Saturday, November 8, 2008

Setting realistic goals from square one...

Whenever I take on a new client and sit them down for an evaluation I always ask them, "So what are your goals?" The answer is usually, "To lose weight". Right from the start, that is an excellent answer however it is like saying "ocean" when someone asks you about your job as exporter of North Atlantic Fish Oil pills. Yeah, it kinda explains it but doesn't really get to the specific point. So we are going to explore goal setting on a more specific level today

"To lose weight"

Losing weight is a very important and worthwhile goal but unless you have a plan for doing it you might as well being throwing darts in the dark while standing in the center of an airplane hanger with your left hand. Statistically, you will never hit the bulls eye. Chances are pretty low that you will even hit the board at all and you will probably end up frustrated, angry, possibly injured and no closer to your goal than when you started. The problem is the overall scope of your goal though.

Goal Setting

If you were to say, "I am going set a goal to go to the gym at least 3 times a week and do at least 30 minutes of cardio at 70% of my max heart rate every time I go", you would be setting a more realistic productive goal. However, while this is a stellar start, you are setting a "gym goal". It's only a portion of the goal you should be shooting for. This is just another place that individuals suffer on their plan. You have to also set a "home goal". What you do at home affects you far greater than what you do at the gym because it's those other 4 days that you are out of your gym mindset that you give in to complacency. I do it myself. It is pretty normal.

At home, you have to have a plan and stick to it. Otherwise, all your hard work is going to slip away and you will be taking 2 steps forward and 5 steps back. This is one of the biggest issues that people have with working out. "I have been working out like crazy 3 days a week and I am not seeing any results". It doesn't take very much to affect what you do and it happens fast. You HAVE to remain vigilant on the days that you don't go to the gym. It's like the saying about a bad apple spoiling the bunch. That is exactly how it works and you have to be careful not to allow this. Ways this can happen are:

-Rewarding yourself with food
-Keeping old habits of overeating
-Insisting that your perception of contentment is real
-Not supplementing your gym days with a little extra, i.e., taking the stairs at work, etc.
-Not tracking your intake
-Thinking that you are doing enough at the gym to be able to eat however you want

This is NOT a lifestyle change. It is a LIFE CHANGE!!!

If you don't modify your behavior and create a real change in habits then you will be doing the equivalent of pushing against a wall that you are building and reinforcing every day.

At Home

Let's focus on home life for a second. As I said, we spend those "non-gym" days at home and this is a huge part of our problem. How do we change it? Consider child-proofing. When you bring a child into your home you go absolutely crazy about electrical outlets and haz-mat cabinets taping off corners on tables as well as a whole slew of other considerations you make to keep that little one as safe as possible. It's a great idea. Now, put that in relation to yourself. Keep healthy stuff in the cabinets and fridge. Boycott all sodas. Start reading the nutrition information on food. Eliminate the possibility of falling into bad habits. Etc...

The best way to alter your behavior is to start at a neurological level. Neural pathways operate on the basis of repeated recognition of perceived data. If you spend 2 years as a typist in a law office and then stop typing for a year do you forget how to type? Of course not. But if you spend that same year typing on a foreign keyboard where the letters and numbers are out of the usual order, do you think you would re-learn typing all over again? Absolutely. This is what we are shooting for. We MUST relearn. If we relearn a new perception of contentment then we will eat less and feel full sooner. If we learn to shop for healthier foods and read the nutrition panel on the back of everything we will develop a new attitude toward what we consume. If we learn to enjoy fruit over sugar rich snacks then we will really overcome our dependence on sugar rich foods (this is a major one).

So let's start to develop some goals...

1. Go to the gym 3 days a week. --just being at the gym will fill you with a desire to work out--
2. Do at least 30 minutes of intermediate level cardio 3 times a week. --220 minus age multiplied by .7 = 70% of max heart rate - this is a good target heart rate and will be conducive to fat burn--
3. Shop smarter. --not as hard as it sounds. Start being more aware of what you are consuming on the basis of calories and saturated fat, trans fat acids, etc. Learn to enjoy sprouts and salad and more vegetables and lightly seasoned chicken breasts and other lean meats--

Remember, keep your goals small and easier to hit but somewhat challenging. Consider the big picture as a bunch of smaller pictures. It's the smaller ones we're going to focus on. Things are a bit easier this way.

More later...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Turning up the work-out beyond cardio...

People ask me all the time, "How is lifting weights going to make me thinner?" They usually follow up with, "I don't want to get all muscular and beefcake". Let's go ahead and start here.

There are principally 2 types of resistance training: Endurance and hypertrophy-specific.

Endurance training: Resistance training characterized by low weight and high repetitions. It improves overall stamina and endurance at a muscular level. In doing so this form of training facilitates the improvement of cardiac output, increased hemoglobin in the red blood cells, increased mitochondria volume and increased production of capillaries in the muscles.

What does this mean to you?

Well, improved stamina and endurance means you can spend more time doing strenuous activities before you get completely tanked out. For instance, helping a friend or loved one move into a new place or perhaps something as simple as carrying in groceries or washing the car.

Also, an improvement in cardiac output is matched by an increase in the number of capillaries in the muscles. Together, this takes away that feeling of not getting enough air by allowing the blood to move more slowly through the muscle to maintain the time needed for oxygen diffusion. Long story short, less wheezing from the more dreaded exercises. Adding an increase of hemoglobin increases the amount of oxygen carried to the muscles from the lungs in the first place.

Likewise, an increase in the number of mitochondria in the cells INCREASES THE RATE AT WHICH FAT IS BURNED during cardiovascular exercise. For the uninitiated, mitochondria are the living organelles in the cells that eat fat and spit out fuel. That's a good thing.

Furthermore, this kind of workout has been shown to cause a natural release of endorphins which are known to suppress stress, pain and anxiety as well as increase natural levels of serotonin which can ease your overall mood and stress levels as well (think of how you feel after you eat turkey on know, tryptophan). If nothing else, it also releases that wonderful feeling of a job well done. It's what I tell my clients: What you are doing in this half-hour period is more than most people will do all year. And that's a statistical fact.

The Overload Principle
Placing a greater than usual demand on a muscle or muscle group that eventually leads to increased functionality.
Another thing people ask me is, "How do I know how much weight I should be using?" This is a good question and actually has a very involved answer. Ideally, we would first consider the concept of 1RM or one repetition max. This is the amount of weight that can be, with proper form, moved a single time. For the purpose of endurance training, we would consider 75% of 1RM. However, this amount can drastically vary throughout different muscle groups. For example, 75% of 1RM will allow me 8 or 9 repetitions with my chest whereas 75% of 1RM on a leg press will allow anywhere from 12 to 20 with my legs. Furthermore, constantly testing 1RM for every exercise you intend to perform is just not practical. This is where you have to apply judgment as well as increase the number of sets. I like to keep my number of reps to at least 8 and no more than 10 for 3 sets. This, I find, makes for a well-rounded endurance workout.

Hypertrophy-specific training: This is what builds that crazy bulky muscle. This is high weight and low repetitions. This is a totally different ball of wax and doesn't really suit our current purposes so I won't delve into the finer points of it in this particular post.

Ok, think of it like this. Endurance resistance training is college for your muscles. You train them, develop them, teach them how to function productively and the smarter and better equipped they become the more productive and efficient they will be in the real world. Now think of cardiovascular training as getting that dream job for your muscles. This is the entire reason for going to college in the first place. It's all about the job afterward. Keep in mind, you get out of your job what you put into it. The harder you work and the more time you spend doing it and refining it and coming up with new and interesting ways to do it, the more you will ultimately get out of it. Learn to love the job. Take time to do it from home if you need to. What's more, this job takes away stress and makes you feel better.

Finally, do some research on simple and sensible exercises. I would hate for anyone to gum up the works by doing exercises that are simply too complex or just too dangerous in general (yes, those exercises do exist). Use the K.I.S.S. rule: Keep It Simple...Superstar. Concentrate on muscle groups as these are stronger and easier to work out than individual muscles. Groups like the chest, the legs and the back. Using several muscles at once carries a greater benefit than single muscle exercises.

Remember, the days you don't feel like working out are the days you NEED to work out most. Stay positive and push yourself.

More later...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Oldest and Easiest, continued...

Yeah, sorry to leave you hangin' there on that last one. I had to go to work. Crazy work.

Moving on...

So, 1 MET = 3.5 ml of oxygen per kg of bodyweight per minute. This formula will explain how much work is being done in METS. This is actually a part of a bigger equation. I know exactly what you are thinking: “Kg? Ml?” What, you don't know how to convert standard to metric? Come on. Seriously. No problem, I bought you guys a calculator. It's on the right.

Now, cardiovascular work is defined by the amount of oxygen being used and since we don't have spirometers just lying around we are going to have to “predict” METs based on existing data. That is to say, walking is roughly 5 METs, give or take. So, if we factor this all together and use a 150 pound man walking for 20 minutes for our example and using the awesome calculator on the right: 5 METs x 3.5 ml of oxygen = 17.5 ml of oxygen per minute x 20 minutes = 350 ml of oxygen for the duration of the exercise divided by 1000 = .35 Litres of oxygen x 4.85 (predicted caloric expenditure for mixture of fat/carb burn) = 1.7 calories x 68 kg of bodyweight for a total of 116 calories over 20 minutes. Got it? Awesome.

This is what personal trainers have to know to become personal trainers. Ask your trainer to work this out for you. Chances are they can't. That's why we use calculators to do this. THIS IS A SCIENCE. There is very little guesswork involved here and the guesses that are made have a basis for comparison and are valid to extremely close margins and degrees.

And I went ahead and put on a NEW calculator to assist you in figuring out how many calories you burn for a vast array of activities so you don't have to try to figure it out on your own. This will give you new perspective on your workout and help you to better understand what you are doing. One of the most difficult parts of working out is understanding the “why” behind doing it. Kinda like chasing your tail with your eyes closed.

So, this endless maelstrom of incomprehensible gobbledygook and technical nonsense is definitely something to consider. Cardiovascular exercise is what burns fat. It is what tones us up. Keep that in mind.

More later...

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Oldest and Easiest Workout...

Walking is practically a basic life function considering how much of it we have to do in our day to day routines. Likewise, it is exceptionally productive at a cardiovascular level. On an extracurricular level, we should make a point to walk more because of its effectiveness as a workout. It is convenient, easily accessible and great for people who experience difficulty moving because of physical limitations and joint issues that prohibit them from higher intensity exercises. Long and short, it is a great starting point.

I would like to note the importance of good shoes and appropriate clothing for working out. Shoes should be athletic in nature as these provide more support and comfort, especially as you progress to longer workouts. Arch support, heel padding and wide versus narrow fit are also considerations that can have a great effect on your workout. Fortunately, there are shoe stores specifically for athletes and workout enthusiasts and their entire function is to provide you with the best possible shoe on the basis of your style of workout (walking, running, sports, etc) AND based on measurements of your foot. It is actually a very involved process that these stores take a great deal of pride and seriousness in. Runtex is a perfect example of this kind of store.

Clothing should be vented and loose fitting. Special care should be taken as colder temperatures will affect the way we dress. As the temperature drops we should dress in loose layers if we intend to workout outdoors. As our core temperature rises from our workout, tighter fitting clothing inhibits evaporation and keeps the sweat closer to our skin. That sweat sitting on our skin will then cool with the ambient temperature and cause us a GREAT deal of discomfort, pain and possible injury. In the Army we referred to this as a cold weather casualty. It will take you right out of the game.

Now, our goal is to aim high. Walking to the end of the driveway and back is what we do to check the mail. Walking around the block is what we do to start. Walking around the block twice is what we do to turn it up a bit. And so on and so on.

As I mentioned before, your basic life functions are fueled by fat. These lower heart-rate functions are performed every day for hours on end. Unfortunately, we can't lose weight by blinking our eyes. We simply want our metabolism to go from an eye-blink to snowball and as we progress that snowball gets bigger and faster.

Now, you may have wondered at some point, how do we know how many calories we are burning? Understanding this basic concept will make the process a whole lot simpler and that demystification is important in calculating dietary needs in relation to energy expenditure. It goes like this:

TECHNICAL MUMBO-JUMBO At rest, you are functioning at 1 MET. A MET is a measurement of cardiovascular work (simple explanation) and it is based on the amount of oxygen you are consuming during work. 1 MET is equivalent to: 3.5 ml of oxygen per kg of bodyweight per minute.

More later...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hang on...let's back up!

We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves. I feel I would be cheating everyone if we went straight into the war without a bit of training.

One of my clients asked me this morning after 80 or so lunges, "How long am I going to have to keep working out?" to which I replied, "Well, if you keep working out...a whole lot longer than if you didn't".

Right then and there I flashed back to the first time I opened my textbook and read the first page. It defined Total Fitness as an optimal quality of life including mind body and spirit (I paraphrased). These 3 things can be seen as a synergy of sorts as a change in one of these aspects affects the other two. For instance, how you feel emotionally can often affect your physical performance and even physical health. Conversely, physical illness can adversely affect the other aspects in much the same way. This is what we are going to build on.

Mind: Attitude is everything. It is a direct reflection and expression through words and body language of how we feel about our present environment. Behaviors and attitudes are very closely linked, as in "I feel bummed so I will eat cereal all day" (yes, that is from personal experience). Think of this kind of like cause and effect. Boredom also plays a HUGE role in attitudes and behaviors but...later.

Body: The physical part of you. The outside, as it were. This is what we are working to keep going. We start from the inside out. Think of your heart (cardiac muscle, not the metaphoric) as the first part of the physical you. For intents and purposes, without your heart you achieve room temperature. We should focus first on your heart and steadily work our way out.

Spirit: This is the abstract part of you. The "I think therefore I am" part. I, personally, try to be a spiritual person but this goes beyond religion. Our sentience cries out for a reason to be so we should work to believe in something but we should also work to believe in OURSELVES. Seriously, sit back and imagine a soul. Give more to your consciousness than a series of rapidly firing synapses and mathematical formulae for continuing to breathe in and out. Imagine that what really holds your molecules together is the belief that you are part of something far greater and unimaginably more worthwhile than going to work and buying a large television. ::sigh::

So, based on these things, this is square one. This is where we begin.

Terrifying Facts

1. 40% of the entire U.S. population leads a sedentary lifestyle. This means that 120,000,000 people do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING all day long.
2. Billions of dollars are spent treating a vast array of illnesses and afflictions stemming from inactivity that could have been completely prevented in the first place by simply walking for 30 minutes a day. These range from Type I and II Diabetes to Stroke to Coronary Heart Disease.
3. Coronary Heart Disease is THE NUMBER 1 KILLER of human beings in America well above drunk driving and cancer.
4. Stroke is the number 3 killer, one of the leading causes of disability and is preventable.
5. One in four adults has hypertension (high blood pressure) that could eventually lead to stroke, heart attack/failure and kidney failure.
6. In 2001, 3.8 million children ages 6-11 and 5 million adolescents ages 12-19 were overweight or obese.

Now, for the good news

1. Fitness and physical activity are on the rise in schools and communities all over the place and are listed as priorities by the government.
2. The CDC is issuing guidelines for healthy physical activity and diet for adolescents in schools.
3. Diets rich in soluble fiber (oatmeal, beans, citrus fruit, apples, et al) have been shown to do a lot cheaper what that Lipitor nonsense does expensively.
4. I am here to make this process easier and far more pleasant.

More later...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Low-glycemic vs. High-glycemic...I'm glad you asked

Stephanie brings up my next valid point.

What is the connection of low-glycemic carbs and high glycemic carbs to a healthy and productive diet?

The Glycemic Index is a measure of a carbohydrates rate of breakdown and affect on blood-sugar levels and insulin response.

When you consume a carb it immediately goes into absorption. When this happens, depending on the speed of absorption, your body responds by creating insulin in an effort to facilitate storage of glucose in muscles and liver.

Now, high-glycemic foods absorb rapidly and this leads to a few variables.
1. Rapid absorption creates a surge of blood-sugar (glucose) thereby creating an insulin surge response. When this happens, insulin brings fat burn to an outright halt thereby causing preferential absorption. Think of drinking a soda. You end up burning nothing but sugar.
2. Rapid absorption also leads to being hungry sooner. This is the reason you feel full longer when you eat lots of meat. Protein takes longer to absorb than anything else so you don't have those hunger pangs.
3. Rapid glucose surges will possibly lead to insulin resistance whereby the body's normal insulin response is not enough to carry out normal metabolic functions thereby leading eventually to elevated blood glucose levels which could lead to Type 2 Diabetes. That is no good.

Next post, Low-Glycemic...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Low-fat vs. Low carb...::sigh::

Yes, those low carb/no carb diets are very popular these days.

4. What are the principle drawbacks to low-carb and Atkins?

Where to begin? This is a heavily and hotly debated topic that even most trainers get into knock-down drag-out fights about. Seriously.

As I mentioned earlier, a regular garden variety "low-fat" diet consists of 15% protein, <25% fat--no more than 10% of which are saturated fats (there's a whole other post in and of itself), 60% carbohydrate. Here is some background.

Protein: We use this to build muscle. It is digested and broken into its amino acid parts that we use in metabolic function.

Carbohydrates: We use these as a form of quick burning energy. We consume it, digest it, store it in our muscles as glycogen at a rate of 1 gram of glycogen per 4 grams of water. There are principally 2 types of carbs: simple and complex (bad and good, respectively(these break down even farther into low glycemic/high glycemic as well but...later)). At a higher heart rate, resistance training for instance, this is what we burn.

Fat: This is your readily available energy. Life functions utilize fat. Consider your resting metabolism.

The keys to winning this particular battle are: Portion control, regulation of caloric intake and moderation. The problem is that these keys are quite difficult to turn. They require a lot of self-discipline and personal accountability.

Let's look deeper...

The Over-sized Human Brain
Kurt Vonnegut said our brains are too large for our own good. I vehemently agree. Our brain gives us all the information we require to maintain absolute comfort. It tells us that if we turn over we will feel more relaxed. If we swim up for air we will continue to live. If we finish every last bit of food on our plate we will be completely stuffed, satisfied and our parental neuroses of cleaning our plates will be further enabled and those darn children in whatever country won't starve in vain. Sure, we will be gasping for breath, loosening our belts and buying larger pants before we know it but, gosh darnet ta heck, we will feel better. Or so our brains lead us to believe. Certainly, in all fairness, it is not our brains as such but behaviors we have developed and stored in our brains that we measure with something called perception. Our perception of satisfaction and contentment is an enormous chunk of the problem. It never occurs to us to eat half of the meal now, take home the rest, reheat and eat it a few hours later thereby re-stoking that old metabolism again. You will have cleaned your plate then. No feeling bad about starvation. An extended feeling of contentment and the establishment of a healthier behavioral pattern. Now you can start thinking about what was on that plate that you should NOT have eaten and apply the rules of calorie counting. Thanks a lot big brain.

Now, this brings us around to the concept of the low-fat diet. How does this work? Well, if you regulate your intake and stay moderate and apply the numbers, this works like a charm and is an exceptionally healthy way to lose weight. It goes like this: Your intake should consist of very low-fat meals. Simple. You will burn the fat you have as opposed to storing new fat. The low-fat intake will provide you with sufficient fuel for life functions but not be converted as readily to adipose tissue (visible fat). Likewise, this diet is linked to good heart health. Normal people don't typically die of complex-carbohydrate related illness as high fiber intake slows digestion of starch and promotes insulin tolerance thereby thwarting diabetes in its tracks. High-fiber diets also bring down cholesterol. It's all about regulation and moderation.

KNOW what you are putting in your body. UNDERSTAND metabolic function and the risks of drastic changes. CHANGE your perceptions of contentment. DON'T use food for comfort and as reward. This is a HUGE step toward improving your quality of life.

Low Carb/No Carb
This is where it gets hairy. Here's the thing. There is little long-term scientific data available to shed enough light on the long-term effects of these diets. Here is how it works...

Carbs, in and of themselves, are starches. They are broken down by the liver after digestion into something called glucose or "blood sugar". We require this stuff for long-term energy and brain function and various other good and plenty. Here's the problem. It is primarily, at a rudiment level, a sugar which is preferentially absorptive at a metabolic level. Long story short (too late), we end up burning it instead of burning fat like normal.
IMPORTANT Carbohydrates do NOT turn into fat. Ever. This is nonsense. This was an easy explanation to a difficult question but is otherwise false. Sorry, that bugs me.
Moving on...
So, the plan at this point is to eliminate carbs altogether and up the intake of protein and fat. This makes amazing sense as proteins and fats are slower to digest and will leave you feeling full for longer periods. Because your body will NEVER use more than 15 to 17 percent of protein in a 24 hour period you will simply discard the unused portions and without those carbs getting in the way you will burn nothing but fat. That makes perfect sense. I have seen people lose 15 or 20 pounds in a month. It totally works. HOWEVER...
The problem is that you're not really losing all fat. First of all, imagine a 15 or 20 pound block of butter. Now imagine passing it in a month (remember, you lose NO fat in your sweat outside of regular skin oil...fat leaves us in other ways). Second, scroll up and go back to the part where I explained how we store carbs (glycogen) in our muscles: "at a rate of 1 gram of glycogen per 4 grams of water". So, if we get rid of all that glycogen what else are we getting rid of? Anyone? Water. 14.5 or 19.5 pounds of it. Oh, we'll burn fat...but at what cost? Funny you should ask.

Remember what I said about drastic metabolic changes?

A sharp drop in blood sugar that brings about dizziness, nausea, confusion, anger, anxiety, sweating, tremor, palpitations, and weakness. For real. I used to suffer from it. Throw in a panic attack and you will be sharply rethinking things. Remember, when we perform resistance training we burn glycogen. If it's not there we will experience a low blood-sugar episode.

High cholesterol
Here's a REALLY bad one. Your body produces cholesterol on its own for a couple of digestive functions and then reels it all in when it is done. However, these low-carb diets up the intake of proteins and fats so you will be eating oodles of meat and eggs and meat and...eggs and cheese and...meat...see where I am going? Your cholesterol is going to go through the roof and without the fiber you get from a diet rich in complex carbs you will not be able to fix this naturally.

Just to name a couple. Honestly, I find it is simply easier to avoid these things and stick to low-fat. Just apply what you have learned and you can do it. Attitude will take you around the world and back. Stick to it. Stay positive. Work with a trainer.

More later.