Sunday, October 30, 2011

Perfect Your Sit-Up

There are several common mistakes we all make when we do the basic sit-up. Sometimes, it is very evident because we can feel the pressure in other parts of our bodies rather than our abs. Other times, we think we’re doing great.

First, let’s clear up the confusion about sit-ups versus crunches. A crunch is the ab exercise where you lift just your shoulders off the floor, not your lower back. A sit-up is the exercise where you bring your back off the floor and come all the way up.

Now that that’s clear, what are some basic tips you can apply to improve your sit-up?

  • Heels on the floor: It may seem more comfortable to keep both your feet on the floor as you do this exercise. But what you’d notice is that if you don’t have incredibly strong abs, you’d find yourself lifting your feet off the floor as you come all the way up. A better way to do this exercise is to keep just your heels grounded on the floor; not your whole foot, just your heels. You may find that you have to extend your knees beyond the 90 degree angle to do this, but that’s okay.
  • Cup your head: Most people seem to intertwine their fingers at the back of their heads when they do floor exercises. While this act in itself is not wrong, it elicits a certain response from your body. When you intertwine your fingers behind your head, you tend to push your head and neck up as you lift your body up, and your elbows are forced to come forward. So you’d be hurting your neck and using your shoulders rather than working on your abs. What should you do instead? Separate your fingers and cup the back of your head, keep your elbows wide even as you come up, and make sure you aren’t lifting your shoulders.
  • Elbows wide: I just said this, but I have to reiterate. It is tempting to fold your elbows forward as you come up. Don’t. Keep your elbows wide and focus on just using your abs.
  • Drop it almost to the floor: As you go back down to the floor to complete a sit-up, try not to actually touch the floor. Come as close as you can, and then lift yourself back up. You need core strength just to hold yourself off the floor, so you’d be putting in more work.
  • Don’t wobble your head: Yes, it is a repetitive motion, and so you’d be tempted to move your head up and down as you move your body up and down. But that hurts your neck too. An easy way to avoid this is to pick a point on the wall or floor in front of you, and keep your gaze at that point as you go up and down. Easy!

Alternative: If you find that cupping your hands behind your head is uncomfortable, there are a few other options you can try. Either cross your palms over your chest, stretch your arms out straight above your head, or keep your arms straight out in front of you. Just be careful not to use your arm strength as you lift yourself up because that defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.

Now, try incorporating all that into your sit-up and tell me how you feel!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Back to Basics Part Two: How Exercise Fits In

Last week, we talked about how your nutrition affects your weight. There are websites where you can automatically calculate these numbers, but sometimes it’s important to understand the basics. In summary, this is where we were:

So remember how last week, I gave a breakdown of how calories are processed? How does exercise fit in? Your body simply uses more of that energy you consumed from food to do more intense activities that just digesting food or talking. And of course, continuous exercise raises the metabolic rate you get from activity. So while the 5 basic steps I listed last week are still valid, the amount of energy your body would use to function regularly would go up too. So it’s a win-win all around.

Basic BMR
Now back to our example from last week, we are using a male with the following stats:
Age – 30
Weight – 192 pounds
Height – 6ft (72 inches)

Our basic BMR with no exercise came down to 2000 calories.


General Activity
With only basic low intensity once-in-a-while exercise, metabolic rate increases by BMR x 20% (see the diagram at the top of this post). So his metabolic rate would come down to 2000 + (2000 x 20%) = 2400 calories, meaning his body is burning about 2400 calories a day.

Now consider this: If he amped up his exercise, and starts exercising most days a week, he could increase his metabolic rate by BMR x 40%. This brings his metabolic rate to 2000 + (2000 x 40%) = 2800. That’s a considerable difference! He just burned an additional 800 calories a day by exercising most days! I guess that crazy Michael Phelps diet doesn’t seem so crazy to you now…

Heart Rate
Granted, this is just an approximation, and it varies based on what “most days” and “intensity” mean to you. So the most accurate way to see how much you are actually losing is to calculate it for the types of exercises you do. Yes, there’s a formula for that too.

What the machines at the gym seem not to mention is that the number of calories you burn during exercise heavily depends on your heart rate. The good part is that most machines do have heart rate monitors. What I would advise is to calculate your heart rate during a few different workouts at the gym, and just note the average so you can use it to calculate the amount of calories you burn doing non-machine exercises.

The average resting heart rate is somewhere between 60 and 80bpm. However, if you are very fit or an athlete, your resting heart rate would usually be somewhere between 40 and 60bpm (usually 50 to 60bpm for women). This is just because the more you exercise, the more efficient your body’s circulation becomes.

During exercise, the average heart rate should increase. It would go higher based on the intensity of the exercise. The higher your heart rate, the more calories you should be burning. However, take care not to get above your maximum heart rate.

How do you calculate your maximum heart rate? Here is where I’ll introduce a little caveat. So far, experts have said there is no perfect way to calculate your maximum heart rate. However, the generally accepted estimate is:

Women: Maximum Heart Rate = 226 – Age
Men: Maximum Heart Rate = 220 – Age

This is not particularly scientific, but just what is generally accepted. It assumes that the older you get, the less intense you should be with your heart. Generally, when you exercise, your heart rate can go anywhere from 50% to 100% of this rate above. Fairly intense exercise is usually about 80% of this number. So back to our example, his maximum heart rate would be 220 – 30 = 190.

Maximum Heart Rate = 190

One last point I will make with the heart rate is that when machines spell out a “Fat Burning Zone”, it does not necessarily mean anything. Strive to go as high as you can below your maximum, rather than aiming to be within some phantom fat burning zone.

Actual Calories Burned
So we have the maximum heart rate. Now, we can calculate the number of calories burned during exercise. Here is the formula:

Women: Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.074) + (Weight x 0.05741) + (Heart Rate x 0.4472) – 20.4022] x Time / 4.184
Men: Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.2017) + (Weight x 0.09036) + (Heart Rate x 0.6309) – 55.0969] x Time / 4.184

My question is: Why does it always have to be different for men and women. Well, I guess only God can answer that one…

Back to our example, if our chosen man was doing average intensity cardio for 30 minutes, and had his heart rate at 70% of the maximum, he would have burned the following:

Heart Rate = 70% x 190 = 133bpm
Calories Burned = [(30 x 0.2017) + (192 x 0.09036) + (133 x 0.6309) – 55.0969] x 30 / 4.184 = 374 calories

That sounds like what you see on the treadmill, right? Now you know how they calculated it. We now have a more accurate calculation of how many calories he is burning based on the intensity of his physical activity.

In summary, our 192 pound, 6 foot, 30 year old man with a BMR of about 2000 calories working out moderately for an hour a day would actually be surviving on approximately 2000 + (374 x 2) = 2748 calories per day. You see that this is pretty close to the 2800 number we had calculated before.

We like our diagrams on Eights & Weights, so here’s one for today:

Questions, comments, feedback, concerns? Leave a comment, hit me up at, find me on Twitter @eightsnweights, or join us on Facebook by searching for ‘Eights and Weights’.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Back to Basics Part One: The Math Behind Your Weight Loss Goals

I hear this question a lot (and I’m pretty certain you do too): What do I have to do to lose weight? It seems like such a simple question with a “magic formula” answer. There is no magic formula to losing weight, but there are ways to make the process much less like some sort of black hole. The basics? Diet and Exercise. Besides plastic surgery and weight loss drugs, there is no other healthy way to lose weight. And no, that was not an endorsement for either plastic surgery or weight loss drugs...

You want to lose weight, but you don’t want to starve, right? And it’s very difficult to start figuring out how much you should eat. However, people have spent years and years gathering information and analyzing data to make the job easier for you. Here’s how it works:
  • You consume food
  • Food consists of fat, protein, and carbohydrates that provide energy
  • This energy is measured in kilocalories (but usually, we just say calories)
  • Your body uses this energy to function (run, walk, digest, talk, exercise, etc.)
  • Whatever energy is left over that your body did not use is stored as fat
I know that was thoroughly simplistic, but hopefully, it demystifies the process. This is why the calorie is a very important measurement because it helps us decipher what our body is storing as fat. I like to call it the “Eat minus Burn”.

How do you calculate how many calories are in your food? Well, you could hire a Food Scientist, or you could use the cheapest tool available: the internet. As we all like to say, Google is your friend. It’s amazing how many websites available tell you how many calories are in your food; even local food! Some websites even go as far as telling you specific details of the meals in fast food restaurants. We do have so much information available to us.

But then that brings us to the question “How do I know how much I should be eating?” Most people calculate their calories per day for two reasons: One, it’s easier to do daily than weekly. Two, if you do make some mistakes one day, you can leave it behind and move on to the next. However, whatever way you choose to calculate, the calories you should be eating depend on a lot of things because every individual is different. We all have different heights, weights, ages, and sexes. Yes, your sex is a determining factor too!

To figure out how many calories you need, you need to first determine what your BMR is. BMR is the body’s Basal Metabolic Rate, that is the amount of energy you exert daily just being alive, eating, sleeping, showering, etc. Here is the formula for BMR (W = Women, and M = Men):

W: 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age)
M: 66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age)

Yes, men burn more calories just being alive. I know, just one more reason to be upset. Yes, I am jealous in this case. Don't judge me.

Anyway, let’s assume that when you plug in your numbers you get 2000 calories. This means that you can eat 2000 calories a day with no exercise, and maintain your current weight. Our current estimate is:

2000 calories

Now, if you do some form of exercise (even the minimum), this means you can eat even more and maintain your current weight. Again, you can Google all sorts of exercises, and calculate how much you burn based on distance, speed, etc. but we’ll talk more about the basics of exercise next week. Essentially, based on how active you are, you can estimate how many more calories your body needs by adding the following values to your BMR above:
  • Basic walking about: BMR x 20%
  • Minimal exercise a couple of times a week: BMR x 30%
  • Exercise most days a week: BMR x 40%
  • Exercise intensely on a daily basis: BMR x 50%
  • Hard labor or intense athletic training: BMR x 60%
So let’s assume that you do minimal exercise a couple of times a week. Your new number would be 2000 + (2000 x 30%) = 2600. You would need approximately 2600 calories just to maintain your current weight. Note that this is an estimate and it completely depends on the kind of exercises you do, but you get the point. Our current estimate is now:

2600 calories

The next step would be to determine how this number would change if you wanted to lose weight. Now, the body works like this: 3500 calories equals 1 pound. To lose weight, you need to determine how fast you can do it in a healthy way. If 3500 = 1 pound, then you have to have a deficit of 3500 to lose 1 pound. That seems like a lot, right? Let’s go back to our example. If you deducted 500 calories a day from 2600 calories, how much would you get?

2100 calories

500 calories less a day means that you lose 1 pound in 7 days (500 x 7 = 3500). That’s totally doable, right? If you were not in a hurry, you could even spread that out over 2 weeks and make it 250 calories less a day.

But let’s backtrack for a second. Remember that we started on an assumption that your numbers produced 2000 calories? These numbers would change based on what your numbers actually produced. I’ll repeat the formula down here so you can start your own calculation:

Hope this helped! Let me know if you have any questions. All of the calculations above can be also done automatically at this website: Just in case you don’t really care about the formulae but are still interested in the actual numbers.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness: Your Risk Factors

It’s that time of year again. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and as always, I want to make sure we all get some education, and help to educate our friends and families. We all know the dangers of any type of cancer, but do we know the risks? Yes, there are some risk factors that neither you nor I can change, but I still strongly believe that awareness is always better than ignorance. So what are some of these risk factors?

Let’s look at some of these risks closely. If you’ve ever studied risk in the business world, the seriousness of a risk is usually determined by its probability and its impact; basically, how likely is it to occur? And if it does occur, how bad can it get? Today, we’ll be focusing closely on the probability of occurrence.

Sex: Men and women both have the probability of breast cancer. But unfortunately, being a woman increases your probability by like 100 times. The impact can be higher in men as in women though, mostly because men don’t expect it, and so don’t catch it early. Women have more breast cancer cases because our breasts are consistently going through hormonal changes.

Heredity: Certainly you’ve heard that if someone in your family has developed breast cancer in the past, you have a higher probability of developing the disease. However, in addition to this, there are actually gene mutations that can be passed on from mother to child that increase your chances of getting breast cancer. However, only somewhere between 5 to 10% of breast cancer cases occur due to gene mutations. Can this be prevented? Probably not, if you already have the gene. But it can be caught early. There are tests for these gene mutations so people can be prepared.

Periods: As a woman, did you start getting your periods really early? Researchers have said that women who menstruate for a longer number of years have a higher probability of getting breast cancer. The reason is because of all the hormones our bodies are exposed to during our periods. So the theory is that if you started much younger than others (say around age 11 or so), and you go on for much longer than others (say after your late 50s), you have a higher chance of developing breast cancer in your old age.

Age: Well, this is another one we can’t help as well since we all grow old. But about two-thirds of breast cancer patients are women older than 55. This is why doctors strongly suggest that we start getting regular mammograms after 50. Logically, if your risk is higher when you are older, you should definitely get tested more then as well.

Race: Here is even another one we have no control over. What ethnicity has the lowest probability of developing breast cancer? Hispanic, Indian, and oriental Asian women. What race has the highest probability? White women do. This means overall, black women fall somewhere in the middle. However, you should still pay attention if you are black because black women seem to have the highest reported cases of breast cancer in women under 55.

Motherhood: This may be somehow linked to the number of periods a woman has. Women who have had no children have a higher probability of developing breast cancer than those who have had children. For me, I see a connection between the number of years you menstruate and pregnancy. If you get pregnant 3 times in your life, that cuts the number of years you menstruate by like 2.5. So back to the point around “Periods”, this could be tied. However, this is only a thought as women are still exposed to a large number of hormones during their pregnancies. Now, if you are planning on being a mother who breastfeeds, this could also reduce your breast cancer risk for the same reason.

Exercise: And we come right back to it again. It’s funny how everything seems to come right back to exercise. Consistent exercise reduces your risk of breast cancer. There is still a debate on how much exercise is actually needed, but for certain, any exercise goes a long way.

Weight: This could also possibly be tied to exercise and healthy nutrition, because women who eat right and work out tend to maintain a healthy weight. We all know that obesity has been known to increase the probability of various diseases, and breast cancer is no exception. It could be because of the higher blood insulin levels in overweight people, or because some estrogen is released from fat tissue. Who knows? But either way, it does increase your probability of developing breast cancer.

Alcohol: Researchers say that people who do not drink have a much lower probability of developing breast cancer than people who do. However, one glass of wine a day (especially red) is good for the body. If you do drink several glasses of alcohol a day, wine or otherwise, it does increase your breast cancer risk. So try to stick to one glass, and try to make it red wine.

I’m pretty certain that we all have known someone who has had or does have breast cancer. It is a serious disease. Please protect yourself, and stay aware. You only have one body, and so it is important to do all you can to keep it working right. Do a lot of research this month if you can on how to reduce your risk of breast cancer, educate your loved ones, and ask questions!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why Strength Training is Important

Ladies are often known to put down anything that has to do with building muscle because we think of staying skinny rather than staying fit. Ladies are usually concerned with cardio and aerobics, and not really with muscle mass. Same goes for the gentlemen who are thinking of losing weight. They tend to play sports or talk about cardio, but forget that building muscles is an important part of losing weight and staying fit. How?

Muscle vs. fat: Age kills muscles and promotes fat. Basically, we lose about 5% of our muscle mass every 10 years, which means as we get older, we are more and more prone to putting on fat. What does losing muscle mean to you? It means you’d have to eat less and less to maintain the same weight; anywhere from 100 to 500 calories less per day. That’s huge! So if you have more muscle, your body is set to automatically burn more calories throughout the day. And so if you keep strength training as you get older, you’ll be building more muscle. Simple.

Muscles burn fat: Okay, so muscles help you lose weight. But how exactly? Well, as you just go about your day, you are burning calories. As you digest your food, you are burning calories. This means that whether you have lots of fat or not, your body will still expend energy. However, muscles work to increase your metabolism and keep it increased longer, which helps you expend more energy doing the exact same things. A muscular person will burn more calories digesting food than a person with much more body fat.

Build strong bones: Building strong bones as we age is especially important for the ladies. I’m sure you’ve heard that women lose bone mass each year as we grow older. As we lose bones mass, we become at risk for a disease called osteoporosis. People with osteoporosis have bones that are weak and break easily. Don’t worry; I’m not here to scare you. I’m here to help you take action against it. Basically, if you’re losing bone mass, what do you need to do? Stop it from being lost, right? Strength training helps to slow down the process of bone loss.

Improve coordination: People who play sports, dance, do martial arts, or do yoga understand how important coordination, balance, and flexibility are. Well, unknown to a lot of people lifting weights and doing weights-focused exercises actually help to improve these functions. This is one of the reasons why athletes and dancers are always encouraged to hit the gym. I mean, in reality, what they do is exercise, but they supplement it with more exercise to make themselves even better. Does that make sense?

Better posture: Working on your muscles, especially your abdominal muscles, allows you to stand up straighter. And better posture means you do exercises better. So the cycle continues…

Now, one important thing to note is that there are different types of strength training. There is strength training focused at bulking muscles, which is what men usually go for. And there is strength training focused at building lean muscle mass. Everyone should aim for lean muscles. Low-rep, high-weighing weight lifting bulks muscles, especially when there is little or no cardio involved. But circuit training, resistance training, and things like cardio kickboxing build lean muscles. I’m not saying don’t lift heavy weights. I’m saying don’t JUST lift heavy weights. Get some cardio in as well.

One last thing I’d like to stress, and I usually stress this, is that testosterone is a very important factor in the bulking of muscles. Women have very low levels of testosterone, and so a little strength training will not make you Morris Chestnut.

Do you have any more questions about strength training? Curious about where to start? Ask!

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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