Archive for April, 2011

Voices in print!

Due to popular demand (I swear, at least two people wanted it), Voices is now available in print! It’s on Amazon at I have to say the cover art was great on the computer – it’s even more spectacular on the printed version. Extra special thanks to master artist A.J. McLane. And just because he’s an artist don’t get the wrong idea, the guy’s also Marine.

And, sadly that’s largely the only progress I’ve made on writing lately. I’ve been crazy busy lately – although I have found time to put a little over 1500 words into Princess, the sequel for Wanted. It’s getting near the end, I’m happy to say! Outside of writing it’s been all about my day job. Rough month there, six day weeks and lots of extra time. Normally that’s not a bad thing but I’m not getting OT for it and instead missing out on quality family time. Sometimes it’s not so good to be the boss!

So take pity on me, buy a book (mine, preferably), and tell everybody you know I rock and that they should buy my books too. Keep the network going and before you know it I’ll have so much family time available my family will be sick of me and begging me to go back to work!

Categories: Uncategorized

Finding a Voice

Just received a review today on Voices. A rather impressive one too, I have to say! The review was placed on Smashwords and here’s what it said:

A gritty story of sin and redemption. The story highlights significant events in Billy’s life in a compelling story of survival and complicated love. At points, I was routing for Billy while at others wondering how he’d made it that far. Set in the same universe as Dark Earth, it touches on some of the ideas included in that book though they are more background details than driving points. Jason Halstead’s style and voice shine through in yet another highly enjoyable read.

If you’ve been waiting to find out if it sucks or not, now you know! Head on over to check it out for yourself!

Categories: Uncategorized

Fresh Inspiration

Let me introduce Selena Kitt, who happens to not only be a fellow writer but also runs a couple of the publishing companies I go through. But wait, there’s more. Selena was just featured in an article on CBS. Our styles and genres differ, but that’s no reason not to check her out!

In this article alone I glimpsed the business side of Selena that I was always in the dark about. Her success has served to inspire me to try harder to achieve similar results. Heck, I could be half as successful and be perfectly content!

Categories: Uncategorized

Tone Deaf

I was asked today by a wisp of a girl I work with what she should be eating now that she had signed up for a “toning class.” I groaned and told her that was a terrible question. She could tell that I work out so she figured she should ask me.

First a grumble about “toning up”. You want to show some definition without getting huge – okay, that means leaning out. We’ve all got muscles, most people just can’t see them clearly because we’ve got fat between them and the skin. Most of the time that’s fine, a little fat is not the least bit harmful. Maybe it’s not sexy, but it’s not putting us in a grave early either. But to show that tone some of the fat has to go. With less fat the body gets smaller and looks smaller. To combat it, and assuming we’re eating an adequate amount, we put on some muscle weight. That’s what happens when you successfully tone up. Your muscles get bigger and stronger and you lose fat. It’s not something to be scared or ashamed of, it’s something to be proud of because so many people have proven that they can’t do it. If you can then take pride in it. You won’t look like you spent twenty years busting rocks in a maximum security women’s prison, you’ll look damn good to anyone who doesn’t prefer their dates to be women they keep imprisoned in a pit in their basement.

I showed her a picture of my wife (well, a picture of my family) and asked her what she thought of her. She said she was very pretty (she is too — the kind of pretty that I’d be scared to talk to if I wasn’t already in a relationship with her). I then gave her a hint of the abuse I put my wife through multiple times a week as her trainer. And the pride I felt watching her deadlift that 210lb cement ball at the Arnold Classic 30 times to set a record at that booth for women. The girl I work with (name with held to protect the innocent), was amazed. “She doesn’t look big!” she commented.

Damn right. Strength and “big” can be unrelated. Just like a person can look normal and be strong as an ox, so can a big and burly looking person struggle to carry a bag of dog food from their car to the front door. I told my co-worker this and I’ll share it with anyone brave enough to read this: women can not get that freakishly large and scary look on their own. Even with the help of a trainer they will continue to look like a woman. In order to be packing large masculine muscles and veins big enough to slip a nickel through a woman has to resort to anabolic steroids.

I went on to tell her I was leery of classes like that. Typically they end up being nothing more than cardio classes with pink dumbbells tossed in to provide some variety and make it interesting. Is it true resistance training? Maybe for a week and a half, then it become aerobic, catabolic, and mind-numbing. And the best part – you’re paying somebody to do that to you. Yeah, no thanks.

If you want muscle tone and definition, pick up the weights. I just saw several studies the other day where squats were the subject of attention, in particular the depth of squats. Two things were found – provided you do not have actual knee damage, parallel depth squats are good for your knees. Similarly, the deeper into a squat you go the more activation your glutes receive from it. More activation means more calorie burning and more strength / muscle growth. The glutes, by the way, are the single largest muscle in the human body. Large means it has more potential for raising metabolism and burning fat. Oh, and for the connoisseurs of fine posteriors out there, squats will deliver the curve, shape, and firmness often desired.

This particular woman was also wondering how to make her back look better. Given that I could not see her back, nor did I want to suggest or even imply that she should take her shirt off and show it to me, I could only offer some rather canned advice. Squats again, to start, as well as deadlifts, rowing exercises, and vertical pulling (lat Pulldowns, pull-ups / chin-ups). Especially the latter if she’s trying to make her lots get more definition and help showcase more of an hourglass figure. Giving the shoulders a little more pop with some overhead pressing helps define that shape as well. Then again I’m a sucker for a chick with good shoulders. Lucky me, my wife’s got some!

Now most of the piece has been devoted to the female form. I’d argue much of life should be devoted to the female form, but as soon as I did I’d need a shovel to see how deep I could dig my own hole. Instead let me point out that by taking a step back it is easy to apply these same principles to men. After all, I’m told that women like their men to have a nice butt too!

But us guys aren’t so much into the hourglass figure, at least for ourselves. Building up the shoulders and lats, if you’re looking for a beach body, is a great way to build a tapered look. Strong glutes and a lower back will do wonders for helping and preventing back, hip, knee, and ankle problems down the road as well. Not to mention what guy doesn’t want to feel like they’ve got oak tree trunks for thighs? Sure, maybe they aren’t the size of a tree, but just knowing that they feel solid enough to laugh off a swinging axe is a big confidence boost. As a matter of common sense don’t actually test them against an axe — I have personal experience with this, the axe will win.

But what about her initial question regarding food? Well this lucky lady doesn’t have a problem maintaining her weight. I did warn her that starting an exercise program will probably require her to eat a little more though. Eating more frequently is a good idea as well, for reasons I’ve talked about already. I encouraged her to lean more towards protein and less towards carbs – and that fat is not a bad thing unless she has a craving for deep fried stuff. Her response was, “You mean I don’t need to go on a diet, just be smarter and think about what I’m eating?” YES! Finally somebody that seems to understand that we don’t have to be miserable while eating, we just have to be conscious of it and intelligent. Make smarter choices, not choices that push you off a cliff.

Jason’s Website
Jason’s Smashwords Page
New book out – available at no cost on Smashwords – Voices

Categories: Weight Lifting

Destruction of an Ecosystem

First off a warning – this has nothing to do with lifting weights. Feel free to wander away disappointed now.

Extinction Level Events are typically portrayed by crazy preachers, conspiracy theorists, and Hollywood Cinema at the hands of suicidal asteroids and super-volcanoes biding their time under the Earth’s crust. There are different ecosystems, no less complete and thriving, but equally subject to the whims of a twist of fate the that destroys the ability for life to persist. In this case I’m referring to the 37 gallon reef aquarium I tinkered with for a few months. What was once a thriving system is now sterile, clean, and void.

What? All that time and money and pretty pictures! No worries, I wouldn’t just write that off. Our original plan was to wait until some renovation in a few years to find room to put a bigger tank in. Some brainstorming on our part (“our” = my wife and I) allowed a far more economical way for us to rearrange our living arrangements without the need of a sledgehammer or professional carpentry skills. Doing so created an open spot begging for an aquarium.

Enter the new ecosystem: a 75 gallon aquarium. I was sorely tempted to go with something from 125 – 180 gallons, but talked myself off the ledge before I committed. Both for cost and also because of the potential maintenance required. I enjoy working on the tank, but moderation is the key to happiness in life. My prior collection of rocks, some sand, coral, invertebrates, and even my hardy clownfish is doing well thus far in the new aquarium. I made the transfer on Saturday morning – and incidentally filling a 75 gallon tank one gallon at a time is a pain in the ass! If you’re ever in the market to do such a thing, get a garden hose or find a better way.

Many things remain. Selling the old tank and stand, for example. Until I get a 20 gallon (long) aquarium in my stand fully put together as a sump tank with a protein skimmer, I’m using my HOB protein skimmer. Likewise I’ve got approximately 35 pounds of live rock in one half of the new tank. It’s a neat layout, but nothing is final until I get the rest of the rock I need (probably another 40 – 60 pounds). I need a couple more decent wave making powerheads for it as well. Oh, and the biggy – new lighting! I’m running a total of 102 watts of light over it, which is criminally low. Four T5s and two T8s (10k, and 50/50, both 15 watts). The new light I’m fantasizing about is a total of 608 watts, two 250 watt metal halide lights + a couple of T5s (10k and actinic), plus some LED moon lights. Hope to have it soon but we shall see. Depends on whether I sell the old one off or manage to harvest another money tree.

As I make progress, pics to follow. For now it’s seriously under construction.

Categories: Aquarium

A Moving Experience

I recently made a cross country move from Utah to Ohio with my wife and 2 young children in a Trailblazer towing a Chevy Impala. It definitely qualified as an experience – especially the parts in Colorado where we crossed the Snowy Rocky Mountains at night and later had to deal with a car that had a dead battery by the time we arrived. But that has nothing to do with this, I’m just rambling to help me get my thoughts in order.

This piece is about movements in the weight room. Most people call them exercises but they are a lot more than that. There are compound exercises and isolation exercises, although you may find I never recommend the latter. That’s just my style, roll with it.

Since I don’t care for them or recommend them, I’ll start with isolation exercises. The intent behind these is to isolate a specific muscle and only train it in the hopes of improving strength and size. Have you ever seen a tree that only grew one limb or a giraffe with massive and out-of-proportion front legs? Think maybe there’s a reason for that? It’s not only natural, it’s also how genetic code is written – people (and animals and trees) can grow but they most do so within a set of parameters. Trying to isolate just one area creates temporary gains at best in that area and at worst can cause injuries.

The alternative is compound exercises. Simply put, a compound exercise uses two or more muscles to complete a movement. A bench press, for example, uses the pectorals and triceps primarily, but it also activates the lats, forearms, traps, deltoids, and even the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and a few other muscles I haven’t mentioned yet. You may doubt me, but some day you’ll have to deal with a cramp in your hamstring when benching and then you’ll know I spoke the truth – you just had to figure out the proper form to activate the available muscles in your body.

One important thing to point out in this discussion is using a Smith machine to squat, bench, overhead press, or anything else. Don’t. Do. It. The Smith machine prevents assistance muscle work, which not only inhibits your muscle building / fat burning potential but it also considerably increases your risk of injury. The Smith Machine also increases the risk for repetitive motion injuries (similar to carpal tunnel). A Smith Machine turns a perfectly good complex exercise into pseudo-isolation exercise but for some strange reason people think it’s safer for them. I don’t get it.

For other exercises it’s a no brainer. A deadlift uses damn near everything your body has, even the muscles in your forehead and cheeks. Don’t believe me? Watch somebody — even yourself in the mirror — the next time you do a deadlift. Those facial express don’t just happen on their own! Of course different compound exercises really target different areas but the important thing is that they use multiple muscles and joints, which helps make the body stronger, not just the muscle.

So what are the benefits to have a stronger body versus a stronger muscle? Happier joints, stronger tendons and ligaments, stronger bones, improved flexibility, and an ability to be functionally stronger. Of course the drawbacks are that doing compound exercises take a higher toll on the CNS and can leave you feeling wiped out a lot quicker. The results speak for themselves though.

Combining timing and style of exercising with the movements is where the real strategy of weight lifting comes in to play. Need better shoulders? Want to focus on more of an hourglass look? Want bigger legs? Trying to develop an ass worth kissing? Well read on my friends…

Shoulder or Military Presses – This exercise involves pushing a weight (or weights) in a vertical pressing motion. It can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, kettle bells, or even a couple of jugs of water or sand. I’ve also been known to use small children used as weights in this fashion. Come to think of it, I’ve used adult women in this regard too… moving right along. Another way of performing this exercise would be with the body perpendicular to the ground, in effect doing a push-up with the floor directly “above” your head.

What does it do for you? It causes growth in the shoulders and triceps primarily, then additionally into the traps, rhomboid, and pecs. Odds are you’re going to get some activation out of your spinal erectors (the muscles running up and down beside your spine) glutes, quads, and hamstrings as well – especially if you’re doing them standing. What’s this mean? It works the shoulders and traps, as well as a stronger back.

Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups — This is a vertical pulling exercise. We all know what they are, even if most of us can’t do them. Don’t feel bad, ounce I was out of junior high school I couldn’t do them either. At least not until I’d spent time using an alternative exercise – Lat Pulldowns. This is an exercise done on a cable machine where the bar is pulled from overhead down to your chest. Pull it in front of your head, not behind. This prevent shoulder impingement and it stops you from giving yourself a concussion in case your head is too far back. This overhead pulling exercise works the lats and biceps, as well as the abs and pecs. This particular exercise is notorious for helping people develop wider lats, and wider lats combined with good shoulders help give guys the tapered look and to give girls the hourglass figure.

Rowing exercises (cable, bentover, t-bar, dumbbell, Kroc, etc.) — This is known as a horizontal pulling movement. You’ll get some shoulder action here too, but this hits the rhomboids, lats, biceps, and deltoids, as well as lower back, glutes, and even the legs. Consider the overall coverage the back muscles have and you’re referring to some major landscape. That translates into major potential for calorie burning and growth. Even more importantly, without a strong back you don’t have much chance of making anything else strong without ending up in a hospital bed.

Bench Press — This is perhaps the most famous and revered exercise in all of weight lifting. From the farcical NFL bench pressing test to a powerlifting bench only meet. Bench pressing comes in many angles and variations, but they all develop the pecs, lats, and triceps primarily. Inclined benching does a lot for the shoulders and declined benching increases the focus on the lats. It also utilizes the glutes, legs, spinal erectors, traps, and abs. Or, for the layman, doing this exercise will help build a bigger and stronger chest and arms.

Squat — The squat is underrated by most people, and not talked about enough by the people who know. It’s a miserable exercise if you’re not accustomed to it, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so damn good to do! The squat works primarily on the quads, hamstrings, calves, spinal erectors, abs, rhomboids, and traps. It also uses everything else you’re body has to offer it, potentially even including your first born child (yes, this exercise can be that difficult to do if you really load it up and dig deep). Squats are the reason so many Hollywood starlets have butts that you imagine could crack a walnut. Yeah, I went there. One thing that must be mentioned is a squat means dropping until your thighs are parallel to the ground or lower. Anything higher than that is a waste of your time, look it up in some peer reviewed research papers, not what your buddy told you.

In terms of muscle activation, there may only be one exercise that uses more of the body, and thus only one potential exercise that can burn more fat and build more LBM. And that exercise is…

The Deadlift — The squat is hard to do properly, now imagine it being harder. The bar doesn’t end up a couple of feet of the ground, no, it starts and stops on the ground. What happens in between is the Herculean effort of which legends are made. I said it earlier, but it bears saying again: the deadlift will use every muscle your body has a few you didn’t know you have. I have had my pecs cramp and calluses tear off my hands doing this exercise. All from a simple bar resting some 6 inches off the ground that has to be picked up until the knees are straight and shoulders are back, then lowered back down. This exercise puts hair on your chest, separates the men from the boys, and proves that a woman has a bigger set of balls than the men watching her muscle that bar up. The fat may as well be dripping off you if you go at these aggressively. Not to mention the world of good you will be doing to your back if you can do these with proper form.

But all of those? Those are for beginners. When you want a real challenge toss a few Olympic lifts into the mix. Some of these I don’t even do – and that’s because public gyms won’t allow them or my common sense and lack of grace won’t allow me to do them.

Power Clean – I’m linking to a YouTube video for this one both because it’s hard to explain and because this chick is impressing me. This is like a deadlift only it’s an explosive movement that activates even more of the upper body. I do these from time to time and enjoy them quite a bit. And by enjoy them I mean they make me hurt (in a good way) but the feelings of accomplishment are more than worth it! And for those seeking to be shocked and astonished, here’s another youtube video. One word of advice though – never drop the weights when you’re done with them (or while doing it!) My own power clean record I set in Utah last year at 255, I haven’t tried them since but will be next month (I change exercises every month – but more on that in another post).

Clean and Jerk — This takes the power clean to a new level, more or less. The movements are a little different but by and large the point is taking a weight that’s on the floor and ending with it directly overhead.

There are some other compound exercises – lots of them really, but they get into advanced lifting techniques. Hang cleans, Arnold curls / presses, reverse hypers, reverse woodchoppers, etc.. All great stuff focused on building muscle in multiple areas to strengthen joints, muscles, and entire regions. And most importantly, they build balance in those regions. Without balancing out your chest with your back (or horizontal pushing versus horizontal pulling) your growth will plateau. These exercises allow that and they allow for the specific goals to be most efficiently met, whether that be muscle / strength growth or fat loss.

Or think of it this way, if you can work out in 45 minutes and target the same amount of muscles to the same degree that you could in a three hour workout, which one are you going to be more likely to choose? With compound movements I target 3 – 4 exercises per workout and leave with the happy feeling of having won a match against a sumo wrestler. Two – Three times a week works for me, beginner and even intermediate trainees can get away with three – six times a week spent in the gym. Another reason to go at it and stick with it — you can get in better touch with your body in a way that doesn’t require any hand lotion or tissues.

Jason’s Website
Jason’s Smashwords Page
New book out – available at no cost on Smashwords – Voices

Categories: Weight Lifting