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Fitness Articles : The Fighter Within Part I

Martial arts, once thought of as the domain of the aggressive and violent actually is a good workout in itself. In ancient China, Shaolin monks were pacifist and practice martial arts as a form of strengthening of the body rather than for use against bullies (though it helps in standing up to oppressors). Martial arts are also thought to build physical strength and character through hardship, instilling virtues like humility and self control.

“The Sweet Science” is not just violence, but endurance, strength, strategy, forethought and all “heart”. Life has always been compared to a fight, and rightly so, because its never easy and to win we need to take hits and keep on fighting.

Contrary to popular belief, the better a fighter a person becomes, the calmer and more self-controlled he/she is. Because swinging blindly into a fight would only get you knocked out from a well timed punch. Most fighters naturally learn that self control and techniques as well as relentless strengthening of the body quells their anger, and naturally makes them better fighters and people.

The physical benefits are also astounding.

Cardiovascular – One of the most important exercise benefits is cardiovascular health. A weak cardiovascular system usually  results in shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, in worst cases a heart attack. One of the best ways for cardiovascular health is doing prolonged and (slightly) strenuous activity. Not most people love jogging as it might be too solitary and slow paced. While group sports require alot of coordination as well as meeting the timing of all participants before it can happen (joining a class helps). Martial arts training is solitary and includes the benefits of being more interesting than jogging and less dependent on the timing of others like group exercises and games. Plus, its always fun to kick or punch at something. 30-40 minutes of light/medium activity like shadow boxing or heavy bag boxing does wonders for the cardiovascular system.

Increased muscle tone –  Martial arts combines cardiovascular activity (moving around ) with anaerobic activity (punching hard and fast). The anaerobic effects of martial arts are very suitable for women who do not want to gain excess muscle mass because of the relative intensity and requirement for full body movement (compound exercises). So usually a muscle like the arms or leg would not be dominantly trained like it would be for weight bearing exercises. And the requirement for agility and speed would also ensure that a good martial arts program wouldn’t see you packing on muscles like a body-builder. For men, the workout can be also made more challenging by using heavy punching bags and complemented with weight training for increased muscle bulk and punching power, and can improve muscle tone as well as be a terrific core workout as well.

Weight Loss –  One pound of fat equals to approximately 3,500 calories. To lose one pound of fat a week, we must eliminate 500 calories from our diet. An hour of moderate martial arts training would burn equal or more than 500 calories a session. And 7 days of training would easily blaze through a pound of fat. Together with the learning component and the thrill factor, keeping interested and committed to martial arts is easy and would aid you greatly in weight loss.

Improved reflexes and hand eye coordination –  Fast reflexes are required for martial arts training. There is no doubt about it and research also shown that martial arts not only improve your reflexes for martial arts related activities, it helps in daily activities in your life as well that require reflexes and co-ordination and might even save your life when you drive a car.

Improved moods –  There is nothing so satisfying that the dull thud of a punching bag with a well executed punch and the deep breathing and body slick with sweat kind of feeling when you participate in martial arts training. Researchers have also found out that a regular exercise routine is one of the best ways to improve your mood. Punching and kicking at life’s problems is not only a good way to relieve stress and frustration, but will make you happier. The endorphins released by physical activity from martial arts training or intense physical activity can be active in your body for as long as four hours. Its better than coffee !

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Takbo Printipe... Takbo!

Improve your stamina, strength, flexibility and coordination

One of the main problems with maintaining any form of exercise is that if you don’t actually like what you’re doing, then you’re unlikely to continue with it in the long term. If your exercise activity isn’t enjoyable, your motivation will soon wane and it will be easy to find an excuse not to dig out your training shoes from the bottom of your bag. So, here are a few alternatives to get you started…

Alternative exercise activities: what to look for

Ideally you should get involved in as wide a range of enjoyable exercise pursuits as possible, so that you will benefit from improving your staminastrength, flexibility and coordination — which are the main components of fitness. When you’re thinking about leisure activities to do, run through the following checklist and try to choose activities that maintain and develop…

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Fitness Article : Running Makes you Smarter

There is a post on the New York Times about exercise making you smarter. I guess we always known people who exercise excessively as Richard-Simmons type happy and non-stop irritating or some bulgingly muscular meat-head that looks increasingly in a intellectual soliloquy with their biceps.

But way before all the hype and specialisation on fitness, the greatest thinkers were fit people as well. Socrates was a renowed and athletic warrior as well as one of the worlds greatest thinkers as was Marcus Aurelius . Arnold Schwartzenegger sure had street smarts as well as intelligence to be governor, despite his over bulked up body while the list of athletic and intelligent people go on. Do intelligent people become fit or does fitness lead to greater intelligence ? Here are parts of the article to answer your question

How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain

So, last year a team of researchers led by Justin S. Rhodes, a psychology professor at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, gathered four groups of mice and set them into four distinct living arrangements. One group lived in a world of sensual and gustatory plenty, dining on nuts, fruits and cheeses, their food occasionally dusted with cinnamon, all of it washed down with variously flavored waters. Their “beds” were colorful plastic igloos occupying one corner of the cage. Neon-hued balls, plastic tunnels, nibble-able blocks, mirrors and seesaws filled other parts of the cage. Group 2 had access to all of these pleasures, plus they had small disc-shaped running wheels in their cages. A third group’s cages held no embellishments, and they received standard, dull kibble. And the fourth group’s homes contained the running wheels but no other toys or treats.

All the animals completed a series of cognitive tests at the start of the study and were injected with a substance that allows scientists to track changes in their brain structures. Then they ran, played or, if their environment was unenriched, lolled about in their cages for several months.

Afterward, Rhodes’s team put the mice through the same cognitive tests and examined brain tissues. It turned out that the toys and tastes, no matter how stimulating, had not improved the animals’ brains.

“Only one thing had mattered,” Rhodes says, “and that’s whether they had a running wheel.” Animals that exercised, whether or not they had any other enrichments in their cages, had healthier brains and performed significantly better on cognitive tests than the other mice. Animals that didn’t run, no matter how enriched their world was otherwise, did not improve their brainpower in the complex, lasting ways that Rhodes’s team was studying. “They loved the toys,” Rhodes says, and the mice rarely ventured into the empty, quieter portions of their cages. But unless they also exercised, they did not become smarter.

Why would exercise build brainpower in ways that thinking might not? The brain, like all muscles and organs, is a tissue, and its function declines with underuse and age. Beginning in our late 20s, most of us will lose about 1 percent annually of the volume of the hippocampus, a key portion of the brain related to memory and certain types of learning.

Exercise though seems to slow or reverse the brain’s physical decay, much as it does with muscles. Although scientists thought until recently that humans were born with a certain number of brain cells and would never generate more, they now know better. In the 1990s, using a technique that marks newborn cells, researchers determined during autopsies that adult human brains contained quite a few new neurons. Fresh cells were especially prevalent in the hippocampus, indicating that neurogenesis — or the creation of new brain cells — was primarily occurring there. Even more heartening, scientists found that exercise jump-starts neurogenesis. Mice and rats that ran for a few weeks generally had about twice as many new neurons in their hippocampi as sedentary animals. Their brains, like other muscles, were bulking up.

But it was the ineffable effect that exercise had on the functioning of the newly formed neurons that was most startling. Brain cells can improve intellect only if they join the existing neural network, and many do not, instead rattling aimlessly around in the brain for a while before dying.

One way to pull neurons into the network, however, is to learn something. In a 2007 study, new brain cells in mice became looped into the animals’ neural networks if the mice learned to navigate a water maze, a task that is cognitively but not physically taxing. But these brain cells were very limited in what they could do. When the researchers studied brain activity afterward, they found that the newly wired cells fired only when the animals navigated the maze again, not when they practiced other cognitive tasks. The learning encoded in those cells did not transfer to other types of rodent thinking.

Exercise, on the other hand, seems to make neurons nimble. When researchers in a separate study had mice run, the animals’ brains readily wired many new neurons into the neural network. But those neurons didn’t fire later only during running. They also lighted up when the animals practiced cognitive skills, like exploring unfamiliar environments. In the mice, running, unlike learning, had created brain cells that could multitask.

Just how exercise remakes minds on a molecular level is not yet fully understood, but research suggests that exercise prompts increases in something called brain-derived neurotropic factor, or B.D.N.F., a substance that strengthens cells and axons, fortifies the connections among neurons and sparks neurogenesis. Scientists can’t directly study similar effects in human brains, but they have found that after workouts, most people display higher B.D.N.F. levels in their bloodstreams.

Few if any researchers think that more B.D.N.F. explains all of the brain changes associated with exercise. The full process almost certainly involves multiple complex biochemical and genetic cascades. A recent study of the brains of elderly mice, for instance, found 117 genes that were expressed differently in the brains of animals that began a program of running, compared with those that remained sedentary, and the scientists were looking at only a small portion of the many genes that might be expressed differently in the brain by exercise.

Whether any type of exercise will produce these desirable effects is another unanswered and intriguing issue. “It’s not clear if the activity has to be endurance exercise,” says the psychologist and neuroscientist Arthur F. Kramer, director of the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois and a pre-eminent expert on exercise and the brain. A limited number of studies in the past several years have found cognitive benefits among older people who lifted weights for a year and did not otherwise exercise. But most studies to date, and all animal experiments, have involved running or other aerobic activities.

Whatever the activity, though, an emerging message from the most recent science is that exercise needn’t be exhausting to be effective for the brain. When a group of 120 older men and women were assigned to walking or stretching programs for a major 2011 study, the walkers wound up with larger hippocampi after a year. Meanwhile, the stretchers lost volume to normal atrophy. The walkers also displayed higher levels of B.D.N.F. in their bloodstreams than the stretching group and performed better on cognitive tests.

In effect, the researchers concluded, the walkers had regained two years or more of hippocampal youth. Sixty-five-year-olds had achieved the brains of 63-year-olds simply by walking, which is encouraging news for anyone worried that what we’re all facing as we move into our later years is a life of slow (or not so slow) mental decline.

 

Great Post on Metabolism and Weight Gain. The KEY to weight loss.

Body Article : Instant Abs

I saw an interesting video some time ago about this guy who was patenting instant abs. It was a novel idea, which entails selective tanning as well as a thin sheet of film to create your abs with and a tanning bed, and could probably last a week or more. Plus it looks pretty convincing to a point. I guess in this day and age, we are looking at fast ways to do things, fast ways to make money, fast ways to get fit and fast ways to “life hack” your way to happiness.

Well without further ado, this is the video and product.

Instant abs – Worth it ?

In this day and age, we live fast lives, and we usually want to attain things so fast, that we sometimes mistake the value of things as just the destination alone. Being fit is not about having a set of six packs, if it is, it would be easy and all about maintaining a reasonable amount of body fat and a ridiculous tan to get it.

But being fit is about how much we respect our body and health and how we build our discipline. The way we lead our lives are sometimes an extension of the way we treat our bodies. Whether we push it and build it with love and effort or milk it for what its worth using every device and shortcut so that we could make it look better.

Sometimes in our quest for outer beauty, we might neglect the foundation of beauty which lies only in the inside (as cliché as it may sound). We forget that the diligence, hard work and sweat and effort to nurture a strong body can build character and confidence spill over to alot of aspects of our lives as well – The same cant be said of a tan though. Instant results mean instant gratification which is holly and a pyrrhic victory. Aim for real victories in your life instead, YOU are worth it.

Fitness Article : The Abs-olute Truth Part III (Final) The Secret of ABS

So what’s the best exercise to bring those six packs out. Infomercials would like you to believe it’s their fantastic products, while some fitness guru swears by their fitness regime which entails hours of torturing workouts with countless crunches in varied forms. Other believe in certain programs that boast great rates of weight loss though you don’t even perspire, and other programs are so tough that even the staunchest and boldest believer end up getting injured before they can see their six packs.

Enter Mr A, who is definitely overweight, and highly motivated to try to lose weight, he has tried all the latest fad diets and fitness boot camps but find that at the end of the day he still can’t pull off his weight loss. That’s before he finds out the “SECRET” which actually made him lose inches from his waistline and keep it off permanently. This secret is widely used by the most successful weight losers, and they have been able to keep it off ever since they done this. It’s the fitness program to defeat all fitness programs, its fantastically simple (and common-sensical)  and it works for everyone.

So here is how it goes. There is a number of set principles about getting fitter and getting the body you desire, BUT there’s no set way to do it. In fact, there’s an unlimited way that we can burn fat and build muscle AND we don’t necessarily need a trainer and we don’t need to pay someone a lot of money to sell us something to do it. We just need a few things, and a deeper understanding of how the body works.

Get Realistic – Define your purpose and shape your motivation (and abs)

I have said this quite a number of times in my articles. And I wont mind repeating it again and again (and again). We need to define our purpose in getting washboard abs, because to be honest it takes alot of effort and at times when you feel like giving up, this purpose will come back and push you a step further each time. Unless the purpose is rock solid, the motivation wont hold. And if the motivation wont hold, you would fall back to square one minus a few steps because you would be back where you started plus some disillusionment and cynicism about fitness.

Are YOU worth the effort ?

Getting a set of washboard abs to impress girls (or guys) isnt going to last you a long time in terms of motivation. Sure, you would be all psyched up and pumped up to start and do a thousand crunches each day, but my bets are that you would give up when the going gets tough. Its like earning a million dollars just to impress someone, you wouldn’t be inclined to put in 18 hour work days and spend time building a business because you wanted to impress someone. Same reasoning for getting a six pack.

It has to be something strong and a reason you can play over and over in your head to get you pumped up every time you feel like giving up. I once heard of a story of a guy who weighed 150 kg and went down a water slide at an amusement park, he got stuck in one of the water tubes and had to undergo the humiliation of the people trying to get him out, resorting to using a crane and dismantling a part of the tube so they could get him out. He then swore to lose weight and never looked back, and is currently at 90kg, a far cry from his fat days. Use a strong motivation, if there’s only one thing in the world that you need to get a six pack or get fitter, a very strong motivation and purpose is you best bet.

Do something but make it consistent 

Many people get all hyped up that the only way they can lose any serious weight is  going to a gym. Well, if you are 120 kg and not too confident about how you look, and alien to exercise, that would be the last place you would like to go and the best place to get demotivated. Imagine yourself there at peak hour, lots of hustle and bustle and your first day at the gym, tons of fit people preening around and using machines, while you are clueless about what to do or what to make of it all. Chances are that you might just give up after this startlingly rude awakening that it isn’t going to be comfortable or easy and usually it would be way out of your comfort zone to be at a busy gym at peak hour.

So when you think of changes, think gradual changes, and not the i will blow my months pay and get a personal trainer (paid motivation wont last you very long, or until your cash runs out), or I will get every single fitness fad and read every fitness book there is. Chances are that if you are very overweight, all you need is even a regular 10 minute walk EVERYDAY, and I would guarantee you weight loss in a month (unless you overcompensate for the walking by eating much more). The formula is simple, your current weight is equilibrium (an unhealthy equilibrium) what you need is just a consistent effort where you can reap results to shift that equilibrium, and from there you get more motivation leading to more effort. And if you are on a sensible exercise plan. There is a very very high possibility that you would get closer to your six pack dreams and fitness.

Going back to Mr A (in case you forgot about him). What Mr A needed to do was just park his car ten minutes away from his work place, so he would have a twenty minute walk a day. And surprisingly Mr a lost 4 kgs that month, weight that he kept off, it also gave Mr A more confidence that he was getting results, which made him start walks of 20 min or more around his neighbourhood, and then finally to jogs and activities. And it just snowballs. The truth is that you don’t need a solid program, you do need consistent efforts which can get you results and small increments to challenge you. You would be surprised to find out that Mr A would be running his first marathon by the end of this year and has lost about 50kgs of weight and counting over a span of 3-4 years from consistent efforts and small increments in exercise.

Gain knowledge

Lets say you want to go to a destination, i just point you to that direction and say keep going, then somewhere you turn left. Then right and straight ahead, you cant miss it. What are your chances of reaching the place ? Very slim I suppose (unless you are a walking GPS). Same thing with fitness, we need an ARSENAL instead of a few tools to get us where we want to go.

So build up the basic knowledge needed to get you where you need to go. Theres a million ways to get to the destination but you need the tools to measure progress as well as help you get there. IF you cant answer all the questions below, then you probably need to do some reading up and gaining serious knowledge, and not expect people to spoon feed it to you, because knowledge is more valuable when you spend time and effort to get it. Instead of having a lecturer drone and tell you things. So here are the questions :

  • How much many calories are you over-consuming on an everyday basis ?
  • How much calories do you need to burn off 1kg of fat ?
  • What is the recommended weight loss per month ?
  • What are the symptoms of over training ?
  • Can you burn the same amount of calories if you walk 10 km versus when you run 10 km ?
  • How important is muscle mass in losing weight ?
  • What compound exercises are good and safe for building the legs, back and chest muscles ?
  • How do i do various stretches for specific parts of the body like the chest, glutes, lats ?
These are just a few, get the knowledge, cause knowledge with application is power. 

 

Get Friends

I cant stress this enough. What makes you want to go to the exercise more, I need to run 30 minutes and lift weight for 20 minutes then rush home. Or, I am going to meet my good friends and we are going to exercise together. Losing weight is a hard enough thing the do, the best thing we can do is make it simpler with a great support system and motivation that if you don’t turn up at the gym someone is going to egg you with “Why didn’t I see you at the gym yesterday? And by the way your dress looks tighter” kinds of “motivation”.

Friends and family to push, tug and cajole you into fitness. Its never been easier.

How you make sure you succeed is upping the stakes. By having friends who work out with you, you are not only risking disappointing yourself when you fail, you are risking disappointing your friends and you are going to lose credibility with people you respect as a result. That makes one of the strongest motivations for keeping fit and fabulous. And it would be great to really pair up with people who are at the same fitness level with you, or even help out those with lower fitness levels. We are social beings and our strength lies in numbers. Multiply you need to succeed by obtaining leverage on yourself, call a friend !

Commercialisation of fat loss 

Infomercials – Do you seriously believe in cheap short cuts

We have advertisers telling us everything. that spraying AXE deodorant would make droves of woman go after you, and drinking coke would make you cool. We commercialise everything, including weight loss, because we want instant results we easily get duped into believing that the once fat people who had that amazing six pack or great body used the product. But what the commercials are essentially not telling you is that they created a great motivation for the person to lose weight through endorsement dollars as well as strict diets and rigorous workouts that get the person in shape to begin with.

Its the Journey and not the six pack

So essentially the key ingredient is not the product but the motivation that creates the weight loss. So essentially when you buy the product hoping for a horse, what you get is the saddle itself. You have your own horse (or motivation) which drives you to do amazing things. Harness that and not the trash-talk the informational tell you. A healthy body is worth more than a set of six packs or that admiring gaze. A healthy body is a manifestation that you can motivate yourself to do things that matter (its not just the abs silly). And a healthy body matters a lot, let me end off with a quote I like a lot after hearing it for the first time:

” He who has health has hope and he who has hope has everything”.

Fitness Article – Designing Your Workout Part II

"Eeeeep - Hard work in progress" says the Ectomorph

Ectomorphs – For women, it is the to-die-for body and for men it’s practically a ticket to getting sand kicked in your face by bullies. Love it or hate it, ectomorphs are the slimmest, leanest and tallest of the three builds. Ectomorphs are lighter in frame, as such they tend to carry less muscle mass and by default look as though they are ideal for marathons (which might not be a good ideas if they didn’t train).

Ectomorphs are quite susceptible to injuries, with less fat and muscle to protect the joints. (Please see this article on injuries on footballers, showing that ectomorphs are the most easily injured of the various builds). And they burn fat very fast with a higher than usual metabolism, as such they also tend to be called hard gainers (Fortunate for the girls and not so fortunate for the guys).

Many male ectomorphs tend to overeat in a bid to gain more muscle while female ectomorphs neglect resistance training or training of any sort. These are rather fatal flaws and assumptions, as male ectomorphs might tend to put on weight but also a lot of fat as well (Skinny-fat kind of way) and cholesterol. Likewise, female ectomorphs who do not develop their strength levels tend to suffer from osteoporosis, and might even suffer from poor cardiovascular health.

Training– Intuitively it seems that cardiovascular training should be out for Ectomorphs, but ectomorphs have an advantage over the rest of the builds in terms of their lighter and taller frames which gives them longer stride lengths as well as lesser bodyweight. It would be good to have a sensible cardio plan for health benefits.

Aesthetics-wise, it would be good if the ectomorph would put on a bit of muscle weight. This would serve to both increase bone density (useful for females) as well as create essential muscles that would be strong enough to prevent future joint injuries. Another benefit is that ectomorphs put on lean muscle, and they have longer muscle bellies which makes it aesthetically pleasing. Unless an ectomorph puts in a huge amount of effort to eat and train, they would not be over-bulked and look like bodybuilders though they have good propensity to be good bodybuilders with their already lean frame (but its hard to put on muscle, that’s why ectomorphs are also called hard-gainers).

A sensible exercise plan would focus on weight training as well as cardiovascular exercises with more focus on weight training. Weight training should be more intensive with compound movements. Compound movements are those that require alot of muscles working in unison to life. The machines that you see in the gym seldom promote compound exercises, so it would be good to invest your time in learning how to do compound exercises. (Tons of literature on this).

The only thing a ectomorph should prevent is overtraining which would actually cause injury and set you back forever, a good rule of thumb is to train every alternate day or train two days and have two days off doing light activity. Weight training and high intensity exercises cause a huge deal of muscular tear (micro tears, dont worry they are not that painful unless you are seriously over-trained). Watch out for symptoms of overtraining which include loss of appetite, extreme tiredness and massive bodyaches , avoid this and you are fine.

Diet – What diet ? No seriously , Ectomorphs have it easy, being able to eat a lot and burn it away quickly. However, the rule of thumb still applies, healthy food and sensible dieting. Ectomorphs eating non quality food would soon see themselves transform into endomorphs with low metabolisms. Yes, it is true weight gain puts a dampener to metabolism, and its possible for ectomorphs to transform into endomorphs with gluttony and lack of exercise.

Ectomorphs looking to gain some bulk and fitness should see reasonable protein in their diets as well as a moderate increase in their diets. Eat normally and add one more small meal, like a sandwich to create a caloric surplus. Mass gainers and supplements are really unnecessary as they are usually laden with the cheapest source of calories available, sugar, which will wreck hell on your mood as well as harden your arteries over time. Eat quality foods, soy protein, whey protein or protein from meat, fish, milk and eggs and low GI food like brown rice muesli. Snack consistently as you metabolism would usually mean you have quite a good appetite.

Mesomorphs – Thick and muscular with solidly built bodies. Mesomorphs are the most muscular of all builds. A good comparison of Mesomorphs and Endomorphs, both of which are big body-types are the elephant (Mesomorphs) and the hippopotamus (Endomorph). Jokes aside, mesomorphs well endowed but should be careful to watch their diets.

The female mesomorph can look great with diet and proper training, but add steroids into the picture and you get Schwarzenegger in drag

Training –Female mesomorphs should not be excessively worried that they might look like men if they train, as a sensible diet would ensure that this does not happen. The female bodybuilders you have seen are a result of drugs (male testosterone) and not excessive and heavy weight training. In other words, it is not humanly possible that the physique you see of women you see in bodybuilding competitions are attainable with weight training and even dieting alone.

With proper training and a sensible cardiovascular training, it is highly likely that a aesthetically pleasing body can be easily reached for females. Likewise, female mesomorphs could do either cardiovascular training or weight training with equal effectiveness.

For male mesomorphs, similarly, cardio and weight training is equally effective. However, this depends on the fitness goals of the individual (ie, to run a marathon or a bodybuilding competition).

Mesomorphs of both genders have a higher amount of muscle fibers which would shorten if excessively trained without stretching so flexibility is definitely a big plus for mesomorphs. A good idea would be to incorporate 15 minutes (no less) of stretching after each workout incorporating upper and lower body stretches.

Diet – Mesomorphs should avoid overeating. Due to a high metabolism and a solid and shorter frame, excessive weight put on would be very obvious as bulk. This bulk is created by a considerable muscle mass covered by a layer of fat, which would make the person look real fat. A real life example of this is an off season bodybuilder who has a lot of muscle but due to improper eating habits carry a lot of fat as well, its like putting a T-shirt over your winter coat, making you look like a combination of the marshmallow man and the incredible hulk.  Avoid at all costs.

A sensible diet plan which consists of a modest amount of carbohydrates and protein should be considered. Carbs to fuel the muscles and protein to preserve existing muscle mass. Fat can be avoided unless its Omega 3 and 6 which is good for the heart (present in salmon and nuts). A half decent diet would see mesomorphs at their peak.

For more information on kinds of workout please wait for the next installation of  Designing Your Workout Part III