Fitness Friday: Raising the bar

Lars Baron

Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance. --Bruce Barton

Congratulations to longtime MMA maniac "AK" for winning last week's Fitness Friday contest after coming the closest with his prediction for the UFC on FX 8 main event AS WELL AS satisfying the contest eligibility requirements. AK wins a new Nike+ FuelBand and some goodies from ViSalus. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

What's always surprised me, is how little autonomy there is in the fitness world.

I believe in a simple approach to eating right and exercising and over the years, I've had people bag on me for rejecting the latest advances in both training methodology and science.

I don't reject them, but at the same time, I don't let them consume me.

What I have found over the years, in my experience, is that when you ask someone why they are following a particular diet, or why they choose specific exercise movements, they're very quick to rattle off something they read in a fitness publication, or on a "how-to" website online.

Or perhaps, a technique they learned from a trainer in previous sessions.

I can't seem to recall ever getting a response that sounded something like, "I spent some time exploring the gym and this is what my body responds to," or "I did some trial-and-error at the supermarket until I finally found a meal plan that works for me."

It's usually, "My cousin Joey is in good shape and he said to do this."

The world is full of "experts," but I don't like to put my general well-being in the hands of a total stranger, or some casual acquaintance, just because they have a six-pack. That's why any and all fitness advice I get is strained through the filters of instinct and common sense.

Who knows your body better than you?

Part of what's kept me going for so long is the way I approach workouts. I used to paint-by-numbers, coming in each day and banging out my routine. There was very little variety and hardly any experimentation. Get in and get out. All business.

Then one day, something happened.

I walked into the gym, took one look at the weight bench, and felt a knot in my stomach. I wanted to hurl because the thought of doing bench presses made me sick. I hadn't physically plateaued, as I was making steady and significant progress, but mentally, I was hung out to dry.

Either the routine had to go, or I did.

That day, I decided that I would go to every machine in the gym and do whatever weight the pin happened to be stuck in. If it was free weight, then whatever plates were leftover from the guy or gal before me is what I did. The one or two that were too heavy, were skipped.

Some machines it took me 30-40 reps until failure. Others, a half-dozen.

What I had accomplished that day was more than just a shock to my body (I walked out of there like Lt. Dan on his magic legs). I was introduced to equipment I wouldn't have ever thought of using, simply because it wasn't in my pre-determined rotation.

The weights are supposed to be rigid, not me.

The term "muscle confusion" has found its way into the fitness vernacular in recent years, but I prefer "muscle refresher." I don't want to abandon the compound exercises that help me retain my size and strength. At the same time, I don't want to die of boredom every time I work out.

I still do the same exercises, I just find a new way to do them.

Bicep curls are a perfect example. I will always start my bicep workout with the straight barbell, because it has (and continues) to do wonders for me, But the dumbbell curl? Shit was getting old. Now I'm using a kettlebell -- but I don't use the handle.

Instead, I place the kettlebell on the floor and run my hand through the handle and grip the top of the weight like I'm palming a basketball. Then I flip it over and the handle rests against the back of my wrist. What I've done, essentially, is find a way to put a cannonball in my hand and stabilize it at the same time.

The concentration of weight and its density in such a small space (my palm), puts an entirely different level of resistance on my bicep. By canting my arm outward about 10 degrees -- palm up and elbow in -- every rep is like setting my arm on fire.

I'm hot, bro.

Once I reach failure, I use whatever gas is left in the tank to crank out a couple of wrist curls, then switch to the other arm (after catching my breath). Try a couple of these sometime, then let me know how it goes -- assuming you can still type afterward.

Get creative.

I'm not suggesting you slink through the gym like a secret agent and throw your shield up at the first sign of human contact, but there are times when you have to put the manual away, get your butt out there and do some exploring. Experiment and try new things.

Then ask a trainer or a friend to watch you knock out a set and have them critique your form.

We're not splitting the atom here, folks, we're taking heavy weight and moving it from Point A to Point B. Fitness facts -- and there are aplenty -- are like pieces of a puzzle. Sometimes you have to spill them out all over the table and sort through them until you can assemble something that's recognizable to you.

Don't get so caught up in what everyone else is doing, or the latest fads, or even worse, doing things simply because "that's how they've always been done." It's your journey, so maybe it's time to get off the Interstate and take the scenic route.

Nutrition is no different.

I go to the gym six days a week. Not because I have mental problems, but because I sit on my ass all week pounding on the keyboard. The gym is the only exercise I get to try to stave off the onset of chubs. At the same time, I'm not going to pretend I don't need a little sumpin'-sumpin' after I get my sweat on.

And I'm getting tired of staring at the same old snacks.

There was a day in the not-too-distant past when I got home from the gym and gave my blender the same look I gave the weight bench way back when. Seriously, how many goddamn shakes can one man drink in a week? So imagine my apprehension when the boys at ViSalus put me on speakerphone and asked me how much I was digging their shake mix.

"The shake mix is delicious (it is) ... but uh ... I'm having trouble drinking it every day," to which they replied, "Who said you had to drink it?"

Touche!

I can still get the same nutrition, I just have to find a new way to get it.

The bad news is, I'm no chef, so WTF am I gonna do, bake a ViSalus cake? At first I was thinking about a protein cookie, but since they already have the Nutra-cookie (see it here), that would be kind of pointless. Then I figured you can't go wrong with a protein bar, and it would be nice to actually eat one that doesn't taste like Silly Putty.

Here goes nothing!

1 cup ViSalus Vi-Shape sweet cream shake mix
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup thin pretzel rods (chopped)
1/2 cup natural granola
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1/2 cup unfiltered apple juice
1/2 dark brown sugar (packed)
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup natural chunky peanut butter

Vi-ingredients_medium

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lay parchment paper on the bottom of a 13 x 9 glass baking dish and lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray or canola oil.

Combine the ViSalus shake mix, oat bran, wheat flour, wheat germ, and salt.

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In a separate bowl, combine coconut, chocolate chips, pretzel and granola.

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In a third bowl, whisk the yogurt until smooth. Add the apple juice, brown sugar, eggs, and peanut butter, one at a time, and whisk to combine after each addition.

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Add this to the ViSalus mixture and stir well to combine. Fold in the coconut, chocolate chips, pretzel and granola. Once everything is combined, dump it into the baking dish and spread evenly.

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Bake for 35 mins. Be careful not to overcook as you may destroy the protein.

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Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into even bars. Makes about 20.

Vibars_medium

Calories per bar: 150
Fat: 6 grams
Carbs: 18 grams
Sugar: 10 grams
Protein: 15 grams

Prep time: 15 minutes

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Enjoy!

Got a creative approach to a certain exercise, or a new twist on an old snack? Share it in the comments section and help a Maniac out!

Fitness Friday is sponsored by ViSalus. Opinions expressed are solely of the author. For more information on the ViSalus line of products click here.

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