Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beckett & Robb

I've been putting my time and effort into my passion for style. Together with other like-minded partners, I'm building a business called Beckett & Robb, a custom clothier offering suits and accessories. It's possible that in time Useful Guy Stuff will be back with more health and fitness posts. My style blog will continue at www.beckettrobb.blogspot.com, and check out the website at www.beckettrobb.com. Thanks for all the support and I hope you'll continue to read at the new location!

Friday, August 7, 2009

No Belt with a Suit

mentioned in the last post that I prefer to wear no belt with a suit. This isn't because of any fad or trend, and the idea of not wearing a belt isn't new. While it may be gaining some popularity, guys have been wearing suits with no belt for decades. In fact, before it came to be seen as a necessary accessory to the suit, it was seen for what it really is: a way to keep your trousers up. For men who didn't need the extra help, the belt was superflous. Believe it or not, it's still possible to get pants that fit properly today, so belts should continue to be seen as optional. Made-to-measure and bespoke suits specifically provide the opportunity for going beltless, not only because your pants will fit your body perfectly so you won't need a belt, but also because you can request side tabs to be added to make little adjustments should your find the need to tighten or loosen. This is a great way to go. And to truly go beltless, you can get your pants made sans belt loops.

A great advantage of wearing no belt is that you get the full effect of the long, sophisticated lines created by a suit. A belt clutters and takes away from that because it adds a different color that cuts you in half visually. Belts look especially bad when your pants don't fit well (ironic because in that case you need the belt. The lesson is to make sure your pants fit, whether or not you do wear a belt). You can see extra fabric cinched around your waist, making you look sloppy. This problem is exacerbated by pleats. You don't have to be trim and fit to go beltless, you just need pants that fit.

While it may still be looked upon as odd or even outrageous by some here in the states, in England and elsewhere it's seen as quite normal by most, and preferable by many. Some would argue that your look is incomplete without a belt, others would say to be truly dressed well, you should be one color between your shoes and your tie. The point is that there are no hard and fast rules, you decide what you like and what you're comfortable with. Going beltless is definitely worth a shot. Fair warning: once you've tried it, you might not go back.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Right Belt

I enjoy the beltless look with a suit, and have gotten some questions about it. Some like the look and wonder how to effectively go beltless. Others have been quite taken aback, never imagining that such a thing as wearing a suit with no belt could or should happen. They feel an ensemble is incomplete without a belt. Wherever you find yourself on the belt debate, here are some arguments for wearing a belt, and how to choose a good one. My next post will discuss the virtues of no belt.

Why wear a belt

The most basic question is do your trousers stay up and in the position you want them? If the answer is no, then a belt is in order. Aside from if your trousers need help staying put, there are some other pro-belt arguments to consider. Because a belt forms a horizontal line around your midsection, it serves to break up the lines and colors of your suit. This may be more subtle with dark suits (think black on black) and more pronounced with lighter suits (think of a light gray suit with a dark brown or black belt). Some, like very tall people, might see this as a positive, as it takes away from their height a bit by breaking up the lines. A belt can also be helpful for those who like to wear their pants above the hips. Depending on your height and proportions, keeping your pants higher on your waist could help even out a long torso and shorter legs by making your legs appear longer than they are.

If you're wearing a sportcoat or something a bit more casual than a suit, a belt is a good accessory and can add nice accents of color, and is possible more appropriate than no belt, since your jacket will be a different color than your trousers anyway.

Choosing the right belt

The first rule is that the belt should match your shoes. Black with black. Dark brown with dark brown. Tan with tan. With browns, it can be tricky to find the right shade. The colors don't have to match exactly, but should be pretty close, I'd say close enough that it's not blatantly obvious that your belt is a different shade than your shoes.

The textures of your belt and shoes do not need to match. With most leathers this probably isn't a concern. If you're talking about a more distinctive texture, such as alligator skin, having a matching belt and shoes can look tacky, like having a matching tie and pocket square. You don't buy these things in sets. The shades should match, but not the texture. Nicer belts that are intended to be worn with nicer clothes are more finished looking. The leather is shinier and it has clean, subtle stitching. Casual belts that look frayed and unfinished should be worn with jeans, not suits.

The belt shouldn't be too wide or too narrow. That's a bit vague, but generally speaking, the belt should fit the loops it'll be going through. I wouldn't try to stuff a wider belt that's better suited for jeans through trousers, just as a sleeker belt with jeans would look out of place.

The belt buckle should be sleek, subtle, and preferably silver colored. Gold colored is okay if you're heavily accessorized with gold elsewhere. It should also be classy. No logos or crazy designs. It should have clean lines and should be squared, rectangular, or either of those with slightly rounded corners.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How to Care for Your Suits

Most guys want to take their suit or sweater to the dry cleaner anytime they get something on it or it gets some wrinkles. Here's the rub: dry cleaning your clothes too often will deteriorate fibers and shorten the life of your clothes. The problem is the solvents, chemicals and high temperatures. So it might come back to you cleaner and perhaps with less wrinkles, but it's taken a few big steps toward its demise. A lot of the stuff you're taking your things to the cleaners for can (and should) be taken care of at home, even if it is a bit more of a hassle.

Dress Shirts:
Cotton shirts should go very infrequently to the cleaners, or you'll be replacing them. The chemicals can give your shirts a yellowish tint, and the fibers are being deteriorated by the process used to clean them. If you do take your shirt to the cleaners, ask them to hand press rather than machine press. No starch also lengthens a shirt's lifespan. A better (and cheaper) idea for your shirts is to machine wash them and hang them to dry. Then iron them yourself. Don't know how to iron? Shame on you. A guy should be able to effectively iron a shirt, and indeed should do so before wearing a dress shirt.

Dry cleaning is rough on your wool knitwear, especially cashmere. You're better off using mild soap and water and handwashing it. One word: Woolite.

Your suits cost more than your shirts and your sweaters, and are perhaps what you are dry cleaning (and damaging) most. Once or twice a year isn't terrible, but if you're not wearing the suit a lot, probably unnecessary. First off, a suit should be hung on the hanger it came with (should be a curved wood with hopefully some width in the shoulders) in a place where it can get some air, not stuffed between other suits or clothes in your closet. Hang it in a place wear it can breathe for a day or so, then you can put it back into the bullpen. Airing it out lets the wool release any odors and wrinkles. You can also brush the suit after use to remove any loose dirt or dust. If you do have a spot or stain, go at it with mild soap and water. If you're not comfortable doing that, take it to the cleaners and ask them to spot clean the stain, telling them what the stain is from. For wrinkles, invest in a steamer, or let the suit hang in your bathroom while you run a hot shower so the steam releases the wrinkles. If you do take it to the cleaners, take both jacket and trousers at the same time, so that any discoloration happens to both equally, and ask them to hand press it. Find a good cleaner. You get what you pay for. A bad job will be evident by getting clothes back that have shrunk or don't fit the same, shinyness in the material, or marks left in the fabric under lapels, around buttons, etc.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Cotton Suit

This past week was consistently in the 70's, and it's about time. So it feels like Spring finally arrived, and Summer is around the corner. It's the perfect time to add a cotton suit to your repertoire. With high end labels and inexpensive brands alike making cotton suits, you've got plenty to choose from. The cotton suit is versatile--it can be dressed down easily, or worn with a shirt and tie. Just make sure you get one with a good cut and fit. Check out How to Buy a Suit for more info. You can get a wide variety of colors, too. Just because it's cotton doesn't mean it has to be khaki. You can get navy or black or brown or whatever. The darker colors can be worn post-labor day, and the lighter ones even work later in the year if you're in a warm climate. One suit that is a summer only is the seersucker. I love seersucker suits. I don't have one currently but perhaps in the near future. Makes a bit more of a statement. Best worn with a white shirt and darker tie. They don't have to be white with blue stripes; you can find tan, navy, green, or other colored stripes. And the white part doesn't necessarily have to be white. An overdyed seersucker can be gray, navy, or black.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Skinny Ties?

GOB: "...these are $2,000 pants. Come on!" Here Will Arnette has his suit and his tie matched properly.

I've been asked a few times recently about skinny ties. You've probably seen them a lot on TV, in magazines, and in movies. The narrow tie isn't new, dudes were rocking them decades ago. You can probably tell from some of my posts that I'm partial to a narrower tie. I have a hard time getting behind any extremes, and ties are no exception. Some are way to narrow for my taste. But I favor narrower ties because I favor the slimmer suit, which have clean, tapered lines, and lapels that are a bit more narrow than the average. I've seen ties in stores lately that can't be much more than an inch and a half wide. No thanks. I got out the measuring tape and measured the lapels on my suits and some of my ties. Most of my lapels are around 3.5 inches. Not surprisingly, my ties are close to the same. I have a new sport coat with narrower lapels, they're not quite 3 inches at the widest point. I have a few narrower ties that are a little under 3 inches that look much better with this sport coat than my wider ties. A half inch doesn't sound like much, but it's a difference. So the rule is, narrower lapels=narrower tie. If you have big lapels, you musn't wear a narrow tie, and vice versa. So there you have it. If you like the look of the narrower tie, just make sure you're not pairing it with a suit with wide lapels.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How to Buy a Suit

When it's time to buy a suit, you should go in with an idea of what you're looking for. Color, fabric, and number of buttons are just a few examples of the choices you'll be making. No matter how much you're looking to spend (see previous post Looking Good on a Budget) you can find something that will look great if you know how a suit should fit. If you're buying off the rack from a department store, it's especially important to know your stuff. Here are some tips; some ideas and pictures are from GQ:

1. Don't trust the sales guy. First of all, take a look at what he's wearing and how he wears it. It's a pretty safe bet that it's not going to be what you want, so you've got to be wary of what he tells you. Most of them don't know much about how a suit should fit, or at least how you want yours to fit.

2. Know what fit you like. Specifically, do you like a snug fit or a looser fit? Sounds basic, but if you know what fit you want, and you see a suit that doesn't fit your mold, you can move on immediately.

3. Know your size beforehand. Lots of times the sales guy won't even measure you. They'll just say "oh you look like a..." and then have you try on a jacket. I recently went into a department store in preparation for this post to see what the procedure was, and I wasn't impressed. The guy would have had me leaving with a suit that was at least 1 size too big. Once when I was younger and naive about suit buying, the sales guy got me into a suit with a pair of trousers that were a size 35 (I wear a 31 or 32). I have no idea why, but he had me convinced that alterations could fix any issue. NOT TRUE. Alterations are more for fine tuning. My size 35 pants, which are doubly bad because they're pleated, make me look like I've got balloons in my pockets.

Now for the various components of a suit that you should be familiar with:

4. Shoulders: The suit's shoulder's should hug yours. The shoulder pads shouldn't stick out past your shoulders. If you stand against a wall and the suit touches the wall before your arm does, the suit is too big.

5. Chest: You should allow for a fist's worth of space between your chest and the button when you have the suit buttoned. Not too tight though--you shouldn't have to strain to button it.

6. Length: With your arms hanging down, you should be able to cup your fingers under the sides of the jacket. Some styles have the jacket fitting shorter than that.

7. Number of buttons: Now we're getting more into the style of the suit. A 2 button suit is the classic, and is currently the most popular. The 3 button was popular for quite sometime, but can make you look '90s if you're not careful. If you can find one that doesn't look too high cut (you're not in the NBA) and that preferably has a roll-over lapel (you can button the top button or just do the middle button, the soft lapel will naturally roll over the top button) then the 3 button can be an acceptable choice. A 1 button suit is a bit more rakish but can be a good look if you're a bit more daring.

8. Vents in back: A center vent is all-purpose. Both modern and traditional. Side vents (2 vents on the side instead of 1 in the center) is a bit more stylish. No vent is a no-no.

9. Lapel: A notch lapel is the most common. Always a safe bet. A peak lapel is what you usually see on a double-breasted suit, it's the lapel that points upwards instead of sideways. They are quite nice on a normal suit as well, they look a bit more elegant.

10. When you're trying suits on, make sure you're wearing dress shoes, either your own or borrowed from the store.

11. The pants: they should fit comfortably, the rise shouldn't be too high or too low for your taste. Plain front (no pleats) is classic and also very popular right now, as is no cuffs, although cuffs are still very popular.

12. What alterations can and can't do: If the suit doesn't fit in the shoulders, move on. If a salesman tells you shoulder pads can be reduced or reshaped, they are lying. If pants are an inch or so too tight or too loose, that can be fixed. More than an inch (like my ridiculous size 35's) and it's a bad idea. Sleeves can be lengthened or shortened a bit. The sides can be tapered (and should be if your body calls for it) so it fits you more closely. If there is a roll in the fabric on the back up by the neck, alterations can usually fix this.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Look Good on a Budget

This post isn't inspired by "the economy", although that does give this topic more relevance than ever. I've always been a big fan of looking great and not spending a fortune to do it. I've compiled a list of some useful tips to help you look your best without spending a ton. I'm talking mostly about suits--although some principles can be applied to more casual wear. It's possible to look like a million bucks in a suit for under $500... you just need to do it right.

1. Pick a suit with a good cut. This topic has a lot to it--I'll do a post on how to pick a suit soon--but for now I'll say get a suit that fits and that has some style to it. I think the majority of people buy and wear suits that are at least a size too big. It's also a matter of finding a good looking suit that doesn't look run-of-the-mill. Stay tuned for more on this another day.

How much do you think this suit cost? How about $249, from H&M.

2. After you've found a good looking suit, get it altered to fit you better. You can have the sides taken in, the sleeves shortened, pants taken in or let out, lengthened or shortened, etc. You can even have sleeves brought in if need be. The point is, make the suit look like it belongs on your body.

3. Have a good quality, classic pair of dress shoes that you can wear with all your suits. A lot of guys are used to black and would have black as the go-to pair. I'm a big proponent of brown shoes, and I'll wear brown with any color besides black. Whichever color you choose, make them a good pair of shoes that always look good. Good quality shoes will last for years, so don't be afraid to spend a bit extra. You don't have to break the bank to get a pair of lace-ups with leather soles and a classic shape and design, and they'll always look great.

4. Accessorize. I've posted before about tie bars and pocket squares. The simpler the better usually. They give variety to your look without overstating it. You can find a simple tie bar for $25, and a pack of white handkerchiefs for $7 or $8.

You can always do like this guy and accessorize with a nice, big fish. It's a classic look that doesn't go out of style.

5. To get some bang for your buck, get a suit that can be paired with jeans or khakis.

6. Watch for sales. I'm always proud of myself when I've picked up nice clothes for half the price or better. This way you can wear nice labels and not feel badly about it. I wore an ensemble the other day that I pieced together over a few weeks. A blazer, trousers, shirt, and shoes. I paid a grand total of around $155 for all of it, normally priced it would've cost about $750. No exaggeration. Places like Banana Republic have sales all the time. You're not up to the minute with fashion perhaps, but being behind by 2 months isn't a bad trade for the savings, and no one will know the difference.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Workout Myths

I recently read a good article with some pretty common misconceptions about muscle building. Here are 7 myths that maybe you've heard... debunked.

#1: Lifting really slowly builds really big muscles.
Lifting slowly does not help you build muscle, it just makes your workout go really slow. Actually it means you burn fewer calories, too. As I've mentioned before, doing circuits and supersets gets your heart rate up and helps you burn fat as you build muscle. Experts say to do the up phase of an exercise as fast as possible, the down phase a little slower and more controlled.

#2: Swiss balls are more effective than benches.
The ball is great for abs, and it forces you to use your abs more if you're doing a chest or shoulder lift on one. But it also means that you have to do less weight. To build more muscle, a traditional bench for those exercises is more effective.

#3: Free weights are better than machines.
If you're inexperienced, machines are often better than free weights. For example, if you can't complete a pull-up, then lat pulls are your next best option, using a machine. Machines can also be more effective at isolating certain muscles. So don't discount machines completely... they can be good for some things. However, if you are more experienced, you should stick to free weights for the most part.

#4: The more protein you eat, the more muscle you build.
There is no question that protein is very important to building muscle, and you definitely should make sure you're getting enough. But, you can also get too much. The experts say that if you're working out hard, you need .9 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you get too much, excess just becomes waste or is converted to carbohydrates and stored. So get enough protein, but there's no need to go overboard, because it'll do more harm than good.

#5: Leg extensions are safer than squats.
Not if you know how to do squats right. And it's also interesting that a recent study found that single joint activation exercises, i.e. the leg extension, can be more dangerous than those that use multiple joints. Squats are a lot more effective too.

#6: Never exercise a sore muscle.
First determine how sore you are. If the muscle is sore to the touch, or limits your range of motion, give it another day. If that's not the case, then a workout might actually do your muscles good by helping to stimulate blood flow, which eliminates waste and speeds the repair process. But if you're sore and you're still going to workout, you're better off going easier than you normally would. Also, that doesn't mean that you should work the same muscle groups day after day. They need a day or two of rest, so don't get overzealous.

#7: Stretching prevents injury.
Studies show that injuries happen in your normal range of motion for the most part. Stretching does help you to become more flexible of course, and that has its benefits. But what helps prevent injury in a workout is the warmup, which does exactly what it sounds like. It increases bloodflow to your muscles, which help them get ready for the stress that's coming. By the way, stretching when your muscles are warmed up gives better results in increasing flexibility than stretching "cold".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fitness Foods Face-Off

And.....I'm back.  After a few weeks off, I'm back with a post about fitness foods.  I found this useful information on the Men's Health's website, and I'm going to copy the link below so you can go there to view the food face-offs.  I've often wondered about things like water vs. gatorade, eggs vs. protein powder, etc.  The face-offs include those and a bunch of others.  One caveat:  Make sure you read why they've chosen one thing over another.  They use 5 different criteria in evaluating which food is better: Convenience, Effectiveness, Taste, Calories, and Cost.  Sometimes if other things are equal, they might choose one food over the other because of something that doesn't matter so much to you.  For example, one of the post workout face-offs is Myoplex (protein shake you buy) vs. a smoothie that you make.  They choose the Myoplex because of it's convenience, but personally I don't mind making smoothies.  Another example is that they choose a Clif Bar over Almonds.  Almonds are a super food, the only reason they don't choose it over the bar is because some people might not use portion control and could eat too many.  

Check these out... I learned a few things and it also gave me good ideas about good foods for pre-workout, post-workout, and snacks.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Make Your Workout Work For You--Part II

Yesterday's post was about deciding what your goals are for your workout. That's the first step in getting a plan that works for you. The next consideration in creating or finding a plan that fits you is the time you want to dedicate to your workout. That's our topic for today.

Daniel Craig had a plan for each day of the week to get into shape to become Bond. 4-5 days of lifting and the other days for rest and a bit of cardio.

Ideally, you'll be able to do 40-60 minutes in a session. That's not always the case, and it is possible to still get in a good workout in less time. Circuits are best for saving time. I've posted a workout plan (the body weight 200) that takes 15 minutes or so. I'd say that's pretty good for beginners. If you're a bit more advanced I think it requires 2 or 3 of those circuits to wear you out. Aside from how many minutes you're putting into a workout session, the other question is how many days a week you're exercising:

Two days a week: If you only have 2 days, you should stick to total body workouts. Hitting your major muscles twice a week can be enough, any less and they'll have too much rest time and have no reason to grow. Circuits are great if you've only got 2 days, but if you're not wanting a fat burning routine and you want to build muscle, pick exercises that work the major muscles and do sets of 8-12 reps with a bit more rest between exercises.

Three days a week: I've done 3 days a week and used total body workouts each of those days and I find that I have enough rest from the off days. You can also do a split routine, where you go upper body/lower body/upper body one week, then go lower/upper/lower the next.

Four days a week: You can incorporate splits here too, going upper/lower/upper/lower on Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday. The exact exercises you do depend on your goals and experience.

Experience: A few considerations to take into account regarding your experience when you make your plan. If you're a beginner, you'll benefit from just about any program, and it's best to keep it simple. High reps, basic exercises, total body workouts. You should be able to recover in 48 hours, so 3 times a week is doable. You can stick with the same routine for 6-10 weeks and still see results.

If you're more advanced, you'll benefit more from heavier weights, lower reps, and more advanced exercises and techniques. Because your working your muscles a bit harder, those muscles will need more rest to recover. Since your body is used to the challenges you're throwing at it, you'll need to vary your programs much more often than a beginner, like every 2 or 3 weeks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Make Your Workout Work For You

I'm constantly looking for new ways to improve my workout. I want to find ways to get as much done in as little time as possible, and most importantly, I want to get results. Most of you probably feel the same way. You should first consider what your goal is. Then, you should make a plan for the amount of time you have available to you. Today I'm going to cover the goals part. Tomorrow I'll talk about time you have to dedicate each week to your workout.


What do you want your workout to do for you? This is the key to how you should go about creating or finding a plan that suits you. Usually it could fall into one of three categories:

Lose Weight
: If you're a beginner, you should focus on circuit training where you can do 10-12 sets with 10-15 reps in each set, with little or no rest between. Do 2 or 3 circuits. This gets your fat burning mechanisms working. If you're more advanced, try supersets. This is where you do 2 exercises back to back, rest 60 seconds, then repeat once or twice more, then move on to another pair of exercises. Pair exercises that work different muscle groups, like an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise.

Build Muscle: Do exercises where you can do 8 to 12 reps per set. You can move through the workout in normal fashion--2 or 3 sets of an exercise, then move onto another--or you can employ supersets. These supersets aren't the same as the weight loss ones. They should work the same muscles, the first should preferably be a compound move, the second should be a single joint exercise.

Gain Strength: The difference between building muscle and gaining strength to me is the difference between definition and bulk. To gain strength (add bulk and increase the amount of weight you can lift) you should lift as much weight as possible and do few repetitions. The most important lifts are moves like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. You'll do 4-5 reps, then rest for up to 4 minutes between sets. On the less important moves, like curls, do more reps with lighter weights with shorter rest periods in between.

Come back tomorrow for the second part of how to make your workout work for you...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Collars and Cuffs

When you're picking out a shirt, you have several decisions to make, mainly the type of collar and the type of cuff. Material should be a consideration at times as well. Some collars and cuffs don't work with some suits and ties. A collar can compliment your face shape and give variety to your look, even if you only have one or two suits to rotate. Here is a primer on the basic choices you have on your shirts and how they can help you look your best.

There are 3 basic collar choices:

The Button Down Collar:
This is the least dressy of the 3 choices I'll mention. If you're wearing it with a suit, you should pick a broadcloth material. An oxford cloth is more casual and isn't your best choice for a suit. Medium width ties go well with this collar.

The Straight Point Collar:
Probably the most common of collars. Conservative and safe. Goes with pretty much anything and is a great go-to shirt. Works with all tie sizes and knots, and is probably your best choice if you're going to wear a narrow or skinny tie.

The Spread Collar: The most confident and stylish of the 3. Looks great with medium and wide ties. I prefer the traditional overhand or four-in-hand knot; the windsor (especially the double) can get really bulky, and I like the shape and asymmetry you get with a four-in-hand knot.

There are also 3 kinds of cuff to consider:

The Single Button Cuff: The standard. Definitely the most common, and on less expensive shirts, this is probably the cuff you'll get. But it's nice and simple and goes with whatever.

The French Cuff: The most daring. Also the most formal, although you can successfully dress a french cuff shirt down if the links are right (subtle and subdued). I favor more subtle links with a suit too. I love wearing cuff links, but I try not to be showy or flashy about it. Do it right and it's a nice, classy look. Pair your French cuffs with the wrong links (usually the big, gimmicky, flashy ones) and you'll look like a tool.

The two-button Barrel Cuff: A great look. These cuffs look especially nice with the modern, streamlined suit, but they look good with anything.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Army Ranger Fit

Are you as fit as an Army Ranger? Hard to quantify exactly, but here are some exercises to test your fitness against the Ranger standards in pushups, situps, chinups, and a 2 mile run. If you're not equal to the challenge, I've included some tips from Michael Mejia, author of The Special Ops Workout. Sometimes I think these kinds of challenges are fun. Maybe you'll enjoy it as well. I'm pretty sure I'd be deficient in the run, so I'm going to try using the tips from Mejia to improve.


The Ranger goal: 80 in 2 minutes

If you don't measure up: Do as many pushups as you can, then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat this back-and-forth process (work, rest) for 2 minutes. Keep track of the total number of pushups you perform in that time period, and try to beat it in your next workout.


The Ranger goal: 80 in 2 minutes

If you don't measure up: Without resting, do as many situps as you can, timing yourself from start to finish. Then rest for that same amount of time. Repeat four times, always resting for only as long as it took to do your previous set. Work your way to the 2-minute goal.


The Ranger goal: 12 or more

If you don't measure up: Take the most chinups you can do at one time, and divide that number in half. Now perform sets of that number of repetitions -- resting 60 seconds after each set -- until you've done at least 12 chinups. (If you can do six chinups, you'll perform four sets of three repetitions.) Each workout, reduce your rest between sets by 5 seconds, until you're down to zero rest and able to do 12 consecutive chinups.


The Ranger goal: 13 minutes or less

If you don't measure up: Break the 2-mile distance into 400-yard increments (1⁄4 mile, or once around the track) and do eight intervals, running each in 1 minute, 38 seconds -- a pace that's equivalent to a 6:30 mile -- and resting for 60 seconds after each. Each workout, reduce your rest period by 5 to 10 seconds until you can do all eight 400-yard rounds without stopping.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Try Adding This to Your Workout

I'm always looking for ways to keep my workout varied. This one comes to us compliments of the guys at Men's Health. It's a total body workout that should only take 15 minutes or less, and you can do it when you want to change it up your routine a bit, or add it to the mix once a week or so. These 4 exercises will work every muscle group in a short time. Do them back to back with no rest in between, using the same dumbell (as much weight as you can do and still do the whole workout). Do 3 to 4 sets, resting 2 minutes between sets.

1. Dumbbell Swing

With feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell at arm's length with both hands.

Squat and bring it between your legs, so your forearms touch your inner thighs.

Then, as you straighten your knees and back, swing it up to slightly above your eyes.

Lower it to the start position and repeat.

Do 10 reps.

2. Squat and Press

With your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly out, hold a dumbbell with both hands, keeping arms extended downward.

Squat (don't bend at the waist) until it touches the floor.

In one movement, stand up as you bring it up to your chest and then over your head with arms extended.

Do 10 reps.

3. Row and Twist

Hold a dumbbell in your right hand.

Bending at your waist, assume a bent-over row position—right arm perpendicular to the floor, your left leg staggered forward, and your right leg back.

Pull the dumbbell to your chest and rotate your shoulders to the right.

Do 10 reps.

Switch hands and repeat on the other side.

4. Corkscrew

Assume a squat position, holding a dumbbell with both hands at arm's length to the right of your right ankle.

Push to a standing position, keeping your arms extended and rotating your torso as you bring the dumbbell above your opposite ear.

Then lower it.

That's one rep.

Perform 10 on each side.

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Eat This, Not That!

There are lots of things we can do to eat better. The food we eat is a huge part of our health, more so than exercise. A lot of people aren't willing to make big changes; some are willing to do a major overhaul on their diets to get themselves on track. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, there is always room for improvement. I've recently purchased some really handy books on how to better understand the food you're eating and how it's affecting you, and also how to swap certain foods for others in the supermarket or at a restaurant. Eat This, Not That! is a series of books by David Zinczenko. There is one for the supermarket, one for restaurants, and one for kid's foods. If you can't tell, I think this guy is pretty cool. He's also the author of the Abs Diet books, and he is the editor-in-chief of Men's Health. He is on the Today Show and other shows all the time. My wife and I have found the Eat This, Not That! books super helpful for evaluating what foods we're buying at the store, and making better decisions when we eat out. We've found that a lot of dishes at restaurants that you would assume are decent choices are just the opposite, and some of the things you assume are no good for you can be better than the "healthy" menu options. For example, you might think it's a good choice at Chili's to order Chipotle Chicken Crispers. It's chicken, right? Too bad it contains a little over 2,000 calories and 99 grams of fat. You'd be better off getting a hamburger. Watch this video for a few more examples:


For more examples, follow this link:


This is a link to the Eat This, Not That section on the Men's Health website. It has more examples and is a sampling of what you'll find in the books. There are tabs for restaurants, supermarkets, drinks, and a few others. In addition to these tips, the book also contains a whole bunch of other useful information, like how to get your kids to eat better, the foods you should eat every day, and glossaries of ingredients and additives you find in foods, including a bunch that you've never heard of before (I can't believe the stuff that is going into our foods that we don't know about.) It's quite illumintating. We bought our books at Amazon, but you can find them at most booksellers or at the Men's Health link above. They're not expensive, and definitely worth it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

StyleTip: The Pocket Square

Pocket squares, like the tie bar, are another one of those finishing touches that you don't see too much of. If you haven't worn one before, give it a shot and see if you like it. Here are a few tips on how to wear the square:

1. Don't wear a matching tie/pocket square combo. Never ever.

2. Don't try to get crazy with it. I wouldn't use a multi-peaked or puffed look personally, I know some that do and I don't dislike it per se but it's not my look.

3. Use a solid color--probably white--in a simple cotton or linen. There is some utility to the pocket square: It's basically a handkerchief in your pocket. If you wouldn't blow your nose with it if you needed to, it's probably too fancy. Silk ones (usually worn puffy) can be over the top, and they definitely have no utility. Most of the people I see wearing something in their jacket pocket fit into the silky/puffy category. The simple white square is a classic look, but as you can see in the pictures, it's also modern when coupled with a streamlined suit. You can get work stripes or patterns in if you dare.

4. To achieve the perfect fold for your pocket square.... fold it and put it in your pocket. Not complicated. Just make it so the uneven edges are in your pocket and not showing. If you want it looking really crisp, you could iron and starch it. Ironing a hankie is easy, and it's easy to wash
afterwards. Iron it, wear it, blow your nose into it if you need to, wash it. Repeat.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Muscle Building Foods

There are lots of foods that will help you build muscle. I want to focus on 7 of them today. This list comes from information I've gathered from Men's Health. I'm borrowing from a few articles that cite a few different scientists and researchers. Each of these foods has it's own "speciality" and will help you build muscle in their own way.

1. Eggs

How they build muscle: The protein in eggs has the highest biological value—a measure of how well it supports your body's protein needs—of any food, including beef.

But you have to eat the yolk. In addition to protein, it also contains vitamin B12, which is necessary for fat breakdown and muscle contraction. (And no, eating a few eggs a day won't increase your risk of heart disease.)

How they keep you healthy: Eggs are vitamins and minerals over easy; they're packed with riboflavin, folate, vitamins B6, B12, D, and E, and iron, phosphorus, and zinc.

2. Almonds

How they build muscle: Almonds are one of the best sources of the kind of vitamin E that's best absorbed by your body. The vitamin E in almonds is a potent antioxidant that prevents free radical damage after workouts. If you don't know what free radicals are, Google it. It's a lengthy topic that's too vast for our purposes here, but to sum it up, they're nasty and they're everywhere and they mess you up. Antioxidants combat them for you. The benefits of almonds will help you build muscle faster and recover more quickly. Have two handfuls a day.

How they keep you healthy: Almonds double as brain insurance. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that those men who consumed the most vitamin E—from food sources, not supplements—had a 67 percent lower risk of Alzheimer's disease than those eating the least vitamin E.

3. Salmon

How it builds muscle: It's got high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. "Omega-3's can decrease muscle-protein breakdown after your workout, improving recovery," says Tom Incledon, R.D., a nutritionist with Human Performance Specialists. This is important, because to build muscle you need to store new protein faster than your body breaks down the old stuff.
How it keeps you healthy: It reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Researchers at Louisiana State University found that when overweight people added 1.8 grams of DHA—an omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil—to their daily diets, their insulin resistance decreased by 70 percent in 12 weeks.

4. Yogurt

How it builds muscle: "Yogurt is an ideal combination of protein and carbohydrates for exercise recovery and muscle growth," says Doug Kalman, R.D., director of nutrition at Miami Research Associates.

Buy regular—not sugar-free—with fruit buried at the bottom. The extra carbohydrates from the fruit will boost your blood levels of insulin, one of the keys to reducing postexercise protein breakdown.

How it keeps you healthy: Three letters: CLA. "Yogurt is one of the few foods that contain conjugated linoleic acid, a special type of fat shown in some studies to reduce body fat," says Volek.

5. Beef

How it builds muscle: More than just a piece of charbroiled protein, "beef is also a major source of iron and zinc, two crucial muscle building nutrients," says Incledon. Plus, it's the number-one food source of creatine—your body's energy supply for pumping iron—2 grams for every 16 ounces.

For maximum muscle with minimum calories, look for "rounds" or "loins"—meat cuts that are extra-lean. Or check out the new "flat iron" cut. It's very lean and the second most tender cut of beef overall.

How it keeps you healthy: Beef is a storehouse for selenium. Stanford University researchers found that men with low blood levels of the mineral are as much as five times more likely to develop prostate cancer than those with normal levels.

6. Olive Oil

How it builds muscle: "The monounsaturated fat in olive oil appears to act as an anticatabolicnutrient," says Kalman. In other words, it prevents muscle breakdown by lowering levels of a sinister cellular protein called tumor necrosis factor-a, which is linked with muscle wasting and weakness (kind of like watching The View).

And while all olive oil is high in monos, try to use the extra-virgin variety whenever possible; it has a higher level of free-radical-fighting vitamin E than the less chaste stuff.

How it keeps you healthy: How doesn't it? Olive oil and monounsaturated fats have been associated with everything from lower rates of heart disease and colon cancer to a reduced risk of diabetes and osteoporosis.

7. Water

How it builds muscle: Whether it's in your shins or your shoulders, muscle is approximately 80 percent water. "Even a change of as little as 1 percent in body water can impair exercise performance and adversely affect recovery," says Volek. The more parched you are, the slower your body uses protein to build muscle.

Not sure how dry you are? "Weigh yourself before and after each exercise session. Then drink 24 ounces of water for every pound lost," says Larry Kenney, Ph.D., a physiology researcher at Pennsylvania State University.

How it keeps you healthy: Researchers at Loma Linda University found that men who drank five or more 8-ounce glasses of water a day were 54 percent less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack than those who drank two or fewer.