Lifting More Heavy Things

So my gym is finally opening this week. It’s made me think about where I’m going in this part of the paleo-lifestyle. Long-time readers know I slapped together a Covid workout months ago. I’ll continue with the planking and press-ups, but it will be great to do pull-ups again and use some heavy weights.

That said, I think I’ll be increasing the frequency and the intensity of my heavy lifting. This goes against the advice of some paleo/keto advocates like Mark Sisson. He argues one should lift once or maybe twice a week. His argument is sound for most people: our hunter-gatherer ancestors were probably not lifting heavy things seven days a week. In addition, who has the time to do that in today’s busy world? I also think there was an element of salesmanship here. Mark is trying to make the primal lifestyle as easy as possible. Lifting once a week is much more palatable than lifting five days a week. Most people can’t maintain the latter.

So why am I breaking with this recommendation? Vanity? My thirty-year quest for a six-pack? No. It’s due to another one of my vaunted “brain worms” that’s been slithering through my cerebral cortex every since I read Dr Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution several months ago. He devotes a chapter to exercise and spends a lot of the chapter discussing anaerobic exercise, specifically the benefits of weightlifting. A lot of the information is generic in that he explains how intense anaerobic exercise can benefit everyone. However, he discussed many of the benefits for Type-2s like me:

  • Increased muscle mass reduces insulin resistance.
  • Regular, strenuous exercise increases insulin sensitivity independently of its effect on muscle mass. Put another way, the act of lifting heavy things increases insulin sensitivity even if one does not put on more muscle.
  • Anaerobic exercise tires muscles out quickly requiring more glucose. This will result in lower blood glucose over time.
  • The blood sugar drop from continuous anaerobic exercise will be much greater than after a similar period of aerobic exercise because of the requirement of large amounts of glucose.
  • The more one stresses the body through lifting, the more efficient the body becomes in transporting glucose into muscle cells.
  • As muscle strength and increased muscle mass develop, glucose transporters in the cells will multiply. This will improve the efficiency of one’s own insulin in transporting glucose and in suppressing glucose output in the liver (the latter is a big problem for me).

Simple right? Well, yes in theory, but it requires more commitment than lifting heavy things once or twice a week. In order to lower blood glucose over time, Bernstein argues that the exertion must be adequately prolonged. In practice, that means more time lifting in the gym. So instead of my typical twenty minute session, that means something more like forty-five minutes. Furthermore, it means more sessions in the gym. I’m going to have to go for five sessions per week.

It’s a Monday, so I’ll start today. I’ll begin writing a weekly roundup on the benefits, drawbacks and effects on blood glucose each Monday.

Sprinting Experiment

I’ve been planning to do this for ages and finally got off my backside yesterday. Some diabetics will know from experience that vigorous exercise can lead to higher blood glucose readings. Why? Because the body senses you need more energy due to sprinting or hill work or hard circuit work. The result is the liver flooding your body with glucose.

For “norms” out there this is no problem. The body just releases some insulin to maintain homeostasis. Diabetics either don’t have enough insulin to compensate or are too insulin resistant to compensate.

As an aside, I’m still not 100% sure which I am: resistant or insulin depleted. Maybe a combination of both. I’m hoping to get some bloodwork done to be sure.

The Experiment

I already knew that sprinting usually leads to a glucose spike for me. I wanted to see if some walking after the sprint work would bring my mmol/L back down relatively quickly. Before I left the house, I checked my blood glucose: 6.9 mmol/L.

I warmed up as usual with a light jog and stretching. I then did six wind sprints followed by some walking to get the blood going. The wind sprints are just a part of the warm-up to avoid injury.

Once I was warmed up, I did six twelve second sprints. In between sprints, I walked about 100 metres. By the end of my sprint routine and warm-up, I travelled about a kilometre. My blood reading after the sprints was 8.0 mmol/L. So a significant uptick in blood sugar.

I walked another four kilometres and checked my blood when I got home: 7.8 mmol/L. I then ate a keto lunch: some cheddar cheese, coffee with cream and collagen*, a square of 95% chocolate and a handful of walnuts and pecans.

An hour later I checked my blood again: 8.8 mmol/L. Not ideal. I was hoping the intense exercise and walk would help me avoid a glucose spike after lunch. No such luck.

Conclusion

I’m a big believer in the paleo argument for sprinting: we were made to run fast in order to chase animals to kill or run away from animals trying to kill us. Unfortunately, as a diabetic, this aspect of the paleo lifestyle brings more negatives than positives. Until I can get my blood glucose really low consistently (4 to 5.5 mmol/L), I’ll have to forego the sprint work.

* I’ve made my coffee cutoff 2:00pm. Walker’s book on Sleep stated that it takes eight hours for caffeine to leave the body.

My Favourite Exercise – The Pull-up

I’ve been holding off on this post, since I haven’t been able to do a pull-up since late March. Thanks Boris! Still, there’s a good chance I’ll be able to get back into the gym next week, so here we go.

Beginner Pull-Up Bar Exercises for Upper Body Strength

Why do I love this exercise so much? It’s an ultimate core workout. Your back muscles, especially your latissimi dorsi (i.e., your lats), are doing a lot of the work, but so too are your abs, obliques, arms and shoulders. You’re also building up grip strength in your hands. For those who like to activate the “vanity” muscles (i.e., biceps), the pull-up is fantastic. Full disclosure, I love working the “vanity” muscles. Sad I know.

Another great thing about this exercise are the variations. Depending on your grip, you can work different muscles harder. If you look at the photograph above, this lady is using an overhand grip. This brings your lats and forearms into play more. In contrast, an underhand grip is going to work the biceps more. The width of your grip also changes the the stress you put on different muscles.

This is not an easy exercise for beginners. Indeed, many will not be able to lift their own bodyweight at first especially if they are carrying a lot of chunk. In this case you have some options.

You could join a gym that has a weight-assisted machine:

Machine-assisted pull-up instructions and video | Weight ...

You can buy rubber training bands to help you:

Pull Up Assist Band - Helps with Pull Ups | Rubberbanditz

Or you can work with a partner who can help lift you:

Partner Assisted Pull Up - YouTube

Although it may not seem like it today with much of the world still locked down by our political masters, life is still better in many ways compared to twenty or thirty years ago. The obvious one, that most take for granted, is the internet. When I was a kid or even in my twenties, how could you figure out the proper way to do this exercise or any exercise? Go to the gym and watch other people or buy a magazine and look at pictures of roid monsters doing the exercise.

Today we have the luxury of Youtube where hundreds or maybe thousands of people want to show us how to do this exercise. Here’s a popular one:

This video is very good explaining proper technique, and it doesn’t get too wrapped up into discussing particular muscles. Most of us are not looking to body build, we’re just trying to get healthier. Good luck.

Remember. Lift heavy things.

Growth Mindset: A Key Factor for Success

Since the lockdown, I’ve been doing a lot more jogging; I can’t get into the gym and onto the elliptical. I’ve got a route mapped out that is 5.2km. When I started running this circuit in March, I was walking as much as I was running. I timed myself early on and came in at 45 minutes. I’ve never been one to get too worried about time. When I used to run a lot, I went for distance as my challenge. I don’t have the time for long runs, so I decided to challenge myself on how fast I could complete the circuit.

Little by little, I upped the running to walking ratio: two minutes running/one minute walking, three minutes running/one minute walking and so on. A few weeks ago, I got to the point of mainly running with a few slow jogs on the tough hills. My best time was 35:05. I hadn’t jogged in about a week until yesterday. Instead, I’d done a lot of walking, a bit of sprint work and one walk-and-jog. I could feel it yesterday. You just know everything is in synch physically and you can push yourself. I decided I was going to run the whole route. I ended up having one slow jog, for about ten seconds, up a steep hill. My time: 30:30. I had completely smashed my previous best by over four minutes.

Why do I bring this up? It’s a good way to segue into the Growth Mindset. This is a simple outlook that was made famous by Carol Dweck. In essence, we all have the capacity to improve in everything we do. It is simply a matter of putting in the time and effort. Now there are some advocates who take the Growth Mindset to ridiculous places. One colleague of mine tried to argue that anyone could run as fast as Usain Bolt if he tried hard enough. Now this is utter nonsense. We all come into this world with our genes in place and certain physical and mental attributes. No matter how hard I work at basketball, I would never be anywhere near as good as Michael Jordan. It simply isn’t possible. Regardless, Dweck’s thesis is correct. If I worked at it, I could improve enormously at basketball. I have been working at running and have improved a great deal. That’s because I have an open mindset in this area. I believe I can get better at this skill if I work at it. I have.

What’s the opposite of a Growth Mindset? The closed mindset is when someone believes that she cannot improve in an endeavour and therefore doesn’t try to. The mindset follows the belief that we are all born with certain attributes that are fixed. Therefore, trying to work at certain things where we do not have “natural ability” is a waste of time. I’m not good at mathematics or spelling so I won’t try. I think this is wrong at its foundation. We can all improve in everything we do. However, there is a kernel of truth in there that is worth exploring. Time is finite. From the moment we’re born, we’re running out of time. We don’t have the time to devote to ever thing we do in order to improve. I like playing golf, and at one time I had my handicap down to eleven. Now I’m around an eighteen handicap. If I worked really hard, I’m sure I could get that handicap down. However, I don’t want to put the time in there. I’ve got better things to do.

What is one of the better things I’ve got to do? Health and fitness and fighting my diabetes. That’s an area where I want to put in time and apply the Growth Mindset. I know that I can keep getting better here. I know I can keep pushing the needle. Keep working hard and improving. Writing this blog is a part of that Growth Mindset. By the way, I woke up with my blood glucose at 6.4mmol/L this morning. Here is some more gradual improvement.

Conclusion

The Growth Mindset is real. People tend to be a mix of both. Some areas they think they can improve and some they think they can’t. This is not true. We can improve in all areas of our lives. The big question is, where are you going to put your time? God, family, work, relationships, health, golf game, pick-up basketball, education, gambling, lying?

I recommend reading Dweck’s book. It opened my eyes, made me reflect on myself and has helped focus my efforts to the areas that really matter in my life.

Push-Ups/Press-Ups – The Best Resistance Exercise

I’ve been going to the gym since I was fifteen. I love lifting weights. I love seeing the results. I also know it’s one of the best things I can do for my health and fitness regardless of my diabetes.

That said, the first exercise I started doing, in a regimented way, was press ups. I started this when I was thirteen. I’ve never stopped. That was thirty-two years ago.

Not Me

Even when I can get into a gym, I still make press-ups a part of my routine. Why? There are all kinds of whys beyond the obvious and scientifically proven health benefits:

  • Time – When I was sixteen, I could spend two hours in the gym every day. Today, I don’t have that kind of time. Getting out the bench, the plates, etc. takes time. Press-ups have no set up time. Get on the floor and get going!
  • Lift Heavy Things – Have you ever wondered how much of your own body weight you are lifting with a press-up? For a regular press-up, it’s around 70%. Press-ups on your knees? About 50%. So this is a great way to lift heavy things.
  • Upper Body Workout – When you ask the average Joe on the street what muscles the press-up works, he’ll probably say chest or maybe shoulders. True, the pectorals and deltoids are the main muscles. However, you are also working the triceps, abs, lower back, biceps and forearms.
  • Variations – I’ve written before that workout routines can become “ruttish” and boring. Yet, there are a lot of ways to vary the press-up. The wider you go out with your hands, the more you bring your deltoids into the game. If your hands are shoulder-width apart or just inside shoulder-width you’re targeting the chest. Come in really close with your hands and you start to really working the triceps.
  • Advanced Variations – You feel like you’ve mastered traditional press-ups? Why not take things to the next level? One arm press-ups, clap press-ups (my favourite), spiderman press ups and diamond press-ups are all great ways to mix things up and increase strength and fitness. Press-up planks (another favourite) are a great way to get two for the price of one. Press-up burpees are a great all-body work out and press-up/pull-up combos bring your latissimus dorsi and biceps into the game.
  • They’re Free – Getting a gym membership is a huge waste of money for most people. They buy memberships in January, go for a few weeks and are gone by February. I’ve seen this my whole life. Press-ups are free. You can do them at home. No one is watching. The vast majority of people don’t need the gym.
  • You can do them anywhere – Home is the obvious place. But I’ll do them in the park or the back garden when the weather is nice.

Conclusions

Resistance training is the key component of a healthy lifestyle. We are made to lift heavy things. Press-ups are the most convenient way to do this. I will do press-ups until the day I die.

Increasing Insulin Sensitivity

As a Type-2, I need to do all I can to help my body work as efficiently as possible with the limited insulin my pancreas makes. Through experience, trial and error and research these are the strategies I use.

Supplements

I have written about some of the following supplements. The others will get their own posts in due course:

  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Bitter Melon
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid
  • Resveratrol
  • Evening Primrose
  • Gymnema Sylvestre
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Probiotics
  • Apple cider vinegar

Diet

Obviously, the keto diet minimises the need for insulin. However, there are some foods I eat that supposedly help with insulin resistance. One of the argument seems to be that these foods have anti-oxidant/anti-inflammatory properties that, in turn, promote insulin sensitivity. Still, I cannot eat these foods with reckless abandon or my blood sugar will go up:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Salmon
  • Walnuts

In contrast, there are many foods that I avoid beyond the obvious ones because they likely promote insulin resistance with me.

Carrying Fat

Being overweight increases insulin resistance. Fortunately, since adopting the paleo-lifestyle my weight has dropped massively. I’m guessing I’m somewhere around seven percent body fat today. My weight is just below 12 stone (168 lbs). I used to be over 15 stone (210 lbs).

Exercise

This is one of the most important “planks” in my lifestyle and key to reducing insulin resistance. My regimen is a mix of walking, jogging, sprinting and resistance training. When I first started paleo, I followed Mark Sisson’s programme of lifting heavy things once a week. I’ve upped that to three to five days per week now. Why? Because I have found that resistance training has a very powerful and positive effect on my blood glucose. The jury is in and resistance training is key to improving insulin sensitivity.

Fasting

I’ve written tons on fasting, and its benefits for me. There many advocates out there who argue fasting improves insulin sensitivity. This is a regular part of my lifestyle through meal skipping and multi-day fasts.

Sleep

I wrote about this one the other day. Suffice to say, getting a good night’s sleep every night improves insulin sensitivity.

Conclusion

You can see from the above that I have to juggle a lot of balls to maximise my insulin sensitivity and overall health. Is it hard? Not really. One minor difficulty is the fact that I’m taking so many supplements that occasionally one or two fall through the cracks. For instance, I haven’t been taking apple cider vinegar as much as I should lately. The reason? It’s in a different cupboard than the rest of my supplements, and I simply fell out of the habit of drinking it. Shame on me.

The Benefits of Planking

Not me, but good technique nevertheless

My diabetes went undiagnosed for months. It was a strange time looking back now. The constant thirst, the cravings for sugar. I remember drinking a 2L bottle of Pepsi in about an hour. Crazy.

I suppose I was slowly dying. My body could not metabolise food properly and, as a result, it was trying to get energy any way it could. I was wasting away. I think I lost about two or three stone (30-40lbs) in a few of months. This wasn’t good weight loss mind you. I lost a lot of muscle mass.

Of course, I bounced back quickly with the insulin injections, but I had managed to wrench my back out in the gym before my diagnosis. I had an old lower back sports injury, which returned with my muscle wastage. Even after I put my weight back on (muscle and fat), the back pain remained. Indeed, it morphed into horrible sciatica that ran all the way down to my toes.

For months I tried all kinds of stretches to relieve my pain. There was some improvement, but I was always in some degree of discomfort.

Enter Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint and the section Lift Heavy Things. In it he discusses planking. Now I had been a gym guy since I was fifteen, and I had never done a plank in my life. As every workout type knows, it’s easy to get into a routine and stay in that rut. That was me. But ruts also get boring, and planks looked very easy. So I started planking. I worked my way up to five sets of planks holding the planking position for around a minute. Nowadays, I hold it until I shake uncontrollable for ten seconds or so.

This is a fantastic exercise for core strength. It not only works your abdominals and obliques, but your lower back muscles too. I agree with Mark:

We need strong cores in order to maintain a stable torso while putting in work, whether it’s lifting heavy things, carrying a heavy load, or transferring power from our hips while throwing a punch or a ball. Having that stable, strong core with the capacity to resist the influence of outside forces is far more important than having the capacity to perform a million situps.

So why the long preamble about back pain brought on by slow death by diabetes? Because within a month or so of planking, and building up core strength, my sciatica went away. This was never expected, promised or hoped for. I was simply following the Primal Blueprint because I was seeing results around my waistline. What a bonus to lose the back pain!

What’s my routine now? I’ll plank once a week. I’ll do four to six sets and hold the planking position for at least a minute. I only do the classic forearms and tippy toes plank.

Here’s a good video on proper technique and progression:

My Covid Workout

No gym workouts since March has been a nuisance. In the grand scheme of things, I can’t, and won’t, complain. There are far worse things happening on this surreal, Kafkaesque mudball. Still, I miss a few things like pull ups and heavy arm curls.

A key pillar of the paleo lifestyle is to lift heavy things. Being a hunter-gatherer meant lifting stuff, throwing stuff, cutting stuff. You get the idea.

I don’t need a gym to lift heavy things. This is a quick circuit routine I created that I do in my living room once a week. That’s all the lifting I need to do to maintain muscle mass.

The Workout

  • Press ups
  • Leg Squats
  • Planks
  • Arm curls (optional)

Notes

I do this circuit five times without resting. It wasn’t always that way when I was less fit. I’d usually take a one minute break between circuits. Five times round the circuit takes about ten minutes. So that’s ten minutes a week of lifting heavy things.

I do the arm curls because I’ve got a pair of dumbbells handy.

Through trial and error, I have figured out how many repetitions of each exercise is optimal for me.

Youtube has a wealth of information on how to do these exercises. There are tons of variations out there like press-up planks.

If I were near a park that had bars of some kind, I’d do pull ups there.

To Run or Not to Run

In my pre-paleo, pre-diabetic days I ran a lot. I was one of your classic chronic-cardio types. I’m not built to be a runner, I’m not graceful and every step is a chore. But I did it nonetheless because the prevailing wisdom, then and now, decrees that we must engage in moderate to heavy cardio to be healthy. Pound the pavement lad!

After taking the cure and going full paleo, I pulled back on the running and started doing a lot more walking. Living in a beautiful part of the UK helps, since I can stomp off into the countryside whenever I want.

So it’s all good right? Wrong. The problem for me, and I’m guessing other diabetics, is that the other aspect of the paleo/keto lifestyle is to do vigorous sprint work about once a week.

The theory on sprinting is logical and dovetails well with the evidence we have about hunter-gatherer societies. Most of the time our ancestors would do a lot of walking either stalking quarry or moving to a new location. Humans sprinted to capture or kill something or to run away from animals trying to eat them. They would not be running five and ten kilometre runs every day. Simply put, we are made to walk a lot and sprint a little. Jogging? Probably a little bit, but not like modern man.

So what’s the problem with sprinting? I’ve written about it before. Sprinting shocks the system and releases hormones like adrenalin and cortisol which can raise blood glucose. Moreover, the liver can get into the act as well and pump the body full of sugar. My pancreas can’t compensate, so my blood becomes full of sugary badness after a sprint session.

So what do I do? Well, I don’t sprint that much for starters. Maybe once a month at best. Before my gym was shut due to the so-called pandemic, I would also do some mini-sprints on the elliptical during my regular walking-pace elliptical workout. This didn’t seem to affect my blood negatively? Why? Don’t know. I’m guessing that elliptical sprints are not as intense as proper sprinting.

What about since the lockdown? I’m still going for walks at the weekend (typically for two or three hours), but who has that time during the work week? I’ve actually gone back to running two or three times a week, and I’m really loving it. The endorphin kick that lasts for an hour or two is fantastic and my blood glucose comes down significantly after a 5k.

Conclusion

I think this is one area where I have to part ways somewhat with the paleo-lifestyle at least for the moment. Sprinting raises my blood sugar too much. Whatever health benefits I would gain from aping my hunter-gathering ancestors is surely offset by higher than acceptable blood-glucose levels.

With all of that said. I am going to do some experimenting in the coming weeks and see if I can find a way out of this morass. What if I do some intense sprint work and then follow it up with a 5k jog? Will that quickly bring down any sugar spikes? We shall see dear reader.