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Simple Steps to Superior Fitness

Is your fitness program really working for you? Don’t answer too quickly. Most people vastly over-rate their physical condition and are not getting the results they want. On the other hand, some people are in much better condition than they give themselves credit for and should be happy with their results. Either group can benefit from this article.

To determine which group you are in, and whether you need to seriously reconsider your program, take this six question quiz. Following that, we’ll look at some ways to go from being in shape to being in really great shape—and looking like it.


  1. How strong are your arms? Men: If you can’t curl a quarter of your body weight (men) you have massive room for improvement. Women: If you can't curl one eighth of your body weight, you have massive room for improvement. This doesn't mean "throw weight by putting your hips into it while pretending to emulate the curl." If you can curl this much, it doesn't mean you are fit--but if you cannot curl this much you need to do some work--and we'll discuss that shortly. Oh, and by the way--this is with one hand, not two.
  2. How strong is your upper back? Men  should be able to do three sets of 8 pullups (underhand, bringing chest to bar) and three sets of 6 chinups (overhand, bringing chin above bar). Women should be able to do three sets of 2 and 1, respectively. Again, this is a minimum. And your maximum rest between sets is one minute, not three.
  3. How strong are your rear deltoids? If your shoulders are rounded forward—and most people’s are—you have a serious rear deltoid issue. You have probably been doing bench presses incorrectly and not doing core exercises that require full body strength.
  4. How many pushups can you do? You should be able to do three sets of 10 pushups, resting a maximum of one minute between sets. Men do these with legs fully extended women do them with knees as the contact point. This doesn't mean you get on your hands and toes and dip your hips. It means you keep your back straight (hips and torso in a straight line) and raise and lower your torso by bending your arms. All the way down, all the way up. If you're in good shape, you should be able to whip out all thirty of these without a pause. But three sets would be the minimum. Interestingly, man gym rats can't do one set. But, they can raise a lot of weight on a decline press machine. Why do you think that is?
  5. What is your body fat percentage? Several recent fitness books have been put out by people who make false claims about their own high body fat levels. Men should have body fat in the single digits, but 9% is not "great"--it's still high. A woman’s body target fat level depends on many factors. If you are a woman with 15% bodyfat, you are likely just fine--and that may be true for you at 18%. If you have a flat tummy at 18%, don't think you need to drop to 15%. Men don't have (normally) breasts and any extra fat is simply a sign of unfitness, not voluptuousness. Women should not be worried if they are not model thin (gaunt). If you are 6ft tall and weigh more than 160 lbs (male or female), chances are you are too fat. But, that weight could be due to muscle or it could be due to breast size. Don't let the scale misinform you. Get an accurate body fat assessment to determine where you are.
  6. What is your lung capacity? Take a spirometry test. If you are in the normal range, consider yourself unfit. The “normal” range is based on an unfit population. Note that traditional cardio will not fix this. But, we’ll tell you what will.

Now, let’s examine each of these areas and provide some tips for you.



Arm strength

Many people think doing more biceps curls is the way to build arm strength. This is not true. The body tends to limit muscular development based on supporting structures and other factors. If you have a weak upper back, you can pretty much forget about much arm development. So, before you waste your time doing all kinds of curls, build your upper back. Note that you will also need to boost your testosterone via large exercises like squats and deadlifts. In fact, if you don’t do such exercises now, but quit doing curls and did squats instead, your arms would actually grow.

Upper back strength

It’s funny how people focus on the “mirror muscles” of arms and chest, but neglect to develop upper back. A well-developed back makes you look powerful, because when you have it you are powerful. And without it, your arms will never reach their potential. Don’t neglect your back.

What are good ways to develop your back? First, build the foundation. Do front squats (not leg presses) twice a month. Next, do pull-ups and chinups on your back and biceps days. Combining these will hit your rhomboids seriously, plus add both thickness and width to your lats. Doing only one or the other will prevent proper development. Hit your rhomboids with bentover rows, and then follow up with biceps curls and hammer curls. The hammer curls hit the brachias, which many people neglect—this “lifts” the biceps ball of muscle, making it look bigger.

I like to do this workout in the morning, and repeat the curls part of this workout again in the evening. But don’t do that yourself unless you are taking glutamine.

Rear deltoids

The rear delts stabilize the shoulder and allow for good posture. Proper alignment massively improves your strength, due to basic biomechanics.

You can hit the rear delts with any of several exercises, all of which are hard to describe in text. The rear deltoids are located just below the bony projection at the back of the shoulder. Feel around and find it. If you lie on your left side and place your right elbow on your right hip, and then rotate your right arm up and down, you should be able to feel it move. Now, think about how to put a load on that muscle and you can develop your own exercises. You can start with this position, actually.

You can also grab some light weights, bend at the waist, and raise  your elbows. Keep the elbows in a straight line with your shoulders, and raise your upper arms parallel to the floor. Now, rotate your hands so your thumbs are pointing downward. Try for a 45 degree angle. The backs of your hands should be facing each other at a 45 degree angle from horizontal, and they should be tilting thumbs down. Bend at the elbows, and raise and lower your hands. You should feel this in your rear delts. Adjust your positioning, if you do not.

Simply correcting your exercise program may not be enough—you may need chiropractic care to overcome the problems you have created in your ligaments and other tissues. Otherwise, you simply cannot hit your deltoids correctly. As with any other professional, not all chiropractors are equally qualified—if you don't see results within the first few visits, try another chiropractor. Also, beware of the turfwar mentality that exists in the "traditional" medical profession—get the care you need, even if one type of caregiver disparages another.

Body fat

It takes 3500 calories to make a pound of body fat, and you have to burn 3500 calories to lose a pound of fat. It is far easier, and more productive, to reduce fat through proper caloric intake than to try to burn off the results of overeating. Some people think they can burn  off excess abdominal fat by doing sit-ups. Not only is this a bad exercise, you would need to do about 10,000 sit-ups to burn off a pound of fat.

But, you can reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories and lose a pound of fat each week. Where can you cut? Of course, you know not to scarf down an 800 calorie superburger or a 1200 calorie fast food shake.

Simply reducing your portion size by one fourth will cut those 500 calories. Smaller plates will do it. If you have 10 inch plates and don’t want to replace them with 8 inch plates, then eat off your teacup saucers. Plan your meals. See our article on hidden calories.

You also need to think about insulin, HGH, and testosterone. Avoid simple sugars, and do front squats or deadlifts twice a month, and you’ve won half the battle in this regard. The main thing that will gice you the most benefit, however, is simply limiting your portion size. Eating six small (not regular size!) meals a day will provide even further advantages.

Lung capacity

The human body responds to acute stresses, and deteriorates in the face of chronic ones. This is why the theory of exercise high intensity (think sprinters) produces results, while the theory of exercise low intensity (think of all those fat people watching TV while walking treadmills) produces poor results.

One athlete never does "aerobics" or "cardio routines," but has a lung capacity on par with professional football players and people who have been running for years. How does he do this?

You don't need to run (treadmill or otherwise) to develop lung capacity. Here are some other ways to develop it:

  • Take up bouldering. The intensity of this form of brutal recreation builds the lungs. It's not unusual to see climbers gasping and sweating after completing a route.

  • Do front squats twice a month. If you do these properly, you will burn your abs. But you will also find you can't take in enough air to fuel your muscles. It's not from holding your breath--it's from the demands of combustion. Your body is trying to burn huge amounts of fuel and needs oxygen to accomplish this. The oxygen depletion is temporary, but the effects on cardio development is significant. Note that you cannot achieve this effect doing leg presses (too isolated to the quads) or back squats (no enough recruitment of the core).

  • Structure your weight workouts for low reps and high weight. This puts the muscles under maximum tension, and it maximally requires the most fuel burn. That taxes your heart and lungs. It also maximally stimulates the release of testosterone (reduces fat, signals body to store calcium in the bones, and increases muscle mass) and muscle growth. The heart is a muscle, and it gets stronger when you do this type of workout.

  • Do a variety of exercises. This helps you stop from getting into a comfortable rut. Get a wheelbarrow and move rocks. Do raking in the fall and shoveling in the winter. Go hiking on hilly forest trails. Run a treadmill once in a blue moon. Go to the roller rink. Chase your kids around on a playground. Join a basketball league. In short, get moving and be active. You will find your lung capacity will be huge, without your doing any boring "cardio work."

There are some other important areas we didn't discuss, such as posture. However, this is an article and not a book. Think of the areas we did discuss as a good start on the path to superior fitness. It helps if you think of fitness as a continual journey, rather than a destination.




Resources for Fitness
Fitness quick links:



Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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