Dec 29th, 2012
Michael performing the exercise of the year to the proper depth.
As January approaches, journalists often pen "Best of the Year" articles involving the number 10. While I know that you would truly appreciate reading my "Ten Best Firming and Toning Exercises" post, I have instead decided to recycle previous articles I have written because I am very lazy. I will, however, share with you the best exercise of 2012.
It is… wait for it… The Squat.
Yes, the squat is the single best exercise of 2012, just as it has been, since, well, hominids became bipedal. Depending upon who you listen to, that started somewhere around four to six million years ago. If we really wanted to be safe, we could say that we were full time bipeds by a little less than two million years ago when Homo erectus took their first steps in the world.
Air squats are fine, but squatting with a weight on your back is what truly develops strength. Barbells came into usage somewhere around the mid 19th century. Plate loaded barbells followed sometime in the late 19th to early 20th century. For over 100 years we, as a species, have had access to these wonderful tools and it is my pleasure to report that the barbell squat is still the king of exercises. You can now sleep easier. I sure will.
Now for the promised recycling of previous postings. Since some will have traveled or been unable to get to a gym for a period, I would direct you to an almost two-year old article entitled Coming Back from a Layoff in Training.
On the first workout back, go very easy. Scale weights and repetitions to the point that your pride is insulted. That will be the correct starting point. Some soreness will still result and that is fine. The object is to avoid crippling soreness that serves to discourage another return to the gym.
Next up is an article from earlier this year. After returning to the gym, it is time to build momentum and make gains. Showing Up is a worthwhile read in this regard.
I mentioned in various postings on this site that strength is built slowly. It also tends to erode more slowly when a layoff occurs than something like cardiovascular fitness. However, when you stop training, you start to get weaker. Getting weaker is the opposite of progress and we want to avoid it whenever possible. Thus we return to the point. If you want to improve, you must first show up. Again and again. Whether you feel like it, or not.
Lastly, I will close my last article of 2012 with a reposting of Dr. Jonathan Sullivan’s excellent article on the importance of weight training. Read Barbell Training is Big Medicine. If you already read it, read it again. Then send it to a friend. Here is a sample from the article.
This is an increasingly prevalent phenotype of aging in America and other industrialized nations: a living hell of progressive weakness, obesity, inactivity, shrinking horizons, sexual impotence, decreased expectations, mounting despair, a growing list of expensive drugs, learned helplessness, sickness, and pain. It’s being "All Done At Sixty"…or Fifty. It’s a life of waiting to die from a skin infection or a broken hip or a blot clot, of needing a stupid little fucking go-cart to get from here to there, of not being able to reach your own ass to wipe it, of narcotizing yourself with alcohol, cigarettes, American Idol and Doritos so you don’t have to face your own grim existence as a slowly rotting Jabba The Hut. I see it every day. We call it "old-itis." A joke, I guess, but an obscene one. This gruesome avatar of aging offends the eye, the mind, and the spirit, and it cries out for both compassion and correction. Strength training is a macroscopic growth factor, countersignalling all of this evil shit.
This is not my wishful extrapolation of cellular phenomena to the human sphere. It’s a medical observation, supported by study after study. Research with elderly subjects indicates that resistance training improves overall function and strength, enhances bone density and balance adaptations, and improves the metabolic profiles and glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes. A landmark 2008 study of nearly 9000 men followed for an average of nearly nearly 20 years showed that muscular strength is inversely associated with death from all causes, even when adjusting for fitness and cardiovascular health.
I wish you a safe and productive New Year that is rich in strength, happiness, and quality of life.