Day 71 of 90: Free Weights or Machines?

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As a teenager my twin brother and I were given a multi-gym and although I’d love one now (complete with a man cave to store it in that is) back then we used it to hang our jackets on it (teenagers, huh?). Anyway, as I was in the gym today (it’s a new gym, today was my second day), in light of a conversation I had and the fact that this gym has a huge number of machines I thought I would blog about the difference between free weights and machines.

Now, although the purists in either camp would go for an either/or approach I’m more inclined to go for a both/and approach (this does not mean that I don’t have a preference – the bulk of my time is spent on free weights) and here’s why:

1. Machines a great for beginners, there is less risk of injury and beginners can sometimes feel intimidated my the sweaty metal-heads that occupy the weights area (in all honesty like all past-times there is a real fraternity when you get to know others…and people are often keen to give you tips if you ask them).

2. Machines are generally easy to use, isolate certain muscle groups (which are normally shown on the machines) and the adjustable weights means they are useful for time saving.

However:

3. Free weights, may require more balance and coordination (and are more likely to result in injury if used incorrectly), but they are proven not only to provide bigger and quicker strength gains but they are also more versatile (particularly kettle bells) and can be taken with you (a set of multi-weight dumbbells can be stuck in the boot of the car, the shed or the office- try that with a multi gym).

4. Finally free weights have always made up the foundation of body building and strength training because, unlike machines, they are able to not only strengthen major muscles but the smaller stabilising muscle too. This makes them far superior.

Therefore, I would still advocate the use of machines (the chin up assist and tri-pull-down are probably my favourite ones right now) but I would also encourage everyone who is interested in strength training to familiarise themselves with free weights as they are the bread and butter of muscle building.

TODAY’S FOOD
Early Morning Snack: a banana (I couldn’t sleep, I was up at 4am)
Pre-Workout: a tablespoon of peanut butter and a tablespoon of honey (the honey was for energy – it wards of tiredness)
Post-Workout: all-in-one shake
Breakfast: porridge, banana and mixed nuts
Snack: a tangerine
Lunch: chicken breast, mushroom, broccoli, cottage cheese, tomato and celery
Snack: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Dinner: lean beef and vegetable chilli and mixed veg
Snack: a mango
Evening shake: whey
Snack: 2 carrots

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Day 70 of 90: 24/7 – The Rise of the 24hr Gyms

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I’m a member of a 24hr library, shop at a 24hr supermarket (though to be honest, I seldom make use of the opening hours) and am now a member of a 24hr gym. Having said all of this, there is no doubt that the upheaval of moving from one gym to another can be a little disorientating – not to mention the loss of friends, however, the opening hours mean that I cannot only train longer and have access to more kit but it means that regardless of the busyness of my schedule I will still be able to train even at unusual hours. This is particularly important as I move towards the final 20 days of logging my training. I mean today it meant that rather than training from 7am-8:15am I was able to train from 6.30am-8.15am, something that I plan doing more regularly. So if time constraints are hindering your gains then maybe you need to up your training time, one way of doing that is by looking to join a 24hr gym like me.

FOOD LOG
Pre-Workout: a banana with a tablespoon of honey and peanut butter
Post-Workout: all-in-one shake
Breakfast: porridge, banana and mixed nuts
Snack 1: tangerine
Snack 2: grilled mackerel
Lunch: tomato soup, boil ham and veg and apple strudel and custard (tried to say no but it was forced on me – hence why I need to up my training)
Snack 1: boiled egg
Snack 2: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Dinner: a low fat mozzarella salad with mackerel (in tomato sauce) and tuna
Desert: 3 figs with a drizzle of honey
Snack: a kiwi
Evening Shake: whey

Day 66/67 of 90: Damage Control

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Yesterday I was up in Yorkshire (hence the unusually short Sat session) at a meeting in which lunch and dinner were provided. With all of the driving (6 hours in total) and the fact that lunch and dinner were provided my will-power was at an all time low and therefore my nutrition was not the best. Again, today, even though I had a day of clean food, I came home and had a couple chocolate biscuit bars.

Nonetheless, it is important at times like this to dust yourself off and keep going. Setbacks are inevitable but the key is to keep going in spite of the setbacks. I’m coming towards the end now and am seriously going to up my training from Monday on and therefore, I am not going to let this bug me and neither should you if there are times when you falter – it’s all about finishing well.

YESTERDAY’S FOOD
Late Night Snack: porridge, banana and mixed nuts (couldn’t sleep)
Post-Workout: all-in-one shake
Breakfast: half a cup of museli (it’s not as healthy as you think but I didn’t want porridge again).
Snack 1: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack 2: a couple of dried apricot
Lunch: beef casserole, boiled potatoes and peas followed by an some crumple and custard
Dinner: a buffet with sandwiches, cakes, chocolate biscuits and more cakes
Snack: a chicken breast and salad Subway sandwich and a tangerine
Note: no evening shake because of the amount of food I consumed

TODAY’S FOOD
Morning shake: all-in-one
Breakfast: porridge, dates and mixed nuts
Snack: a fig
Lunch: soy and vegetable chilli
Snack 1: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack 2: half a mango
Dinner: lean beef chilli
Post-Workout: whey shake
Snack: egg and tuna salad followed by 2 chocolate biscuit bars

Day 65 of 90: Compound Interest – More Muscle in Less Time

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Although, I normally double my training time on Saturdays, this Saturday I have to go away and therefore, I can only spend 45-60 mins in the gym. In times like this, and in light of the fact that I’ve worked all of my major muscle groups this week, I will aim at a full body workout, focusing on big weights and big moves. You see, the benefit of doing compound movements is that although the primary focus is on a muscle group other muscles are at play too (unlike isolation movements) and the benefit of lifting big weight means increased strength. So, in no particular order, here are a list of the moves I will be hitting tommorow (since I did back today I will leave dead lifts to the end, that way I can ditch them if I run out of time – if I do hit them I’ll stick to my normal weight) (all this information plus exercise tutorials with pictures comes from jefit.com).

Main Muscle Group : Shoulders [barbell push press]
Detailed Muscle Group : Traps
Other Muscle Groups : Triceps , Upper Legs
Type : Olympic Weight Lifting
Mechanics : Compound
Equipment : Barbell
Difficulty : Intermediate

Main Muscle Group : Chest [chest press]
Detailed Muscle Group : Full
Other Muscle Groups : Triceps , Shoulders
Type : Strength
Mechanics : Compound
Equipment : Barbell , Bench
Difficulty : Beginner

Main Muscle Group : Back [barbell deadlift]
Detailed Muscle Group : Upper Back
Other Muscle Groups : Lower Legs , Upper Legs
Type : Strength
Mechanics : Compound
Equipment : Barbell
Difficulty : Intermediate

Main Muscle Group : Upper Legs [squat]
Other Muscle Groups : Glutes , Lower Legs
Type : Strength
Mechanics : Compound
Equipment : Barbell
Difficulty : Intermediate

Main Muscle Group : Triceps [tricep press]
Detailed Muscle Group : Lower Chest
Other Muscle Groups : Chest
Type : Strength
Mechanics : Compound
Equipment : Barbell , Bench
Difficulty : Beginner

Main Muscle Group : Biceps [barbell concentration curl]
Other Muscle Groups : Forearm
Type : Strength
Mechanics : Isolation
Equipment : Barbell , Bench
Difficulty : Beginner


TODAY’S FOOD LOG (carb-loading day)

Post-Workout: all-in-one
Breakfast: porridge and mixed nuts
Snack 1: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack 2: plain popcorn
Lunch: lean beef and vegetable chilli with brown rice
Snack 1: a grapefruit
Snack 2: half a cup of berries
Dinner: as lunch + spinach
Smoothie: nectarine and red berry
Snack: plain popcorn
Evening shake: whey
Snack: some dates and dried apricots

Note: the only reason there are so many carbs is because this is to replenish my body for a week of low carb eating and heavy training. This amount of carbs, without the former, is likely to lead to weight gain.

Day 64 of 90: BIG eats – Getting in Shape Does Not Mean Starving Yourself

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When I first began working out I used to think that to get in shape meant drastically cutting my food intake. This, however, is a myth which is not only damaging to moral but leaves you feeling constantly hungry, slows down your metabolism and reduces your ability to gain or maintain muscle (muscle is an active tissue which burns more calories even when your doing nothing and gives you body tone). So, instead of just recording my food log, I thought I would go through a typical meal giving some of the nutritional benefits for eating what I was eating.

Lunch: beef cubes, broccoli, tomato, mushroom (all of the aforementioned were oven cooked), cottage cheese and chilli.

Lean Beef: Whilst, many people try to avoid red meat, lean red meat can be filled with nutritional goodness (except if you deep-fat-fry it, of course – interestingly enough, unhealthy preparation and the fat content of beef burgers is usually why beef gets such a bad press).

Beef contains vitamin B and zinc which is great for the production of muscle-building testosterone, iron (iron deficiency can cause a lack of energy and anaemia), protein for muscle and regardless of the animal’s diet contains a similar fat profile. This means that although, you might want to go for free-range, organic, grass-feed beef it makes little nutritional difference which is great, particularly when you are unable to find out the source.

Broccoli/Mushroom and Tomato: All of these food are superfoods in their own right. Between them they are high in fibre (which helps with weight loss), packed with protein (for muscle), maintain blood sugar (to stop tiredness), suppress hunger, detoxify the body, aid with bone health, boost the immune system and help your body use oxygen efficiently. Not to mention their so low in calories that you can eat any amount at every meal – if you want to, that is.

Chilli: Honestly, I just add it for flavour but again it relieves stress (weight training can physiologically increase stress levels), boosts you metabolism (meaning you’ll burn food faster) and helps with blood circulation (vital when training) – the vitamin c also, helps boost your immunity to disease that’s why you never find an Indian with a cold (ok that part might not be true).

Cottage cheese (low fat variety): Not only is this stuff versatile (you can use it with sweet or savoury dishes) it is packed with protein (for muscle), calcium (for bones) and phosphorus (for energy).

So, as you can see, good healthy lean foods aid your healthy lifestyle not hinder it.

TODAY’S FOOD LOG
Pre-Workout: a boiled egg
Post-Workout: all-in-one shake
Breakfast: porridge and mixed nuts followed by a tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack: a grapefruit
Lunch: as above and a tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack: a boiled egg
Dinner: chicken and vegetable soup
Smoothie: nectarine abs mixed berries
Snack: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Evening Shake: whey and milk

Note: since I have reduced muscle mass, I have decided to stop intermittent fasting and have now begun having a pre-workout snack.

Day 63 of 90 The Turning Fat into Muscle Myth

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If you’ve been training for any time (or even considering it) you will come across the myth that you can turn fat into muscle. Often an individual, TV commercial or a fitness article will tell you that you can go from flab to abs within a certain amount of time. The problem with this, however, is that fat and muscle are two different types of tissue.

Fat is a fatty tissue which is used to store excess energy and muscle is an active tissue which keeps your metabolic rate high and allows your body to burn more calories even when it is at rest. Moreover, the unfortunate truth is that you have to burn fat and build muscle and, worse still, you cannot transform fat into muscle. So how might you go about achieving your goals? Well, to achieve both fat loss and gain muscle is particularly difficult and this is why most people opt to go through bulking and cutting phases in their training. This is because they require two very didn’t approaches to nutrition and training. Personally, trying to balance these two goals, over 60 days, has meant that while I’ve lost body fat I’ve also slightly deceased my muscle mass (link). So here’s how you do each one individually:

Fat loss
1. Cut down on your carbs, particularly starchy carbs (like bread and potatoes).
2. Limit your carbs to the first half of the day. I have porridge in the morning and then try not to have any starchy carbs after 1pm.
3. Slowly lower your calorie intake. Doing it too fast will make you body reluctant to release fat.
4. Do cardio and weights regularly.
5. Eat lots of lean protein.

Build muscle
1. As above.
2. Increase carbs particularly before and after training.
3. Sleep more.
4. Do weights but do not overdo cardio… Remember though, that High Intensity Training has a similar physiological effect as weights.
5. Slowly increase your calorie intake.

(Regardless of the difficulty I am still experimenting on achieving both even though I have been a little unsuccessful so far).

TODAY’S TRAINING (NO FOOD FROM 7PM TILL AFTER WORKOUT)
Post-Workout: all-in-one shake
Breakfast: porridge and mixed nuts followed by a boiled egg
Snack: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Lunch: chicken breast, cottage cheese, mushroom, broccoli and tomato
Snack 1: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack 2: a banana
Dinner: chicken curry and salad
Smoothie: mango, tangerine and strawberry
Evening shake: whey protein

Note: could only do 45 mins today because of time constraints.

Day 60/61 of 90: Results Day – Losing Muscle ;-(

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When I began this 90 day log I was training twice a day (at least for the first couple of weeks) and so I thought that the initial gains I made on day 30 were going to be bigger than the gains I made yesterday but what I was surprised to find was that I, in fact, made losses.

Height: 5ft 7in

Day: 1
Weight: 11st 9.6lb
Body Fat: 24.6%
Muscle Weight: 8st 5lbs
Metabolic Age: 48

Day: 30
Weight: 11.2 st
Body fat: 15.4%
Water weight: 57.2%
Muscle: 9 st
Metabolic age: 23

Day: 60
Weight: 10.13 st
Body fat: 20.6%
Water weight: 55.8%
Muscle: 8.3 st
Metabolic age: 36

This got me thinking, so I did the assessment again today and it confirmed it. Anyway, it turns out that the reading I got on day 30 was completely wrong (as in the only thing they got right seems to be my height) because there is no way I could have made those losses. This means that I have longer to go than I thought but it also serves to remind me to have two assessments consecutively so that I can get a better understanding of my progress and to save errors occurring.

It was useful though, speaking to the instructor about how I might increase my progress and stop dropping muscle weight. Here’s what they told me:

1. Firstly, I need to rest more. I have been skipping between sets and whilst this is good for burning fat the accumulated effect of this may be negating my body’s ability to build muscle.

2. Secondly, I need to sleep more. I normally get up at 5am and am now trying to get to bed earlier and get up at 5.30am.

3. The third thing I was encouraged to do was to increase my protein intake. Instead of snacking on so much fruit I’m going to go for more lean protein sources.

Now, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t disappointed that I’m not making as much progress as I thought (and that the reading on day 30 was useless) but, at least, I’m moving in the right direction and while losing fat and building muscle is difficult I’m going to continue experimenting till I find something that works.

YESTERDAY’S FOOD LOG (no food from 7pm yesterday till after training)
Post-Workout: all-in-one shake
Breakfast: porridge, banana and mixed nuts
Snack 1: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Snack 2: handful of organic dates
Lunch: chicken breast, broccoli, mushroom, tomato and cottage cheese
Snack 1: a nectarine
Snack 2: half a chicken breast with cottage cheese and a handful of organic dates.
Dinner: lean beef chilli
Smoothie: melon, mango, banana and date
Snack: poached egg with tomato and chilli pickle followed by a tablespoon of peanut butter.
Evening Shake: whey protein

TODAY’S FOOD LOG
Post-workout: all-in-one shake
Breakfast: porridge, dates and mixed nuts
Snack: a tablespoon of peanut butter
Lunch: chicken breast, cottage cheese, mushroom and broccoli
Snack 1: half a chicken breast and tomatoes
Snack 2: nectarine
Dinner: chicken in tomato and coriander sauce with salad
Smoothie: kiwi, raspberry, banana and strawberry
Snack: some dates and peanut butter.
Evening shake: whey protein