Friday, July 25, 2014

The Heart of the Healthcare Problem


It is not excessive calorie intake but not enough exercise causing of the obesity crisis? According to a recently published paper in The American Journal of Medicine[i] this is the heart of the growing health crisis in this country. I am a little skeptical of that particular finding but that is another topic for another day. Now, before going further, can we all agree that the word ‘crisis’ is becoming overplayed?  There is crisis in the Middle East, Ukraine, on the border with Mexico and hundreds of other places and circumstances around the world. There is financial crisis on Wall Street every other day on top of local, national and international political crises. I don’t know about you, but I am getting a little tired of hearing the word “crisis.” Yes, problems exist, everybody’s got problems. Identifying problems is well and good. However, if this is the only step to be taken than nothing has changed or improved the status quo. It is time to stop focusing on the problems and start looking for solutions.
As a health and fitness professional (I label myself as such because of my education and experience, but, it is mainly because I work with people to construct positive health changes that they can learn and apply to actually living) articles like the recent one from AJM used peak my interest.  I say used to because to me this sort of thinking is becoming antiquated.  Yes, there is a major and continually growing problem of poor health in America. With an adult population that is more than 2/3 overweight and 1/3 obese there is absolutely a problem.[ii] But this is not the heart of the issue, it is troubling, but it is a symptom of underlying problem within this country and it is problem that few people, if any, are talking about.
At the heart of the health troubles facing this nation lays two fundamental concerns. The first is that the healthcare system in America is broken.  But, not in the way some would have you think. In my opinion, this brokenness has nothing to do with the cost of or method by which payment is given for health services rendered. Health care may be expensive, but then, it is not pricey if you do not need it. The underlying problem with the American health care system is precisely that it is not health care.  Think about it: when do you go to the doctor? When do you need medication? When you are sick or injured and therein lay the problems.  The American health care system predominantly reacts to a problem after it exists. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it Sick and Injury care. Do not get me wrong, I am not bashing the quality of health care in America.  I think the quality of it is outstanding.  If I have to go to the doctor, there is no better place to be. What I am suggesting is that we should take responsibility for our health seriously enough that we spend as little time in the doctor’s office as possible.
Little, if any, effort is made to address health issues from a position of proactivity and prevention. What if instead of spending billions trying to treat problems, society spent millions working to prevent the problems from happening in the first place? I will give credit where credit it is due, as a parent I can attest to the fact that the health care system does this brilliantly with childhood vaccinations. But what about with the problems that come later in life like high blood pressure and Type II diabetes? Health problems that are closely tied with being overweight or obese are behind the times when it comes to being treated in a manner that focuses on prevention or elimination of these health concerns. Oops, did you catch that? The focus should be on the prevention and/or elimination of these problems instead of simply treating symptoms. I made a suggestion that would cut the drug companies profit margins. Maybe they would find a way to make those medications and health services more affordable if the market was less demanding. It is simple economics: small supply with high demand and suddenly prices sky rocket. This is where we are now. The reverse is also true: a larger supply with little demand and prices come down in an effort to increase sales for a product or service that nobody needs. Wow, did I just figure out how a free-market, capitalistic society could fix its own health crisis?
But of course, this kind of substantive change would require action on the part of those who currently rely on this broken health care system. So we come to the second part of our discussion of the cause of the health crisis in America today. Change requires action, in order for action to succeed one must exercise (pun intended) personal responsibility. One must proactively choose to improve health. It is time to do so.
It is time to move past the doom and gloom cries of alarm at the growing number of overweight and obese people in our society. Get over the fact that, as a society, our health is deteriorating. Please stop wondering what the cause is or who is to blame. Instead, let’s start looking for answers. But do not look into research studies or news headlines. My opinion is that science and research, while wonderful in its time and place, is spending too much time and effort looking at the problem instead of searching for a solution. 
However, there are those out there, people like myself, for whom healthy living is a passion born from choosing to take control. Change is hard, I know because I have lived it. If you are not familiar with my story, allow me to give a brief synopsis. I was an obese teenager, at sixteen years old I weighed 260lbs, was pre-diabetic and pre-hypertensive. I am thirty-one now and I have lost roughly 100lbs and kept it off for fifteen years. The change that has occurred in my life is why I now work in a career that allows me to help people make their own changes. I could digress into a plethora of topics regarding nutrition and exercise.  Instead, allow me to be straight-forward. My life changed because I took responsibility for my health. I chose action over inaction, responsibility over excuses, and productivity over negativity.
I made a choice. So can you. Yes, you can make that same choice. Embracing responsibility and taking action is never easy.  But, if you want to be free of a problem there is a price to be paid. Everyone pays for their health; it is just a question of when, where, and how much. A person can pay for his or her health in the doctor’s office and in the pharmacy. Or, you can pay for your health in the gym and at the grocery store. Either way, a payment for your health will be paid somewhere. Where will you spend your money?  More importantly, where will you spend your time?  More money can be made, but once time is lost, it is gone forever. I can think of a lot of things I would rather do with my time than sit around at the doctor’s office. Perhaps if we spent less time there the cost would not be such an issue. But what do I know about expensive health care? Other than my annual physical, I have not seen a doctor in the last 18 months.



[i] Ladabuam et al. Move More, Eat Less: It’s Time for Americans to Get Serious about Exercise. The American Journal of Medicine, 2014 issue 10 page 1016.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Get a Handle on Hydration

Devastating Dehydration
News flash! It is getting hot outside. The month of July is notorious for two things: heat and humidity.  Usually it is that way. Highs in the mid-80s this week are quite pleasant and not the norm for central Arkansas this time of year.  Be prepared because the heat is returning Monday.  Even with milder temperatures dehydration can still be an issue.  From the fitness enthusiasts’ perspective, dehydration centers on training.  But it often begins long before the training session starts.
Did you wake up this morning?  Odds are you did so dehydrated; before the day began your ability to function and perform has already hampered by something healthy. Something healthy is hurting your hydration? Yes, that hopefully restful night of sleep you woke up from forced you to go several hours without drinking anything. The result being deprivation in fluid levels of the body with the result being dehydration. What do you think happens to that early morning exerciser if they start to train hard in a dehydrated state? Performance will impaired but that is not all that may go wrong. Drinking plenty of water is a vital part in maintaining a healthy, safe body temperature.  Training in a state of dehydration especially in hot and humid weather, at the very least will impair performance resulting in a subpar workout. Potentially this can lead to a medical emergency such as heat stroke. To avoid these problems we need to understand how vital water is to the function of the human body.
Water represents approximate 65% of a person’s total body weight.  Hydration is important; the body can survive up 30 days without food; without water maybe a week. Death by dehydration aside, the muscle tissues are comprised of approximately 75% water. Remove the muscle fibers and cells, what is left to make the muscles work? Water. What kind of athletic performance or training is going to be accomplished if the muscles are lacking the component that makes three quarters of the muscle structure?
Dehydration happens easier than most people realize under normal circumstances.  Add in heat and humidity and suddenly most people, especially athletes and fitness enthusiasts, are living in a near constant state of dehydration. So what is the best way to determine if more water intake is necessary? If you are like most people, you drink when you feel thirsty. If this is you, you waited too long. Proper hydration should begin immediately after your morning ritual in the bathroom. Why? The color of urine is a far more accurate method of assessing hydration than simply feeling thirsty. If the urine is yellow, dark, or has a strong-smell then the body is dehydrated.  This rule applies to any time day, not just first thing in the morning. By failing to consume enough water to correct this state of dehydration a person enters a state of living voluntarily dehydrated. This can lead to cognitive performance issues as well as athletic ones.
When fluid loss is equal to 1% of bodyweight, just 2lbs on a 200lb person, internal body temperature begins to rise above normal.  This is the major health concern for those who are physically active outdoors in the heat of summer. If the dehydration continues to the point of loss of 3-5% of bodyweight (6 to 10lbs on a 200lb person), there is a high risk of cardiovascular strain and potential damage as well as a decrease in the body’s ability to regulate body temperature. This results in a faster rise of internal body temperature. If fluid loss hits the 7% mark (14lbs on a 200lb person) physical collapse and the medical emergency known as heat stroke is likely.
In the heat and humidity of a southern summer it is quite normal to sweat off two to three pounds in an hour depending upon exercise intensity.  For football players or other athletes wearing heavy pads this rate can be even faster.  This is why it is vital to weigh before and after physical activity outdoors. Try this simple test the next time you exercise outdoors. The change on the scale resulting from fluids lost because of sweating will surprise you. An accurate understanding of heat-related weight loss during exercise is important to ensure proper rehydration. For every pound of sweat lost during outdoor activity is necessary to drink one pint of water or sports drink to properly rehydrate.  But monitoring weight loss on a per workout basis is not enough.  Weekly weight change must also be monitored. If a weight loss of more than 5lbs per week happens the body has likely entered a state of chronic dehydration; more than just being dehydrated on a daily basis.

Head start to Stay Hydrated
Hydration starts 1-2 hours before exercise by drinking a minimum of sixteen ounces of water. During outdoor activity at least eight ounces of water should be consumed every thirty minutes. This should happen every fifteen to twenty minutes for people who will be outdoors for more than an hour or are practicing wearing heavy sports equipment (take note football players, parents, and moronic coaches who think water breaks are for weaklings). Whenever possible fluids should be easily accessible and consume regularly.  The body’s thirst mechanism does not function properly in a state of dehydration.  Drink even if you do not feel thirsty. Keep water in a convenient place to maximize consumption. After exercise drink one pint of water for every pound of body weight lost. Water should be the primary source of fluid intake. Remember what I said earlier about how much water contributes to bodyweight? Sports drinks are not necessary for aiding in rehydration unless physical activity will last longer than the one hour. However, sports drinks may be beneficial if it makes a person more conscious about drinking enough fluids. The risk of dehydration can be reduced by performing exercise early in the morning or later in the evening. Avoid exercising in the heat of the day.
Outside in the heat and the humidity is the most common place that dehydration can occur but it is not time that dehydration happens. It can happen indoors. Are you familiar with the space age looking sauna suits? Those things do nothing to help lose body fat. Those suits are a clothing version of hot and humid weather. Yes, you will sweat harder if you train in one.  But wearing that suit does not equate to a higher calorie burn. You are just losing water weight faster than someone not wearing a suit. The sauna suits can create a dehydration medical emergency just as effectively as hot weather.  I know because I have called ambulances for people training in those things (not a client of mine, just another gym-goer). Do not waste your time or your health on one of those. Drink up, stay hydrated and get the most health improvement out of your efforts.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Five Principles of Stimulating Muscle Growth

If you take a friend to the gym, chances are he is going to lift weights, and if he lifts weights he will want to learn about muscle growth.  If he learns about muscle growth, he is going to want to know different ways to stimulate muscle growth.  If he knows different ways to stimulate muscle growth, his muscles will grow, which will make him want to lift more weights.  If he wants to lift more weights he will probably want you to take him to the gym.

Kudos to you if the opening paragraph reminded you of a children’s book; it is popular around my house with a certain almost-three-year-old.  If you did not get the reference and you are still reading this, chances are, stimulating muscle growth is topic of interest with you.  Thanks for sticking with me.

As the title of this suggests, there are five different ways to stimulate muscle growth.  More accurately, these should be called principles of muscle growth because these techniques are foundational to adapting training to give the muscles every possible form of stimulation.  There are five principles, but most people probably only use the first two, maybe three.  Before identifying these principles, understand that utilization of any of these in training is not an excuse for sacrificing form.  Mastering the form and technique of any exercise is paramount to both safety and efficiency. Also, before explaining these principles the SAIDs principle must briefly discussed. SAIDs stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  It is a fancy way of saying that the human body will adapt to whatever stimulus it receives.  Without changes in stimulation, the body will gradually adapt to the point where a specific form of stimuli no longer induces any change.  This is commonly referred to as plateau.  It will happen to everyone at some point, when it does, understanding varying methods of providing stimulus and apply those methods is the only way to overcome it.

So what are these principles? It is time to stimulate, but not annihilate the muscles through Variation of Resistance, Frequency of Activation, Variation in the Speed of Movement, Variation in Tension, Variation of Length of the Muscle Action.

1.      Variation of Resistance.  This is the easiest and most common form of stimulation: if it seems easy, make it harder.  It strength training this most commonly done by increasing the weight on a given exercise.  But it can also be done by lowering the weight.  Lightening the weight, even for just one week, can give the body a variation in stimulation that may help someone break out of a plateau.  This is referred to as deloading; taking a defined period of time to perform the same exercises but with lighter weight.  The purpose of this is shift the focus of training to improve the efficiency and quality of a given movement while giving the muscles a reprieve from the strain of heavy weights.

2.      Frequency of Activation. In Gymanese[i], this is known as repetitions or reps.  A change in the repetition range for an exercise is a great way to target the different muscle fibers.  This also plays well into variation of resistance.  Increasing the weight typically results in fewer repetitions while decreasing the weight will result in a higher number of repetitions performed.

3.      Variation in the Speed of Movement.  Odds are you have never done this, at least not intentionally. It works with any movement; simply perform it faster or slower.  However, this must be done at a deliberate pace.  Take the barbell bicep curl as an example, lifting the weight from the bottom position with the arms extended to the top, the bar level with the shoulders, could be done for a deliberate count of 1, 2, 3.  The bar could then be lowered with the same count or a different count.  Ideally, the part of the motion that lengthens the muscle (in this case, lowering the bar to the arms extended position) should be done at the same pace or slower than the motion that shortens the muscle.  Performing the part of the movement that extends and relaxes the muscle faster than the contracting phase offers no benefit[ii] and indicates an inability to control the weight (it is too heavy for proper technique).

4.      Variation in Tension.  When most people lift weights, they simply move the resistance through a specific motion.  But just creating movement against resistance does not fully stimulate the muscles.  Creating tension in the muscles is a combination of resistance, distance, and intensity of the muscle contraction.  Creating tension in the muscle requires a little visualization.  Simply thinking about a muscle becoming tenser through a specific motion will actually result in the muscle contracting with more force.  The more forceful the contraction, the more effective the exercise will be.  Applying this technique for maximum benefit requires understanding the different actions a muscle can make to change length.

5.      Variation of the Length of the Muscle Action.  Against an external object, the muscles can create many types of movement; pushing, pulling, throwing, and dragging are just a few.  However, within the body, when muscles are working to move a specific part of the body, they are only capable generating movement by shortening in length.  Go back to the example of the bicep curl.  When the arms are extended in the bottom position, the bicep muscle is relaxed.  The act of creating tension and raising the bar to the shoulders shortens the muscle (if this does not make sense, extend right arm down at your side while placing your left hand on your right bicep, now raise your right hand towards your shoulder in a curling motion, feel the bicep shorten?).  The term for this is concentric muscle action.  The force in the muscle overcomes the resistance provided by the barbell, resulting in the bar moving towards the shoulder. 

The opposite of concentric muscle action is eccentric muscle action.  During the phase of motion the resistance has overcome the force of the muscle tension, resulting the lengthening of the muscle.  During the bicep curl this occurs as the bar is lowered back to the starting position.  Done properly the eccentric phase should take just as long, or longer, than the concentric phase (refer back to point #3).  The trick to training using an eccentric muscle action is to slowly and in a controlled manner all the muscle to lengthen.  Do not allow the weights to simply drop back to the starting position.

The final method of changing the muscle length is isometric action.  This is a trick question.  During isometric action the contractile force generated by the muscle is equal to force generated by the resistance.  The result in tension created in the muscle but there is no movement due to the equal forces.  This is what happens if someone tries to punch you in the stomach.  The rectus and transverse abdominal muscles generate force to prevent the punch from damaging the internal organs, however, there is no visible movement from the body.  Coincidentally, this is the best way to generate maximal force within the abdominal muscles.  Want strong abs? Let people punch you.  Just kidding, do not do that.  However, you could make like Rocky and let someone drop a medicine ball on your abs while you tense the muscles.

Stimulating maximum muscle growth requires a program that utilizes all five of the principles of muscle stimulation.  However, do not feel that it is necessary to incorporate all five into a single training session.  Set a goal of using three of the five techniques in each workout and switch it up each time you train.  The greater stimulation will result in greater muscle growth.





[i] Gymanese the language spoken by everyone who thinks exercising makes them an expert despite a lack of knowledge or training in the Exercise Sciences.  It is commonly spoken by those who believe in Broscience. Broscience is the act of taking advice from drug-enhanced jacked dudes regardless of what actual science may say in answer to the question.
[ii] There is an advanced technique stretch-shortening cycle that is an exception to this.  However, that is a whole different topic for another conversation. For most people, especially beginners and nonathletes, this technique is not appropriate.

Friday, March 21, 2014

10 Mistakes Women Make in the Gym

It seems only fitting, after last week’s post focusing on the mistakes men make, to put together a similar list for women.  After spending the past fifteen years in and around gyms, and spending the last eight helping women achieve their fitness goals, I have seen a lot of things that women either misunderstand about exercise, or do just plain wrong.  However, there is one fundamental way that women approach exercise differently from men.

Women tend to be far more teachable and willing to try new things: if it is explained to them in a way that makes sense.  Ladies do not suffer from the stupid male mindset of “I know what I am doing.”  With women it tends to be more of, “I don’t know so I won’t try it unless someone shows me.”  Having said that, if you are a man reading this, do not immediately jump into explaining to your wife or girlfriend how your fitness program is right for them. The closer a relationship a man has with a woman; the easier it is to cross that line from helpful to condescending jerk.  Most of the time guys do this unintentionally.  Just know guys, that the closer she is to you the more likely she will see your suggestions of various exercises as an unfair critique of her body.  If a man and woman in a close relationship are going to work out together, development of a program should focus on training her entire body to improve health and fitness, not just the areas you especially like or want to look better.  In reality, the best thing a man can do to help a women feel more comfortable in the gym, especially if that woman is interested in strength training, is to hire a personal trainer you both can trust.  With that little soapbox over, let’s dive into where women go wrong in the gym.


10.   So I am taking this pill… so is approximately 70% of the adult population in the US according to last year’s CDC report.  Are we any healthier as a nation? Most people have not gotten any healthier popping pills. I am putting my money on that weight loss pill not doing it.  Two things need to be considered: no “reputable” supplement company is going to promote testimonial about results of their product from someone who was not also dieting and exercising while taking the pill. A healthy diet and regular exercise kind of maximize weight loss. Also, the only-research verified weight loss pills that work are drugs regulated by the FDA and require a physician’s prescription to obtain.  Typically these prescriptions are only issued to the morbidly obese.  Any weight loss supplement is not FDA regulated, so manufacturers can make whatever claim they wish, with or without research to verify the claims.  There is no magic pill, there is eating healthy and training hard.

9.       Confusing skinny with fit…sadly, most women I have had the opportunity to work with or talk to, at some point talk about how skinny they wish to be.  Photo-shopped women in magazines and TV ads have given women an unhealthy idea as to what the ideal female body should look like.  Ladies, stop trying to be skinny, stop trying to look a certain way.  Change this mindset for yourself because you do not deserve the guilt and do not need the stress.  Stop making exercise about looking a certain way.  Instead, make exercise about doing more; about overcoming physical challenges and reaching new levels of fitness.  You will find self-confidence and a positive body image by overcoming the challenges.  Guys would much rather have a woman fit enough to keep up with and challenge them than a size 0.  Guys do not like a size 0.  Marilyn Monroe was reportedly a size 12.  Just think about it.

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.- Vince Lombardi

8.       Spot Reduction is a myth.  Thousands of crunches will not give you a flat stomach.  The Brazilian Butt is a joke.  Exercise improves what the body can do.  Nutrition changes how the body looks.  The easiest, and scientifically-based, way to improve body composition and appearance is to eat healthy and train the entire body.  The more muscle recruited, the more calories expended, the faster the weight loss.
7.       Fat-Burning Zone does not exist.  But, because of some terrible nomenclature, every piece of cardio equipment has a setting labelled “the Fat-Burning Zone.” Low intensity, long duration exercise is fueled by the breakdown of body fat, this is true, hence the “Fat-Burning Zone.”  The problem is that this method is that the body stores muscle glycogen to provide fuel for exercise.  Fat-Burning Zone training burns calories so slowly that people must exercise a minimum of 90 minutes before the body finishes using stored muscle glycogen and begins utilizing any fat as fuel exercise.  Who has time for that? Despite this, many women continue to do low intensity exercise, buying into the fallacy of the “Fat-Burning Zone.”  Cardio sucks and low intensity exercise burns a low number of calories resulting in little change.  Get outside of the “Fat-Burning Zone,” or as I call it, the “comfort-filled-zero- results” zone.  Change does not happen inside the comfort zone.  Get sweaty, get out of breath, and get results.

6.       I worked out, I deserve…ice cream, chocolate, cookies…whatever it may be, if you think that workout just gave you permission to have it, you just undid all that effort and time spent exercising.  I never have to ask a client, male or female, if the diet program is being followed.  Why?  Because what a person eats in private is worn in public.  It is impossible to out exercise poor nutrition. If the effort is there in the gym, but the results are not coming this is the problem.  If this is you, this is why your body is not changing. I am not saying that you cannot have a treat now and then; what I am saying is that this should be a once a week thing, not a every time you work out thing. Reward yourself with new clothes to fit that new body or a day at the spa.  Just do not use food as a reward.  You are not a dog; do not reward yourself with food.

Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands-and then eat just one of the pieces.-Judith Viorst

5.       Buying into the magic of machines. Outside of therapeutic and rehabilitation settings, I do not consider strength-training machines to be of much value.  True, for someone who has never set foot in a fitness club before, all those machines look really impressive; which is why most fitness clubs buy them.  It is the “wow” factor when potential customers come around.  However, the problem with those machines is that each one is only capable of doing the motion it was designed to do.  This is not a terrible thing, just a limitation.  By limiting your strength-training to just the movements of the machines, a person misses out on training about 90% of what the body is actually capable of doing.  Do not ask how a machine can give you a better body.  Instead, ask how becoming the machine results in a better body.
 
4.       Only doing cardio.  Reevaluate yourself in light of point number seven, that type of cardio only trains the slow-twitch fibers of the muscles.  Slow-Twitch fibers make up about 45% of the average woman’s total muscle tissue.  Look at it another way, by only doing cardio, you leave more than half your body untrained.  Perhaps this is why the effort only seems to yield about half the results you would like.  Remember, the treadmill is the road to nowhere.  If must run, go outside and find a hill.  Sprint up, walk back down, repeat. Your body will thank you.

3.       Failing the Talk Test.  No, I do not mean you should spend more time talking. The talk test is a simple way of gauging intensity.  If you can talk while you are doing it, the intensity is too low.  Whether it is 45 minutes on the treadmill or a heavy set of squats, if you can spare the energy to talk, you have more energy that can be used to work harder.  Talk during a warm up and cool down.  Talk in between sets, but do not talk when it is time to work. Put the energy into increased intensity and enjoy faster results.  Ladies, if you train with the man in your life, this is the easiest way to earn his respect in the gym.  Impress him with the intensity of your work ethic.

2.       Afraid of breaking a sweat.  If numbers seven and number three have not established it, let’s address the obvious theme here: UP THE INTENSITY!  It is a simple reality: the more sweat now, the less jiggle later.  When it comes to exercise, there is no substitute for hard work.   I am not sure if women feel being sweaty is unladylike or if women are just afraid they will smell like a stinky guy, but sweat equity is one of the best valuations for the quality of the workout. A short, intense workout is more valuable than a two hour stroll.  If you still look cute at the end of a workout, you didn’t.  Being a hot mess at the end should be the primary goal.  Get intense!

1.       Not lifting weights. In the words of Dwight Schrute, “Lifting weights makes women huge? False, eating cupcakes makes women huge.”  The simple reality is that a woman needs strength training if she intends to maximize her body’s potential.  The best female athletes and fitness models are good friends with the weights.  Nothing changes the body faster or more effectively.  Ladies think about this, if it weighs less than your purse, what is the point? And mothers, just because that child grows older and bigger does not mean that he will stop wanting to be held by mommy.  Does it make any sense to lift weights lighter than your child?


Change is the essence of life.  Be willing to sacrifice what you are for what you may become.-  Tony Robbins



Friday, March 14, 2014

10 Mistakes Guys Make in the Gym

Spend enough time in a fitness club or gym, and you will eventually see someone do something that makes you ask, “did that really just happen?” or “what were they thinking?”  This goes beyond making mistakes with exercise technique or struggling with a program due to lack of knowledge or experience.  At some point in time, everyone, me included, is a beginner.  There is nothing wrong with making mistakes.  If you do make mistakes; learn.  Better yet, save yourself some pain and embarrassment by learning from others.
Being a member of the male gender I have had my fair share of moments shining in brilliant stupidity, and yes, in my younger and more foolish days, I was guilty of more than one item on this list.  This list is far from all-inclusive and is not restricted to mistakes made while exercising.  It includes some moments lacking in common sense and some of complete douche-baggery.  After fifteen years spent in gyms and fitness clubs as both a member and an employee, I present a list of ten of the most common training and etiquette mistakes guys make in the gym.  Consequently, discontinuing these behaviors would improve the entire fitness experience for everyone.

10.   Wearing Nipple Shirts.  Or worse, no shirt.  After polling a few women that I train, I come to a couple of conclusions based upon their feedback: this is not the beach and it makes women uncomfortable. Even if you are in such great shape you make Channing Tatum look like a porpoise, the nip slip is nauseating, not tantalizing the ladies. Cover up!


9.       Selfies.  Those wonderful self-taken (hence the name “selfies”) post-workout photos that show you in all your vascular glory? Yeah, the ladies are not digging those either. It makes a guy come across as self-absorbed.  If you really have to take one, go to the locker room.  It is the one place where no one will get upset with you for taking your shirt off.  However, be warned that taking photos in the locker room may result in awkward conversations with management and the police.

8.       Carrying a gallon-size jug of water.  Hydration is important but this is overkill.  It is hard enough to drink a gallon of water a day much less during a workout.  If a person actually drank an entire gallon of water in a single workout, so much time would be spent in the bathroom that gym staff may call an ambulance to check on the guy.  Carry a normal 20-32oz bottle.  It is all the hydration needed for a workout lasting less than one hour.

7.       Talking on a cell phone.  Unless you are a doctor on call or other emergency personnel like a police officer, leave the phone in the car.  Cell phones are so common now that no one is impressed that you have one.  Walking around talking loudly for several minutes is annoying.  It is also rude to spend several minutes sitting on a piece of equipment while talking on the phone and not using the equipment.  If the call has to be taken, get up and let someone else use it.  In my opinion, if the world cannot give you 30-60 minutes of uninterrupted “me” time three or four days a week, it does not respect you.  Exception: always answer if your wife calls.

6.       Failing to properly warm up and cool down. If you spend all day behind a desk or if you work out before the sun comes up, a proper warm up is a must.  This prepares the mind and the body for the task ahead.  Going from sitting behind a desk all day or jumping straight out of bed into intense exercise is a recipe for injury.  The same can be said for properly cooling off after a strenuous workout.  A proper cool down is more important than immediately downing that post-workout shake.

5.       Choosing heavier weight and sacrificing form.  Outside of a poor diet, this is perhaps the biggest results killer of workouts for men.  Exercising is more than just picking up and putting down weights.  Regardless of the exercise, each movement is most efficient and offers the best results when moved with steady control through a full range of motion.  Unless a guy is in serious training to become a competitive power/Olympic lifter, using momentum or partial repetitions are advanced techniques that are best saved for highly trained individuals.  It is only after mastering fundamental movement patterns that a person can learn to cheat movements for positive results.

4.       Treating the Bench Press as the Holy Grail of exercise.  I get it, having a huge number on the bench press is considered the hallmark of a fit man.  I am not saying that the bench press is a bad exercise, however, it gets far more attention than it deserves.  This is because there is not a lot of practical application outside of the gym where having a strong bench press is beneficial.  Think about it, name a sport or real life setting where lying flat on your back pushing a heavy weight off of you is a good thing.  If you are flat on your back, you lost.  Also, this where most guys are guilty of number five and suffer lifelong shoulder issues because of it.

3.       Confusing cardio with conditioning.  Conditioning prepares you for battle. Cardio trains you to run away…slowly.  Do not get me wrong, endurance training has its place in just about every type of training program.  But, using a treadmill to plod along for hours and miles on end only makes you good at plodding along on a treadmill.  Conditioning focuses on increasing intensity training specific movement patterns that enhance performance and improve fitness while also training cardiovascular fitness.  Conditioning can incorporate bodyweight resistance, weight training, agility, and endurance.  Conditioning creates a fitter, more athletic man.

2.       Favoring isolation exercises over compound movements. The point of strength training is to get stronger.  Strength progress more quickly with more muscle recruited in a movement.  Training should focus on and be prioritized with heavy compound, multi-joint movements: Squats, Deadlifts, Cleans and Presses.  Far less emphasis should be placed isolation exercises, using just a single joint, like on curls and press downs.  The biceps and triceps can handle far more weight, and thus, receive greater stimulus, when working with other muscles.  The greater the stimulus, the great the strength and muscle gains.

1.       Confusing a post-workout protein shake with a solid nutrition plan.  I am not against protein shakes.  The body has a higher need for protein immediately post workout than at any other time and shakes are a great way to get it.  But do not think that simply downing a protein shake and not improving the entire nutrition program is going to get results.  If a workout is done right metabolism will stay elevated for up to 48 hours, not just a 30 minute “anabolic window,” every meal is important.  Failing to recognize this will kill any chance at results.  It is impossible to out-exercise poor nutrition.


Success in anything ultimately comes down to how coachable a person is: how hungry is someone to learn, and, are you willing to be humble enough to learn? Most men and I will freely admit that there are areas of my life where I am guilty of this, seem to think they can figure everything out on their own.  A little bit of manly pride is not a bad thing.  But when it comes to improving your health, especially, if you want the most out of the time and effort you are putting in at the gym, be coachable.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Damned Dirty Diets

Can I confess something to you? I hate dieting.  I hate it with a passion.  I hate it so much that I do not do it.  More on that in minute.  Diets are damned in the full sense of the dictionary definition:  to condemn to a punishment or fate; to condemn vigorously and often irascibly for some real or fancied fault or defect; to condemn as a failure by public criticism; to bring ruin on.[i] Sounds just like a diet, does it not?

Diets often feel dirty and not the fun variety.  Dirty: not clean or pure; disagreeable, distasteful, or objectionable but usually necessary (as in achieving a desired result); highly regrettable; likely to cause disgrace; conveying ill-natured resentment[ii]. Sounds about how felt that last time I went on a diet.
So why do we do it?  Seriously, even the people I know that enjoy competing in body building cringe at the thought of dieting to become stage-presentable. Even health conscious fitness professionals, like me, dislike the idea of food deprivation.  

About four years ago a couple of guys that I worked with decided to compete in a body building contest.  I did not then, and still have absolutely no intention of stepping on stage; I dieted with them just for the experience.  Over the course of five weeks I went from being 185lbs to being 162lbs.  I know what some people are thinking: “You dropped 23 pounds in five weeks, that’s fantastic!” Yes I did, and no it was not.  On the surface the results sound great, and, in the mirror, I looked great at 5% body fat with an incredibly flat stomach, washboard abs, muscles on muscles and veins popping everywhere.  I looked like I was in a permanent state of muscular vascularity…awesome, right?

But I did not feel awesome. Some people are genetically blessed to maintain such a low body fat percentage with little effort or strain.  I am not “some people.”  While on the surface, I looked great, I felt terrible. My energy levels tanked, my mood became constantly grumpy.  My ego could not take it.  As someone who lifts weights and loves the feeling of growing stronger, the worst possible mindset imaginable happened; I felt small and weak.  I felt scrawny, not brawny.  Not to mention, that kind of quick change is impossible to maintain.  Nobody ever takes pictures of the body builders four days after the competition when they have been binge-eating and 15 to 20 lbs in that time.  It is what happened to me.  The body is not designed to manifest that kind of change that quickly and have it stick.  But that fact does not sell magazines.

I am big believer that personal experience is the best teacher.  Although I learned a lot about the strict dieting methods of body building preparation, I will not repeat the experience. I am not saying that this is a terrible thing for all people.  But I do believe that that particular approach to weight loss is best reserved for those who love body building enough to pursue it as a lifelong commitment.  For the average person, such methodology is best avoided. However, intentional, or not, this is often the route that many people misinformed people take: the-everything-must-go, only veggies, chicken, and water may stay. This sudden and drastic change makes for some short-term, fast results. But, when considering the average person obtaining positive results for permanent change, causes more harm than good.

Often, human nature is to fear what is not understood and without knowledge the word “diet” becomes a source of confusion and mystery. So what is a diet? Diet: food and drink regularly provided or consumed; habitual nourishment; the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person for a special reason; a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight.[iii]  When defining “diet” most people only view in the context of that last definition. Who likes the idea of reducing or sparing?  Seriously, with this mindset, a diet is off to a bad start before it begins!

I mentioned at the beginning that I no longer diet, and I don’t, if you define a diet by what I just highlighted.  Look at the first part of the definition again, food and drink regularly provided or consumed; habitual nourishment.  Do you eat?  Do you drink?  Congratulations, you are already an expert on dieting.  Think about it, you already know how to diet. You do not have to learn to do anything new.  The only thing to do is make choices that will increase the quality of what you already do.  Does that not sound more enjoyable and more doable?  So instead of focusing on taking away put an emphasis on adding in: add in more fruits and vegetables, water, lean hormone and antibiotic free meats.  Increase the intake of sources of healthy dietary fats: avocados, olives, nuts and fresh fish.  If you do these things you are improving upon the most important definition of diet: eating real, healthy food.  By increasing the quality of your habitual nourishment you will do just that.  Eating healthier foods puts the nutrients into your body that is missing from food-like products; all that stuff at the grocery store that comes in boxes, bags, wrappers, and bottles.


Eating real food will naturally improve all of the functions of the body, not just make it easier to reduce that waist line.  Feed the body the nutrients it needs and energy levels will improve, so will mood and mental attitude, sex drive too. A great love life starts in kitchen, and that has nothing to do will cooking a romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day.  But, that certainly will not hurt.

Do what you do to improve, not deprive, yourself.  Positive choices to increase the quality of the nutritional intake will always lead to better health.  The resulting improvements in health lead to those positive choices becoming easier to make.  It is a great cycle to change your health and the only way to get out of that cycle of dirty diets that are damned to fail.


[i] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/damned
[ii] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dirty
[iii] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diet

Friday, December 20, 2013

When Sitting is a Pain in the Neck

Over the last couple of years, the health and fitness communities have been investing time, money, and research in determining how prolonged periods of time spent sitting may be having adverse effects on both life expectancy and health.  Depending upon which study you read there seems to be a window of three to six hours per day that is safe to be spent sitting.  Extend this period of time beyond that time period and strong correlations can be found between sitting and an increased risk of injury, chronic pain, and even shortened life expectancy.  Some studies indicated that sitting more than six hours per day may shorten life expectancy by as much as five years.  This does not bode well for a society that spends most of its waking hours plopped down behind a desk at a computer or in front of a TV screen.
As far as death prevention and increased life expectancy are concerned the solution is simple: move more.   If work circumstances prevent an increase in movement then stand.  Stand as often as possible, while on the phone, reading, talking with someone in the office; stand instead of sit.  The simple act of standing can offset the amount of time spent sitting.  As a bonus, standing keeps the brain more alert than sitting, by standing frequently you will feel like you have more energy.  On the days that work keeps me behind a desk for several hours on end, I still make a point of getting up at least once an hour for a minimum of five minutes.  During this time I will find an excuse to walk around, or at the very least, stand behind my desk while I work.
Perhaps one of the most common problems associated with sitting for prolonged periods of time is neck pain.  This often results from poor posture while sitting; this in turn causes stiffness, which if not addressed, may quickly become more serious issues such as shoulder tendinitis or impingement, tennis elbow, neck compression issues resulting in nerve pain, or simple muscle tightness and loss of mobility throughout the neck, upper back, and shoulders.  Keep in mind, that for this discussion, it is assumed that all of the vertebrae are in proper alignment, no issues such as bulging disks, or pinched nerves exist.  Also, we are not considering spinal alignment issues such as scoliosis, kyphosis, or lordosis.

Neck and Upper Back pain due to prolonged sitting usually result from one of, or a varying combination of three things: Overreaching, Use of Incorrect  Heights, and Unbalanced Work Stations.  Overreaching refers, not to reaching to far, but to too many things and all on the same height level.  As a result, the arms stay in an extended position, pulling the shoulders out of their natural position and straining the neck.  The use of incorrect heights refers to constantly viewing things that are not placed at eye level, such as a computer monitor.  By constantly looking too low to read or watch something, the head is pulled down.  Hours spent in this head extended down and forward position may, over time, pull the neck vertebrae out of alignment or weaken the muscles in the back of the neck.  An unbalanced work station refers to having to stay in a partially rotated position with either the neck, or entire spine, to perform work.  So without even considering exercise, here are some simple ways to reorganize your work space to bring some relief.

Overreaching
·         Adjust the position of the mouse and keyboard so that they are not on the same surface or at the same level.  The height disparity will keep the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back from tightening up in one position
·         Make sure that items that are frequently used, like a keyboard, mouse, or phone are at varying distances from your body, forcing you to shift positions to reach them
·         Make sure the chair supports healthy posture and is adjusted for your height and body size

Use of Incorrect Heights
·         Adjust the seat height to support proper posture through the back, hips, knees, and ankles.   The hips, knees, and ankles should all be at a 90 degree angle.
·         Adjust the computer monitor height so that the top of screen is at eye level; not too high or too low.
·         Set up the work station so that different activities are at different height levels (computer, writing, reading)

Unbalanced Work Area
·         Keep items that you must reach for, to the left or to the right, balanced so that you are not reaching to one side more often than the other

During prolonged periods of sitting, following all of these tips will help keep your spine in a position of proper posture, reducing the likelihood of developing chronic upper back or neck pain.  While all of this is helpful, ultimately the best way to prevent upper back and neck pain is to keep these muscles strong.  Weak muscles are far more likely to allow the body to move out of proper alignment while sitting.  Keeping the muscles strong will help prevent this problem.  The program below is a great starting point to help strengthen these muscles.  As always, consult your personal physician to make sure you are healthy enough to perform these exercises.  The links below will take you to videos providing demonstrations of the exercises.

Exercise
Sets
Repetition Range
Bridge w/ Shoulder Reach
12 per arm
Y-Raise
2
12 to 15
T-Raise
2
12 to 15
Incline Row
3
 8 to 12
Standing High Band Pull
4
15 to 20


Myofascial Release

                The final important aspect of dealing with chronic upper back and neck pain has to do with the myofascial tissue.  Myofascia is a thin connective tissue that covers all of the muscles of the body.  There are a variety of factors that can contribute to pain in the myofascial.  The most common symptom is the forming of “knots.”  The knots are broken up, resulting in pain relief using different tools such as a foam roller.  The most commonly used tool is a foam roller.


Upper back and neck pain associated with poor posture and prolonged sitting is not something with which you must live.  So take a little time and address the heart of the problem.  Do not just settle for popping pain pills to hide the underlying problem.