Eugen Sandow

Eugen Sandow, father of modern bodybuilding, was a legendary strongman, showman, weightlifter, acrobat, muscle control exponent, physical culture expert, as well as being a hugely-successful businessman in his own right (Sandow was one of the first millionaires of his time, with a fitness enterprise that enjoyed tremendous international reach.).

The name of Sandow is held in great reverence even to this very day, and the coveted Olympia trophy, considered by most to be the pinnacle of contemporary bodybuilding achievement, is a miniature likeness of this extraordinary Victorian-era strength athlete who once enraptured the world with his unparalleled might and physcial development.

Sandow was a leading performer of the strongman feats that found such great favour on the Victorian stages, and he regularly lifted enormous weights overhead and snapped solid metal chains that were bound around his torso with the expansion of his powerful chest.

Besides possessing staggering levels of absolute strength Sandow was also extremely athletic, and he could perform both front and back somersaults, the latter even while holding a 35-pound dubmbbell in each hand. The fact that he could alight precisely from his point of takeoff was duly illustrated by the use of a small handkerchief, from which this incredible athlete would leap from, somersault, and land again, all on the same spot.

Another one of Sandow’s outstanding strength feats was his ability to chin himself on a loop of small-diameter rope with any one finger, even with his thumbs. Although the latter was assisted by the palm of his hand it was nevertheless a most remarkable physical accomplishment.

However, Sandow’s fame stemmed chiefly from the beauty of his physique, which he could display to its best advantage with his skill in muscle control – the art of relaxing and flexing every individual muscle in the body, sometimes without significant joint movement. Sandow’s posing was full of a fluid and natural vigour, and he was widely-acclaimed to have been in possession of the most beautifully-developed physique of all time.

What made the many splendid achievements of this wonderful athlete all the more remerkable was the fact that he was a fine and delicate child whose health was often “despaired of”, and for whom a very short lifespan (only up to an age of 18 years or thereabouts) was predicted by medical authority.

As a boy Sandow laid eyes on classical sculptures of Roman and Greek origins, and was enthralled by the pleasing proportions and harmonious development of the human body as exemplified by these statues. He then resolved to attain similar measurements through exercise, and was one of the first athletes to intentionally develop his musculature to pre-determined dimensions.

Sandow impressed not only on the physical plane. His keen mind, mecurial intellect, artistic temperament and amiable personality made him a huge succes, both on- and off-stage. His great gift at showmanship and his shrewd commercial instincts made him arguably the most celebrated athlete in human history, and he was highly sought-after both as a stage performer, and as an artist’s model upon which Herculean likenesses were fashioned from his marvellous physique.

Sandow left the world at the age of 58 – he probably never truly recovered from an automobile accident in which he was involved. This luminary in the field of strength and athletics may have departed before a time of his choosing, but his unqiue legacy will continue to serve as an inspiration for physcial culturists the world over, for centuries to come.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

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Yin & Yang

Despite the esoteric-sounding title of this post, the main message that I’m going to convey here is, quite simply, Balance.

Yin and Yang is a concept in Asian philosophy that is used to describe how seemingly contradictory forces are often interconnected and interdependent. Opposites can only exist in relation to one another.

But enough of the philosophical expositions, let’s get down to how the idea of balance can help you in your everyday life.

Our school and work often take up a huge part of our lives, and we tend to spend more time awake at school or in the office than in our own homes. This makes us feel fatigued, especially when projects or presentations are eating away at all of our time and energy.

It is almost impossible to strike a true work-life (or study-life) balance before we enter semi-retirement, or unless you are earning truckloads without needing to put in gruelling hours. However, without an effort to maintain such a balance, we will become truly lost within ourselves.

Unless your work or your study is your passion, it is almost always a chore. However, no matter how tight your timetable or your schedule is, there will always be pockets of free time here and there, which are often, if not always, under-appreciated and under-utilised.

I still remember my days in junior college, when my best friends and I would hit the pull-up bars during the breaks in between our classes. And then for about 20 – 30 minutes of absolute (albeit short-lived) bliss we will briefly forget the looming term papers and semestral exams, while we did muscle-ups, one-arm chins, handstand presses, and the like. We even gave the pull-up bars a fond nickname: the PUB (a beautiful acronym for pull-up bars, haha).

During days when there were longer breaks (who has 3-hour breaks in the morning right after assembly and before the first lesson?!) we would brave the threat of disciplinary outcomes and sneak out of school to grab a bite at our favourite prata place, a couple of bus-stops away.

Yeah, I know it is not right of us to do so, cos in the unlikely event that all 6 – 7 of us were kidnapped together it would have been hell for the school to explain our unauthorised absence to our grieving kin. But kids will be kids, right? Show me a kid who has never broken a school rule in his entire life, and I’ll show you a hundred others who have broken a hundred rules in their schooling days, haha.

And then I got myself mandatorily-enlisted into National Service, which really sucked cos for the majority of my army days (which totalled an agonising 1 year 10 months) I stayed in (camp) and could only go home on the weekends. Sometimes it got really hectic, but I can’t go into details here or I’ll probably get myself hauled in for suspected treason.

But the point is, even when I had very little free time to myself, whatever time I had I spent on doing fun and sometimes crazy stuff, which I think really helped to keep me sane. From working bodyweight skills to talking (and bitching) about life and the world in general with my close friends, I found a tenuous sort of balance in the tremendously imbalanced life that I was leading. (Hey, I slept in camp more than twice the time I did at home on pretty much a regular basis, I think that is really saying something.)

Even in your working life, the dudes you see who appear to be coping well usually fall into one of these 4 categories:

1. The lucky chaps whose work happens to be their passion.

2. The dutiful workaholics who are able to find purpose in whatever they are doing, whether they like it or not.

3. The psychotic individual who sees chaos in everything and treats life like one big cosmic joke.

4. The guys who find time for their hobbies and passions, thereby keeping depression at bay.

My guess is that most of us will not find ourselves in the first 3 categories. Therefore, to keep depression (or just a general bad mood or a down feeling) at bay you need to find time for what you enjoy doing. Weekends are great, but it’s best if you can find time even during your working hours to engage in something that you love.

An idea is to pick up a small and unobtrusive hobby, like reading books, writing a dairy, listening to music, playing an instrument, origami, wood-carving… And the list goes on. You will realise that most of these pastimes can be considered as artistic pursuits, and their introspective and somewhat spiritual nature will provide a good counterpoint for the more official demands on your body and your intellect.  

  

The same concept of balance applies to everything. If your are serious about your physical training, you should be equally serious about getting the proper rest and recovery. The two are opposites that are intricately linked. One has no business existing without the other. It is a fine and delicate scale, and if the weight on one side gets too heavy in relation to the weight on the other the whole setup will tip and everything will then fall to pieces.

So as you can see, sometimes the most dangerous sort of balance is the kind that we have to maintain with our passion. Man is an obssessive creature and when given free rein he will ruin himself doing that which he loves most or does best. I have suffered greatly in the past for this. I have said this many times before, but I’m going to say it again because it is of paramount importance:

Those of you out there for whom serious, hardcore athletic training is an obssession, you got to watch yourselves. It is tempting to push on in spite of injuries and inadequate rest and recovery, but if you do so, you’ll more often than not end up feeling extremely sorry for yourself.

So there you have it, make sure you strive to maintain balance in your life, even though chances are you will not be able to manage it. But the very effort of you doing that should keep you sane, and sound, and healthy. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Something Fishy

When it comes to protein intake from natural food sources we are often spoilt for choice. Besides a large variety of dairy products, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds, the most obvious and probably the most well-known source of protein is meat.

Proteins are biochemical compounds that perform a wide range of functions in the human body. However, strength, fitness and muscle-building enthusiasts are chiefly concerned with the role of protein in muscular development. We often hear trainers and experts telling us to increase our protein intake if we want to put on more muscle mass.

Many bodybuilders stick to chicken as the main muscle-building component of their diet, especially the lean meat found in the chicken breast. I had once experimented with a diet of boiled chicken breast and broccoli, but gave up after 3 weeks – the stuff tasted just like how I imagined a peice of dry rubber would, and was most unappealing to the palate.

(Kudos to those hardcore musclemen who are surviving on such a diet. I do admire you for your dedication.)

Others prefer beef, becuase of its high mineral and vitamin (B12) content in addition to its protein value.

For those of you who are looking for  variety and are tired of your regular chicken chops and beef steaks, here is another meat for you to consider: Fish.

As discussed in a previous post your nutritional uptake is dependent upon the efficacy of your digestion. This simply means that stuff which is broken down more easily in your gut will tend to give you higher rates of nutrient absorption.

Fish meat is flaky by nature and you will notice that it doesn’t take nearly as much chewing as chicken or beef for it to be broken down into fine pieces. So this may mean that our body will have an easier time digesting fish as compared to other forms of meat, especially for those of you who have a habit of wolfing down your meals.

Fish is said to be a low-fat source of high-quality protein, and it is also chock full of essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins (D and B2), calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and potassium.

Most fish are sweet and flavourful when they are well-prepared, and make for a nutritional gastronomic indulgence. Steam or broil your fish with vegetables and herbs for a healthy, well-balanced meal.

Fish is a refreshing alternative to landbound meat, and is definitely a valuable addition to any diet (except for vegans).

So next time when you’re dining or cooking, be sure to try out fish meat as a light and healthful variation of your protein intake. You won’t feel as weighed down from a fish fillet as compared to a traditional steak, and you will still be getting more than your fair share of proteins and other essential nutrients.

For a list of healthy fish recipes, visit http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/oehas/fish/fishrecipes.htm.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Strength & Conditioning: Part 1

Strength and conditioning regimes, once a specialist tool used almost exclusively to enhance the sporting performances of elite athletes, have experienced increased levels of public awareness in recent years. This is because knowledge of its many benefits has seen a high level of exposure in many well-researched health and fitness publications that are readily available to the masses.

There are 2 great prevailing concepts in the realm of strength and conditioning: General Physical Preparation (GPP) and Specialised Physical Preparation (SPP). The purpose of GPP and SPP is best explained by sports science expert, Dr. Siff:

“GPP is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility and other basic factors of fitness, where the SPP concentrates on exercises which are more specific to the particular sport.” (Siff, 2000)

Athletes utilise both the GPP and SPP in their training programmes, although different levels of emphasis may be placed on both during different times in the annual training cycle. GPP is usually done during the off-season,  with SPP taking on increasing prominence during pre-season preparation.

Some examples of GPP activities are sports which involve a wide range of movement patterns, or sports that call upon a high level of body awareness, coordination and control. The former includes games like soccer and basketball, while the latter includes disciplines such as gymnastics and athletics.

SPP will generally involve exercises and drills which more closely replicate all or part of the actual movements that will be performed in the targeted sport. Some examples of SPP activities are agility and footwork drills for the martial artist, and jumping/striding drills for the track athlete.

GPP allows athletes to participate in low-intensity movements that improve all-round conditioning, while SPP finetunes specific sporting skills. They are often implemented together (with different levels of emphasis at different periods in the training cycle), to achieve a combination of increased fitness levels and improved body awareness and function, as well as specific conditioning and refined technique with regards to the actual sport being performed by the athlete.   

I know all that technical background I’m throwin’ at you is getting a little too dry, so let’s focus on how all this is going to help YOU:

Some of you out there are going to be engaged in a certain sport that you enjoy on a regular basis. Your weekend game of football with your army mates are potential joint- and ligament-busters, and I’ve seen many a grown man shedding tears after a particularly-excruciating ACL tear. All this pain and heartache can be easily avoided, simply by applying some appropriate strength and conditioning work for your favourite sporting hobby.

Professional athletes use strength and conditioning not only for performance increments, but also for injury prevention by improving muscle, joint and ligament health and strength. Similarly, weekend warriors can utilise GPP and SPP work to avert major playing field disasters by keeping vulnerable areas of the body in fighting shape.

For individuals whose favourite pastimes are games involving tonnes of quick, mutil-directional movement patterns such as soccer and basketball, your GPP and SPP programme can take the form of the following:

GPP: Trail running. Running on uneven terrain forces you to learn and practise proper foot contact, as well as correct foot and body positioning during different movements. This type of run will strengthen your ankles, knees and hips as the major joints in your lower body are exposed to dynamic planar shifts which they will need to counter and balance.

SPP: Static conditioning drills. When performed correctly, exercises like the full-range bodyweight squat strengthen the muscles and joints which are involved in the movement. These drills serve as a form of resistance loading, which will get your muscles and joints used to handling a certain level of stress, thus proofing them to some extent against mechanical injury. 

A word of caution though: progression is key, do not jump into exercises that you are unprepared for. Work your way up gradually from your current health and fitness levels, and only perform exercises that your body is ready for. 

And a disclaimer: conditioning work will save you from injuries stemming from under-prepared muscles and joints. However, freak accidents such as broken legs from poorly-executed tackles and poorly-landed falls are the stuff that you should know you are risking, every time you step onto the playing field.  

In the recent assassin movie The Mechanic the recurring theme of the well-planned and -executed killings is captured in a singular Latin proverb that I find particularly apt for this discussion:

“Amat Victoria Curam” (“Victory Loves Preparation”)

Ready yourself, and victory will be yours. Fail to prepare, and you will no doubt suffer a most crushing defeat.

Thanks to Josh Henkin, whose informative article on bodybuilding.com supplied much of the technical knowledge on GPP and SPP training. His article on this subject can be found at: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/henkin17.htm

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Bodyweight VS. Weightlifting

Bodyweight or weightlifting?

This is the debate that has gotten many fitness enthusiasts the world over up in arms. Some swear by exclusive bodyweight training, while others claim weightlifting as the be-all and end-all in the strength and conditioning realm.

There are fanatics on both sides of the fence, and things are getting bloody.

Bodyweight practitioners celebrate harmonious physical development and the acquisition of functional strength as the chief benefits of their regime. On the other hand, staunch advocates of weightlifting are adamant that nothing can rival the sheer muscle gains and the absolute strength increases that the barbell imparts.

Let us all take a step back and look at the bald facts.

Bodyweight training will endow an athlete with a high power-to-weight ratio, meaning a practitioner of this training system will be hellishly strong for his weight. The barbell will grant an accomplished lifter enormous absolute strength as he puts up heavier and heavier weights.

The equation becomes complicated because of perception.

Bodyweight fanatics who slam weightlifters as being either fat or muscle-bound are viewing the weightlifting community through lenses that focus too much on the modern bodybuilding and powerlifting scenes, which are full of lifters who train exclusively for either physical bulk or for absolute strength. These men may lack in the power-to-weight ratio department, simply because it’s not part of their agenda.      

Weightlifting zealots who criticise the lack of absolute strength in bodyweight practitioners are probably looking at the average dude doing crunches and push-ups for conditioning, which are good for general health and fitness purposes but don’t really give you much strength. These men are not looking to up their power-to-weight ratio, and their levels of raw strength will naturally be a far cry away from that of the serious lifter.

This debate practically didn’t exist back in the first half of the last century, because almost all of the strongmen back then trained with a mixture of bodyweight and the barbell. Many of them excelled equally at both, and preached the benefits of both forms of training without bias or prejudice.

Another factor to consider in this debate is the suitability of a person’s body type to each system of training. There will naturally be fellas who can chin themselves endlessly and chaps who can put up staggering weights, without nearly as much training as those who can accomplish only a small fraction of their achievements with the same amount of effort.

I won’t go into the details of the different body types here, cos that’s probabaly gonna take another full article to elucidate.    

My personal take on this argument is simple. Why not do both? I always had trouble comprehending exclusive mindsets.

If you have the time and resources, by all means do both bodyweight and barbell exercises. However, with that being said, there are some important points here that I must highlight:

1. It is only logical that you learn to handle your own bodyweight first before taking on external weights. There may be some exceptions to this rule, but I’ll cover that in another post. Make sure your body, especially your joints, are sufficiently-conditioned before you start on any heavy barbell work.

2. If you only have the time and resources to do one of the two, stick with the bodyweight stuff. Unless you’re a master of the full-body and highly-compound Olympic lifts, the practice of bodyweight skills will make you more functional and coordinated as compared to isolation lifting techniques.

3. Last point – most of the bodyweight AND the barbell stuff may not be sufficient to meet the requirements of becoming a true cardiovascular workout, so make sure you incorporate some specific drills or some other sports activities (like running, biking or swimming) to work on your lungs and to improve your overall endurance.

Ultimately training is about doing what works for you. You can choose to base the core of your programme around lifting, with bodyweight training as a supplement, or vice versa.

And this from martial arts legend Bruce Lee:

“Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

Intelligence and discernment are two of the greatest weapons in an athlete’s arsenal.

Use them well, and use them wisely.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Good Habits & Useful Things

Hey guys this post is going to be a collection of, well, good habits and useful things.

Arranged in no particular order of importance or prominence:

1. Bring a bottle of water with you if you have a bag and you’re going to be out the whole day. Many people neglect their hydration and end up feeling thirsty and tired. If that’s too inconvenient you can grab a bottle of drinking water from a convenience store (duh).

2. Bring some food with you if you have a bag and you’re going to be out the whole day. I’m not talking about a friggin’ picnic basket here, just some light AND healthy snacks to stave off those hunger pangs in between mealtimes. Cos it’s way easier to go healthy when you prepare your food beforehand. When you’re starving out there you tend to settle for something convenient, which often comes at the cost of your health.

3. Chew all your food thoroughly. People tend to rush through their meals when they’re in a hurry. It breaks my heart to see fellas chomping on burgers on the go, ham n’ cheese in one hand and briefcase in the other. Chewing your food finely is the first stage of the digestion process, which will help ensure that you are getting as much nutrition as you can from whatever is going down your throat.

4. Don’t slouch. People (including me) slouch alot nowadays because of the deskbound and desktop-using nature of our daily lives. We tend to develop forward-thrusting heads, stooped upper backs and curved lower backs, which make our stomachs protrude and our shoulders sag in a most unsightly manner. Do yourself a favour and stand tall.

5. Try and get at least 7 hours of sleep a day. I know this is a tough one. If you can’t manage all that time in one shot try to catch several short “power naps” during the daytime to make up for the deficit. Just don’t get into trouble with your teacher or your boss by being caught napping, literally.

6. This one goes out to all my hardstyle chaps out there. Do not overtrain. Determined fellas will carry on cranking out set after set of their favourite exercise even though they are barely surviving on 3 hours of sleep per day, and all worn out from work. I used to do that, and I regretted it. Training past the point of effective super-recovery will bring you nothing but injury and heartache. Always adjust your training volume and intensity so that you can recover sufficiently and in time for your next workout.

7. This is an extension of point number 6. Don’t be trapped by your own training system. Sets and reps are flexible concepts that are highly-adjustable. You came up with those sets and reps because you determined that they would be effective under the prevailing conditions (diet, rest and recovery, school and work hours, etc.) at the time of your consideration. When the conditions change don’t be afraid or unwilling to change your training programme to adapt to the new considerations. Nature has taught us that those who adapt well will thrive. Those who do not will become extinct. End of story.

So there you go, seven magic pointers for you to keep in mind.

And since I’m feeling all philosophical now, let me end off with my own quote:

“Good things are fruits in the basket we call a great outcome.”

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

To Count… Or Not To Count?

Calories, calories… Many modern health and fitness gurus will ask you to keep count of how much food energy you’re ingesting everyday. By doing this, they claim, you will be able to better monitor and adjust your diet accordingly to suit your health and fitness aims.

Well I must admit that I have never counted my calories… ever.

I’m not saying that counting your calories isn’t an effective and useful way to keep track of the stuff that you’re eating and to estimate how much more (or less) food to consume based on an approximation of your daily energy expenditure.

What I’m saying is that 1. It’s tedious (probably cos I’m lazy and also really lousy at math), and 2. most people aren’t even getting the most important things straight.

Because some genius came up with this system of monitoring the amount of food energy that you consume and the amount of energy that is being used up in your daily life, the industry responds by creating “cheat” foods that are low in calorie count, to fill your stomach with empty chaff and to stave off those hunger pangs that are usually answered with ice cream, fried finger foods and potato chips.

Well I’m not an extremist. I’ve had my own fair share of gastronomic indulgences once in awhile (like deep-fried Mars Bars embedded in generous scoops of ice cream) and I think life’s true spice lies in these not-too-harmful little vices that we let ourselves enjoy occasionally.

With that being said, it’s my personal belief that the most important thing to do with your diet is choosing the right foods to eat i.e. wholegrain instead of refined carbs, more fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, lean meat, and so on. As long as you are putting nutritious stuff into your body at regular intervals of the day without overeating, you can’t go too far wrong.

Counting the calories is extremely important when it comes to ultra-high level athletic performance. Olympic athletes have dieticians and nutrion experts crafting out specialised diets for them in order to fine-tune their physical preparations. Fitness models need to monitor and control their diets strictly in order to present those rippling pecs and washboard abs for your viewing pleasure.

However, I am guessing most of you reading this blog don’t fall into either of those aforementioned categories. So go easy on the math for a bit, and eat the healthier food options that are available in sensible quantities, and you can still look great and feel fab. 😉

For a very insightful article on this topic visit this page: http://www.criticalbench.com/calorie_counting_fat_loss.htm

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~