When we consider exercise to be operating joysticks, touchscreens and remote controls, we become...

Lard Ass Nation

America's Sedentary Lifestyle

Having looked at the crisis of chronic illness in America and the pressing need of a diet revolution, let’s turn our attention to the next critical need...physical activity. Americans were once an active people. Even as agrarian life gave way to industrialization, there was still an active workforce. Besides the large farm population, there were construction workers, factory workers, soldiers, and other jobs involving standing, squatting, reaching, turning and moving.

You might be tempted say that we still have some farmers, construction workers, a few factory workers and odd jobs that require movement. Yes, but today’s farmers plow the fields in huge air-conditioned tractors. They wouldn’t know how to hoe a row of corn. Construction workers no longer dig trenches with a shovel, they have a backhoe for that. Today’s factories are automated. The only work involved is pushing buttons and monitoring screens. Even our military is a far cry from the manly testosterone-fueled warriors they ought to be. Machines have replaced muscles and computers are replacing minds. This does not bode well for our future.

The Statistics

Adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. Additionally, it is recommended that adults engage in muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups two or more days a week. There are increasing benefits to topping that. Here are some facts:

  • Only 20% of U.S. adults meet both the aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening guidelines [even that sounds high to me...certainly worse in Mississippi]
  • According to the IHRSA statistics, the number of health club or gym memberships has increased from 41.3 million in 2005 to 50.2 million in 2012. The Statista chart (shown below) below indicates 57.3 million membership in 2016. That equates to about 23% of the population over 18. The average age was 40.
  • More than 50% of people drop out within the first 6 months. In one study 80% who joined a gym in January 2012 quit within 5 months. We see from these last two statistics that people seem to understand the need to exercise, but few possess the motivation, or self-discipline, to stick with it.
  • According to a 2016 Statista survey, 39% of respondents said they are currently a member of a gym. Only 23% said they had never been a member of a gym.
  • According to the Labor Department, there were 231,500 personal trainers in America as of 2011. This was a 44% increase in the numbers from 2001. Unfortunately, in pun, this is a growth industry.
Muscle Balance & The Dangers of Prolonged Sitting

Normal muscle balance occurs in neutral posture, which is standing. When you sit, you will notice how certain muscles are lengthened and others are shortened. Over time, in this position, the underactive muscles become weak and lengthened and can be hypotonic (chronic decreased tone). The overactive muscles become tight and shortened and can be hypertonic (chronic increased tone).

In the graphic below, you will see how muscle contractibility is dependent on resting muscle length. Passive stretching of tight muscles will gradually add sacomeres back in line and help restore muscles normal resting length. Prolonged sitting has the following effect:

  • Erector Spinae (Back Muscles) become tight
  • Ab muscle are unused
  • Hip Flexors become shortened and the Illiopsoas becomes tight
  • Glute muscle are unused

If left unstretched, shortened hip flexors affect the position of the pelvis, which in turn affects the position and movement of the lower back. Over time these difficulties can lead to what is called the “pain compensation cycle,” which is a downward spiral of pain. Many people turn to pain medications which attempt to treat the symptom but does not address the cause.

Benefits of Exercise*

An exercise training program that includes a healthy balance of aerobic, resistance* and flexibility training can completely transform a sedentary body into a glowing, energetic, cognitive, less-stressed, more focused, fat-burning machine. There are numerous benefits to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and endocrine systems leading to a reduced risk in chronic diseases that plaque modern America. Individuals will feel better, look better, and perform better!

The following list of benefits are quite remarkable but married to it is the need for proper diet and nutrition. There is some overlap in the following categories but I’ve attempted to keep it to a minimum. Please note this list has been compiled from numerous scientific studies and I'm required to say that "studies suggest, but do not conclusively prove" the following benefits:

Cardiovascular Function

  • Increased cardiac output (due mainly to increased stroke volume)
  • Decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure
  • Increase in blood volume & plasma
  • Formation of new capillaries around recruited muscle fibers (increases delivery of oxygenated blood)
  • Decrease in resting heart rate
  • Decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL – bad cholesterol)
  • Decrease in triglycerides
  • Decreased risk of type-2 diabetes and heart disease

Pulmonary Function

  • Improved respiratory capacity (VO2 max)
  • Improved oxygenation in cells (more energy & better cellular health)

Endocrine Function

  • Decreased levels of cortisol (resistance training increases level temporarily while exercising)
  • Increased levels of endorphins, dopamine and norepinephrine (feel good neurochemicals)
  • Increased levels of DHEA
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Increased testosterone & growth hormone levels
  • Increase in Irisin (improves health & cognitive function)

Cognitive Functions

  • Improved cognitive function
  • Improved cognitive flexibility (ability to quickly shift thinking from one concept to another)
  • Increase in BDNF (stimulates neurogenesis)
  • Improved focus
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved executive brain functions (inhibitory control, planning, organizing, behavior, etc.)
  • Improved academic performance
  • Reduced mental fatigue
  • Increased willpower & self-control
  • Sharpens short-term memory
  • Improves long-term memory
  • Slows brain atrophy (increased volume of hippocampus)
  • Decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

Psychological Functions

  • Alleviate stress (purges stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline)
  • Increases emotional resilience (maintain a more positive attitude)
  • Fights depression
  • Improves mood
  • Increases pain tolerance (due to release of endorphins and other chemicals)
  • Reduces anxiety (particularly in stressful individuals)
  • Increases long-term happiness
  • Metabolic Functions
  • Increase in the number & size of mitochondria (increases generation of ATP)
  • Increased efficiency in metabolic functions
  • Increase resting metabolic rate
  • Decreased risk of metabolic syndrome

Osteological Benefits

  • Increased bone mineral density (reduce risk of osteoporosis)

Other Physiological Benefits

  • Improved immunity
  • Reduced fat-soluble toxins (like pesticides) stored in adipose tissue
  • Reduced risk of some cancers
  • Decreased inflammation

Body Composition & Appearance

  • Weight loss – loss of fat tissue
  • Increased muscle hypertrophy (size)
  • Better fit appearance (leads to more confidence and self-esteem)
  • Increases skin radiance (increased blood flow to skin’s surface)
  • Slows effects of aging on skin (possibly due to exercise produced myokines)
  • Cleanses skin (sweat expels trapped dirt and oil in skin)
  • Increases collagen production thwarts wrinkles

Activities of daily Life

  • Maintain muscular balance and improve posture
  • Increased functional movement
  • Improved proprioception and balance
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased agility
  • Improved motor skills
  • Increased aerobic endurance
  • Increased muscular endurance
  • Increased muscular strength
  • Increased muscular power
  • Increased anaerobic capacity
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Improved sexual function
  • Improved quality of sleep

* Resistance training can be applied more specifically to general muscle fitness, muscular endurance, muscular strength and muscular hypertrophy...depending on desired results.

General Categories of Exercise

Fitness is categorized in different ways. For the purpose of Man Up Boot Camp, we will use the ACE IFT Model. As an ACE-certified personal trainer, this is how I was taught and I believe it to be a very good approach. It breaks fitness down into two major programs, each with four phases, or progressions, of training.

The first program is functional movement and resistance training. It consists of the following four phases:

  • Phase 1: Stability & Mobility
  • Phase 2: Functional Movement
  • Phase 3: Load Training
  • Phase 4: Performance Training

Phase 1 begins with basic assessments and exercises aimed at developing (or strengthening) core stability, progressing through proper hip mobility, and ultimately good mobility of the distal joints. This is where you will learn proper warm-up and cool-down exercises. Phase 2 begins with functional assessments and understanding the five body movement patterns. After good functional movement has been established, you can progress to Phase 3 – Load Training. Of course, this is weightlifting, where all the men want to start. However, it is important to begin Load Training only after successfully establishing a proper base of functional movement to prevent injury and muscular imbalances. Many in fitness training will stop here and never progress to Phase 4 – Performance Training. Of course, athletes will spend time in this final phase.

The second program is cardiorespiratory training. It consists of these four phases:

  • Phase 1: Aerobic Base
  • Phase 2: Aerobic Efficiency
  • Phase 3: Anaerobic Endurance
  • Phase 4: Anaerobic Power

Sedentary and deconditioned individuals will need to begin in Phase 1 with light aerobic activity. Phase 2 begins with a submaximal talk test to determine VT1 (First Ventilatory Threshold). The program will progress with increases in frequency, duration and intensity...beginning with steady-state training and progressing to interval training. The final two phases are mainly for athletes. These phases employ exercising using the body’s anaerobic energy system.

Health Assessments

Before beginning a fitness program design personal trainers employ three types of physical assessments to determine the needs of specific clients.

Postural assessment looks at an individual’s postural integrity to determine such things as sway back, thoracic kyphosis, pelvic tilt, forward head position, hip adduction, ankle pronation and other deviations that can be addressed through proper exercise.

The modern American lifestyle, both at home and at work, often leads to a number of repetitive movements as well as hours of sedentary low-level activity. For example, sitting at a desk all day, facing a computer screen and tapping on a keyboard can lead to poor posture, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome. The good news is that much of what plagues modern Americans can be fixed with a proper fitness regime. Lack of joint stability and mobility, habitually poor posture, muscular pattern overload from repetitive movements, and imbalanced strength-training programs are all correctable factors.

The next set of assessments are movements screens to determine the contribution muscle imbalances and poor posture have on neural control, and helps identify movement compensations due to muscle tightness or imbalances between muscles acting at the joint. These result in altered neural action that can be corrected with a proper fitness program. Assessments such as the Bend & Lift Screen, Hurdle Step Test, McGill’s Battery, Apley’s Scratch Test, Thomas Test, Shoulder Push Stabilization, and others are useful in determining which muscle groups need special attention.

The physiological assessments are the anthropometric measurements you would expect, such as body weight and height to determine BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio. There are also tests to evaluate muscular strength and endurance to use for determining load training starting points.

Functional Movement & Resistance Training

Phase 1: Stability & Mobility Training

It is important to understand the kinetic chain – the stability-mobility relationship.

  • We begin training with the development of proximal stability – learning to activate the core
  • Next we learn pelvis and thoracic spine exercises to develop proximal mobility in the torso
  • We look next at the upper region to develop proximal mobility in the scapuloathoracic region and proximal mobility in the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint
  • Lastly, we will touch on distal extremities and static balance

Phase 2: Functional Movement

We will go over the five basic movement patterns and learn exercises that address:

  • Bend-And-Lift Patterns: Hip-hinge to emphasize glute dominance over quad dominance in first 15 degrees of movement
  • Single-Leg Movements: Half-kneeling lunge rise to teach proper lunge technique and full lunges progressing to the lunge matrix
  • Pushing Movements: Bilateral & unilateral presses as well as thoracic matrix
  • Pulling Movements: Bilateral & unilateral rows
  • Rotational Movements: Wood chop & hay bailer (actually pushing, pulling & rotational)

Phase 3: Load Training

We will discuss various load training goals:

  • Endurance: Ability of a muscle to sustain successive reps of an activity and withstand fatigue (provides a slight increase in muscle strength)
  • Hypertrophy: Increase in muscle fiber size through progressive resistance exercises (for bodybuilders – high volume, short recovery)
  • Strength: Greatest force that can be produced by one or more muscle groups by moving a load one time (1 rep)

We will discuss key training variables:

  • Frequency
  • Exercise Selection & Order
  • Intensity [Volume & Intensity are inversely related]
  • Repetitions
  • Sets
  • Rest Intervals

Cardiorespiratory Endurance (Aerobic & Anaerobic)

In our cardiorespiratory endurance training we begin with Phase 1 establishing a base to work from. Each individual will need a program customized to their current physical condition.

Phase 1: Aerobic Base

In aerobics programming, we deal with FITT – frequency, intensity, time and type. The frequency is the number of days per week. Intensity is measured in what we call “rate of perceived exertion” (RPE) and involves rating the physical exertion on a scale of 1-10. Time is the number of minutes exercised per day. Type is simply whether you are jogging, bicycling, swimming, etc. Here is a typical starting point for the average deconditioned person:
  • Frequency: 2-3 days/wk (start) progress to >5 days/wk
  • Intensity: steady-state low-moderate intensity RPE 3-4
  • Time: 5-10 minutes/day progress to 20-30 minutes/day
  • Type (modality): walking, swimming, etc.
You want to progress at the rate of about 10% per week.

Phase 2: Aerobic Efficiency

In phase 2 the duration increases up to to 60 minutes and intensity >= RPE 5. As efficiency increases (RPE >6), we begin to introduce interval training. We start with intervals of <60s with a work:rest ratio of 1:3, progressing to 1:1 (the key being recovery time reduction). A 10% progression is also used here.

The most important thing most often overlooked is variety...mixing it up. It is best to not do the same exercises over and over again even though you may increase frequency, intensity and time. Modality plays a big part. Scientific studies have proven that people who walk a treadmill routinely day after day often gain weight, rather than lose weight. Yes, its counter-intuitive but it happens. It’s best to keep the body surprised at what you throw at it from day to day.

Phases 3 & 4: Anaerobic Endurance & Power

We will not go into detail in our Boot Camp about Phases 3 and 4 as they relate to more serious athletic endeavors.

Our mouths are designed for eating, drinking and emergency breathing only. Yet, due to our fast-paced modern lifestyle, Americans have typically become mouth-breathers.

Mouth breathing triggers the stress response, while nose breathing triggers the relaxation response. How you breathe determines several factors:

  • How well the body’s cells are oxygenated
  • Whether the body is burning primarily fat (nose) or sugar (mouth)
  • The pH balance of the blood
  • The hormonal/brain response of the body to any activity

Nasal breathing on both the inhale and the exhale optimizes all of the above factors for performance and perception. Nasal breathing produces nitric oxide, a bronchodilator and vasodilator, lowers blood pressure, and improves oxygen absorption in the lungs.

Navy Seals start Day 1 training with breathing exercises, including box breathing. An important part of Man Up Boot Camp is to teach proper breathing in everything we do.

Man Up Boot Camp Summary

Here are some related topics and program design we will cover in the Man Up Boot Camp:
  • We will give physiological and functional movement assessments.
  • We will talk about the importance of core activation and breathing techniques.
  • We will touch on fundamentals of the 3 energy systems, biomechanics, and the kinetic chain.
  • We will spend time going over postural integrity, muscular imbalance, and the pain compensation cycle.
  • We will address issues of balance and flexibility, and discuss proximal stability and distal mobility.
  • We will talk about the importance of warm-up/cool-down exercises, as well as dynamic and active stretching. Everyone will practice these to develop good form and understanding.
  • We will drive home the importance of functional training before beginning a resistance program. Everyone will learn how to properly perform squats, lunges, planks, etc.
  • We will teach principles and demonstrate techniques of a proper resistance program
  • We will go over the various progressions of load and performance training.
  • We will discuss cardiorespiratory training beginning with basic aerobics and progressing to Interval Training.
  • We will introduce Anaerobic Endurance training for those who want to take their cardio higher.
  • We will briefly go over additional types of exercise such as TRX suspension training.

Remember this: All exercise need not be painful drudgery. All physical activity is beneficial including such fun family activities as swimming, kayaking, bicycling, mountain hiking, beachcombing, and so forth. While there are benefits to joining a gym, such as access to equipment and personal trainers, as well as the discipline of exercising with buddies, it is not a requirement for physical fitness. You can begin at home with bodyweight exercises, progressing to the addition of some dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell weight. Remember, your health is not dependent on fancy gear, it depends on you. So, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!
Legal Stuff

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*Note on Benefits of Exercise. This list was compiled from numerous scientific studies. It should be noted that not everything listed here has been conclusively proven. Studies involving human trials are often very difficult. Sometimes there are conflicting results. We take a skeptics approach and try our best to determine which studies are likely to be more reliable. Should time prove any of these specific points to be wrong, rest assured there is no debate over the positive benefits of exercise on our overall health.


Man Up Now

Page Credits:
All text by John Cripps
Top photo - Pätrick Henry Cripps taken at Seminary Canoe Rental - part of the Man Up Boot Camp. Photo by John Cripps
Bottom photo - family fun and outdoor fitness at Seminary Canoe Rental. Photo by John Cripps
Bottom logo by Jennifer Cripps