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Posted: August 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

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Good Reads – 5/16/11

Posted: May 16, 2011 in Good Reads

What’s the deal with being fat and fit?  Tom Venuto breaks down some recent research that highlights how some people can smash the scales yet be healthy, metabolically speaking.  Tom then goes onto to explain in his opinion why it’s still important to lose weight even if you’re a member of the fat and fit group.

Joel Jamieson is quickly becoming one of my favorite people to read.  While he’s primarily a strength coach for MMA fighters, he’s always writing things that make you think.  His site is worth checking out – and it does need a membership.  But membership is free.  In one of his more recent blog posts, he made a gem of a book available for free download.  One of the orginal texts on periodization, Fundamentals of Sports Training by Matveyev, can be downloaded here.  This will appeal to the trainers and coaches out there more than anyone else.

Maintaining a neutral spine is a concept that seems to be taken for granted more often than not nowadays.  The vast majority of my clients coming throug the doors of my gym, however, are lacking the body awareness, mobility or stability required for maintaining a neutral spine in static and dynamic postures.  Check out Mike Robertson’s brief video tutorial of teaching neutral spine dynamics.

Here’s a great piece Lyle McDonald wrote a while back regarding the importance of context. The only absolute is there are no absolutes.  I know that’s not what the gimmicky marketers would like for you to believe.  But it’s the truth.

A family member recently sent me a link to this article published in the New York Times.  It asks, “What’s the Single Best Exercise?”  In the article they ask a number of physiologists this question and each has a different answer.  Some conclude that it’s walking.  Other answers included squats, calisthenics, and high intensity interval training.

As far as I’m concerned though, I deemed this article worthless before I read beyond the title.

When we were younger and infantile (yea, I know… I’m older but no less infantile), my friends and I would pull our cars up to people walking, jogging and bicycling, roll down the window, and ask, “How do you get there?”

Anytime someone pulls their car up to you, rolls down the window and starts out asking, “how do I get….” there’s a knee jerk reaction to start thinking about where you’re at currently so you can respond helpfully. Or, depending on the neighborhood you’re from, you might be thinking, “Drive-by!!!! Get down!!”

We’d get a kick out of the confused look glaring back at us as the exerciser’s wheels spun trying to come up with an immediate answer.  Eventually they’d retort with, “Get where!?”

Now if only the physiologists interviewed in the above-referenced article were so bright.  Maybe then the New York Times would have had a meaningful article on their hands.

To ask “what’s the best exercise” without concluding the question with “for THIS particular goal and for THIS particular person” is akin to the mindless game we used to play above.

Get who where and how? Oh, and when does he need to get there?

See what I mean?

Specificity means something.  Over the weekend someone emailed me looking for help – she was trying to “transform her body” into something resembling “toned.”  Her exercise schedule started and ended with marathon training each and every day.  When I told her to do a google image search for “female marathon runners” and asked, “Is that that body you’re shooting for?” she got the point.

And that’s not a jab at female marathon runners or any women who do in fact strive to have that body type.  The point is, form follows function.  How you train your body will directly impact how it looks, neverminding genetics and nutrition for the sake of brevity.

There’s certainly an optimal way to exercise, but it’s always going to be context specific to the individual, goals and circumstances.  Don’t ever forget this.

Good Reads 4/18/11

Posted: April 18, 2011 in Good Reads

Matt Perryman recently wrote about patience in the game of strength training.  In this blog post he attempts to redefine “progress” for the sake of sanity.  The noob in the weight room can bank on weekly gains in strength and even size.  As experience under the bar accumulates though and you venture closer to your genetic limits, whatever that might mean, framing how you look at success in the weight room makes a heck of a lot of sense.  Matt offers up some very sage wisdom here.

The starvation mode caused by excessive cardio?  That’s what Tom Venuto discusses in his most recent article which you can read here.  It seems that many of today’s exercisers become a tad neurotic when it comes to volume and calorie intake.  Slash calories as low as possible while ramping up exercise volume to the moon and I’ll get the best of both worlds, right?  Wrong.  I can’t explain how many times I’ve had women email me asking for help with their plateaus who were training for a marathon while eating 1200 calories.  Tom does a great job explaining why this simply isn’t The Way.  Energy availability matters!

Anthony Colpo isn’t subtle when he wrote Why Most People are Overweight, Out of Shape & Likely to Stay that Way.  Rightfully so, too.  It gets tiring telling people to focus on what we know – the basics – all the while they’re out throwing their money at con men in hopes of a quick fix.

I reviewed Jamie Hale’s book, Should I Eat the Yolk, back in October.  It’s a fun, easy read that dispels a lot of the myths that plague the fitness industry.   He covers this topic in the book, but he also wrote about Is Bottled Water Safer Than Tap Water on his site, which is an eye-opening read.

In this article, James Krieger answers the question, Why Is It So Easy to Regain Weight?  In reality he’s really doing some investigation into what many of my readers label as the “starvation mode.”  He explains how a reduction in basal metabolic rate might not be the primary culprit at play in adaptive thermogenesis.  Instead, a reduction in non-exercise activity thermogenesis may play a greater role.  Put differently, people who lost considerable weight were expending less energy than what would be predicted given their weight simply because they were moving less.

Lyle McDonald is one of the best writers out there in the fitness field in my opinion.  Most of his articles and all of his books go into great detail about the topic he’s writing about.  Amusingly, one of my favorite articles of his has to do with “subordinating” the finer details to the fundamental principles.  This is something you always hear me harping about – “You’ll get most of your mileage out of the basics so focus on them.”  Lyle’s Fundamental Principles Versus Minor Details is definitely worth a read.

I have never been that active of a person. I was always a musician. So what that led to was smoking and drinking a lot. Well, a while back I had had enough so I quit drinking and have not even looked at a beer since then. 1 month ago, I had my last cigarette. And god willing, they are both the last ones I have ever had. But I need something more. Here is my issue,

I am 37 Years old
and I weigh 215lbs

Now according to the charts for my height I should be at 170lbs. Personally, I think that is way to skinny for me. I would love to just see 190 again!

I just have no idea where to start. I will start by saying that I hate gyms. I dont know why. For some reason I think I am always being watched and judged (ya, I know…Like I’m that important?) I know it is in my head, but that is the way it is I guess. I really WANT to lose the weight, I WANT to get healthy, I WANT to be able to go hiking etc etc etc.

I have a beautiful wife and three great kids. I want to be able to spend the rest of my life with them and having a great time. not getting angry because I am over tired, and not feeling like I just don’t have the energy. I am tired of feeling like this. Some people have suggested to me that I try the P90X others have suggested the Spartacus training. I just don’t know where to start. I suppose walking is a good choice, but I want to build a little muscle mass as well. I want to feel and look good again. and as of right now, I just don’t. So, I figured I would see if you had a “Beginners Guide to the Unhealthy?” Maybe a “Try a sit up to start?” ha ha I don’t know….It’s like looking at the top of a mountain dying to get there, but you just have no way to get there….because your not sure you have the right tools to bring?….if that makes sense at all?


The 30,000 foot high view is this – you’re changing your body and health for the better, you’ve kicked some nasty habits (congrats by the way) and now you want to focus on looking good naked.

Sticking with very general lines of thinking, you need to lose some fat and maintain the muscle you currently have. You’re not going for the bodybuilder look I imagine. So maintaining what you have would probably serve your goal. If you add a little more than you have, so be it and all the better.

Knowing that these are the two variables you need to focus on (losing fat and maintaining/building muscle, it becomes pretty simple, on paper, to figure out what to do.

On the fat loss side of things, you need to be expending more energy than your body needs – get yourself into a calorie deficit as it’s often called. In theory, this deficit can be established entirely be eating less food than your body needs. Ideally though, the deficit is established by some combination of diet and exercise.

So do you need to count calories? Not necessarily. I think it’d be a good idea at first – give you a good feel of portion sizes, energy density of various foods, habits that are screwing you up, etc. But again, it’s not necessary.

Very generally speaking, typical “junk food” is much more energy/calorie dense than typical “health food.” Which means that per volume, junk food has more calories in it than health food. By default, if you were to cut out all junk food and replace it with health food, you’d likely reduce your calorie intake and create your deficit. Granted, you don’t need to be so rigid and nix every pleasure from your life… I’m just making a point.

Some guidelines to help you adhere to a healthier eating style might look something like:

1. Have some plan when it comes to your weekly nutrition. I have my clients prep their foods in advance which entails precooking meats, breaking out foods into reasonable serving sizes in baggies, etc.

2. Stick to whole natural foods for the majority of your diet – majority being the operative word.

4. Eat protein (preferably from lean sources) at every meal.

5. Consume 2-4 servings of fruit per day.

6. Consume 3-6 servings of fibrous vegetables per day.

I could go on, but you get the point. Most of us knows exactly how we *should* eat. The hard part is establishing an environment and mindset that promotes healthy behaviors and habits.

If you feel you can’t go it without counting calories, than you need to figure out your total daily calorie needs first. There are a bunch of ways you can estimate this. My suggestion is to keep it simple. If you’re going to start exercising most days of the week, something like 14 calories per pound is a reasonable estimate.

This would put you at 3000ish cals per day. If you think you’re more sedentary or that you’re not going to exercise that much, cut it down to 12 or 13 cals/day. It’s not rocket science. Once we have a reasonable estimate of your daily expenditure, you can set your calorie intake at a level below this to trigger your deficit.

I’m a fan of deficits of 25% or thereabouts in most situations, which would put your daily calorie target at 2250 or so.

One part many people screw up is the idea that once the above math is worked out, they expect it to work flawlessly. They forget that we’re working with a lot of estimates here and there’s some individuality as well as variability at play here as well. So it’s not the selection of your starting calorie intake that matters so much. Rather it’s the process you adhere to afterwords.

That process should entail:

1. Track your measurements, weight, body fat, pictures, etc every 2-4 weeks. Use what you have available. Most everyone can easily pick up a soft tape measure (I like the one called the myo tape, which you can find on amazon) and a camera.

2. Based on the trend you’re seeing with your tracking, adjust your intake accordingly. This doesn’t mean that if things go in the wrong direction one day, or even a week, that you panic. It means that you focus on the longer term trends. Expect that adjustments will have to be made. And make them logically based on what’s happening with the metrics from #1.

3. Rinse and repeat steps 2-4 until you a) reach your goal or b) your goals change.

Now all of this and we still didn’t talk about exercise. Let me preface this by saying it’s important to not bite off more than you can swallow. It might be wise to get your nutrition under wraps first. The last thing you want to do is shoot yourself in the foot by making life a living hell by forcing too much change at once.

But the above nutrition stuff will take care of the fat loss side of things for the most part. To aid in the establishment of a deficit, you might consider 3-5 sessions of “cardio” per week. Start slow. Walking is a great form of exercise. Hiking is fantastic… I’m an avid hiker/backpacker myself. Focus on things that you enjoy and that keep you moving for extended periods of time (20-60 minutes).

On the muscle preservation/building side of things, generally speaking, resistance training is the king. I’d like to see you work your way up to a point where you’re doing resistance training 2-3 times per week.  Some sort of full body emphasis that utilizes large compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, pushing and pulling is ideal.

You hate gyms for illogical reasons in my opinion. It’d be great if you could overcome those misconceptions you have. If you can’t though, you can easily do stuff from the comfort of your home. As you mentioned, P90X is an option. Besides the trainer, Tony, being a total screwball, it’s a half decent program considering it’s a mass-marketed, hyped up, prepackaged product. I’d opt for an individualized program, but something like p90x can be a stepping stone to this.

You could also consider investing in some equipment assuming you have the space and funds. Making your own programming might seem daunting at first, but hang with the right people on the right forums and you’ll learn quickly. I could help you out with suggestions in terms of equipment selection if you choose this route.

In many areas, there are small, private facilities that offer private personal training. That might be something for you to consider as well.

I don’t want to dive into the details of resistance training and program design here as I likely already threw too much at you. Hopefully this gives you a good idea about things though and if you have questions, feel free to ask!

Why your goal weight is stupid

Posted: March 30, 2011 in Q&A

I have a question for you.  Are the last 10 pounds relative? By this I mean pertaining to your final goal.

How do you define what the last 10 pounds are? For example,I weigh 136 pounds at 5ft 3. I think I would be happy to lose another 7 to 10 pounds as I’ve been at this weight previously and was happy with it and I like to keep my curves. On the other hand there are women of the same height who may wish to lose a further 10 pounds than me but still be in the correct weight category for their height.

So when is the last 10 pounds really the last 10 pounds?

I would love to know your thoughts on this because presently I’m really confused about what my goals should be. Should I shoot for 1 pound a week loss as I’m still at the heavier end of my healthy weight range or drop to half a pound so as not to compromise my body composition I’m not aiming for skinny fat!

Hope you don’t mind me picking your brains and I thought this subject may be interesting to others to.

First, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as the “last 10 lbs.” At least not in my world. Reason being – having a “last 10 lbs” implies that a certain weight, based on BMI, is ideal regardless of body composition.  Suppose we compiled a group of women with your exact same stats in terms of height and weight.  Do you think they’d all look the same in terms of physique?  Now suppose we had them all lose 10 lbs.  Some of them would look excellent. Some of them would look terrible. Which is why goal weights are pretty ridiculous if you ask me.

When you have 50 or 100 + lbs to lose, goal weights are fine. They keep you focused on the right direction. But as you get closer, it takes a more refined, precise and deliberate approach. The goal of hitting a specific weight goes out the window and optimizing the amount of muscle mass you have relative to fat mass becomes the name of the game.

Which is why various people can “wear” the same weight so differently. Height and bone structure plays a role. Fat distribution plays a role. These variables are out of your control. But how much muscle and fat you have plays a huge role. And this is what people need to be focusing on as these variables, for the most part, are in our control.

I can tell you that I’ve worked with women who came to me saying, “I want to lose 5-10 lbs.” They don’t know why. It’s generally some silly idea they have in their head of what they weighed in high school or whatever. They’re hoping that 5-10 lbs lost will ultimately and magically give them the body they imagine themselves having. And that’s the mindset our society has created – weight loss is the answer to all of your problems regardless of how thin you are.

Of these clients, many of them left my gym heavier than when they came.  And they were happy too.  It was the optimization of their body composition rather than losing more weight that ultimately made them feel (and look) good.

I’m not sure if I answered your questions, but this should be a good start.


Thanks so much for the reply.

From what I’ve been reading on this site I’m definitely changing my views on how it’s not just about a number on the scale I should ultimately be aiming for. Like a lot of other women though I find it a daunting prospect to eat more calories and add strength training instead of low cal dieting and cardio. I find it downright scary to be honest!

I’m really unsure of how to change my approach and what I should/shouldn’t be doing.

It has to start with applying logic to the situation. You agree that at any given weight, some women will look good while others will look not so good, right? Knowing this, we can deduce that weight really doesn’t matter – it’s quite arbitrary. Unless you’re trying to compete in some sport that has weight classes and you’re not telling me.

We know what goes into building an ideal physique – losing fat while maintaining (or even building) muscle.  So that’s what we need to focus on. When these variables are optimized, where your weight sits is where your weight sits.  Who cares?  If you looked exactly as you dream about looking, would your weight really matter to you?

Suppose we found out that oxygen was going to run out on Earth and they (whoever “they” are) devised a master plan to start a fresh society in outer space.  Would all of these women who are so hung up on the number on the scale suddenly be happy, even though their bodies didn’t change a lick, simply because gravity no longer “did it’s thing”?

Don’t let culture and media dictate what you do. They’re out for your money and nothing more and unfortunately, they’ve brainwashed a lot of people, especially women, into believing weight is the ultimate arbiter over appearance.  It’s just not logical.  Reminds me how cigarette companies used to frame their advertisements in a way that made people feel as if you weren’t cool unless you were puffing on their poison sticks.

Totally agree with what you say about the media. There are magazine articles with a line up of celebrities and what they weigh from light to heavy ! There is also a website that allows you to put in your stats or your desired stats and see what other women look like at that weight/height !

Its supposed to be empowering to women but it ends up with women looking at it and almost “shopping” for what their ideal weight should be. And I guess thats where the obsession for seeing the scale hit a specific number comes from. Its like “oh look! Jennifer Aniston is my height,if only I could get to her weight I would look like her!’.

I’m taking onboard what you are saying and am going to have to work on changing mentally and physically. The mental side will be hard after years (I’m 31 and first went on a diet at 16!) of thinking it was all down to that magic number and being ignorant about body composition and the major importance of that in getting the result I desire. Thanks so much for your insights and I will continue to be educated by your posts and blog
Very well put.

I think if you dive in and structure your exercise around building a better body opposed to reaching a certain weight, in short time you’ll forget about your obsession as you’ll be looking and feeling much better. And if you’re not happy, what’s the big deal? It’s not like you’re signing a contract where you can never go back to your “old ways” of doing things. Don’t apply unnecessary rigidity to this where you’re feeling overly anxious about nothing.

Inaugural Good Reads – 3/28/11

Posted: March 28, 2011 in Good Reads

Okay.  I admit it.  This is a completely unoriginal idea.  I don’t know who started it.  I know I saw Cressey doing something like this a year or two ago.  I know Bret Contreras, who I recently interviewed, used to do it.  Ben Bruno still does it.  I’m not much for bandwagons but I think this is a worthy cause.  Spreading quality information in an industry that is chock full with B.S. has to be good, right?

What I’m talking about is blogging lists of recommended readings.  Let’s face it, it’s stuff to stay abreast of all the blogs even when you’re trying.  That’s one of the beauties of RSS feeds.  If you don’t use a feeder and you visit a number of sources on a consistent basis on the web, you’re really missing out.  They make staying up-to-date so much easier.  But even still… it can be tough.

I’ve a lot of readers who don’t spend time on the Internet reading fitness authors/trainers.  They’re clients who train with me in my gym.  They use me as their sole source of fitness information.  They don’t have the time or inclination to search beyond me.  While I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity to work with each and every one of my clients, there are plenty of other professionals who are worth paying attention to.  If they’re not going to seek out additional information, I’ll bring the information to them.

I don’t want to go nuts with a “good reads” list.  Bret and Ben have put out some massive lists.  I’ve a love/hate relationship with their lists as, on the one hand, they’re amazingly useful and diverse.  On the other hand, they’re time consuming to get through.  And that’s not a gripe.  Their readers are free to pick and choose what sounds interesting and what doesn’t.  I’ve nothing but respect for the amount of time and energy they put into their lists.

Mine will be much shorter.  And it won’t always be the author’s most recent content.  Blogs tend to promote “flavor of the day” mentalities where people either catch what you’re blogging about on the day you post it or they don’t.  And if they don’t, they’re probably not going to dig back through the archives to see what you had to say yesterday, last week, last month or whatever.  Not when you’re sure to post something new today or tomorrow. In an effort to highlight stuff that may have been missed, I’ll throw up links to older content as well.

Here’s the inaugural list in no particular order.

  • Matt Perryman’s Why goals do more harm than good article.  This article was short and sweet and something I talk about quite a bit with my clients and readers.  So many folks focus on the outcomes to such a degree that the process is forgotten.  Because progress in body and performance improvements occurs slowly, anxiety eventually builds up in those folks who are intently focusing on the destination.  They want it here and they want it now.  More anxiety equals more stress and frustration, neither of which is good for consistency and progress.
  • Lyle McDonald’s research review on Normal Weight Men & Women Overestimating Energy Expenditure.  In this review, Lyle highlights a recent study that had subjects expend a certain amount of energy via walking, estimate how much energy they expended, then eat back enough food to cover their expected energy expenditure.  Needless to say, just as people suck at gauging how much energy they’re consuming, they also suck at gauging how much energy they’re expending when they exercise.  Granted, there was a large variance in the estimated energy expenditures which hints that more informed people have a better idea about energy expenditure.
  • You’ll have to sign up to Joel Jamieson’s www.8weeksout.com site to hear the first part of his audio series dealing with plateaus.  Signing up is free so don’t hesitate… there’s a ton of great information on the site.  In this particular series Joel explains why stress management is so vital to long-term progress.
  • In this article, James Krieger educates us on some of the common fears regarding fructose.
  • Last but not least, here is Martin Berkhan talking about the fanaticism of some low-carb dieters.  If you have the time, I highly suggest checking out the comment section under the blog post for some very interesting conversation regarding metabolism from a lot of the big hitters in the industry.