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.***
This is NOT breakfast!
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:
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:
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!
So, let's bust a myth. The myth of the "Fat Burning Zone". Take a look at the picture below. This is the panel of an elliptical machine I was on at a hotel last weekend. The easiest program was "Fat Burn". So, what kind of message does this convey? It tells us that at a lower intensity of exercise, we burn enough fat calories that we can avoid those more intense levels. So, the less I move and the easier I breathe, the more fat I burn? That doesn't seem right, does it? If that's the case, can't I just sleep off the fat? Sadly, no. Besides, if you could then you wouldn't get to do all those awesome exercises. That wouldn't be any fun, would it? Let's break this apart.
At lower levels of intensity, we burn a higher percentage of calories from fat compared to those from carbohydrates. That much is true. That being true, why then do we not wake up skinny since we're hardly moving in our sleep? The reason for this is revealed by some simple math (All of these calorie numbers are estimates since everyone is different. Individual's statistics (height, weight, etc.) need to be taken into account, but they will serve to illustrate the point.).
Let's say we walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a respiratory quotient of 0.8 (RQ=The volume of CO2 output divided by O2 intake over a period of time. More than you need to know, but there it is so you don't have to look it up. I know you really wanted to. :-) ) and it burns us 110 calories. At this RQ rate we should be burning about 65% of our calories from fat. So, we burned off roughly 71.5 calories in that half hour. Yay for us, there goes the four whole chocolate covered pretzels we ate earlier (doesn't seem worth it, does it?).
Now, let's keep the timing the same, but bump the intensity up to a moderate run so we get the RQ closer to 0.9 (the RQ scale runs from 0.7-1.0 for reference). With this increase effort, we're only burning about 32% of our calories from fat. So, this sounds like a bad place to be doesn't it? Why would we want to put forth more effort for a smaller percentage of payout? Well, we're not actually because at this higher intensity we're burning more calories overall. See where this is going? At this higher intensity, we might be burning about 260 calories total which means we're up to around 83.2 calories from fat even though we are at a lower percentage of fat burned. The difference between the two amounts of fat calories here and in the paragraph above may not seem like a lot, but remember that exercise is cumulative and every little bit counts over time. Plus there's a bigger difference in the calorie count overall. This isn't to say you should hit it hard every time; we still need to balance out with lower intensity training here and there. It is to say, "Don't be afraid to kick it up a bit."
So, that's it: With just a few paragraphs and a bit of math, the "Fat Burning Zone" myth is busted. It's simply a tool used by marketers of exercise equipment, fitness trackers, etc. to entice you into buying one particular model over another. But now that you know their game, you're one step ahead of them. So, if the sales person tells you the device has a "Fat Burning Zone", just give them a vacuous stare, smile, and move on with your next question. The math doesn't lie.
I hope this has shed some light on at least one crazy aspect of the world of fitness and that you'll use this information the next time you exercise (Which should be right now. Go! Get another 15 minutes in! Seriously, I'm not kidding. Go!).
I set out today to create a combination move that targets most of the main muscles and the core. I spent my whole exercise block stringing together moves and came up with something that...well...it's not nice. I'm calling it The Beast of Burden. This is what the set up looks like. Click here for the video.
For the first time in a long time, I almost hit the wall. Today, as I was well into a chest and back routine, I started feeling less energetic and slightly faint. Instead of pumping out alternating sets of pushing and pulling exercises, I found myself requiring mid-set rests in order to finish. Frustration set in. Why, in years, was this happening now? What the heck was I doing wrong? The answer was 'nothing'; I wasn't doing anything wrong as the 'wrong' had already been done.
It wasn't until I backtracked that I found the culprit. The problem was that I hadn't eaten enough today. Breakfast was the usual, so that got me through the early training sessions, but lunch was seriously lacking. I can only blame myself as my mind was set on using the precious couple hours I had free today to study for my next certification. In the whirlwind of excitement, I downed some veggies and chicken and a touch of pasta before breaking out the study material.
After finishing today's study, I began my routine. What was supposed to be a solid 60 minutes ended up clocking in around 40. While I had the right amount of protein for my weight and enough veggies to kill a small horse, my complex carb intake was definitely lacking. As such, my glucose levels were low and I had started to rip into my glycogen stores.
Lesson of the day (mostly to remind myself): EAT! If you're burning fuel, you first need fuel to burn, dummy.
Blah, blah, blah, and so on, and so on. Ugh. This post is part PSA and part rant. I just came from looking at a Facebook video with someone showing a core move that they claimed to be a "threat to belly fat". Sure, the move was challenging and a great one for strengthening the core, but come on, one move isn't going to make belly fat turn tail and run. In fact, no specific exercise is going to do that. It amazes me how many fleeting videos and articles there are out there claiming you can get rid of belly fat with a few moves (let alone one) done every other day. Please! Do we look stupid?
Here's the deal. You can't spot reduce. No matter what anyone tells you, you can't target an area of fat to eliminate by itself. If someone does tell you that, just smile and wave, then turn and walk away. Fat doesn't appear on our bodies in that fashion, so why do people expect it to leave in that way? It's all or nothing, baby. If you find a way to reduce fat on one part of your body without causing other parts to lose fat, then you deserve a cookie; heck, I'll bake you a few dozen. You CAN, however, spot TONE by exercising specific muscle groups. You can make those muscle groups larger and stronger individually, but you aren't going to see any of what you've accomplished if there's adipose tissue covering it.
It's my belief there are a bunch of people out there walking around with a pretty great six-pack beneath some belly fat. People who are jumping on each and every bandwagon of heralds proclaiming the above sentiment. Sure, most of those exercises are great, but until these people do what they are supposed to do outside of that singular move, the fat is there to stay.
Simply put: Eat really well, do some cardio, lift some weights and be generally active. There's no magic to any of this, just determination and discipline...and of course, math and science.
Today, I was treated to a truly heartwarming surprise when one of my clients told me that she had lost 15 pounds and a whole dress size! This is such a testament to the devotion and dedication she has to improving her health and fitness levels. She gives her all for each routine and continues to nurture better eating habits. I'm so proud of her and can't wait to see what she does next!