Current Workout, September 2017

Kettlebells

Workout Philosophy

I cycle through workouts every 6 weeks or so. They often change based on what my goals are, especially related to the rugby season.

At the beginning of the off season, I concentrate on putting on muscle (hypertrophy). These workouts are generally medium-high reps (8-12) over 4 sets or so, with medium weight.

Following 6 weeks of hypertrophy training, leading up to the start of the next season, I begin strength training. For strength training I essentially follow the 5×5 method (details here), modified slightly for my needs. In between gym days I’m typically running one day for distance, and one day sprinting.

During season I try not to gain muscle or strength since rugby generally beats you up pretty bad, and expecting your body to make gains while repairing damage is just plain cruel and inhuman punishment. At my age it just can’t be done.

As this season began, I started looking for a workout to help me sustain gains made over the summer, without wiping out my recovery or my central nervous system (CNS). It also had to take into account a couple of small injuries I’ve been nursing for a while now. I tweaked my back over the summer in such a way that squats have been pretty painful. For the time being, they’re out. In addition, I have a perpetual shoulder issue that’s built up over a lifetime of poor bench press technique, and now the pounding of rugby shoulder tackles.  In fact, I’ve been at the chiropractor this week for dry needling because I couldn’t raise my arm after a particularly brutal tackling session last week.

The EMOM Workout

Now that the back story and rationale is in place, here’s the workout. Note the details, following.

Monday

Exercise Sets/Reps
Deadlifts 3 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Incline DB Press 5 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Leg Press 4×8-10
Decline DB Press 4×8-10
Core*

Wednesday

Exercise Sets/Reps
Power cleans 4×8
Shoulders** 4×8-10
Back***
Curls 4×8-10
Calf-raises 4×8-10

Friday

Exercise Sets/Reps
Deadlifts 3 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Decline DB Press 5 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
DB Pull-overs 4×8-10
Core**

Notes

  • If you don’t know, EMOM means “Every Minute On the Minute”. I set a countdown timer on my phone for 10 minutes, and at the top of each minute I perform the reps for that set. Your rest period  is whatever’s left over in that minute.
  • *(core) – I do different core exercises, depending on how I feel. I may do situps / crunches, planks, leg lifts, whatever. As long as I’m doing something.
  • ** (shoulders) – Same here. I often swap between barbell overhead press, dumbbell overhead press, or upright rows.
  • *** (back) – I generally swap between either heavy dumbbell bent-over rows, or pull-ups. I’d do barbell bent-over rows, but, again, right now my back just won’t tolerate it.
  • Friday’s workout is shown as a stripped-down version of Monday’s, but that isn’t necessarily true. I have 3 options for Friday:
    1. Most likely my CNS is blown after a week of gym time and rugby practice, so less is more for recovery’s sake. In this case, I’ll do the stripped-down workout.
    2. However, if I feel good, I may just repeat Monday’s workout, only swapping the bench press from incline to decline.
    3. I won’t work out at all on Friday if I have a game on Saturday. In that case, Friday is strictly a rest, recovery, and fuel day.
  • Recommended weight for each exercise isn’t listed. That’s up to you. You should be able to do the recommended sets/reps with strict form. You should be tired at the end of each movement. But I don’t advocate killing yourself, or even going to failure with each set. However, once you’re comfortable at a given weight, it’s time to increase. I try to increase my weight in a movement 5 lbs / week.
  • Finally, I use dumbbell bench press work rather than barbell because of my injured shoulder. The position your hands are forced into using a barbell is not terribly natural, and can cause shoulder problems at the bottom of the lift. Dumbbells allow me to turn my hand position ever-so-slightly at the bottom, allowing me to get the same pump, without the discomfort. It’s a bit of a blow to the ego not to be able to do a big barbell bench press any more, but it’s stupid to keep reinjuring myself for my ego’s sake. Kudos to Anthony Balduzzi over at the Fit Father Project for convincing me to make the switch.

Results

I’ve chosen to share this with you because I’ve been so amazed at the results it’s given me in such a short time. After about 3 weeks I can tell a difference in how I look and how I feel. My weight on the bar goes up each week, I look forward to getting in the gym and I can see the difference in the mirror. My three goals for a workout are: get strong, feel good, look good naked. This one takes me closer in each category. Give it a try and see how it works for you.

Supplements After 50: Vitamin D

Sun and milk

This is the second in a series called “Supplements After 50”. The first post is here.

You – like me – know of vitamin D because it builds “healthy bones and teeth”. Since the 1920’s, vitamin D has been added to milk because of its ability to help the body absorb calcium. In the 1920’s a lot of kids had rickets (a condition where bones are weak and soft). Lots of people drank milk, so adding vitamin D to the milk was a way to blanket the population.

But there’s more to vitamin D than bones.

What is vitamin D good for?

Besides calcium absorption, there are a couple of other important benefits to adequate vitamin D absorption.

  • Testosterone levels: Since our T levels drop as we become older, anything that will help me keep my testosterone at a decent level is good. At least one study pointed toward an increase in testosterone when a group of men 20-49 supplemented with vitamin D.
  • Increased insulin sensitivity: I’ve spoken about this before, but type 2 diabetes is on the rise. It’s estimated that over 29 million people in the United States alone have some kind of diabetes. My family has a history of diabetes, and I don’t want to be another statistic. Increases in vitamin D increase your level of insulin sensitivity.
  • Brain function: It seems vitamin D receptors are scattered all through brain tissue. Some studies have shown that vitamin D helps increase cognitive function. This includes clearing the plaques that are precursors to Alzheimer’s disease.

Where does vitamin D come from?

There are two, main, natural sources for vitamin D. Food and the sun. Unfortunately, there are few food sources that contain significant levels of vitamin D. According to the National Institutes of Health, fatty fish such as tuna and salmon qualify, as does liver, eggs, and cheese, along with mushrooms. That’s about it.

The second source is the sun. But we’re in bad shape there, too. Most of us have indoor jobs that keep us out of the sun. And even when we do get outside, we lather ourselves in SPF 4000 sunscreen that blocks our skin’s ability to absorb the light our bodies need to produce vitamin D.

Add to that the fact that as we age, we are more likely to be deficient, and it becomes almost impossible to get enough vitamin D from natural sources.

Guidelines for taking vitamin D

It’s been estimated that virtually everyone living in the U.S. is deficient in vitamin D. That doesn’t mean you should rush out and start taking a supplement. Because there are some negative consequences to taking too much vitamin D, you should have your levels checked as part of your regular physical’s blood work.

Complications from too much vitamin D include kidney stones, kidney failure, excess bone loss, and calcification of arteries and soft tissues.

My experience

I started taking 2000 IU of D3 about six months ago. I may be abnormal, but I quickly noticed a difference in my mental clarity. I haven’t had my T-levels taken in quite a while, so I’m not sure how/if that has changed at all. But it was as if a cloud lifted off my brain. I can think quicker and recall details faster. Whether it was tied to some mild depression or something else, clearing the junk away has given me a better overall sense of well-being. I’m so glad I started taking it.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

The Secret To A Good Night’s Sleep – My Evening Routine

Guy sleeping on park bench

You Need Sleep

I really don’t need to tell you that. You know from experience. When you don’t sleep well you feel bad and you’re a jerk. At least I am. But there are other reasons why sleep is a priority, and they become more important as we get older. Here are a few reasons why I prioritize a good night’s sleep:

  • Weight gain / loss. One recent study showed that sleeping less than 5 hours a night (or more than 9 hours, you lazy bum) increases the likelihood of gaining weight. Middle-aged guys don’t need any help putting on extra weight.
  • Sleep and testosterone levels. As we age (guys) our testosterone levels naturally drop. This leads to all kind of changes in our “masculine” makeup that frankly, I’m not ready to make yet. I’m on a quest to keep my testosterone level as high as naturally possible. Several studies have shown that the more you sleep, the higher your testosterone levels are.
  • Sleep and insulin levels. My family has a history of Type-2 diabetes. My dad has been fighting this beast for 20 years. I don’t want to go through what he has. Believe it or not, sleep deprivation leads to decreased insulin sensitivity. If my long term goal is to avoid diabetes, then I need my insulin sensitivity to be as high as possible.
  • Sleep aids in recovery. As an athlete, I need even more sleep than the average office jockey to recover from the physical stress I put on my body during gym sessions and rugby training. My body does a lot of repair work when I’m sleeping.

Set Yourself Up To Win

Just like any goal or sport, “winning” at sleep takes planning and practice. It begins long before “bed time” rolls around. Through trial and error,  I have a series of practices I follow that help me relax, so that by the time my head hits the pillow, I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.

This schedule assumes a couple of things: first, I want to hit the pillow at 11 pm. Second, I want to get up, refreshed and ready for the day, around 6 am. That’s only 7 hours sleep (not really enough), but if I aim for 11 and get there earlier – which I often do – then I feel like I’ve been successful.

My “Sleep” Schedule

2 pm – No more caffeinated beverages. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sensitive to caffeine. For most folks the half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours. Remember “half-life” is the time it takes for half of the caffeine to exit your system. If I quit drinking at 2 pm, I still have half of the caffeine coursing through my system at 8 pm that night.

8 pm – I start cutting back on my fluids. We all know how it goes, right guys?  You have to pee more frequently when you get old. I don’t want to wake up at 3 am to pee. My history is that I used to wake up frequently between 3 and 4 am, and once up, could never get back to sleep.

9:30 pm – Devices are off. I quit looking at my phone. I’m definitely not on the computer by 9:30, and I prefer to be finished watching whatever Netflix episode I’m on by then. I even have an alert set in my phone that goes off at 9:30 to remind me to shut everything down. This is really important. The light spectrum that your phone gives off interrupts your melatonin production, which is what makes you sleepy. Our bodies are naturally made to go to sleep when it’s dark, and wake up when it’s light. If you’re constantly staring at a lighted screen, your body never gets the proper signaling that it’s time for bed.

10 pm – I know this sounds odd, based on my 8pm schedule, but I do get one more drink before heading to bed. I’m a protein junky, and research has shown that a guy my age should take in around 40g of protein before bed to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS) (for more on my protein philosophy, check out this post). Right before heading to bed I make a protein smoothie with a cup of protein powder and a half-cup of plain yogurt (whey+casein protein for a longer boost of MPS) mixed with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water. I also use this time to take any supplements I might be using, like fish oil, Vitamin D3, and melatonin.

10:30 pm – I’m in bed with a piece of fiction. No non-fiction before bed! I forgot where I got this tip, but it’s super useful. I used to read a lot of non-fiction, self-help, business books before bed.  But then my mind would start racing about how I could put principles into action in my life/business and I couldn’t get to sleep. Fiction slows my mind down and within 30 minutes, I usually can’t keep my eyes open.

That’s my schedule. Here are a couple of other random tips:

  • Keep it cool. I have to run a fan in the summer, along with A/C, and a cover sheet.
  • Keep it dark. Hide your phone, hide any little red glowing lights, and if possible, get blackout curtains. We got some about 2 years ago, and it’s made a huge difference in my sleep quality.
  • If you need it, try a melatonin supplement. Also about 2 years ago I went on a quest for a supplement that would help me get to sleep and melatonin was the answer. However, I would get to sleep quickly, but I would still wake up between 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I finally found some time-released melatonin (I use this brand) and even if I do wake up, I quickly go back to sleep.
  • Another supplement that helps with sleep is magnesium.  I tried this for a while, but, frankly, it gave me diarrhea. The original dosage was Magnesium Oxide 500mg and it blew me up in the morning. I cut it down to 250mg hoping it would help, but no. You may have a different experience.
  • Cut down on alcohol. Research shows that although alcohol may help you get to sleep, it interrupts your REM cycle, which is where all the heavy lifting occurs. If I’m keeping to my goal of no liquids after 8pm, that certainly applies to booze. But even by 8 I can over do it, so I consciously try to limit my alcohol.

Conclusion

Sleep is something we often take for granted. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” we tell ourselves. But sleeping can keep you from being dead. I want to be strong. I want to be healthy. I don’t want to be a jerk because I’m tired. I want some sleep! Hopefully, these tips will help you get a better night’s sleep. Do you have any tips for the rest of us?  Let us know what works for you in the comments, below.

Supplements After 50: Whey Protein

SteakAt 50 years old, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. That’s actually a good thing. Most guys my age are trying to trim down, lose the “spare tire”, beer gut, whatever you want to call it. I’m on a quest to gain weight, particularly muscle.

When I was 46, I took up the sport of rugby. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s a story for another time. I had been back in the gym for about a year, and weighed close to 170 lbs. I thought I was fit, but after a couple of weeks of running my guts out in 90 degree weather, I dropped down to 160. That first season I got the crap kicked out of me. Not only was I the oldest guy on the team (by far), I was also the smallest. I needed more muscle to cushion the blows I was taking on the field.

Muscle Building at 50

The problem is that somewhere in your 30’s, your body quits building muscle and actually starts losing it. It’s a natural part of aging called sarcopenia. Of course, with that loss of muscle mass, you also lose strength. I have too many things that require a fair amount of strength; I still play rugby, I work on cars, and because I also have 5 other guys living with me, we get constant calls to help move or lift whatever needs to be moved or lifted.

And hey: I still want to look good naked. And clothed, I guess.

Protein Supplementation

If losing muscle is a fact of life, can we slow the process down? I’m on a quest to do just that, and at this point I’d say “yes”. It wasn’t until I discovered that there’s a magic protein formula that I started gaining weight and packing the muscle back on. Now I’m up from 160 lbs to 175 lbs.

There’s a lot of discussion about this on the interwebs, but the “magic formula” seems to be about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight in order to gain muscle weight. So at my current weight, I should aim for about 175 grams  of protein a day.

To give you an idea of what you’d have to eat to get that much protein, check out these numbers:

  • 1 lb chicken breast = 16 g
  • 1 lb ribeye steak = 108 g
  • Hard boiled egg = 6 g
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt = 8 g

Depending on what’s available in a given day, 175 g of protein would be hard to do. I certainly can’t afford steak every day. So I supplement with 2 protein shakes per day. Each shake contains about 27 g of protein. Along with my regular meals, this puts me in the ball park of my target.

Types of Protein Supplements

There are lots of options when it comes to protein supplements, but the big 3 are whey protein, casein protein, and some kind of vegetable protein. Let me say that as a high school kid I took protein shakes and they were awful. They never mixed well and they tasted terrible. My experience these days is that the whey and casein shakes generally taste pretty good and mix well. Not so with the vegetable protein powders. The ones I’ve tried are pretty terrible, so I’m not even going to mention them in this article.

So what’s the difference between whey and casein, and which one should you choose? It mainly boils down to how quickly the body metabolizes or synthesizes the protein. Whey protein causes your muscle protein synthesis to spike pretty high, but it’s short lived. Casein, on the other hand, takes much longer to work it’s way through your system, so your body is in synthesis mode for a longer period of time, giving you a bigger boost. Casein also has more amino acids that your body needs, especially if you’re really active.

Both casein and whey are derived from milk products, but extracted differently. Whey comes from the liquid portion of milk (mostly it’s a byproduct of yogurt production) whereas casein comes from milk solids. A whey supplement is usually cheaper than casein (because, again, it’s a byproduct of another process) so when pricing protein the cheaper option is probably a whey supplement. But high-quality protein powders will have some combination of the two. Also, you can be picky and buy an all-whey or all-casein supplement.

My Protein Supplement Strategy

Based on my budget, my goals and the application of some recent studies and articles I’ve read, here is how I approach my protein supplementation:

  • One whey protein shake in the morning about 9 am (or 12-14 hours after my last food intake the day before). This is my all-around breakfast shake, so it has more than just protein powder: it has milk, spinach, yogurt, berries, and banana as well.
  • On workout days, I drink another whey protein shake right after workouts. The quick spike in protein synthesis seems to be helpful after my body has shifted into high gear after a heavy workout.
  • On non-workout days I have a simple whey protein shake about  an hour to hour and 1/2 before bed time (which is 10 or 11 pm).
  • Every night I try to eat 150 g serving of Greek yogurt about an hour before bed. Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and other cheeses are good sources of casein protein. Rather than purchase another protein supplement, I get a shot of yogurt to give me that slow-release protein overnight.

Conclusion

This strategy has worked for me. 15 pounds over the course of last year, while dropping a waist size from 32 to 30. For now, 175 lbs seems to be my magic weight; I haven’t gained any additional weight in the last 3-6 months. But I’m at least holding steady, and my strength numbers are increasing in the gym.

Scott Rugby
175 lbs August 2017 Rugby Tournament

If you want some more geeky reading, here are a couple of articles that make sense of muscle protein synthesis, protein timing, etc.

 

Functional Fitness at Fifty

Corban, Stacey and I
A great day – playing on the same rugby team as my son

It’s Monday, and it’s my first day back after an 8-day summer trip. It wasn’t a vacation; far from it. Nine teenagers and three adults spent the week working at a summer camp for kids with special needs. It was a challenging, enriching, emotional experience. And in the midst of the trip,  I found myself grateful for the fact that at 50 I’m fit enough to participate 100% in a journey like this.

What Is Functional Fitness?

“Functional Fitness” is a term you hear a lot if you spend much time reading fitness articles or listening to fitness podcasts. It’s the idea that you should be able to perform the physical acts your body is required to do.  It might be something as simple as reaching up to take a book off a shelf, or as difficult as picking up a heavy box off the floor where you work.

Obviously, athletes or people who perform physically demanding jobs have higher fitness requirements. A smart athlete is going to train regularly in a way that keeps him fit. A worker with a demanding job is going to stay fit by regularly performing the actions required by his job.

As we get older, our fitness requirements seem to get lower and lower, and we succumb to the lie that says that guys “our age” can’t perform at a certain level. Or, we’re stupid enough to think that we’re still “functionally fit” enough to perform, when we haven’t put in the work. Then we get hurt. A couple of years ago I went on one of these trips with a guy in his mid-30’s. We were working at an orphanage in Mexico, painting, cutting trees, laying cement. He pulled a muscle in his back the first day and was out of order for the rest of the week.

What You Miss When You’re Not Fit at 50

Life’s not over at 50. When you settle and believe the lie, you miss out on a rich life. Here’s what I got to do last week:

  • I was able to maneuver kids to/from wheelchairs who couldn’t give me any help.
  • I played kickball, basketball and touch-rugby with my teen-aged sons and their friends after a long day of working at camp.
  • I held a paralyzed pre-teen girl in my arms for nearly 30 minutes allowing her to jump at a trampoline park. Note: I’m not sure I’ve ever been as physically tired, but her excitement made every minute worth it.
  • I spent an afternoon swimming with my kids at a local river. We swam across the (admittedly small) river several times together, enjoying a great summer day.
  • I white water rafted for a day at the Ocoee River.

I was pleasantly tired at the end of each day, even a little sore, since I don’t go rafting or jump on trampolines often. But I was able to participate fully. I returned home intact, with no back injuries or hamstring pulls. I was useful to the staff and kids at the special needs camp. And I had a great time with my kids.

Start by Dreaming

Instead of settling for “I’m too old”, set some goals. Dream of what you’d like to do, or what you miss doing. Start with asking yourself these questions:

  • What do you want to do with your kids? Play a game of pickup after work? Go canoeing?
  • What would you like to do with your wife? Take a hiking trip? Maybe go on long walks at night, without getting winded? Have better sex? (Hey, we’re guys here, right?)
  • What do you miss? Would you like to play on a softball team again? Would it be fun to build something outside, or work on your car? Maybe you were a runner in high school, and you’d like to do it again?

You don’t have to miss out. Set a goal to be functionally fit, to perform at the level that allows you to enjoy the life you dream of. List one of your goals, below, or tell us why you’re happy that you’re already functionally fit at fifty.