Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nutrition vs. Cardio

Pep Talk

A lot of people ask how much cardio they should be doing to lose fat.  And the answer is one we don't like to hear: A LOT!  Consider that an average 1-hour aerobics class will probably burn 300-400 calories, depending on your effort level.  Those people burning 600+ calories are pushing to maximum effort, and workouts that boast 1,000 calories an hour are exaggerating.

While thinking about how much calories you can burn, consider that the average meal at a sit-down casual-dining restaurant is about 1,000 calories...over DOUBLE what you would burn with 1 hour of cardio.

So the answer is clear: although cardio is EXCELLENT for your heart and lungs, and should be an integral part of any healthy lifestyle plan, the most effective way to lose body fat is NUTRITION!

What About Weights?
Weight training will make you stronger, and add lean muscle mass to your body that will increase your metabolism (a.k.a. the calories you burn at rest), BUT you will not be able to see that muscle if there is a layer of body fat covering it.

How Do I Get Started?
A great starting point is to start tracking what you eat to get an idea of your current state.  I personally love the app My Fitness Pal -- it is easy to use and can be very eye-opening.  From there, try to see any trends that emerge.  Do you barely eat at the beginning of the day and then splurge at dinner time?  Are you snacking all day long?  Are your portions too big?  Food logging is a great way to not only watch what you are doing, but to stay accountable over the long haul.

Exercise is only half the battle to reach your fitness goals.  Nutrition is the other half.  Using them both together is the key to success for a healthy lifestyle.

Challenge Workout

Perform 5 rounds of the following exercises, taking breaks as needed:
  • 10 Oblique Mountain Climbers (each leg = 1/2 rep; both legs = 1 rep)
  • 10 Windshield Wipers (each side = 1/2 rep; both sides = 1 rep)
  • 10 Alternating Lunges (each leg = 1/2 rep; both legs = 1 rep)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Measuring Your Fat Loss

Pep Talk

A few weeks ago, I had written a post about ignoring your scale and paying attention to other factors when measuring your weight loss progress.  It raised a lot of questions, so I thought it'd be helpful this week to discuss measuring your weight loss in greater detail.

The Problem with the Scale
The scale only gives you part of the story -- your overall weight loss.  But your body has two kinds of weight: lean mass, which includes bones, tissues, and muscle; and fat mass, which is the REAL thing we are trying to get rid of.

Consider this: you could lose 10 lbs. of WEIGHT, but if it is muscle, you will be weaker, feel less energetic, and probably not look much different than when you started.

Also consider this: the scale might seem like it's not budging, but only because you LOST 5 lbs. of fat and GAINED 5 lbs. of muscle.  So really your net loss was 0 lbs., but you will feel stronger, feel lighter, feel more energetic, and probably look more fit aesthetically.

Muscle is denser than fat and takes up less space for the same amount of weight.  Muscle is like a baseball and fat is like a nerf ball of the same size.  They both take up the same amount of space, but the baseball would be much heavier.  This is why the scale might not seem to be going down in numbers, but your clothes are fitting better and you look fitter.

Measurement Method 1: How Your Clothes Fit
A very simple way to measure your progress is to listen to your clothes, not the scale.  If you are going down in clothing sizes, but the scale won't budge, you ARE making progress.  In the majority of cases (with very rare exceptions), you will not go down in clothes sizes and up in body fat.

If you clothes fit better, but the scale is moving up, it is probably because you are gaining muscle mass.  Consider taking photos every so often to visually gauge your fat loss progress.

Measurement Method 2: Tape Measurements
This takes the clothing test one step further.  Rather than relying on the scale, take measurements once a week to track your progress.  Just like with the clothing test, except in very rare cases, you will not go down in measurements and up in body fat.

Some good measurements to take are:
  • Across your bust
  • The narrowest part of your waist
  • The widest part of your hips
  • The middle of your thighs
  • Your upper arms
  • Your calves
On a daily basis, these measurements can vary based on many things, like water retention and what you've eaten.  Consider taking these measurements weekly or every other week.

Measurement Method 3: Body Fat Percentage
This method is a little more intricate, but offers the most information in terms of your fat loss progress.  The easiest way to measure this yourself is to get a body fat measuring scale, which uses Bio-Electrical Impedance (BEI) to estimate what percentage of your total body weight is fat.

Here is how to do your calculations:
  1. Total Weight x Body Fat % = Total Fat Weight
  2. Total Weight - Total Fat Weight = Total Lean Mass (muscle, bones, tissue, etc.)
  3. Compare your Total Lean Mass and Total Fat Mass on a weekly basis to determine your progress.  You want your Lean Mass to either stay the same or go up, while your Fat Mass goes down. 
Hopefully these tips will provide you with the whole picture in terms of measuring your fat loss progress.  Remember that the scale is only one piece of the puzzle and does not give you all the information you need to judge how you're doing.  Use any or all of the techniques above to get a better idea of how your efforts are working.

Challenge Workout

Perform 5 rounds of the following exercises, taking breaks as needed:
  • 20 Jump Squats
  • 45 seconds Plank

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Summer BBQ Survival Guide

Pep Talk

Summer is here, and that means lots of BBQs!  It seems like every weekend -- and sometimes multiple times in one weekend -- we are either invited to or hosting a party of some kind, with lots of decadent food and celebratory drinks.  With that in mind, it is easy to see our health and fitness goals sabotaged by social gatherings.

But that doesn't mean you have to abstain from going to parties or joining in the festivities.  Here are some strategies for balancing your healthy lifestyle with summertime fun:
  • Plan your week for your party.  If you know on Saturday that you are going to a BBQ, make sure you are good all week.  Eat healthy, drink lots of water, and get your workouts in.  "Prepare" for your weekend fun.
  • Plan your day after.  What are you going to do the next day to get back on track?  Make sure you don't let one day of off-plan eating turn into several days.
  • Offer to bring a healthy side dish to complement the unhealthy party foods.  Some good choices are a 3-bean salad with vinaigrette, fresh fruit salad, fresh vegetable platters, or a tossed green salad.
  • On the day of the party, eat your normal healthy meals right up until the party.  Don't use it as an excuse to pig out all day.  If you can, get in a workout that morning.
  • Take TWO trips to the buffet:
    • On the first trip, fill your plate with only fruit and vegetables.  This will not only help to fill you up, but it will also make sure you get in some nutritious food.
    • Once you have finished that, go back and fill your plate with whatever food you want.  Focus on your favorite foods only, rather than trying everything on the table.  
    • Only fill the plate with one layer -- no stacking or mounding.  Make sure your portions are reasonable. 
    • Stop eating when you're full, even if it means throwing away anything remaining on your plate.  Avoid the temptation to "pig out" with several trips to the buffet.  Remember how bloated and uncomfortable you will feel afterwards.
  • If you are drinking alcohol, remember to follow every alcoholic drink with one glass of water.  Alcohol will dehydrate you, and dehydration leads to bloating.  Keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water!
  • Offer to be the driver to the party.  That way, you will be sure to keep your drinking in check and not go overboard.
  • Politely decline taking home leftovers.  If they're in the house, you will eat them!
  • If you have two parties in one weekend, pick one to stray a little bit and indulge, and be good at the other one.  (Pick the one that is likely to have better food for having your fun.)
  • Remember that indulging once in a while is part of staying on track long-term.  Have your fun, and then get right back on track the next day with a good workout and healthy eating.

Challenge Workout

Complete the following exercises as quickly as possible, taking breaks as needed:
  • 30 Pushups
  • 30 Crunches
  • 20 Pushups
  • 20 Crunches
  • 10 Pushups
  • 10 Crunches
  • 60 seconds of Pushups - as many as possible
  • 60 seconds of Crunches - as many as possible

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Get Motivated - Set a Goal!

Pep Talk

Sometimes it is just hard to stick with a healthy lifestyle plan.  Things get stale over time.  Or, when you hit a major goal, you have nothing afterwards to keep you motivated to stick with it.  Setting goals, and more specifically, SMART goals, can help you stay on track!

Making goals that are too generalized can almost be as futile as not setting them in the first place.  If you aren't specific with them, how will you know when you've achieved them?  How will you know when you are on or off track?  It's not enough to say, "I want to be leaner, healthier, stronger, etc."  You need to go a step further.

When you set goals, make them S-M-A-R-T!
  • Specific - Don't just say "I want to be leaner."  Say, "I want to drop 3 lbs. of body fat."  Or, instead of, "I want to be stronger," say, "I want to be able to do 10 pushups on my feet non-stop."
  • Measurable - How will you know when you've achieved your goal?  Be sure to quantify your goal in order to measure your success.  Whether it's running 2 miles, getting down to a certain body fat percentage, or hitting a goal number of repetitions, numbers and consistent measurements are your friends.
  • Achievable - Make sure that this goal is possible.  Set something that, with consistent effort, you CAN achieve.  
  • Realistic - Set yourself up for success.  Setting a goal of losing 20 lbs. in one week is not realistic (or healthy, for that matter).  But setting a goal of losing 20 lbs. over the course of 10-15 weeks is a much more realistic goal.
  • Time-Based - Set a deadline.  It's easy to push off a goal if there is no timeframe.  But doing something like signing up for a race with a tangible endpoint will encourage you to keep working hard, even on days you feel like blowing it off.
Use these tips above to set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based goals.  These are the keys to making goals that will motivate you and keep you moving in the right direction!

Challenge Workout

Set a timer for 8 minutes.  In that 8 minutes, perform as many rounds as possible, taking breaks as needed, of:
  • 8 Burpees
  • 8 Hollow Rocks or Reverse Crunches (click here for an instructional video)
  • 16 Mountain Climbers (each leg = 1/2 rep; both legs = 1 rep)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ignore the Scale

Pep Talk

Yes, you read that right.  I am not a big fan of the scale to measure health and fitness progress.  Unfortunately, it has become the classic barometer for determining success because it is easy to hop on the scale and read a number that we assume provides us with tangible feedback.

However, the scale does not give you the whole story.  Your WEIGHT and your BODY COMPOSITION are two very different things. 
  • Weight = how heavy your body is.
  • Body composition = the ratio or percentage of how much lean mass vs. fat you have on your body.
Technically, a person who weighs heavier than another person could have a lower body fat percentage than them, meaning that they are actually leaner.  However, if they went strictly by the scale number, they could get a false interpretation of their progress.  They might weigh more because they have more muscle on their body, and muscle works for you -- it gives you strength, tone, and burns calories.  Muscle is good.

What if you don't have a body composition scale to give you the whole story?  Go by your tape measurements.  Generally speaking, a woman will not go up in tape measurements and be losing fat.  The reverse is also true for the most part -- you will not go down in tape measurements and be gaining fat mass (notice that I said FAT, not WEIGHT...an important distinction).

Regardless of any of these forms of progress measurement, the most important barometer is how you FEEL.  If you are feeling good, that usually means you are doing positive things for your body, such as healthy eating and exercise.  If you feel bad, it's probably because you are missing your workouts and eating junk food.

Focus on feeling good first, and everything else will fall into place.

Challenge Workout

Complete 3 rounds of the following exercises as quickly as possible, taking breaks as needed:
  • 10 Triceps Pushups (on feet or knees)
  • 20 Sumo (Wide-Leg) Squats
  • 30 Crunches