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.