Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Maximum Strength: Part I

...aaaaand we're back, after an extended hiatus, so lets kick things off with part one of my first product review.  

Eric Cressey is a strength and conditioning coach for clients ranging from youth through pro and Olympic level athletes.  He has a master's in kinesiology, is an author with articles published in peer reviewed journals, and a competitive power lifter who's held state, national and world records.

For a while I've been reading his articles freely available at http://ericcressey.com/articles (I believe there are over 100 of them) and his blog at http://ericcressey.com/blog.  Even the stuff he gives away free of cost is packed full of useful information on strength and conditioning topics.  These articles and blog posts have had a profound impact on the way I approach the weight room.  I move better, feel better, am stronger, and have fewer strength imbalances across my body.  He's one of my favorite fitness authors, and I highly recommend anything written by him.

Now for the product I'm reviewing.  Since Mr Cressey does the coaching thing for a living, he obviously has some materials for purchase.  One such product is his 2008 book, "Maximum Strength: Get Your Strongest Body in 16 Weeks with the Ultimate Weight-Training Program."  When I saw the Kindle version of the book was only $10, even all the free info I've already gotten from the man is worth well over the purchase price, and I expected the book to have even more great Cressey knowledge in addition to a concise, pre-planned training program.

Upon reading the book I was pleased to find that, thanks to the articles I'd read on his website, I have already incorporated many of it's concepts into my strength training program.  That's not to say, however, that this book will be a waste of my time and money, but rather it will take what I'm currently doing several steps farther.  It's gives a more complete, varied, and balanced program than what I came up with on my own.  It's more refined, elegant, and focused as well.

Eric Cressey's main point is that fitness should be measured in health and athletic performance not appearance.  Measured in health by seeking to reduce the number of injuries, move with less stiffness and pain, and reduce your chances of chronic lifestyle related illnesses (heart disease, diabetes, bone loss, etc).  Measured in athletic performance by increasing how much you can lift, how fast you can move, how hard you can throw, how high you can jump, etc.  For most people, pursuing health and performance will yield the appearance improvement they were looking for anyhow.  You'll lose body fat and add muscle; the difference is instead of just LOOKING fit, you'll actually BE fit. The goal of this particular program is to increase, as the name says, your "maximum strength."  That is, the most force you can possibly generate in any given movement.  It does this by taking you through 4 phases, each 4 weeks in length for a 16 week total program.  Each 4 week phase uses 20 or so different movements broken up between 4 days a week (5-6 per day).  Each new phase mixes of which movements you do and there is only a little overlap between the lifts in each phase, so you get between 70 and 80 distinct exercises throughout the program.  That seems like a lot of lifts to learn, but many of them are based on the same basic exercise but performed with a different grip, at a different angle, or from a different height.  The area this program surpasses my previous one by the widest margin is in it's periodisation (fluctuation in the intensity and volume of each training session) and exercise variation.  I have high hopes for the next 16 weeks.

In addition to the basic training plan to get you stronger, the program includes a number of facets designed to keep you healthy and injury free.  He has some fantastic warm up/mobility exercises, some simple nutrition concepts to maximize what you get from your training, ideas for fat loss and cardiovascular health, and embedded right in the lifting are exercises to strengthen oft' overlooked muscle groups to promote joint balance and health.  In the last chapter, he gives some ideas on what to do after you've completed the program.  Do you just flip back to page 1 and do it all over again, should you do something else entirely?  He does a great job of answering that question. 

Now for the accountability part.  Since we are looking for a measurable improvement in performance, Mr Cressey has you perform a 5 movement maximum strength test at the beginning and the end of the program.  You assess your 1 rep max (the most weight you can lift once) for the Box Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press.  You measure you 3 rep max (the most you can lift 3 times) for Weighted Pull-Ups.  And you measure your standing broad jump (how far you can jump with both feet together from a standstill.  My numbers on 3 October 2010 were as follows. 

Height: 6'1"
Weight: 171lbs

Box Squat (1rm): 235lbs
Bench Press (1rm): 195lbs
Weighted Pull-Up (3rm) bodyweight + 35lbs
Deadlift (1rm): 285lbs
Broad Jump: 7'9"

I recognize none of that is especially impressive, but you have to start somewhere.  I'll post at least once more on this program in 16 weeks with my final thoughts and any strength gains I managed.  I may post another time in the interim to let y'all know how I'm liking it.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Muscle Tone Myth

Disclaimer: Today's blog is going to be a bit of a rant.  

I've had to start ignoring other people when they work out or discuss fitness for one simple reason.  The things that some people do and say are enough to drive me batty sometimes.  One of the things that just gets under my skin is people without half a clue talking about "muscle tone."  It's really not a complex subject but some jerk in a marketing department somewhere has seen fit to completely muddy the subject for laypeople, and I think advertising is largely to blame for the confusion (though we are all responsible for our own ignorance).

First off, what IS muscle tone?  Muscle tone is defined as: "The continuous and passive partial contraction of the muscles.  It helps to maintain posture and readiness for contraction."  A healthy muscle never fully relaxes, there is always a little bit of tension in it.  This property keeps you standing upright, keeps you balanced, and helps your muscles react quickly when called upon to do so.  Except in certain rehabilitation scenarios, it's not terribly desirable or beneficial (or possible) to increase this property in a muscle.  Doing so would likely slow down recovery after exercise, cause a constant state of fatigue, and hamper flexibility.  

Why would anyone think they want more tone?  The tone of a muscle is the reason why it feels firmer than the fatty tissue around it, so it's not terribly illogical to think that increasing tone would make them feel firmer, a state many people desire.  But the flabbiness people seek to remedy is not typically caused by too little tone, but rather by too much fatty tissue.  What many people refer to as "toned" would more accurately be called "lean."  How do you achieve that look and feel marketed as toned?  Build muscle mass and burn fat.  There is nothing mystical about it; more muscle and less fat leads to shapely, firm features.

More than a few times I've overhear people (typically women) say they want "to get toned, but don't want to bulk up."  I want to throw things when I hear that because someone has misinformed these poor people and caused them to waste so much time perusing misguided goal.  Most women (and men for that mater) simply wont be able to get "bulkier" (in terms of muscle mass) than they want to be, and next to no one ever does on accident.  I have yet to talk to anyone, aside from VERY specialized athletes, who felt like they had too much muscle mass.  To build more muscle, you need to lift heavy weights (heavy relative to your ability), and chances are you won't wake up looking like this overnight wondering what happened.  

Even if they wanted to, most women could NEVER look like that.  And the few that can have to train specifically for that goal for years.  And here's the thing many people seem to overlook, if by some freak chance you start to get more muscular than you want to be, just back off the weight training a little bit......

Since we're on the subject, a myth related to "toning" is what's referred to as "spot reduction."  AKA, losing fatty mass from a specific location.  
"I just want to tone up the flab on the back of my arms."  
"I'm doing crunches to loose my belly flab."
It can't be done, the only way I know to remove fat from a specific location is surgery.  Either cut it our or use liposuction.  Otherwise you have to reduce your total body fat.  I won't go into great detail on how to do that today, but reducing the amount of fat in your body as a whole will reduce the amount of fat in those specific spots eventually.  Different people tend to gain and lose fat in different areas.  Just because that woman lost her stomach fat right away doesn't mean you will.  Your body might want to use more fat from your hips first.  There's nothing you can do to control where you're going to burn fat from.  You just have to do the diet and exercise things needed to burn it until you see the results you want.  

In summary, quit trying to tone your muscles, and start building some muscle and loseing some fat.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow" - Aeschylus

A while back I read an article that fundamentally changed the way I think about abdominal training.  I’ve known for a long time that things like sit-ups really work the hip flexors more than the abs and that crunches isolated the abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominis, better.  This is because that muscle serves to pull the shoulders toward the hips in a movement called “trunk flexion.”  This is an important role of the abdominal muscles, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Your abdominals have another role, though, to which I never gave much thought.  In addition to moving your midsection, they also serve to prevent your midsection from moving when that movement would be harmful.  They serve an important role in maintaining the posture of your hips and lower back.  Many people have too much curvature in the lower spine (some is healthy, but too much is bad), and a pelvis that tilts forward.  This can reduce the recruitment efficiency of several muscles around the hips and lower back, or in short, “it’s bad, mmmkay?”  I’m a proponent of the theory that what you do more of, you get better at, so let’s look at some ways to train the abs to maintain posture in.

Here is the original article that got me thinking on the subject.

It has, in addition to a great discussion of the postural effects of the abs and why that’s important in the athletic environment, 8 different exercises that focus on “core stability.”  Instead of plagiarizing the heck out of him or rewriting his instructions and taking pictures of myself doing all his exercises, I’m going to refer you all to the above link (you’ll have to excuse all the body builder photos).  If you just want to see his exercises, scroll about a third of the way down the page to where it says ,“The Test,”  this will give you some idea as to where you stand in relation to postural abdominal strength.  Scroll a little farther to “Lower Rectus Exercises.”  Most folks will get all the benefit they need from “The Dead Bug Series*” and the “Single Leg” and “Double Leg” lowering exercises.  But if, AFTER mastering those, you’re feeling diesel, go ahead and try out his “Dragon Flags” and “Hanging Leg Raise.” 

Another great core stability exercise is the “Plank.”  There are numerous variations on the plank, but let’s start with the basics.  Here is a link about the basic plank, and a side plank.
Go ahead and ignore all the adds on this page; just look at the two plank variations. 

Done from the elbows, as shown in that link, planks can be accomplished by most beginners.  As you get stronger, you can switch to doing them from your hands and feet; this works for both front and side planks. 
Then if you really want to make things interesting, you can start by doing a hands and feet plank for, let’s say 30 seconds; then lift one hand and point it straight out above you head for 30 seconds; put it down and repeat with the other arm; now put both hands back down and lift one leg, keeping it straight and parallel to the ground for 30 seconds; now the other leg; then lift one arm and the opposite leg for 30 seconds; switch which arm and which leg for 30 seconds; then transition to the side plank on hand and foot for 30 seconds; then the other side for 30 seconds; finally go back to the standard hands and feet plank for 30 more seconds before collapsing in a heaving and gasping pile on the floor.   As you get stronger you can add to the time you spend in each position, do several cycles, etc.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

*There is one error in his photos of the Dead Bug Series.  The second photo in Dead Bug 3 is a duplicate of the first.  The second photo should look like the second photo of Dead Bug 4.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Form Follows Function

If this post is a little scatter brained and spastic, please bear with me.

You may or may not have come across the term “Functional Training” in the fitness world.  Since there is little regulation in the fitness industry, anyone can call anything whatever they want.  All too often trainers or salesmen use the term “functional” to describe things like bicep curls while kneeling on a Swiss Ball.

But what does this ill-defined, oft’ misused term really mean?  If you look up the word functional in the dictionary, you’ll see it means:

“capable of serving the purpose for which it was designed”

We then must ask, what purpose are ball kneeling bicep curls designed to serve?  I’m a proponent of the theory that doing something generally makes you better at doing that thing.  If you frequently find yourself kneeling on a ball needing to lift something in a slow arcing motion to your shoulder, this would this exercise would be very functional, otherwise, not so much. 

I see it like this:

Real functional training = movements you might actually do outside the gym

Generally, in the real world, you use more than one muscle at a time.  Typically several joints and muscles move in a coordinated manner to accomplish the task at hand, so most functional training should incorporate these “compound movements.”  A bicep curl is a simple movement because the bicep is the only primary mover, and the elbow is the only joint moving.  A row is a compound movement because the biceps, lats, posterior delts, rhomboids, etc are all working together to move the weight and both the elbow and shoulder are moving throughout the lift.  Doing these compound lifts strengthen each muscle involved individually, but it also trains the muscles to work together in a coordinated fashion.  The neuro-muscular networks learn what order to fire the muscle fibers in order to do that lift efficiently. 

Another thing functional can do is make your body deal with or create forces you might find outside the gym.  For example, single leg training creates some twisting forces and some sideways forces that you have to counter in order to stay balanced.  Since you are on one foot frequently while walking or running, that one footed balance has some carry over to the real world. 

A third way to look at functional training is as a way to correct or prevent an imbalance.  For example, If you do a ton of chest exercises but never do any upper back exercises, you create a strength imbalance at the shoulder.  The stronger chest muscles will tend to pull your shoulders forward and disrupt your posture.  In that case, working the upper back will help to correct that imbalance and straighten out your posture.   Other areas you might see an imbalance is internal rotation vs. external rotation of the shoulder or hip, extension vs. flexion of the knee, etc.

An example of what I consider to be one of the most truly functional movements is the deadlift.  If you’re not familiar with the deadlift, Click Here Why is this such a functional move?  Every one of us will have to bend down and pick something up off the ground at some point in your life.  Most of us have to pick relatively heavy things up from time to time; that is exactly what the deadlift trains you to do.  It builds all the muscles, tendons, ligaments, coordination, and synergy needed to pick up something off the ground.  Also, assuming you use proper form whilst training, it will teach you how to pick stuff up safely and make it second nature to you.  How’s that for some injury prevention?  I also really like the move because it works a lot of muscles very effectively in a short span of time.  The deadlift is often one of the lifts that people can lift the most weight with; to me that says there is a lot of resistance to be shared among a bunch of muscles, so it elicits a strong response from your body toward muscle development.

Some other examples of highly functional movements: pull-ups or rope climbing, because you are lifting your body up as if climbing something; shoulder press because it’s like lifting something heavy up to put on a high shelf.

One thing to consider when looking at what is and is not functional is “what is functional for ME?”  Functional for a professional strongman is going to be completely different than functional for a businessman who plays golf on the weekend. 

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Ps. My apologies to the people at http://www.thefitnessfix.ca from whence the Swiss Ball picture came.  I haven’t reviewed their exercise program; it may be legit, but I just saw that photo and decided to use it as an example.  

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Biggest Loser

Not a day goes by, it seems, that you can’t find a new study about the health risks associated with being overweight, and I can’t remember a time I clicked on the “Health” section of Google news without seeing at least one story on the front page about the toll obesity is taking on the American body and health industry.  The medical community will tell you that around two thirds of American Adults are overweight or obese (with childhood rates not far behind); they’ll tell you those extra pounds increase your risk of Heart Disease, Type II Diabetes, Stroke, Cancer, Liver Disease, Respiratory Problems, Arthritis, Hypertension, and a host of other problems.  Analysts will tell you if obesity continues to rise the way it has of late, it will wreak havoc on hospitals, insurance companies, and the healthcare system in general.

Then on the other side of the fence you have those who campaign about the self esteem of overweight people (especially kids); they’ll tell you pointing out peoples’ extra weight will crush their self esteem and cripple them emotionally.  They ask why we “can’t accept heavier people the way they are.”  They’ll tell you that focusing on weight loss and holding “thinness” as an ideal leads to eating disorders. 

If all this weren’t enough, much of the advice (preaching, really) centers on “weight loss” instead of “fat loss.”  Stories and magazine articles talk about BMI (Body Mass Index) which is just a height/weight ratio instead of educating about body composition and body fat levels.  Then there are those who try to label fat people as “victims” of genetics, Mc Donald’s, or pesticides.  It’s all enough to throw me into a heaving, raging fit if I dwell too long upon it. 

It is, however well understood that a lot of people have too much fat and that getting rid of some of it would be a good thing.  Finally, I bring you to the topic of today’s blog, The Biggest Loser: an NBC tv show/competition in which contestants compete to see who can lose the most weight (expressed as a percentage of their starting weight).  Some fitness professionals (even a few I highly respect) have criticized the show, and I even have a few qualms with specific aspects of their regimen, but you just can’t argue with their results.  They’ve taken many an obese, sedentary person and turned them into a thin, fit, personal trainer looking, marathon running “athlete.” 

I think by and large, they have an excellent program and that they have a good message to spread to their audience.  What’s their secret?  Exercise-centric weight loss.  The program is essentially “move more, eat less junk food, and don’t stuff yourself silly when you eat.”  That may be over-simplifying a bit, but not by much.  With all the fad diet and exercise programs assaulting us at every turn at the news stand, on the internet, and on TV, I appreciate the fact based program that gets reliable, repeatable, lasting results.  Let’s break down the philosophy into its two basic components, diet and exercise.

Anything you do to get moving more, will make you healthier, be that weight training, running, circuit training, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, etc.  In the show, they use many exercise modalities; it’s a constantly changing training environment, and that’s part of the reason they see such magnificent results.  Since their bodies are constantly being faced with new challenges, they are constantly having to adapt, to use many muscle groups, at different angles, at different speeds, for different periods of time.  It’s the sort of thing the body was built to do to survive in a primitive environment.  One day carrying heavy logs for building your house, the next walking many miles to reach another area, and the next sprinting for all you’re worth to catch your dinner.  The other aspect of The Biggest Loser’s exercise program that makes it so successful is the motivation and commitment.  Twixt the cash prize, the pressure of competition, and the personal weight loss goals, not to mention the screaming trainers, the contestants are giving close to 100% every day and not that, “Oh, I’m tired, I think I’ll quit,” 100%, but a real, “This is all I have to give,” 100%.  I’m not saying you should go from the couch to absolutely killing yourself in the gym in a week.  You most likely don’t have medical staff on standby and besides it will burn you out and make you quit altogether.  Sticking with it is the key.

The diet plan on the show is remarkably simple.  They cut out sugar, excessive saturated fat, and starchy, “high glycemic index” carbs.  They add in more fresh fruits and veggies, and eat SMALLER more frequent meals.  To quote one of my favorite bloggers,

Granted, all this is easier said than done in the real world where you’re pressured for time and cost on every meal and doubly so when eating out, but the principals hold true, nonetheless.  Something they mention from time to time but don’t harp on too much is hydration.  In Basic Military Training, trainees are required to drink two to three gallons of water a day; when your body is working that hard, it needs a lot of water to cool itself, transport nutrients, get rid of waste materials, digest and absorb the things you eat, etc.  Your body just works better when you put plenty of water in it.  You typically see the Biggest Loser hopefuls carrying their water bottle everywhere they go.  If you always have water with you, you can sip on it all day, and you might be surprised how much water you can easily drink in a day.  A side benefit of drinking lots of water is it gives you a way to keep your mouth busy instead of munching on M&M’s or Red Vines all day.

Now, it does seem a little antithetical to sit on your butt and watch a show about exercising and losing weight, but as long as you use it as motivation to get or keep your own program going, it’s probably not so bad.  Truth be told, I’m not much of a true “fan” of the show.  I think it’s in its ninth season, and I only ever watched one season.  Specifically, I watched season eight on Hulu.com after the fact because someone got me to watch a few and I got a little hooked.  Anywho, it’s not a bad show, and a fair bit better than most reality shows, in my opinion.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Now, go do some push-ups

At the end of my first two blogs, I’ve instructed you to go do some push-ups in my sign off, but it has come to my attention, that some people may not know how or be able to do push-ups or do them properly.  There are many different variations on the venerable push-up, but let’s first take a look at the basic push-up and why you should be doing push-ups in the first place.

Initially, I wrote up a detailed explanation of how to properly do a push-up.  Then I realized one of my favorite strength and conditioning coaches (Eric Cressey) has already done the work of putting together a narrated video demonstration of proper push-up form.  So we’ll take a look at that, and I’ll throw in my two cents afterward.

Two things Eric mentioned, but did not stress were hip-sagging, and elbow-flaring.  The demonstrator in the video showed the correct form, but sometimes seeing what NOT to do can help us realize what we’re doing wrong.  Here are side by side pictures of the wrong and right back posture and elbow position.  (Click To Enlarge)

Another common mistake which Eric did not mention is holding your breath.  Breathing in on the way down and out on the way up works for a lot of people, but you’ll have to find what works for you.  Working muscles use up oxygen, so you need to replace it or you will reduce the number you can do; also holding your breath while straining increases you intrathoracic pressure, but we won’t go into all that.  Bottom line, don’t hold your breath.

So, why do we want to do push-ups anyway?  I’m glad you asked.  Push-ups are a great exercise for many muscles in the upper body, in fact there are few muscles untouched by push-ups, but the main movers are the triceps (back of arms), pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), and lats (upper back).   Also, your abdominal muscles get worked in a stabilizing manner, much like a plank exercise.  In working all these different muscle groups with the same exercise, you are teaching them how to function together as well; that’s important because in the real world, you almost never use one muscle in isolation, you almost always use several together.   In addition to being a great exercise, they are easy to take with you.  You can do them nearly anywhere; all you need is a firm, flat surface.

If you are not quite ready for full push-ups, there are a few ways to make them just a bit easier so you can work up to full ones.  There is the technique in the video above, where you place your hands on an elevated object (bench, bar, counter-top, etc).  As you get stronger, you can gradually move to lower and lower objects until you can do them on the floor.  Another trick is to do knee or “girl” push-ups.  Instead of having your toes on the floor, you bend your knees and place them on the floor.  Once again, the goal is to get strong enough to do full, push-ups.  If you can do one or two full push-ups, do them at the beginning of the set, then finish up with one of the above variations.

Now that you know how to do a correct push-up, how do you go about getting better at them?  Great question.  There are numerous programs you can follow, or you can make up your own.  A good program for beginners (or anyone, really)is 3 Sets of 50% of your maximum, 3 times a week.  What you do is do as many push-ups as you can in a row, until you can no longer maintain proper form; this is your “max.”  Let’s say you did 20.  When it’s time for your work out (on a separate day from your “test”) you would do 10 push-ups, rest couple minutes, do 10 more, rest a couple minutes, do your final 10.  You would do this 3 times a week.  Every couple weeks or so, you’d want to repeat the test to see how you’ve progressed and use your new “max” to calculate how many push-ups to do per set.

A more advanced program is the 100 Push-Up Challenge at http://hundredpushups.com/  This program moves a bit fast, so it’s okay to repeat each week a few times if you need to.  I went through the program in 10 weeks and managed 102 good form push-ups in row at the end.  It’s a solid program, that has you doing a lot of push-ups; if you’re willing to commit to it and repeat weeks as needed, you can improve a lot.

There are hundreds of ways you can make variations of push-ups, a few examples include: wide grip, narrow grip, incline, decline, medicine ball, clap, one-handed, etc, etc.  I’ve done these and many more in martial arts classes, circuit training groups, or just goofing around by myself, but the standard push-up as outlined above is by far my favorite.  If you can do thirty or forty clean, crisp push-ups, and want to mess around with some variations, go ahead, just keep in mind the basic principles of a proper push-up while you do.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Frostbite Half-Marathon

Those of us who've participated in any sort of organized road race know they can't happen without volunteers, lots of 'em.  Today was no different, it was the 29th Annual Running of the Frostbite Half-Marathon at Yokota Air Base, Japan.  I figured it was my turn to volunteer at a race, so I signed up to be a bicycle medic.  The race was aptly named "Frostbite;" take a look at the weather conditions just before I left to ride my bike to the race at 0615 this morning.  Note the temperature.

Other than being cold before the sun came up, it turned out to be a pretty nice day.  The sky was clear, the air was calm, we even had a pretty good view of Mt Fuji.

I don't really have much to report about the race itself.  It went pretty well, a few dehydrated folks, some trips and falls, the usual at any sort of race that hosts several thousand people.  There were actually three events: a kids 2k, a 5k, and a half marathon.  Between the three races I probably rode my bike 25-30 miles with a few all out sprints thrown in to answer radio calls for a medic.  I guess the best thing now is to share some pictures I took during the event (click to enlarge).

All bundled up in my safety green volunteer sweatshirt, waiting for the races to start.

Refueling between races.

Homeboy in the blue came and gave me a high-five.

Pooh was there.

And his buddy Tigger.

You knew Picachu was gonna show.

I'm not sure where you go to get a bowling pin costume.

She was trying to blend in by looking American.

And of course, no race in Japan would be complete without a Hello Kitty costume.

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Ps.  As you may have noticed (both of you who've read my blog thus far), I decided to change the name.  I think this is a more suitable, more permanent name.  If you didn't catch on it's part of a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche:
"that which does not kill us makes us stronger"
I liked the thought, because as hard as it can be some days to get off your butt and make yourself stronger, it will almost never kill you.  You can even do it in a Hello Kitty costume if that makes you feel better about it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Here's the low-down, the straight skinny.  I enjoy a variety of fitness related activities; though, I don't fancy myself any sort of competitive athlete.  I've never been one to focus too heavily on one aspect of fitness, nor to train for one particular sport.  I endorse a broad general fitness base.  One that makes you faster, stronger, more agile, more endurant (is that a word?), more injury resistant.  I believe fitness is not primarily a measure of how you look (though it IS often a side effect), but of how you can perform and how healthy you keep your body.  This can be as simple as the working mom with a job and 4 kids who follows her yoga DVD, rides a stationary bike, or does some push-ups when she steals a few minutes to herself in the evening, or it can be as committed and hell-bent on elite fitness as the guys at Gym Jones, the founder of which once said:

 "The goal of physical training can be summed up in one phrase, 'to make yourself as indestructible as possible.' The harder a man is to kill, the longer he will remain effective, as a climber, a soldier, or what ever." -Mark Twight

Most of us have a day job, or go to school, or have some other non-optional daily activity that commands most of our time.  Few of us can devote our entire life to pushing the boundaries of our own personal fitness, but all of us can DO SOMETHING to better our own health.  You have to find where you lie on the continuum, decide what your goals are, and take steps to reach them.  You are probably capable of more than you think, but you'll never know unless you try.  I like the personal motto of Georges Hébert, creator of La Méthode Naturelle (or Natural Method) of physical training:

"Être fort pour être utile"--"Being strong to be useful."

Whether you're an athlete or a reforming coach-potato, whether you hold performance as the ultimate pinnacle of human accomplishment or just want to look a little better on the beach this summer, I hope you find something useful or at least interesting in the posts to follow.  I expect to post a variety of things in this blog; expect to see links and summaries of advice written by others, pieces written by yours truly, maybe some photos, videos or accounts of my own personal experiences.  

-Now, go do some push-ups-

Ps.  I am still in search of a good title for this blog.  The current "Health To Pay" is just a working title for now.  It's a slightly (and I mean slightly) amusing pun, but I think we can do better.  If you have any ideas, let me know.  I like clever.