Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Top Tips to Avoid Neck Strain From Pull Ups

Within the past half a year I fell in fitness love with pull ups and all the challenging variations that come with them. Along my pull up journey though I found my neck was getting sore. I started to get worried and I knew that something had to change. I did some reading and some research while thinking about my form. I no longer am experiencing neck pain and I wanted to share the Average Guy's top tips for avoiding neck strain from pull ups. 

1. Avoid Trying to Reach Your Neck Over the Bar

This was actually the most important thing I did. I was often really pushing (I guess pulling actually) to get one more rep and when I was beginning to stall I was attempting to crane my neck over the bar. I doubt that last rep was going to greatly improve reaching my goals and if anything I was one bad rep away from injuring myself.

2. Practice Good Form 

This could be a tip for avoiding injury for any type of fitness activity and the pull up is no exception. It is common for people to use momentum while performing a pull up instead of doing them strictly. It feels good to get a few extra reps but it is not a good idea when it comes to safety. When doing a pull up don't completely lock out the elbows at the bottom. Push down through the elbows and remember to -

3. Keep Your Shoulder Blades Tucked Into Your Back

This is so important that even though it could be under practice good form this deserves to be highlighted by itself. Keeping your your shoulder blades tucked into your back gives strength and stability to your shoulder girdle which helps to protect your neck. After reaching the top and not straining your neck over the bar lower yourself in a controlled manner to the bottom position and repeat. 

4. Use A Chair 

If you can't do pull ups or as many as you would like with proper form use a chair to make the movement easier. The closer the chair is to your body the easier it will be. To start you can place both feet on the chair and as you gain strength you can just use one leg and begin placing the chair farther away. This will allow you to gain strength and the ability to do multiple pull ups with no assistance. 

5. Warm Up

We are all so busy in the modern world that it is easy to try and skip our warm up and just jump straight into our exercise routines. It is important to do about 5 minutes of cardio to get the blood flowing followed by some ballistic stretching including

6. Neck Stretches

These will help to loosen up the neck and relieve tension. I find the two neck stretches in the P90X resistance day warm ups are effective for me. I especially like the chicken wing neck stretch. 

7. Cool Down  

Also just as important as warming up is proper cool down. You don't need to focus as much on just the neck here as total body. Stretching helps to set the stage for recovery which only happens if you

8. Get Enough Sleep

You can only recover and heal your body while sleeping. Eight hours of sleep is a good goal but I have read recommendations for getting up to ten hours of sleep if you exercise hard! So grab your pillow and get to work. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Naked Juice No Longer Natural

After settling a lawsuit Pepsi will no longer be calling Naked Juice natural. I haven't had a Naked Juice in over five years but, back when I was less concerned about consuming liquid calories I would occasionally have one. I didn't even know that Pepsi bought Naked Juice back in 2007. In retrospect the purchase doesn't surprise me at all as I still have memories of bottles of Naked Juice flowing out of the food co-op I worked at during that time. Despite the relatively short shelf life they rarely expired and, we regularly received new shipments.

The reason Naked Juice will no longer be labeled as natural is because the added vitamins are in reality synthetic. Pepsi stated that the drinks will continue to be labeled non-GMO and is currently enlisting a third party to verify the claim. I think the important aspect to take away from all of this is the open ended and confusing usage of the word "natural". If you google the word natural the first definition given is, "existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind",  which would lead one to believe that virtually all packaged food shouldn't be labeled as such. I think anyone who has spent time learning about how to eat healthier or how to properly diet knows that avoiding packaged food is a good first step. I feel that if a food item is claiming that it is "natural" one should be cautious about consuming it. Wouldn't it look silly if you walked into the grocery store and found every piece of produce labeled as "natural"?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Five Personal Training Apps

I recently came across this brief article on the Huffington Post which recommends five different apps to help you get fit without a coach. I haven't tried any of these apps but, from what I've seen on facebook Couch-to-5K seems to be popular and, people seem to be sticking with the program. We all know that it is difficult to get fit or or maintain a routine so, any tool that can help you is great. I haven't found a fitness app that I have wanted to use but, I do enjoy the calorie counting app My Fitness Pal

So what fitness apps do you use or like and, what ones have you found to be more of a hindrance than helpful? I look forward to your responses in the comments.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Falling off the Wagon

Even though I've still been exercising lately, I have had difficulty finding the motivation. I do believe in some ways that is what makes me qualified to be the Average Guy who gives out fitness advice. I understand all too much the struggle that staying motivated to exercise is and not even to stay fit as much as just not to become a total blob of adipose tissue. The other day I started an Insanity video and stopped after the warm up and stretch. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm not sure what has been causing this lack of motivation but, it is very present in my mind when it comes time to exercise.

I know part of my psyche wants to just blame it on the hectic schedule of summer. I do know that traveling, which I have been doing plenty of this summer, really throws me out of my routine and makes the first days back home difficult when it comes to exercise. I tend to not take relaxing vacations and instead spend hours walking mile after mile exploring new cities. I also like to stop and check out a new bar which isn't always the best choice to keep your calories in check while on the road. I would argue though that life experience and travel are an important aspect of happiness and the cost of a few calories of extra beer are totally outweighed by the memories and stories I can share with friends and family.

Despite still eating healthy I've also been more lax on my diet lately. I have a weekly meet up with friends on Wednesday where we play games and we all bring some snacks and beer. We've vowed to bring healthier snacks because the temptation of an open bag of chips or cookies is too difficult to resist. I also went on a bit of a Doner kebab binge while on vacation. They are not known for being the healthiest snack but they certainly are tasty and cheap. I do think that the holidays and while you are on vacation are the times to not be strict on your diet but, it is important to always remember balance and moderation.

I think it is always crucial to ask yourself why when you are losing motivation. If you can find the reason you'll have a much better chance of getting yourself back on track. Part of me just wants to blame it on the summer heat but I know that is a fairly lame excuse. Sometimes I think I need to change my fitness routine but overall I'm happy with it and the results I've been having. Once I find the answer I hope to be able to get back on the wagon. Maybe I won't find the answer and I'll just hop back on anyways. I do know that despite my lack of motivation to exercise I will continue on because I know quitting is not an option.

And I don't want to look like a total slob at the beach!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Help With Picking the Right Shoe

Ever have trouble picking out the right shoe? I know that this is something that has always baffled me when it comes to exercise. Something that may help is this nifty graphic from LifeHacker. I have to admit I still have little idea what I am doing when picking out shoes but this does help!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Exercise Update - May 2013 Edition

For the most part my fitness routine hasn't changed much from last month. I did decide to move all of my bodyweight leg work to the cardio days. I was often feeling tired and sore and my joints felt like they could use some extra rest. When I do Insanity on Tuesday and Saturday I do 3 sets of pistol squats during the stretching. Despite Shaun T insisting that the stretch is the most important part of the workout besides the warm up I disagree. I've started doing some dynamic stretching before going into the sets of the pistol squats.   I often found that the static stretching sequence was leaving me tired and not ready to jump back into the intense cardio. I also now spend more time stretching at the end of the workout.

I have been able to push much harder during the Insanity workouts since moving the body weight leg work to those days. I've been able to get my sustained heart rate very high, in the low 160's, which is about as hard as I can go. Overall this change has made me feel better about both my cardio and body weight resistance training.

I was doing yoga on some Thursdays but have changed that to active recovery days consisting of stretching and walking. I changed this because I felt like my body could really use the extra day off during the week. I've also become tired of the same yoga dvd routines that I own. Once a workout becomes uninteresting it is generally a good time to change it up. I do plan on continuing with yoga but I'll need to join a class or buy some new dvds!

Coming up in June I have some exciting stuff going on such as my birthday and a trip to Florence. I'm hoping that the added year and delicious carby Italian food don't doom my waistline. I'm sure I'll be doing lots of walking so I think I'll be fine (tell that to the pizza and pastries though). There is also a new beer store with great selection (by German standards) in Hamburg called Craft Beer Store so I'll also be battling temptation while at home to only sample a reasonable amount of tasty beers. I also started a new beer blog called, Average Guy's Guide to Beer, which you should check out. Don't worry though I will still update this blog with monthly beer reviews!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Beer Review May 2013: BQ Birra Artigianale di Qualità

You may be wondering why there is a beer review on a blog dedicated to fitness, diet, and health. I've loved beer and trying new brews for a long time and if I'm going to expend some of my precious daily calories on beer I want to make sure that it is worth it. I've nobly decided to share my experiences with you so you can make an informed decision about your precious calories. I don't have a refined set of beer tasting skills so, I won't be going on about bouquet and mouth feel. I may make a formal rating system at some point but for now I'll just go with my gut. Just because I like to exercise doesn't mean I have to stop liking beer!

This is a special beer review because I will be reviewing a beer bar instead of just beer! I'm hoping to add more  reviews of establishments that I visit for future beer review posts. I was in Milan last month with my wife and one night after a long day of sightseeing I wanted to check out a local beer bar and BQ Birra Artigianale di Qualita seemed like a great choice. There are five different locations in Milan, Italy and I decided to go to the one at Via Losanna 36 because it was closest to my hotel and with 24 taps and 200 different bottles it had the largest selection.

We got there early by Italian standards at a bit after 7p.m. and no one was in the bar besides two people working there. Neither of them were able to speak English and since neither of us could speak Italian our communication was limited but the waitress was extremely accommodating in translating and explaining beer and food to us using her smartphone. Most of their draft beers were 5 euro for 40cl which I felt was reasonably priced. I ordered a blue cheese burger with mushrooms and onions on it for 9 euro and my wife ordered a plate of fries for 3.50. There weren't many vegetarian options on the menu for her. We ordered a couple of draft beers to enjoy while we waited for the food. The beer was delicious and the room was filled with rock and pop hits of the last several decades.

I was slightly intimidated by the size of my burger when it arrived! I was a little hesitant to even order a burger in the first place because I often feel burgers are something that most restaurants outside of the U.S. don't really know how to do. I couldn't have been more wrong in this case. The beef was fresh and it combined overwhelmingly well with the messy wonder of blue cheese, mushrooms, and onions. It was hard to bite it because it was so big but it was definitely worth the struggle! I tried a couple of my wife's fries and they were also really good.

We ordered another 40cl beer and a tasting tray. The tasting tray was 4 euro for 3 glasses of 10cl beer but all of the beers we received had way more than 10cl possibly because they were served in 25cl glasses. We talked and savored our drinks. One aspect of the bar which was interesting was that some of their beers were named after famous people from history such as Genghis Khan, Tutankhamon, Cleopatra, and Attila. There were some other interesting names such as Gasoline Super and Mahogany. The bottle selection was fairly impressive with beers from Italy, Germany, Belgium, the U.K., and  the U.S. I think there is something here to interest any beer lover.

During the course of our time there a few people showed up and left but overall it was pretty empty the whole time. It isn't a very large bar and I'm not sure if it could hold much more than 50 people. I had a great time and I would definitely recommend stopping by one of the BQ bars if you are ever in Milan!

Overall: 9/10

I apologize that I didn't take notes about the specific beers I tried but I can tell you I liked everyone of the BQ drafts I tried - Mahogany, Zingibeer, Valchiria (which was my favorite), Cleopatra, Gasoline Super, and Genghis Khan.

Bottle Selection 
Drinking is Bad and I've Found Proof!