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    Monday
    Jan312011

    Decisions Become Habits

    Over the course of any given day, each of us makes hundreds - possibly thousands - of decisions.  Some of them are completely inconsequential - which pair of black socks to wear or which pen to sign our names with for example.  Others have a far more profound effect on our lives - to move or stay, invest in a company or not.  No matter how monumental or insignificant the decision, we are actively deciding our way through every day of our lives.

    The thought occurred to me the other day as I was pondering the nature of why we do what we do.  We say things like, "That's such a nasty habit," when we see someone dipping tobacco or biting their nails.  So how does one get from the point of making a decision to having a habit?

    What is a habit except a decision that we no longer think about?

    Until about 14 years ago my in-laws smoked cigarettes.  After 30+ years of smoking, the activity had become completely habitual on multiple levels.  They habitually bought cigarettes whenever they went to the store.  They habitually lit their cigarettes, smoked them, crushed them out, and repeated the process time and time again each day.  It was automatic, mindless, and performed flawlessly each and every time.

    Until one day, they decided to stop smoking.  Now they had to perform an entirely different set of actions.  They had to consciously decide to NOT buy cigarettes.  They had to consciously decide to stop lighting cigarettes and smoking them.  And over time, their new decision making process became a habit - performed flawlessly and mindlessly every day.  Today, 14 years later, they no longer even think about smoking cigarettes.  They have a new habit.

    Fitness and diet operate on the exact same level.  Some of us have a current habit of buying food that is not good for us.  It happens automatically - I know it did for me.  I would literally find myself standing in line at some local dive buying food that I knew was bad for me.  Because I had done it so often, I just repeated a habit that was the product of a decision I had made years earlier.  The only thing that ever changed was the venue.

    In order to change my body, I had to change my habits.  I had to consciously decide to eat nutritious food that gave me energy and nutrients.  I had to decide to change my shopping practices and eating preferences until the healthy decisions could be performed unconsciously.

    Laziness is a profoundly difficult habit to break.  Sometimes people become automatons - wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, have a snack, go to bed, repeat.  One of the saddest testimonies to laziness came from a couple in my circle of influence that knew exactly what channels they were going to watch on any given day of the week from 6:00 in the evening until bedtime.  The routine never varied unless a show came along and bumped a standing program from their self-designed television lineup.

    In order to make any change in our lives, whether it be fitness related or otherwise, we have to consciously make decisions that are in alignment with the goal we want to achieve.  Rather than unconsciously ordering the #3 Combo with extra pickles, we have to consciously decide to order the garden salad with vinaigrette.  Instead of mindlessly deciding to plant ourselves in the recliner for hours on end, we have to make a focused decision to go for a walk.  Eventually, the new patterns will take hold and become habit. 

    Living your life consciously is the only way to effectively change your future for the better.  We are all subject to the effects of our decisions and habits.  The body does not discriminate between "good" decisions and "bad" ones.  It makes a habit out of whatever you do.

    Make your decisions healthy and happy ones, and your life will surely follow suit.

     

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    Friday
    Jan212011

    Brown Belt Fitness

    According to nutristrategy.com, martial arts style fighting can burn up to 931 calories per hour.  It's one of the best forms of cardio training, and it's fun.

    Most of the time.

    Recently I tested for San-kyu (third brown belt) in Isshinryu Karate.  I have to say that it was the longest and most exhausting hour and 45 minutes of my life.  Video is below.

    The first 80 minutes of the examination were spent demonstrating various kicks, blocks, punches, falls, rolls, and forms (called kata).  There are 9 basic kicks, each performed multiple times with each leg, plus 15 upper body basics (punches and block/punch combinations) that are also performed on left and right sides multiple times.

    After basics, I was required to perform 6 empty-hand kata and a weapon (bo, or long staff) kata.  Each of those forms is a workout in itself.  Here is a video of me performing 4 of the 6 empty-hand kata.  The first is Kusanku, followed by Naihanchi, Wansu, and Chinto.

    Once I was beyond all of the demonstration, I was set up for 4 rounds of sparring.  In an ideal world, these were supposed to be 5 minute rounds.  Some were a little shorter, but the last one was considerably longer - closer to 10 minutes.

    Round 1 against Mr. Allen Taylor, Ik-kyu (First brown, or 2 ranks ahead of me).  As you might notice (after the 2-minute delay at the beginning of the video), he sports a considerable size advantage over me.  He also hits hard.  I asked my instructor before the test if I would need mouth protection.  I was assured that there would be no contact to the head.  Please observe where Mr. Taylor hits me first. :)

    Round 2 - Mr. Nick Baker, Ni-Dan (2nd-degree Black).  Mr. Baker is wiry and FAST.  Had he wanted to, I'm sure he could have cleaned the dojo floor with me.  By this time, I was feeling almost dead.  I was physically at my limits with this fight and 2 more rounds to go.

    At about 30 seconds into the video, you'll see that I started running around the dojo in pain.  Unseen to the casual observer, Mr. Baker had incidentally helped me re-injure a severely damaged left thumb.  Every time I've injured this thumb, it's almost a religious experience.  I've never had such a reaction to pain, but the experience was so intense that I truly felt other-worldly when it happened.  It's been 4 months since the original injury, and it's still painful.  I digress, however...

    Round 3 - Mr. Christopher Duke, San-Kyu (3rd Black) and MMA fighter.  In reality, if Mr. Duke had wanted it, I would have been dead in this fight.  He hits hard, as you will see when he puts me on the ground, writhing in agony, about 2/3 of the way through the video.  The punch was a perfect shot to the solar plexus.  I spent 30 seconds on the floor trying not to puke.  I think I tasted my breakfast when I was down there.  It sucked.  Hard.

    Round 4 - Sensei Tim Cunningham, Nana-Dan (7th Black).  The best comparison here is a cat playing with a nearly-dead mouse.  I could barely see, couldn't breathe, and was soaked from top to bottom in sweat.  Just holding my hands up was a monumental effort.  He was being nice.... thankfully.

    Between loss of water weight and burning who knows how many calories, I lost about 3 pounds during this test, proving that martial arts training, kickboxing, and open sparring do, in fact, burn a BUNCH of calories.

    Some might watch those videos and wonder why on earth I would ever willingly subject myself to such treatment.  There are several reasons.

    First, I've wanted to be a Sho-dan (Black Belt) since I was 14.  I never gave up on the goal, and I'm within 18 months of achieving it.

    Second, martial arts is a physical challenge.  I want to prove to myself and everyone watching that age is NOT a factor.  I was 41 years 4 months old when I took that test.

    Third, the test is a mental challenge.  When my body was screaming for me to stop, I had to dig deep into myself to find the will to push forward.  Under different circumstances, quitting means dying, and I'm not willing to accept death as an option.  If I won't quit under the exhaustion of the testing environment, I won't quit when it really matters.

    Finally, believe it or not, the whole experience is fun.  Granted I wasn't really having fun at the time of the test, but getting to that point (and getting to the next level) is enjoyable.  The tests are just points of discomfort in the road to Sho-dan.

    Keeping fitness fun and engaging is an important part of success.  Find something challenging and fun, and you should have no trouble sticking to the it as part of your fitness regimen.

    **Thanks to Kaitlyn, my student at the Early College High School, for shooting the video and posting it on her youtube profile.

     

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    Monday
    Jan172011

    Visualize the Body You Desire

    While I do not consider myself a student of metaphysics, I do think there is a lot to be said about the power of positive thinking and visualizing a desired outcome.  Many years ago I read a research study on the power of visualization in which 3 groups of people were tested on their ability to shoot basketball freethrows.  At the beginning of the study they shot freethrows to establish a baseline performance level.   After establishing a baseline, the different groups were given different sets of instructions.

    Group one was the control group.  They didn't have to do anything differently.  They just went about their normal lives.  The second group was asked to practice for a certain time period or number of shots every day.  The third group was asked to imagine successfully shooting freethrows for a certain length of time each day but they were not to actually shoot freethrows. 

    After 30 days, the groups were again evaluated on their freethrow shooting ability.  Group 1, the control group, showed no change in their ability to shoot freethrows.  Group 2, the group that practiced freethrows consistently showed a 24% improvement in their performance.  Most remarkable, however, was Group 3, the visualization group.  Although this group hadn't touched a basketball during the entire experiment period, their freethrow shooting ability increased by 23%.

    Whenever we visualize something, our brains begin active recruitment of body systems to carry out the task being visualized.  If you want to shoot more freethrows, practice AND visualize.  If you want to throw more strikes in bowling, hit better tee shots in golf, or blast more home runs in church league softball, visualize your goal and the path leading to it and see if performance improves.

    The process of transforming your physique isn't immune to the effects of visualization.  Here are a couple of ideas on how to visualize the body you want.

    Meditate

    Sit or lay in a quiet, comfortable place.  Darkness helps.  Close your eyes and visualize your perfect physique.  Make sure every body part is accounted for - arms, shoulders, chest, abs, waist, back, thighs, and calves.  Imagine them as being lean, muscular, and rippling.  Imagine yourself running and not being tired.  Imagine that you are lifting weights you never imagined and your muscles are responding to the activity exactly as they are supposed to.

    Further, visualize the inside of your body - the heart, circulatory system, and lungs.  Imagine a perfectly clean circulatory system - no clots, plaque, or other harmful deposits in your veins or arteries.  Imagine your lungs as clear and able to take in as much life-giving oxygen as possible with every breath.  Visualize every cell in your body working as it was designed to work.

    These visualizations don't need to take a long time - 10 minutes or so should suffice - and can actually be done when lying in bed before sleep.  If you fall asleep while visualizing these things, all the better since they will be the last thing your conscious mind contemplates just before entering subconscious patterns.

    Conscious Visualization

    I'm not exactly sure what to call this practice, so I'll just call it conscious visualization.  Back in 2008 when I was working on getting out of the rut my life had fallen into, I was working in a position that had me sitting all alone in a building (a double-wide "office") monitoring a database.  The job afforded me a few nice perks, one of which was a dual-monitor computer setup and a laptop.  When I wasn't tied to using both monitors, I would leave the picture you see to the right on the second screen.  If I was using both monitors, I would pull the image up on my laptop.  I always had the image in front of me.

    The body in that image belongs to Jamie Brunner.  The head was from one of my before shots.

    The color was bad, and the image looked a little funny, but what I was trying to do was visualize myself with that body.  I got the idea from a Body-for-LIFE video that I got back in 2000 in which Hank Johnson used the technique to create an INCREDIBLE transformation of his physique.

    All you need to do is find a picture of the body you want to walk around in, superimpose your head onto that body, and save the image.  You can print it and put it on your fridge (the trouble spot for many a would-be physique transformer) or put it on your bathroom mirror as a reminder that yours is a body under construction and the picture represents the goal.

    Hopefully all of this makes sense and doesn't sound to woo-woo for anyone out there.  There is a lot to be said about the power of the mind over the body.  Tap-in to this potential gold mine and put it to work in your favor.

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    Thursday
    Dec302010

    Sex and the 30- and 40-Something Crowd

    My one true fear is losing the ability to be sexually active.  Sex is an important part of my overall well-being, and I'm not shy about it.  Thankfully, my testosterone levels are at their highest and my libido is quite healthy.  Unfortunately that won't always be the case, so I need to take steps to keep my sex drive as healthy as it can be for as long as possible.

    According to the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, 67-76% of married men in the 30+ demographic have sex only a few times a month.  20-25% have sex only a few times a year.  These men are about half as sexually active as their late-teen and 20-something counterparts.  Blame falling testosterone levels (among other contributing factors) for reduced sex drive and infrequency of sexual activity.

    So, let's talk about increasing your testosterone levels and (hopefully) the frequency of sexual activity.  Now, I'm not here to tell you how to pick up women; you're on your own there.  You might have noticed that I'm a happily married man, so my pick-up skills are marginal at best.  I am, however, going to give you some suggestions that will help you boost your natural testosterone production and hopefully keep you sexually active later in life.

    1 - Get Rid of the Beer Belly

    Excess body fat reduces natural testosterone production and actually raises estrogen production.  Estrogen is a wonderful hormone if you're a woman or you want to grow moobs (man-boobs).  After all, we ALL know that women are attracted to a nice trio of floppy appendages in the form of moobs and a beer gut.

    Or not. :-p

    What demographic is more likely to be carrying around a hefty belly and moobs?  You guessed it!  The 30-something crowd and beyond.  Coincidence?  I think not.

    2 - Lose Weight Gradually

    Cutting calories too sharply triggers a physiological response that stops testosterone production.  After all, what's the need to reproduce during a famine?  Dropping fat at a rate of about 1 to 1.5 pounds per week will prevent the starvation response and keep your testosterone production humming nicely along.  Eating frequently also helps.  A meal consumed every few hours will keep the body in testosterone production mode.

    3 - Eat Nuts

    Get your mind out of the gutter.  I mean tree nuts and peanuts.  There is research that suggests consumption of monounsaturated fats, which are abundant in such sources as hazelnuts, macadamias, peanuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios and cashews, increases the natural production of testosterone.  Butters and spreads made from those sources (almond butter, peanut butter, etc.) have a similar effect.

    I knew there was a reason I like to buy the large bags of peanuts at the state fair.

    4 - Exercise.  HARD!

    Lift light and your "equipment" will be weak.  If you do 3 sets of 5 reps at 85% of your maximum, you'll trigger natural testosterone production.  The type of exercise you do also makes a difference.  Compound exercises - those that require multiple-joint movements (squats, pullups, bench presses, etc) - do more to increase testosterone production than simple exercises like bicep curls and leg extensions.

    5 - Get Some Sleep

    There's a reason a lot of healthy young studs wake up with "morning wood".  A good night's sleep increases testosterone production.  If you can use that morning erection for its intended purpose ("Oh, honey!"), you'll do your daily testosterone production a favor.  If you stop waking up with that morning erection, you might want to take some of those other tips to heart.

    And Finally...

    Don't discount the value of masturbating.  Post-sex testosterone production happens even if that sexual activity happens all by yourself.  Don't be ashamed.  Everyone does it.

    Increasing your testosterone levels is the key to a healthy libido.  This is true for both men and women, by the way.  Encouraging your partner to train with you (and eat your nuts [how's that for a double entendre?!]) will benefit BOTH of you in terms of sexual satisfaction.

    Have fun!

     

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    Thursday
    Dec302010

    Follow Up

    Back in September, I mentioned that the local paper was doing a story on Wo40.com.  Silly me, I never linked the article on my own website.  Check it out:

    Fitness Effort Leads to Website

    Purpose: ‘Live your life in abundant health’

    TARBORO — Keith Webb took a look in the mirror on his 39th birthday (“the first day of my last year in my 30s,” he said) and did not like what he saw.

    “Oh, man,” he recalled. “I had jowls and a Buddha belly.”

    Webb was determined to do something about that. It eventually led to a website (http://weightingon40.com) that includes before and impressive after photos.

    “It’s easy to start and then abandon (working out),” he explained. “I wanted to be more accountable. It began as a blog and kind of took off and grew.”

    His wife Alice, often his workout partner, jumped in and writes in the 4Women section where she answers questions women might have. A photo of her in a two-piece bathing suit speaks for itself.

    What they have created is a website that is informative and inspirational. It includes exercises and recipes with nutritional information. It stresses goal-setting.

    “The purpose of this website is to help you live your life in abundant health,” are Webb’s first words on the site.

    “Anybody can lose weight. Stop eating,” Webb said. “To be fit, you have to do more.”

    Webb spends three nights a week, two hours each at karate practice. He works out 45 minutes to an hour the other nights and walks or runs two to three miles when he can find the time.

    He’s a member of the Tarboro Athletic Club.

    The couple reports his workouts have made the relationship better with his wife and four children: [Daniel], 14, Hannah, 11, Silas, 9, and Emma, 7.

    “When you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s kind of hard to feel good about others,” he said. “I wasn’t happy.”

    Webb lifts weights, does cardio work and walks a brisk two to three miles.

    Webb’s scales showed he weighted 206 pounds when he began working out. He’s a solid 185-188 pounds today on a muscular 5-foot-10 frame.

    “I struggled with extra pounds after each child was born,” Alice said, “but I didn’t use it as an excuse to let myself go.

    “I like feeling comfortable in my body.”

    She is home-schooling the children.

    Each stresses it is important to be supportive and encouraging of the other.

    “We want to give a strong example to the children,” she said, “so when they grow up, they won’t have to struggle with their weight.”

    Alice said she has received many nice comments from her female friends about her husband’s new look.

    Keith and Alice met while attending East Carolina University in 1991. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. They came to Tarboro 15 years ago to teach school. He teaches English at Edgecombe Early College High School.

    “This is about losing weight,” he said. “It’s taking total control of yourself and being healthy.”

    They reply to “every single” e-mail they receive and have about 700 followers on their Facebook account.