Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We Will Pump YOU Up!

Gah - I can't believe it's already been 3 weeks since my last post! The time has been flying way too fast! I'm going on vacation next week so it'll be another 3 weeks until I can post again, but I should be able to put something fun together about my trip. Sorry for the lack of a techie post in a while, but here's something that's still nerdy: a speech I wrote up recently about working out. Enjoy!

Your average gym can be, and usually is, a very strange and intimidating place to a newbie. You've got bulky trainers whipping stringy guys and gals into shape, large men making high pitched grunting noises under unreasonable amounts of weight, and then you've got the vain folks who like seeing their muscles bulge as they lift. I've been working out regularly for over 6 years now but, like a lot of gym rats, my knowledge has been a mish mash of random online articles, locker room talk, and friends. So I did some research into good books on weight lifting and decided to pick up the Men's Health Book of Muscle by Ian King and I really got a lot out of it. So as Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey as Hanz and Franz on SNL say, I'm here to pump *clap* *clap* you up! In the short time I have with you today I'd like to share the basics about the science of building muscle, proper nutrition, and tips on one's workout regimen.

As a card-carrying nerd I truly believe in understanding the science behind everything, and it can really go a long way when it comes to weight lifting for your own personal safety. Fun fact: you're born with all the muscle fibers you'll have your whole life - all you can do by working out is make them bigger (or smaller if you decide to stop exercising). Making your muscles bigger will in turn actually make your bones thicker and stronger, since skeletal muscles primarily exist to pull bones. There's two main types of muscle fiber: fast-twitch for maximum strength and slow-twitch for endurance. I found it fascinating that the breakdown of those two types are determined at birth and can never be changed. And did you know that the shape of your muscles is genetically coded? So there's not much you can do about that either. You have to be the best you can be with what you have. The way that you can reach that best is a process called hypertrophy, which is how muscles grow in response to a specific stimulus. In a nutshell, when you start working out your muscles get tighter to become ready for action more easily and then your muscles gradually grow by more protein filaments getting added to your muscle fibers so they can get bigger and generate more force. This only happens if all your motor units, or groups of muscle fibers, available for a specific task are in use, hence the saying "no pain no gain." Of course, our bodies are about efficiency so "use it or lose it" really comes into play given the amount of nutrients our muscles require.

Growing up, my mom used to always ask me if I eat to live or live to eat, to which I'd invariably respond the latter. Raise your hand if you love food. Obviously, it's fundamentally important to all of us, and I stand firmly opposed to any trendy diet plan, no matter what it promises. Ultimately, the best plan for gaining muscle or trimming fat is to eat several small meals during the day (every 3-4 hours, ideally, starting with as soon as you wake up). As far as what to eat: you should be ingesting one gram of protein for every pound you weigh and, despite popular belief, you need to eat carbohydrates so that you don't starve yourself of the energy your body will otherwise likely break down muscle tissue to extract. Of course, eating the right foods is also important: like sweet potatoes instead of normal potatoes, fresh fruits instead of dried fruits, or fish and lean cuts of meat instead of pork sausage and brisket. As a native Texan, that last one cut into me the hardest. Don't forget to have a snack high in protein and carbohydrates before and immediately after your workouts. I personally like mixing soy milk, egg white protein powder, and various other ingredients for my shakes as an easy, frugal source of these meals. Just remember that taking care of your body doesn't have to mean that you're carrying a burden with you at the dinner table; it's all about moderation and timing with your diet rather than sacrifice.

Workout regimens are subjects of near-religious fanaticism among gym rats. People swear by what they use because it works best for their body. Empirical evidence can be a powerful motivator, but Ian King has some sound advice for all of us. The book goes into great detail about exercises and his recommended programs, which are different for beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters. They're catered toward your workout age, or how long you've been continuously working out for - which is an important concept because moving too fast too soon can lead to injury. Each program is a 4 stage progression that focuses on general conditioning, increased muscle size, strength, and finally maximal strength and power, in that order. Each stage is 6 weeks and you're supposed to take a week off either midway through and/or between stages, which is an important idea that I had never considered. These are called recovery weeks and they are the periods in which your body actually grows, but only if you keep your physical exertion to no more than very light weights or less intense sports. Another piece of very sound advice he offers is that you not do strenuous aerobic exercise, like running or bicycling, on the same days of your strength training or you won't grow effectively due to the so-called interference effect they cause since they do opposite things to your muscles. You'll have to get the book from your favorite online retailer or your favorite eBook reader to read his easy-to-understand charts on the programs prescribed.

I hope you've learned a little something today about weight training. What I learned from The Book of Muscle were the details of how muscles are composed, what one can and cannot do for one's body's growth, what the proper diet should entail, and the proven best ways to go about structuring one's workout schedule. Feel free to talk to me after the meeting if you have more questions, but I encourage you to do your part to keep Seattle on that hot list of the nation's fittest cities. I know I started because I was a chubby kid in high school who was looking to be slightly less awkward. After all these years though I've found it to be very rewarding and fun, and really look forward to incorporating Ian King's advice into my life. Mr. Toastmaster.