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Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

What You Don’t Know About Your Nutrition Can (Will) Kill You!

1352112140poisonWe have become more naïve. Not in the general sense (I am not qualified to make that assessment) but in terms of our health. More specifically, as it pertains to our nutrition. Some of us think we eat healthy, others think we need to do a better job, and of course there are those who really just don’t seem to care. But what does it really mean to eat “healthy”? If you were ask 3 different people, you would likely get 3 different answers. The underlying themes might be the same, but everyone has a preconceived notion as to what they think is healthy based on little more than what they’ve always been taught or most likely and worse, what marketing and misinformation has taught them.

It’s Not As Simple As Black and White

We are a knowledge hungry civilization. More than at any point in history, we have access to more information that seems to expand almost every second and we want more, and we want it faster. In that quest, we don’t appreciate that there are some things that are not as clear cut as black and white. No other subject takes the cake here more than the subject of nutrition. With all of the knowledge and understanding that science has worked to figure out, the subject of nutrition still remains a very gray area. Or is it? The limitation with science is that it is always evolving. The more we know, the more we have yet to uncover. Theories are made but until they can be proven conclusively, they are just that – a theory. Enter again the subject of nutrition. Most preconceived notions of what is considered a “healthy” diet is mostly based on theories. Like mama always said, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you jump too? The irony of that statement is that is exactly what happens everyday when it comes to nutrition. People eat blindly daily and for no other reason because that’s what everyone else is doing or what they think we should be doing. In case you haven’t heard or noticed, there’s an obesity epidemic in this country. Are we just eating too much, not moving enough, or is it we are simply following the wrong recommendations?

Some Haunting Nutritional Tidbits

  • Fat has gotten a bad rap for decades from studies done back in the 1950s. The net result? We’re more unhealthy and overweight than ever before.
  • There is scientific evidence that shows that low-fat diets recommended by the ADA and AHA are shown in numerous studies to cause diabetes and heart disease.
  • There is no scientific evidence that low fat diets are healthy.
  • New research is showing that a diet high in saturated fat actually decreases disease.
  • Carbohydrates are not the enemy. Not all carbohydrates are bad. Man made, manufactured, processed carbohydrates are.
  • Sugar in any form is still sugar. You can put as much spin on it as you want on where it comes from. Agave, honey, maple, sugar alcohols, etc. all sugar, sugar, sugar.
  • Cholesterol is not bad. In fact, it’s very vital and important component of your cells. 80% of the cholesterol floating in your blood stream is produced by the body. Your cholesterol numbers aren’t up because you eat too much cholesterol. They’re up because you consume too much crap which stresses the body that cholesterol is commandeered to repair.
  • Organic does not equal healthy. Is it better for you? Arguably, but eating natures carbohydrates – fruits and vegetables – anyway you can get them is better than eating none at all. Organic cookies are still junk.
  • Most of the food we eat is not grown in the American portrait of the Midwest farmer. It’s mass produced with the help of artificial means; it’s genetically altered to create more sustainable shelf life; it’s highly processed and is less a food item than tree bark; everything is “naturally” flavored which is as ambiguous a statement if there ever was one; imported from foreign countries with less strict regulations that here in our country.
  • In the United States, 99% of the corn and soy grown is genetically modified. Over 90% of the market share in the seed industry is owned by six companies: Monsanto, BASF, Dow, DuPont, Bayer, and Syngenta.
  • Low calorie foods are the worst.  Low calorie means low energy and low taste. That is, without the help of artificial chemicals and processing. Research on these chemicals have been shown to damage a region of the brain called the hypothalamus that’s responsible for regulating a host of functions including mood, emotions, heart rate, blood pressure, weight, and appetite.

So if you weren’t already confused about nutrition before, I hope at least I didn’t confuse (or scare) you more, but rather given you some food for thought. The take home point is this:

  • Eat wholesome, real food as much as possible. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where all of the perishable, but real food is located.
  • Stay away or avoid packaged/processed foods as much as possible and if still so inclined, ignore the package labeling and learn how to read the nutritional label. If it has more than 5 ingredients in its ingredients list, it’s no longer a food, but a vessel of chemicals and crap.
  • The rules of nutrition are universal, meaning that we as humans have the same biological make up and nutritional needs. Low carb, low fat – phooey! There are cultures who survive on the completely opposite. Sickness and disease are only seen where our influence on eating has been spread.
  • Stop relying on the media and supermarket tabloids for your nutritional information. What they have been telling you for years only clouds your instinctual judgment.
  • And also like mama used to say, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” There is no trick, no gimmick, and no shortcut; just intelligent choices made from sound knowledge.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

Two Keys to Workout Success

If you ever need a good laugh now and then, run on over to your local grocery store and take at look at the magazines and tabloids that adorn the checkout line. All the answers in life can be found there; how to make more money; how to have a loving relationship; how to dress like the stars; and my favorite, how to lose enormous amounts of weight in as little as five days. WOW!  This also happens to be one of the places where people turn to for their exercise advice or “miracle” panacea.  What is unfortunate is that in any of these publications, all that changes is the month and the cover.  The information inside is just recycled and repackaged to what sells.  When it comes to exercising or working out, there are only two “secrets” you really need to understand.  Even more amazing is that they are not really secrets either.  So whether you like cardiovascular exercise, strength training, core exercise, yoga, Pilates, etc., these two things bar none will get you results.  They are intensity and consistency.

Intensity

The word intensity can send shivers to most people.  Working under extreme exertion or to the point of complete exhaustion is usually what comes to mind.  However, intensity in this context merely describes how hard you are working during exercise.  Intensity can be measured and determined in numerous ways: heart rate; power output (wattage); rating of perceived exertion (RPE); amount of rest between sets; amount of weight used; speed per unit of time; etc. Contrary to popular belief, sweating is not an indicator of how hard you work. The intensity of your exercise is highly correlated with the desired outcome.  If you want to lose weight you need to burn more calories. If you want to gain strength, you have to lift heavy weights.  But in order to keep seeing and getting results, you also need to vary the intensity.  Otherwise, you will be working tirelessly, getting no where as if trying to climb an icy slope, and eventually burn out or stop. Applying the principle of intensity is not enough either; you need to be consistent.

Consistency

The word consistency is just as it says; something that is done repeatedly and with regularity.  Consistent behaviors lead to consistent results.  As the old adage says, “Keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” So yes it’s true, stay consistent with your exercise and you will see and more importantly, feel the results.  Conversely, being consistent does not always mean success either.  If you are consistently inconsistent with your exercise, the results speak for themselves.  Without its partner intensity, consistency is good but it just isn’t enough.  The best example of this is the avid exerciser who works out everyday, doing the same things the same way and in months or worse years, they still have not changed.  The focus of your workouts should always center first on being consistent, creating a healthy habit.  No exercise program ever developed works if you are not consistent. Then make sure that you find a way to measure your exercise intensity, or how hard you work, and regularly manipulate that.

There are numerous factors that contribute to success.  The depth and detail of these two subjects can be discussed beyond the scope of this article .However if you grasp these two simple concepts (secrets) and start with that, you are already on your way to success.  Change is difficult, but to change is to embrace and move on, not sit and wonder what you are doing wrong.  It is more likely what you are not doing right!

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

The Importance of Sleep On Your Health

Have you ever given any thought to the impact sleep has on your health?  If you are like most Americans, chances are you probably did not even give it a second thought because you do not have enough time.  As a result, most of us would probably say that we do not get enough sleep.  Of course there are others that if sleep meant fitness, they would be two time decathletes by now.  Sleep is something most of us lack and take for granted, but can make a big difference in our approach to improving our health.

Sleep On This

On average, Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night.  While the debate still goes on as to how much sleep one person needs, eight hours has been the golden rule for years.  In addition, 43% of Americans suffer from sleeping disorders, everything from sleep apnea to insomnia.  This can result from a number of causes such as anxiety, nervousness, mental tension, illnesses, medications, and changes in hormonal levels. Since sleep is something we do take for granted, most people deny or refuse to believe that they have a sleeping problem.  However, that awareness usually presents itself in not so kind ways, such as the 100,000 auto accidents caused last year by sleepy drivers.

Get To Sleep

Lack of sleep itself can be detrimental to you if you do intend to make exercise a regular part of your life.  Not to mention some of the risks associated with lack of sleep, such as increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, lung problems, and impotence.  For those who compete in athletic competitions, sleep is of the utmost importance for awareness and body recovery.  The same is true for those individuals trying to build lean muscle mass.  Sleep is a time of increased growth hormone levels when the body repairs and rebuilds from the rigors of an exercise session.  It is true that gains are not made during the exercise, but what you do afterwards.  The workout is simply the catalyst to get the process started.  Following are some steps to better sleep and unfortunately for some, more is not necessarily better.

  1. Get up out of bed if you are not sleepy when you lie down, or give your eyes some exercise until they tire, such as reading or a crossword puzzle.
  2. Avoid alcohol too close to bed time.  Although some claim it puts them out, it can cause restlessness and irritability as sleep goes on.
  3. Avoid caffeine before bed.  Caffeine is a stimulant.
  4. Try using some background noise, either soft music or the TV turned down set to go off at a certain time.
  5. Do not over sleep.  Too much sleep can actually leave you feeling sluggish.

Zzzzzzzz

One of the more common tell tale signs of bad sleep is snoring.  Snoring, while not always bad, (except for those around you), can be a sign of serious health problems if it is chronic. Men who snore habitually run a 50% risk of high blood pressure, and a 70 to 100% chance of ischemic heart disease (insufficient blood delivered to the heart).  Women who snore chronically have a 20% risk of heart disease and triple their chance of high blood pressure.  Some ways to treat snoring are as follows:

  • Lose weight to reduce fatty blockages in throat and nose.
  • Elevate the top of the bed or sleep slightly upright.
  • Avoid sleeping on your back, which prevents the tongue from blocking the throat.
  • Try wearing nasal strips to open passage ways.

Sleep can make all the difference between a great day and a bad day; losing weight or gaining weight; increased performance or poor performance; good health or poor health. Do yourself a favor and give sleep as much priority as you would your training efforts, eating efforts, and reaching your goals. And considering the amount of time you should spend in your bed, it is worth the investment to get a good quality mattress.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

7 Reasons Why Women Need to Strength Train

Statistically, more women train with weights today than they did 10 years ago.  Unfortunately, the myth still perpetuates that strength training (aka resistance training, weight lifting, weight training, etc.) leads to big, bulky muscles in women and creates a masculine look instead of the sleek, sculpted feminine look that so many desire. So in an effort to recruit more ladies to a diet rich in iron, here are 7 reasons WHY women need to train with weights.  And for the guys, pay attention, because for the all the reasons it’s good for the ladies it has the same benefits for you as well.

  1. You have to lift some weights to get toned. Getting “toned” is such a catch phrase and misnomer (muscles always have tone or they wouldn’t function) but it’s essentially what women are looking for when they pick up weights. Strength training puts stress on the muscle fibers, breaks them down and then when you recover they will build back stronger. Cardio doesn’t have that effect at all.
  2. Strength training helps you lose weight. In order to lose weight one of the things you can and need to do is boost your metabolism. Strength training stimulates the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. Muscle is a much more active tissue than fat and needs more energy (calories) to work. Strength training develops more lean muscle; more lean muscle burns more calories; more calories burned equals weight loss.
  3. The right kind of strength training won’t bulk you up. Most women have lower testosterone levels than their male counterparts so it’s pretty much impossible naturally. Muscle bulk comes from high volume of work, progressively heavier loads, protein synthesis, etc. – more than most women care or have the time for.  Instead, the focus should be on doing the same exercises as men, just at a level that’s challenging for you.
  4. Strength training is fun. Forget all about the stereotypes associated with lifting weights – the grunting, dropping of plates, banging of metal, veins popping, etc. Most of that is all for show. Strength training is hard, yes, but it can and does create more of a sense of physical accomplishment than just running aimlessly on a treadmill.
  5. Lift more to lose more. Lifting heavy weights with perfect form is primarily stimulating the nervous system so you are getting stronger without adding “size” to the muscle. Plus you burn more calories and challenge your body harder than small weights with high reps. Lifting a heavier dumbbell or dead lifting a barbell is 100 times more effective than 25 repetitions of bicep curls with iddy biddy 5 pound weights.
  6. You can get strength training and cardio training all in one workout.  Want to really change the shape of your body? Ditch the cardio exercise. Perform a 30-40 minute workout combining movements (large multi joint movements super set with smaller, isolation movements with minimal rest periods (30-45 secs tops) for a metabolic cardio effect while getting strong and lean.
  7. It is ALL about body composition. Throw the scales away. Would you rather be 130 pounds and 28% body fat (36.4 lbs of fat) or 130 lbs and 20% body fat (26 lbs of fat). Same scale weight, drastically different looking physique. It’s not always what the scale says, but instead how much fat you are packing on and how your clothes are fitting. If you are looking to lose weight, use the scale in moderation and instead get an accurate body fat percentage reading and take your measurements. Oh, and by the way, muscle does not weigh more than fat. It is just more dense but takes up less space.

You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to appreciate the benefits of strength training nor will you look like one. With the right program of exercises just a few days a week, the benefits of strength training are unsurpassed by any other exercise modality.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

 

Train Smarter, Not Harder

Most people would agree that exercise is a very good thing. Whether we are getting enough or any at all is another topic of discussion.  But if exercise is good then more must be better, right? Wrong! Too much of anything is no good and unfortunately there are those who think the same rules don’t apply when it comes to exercise. Perhaps they feel that they can shed those extra pounds by punishing their body repeatedly and for long periods of time. Or that they can defy all the laws of physiology and build tons of muscle and strength in just a few short weeks.  The fact is, in the end the body wins out and the reason why is because it is designed to do one thing despite what you try to throw at it at that’s to survive.

The Good and the Bad

Stress is usually a word associated with something negative, but not all stress is bad stress. Stress can be easily defined as any stimulus that challenges the body. For this discussion, exercise is a stress that is more appropriately defined as a eustress, or a stressor that causes a positive, healthful response. But as previously stated, just because it’s good doesn’t mean more must be better. The body can only handle so much stress at a time: physically, emotionally and spiritually, before it begins to break down and revert to survival mechanisms. When that happens, the once positive effects of the eustress become counterproductive, almost reversing the direction of the desired outcome. With too much exercise, often referred to as overtraining, that scenario manifests itself as muscle and/or joint pain, sluggishness, sleepiness, decreased appetite, decreased performance, decreased immunity, and worse, potential injury. While the “no pain, no gain” mentality may be a thing of the past, there is always a popular trend or fad that demonstrates dangerous, yet cool looking exercise as the best way to get fit. As a result of clever marketing, thousands buy into it only to discover in the end it’s not good for the long haul.

What is Too Much!

The human body and its capabilities have long been sought after by man. The Olympics, strongman contests, ultra endurance events, etc. – just when we thought the potential could be reached, it gets surpassed again. Is there a limit? When is enough, enough? That’s not a question the average exerciser is qualified to nor could answer – intelligently, that is. Physical exericse is an activity; an activity that can be performed and manipulated to achieve a desired result. Contrary to popular belief, just saying that you exercise has little to do with are you successfully utilizing it to achieve your goal. Case in point, “I go to the gym about 2-3 days per week but I haven’t seen any results.” The next statement usually goes something like this: ‘I’m going to double up my workouts, may be do a few two-a-days like I did back in high school, and then I’m going to go everyday for a few weeks.  That should get me back into shape.” Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

The net result? An even more frustrated exerciser who is now no closer to the desired goal because they didn’t really examine the true problems that exist and perhaps are now dealing with the negative effects sidelining them from exercising at all. The simple notion of just doing more exercise, harder will yield almost the same result of doing no exercise at all – NOTHING!

Time to Drop the Hammer

General George Patton said it best. “A good plan, violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.” When you understand the value and benefit of exercise, not just simply doing it to do it, you will appreciate and respect the power that smart exercising can have. This includes planning your workouts; building in proper progressions (crawl before you can walk); taking care of the little things such as muscle tightness and joint mobility; addressing the “intangibles” such as diet and rest. It will lead to greater success and your true potential can be realized. In athletics, professional are called professionals because they have developed the proper progression and manipulation of the variables they can control to a level that puts them above the rest.  When you understand that you also have that same potential, you too will be the best that you can be.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better

 

 

Abs Are Made In The Kitchen, Not The Gym

With the unofficial kick off to summer just weeks away, the frantic scramble begins for the beach body and the coveted six pack abs. Let me save everyone a lot of aggravation. You can work your abs as hard as you want; do all the senseless cardio you want; train like an unchained beast. But if you are lazy and unstructured with your eating, it won’t matter. Not only can you not out train a poor diet, lean, structured abs are not built in the gym; they are built in the kitchen.

I Love to Eat

It’s no secret. I love to eat. My love of food goes all the way back to my childhood years.  Growing up in an Italian family, food was everywhere (and still is) and if you didn’t eat they thought something was wrong with you.  I was never forced to eat anything I didn’t like if I at least tried it and I was allowed to be a kid, with the occasional Tastykake or trip to the fast food joint as a treat. Dinner was a family event that we all sat down to and breakfast and lunch were normal parts of the day. I feel sorry for today’s generation because I’m not convinced that that happens very often if at all.  Meals are rushed and ordered through drive–thru windows. The enjoyment of dining is lost in big chain restaurants where the food and service are mediocre at best. And snack food is handed out like a fifth food group. But my expertise is not in how to improve the family dynamic.  Rather, it’s on how you can improve your own health and develop the physique you want by simply improving the one small room of the house with no fitness equipment – the kitchen.

Home Improvement 101

Despite the erratic eating and scheduling conflicts of the modern Amercian home, most of the time spent home is in the kitchen.  But allow me to also say that I’m not talking new countertops, flooring or lighting. I’m talking about creating an environment where good intentions meet reality. That begins with a well stocked kitchen.

Stock Appropriately

A well stocked kitchen begins with a well planned grocery store trip.  If it’s not part of a healthy, balanced diet, it shouldn’t even have a chance to make it through the front door. A kitchen stocked with the makings for healthy meals and snacks will keep you on track, even when late-night cravings strike. If it’s not there, the inconvenience of having to go out to get it should override the want over the need.  It’s time to clean house

Dump this:

  • If it has the words high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the ingredients, lose it. Common offenders – snack foods, sodas, baked goods, frozen meals, breakfast bars, condiments. HFCS is a manufacturer’s dream (it’s cheaper) but a metabolic nightmare.
  • Frozen dinners/lunches. If you can honestly identify all of the ingredients listed on the box, kudos, but God speed to you. Replace with home-made portioned meals. Spend some time on the weekends to cook up healthy meals, and then freeze them in portioned containers. Then throughout the week you simply need to reheat and enjoy.
  • Fruit-flavored yogurt. I hate to break this to you, but that small individually packaged yogurt is going to do more harm to your waistline than you think. More than 50% of the calories in fruit-flavored yogurt come from sugar. Replace with plain low-fat yogurt, Greek yogurt, or low-fat cottage cheese and even chop up some of your own favorite fresh fruit and stir it in.
  • Frozen breakfast food. French toast, waffles and pancakes are popular items in the freezer aisle. Don’t fall for the pretty photos and tasty-sounding names. These items are highly processed and contain loads of unnecessary sugar. Replace with: Sprouted Whole Grain Bread and Muffins. It is just as easy to throw a slice of sprouted, whole grain bread into the toaster as it is a frozen waffle. Spread it with some natural peanut butter and pair it with a piece of fruit. Now that’s a much healthier breakfast.
  • Canned soups.  The amount of sodium in a can of soup is staggering, considering that most will eat a whole can whereas the serving size is generally only half the can. The recommended amount of sodium is 2,000 mg or less per day. Same goes for frozen dinners which are loaded with it.
  • Packaged crackers, snacks, cookies, etc. This should be a pretty obvious one, but third only to cigarettes and soft drinks as the most bought items at the supermarket, the health of our nation drops with each crunch.
  • Artificial fats and sweeteners.  I suppose the logic here was that if the original is bad, than a synthetic one must be better for you. Keep the butter (salt free) if you must; ditch the Equal, Sweet and Low, etc.

Stock up:

  • Fresh and/or frozen vegetables. The produce drawer in your fridge should be overflowing with colorful nutrient-rich veggies. In fact, your fridge should hold more veggies than the drawer can hold. Veggies are filled with fiber, vitamins and nutrients and are a vital part of a healthy well-rounded diet. And frozen vegetables are frozen at the point of harvest. Same nutritional profile as fresh vegetables and eating ANY vegetables trumps eating NO vegetables
  • Fresh and/or frozen fruits. The same goes here as with vegetables.
  • Lean meats. Skinless chicken breast, lean ground turkey, white fish – are just a few of the numerous choices when it comes to lean meats.
  • Miscellaneous snacks and such. Raw nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, etc. Not every snack or “treat” needs to come in a colorful bag or be dyed with chemicals to look pretty and appetizing. And a lot of great flavor can be achieved from using fresh, natural herbs and spices without adding tons of salt and calories

As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Eat great, you’re going to look and feel great. Eat so-so, you’re going to look and feel so-so. Eat poorly…you get the picture. There is always going to be room for the things you love but shouldn’t eat frequently. Moderation is healthy and permissible; just don’t get caught in justifying what you think you should be allowed versus what you really need to second guess. Before buying into another desperate fad exercise plan or gimmick, I encourage you to raid your kitchen every couple of months as a way of keeping yourself on track. The exercise will and should be the easy part.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Bodybuilding Vs. Weight Training

I suppose I’m at that stage in my life now where it seems almost weekly where celebrities, athletes, and other famous people I grew up with are now starting to leave us. A little over  a month ago a man that most people outside of the strength training and bodybuilding worlds would not even recognize passed away without nearly as much the attention as the “Godfather of Fitness” Jack LaLanne had when he passed in 2011. His name is Joe Weider and chances are you’ve seen, read, or at the very least heard of his publications (Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Shape magazines among others); his international bodybuilding contests (Mr. Olympia, Ms. Olympia, etc.); his lines of strength equipment and supplements.  But what people aren’t aware of is Joe Weider is credited with not only bringing the sport of bodybuilding to worldwide attention, but he is the one, if not, the only reason we have Arnold Schwarzenegger here in America.

My First Weight Set

My early lifting days involved using the kind of things that are almost en vogue today: cinder blocks, railroad ties, clothes line props, tree branches, monkey bars, small tires, etc. But once I got serious, my first weight set was a Joe Weider starter set. The barbell was metal but clothed in plastic. The plates were also plastic but filled with sand (other sets were filled with concrete). The bench was small, but adequate and had a built in rack with a leg extension/leg curl attachment. It was my first gym in the basement of my house and as I progressed into puberty, me and one of my best friends in life lifted in his mom’s garage with multiple Joe Weider sets.  What was my goal back then? To be big and muscular of course.  While I never had aspirations to join a bodybuilding contest, I liked the way I felt, the way I looked, and the fun I had lifting weights. As it turns out, fitness became my career and I still play with weights almost everyday – but I’ve advanced from the concrete filled plastic plates.

Beyond Bodybuilding

Over the years, I’ve evolved the way I train and the way I think.  The bodybuilding style of training moved to more fitness style training to more athletic style training to more functional style training and so forth.  I went from admiring the obviously overgrown and overblown physiques in the magazines to affectionately  calling Muscle and Fitness magazine Muscle and Fiction due to the extraordinary amounts of articles and advertising all funded by the supplement companies. With age came wisdom and with experience came a better way to accomplish the same task with less. As a fitness professional, I’ve seen numerous times over the years people who approach weight lifting like a bodybuilder, yet one – they don’t want to be a bodybuilder;  two, they don’t want to adopt the lifestyle of a bodybuilder; 3 – despite all that, they still expect to look like a bodybuilder. Not going to happen.  But is there a difference between bodybuilding and weightlifting?

Beyond The Science

With bodybuilding, the goal is simple – increased muscular size (hypertrophy) and definition. With weight training, you can also certainly accomplish both goals but the difference lies in the approach.  A bodybuilder will attack or train a specific muscle group (i.e.chest) or two during a training session in as many ways as possible to get as much dedicated work to the muscle group(s) as possible. An everyday exerciser going to the gym to lift weights is not going to train with the intensity or training protocol that a bodybuilder is going to train with nor should they. Why? Because they don’t want to be a bodybuilder.  They may think they do but they really don’t. Beyond the discipline of the weight room comes the discipline to the strict eating regimen and while I won’t discuss the pharmacology of bodybuilding for the purpose of this article, bodybuilding is an activity, like training for a marathon, that has specific protocols and techniques. Same holds true whether male or female.

A large majority of women still shy away from the weight training thinking it will make them look like a bodybuilder.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. Number one, most women don’t have enough naturally circulating testosterone. Number two, there isn’t enough protein that can be healthfully ingested to create such an anabolic environment in the body. Number three, most women are not going to lift the sheer amount of weight repeatedly to create such mass. Weightlifting, resistance training, or weight training, no matter what you want to call it, has a benefit to us all.

My point is this.  Weight training is a powerful, wonderful exercise with amazing benefits for both sexes. If you don’t want to be a bodybuilder, then don’t train like one.  Lift heavy, lift hard, and lift with intensity but lift with a purpose. And to Mr.Joe Weider, thank you for your ingenuity and contributions to our health and fitness community.  We will continue to carry on strong.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better

 

 

 

 

My Journey to 26.2 and The Lessons Learned

I generally share fitness, nutrition, and various other health topics in my posts but today I wanted to share with you a personal story, although the messages still ring loud and clear as it pertains to the usual subject matter. So if you’d like to read on and hear about my journey to running the Shamrock Marathon in  Virginia Beach and the lessons to be learned from it, I’d be delighted to it share with you.  And even if you don’t, that’s ok too but I think there’s a lot of this story that relates to everyone, whether you want to run a marathon or not.

Years In The Making

Some refer to it as a bucket list item, but running a marathon was just a personal goal I had for myself. It was something I wanted to do to see what I could do, how far could I push myself out of my comfort zone, and just have a goal that was realistic, attainable, and measureable – the three solid qualities of a goal. I consider myself to be a disciplined, very fit individual and from working with many clients over the years, I know of the tremendous commitment running a marathon requires and I became intrigued. I should confess to those who don’t know me that I’m not a runner.  In fact, I’m probably more of a non-runner, having a mesomorph type frame and a predominance of Type II muscle fibers. As an athlete back in school, I despised running except for chasing down the ball or an opponent. I never ran for fitness.  My cardiovascular exercise of choice is the bike. I support and train those who love running, but it was never my thing. Then one day I was just inspired to run.

I was working with a client who no more than three years previous had a tremendously difficult time running one mile on the treadmill. Fast forward three years and she’s now running 5Ks, 10 milers, multiple half marathons, and participating in sprint triathlons. Some would say, “Hey, that’s great! Good for her! I’m not doing that.” And that’s ok as everyone is entitled to their opinions (more on that later). To someone like me though, my response was more along the lines of “What’s stopping you?” So it was about this time last year when I decided that when I turn 40, I want to be able to say I ran a marathon. It was always sort of in the back of my brain, but here it was, my 39th year, and I hadn’t done a thing to even remotely prepare myself. It was time to start practicing a little more of what I preach.

The First Steps

I am a fitness training professional and strength coach so it is in my experience that there is no better way to do something than the right way. I’ve heard and read all the “guru” and “expert” ideas/plans on how best to prepare for a marathon and the only common denominator I discovered is that there is no perfect way to prepare – only what’s best for you. I began to strategize and in essence work my way up, or more specifically, progress in a reasonable, timely manner to get me to the goal without injury.  I had run several 5Ks, participated in the Broad Street 10 Miler in May of 2012 and then the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November 2012. The next step was the full marathon and while logic will make you think that a marathon is only two half marathons put together, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

16 Weeks To Go

There really is only one way to train for a marathon and that is to run. Remember how I didn’t like running? Yeah, well there’s a lot of it to be done. Each week is a set of little runs and progressively increasing longer runs on the weekends. It changes your daily and weekly routines; it alters your social commitments; it really puts the onus of responsibility of sticking to your plan, both in regards to training and your nutrition. If you plan to do the marathon and you want to at a minimum finish it, you better stick to the plan. And if all of that wasn’t hard enough, finding a nice day to run December through March in Southeast PA is not an easy task. I had trained in it all – wind, rain, snow, sleet, ice covered trails, darkness – you name it.  Least let’s not forgot the emergency bathroom stops along trails with no bathrooms.

But a strange thing started to happen to me.  Running and I started to begin to develop a better relationship.  I didn’t love it necessarily but I didn’t hate it either.  There were days when I actually really looked forward to the runs (nothing provided more mental calmness and clarity than a long run did) and there were days when despite my complaining about it, I would forget all about it once I began the run.  In the end, it became bittersweet knowing that the long hard work was done and all that was left was to run the big one itself.  I was starting to miss the misery. I found myself ready to do it three weeks in advance of the actual date and couldn’t wait to cross that finish line.  There was a light at the end of this tunnel and I was starting to see it.

Achieving The Goal

As I expected, running the marathon itself was the easiest part of the journey.  Not that the marathon was easy per se, but all of the training had come to this point and I knew I had prepared the best that I could.  It was never without crazy thoughts running through my head either like “Why am I doing this again?”, or “Can I stop now?”, or “Really? Does the wind really have to blow any harder?” It’s still surreal to me, but I did it. I saw it all the way through and crossed the line. I received my medal. I left nothing behind and had no regrets.  All the weeks of training, all the preparation, and all the sacrifices came to a glorious finish. To make the moment even sweeter, the same client in the previous story completed her first marathon as well as my wife.  We all did it, standing, smiling, and truly proud.  Will I run another one? I won’t say never but I am pleased to enjoy this one forever. It was personally special and taught me a lot about myself that I didn’t know which I will share with you next.

Lessons Learned From 26.2

So many times we tend to focus on what’s unimportant versus what’s truly important.  With running, everyone worries about their time. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that.  For some, it’s a hard factual way of measuring themselves against others or how much they’ve improved since their last attempt. It wasn’t about any of that for me. It was the culmination of months of training and preparation towards a specific goal.  It was the goal of doing a marathon itself. I have no delusions of trying to compete with the likes of the professional runners. To share the same exact course with them was honorable enough. Anyone who does a marathon no matter how long it takes them is a winner in my eyes. They have seen the goal all the way through to the end and when you’re not competing professionally, the time really does not matter. How many times have you beat yourself up because you only lost 5 pounds instead of 10? Isn’t the weight loss still an accomplishment itself? Or you attempted a personal best in a lift only to fall just a few inches short of completing the lift. Is not the attempt at the newer, heavier weight a step up from the previous personal best?

It’s not about settling or becoming complacent.  It’s about getting better, not perfect.  It’s about committing to something greater than just numbers on a scale or pounds on a lift.  It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and achieving something that you never thought you could. It’s not about what you can and can not do; it’s about what you will and will not do.  Do I advocate that everyone run a marathon? Absolutely not! But using a marathon as a metaphor towards striving to reach and achieve goals is a powerful comparison. I never would have imagined 10 years ago that I would have run a marathon. I always feel, as I do every year, that I’m I better shape than the year before.  I can’t tell you the number of times I hear, “You just wait and see” when I say that I feel great. My response now more than ever is, “If that’s how you feel, that’s your choice. If you don’t feel better, what are you going to do about it?”

You don’t have to run a marathon or compete in any one of the numerous events that are available to us today. If you have a goal that you truly want to achieve and it’s realistic, attainable, and measureable, prepare yourself to do something you’ve never done; prepare to make the necessary sacrifices; prepare to endure the social pressures; prepare to change the way you currently do things.  If what you’ve wanted to achieve still eludes you, you haven’t embraced all that it will entail. Come to terms with that, and I guarantee you will be successful.  And believe me, the reward of the achievement is all its worth and more. May your goals become reality.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

Exercise: Risk Vs. Reward

Exercise has become very complex over the years, so much that even Webster’s definition of the word has so many meanings.  For the discussion of this post, I’m of course referring to exercise as a means of physical exertion, or as one of the many definitions of the word Webster’s describes as “bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness”.  Today, there are literally thousands of ways to get exercise yet we still find just as many excuses as to why we don’t. With physical fitness being one of, if not the top way of having some control over our health, perhaps it’s more a question of our preconceived notions of exercise are all wrong.

No Longer A Leader

According to a report from the World Health Organization back in January 2013, the U.S. ranks last among 17 countries in terms of health and are not based on longevity of life, but across the lifespan. We excel at the number of preventable deaths: heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, obesity; and tragically there is little competition with regards to deaths by homicide or accidents. Life happens, accidents happen, but neither is an excuse for throwing caution into the wind when something as simple as moving can go a long, long way towards improving your health. With today’s knowledge and resources, there is really no excusable reason for us not to be exercising. So the next question is, are we even doing the right exercise?

The Quick And Easy Answer

The right exercise is any exercise.  Any physical movement above and beyond what you do on a daily basis can be considered exercise. Where some of the confusion permeates is from self proclaimed gurus who have the “one and only end all to end all exercise” programs or cult-ish driven exercise beliefs that brainwash its followers as if they are the only ones who know what they are doing. The truth is there is no such thing as a bad exercise.  There are however exercises applied improperly and with bad technique or instruction.

Risk vs. Reward

The only two questions you need to ask yourself are: 1) what is the reward/goal/outcome of my chosen activity (exercise), and 2) what are the risks? Pretty simple, yet with all of the choices at your discretion, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in what’s cool versus what’s safe and effective.  Sure, there are exercises that are better for a specific goal (i.e. weight lifting to build strength), but in the end the only thing that really matters is that you keep your body moving, doing something you hopefully enjoy, and thus consistently. Try new programs; experience other disciplines; step out of your comfort zone. No matter what you do, the reward certainly outweighs any risk of not doing anything.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Aspartame Unplugged

I am a confessed lover of sweets.  Not a sugar-holic but I have an affinity for sugar – in my coffee, tea, and of course the occasional dessert.  I know my limits and I understand how sugar is not so good for us, but one thing I will not succumb to is using artificial sweeteners.  I have just learned to use less real sugar over the years, or eliminate all together, before even thinking about using artificial sweeteners.  Call it intuition or having enough nutritional science background to appreciate, but I think after you read today’s post on artificial sweeteners, you too will think twice about using artificial sweeteners yourself, especially those containing aspartame.

Don’t Sprinkle This

Back in 2001, an urban nutritional legend was born. The EPA released a report citing evidence of an epidemic of multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus. While it’s certainly difficult to determine exactly what specific toxin could be causing these two diseases to be so rampant, one of the possible causes cited was the widespread use and availability of aspartame in our food supply. Aspartame, sold under the common brand names Equal and Nutra-Sweet, is a low calorie sweetener replacement 200 times sweeter than sugar made from aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are amino acids and methanol is wood alcohol. Its use can be found in diet soft drinks, sugar free candies/desserts, and most notably the little color packets found on dining room tables in restaurants. It is also fortified in many diet/health related packaged foods as an alternative to sugar and as a preservative. But what about the aspartame legend makes it so dangerous?

Don’t Sprinkle That

When the temperature of aspartame is heated to 86 degrees F, either through external heating or your internal body temperature (98.6 degrees), the methanol (wood alcohol) converts to formaldehyde (a deadly neurotoxin) and then to formic acid. Formaldehyde is an absolute toxin and is used primarily to preserve tissue specimens. Our bodies treat it as a toxin and store it in the fat cells as such, particularly in the hips and thighs. Formic acid is the poison found in the sting of fire ants. Over time, the body can develop what is known as methanol toxicity, which can mimic and/or is misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus. Although both conditions are generally not a death sentence, methanol toxicity is! Thus, the legend was born as it was concluded that aspartame ingestion possibly leads to multiple sclerosis and/or lupus.

The Great Diet Dupe

Diet products are NOT diet products at all! They are chemically altered, multiple ingredient crap that in the end is worse for you than any promise and hope of weight loss you might think you are buying. In fact, there is a ton of research to show that “diet” food items that contain aspartame and other sugar substitutes actually make you crave carbohydrates thus making it more likely that you are going to GAIN weight!

Not Any Sweeter 

Aspartame is especially dangerous for diabetics. Retinopathy, a complication of diabetics where the blood vessels of the eye become damaged possibly leading to blindness, has in fact been linked to causes of aspartame toxicity and its effects of driving the blood sugar out of control. Although more common in diabetics, these same conditions can occur in non-diabetics as well. The neuro toxic effect of aspartame has also been suspected in the case of Gulf War Syndrome, a condition suffered by many of the men and women who fought in the Gulf War and consumed thousands of pallets of Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. Documentation and observation also reveal that thousands of children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD have had complete turnarounds in their behavior when these chemicals have been removed from their diet. Coincidence? The list of things linked to aspartame can go on.

And why is this allowed to go on despite what we know? Because it has been deemed safe by the FDA. That’s for another discussion that I’m not qualified to comment. Bottom line, artificial sweeteners, aspartame in particular, should be avoided. They are chemically altered substances, not natural, that the body treats and reacts to as if it was a poison and in time, the body will get tired of fighting the battle, FDA approved or not. When it comes to sweet things, especially real sugar, just consume in smaller doses and in moderation.  The payoff is much sweeter.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.