I'm excited to announce that I've recently been certified as a Fitness Nutrition Specialist by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. It's another step toward helping my clients achieve more. On to the next!
I'm often asked, when people start private training (in their home, in a gym, or otherwise), "How many sessions should I get?" It's at this point I let them know their real question should be, "How many sessions per week should I do?" The reason for this is not to trick them into purchasing more sessions, but to show them how to get more out of the sessions they do end up getting.
So, the answer to that revised question is: It depends. The national recommendations are 150 minutes of low to moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise (or a combo of both) per week to maintain current health and fitness. Read that again: MAINTAIN current health and fitness. Those numbers are the minimum requirements--meaning you won't improve your health and fitness unless you do more than that. Now, if someone is sedentary and just coming off the couch of course they will improve for a time, but soon that will level out to where their fitness level should be and they will need to do more.
I know, being of rational mind you're seeing '150' and '75' and thinking those numbers are to clean and rounded and can't possibly be scientifically accurate, and I would agree. The real numbers are different for everyone and without expensive equipment loaded with ding dongs, wires, and whosiewhatsits, there's no accurate way to pinpoint the numbers for each individual. They are really meant to be used as guidelines from where we can adjust per individual, and those guidelines have been relatively successful so far. It's the same as saying 3500 calories equals a pound. From the research I've read, it's really closer to 3554, but since we simple humans like things in nice, tidy packages, 3500 it is.
Back to the topic at hand.
The number of sessions you need to do per week depends on what you do when you're not with your trainer. If you see your trainer once a week for 60 minutes of high intensity exercise and don't do anything the next six days, you're not even meeting your maintenance goal. If one session per week is all you've budgeted for, then you need to make up the remainder of the maintenance minutes, plus the extra for improvement, on your own.
Let's say you buy 40 sessions at 60 minutes each and you plan on those 40 sessions being your only source of exercise until they are exhausted. Scheduling 2 per week is going to have vastly different results than if you scheduled those same 40 sessions at 3-4 per week. At 2 per week, you're only getting 120 minutes, where 3-4 per week gets you to your maintenance goals plus the extra needed to improve. On the flip-side, if you're overtraining, a number of reasons will keep you from improving--torn fibers that need to rest and repair, tiredness and soreness causing you to be not as effective, etc.
So really, no matter how many sessions you order, just make sure you are scheduling them close enough together (keeping in mind rest days) to make a difference, otherwise you're wasting your time and money.
Accountability has never been much of an issue for me but, as of today, I'm going to need it in spades. The purpose of this post is to publicly hold me to a pledge; a pledge that is going to have me doing something I've never liked and probably will never like to do. Ask me to lift some weights--I'll be there; do core exercises until my insides bleed--you got it; attempt some new and crazy exercise--I'm all about it. But, running? Hell no! I hate it. I hate everything about it. It bores me to no end and I just want to die when it's happening. There's an entire cornucopia of cardio exercises I love doing, but running is not one of them. As such, it is my weakness and one I never cared to attend to.
So what is it that's driving me to torture myself so? For the good part of a year, my son has been asking me to do the next level up in the Spartan trifecta: The Super. The Sprint was fun for me as there wasn't too much running between the obstacles. It was about 3-5 miles with around 20 obstacles. The Super is between 8 and 10 miles with 24-29 obstacles. I'm no math genius, but unless each obstacle spans roughly 1/4 to 1/2 mile, we're in for a lot of this 'one foot in front of the other' ad nauseam B.S. Ugh. But, before he heads off to college later this year, I felt compelled to grant his request and have an experience that would challenge both of us and strengthen that father and son bond even more.
So, this day marks the beginning of my training to keep up with my fleet-footed offspring. While I'll still be doing my usual weekly routines, I'll be adding the elliptical machine while it's cold outside then transitioning to outside jogs and runs when it warms up (no, I'm not running in the cold. I may be crazy, but I'm not insane--or is it the other way around?). Burpees will now be weighted and I will continue with my weighted and unweighted pull-ups to try and increase my strength and endurance even more. As it gets warmer, I may venture out into my backyard and try building representations of some of the tougher obstacles.
It's a long way to August, and I know I can do this, but at the same time it feels so close and that this body would be better served eating mountains of bacon while watching The Lord of the Rings Extended trilogy until I can replay its entirety in a pig fat induced coma. Sadly, that dream will have to wait.
While I may not make a post of everything I do to get ready, I have a plan laid out and I will keep a log for myself to track progress. Today was:
20 minutes on elliptical at level 18 of 20 (squat running for a minute every 4 minutes)
Four Times Through:
20 burpees (20#; 10# per hand): Includes shoulder press, jump, and push-up
Bodyweight pull-ups to failure: 1st Round: 24 standard grip 2nd Round: 14 close grip 3rd Round: 16 wide grip 4th Round: 17 standard grip
When I started my journey of health and fitness, it was a combination of Martial Arts, eating right, and P90X. Though nothing will ever top the benefits I've received from the Martial Arts, having Tony Horton grab my arm, pat my abs, and vocally affirm what I've done to myself over the years, was pretty cool. :-)
This was such a great event. I love meeting like-minded people in the fitness world. The folks around me were so amazing and we all had a great time supporting the athletic department at Tony's alma mater.
Finally, I'm going to reveal the secret of six-pack abs to the world. And the secret is...(insert drum roll here)...Nothing! There is no secret. Just like any other muscle in your body, you need to do the same exact thing to get them to show: Eat well and exercise. For most people, it's one of the hardest parts of the body to define, so I'll continue typing to give you more ammo for your personal battle. If you want a formula (although, a simplistic one) for getting those puppies to pop, here it is:
Of course, it's bit more complicated than that, but that's the guideline. Will it work for everyone? That, I don't know; everyone is different. But, it worked for me and it should work for more people. Plus, seeing as how the shortcut junk on the market doesn't work (because there are no shortcuts), I'd say this is a pretty good place to begin. Besides that, it's easy to understand and, in theory, makes sense. Resistive spinal flexion exercises grow the muscle, and a combo of cardio and proper nutrition will keep help decrease body fat.
Let's get a little deeper into this while clearing a myth in the process. The myth of which I speak is that performing plank alone will grant you toned abdominals. This is simply not true. Believe me, I love all things plank. Exercises that include isometric hold of the body are fantastic for stimulation of the rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" or "beach" muscle) and obliques (the ones flanking the R.A.) and strengthening the core (the internal muscles that transfer load between the upper and lower body). While plank does all this great stuff, it isn't going to give us the abs we want (as superficial as a six-pack may be); not alone, anyway. Spinal flexion exercises against resistance will put us on that path because, through growth, more defined separation in the muscle can be created (more on that later). So, what now? Fortunately, we're in luck because the rectus abdominis has mainly one function and that function is spinal flexion. Yay!
Honestly, if you don't care about the depth of the separation, you just need to exercise and eat properly on a regular basis in order to achieve definition. But, if you seriously want those little buggers to shine, then we need to perform spinal flexion exercises to grow the rectus abdominis; make it thicker. I can't speak for women, but I know most men like that deep cut in their abs. Though it may look like separate muscles (4, 6, sometimes 8 depending on the individual), it's one muscle separated by bands of connective tissue.
The Linea Alba runs vertically down the middle, and the Tendinous Inscriptions that run horizontally, split the two halves into "muscle bellies". Since connective tissue is less vascular than muscle, it doesn't stretch as easily; therefore, it allows the muscle to maintain that separated look.
The key is consistency in nutrition and exercise! Compliance will get you there! Stick with it and don't get discouraged; stay tough. It will come.
Does that mean you shouldn't do plank? Heck, no! Do your plank exercises as they are very beneficial (though, they can be dangerous for people with high blood pressure or herniated lumbar spine, so use with caution). But that's not all you have to do. Think of it this way: If you want bigger biceps, do you hold your arm in and extended position and expect the bicep to grow? No. You contract the bicep against resistance by using the bicep to bend the arm at the elbow just as you would use the rectus abdominis to flex the spine, thereby contracting the muscle. Spinal flexion exercises, like the good, old fashioned crunch, will make it thicken. Oh, no! It's the dreaded crunch. Too bad. Suck it up, buttercup. Do your crunches (or some form thereof)! :-P
So why am I giving this information away for free? Why don't I just bundle it up in a nice little package with some fancy graphics and a price tag to match? Two reasons: 1) This is stuff you already (or should already) know but have either forgotten or are avoiding because you know about reason number two. 2) Hard work and discipline don't sell. There is no magic pill or shortcut to the abs you want. I guarantee you everyone promoting otherwise is lying to your face. So, you can either spend time year after year going from one fad diet or program to another (continuing to be frustrated), or you can take that same amount of time to do it properly and in a way that should last you a lifetime. The abs you see in the image up above were made with all of this information. How do I know this? Because it took me two years to make them like that and it's not something you easily forget.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Strength is made in the gym, physique is made in the kitchen. Basically, grow your muscles in size and strength in the gym and let what you put in your face be the vehicle to trimming away the fat so you can see what you've accomplished. Yes, it's a pain in the butt, but so is going in circles and spending tons of money. The hard way is not always the right way, but it is when it comes to health and fitness. I don't write these articles for my health; I write them for yours. :-) Now, go get it!
This one's been gnawing at my insides for a couple of weeks, so I need to get it out. Consider this my therapy in words. One of my clients told me his colleague came back from some "extreme" class he does and bragged that he only puked twice. What? Really? This is what you're proud of? Look, if someone wants to increase their risk of injury to get results, I can't stop them. But there's no need to kill ourselves in the name of fitness. I'm living proof that you can get the results you want without going to these idiotic extremes. Does it take a bit longer doing it right? Yes. But in the end, you have the same, if not better, results that will last you a lifetime. There's risk every time you exercise (even going for a walk), but why anyone would willingly open themselves up to an increased risk when it's, for the most part, avoidable is beyond me.
We all know the phrase, 'No pain, no gain'. Well, there's a problem with that phrase. Pain means you're either doing something wrong or something is hurting and you need to stop before it gets worse. I offer this correction to the phrase: 'No discomfort, no gain'. Being uncomfortable and challenged is what we want, otherwise we don't get better. Putting yourself in dangerous and painful situations is not what we want. Besides, if you get hurt, guess what? You get to spend weeks, sometimes months, recovering which means no exercising. That means you become deconditioned again which leads to you hitting it harder when you get back, and that means more risk of injury. See the cycle? Exercise smarter. Take the time and effort to get it done right once, not wrong several times until you can't do it anymore.
Here's the thing. If you can discipline yourself (yeah, that's a tough thing and you need the right mental state to make it work; that's something for another therapy session) enough to do it the right way, the rest of your life should just be maintaining what you've accomplished. I won't lie or sugarcoat it, the beginning stages are hard and few people like being in this stage because it can be rough and frustrating most times. This is why there is so much failure in sticking with it, and why there are so many 'get fit quick' programs and products on the market. Most of those are there to take your money and that's about it. It's all the same stuff in a new order, slapped with some new, powerful looking logo. They expect you will quit or fail and then start all over again when they roll out their newest product. They keep you thinking you've found the holy grail of health with every incarnation. Have you ever looked up the definition of 'insanity'? If not, go do it now.
I say, save your money and take the longer road around. On the other side of all that nonsense is the fit and healthy body you deserve. From there, maintaining your body is becomes much easier and much more enjoyable.
To those extreme programs: Here's the number of times I've puked while exercising since I started my journey more than 10 years ago: ZERO. Do they make a middle-finger emoji?
End of therapy. Anyone know how much I owe myself?
In this chapter of my best-selling book on how to live a healthier life, I'm going to give you a tip on grocery shopping. I know some folks have the best intentions in mind when approaching the grocery store, but once they muscle that cart with one bum wheel over the rubber pressure pad and feel the sharp, cold welcome of the overhead air conditioner blow their perfectly styled hair back into something that resembles the bed head of a troll doll, all bets are blown back as well. The colorful packaging, the lure of the sample tray, and the mystical magic of the ice cream aisle are all deterrents that keep them from shopping like they're supposed to shop.
For a good portion of my previous book, 'Uncle Mike's Guide to Working the System and Getting the Most out of Life', we explored the exploitation of the sandwich shop wherein we examined the fine art of getting the biggest sandwich possible at the lowest cost. We talked about casing the sandwich shop for a number of weeks in order to learn the shift rotations of the employees and choosing the sandwich maker we deemed most likely to consume the largest lunch. Targeting him as our purveyor of perfectly prime pastrami and pristine provolone, we'd enter the shop just prior to his lunch break. At this time, he would be at the peak of hunger and his eyes would be bigger than his stomach. Ambushing him at that precise and delicate moment, we were able to order the cheapest sandwich on the menu, grinning wildly as his hunger and haste loaded our mere six inch sub with almost twice the amount of ingredients displayed in the faded picture above his head.
In writing this, that guide's spiritual sequel, I have not only put that book to rest, I have buried it six feet under with new thinking. Healthy thinking. That said, let's fix that hair and get back to pushing the cart (Sorry, I can't help with that stupid wheel). So, where do we begin in this overwhelming collection of confusion. We shop. We shop for people. What? Yes, we shop for people...at first. Rest easy, they may be delicious in very remote parts of the world, but our aim is a bit more strategic than gnawing on another's ear (cough...Mike Tyson...cough) and being arrested and taken away by the men with the white jackets or worse: banned from the grocery store (*shudder* bury that last thought).
We're looking for people who move quickly and with a purpose. Ones who stick to the veggie and meat sections and don't head to too many of the inner aisles. They don't have to be shredded or have three percent body fat; some people with average bodies are in fantastic shape on the inside. But we're looking for those who seem to be health conscious. They know what they want, head right for it, and when they get there, it's a healthy choice that they drop it in their cart without a second thought (their cart, by the way, has four wheels that roll properly. Nope, it's too late to go back and change yours out. Suck it up and push through its squeaky concerto, Buttercup.).
Shy of stalking these people, glance around and see what they are putting in their carts. They fill up on the good stuff and read and compare labels. Unless they are throwing a party (cough...Enablers...cough...ugh, I need a lozenge or something today), you won't see Doritos or soda, no Hostess or half gallons of ice cra..p...I mean, 'cream'. What you will see are a lot of vegetables, lean meats, and complex carbs. It may sound plain, simple, and boring as far as taste is concerned (it's really not if you know what you're doing), but that's where knowing how to cook to bring out the flavors comes in handy. That's a whole separate book entirely.
Barring any food allergies or intolerance you may have, this is a great way to start your shopping if you either don't know where to begin, or feel the lure of the marketing around you. The best foods carry no labels. The ones that do, need to be scrutinized. If you've made it this far in the article, at an 87% chance of success, I'm guessing you can comprehend the English language; so make use of it, and a bit of that third grade math, and become a pro grocery shopper. They even put all the info into a fancy little rectangle for you there. In all seriousness, get off auto-pilot for a change of pace or even go off list and see how what healthier choices come home with you to be filed away into your pantry and how those choices effect your body and even your mood.
***As a side note, pass good food habits along to your kids (teach them how to shop and cook with you) so that 20 years from now, someone like me isn't writing something like this again because they have learned bad habits out of either convenience or laziness. Good food for you, but they can have hot dogs and processed chicken nuggets with fountains of sugary drinks? I don't think so. Nip it in the bud. If they're hungry enough and realize what you've cooked for the family is what they're getting or they go to bed hungry, they'll stop complaining eventually. Your time and sanity is worth something, as well. Tough love, people. They'll still eat some junk, that's what kids do, but the majority of what they consume should be healthy. More importantly, an appreciation for the right foods should be in place before they are old enough to shop and cook for themselves.***
Seriously, this shouldn't even be considered in whole or part of any meal or snack. Sure it's convenient. But if you love convenience, keep eating it and feeding it to your kids and later in life there will be a lot of really convenient visits to the doctor. Honestly, by taking the time and paying a little more for better food now (sometimes it doesn't cost more, but just takes a bit more effort), you will avoid future investments with the doctor and/or hospital.
Look at just some of the junk in this thing:
4 teaspoons (16g) of sugar per serving (or more depending on flavor)
A very small amount of real fruit
This is in just ONE "pastry" (I need quotes there because it's hard not to laugh)
I know it's hard to get a handle on breakfast sometimes. You're running around trying to get the kids ready for school pretty much every morning. One forgot to get something signed, another can't find a shoe, etc. So to alleviate some pressure, they're handed one of these nasty things (or some other convenience 'food') and the kid gobbles up half of it as the bus rumbles down the road. They step on, but not before handing you the remainder which becomes your measly breakfast for the day.
But this is where you need to take a step back, do your due diligence as a parent and plan ahead. If you're single or don't have kids, you have even fewer excuses for getting proper nutrition. 'Easy', 'Lazy', and 'Can't' are not excuses. They are four-letter words, and offensive ones at that.
And if you're already eating healthy, your kids should be too! There's no reason they should inherit an unhealthy routine that will haunt them the rest of their lives (and, subsequently, pass on to their kids). We spend so much time and money making sure they are well-educated and safe from danger; proper nutrition should be a part of that time and expense.
So, how do we change our behavior and influence theirs? Here's a short list of helpful hints that will hopefully get some fire burning in you:
Make an omelette (or some other healthy choice) before bed and have it ready to heat up while you're making your coffee. You can even bake the ingredients in muffin tins and make it really convenient.
Gather some recipes for healthy home-made breakfast bars for the days they are in a rush. Make them on the weekend and have them ready to go. Even a slice of banana or zucchini bread is better than this. Yes, it's simple carbs and sugar, but steps can be taken to make it healthier like swapping out the sugar for honey or using combinations of alternative flours (like almond and coconut flour)
Don't even buy it in the first place. Make a conscious effort when shopping to stay away from the idea that you "might need it in a pinch". You don't need it...at all! If it's not in the house, but healthy food is, necessity will truly be the mother of invention and you'll put those healthy ingredients together into something packed with way more nutrition.
My personal preference: Wake up earlier and cook something!
Yes, I know this came off preachy, but proper nutrition at all meals is serious and the iron fist of this trainer has got to hammer. However, I can only pound that stubborn nail so much lest it bend or break. It's you that needs to make sure it goes in straight.
I was recently on the Book of Face and, of course, found something that irritated me; fueling a fire that could only be reduced to smoldering embers by organizing words into horizontal lines with punctuation. So, here we are again. Take a look at the picture below.
You probably already know where I'm going with this based on the picture. Yes, that is a great way to pack snacks for your kids for travel. I have no doubt this person is well organized. But, is this what the kids are eating? This may be how traveling is done, but certainly not how providing the proper nutrients is done. I see sugar, sugar, simple carbs, sugar, simple carbs around fake cheese, sugar, more simple carbs, sugar, aaaaaaand...sugar. "Oh, but at least the fruit is healthy sugar." B.S. The body doesn't care what form it's in, sugar is sugar. If you stay at the minimum recommended amount and consume equal amounts of fiber in grams, that's fine. But that's a discussion for another article. Back to the image of compartmentalized death.
So many adults these days are taking the time to better their eating (which is awesome), but aren't paying proper attention to their kids' nutrition. I completely understand that it's hard enough to manage our own nutrition, let alone the nutrition of our wee sprogs, but the effort needs to be made for their sake. They don't know better or even care at this point in life; they're kids. So it's up to us larger, more experienced folk to control what goes in their smiling faces. They may not like us now for it, but at least they won't hate us later for not doing it. Think of it as an investment in their future. The more that's put into their health now, the less time and money is spent later with doctors and hospital bills.
"Its alright." some say, "They're young and full of energy; they'll burn it off." The truth is, it's not alright. I was watching a clip from a news program a while back where there were two brothers who were about 10 to 12 years old. One was clinically obese and the other looked perfectly healthy even though they ate pretty much the same cruddy diet. They were both given an MRI and it turned out that the one that looked more in shape had a higher total percentage of body fat. The thinner brother was what we call TOFI (thin on the outside, fat on the inside). So, it doesn't matter what they look like on the outside; it's not a good judge of what's going on within.
A more brutal way of thinking about all of this is someone pushing their kid in front of a bus in slow motion. It may take some time, but either way, the kid is going to end up in the hospital (or worse). It's my experience that parents who love their kids don't push them in front of heavy moving objects. Yet, this aspect of their well being goes unchecked or even ignored. Feeding them junk like this (especially in that amount) is the first step off the curb.
I created an image which I'll leave right here. This bus has many stops. Let's see where it's going today as a result of the image above. Ooooooh, yeah no, I think we'll walk, thank you.
Last week marked the 10 year anniversary of me turning my life around, and I couldn't be happier with that choice. After rolling out of bed one morning feeling awful, I made the decision to start exercising and eating better by cutting out a lot of junk (fast food, muffins, donuts, waffles, pancakes, soda, juice, and alcohol), eating more vegetables, and drinking more water.
So far I haven't looked back on any of it, though I do partake in a glass of the grape imbibe with my wife once every week or two. Do I still enjoy chocolate in its many forms? You bet! It's my one real vice, but I can live with that. By giving up all that other junk, I can have a bit of what I crave and not feel bad about it. But, by staying true to my original decisions and motivations, I haven't regressed at all. All that said, the actual purpose of this post is to thank everyone who helped me get where I am today. This is to say that I didn't do it by myself; not by a long shot. Even though I look back and remember how much effort I put into it on my own, it most definitely was not a journey of one. Rolling out of bed feeling a mess was one thing, but the initial inspiration to exercise came from my friend Ryan and his drive and motivation in lifting. Very soon after came my dojo family who kicked my butt (and still are), helping me to shed some pounds and gain strength and balance. And all along, my wife and kids have supported me in going out a few times a week to train and make lunkhead noises in the basement. So, while I was the one who needed to put forth the effort, the debris ridden path was cleared (not to mention the ravenous tiger some of them put on the trail behind me to keep me going) and kept clear by all of these incredible people. They are the reason I do what I do now. Thank you all very much!