Menu

cdruc

thoughts and notes

Pain while doing skull crushers?

The classic version of the exercise goes like this:

1. Lie on a bench with your arms perpendicular to the floor.
2. Lower your elbows while keeping your arms straight and close to your body.
3. Extend your elbows, lifting the weight back up, and stop just as you reach full extension.

Skull crushers is praised to be one of the best triceps exercises, but for some reason I always felt pain in my elbows when performing it. I tried it with dumbbells, with the EZ bar, straight bar, swiss bar, but no luck.

Pain while doing skull crushers. Much art. Much wow.

Pain while doing skull crushers. Much art. Much wow.

It turns out that a lot of people have problems with this exercise, and the common advice is: make sure to warm up real good, start with lighter weights, keep doing it, and your elbows will strengthen up.

I’m sure this works for some people.

The problem is, even with super light weights I was still experiencing pain. Not as much as before, but enough to make me look for other solutions.

One solution I found, was to move your arms a bit towards your head. This not only lowers the tension on the elbows but also provides a better stretch of the triceps.

This was better, but I was still feeling some pain at the top of the movement. So I decided to try the reverse. Move my arms a bit forward.

Painless skull crushers. Much art. Much wow.

Painless skull crushers. Much art. Much wow.

The pain was gone. Completely gone. I could not believe it.

My first Quora answer

Quora recently announced a massive breach of user data. Thousands of users are canceling their accounts.

But as you know, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so I’ve signed up today and answered the first question that popped on my screen. 🙂

“What is the best way to form and keep a habit going? For example like working out and dieting.”

I’m pretty bad at forming habits myself, but I somehow managed to keep going to the gym for the past 4 years, while also losing or gaining weight. So I’ll throw in my two cents.

Some of the reasons why it stuck with me:

  • worked out 5 days/week – this is considered to be bad advice as beginners should not work out as often as intermediate/advanced lifters. But as long as you don’t overdo it, you’ll be ok. Not taking day offs made it easier for me to turn it into a habit.
  • made it lifetime goal – I made it clear to myself that I won’t be doing it just for one year, or two, or until I reached a certain level. It’s a lifetime goal.
  • lowered my expectations – I don’t know a single person to be completely satisfied with the progress they made. They’re all happy because they look and feel better than 6 months ago, but “it could’ve been a bit better”.
  • for weight loss/gain – nothing worked best for me than starting to track my calories, see where I’m at, and then go up or down based on my goal at the time. Drastic changes to your diet won’t stick. You have to slowly adjust it, eating less/more, replacing one bad food with a healthy one.

As for forming other habits, you should do what most people recommend: force yourself to do it for a long period of time while also finding some kind of satisfaction/pleasure.

Gym newbie? I have some tips

Disclaimer: It’s only been ~4 years since I started going to the gym regularly. While that might seem like a long time, it’s actually not. I still have lots and lots to learn.

Anyhow, I have some free tips to give for those who are just starting out:

  • stay away from isolation movements
    Bicep curls, leg extensions, hamstring curls, tricep pushdowns – exercises that train a specific muscle group.
  • do lots of compound movements
    Barbell bench press, lat pulldowns, overhead barbell shoulder press, squats, lunges – exercises that train several muscle groups at once.
  • avoid dumbbells for a while
    Dumbbells are great, but not for beginners. They rely a lot on your stabilizer muscles and when you are a newbie they’re not developed enough and you risk injuring yourself.
  • machines over free weights
    Free weights are best for muscle development but they also make it easy for you to get injured. Machines are better. You can still get injured, but the chances are significantly lower.
  • high rep sets
    You shouldn’t go to the gym and start doing sets of 3-5 reps. It takes a while to get your form right. Doing high reps allows you to stay injury free while you work on your form.
    Go with anywhere from 8-15 reps for your upper body exercises and 12-25 reps for your lower body exercises. Lower body exercises are more dangerous because they put a lot of stress on the entire body, not just your legs. Use lighter weights, do more reps.
  • short breaks
    1 min between sets
  • training 3 days a week is more than enough

Most of the tips revolve around staying injury-free. Even so, it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or you’ve been lifting for a few years – the likelihood of getting injured is always there. Don’t be reckless. Start slow.

Keeping your calories in check

Some have it easier than others. Some have extraordinary willpower. But with enough planning, anyone can do it.

Those who have it easy are those who rarely have cravings and live a temptation-free environment. It’s harder to keep yourself in check when your roommate is eating fries, burgers, pizza and sweets all day.

If you’re used to eating out, sticking up with any kind of nutrition plan is going to be ten times harder for you. Not impossible, but a lot harder.

You’re going out with your friends. The waiter comes up, people start ordering: burgers, steaks, burritos, tacos, your favorite pizza…all the good stuff. Will you be ordering a salad? Hell no. You’ll jump on the “everybody is ordering something good” excuse in no time.

The solution is to plan ahead and try to reduce the times you eat out. Planning can mean eating fewer calories before dinner. Or making sure the place you’re going out to eat has food that’s delicious and also fit your macros and calories.

Visiting your parents? You know they’ll have all kinds of fats and sugars waiting for you. Ask them to cook something else. Or even better, to not cook at all. You’ll be their chef for the weekend. Maybe they’ll learn a few things – like not to boil your eggs in oil.

Cheat meals. Avoid them. Have a cheat day.

Having a cheat meal won’t completely satisfy your cravings – and it’s also easy to turn it into an excuse to have another cheat meal. Do that a few times and you’ll find the excuse for not following with your nutrition plan at all. You know, get a bit sad and say “I cheated three days now, there’s no point to continue…”

Have a day when you get to eat whatever you want. It will be enough to relax and deal with your cravings and it won’t affect you that much. Be decent, don’t eat like you never saw food before – eat what you want without going too crazy.

When cutting

You find a way to eat fewer calories and you stick with it until you reach your fat loss goal. Restricting calories is painful, sometimes annoying, but not the hardest thing to do.

The hardest thing is watching your strength fade away.

Minimizing muscle loss is part of the goal, and we fight it by lifting heavy; sets of five to seven reps. And because of that, we often get injured. Not the kind of injuries to keep us out of the gym, but painful enough to be noticed.

Those are messages. Messages from your body telling you to take it easier, to lower the weight.

You should listen.

The price we pay

Although dedication and patience are the most valuable currencies when working on transforming your body, this post is not about that cost. It’s about the actual money we spend, in a form or another.

A membership to a decent gym is about $50/month. You want a personal (shared) trainer, add another $70. That gets you to $120/month or $1440/year.

Apart from gloves, clothing, and good footwear, you also need to consider the time invested. An average workout, unless you’re going to group training, is about 1.5-2 hours. Add at least half hour to get to and back from the gym, and then another half hour to get your shower. That totals to about 3 hours.

You go to the gym four days a week, that’s 12 hrs/week or 48 hrs/month.