Monday, April 18, 2011

Moving the Blog

Hey, so, I'm posting this blog so you can bookmark my new address.  All my future postings will appear on my website:

I hope you'll follow me over there and take a look around.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why EVERYONE Should Lift Weights (Particularly Women)

 I'll get to the science in a minute, but first watch this 32 year-old woman do 7 unassisted pull-ups: 

She is 5’3” and 114 pounds.  She is not a personal trainer.  Nor is she a fitness competitor.  She works out 5 days a week for 45-60 minutes then works full-time in the fashion industry.  (Full disclosure:  she is my partner and I have her permission).  Women ask her for tips and advice every day.  When asked what she does, she says she lifts weights “heavier than you think you are supposed to”.

I wish this issue could be laid to rest, once and for all.  Should women lift weights?  Will you get bulky from strength training?  The science has been out there for decades, yet the myth persists.  I have a theory why the myth lives on.  I think most people just aren’t willing to work that hard.  It’s much easier to say, “I can’t do it, because I don’t want to get bulky” than it is to actually do the hard work and achieve the results everyone is after. 

I’ve worked with some of the most beautiful women in Hollywood and I can tell you they lift weights.  They lift weights that are heavy enough so they can get stronger.  It’s important to distinguish between bodybuilding and strength training.  Bodybuilding is a sport where men and women do everything they possibly can to build very large, defined muscles.  Bodybuilders work their muscles so intensely that multiple days are required to recover.   Therefore, they are only able to train one or two muscle groups per day.  They drastically manipulate their diets depending on whether they are “bulking up” or “ripping down” right before a contest.  They may even use anabolic steroids and growth hormones to increase their muscle size.  The bottom line is it’s really very difficult to “bulk up”!

Strength training is a method of improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through the use of free weights, machines, or the person's own body weight.  Strength does not necessarily equal size!  The benefits of strength training include increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength, improved joint function, reduced potential for injury, increased bone density, increase in metabolism, improved cardiac function, and elevated HDL (good) cholesterol, not to mention improved performance in all sports and physical activities.  No other form of exercise provides a greater range of benefits. 

That’s the science.  “You don’t know my body,” I hear.  “I’ve lifted weights before and my clothes get tighter!”  Here’s what happens:  Say you are a size 8 or 10 and you’ve never really worked out with resistance before.  You have very little muscle tissue under a much larger layer of fat.  By the third, fourth and fifth week of a good strength program, you are beginning to build lean tissue (muscle) under that layer of fat.  Muscle is denser than fat.  You go to pull your jeans over your thighs and they feel tighter.  You freak out because you think you are getting bigger.  What’s actually happening is you now have denser tissue, which makes it more difficult to “squish” into those jeans.  Here’s the important part:  YOU HAVEN’T YET GIVEN YOUR METABOLISM A CHANCE TO CHANGE.  Once you have more muscle tissue on your body, you will burn more calories, period.  You’ll burn more calories asleep, awake, working out, and watching TV. 

There will naturally be a bit of overlap as you begin to re-proportion your body.  This is when many women jump to the conclusion they are “getting too big”.  I’ve never had a woman complain that she’s too muscular after they’ve dropped body fat on my strength program.  Wouldn’t you rather be leaner and fitter and maybe have to buy a new wardrobe?  I challenge the women I work with to give it 12 weeks.  “If you feel like you’ve gotten too big, we can always give you your old body back.”  That’s the easy part.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guest Article - Lower Body Workout, Videos to Follow

Hey All... Sorry for the absence.  Exciting things are happening as my new and updated website is near launch.  I've just begun a guest writing gig for this cool website called  I am putting together my book proposal for an interested literary agent.  I'm a writer.  Who knew?

So, here's a link to my first article on this site:

Monday, January 31, 2011

Training vs. Exercising

Today, I'm paraphrasing something I read on Crossfit's website over the weekend to expand upon my post about focus.  What's the difference between exercising and training?

I love this topic because I think it gets to the heart of why some people succeed on a fitness program and many don't.  Exercising is something people do to make themselves feel fit.  We've all seen it:  people on the cardio machines reading a newspaper or magazine, the person moving from machine to machine with long rest periods hardly looking like they are working out.  These people are doing better than if they stayed home and watched TV, but they are also the people whose physiques never seem to change.  They got their "exercise" in and have falsely convinced themselves they are doing the work.  They also get to complain they aren't seeing results and that it must be their "genetics" or some other reason they can't change.

Yes, I love it when people say to me, "Well, you just have great genetics."  Yeah, sure.  Maybe if you worked out hard with weights for 25 years you'd have "good genetics" too!

Training is having a focus and a clearly defined goal.  The goal can be as simple as "I'm going to squat with just my body weight 15 times so that my thighs are parallel to the ground on each repetition."  Every time you step foot in the gym (or prepare for your in-home workout) you should have a clear plan on what you are going to achieve during the session.  Yes, the plan can change based on a number of factors, but simply having a plan is half the battle!   Training means challenging your body to do things you never thought possible.  It requires you to be mentally alert, present and focused.  A good way to measure if you are focused enough?  If you are able to read or watch TV while you are working out -- you are not focused enough on the workout.

Literally, write down what you are going to do for your workout session.  Estimate how long it will take.  Are you targeting all your movements and muscle groups equally?  Yes, it takes a good deal of experience to get good at program design, but for most people just looking to make a change, think of lifting weights (resistance training) 3 times per week and targeting all the major muscle groups.  Workouts need not be longer than 40 minutes, if planned properly.  

Then pay attention (write it down, if you have to) to how much weight you are lifting on each of the exercises and for how many repetitions.  Was the form good?  Were you able to control the weight for the entire set?  Could you realistically go up in weight the next time you do this exercise (doing a few less reps, if necessary)?  Work on improving your performance.  Paying attention to all these variables and knowing your workout before the session is a great way to help you stay mentally alert and focused.

Believe me when I tell you, mental focus is the single most important factor in succeeding on a fitness program.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Psychology of Fitness - Identify Your Blocks

Today, I feel like talking about what gets in the way of achieving our goals.  Whatever the goal is.  I'll focus on physical fitness goals, but we can apply this discussion to any area of our lives.

I believe that achieving your physical fitness goals is 98% mental.  It really is.  If you think about what stands in your way, it rarely ever has anything to do with anything physical.  My beautiful girlfriend came home from the gym this morning to tell me that, yet again, a trainer approached her to tell her how inspiring it is for him and his clients to watch her workout.

An aside -- she's the reason I began blogging and opening up my website (coming soon) to interactive online training.  When we began dating, she'd pick my brain about what she should do when she went to the gym.  She asked very specific questions and I gave her very specific answers on what she should do on each day and how she should do it.   I took her through ONE training session where I trained her as a client.  It was a daily ritual - we'd have our morning coffee and she'd ask me what to do at the gym that day.  I'd tell her and she'd make notes.  In 3 months time, with just ONE actual training session with me she transformed her body.

I tell this story because it made me realize that something else was going on here.  I've known for years that if I had someone, ANYONE show up for me 3 hours per week, that I'd be able to transform his/her body.  I just needed that commitment and willingness from the other person.  I began to believe what I would hear people say casually in the form of an excuse:  "well, if I could afford a trainer..."

Yes, having a (competent) trainer to show up for and be accountable to makes a big difference.  But, what I learned by watching Star's body transform without my physically being present with her in the gym, is that there is something present with all those who make significant changes with or without a trainer:  incredible focus.

The barriers that stand in the way of our success are almost always psychological and of our own making.  The sooner we comprehend this, the sooner break through those barriers.  Most fitness articles and columns focus on which is the superior training method/style to achieve the results most people are looking for.  It is important to understand these things.  But the most important thing to identify is what stands in the way.  What is the block?  Why are you not able to achieve your goals?  Where can you improve?

Sounds simplistic, but the fact is that most people don't know or else they'd have already achieved it!  The reason why people respond to Star's workout ethic is because there is a laser-like focus from the minute she walks in until the minute she leaves.  She has a clear sense of her goals - both, in the longer term (body fat % goals, for example) and shorter term (what is the exact goal on a given exercise).

For anyone who works out 3 or more days per week and is not seeing the desired results, it's a good thing to ask:  what is missing?  Am I clear on the goals of each exercise?  Is my intensity level high enough?  Am I distracted between sets?  Do I give 110% on every set?  Am I periodizing my workouts?

For those who have difficulty committing to a workout program (either getting started on staying with it) it's important to ask:  what stands in my way?  I strongly encourage writing down every possible obstacle that you perceive stands between you and your goals.  If you could paint the picture of the perfect lifestyle that would allow you to set aside 45-60 minutes a day for tending to your body's physical needs, what would it look like?  Brainstorm.  Write down every possible roadblock.  Here's a few I hear often:

1.  I don't have time.
2.  I can't afford a gym.
3.  I'm confused about what to do.
4.  I'm afraid to lift weights by myself.

Every obstacle has a solution.  We just have to identify the obstacle first.  The ones I've laid out here are pretty universal excuses:  time, money, lack of knowledge, and fear.  Let's take the first one, time.  If you were told you would die in 3 months unless you changed your lifestyle to include six 45-minute exercise sessions per week, I guarantee you'd make the time.  If you work a normal 8-hour workday, try getting up at 5:30am and getting your workout in before work.  If you have kids, find someone to cover your child care during your workout times (spouse, babysitter).  The excuses are endless unless you put an end to them.  If you can't afford a gym, find a workout routine you can do in the home.  I found a great blog of a young, single mom who found her passion for fitness in changing her life after her divorce.  She does her workouts at home and is studying for her personal trainer certification, changing her career to suit her passion.  There is some incredibly inspirational stuff available to us via the internet from the comfort of our own home.  Think outside the box.

Ask questions.  If you come up against a "block" like I've described, reach out for help!  Stop doing the same thing over and over if you know it doesn't work.  Got a question?  Type it in google and see what comes up.  See where it leads you.

The word for today is focus.  Just how focused are you?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Should Post Workout Meal Vary on Cardio and Strength Days?

Thanks to all who posted questions for blog topics.  I was most intrigued by the question posed by my friend Michele:  "What should you eat for dinner after a cardio workout?  After a strength training workout?"  My initial reaction and hunch was that your dinner choice shouldn't much change based on whether you did cardio or strength training.  But it got me thinking.  Would the TYPE of activity affect your post workout meal?

Of course, there are MANY variables that we'll have to take into account.  Let's assume this question applies to someone who works out after work before going home.  Let's also assume this person's primary goal is fat loss (as opposed to muscle hypertrophy).

Cardio vs. strength training

As I wrote in earlier posts, strength training has been scientifically proven more effective in promoting fat loss and muscle gains than aerobic activity alone.  But for those of us who work out 5 or 6 days a week, there are going to be non-strength days where the workout may be predominantly "cardio".  The next question we need to answer:  is the "cardio" workout a High Intensity Interval Training workout (this would actually be an anaerobic workout) or a more sustained, endurance cardio session at a more moderate intensity?

For simplicity's sake, let's put the High Intensity Interval workout and strength training workout in the same category (anaerobic) and the longer, more sustained aerobic workout at a more moderate intensity workout in another (aerobic).  It is true that these different type workouts draw from the body's energy stores in different ways.  Anaerobic activity uses energy predominantly from muscle glycogen.  Without getting too scientific, muscle glycogen is your body's readily available energy stores that have been converted from the carbohydrates you've consumed in your previous couple of meals.  Aerobic activity uses about 50% muscle glycogen stores.  (Stick with me here, because this is important and will clear up the myths surrounding "low carb diets" and "cardio burns stored body fat".)  Duration of exercise affects the amount of glycogen used for energy.  As the duration of activity increases, available glycogen diminishes, increasing the reliance on fat stores as a fuel source.

This does not mean that the best way to lose body fat is to perform low-intensity activities for a long duration!!!  Bottom line is, if the workout contributes to a caloric deficit, the body will draw on its fat stores at some point to make up for the deficit.  Remember, that higher intensity workouts (anaerobic) lead to higher EPOC levels (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption - read earlier posts on Intensity Level and HIIT).  In other words, when you work out at higher intensities, your body's metabolism remains revved up for a much longer period of time post-workout.

So, it's an intriguing question  -- should your post-workout meal be different based on they type of workout, since aerobic and anaerobic workouts draw different percentages from glycogen and fat stores?  My short answer is no.

Basically, when exercising aerobically at a more moderate level (as opposed to higher intensity strength and HIIT), you will be able to exercise for a longer period (while you may strength train for 45 minutes, if you subtract rest periods between sets your actual workout time is more like 15-20 minutes, albeit at a much higher intensity).  Because you are working out for a longer duration, your glycogen stores run out and your body taps into its fat stores for energy.  This does not mean the total calories burned is greater.

When you've finished either type of workout your body is glycogen depleted and should be fed carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of completion of workout.  It is recommended that consuming 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight within 30 minutes of completing exercise in order to maximize glycogen replenishment.  How much protein post workout?  Between .25 and .50 g/kg body weight, depending on your goals (10-40g).  I say this goes whether it was an aerobic or anaerobic workout.

Carbohydrates have gotten a very bad rap in recent years and much of the hype surrounding the "low-carb" craze is bullshit.  The fact is that maximum fat utilization cannot occur without sufficient carbohydrates.  In other words, you need carbs to burn fat.  So, it all boils down to total calories in versus total calories out.  The most scientifically sound breakdown of macronutrients is 50-70% carbohydrates, 15-30% protein, and 10-30% fat.  The bottom line is that you want all of your meals to include this macronutrient breakdown (except for your immediate post-workout, which I will get to in a minute).   As already stated, carbohydrates is the main energy source the body uses for all physical and mental tasks.  That's why your body craves carbohydrates if you do not get enough.  For the most part, I am talking about complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber (except post-workout).  Protein is important for building and maintaining muscle tissue.  Best sources of protein are from animal sources (sorry vegans) because they contain all of the essential amino acids needed to rebuild lean tissue.  Chicken, fish, meat, eggs are best whole food proteins.  Finally, fat.  Fat is important is important because it stimulates the release of the hormone CCK in the body, which signals satiety (feeling full).

The ultimate goal for the layman (or woman) with each meal is to find the appropriate breakdown of carbs, protein, and fats so that you are able to eat a reasonable amount of food without feeling the need to go overboard.  When the optimal breakdown of the macronutrients is attained, you'll be full without consuming too many calories.  I know this is a very simplistic explanation, but I find that people are all over the place with the information that's out there and most people are just confused.  Ultimately, you have to listen to your body, knowing the physical demands you place on it (amount of exercise), and feed accordingly.  I'm not getting too in-depth with what foods are "good" and "bad" because I'm pretty certain most of you reading this know what's good and bad.

Oh, back to the post workout meal!  Even if you are working out after work and before dinner, you do yourself (and your metabolism) a huge favor by taking a post-workout drink that includes carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.  The sooner the better.  When you are glycogen depleted (as you are post-exercise) your body does whatever it can to refuel.  In the absence of immediate post-workout carbohydrates, the body will use amino acids (found in your muscles) and convert it to energy.  This is bad.  Essentially, this is the body breaking down muscle tissue (for which you've been working hard, by the way) to use for energy because there's no more glycogen (carbohydrates).

I know this can get complicated.  But the bottom line is this:  no matter when you workout, you should immediately replenish your body with a post-workout drink/shake that includes simple carbohydrates and a fast-acting protein (since timing is important here, a powdered protein supplement is recommended because it will be absorbed much more quickly than whole food protein).  I use apple juice to mix vanilla whey protein (whey protein is found to be the most complete, that is, contains most of the essential amino acids needed to build muscle).  You do not need to have the usual breakdown of fat in this post workout drink or shake.  Fat is absorbed and digested quite slowly.  This is good for your other meals, but not so good for your immediately post-workout meal (drink) since you want your body to absorb nutrients very quickly.

To take it a step further, I recommend listening to your body on the different days you work out.  If you are doing a lower intensity day, you'll burn fewer calories with your workout, and therefore require fewer calories hit the "break even point".  If you've had a very intense workout, you'll require more calories.  On days before I know I'll be having an intense workout, I know it's okay to eat a bit more heartily than I would if I know I'll be having a light or no workout.  My body tells me so.  I've learned through the years that I can modulate my caloric intake on a daily basis according to the demands I've placed on my body.

So, my advice is to be sure you get a post-workout drink that includes carbohydrates and protein (ideally, whey) as you leave the gym.  If you are worried about those drinks having too many calories (as many of my women clients are) then simply cut back the 200 or 300 calories from the dinner you'll have an hour or two later.  What's for dinner?  50-70% carbs, 15-30% protein, and 10-30% fat.  An ideal dinner could be a boneless, skinless chicken breast (grilled or baked) with a boiled sweet potato and broccoli (lightly sauteed in olive oil for "good fat") with a side of avocado (also good fat).  As for those ranges (50-70% carbs, for example), again, listen to your body.  If you find yourself sluggish all day leading into your workout, try upping your carbohydrate intake.  If you find yourself hungry within an hour or two of eating, try upping your fat intake (mono- and poly-unsaturated, not saturated).

I know the diet posts can be wonky and boring, but I think it's important that people get a handle on the basics of nutrition amidst the misinformation out there.  Thanks for the spark, Michele!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tragedy in Tucson

This is a fitness blog dedicated to matters of fitness and wellness.  Every so often, an event occurs that captures our collective attention:  9/11, the Columbine massacre, Oklahoma City bombing, and now the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona.  I'm finding it difficult to come up with a relevant fitness topic in the face of such a horrific event, so I'm just going to speak my mind on this one.  In my experience, the gym has become the "town square" of today's society -- the place where people of different backgrounds, opinions, and mindsets come together and, therefore, current events like this one are relevant to a health and wellness blog.  Or, "It's MY damn blog and I'll talk about what I want to talk about!"

As a personal trainer for 14 years, I've had the great pleasure and privilege to work very closely with an incredibly diverse bunch of people:  older, younger, men, women, black, white, brown, American, foreigners, Democrats, and Republicans.  While our main focus is always fitness and working out, inevitably, current events and politics come up for discussion.  Some trainers I've known along the way have advised me to steer clear of two topics:  politics and religion.  Since I believe our psychology and thought processes are SO integrally connected to our fitness and well being, I think it can be a good thing to (within reason) discuss current events and controversial issues.  Oftentimes, the "heat" generated from a person's firmly held belief or opinion provides excellent motivation to perform physically challenging tasks.

Anyway, I am personally sickened and saddened by the tragic shooting rampage at the supermarket in Tucson.  I believe that this is one of those moments has the ability to define an era.  It is a moment that presents our society with a choice, a fork in the road, if you like.  I am sickened and saddened, but I am not surprised.

The truth is, this event has been brewing for some time now.  The hateful, vitriolic rhetoric in our politics has been out of control for some time now.  People say it began with the proliferation of cable news outlets and the radio shock jocks in the past 10 years.  I'd say it goes back a bit further to the Clinton years (remember the Vince Foster suicide was really a "murder and coverup" by the Clinton White House?) and has been exponentially magnified with today's 24 hour echo chamber of a media cycle.

By all accounts, Gabby Giffords is a lovely woman, well-liked by her colleagues, Democrat and Republican alike.  It's what makes it all the more sad -- she's clearly not a blatantly partisan politician.  She's a centrist Democrat from a Republican-leaning district who voted for the Health Care Bill, pushed for immigration reform and campaigned against the anti-immigration policies adopted by her state.  At the same time, she's favored traditional Republican policies such as tightening border security with Mexico and, ironically enough, loosening of gun control laws.  So, when the leader of the Tea Party in Arizona puts out a statement saying, in effect, that even though she's "a liberal" no one deserves violence, blah, blah...  To say she is "a liberal" is factually incorrect and needs to be called out.

So, too, does the violent imagery embraced by the Republican right in the last election where phrases like, "don't retreat, instead RELOAD!" were cast about by the likes of Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and former VP candidate Sarah Palin.  Sarah Palin putting up a map on her website "targeting" hot districts with the crosshairs of a gun was irresponsible, at best.  Sharron Angle talked about using "Second Amendment remedies" if she and her supporters weren't successful at the ballot box.  Huh?!  Where's the outrage, my friends?  Agree or disagree with their policies, these are supposed to be leaders. This is simply unacceptable in the civil Democracy we purport to be.

The folks on the right are criticizing the Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for expressing his exasperation at the vitriolic rhetoric and the fearful and racist policies his state has embraced.  I think the man is entitled to express his opinion on the matter.  In fact, there may be NO ONE more qualified to state his opinion on this matter.  He is, after all, a law enforcement officer on the ground and NOT an elected politician with a political agenda.  He is seeing the fallout from all the hate and anger.  We ought to pay closer attention rather than dismiss his views as partisan rhetoric.

My big issue comes down to the distortion of facts by the folks on the right, namely Fox News and its subordinates.  To compare President Obama to Hitler for advancing his health care plan is simply outrageous and out of touch with reality.  As it is to say that the federal government wants to take away your personal freedoms.  Yet, when mainstream politicians and media personalities carelessly perpetuate these lies over and over it is only a matter of time before a deranged individual with absurdly easy access to high powered firearms takes matters into his own hands.  "Taking back his country."

Which brings me to the issue of gun control.  The Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the rights of its citizens to bear arms.  This does not mean that right should go completely unregulated so that a deranged individual with a history of mental illness can purchase a Glock 9-mm handgun, with a chamber able to hold 30 bullets in a clip with the sole purpose to kill as many people as quickly as possible.  We need common sense regulation as it pertains to guns in today's society.  The founders could never have foreseen the technology we have today.  If people's backgrounds can be checked with the purchase of an airline ticket then certainly the same can be done with the attempt to purchase a firearm.  The truth is that Congress is held hostage, literally, by the NRA gun lobby whose sole purpose is protect the right of the gun industry to sell as many of their products as possible.  It's not about the sacred right to bear arms.  It's about profit, pure and simple.  Guess where all the weaponry used by the Mexican drug gangs comes from?  Yup.  The US of A.  We get their drugs and they get our weapons.

This could be a turning point.  But it's going to call for some brave, moderate Republicans to take a stand and say "no more" to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  It's time to take responsibility.  I've been saying for some time now that the Republican party is headed for a split between the intolerant ultra-right wing and its more moderate, fiscal conservative/social moderate types.  The time has come.  The opening is there for anyone brave enough to take it.  It is going to have to be someone with the courage to stand up to a powerful gun lobby and the hateful rhetoric we've heard coming from the right for the past decade.  I'm an unabashed liberal, but I am rooting for a charismatic, unifying figure to emerge from the Republican party who is willing to call out the fear-mongerers and say, "NO MORE".

As Gabby Giffords herself said so prophetically, "words have consequences."