Want to Lose Weight? Don’t Get Caught Up in the Numbers

Don't get caught up in the numbers AH AH AH

Don't get caught up in the numbers AH AH AH

So you’re going to lose weight. You’ve managed to follow your exercise routine for the whole week, you ate right, and then you stepped on the scale and it didn’t change.  WTF mate?!  Your natural reaction is to get bummed out and probably go sulk in the corner.  Now, let’s say you push through to the next week and realize you’ve suddenly lost 7 pounds!  You get all giddy and decide to celebrate by eating an entire birthday cake.  That…was…an overreaction.

This happens all too often to people at the gym, and I’ve definitely been guilty of agonizing over pounds gained/lost on a daily basis.  It’s not healthy, it’s not productive, and it’s only going to cause you unnecessary stress.   You gotta think long term people!  Don’t ride the roller coaster. If you’ve set a goal weight for 8 weeks from now, monitor your progress daily, but don’t beat yourself up over the numbers until the end.  Our bodies are complex pieces of machinery – there are so many moving parts, so many things coming in and going out all the time, and so many processes taking place that your weight can fluctuate like crazy in the short term.

What you CAN do is evaluate how you feel and how strong you are compared to previous gym session.  Sure the scale might say you’ve only lost 1 pound, but are you breathing easier?  Can you lift more?  Can you run a mile faster than you did last week?  Then who cares what the scale says, you are on the right path.  If you’re gaining weight and not getting stronger, then maybe there are things that you need to analyze, like your diet or workout routine.

Your weight can vary big time if you weigh yourself in the morning vs. at night, before a workout vs. after, on Fridays vs. on Mondays, etc.  Hell, your weight could be way off simply because you ate a big lunch and chugged a gallon of water and haven’t been to the bathroom yet.  It happens, so take individual results with a grain of salt.  If you overreact and try to overdo your diet, you might end up doing more harm than good. If you want to track your weight properly, here’s what you can do:

  • Weigh yourself every day at the SAME TIME. First thing in the morning is usually a good idea, because it’s before you’ve had a chance to eat food all day.
  • Weigh yourself many times and take an average.
  • Use a GOOD scale. The 10 dollar one from Walmart probably isn’t gonna cut it.
  • Use the same scale every time.  Your bathroom scale might be way off compared to the one in the gym locker room.
  • Keep track of trends. Maybe average your weight on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and compare it to the average the week before for those same days (assuming you weigh in at the same time for every day).

Don’t get bent out of shape if your scale today doesn’t agree with you. Conversely, don’t get too excited if you’re suddenly down four pounds today, because it could just as easily change in the other direction tomorrow.  Keep an even head, and recognize that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  If you get too invested in the numbers day-to-day, you could be screwing with your long-term results.

Stick with your plan regardless of what that scale said today.  Two months from now, if you keep doing what you’re doing then you’ll eventually realize your weight is just a number and is far less important than how you feel and look.  Muscle weighs more than fat anyways, which means you’ve probably lost more fat than the scale suggests.

As Frank the Tank says, “We can’t have anyone freak out out there ok? We’ve gotta keep our composure! We’ve come too far!  There’s too much to loose!! We gotta just KEEP OUR COMPOSURE!!!”  ::throws chair::


Intensity – How to Make the Most of your Time in the Gym

Don't even think about half-assing it sucka

Don't even think about half-assing it sucka

I just got back from the gym soaking wet, wobbly, exhausted, beat up, and exhilarated.  That was a damn good 45 minutes.  I’ve come to realize a few things after spending years working out and watching 95% of the population “working out.”

You need to practice how you want to play. You know why somebody has a heart attack?  Because their heart isn’t strong enough to handle the rigorous activity that that it’s being put through, whether it be stress or activity related.  Your heart is a muscle you should be training every day.  If you never move your heart out of its comfort zone (never increasing your heart rate considerably, training it to come back down quickly), then the first time it deals with an increased rate could be in those high-stress situations and bring on that heart attack.  Suck. However, if you are working on a daily basis to exercise your heart, then you’ll be in a much better position to handle situations of high stress – your heart will say “hey, I’ve been here before. Ain’t no thang. (this is assuming that your heart speaks Ebonics).”  I’m not saying you need to go from a couch potato to training like an Olympic sprinter, but you need to challenge yourself every single day to step a little bit more outside of your comfort zone.  Push a little farther, a little faster, a little stronger each time (Cue Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”).

If you are looking to build muscle size and strength, walking into a gym and doing a few lazy sets on a bench press and leg press will not get you results.  Your gains in size and strength will come with the last few reps of an exercise, when your muscles are shaking and you’re struggling to lift the weight for the last time.  You’ll get the best results when you’re sweating like crazy and your muscles are on the verge of failure.  It’s that last rep that you didn’t think you could do, that you’re struggling with, that will produce the results….which is just one more reason why you should be working somebody yelling encouragement and spotting you.

If you’re not sweating, you’re probably not working hard enough.

If you’re going to devote between 45 minutes and an hour in the gym, why not make that time as productive as possible?  The amount of time won’t change; either way it’s 45 minutes away from your house, your family, your kids, whatever.  Why not pack as much stuff into those 45 minutes as possible?  The way I see it, you’d be an idiot not to bust your ass in there. Gerard Butler (who plays King Leonidas in 300) told Men’s Health: “You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you’ve pumped — the history of that is all in your eyes.  That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, shit, I should have trained more. Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion.

That’s how I want to feel every single time I get out of that gym, because I know there’s nothing more I could have done.  Wasted opportunity, wasted talent, and wasted time are three things I can’t stand.  Give it your all every single day, and you will be a better person because of it.  You’ll get better results, have more confidence, feel more productive, have more energy, and probably live much longer too.  All good things!


The Correct Number of Reps Per Set in the Gym

I have a lot of people ask me, “How many reps should I do per set?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question without a little more information.  What you need to determine first is what your goals are.  Some people’s goals are to lose weight, which would require a certain rep range, and others’ goals are to build muscle mass, which requires a different range as well.

What you need to figure out is what you really want to accomplish.  Think about sprinters versus marathon runners.  A sprinter is built for power and speed in short bursts, so their training sessions exist in small increments (10 second races).  A marathon runner is built for endurance, which means their training sessions are much longer (hours at a time).  Working out is no different.  Decide below what you want to get out of a workout, and then read how to get there:

  • Muscular endurance – Your sets should be greater than 12 repetitions.  Aim for a range from 12 to 20 reps.  Obviously you won’t be able to lift heavy amounts of weight for 20 reps, so you’ll be lifting lighter loads.  Also, because you’re going for endurance, you want to decrease the amount of rest between sets.  30 Seconds to a minute, but certainly no more.
  • Muscle Size (Hypertrophy) – This is for you guys looking to build muscle size (hardgainers).  Hypertrophy is essentially the enlarging of cells, which means when it happens to your muscles, they get bigger! Yay.  Now, if this is what you’re looking to accomplish, you want to keep the number of reps per set in the 6 – 12 range.  I find this is best accomplished by doing between 3-5 sets, each time increasing the weight and decreasing the reps. (12 reps at 200 lbs, 10 reps at 220 lbs, 8 reps at 240 lbs, etc.)  Rest time between sets should be short, not as short as for endurance…between 60 and 90 seconds.  I wait 1 minute between sets.
  • Strength and Power – If you’re happy with your size, or you’re training for specific sports and just want to get stronger with more power, this is for you.  Your reps are going to be less than 6 with each set, and an increased amount of time waiting between sets (2-3 minutes).  You’re going to be lifting crazy amounts of weight for sometimes just 1 repetition, so you need to have a spotter and absolutely perfect form or you could severely hurt yourself.   This is how powerlifters train.  Low reps, high weight, long time between sets.

So, now that you have “edumacated” yourself on how your specific goals influence the number of reps per set, you can design your program around this info.  Remember in my article last week talking about plateaus and how your muscles can get “used” to working out and slow down growth?  If that’s something you’re battling, here’s a way to keep them guessing.  Spend a week in a different rep range with different amounts of weight to throw them off.  Generally doing the 12-10-8-6 reps per set routine?  Bump up the weight and do sets of 6-3-1, waiting much longer between sets (and using a spotter).  After a week of mixing it up, go back to your regularly scheduled routine and you’ll be right back on track.

Make sure you know what you want, and then design a plan to get there.


Keep the Ball Rolling!

I recently took a personality test that told me I’m a “green-line quick start,” which means I”m easily excited and great with coming up with ideas…and terrible with following through with them.  I often come up with new ideas that excite me more than the ones I’m currently working on, so I’ll just leave the process just half-done.  You should see me play the piano – I know the first 4 lines to probably 50 songs and only two or three songs all the way through.  As I stated in a previous blog about motivation, the reason that gets you started exercising might not be the same thing that keeps you exercising, and I’m hitting that point in my new routine right now.

Before I started this fitness blog, I started probably three blogs that quickly faded out after a few weeks.  The fact that I’ve written in this blog nearly every weekday for the past three months is a surprise even to myself.  I think one of the main reasons that I’ve stuck with it is because this is something I truly feel passionate about, and I’m so excited to impact people’s lives and make this world a better place.  I realize there are probably millions of blogs about fitness.  I’m not only writing this blog for you guys, but for myself as well.  It’s easier to give up when you’re the only one accountable.  However, when I know that over 1000 unique visitors have read this blog in the past 30 days, I need to make sure I practice what I preach.  Why would you guys listen to me if I’m skipping my routine or diet every time I’m too tired or lazy?   That’s crap, and you deserve better.

This week, I spent three days up in Augusta, GA for a company retreat.  Even though the house was filled with co-workers who don’t share my passion with fitness, I made sure I did everything in my power to stay on the right track.  I even brought a small blender and a Tupperware container full of my meal replacement powder so I could make sure I was getting enough calories, carbs, and protein every day.  I got a few funny looks from the other people in the house when I set up my blender a few times a day, but it didn’t bother me.  I made a promise to myself, to this blog, and to you guys to stay consistent with my fitness routine and my diet, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

It’s Friday morning, and I’m exhausted. If you’ve seen the latest New Balance ad campaign, running is compared to a love/hate relationship; there are always warm comfy sheets begging you to go back to sleep instead of getting up and running.  I’m the same way with lifting weights.  Every morning I know all it takes is one extra “maybe just today” and my head will hit that pillow faster than Rosie O’Donnell hits a Chinese buffet line.

If it was just for me, I’d probably consider skipping today’s workout.  However, as soon as I post this article I’ll be heading to the gym because I don’t want to let down this site or the people that read it.  If you’re exercising and having trouble staying motivated, find a way to make yourself accountable.  Tell your friend Rambo that you’ll pay him five dollars for every workout you skip.  I have some great ideas for Nerd Fitness 2.0 and how we’ll all be able to help keep each other motivated.  This should all happen by the end of the summer, but I’m hoping I can get it going much sooner than that.

I now have all the motivation I need.  See you in the gym.


Why Cheating on Your Diet Could Backfire


Those diet pills are tricks...I mean illusions!

Everybody makes the decision two weeks before Spring Break (GOB’s favorite holiday on Arrested Development) to lose 20 pounds or they get gym memberships on January 1st and expect to drop three pant sizes in a week. Society, commercials, magazines, and every diet product you’ve ever seen tells you how quickly you can lose insane amounts of weight!  Just buy their product and it’ll happen!  Yippee!

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it can’t happen quickly. Why?  Because your body won’t let you.  If you go way back to our days as cavemen, food wasn’t always as abundant as it is today (which would explain two thirds of the country being overweight).  Back then food might show up one day and be gone the next.  Because of this uncertainty, our bodies are conditioned to store and save as many of the nutrients from everything we eat in times of starvation.  Now, our metabolism doesn’t have eyes and we can’t tell it that we’re dieting so when food gets scarce (when you try to drastically cut your calorie intake) it goes into starvation mode [cue evil music].

What is starvation mode, you ask? Your body/metabolism knows that it can get away with a certain amount of weight loss per week (about 1% of your body weight).  If you drop big weight early and really cut caloric intake, your stomach thinks there’s a scarcity of food and you’re in starvation mode.  Because of that, our body will hold onto every meal like it’s the last meal for a while…which sucks for two reasons:

  • You’ll stop losing weight or lose it very slowly…very frustrating.
  • Two, your metabolism will slow down big time.  When you start to eat normally again, it will take a while for your metabolism to go back to normal, so it will hold onto more of that food than before and you’ll actually gain weight. Fail.

Remember this: if you try to kick-start a diet by starving yourself, it will work for maybe a week or two, but then the weight loss will come to a screeching halt and you’ll gain back everything you lost when you go back to eating normally.  Your other option is to chop off one of your legs.  There’s 50 pounds right there.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t expect to lose 50lbs in a month.  Be smart in your decisions, set realistic goals, and take it one day at a time.


Muscle Confusion, p90x, and Plateaus – The Truth

You’ve all seen the infomercial for p90x, the new training program that’s taking the country by storm!  With a bunch of DVDs, food charts, and a special patented “muscle confusion” (ooooooooh) program, they’ll get you insane results in only three months and 3 payments of $39.95 (plus 20 bucks for shipping, jeez)!  The main selling point for this program is the “muscle confusion,” so I want to break it down to normal people terms to explain what you’re actually getting.  I won’t even charge you 140 bucks for the info!

As you lift weights and do exercises, your muscles are broken down, and then rebuilt over the next few days. If you continue to do the same exercises on a consistent basis your muscles will get used to the cycle of breaking down the same way and rebuilding the same way, and they’ll actually adapt to get less affected, which will in turn give you less results for the same amount of work.  If you’re an Econ guy, think of this as diminishing returns.  You’ve probably heard this referred to as a ‘plateau.’  Not good.

In order to fix that, you need to “confuse” your muscles constantly (see what I’m getting at here?) in order to keep them guessing and never give them the opportunity to adapt.  If your muscles are constantly guessing and getting hit from different angles, with different exercises or a  different number of sets or reps, then they can never get comfortable and you won’t hit that dreaded “plateau” of decreased gains.  The head trainer for the people on the set of 300 said that the actors never did the same workout twice.

Keep this in mind next time you think about doing the bench press in the gym for the millionth time in a row.  Mix it up! Try incline bench presses with dumbbells, or do some dumbbell flys, or stick with the bench and switch your grip from narrow to wide or vice-versa.  Usually do three sets?  Try five!  12 reps per set?  Up the weight and drop the number of reps down to 6.  Not only will this ‘confuse’ your muscles, but it will also keep you from getting bored in the gym.  If you’re bored, you’ll dread the gym and probably not give your all.  Challenge yourself to come up with new ways to work your muscles, and you’ll see better results.

New to the gym and need some more exercises? Find one of the trainers in the gym and just ask him what other exercise they’d recommend to mix it up for your ____________(chest, legs, back, etc.).  Be careful if you’re going to ask another guy working out, because they might not know what they’re doing.  Every day I’m in the gym I probably see 10 people who are doing exercises incorrectly.

Lastly, be realistic in what you’ll get out of this program.  If you want to look like the guys on the infomercial, you’re going to need a gym membership and fully dedicate yourself for far longer than 12 weeks.  Set realistic goals and stick with it, and you’ll get there.


Baby Steps – Build on Small Successes to get Healthy

Baby Steps to the door...

Baby Steps to the door...

You’ve seen “What about Bob,” right?  Bob gets freaked out about thinking too many steps ahead and overreacts to just about everything.  His doctor teaches him to think of his life in baby steps to stay focused and successful.  And by successful, I mean “walking out of a room” and “opening a car door.”  Fitness is no different, especially if you’re just starting out.  Once you make the decision to be healthy, it can often get pretty overwhelming.  You need to be like Bob: take everything one day at a time, one change at a time.

Being healthy isn’t just “going to the gym three times a week.”  It requires a full time commitment and decision to change your life.  Now if you’re thinking “aw crap I need to empty my fridge, go buy spandex and spend five days in the gym, screw this I’m gonna play Halo…” I wouldn’t blame you; that would scare the crap out of me too.  However, it doesn’t need to be so drastic and so sudden.  BABY STEPS!  You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.  It’s like playing through the tutorial level in video games.  Yeah it sucks, it’s probably boring, but if you skip it you might miss some key things that will help you get through the rest of the game.

If you haven’t worked out a day in your life, then maybe signing up for Jazzercise classes five days a week isn’t the right idea.  Try two days a week, and take it easy.  Trust me, it’s much better to walk out of the gym saying “that was successful, I can’t wait to get back here.” instead of “wow that sucked, I’m never doing it again! EVER!”  Take it slow, take it one day at a time, and build on each day of success until you find your rhythm.

  • Want to start running? Go for half a mile the first day instead of signing up for the Boston Marathon.  The last thing you want is to go too far, and then spend the next four days with sore legs as you walk around your office like a penguin.
  • Want to buy a gym membership? Why not hold off for a few weeks and do body weight exercises in your house first?  Push ups, lunges, squats, pull ups on the neighbor’s swing set, etc.  You can get a lot done without paying for it.
  • Gonna join an ultimate frisbee league? Go out to the park a three weeks early, a few nights a week, and start running around and tossing the disc.  You have to get into game shape before you officially step on the field?  Just like you have to learn to crawl before you walk, you have to learn to walk before you can run.

As for your diet, which accounts for probably 80% of your success when it comes to being healthy, go with baby steps too.  Don’t empty your fridge, don’t give up everything you love to eat…take it one change at a time.  It’s really not that bad, plus it will add years to your life.

  • The first change you absolutely need to make is START EATING BREAKFAST.  This one is non-negotiable – read why here.
  • If you eat white bread, next week change it to wheat.  Within two weeks you won’t even notice the difference.
  • If you eat steak and cheese subs five days a week…switch to a grilled chicken sandwich instead a few times a week.  Do the research on what you like to eat that is good for you, and start to make the transition.
  • If you drink five Mountain Dews every day, switch to water and only drink soda on the weekend (if you’re drinking it because you need all that caffeine every day…you’re probably addicted and should ween yourself off it anyways).
  • Get a bag of Doritos every day at the vending machine? Save the money and bring in your own healthy snack.

Human beings are creatures of habit.  You’re far more likely to change one habit at a time and stick with it than trying to change 76 habits simultaneously.  Make a few changes at a time, and concentrate on sticking with them.  After you’ve made one positive change and stuck with it, use the success and momentum from that to stay, “hey look what I did!” and keep the ball rollin’.  Feel free to call your mom and tell her, because she’ll probably be proud.

Remember, 500 less calories per day (either with exercise, change in diet, or a combination of the two) equals a loss of one pound of body fat per week. Little changes can add up quickly, so just stick with it!


Efficient Muscle Building Workout in 45 Minutes – Not for Newbies

Yesterday you read about the four big muscle groups you should exercise.  Today I’m writing about my current routine that follows the same principle.  By doing exercises that target those four muscles, I work practically every muscle in my body.  Now, I’ll work all four muscle groups three times a week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – but I’ll do different exercises for each muscle group to keep things fresh and not over-exhaust myself.  I’ll go very heavy on Mondays, light on Wednesdays, and medium on Fridays.

If you’re looking to build size, you really want to keep the number of reps between 12 and 6, and the number of sets between 3 and 6. Any less than 6 will build power and strength (not as much size) while more than 12 will develop muscular endurance and not size.  I’m also not a fan of doing cardio, so I like to build my cardio into my workouts by having short rests in between sets.  I walk out of the gym in 45 minutes sweating like a pig and exhausted.

After a quick 5-10 minute warm-up on the treadmill – necessary to warm-up your muscles and stretch out – I’ll start with the weights.

Here is a sample chest exercise (incline dumbbell press):

  • 55lb dumbells for 12 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 60lb dumbbells for 10 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 65lb dumbbells for 8 reps
  • wait 1 minute
  • 70lb dumbbells for 6 reps – you should be close to failing at the end of this set.
  • wait 1 miute
  • 55lb dumbells for 12 reps – expect to struggle with this set – that’s the plan!
  • Immediately do a set of another chest exercise for 12 reps (lighter weight) like dumbbell flys – PERFECT FORM!

If you’re used to waiting 3 minutes in between sets, you might get discouraged because you’ll be able to lift left weight than normal.  However, I guarantee by the time you’re doing the last set of 12 reps your muscles will burn and you’ll feel like you want to hurl.  IMPORTANT:  The amount of weight you’re doing isn’t important: make sure you keep proper form for EACH rep, don’t use momentum to lift the weights, and use a spotter at all times!

After this I’d move into a back exercise like wide grip pull ups:

  • 12 pull ups with just body weight
  • wait one minute
  • 10 pull ups with 5lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 8 pull ups with 10lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 6 pull ups with 15lbs in a backpack
  • wait one minute
  • 12 pull ups with just body weight
  • Immediately do one set of 12 of another back exercise, like cable rows.

If you can’t do pull ups yet, do lateral pull downs instead, or assisted pull ups like shown in this Evolution of Pull Ups Video.

After this, I’ll follow the same number of sets and reps for Squats, and then the same number of sets and reps for Straight Leg Dead lifts.  If you’re a newbie, you can stop after the 3rd set.  After a few weeks, add the fourth set.  A few weeks after that, add the 5th set.  Don’t try to do too much too soon if you’re just starting out or you could seriously hurt yourself.  Baby steps!

When I finish with these four exercises (which generally takes about 40 minutes), I’ll do some floor swipes or ball crunches to work my abs.  By the time I finish this workout, I pretty much want to die. It’s over in a matter of 45 minutes, and I feel freaking amazing afterward.  Think of the last crappy television show you watched.  There’s 45 minutes right there.

Another important thing to note is that you should stretch out AFTER you workout. Think about it, you just destroyed all of your muscles, so they’re all tight and contracted.  When you stretch them out, you’ll regain flexibility, and open them up so when you eat protein more of it will be spread out throughout the muscle and you’ll grow bigger quicker.

Now, because I’m absolutely destroying myself with these exercises on Mondays, I want to give my muscles a few days to recover.  On Wednesday, I might do lighter weights for different exercises (example: chest: dips, back: seated cable row, quads: lunges, hamstrings: leg curls).  Every other day I’ll do an exercise for each muscle group, but I’ll mix up the exercise so I’m hitting the muscles from different angles and keeping them guessing, which will promote more growth and less “plateauing” (when your body gets stuck on a certain weight because it’s bored).  If I work out really hard Monday, I might spend Wednesday with really light weights just stretching out each of the muscles.

This is the routine I’ll be following for the next 4 weeks, then I’ll reevaluate and see where I’m at and what I want to mix up.


Keep It Simple, Stupid! Get Results with Only 4 Exercises

As stated in yesterday’s blog, I’ve just set up my new goals and fitness plans for the next 8 weeks.  My personal trainer certification instructor and mentor Mike Rickett passed along some great advice to me for both my new routine and routines I develop for my clients: “keep it simple, stupid!”

My new routine is deceptively simple and requires only about 2.5-3 hours TOTAL per week in the gym.  Instead of concentrating on each and every little tiny muscle and hitting it from 8 different angles, I’m doing full body workouts that use as many muscles as possible at once.  Why spend more time in there if you don’t have to?  Efficiency people, efficiency!

I target four muscle groups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday…the same four muscle groups that you need to work out whether you’re trying to bulk up or cut off the fat.  If you want to gain weight, you want exercises that use as many muscles as possible so when you rebuild you’ll rebuild more muscles and gett bigger!  If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to do exercises that will target the most fat on your body and stimulate as many of the muscles underneath as you can.

Chest – Most exercises that work your entire chest will also your shoulders and your triceps.  This is a good thing.  Exercises done with dumbbells will recruit even more muscles to help stabilize your arms as you raise them up and down.  I start out my routine with a chest exercise; it can be regular bench press, dumbbell flys, incline dumbbell press, decline bench press, cable crossover, etc. Later on in the week I’ll go into more detail on these exercises, but I make sure to work my chest while also working my shoulders and triceps.  Currently rocking some killer man boobs?  Get rid of that fat by doing exercises that work your entire chest to burn the most fat on top of them.

Back – Your back is a big collection of a bunch of muscles.  I love doing back exercises because a lot of other people hate them.  My favorite exercise is probably wide grip pull ups for a number of reasons:

  1. Pull ups make you feel like a bad ass.
  2. Rocky does them in a training montage in Rocky IV, maybe the greatest cinematic masterpiece in the history of the world.
  3. A majority of the activities on Ninja Warrior require INCREDIBLE back and bicep strength, so I figure might as well train in case they call and say they need me.
  4. They’re freaking tough, and work every damn muscle in your back, biceps, and forearms.

Now, when you do pull ups (and any variation on them – wide grip, narrow grip, underhand, overhand, assisted, etc.) you’ll be using practically every muscle in your back along with your biceps.  Two for one!

Quads – Squats. Do them.  I avoided squats for years because I thought they were messing up my back.  Wrong.  The reason the Squats hurt were because I was both doing them wrong and I had very poor lower back strength.  Squats work almost every freaking muscle in your body, which is why you need to be doing them.  I love watching people in the gym doing “squats” and they go down about two inches and then stand back up.  If you’re doing legitimate squats, your thighs should be parallel to the floor at the bottom, which won’t mess up your knees if you keep your butt way back, your back strong, and don’t extend your knees out over the front of your feet.  Some other great quad exercises include lunges (boy I hate lunges) and one legged squats.

Hamstrings – Dead lifts – Another exercise I avoided because of my back when I finally realized that I needed to be doing them to build up my lower strength and really see some gains in size.  If you do this exercise properly, you’ll see great gains in strength and size in your back and legs, because it works both of them.  Also, by the time you’re lifting heavy weights, you’ll be recruiting your shoulders and arms to just hold onto the weight as you raise it and lower it!  Now there are all kinds of variations on this that will work those hammies: Romanian dead lifts, straight leg dead lifts, one legged dead lifts, leg curls, etc.

That’s it.  Simple enough, right?  Instead of spending two hours a day doing eight exercises per muscle group, why not shock the hell out of each of them every time you get in the gym…and get it done in far less time.  You might think it’s crazy to hit each of these muscle groups three times a week.  Check back tomorrow for my current routine to show you how I use these principles to develop a routine that will promote muscle growth and get some cardio in there as well without over-exhausting my muscles.


Interview with Chris McNeil, the Creator of FitMenu!

Chris McNeil

Chris McNeil

In the past few months of writing this blog, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some pretty interesting people both in the field of fitness and technology.  Chris McNeil, founder and creator of Pensarc, is one such individual.  A member of the fitness community for over 25 years, Chris has been constantly at the forefront of developing new techniques to help people stay in shape through creative software.  Chris was nice enough to answer some questions about his background, his love of merging technology and fitness, and his current projects that will soon make things easier for everybody throughout the country to get healthy!

Hey Chris, let’s talk about your work on merging fitness with technology.  You work for Pensarc. is this YOUR company, or a company you work for?  Why the focus on fitness related websites?

I am the founder of Pensarc. I owned a chain of personal training studios for 9 years prior to that. While I owned the studios, I found myself getting more and more focused on developing web-based software to help the clients get fit faster,  to manage the business more effectively, and to market fitness better. Two of the products, “FitPoint” (an online fitness scoring system that tracks results and turns them into a competitive game) and the “Wireless Workout” (handheld computers on a wireless network that replaced clipboards with a web-based workout tracking system) won the Nova 7 award for innovation in new technologies in fitness, which got them national recognition.  That recognition facilitated my move to starting Pensarc to further develop and market the online fitness products.

Where did you come up with the idea for fitmenu.net?

FitMenuI am a strong believer in symbiotic businesses marketing together. FitMenu is a platform for just that.  Health related businesses sponsor restaurants and benefit from the positive exposure gained by the association. It also makes the benefits to the restaurant free to them, so restaurants are very willing to join the program when it’s that easy. Each sponsored restaurant gets 3 healthy menu items analyzed  and listed in the searchable fitmenu.net database.  They also benefit from the promotions and materials supplied by the sponsor to promote healthy eating at their establishments. And, of course, the person who benefits the most is the health-minded diner. People can continue to lose weight,  stay fit, and feel great while enjoying eating out as much as they want to.

What are your goals when it comes to fitmenu.net?  Where is it currently available?

My goal is for FitMenu to be in 100 U.S. cities by the end of the year. FitMenu is currently in 4 cities in South Carolina. The program has been very successful there so it is going nationwide. With the web-based sponsor software that runs the program, we can support restaurants and sponsors anywhere there is internet. So, we are in the process of a nationwide rollout.  I think it will happen quickly because there is a lot of incentive to being the first FitMenu sponsor in your area. They get the pick of the restaurants to sponsor before their competitors get a chance.

Have you always been interested in fitness and getting healthy?  If it’s something you started doing for a certain reason, what was that reason?

I have been in some sort of fitness business for 25 years. I have been an owner of a fitness business for 20 years. I have a mission to empower the average person to have the enjoyment of a body that feels great because it can perform at high levels. When I was 19 years old and running fitness centers, I saw that the typical health club business model did not support the success of the average person. I sought to create new models that were more helpful to normal people wanting to get in great shape, which eventually became incorporated into my chain of fitness studios and now my online fitness applications.

You also mentioned you’re working on a new exciting website as well that’s launching soon, what can you tell us about it?

There are actually two main projects coming to fruition soon. One is a web-based operating system for personal training businesses. This will give a typical personal trainer a great sense of control over his or her business. I am doing this in partnership with Shane Doll of Shane Doll Fitness. Shane also owns Shaping Concepts (www.shapingconcepts.com) Fitness Studios.  The other one is still secret, but if you follow me at www.twitter.com/pensarc you’ll learn about it first! 😉

Any advice to pass on to fellow technology lovers when it comes to staying healthy?

It doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming to achieve a lean, healthy body with a high level of fitness. The secret is to have good systems. One such system is that of exercise performance goal-setting. That means creating timelines of measurable progress in the key exercises you are doing. Another is cycling your training so that you emphasize different areas of fitness at different times. The FitPoint system I created automatically changes the program cycle for each user every three weeks. Three weeks is the “sweet spot” of how long to stay with a particular progam before you would start to plateau on it. Then, instead, you switch to something different.

In nutrition, I believe in managing your lifestyle instead of strict dieting. Start with your normal habits and shape in a healthier direction instead of following a rigid plan that doesn’t take you or your lifestyle into account. That way, you can stick with it and permanently create the lifestyle that supports the healthy body you want.

Chris McNeil is the founder of Pensarc Software Development. Chris has twice won the Nova 7 award for innovation in websites and new technology. His FitMenu program was recognized as an “Innovator 2008” by the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

Why I Work Out

Okay, so I realized that I said blog posts would resume yesterday, and I lied.  If you’ve been following my blogs over on the Sixthman website (my day job), you know that I just got off a cruise ship that really wore me down, and it took an extra day to recover.  I posted a new blog over there today so feel free to read.

Essentially, I spent 5 days on a cruise ship with John Mayer, Guster, O.A.R., twelve other bands, and 2900 music fans.  I slept probably three hours a night and walked off that ship feeling like a zombie.  Every time I tried to write for NF my brain simply said “NOPE!”  After a day on the couch and many hours of television, I’m ready to write.

I’ve put a lot of thought over the past few days into why I enjoy exercising.  I’m absolutely fascinated with the concept of efficiency and operating at the highest level possible.  If you decide to do something, you can either half-ass it or you can go all out.  When I started playing online poker years ago, I read probably a dozen books on poker and learned to remove emotion from my decision making.  If you can remove the “gut feelings” and “revenge” factor by playing like a well-oiled machine, you’ll be far more successful (and efficient) than a guy who flies by the seat of his pants.

I learned to play blackjack and craps the same way.  After a year of screwing around in a casino while on vacations and throwing my money away, I read books on both and learned the proper way to play.  Now I can teach anybody to play proper craps in 20 minutes.  I might even write a blog about it some day!

Nagano, 1 of 2 people to complete Ninja Warrior

Nagano, 1 of 2 people to complete Ninja Warrior

To me, exercising is no different. I am always amazed at guys who can compete at a level above and beyond anybody else (Example: Makoto Nagano – pictured to the left –  a fisherman from Japan who actually completed the Ninja Warrior challenge).  I realize most professional athletes are blessed with a great amount of innate ability, but it’s the gifted athletes who still wake up at 6AM in the gym pushing themselves to get better and better that grab my attention.  The guys that eat right, determine the best possible way to get in shape, and then attack it with consistency and motivation day-in, day out.

Make sure you know who you want to be.  I could care less about the body-builders on steroids or the guys who can look at a dumbbell and get ripped.  Those are rare cases that don’t showcase how truly dedicated everybody else needs to be to operate at that level.

I have so much more respect for the guys with slow metabolisms (or fast) who really have to work to stay in shape.  Being healthy is a challenge and should give you a sense of satisfaction because you know how hard you had to work to get there.  I have even more respect for the guys and girls who stay in shape while working full time jobs and raising a family.  There’s always a million excuses to skip the gym, especially when time is limited.  My heroes are the people who can overcome every excuse.

For those of you struggling to lose weight, I can definitely relate (but from the opposite end of the spectrum).  I am one of the fortunate few blessed with a ridiculously fast metabolism; this means that I can’t put on any kind of weight (whether it be muscle or fat).  As a skinny guy trying to build muscle, I have to find a way to eat insane amounts of healthy calories every single day (while exercising) in order to see any sort of progress, which requires a lot of money and time (buying more food, preparing more food, eating more food, cleaning up afterward).  I wish I could get away with eating 1500 calories a day, but that would get me nowhere.

I try to stick to this routine consistently, not because I want to impress people with how I look, but because I want to be the best damn person I can be.  That means being the best person at my job, best volunteer at the hospital, best personal trainer to my clients, and best athlete for the sport in which I’m competing.  If I’m playing the piano, I want to get better and better.  If it’s a competition, I want to be the best.  Just like the Xbox Live leaderboard, there are ways you can compare yourself to others, and ways to compete against yourself (improvement).  Complacency is dangerous.  Always strive to be better, and you will get better.

For those of you who play RPG’s, it’s like leveling up your character.  There’s always room for improvement, there’s always one more thing you can do.  To quote Gerard Butler, the actor who played King Leonidas in 300, “You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you’ve pumped — the history of that is all in your eyes.  That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, shit, I should have trained more. Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion.

I want to work out because I want to feel like that.  Why do you exercise?


How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 4

The fine print:  Ingredients list.

All the ingredients in food are listed in order of how much is contained by weight.  The first few ingredients make up most of the product.  It is useful to look at the ingredients list in certain situations:

If you are looking for a healthy whole-grain bread or cereal, make sure the first ingredient listed is “whole grain.”  Sometimes the name of a product may be misleading, but the ingredients list won’t lie!

Many packaged products contain a good deal of sugar.  If sugar (or one of its aliases, like high fructose corn syrup) is listed as the first or second ingredient, you may want to reconsider your food choice.  People with food allergies or sensitivities must read ingredients lists diligently to avoid trigger foods.

Let’s recap the basics:  Look at the serving size and calorie count.  Make sure you know how many calories you are putting into you body!

Check out the macronutrients.  Good things to see are:

  • High dietary fiber
  • Low saturated and trans fat (unsaturated fats are the healthy fats, but they are still high in calories)
  • Low sodium
  • Glance over the ingredients list.  The first 4-5 ingredients probably make up most of the product.

It’s your body!  Make sure you know what you are feeding it.


Again, all the credit in the world goes to my friend for taking the time to write out these blogs on nutrition, thanks Hales!  Tomorrow’s blog might not happen because I’m still on a ship sailing up the Mexican Coast to LA (The Mayercraft Carrier, read our blogs about THAT over here).  Things are crazy hectic and I might not get around to it.  Updates surely to resume Wednesday!

How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 3

Sure this type of mineral is way different, but it's much prettier to look at

Sure this type of mineral is way different, but it's much prettier to look at

Happy Friday everybody!

I’m currently out to sea on the Mayercraft Carrier 2.  Check out my blogs for the cruise by reading the Sixthman Blog.  For those of you still plugging away on how to read a nutrition label, here’s the little stuff.  Sure it’s tiny, but it’s still damn important, so pay attention!

Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. These are nutrients that your body needs to function properly.  In general, if you eat a well balanced diet (vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and lean protein sources), you will get enough of each micronutrient.  The %DV is listed for each micronutrient.  Here are a few key players to pay attention to:

Calcium:  Needed to build bone. This is especially important for women, because bone mass decreases after menopause, so build your bones strong while you are young!

Vitamin D:  Needed to aid absorption of calcium. Some of this comes from food, and some is made by your body when you are exposed to sunlight.

Iron:  Needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying substance in blood cells. Women are more at-risk for being iron deficient, while men are more at-risk for being iron overloaded.

You may notice that that some labels list more micronutrients than others.  If a micronutrient is missing from a label, that means there is not any of it in the food product.  (Look at the Nutrition Facts for a can of soda.  See any micronutrients on there?  That’s why soda is referred to as “empty calories.”)

If the variety of your diet is restricted, you may be at risk for certain vitamin deficiencies. Also, there are certain health conditions that increase the requirement of particular nutrients.  For example, pregnant women need extra folic acid, and people who are anemic may need extra iron.  These are all issues that can be discussed with a registered dietitian or doctor.

A quick word on vitamin supplements: Over the counter multivitamin supplements have been recommended by some health professionals, while others say they are not necessary.  If you think the variety of your diet does not provide enough of each vitamin or mineral, a daily multivitamin is not a bad idea.  However, stay away from “megadoses” of vitamins or minerals until you have a discussion with your doctor or registered dietician.


How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 2


Why doesn't this guy have a body?

What is %DV? This is the “percent daily value,” or the % of the total amount per day that one should consume for each nutrient.  For some nutrients (like dietary fiber and potassium), the DV is the minimum amount you should consumer per day.  For most other nutrients (fats, sodium, and cholesterol) the DV is the maximum amount you should consume.

Fat comes in several types:  the good, the bad, and the ugly. The terms “saturated” or “unsaturated” refer to bonding of hydrogen atoms to carbon atoms in a fat molecule.  When every carbon molecule is bound to the maximum number of hydrogen atoms, the fat is “saturated.”  If some carbon molecules are double-bonded to each other (and bonded to fewer hydrogen atoms), the fat is “unsaturated.”

  • The good:  Unsaturated fat. This is the “healthy” type of fat.  There are two types, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (don’t worry too much about the difference, it has to do with the number of carbon double-bonds in the molecule).  Unsaturated fat is typically liquid at room temperature, and you find it in plant-based products (like vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, etc).
  • What about Saturated fat? There’s a lot of conflicting studies out there on Saturated Fat, and it’s been vilified by marketing companies for years.  So what’s the truth?  Personally, I believe that saturated fat is an important nutrient that we need in our system.  I belong to the Mark Sisson school of thought when it comes to Saturated Fat, and thus consume more than the government recommends (and honestly, I don’t really trust their numbers!)
  • The bad:  Trans fat. There has been a good deal of hype about trans fat in recent years.  So what’s the deal?  Trans fat is technically an unsaturated fat, but the fat molecule has a different type of carbon double-bond that gets created when oil is “partially hydrogenated.”  Hydrogenation is a process used in food production to increase shelf life.  Why does all this matter?  The “trans” type double bond causes the fat to behave differently in the body, and NOT in a good way.  Trans fat can contribute to atherosclerosis as well as raising your bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol.  Keep your intake of trans fat as low as possible.

Cholesterol is the next big player on the list. Cholesterol is an important building block in cell membranes.  We get some from food, and some is made in the liver.  Cholesterol is mainly found in animal products, just like saturated fat.  Too much cholesterol also contributes to atherosclerosis, so watch your intake.

Sodium, and often Potassium, are also listed in this part of the Nutrition Facts label. These are electrolytes (refer to “what the eff is an electrolyte?”).  The main thing to watch here is sodium content.  Too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure.  The high sodium content of many prepackaged and canned foods may surprise you!

Carbohydrates include simple carbs (sugars, like glucose, fructose, dextrose) and complex carbs (fiber and polysaccharides).

Dietary fiber is great stuff! There are two types.  Soluble fiber is digestible and gets absorbed by your body.  This type of fiber helps lower your cholesterol and keeps your blood sugar levels stable.  Insoluble fiber is not digestible, so it stays in your GI tract and helps “keep things moving.”  Trust me, this is a good thing.  (Soluble fiber is listed on the nutrition label but insoluble fiber is not—just subtract soluble fiber from dietary fiber to find out the amount of insoluble fiber!)

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. It can be absorbed by your gut very quickly because it doesn’t need to be broken down by enzymes first.  Sugar is not necessarily bad for you, but taking in large amounts of sugar can cause your blood sugar levels to become unstable.

Other carbohydrate generally refers to other complex (large) carbohydrates in food, such as starch. These large molecules are broken down by enzymes into sugar, but the process takes a while.  Complex carbohydrates keep your blood sugar levels more stable than do simple carbohydrates.

Protein is one of the main building blocks for muscle and other body tissues. There is not a DV for protein because the amount of protein that each person needs is quite variable.  Refer to my previous blog on why protein is like playing tetris.


How to Read a Nutrition Label, Part 1

I want to preface this blog by saying the majority of this has been written by my good friend Ali, a med-student who also happens to be a health and fitness nut.  She knows that the nation’s health problems (and issues with obesity) will cause all kinds of problems years from now in our hospitals (and our tax dollars), so she wants to help me in any way possible get these uber-important messages across to the world.

So you’re here, which means you want to get in shape and change your life.  If you haven’t followed through my first five posts on getting started towards getting in shape, go back and read them…and then come back here.

So you’re getting ready to start exercising, and you know that your diet is responsible for 80% of your success.  You know that all that food you buy in the grocery store?  You need to need to know what you’re eating before you shove it down your throat.  Let’s go through what’s actually on that label:

You are what you eat.”
Well, not literally…but there is quite a bit of truth to this statement, so it’s not a bad idea to know what you’re putting into your body every time you eat!  Luckilyy for us, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) requires a nutrition facts label for most packaged food.  If you know how to sift through the information in the label, you can make healthy food choices and have a healthier body!  Pick up any food in a box in your house, and look at it as you read this blog.

Here’s an overview of the Nutrition Facts label that we’ll go over in this 4 part blog:

  1. At the very top of the label, you see “serving size” and “servings per container.”
  2. The first part of the label has information about Calories, macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein), and some important electrolytes (sodium and potassium).
  3. The second part of the label has information about micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
  4. The very bottom of the label, or sometimes to the side, is a list of ingredients.

Part 1.  Where to start?  Serving size.

  • Serving size is pretty self-explanatory; it is the amount of food, by volume or weight, that is considered one “serving.”  Keep in mind that the amount you typically consume in one sitting may be more or less than one “serving.”  (Get out a measuring cup and measure 1 cup of cereal.  Now pour that into your regular bowl.  See?)  Keep this in mind, because your serving size could be way off compared to the listed serving size.
  • Most packages will also list the number of servings per container.  For example, a 32 oz bottle of Gatorade is considered 4 servings… even though you’re probably going to drink the whole thing.
  • The rest of the nutritional information is based on the listed serving size.  Keep that in mind.  So if you eat or drink 2 “servings,” you’ll need to multiply all the other nutritional facts by 2.  If you eat an entire family-size bag of Peanut M&Ms, there’s 27 servings.

Part 2. Calories

Calories are energy from food.  (For the real nerds, a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celcius, or 4.184 joules.  1000 calories equals a kilocalorie, or Calorie with a big C, which is the unit we are talking about with food.  Got it?)  This is the simple part: if you burn more calories than you consume in a day you’ll lose weight.  If you consume more than you burn, you’ll gain weight.  It’s science.

Macro-nutrients include carbohydrates, protein, and fats. These are the building blocks of the body.  The calories in food come from these building blocks.  Now, the calories that make up each macro nutrient weigh different amounts.

Macro-nutrient    Calories per gram
Carbohydrate  4
Protein   4
Fat 9

Remember this, when the box says 10g of carbs, it’s 40 calories.  When you eat 10g of fat, its 90 calories.  To figure out how many calories you should eat every day, you can follow this blog.  Part 2 will either come tomorrow or the next day, depending on if I feel inspired yet to write my blog about outdoor fitness.

No, the poison ivy isn’t any better


Previous Next View Archive