couch watching TV, or even asleep.

Meaningful lean mass is achieved by developing the body’s largest muscles (legs, back and chest) through exercises that, naturally, hurt the most. I’m referring to the moves that make a difference: squats, deadlifts, rowing movements, various kinds of presses.

Unfortunately, folks at the gym throw away daily this round-the-clock fitness opportunity. And of course, the worst offenders are usually the people who need it most. I see flabby middle-aged women wasting their time with moves like one-arm tricep pulldowns or concentration curls. I shake my head watching paunchy guys perform isolation exercises like pec-deck flys or leg extensions. All these movements should belong exclusively to serious bodybuilders, who are looking to bring out the striations in their already-meaty legs, pecs and arms.

The most depressing part is that these folks are often exercising under the close watch of personal trainers. People with limited time and limited goals should especially be directed toward major compound movements; key exercises like rows and presses work smaller muscle groups – shoulders, arms – at the same time.

One of these days I’m going to have to step in and give a free lesson myself.

Perfect Form

January 31, 2007

Over the last week, I’ve been pondering ways to increase the readership of this blog. Today, as I stared into a grocery store’s magazine rack, the idea hit me. If established fitness periodicals can use this gimmick to boost circulation, so can I. Flex magazine put on its cover a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I’ve often thought about why Arnold continues to inspire fitness enthusiasts nearly three decades after his retirement from professional bodybuilding. He hasn’t even appeared shirtless in a movie in any significant way since the early 1990’s.

Arnold’s main appeal can’t be his size in his prime. Professional bodybuilders these days run thicker with better definition. Mr. Olympia 2006 stands 5’9” at 275 lbs, compared to Schwarzenegger’s championship reign at 6’1”, 245 lbs. Incidentally, this is no dig at Arnold. Today’s gym equipment is better, the science of fitness is more advanced, and the … umm … performance enhancers probably give you more bang for the buck.

In my opinion, the continued fascination with Arnold results from the classic, sweeping artistry of his physique. Many of Arnold’s aesthetic gifts can, of course, be attributed to his good fortune with genetics. Take a look at his biceps. The typical bicep muscle terminates about an inch ahead of the forearm, while Arnold’s bicep fills the entire space between his front shoulder and elbow. Arnold The same principle applies to Arnold’s back. My lat muscle ties in around the middle of my rib cage. Arnold’s wings taper off virtually at his waist.Arnold

But there’s a second factor at work: Arnold was a perfectionist when it came to proper lifting form. Beyond genes, Arnold’s long, graceful lines are the result of muscles worked in a controlled fashion through a full range of motion. His superior lifting technique lengthened his muscles and engaged the largest possible number of muscle fibers.

Walk into a gym today, however, and you’ll find people performing all manner of abbreviated lifts: pull-ups that reach neither peak contraction at the top nor full extension at the bottom; overloaded squats that result in no serious bend in the knees; bicep preacher curls that stop a good 20 degrees short of straight arms. Excessive weight, laziness and all around bad habits have turned core lifts into a real live exercise in futility.

What was true in Arnold’s day remains true today. Progress is not determined by how much weight you can move, but how much weight you can move with perfect form.