Thursday, August 17, 2017

10 Habits That Change Boys Into Men

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This a much longer article than we usually post, but in my experience it is vitally important today. I have seen the erosion of masculinity over the course of my life. Like the author, I am very happy to have been a witness to the increased opportunities and rise of women and girls. In my opinion, that has nothing to do with the erosion of manhood, but should enhance it. We have just forgotten certain values and habits that I think the author has identified very well. I hope all my students will read and think hard about this.

10 Habits That Change Boys Into Men
Published on July 31, 2017

The demise of our culture will result from the demise of its men if something isn’t changed quickly. Far too many men remain directionless, devastated and scared children.

Male suicide rate increased to three to four times higher than the female suicide rate. Men are twice as likely as women to become alcoholics. And males are far more likely to commit juvenile crime.

Much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles includes:

Why There Are No Good Men Left
The Demise of Guys
The End of Men
Why Boys Fail
The End of Men, And The Rise of Women
Boys Adrift
Manning Up: How The Rise Of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys

A common theme is that men and boys have become increasingly confused about their identity and role in society. Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up, put it this way:

“It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that whereas girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess, or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors of women and children; this was always their primary social role. Today, however, with women moving ahead in an advanced economy, provider husbands and fathers are now optional, and the character qualities men had needed to play their role — fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity — are obsolete and even a little embarrassing.”
It is the norm in Hollywood films, TV and cable shows, and even commercials to portray men as incompetent, immature, or self-absorbed. This underlying message has subtly and increasingly become the collective unconscious with devastating repercussions.

Academically, it is reported in the United States that:

Girls outperform boys now at every level — from elementary school through graduate school.
By eighth grade, only 20 percent of boys are adept in writing and 24 percent adept in reading.
Young men’s SAT scores in 2011 were the lowest they’ve been in 40 years.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of both high school and college.
In 2017, women will earn more than 60 percent of bachelor’s and more than 63 percent of master’s degrees.
Boys make up two-thirds of students in special education remedial programs.
Women deserve the increased success they are getting. They’ve been oppressed for far too long. They’re more motivated and effective than most men. And hopefully society will continue to allow them the increased equality they deserve.

However, this article’s focus is on helping the struggling and confused young man. Indeed, many young men have taken the adverse cues of society as an excuse to evade responsibility and never really grow up.

If you are a young man and you’re struggling, you are not alone. This article is intended to challenge you to rethink your entire approach to life. If applied, these habits will radically set you apart from the decaying norm.

1. Think Beyond Yourself

Kids look to their parents for all the answers. When they become teenagers they know all the answers. Many never mature out of this stage and remain incredibly narcissistic, which is displayed in the following ways:

Believing you are better than others
Exaggerating your talents or gifts
Expecting constant praise and admiration
Failure to recognize other people’s emotions or feelings
Expressing disdain for those who seem inferior
Trouble keeping healthy relationships
Acting as if you have nothing to learn
Moving beyond self-consciousness requires an increase in overall consciousness.

By heightening your level of consciousness, you’ll see the brilliance of humanity in general, be able to relate deeper with others, experience greater joy, and have enhanced ability to manifest the destiny of your choosing.

The following are ways to increase your level of consciousness:

Allow yourself to experience your feelings, rather than block them out. Meditation is a helpful way to do this. You experience your thoughts and feelings, learn from them, then let them go.
Let go of framing your idea of what should be and genuinely accept what is. The journey is the end, not simply a means to an end.
Identify the meaningless things to which you’ve assigned meaning. Happiness and security can never be experienced when dependent on the external — they can only be achieved internally.
Begin trusting your inner voice. If you feel a prompting to bring an umbrella with you, even when the weather report says the contrary, bring it.
Explore the world, experience new cultures, and have your paradigm shaken and reframed.
Question your own intentions and motivations.
Be humble about your own humanity.
Act with love, and become aware when you are not.
2. Stop Playing Video Games

There are a host of both positive and negative effects of playing video games. However, approximately 15 percent of American youth have an unhealthy addiction to video games. Another study reported that 31 percent of males and 13 percent of females have felt “addicted” to video games.

Naturally, boys have a strong need for accomplishment and challenge. Yet, studies suggest that some of the most popular video games are disengaging boys from real-world pursuits. Boys’ need for accomplishment is satisfied by “leveling up” in the game; so they don’t feel the need to go out into the world and solve real problems. Thus, society is not being served by their efforts.

Gaming often gets in the way of important relationships or meaningful life pursuits. 15 percent of divorces are filed by women because their husband prefers video games over them.

This point is particularly significant to me. I myself spent a large portion of my time in junior high and high school playing World of Warcraft. Literally thousands of hours logged-in and lost.

I see many of my high school friends and family members who are now in their late 20’s and 30’s continuing to play 4+ hours of video games per day — even when married with kids.

Playing video games is being touted as a “healthy” way to escape reality. Yet, one must ask: Is escaping reality (especially for extended periods of time) ever healthy?

The need for achievement and challenge can be accomplished in real life. You can “level-up” the real you while simultaneously solving social problems.

3. Learn In Healthy Environments And Lay-Off The Meds

The industrial classroom model is killing our boys. It is not a healthy environment for them. Young boys need more physical stimulation.

The result is that many are improperly and lazily diagnosed with ADHD. Their natural characteristics, emotions, passions, and gifts are being curbed by medications.

Although it is not a popular notion, boys and girls are wired differently. Girls are often exclusively motivated by praise. They will perfect their handwriting just to have it noticed.

Boys on the other hand, are often motivated by tangible experiences that relate to real life. Thus, many boys see no point in having good handwriting if one day they will spend their time typing. They don’t care as much what other people think. They just want to be challenged.

4. Get Intensive Physical Stimulation

Short and intensive learning spurts, followed by rigorous physical stimulation is a powerful and positive way for boys and men to learn. Rough-and-tumble play helps develop the frontal lobe of the brain, which is used to regulate behavior. Sadly, many public schools are removing gym class and recess, further exacerbating problems among boys.

In the recent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, authors John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman share some amazing science and stories. For instance, despite many schools removing gym-class from their curriculum, others have put more focus on it and found staggering results. When kids exercise in the morning, they learn far better.In fact, they improve in all areas of their lives. Human beings are holistic. Your brain, your emotions, your relationships, are all tied together.

If you’re living a sedentary life as a man, you’re not getting the needed stimulation you need. Research has found that males thrive in kinesthetic learning environments — learning through moving.

Healthy Testosterone Levels

Intensive physical activity, like sprinting or heavy weight lifting (followed by extended rest periods) are a good outlet for men’s need of physical stimulation. Moreover, these intensive physical activities can activate healthy levels of testosterone which produce many positive effects — including:

Fat loss
Muscle gain
Healthier bone density
Normalized blood pressure
Lower likelihood of obesity and heart attacks
Increased energy
More enjoyment of career and family
Feeling younger, stronger, sexier, and healthier
Healthy sex drive
Studies have found that healthy testosterone levels affect men’s cognitive performance, and can improve focus, motivation, and memory.

The Need For Physical Pain

Interestingly, boys and girls experience pain differently. For boys, physical pain can be a stimulant fueling mental clarity. On the other hand, physical pain for girls can be a narcotic, making them feel hazy and confused.

I’ve seen this in myself. Some of my greatest insights have come while pushing myself to the extreme while doing yard work or while exercising. This phenomenon is also seen in endurance athletes who push themselves through pain for many hours at a time.

5. Take Responsibility For Your Life And Set Your Standards High

In his book, Boys Adrift, Dr. Leonard Sax explains that boys need — not want — to be responsible. If they are not needed, they don’t flourish.

Men step down if they’re not needed. And because of society’s message that men are no longer needed, many are staying in their parents basements.

Although most men will not go out of their way to take on challenges and responsibility, this is the very thing they should do if they want to thrive. Indeed, it is becoming common knowledge that perception is followed by physical experience in the form of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you will succeed, you often do.

If you set your sights high in life, you will achieve incredible things. In order to do this, you can no longer play the victim to circumstances. Blaming the world, your parents, school, or the challenges you’ve faced in life is not going to solve your problems. It’s going to keep you stuck and bitter.

Instead, take the time to imagine and mentally create your ideal life. Mental creation always precedes physical creation.

You have the inner power to create whatever life you want to achieve. All you have to do is spend the time creating that world with intention. Write down exactly what you want in life. Set your standards ridiculously high. Don’t hold anything back.

Read, rewrite, and reread your ambitions often. These will soon consume your subconscious mind creating new patterns in your brain. Eventually, you’ll manifest the world you’ve been creating in your head.

6. Prayer, Meditation, And Journal Writing

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other religious and spiritual tradition strongly stress the significance of regular prayer. Although the form of practice may be different, the purpose is the same:

Deepened connection to God/existence
The improvement of humanity as a whole
Prayer (and modifications such as meditation and gratitude journals) are regularly found to increase physical and mental well-being.

For me, I often combine prayer with journal writing as a form of meditation. I seek inspiration, direction, heightened perspective, and gratitude.

Scientifically supported benefits of prayer include:

Improves self-control
Makes you nicer
Makes you more forgiving
Increases your trust
Offsets negative health effects of stress
People are often turned-off by prayer, believing it is a strictly “religious” practice. Even if organized religion is not your thing, you can still have a positive and healthy relationship with prayer.

7. Earn Good Friends

You are who you surround yourself with. There’s no way around it. If you want to evolve past your current state, you need to remove yourself from the negative forces in your life. This will not be easy. Misery loves company.

However, when you decide to remove yourself from negative people — and instead surround yourself with people who uplift and inspire you — your life will dramatically improve.

Take the leap. Invite your friends to come along with you. If they don’t understand your needed evolution, kindly bid them a loving farewell.

8. Commit Fully To Someone

“We’re supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. Nonsense.” — Ryan Holiday

With all the productivity and success advice going on in the world today, very little is written about the benefits of finding a spouse who supports you and makes you better.

It is quite rare for people to stay committed to anything or anyone these days. There are countless fatherless children. Many seek easy sexual prey followed by the internal pit of emptiness — too afraid to reveal and confront their true identity.

Research has found that committed relationships can reduce the chance of illness and increase the length of life. Other benefits of long-term commitment in relationships include:

Greater sense of life satisfaction
Increased happiness
A host of practical benefits, such as shared assets and children
Less likely to engage substance-abuse
Decreased likelihood of depression and neglect of one’s health
“Choose your love, love your choice.” — Thomas Monson

I got married at age 24. I’ve never felt restrained by that decision, only liberated. Now 29, we have three foster children, what most would consider a huge blow to our freedom.

This could not be further from the truth in my experience. Instead, I’m challenged to become a better person every day. I’m challenged to think beyond my own needs and to learn patience, humility and love.

I would never make such monumental decisions, such as becoming a parent or getting married, without prayer, fasting, meditation, and journaling. When you’re in a state of clarity, you can follow your intuition and consistently make good decisions. As Malcom Gladwell expounds in “Blink,” snap decisions are often more accurate than well-thought-out ones.

Of course marriage isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But why choose the easy path? As a man, challenge and responsibility is precisely what is needed to thrive.

9. Fall In Love With Learning

Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. We now live in a world where you no longer need to go to college (or high school) to become educated. At your fingertips is an unlimited and ever-increasingly well of information. You can become an expert at anything.

Many of the world’s most successful people attribute their success to a love for learning. They often read one or more books per week. With a few books, you can learn how to build wealth, healthy relationships, and the life of your dreams.

With more information and education, you will make better lifestyle choices. You’ll be less likely to have destructive addictions and make ignorant decisions.

You’ll be more likely to surround yourself with brilliant people, learn new languages and explore the world, come up with solutions to the world’s problems, and have passion and zest for life.

Stop gaming and start reading. The real world awaits. And it’s amazing.

10. Take Bigger Risks

“Don’t fail by default.” — Richard Paul Evans

Richard Paul Evans, the famous writer, often tells a story of being a shy high school kid. In one of his classes, he sat next to the girl of his dreams. He spent an entire year wishing he could work up the courage to ask her out. But he never ended up talking to her.

“Why would she be interested in a loser like me?” he would say to himself.

A few years later, at a high school reunion, they met and talked.

“I just have to ask: Why didn’t you ever ask me out?” she asked. “I always liked you and hoped you would talk to me.”

Evans was shocked.

He had been wrong that entire time and missed the opportunity he spent over a year dreaming about. In that moment, he determined to never fail by default again.

“If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail big,” he has said. “If I fail, I’m going to fail after giving it everything I’ve got.”

Stop playing life small. Date people that seem absurdly out of your league. They’re not — only in your head.

Don’t be conservative in your career until you’re in your 40’s. There is little risk while you’re young, energetic, and motivated. Now is the time to take huge risks. Embrace rejection and failure. In turn, embrace enormous and unimaginable success.


You can have whatever life you choose.

Don’t be afraid to dream big for yourself.

Have the courage to seize that life and truly live, rather than only imagining living.

The world needs you.
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Strong women are never a threat to strong men

Monday, August 14, 2017


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CJ Cummins hasn't been deprived by lack of a Fitbit.

The large number of "fitness" gadgets available today is a double edged sword. On the positive side, it has brought a lot of attention to fitness and gives more people exposure and tools to be more fit. On the other side, as this article states, many are not accurate and can be misleading if one doesn't understand the data and it's limitations. My own opinion is that if you can afford some of these and want to try it, go for it. However, don't feel deprived if you can't afford one or would rather spend your money on something else.

You may have heard of the Fitbit or the UP band: $50-ish to $100-ish wristbands that measure your steps throughout the day, like a high-tech pedometer, and display your progress as a graph on your smartphone.
But this product category has exploded well beyond those common names. There's the Nike+ FuelBand, Garmin Vivofit, the Basis Peak, the Magellan Echo, the Misfit Shine, and on and on. Health tracking is also built into the Apple Watch and the Samsung Gear watches. Wearable fitness monitoring has become a $1.15-billion industry.
All these gadgets count steps. Most also measure sleep, revealing fascinating details about the one third of your life that you spend unconscious. The fancier models can also tabulate other metrics, including heart rate, blood oxygen level, skin temperature, perspiration, body weight and body mass.
That's the great appeal. These gadgets allow us, mere untrained mortals, to gauge what only doctors used to measure. We gain knowledge about the workings of our own bodies—by monitoring measurements continuously, not once a year at a physical.
Meet the quantified-self movement. It's a Web site, it's a conference, it's communities of people, some of whom are raising self-monitoring to the level of obsession.
Millions of people making a greater effort to get healthy and fit—who could argue with that?
There are a couple of obvious problems with the mad rush to quantify ourselves, though—and to sell us gadgets for it.
First, we're almost certainly ascribing more precision to these devices than they deserve. If you wear three brands of fitness band, you'll rack up three different step counts by the end of each day. And don't get sleep scientists started on the accuracy of those sleep graphs; according to researchers, it's brain waves, not wrist movement, that indicate what stage of sleep you're in.
That's the great appeal. These gadgets allow us, mere untrained mortals, to gauge what only doctors used to measure. We gain knowledge about the workings of our own bodies—by monitoring measurements continuously, not once a year at a physical.
Meet the quantified-self movement. It's a Web site, it's a conference, it's communities of people, some of whom are raising self-monitoring to the level of obsession.
But you know what? It doesn't matter. These devices are succeeding not because of their scientific qualities but because of their motivational ones. We all know we should move more and sleep better—but with slow decline, most of us don't bother.
What the fitness bands do is to keep these issues front-of-mind. There it is, every time you turn on your phone: the latest stats on your progress. Most also show the results of friends who wear the same brand; it's fitness through humiliation.
In other words, the accuracy really makes little difference; the point is to keep us aware, to gamify our efforts. In that way, these bands really work. You wind up parking farther away, getting off the bus a stop earlier, going for a walk down the block to bring your 9,374 daily step count up to your 10,000-step goal.
The other concern is less easily dismissed: the data. Terabytes of personal health data, amassed daily in stunning quantities. It's the world's biggest health study—and nobody's running it.
Researchers would love to get their hands on that information. So would advertisers. Insurance companies would have a field day; they could offer active members lower rates than sedentary sloths. (Our rates are already higher if we're smokers or drivers with bad records.)
Who owns the data? Will the makers of the fitness bands sell personal information? Will it be anonymous and aggregated or associated with us by name? What if we want to contribute our data—to a doctor? To a research study?
It's the Wild West at the moment. We're collecting mountains of personal health data and just shoving them into underground caverns. The real promise of the quantified-self movement may not be fulfilled until we determine how to find the gold in those data—and who gets to do the looking.

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None in evidence here either.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Some Differences Between High School and Collegiate Sports

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Collegiate Volleyball is a big step up from High School

At the beginning of a new school year here in the United States, here is a good article giving straight forward advice on making the transition from high school to college. We have several of our athletes getting ready to do this and more that are hoping to in the future.

We take a lot of leaps in life—the transition from high school to college is unquestionably a big one. Add athletics into the mix and that’s a lot of change for an 18-year-old. What most recruits fail to realize before they get to college, they are going from one of the best high school athletes in their area to hopefully good enough to get playing time on their college team.

To help your student-athlete prepare for what’s to come, we asked Kristin Heidloff, current NCSA Head Recruiting Coach and a former Division I college-athlete at Georgetown University, to break down the biggest differences between high school and college sports. Here’s what she had to say:

Training is much more intense

I remember visiting my high school to watch a basketball game during my freshman year of college and I was shocked. The level of play was so slow. Had I really gotten  that much stronger in just a few months? But it was true. When you’re a freshman in college, you’re training on the same program as 21 and 22-year-olds and they push you. Every practice is like an All-Star game. It’s extremely rare for a freshman to be the best player on the team.

Everyone is talented

There’s a whole new dimension added to practice when you’re in college. Every player on the team is good, meaning your spot be taken at any point. Think about it from the coach’s point of view—this is a business for them and if you’re not performing, they’ll replace you. It’s not like high school where your coach is also your science teacher. This is their career and everything is much more competitive.

Your team is everything

One year I spent Thanksgiving with my team and made a turkey at my coach’s house, and then got on a plane the next morning to go to a game. I lived with my teammates, had classes with them, and traveled with them. We did everything together. They became my best friends, my sisters, my family.

Free time is limited

The longest winter break I ever had was 5 days. I flew home on December 22ndand then flew back for a game on the 26th. You always hear that being a college-athlete is a full-time job, but I really think being a Division I athlete is harder than a full-time job. If you have class in the morning, followed by practice, rehab in the training room and then studying, you’re looking at an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. day. That’s why time management is crucial. Your parents are there to guide you in high school, but in college you quickly learn how to manage your responsibilities.

Your coach is more involved in your academics

We practiced every day from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and it was rare for someone to have class during that time. Your college coach wants to know schedules so they can maximize their training programs. In season, we would take one less class to lighten our course load, which made summer school mandatory. We also had to participate in two to four hours of study hall each week. Some coaches receive bonuses based on how their team performs academically so they take it pretty seriously.

Remember that the Division I experience like Kristin’s is the top end of college sports. Other levels, such as Division II, Division III and NAIA, are less demanding and allow for more personal time. It’s important to understand which fit is right for your student-athlete academically, athletically and socially. Setting expectations at the beginning of the recruiting process will help your student find the best program for them and make the transition from high school to college sports stress-free.
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As is Collegiate Football

Monday, August 7, 2017

How Tattoos Might Affect Your Workout

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Tattoos may actually affect your skin's ability to sweat.

Personally, I think tattoos are ugly and usually overdone these days. That aside, they are becoming more and more common, even among high schoolers. This article gives some things to think about before taking the jump to permanently label yourself.

How Tattoos Might Affect Your Workout

Phys Ed


Tattoos may permanently alter the physiology of skin in ways that affect sweating.

According to a small, new study, the amount and saltiness of sweat change after skin has been dyed, a finding that might have implications for athletes who ink large swaths of their bodies and maybe even for those of us who sport one or two discreet tattoos (such as the small one on my right shoulder, in case you were wondering).

Tattoos are decorative, often metaphoric, sometimes regrettable, but always injurious. To create a tattoo, the artist punctures the skin with dye-filled needles at a rate of up to 3,000 times per minute. The dye is injected into the skin’s dermal layer, which is also where most sweat glands are.

The body recognizes these injections as abnormal. They have slightly damaged the tissue and left behind a foreign substance, the ink. So the immune system gears up, sending a variety of cells to the site of the inking. Some cells carry off tiny amounts of the ink, primarily to the lymph nodes, where it dissipates. Other immune cells merge with the remaining ink, so that both become long-term residents of that portion of the skin. Still other cells initiate an inflammatory response, helping the injured tissue to mend, which it usually does within a few weeks.

As anyone who watches sports knows, tattoos are popular with athletes. By some estimates, at least half of male collegiate and professional basketball players have tattoos that cover much of their chest and arms. The incidence seems to be high among football and soccer players and many other athletes as well.

But no one had studied whether tattoos might in any way affect the physiology of the skin and, in particular, the operation of the sweat glands. That possibility matters, since normal, healthy sweat glands are important for athletes (and everyone else). We cool our bodies in large part through sweating. Sweating also releases sodium and other electrolytes.

So recently, Maurie Luetkemeier, a professor of integrative physiology and health science at Alma College in Alma, Mich., and two of his undergraduate students, Joe Hanisko and Kyle Aho, decided to look closely at how tattooed skin sweats.

For their study, which was published recently in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, they began by recruiting 10 healthy, young men with a tattoo on one side of their upper bodies. That tattoo had to be matched by an equal amount of untattooed skin on the other side. In other words, a heart, dragon or John Deere cap (yes, O.K., that is my tattoo) on the right shoulder would be balanced by untattooed skin at the same location on the left shoulder. Some of these tattoos were recent; others were three or four years old.

The researchers then applied small chemical patches to both the tattooed and untattooed skin. These patches contained pilocarpine nitrate, a substance that initiates sweating. (It is commonly used to test for cystic fibrosis.)

Immediately after the skin had been exposed to the pilocarpine, the scientists swapped the patches for small spiral-shape discs designed to absorb the resulting perspiration. The volunteers wore these discs for 20 minutes, while their skin obediently sweated.

It did not sweat evenly on each side, however, the scientists soon discovered, after they had removed, weighed and examined the discs. The discs that had been situated above the tattooed skin were much lighter, it turned out. In fact, each man’s tattooed skin had produced barely half as much sweat as his untinted skin.

The composition of this sweat also was different, the scientists found. The perspiration from the tattooed skin contained nearly twice as much sodium as sweat from the corresponding, untattooed side.

Interestingly, the results were the same, whatever the age of the tattoo. Older tattoos altered sweating in the same way as newer tattoos did.

That finding suggests that the underlying cause of the shift in sweat probably involves permanent changes within the skin after tattooing, Dr. Luetkemeier says. Perhaps bits of the remaining dye block some of the sweat glands. But more probably, he says, lingering inflammatory cells change the chemical environment within that area of the skin in ways that slow the response of the glands and affect how much sodium is incorporated from nearby cells into the sweat.

Of course, this was a very small study and involved chemically induced perspiration. The men were not exercising to create body heat and sweat. They also were not women or elderly. Dr. Luetkemeier and his students plan to study more expansive groups of volunteers in more real-world situations soon.

Perhaps most important, the study does not indicate that those of us with tattoos should sweat too much about our lack of sweat, Dr. Luetkemeier says. It is “unlikely,” he says that tattoos would impede perspiration enough to contribute to overheating or other problems in most people, even during exercise.

“In other situations,” he says, “such as where someone has been severely burned” and lost the sweat glands in the affected skin, “the body compensates,” he says, by increasing sweating from uninjured skin.

 Correction: July 28, 2017 

 An earlier version of this article misstated estimates of extensive tattoos among collegiate and professional basketball players. At least half of male players have such tattoos, not players of both genders
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To each her own, but I'm sure I would regret marking up my body.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Barbells Aren't the Only Tools

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Barbells are the tools of choice, but we are not limited.

We have had several articles in the past about the tools of weight training. This is a nice overview of some of the variety of tools and how they can be used. The original title was....
Why Working Out With Barbells Isn't Right for All Athletes, which I am not real fond of. Having said that, as I get older, I am finding that it is more comfortable to do some exercises with a tool other than a barbell; although I am in favor of using barbells whenever possible. Anyway, nice article.

The barbell has been the cornerstone of strength and muscle building for a long time. And rightfully so as you're able to load one with as much weight as you could possibly need. However, it can often be the wrong choice for many people just walking into the gym for the first time or even for some veterans of the gym. Not everyone is destined to lift that way.

One of the drawbacks, depending on the exercise, is that you can be locked into a certain range of motion or joint motion/angle. This can be potentially hazardous for those who don't necessarily fit that mold of that position. It's unnecessary to put yourself through that stress when there are so many other ways and tools to create strength and hypertrophy gains.

People will argue that it's the ONLY tool suited for exercise, no matter what. But what you have to realize is that the tool is only as good as the user. If the user is unable to manage the tool effectively and safely, then how effective is it going to be?

What can you use instead of a barbell?

Each of these tools can be substituted for just about any exercise, and when it comes to our fundamental movements of push, pull, squat, hinge, and single leg, we can easily adjust to accommodate a different tool.

Let's take a look at some alternatives:

Hip Hinge

When it comes to the hip hinge, we think of the Deadlift right away. And with that comes the notion of not only deadlifting from the floor, but picking up a bar. However, some things such as mobility concerns, structural issues or past injuries hinder the traditional movement.

We can alleviate these concerns by swapping the bar for a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell. If you happen to struggle with the Deadlift because the load is in front of you, which could potentially cause some low-back issues, why not bring the load in closer, like underneath you with a kettlebell. This will help lock in technique and lead to a more resilient body.

Romanian Deadlifts, or RDL's, another hip hinge variation, can be performed with dumbbells to strengthen the hamstrings, and you can have more freedom to put the dumbbells in front of you or to the side. More freedom of movement and more variability in your program can lead to more gains in strength and hypertrophy.


Kettlebell Squats

Everyone can squat, it's just a matter of finding the right variation that suits your needs and abilities. Squatting with a barbell, whether front or back, presents some challenges in terms of mechanics that some are just unable to achieve. So why force it? Because it looks cool in the weight room when you have the bar loaded with plates?

We need mobility in the ankle, hip, thoracic spine and shoulder for a solid Back Squat. Additionally, for the Front Squat, a requisite amount of wrist mobility is needed. If our goal is to shed fat or build muscle, it can be frustrating to slow things down to work on those concerns. Pick a variation you can attack right off the bat, with either a Kettlebell Front Squat or a Goblet Squat.

Because of the loading position and counterbalance the weights give, it can be easier to hit a technically sound Squat on Day 1.

Bench Press

If it's Monday, it means it's International Bench Day. We automatically reach for the barbell because we can potentially put up massive numbers and gain all kinds of strength. However, performing a Chest Press with a dumbbell provides greater freedom to explore various degrees of movement.

Performing a Bench Press with dumbbells can help set the shoulders in a better position and allows each individual arm to explore a range of motion that's appropriate for it. As an added bonus, each arm has to get stronger and develop more stability on its own, which means less imbalance from left arm to right.

Similarly, cables and bands require a degree of stability in the shoulder and also allow some freedom to change the angle of movement. With any of these tools (DB, cable, band) you can alter positions of the wrist and go from neutral to slightly angled to fully pronated, and get a different effect during each one.

Overhead Press

Not everyone is structurally built to press overhead, especially with a barbell. Along with many of the mobility concerns that come with the Overhead Press, there are some bony structural issues as well. This is where we can modify the Overhead Press into something more manageable.

Kettlebells and dumbbells allow you to explore different angles in which an Overhead Press will work for you. Some people feel comfortable in more of a neutral position, while others may find a slight outward angle (scaption) works better for them.

Bonus: Pressing a kettlebell in a bottoms-up position will challenge your shoulder/scapular stability in a way that pressing with a bar can't.

Cheating Bonus: While technically involving a bar, landmine presses are an amazing alternative to direct overhead lifts.

Olympic Lifts

Now you might be sitting there saying to yourself, "Chris, what about Olympic lifts, surely you need a barbell for those?" And you'd be right, you would need one for Olympic lifts like the Snatch and Clean. However, if your goal isn't to be in the Olympics or you just plain don't enjoy those kinds of exercises, kettlebells serve as a great alternative.

These are just variations involving tools you'll see in a gym, however the number of variations we can create expand when we involve specialty bars like the Trap Bar, Swiss Bar or Safety Squat Bar. But we'll leave that for another day.

The barbell is just one tool in a big bag of toys we get to play with at the gym. If this one tool doesn't happen to fit your particular movement capabilities, your goals, or your skill level, pick a different tool and work with it. I promise, your gains will still be there.

  Chris Cooper   - Chris Cooper, NSCA-CPT, LMT, is a personal trainer with over nine years of experience in the fitness profession. He is co-owner of Active Movement & Performance, a training facility on Long Island. In addition to being a trainer, he is also a New York State Licensed Massage Therapist

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017


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Merely watching ourselves lift is not necessarily making us better.

A great concise explanation of howto effectively use technology to improve lifting technique. Today when it is so easy to record and watch our lifts, it is important to understand how to make this effective.

For several years now the technology has evolved faster than the accompanying etiquette or social response.  As an example, not too long ago hardly anyone owned a cell phone that could be brought to a public gathering, and thus there were no interfering rings taking place.  Nowadays it is not uncommon for the audience to be admonished to mute their phones at plays so as not to disturb other members.  Technology can begat the wrong behavior if not monitored.
For the last few years I’ve been watching more and more lifters using their phones to video record their lifts largely because it is so easy to do so.  What is important, however, is the accompanying behavior.  If you’re recording your lifts because you’re an archivist or a narcissist that’s one thing.  More power to you. 
If you’re recording them so that you can improve your lifting, then you need to view each video after the actual lift and try to associate how your body felt as the video provides you with visual feedback.  You need to learn to associate the feeling with the visual so that eventually you won’t need the visual.  It is at that point that you are on the pathway to developing the body awareness needed to be an athlete.  If you don’t try to make that association then you are just watching a chronicle of your life.  That is not developing athleticism. 

-Robert Takano