14 Gym Mistakes Holding You Back

I’ve been back in the gym for the last six months. I love pushing iron, the clank of the weights, the rubber matting, the whole thing. As it’s some time since I worked out and I’m not that young anymore, I’m mostly using machines as I ease in.

I aim to increase my strength and muscle mass and decrease the gut. Loss of muscle mass can start around age 30 if we are inactive. When we get to sixty years of age we lose around 1% of our muscle mass each year. By 70 it’s 2% per year, by 80 it’s got to 4%. I’m 61 by the way.

Like interest on a loan, this is not so much in one year, but year in and year out it builds up into a big debt. Muscle weakness can then make it much harder to go up stairs, rise from a chair, manoeuvre into a car or get up off the floor.

It doesn’t matter how old we are, we can still increase strength and muscle bulk by training. Sure it’s easier when we are younger and we don’t have to work round so many painful joints. But we still have to do it right.

Muscle bulk and power increases in response to the intensity of the resistance we work against. If we don’t use enough resistance, we don’t get any change.

I was shocked by how many people are still doing their exercises badly! Young and old, they did their workouts with no clear idea what they were trying to achieve or how to do it. All the errors I saw years ago are still there. I thought perhaps that techniques would have improved as people had access to more information, but not so.

The guys and girls that are doing well could do so much better. People not doing well could start to gain. Older people could enjoy the strength and health benefits they are attending for. Otherwise they are pretty much wasting their time.

Here are my 14 gym mistakes holding you back, and why. Some of them are pretty obvious, others I probably just have a thing about.

1. Don’t chat all the time. If you want to go the gym with your mates and chat, that’s fine. Just don’t expect to gain any muscle. By all means go with the banter and joking, but are you there to work hard or not? You can do both. Or not. And please don’t get in the way.

2. Leave your smartphone in the locker. I love my smartphone, I have an iPhone 6 Plus and use it loads. But nothing has ever appeared on it that demanded my attention then and there, or else. And I reckon that’s true for pretty much everyone. Are you there to train or not? Bringing one into the gym advertises you’re not serious. One of the guys recently smashed his nice water bottle by dropping a dumbbell on it. It’s gotta happen to a phone some day…

3. Stop messing with your water bottle. Yes, I know hydration is important and our performance might drop X% if we lose this or that amount of water. But I doubt very much hydration is the factor limiting improvement for almost anyone in the gyms I’ve been to. Drink a good bit before you go in and, unless you sweat a whole lot, you don’t need extra fluid. It’s a distraction. Focus.

4. Don’t sit on the machine, doing nothing. There’s plenty of time in-between your sets for someone else to do their set in time for your next one. This is especially important when there’s only one of that particular equipment in the gym. Don’t be a machine hog and have some respect. Sharing is good.

5. Don’t go macho on weights. This is more a problem with younger guys who want to look like they’re shifting some serious iron. Throwing weights about is a bad idea. Apart from being ineffective. Do I have to explain? Injury, my man. See below.

6. Be nice to your tissues. The body systems that matter to us in the gym are the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. Muscle tissue remakes itself completely in 90 days, replacing all the molecules, proteins and chemicals, with “new” ones. This allows it to adapt quickly and so strength can increase dramatically in a relatively short time.

7. Connective tissue takes much longer to adapt. Connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia) is not the blood-rich and metabolically active environment that muscle is. It takes much, much longer than muscle to adapt, to renew itself to face the new challenges you are putting on it.

The time? Around 210 days, or seven months. During this period, if you are increasing your muscle power dramatically, the gap between the power your muscles can exert and what your connective tissue can cope with is widening dramatically. This is a recipe for trouble.

Trouble like tennis elbow, biceps tendonitis, patellar problems or shoulder tendon irritation. Make haste slowly is the key, especially if you are young and can make haste fast.

8. Use the full range. This is one of the most common sins. But can we really use the full range of the muscles or joints we are training? Well no, there are loads of reasons why that’s not entirely possible. But that doesn’t make it right to do the opposite. Yea, I’m on my high horse now.

So how do you spot this error? Look for anyone who’s swinging a weight or can’t let it down the whole way. Biggest losers here are people trying to do a one arm curl over an incline bench. They choose a weight way too heavy and can’t let it down beyond 90 degrees elbow bend cos they don’t have the strength. Ha.

Or the leg extension machine, where they don’t start far enough back into knee bend and don’t straighten the knees at the end. Doing this is going to strengthen you sure, but only through a very limited part of the movement. And one of the most important bits is right to full knee straight.

Machine movements are limited enough as it is, why make them even less effective?

9. Don’t waste being eccentric. When you start a barbell curl, the barbell is at the bottom of the movement and resting against your thighs. OK?

When you make the curl movement up as far as you can go, that is known as concentric contraction. The muscle is shortening, balling up, as you curl that weight up. Now it’s time to let the weight down. As you do this, your biceps is still contracting but lengthening at the same time as it pays out against the weight.

This is called eccentric contraction and may be more important for strength and mass development than concentric. So don’t waste it. Let the weight down slowly.

It’s half of the exercise so make your muscle do the damn work. You’ll be happy with the results.

10. Don’t hang about between sets. If you wait more than 45-60 seconds between sets your muscles recover too much to easily ramp up the intensity that will make them grow. I’ve seen a boy on the leg extension machine fiddle with his phone for five minutes between sets. He might as well come in and do one set on Monday, another on Tuesday etc. for all the good that will do.

11. Don’t waste time doing unilateral movements, or cables, unless you’re already really built. Even then it might be a waste of time. The body is a bilaterally functioning machine – it works best when both sides work at the same time. If you’re trying to gain bulk or strength, stick to movements that involve both sides. Unilateral movements are much harder to control and to get a good muscle workout so maybe they’re for later when you’re more experienced. Maybe.

12. Leg abduction and adduction machines. Yes I do have a bit of a thing about these, and they might be useful in certain circumstances. The ladies like them and think they will change their thighs in some way. This is unlikely. The forces on the legs in normal life are way higher than any effort on one of these machines. Who have the most powerful hip abductor and adductor muscles? Sprinters. Most ladies won’t want that sort of development but it points to what’s needed to power up these muscle groups and it’s not those hip machines.

13. Don’t mess about with useless exercises. If you’re trying to gain, then one-arm exercises, leg extensions and cables should not be your main line. The biggest muscles in the body will have the biggest metabolic and anabolic effect. This means the chest, back, buttocks and thighs.

This doesn’t mean the other muscles aren’t important, just that they are secondary when you are trying to get big. So squats, leg presses, bench presses, dead lifts, dips and chins are your friends.

14. Listen to your body telling you what exercises are good

The legs and calves take a huge amount of force just carrying us about, going up and down steps, running here and there. You can’t push them without adding something on top of this day-to-day stress to make them grow. This means squats or leg presses.

Natural movements that use the body’s functional movements such as squatting, dipping, chinning, benching and curling are likely to be way more productive that any made-up exercise.

Well that’s that off my chest! Let me know what you think about the funny behaviours we all exhibit in the gym. All human life is here.

Pacing for Pain

Pacing for Pain, my new ebook for people having difficulties managing activity when they have chronic pain, has sold three copies! I’m delighted, really, because I suspect most books or ebooks don’t sell any copies. So I’m working on a marketing programme.

Smashwords’ Founder Mark Coker has written several ebooks about how to be successful in publishing and they are full of great information. One of the benefits of Smashwords is that it delivers to all the major ebook retailers, lenders and libraries so your work can get a wider distribution. It’s important that people know they can get your title in the format they prefer and there are many, although a few dominate in percentage terms.

Buy Pacing for Pain NOW from Smashwords

Pacing for Pain on Kobo

Pacing for Pain on iBooks

Pacing for Pain at Barnes and Noble

Pacing for Pain from Oyster Books

Pacing for Pain from Flipkart

Pacing for Pain from Overdrive

Creating a Press Release

When you become an author and start to format, publish and market your book you realise just how many things there are to learn so you can do the best job of it.
I thought press releases were old hat and for sad corporate announcements of who had taken on which tedious job but it turns out it’s not quite like that.
Press release companies appear to be alive and well and prospering on the net. After a look around I chose a free press release service (it can cost you loads) from prlog.org. They have a ton of useful information about how to format a press release and what to include and what not, with character limits to stop us prattling on.
With the promise of the search engines indexing these releases and the fact that they stay up there on the net once they are released, I wrote one for the release of Pacing For Pain. Here it is.
Dustjacket Books Publishes “Pacing For Pain” On Smashwords and Kindle

Working with CreateSpace

I’ve uploaded the copy files and the cover to CreateSpace and now I’m waiting to see if there are any big problems with the formatting or sizing.
The CreateSpace system is amazing in the way that it takes you through the process but as with all new skills there are still some things that stump you. As “Pacing for Pain” is a niche book about an aspect of pain management it is not a large volume. It makes 137 pages in all so I chose a small trim size, 5.06″ x 7.81″ (12.852 x 19.837 cm), which is a standard for paperbacks here in the UK.
The most confusing aspect was the cover. I had a pdf file of a cover designed for me but the CreateSpace requirements were full of margins and bleeds. I imported their template into Photoshop Elements and tried to make the back cover and spine a matching colour. And add some blurb while not getting in the way of the margins.
So I have really no idea if the file I have uploaded will pass scrutiny but I’m hoping for the best, then I can order a proof copy and see what it looks like.
The small amount of work I have done in looking at book design has really opened my eyes to how standardised books are and how complex a simple book can be. It’s important to get this right as we instantly notice when something is not right and books have evolved over hundreds of years to suit our eyes and reading habits.

How Not To Write A Novel

I have been very successful at not writing a novel. I’ve written a page of fiction and I don’t think it was very good. There were fish gazing out of a trawler net and..well let’s leave it there.
That doesn’t mean writing fiction isn’t interesting, it’s a great skill and worth learning about.
I borrowed this book from a friend and it’s hilarious as well as being chock full of good advice. It’s called “How Not To Write A Novel” on the premise that nobody could possibly agree how a novel should be written but might be able to find common ground on how one should not be written.
If you click the link it will take you to Amazon and if you buy anything I will get a small commission, at no extra cost to yourself.
How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published

Pacing For Pain on Smashwords!

pacing for painFinally done it! “Pacing For Pain” is now published on Smashwords and is available in all the major ebook formats. The Smashwords system is very easy to use and there are several very useful (and free!) ebooks all about getting the best out of your ebook. So I’m a fan.

While I love Scrivener for the writing and research I have come over to simplicity. Smashwords prefers you to upload a Word file so that its conversion engine (The Meatgrinder!) doesn’t mangle your precious manuscript. So I abandoned ideas of this nice font or that spacing and went for Times New Roman all the way through with Arial for headings. And kept the font sizes to 12 for body of text and 14 for headings. I think the guys and girls at Smashwords are right, your ebook needs to be simple, clear and legible so nothing gets in the way of transferring ideas from your mind into the mind of the reader.

My writing is about text, there are few images, and this means that it really suits the simple ebook format. So my next ebook, which will be about knee replacement, will be ALL written in Times New Roman and 12pt text until it’s edited and polished and finished. Then at the last moment I’ll define the styles for the heads and subheads and I’ll be done!


Ebook Publishing

I’m rushing slowly towards the publication of my first ebook. I now have all the requirements, a cover image, the text, the illustrations and some idea of how to do it all. There’s a lot of detail to watch in ebook publishing as I have said.

However, modern systems allow all of us to publish something if we have the interest. There are no gatekeepers now. We don’t have to persuade someone in a publishing company that our work is good enough. Looking at how many very successful authors had their work rejected regularly it’s clear that this was a competitive and often inaccurate process.

I’m thinking I might use Smashwords as they process the submitted file into the various formats required by the variety of ebook sellers. The more sellers offer your work the better, initially I thought I’d just do Kindle but now I’m converted to a wider market.

So things to do: proof read the (almost final) draft, check the paragraph styling, check the fonts, check the cover image, output from Scrivener into the ePub format which suits Smashwords, validate the ePub file, and hit the publish button. And some other stuff too.

I’ve got until the end of this week (12th December 2014) to get it published. Since the ebook is about pain I don’t think the Christmas market is going to be big for me!


Working with Scrivener

I’m working on publishing my first Kindle book and it’s a learning curve alright. A while back I discovered Scrivener and am getting to love it although the relationship is taking a while to mature. It takes time to get to know Scrivener as she has so many facets but it’s worth it for the time and effort she saves downstream when you want to publish in this format and then that format.

Scrivener allows you to concentrate on the content and then output your work in the format you choose without changing everything in the content. That’s worth a lot to me as I’m climbing this learning curve of ebook publishing.

There are tons of resources on the net if you want to start using Scrivener, although many of them just miss the very, very simple things that a newbie needs to get started. Jeremy Lee James has a nice tutorial Scrivener – how to compile with style which I like as he’s quite definite about what works best so it carries you along towards what might be best practices for the most efficient use of this software.

Scrivener allows me to compile my ebook in a standardised way, so when all the parameters are set the way I want I can compile again and again without having to do extra work. This allows me to concentrate on the look and feel  of the ebook.

I’ve written my first ebook which has been sitting around on my various hard drives for many years. I know many people do this, procrastinating about getting something done, but finally I’ve done it.

It’s called “Pacing for Pain” and addresses the difficulties people have with activity when they have chronic pain.

I’ve compiled the ebook 57 times so far. I’m not sure if that’s more times than normal! There’s the lists, the white space, the indents, the headings and many other things to get right. So I compiled each time and emailed it to my Kindle or checked it in Kindle Previewer. But it’s almost done now so hopefully it’s not another form of (hidden) procrastination!

But I’m not looking forward to the level of detail I’ll need to master to publish the book on CreateSpace so I can have a publish-on-demand real, paper book for sale on Amazon.