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Should I Buy Herbal Testosterone Supplements?

Should I buy herbal testosterone supplements?

I hear that question on a regular basis from young guys and adults. The short answer is, “Hell no!”

These herbal remedies are just a not-so-sophisticated way of separating people from their hard earned cash, and in this economy nobody can afford to throw their money away.

Herbal supplements in general have suspect pedigrees, but none are more suspect today than these so-called testosterone boosters. Despite the grandiose claims made by supplement hucksters, there really isn’t any legitimate science-based support for the use of herbal supplements for increasing testosterone levels.

As a matter of fact, the science-based support for testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is far from a slam dunk, with the exception of helping to improve libido.

The ads for herbal testosterone boosters (and even for legitimate testosterone therapy) border on the irresponsible with regard to the claims made about what the supplements can do, and these ads provide a list of vague symptoms as being caused by low testosterone. Weak.

The science these marketers employ to support the use of their products is even weaker.

Don’t fall prey to these hucksters. The endocrine system is complex and taking an over-the-counter herbal supplement to improve testosterone levels is ridiculous and a waste of time.

Is CrossFit the Sport of Fitness?

CrossFit Level 2 Seminar at CrossFit Vauxhall

Has the “Sport of Fitness” really arrived in the form of CrossFit, via Reebok? Sorry to disappoint you, but no, it hasn’t. The Hype of Fitness, however, is in full gear. Like clockwork the Fitness Industrial Complex uses the mainstream media to overhype an existing, but perhaps fringe or niche element of the exercise world.

Step classes, cardio kickboxing, self-defense bastardizations, yoga, pilates, Latin dance steps, boot camps, distance running have all undergone this hype machine treatment over the past three decades. CrossFit, and all of, its iterations and clones is now being pimped by Big Fitness.

There’s a lot of money to be made in them thar shoes and activewear, and with our short attention spans retailers need a constant flow of vehicles by which to move merchandise. CrossFit is just the latest in a never-ending, always-changing string of hype vehicles.

On display is marketing at work, because nothing about CrossFit resembles sport. A lot of people would argue that it isn’t even fitness. Doing something that makes you tired is neither a sport, nor is it necessarily fitness. Discuss amongst yourselves. I would say basketball, swimming and tennis are probably the closest to being the real sports of fitness. Lifting weights, throwing medicine balls and doing calisthenics by themselves aren’t sports, so how do they be come a sport by creating this mash-up?

And then there is the execution of the idea of CrossFit. When this style of exercise is performed by athletes it looks great. However, go into a local outlet, or check out the numerous CrossFit knock-off classes that you can find in just about any gym in America, and it is U-G-L-Y. A lot of reps and sets of poorly performed exercise really isn’t good for you. And doing as many of certain exercises in a certain time period, or doing in rapid fire exercises that are best done as stand alones isn’t an evolution and is not ground-breaking fitness.

So, if you want to get out there and jump into the CrossFit hype pool be my guest. But there are way better ways to spend your exercise time, effort and money.

Seven Things You Should Stop Doing in the Gym, Immediately

There are so many people doing so many things wrong in the gym that I hardly know where to start when it comes to trying to get them to change their ways. The fitness field is unlike any other that I can think of, in that there has been little change in the mainstream public’s approach to exercise over the past 35 years. Every time I workout in a gym (not my own) I see an amazing array of ridiculousness.

So here is a list of seven things that people have to stop doing in the gym, in no particular order. Oh, and I’ll say “please,” because you really need to change.

1) Please stop doing all of the lateral, front and bent-over raises. You aren’t helping your shoulders, you aren’t building muscles or strength in any meaningful way, and you are wasting your time. As a matter of fact, you are hurting yourself. The deltoids are small muscles and do not need to be pounded with three different variations of high-volume training. If you want to build strong shoulders and give yourself the best chance to add muscle and improve function limit your shoulder training to military/overhead presses with dumbbells and barbells. Please.

2) For the love of Jack LaLanne please stop with all of the machine-based cardiovascular exercise. I understand the allure of the new fangled treadmills, stair climbers, elliptical trainers and all of their variations. But all that glitters isn’t gold, and won’t improve your fitness level either. Here’s a tidbit of info: Your hamstrings work in a completely opposite manner on the treadmill as they do on Terra Firma, so you really are teaching your body to move incorrectly if you do treadmill training. Try calisthenics, the rowing machine (the only good cardio machine), and movement-based exercises. And if you insist on doing the treadmill, stop holding on to the rails while leaning back, and don’t hold dumbbells, while walking. Pretty please…

3) Eliminate “Abs and Arm” days from your training regimen. Pretty please, with sugar on top. This kind of workout is probably the biggest waste of people’s time, along with “Number 2,” from above. Your biceps and triceps are tiny muscle groups and act as support to the larger muscle groups that are the prime movers in pushing and pulling. So if you are doing the right kind of training, your little biceps and triceps are getting more than enough stimulus to promote growth. Aside from those who are using steroids and other illegal muscle building drugs, doing a lot of arm training will actually keep your guns from growing. Show me someone who is awesome at doing push-ups and pull-ups and I’ll show you someone with great arms. And great abs, for that matter. If you spend a lot of time, actually any time, doing abs while lying down or seated in a machine you are wasting your time. Here is a homework assignment; research improving the strength of your abdominals and eliminate everything you find that has you horizontal or relies on a piece of equipment.

4) Don’t fall prey to the CrossFit/Boot Camp mentality, that says you can beat yourself into submission as a way to make you stronger, por favor. So not true. Every workout shouldn’t be about how much punishment you can take. If you ever watch the television show, “The Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel you will see how putting the body in crushing physical situations only serves to break the body down over the long haul. 35-year old guys look like 55-year old guys and have a litany of permanent physical problems. The setting is different, but constantly beating yourself up in the gym is not a winning long-term strategy to improve performance or health and fitness.

5) Please stop sitting down during your workouts, both while exercising and while resting. You are in the gym to exercise and, except for rowing, there isn’t a physical activity worthwhile that is performed in the seated position. Staying on your feet during your training sessions one of the simplest ways to improve your workouts. And recent research shows that sitting can be as detrimental to your health as smoking. My sense is that this is a bit of hyperbole, but it has been shown that too much sitting has a negative effect on health and fitness even for people who get the recommended amount of exercise.

6) Use aerobics and spinning classes as the occasional change of pace to your routine, and not the backbone of it. Not to be too harsh, but next time you’re in a class, look around you and assess the state of your fellow class-goers. If these classes were so great, more people would be satisfied with the way they look and feel.

7) I’m begging you to stop working with any personal trainer who has you doing any of the following: using machines; has you exercising while lying down for more than 10% of your session; starts your workout by doing abs and/or arms; has you lunging or squatting with weights of any kind before you can properly perform these exercises while standing; watches while you are on a piece of cardio equipment (unless you are doing intervals during circuit training); pushes you to the point of nausea or exhaustion. There are more items I could add to the list, but I’ve gone on long enough.

So stop doing these things. Please.

Variety is the Spice of Workouts

You need to have variety in your workout routine. You shouldn’t perform the same workouts over and over again, and using a variety of different workouts over time can help keep you from getting bored and help you improve your fitness level. You can get this variety by using different exercises from workout to workout and by making slight variations to exercise during each workout.

I hope you squat during your workouts. You really should, as the squat is one of the great exercises. A great way to get variety in your workouts is to use many different stances/foot positions during your squat session.

You should use the basic, shoulder-to-hip width “even stance’ foot position for squatting, but you should also use squat stances of different widths. Squat with your feet thisclose together, really wide, and all points in between.

But don’t limit the variety you use to the width of your squat stance, as you can also stagger your squat stance so that one foot is slightly in front of the other, using about a heel-to-toe relationship. Of course you should perform an equal amount of squats with each foot forward – balance is as important as variety in your workouts. You can also point your toes out, in, have one foot straight and the other foot pointed, either staggered or even.

When you add the different width stances to the staggered stances and other varieties, you can experience a tremendous amount of variety in your workouts. You don’t have to do all of the varieties in each workout, but feel free to experiment and mix and match.

Another leg exercise, the lunge, can be altered in many ways. You can step forward, step on a variety of angles forward, laterally, and a variety of angles to the rear. Utilizing this kind of variety in your workouts can be a tremendous boost to your fitness level.

The push-up, another great exercise, can be modified with the pattern used with the squat. Changing your hand positions from set to set, changing the width, stagger and angles of the hands will make push-ups more challenging and effective than sticking with the traditional method, set-after-set, workout-after-workout.

Experiment with having your hands at different heights, placing one hand on the floor the other hand on a Reebok Step or other similar piece of equipment. Be creative and your workouts will be more fun and effective.

Are You Getting Better or Just Getting Tired?

So, you workout. You’re serious about your workouts and you work hard. You never miss a workout. Rain or snow or shine, holiday or birthday, weekday or weekend, you are at the gym pushing yourself as hard as you can. Other people recognize your commitment and hard work and it makes you feel good, makes you push hard even on days when you don’t feel 100%.

But here’s a question for you. Are you getting better or just getting tired?

Make no mistake about it; just because you work hard doesn’t mean you are materially improving. Just because you have nothing in your tank at the end of a workout doesn’t mean you are experiencing development in any meaningful way.

The human body is an amazing machine and is capable of performing a great deal of work, but being able to do this work is not always a positive thing, and does not mean you are getting yourself in shape. Your body doesn’t recognize intent, so if you’re beating up yourself in the gym or on a crab boat in the Bering Sea, it matters not.

You can wear down and do harm to yourself despite your best intentions. Make no mistake about it, wearing yourself down and beating yourself up is not getting in shape. Being able to spend hours and hours in the gym doesn’t prepare you to do anything – endure anything – but spending hours and hours in the gym.

The body doesn’t grow – improve – as a result of constant work. It grows as a result of a combination of quality work and rest, and the older we get the more rest we need. In many cases, it’s not more and more exercise, but less and better exercise, and more rest.

Quality over quantity. High-volume/low-intensity work that can be done everyday isn’t worth much. If it gives you a sense of accomplishment to spend hours in the gym everyday, that’s about all it will do for you. So evaluate your workouts. If you are always at the gym, spending hours to finish workouts, and constantly pushing to do more, it might be time to back off. You might be doing good stuff, but doing too much of it.

Why You Should Take Time Off From Your Workouts

There is obviously a huge divide in our society between those people who exercise and those who do not. But from what I see, there are subgroups in the exercise group; those who exercise and those who exercise too much. Yes, exercise too much.

Just like any other human endeavor, there can be too much of a good thing. Recovery from exercise takes many different forms – between sets, between exercises, between workouts – and can last seconds, minutes, hours, days, and even weeks. For the folks who overdo the exercise, their rest rarely goes beyond the hours stage.

There is so much information out there on exercise, that the advice to rest and recover gets drowned out. So while other coaches are constantly preaching the message of activity, I concentrate on the benefits – and necessity – of rest. Lack of rest and recovery can make a good workout bad.

Sound elements, great program design and proper technique can all be undone when you don’t take enough time to rest. Too little rest can reduce, and in many cases, eliminate, the desired benefits of exercise. From exercise to exercise, workout to workout, not taking enough time to let your body recoup will have a detrimental effect.

I have written about Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) and how it can derail even the fittest, most athletic members of the population. Unlike the common cold, which everybody knows when they have it, many people don’t realize that they are in the throes of OTS. The complex series of symptoms presented by OTS are the result of training too hard, too often.

Soreness, fatigue and a compromised immune system are just a few of the symptoms, and they can present themselves in a very short period of time. It doesn’t take long for someone who regularly trains, to overtrain. Understand that any workout or activity that you can do everyday is of low-quality and unlikely to provide a stimulus to improve your fitness level beyond the lowest level. And after a few months no benefits accrue from this kind of exercise.

Take time off from the gym when you are healthy, feel good and are 100%. Don’t wait until you are sick or injured to take time away from the gym; this does not count as time off. The most beneficial type of recovery occurs when you are not sick or hurt.

What is Vertical Stability and Why is it Necessary?

Anybody who has spent any time in a gym has most likely seen people performing exercises while in a horizonal position. You know, lying down. There are a variety of exercises that can be referred to as “planks” that are very popular that have been touted as developing core strength. Ah, core strength, one of the great fitness buzz terms of the past half century…

But these exercises, which can develop horizontal stability, have little purpose and contribute even less to function. We need vertical stability because we operate vertically, standing upright on two feet, not horizontally on all fours or lying down. Gravity exerts a precise force on our bodies while we are standing – differently than when we are horizontal – so we should perform the vast majority of our exercises while standing.

Your hip works in a different manner when you are on all fours than it does when you are standing, so this “all-fours” exercise will only make you “better” when you are in this all-fours position. Unless you walk around on your hands and knees you are wasting your time, and you also have some other problems.

Planks have their place in an exercise program as long as the place is somewhere in the first three to six months (and I am being generous) of a newbie’s workout program. When a formerly inactive person makes the transition to active, their overall strength (including core strength), balance, coordination, agility, etc is quite bad.

This is where the plank family of exercises comes in. Despite what you may think, these exercises are quite easy, which is why they are suitable for beginners. These basic planks can help prepare the body for the (hopefully) rapid transition to standing, two-footed exercises. So do your basic forearms and toes plank, get good at it, and move on up to standing on your feet. And don’t look back.

Now I know what some of you are thinking; “But Sal, some of those planks are really hard and some of them I cannot even do!” To which I reply in a number of ways.

1. Just because an exercise is hard to do doesn’t make it a good exercise to do.

2. The horizontal exercise is hard to do because we have evolved away from performing in this posture and we are not built to work this way.

3. You can train a muscle to do anything, but doesn’t make it the right thing.

Four-legged animals are efficient at performing certain tasks, but put them in a two-legged stance and not so much. For humans a four-legged, horizontal posture is beneath our capability level. It is kind of like putting a snow plow on a Porsche; not a good use of the machine.

We have evolved to be able to perform high functioning tasks precisely because we do not use – do not need – our upper limbs for balance and locomotion. Walking upright has allowed the human brain to pursue more complex functions like manipulating objects (throwing and catching) and a wide-range of intellectual pursuits like art, philosophy and developing reality TV shows.

The benefits of working while horizontal are limited to operating in the horizontal position and quite frankly this work is counter-productive. Vertical stability, not horizontal, should be worked on in every exercise session.

Should I Do Calf Raises?

Of all of the waste of time exercises that people do in the gym, calf raises and all of its iterations, are probably the worst of all of these exercises. And of all the machine-based exercises, no other machines are as much of a waste of space, iron and cable as the various calf raise machines.

Stop doing calf raises. Just don’t do them.

In the abstract, in isolation, the calf muscle may be getting stronger. But this strength gain is meaningless because it there is little, if any, transfer to improving movement or actual function. The goal should be to train movements, not muscles.

The calf doesn’t work in isolation to produce any movement that we make, so there is no reason to perform an exercise that isolates the calf muscle, insulates it from the other muscles that it works with to produce functional movement. There is no reason to train any muscle in isolation.

The calf raise is the biceps curl for the legs. There’s an old saying they use in golf that says, “Drive for show, putt for dough.” When it comes to leg training we can adapt it too, “Calf raises for show, squat and lunge for dough.”

Walk into any gym, anywhere and you will see plenty of people doing all kinds of leg raises, but you rarely see the squat and lunge being performed, let alone performed correctly. And for goodness sake, do not superset calf raises with other purposeful exercises like plyometric jumps or squats and lunges.

The calf raise is an less-than-ordinary exercise that should be consigned to the scrap heap of exercises, exercises from a by-gone era when we just didn’t know any better.

How to Make Hard Boiled Eggs

You would think making hard-boiled eggs is easy, but it can be tricky. And if you follow the slow-carb diet featured in the book “The Four-Hour Body,” you will eat a lot of hard-boiled eggs.

To be honest with you I had never really eaten, or made, a lot of hard-boiled eggs before I read the book and started following the slow-carb eating plan, and was surprised and aggravated to find that it takes more than just plopping them into a pot of water and turning the flame on high.

The biggest problem I had with hard-boiled eggs was that the shell wasn’t coming off cleanly when I peeled them. The thin, paper-like skin between the shell and the egg wasn’t separating from the egg and big chunks of egg were coming off with the shell, and it was gross. Another problem was that the eggs were cracking during the boiling process, sometimes ruining the eggs.

If you are making a bunch of eggs and following the slow-carb diet, wasting eggs is the last thing you want to do. You also don’t want, or need, the hassle of peeling hard-boiled eggs.

So here’s what I do now.

I try to remember to take the eggs out of the refrigerator the night before so they are at room temperature when I put them in the water. One of my clients suggested adding baking soda into water, and this has seemingly helped.

Another thing I do is run cold water over the eggs when they are done and crack the top and bottom of the egg, which lets the water get under the shell, and then cover the eggs with ice. A large cup of ice does the trick.

To make this whole process easier, I picked up a timer that goes into the pot with the eggs and turns color to indicate that the eggs are done. This way I don’t have to keep track of time.

If you are going to eat, and make, a lot of hard-boiled eggs following these simple steps can help you save a lot of time and effort, and avoid aggravation to boot.

Should I Buy the 20-Second Workout?

The “20-Second Fitness” training program is a riff on the legitimate Tabata Interval method of high-intensity training. As a matter of fact, of all of the marketing-driven/created exercise programs that I have encountered over the years the underpinnings of this “20-Second Fitness” program are as solid as you can get. But that doesn’t mean that you should buy it.

As a matter of fact, the “20-Second Fitness” program gets a “Do Not Buy” recommendation. Here’s why with a little bit of background info.Tabata Intervals are a totally legit high-intensity training method. Researchers found that performing high-intensity intervals for 20-seconds on a stationary bike, with a 10-second rest, repeated over 4-minutes provided serious results.

The original study consisted of highly trained athletes in peak condition who were able to work much harder than the average person over these 8 intervals. During these intervals these subjects maintained a pace of 85 RPMs and their training heart rate was way above what the average person can achieve/maintain.

You should not try any extreme training that will elevate your heart rate beyond prescribed levels unless you are well-trained and are under proper guidance. This is not meant to offend, but there are very few people out there who are capable of performing true Tabata Intervals.

Do a Google search for “Tabata Intervals” and you will find plenty of info.

No doubt in an attempt to capitalize on the New Year’s Resolution crowd, the “20-Second Fitness” folks want you to buy stuff, but you do not really need any equipment to take advantage of the very real benefits offered by Tabata training. You certainly do not need to purchase DVDs and fitness accessories for $100.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a proper progression for regular folks who want to try Tabata Intervals, but the proper application of these intervals does not require equipment or DVDs.

As a matter of fact, if you do the Google search for “Tabata Intervals” you will find the site, TabataProtocol.com, which will give interested parties an excellent outline of an interval progression. The science behind “20-Second Fitness” is sound, but this doesn’t mean you should buy the program.