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My Admission… aka, Fitness Commandment Number 4

Okay, so this probably should’ve been Commandment number one.  It kind of goes hand in hand with the existing first commandment, anyhow.  In case you don’t remember, that commandment was – don’t chase shiny objects.

I’ll get back to that in a minute, but first, let me get to this admission you are probably expecting (which I suppose is a realistic expectation when it’s how your start the title of your post).

I suppose you could call this an admission of guilt, but because no one likes to feel guilty, I’m going to choose to not look at it that way.  Tre convenient, no?  (Sorry, I don’t know the French word for “convenient”)

Being a fitness professional, you have to be prepared to give nutritional advice.  I know I’ve given my fair share over my young career.  But what you may not know is that I hardly ever follow my own advice.

You see, I feel that the perfect diet is one that doesn’t contain things that are unnatural.  Naturally (see what I did there?  No… okay, moving on) that means I recommend cutting back or cutting out things that contain sugar, flour, dairy and other things that we have to manufacture to be able to eat.

Truth be told, I like pizza.  And corn dogs.  And cookies (with milk, of course).  I know – sacrilege, right?

Perhaps.  But what I’ve realized as I’ve matured some over the years is that what is right for one person isn’t right for everyone.  Would I be healthier if I followed my own advice and stopped eating nachos?  Yeah, but I know that I don’t do well with that kind of deprivation.  Some people can do it just fine.  There are countless people who are able to follow Paleo principles, and I know they’re healthier for it.  I just know that I’d crash and burn trying to eat that way, and trying to pretend that’s not the case is actually dumber than just having the nachos every now and then.

Right now I’m experimenting with a way of eating called Intermittent Fasting.  It’s something that I’ve liked since I began trying it, and thought it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, it works for me.  I’ll tell you more about it in another post, because this post is only about giving one super important piece of advice… we’ll call it “Fitness Commandment Number 4, That Should’ve Been Number 1,”  or for simplicity’s sake, FCN4TSBN1 (easier to remember, right?).

FCN4TSBN1 is this…

Find what works for you.

It’s a really simple piece of advice, but it is probably one of the most overlooked things you should be thinking about when it comes to your fitness.

Not a calorie counter?  Don’t do that type of program.

Hate lifting weights?  Find something else.

There are plenty of people who have success while counting calories, or lifting weights, or eating Paleo or training for marathons.  But there’s more than one way to skin a cat (Is that even actually true?  How many ways are there?  And, more importantly, why would anyone know that?).

There’s a million different ways to eat and exercise, and you’re going to have to do some guess and check to find what’s right for you.  So yeah, try this program and then try a different one.  Buy a DVD and a cookbook, then move on if they don’t feel right.  And once you’re able to find something that works for you, stick with it.  Even if it means doing Zumba or working out to Jillian Michael’s DVDs or doing the HCG diet… if it a) works (and believe it or not, if you actually do them, most things do work), and b) works for you (meaning you can do it for longer than a month or two), then that’s your thing.

So, what works for you?  What doesn’t work for you?  Leave a comment and let me know.

‘Til next time!

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Let the great Crossfit debate begin (aka, Fitness Commandment #3)

Okay, let me start by saying that this post is really supposed to be my third Fitness Commandment, which is as follows:

Safety first… always.

That’s the rule, plain and simple.

However, as I’ve thought about this post, I can’t help but think about Crossfit, as it really has become all the rage these days.  The images of people grimacing and suffering through the incredibly challenging workouts are becoming commonplace.  And people are beginning to think that’s how workouts should look.  It’s hard to find people as devoted to their workouts as Crossfitters.  They proselytize the Crossfit name and defend their workouts with a fierce passion.

Today more than ever, we’re seeing the fitness industry push to the “extreme.”  Crossfit isn’t the only problem, just the most outspoken proponent of extreme fitness.  Fitness DVDs like Insanity permeate the TV airwaves even though nobody in their right mind should use that training program (professional athletes don’t do that many plyometrics, so even rather fit people really have no reason to embark on such a silly adventure).

The problem with Crossfit is the general ambivalence of the organization towards safety.  The Crossfit brand itself has a HUGE problem with quality control, and that means your local Crossfit gym might be an excellent place for you to workout, or it may completely break you.  As far as Crossfit is concerned, their affiliates need only be concerned with the “elite” and “tough” nature of their brand.  Whether the affiliate cares about safety is its own problem.

There’s no one way that Crossfit gyms are required to teach people how to do all their complex exercises or acclimate people into their extreme program.  Many of those exercises, the Olympic lifts for example, are absolute favorites of mine.  That said, someone who has never done a clean or a snatch before has absolutely no business doing that exercise as a part of a workout routine that is going to be done to absolute exhaustion.  Actually, those lifts don’t have any place PERIOD in a workout that is going to be done to exhaustion.  They are power exercises and shouldn’t really be done when completely fatigued – there are plenty of other, more appropriate exercises that can challenge you as a part of that kind of workout that are not so dangerous.

Every workout involves some risk.  My problem is when a program pushes people into a great deal of risk because it’s flashy of them to do so (and Lord knows, the Crossfit Games are now televised, and you need to add some flash to watching people workout).  Some “Crossfit” gyms, meaning Crossfit affiliates, don’t do that, and that’s great.  But you see too many videos like the one below out there (look at the form of the power snatch at 2:39 and compare it to the correct form on the video below it – not even close, and this lady is just begging for a herniated disc or torn shoulder rotator).

Some trainer at that gym should have stepped in and said, “No, I’m not going to let you put yourself at that kind of risk.”  But no one did.  And if they’re not there to look out for the safety of the people exercising under their watch, what the hell business do they have teaching exercise?

I’ll end with this thought.  I’m all about the functional movements that Crossfit teaches.  I love the idea of getting people off of treadmills and out of machines.  But with those movements, someone MUST consider appropriate intensity and teaching progressions, and that’s an area where the Crossfit community as a whole has failed miserably.

How about you?  Ever tried Crossfit?  What are your thoughts?

‘Til next time!

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Your (long awaited) Second Fitness Commandment

I must confess that I don’t have a 100% foolproof way of making this list of Fitness Commandments, because I feel like there should be some sort of hierarchy with them… like the first one should be the most important, then each successive post less (yet obviously, still) important.  Having given it (too much) thought, I’ve decided to scrap any notion of continuity and just tell you to do things as I come up with them.  Sound good?

Anyhow, the last Commandment was, Do Not Chase Shiny Objects.  Basically, don’t look to reinvent the wheel every time you’ve been doing something for more than a month or two.

Today, I bring you Commandment number two:

No machines.

Simple, right?

Stay away from machines.  I could go on for a really long time about why you shouldn’t use machines (Quick definition of “machine”: if it has a picture saying something like “leg extension” and has a highlighted picture of a faceless human from the ’80s showing you which muscles will be used during the exercise, it’s a machine), but instead, I’ll focus on a few quick reasons why you should adhere to this commandment.

First, we’re not all the same size, yet we all have to use the same machine.  I’m 6’5″, and I have to use the same machine that a 5’3″ woman would use.  I don’t care how many seat adjustments a machine has, there is going to be some point of rotation or some lever arm that won’t fit your body correctly.  Yes, I realize I just used the term “lever arm,” so let’s just put it this way – machines put undue stress on your joints and can lead to injury.

Second, your body knows how to move without some machine telling it how to move.  And believe it or not, your body has all kinds of muscles responsible for stabilizing our movements, muscles that get largely left out of machine workouts.  For simplicity’s sake: if your big muscles get stronger while your little muscles stay the same, you’re way more likely to get hurt.

Finally, you know how I mentioned seat adjustments in the first reason?  Why are you sitting around when you’re supposed to be working out in the first place?

Above all, this last reason is what I’d really like to focus on for this Commandment.

There are some things that people do that make no sense to me, and they fail to see the underlying correlations involved.  Example: as we’ve done more and more to encourage low-fat diets we’ve gotten fatter and fatter.  While it’s possible from a strictly scientific standpoint that this is purely coincidental, to believe otherwise is, to put it nicely, to act like a damn fool.  More on this in a future post, though.

For today, let’s focus on the fact that, as we’ve become more and more sedentary as a culture, we’ve decided to turn to, get this – machines.  You know… the things we invented to decrease the amount of work we have to do?  Yeah, those.

Machines are fundamentally, diametrically opposed to physical exertion, which, unless I’m really missing something, is the whole point of working out in the first place.

Furthermore, anything you can do with a machine, you can do more effectively without one.  For example, a good squat is far more effective at working the various muscles of the legs/hips than a leg extension, leg curl, etc.  Not to mention, it’s a real time-saver not having to break the body down into every muscle you have (little known fact: you have a lot of muscles in your body).

Now that you have Commandment number two, all you have to do is sit back and wait for me to create more Commandments (I’m assuming your schedule is very open).  In the meantime, if you have any questions about what to do instead of using a machine, make sure to put them in the comments section.

‘Til next time!

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Motivation, Part Deux

Last October, I wrote another post about motivation.

The other day, I read a great article written by a colleague of mine about the same subject.  It gave me enough fodder to spur me into writing this follow-up.

The important distinction this individual made was in articulating what we mean when we say motivation, because we really use it a couple ways.

The first way we use it is the way we should – as our reason for doing something.  Motivation a simple explanation for why you want something.  “I want food because I’m hungry.”  Hunger is your motivation.  And whether what you want is a slimmer body, a new job or a happy marriage, motivation is simply the reason you want those things.

The second way we use it is where we run into trouble.  A lot of people view motivation as an emotion, or a feeling.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that they don’t “feel” motivated.  What they really mean is that they’re not elated to be doing something, not that they don’t have a reason.  Odds are they know exactly what their motivation is, but they’re short on excitement, will power, etc.

I’ll have to credit the guy who wrote the article that inspired this post, Mike Starks (CEO of a nutrition company called Meal Movement), especially because he provided a great fitness analogy, and I love me some good analogies.  Here it is:

“I believe that good health practices should be part of every day life…like brushing your teeth(…) If exercise and eating requires excitement or strong will power it will not be sustained.”

Mr. Starks couldn’t be more right.

No one, and I mean no one, sustains feelings for the long haul.  If you’re like me, your feelings about any given thing probably change a few dozen times before lunch every day.  Not like me?  Well, congrats on that, but I think you get my drift.

Feelings are fleeting.  Habits can last forever.

That’s why I love the brushing your teeth analogy.  How many times have you brushed your teeth when you’d have rather just crashed into bed for the evening?  Yet, on all but the most extreme occasions, you do it anyway.  Why?  Well, I hope it’s not for your enjoyment, as that would indicate that you lead a very dull life.  You’re probably motivated by the same reasons I am – you don’t like the idea of spending hours upon hours in a dentist’s chair, or the idea of being ostracized for having awful breath and yellow teeth…  maybe you just don’t have dental insurance; I don’t know.  All I know is, however you feel about brushing your teeth on a given day, you do it anyway.

Exercise should be the same way.  It should be a habit that you just do, even though you won’t always be super gung-ho about it.  Believe me, whatever your specific motivation may be, the larger obstacle you must overcome is developing a habit that will last.  Yes, habits can occasionally be boring and tedious.  The sooner you make your peace with that, the sooner you’ll stop buying fitness DVDs from idiots like Shaun T.  And yes, doing a workout isn’t as easy as brushing your teeth, but people still do it.  Usually it’s the ones who understand the power of a good habit.

The ones who don’t?  Usually they’re the ones who are waiting tofeel motivated.

Long story short – stop feeling, start doing.  Find something that you can turn into a habit and stick to it for more than a few months.

‘Til next time!

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The 10(ish) Fitness Commandments

Today I’m setting out to build the definitive list of the 10 Fitness Commandments… I have no idea how many I’ll actually reach, because I’m starting the list with only one in mind.  As others come to me, I’ll add them to the list.  By the time I’m done, who knows – maybe I’ll hit 10, but the Vegas odds are against it.

Anyhow, without further ado, here is the First Fitness Commandment…

Do not chase shiny objects.

One of my biggest sources of frustration as a fitness professional is the sheer volume of short-term fitness products that are marketed to us.

Regardless of the effectiveness of many of these products (which range from “very effective” to “probably psychologically damaging”), most are never intended to be used for longer than a couple months.

Even if you’re a fan of the P90X/Insanity workout DVDs, the smart money says you haven’t been doing them for years (if the title implies 90 days, it’s unlikely that its creators are preoccupied with what happens afterwards).  Maybe you have a Shake Weight (hopefully received as some sort of gag gift).  It’s probably collecting dust somewhere.  Maybe on that treadmill you’re not using.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about exercise equipment, workout DVDs, fitness magazines – the common thread is that they all have the staying power of milk on a hot day (I haven’t posted in over two months, so you’ll have to excuse the quality of my analogies while I get my sea legs back under me).

The people who are in the best shape are almost exclusively the ones who have been involved in their fitness regimen for over a year.  They’ve made a huge long-term commitment, and fitness is a long-term proposition.  Sure, it’s easier to push yourself for a few months and then chase the next shiny object that comes your way when you get bored with what you’re currently doing, but that’s also the best way to spend the majority of your adult life out of shape.

Pick a program that works for you.  Choose something that somehow challenges total body strength and stamina.  There are tons of programs that meet these criteria.  Traditional strength/cardio programs meet it.  My program meets it (wink, wink!).  Heck, as much crap as I throw towards P90X, that meets it, too (just avoid the Ab Ripper parts).  But whatever it is, the next part is the most important – STICK TO IT!

And not just for the requisite two or three months.  Do it for a year… two… five.  You can and should change it up a little (don’t just do 3 sets of 15 reps of biceps curls for the next five years and expect to get a lot out of it), but the most important part of whatever program you choose will be sticking to the basic framework for as long as you realistically can.

Well, what do you think of the First Fitness Commandment?  Anyone want to start a pool as to when you’ll find out the next one?  Dibs on a month.  Just kidding (hopefully).

‘Til next time!

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Use this band exercise for some big-time core work

Today feels like a two-video kind of day…

First, I shot a video to talk about resistance bands.

They’re probably my single favorite piece of equipment.  Not only do they masquerade nicely as weights for exercises like curls, presses, etc., but they also can be used in ways that, if you tried to use a dumbbell, you’d likely end up with many dumbbell-sized holes in your floor (or a maimed pet or two).  They’re pretty inexpensive, too.  In the first video, I talk about how to select the right bands and where to get them.  Hint: unless you like the hot sting of broken rubber snapping your exposed skin, I’d recommend not going to Big 5 or Sports Authority.  Most of the bands they sell are only marginally stronger than the rubber bands you’d find at Office Depot.

Which leads me to my second video, which shows you a cool use for bands that really kicks in the deep abdominals.  Unless you’re nimble enough to somehow get a dumbbell on your back and hold it there while you’re in a push up position, I’d recommend using a band.  Try to do this exercise for 5 sets, 15 seconds at a time, with another 15 seconds of rest between each set.  It’s more about getting the core active than about getting super-fatigued.

More exercise videos to come.  Keep the questions coming about exercise equipment and the best workouts for certain areas of the body.

‘Til next time!

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How about a little extra arm work today?

One of my primary focuses this year has been to get back to what I really enjoy about being a fitness professional – exercise.

Granted, in my first (and last, since it’s February and I’ve only posted once this year… hooray me!) post of 2012 I discussed goal setting, but in my defense, I wrote that article a long time ago and forgot to publish it, and I just wanted to get some credit for services rendered.

Now that February is in full swing, it’s time for me to get into the swing of things with this new laser-like (I’m assuming here that your lasers are all in desperate need of new batteries) focus on exercise.  And while I enjoy long rants about public dietary policy, blogging is about nothing if it’s not about being self-serving, so I’m going to try to set those discussions aside and talk more about things that are more directly related to my interests.  You’re welcome!

Today, I’d like to share a quick little arm workout you can do with a resistance band.  It takes about five minutes, and it’s a great way to get in a ton of great arm work in a small amount of time.

I’m keeping the post itself short because I want to solicit some input from you.  What exercise-related conundrums would you like me to discuss?  What exercise do you always struggle with?  Do you want to know more about strength versus cardio exercise?  Do you have a particular area of your body you’d like to work more or a piece of exercise equipment you’d like to use more?  Bear in mind that, if you say you’d like to see any workouts using the ab GLIDER™, I reserve the right to mock you publicly.

Here’s that arm workout:

‘Til next time!

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