Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spartan 300 Workout

The "300"

A new movie boxoffice called "300" has generated huge sales in recent weeks. The movie is about the Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas and 300 Spartan warriors fought against Xerxes and the million-man Persian army.

There is a lot of buzz now about how incredibly fit all of the actors who portrayed the Spartans looked. Is it a hype?

All the actors looked very fit, lean and muscular. You can tell that they didn't do the traditional body-building type exercises. These stuntmen-turned actors only had a few months to get from "already in shape" into "shreded" ready for the big screen shooting - definitely no time for endless sets and reps.

The Spartan 300 Workout is performed in a strength circuit training fashion to simultaneously build lean muscle, increase muscular endurance and lose fat fast. It's a "timed" fitness test, not a workout routine they train everyday.

Do the following exercises back to back without rest in between until finishing all 300 reps as one cycle. Some exercises are based on bodyweight workout or plyometric explosive power training.

Spartan 300 Workout Routine

Pullups x 25 reps
Deadlifts (135-lb barbell) x 50 reps
Pushups x 25 reps
Box Jumps (24-inch box) x 50 reps
Floor Wipers (135-lb barbell) x 50 reps
Single-Arm Clean-and-Presses (36-lb kettle bell) x 50 reps each arm
Pushups x 25 reps

Total Work = 300 reps in one cycle! That's right. 300. Period.

I'm sure 99% of people would fail on the first exercise (pullups) no matter how many sets they're allowed to do to complete the 25 reps.

Additionally, Trainer Mark Twight also put the actors through other very brutal functional strength training such as tire flipping, gymnastics-style ring pushup, medicine ball exercises, farmer's walk, bear crawl, running with a jumpstretch band, and a lot of "core" conditioning exercises.

My last word of caution: the "300" was in fact a "timed" test, a fitness challenge taken by some of the actors at the end of the 4-month training. It's a true test of anyone's mental toughness, muscular strength and endurance, and cardiovascular conditioning.

Is "300" THE best workout? Not necessarily. But it's absolutely an excellent conditioning routine. Before you flip-flop your training program, it's how you do a training program consistently that really matters to see the results.

Success = Progression + Overload + Consistency + Nutrition
Still having troubles? How many of us are related to Spartans anyway?

Here is a Backyard Spartan Warrior 300 Workout video I personally demonstrated that you can do right at your backyard. Check it out >>

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Exercise Is Good for Your Brain and Your Heart

More New Evidences about the Benefits of Exercise

The March 26, 2007 issue of Newsweek magazine covers a special Health for Life report.

Now scientists have more evidence to show that exercise helps build muscles, prevent heart disease, boost brainpower - and perhaps delay the development of Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive disorders. Researchers also have found more evidence as to how physical activities affect brain functions and moods. These are more evidences to support that running is good for your brain.

Exercise for Your Body, Exercise for Your Brain

Exercise can make people smarter. A strong, active body is crucial for building a strong, active mind. Exercise is long believed to have mental health benefits. The mental effects of exericse is far more complex than orignially thought. When you work out with your muscles, your body releases a protein called IGF-1 that triggers production of several chemicals, including one called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This molecule is called "Miracle-Gro for the brain" by Ratey, author of a new book "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain." BDNF might transform stem cells into full-grown, functional brain neurons that help learning.

Exercise --- The Best Anti-depressant?

Exercise is a pretty good antidepressant - biologically equivalent to medications. They both appear to spur nerve growth in the hippocampus region in the temporal lobe of the brain that is involved in regulating mood and storing memories. Through this mechanism, exercise probably relieves and likely prevents depression.

Vigorous High-Intensity Exercise Is Even Better

A recent study by Brian Duscha and his coworkers in Exercise Physiology at the Duke University School of Medicine showed that moderate exercise is fine, but a more vigorous workout added benefits. "Almost all cardiovascular rish factors respond significantly better to vigorous exercise than moderate exercise," says Brian Duscha. Vigorous exercise also has extra benefits in sense of purpose, ambition and self-confidence to Jessica Kavoulakis, a New York City lawyer and marathon runner.

Another review paper published in The American Journal of Cardiology by David Swain and Barry Franklin showed that vigorous exercise had greater improvements in aerobic capacity and glucose control and greater reductions in blood pressure for controlled total energy expenditure.

High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) Cardio Exercise

These studies confirm that High intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) cardio exercise is better than the long, slow, boring aerobic exercise in improving cardiovasular fitness and overall health. H.I.I.T. cardio workout is very taxing to your body. Try to limit full H.I.I.T. cardio session no longer than 30 minutes each time, no more than 3 times a week, preferably on non-strength training days.

Want to lose body fat, sculpt your lean and strong body, and reveal your six pack abs faster? Add a short 10- to 15-minute H.I.I.T. cardio at the end of your strength training session to blast your body. You'll boost your metabolism and keep your body in fat burning mode for good 24 to 48 hours. You also save your cardio time in the gym.

Learn the secrets to perform H.I.I.T. cardio and lose unwanted body fat in no time. >>

Some Cautions Remain ...

Of course, vigorous high intensity workouts are not for everyone. Always see your doctor before starting an exercise program, particularly for adults with risk factors in heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. Hiring a qualified personal trainer is a great idea to help you get started and monitor your progress. Too much too soon is a common mistake to cause injuries for deconditioned people or beginners. Start slow and work up exercise intensity gradually to a more vigorous program. Periodization is a fitness and sports training program to keep you on track and make continual progress.

Still not convinced or motivated to jump off your couch and start exercising? Don't forget. Regular exercises and physical activites have many health benefits.

Health Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity:
  • Reduce the risk of premature death

  • Reduce the risk of developing and/or dying from heart disease

  • Reduce high blood pressure or the risk of developing high blood pressure

  • Reduce high cholesterol or the risk of developing high cholesterol

  • Reduce the risk of developing colon cancer and breast cancer

  • Reduce the risk of developing diabetes

  • Reduce or maintain body weight or body fat

  • Build and maintain healthy muscles, bones, and joints

  • Reduce depression and anxiety

  • Improve psychological well-being

  • Enhanced work, recreation, and sport performance

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Pilates for Strong Core Muscles and Lean Body

Pilates has been gaining popularity in recent years in yoga studios, health clubs and fitness centers. About ten million Americans have tried Pilates approach. Some people have tried it to help relieve their back pain or stress. Some others want to have dancers' long and lean body. Some facts about Pilates:

  • Pilates was developed by Joseph H. Pilates prior to World War I to help injured soldiers regain their mobility.
  • Joseph Pilates developed hundreds of exercises to be performed on resistance-spring contraptions such as the Reformer and the Tower.
  • The principles of Pilates are all about mind, breathing, centering, control, precision and fluidity.
  • "Mat Pilates" moves are developed based on exercises performed on the floor without any apparatus.
  • The dynamic sequencing movements benefit the whole body, in particular target the core muscles. The goal is to stabilize the body and improve strength, flexibility, balance, posture and alignment.
  • Pilates movements are performed with concentration with focus on a specific "imprint" breathing method.

When working with Pilates movements, you'll almost work on every muscle group directly or indirectly with an emphasis on balance and strengthenging of core muscles (abdomen, back and buttocks). It's more than just physical movements. You'll learn proper breathing, posture and positioning.

The unique Pilates "imprint" breathing creates body &mind connections and make the core movements much more effective. You'll learn how to activate and engage your "transverse abdominus" - the very inner layer of your core muscles that acts an safety belt around your waist to protect your core.

Pilates can help you build a well-around balanced fitness training program. Want your six pack abs to show? Give it a try as part of your complementary cross training program for improving strength and flexibility.

Pilates Method Alliance
Stott Pilates
Winsor Pilate
AFAA - Practical Pilates (TM)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Do You Really Need Vitamins and Nutritional Supplments?

Vitamins and nutritional supplements are a multi-billion industry. They promise all good health benefits at a price. You can buy them everywhere --- grocery stores, drugstores, health food store, vitamin shops, retail outlets and online stores.

We all need vitamins and minerals for our body to function properly and stay healthy. Each and every vitamin and mineral plays an important and special roles in maintaining our good health. There has been a long debate if vitamins and other supplements are really necessary as part of your dietary regime.

Some experts advocate taking in essential vitamins and nutrients by eating whole complete food. As long as you includes all sources of complex carbohydrates, proteins and essential fats from a well balanced diet, you should have your daily dose. This is the ideal scenario. It's probably not the case for today's modern busy yet sedentary lifestyle.

Some people have medical deficiency in certain vitamins and nutrients that require supplementation. For most people, it's a matter of feeling-good preventive measures. However, it's not right if you spend a lot of money on vitamins and supplements but neglect macro nutrition.

There are 80 to 160 million people taking antioxidants in North American and Europe. In 2006 alone, Americans spent $2.3 billion on nutritional supplements and vitamins. Antioxidants are believed to fight free radicals released in the body that can cause cell damage.

A recent research study on antioxidant vitamins was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study was led by the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark. The team reviewed more than 815 clinical trials but selected only 68 "best-conducted" studies for their final analysis. Here is their takeaway message:

Antioxidants don't help you live longer.

They concluded that there is no long-life benefit from taking vitamins A, E, C, beta-carotene and selenium as antioxidants.

Is that right?! Is this another case of bad science or biased study by funding institutions?

Their research findings are highlighted in the following:

  • No significant effect of mortality was found based on analysis of 68 studies involving 232,606 people.
  • A higher risk of death for people taking vitamins was found after excluding the "lower quality" studies: 16% for vitamin A, 4% for vitamin E and 7% for beta-carotene. The actual cause of death in most studies was unknown.
  • The study supports the theory that antioxidants work best when consumed in food rather than pills.

As always, some other scientist and experts dispute these findings from the other side of fence.

  • How and why the group exclude the "low quality" studies? How do they define the "best-conducted" studies?
  • The pooled studies were too diverse to yield significant data for analysis.
  • More than two-thirds of the previous research studies involved people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, cancer or other risks. They were treated with various antioxidants and doses to see if the supplements worked. A single antioxidant supplement can't have major effect in reversing life-threatening cardiovascular disease.

We heard this type of research study and story every few years. The experts flip-flop their research findings and recommendations. They don't reach an agreement.

So what can do we as consumers? Do we take them at our own risk? There are a few important points to remember:

  • There is a place for vitamins and nutrional supplements.
  • Antioxidants are not meant to treat disease. They are "supplements", not drugs or medicines.
  • Focus on healthy lifestyle changes - stop smoking and lose weight. Reduce the causes of superoxide free radicals from oxidative stress.
  • Eat a well balanced diet with a wide range of foods that provides all nutrients the body needs to protect itself.
  • Dietary supplements (vitamins and minerals) may help bridge the nutritional gap for some people with certain deficiencies.

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