Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The 10-Minute Rule

Pep Talk

Sometimes we have those days when we just don't feel up for a workout.  But often it's hard to tell the difference between:
  1. Being legitimately tired, sick, or over-trainined, and,
  2. Just not WANTING to do the workout from a motivational standpoint.
Most of the time when we feel too "tired" to train, we are really just feeling too lazy to train.  We start to wonder if we should be training if we feel so tired.  But really what we're doing is rationalizing excuses to derail our fitness goals.

You can use a trick called the 10-minute rule on those days when it's hard to get to the gym.  The 10-minute rule works like this:
  • Go to the gym and start your workout.  You MUST complete the first 10 minutes, even if it consists of walking on the treadmill at an easy pace.
  • If, after 10 minutes, you still are not engaged, motivated, and feeling ready to train, you have guilt-free permission to end the workout and go home.
The 10-minute rule gives you a way to stay on track.  If your reasons to skip the workout were purely motivational, chances are that once you start the workout, you will see it through to the end.  However, if you are genuinely in need of rest, your body will still be wiped after 10 minutes and you probably need to take a day off.

Challenge Workout

You will need a bench, chair, or set of stairs for this workout.
Complete 5 rounds, taking breaks as needed, of:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Paleo Perversion: Why Paleo Could Be Making You Fat

Pep Talk

Diets are the "It Girls" of the health and fitness world.  New ones pop up at regular intervals, enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, and then (for the most part) fade into the sunset.  See if you remember any of these: the Cabbage Soup diet, the Grapefruit diet, the Zone diet, the South Beach diet, the Macrobiotic diet...the list goes on.  Even diets that have proven to have any "staying power," like Slim Fast, Atkins, and Weight Watchers, have undergone dramatic changes over the course of their life-cycles to stay current.  Compare Atkins in its first iteration (as much meat and cheese as you want) to Atkins today (which encourages eating fruit and vegetables with your high-protein meals) and you have almost two completely-different programs.

One of the most popular diets today is the Paleo diet, which has gained momentum from athletes and the CrossFit movement.  The idea behind the diet is intriguing: limit nutritional consumption to only the foods available to mankind in the Paleolithic era.  The theory is that these are the foods that our human bodies were designed to consume, and so they are the healthiest options for optimal body performance.  This means you should be eating meat, nuts, fruit, and vegetables, and avoiding anything processed, like dairy or grains (which must be cooked or milled in order to be edible).

My Take:  First of all, my take on diets is that you need to select what works best for you as part of a long-term lifestyle.  Something you can only maintain for the short-term is not a good option.  If you love certain foods, you need to find ways to incorporate them in your life -- just fewer and far between if they are high in calories or fat.  So I am not a fan of diets that are super-restrictive and cut out entire food groups.

However, there is some sound logic behind Paleo.  Any diet, including Paleo, that encourages someone to eat foods in their most natural, unprocessed state means that you will be eating whole foods that are nourishing for your body -- such as vegetables and fruit, lean proteins, and nuts and seeds.  These foods are high in nutrients and (except for nuts and seeds) low in calories.  These foods should always be the cornerstone of your healthy eating plan.

Why Paleo Could Be Making You Fat:  So we get to the whole reason why you're reading...could following Paleo be bad for your body?  Possibly.  And it all comes down to deviating from the whole-food principles of Paleo.  Sometimes people find ways to make their favorite treats Paleo-friendly, or they find ways to take recommended Paleo foods and make them unhealthy.  Some examples of this are:
  • Baking sweets with almond flour instead of grain-based flour
  • Mixing up high-calorie shakes using beef (yes, ewwww....beef) protein powder
  • Grabbing high-sodium and additive-laced beef or turkey jerky as a high-protein Paleo snack
  • Frying up some sweet potato fries in coconut oil
  • Sweetening foods with agave nectar instead of sugar
But these are Paleo-friendly alternatives, you may be saying.  Well, are they?  Paleo's soundness comes from its recommendation of WHOLE foods.  Where it starts to fail and (dare I say?) become hypocritical stems from allowing processed foods that "fit the Paleo mold."  Or taking nutritional whole foods and making them unhealthy through added fat, salt, and sugar.

Example: bananas are super-nutritious foods -- a great source of potassium and energy.  However, cover the banana with ice cream, fudge, nuts, and whipped cream, and we no longer get to leverage the health benefits of that banana.  I think we can all agree that a banana split is not a meal that should be part of our everyday diet, and should instead be just an occasional treat.

The Point:  Am I anti-Paleo?  No.  In fact, the nutritional strategy I personally follow is very close to Paleo.  But I don't follow it because it is "Paleo"; I follow it because I like to base the majority of my eating around whole, unprocessed foods.  Ask yourself honestly -- is Paleo (or any diet, for that matter) causing me to deviate from eating whole foods?  If the answer is yes, it might be a great opportunity to re-evaluate your meal plan.  Any diet can be made more or less healthy depending on how someone interprets it.  Follow these tips with any nutritional strategy you choose:
  1. Base your meals around whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and seeds.  These are whole foods that are nutritious for your body.  Depending on how your body handles lactose, lean dairy products are good choices too; just keep in mind that there is sugar in dairy and you should be mindful of how much you consume.
  2. Watch your calories and fat intake.  Make sure you are getting enough food, but also not too much.  Monitoring your energy levels and logging your food intake are great ways to keep track.
  3. Find ways to incorporate your favorite foods in your eating plan.  If those foods are not very nutritious (i.e. ice cream), find ways to incorporate them occasionally.
  4. Question any diet plan that makes you sacrifice specific foods permanently.  Everyone needs a release valve from time to time.  Unless you are a professional athlete in training, there is no reason why you can't enjoy the occasional glass of wine, steak dinner, or ice cream sundae.
  5. Pick a strategy that you can maintain long-term.  If sticking to a diet is torturous, then it is not the right fit for you.

Challenge Workout

Set a timer for 7 minutes.  Perform as many rounds of the following as possible, taking breaks as needed, until the timer runs out.
  • 7 Burpees
  • 7 Lunges (left leg)
  • 7 Lunges (right leg)
  • 7 Crunches

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I Just Need to Lose Fat HERE

Pep Talk

Ahhhh, spot reduction.  This is the Bigfoot of personal training circles.  Much like the fabled unicorn, spot reduction is a lie that inspires magical hope that the impossible can exist.

Now, unlike the unicorn, most people don't understand that spot reduction is a myth.  But you might be asking, what is spot reduction?  Spot reduction refers to the concept that you can lose fat or "tone up" one specific area of your body without affecting the other areas.  As in, "I just need to lose this muffin top.  What exercises can I do to tone this up?"

The plain and simple answer is, "None."  Now, let me clarify, because that doesn't mean you can't lose the muffin top.  It just means the approach is wrong.  Zeroing in on one part of your body to lose fat can only be accomplished surgically.  In order to understand the way we lose fat, you have to understand how our body stores it.

Think of your body fat as a lake.  There are deep areas and shallow areas (i.e. areas where we store more fat, and areas where we are leaner).  For example, you may store everything in your hips and thighs, while your upper body remains fairly lean.  And everyone is different, just as every lake is different.  There are different deep areas and shallow areas for every lake.

If you think about draining a lake of all water, you cannot selectively drain the deep areas.  You must first drain the shallow parts of all water before you can even begin to touch the deep areas.  The same goes for your body.  You must get your entire body fat percentage down in order to start to tap into those "deep areas."  Most people get discouraged when their measurements don't change around their waist, but they may not be realizing that their face is getting leaner, their arms are toning, and it might just take a few more weeks to see the difference they're looking for.  Often times, impatience leads to throwing in the towel prematurely and going back to unhealthy habits.

Okay, so I've convinced you that losing fat is a total-body activity and you can't pick and choose body parts.  What is the best approach?  Exercise is, of course, a great way to stay strong and physically fit, but that is only part of it.  No single exercise can "tone up" an area; you also need to strip away the excess fat.  You can develop muscle, yes, and that gives your body shape, but you cannot see that shape underneath if you have layers of fat covering it like an ugly holiday sweater.  That means the largest portion of the fat loss equation is nutrition.

To break down how critical nutrition is, consider the following comparison.  Running for 6 miles can burn roughly 600 calories (this is just an estimate; individual results will vary).  Eat 2-3 slices of takeout pizza after your run, and you will not only undo all that work, but (depending on the toppings), you may exceed the calories you burned during exercise.  With this approach, someone who runs 6 miles every day could, theoretically, gain body fat.  And they wouldn't understand why!

Fat loss is a matter of patience, regular exercise, and careful nutrition.  The muffin top might not be the first thing to leave you, but don't get discouraged.  Given sufficient time and effort, you can get rid of it for good.

Challenge Workout

Complete 3 rounds, taking breaks as needed, of:
  • 45 seconds Jumping Lunges (can step instead of jumping if needed)
  • 45 seconds Plank
  • 45 seconds Jump Rope
  • 45 seconds rest

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Pep Talk

Is it REALLY health food???  Just because it says "natural" or "organic" doesn't mean it's really all that good for you.  Let's take a closer look at these misnomers and see if we should be calling these things "health food" or "health junk."

The term natural is ambiguous.  Just about any food can claim to be natural.  Natural means "derived from nature."  But where is the line drawn?  When is something derived from nature no longer natural?  Is high fructose corn syrup natural?  Many would say, no, it's made in a lab.  However, it's derived from corn.  And corn grows; corn is natural.

My point is that there is no clear definition of what fits into the "natural" category.  All it takes is tricky logic and a foggy lens to make things fit into this category.  Take, for example, Coca-Cola.  How many soda trees do you see growing in the forest?

Image from consumeraffairs.com
However, here it is on the label.  The ingredients list says that Coca-Cola contains "Natural Flavors."  What does this mean?  I've never tasted anything that grows on a tree that tastes anything like cola.  You need to treat the term "natural" with the same skepticism as you would with any other food marketing term, like "delicious taste" or "home-style goodness."

Now, organic is better than natural, because that means the food has to meet certain standards in its growth and handling.  Let's put aside the debate for now about how well our government maintains those standards.  Let's just pretend we live in Narnia and all food provisions are strictly upheld.  If that is the case, then all growers and manufacturers must adhere to requirements in order to stamp the "organic" label on their food.

You know there's a catch, and here it is: almost ANY food can be organic.  Even junk food.  Just because you are eating organic cookies does not mean they are healthy.  Sure, they are made with better ingredients that probably weren't manufactured in a lab somewhere, but they still contain high calories, fat, sugar, and all the things that interfere with a healthy lifestyle.  Organic is not synonymous with healthy; it just guarantees a better set of ingredients are going into your food.

But It's Better Than a Snickers!
Let's play a game.  Here are two nutritional labels.  One is for candy.  The other is for a healthy energy bar.  Which is which?



Okay, think you've figured it out?  Here's the answer: Label 1 is a Payday candy bar (image from chocolate-candy-intelligence.com).  Label 2 is a "healthy" fruit-and-nut Larabar (Cashew Cookie flavor; image from larabar.com).  But as you can see, from a nutritional standpoint, the difference is negligible.  Sure, you could argue that one has better ingredients than the other.  But when looking at the amount of calories, fat, and sugar you are introducing to your body, it's pretty much a wash.

The Lesson for Today
I'm not telling you all this to "poo poo" over your favorite foods.  This is a wake-up call that we as consumers must be 100% diligent in selecting the foods we eat.  Many food companies will try to trick you with marketing fluff to believe that their ACTUAL Fluff is part of a balanced, "natural" diet.  The only real defense we have is to learn to understand three things:
  1. Nutrition Information Labels - these are the data grids on all foods that indicate the number of calories, fat, protein, sugar, etc. in the food.
  2. Ingredients List - this is the other piece of the puzzle.  A food might look good on the Nutritional Information, but the reason why the sugar is so low is because it has 50 different chemical ingredients to substitute for sugar.  Try to pick foods that have an ingredients list of three lines or less, and only ingredient names that you can pronounce.  Monosodium glutamate and polysorbate 50 sound more like super-glue ingredients than food. 
  3. Serving Size - this is the sneaky, sneaky part of the food label that manufacturers hope you overlook, especially in smaller, "single-serving" packages.  For example, a small bottle of soda at the checkout line might list 120 calories per serving.  However, that bottle actually carries 2.5 servings.  So in reality, if you drink the whole bottle (and who won't?), your calorie consumption would be 300 -- more than double the calories you thought you were drinking.  That's a small meal.
Make it your new habit to check food labels regularly.  Before a food goes into your cart, flip it over and look at the label.  Compare it to other similar items and pick the one that best fits your healthy lifestyle.  Sure, it takes a little bit of time in the beginning, but once you find foods that you like that have excellent, quality ingredients, you will only have to do this once in a while when you're thinking of trying brand new foods.


Challenge Workout

Perform the following exercises as quickly as possible, taking breaks as needed:
  • 20 Pushups
  • 50 Squats
  • 15 Pushups
  • 40 Squats
  • 10 Pushups
  • 30 Squats
  • 5 Pushups
  • 20 Squats