Newsletter Volume 1, Number 8

January 19, 2006

From my Diary

  • Strength Training: For the last five weeks I have been describing how my workouts follow an 8-week cycle, based on Bryan Haycock's HST program, (Hypertrophic Specific Training).

    This week I started the second week of the 5RM's (5 repetition maximums), working out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. These weights are the heaviest in the entire HST cycle. To recap the first week of the 5RM training. For more details about this style of training, see Hypertrophy Specific Training (HST) Part 1: Strength Versus Endurance.

    The 5RM mini-cycle is the most challenging because of the heavy loads. I finished my workout last Friday with doubts about my ability to complete the 5RM mini-cycle as I had programmed it. However, the weekend provided enough time to recover. On Monday, I completed 5 repetitions for all but the chest presses where I lay on my back to raise weights vertically from the chest. Dumbbell press. I managed only four repetitions with two 17.5-kilogram (38.5-pound) dumbbells instead of five repetitions. On Wednesday, I completed 5 repetitions but did not have enough juice left in me for a second set. So no increase in weight on Friday (tomorrow).

    Dips are an excellent compound exercise for the chest and arms. Most gyms have "assisted" dip machines that allow you to vary support for your feet while you are getting strong enough to lift your body. Dip machine with barely visible bar under the trainee's feet. Gradually, you reduce the assistance until you can do dips unassisted. On September 5, 2005, I started doing 5RM dips with 31 pounds assistance. Since I weighed 137 pounds then, I had to lift the balance, 106 pounds. On Wednesday (yesterday), I did five unassisted dips for the first set and four for the second set, indicating that my 5RM has increased from 106 pounds to 134 pounds, my present weight.

  • Aerobic Exercises: To compensate for the increased stress caused by the heavy weights of the 5RM, I eased off on the aerobics, from 7 hours to about 5 hours per week. I also increased protein intake by 25 grams/day, adding 100 calories/day. While reducing aerobics and increasing calories may cause a slight increase in weight, I expect the increase will be more muscle than fat. Monitoring over the next few weeks will determine if this approach works.

  • Abdominal Exercises: I thought that the abdominal exercises would become easy if I maintain a fixed number of repetitions. But I find that doing three different abs exercises of 60 repetitions each is no easier now than it was five weeks ago. Sometimes I have to break the 60 reps into two sets of 30. For hanging knees raises, sometimes it's one set of 30 and two sets of 15 repetitions. I can do just 30 reps some days. Since I can already feel and see results, this is good news. It means that I won't have to hit 100 reps any time soon.

    In preparation for the next cycle of HST, I am researching other approaches to training the abs, but these high rep routines are producing results, so I am in no hurry to change.

    I learned a new abs exercise today, which I call the "jack-knife". You sit in the center of a bench facing the side, both hands outside your knees grasping the edge of the bench, palms facing backwards. You extend your legs straight out in front, leaning back as you do so. Quickly, you bend your knees, bringing them up to your chin as you sit up. When I saw it, the movement reminded me of a folding knife, the jack-knife. I managed to do 10 but wobbled a lot as I tried to keep from falling off the bench. The trainee I saw doing the jack-knife did not wobble, indicating that this exercise improves coordination and balance.

  • Overtraining is a complex phenomenon, difficult to define and measure, especially if you are acting as your own trainer. You have to feel your way as if blind to the numbers, the numbers of sets, repetitions, loads lifted, hours of aerobics.

    How do you feel the second day after a hard workout, 48 hours later? Do you feel sluggish or energized? What is happening to your sleep patterns? Can you still sleep well? Have you become more irritable? Clearly, a lot of other stress factors besides workout intensity can cause the same effects as overtraining. So you need to experiment. If you ease off training intensity, do you notice an improvement in several symptoms known to be the result of stress? If so, then overtraining becomes a suspect in your investigation.

    On Tuesday of the first week of the 5RM mini-cycle, I felt a sluggishness that seemed unusual. I had been doing 3 hours per week weight training, plus 1.5 hours abs, plus 6 to 7 hours aerobics. I know now that this is feasible using the relatively light weights of the 15RM mini-cycle, but not for weeks when I am lifting heavier weights. Stepping up the weights for the 10RM mini-cycle, I should have cut back on the aerobics. I should have cut back again when I increased the weights another 20% for the 5RM mini-cycle. With reduced aerobics, I should expect to gain some weight, but most of the weight gain might be muscle.

    Whatever style of training we use, we need to monitor the body's response to the training to ensure that body restructuring is positive rather than negative, that training leads us to build up more than to break down.

    Five years is a reasonable time period for body restructuring. Five years will provide a gradual upward slope of increasing physical capacity sufficient to surpass what the same middle-aged person achieved 30 years before. There are a couple of conditions. One of these is that the person finds a reasonable rate of progression in intensity and duration of exercise, beginning at nearly zero and building up gradually, always avoiding overtraining.

    Flirting with overtraining is no great sin, so long as you recognize it and drop back to your own optimal path to development. Your own optimal path is just that: your own and nobody else's. You have to find it by experiment. What is great about HST is that its structured approach helps the trainee to personalize training.

Tips of the Week

  • Cramps in Leg Muscles: Cramps in leg muscles can indicate intermittent claudication, a form of artery disease. I was concerned when I started to get cramps in my calf muscles. But I also supplement with creatine, which can cause muscle cramps. By cutting the creatine maintenance dose in half, I eliminated the cramps. The moral is: If supplements are effective in doing what you want them to do, they may also have side effects. When you think about it, ineffective supplements might also have side effects! Creatine caused muscle cramps that alarmed me. Fortunately, creatine and its side effects have been well enough researched that I was able to discover that my problem was not peripheral artery disease but too high a dose of the supplement.

  • Prescription Medications: Sometimes people take medications prescribed by different specialists, none of whom know what other doctors have prescribed. If a doctor prescribes a drug for you or for a member of your family, make up a list of all drugs and supplements taken. Take this list to the drug store and ask the pharmacist if anything in the list will interact with anything else in the list or any foods. (Grapefruit is notorious for drug interactions.) Pharmacists are trained to detect interactions that doctors may not be aware of. What's more, pharmacists are often sympathetic about supplements and herbal remedies that doctors scorn. Patients may be more willing to reveal to pharmacists the supplements and herbal medicines they conceal from their doctors. The key thing to remember is that alternative medications sometimes contain ingredients powerful enough to affect health, for better or for worse. For example, a traditional Chinese remedy, red rice yeast, is effective in reducing cholesterol. Why? Because the yeast-making process produces a statin compound similar to the statins prescribed by doctors. (This statement does not mean that I recommend red rice yeast.)

  • Snacking at Night: I have been able to control snacking at night by adopting the following habits:
    1. Eating more protein in the form of whey powder mixed in a drink sweetened with fresh fruit. More protein means less hunger.
    2. Chewing gum after dinner, which also cleans the teeth. The Xylitol helps control plaque, a cause of gum disease.
    3. Not buying snack foods when I shop. If you don't buy it, you can't eat it. If it's time for a treat, make a special trip for a special occasion.

    If these tips don't work for you then try some that Sally Squires mentions in her Lean Plate Club.


Dare to Be 100

  • Walter Bortz, M.D. Born in 1930, Dr Bortz is a marathon runner, past president of the American Geriatrics Society, and a professor of medicine at Stanford University.

    Dr Bortz stresses physical and mental activity as the key to longevity. He uses his wide clinical experience and decades of knowledge to support his research and advice on aging.

    In 1996, Fireside Books published his best known book Dare to Be 100, still worth reading whether or not you aim to live to 100. Available from Powell's, new and used from $7.50 to $13.00. ISBN: 0684800217.


  • Chronic diseases: This week, I added a new section on chronic diseases, their lifestyle causes and lifestyle cures.

  • The Milano gene may be a harbinger of things to come. The Milano gene is the first successful medical procedure for curing artery disease. A second method is vaccination against bad cholesterol. A third method, lifestyle change turns out to be a form of self-administered gene therapy called epigenetics. It works by switching on good genes and switching off bad genes.

  • Special report for subscribers only: Lower Cholesterol Naturally, Without Drugs. This mini-e-book in PDF format is free to subscribers. If you have trouble downloading it, please contact me by e-mail.

Coming Soon

  • Sarcopenia: I am now working on an article about sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss that begins not much later than age 20, when the rate of loss is about 0.5% per year. After age 60, the rate of loss reaches 1%. By age 70, the average man and woman have lost 40% of the muscle they had at age 20.

    As Yoda would say, "Shrivelled now I am, as you will be also, young Skywalker." Gives me the shivers!

Bye until next week...
Fred Colbourne It's never too late!