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Mid-day Monday Musings

Living your life day to day, it’s easy to become complacent, accept the hand you’ve been dealt and continue on with a monotonous routine that will bring you no closer to reaching any of your goals. Or perhaps your routine will bring you closer to a goal, but that goal no longer holds the value it once did and needs to be reevaluated. Have you lost sight of what is truly important to you? Have you even taken the time to figure out what that is? If you’ve determined that change is necessary, what is holding you back?

Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.

Warren Buffett

To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.

Theodore H. White

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.

Raymond Lindquist

I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacation with better care than they do their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change.

Jim Rohn

Sometimes just realizing that you need a change is harder than actually implementing it. Surround yourself with people who love and support you, regardless of your decisions. Get rid of the toxicity in your life. Immerse yourself in your passions.  Discover what makes you tick, and actively seek it out. Try not to let your overarching goals get lost in the shuffle of the everyday. If your day-to-day actions don’t support your vision for the future…CHANGE!

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Progressive Overload: Avoiding the Dreaded Plateau

We’ve all been there: after months of diligent effort, sweat, and dedication we start to see our progress in the gym stagnate. Whether your strength gains have stalled or the physique changes you had been making have slowed to a crawl, the likely culprit is adaptation. Your body will adapt to meet to demands of any stress placed upon it, and in order to continue seeing results you need to utilize the principle of progressive overload. Simply put: you must continually increase the demands placed on your musculoskeletal system in order to progress. There are a multitude of ways to implement progressive overload, the simplest of which is to increase the resistance or load you are lifting. Of course, once you crossover from newbie to intermediate or advanced lifter, adding to the load every week becomes exponentially more difficult and may be downright impossible. So how else can you avoid stagnation?

  1. Increase the volume, either through an increase in sets, an increase in repetitions, or a combination of both. Try not to get too hung up on some magical set/rep scheme. If you can surpass your goal by at least 2 repetitions while maintaining proper form, it’s time to increase the load. If you’re already incorporating high volume training, try varying your training to include some heavier set/rep schemes, perhaps 5 sets of 5 or even some heavy triples.  Oh, and P.S., ditch the standard three sets of 10 reps. That might work as a beginner (heck, doing anything will work for most beginners), but if you want to make gains in strength and/or size you need to start pushing your limits.
  2. Increase the frequency with which you train a given lift or lagging body part. Remember that some muscle groups respond better to higher frequency than others. Just be sure you listen to your body to ensure ample recovery time between training sessions to avoid over-training.
  3. Decrease your rest intervals. Try bringing an interval timer or stopwatch along to your next workout and timing the amount of rest you take in between sets. Decreasing this time will force your body to adapt, becoming faster and more efficient over time. Just a word of caution: bring a towel. Your fellow gym-goers will appreciate it.
  4. Increase or vary the exercises you perform for a given body part. Often times simply changing an exercise by varying foot placement, grip width, or grip pronation (pronated, supinated, or neutral) will enable you to target different aspects of a muscle group with multiple heads (think triceps, quadriceps, etc.). Of course, you want to use this method with moderation as adding too many exercises may lead to over-training and can actually hinder your progress.
  5. Increase the intensity of your sessions. Remain focused on the task at hand and push yourself harder on every set. If you’re lacking in the internal motivation department, utilizing a spotter or workout partner may enable you to use a heavier weight, help you eek out the last few reps, and keep you focused through a tough workout. Find a suitable partner who will be able to push you harder than you could push yourself, with goals and fitness levels that parallel your own.

[Note: These final two suggestions aren’t really approaches to progressive overload, but they’re important to keep in mind regardless.]

  1. Do not underestimate the importance of rest and recovery. Remember that your muscles do not grow in the gym, they grow while they recover. Fatigue will mask your true strength in the gym, so be sure to give your body ample time between workouts. More advanced lifters may even consider adding a structured de-load week into their program wherein they decrease resistance, decrease the number of sets and/or reps, decrease the number of exercises performed, or omit exercises that directly load the spine.
  2. Provide your body with the fuel it deserves for optimal performance. Assess your goals, whether they be performance or physique based, and determine whether your nutritional needs are being met. While you can get bigger/stronger/leaner/etc. on a diet consisting of utter crap (and there are plenty of powerlifters out there that will argue that you should), you can do so more effectively, not to mention look and feel better, if you optimize your nutrition. Remember: garbage in, garbage out.

Just a word of caution: try not to run to the gym, guns blazing, ready to implement all of these approaches at once. Take a step back and analyze your current program, abilities, and goals and determine which, if any, of these methods will help you progress. You may want to incorporate one at a time to assess how your body responds and what will work best for you. Listen to your body and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Monday Motivation

Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people.”

Nido Qubein

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”

E.E. Cummings

“Be yourself, don’t take anyone’s shit, and never let them take you alive.”

Gerard Way

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs

Monday morning Motivation

A lot of people still buy into the misguided logic that exercise alone is enough to reach your physique goals. To put it plainly, nutrition should be your first line of defense when it comes to fat loss. Consider the amount of time it would take you to expend the calories you ingest in a measly tablespoon of nut butter (or scoop of mint chocolate chip for those not yet on the clean eating bandwagon) every day. How much easier would it be to simply NOT EAT that extra spoonful of nut butter? Clearly your time is better spent planning your meals for the day than slogging it out on the treadmill trying to make up for your nutritional transgressions.

Another trap a lot of gym-goers fall prey to is the idea that a “calorie is a calorie,” and that as long as they stay within an allotted caloric intake they will see their body composition and health improve. But the flaw in that logic is that a calorie is not simply a calorie: it is a product of three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat). Protein and carbohydrate both contribute 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram. For you math minded folks out there it’s a simple formula:

Total calories = (Grams of Protein X 4) + (Grams of Carbohydrate X 4) + (Grams of Fat X 9)

Your body processes each macronutrient differently and they have different implications for your health, energy level, and weight management depending on when and in what ratio they are consumed. You should aim for a proper balance of all three macronutrients, ideally coming from quality food sources. It doesn’t take a registered dietitian to recognize that a diet consisting of nothing but Twinkies is going to have a very different effect on the body than the same number of calories coming from lean proteins, fresh produce, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. So it really isn’t as simple is calories in, calories out as many would have you believe. A few words to help steer you in the right direction…

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

Francois La Rochefoucauld

“The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Hippocrates

“He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skill of the physician.”

Chinese Proverb

“We never repent of having eaten too little.”

Thomas Jefferson

Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us.”

Peter De Vries

Bottom line: Before you eat something, ask what, if anything, it’s going to do for your body. If you’re at a loss, or if you know the food in question is less than ideal for your health, well-being, and/or waistline, try replacing it with a more optimal option. And please, don’t try to justify something you know is junk by lying to yourself about what it provides you. Garbage in, garbage out.

For all the ladies…Why YOU need to strength train

Ok, I’m sure you ladies know there are a myriad of benefits to strength training. You already know it will make you stronger (uh… duh, it’s called strength training). You probably know it will improve your performance in daily activities and athletics. You may have even heard that it will improve your bone density, helping to prevent conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis. But there are a whole host of other benefits that may never have occurred to you. Drum roll please…

Build the body you really want

Most women believe that in order to get the lean physique they desire they need to spend hours at the gym every week, slogging away on cardio equipment. If they do venture out onto the weight floor, it’s usually high rep work with machines or dumbbells that weigh less than their purses. I hate to break it to you ladies, but steady state cardio is not the most effective tool for fat loss. Your body adapts exceedingly well to the demands of aerobic exercise, and as you become more efficient at it, it will take you longer to burn the same number of calories. Also, once you hop off of that piece of cardio equipment, your body is done burning calories. However, following a resistance training or anaerobic cardio session your body continues to burn calories long after you’ve left the gym, through excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (or EPOC). And to burst another fitness bubble, the low weight/high rep business will more than likely lead to a loss of muscle tissue, especially if you’re in a caloric deficit (psst this is exactly the opposite of what you want). If you want to build a lean, strong body you need a balance of proper nutrition, conditioning (both aerobic and anaerobic), and low(er) rep, heavy resistance training. If your goal is to run a marathon or to look like a marathon runner, then by all means continue to embrace the steady state cardio.

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But if you’d rather look like a sprinter, you might want to try some HIIT and lifting some heavy weight.

Gain self-confidence

You have absolutely no idea what your body is capable of. Once you start increasing your strength through heavy weight training, you’ll be astonished at your abilities. Picture perfect pushups? An unassisted chin up? Deadlifting your body weight? All possible if you work hard and train consistently. It will take time and diligent effort, but nothing worth having ever comes easily or quickly. Two years ago I struggled to perform a single body weight pull up, and now I can bust out 33 in 5 minutes! Accomplishing physical things you once thought were impossible will have a positive carry-over effect into your life outside the gym as well. Something as simple as knowing you don’t need to rely on someone else to lift that heavy bag of dog food out of your trunk or to open that pesky pickle jar can be very empowering.

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Change your mindset from negative to positive

All too often a woman’s primary objective when she sets foot in the gym is to burn calories and reduce body fat. Having this kind of negative motivation may work in the short-term, but it will leave you burned out and disappointed over the long haul. By constantly striving toward performance based goals, strength training will give you something positive to focus on, making your workouts more meaningful and hopefully more fun! This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive for improved body composition. But giving yourself a positive goal to work towards will impart you with a sense of purpose, keeping you coming back to the gym day after day, week after week, month after month. By staying consistent with your training and achieving your performance goals, the physique goals you have your sights on will naturally follow suit.

Stress relief

It’s arguable that pretty much any type of physical activity will bring you some degree of stress relief through the release of endorphins, those “feel good” chemicals your brain releases during a workout. Strength training is the best outlet for turning your daily stressors into something positive. Had a bad day at work? Kids refusing to cooperate? Husband being less than appreciative of all you do in a day? Take it out on the weights. Use your stress to fuel your training session, push yourself to beat last week’s workout, and set a PR. Once you finish, you’ll likely leave the gym in a much better mood than when you arrived.

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Set a positive example

Take a moment to imagine your little girl, all grown up and plodding away for hours on an elliptical trying to lose the last ten pounds. Now imagine your little girl busting out her first strict body weight chin-up or setting a PR on deadlifts. Which image do you want to see in her future? Intentionally or not, our actions and ideals transfer to our children, and the mother-daughter dynamic is particularly important. The way a mother treats her body, her attitude towards fitness, and her motivation for going to the gym becomes ingrained in her daughter’s subconscious. If you think your daughter hasn’t picked up on the fact that your only reason for going to the gym is to lose weight, you’re kidding yourself.

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Why not show her a more positive and rewarding reason, like building strength and improving performance?

Because what you’ve been doing is no longer working (or never worked to begin with)

This one should be fairly self-explanatory so I’ll keep it brief. How long have you been doing what you’re doing? And how’s that working out for ya? Obviously, if the approach you’ve been using for years has left you dissatisfied, something about it is inherently flawed. My suggestion? Change. Get out of your comfort zone and get on the weight floor. Don’t be intimidated by the men there, 99% of them don’t know what they’re doing anyway (I’m talking to you, mister 40 inch waistline doing 10 sets of bicep curls and calling it a day). Don’t worry that you’re going to get “big and bulky,” you simply do not have the anabolic hormones (hello testosterone!) to support significant muscle gains (more on this in a future post).

Not comfortable on your own? Not sure of your form? Hire a trainer to coach you through the basics (compound movements like squats, deadlifts, pushups, etc.) and to set up a simple but effective program catered to you and your goals. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and train!

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Monday morning Motivation

When it comes to exercising and eating right, a lot of people overlook the importance of commitment and consistency.  It’s easy for most people to be consistent for a week, a month, even a year.  But when you feel you’ve started to stagnate, your commitment to your goals is called into question.  Maybe the fast clip at which the scale had been dropping has slowed to a crawl.  Maybe your deadlift numbers have stalled for months on end.  Maybe spending Sunday afternoons prepping food in an effort to eat clean throughout the week is starting to feel like a chore.  It becomes imperative at times like this to remember exactly what it is you’re striving for and why you’re striving for it.  A few words to keep you on track…

Do not lose hold of your dreams or asprirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live.”

Henry David Thoreau

Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”

Gail Devers

“Experience has taught me that there is one chief reason why some people succeed and others fail. The difference is not one of knowing, but of doing. The successful man is not so superior in ability as in action. So far as success can be reduced to a formula, it consists of this: doing what you know you should do.”

Roger Babson

“You must have long term goals to keep you from being frustrated by short term failures.”

Charles C. Noble

“Most of us serve our ideals by fits and starts. The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.”

Cecil B. De Mille

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

Dale Carnegie

Bottom line:  Having a clear vision of your goal and why it’s important that you achieve it will make staying consistent more manageable and, hopefully, enjoyable.  You need the what and the why to commit to the how.  Take a moment today to reflect on your goals, why they are important to you, and what you’re willing to do in the present to make them a reality in your future.

Thoughts on Thursday: The Health Halo Effect

Wandering through my local grocery store a few days ago, I noticed a disturbing trend among the products displayed on the aisle end-caps. Products that for all intents and purposes are nutritional wastelands are being marketed and labeled making them appear wholesome choices for you and your family.

Big food companies (the likes of Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Post, General Mills, etc.) have grown wise to the fact that Americans are becoming more health conscious and are attempting to improve their diets.  Seeing an opportunity to cash in on the trend, these processed food companies are slapping nutritional buzz words like natural, organic, and most recently gluten-free onto product labels, in a feeble attempt to make their “food” appear more nutritious. Let’s get a few things straight here folks.  The FDA has no clear cut definition of the term natural, and as such a company can label virtually any product all natural.  The term organic refers to the manner in which a food is produced (i.e. without the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and additives), not necessarily how nutritious it is.

Case(s) in point:

Simply Natural White Cheddar Cheetos from the kind folks at FritoLay…

So they’re made with sea salt…they’re still Cheetos, just as devoid of quality nutrition as the original.

Looks like fat laden, cheese-flavored air…but hey, they’re natural.

Nutella Chocolate Hazelnut Spread from Ferrero (yes, that Ferrero)…

Nutella’s manufacturer recently got into a bit of hot water over misleading the public to believe that their product carries nutritional and health benefits, marketing it as part of a nutritious breakfast, leading to a $3 million settlement and an agreement to change the product labels and some marketing statements.  Of course the current label still reflects Ferrero’s idea of a “balanced breakfast”: slapping Nutella onto whole wheat bread and paring it with both skim milk and orange juice.

Sounds like a whole lot of simple carbohydrates, very little quality protein, and virtually no healthy fats…very balanced indeed…

WhoNu? Nutrition Rich Cookies…

You and your impressionable kids have probably seen commercials for these “nutrition rich” cookies recently…

Newsflash: the vitamins and minerals these nutritional wastelands contain were added by way of fortification.  In other words, the company synthetically added vitamins and minerals into a food that does not naturally contain them.  Kind of like justifying eating a handful of Skittles by following it up with a multivitamin.

Lest you think you’re better off with the nutritional powerhouses in the “natural and organic” section of your local grocery store, the innovators at Earth’s Best Organic bring your family these Letter of the Day cookies…

Whether you call it organic evaporated cane juice or just plain sugar…it’s still a simple carbohydrate, devoid of any nutritional value.(Sidenote: I thought Cookie Monster was no longer all about the cookies…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now you can find MilkBite Milk and Granola Bars in the refrigerated section from the masterminds at Kraft Foods…

Placing them along the perimeter of the store…clever move Kraft.  But you aren’t fooling anyone.

Don’t even get me started on the claims about providing the calcium of a glass of milk, vitamin D, protein, and fiber.  They fail to point out the whopping 10 grams of sugar, the fact that the measly 3 grams of fiber and the paltry amount of vitamin D are both fortified (read: not naturally occurring).  Here’s a thought: instead of relying on a food loaded with fractionated palm kernel oil and soy lecithin for your body’s calcium requirements, try incorporating more greens like broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, and kale that provide more absorbable forms of calcium along with a slew of other important, naturally occurring micro-nutrients (think vitamin K, C, magnesium, manganese, and boron).

Saving the best for last, the lovely people at Kellogg’s bring you Eggo FiberPlus Chocolate Chip Waffles…

Providing 35% of your daily requirement of fiber (in the form of added oat fiber) and “rich” in antioxidants, vitamin E, and zinc (all by way of fortification)…along with a laundry list of ingredients ranging from soybean and palm oil to soy lecithin and various forms of sugar.  Looking for the convenience of a frozen waffle but want actual nutrition?  Make a batch of these  over the weekend, freeze, and thaw when you’re ready for them.

So the question is, are consumers actually falling for this blatantly deceitful marketing? Unfortunately it appears as such. According to a 2010 study published in the psychology journal Judgment and Decision Making, the majority of subjects believed that organic cookies were lower in calories than conventional cookies and could be eaten with greater frequency. Similarly, when considering a woman with a weight loss goal, the subjects believed forgoing her planned exercise regime was more acceptable solely because she opted for an organic rather than conventional dessert. It seems the “halo” of buzzwords like natural, healthy, and organic lead people to believe a food is lower calorie and therefore more acceptable to eat with reckless abandon. Marketers take full advantage this misinformation among consumers, simultaneously expanding the wallets of big food corporations and the waistlines of well-intentioned consumers. Don’t let the labels fool you, that organic Oreo is still an Oreo and has no business being in your grocery cart.

Bottom line: Don’t buy into the hype and marketing on the front of the package. Turn it over and read the nutrition label and the ingredient list.  (Hint: if it has more than two ingredients, chances are it isn’t real food and will do nothing to support your health.)  Better yet, try to avoid foods that come with a label and a bar code.  Instead, opt for whole unprocessed foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.

Monday morning Motivation

So be honest…how many times did you hit the snooze button this morning?  Need a little kick in the pants to get yourself back into the gym?  Trying to find the right time to start cleaning up your eating habits?

A few motivating words to kick start your week…

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.”
— Buddha

“A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.”

— John Henry Newman

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

—Sally Berger

“If we wait until our lives are free from sorrow or difficulty, then we wait forever. And miss the entire point.”

— Dirk Benedict

“Don’t wait.  The time will never be just right.”

—Napoleon Hill

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Bottom line: stop looking for the right time to start a healthy habit, you’ll be waiting forever.  Stop talking about your fitness goals…make them a reality!