I Also Do Healthy Things: Upper Body

Honestly, a lot of my exercising is aimed at increasing upper body muscle mass. With the amount of time I’m on my feet at work and out walking my dog, my willingness to engage in cardio is nonexistent. Also, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body is burning at a standstill, so it’s easier to keep my belly fat at bay.

Granted, I do a decent amount of upper body work at work and when I’m playing with my dog. Throwing around 161.5 pound kegs (thank you Wikipedia) and an 80 pound Doberman on a daily basis can get your whole body moving in ways I never even considered, and my many pulled muscles will attest to that. But, like I said in my last Healthy Things entry, there’s no way I could keep that up without dedicating a fair amount of my free time to increasing my strength (maybe three or four times a week).

Here’s what I do three times over about 30 minutes:
8 to 12 rotating bicep curls (fists start flush with body and wrap up as I curl) holding the shoulder strap of my weight vest (hand not in use at the small of my back to ensure that I’m isolating my biceps and not using my back muscles to hoist the shit up to my chest)
15 to 20 overhead tricep extensions holding the vest with both hands (hold over head while standing, clench abs to maintain posture, keep elbows tucked in close to your ears)
30 to 40 push-ups with the Perfect Push-up rotatey things

Here’s the why:
I start with 8 repetitions at whatever my new weight is (right now it’s at 35lbs), then once that gets easy enough where it doesn’t burn, I’ll up it to 10, then again to 12 before I move myself up 5lbs. This allows my body to adjust to the weight, and ensures continuous improvement without sacrificing form, which is important to maintain so that I don’t screw my body up too badly. The weight I’ve chosen is representative of the weight I feel comfortable with while still pushing myself – I want to barely be able to eek out those last few reps, but I also want them done right.

I feel like this is common knowledge at this point, but just for the sake of saying it:
Lower Reps + Heavier Weight = bulkier muscles (better at lifting heavy shit)
Higher Reps + Lighter Weight = leaner muscles (better at increasing endurance)
Both are important, and both build muscle, but I tend to prefer the lower reps version because I’m going for bulk. So why do I have my tricep reps so high? Because I’m lazy and don’t want to add weights to my vest in between sets, so I just increase the reps. Improvise and adapt or whatever.

I’m using a weight vest for a few reasons. 1) It’s what I have and weights are fucking expensive. 2) It’s adjustable. I can keep adding 2.5lb weights to it up to a total of 60lbs. 3) It’s flexible. That’s important because its shapelessness forces me to engage more of my stabilizer muscles. Also, if it’s flopping all over the place because my form sucks, I have pretty immediate feedback. Similarly, I use the rotating Perfect Push-ups things because it engages a more comprehensive set of my muscles.

This is the most recent iteration of an ever-evolving set of upper body activities I do. What’s important is that I can do it, I can do it quickly, and I feel like I’m pushing myself every time. Kinesiology is finding out new and exciting ways to get jacked all the time, and it’s fun to change it up, but if you’re bogged down by life like I am, it’s nice to have something you can do quickly that engages as many muscles as possible.

This is also worth saying again: the only reason I can do this and work and play with my dog with any consistency is because I stretch. In all exercises, you’re tensing your muscles to perform whatever motion, and if you don’t stretch, they’ll just stay tensed, which can lead to injury and/or looking like an idiot. As jacked as you might be, I’ll be the first to point and laugh at anybody who can’t scratch the small of their back because they don’t stretch enough.

So. Don’t be an idiot. Push yourself. Have fun with it. Stretch. Cheers.

I Also Do Healthy Things: Stretching and Abs

Given how many of my posts are centered around times where I did unhealthy shit, I figured it was time to come clean, and let you all know that I often do healthy things to balance out all those choices. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to say that my lifestyle is largely healthy, but that’s just not as entertaining to read or write about. I’m gonna give it a shot, anyway. Maybe some of this will be useful to you other heathens who need a way to counteract all the bad you’re doing to your bodies.

Stretch

This is an important one. I’ve recently taken to stretching for about 15-20 minutes every day, and it’s paid off in terms of my ability to do my job well and continue with my exercise routines. Grab your yoga mat and throw Moving Art on Netflix, and you’re ready to reset your body.

Start with warm ups: exercises that get your body moving, warming up your muscles so that when you do start stretching, you don’t hurt yourself. I start at the top and work my way down: neck rotations, circular shoulder shrugs, arm rotations, toe touches, and leg raises (tuck into chest then kicking your own ass).

Then I run through about 20 different stretches I’ve learned over the past ten years from military training, way-too-thorough online research, and yoga practices. Again, I start at the neck, work down to the arms, then I skip straight to legs, and circle back to my back. When you’re spending hours lifting kegs and crates, stretching your lower back can make a huge difference, and has allowed me to pick up extra shifts when my coworkers peter out. At some point I’ll create a video running through this whole routine (and the other ones), so you can see the whole lineup. Until then, wing it to your heart’s content.

Exercise

I had a bartender say to me once, “You could basically use this job as your workout!” I think that was incredibly misguided. If I didn’t exercise in my off time, I wouldn’t be ready for game time (during service hours at the bar). I wouldn’t be strong enough to lift that last bag of glass-laden garbage into the dumpster at the end of the night. I’d pull muscles straining against kegs. I wouldn’t be able to confidently escort that drunk idiot out of the bar because I’d be too focused on my aching lower back. So, even when I’m sore from the night before, I push myself to get at least a little bit of exercise in aside from the dog walking and wrestling I do on the daily.

What I’ve found most helpful in terms of sticking to a workout schedule is short bursts of heavy activity. Basically, I need to cram a lot in to a short time window, as my schedule is hectic and I’m often tired. So I’ve come up with ab routines and upper body routines that I can do in 15-30 minutes if I’m pushing myself, and I do those 3-4 times a week most weeks.

Abs: I have a routine that I found a couple years ago that I find to be really effective (based largely on what I know about how the body works and how much pain my midsection is in during and after the routine). I’ve modified it to be a little more taxing than the original version, but I’d recommend adjusting the numbers to fit your level of fitness (don’t adjust them too low – push yourself into discomfort for the best results).

30 Crunches > 30 Straight Leg Lifts > 30 Cross-Body Sit-Ups (both sides) > 30 Bicycle Crunches > 1 Minute Side Plank (both sides) > 1 Minute Plank > 30 Super Man Crunches (lay on your stomach and contract your lower back to lift your trunk and legs off the ground).

I allow myself about 30 seconds of rest between each of those exercises. In the beginning (and for the rest of time), focus on your form. Do less repetitions, but do them perfectly, then work your way up in numbers. And of course, remember to breathe – inhale as you release, exhale as you flex. Your lungs take up space in your abdominal cavity, the less air you have in them when you contract your abs, the harder you can contract them.

There you have it. Entry one in the “I Do Healthy Things” category. More to come. Also, I’m considering doing a 30 day keto thing because why the fuck not? Plus 30 day challenges seem to be the most effective way to get me to actually do anything/write about it. Remember that meditation thing? That went well. I should maybe start doing that again, also…

Rebranding

I’ve spent the vast majority of my formative years meandering through what seemed like a meaningless string of careers and experiences that had nothing to do with one another. I wanted to join the Navy, then I wanted to become a psychologist, then I wanted to work in politics, communications, sales, physical fitness, animal wellbeing, firefighting, comedy, the service industry… The list probably isn’t over.

I know I want to write going forward – that’s going to be a given from now on. In all the research I did on becoming a comedian or an author, so many of those who had already made it asked their audience, “What is it that you want to tell the world? Who are you? What is your brand?” I’ve been struggling with that ever since. Like… Why should anyone listen to meĀ talk about my meditative practice? Why should anyone be willing to lend their precious time to me for the sake of reading what I’m writing? Entertainment? Yes, obviously I’d like to be entertaining, but shouldn’t what I’m saying have some substance?

I think it should. That’s why I’m choosing to pursue this degree in counseling psychology in Vienna. I mean, sure I just really want to move to Europe, and Vienna is calling to me, but that’s why I want to reignite my passion for the field of psychology – because I think I can actually fucking help people. I think all of my failings and falling down and getting back up can actually mean something if I put some time and energy into figuring out their links.

When I was in college, I tried acid for the first time. I was just doing it for the sake of trying it, and it was a small blip in what became years of recreational drug use, but even then I knew it was something special. I read Electric Koolaid Acid Test and I became enthralled with the history and emerging science of psychedelics. I realized that there was something sitting on the edges of our consciousness that these drugs allowed us access to, but I got caught up in the powerful current of doing drugs for fun, and it took me WAY farther downstream than I thought it even could. But now, MDMA is being proven to treat PTSD and more and more research is showing there to be some therapeutic value in these substances I was captivated by (not cocaine, though).

Since high school I’ve been a strong advocate for physical fitness and eating well (mostly). I set up training sessions for my friends and me, organized trips to the park to climb on jungle gyms or throw around medicine balls, researched ad nauseum how different muscle groups worked together, and how to maximize each of their potentials. I’ve continued reading articles through to this day about the advances we’re making in kinesthesiology and nutritional science – how we can fine-tune what we’re putting into our bodies to reach new potentials.

I’ve always been an avid hiker. It’s been one of the most frustrating things about living in Chicago – I haven’t hiked once in the last six months, and I’m pretty sure it’s driving me mad. I’m a proponent of hiking because of the physical aspect, yes, but also because I believe strongly that immersion in nature can have such an unspeakably positive effect on our emotional and mental stability. There is no substitute for being five miles into the wilderness, and basking in the sunlight while you look out on rolling hills and vast mountain ranges, and absorb the energy of the life around you.

Still, there is no substitute for being surrounded by people you love, or people you don’t even know for that matter, and laughing together – unencumbered by social mores and time and space. Going to church and singing with 300 other people, voices harmonizing (or just being kind of shitty, but at least together) is an experience we should all have regularly. Having a drink with friends or making new ones at a bar in a new city can be just what I – what anybody – needs after long hours grinding away at work. We are social creatures, and socializing nourishes us in ways that nothing else can.

I want to study what it means to be a whole human being. I want to become one, sure, but I want to help others find whatever wholeness they can. I think that all of these things are a part of it, each as important as the last. We must all look inward and outward for pieces of the pie (mmmm, pie…), and each of those pieces will help us to paint a more full, rich picture of the people we ought to and can be.

That is the future I’m signing up for. That is the future I’ve been signing up for all along. And dammit, I’m really looking forward to that pie.