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Why Cardio Disappoints

This post isn’t about books! It’s about another passion of mine – and one shared by few people: fitness. So you have been warned, read on at your own peril.

Longtime friends and readers (one and the same, as far as I’m concerned) know that I’m a weightlifting junky. A former competitive powerlifter, in fact. Not one of the super heavyweights that crammed anything and everything into their mouths either. I was a fairly lean powerlifter when I competed – and I was in the 242lb weight class (my highest competition weight was 232, usually I was 229 or lower).

Sadly, my competing days are over, courtesy of an injury caused by overtraining for a meet and not being as safe as I knew I should have been. Some major surgery to reattach torn tendons and muscle to a bone and I’m back in business, but never like I once was. These days I still lift heavy 3 – 4 times a week, but I don’t push myself as hard as I used to. That means I have to make up for the lack of work to keep myself looking decent with other activities. And that means including some cardio elements in my routine.

I read a few studies and educated opinion pieces long ago stating how weightlifting was better in every way for a body than cardio. Since I agreed with it out of principal, I took it as gospel and moved on. Many years later, I still believe that way and happily share such information when asked (no, I’m not the kind of guy who offers it unasked and pesters people). As I get older and my routine is changing to more health and maintenance based instead of trying to amass raw strength, I’m finding more and proof that supports what I’ve believed to be true.

I measure my progress in many ways. How much I can lift, how many times I can lift it, what the dude in the mirror looks like, what the calipers figure my bodyfat is, and what the scale reads. I hit the scale almost every morning and every night because what gets measured gets done. It’s those measurements that leads me to posting this blog and supporting my belief of why cardio is disappointing.

First a mild info dump, here’s a typical week for me:

Monday: Heavy Bench Press, Heavy Cable Rows, supportive exercises (curls, tricep extension, etc.)

Tuesday: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training – Clean and Presses supersetted with running on a treadmill)

Wednesday: Deadlifts / Squats / Rack Pulls (only one exercise, it varies by month), Declined situps, more arm and shoulder work

Thursday: rest

Friday: Volume bench press, volume lat pulldowns, supportive exercises (arm stuff)

Saturday: HIIT (same as Tuesday)

Sunday: rest

 

Every day, if possible, I try to get in some rollerblading or low impact cardio around my subdivision, typically 10 – 20 minute’s worth. I’ve ramped that up recently, leading to this post.

 

 

So Sunday, father’s day, my wife decided she wanted to start doing my 2 mile cardio with me. For me that means rollerblading around our subdivision several times (rather fast, I push myself and keep my heart rate in the 140 – 150 range). I’d also mowed my lawn today in the 91 degree sunshine, which takes about an hour with my push mower thanks to a couple of short but steep hills. So no weights on Sunday, just cardio…

 

On virtually any weightlifting night I will lose 1.5 – 2 pounds overnight while I’m sleeping. Doesn’t matter the exercise, as long as I work myself hard. Without fail I wake up lighter in the AM, although if I strain my lower body too much it can cause some inflammation in the muscles that takes a couple of days to wear off – the weight comes off over those couple of days though. On any day where I do cardio only I will lose .4 – .8 pounds overnight. Less than half what I lose when I lift weights.

 

Weightlifting works the muscle, breaking it down and building it back up. The building part takes time though, and also requires calories. That means burning calories, both to do the repair work and to strengthen the muscles. A workout will continue to burn calories for 1 – 2 days afterwards. Cardio, on the other hand, only burns calories while you’re doing it and, unless you bust your hump for more than 20 minutes, you’re only burning the calories in your bloodstream and not any stored fat. With weights, it’s a constant slow burn happening behind the scenes, which takes care of the calories in the bloodstream and then moves on to stored fat. My two mile rollerblading only takes around 10 minutes, so the only gain I get out of it is an improvement to my energy systems (heart, lungs, cardiovascular, and flushing water out via sweat).

 

So why not do long term cardio – 30+ minutes? Even if there weren’t studies showing the damage it can do to joints and muscle fibers, it’s f***ing boring! I’ve got way too many things to do to spend that kind of time. I’ll never run a marathon, and I’m okay with that. I ran a 5k once, by myself, and that was enough. I much prefer more intense focused training to keep my energy systems where I need them or close enough that I can ramp up sport specific training as needed (e.g. if I ever joined another hockey league). For those that do it and, somehow, enjoy it, I salute you. You do what works for you and godspeed, just as I’ll do what works for me.

 

If you’re wondering what HIIT is, it’s weight training done aerobically, for lack of a better term. In my case I do a set of 6 – 135lb clean and presses (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_OGoQ94mPQ, except I make sure I go all the way to the floor on each rep). After that set I hit the treadmill and run for 2 minutes. Ideally there should be next to no rest between exercises. For me I rest 30 seconds or lest just to catch my breath. My heart after the clean and press is in the 150s, typically, and then in the 140s after the run. Five sets of that and I’m done. Any compound exercise can be used – I’ve done squats, front squats, and bench pressing as alternatives from time to time, but I really like what clean and presses do for the body – it’s a full body workout and helps support every other exercise as well as general strength and conditioning.

 

So there it is, my rare workout post. Social media is a funny place – people get upset about others posting about working out, which baffles me. I encourage it, but I don’t want to upset anybody either (unless they deserve it, and even then I’d typically rather just save my time and walk away). Still, I got some great feedback on my workout posts a couple years ago, so maybe somebody can learn something from this and use it for their own good.

 

These days I’m floating in the 225 – 230 range, depending on whether it was a bad weekend or not. Last night I was 226.4 and this morning I was 226 (remember the cardio only yesterday). My bodyfat is in the 11% – 12% range and I can still bench 315+ and deadlift 500+. I figure I’m doing okay for a dude in his 40’s.

 

 

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

15 Novels a Year

A couple of months ago a man by the name of Filip Wiltgreen reached out to me and asked if he could interview me for his blog. It’s been a while since I’ve had that opportunity – I thought my 15 minutes were over. So of course I said yes, but I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. Filip hit me with a string of questions that kept me busy and stumbling for quite a while. By the time it was over I was relieved and exhausted, but I was also impressed. He had done a very thorough job of gathering data.

And now, today, the interview is live on his blog. I just finished reading the finished copy and I’m quite pleased with it. A little bit of advice for writers, a little bit of background on me, and some shout outs to the people that have helped me along the way. Good job, Filip!

http://www.wiltgren.com/2015/10/05/how-to-write-15-novels-in-a-year-an-interview-with-jason-halstead/

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Physics Is For People Who Don’t Believe

July 13, 2015 2 comments

This is not a post about my books. Not directly, anyhow. This is me being damn proud of myself. You see, four and a half years ago I tried to tear my arm off. I failed, but managed to rip the pectoral muscle off my arm and leave it flapping like a broken chicken wing. I was training for a powerlifting meet a month out. Bye bye competition.

I ended up having surgery to reattach the muscle, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I would never lift that much again. I moved a week or two after the surgery across country and lost my health insurance for a while. It was a kick in the nuts, to say the least, because I identified with being a big and strong mofo. Fortunately, I’d been studying my body and weightlifting for many years now and was able to self-rehab myself back to being within 85% of my prior maximum effort. Over time I accepted that. My books started taking off and I dreamed of a life where the pen was mightier than the bicep.

But I kept lifting. I wasn’t going to be a little guy or a skinny fat guy ever again. I would never compete again, but as long as I stayed in shape I could cope. So I did. Through a few more states and a few more moves I stayed strong and kept at it. And I got older. I peaked at 36, whether I wanted to or not. Now I’m 40 and I’m here to say recovery and a lot of other things aren’t what they used to be.

But I also managed to rekindle my love of picking up heavy things this year. It never left, but it definitely had a few lulls along the way. I’ve designed a new routine that works a lot better for me these days and allows sufficient recovery and, believe it or not, growth. I began to see gains that I didn’t think were possible anymore…but the iron never lies.

Last night I bench pressed a bar with only 15 pounds fewer than my competition best. AND I had enough left in the tank I wish I would have done 5 more pounds. I’ve given myself 6 weeks to meet and / or beat that prior maximum effort and I am positive it will happen. If you’re curious about what that means, I benched 390lbs tonight and I plan to meet or beat my 405lb lift that was a state record back in 2009.

That’s not the point though, what matters is that I’ve done a lot of crazy shit in my life. Some of it good, some of it not so good. Some of it… well, never mind (hi, Mom!). None of that stuff taught me the lessons that powerlifting has taught me. Lessons like how a determined human being has no limits. Physics and gravity be damned, if you put your mind to it you can do anything. Weight lifting, writing 12+ books a year, or doing anything you really want to. Hard work is the key. Hard work and determination. Heck, with enough hard work we might even be able to fix our government (remember, I write a lot of fiction).

 

Tonight’s lesson is this: F*** the rules, make your own.

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Death by Bench Press

January 30, 2013 Leave a comment

This is not a motivation post about busting my butt (or pecs / triceps, as the case me be) to overcome injury, weakness, or some other debilitating problem. This is about another bench press induced near death incident I endured minutes ago. And it turns out, upon investigation of other reviews, I am not alone.

First here’s the deal. I’m doing a 1 lift a day routine right now that’s pretty tiresome in spite of how easy it sounds. The gist of it is doing one compound exercise each day but really focusing on that exercise. It’s a three week routine, with 7 sets x 5 reps the first week, 6 x 3 the next, then 3 sets the third week (5 reps, 3 reps, 2 reps). The weight changes to be very challenging for each set / stage. I’m in week two.

So here’s how the night was supposed to go:

135lbs x 8 (warm up set, this doesn’t count)
225 x 3
245 x 3
275 x 3
295 x 3
275 x 3
275 x 3

Here’s what really happened:

135 x 8

225 x 3 (bench is a little shaky, wtf?)

245 x 3 (bench is very shaky! I flipped it over and tightened up the bolts on it)

275 x 3 (woah, the bench moved! I figured I pushed with my legs too move and scooted it up)

295 x 0 (unracked the weight so it’s straight above me and at the same time the head of the bench COLLAPSED under me. It wasn’t a total break, but I was at an extreme angle (see the attached pics). Fortunately I still had the weight straight up in the air so I was able to do a combined press, shoulder raise, ab crunch to get it back to the rests then I could climb up and figure out what happened.)

Was that a freakish incident? Hell yes! Could it have done serious damage to me? Well, who likes the idea of dropped 295 pounds on their chest or throat / face from 12″ – 18″ up. And like I said, I’m not the only person this has happened to. For my fellow lifters, do NOT buy the Apex bench pictured below.

I finished up the workout by switching to 6 sets of 8 reps at 90lbs for cable pressdowns. A far cry from a bench press but I’m temporarily benchless.😦

brokebench1 brokebench2

Now back to my regularly scheduled writing.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

 

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

November 28, 2012 1 comment

Thanksgiving’s over and after five days spent on the road with family celebrating the holiday and my son’s birthday I can say that I’m stuffed. Tired too, it was a lot of miles and a lot of activity. And a lot of food. Loads and loads of food. Good food, but it’s still calories.

And that brings me to the next part of this post. All those calories don’t just go away. Sure, I’m an active guy that hits the weights pretty hard. Truth be told, if I work out regularly I have to focus hard to eat enough to avoid losing weight. Now now, don’t get mad at me – my regular workouts involve moving barbells with 300+ pounds on them multiple times. Doesn’t sound quite as easy / fun now, does it? It is, but you have to have something wrong with your brain (like I do) in order to enjoy that kind of work.

But there’s more holidays looming around the corner! And that means more holiday food. People will be bringing in the goodies to work too – and it’s not like I can just have that sweet tooth removed. And after that my wife and I have a trip to the Arnold Classic planned in early March. No, we’re not competing in anything but we’re both in great shape so shouldn’t we look like it if we’re going there? So what’s the answer? More exercise!

It’s more than just trimming the fat though. I had the realization that, almost a decade ago, I felt great about myself when I would go for a jog to start the morning off. I did it for a year or so, maybe more, and I was in great cardiovascular shape and on my way to building up some muscle mass. So why not try to get that runner’s high again and soar through my work days by starting it off with a morning jog? Turns out I only had one thing that I’d overlooked… Cardio sucks.

The after effects not so much, I suppose, but actually doing it is horrible. If you reach the point where you’re vision isn’t blurry and you don’t feel like you might spontaneously expel a lung then you just got horrible bored at the mindless task of running. I’d forgotten most of these things, but this morning I reminded myself. I have a plan though, and it’s a simple one. I’m going to minimize my cardio. 10 minutes or less in the morning, that’s it. Too much cardio burns muscle mass and I want my muscles to stay where they are (or get bigger).

Even so, half a mile at 6mph nearly killed me this morning. Laugh if you need to, I’ll take it like a man. I’ve always been built for speed, not endurance. Think cheetah, but please refrain from any visions of me chasing down an antelope wearing leopard print underwear. Nobody wants to see that.

But in the meantime while visiting family and stuffing my face full of tasty treats I also managed to crank out over 11,000 words on Victim of Fate! I’m still a long ways from finishing but I’d wager I’m somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the way through the rough draft. Bounty, book 3 in my Wanted trilogy, is in the hands of my copy editor now. It’s getting close and this one is going to be great!

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Changing the Rules

October 30, 2012 Leave a comment

My last blog post was about prioritizing the things in my life to get more done (and to enjoy life more). This post segues off of that. Let’s be honest, life can be pretty complicated at times and not allow itself to be rearranged at your whim. Today’s example comes in the form of manual labor, aka exercise.

I’ve many years under my belt as a gymrat. I competed in powerlifting for a while and then had to hang up my weight belt when my muscles and a bar loaded full of weights couldn’t agree on which direction the bar was supposed to travel. I still lift, but my ability to break records and compete has been permanently sabotaged.  My wife is a fairly avid gym-goer herself, although she’s not training to pick up the tail end of a Buick like I am (although I have seen her do some damn impressive feats of strength).

The problem is the kids – they’re too young to leave duct taped to the floor while we head to the gym so we have to find a place to workout that has daycare. That means restricted hours, in order to find something economical. So our workout time isn’t always ideal. In fact it’s never ideal, but since it is a priority to us we work it in. Other priorities sometimes rear their heads – sick kids, after school events, and other domestic emergencies that happen. Ideally we’d like to get to the gym three times a week, given the current setup, but I can’t honestly share the last time we managed that.

So we’ve decided to change the rules. Instead of forcing ourselves to be there for the gym, we’ve decided to make the gym be there for us. We spent some quality time this weekend looking at options and pricing out equipment. Yep, we’re putting in a home gym. This will be my third home gym out of the last four houses (and three states) I’ve been in, so it’s almost old school for me.

The cons of a home gym:

  • Initial investment cost
  • Limited assistance in case of disaster
  • Space required for equipment

I was sweating the initial investment cost. I’ve saved up a bit of money, but I was still looking at having to do things in stages. That’s with my wife finding some killer deals online. Then I suggested Craigslist. After all, the last time I unloaded my home gym equipment in preparation for a cross country move I used Craigslist to find worthy buyers that I gave a great deal too. I’m hoping karma is with me – last night we found a few great options that I’m digging into and so far, things seem positive.

As for the limited assistance, that’s less a problem now than it used to be. I’m not training for powerlifting meets anymore so that means I won’t be trying to defy laws of physics in my basement with only my wife to spot me. She’s a wonderful lady and considerably stronger than she looks, but 400 pounds is 400 pounds. I’ve learned through trial and (painful) error when to listen to my body and when not to, so it’s safety first these days.

Space is the tricky part. Optimizing the basement to fit the necessary equipment is going to be complicated. Ideally I’m looking at a power cage with a cable attachment, a couple of olympic bars, a flat bench and an adjustable bench, and a bunch of weights (including dumbbells). That will allow almost everything I could want or need to do. Picking through other people’s cast-offs I’m not quite finding what I want though. Fortunately we’ve already got a treadmill – unfortunately it’s on the 2nd story and I have to relocate it to the basement. It’s funny how picking up heavy things is fun when it’s done on purpose, but miserable when it involves moving furniture or appliances.

Details aside, the moral of the story is that learning to take life by the horns and make it answer to you requires changes. Both mental and sometimes physical. This will allow me more leeway for writing and spending time with my family. And, as a card carrying member of the Man Club, I’m proud to say that this is one shining example of efficiency not being interchangeable with laziness.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

How To Do It

August 3, 2012 2 comments

Almost every day before the day is done I post on Twitter and my Facebook page a brief update of what the day’s writing was like. How many words and any highlights of what I’ve written. Typically the number is in the 2000 – 3000 or more range. I often use the #amwriting hashtag, though others may retweet it with #inspiring or other such tags associated with it. It comes as a shock and a surprise to many that I can crank out that volume regularly. I’ve been pushing myself to maintain a 1 book a month pace for 2012 and by this time it’s become a habit. Who’d a thunk addictions could be good!

I also often get questions asking how I can do it, and by ‘it’ I mean write that much. Do I keep my muse locked up in a cage under my desk? Do I poke said muse with sticks to make her dance and cavort to release the writing pixie dust? Sadly none of that is the case. Every writer is different, and it comes down to a matter of what you train and condition yourself to do.

I used to compete in powerlifting. For those just sitting down powerlifting involves bench pressing, squatting, and deadlifting the heaviest fricken weights you can lift – and sometimes that comes with disastrous consequences. I set a couple records in the federation I lifted in before disaster struck me, and now I don’t compete anymore. I still lift weights and I still lift heavy, but I’ll never be able to lift what I once did. But you’re asking what the hell weight lifting has to do with writing, right?

It’s the tricks I learned along the way. When training for a major event such as a powerlifting meet the trainee has to be very focused and disciplined. Eating the right foods, drinking the right drinks (and enough of them), and hitting the weights with the right control and frequency. It’s not so different from the Olympics really, except I make absolutely NO challenge to the incredible genetics, talents, and skills the Olympic athletes have – I’ve never been anywhere near that level!

So armed with the knowledge of how to make changes to myself, knowing that I need to focus my brain on the story at hand and sitting down to work on it every day wasn’t that much of a leap. My “trick”, if you want to call it such, is to daydream. Controlled daydreaming, really. I think about the story and what’s happened, as well as what’s going to happen next. I’ll often ask myself, “Okay, then what happened?” And the answer gives me a direction to go. What important bits did I forget or need to change or what if ‘x’ happened instead of ‘y’. I also come up with a lot of ideas in areas where my brain is free to roam. Long car rides, for example, are great daydreaming opportunities. That can be frustrating too, in case the laptop’s not available to write them down.

Once I get there I’ve got the fuel I need to crank out the next 500 – 1000 words at least, and from there new things pop into my head that keep the story flowing into the 2000 – 3000 range. I think my record in recent history was a Saturday when I cranked out 8500 words, but I also seem to recall a 10k day, so I might be getting the two confused. It reminds me of production at a manufacturing plant. Quantity is definitely an important aspect – without product (words, in the case of writers), there’s no chance to finish a book and deliver to the customer (readers). But too much quantity without quality isn’t going to do me any good either. The trick is finding the right mix, and then relying on editing to help with the quality.

So that’s my secret. From 550lb deadlifts to 12+ books a year. The only problem is what works for me might not work for anybody else. Just about every writers has their own tricks. Without exception the only way to find out is to keep trying new things and making yourself keep at it though. Now good luck and what are you waiting for, go write something!

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.