Just Do It

When it comes to fitness and motivation, everyone struggles at times, even your personal trainer. If you think the only struggle with motivation will be when you first start out, you are unfortunately wrong. And that is the position I found myself in recently. Read on to see how I overcame these struggles and have succeeded.

Looking at my current situation, this has been the first time since I started exercising 10 years ago that I really was in a rut. I have had times where my motivation was lacking, but never to the point where I just didn’t want to work out and even skipped going to the gym entirely for one week. What got me to this point was my personal fitness goals getting derailed this year. My plan for the last 3 years was to progress in powerlifting to the point that this year I could qualify for USAPL Raw Nationals (the largest and most recognized/credible national powerlifting competition in the US) and compete there in October. Unfortunately, not just one, but two significant injuries have made me postpone that goal until further notice. With a badly strained rotator cuff in my right shoulder and prepatellar bursitis in my left knee, there was only a handful of things I could even do in the gym. If I wanted to work out, it meant I was doing back/bicep/tricep workouts 3-4 days a week along with my rehabilitation work. Usually in a situation like this I would then change my focus to more physique based training goals versus strength, but therein lies the final issue. I have a hiatal hernia that prevents me from dieting long term, so going through a cutting/weight loss phase was out of the picture as well! All of this piling together meant that when it came to exercise, other than health, I really did not have any goals to work towards. And for me, I have a severe lack of motivation without goals I can aspire for. Of course I want to be healthy, but the fact is I already am, so working out was just to maintain that health, not to work towards it. So to me exercise had now become a nuisance, something I had to do, and that wasn’t fun.

So what did I do?

For the first month my motivation was down in the dumps. As mentioned above, I even skipped a whole week of working out at one point. To get out of this, I can pinpoint 5 main things I did to get me back on track.

  1. Wrote up a detailed 4 week workout program so I actually had something planned out.
  2. Started going to the actual gym more versus lifting at home (I have a great home gym setup) because once I was at the gym there is nothing else distracting me. At home, I found that after about 20-30 minutes, it was way too easy to just cut the workout short and go upstairs and watch TV.
  3. If I did work out at home, I asked my wife to make sure she worked out with me those days to keep me accountable. If I knew she was working out, I knew I would too.
  4. I found some other things outside of my fitness goals to put my time into. I started writing more and also got back into racing remote controlled cars. Both of these things gave me something to occupy my time and brain to keep me sane.
  5. I just did it. Even with those things listed above, I still did not have the same motivation I usually have, but to me it wasn’t an option to quit. I want to compete at USAPL Raw Nationals, and sitting on my butt was not going to get me there. What was going to get me there was working hard at the things I could, and being diligent in my rehab work to get the issues I had fixed.

So what is the outcome?

Well it is still a work in progress, but 3 months post injury I am happy to say at least 2 of the 3 issues I have are significantly better. The shoulder is definitely not 100%, but I can now bench press full strength pain free. And per the advice from my previous coach Hani Jazaryli, I tried taking in some apple cider vinegar each morning for my hiatal hernia symptoms, and so far so good. I am on the lowest calories without discomfort that I have been on since being diagnosed with a hiatal hernia, so hopefully that trend continues. As for the knee, well that’s still been a pain in the butt, but have recently switched gears and am trying a different approach for it’s rehab, so we will see how that goes.

So what have I learned?

If I am looking at what I did to overcome these issues, steps 1 through 4 (from above) were all things I knew I had to do. Make a plan, go to an actual gym versus trying to workout at home, have someone to workout with to keep me accountable, and find some others things that make me happy. Those were all things I recommend on a consistent basis to my clients, tried and true, nothing new.

Number 5 though is where the learning experience came in. And it is not something that anyone else can teach or control, it is all up to you. When it comes down to it, if you want to achieve something, you just have to do it. Up until now, that hasn’t been a phrase I have used enough, but after going through this myself, I now know that it was the most important part of the entire process. Steps 1 through 4 helped, but even if I didn’t find those things, to reach my goals I just had to do it. Whether that is for powerlifting, weight loss, or general health, if you have goals that you want or need to attain, sometimes you just need to dig deep and push through. There is going to be tough times and that is why so many people fail. The ones who have reached their goals are the ones who went to the gym even when it wasn’t convenient and said no to some tasty food even though it may spark some criticism from friends. They decided even during the tough times when motivation was lacking, they were still going to do it. Nike had it right, and I think the lesson I have learned here is not only valuable for my fitness goals, but also professional and relationship goals as well. Just do it

Nutrition Is A Budget

Budgeting is no fun, so seeing that in the title probably wasn’t the most exciting thing you’ve seen today, but stick with me. The truth is, nutrition is very much like a budget, and if we can approach it with this mindset, “healthy” versus “bad” foods makes a lot more sense. We see a lot of contradicting information out there in regards to what is good and bad for you, but the fact is, in the right context and situation, no food is truly “bad”, it is just a matter of how we fit it in our budget.

So let’s talk about literal budgets for a second, as for most people, it will be fairly easy to relate to. If you make 1,000,000 a year, it’s fairly obvious you will be able to afford some luxury items others may not. You can fork out the money for a Ferrari, have a massive house, and be able to take vacations to Europe on the regular, yet still probably have plenty of money left over to invest and save. Sounds great, right!? But for most, that is just not realistic. The latest information I found showed that the average household income is currently around $51,000 a year, so that is where a stricter budget comes into play. It doesn’t mean we can’t have nice things and have fun, but we are going to a bit more frugal and picky on how we allocate our money. We have to figure out what we can afford, as any big money choice in one aspect of our life is going to greatly affect other areas. If we buy a house that is out of our price range, then not much is going to be left over to buy a nice car or take a vacation.

All of this directly applies to nutrition. We all have a budget, and that is our caloric maintenance level. What that means is the amount of calories we can eat, based on our current activity, that we will maintain the same weight. If we dip below that level into a deficit, we will lose weight, and if we go above into a surplus, we will gain weight, and we have to budget our calories accordingly. These numbers are going to be highly dependent on many factors such as age, gender, lean muscle mass, non-exercise activity, resting metabolic rate, and more. If we have a person who has a very fast metabolism, has been weight training for 10+ years 4 days a week, and is a 30 year old male, most likely they are going to have a higher “budget” than a sedentary 60 year old female who has never exercised.

So looking at how this applies to our food choice, if our current goals dictate that we should be consuming 3,500 calories a day, we have a large budget. If we have a couple slices of pizza, ice cream, or in general “bad” foods once in awhile, it’s not a big issue nor unhealthy, because we have plenty of room in our budget to fit that in. So for this person, pizza isn’t “bad”, it just needs to fit into their diet within moderation. Take for example a Digiorno pepperoni pizza, where 3 slices is 900 calories. In a 3,500 calorie diet, that still leaves this person with 2,600 calories left in their budget for the rest of the day, which is equivalent to 5 and ½ meals of 4.5 ounces of chicken, 1 cup of rice, and 1 cup of broccoli. This person is not going to have an issue fitting this pizza in. But what if you are trying to lose weight, and are currently eating 1,500 calories a day? Probably not, because that pizza now consumes 60% of your daily caloric goals, which leaves you with very little to eat for the rest of the day. They could just go for it, but the person with only a 1,500 calorie budget is going to run into two main issues:

  1. Significant hunger levels. If they use 60% of their dietary goals on  3 slices of pizza, the volume of food they get to consume that day is very little. They could have had 45 cups of broccoli for the same amount of calories, which is an unreasonable amount, but just using that example to prove a point. People have adherence issue with diets when hunger levels are high, so when the budget is low, we have to be stricter with our food choices.
  2. Pizza has terrible micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) density. When foods have low levels of micronutrients, they typically fall into the “bad” category, and in the example of the 1,500 calorie diet, that is very true. It is going to be near impossible for that person to get the micronutrients their body needs to function properly from only 600 calories of “healthy” foods. Whereas the person with the 3,500 calorie budget still has 2,600 calories worth to consume those same nutrients.

My hope was to possibly make a slight change to the way you look at food. I will never argue pizza and ice cream is good for you, but in the right context, its also not bad, we just have to evaluate our budget and eat within moderation. Even with the 1,500 diet, small deviations from “healthy” food can be made. 2 servings of Edy’s slow churned ice cream is around 220 calories, so if you are wanting to reward yourself occasionally, you can use moderation to still enjoy some tasty treats. You just have budget it out and look at the pros and cons just like you do with your finances.

Strength Progression Made Easy

One of the single biggest mistakes I see in the gym, and a significant reason why people benefit from having a Personal Trainer, is the lack of progression within their training program. And before going in more depth with why, first let me describe what the word “program” versus “workout” means. A workout could be described as singular, meaning it only entails that single training session at the gym, and this is where many people go wrong. For example, they have a great chest workout and continue to go through that workout over and over, which is better than nothing, but not optimal. A program instead would be described as plural, as it would entail a long term plan for improvement and should be ever changing. A program entails months upon months of workouts that lead to an overall improvement in your fitness, strength, flexibility, endurance, and health, depending on your goals and what you are trying to accomplish. A program is optimal as its foundation is built upon progression. Progression entails anything that is providing an increased stimulus over the previous training session, and that could come from a multitude of factors. Within resistance training, progression has some fairly obvious benefits when it comes to gaining strength, but many fail to realize the key benefits it also has with weight loss.

  1. The more muscle you have, the more calories you can burn. So by using progression, we can create muscle growth that will provide a stable and continuous increase in your metabolic rate.
  2. If you are progressing and consistently increasing the difficulty, you are most likely also increasing the amount of calories you are burning per training session. Lifting heavier weight and the increasing the degree of difficulty creates a much more intense workout that will translate into more calories burned.
  3. When we train with weights, we go through a process called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Without getting too detailed and scientific, the basis around EPOC is the fact that after a weight training workout, you continue to burn calories afterwards due to recovery needs. As we add in progression and the difficulty and intensity increases, the extent of the calories burned through EPOC will increase as well. So while you are sitting at home, you are continuing to burn calories above your normal metabolic rate, and who doesn’t want that!

So we need progression not just for increasing strength and muscle, but also for the numerous health and weight loss benefits it adds, but how do we make sure we are progressing properly? For someone just starting out with resistance training, many times progression comes from the exercise variation, as they are starting from a very basic point, and working their way up to more difficult variations. This type of progression is very individualized, so trying to go through how to progress in this manner is very difficult to write about, and where one on one sessions with a personal trainer can be of great value. As you reach a slightly higher fitness level where exercise variation is not as much a contributing factor, but still what I’d very much consider a beginner, we can now start to add in a simplified approach to progression. This will be slow, as there is a reason there are 2.5lb weight plates in the gym, and that is because we should use them! Your strength may increase at a fairly fast past when you first start, but beware of the temptation to just keeping adding more and more weight. Slow and steady will win the race here, and this can be for many reasons, but the main reason most beginners should stick to a very slow progression pace is due to injury risk. Even though our large, dominant muscles may be getting exponentially stronger, those small stabilizers still may be a bit weaker. We still may have some imbalances as well between sides of the body, causing form dysfunction due to favoring one side. So slow progression with correct form is the way to go. With that being said, let’s finally look at how to progress and overload your muscular and nervous system to produce an increase in strength and muscle size. There are 3 main variables that go into how you are dictating the difficulty of an exercise, and that is the amount of sets, the amounts of repetitions, and the weight that is being used. Below is an example of how this might be written within a program.

Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Bench Press 2 10 100

To create progression within a program, there needs to be a manipulation of at least 1 of these

variables, and eventually all 3 at some point over time. Using the example above, the first goal you should have is to continue to do 2 sets of 10 repetitions, but slowly increase the weight. Next workout, try to complete the same sets and repetitions, but now with 105 pounds. At some point though, you will hit a sticking point where you reach a weight you can no longer complete 10 repetitions with. At that point, you have 2 options:

1.) Drop the weight back slightly, but now go for 11 repetitions, and then the next workout 12 repetitions.

2.) Continue to increase the weight, but now decrease the amount of repetitions your are doing.

I generally like to have most people stay within the 5 to 12 repetition range for compound movements (multi-joint movements) and 8-15 rep range for isolation movements (single joint movements). So with that being said, you can continually manipulate the weight and repetitions within that range. Sets of 12 repetitions will focus more on the endurance and growth of the muscle, sets of 5 will focus more on strength. We need both, growth and strength, to fully reach our potential in fitness, so to say there is one magic amount of repetitions is false, as we need to continually work through different repetition patterns to work the muscle through all of its potential. At a certain point though, even with changing the weight and repetitions, we will plateau, and that is when it is time to manipulate the 3rd variable, and now add another set. The more sets we do of a particular exercise, the greater stimulus it provides for adaptation. There is a diminishing effect from adding more sets though, as each set added provides less of a stimulus than the preceding set, so just immediately adding more and more sets is not the right practice to optimize a program. But, slowly adding more volume to our workout is the final key to progressing overloading the muscle. Once we add a 3rd set to the above example, our progression plan would then revert to what was originally stated, which is to take a particular weight and keep trying to do more repetitions at that weight, and when that plateaus, increase the weight gradually while dropping the amount of repetitions to whatever amount you can perform at the new given weight.

Hopefully this can help you to better understand how to improve within the gym, and not fall into the same rabbit hole as many when it comes to continuing to do the same things over and over in the gym without any progression. If you have any further questions regarding progression or how to properly implement progressive overload into a program, feel free to shoot me back an email and I’d be happy to help.

What Goes Into Caloric Output?

When it come to losing weight, it is pretty simple; eat less than you are burning on a daily basis. Or as many of you have probably heard, it all comes down to calories in vs. calories out. The simplicity of this though is usually masked by the difficulty of the lifestyle change, but for the sake of today, we are going to just look at what goes into the calories you burn on a daily basis, and how we can increase that. Too many people lower their calories until they are at a near starvation level, versus the healthier option of working on their daily caloric output. And for most, I find increasing the daily caloric burn is not only the healthier and more sustainable option, but also the more enjoyable route. We all like food, and there is no getting around that. The human body wants to eat and we also love the dopamine release tasty food gives us. This does not mean we can exercise off a bad diet, but it does mean we can stay full and satisfied with our diet as long as we are using other modalities to burn the calories off. So to get to our main point; what goes into our daily caloric output? When we break it down, it comes to 3 main factors:

 

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate
  2. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT)
  3. Exercise

 

Resting Metabolic Rate

 

Our resting metabolic rate (or RMR), simplified, is the amount of calories you would burn on a daily basis if all you did was sleep and watch TV. It is the amount of calories our body burns on a daily basis just to keep us alive and functioning, and you would be surprised on just how high the caloric output of our RMR is. Take for example a 45 year old female that is 170lbs., 5’5”, and no particular health issues (as thyroid, diabetes, hormones, and other health factors can play into this). If this female was to live as a vegetable, only sleeping and watching TV, they would burn 1414 calories on a daily basis. For most of you reading this, that probably was a slight shocker in that it seems fairly high, but it goes to show just how much we eat as Americans. A whole article could be written on this topic, but almost every study on the subject of the amount of calories people actually eat versus what they report they eat, shows that they drastically underrate the amount of calories they are in-taking (usually with reported deviations of over 1000 calories off). This does not mean everyone is lying, what it more entails is that most people are very unaware of the amount of calories that is in their food, and how to properly track that. But to get back on track, our resting metabolic rate does make up a large portion of our daily caloric output. If we take the example above, for that particular female to lose 1lb. a week without any additional activity, she would need to eat 900 calories per day, which is just not feasible (there is 3,500 calories in 1lb. of fat, which would then need a deficit of 500 calories per day to lose 1lb. a week). This is well below starvation level, and not only will hunger be an issue, but she will also be greatly deprived of sufficient vitamins and minerals that her body needs to function correctly. Our resting metabolic rate is fairly permanent and very few things change it. Medical conditions can lower your resting metabolic rate, but there is no magic pill you can take that can raise it, which is opposite of what many of these gimmick companies want you to believe. The only true and healthy way you can improve your resting metabolic rate is by adding lean tissue to your body, also known as muscle. The more muscle we have, the more our body now has to feed, so in the end it means we burn more calories on a daily basis. And the only way to add muscle is through progressive resistance training.

 

If you would like to get an estimate of what your own RMR is, check out:

http://www.restingmetabolicrate.net/number-of-calories

 

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

 

The next factor on our list that will help to increase our daily caloric output is non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT). NEAT is the calories you burn through any non-exercise daily activity that is in addition to your resting metabolic rate. The single largest contributor, for most, when it comes to NEAT is your occupation. If you are a construction worker, or any occupation in particular where you are on your feet a lot, you will have a significantly higher caloric output from NEAT than a desk worker. Using myself as an example, with my move to Springfield I have had to decrease my daily caloric intake by about 300 calories per day to maintain the same weight. I came from a Personal Training position in St. Louis where I had a full schedule of clients from 9am to 7pm, constantly on my feet and having to rack and re-rack weights. Now in Springfield, I have changed my schedule to 7am to 2pm, and also have fewer clients since I am brand new to the area. I work out the same amount I did before, but now I am sitting for a larger portion of the day, which based on my experimentation with tracking my calories, equates to 300 calories a day less I now burn.

 

NEAT is also extremely important because around 70% of the calories you burn through NEAT are from fat, versus during exercise, that drops to only about 5-10% of calories. Now I am definitely not saying to skip exercise and just add more non-exercise activity, but what I am saying is that the calories you burn through your daily activity are the most efficient calories to burn when it comes to weight loss, as almost all of it is fat. That’s why you probably have friends who don’t even exercise, yet changed their nutrition, stop sitting around so much, and they still lost a bunch of weight. Exercise is a great tool, but we are just skimming the surface of our capabilities if we are just adding exercise to our regimen and ignoring our lack of non-exercise activity. We can’t change our occupation, but we can change our daily habits. Park farther away at the grocery store, use the stairs and not the elevator, play with your kids versus watching TV, buy a standing desk versus sitting all day, walk around while talking on the phone versus sitting, stop online shopping and go to mall instead, and the list could go on. Just find ways to get up and move throughout the day. At first it will take some thought and willpower, but eventually it will just become natural. When it comes to planning for weight loss, this is usually what most people ignore. They add exercise and they change their diets, but their non-exercise activity level stays the same. This is where the real game changer is if you really make some large scale changes to your daily movement, as you can see with my example, it was 300 calories worth of change in the wrong direction that I now need to address.

 

Exercise

 

I hope I haven’t downplayed exercise too much so far, as it is very important. It is just that exercise is the very obvious addition that everyone knows they need to add in when it comes to weight loss, whereas RMR and NEAT are the often ignored factors that go into our daily caloric output. Our non-exercise activity is very low intensity, which means it takes a lot to make a big dent in our caloric output. Burning an extra 300 calories over the portion of a 16 hour day is not very time efficient. Exercise on the other hand can be where we are very time efficient when it comes to burning a lot of calories in a very short period of time. 30 minutes of high intensity exercise can burn those same 300 calories, but now in a fraction of the time.

 

Exercise is also the modality that can be used to permanently improve your resting metabolic rate, and that is through progressive resistance training. Many people shy away from resistance training at first, as it is more complex, and frankly at first it does give you the same immediate results as cardio can. The reason for this is because resistance training many times has to start at a very baseline level, where the workouts do not necessarily burn very many calories. Progression must occur before strength and endurance improves, and then sufficient intensity can be added to your weight training regimen. In the long run, resistance training is the way to go, but you just have to have the right mindset that this is a marathon, not a sprint, or you can easily get trapped in the negativity of not seeing the immediate and drastic results that we all want.

 

So to take a lot of information and condense it into 3 simple points:

 

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate is where the vast majority of our daily caloric output comes from, and the only healthy and true way to increase your RMR is through the addition of lean muscle mass.
  2. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is often the most neglected aspect of how we can increase our daily caloric output. To make it simple, get up and stay active. Don’t sit around and just let your RMR do all the work.
  3. Exercise is the most time efficient way to burn large amounts of calories. It is usually the first thing addressed for that reason, but don’t make the mistake of just stopping there. Make sure to work on improving your RMR and NEAT as well.

 

And then with that, here are 3 take home points of how to apply this to your fitness journey:

 

  1. If you feel you are eating “too little”, learn to track your calories on a weekly basis correctly, count everything, and even weigh everything if need be. It may shock you just how much you are eating, caloric wise.

 

  1. Take 1 day this week and make a log of any and all non-exercise activity you have throughout the day. Also track the amount of time you spend sitting. Go over this in detail and figure out where you can make changes to improve your activity level.

 

  1. Start working out if you are already not. It is the easiest and quickest way to burn calories fast. Commit to a certain amount of days exercising at the gym, and do it, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. A personal trainer I follow on Instagram has a great way of putting this, “Tell yourself you’ll go to the gym for just 5 minutes today, that’s no time at all. If you end up going for just 5 minutes, that’s great, you succeeded on what you set out to do. Most likely you’ll stay longer though.”

Now it is time for you to take this information and apply it to yourself and think about how you can improve. Small and simple improvements lead to long term growth and development, so start small and work your way up. Decide today that you are going to park a bit farther away at work, tomorrow add in that from 10:30am-10:40am you are going to stand at your desk and work rather than sit, and the list can go on. Keep adding those up and over the long haul, you will be a calorie burning machine. Best of luck with your journey, and let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything I can do to help!