Tips for Building Muscle Safely

building muscle safelyBuilding muscle is about knowledge, discipline, patience, and perseverance. When you don’t have these things, you fail. We’ve seen many guys hit the gym, spend two hours doing exercises one after the other, and then disappear because of an injury (e.g. shoulder impingement, elbow tendonitis, and stress fractures). You don’t want to strain a muscle, a tendon, or a joint. You want to build muscle safely in the long run. What should you do?

Consider your current strength level.

You’re probably a beginner, so you have to be realistic. Most beginners will have a hard time doing workouts for the first time properly. When we say properly, it means doing it with correct tempo and form. Beginners have yet to build decent muscle mass and are at base, average strength levels. Many of them would have difficulty squatting 45 pounds in perfect form. That’s because they have not yet built the neuromuscular coordination for weight training. During the first few months, you will have to train using lighter weights. The goal is to train your nervous system and your muscles.

Do the exercises with proper form and technique.

Strength training isn’t just about doing 8 reps of barbel rows or bench press. It’s about doing each rep properly. Gym instructors and fitness coaches insist on the proper form for two reasons–to hit the muscles properly and to avoid injury. You may think you can just squat 90 lbs however you want, but no. You could risk getting spine or knee injury when you do squats wrong. You’re not supposed to progress to the next weight or to harder versions of an exercise before you learn how to it correctly.

Warm up!

You need to prepare your joints, tendons, and muscles before weight or strength training. That’s why you need to do warm-ups, which can be anything like jogging or cardio for 10-15 minutes. A proper warm-up should raise your heart rate and increase blood flow to the muscles, prepping them up for the following intense activity.

Have enough rest and sleep.

You don’t build muscle in the gym or in the kitchen. You tear muscles in the gym. You nourish your body in the kitchen. But building and repair happen during sleep. You don’t get enough sleep? You don’t build muscle. It’s as simple as that.

Be patient and determined.

You don’t go from skinny to super ripped overnight, not even in three or six months. It takes at least a year to see significant changes. Don’t listen to “experts” online who are out to sell you their so-called muscle building products.

Do not overdo sets, reps, and weights!

More sets and reps don’t mean more muscle. Over-training yourself is a sure way to end up on painkillers and trips to doc. Progress safely. Gradually build the intensity and difficulty of your workouts. There are no safe shortcuts here. When you’re done with your program for the day, get out of the gym.

Kettlebells vs Dumbbells: Which is Better for You?

kettlebell vs dumbbell

Kettlebells and dumbbells are both popular workout tools. However, in discussing which between the two types of tools is better, it’s worth looking at your goals in working out. One is better than the other under certain circumstances. In a nutshell, dumbbells are more like your strength training companions, while kettlebells are your cardio and endurance training companions.

What’s the difference really?

Well, the first thing you would notice is their shape. Dumbbells are like little barbells. So they are basically bars with weight plates in both sides. You hold a dumbbell on the center and use it usually as a free weight tool.

Kettlebells, on the other hand, look like metal globes with handles. These are fixed weights, unlike dumbbells, whose plates can be replaced with heavier ones as you progress through your strength training. If you want heavier weights for your kettlebell workouts, you just have to grab a heavier kettlebell.

Different Centers of Gravity

With dumbbells, you’re holding the weight directly in your hands. The center of gravity of the weight is in your hands. This is good in training certain muscle groups for strength. Kettlebells, because of their shape, put their weight and the center of gravity away from you. Training with kettlebells requires you to use more muscles for stability than training with dumbbells. However, while kettlebell exercise do recruit more muscles, thereby burning more calories, they don’t necessarily add so much strength and mass to them.

Different Exercises

As mentioned, dumbbells are used as strength or weight training tools. Depending on your strength levels, you start with 5, 10, or 20-lb dumbbells and perform different exercises (e.g. dumbbell rows, bicep curls, and lunges). As free weights, they allow you to focus more on working out muscle groups.

Some strength training exercises that can be done with dumbbells can also be done with kettlebells, albeit with different effects on your body overall. As mentioned earlier, kettlebells recruit more muscles for stabilization. However, you can only progress so much with these tools until it becomes impossible to advance on the workouts with heavier kettlebells.

Most kettlebell workouts are done at cardio pace for endurance and fat loss. While dumbbells can are also great cardio tools, they are basically strength training tools.

So is one better than the other?

No, neither is better than the other. Dumbbells and kettlebells are just two different tools geared to people with different fitness goals. If you want to build muscle, stick to dumbbells. If you want to build endurance, stick to kettlebells. In other words, go with dumbbells if your goal is to have bigger, more muscular arms or chests. Go with kettlebells if you want to improve your cardiovascular endurance and fitness.

Strength Training Tips for Cyclists

strength training for cyclists

Many cyclists do not know the benefits of strength training to their performance. But that’s not surprising because they are led to believe that they should be training for endurance and not strength. However, strength and endurance go hand in hand when it comes to overall cycling performance. Plus, it is a great way to train in the off season.

When you are a cyclist, you need to have strong upper body, core, and lower body. It seems you are only need your leg muscles, but the truth is you need a full body coordination and balance, which demand work from both your upper body and, especially, your core. Hence, it is vital that you get the right training to be an effective athlete.

The common mistake beginners do is to skip training for strength and head for the road. The thing is you do not develop muscle faster when you start training for endurance on the road. You build stronger muscle for cycling when you train both for endurance and strength. You need that extra muscle strength for demanding tournaments.

In fact, you train not only the lower extremities but your whole body. You are working not only your thigh and leg muscles during cycling but also recruiting your stabilizer muscles to keep you in balance throughout the ride.

Cyclists who include strength training to their overall training program tend to perform better than those who don’t. Contrary to what you might have been told, strength training does not impede or reduce your endurance. There’s a common misconception that athletes should not build muscle because doing so makes them slower in their sports. This is a myth that has no scientific basis.

Fact is you need both muscular strength and endurance to be more effective and more resistant to muscle fatigue. So how do you train for strength?

If you are new to strength training, it’s a bad idea to hit the weights right away. The first thing you have to do is condition your body by prepping up your joints and muscles. You start doing bodyweight exercises, such as air squats and lunges. Core exercises like planks and the different variation of planks are very important. As a cyclist, core strength is basic.

Lift weights!

Strength training requires muscle tension that is provided by lifting weights, not just any weight, but one that’s heavy enough for you to lift for no more than 8-10 reps in the right form. If you can go more than 10 reps, increase the weight. Basically, you would be doing certain weight training exercises for different muscle groups using free weights preferably.

Squat

The squat is like the king of all strength training exercise because it targets some of the biggest muscle groups in the body. We’re talking about the quads, which are basically doing much of the work when you are pedaling on the road. This exercise also targets the glutes. As mentioned, use weights heavy enough for you to do 8-10 reps. Do 3 sets.

You should also do lunges, dead lifts, calf raises, and leg presses. Again, watch your form! You can’t keep doing these exercises with the wrong form without the risk of sustaining an injury and not training your muscles optimally.

Strength training is better done during the off season, usually in winter, to prepare your body for the next cycling season. Come back to the tracks stronger and better. During cycling season, keep your muscle strength by including strength training once a week when you’re not pushing the pedals on your bike.

Should You Use a Sleep Tracking Gadget at Night?

sleep tracking gadgetsSufficient sleep is vital to good health. Medical researchers have warned us about the dangers of poor sleep. Poor sleep could mean lack of hours of sleep or poor quality sleep. Either could result in high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and dementia. The ideal number of hours of sleep is between 7 and 9.

Why Sleep is Necessary

Your body needs sleep because that’s when restoration happens. Healing is at its peak during sleep. This is why you need sufficient sleep when recovering from an illness. Your brain also processes memories during sleep, distinguishing between important and unimportant items there. Think about it as a maintenance procedure wherein the brain deletes unimportant files and stores the important ones in the long-term memory. The result of all physical and mental restoration is you waking up feeling energized and refreshed.

Where Sleep Tracking Gadgets Fit

However, it’s not just how long you sleep that’s important. How well you sleep is just as important. This is the goal of many sleep tracking devices or apps. They are made to monitor your sleep duration and quality. However, it’s good to note what type of device you’re using. A few devices measure key aspects of sleep cycle, such as brain wave activity and eye movements.

Motion Trackers?

One of the most popular devices out there is the motion tracker. A lot of people use it despite absence of scientific evidence for its effectiveness in tracking sleep. As its name implies, it only tracks motion, which is not indicative of the quality of sleep. It doesn’t measure your muscle tone, heart rate, breathing rate, or eye movement.

Smartphone Sleep Apps, Anyone?

They have mixed reviews. They are nothing more than alarms on your phone with a few tricks. According to descriptions, they track your sleep cycles and wake you up when you’re in the light phase of your sleep. Obviously, that’s when you’re about to wake up in the morning. So the app rings the alarm, prompting you to wake up. You could wake up on a vibrating pillow. It’s not so nice. Sleep tracking on your phone apps is not a good way to get a diagnosis of the quality of your sleep.

So What Should You Use Instead?

Aside from the fact, that you don’t need to track your sleep, unless your doctor advises you to go through a sleep analysis. Most of the sleep gadgets out there provide insufficient data regarding the quality of sleep. They don’t measure biometric indicators of sleep. You’re better off not using anything at all and just concentrate on getting 7-9 hours of sleep and making sure you sleep without distractions.

Maybe you can wait for the more accurate sleep gadgets, those that measure brain wave activity, heart rate, breathing rate, eye movement, and muscle tone.

If you can find sleep trackers that measure brain wave activity and biometrics, then get any of those.

Tips to Help You Conquer Insomnia

insomnia tips

Insomnia can wreck your life. Being unable to sleep at night or having difficulty sleeping may be due to several bad habits you can kick off for better quality sleep. There are many ways to beat insomnia and reclaim your glorious respite at night.

Follow a uniform sleep pattern.

Irregular sleep patterns can wreak havoc on your body clock. It is important to keep uniform sleep habits because your brain and body adapts to a specific sleep habit. The best way to do this is to wake up at the same hour every day. This will force your body to stick to its natural rhythm even if you stay late one night.

Make your bedroom comfortable.

You can trick your brain into putting you to sleep by making your surrounding ideal for sleep. It should be dark, so turn off the lights, or at least dim them. Make the temperature comfortable, not too cold and not too warm.

Do nothing else during sleep time.

Put away your books. Turn off your laptop and phone. Don’t listen to music. All these things will only stimulate your brain, thus keeping you awake.

Stop taking long naps during the day.

People who take long naps during the day tend to sleep late at night. Napping affects your body clock. Just take short naps. A 10-minute nap is all you need to recharge your brain. Long naps adjust your sleep rhythm and may keep you awake and alert longer at night.

Ditch the midnight snack.

It sounds cool, but it’s not at all. Your digestive system is supposed to rest at night. When you eat right before turning in, you’re activating your digestive system. In so doing, you keep your body awake when it’s supposed to be resting.

Reduce caffeine intake.

Caffeine is a stimulant you find in coffee, tea, and chocolate. It stays in the body for up to 24 hours. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon or evening is a bad idea if you want to sleep at 10 p.m. and you want to sleep well throughout the night.

Stop drinking.

Alcohol affects many things in the body, including sleep. Do not mistake alcohol’s intoxicating properties for sleep inducing properties. It may appear to make you less alert, but it actually messes up with your brain and disrupts your sleep.

Keep unwanted thoughts out.

Brooding on earlier fiasco at work can keep you awake until 2 a.m. That’s bad if you want to perform better the next day, because cognitive and physical performance are affected by sleep. Worrying and thinking too much keeps your brain active even if your body is already tired. If you have a hard time shaking off negative thoughts, and they are affecting your health, you may consider seeing a therapist or a counselor.

Engage in regular exercise.

Exercise improves your cardiovascular health, immune system, and brain function. It releases endorphins, the good hormones. People who exercise regularly tend to have better quality of sleep. You don’t need to go to the gym. Just walk for at least 30 minutes a day. Jogging, running, and swimming are great options too.