Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Diesel Crew

If you are a fitness nut, pay a visit to Diesel Crew. I visited the Web site today for the first time in a long time.

These guys are crazy about their fitness. They have
  • links
  • tips for body building
  • articles for strong man competitors
  • workouts for MMA fighters
  • videos for shoulder rehab
And the list goes on. Check it out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Picking The Martial Arts Studio

Recently I discovered that one of the gyms at which I work holds a weekly "open martial art mat" night, which means all martial arts practiced on campus are invited to work out in the gym at this time.  (For this gym, that included judo, taekwondo, Brazilian jui juitsu, tai chi, mixed martial arts and Krav-Maga.)

I was hoping I would be able to get in some sparring, randori or chi saui, depending on who was practicing. However, I learned an even more important lesson: before you join any group to practice and learn, find out what what they do and how they do it so you know if it's a proper fit to your needs and expectations.

The night I visited, two groups were using the martial arts room: a Brazilian jui juitsu group and a mixed martial arts group.

The jui jitsu class was taught by a small woman.

Now, I have met some very powerful martial arts women through the years, and I know size isn't an indicator of power or strength.  I never thought I would hear a woman say the safest place to be in a fight is on the ground.  And yet, that is exactly what she told her group.

All I could think was: if she was fighting a 200-pound person, she would be at a 100-pound disadvantage

Don't get me wrong: I am a firm believer in ground-fighting. If you are going to learn to fight, you need to be able to survive wherever the fight could take you. I am just not sure that a small woman in a true self-defense situation should want to fight on the ground with someone almost twice her weight.  (Frankly, I wouldn't advise this for anyone of small stature, man or woman.)

To drive her point home, the jui juitsu instructor demonstrated some take-downs with a man in the class who pinned her with his forearm against her neck. She was good enough to avoid getting choked, but she could not get out from under her opponent. This is a bad idea, especially for a small person, and for a woman.

My opinion is this: There are too many tools in the martial arts tool belt to assume that one type of fighting will protect you from all attacks — especially when you are limiting yourself to fighting mostly on the ground.

The second group practicing mixed martial arts were strictly ground-and-pound guys. I watched two men wrestle each other like their lives depended on it, and two others were, for lack of a better term, kickboxing. All four  were wearing pads and mouth guards, and the kickboxing guys wore gloves.

I didn't join either group.  I didn't want to practice ground fighting, and I didn't want to fight.  Instead, I worked out on my own.

When checking out a martial art to study, educate yourself.  Before you choose a studio or teacher with which to study or practice, do your homework.  Check out the schools to find the right setting and tone for your personality.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Train Core Muscles All Around

When we talk about core muscles, most people think about abdominal muscles only. That is a mistake. It's only a small part of the whole, and the "core" should be thought of in its entirety for proper strength and support.

The core muscles are called that because the are responsible for all motions through out our thoracic cavity:
  • bending forward (flexion), controlled mostly by our abs
  • bending backward (extension) controlled by the lower back
  • pivoting (spinal rotation) controlled by lower back, abs and obliques
  • bending to the side (lateral bend) controlled by the obliques

When any of these muscle groups are trained more than another it causes muscular imbalances.

For instance, too many crunches and too little lower back work can cause the torso to tilt forward. This is obviously not a prime body position for a healthy back — and terrible from a sports standpoint. These imbalances can lead to serious injury.

When you train arms, you work biceps and triceps. When you train on core day, remember all core muscle groups.

Your body functions as a unit. Truly, it must be trained as a unit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

When All Else Fails, Listen To Your Body

When you bust your gut working out, you're eating right and still you're not getting results, it's time to listen to your body.

We need to understand that the diets we experiment with or the workout plans we read in books do not always work because we are not a one-size-fits-all people. We have different builds and different metabolisms, which means our bodies have different needs.

Here are a few tips on what your body could be telling you:
  • Are your muscles to tired to get through your workout? Try eating two hours before your workout. Be sure to include carbs and protein: the carbs are for your glycogen stores now and the protein in your system for later in the workout, especially if the workout is more than an hour long.
  • Are you lifting hard and taking your protein shakes, and wondering why your body fat is still 20 percent? Remember that protein is hard to digest. By taking in more protein than your body can digest in a 24-hour period, it can cause you to put on weight by storing as fat.
  • Are you lifting weights and getting stronger, but don't seem to gain muscle size? My guess is that your stuck in the 3-10 state of mind (three sets of 10 reps). It's time to break out of that mold and try some new lifting techniques.
  • Are you eating more because of your new workout routine? Don't make the mistake of eating a huge meal after your workout because you're hungry. Teach yourself how to eat smaller meals during the day. That way you aren't hungry during the day and you still maintain a daily suitable calorie intake.
  • Keep a journal of your workouts and your food intake. When you review it every week, compare your goals to your results. This will give you greater insight into your calorie expenditure vs. calorie intake. Compare this to any noticeable changes in your physique or scale weight, then make adjustments accordingly.
Learn to listen to your body, you will thank it later.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holiday tip from our friends at A.C.E. Fitness

We all look forward to some home cooking and baked goodies at Thanksgiving.

However, the holidays don't have to be full of sacrifice and guilt. Here are A.C.E.'s tips on
Enjoying the Holidays Guilt-Free.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lifting For Size: The Big Three

If you are one of those many people who are lifting for size and you are not doing one or all three of these exercises — deadlifts, bench press and/or squats — you are seriously missing the boat.

Adding muscle is the ability to train your body to lift more weight. Once we accomplish that goal, we can lift more weight in more varying exercises.

Take a look at how many muscle groups we use during:

  • Deadlift: hamstrings, glutes, quads, erector spinae group, forearms, shoulders, abs (when done correctly), traps, rhomboids, posterior deltoid
  • Bench Press: lats,bicep, tricep, pecs (major and minor) anterior deltoid, forearms, serratus anterior
  • Squats: quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, abs, tibialis anterior, soleus, calfs, quadratus lumborum (lower back)

Because of all of these different muscle groups at work, we can lift more weight during these exercises. Once we get proficient at these, then soon we can add weight to the rest of our routine.
This will lead to the muscle mass you are looking for....

....assuming you are eating right, but that's a whole other blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Kettlebell Workouts: How Good Are They?

A client asked me my opinion on kettlebell workouts. Because I am always looking for good blog material, here we are.

I think most people will agree with me: kettlebell workouts are amazing — they're fun and effective on many levels.

They are effective because when you perform the exercises, you are using many muscle groups at the same time. (As you know, I am a huge fan of this type of training.) What looks like a basic maneuver, like a one-arm overhead swing, in reality is a squat-anterior shoulder-middle shoulder-core stabilization exercise. This effort will result in great cardiovascular benefits, muscular strength and endurance.

I do, however, offer one word of caution: start out light. You may find it very easy to swing a heavy weight — but less so to slow down and stabilize the weight.

My recommendation here is the same as for launching any new exercise: begin with a lighter weight. This allows you to develop some muscle memory for the motions required for the exercise. Later, you can move on to heavier weights.

To find some kettlebell exercises, drop me a line. You also can check out, whose kettlebells come with a instructional DVDs and can be found at many sporting good stores.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Exercise is Beneficial at Every Age

Last week, my family received some disturbing news about my 80-year-old mother's health — but exercise provided better treatment options for her and her doctors.

She was complaining of poor balance and loss of dexterity, and her doctor referred her to a neurologist. They did find some issues – but, instead of pursuing an invasive procedure, the doctor prescribed rehab and a regular yoga class.

As a result, my mother's neuromuscular functions have improved and the doctor has taken the procedure option off the table. Good news all around.

The moral to this story is: do not neglect your fitness at any age.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's Not the Certification, It's the Trainer

There has been much debate lately on which personal training certification is better to have: A.C.E. (American Council on Exercise) or NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine).

Both of these certifications are excellent, but I find neither of them to be all comprehensive.
In my opinion, A.C.E.'s biggest weakness is in the organization's conservative program design. Most of their program design comes from the American College of Sports Medicine, which is a very safe path — and is exactly what a novice trainer needs.

NASM follows the stability, strength and power stages of fitness, progressing a client from one ability level to the next. This gives the trainer a bit more leeway in the program design process.

NASM is famous for using a squat test assessment to find muscular imbalances in clients. This is a great tool, and I use this test on a very regular basis. That being said, there is a major weakness in the way trainers present this test. Depending on the clients body positions or flaws, NASM philosophy is that the imbalance could be in one of two places in the body, making it necessary to perform more evaluations on the client to pinpoint the imbalance. (This process needs to be more refined in order for it to be used more effectively.)

ACE's tests of separate body parts may take some extra time, but there is no guesswork — or need for additional tests — to identify the imbalance. (I know I used really broad terms here, but that is so I don't bore anyone to tears —or worse, suicide.)

All of this information is for the trainer. Now, what does this mean for you, the client?
Absolutely nothing. Are you going to care how your trainer comes to the conclusion on which of your muscle are tight, or which ones need more strengthening? Probably not. What's important is not what process you use, but the results you obtain.

On two separate occasions recently, I was able to see firsthand two new trainers with the same certifications (though not all four having the same certification) apply their knowledge.
I saw huge differences in the trainers' abilities — which brings up an even more important rule for the client: talent, not certification, makes the trainer. Don't choose a trainer solely on education and certification alone. Watch how the trainers at your gym work out with their clients, and ask gym employees whose opinions you value which trainers they would choose. Give your trainer a chance, but if you aren't getting the results, don't be afraid to try someone new.

Bottom line is this: certification is meaningless if your trainer is not getting you results. The true test of a trainer is how that knowledge is applied.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Yolk's on You!

I recently purchased The 150 Healthiest Foods on The Planet by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, and there is so much good stuff in this book I can't begin to fit it all here.

One of the many things worth mentioning is that egg yolks are good for you.

That's right, you heard me: no more egg white omelets. You can have the benefits and the flavor. The essential nutrient in the egg yolk, choline, "actually prevents the accumulation of cholesterol and fat in the liver," according to Bowden.

Also, according to the book, choline forms a metabolite in the body called betain, which helps lower homocysteine, a risk factor for heart disease.

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is found in plasma. If these levels are too high in the plasma, this could cause an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or peripheral vascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

Eggs also are rated as "one of the best sources of protein on the planet," with the quality of the protein outranking milk, beef, whey and soy.

I was discussing this egg yolk story with a client friend of mine. His exact words were: "If the egg is where chickens come from and the chickens are good food for our bodies, then the egg has to good. The only thing healthier would be a stem cell smoothie."

So the next time you think, "Eggs," think, "Yolks, too."

If you think this is good, read the book and we'll discuss why dandelions should be in our salads.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Let's Try Golf

Okay, here is my story:

Last June, my family met in Florida for some R&R. My brother Martin and I wanted to play some golf — nothing fancy, just a pitch-and-putt golf course. I was embarrassed by how poorly I played.

So what I haven't held a golf club in 30 years. So what every time I swung, someone almost perished.

And the duck I hit: delicious.

Anyway, Chris and I were shopping at a local Salvation Army (which, by the way, is a great kept secret for books and movie buyers) (Chris says, "Not anymore....") and lo and behold, we came across a set of golf clubs for $60, including the bag. I thought, "Heck, for that money, even when I start to wrap them around a tree I won't feel too terrible."

After some practice, broken windows, horrified mothers and more dead poultry, I purchased the book Golf for Dummies. (I guess I should have done that first.) Magically, I acquired some mad golf skills. (When I say "mad golf skills," I mean "I actually made contact with the ball.") It helps to get some tips and tricks from a pro.

A few months later, I mentioned to a friend that I am trying to play golf. He mentioned that he had a set of clubs he hadn't used in 10 years, and generously offered them to me.

I took said clubs to the driving range.

My friend neglected to tell me the clubs had magical properties — or maybe he didn't know about that, otherwise he would probably still be playing. I teed up the first ball and really whacked the crap out of it.

I think I will keep his clubs — they fit me to a tee, so to speak. (I hope he doesn't read this or he may want them back.)

The moral to this story is: if you are going to take up golf, go the pro shop first and get clubs custom fit for you. This could save a lot of lives, poultry and frustration.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The True Effects of Exercise and Weight Loss

Today, two of my clients gave me an interesting article: "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin" by John Cloud (Time, August 9, 2009), in which the author states that weight loss usually does not occur when people exercise.

Needless to say, I take exception to this.

The author cited multiple medical studies in support of this conclusion. In a nutshell, the studies showed that weight loss was not typical for people in three different groups: sedentary people, fairly active people and those working with a personal trainer for an hour or more a day.

The author noted that, in many cases, people who regularly work out feel more hungry — which is true — and people who are hungry naturally eat. However, he concluded that if exercise makes you more hungry, you will eat more — and if you eat more, you won't lose weight.

This is not necessarily an accurate conclusion.

There are two important keys to weight loss the author did not seem to take into account:
  • Calorie deficit — 3,500 calories equals a pound. You will gain one pound for every 3,500 calories you ingest above what you burn. Burn 3,500 calories more than you take in, you lose a pound.
  • Raise your metabolism — eat five times a day, get enough sleep and drinking sufficient fluids.

I suspect the people in the studies were not monitored for sufficient sleep and fluid intake. They also probably ate three bigger meals, rather than five smaller meals. They might also have failed to eat light snacks after their workouts, which lowers the number of calories eaten at meals and cuts down on total daily calorie intake.

The author states that doctors recommended exercise to their patients for weight loss. With such dismal responses from the exercise study, why would doctors be so in favor of exercise for their patients? Drum roll please: because in addition to burning extra calories (remember that whole 3,500 calorie thing?), it's good for developing balance, building strength and improving overall daily living. In addition to recommending exercise to their patients, I am sure the doctors also discussed lifestyle changes and diet.

No doctor believes exercise alone is a prescription for weight loss. Even infomercials for exercise plans and fitness devices post disclaimers that include a nutrition plan and (subtly) remind viewers that the more fantastic results are not typical for most consumers.

In this Time article, the author correctly states that the people in the studies who filled out diet journals lost more weight than those who didn't keep a journal. Thinking about what you eat before you eat it definitely aids in cutting down on calories.

Trainers and doctors agree: exercise by itself is not the be-all and end-all to weight loss. (If it were, I am sure everyone would have gym memberships and personal trainers.) Without controlling calorie intake, getting enough sleep and drinking enough water, you most likely will not lose weight, no matter your exercise level.

Trainers assist you in this endeavor by providing more interesting and intense workouts than you would most likely provide yourself, which helps burn more calories and hopefully provides a calorie-deficit situation that allows for the possibility of weight loss. They also help you monitor your fluids and sleep, as well as other habits that might not be conducive to your goals.

In conclusion, the article was interesting, but misleading. Weight loss depends on multiple factors that need to all be considered for success.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Total Body Workout vs. Splits

This is a great topic for debate, and a question I am asked quite often:
What is more effective: total body workout three or four times a week or training different body parts on different days of the week?

I am not sure if one is necessarily better than the other.... but they are different.

I am a huge fan of the overall body workout when I am hard-pressed for time. This also is great for weight loss and is a great way to train for overall fitness. When done at a good pace with no rest between sets, it really elevates the heart rate.

Where this type of workout falls short, however, is when people stick to one set of exercises per muscle group. For muscle hypertrophy (muscle enlargement), lifters need to overload their muscles. I personally feel that true gains in muscle mass come from different types of exercise for any given muscle group.

The more exercises we do, the better the neuromuscular response and the more muscle fibers are activated. Once we do that, we become stronger. When that occurs, we can lift more weight. Lifting more weight makes us bigger.

This being said, I prefer body splits for size because it allows lifters to be more thorough with each body part.

This does not mean you can't get bigger on a whole body workout. However, personally, I find it less effective.

Both workouts have their place. Just be mindful of what you are trying to accomplish so you can get the results you want.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Keeping Your Eyes on the Client's Goals

Sometimes trainers get caught up in what we think is best for our clients.

The clients may have poor balance, or we may notice an imbalance in their backs. It is our job to design programs that correct these problems.

However, we should not be arrogant enough to place what we think the client needs above the client's goals.

There are different protocols for exercise programming depending on the trainer's certification, and trainers should not lose sight of that. I don't advocate ignoring our teachings, but instead, trainers should take take that book knowledge and meld that to the client's needs.

Here is an example: the client is sedentary and his only concern is weight loss. The trainers will recognize that the client needs core work and will try to prioritize core work for the first few weeks before moving on to the weight loss portion of the program. In all likelihood, this may not please the client, who will feel slighted and very well could get upset.

One solution would be to implement core based circuit training. Many exercises that center on the stability ball or Bosu ball are multi-muscle group, muti-planer exercises. While doing these exercises, the client's heart rate will, no doubt, be elevated. They will definitely perspire and no doubt will lose weight.

Crunches on a stability ball may not impress to your client that you are getting the job done — but one set of crunches mixed with bicep curls, chest press or a medicine ball toss followed by one set of stability ball squats will get the job done.

Clients also need to be clear and communicate with their trainers. Clearly state your goals, and discuss how the two of you can meet them together. Never assume the trainer can read your mind, or knows what you think your work areas should be. We may be all-knowing, but giving us a clue gets us to your goals quicker.

The same rules apply for those of us who train ourselves. Don't get hung up on the same old, same old. Keep in mind what you need to accomplish. Are you after fitness improvements or are you going for the sexy? Before you even step into the gym, plan ahead and figure out what you need to accomplish. Then ask yourself, "Am I getting the results I want?" This will help keep you on track.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Is the Kneebone Really Connected to the Foot Bone?

Here is a debate that has been plaguing man for centuries; Is it O.K. to have your knee go past your toes during squat and lunge type exercises?

The answer is (drum roll please) YES it is O.K.
I will give you a minute to catch your breath, before we continue.

You can have your knees extend past your toes as long as the knee is stable. If I have a young client with strong ankles and knees this is a safe maneuver. On the other hand, For one of my seniors whose balance is mediocre at best , this is not a good idea.

Another point to consider is the exercise itself. Squats with a lot of weight may not be suitable because the legs may wobble slightly under the load. Once the legs wobble, the stress on the knee increases to hold the position. (Here is another good example of being sure you can control the weight you are lifting)

Squats in the smith machine, however, are a bit safer to extend out with the knee because you partially lean on the bar, and your feet are farther out in front of you.

I had a friend of mine ask me recently how can ballroom dancers extend their knees so far out past their toes and not be injured. There are two answers:
  • their bodies have become accustomed to it after years of training
  • their knee is only extended past the toe for a second as they flow on to the next movement.
Now! I promise, no more posture related blogs for a while. I will get off my soap box.

If you have any questions about fitness, please feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Form: An Important Part of Any Workout

Dave's number one rule of weightlifting: if something hurts other than what is being trained, stop and check your form.

Someone asked me today why their forearm hurt when doing preacher curls. Unfortunately for him I was with a client, so he did not really get my full attention. (That's another blog entirely.)

Had I been able to focus on this lifter, I would have watched him to make sure he did not leave his wrists flexed when doing preacher curls. Flexing makes the grip more strenuous, which in turn causes fatigue in the forearms. If your form is strong, use a narrower bar to lessen the strain of the grip. Conversely, if your forearms need work, go to a thicker bar or dumbbell.

Another question I get on preacher curls is about shoulder pain during the movement.
If this happens, check your shoulders. Do not lean over the preacher bench. Sit squarely in the seat and let your arms do the work.

Earlier in the day I happened to spot a person doing side bends with a 45-pound plate. As he tipped to the side, his torso also bent forward and engaged his abs (and possibly his lower back). He sacrificed good oblique isolation for bad form. There also was a possibility of low back strain.

That brings us to Dave's number two rule of lifting: never give up good form for more weight.

Another issue I saw was kind of interesting and new to me: a client said he was unable to do squats because of knee pain during the motion. When he demonstrated his technique (with very little weight on the bar), I watched his left knee float in and out of position during his squat. When he corrected his stance — which truly was off by less than an inch — he was able to squat a good amount of weight with no knee pain.

These are just a few examples of technique checks I make every day with clients and weightlifters on the floor.

Remember: when trying to do something good for yourself and your body, don't suffer an injury that could have been avoided simply by checking your form. Get what you can out of a training session — and don't miss any because of injury due to carelessness or misunderstanding.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stop With the Protein Shakes!

O.K. enough with the F#&*!-? protein shakes.

I would love to know — and will conduct a survey shortly — if people know why they are including protein shakes in their fitness regime. I am willing to bet most people don't.

The answer I am expecting to hear from shakers is because they think it helps build muscle.

If you are one of the people who would give me that answer, you don't need to be taking a protein shake.Italic
Here is the deal: some people can metabolize only 30-40 grams of protein daily (without aid, meaning "such as drinking gallons of water to flush the excess protein out of the kidneys"). Consuming more than that amount taxes the kidneys to an unhealthy level.

General RDA is 0.8mg per kilogram of ideal body weight per day. To figure this out, take your ideal body weight and divide by 2.2 then multiply by 0.8.

For example, my formula would be:
190 / 2.2 = 86
86 x 0.8= 69

For my ideal body weight, I should consume no more than 69 grams of protein per day.

Way back in the day (pre-protein shake availability), weightlifters were eating cottage cheese and beef to meet their protein needs.

Beef has all essential amino acids, plus nine essential vitamins and minerals. According to the May issue of Golf Digest, a recent study found that consuming four ounces of lean beef "can actually stimulate muscle protein synthesis by 50 percent in the young and elderly." Most cuts of beef have 7 grams of protein per ounce. So a quarter-pound lowfat patty has approximately 28 grams of protein — not too shabby.

Are you ready for the biggie? Check out Associated Content's article on cottage cheese.

According to this site, one serving of cottage cheese has 28 grams of protein, along with a good percentage of omega 3 fatty acids and only 9 mg of cholesterol. The last protein shake I looked at had 156 mg of cholesterol. I know shakes are convenient, but so is a container of cottage cheese.

I am not saying protein shakes don't have their place, but we don't need to live on them, either.
There are better choices out there. Read the labels carefully to see what else you are getting along with your protein.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Importance of Food Diaries

Many of you are going to say, "Food diary! Ach pooey!"

Don't dis the food diary just yet — this is a great tool for those of us having a tough time losing weight.

A food diary serve a couple of purposes.

First, it helps us see exactly what we eat. How many pieces of chocolate do we steal from our co-worker's candy dish? When you're honest and count every soda, every peanut butter cup, every cup of coffee, you can determine how to (possibly) cut calories painlessly.

Secondly, it helps determine if you're calorie-heavy later in the day, when you should lighten up on what you eat. Dinner should not be the heaviest meal of the day, and yet is often is — we're meeting friends, we have time to try that new restaurant after work, we haven't eaten well or even eaten at all during a busy day.

My usual recommendation to my clients is to keep a food diary for a week without changing any of their eating patterns. At the end of the week, my clients and I sit down together and review their intake of groceries for that week. Often, that's the eye-opener that prompts them to think about what they're putting in their mouths.

No matter how healthy you think you're eating, you can fine-tune your diet to eliminate "throw away" calories, like that latte or the handful of chocolate. If you're mindful of what you're consuming, determine whether you want to spend that 100 calories on the slice of cheese for your burger or 300 calories on salad dressing, or if you want a low-fat option. You can pace out your meals so you're maintaining an even caloric intake during the day.

Remember, 300 calories a day will earn you an additional pound every 12 days, or three pounds a month. Write it down — and think about what you're doing, instead of just doing it, so you'll be more aware in the future.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Healthier Eating Goes a Long Way

When I tell people I'm a vegetarian, they assume I eat tree bark and drink nettle tea. (Which I do, but that's a different story.)

I jest. However, people automatically assume I am a super healthy eater and that many of the choices I make would be too difficult to incorporate into their lives. What they don't realize is that a few easy steps can make their diets much healthier.

First of all, stop drinking as much soda as you do. Go ahead, count the number of times you drink soda in a week. Kind of shocking, isn't it? Chances are, you drink an average of one can of soda a day. Even if it's not that much, even one soda a week is loads of empty calories, lots of high fructose corn syrup and oodles of bubbles — at about 12 calories an ounce. A bottle is 20 ounces — so do the math.

Don't try to get out of it by using the "diet" argument because there are lots of chemicals in a diet drink that provide no nutritional value.

By the way, I'm not casting stones. I sometimes consume a can or two a week. However, I stop there — and so can you. Give yourself alternatives. I'd suggest you drink water, but I myself find that a huge snoozefest unless I'm parched and hot. I prefer cold or hot tea with lemon or honey (which David makes for me by the quart). When I dine out, I always ask for unsweetened tea with lemon.

Look for soda alternatives that suit you. Read the labels of whatever you drink and see if that "protein water" is worth the calories. Chances are, it's not. (Oh, and skip the Starbucks. It's too expensive, and it isn't very tasty, anyway. And my stars, the calories!)

Okay, so now you're drinking healthy. What comes next? Try going meatless. It's not that hard. Nearly every restaurant has a whole bunch of options: stir-fried vegetables with rice, pad thai, bean burrito, eggplant parmagiana, mu shu vegetables, cheese enchiladas, veggie pizza.

Unfortunately, many vegetarian options come smothered in cheese — but don't let them do it. Ask for half-cheese or (gasp!) no cheese at all. You would be amazed how good a grilled vegetable sandwich is when it's not buried in heavy, greasy cheese. Or even a "primavera" pizza with only a sprinkling of cheese. Or a white pizza.

You don't have to go meatless for every meal, or even for forever. Try it for a finite period of time, then evaluate it. Decide how you feel and whether it fits your lifestyle. Chances are, you'll be really surprised at how easy and good it is.

Reduce the amount of processed food you eat. Instead of eating pasta sauce from the jar, make your own with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano and basil. Or saute garlic and spices in olive oil and stir it into your pasta. If you have a bread maker, use it — and compare your ingredients with those of your favorite store-bought bread (and be prepared to gasp).

Snack light. Have a handful of nuts instead of that candy bar — the fewer the total ingredients, the better the snack. An apple is portable, easy and tasty (and you can throw the core in the hedge for the critters when you're done.) Add a little low-fat cheese. (Let David talk to you about the benefits of low-fat dairy.) Or make it interesting with some homemade trail mix (light on the salt and sugar, and don't shy away from dried fruit).

Now, if you need the chocolate, have a kiss. Or a nugget. Take a single bite-sized candy bar, peanut butter cup, raspberry stick, licorice stick. What you seek is the taste and texture. Americans seem to think the more, the better — and it's not the case, especially with snacks. Simple, light — and good for you.

Finally, spend a week examining your diet: keep a food diary. Whatever passes your lips, solid and liquid, gets listed. Don't cheat. You'll be amazed how many M&Ms you carelessly pop in your mouth in a week.

Make it simple, make it tasty, make it easy — and make healthier eating work for you.
- Chris

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Again With The Supplements

A co-worker today mentioned that he was on a new program recommended by a friend and fellow co-worker, who is cut and looks great. This friend attributes his physique to proper training and a few simple supplements.

Supplement number one: the all-mighty protein shake.

The second supplement he mentioned was new to me: CLA 55.

He told me it was found in dairy products. My first thought was, "Why supplement. Why not just add more dairy to your diet?"

Being my curious self, and needing to know all things fitness, I did some research on CLA supplementation.

CLA stands for conjugated linoleic acid, which normally is found in dairy products. CLA aids in weight loss and increases muscle mass.

Since we have started feeding cattle scientifically instead of naturally, the amount of CLA in the dairy we consume has dropped by 60 percent — so supplementing in this case might make sense. So far, so good, right?

Then why not supplement with this new kicking product?

Some studies show that the manufactured supplement may not be as good as the real thing. (What a surprise.) There are possible side effects reported with supplementing with CLA, including:
  • high blood sugar (CLA may make your body more resistant to insulin)
  • low HDL levels
  • allergic reactions (hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing)
  • loose stools
  • indigestion
  • heartburn

This research supports David's Golden Rule: never take a supplement on someone's say-so, no matter how much you trust that person. What works for one person may not work for another, and the supplement may, in fact, be dangerous to you. Always check with your physician first.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Label Education

While shopping with Chris at Trader Joe's, I stopped to look at the canned tuna fish on the shelf.

The Trader Joe brand was lower in sodium and higher in protein than most name-brand manufacturers.

Some of the larger manufacturers of tuna, pre-cook there tuna before canning it. Salt is then added in the process. There is 250 mg of sodium and 13g of protein in a six ounce can of Bumblebee tuna packed in water.

In contrast, Trader Joe's solid white tuna in water has 16g of protein and 45 mg of sodium. The package touts "no salt added."

No matter how healthy you think you are eating, you should always check the nutrition labels ("nutrition facts") to make sure you are getting the best product available.

Also, compare the labels of different brands of the same product because they can contain very different amounts of the same ingredients.

Chris always checks the labels to make sure there are no hidden ingredients. She is constantly amazed at what has meat products in it, like most Hostess products. (Vegetable and/or animal shortening, anyone?)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What the Heck Is A Rotator Cuff, Anyway?

Earlier this week, I spoke to my brother, who informed me he may need rotator cuff surgery.
As a trainer, I am hearing this more and more.

In an attempt to reduce the freak-out factor, I am going to explain a bit about rotator cuffs.

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles — subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor and the supraspinatus, — and their tendons. You can remember them by their acronym S.I.T.S

The main function of the rotator cuff is to keep the the shoulder muscles in place during high velocity movements (especially in the depression of the shoulder joint).

The subscapularis originates on the back side of the of the scapula. The connective tendon attaches to the chest. It is responsible for lateral rotation. (In real English: if you were to lift your arm in front of you, and move it inward, that's lateral rotation.) Depending what you read, it's a toss-up on whether the subscapularis or the supraspinatus is the most injured.
Pulling a band across the body can be very painful when this is injured. I see a lot of this in the gym when people bench press: they have a tendency to bring the weight all the way down to the chest, which could strain or tear the subscapularis tendon.

The supraspinatus is on top of the scapula. It raises the arm away from the body. Its tendons attach on top of the humerus. When this is injured, the pain is very often in the lifting of objects.

The infraspinatus takes up most of the scapula on the top side. The upper fibers abduct (raise) the arm while the lower fibers adduct (lower) the arm in a lateral motion. The tendons connect on the top back side of the humerus. When doing pull-ups, you must come down slowly — or risk injury.

Last, but not least, is the teres minor. It originates on the underside of the the scapula. Because it is underneath the infraspinatus, is the tendon connecting to the top backside of the humerus.
The teres minor externally rotates the arm outwardly. Lift your arm in front of you and move your arm toward the back of your body: that is external rotation.

An important fact to remember about the rotator cuff is that these muscles are layered underneath the three deltoid muscles (anterior, middle and posterior). When you move your shoulder and you get friction under the joint or you hear crackling, more times than not the rotators are getting hung up on the bone above them. This is called "impingement."
Impingements decrease range of motion in the shoulder and sometimes can cause pain.

Slowly, move your shoulder in all directions and see if you have pain or limited range of motion.
If you do, rest it and ice it. If pain persists see your doctor.

For a few good exercises, check out Body Result's Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Breaking Those Lifting Plateaus

No matter if you are lifting for size or general fitness, there is going to come a time when you stop seeing results.

If you don't have enough exercises in your repertoire, or you have been doing the same exercises for to long a time, try some of these for mad gains.
  • Super Sets: There are many types of super sets. One of the most popular is to do one set with a manageable weight for as many reps as you can. Then, decrease the weight slightly, and repeat the exercise for as many reps as possible. After four or five sets of dropping weight and high reps, your muscles will know they got an intense workout.
  • Super Slow Reps: When doing slow reps, decrease the weight you normally use. Count to 10 on the concentric contraction, then count to 10 on the eccentric contraction (or negative). This will help in making you stronger so you can lift more down the road.
  • More Weight, Fewer Reps: If you have been told that three sets, and 10-12 reps is the correct way to lift, then you need to go for the gusto. Add an extra 10-15 percent of weight, then do five to six sets of six to eight reps. This will help to break up the routine a bit.
  • High Intensity Training. This is for the experienced lifter who also trains with a partner. As you lift, have your partner hold the weight and add his/her own resistance on the concentric contraction for the first set. Do this for 10 reps. Next, have your partner give their resistance on the eccentric contraction for 10 reps. Finally, have your partner give resistance on both, the concentric and the eccentric contractions. (Note of caution here: this can be very intense. The person aiding in the resistance needs to watch the person lifting for overall effort. We want to make it difficult, but let's be safe.)
  • Pre-exhaust. Take a relatively easy exercise and do three sets to fatigue, then do your lifting. For example: on arm day, I like to do three sets of push-ups to failure, then do my arm workout. Starting your lifting when the muscles are already tired is a great technique for increasing muscular endurance.
These should jump-start your body to give you better results faster.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Never Judge a Book By Its First Chapter

I just finished the book Tai Chi classics by Wasun Liao. I spotted this book on an end cap last week while I was in Borders book store. I read a few pages then took the book into the coffee shop for a slower, better review. After reading and contemplating a couple of chapters, I purchased the book and took it home.

What I didn't notice upon first review became apparent as I got further into the book: information is covered well, but often repeated. And repeated. And repeated.

The first chapter was titled "Historical and Philosophical Background." This was a great chapter. Not only did it discuss the handing down of the art as most books do, but it went on to discuss the role Tai Chi played in the history of China, going as far as speaking about the wanted power of Tai Chi by the royal family of the time.

The second chapter of the book introduced the internal energy known as chi. It included information about the proper breathing to create chi and included plenty of visualization techniques and metaphors in that gave the reader a good set of working tools with which to practice.

I thought, "Wow! how have I not found this gem before?"

Then I went to the third chapter -- which was more of the second chapter. I was still excited and thought it would pick up. Maybe the author needed to reinforce his hot points.

Farther and farther I delved into this book, but alas -- all I found was the same stuff: more metaphors and examples on how to create and transfer chi.

Seven chapters of material could have easily fit into four. By the time I neared the end of the book, I said to myself, "Alright already, I get it!"

The last chapter was great. It described in pictures and written direction a 37-movement form based on Master Cheng's 108 movement form, along with other movements the author considered signifcant.

There is plenty of good stuff here. This book belongs in most martial arts libraries as a quick-glance reference book.

It is a very fast read, especially if you skim over all the redundant matertial.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Taming of the Shoe

During the past couple of weeks, I have been uncomfortable. My right knee has been causing me pain and my right calf has been very tight.

Just like a trainer, I have stretched the hip and the calf most days of the week to alleviate the pain — with little to no success.

Since today was such a pretty day, I decided to risk the hip and go for a run. (Sounds disastrous, I know!)

To get ready for my run, I changed into my running shoes and walked about 50 yards to the corner. By the time I reached the corner, I realized that my hip and knee no longer hurt.

That is when it dawned on me: I have been working out in my street shoes all week. Apparently the shoes have been the cause of my discomfort.

Chris always speaks of the importance of a good running shoe. It's not that I didn't believe her, but I always thought as them as just that: running shoes.

We are going to have a burial for the street shoes. I just hope the EPA doesn't find where I buried them (although the dead foliage within a 100-foot radius may be a give-away).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sample Meals for Weight Loss

Last week, a young lady in my kickboxing class asked me about proper dieting for losing weight.

She understood the concept, but wanted samples of low-calorie meals. This is not the first time I've been asked for tips and tricks on eating, so the topic is obviously of great interest to my clients.

My recent recommendations for female clients is to shoot for 250-300 calories five times a day. This gives them 1,500 calories a day maximum.

I do not recommend going below this level because there's little leeway: 1,200 calories is the minimum for basic body function. If you do not meet that minimum level, your body will not perform at a level conducive for health or weight loss and will slow your metabolism down to keep from starving.

Those who work out a few times a week will burn more calories; we always can adjust a little later if needed, depending on the activity level and nutritional needs of the client.

For men, my recommendation is 400-500 calories five times a day. Men also should avoid going below 1,200 calories a day, and should watch carefully how they function at that level; if needed, adjust higher to maintain basic body function.

Here are some ideas for meals. Calorie count is approximate.

  • low-fat yogurt (80 calories), a banana (105 calories) and a dollop of peanut butter (85 calories)
  • two packages of oatmeal (300 calories)
  • multi-grain bagel with low-fat cream cheese (320 calories)
  • two eggs (140 calories) plus two pieces of whole wheat toast with a dab of butter (200 calories)

  • Cheese sandwich: two slices of low-fat cheese and mustard (150 calories) on two slices of bread (100 calories)
  • Lunch meat sandwich: two slices of meat and mustard (150 calories) on two slices of bread (100 calories)
  • Soup (300 calories per can) (note: watch sodium content)
  • Half a sandwich and half a can of soup
  • Tuna (80 calories per can) (note: every tablespoon of mayonnaise is 100 calories, so use at your discretion for sandwiches, salad with crackers, etc.)

  • Whole wheat pasta (175 calories per cup) with marinara sauce (60 calories per half-cup)
  • Bean burritos (120 calories for beans, 120 per tortilla) with low-fat cheese (50 calories)
  • Meat (150 calories for three ounces of meat) with steamed vegetables (35 calories per cup) and cooked rice (120 calories per half-cup)

  • Your choice of fruit and vegetables, including salad (most of your calories will come from dressing); apples are about 75 calories each, pears are about 80 calories each, cherry tomatoes are 27 calories per cup, lettuce is negligible (so unless you're eating a forest of it, don't worry about the calories)
  • Include nuts in your snacks and salads — they're a healthy fat. (Other good fats are fish and virgin olive oil)
  • Trail mix (150 calories for a palm-full of the snacking goodness)
  • Cereal bar (110 calories each)
  • Granola bar (140 calories each)
  • Protein bar (up to 300 calories)

Be sure to count your calories for any beverages you consume with your meals. For example:
  • Coffee is roughly a calorie per ounce, plus sweetener (25 calories per packet of sugar) and creamer (20 calories per tablespoon)
  • Tea is two calories per 8-ounce cup
  • Skip soda, Gatorade and other sweetened packaged drinks

When you start counting calories, keep a food journal to make counting easier and more accurate.

Mix and match: toss a little trail mix into your salad, eat a tomato with a little vinegar for a snack, substitute rice for the cheese in your burrito. Don't let calorie-counting become difficult or cumbersome.

Share your low-cal food ideas with me, and I'll share them with the rest of the class.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Eating Before You Work Out

This has become an issue lately.

Clients of mine (and of other trainers I speak to) who want to lose weight have been acting like it's a good idea to not eat before they work out, thinking it's a good way to lose weight.

This creates many, many problems.

First of all, under great stress, your body will not burn fat. Instead, it will hold onto that fat.

Secondly, cutting calories too drastically will cause your body to think it's being starved. Your body will slow down your metabolism to a crawl to protect you against the famine. (And that's before your workout.)

More importantly, without having the nutrients in your system, you will not have the strength or stamina to make it through your workout.

Now let's take a look at how that affects your workout. Without the proper energy in your muscles, your heart rate will increase to a dangerous level, your blood pressure will rise substantially, your body temperature will rise to the point where you feel clammy. Your blood sugar will drop and you will feel dizzy, possibly even pass out.

If you faint with weights in your hands, think about where they might land — on you or some innocent passer-by. Imagine losing consciousness while sitting on a stability ball or standing on a BOSU ball. Or while jogging on a treadmill.

You get the picture.

Ideally, the largest meal of your day should be two hours before you work out. If you can't manage that, at least make sure to eat something substantial two hours before your workout.

Include carbs in this meal or snack: carbohydrates, when they break down, turn to glycogen — the fuel source for your muscles. (Remember, carbs include fruits and vegetables.)

So, make sure your vehicle is properly fueled before your workout.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Giving Recess Its Due

Finally, recess might get the respect it deserves. The journal Pediatrics this month cited regular recess as an important component of the classroom. Students were better behaved if they took even a short break every day.

It seems that getting away from your desk and relaxing for a few minutes makes it easier to concentrate and get the job done, so to speak. Sound familiar?

An earlier report by the American Academy of Pediatrics published in 2006 stated that free play time helps children think for themselves, gives them a sense of self and helps them interact better with others.

And these are the very people from whom we steal recess. Oh, we steal art and music, too, which both have intrinsic value in a child's life — but really, can there be anything more basic to childhood memory and joy than 15 minutes of playing outside in the middle of the morning?

I remember running around the playground, chasing the cute boy in the class (and catching him, which annoyed my fellow female classmates, who actually understood the game and stayed a couple of steps behind poor Peter). I remember climbing on jungle gyms, swatting the tether ball, playing horse or four-square or hopscotch. There was squealing and kicking, jumping and screaming, posturing and snarking. It was a jungle, but it was our jungle.

Nowadays, recess is seen as an interruption. Children have too much to learn and have no time to waste. Teachers send home study guides for parents to continue teaching; apparently, time needs to be spent even on weekends, much like their parents working overtime to try to get it all done.

Don't let them take away the fun. As pediatricians remind us, play "offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children." (Substitute "friend," "co-worker" or "other family member" and it still applies.) Taking a break during the day affords a chance to re-energize.

So do what the doctor orders: play.
- Chris

Monday, February 23, 2009

Finding Muscular Imbalances

Do you have occasional back problems?

Do you lean forward as you walk?

Is your normal walking stride short?

If you answered yes to any of these, you may have a muscular imbalance.

Muscular imbalances can cause back pain, limping and other discomforts. They are caused by many different factors. The most predominant cause is the way we sit at our desks for long periods of time. When our muscles are in one position for extended periods, they contract in that position, causing tightness and discomfort. Without stretching, these muscles and training opposing muscle groups, these tight muscles stay in a contracted state. This can cause pain and stiffness.

Here are a couple of easy exercises you can do to look for imbalances:

  • Get down on one knee in front of a mirror. Can you put your shoulders directly over your hips, without losing your balance? Now, from this position, bring your arms out to your sides and do a spinal rotation to one side, then the other. When this is done, switch legs and repeat the exercise. See if your hips stay in line, or if one hip drops lower than the other. You also probably will find that one side is more stable than the other. Tight hips cause the lack of balance during the spinal rotation. Weak back muscles may cause a feeling of instability. Be sure to perform hip stretching exercises and back strengthening exercises. This will help the discomfort and make you more stable.
Lets try another one:
  • Stand with one leg in front of you, and the other leg behind at a 90 degree angle. Concentrate on keeping your hips square and facing forward. Bring your arms up and keep them rounded, like hugging a large tree. Take a deep breath, pull your arms in close. Exhale and bend at the waist. Inhale reach up with your arms and do a back bend. Switch sides and repeat the exercise. Chances are before you start the second side, just getting into position you are going to feel a stability difference between the left and right sides. You will probably find more flexibility on your dominant side.

If this is the case, add back flexibility into your workout routine.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Exercising on Vacation

When I vacation, I always check out the running facilities of my destination before I leave. Am I in an area that's good for running? If I'm in an urban area, is there a park nearby? Is there a college with a track? If the area is not conducive to outside running, is there a gym in the facility where I'll be staying?

When I mention this in passing ("I can't wait to go running in Central Park, even though it's the coldest December on record!" "I hope the gym has an elliptical because there's construction for blocks around the capital...."), I get funny looks.

Often, there's at least one person who screws up the courage to ask, "You're not really going to run on vacation, are you? That's why they call it vacation!"

And I laugh. Of course I run on vacation. Every vacation I've taken as an adult (except for a couple late last year) I find myself lacing my shoes in the morning. My family doesn't even think to ask if I plan to run, but when. Even on Christmas Day, I'm out in the elements, pounding the pavement. (After gifts; I'm not completely crazy.)

A trip I took this past weekend proved to me the joy of running while on vacation. I didn't know exactly in which South Carolina city I'd find myself, so I couldn't plan. I didn't know much about lodging, or amenities on site or around where we'd be.

But I was ready for anything: I had gotten lost for an hour in San Francisco in the 90s and, one summer in North Carolina, run twice my normal distance (quite by accident, I assure you, and got a sunburn to prove it). I couldn't be thwarted.

I was pleasantly surprised the night David and I arrived in Columbia. We were within walking distance (okay, my idea of walking distance) of the city's throbbing night life areaa. As David and I walked back to the hotel from dinner, we saw the dome of the state capital building. I couldn't wait to check it out in the light of day.

The following morning, David was up with the dawn. I was not. The day was gray and drizzly, but it was 25 degrees warmer than it would have been at home, so I couldn't really complain. I donned my running gear around mid-morning and hit the street.

People rarely see bars in the light of day for a reason, and other "hot night life" areas often suffer from the same spirit. Without the neon and the press of stylishly-dressed bodies, the center of town looked underwhelming and very definitely under improvement. The streets were quiet, the doors were locked and there were only a few cars on even the busiest roads. I loved it.

I discovered a lovely park full of war memorials a couple of blocks from the hotel, and I made a mental note to return with my camera. I could read the historic markers and knew the answers to David's questions about the "train depot" look of part of the strip (it was a train depot at one time). The flour factory was, indeed, in operation. The convention center was getting itself gussied for its next group (Spa Expo 2009, according to the marquee and the two-story inflatable rubber ducky on the lawn). And yes, that was the state capital building.

And I saw it all because I went running.

So, the next time someone wonders why you aren't leaving your walking (or running) shoes at home on your next vacation, know you made the best decision to discover your surroundings while getting a workout. Just remember to be careful — and don't forget to take your camera (a little tip I'll remember next time).
- Chris

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Functional Tai Chi

During my Tai Chi classes, I always get asked, "Why do we breath the way we do? And why do we practice push hands?"

The answer to both of these questions is related. Breathing properly allows for better energy flow, and better energy flow increases health and relaxation.

When practicing push hands and the Tai Chi form, we concentrate on breathing during movement. This teaches us to relax while having better energy flow and posture through the course of our day.

When we practice the form, we learn to keep our bodies in alignment. During regular daily activities, we should always be mindful of keeping our head, hips, knees and feet in line.

Even when we are not practicing Tai Chi.

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Much Fat Should You Be Eating?

The other day I was debating with another trainer about how much fat a person should consume as part of their daily caloric intake.

The breakdown should look like this:
  • 50 percent carbohydrates
  • 25 percent protein
  • 25 percent fat

At first glance, this may look lopsided. Fat has 9 calories per gram, where as protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram.

As you look at this and do the math, that means on a 2,000 calorie diet (recommended for most men), you will have 1,000 calories a day in carbs, 500 in protein and 500 in fats.

Now, that doesn't mean we go eat extra Twinkies on our light eating days.

What this means is we need to eat good healthy fats for this kind of ratio: peanuts, olive oil, avacados, peanut butter and fish oils — not lard, mayonnaise and deep fried foods.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Try a Personal Trainer First

All too often, I have clients tell me they need to lose weight or tone up their bodies. These are very worthwhile goals, but the truth of the matter is that a personal trainer can aid in many other ways you may not have realized — like in reducing your need for a chiropractor.

There are many cases where proper training of muscular imbalances of the legs and hips can relieve back pain — and keep you out of the doctor's office.

The doctor realigns your spine to release the pressure that is making you uncomfortable.

If back pain is not injury-induced, chances are good that it could be caused by a muscle imbalance.

Sometimes, a muscle imbalance is caused by your posture — or, more precisely, the way you carry yourself through the course of your day. In most cases, a good personal trainer can pick up on these imbalances and correct them, thus correcting your posture and taking away the discomfort.

While some imbalances may be organic, others could be due to our own actions.

We can train ourselves into imbalances. My favorite example of this is illustrated by the hunchback weightlifters. You've seen them: the guys in the gym with the biggest arms and chests — and rounded shoulders. This is the result of heavily training the chest (shoulders and trapezius) without training the rear deltiod. Eventually, gravity can cause enough imbalance to create back pain.

Rounded shoulders also can be due to repeatedly hunching forward (such as at the desk or steering wheel), making shoulders lean slightly forward of the torso. Gravity then pulls the shoulders toward the ground instead of centered over our torso and hips. This makes walking difficult because balance is off-centered.

Remember: in addition to getting you and keeping you fit, trainers also can teach you how to be symmetric and balanced in training. Being fit is more than being able to lift weights or having good cardio -- it's also having good, pain- free range of motion in all joints.