Archive for March, 2011

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.

Thoughts?

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.

Enjoy!

An interview with Bret Contreras

Posted: March 22, 2011 in Interviews

STEVE:  I’m glad we could finally connect for this interview, Bret. I’m not certain, but I feel the majority of my readers are atypical when compared to the average Bret Contreras reader.  They’re not hanging around the bodybuilding and strength coach circles. I’ve many readers who are just starting out on the journey of weight loss, which is why I feel interviewing people like you is great – it gives them exposure to people they otherwise wouldn’t hear about.

Granted, that’s not my entire readership. Body-Improvements as a whole does the strength and conditioning for numerous athletes who will also appreciate what you have to say.

How about we start with a general introduction. Who are you and what do you have going on?

BRET: I’ll make this quick. I’m a 34-year-old guy who used to teach high school math while personal training on the side that left teaching to open up a Scottsdale studio called Lifts and invent a glute machine called the Skorcher. I always wanted to see if people would like what I had to say as a fitness writer, so I wrote an eBook on the glutes and started writing articles for various fitness sources. In the past couple of years, I’ve gotten pretty popular and many trainers and coaches have started using some of my methods with great success. Recently I moved to Auckland, New Zealand to get my PhD in strength and conditioning, and am now surrounded by many great minds in the fields of Biomechanics, Physiology, and Physical Therapy, as well as plenty of quality strength coaches. I have a blog that I maintain at www.BretContreras.com.

STEVE:  Short and sweet, but it also says a lot.  I’m a skeptic by nature, so when you first popped onto the scene I was thinking, “Who the hell is this guy?”  As time went on though, your passion for this field, your knowledge base, and your willingness to continue learning and refining your ideas became very evident.  I’ve to admit… I became a fan.

While you’re serious about the industry, you don’t take yourself too seriously which is a pleasant divergence from what you typically get in this field.  It also makes for some entertaining blogging, which is evidenced by your massively popular blog!  Hopefully you’ll be sharing what you learn along the way in pursuit of your PhD.

Speaking of your continuing education, it proves that you’re interested in bringing up the standards of the industry.  Can you touch on some of the biggest problems you see in this field and where you’d like to see things head in the future?  What can we do to bring up the standards?

BRET: Thank you very much for the kind words! I appreciate that. The biggest problem in the industry today is top fitness professionals assuming that they’re “ahead of the research.” The second biggest problem is that the common trainer or coach develops an idol and follows everything he or she says. Here’s how we can prevent this from happening.

First, fitness professionals need to realize that no single expert or guru comes close to having all the answers. Our profession draws upon so many different fields, including biomechanics, exercise physiology, nutrition, physical therapy, psychology, bodybuilding/hypertrophy, powerlifting/strength, Olympic lifting/power, strongman/functional training, and sport specific training and conditioning. The best any single expert can do is know a little bit about each of these fields and a lot about a particular topic within one of these fields. So there’s no need to idolize anyone.

Second, fitness professionals should expose themselves to a broad range of education, from text books and journal articles, to blogs and magazines, to forums and conferences, to DVD’s and eBooks. Knowing the research well helps you know what’s highly supported versus what’s not supported, which gives you an idea of what is somewhat factual and what is based on opinion. Training yourself and training others gives you a good bullshit meter so you know what to experiment with and what to outright ignore. If something works, then there will eventually be research to support it, and that research will be duplicated several times over. If something is explored by the research and consistently comes up unsupported, then it probably only works via “placebo effect.” No matter how passionate they are about a topic, fitness professionals need to rely on logic, not emotion, and stay “evidence based.”

Third, more fitness professionals should learn the research/peer-reviewed process and start writing review papers, case studies, exercise technique columns, and/or original research articles. I’m just starting to learn the process and I love it. If we simply rely on opinion and emotion, then fads can take off despite the fact that they may not do what they claim to do. 

STEVE:  Great Answer.  I think some of the onus lies with the consumer or client as well, which is unfortunate.  C’est la vie though.    The way the industry is structured, there’s simply not enough incentive for trainers to pursue professional growth and education.  As I explained in my State of the Industry article, consumers vote with their dollars and I’m of the opinion that change starts with them being pickier in terms of what and who they spend their dollars on.

Shifting gears – as I previously mentioned, there are many novice exercises reading this whose goals revolve around looking and feeling better.  They’re typically following the “Cardio Is Gospel” line of thinking and don’t pay much attention, if any at all, to strength training.  A lot of our exercise culture stills seems stuck in the cardio craze era.  Sure, a paradigm shift is happening as more people are “getting under the bar.”  But it’s a slow process.

What can you say to help drive a more balanced approach to shaping a better body?

BRET: Good points, and great follow up question. Regarding training for a better physique, people just need to use common sense. If they envision their perfect body for them, or pick out an individual who they aspire to look like, the body is always lean. Let’s say an individual currently weighs 200 lbs with 25% bodyfat and wants to be 175 with 12% bodyfat. Right now this individual is carrying 150 lbs of lean body mass and 50 lbs of fat. In order to reach his goal, he needs to carry 154 lbs of lean body mass and 21 lbs of fat. This means that he needs to simultaneously gain 4 lbs of muscle while losing 29 lbs of fat! This is very difficult to achieve and will not happen overnight. This person’s ONLY shot at reaching his goals is to perform strength training. People assume that if they lose a ton of weight via doing a bunch of cardio they will hold onto their muscle and burn just fat for weight loss. This is not true. If this individual got down to 175 lbs via solely cardio, he would probably lose a roughly equal amount of muscle tissue and fat for weight loss, which would leave him with around 138 lbs of lean body mass and 37 lbs of fat. This individual is not going to be happy with his physique when he reaches this point. When attempting to lose weight, you want to keep as much muscle as possible and have most of the weight coming off in the form of fat loss.

STEVE:  Thanks Bret.  It’s that whole weight vs. fat loss thing.  Genetics are going to primarily dictate what comes off as fat vs. what comes off as muscle.  But we need to do what’s in our control in the muscle preservation department and this involves lifting sufficiently heavy weights and eating adequate protein.

Speaking of lifting weights, what words do you have for the novice entering the weight room for the first time?  You’ve high vs. low reps, full body vs. split routines, machines vs. free weights, isolation vs. compound exercises, fast vs. slow reps, one set vs. multiple sets and so much more.  It can be daunting to figure out a reasonably logical first step when it comes to strength training.  Can you translate the “gibberish” into something applicable for the novice?

BRET: I certainly can. One thing that all camps can agree on is that full body workouts are superior for beginners. Beginners are not very strong or coordinated, so they don’t get taxed as much when they first embark on resistance training. Full body workouts will allow beginners to train more frequently and start engraining motor programs so they can rapidly improve their motor unit activation, firing frequency, synchronization, GTO disinhibition, and muscle spindle sensitization, in addition to intra and intermuscular coordination. After their nervous systems start to work better, hypertrophy gains are sure to follow. Four to six full body workouts per week are ideal.

As far as load, sets, reps, and intensiveness are concerned, here’s my take. Beginners can make good gains from using a relatively light load, even as low as 40% of their 1RM. As time goes on, the load must increase (up to 100% in advanced lifters depending on the goal). So the goal should be to start feeling comfortable with increasingly heavier weight while maintaining ideal technical form. If they go too heavy, their motor program development will be disturbed which will do more harm than good. In addition, the beginner runs the risk of suffering from musculoskeletal injury as their tissues have not sufficiently adapted to resistance training. It takes time to build up the body’s tissues so maximal loading should be avoided right off the bat. However, beginners don’t need to go super light either. They need to continuously challenge their systems by ramping up the weight while remaining very stable and not allowing energy leaks, which is quite difficult for beginners. The higher training frequencies employed by beginners allows them plenty of opportunity for variety in sets and reps, so fluctuation is encouraged. For example, one day a beginner could do 3 sets of 12 reps, another day could involve 4 sets of 8 reps, and another day could involve 5 sets of 5 reps. Pyramiding can also be employed, for example 4 sets of 12,10,8, and 6 reps. As you can see, multiple sets are ideal for beginners, and moderate rep ranges are typically employed, ranging from around 6 to 12 repetitions. Reps should be taken to failure with one caveat. “Failure” occurs much sooner in a set for a beginner than it does for an advanced lifter, since failure means, “the point at which technical form breaks down more than 10%.” This will ensure that the lifter doesn’t get too beat up so they can still train hard the following session, while also ensuring that poor motor programs don’t start to develop.

In order to use proper form, beginners need to possess adequate joint flexibility and motor control. Many times beginners don’t understand why they can’t squat deep or maintain a proper hip hinge while deadlifting. Proper instruction and use of corrective exercise is extremely important at this critical stage as motor programs are being developed right from the get-go. It’s much more difficult to learn proper technique after one has already “mastered” faulty technique. Beginner routines should consist of mostly compound bodyweight and free weight exercises to maximize neural adaptations and increase the functioning of the neuromuscular system’s stabilizing role. Beginners must learn how to control movement through full ranges of motion. The best exercises for beginners are squats, deadlifts, lunges, hip thrusts, push ups, chin ups, dips, inverted rows, planks, and side planks. Moderate repetition speeds should be used up front with an emphasis on eccentric control. A 1 second concentric phase, 1 second isometric phase, and 2 second eccentric phase seems ideal for beginners.

Of course, the aforementioned information is just a set of guidelines, and rules were meant to be broken. For example, a beginner might not be able to perform chin ups right off the bat. By employing 3 sets of slow negatives each session for several weeks, eventually the beginner will be able to perform a concentric chin up. This process can and should be employed, rather than putting the beginner on the lat pulldown machine and sticking with 4 sets of 10 with a moderate rep speed.

STEVE:  Thanks for your thoughts on the subject and I have one spin-off question.  I’m not sure if you have experience working with obese folks, but if you do (and even if you don’t), how would your exercise recommendations change in the resistance training department?

BRET: I’m very glad you asked this question, as I have tons of experience working with obese folks and I’m very passionate about the topic. In fact, I have 2 different clients who lost over 100 pounds! Here are some things I’ve noticed.

1. This goes without saying, but nutritional counseling is paramount with this population.

2. Bodyweight lower body exercises are perfect with this population up front – you can start with high box squats, glute bridges, 45 degree back extensions, and low step ups, progress to low box squats, shoulder and feet elevated hip thrusts, and medium height step ups, and then eventually add load and begin doing more advanced exercises such as dynamic lunges. Rack pulls and trap bar deadlifts can be performed right off the bat as well. It takes considerable time for this population to be strong and stable enough to perform advanced exercises like Bulgarian split squats, single leg hip thrusts, and single leg RDL’s due to the extreme stability requirements at the hip joint in particular as the hip moves into flexion. Sled pushing is a good idea for obese individuals as well.

3. As for upper body exercises, dumbbells and barbells can be used for pressing and rowing, and bands can be used for assistance with chin up variations. The strong bands from Elitefts come in handy for this purpose.

4. Core exercises should include planks, short-lever side planks, and Pallof presses.

5. There’s absolutely no need do plyometrics or explosive work with this population as the risks outweigh the benefits. Wait until their bodyweight drops sufficiently to start prescribing plyos, ballistics, and explosive work. Even jump roping or short sprint work is too much for obese folks.

6. The strength training workout they do is a form of high-intensity interval training. If you weigh 300 lbs and you perform 20 box squats, your heart rate will be through the roof. I like alternating between sets of lower body and upper body exercises with this group as it allows them more rest while keeping the heart rate elevated. If they come 3 times per week to train with you, they’re doing 3 HIIT sessions per week. Just have them do low-intensity cardio as homework on off-days and always encourage them to stick to the diet. Having them purchase a kettlebell and doing circuits as “homework” is a good idea as well.

7. Don’t spend time with foam rolling, mobility and activation work, and static stretching with this population. If you have them for an hour, spend the entire hour on building strength in the medium rep ranges, which will simultaneously build power, flexibility, and conditioning (at least initially it will).

8. Always keep in mind the psychological component to training obese individuals.

I’ve only watched the show “The Biggest Loser” one time in my life and I witnessed something horrible. This was several years ago, and the trainer was having obese clients hold themselves in a push up position for time and doing step ups. One of the girls was unable to hold herself up in a push up position and couldn’t do a step up correctly either. The trainer was yelling at her and telling her that she doesn’t want it badly enough.

This infuriated me. The girl’s inability to stabilize herself in a push up position and perform a proper step up had nothing to do with desire; it had to do with fitness. She wasn’t currently strong enough to do what the trainer prescribed, yet rather than realizing this and owning up to it, the retarded trainer made an already insecure individual feel even worse about herself and inevitably did more harm than good. Trainers like this make me sick. Our job is to start out very easy and make progressions while complimenting individuals so they feel good about themselves and build self-confidence. We need to create a positive environment surrounded with praise, good feelings, confidence-boosters, and progression.

Obese individuals already feel horrible about themselves. They’re self-esteem is usually very low. They don’t need to be yelled at, ridiculed, or “broken-down.” Take them to the edge of their current fitness abilities, praise them, and teach them the relationships between diet adherence and fitness gains to scale measurements and body composition.

STEVE:  Great answer, Bret.  Parts of the Biggest Loser infuriate me as well.  I can’t say that I watch the show, but I’ve seen it a few times.  I think besides the problem of sensationalism driving the show’s content, you also have what appear to be very ignorant trainers guiding the contestants.  I’m sure they were selected based on looks and personality rather than experience and knowledge.

I will admit though – it seems that many folks derive motivation from the show.  It gives them hope.  I simply wish the show’s producers would use their platform for what we’ll call realistic education and expectations.

Two more questions and we’ll wrap this up. First, can you highlight one or two of the biggest mistakes you see people making in the gym?

BRET: The biggest problem in gyms today is the lack of knowledge about fundamental movement. People can’t squat deep to save their lives, they can’t hinge at the hips, they can’t stabilize their cores. Rather than correcting dysfunction and mastering bodyweight, they start piling on plates and loading up their crappy form. As Gray Cook would say, this just puts fitness onto dysfunction. I like to say it gets them better at sucking. Eventually they can quarter squat and round back deadlift 400 pounds, but can’t do a bodyweight full squat or hip hinge correctly, and their joints break down.

The second biggest problem is insufficient knowledge of program design. Exercises are usually not to blame for injuries; it’s improper form or programming. Most lifters prioritize pressing at the expense of pulling. They fail to include stability exercises for the hips, spine, scapulae, and shoulders. Their programs don’t move their ankles, hips, shoulders, and thoracic spines through full ranges of motion. Eventually soft tissue shortens, force couples get out of whack, and injuries occur.

Powerlifters, bodybuilders, Olympic lifters, strongmen, and even weekend warriors tend to be stubborn and stick to their traditional ways. But they can learn something from the strength coaches and physical therapists who know how to keep athletes healthy. Do some foam rolling/SMR, perform some mobility and activation work, stretch a little bit here and there, learn proper form, and make sure programs have structural balance. This will keep lifters healthy and consistent and increase their chances of success.

STEVE:  Couldn’t agree more!  I don’t want to take anymore of your time so let’s wrap this up with a question about you.  What can we expect from Bret Contreras going forward?  Are you working on anything new or are you simply focusing on getting your doctorate?  And what does life post-school look like for you, assuming you’re thinking that far ahead?  Based on your latest blog post, you definitely are doing a lot of writing!

BRET: I’m just going to keep plugging away and see where life takes me. Half of me wants to open up an athletic training facility, part of me wants to be a research professor, and part of me just wants to dance! In all seriousness, the benefit of climbing the ranks as an “expert” in this industry is that more windows of opportunity appear and it’s easy to have numerous revenue streams. One thing is for certain, I never want to stop learning. Thanks for the interview Steve; I appreciate it.

STEVE:  Well I wish you the best of luck, though something tells me you won’t be needing it.  Wherever life takes you, I hope that you continue to share your thoughts and knowledge.  Thanks for your time, Bret.

Sorry to be one of those many people who I’m sure bug you, but I need some advice… I’m 5ft, weighing 115 pounds, having a desk job. So my mainanance calories are like 1300 a day. Is there any way to lose more than 1lb of fat in less than a month? I’ve started exercising like crazy over the past few days (mainly cardio, but some strenght training too), we’re talking 3-4 hours a day, about or over 1000 cals, and eating 1100-1200 a day. I started seeing some results, like 2lbs in 5 days, but its probably water weight. I’m just wandering if what I’m doing will bring me effects I want? I want to get to 108lbs if I can… And I dont realy want to do that in the course of 6 months… I’ve been trying to lose it for ages, always going up and down the scale, and I’ve tried upping my calorie intake too (by about 300 a day) and I’ve put a lb on weight in two weeks. I’m getting desperate… Please help ?


I don’t understand the rush? You realize that if you use extreme tactics to lose weight, which you are, big time, the chances of keeping whatever “progress” these tactics derive are slim to none… right?   If what you’re doing right now isn’t sustainable for life, which it’s not, well… you get the point.

Will what you’re doing get you the results you desire? I doubt it. As I said a million times, beating your body into submission is NOT the answer.

A pound of fat loss per week is a reasonable average.  A pound of weight loss per week given your stats is a totally different animal once you factor in things like water weight.

 

Its not a rush, really, but I dont feel comfortable in my body, so shouldnt I try to change it? And you hear about people loosing 6 lbs in two weeks, not 6 months… I thought I’ll try to get to my goal weight and then slowly(and thats the key) get back to my normal eating habits. I dont plan to stop exercising and start eating more on the day I reach my goal weigh, I’m not that naive, but doesnt exercise increase your methabolism? If so, I shouldnt put on weight when I do less exercise/eat more? And I’m just so fed up with trying to lose those 6 lbs over the last year, that know I just want to get in done with. At whatever cost. I’m so confused!


You’re talking about rates of weight loss as if there’s an applicable standard that can be applied to everyone. When you have a lot of fat to lose, you can go by the stock standard 1% of total body weight per week. If you’re 200 lbs, a loss of 2 lbs per week is acceptable. 400 lbs, 4 lbs per week is acceptable generally speaking.  Heck, assuming they can handle it psychologically, truly obese people can lose at even faster rates without screwing too much up

But when you’re a 115 lb female, things change for reasons I’ve discussed in our previous conversations.  Biologically and evolutionarily your body doesn’t want you lean, which is why it’ll resist extreme efforts with a fury – slowing down metabolism and shutting off the processes that go into muscle maintenance for starters.  I don’t know about you… but those are factors that seem sort of important when it comes to getting lean.

As the wise Matt Perryman said in similar words, “You’ve to coax the fat off once you reach a certain stage… not beat it off.”  You have to trick your body into doing something it doesn’t want to to. Which is why it’s important to stop worrying about the rate of weight loss each week or month when you’re at the stage of the game you’re at and start focusing on how you look and feel. What are pictures saying? What are tape measurements saying? What is the reflection saying? What are your clothes saying? Because weight is pretty much meaningless when you’re as light as you are. It’s not telling you anything useful.

I’ve worked with women your size (who’ve achieved physiques they never thought possible) who were working with a rate of weight loss of .5 – 1 lb per month. And they maintained it. In fact, many went on to work on adding muscle with the appropriate training and a calorie surplus because they wanted to take their physiques further.

This is about setting yourself up for a lifetime. When you start worrying about how fast you can do it in a month or six months, you’re already shooting yourself in the foot by missing the forest for the trees.

What you’re doing may make a lot of sense in your head but based on my experience I can assure you that chances are very high that *if* you actually reach your goal weight (which is a silly notion anyhow since I can show you 20 different women who weigh your goal weight and some look great while others look awful) it’s not going to be maintained due to the unrealistic methods you used to achieve it.

And because you’re beating your body into submission, once you start “slowly getting back to the normal habits” you’re going to pack on weight very easily because that’s what your body is hardwired to do after it’s starved, which is what you’re making it “think” it is.

Our bodies are wired to store fat easily and resist leanness – and this is even more the case for small women.

So you have to learn to work with your genetics. Not against them.  The more you oppose them and the more frantic and anxious you get about not meeting your flawed expectations, the deeper the hole you dig.  Most people would fare much, much better by simply calming down, taking a few deep breaths, and looking at things in the light of logic.

 

Well, what do you propose then? The basic method for losing weight is eat less, exercise more, which is what I’m doing. I know I’m getting enough nutritiens because I eat very healthily. All protein, fibre, vitamins, good fats, good sugars, its all there. No junk food/processed foods, all home made, very little saturated fat etc So thats not a problem. And 1100-1200 is reasonable for my weight, right? So then am I supposed to exercise less? I enjoy exercising, and its not just boring gym, its all sorts of things. I feel great when I exercise. I really dont know what to do anymore, your posts make a lot of sense to me, but I’ve tried eating more and exercising and it didnt work. I’m currently size 6 at the top and size 9 (UK). Yes I know that size doesnt exist, and thats exactly my problem. Size 8 is too small, size 10 is too big. I’m pear shaped, so I heard its harder for me to lose weight? Everyone says different things, and its all so confusing…

You say the basic method is eat less and move more.  You’re right about that.  Unfortunately due to our culture and the mindsets it provokes, people take this mantra to the extreme.  Knowing what I know it amazes me when I come across people exercising 2-4 hours per day on low calorie diets.  But then I pinch myself which brings me back to the reality of the situation… everyone’s so damn confused and they have such short attention spans.  They want it yesterday and the whole immediate gratification things trips them all up.

You’re 115 lbs, so with sane amounts of exercise each day, 10 cal/lb of body weight would put you at a reasonable deficit.  If that wasn’t working, you might have to cut it to 8-9 cal/lb, but only if 10 wasn’t working.  For me it’s always about eating as much as you can get away with while still triggering reasonable rates of change.  This tends to keep your body’s regulatory systems on more of an even kilter.

If a static diet isn’t “working” you might consider some sort of CKD (cyclical ketogenic diet) where you’re installing refeeds into your plan each week.

On the exercise front, you’re doing way too damn much.  Of course it depends on what you’re actually doing in the gym… if it’s low intensity stuff like walking than you might be able to get away with it.  But I’m wagering that it’s much more than that.  When I come across people, namely women, who fit your profile… they’re always taking things to the extreme.

The point is, 10 cal/lb with reasonable amounts of exercise puts you at a reasonable deficit.  10 cal/lb with marathon gym sessions each day puts you at too large of a deficit.  Put differently, you’re going to outpace your body’s recovery ability.  Maybe not tomorrow.  Maybe not next week.  But it’ll happen sooner than later.  Then you’re going to be coming back to me asking the same questions – you’ll just be a lot more worn out and a tougher place to rebound from.

Find balance and moderation.

If you’re diet is as good as you say it is and you’re adhering to it consistently, stick with it.  Make sure your intake is actually accurate… using a food scale if you don’t already might be a good idea.  You don’t have to use it forever, but at least until you’re certain you’re as accurate as possible (most of us aren’t even close to accurate).

Having some reasonable targets as far as nutrition goes wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  Something like:

  • 1 gram of protein per pound of goal weight
  • 25% of calories from fat – maybe a 1/3 from each category (saturated, mono, and polyunsaturated)
  • 2-3 servings of fruit per day
  • 3-6 servings of fibrous veggies per day

Once that baseline is met, anything else within your calorie limit is fair game.

On the exercise front, I’d be focusing on full body strength training sessions 2-3 times per week.  These aren’t meant to be marathon sessions – they serve a very specific purpose and that’s to maintain the muscle you currently have – possibly even experience some muscle gain if you’re lucky.  To do this, you’ll need to be focusing on the basic compound exercises like squat and lunge variations, deadlift and hip thrust variations, pushing movements such as bench press and overhead press, and pulling movements such as pull-ups, pulldowns, and rows.  A handful of sets in the 6-12 rep range would be ideal for each movement.  The session will likely last between 30-60 minutes.

You can and should throw conditioning work on top of this.  This can be your traditional cardio if you prefer but it shouldn’t be all out crazy on the intensity or volume side of things.  That means you shouldn’t be sprinting every workout and you shouldn’t be running marathons every workout.  Remember, you want to work *with* your body… not against it.

As long as you can keep things in check, I’m fine with doing some form of cardio each day.  Some lower intensity sessions might last 30-60 minutes.  The higher intensity stuff might last 15-20 minutes.  But the higher intensity stuff should be used sparingly… maybe 1-2 times per week.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to pair the high intensity stuff up with your weight training days, which would free up more days to recover in your week.

Beyond all of these details, learn to be patient!  And learn to gauge progress using more than the scale because at your weight it’s pretty useless at measuring progress.

I can’t put it much more succinctly than this.

Also, make sure fat loss is really what you need.  Many women keep chasing the “toned” look by dieting on top of dieting and the only thing it gets them is a frail, sunken look.  There are two sides to becoming toned, and that’s fat loss and muscle maximization.  If you don’t have the muscle, no amount of fat loss is going to get you to where you’re trying to be.  Unless, of course, you’re shooting for the concentration camp look. :p

Oh, and don’t worry about where your fat is positioned on your body.  There’s not a thing you can do about that.  You’re pear shaped you say.  Be happy.  Men like curves.

Welcome back, man. It’s a real pleasure to see you around these parts again.  Sorry to hear you’re not coming in flaunting all kinds of amazing results. But ya know what? That’s life. Ups. Downs. They’re both going to happen. But the great thing is the moment that’s right in front of you… here and now… is opportunistic. You have the power, which you should be thankful for, to squeeze what you can from the here and now.

So start each day asking yourself, “What’s it going to be? Am I going to let food dominate my life? Or am I going to CHOOSE to kick some ass?  I can do this, I know I can.  It’s on me to make it happen.”

And of course managing your expectations is a must. You can’t expect to be “on” 100% of the time. You’re going to drop the ball. You’re going to binge. You’re going to miss workouts. But that’s part of the process. We ALL do it. So don’t feel like an outsider or a failure. Be happy that you’re on the same road as the rest of us.

Definitely start with some sort of basic structure on the nutrition and exercise front. Stuff that’s easy to apply and stick with. You have to create something that you can build upon down the road once you get your feet on stable ground again.

Here’s the most recent article from the newsletter and site. If you’re not on the email list and would like to be, click here.

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In part 1 of this series we identified the foremost problems plaguing the training and gym industry.  In part 2 we highlighted tools the consumer can use to minimize the chance that they’ll find themselves on the business end of a con artist’s misinformation.  In this final installment we’re going to present our advice for hiring a fitness professional such as a personal trainer, strength coach, or aerobics instructor.

For reasons covered in part 1, it’s important to frame the hiring of a personal trainer the same as you would the hiring of an employee.  Competence, without question, is mandatory and in the training industry finding it is easier said than done.

Below you’ll find multiple criteria you can use to weed out good trainers from not-so-good trainers.  Once you’re through reading, you’ll be able to go into a meeting with clear cut questions that yield telling signs about the trainer in question.

Even if it’s a trainer you have an existing relationship with, don’t hesitate questioning them. It happens often; trusting client hires trainer >> trainer establishes bond with client since conversations invariably entail personal matters outside the scope of fitness >> turns out trainer doesn’t know his ass from his elbow when it comes to exercise >> client doesn’t want to fire trainer on the grounds that it might hurt his/her feelings.

Is a trainer right for you in the first place?

The first order of business is figuring out if you would be best served hiring a trainer.  While there are certainly worse things to waste your money on, not everyone needs a trainer.  Plenty of people improve their fitness and physique without one.

If you feel you’ve a firm handle on exercise form and programming, you can probably fill in any gaps in your knowledge using the Internet.  Google can uncover loads of useful information.  More specifically, there are plenty of forums on the net where experienced people (even professionals) gladly answer questions.

If you do feel that it’d be in your best interest to seek professional guidance, it’s important to identify what exactly you’re looking for.  What are your specific goals?  What are your biggest hurdles?  How many times per week are you available for training sessions and at what times of the day?  Do you have specific needs or wants in terms of equipment?  Answering these questions will make it easier to match different trainers to your individual circumstances.

Fitting or conflicting personalities

You’re hiring someone who you’re going to be “hanging with” for at least 2-4 hours per week.  Beyond competency, it’s important to pick a trainer whose personality meshes with your own. Just remember – one without the other (competence and/or personality) generally doesn’t work out so well.

Time’s a finite commodity. I’m sure none of you are keen of wasting it with people you don’t like.  Put simply, the better you get along with your trainer, the better the chances are that you’ll be consistent in terms of making your sessions, and more importantly, enjoying them.

Being in and around gyms for nearly 15 years, I can say that there are some seriously flawed personalities in the training industry.  Sure, we all have issues, but the egoism of some of these guys is of epic proportions.  Settle for nothing short of a client-focused professional that relates to you.

Education/Certification

On paper, a certified trainer with a degree in a related field is probably better than a certified trainer without a degree who’s probably better than an uncertified trainer with no degree.  That’s the gist of things when viewed from 30,000 feet up.  However, once you zoom in to granular-detail level, things are far from cut and dry.

For starters, many college level programs are watered down with useless and/or outdated information as far as the training profession goes.  That’s not to say it’d be a waste for an aspiring fitness professional to pursue a degree in exercise physiology or something similar.  I mention it simply to enlighten those reading that a degree is not the be-all-end-all determinant when it comes to competency in this field.

At the very least, though, trainers who have a degree in a related field are much more likely to understand what should be second nature to any trainer – biomechanics and exercise form, basic physiology, anatomy, etc.  Sadly a large majority of trainers know how to pump up the beach muscles and sell training packages – that’s about it.

Secondly, there are hundreds upon hundreds of certifying organizations in existence.  Unfortunately, as noted in Part 1, pretty much any person or group can call themselves a certifying agency.  By default, there’s a watering-down effect in terms of the information being presented by these organizations as well as the testing standards.

There are a number of promising certification organizations out there.  Leading the pack are the National Strength & Conditioning Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.  However, while these tend to be the most recognized agencies, it should not be assumed that any trainer owning a designation from them is competent.  The testing requirements and standards are not as high as I’d like to see them.

At the very least the following requirements should be mandatory of any worthy personal trainer or strength coach designation in my opinion:

• 4 year degree
• Written or computerized test at an organization-approved and proctored location
• Hands-on component of testing
• Apprenticeship under a seasoned/approved trainer
• Continuing education standards

While I’m sure these seem like reasonable requirements for the personal training profession, I’m not aware of any certification organizations in the states that have all of them.

At the end of the day, use education and credentials for what they are – one of many easily quantifiable filters to apply to the population of trainers you’re considering hiring.  I personally know trainers who’ve forgotten more than I know regarding exercise science and have never sat in the formal college setting or obtained a personal training certificate.
When you’re dealing with such a diluted pool of professionals though, at least looking at these credentials seems logical.

Can you save me and is it worth suing you if you don’t?

A personal trainer should have current CPR/AED certifications as well as liability insurance.  Larger gyms will typically assure that these areas are covered.  With the explosion of independent professionals, gyms, and studios, however, this is something to be on the lookout for.

Is this your first rodeo?

Turnover in the personal training industry is very high.  It’s reasonable to assume that many of the trainers you’ll encounter are relatively new to the profession. Even if they’re not, it’s important to inquire about their experience.  How did they get into the industry?  Why did they pick this industry?  How long have they been doing this?  Who’s their typical client?  Have they worked with people who had similar goals as yours?

Some trainers will be able to provide you a list of references – past or existing clients who you can contact.  The idea is that these references will provide you objective feedback pertaining to their experience with the trainer.  Let’s not forget that in order to give their contact information out, the trainer must ask the reference for permission.  Do you think he’s going to target an objective sample from his client base?  Likely the list will constitute his favorite clients which will be useless for your sake.

Just remember that this industry tends to attract a lot of mentally lazy or mentally inferior people.  And even if they’re not, smarts only get you so far in this profession.  You need to know how to apply and relate your smarts to clients, which isn’t easy to do without experience.

You listen here…

While most everyone knows where they want their performance or physiques to be, they’re typically clueless about how to train for these specific goals.  This confusion stems from the mass amounts of misleading information about fat loss and exercise that gets pumped into our media.  Because of this, some clients have a hard time explaining what they want.

A knowledgeable trainer can:

• Hear what a client’s ultimate goal is
• Assess where they currently are in relation to said goal
• Explain in terms the client will understand why what they’ve been doing hasn’t worked
• Match the appropriate type and dosage of exercise that’s required to ensure that the goal is realized.

In other words, they can translate clients’ descriptions into physiological terms.  Doing so requires a foundational knowledge of the human body and how it responds to various forms and dosages of exercise.  It also requires fantastic listening and communication skills.  It’s worth noting that many good trainers will admit that they’re a student first and practitioner second.

When someone lacks the foundational requirements to do the job they’re hired to do, which is often the case in the training profession, they’ll usually use smoke-flare tactics to hide their ignorance.  These can come in many forms; not the least of which includes defensiveness and incessant preaching.  You’ll find many trainers will speak at you, opposed to with you.

They’re more interested in telling you to do things their way than they are listening to and learning about you.  And this is regardless of whether “their way” is appropriate for your given situation.  In short, they love feeling authoritative and correct.

Objectivity and critical thought are often faculties that aren’t equipped in most trainers.  They’ve learned what they know from specific sources (typically crappy sources at that) and they’re married to this.  Everything else either goes unnoticed or gets filtered entirely by their preconceptions.  Preaching and chest thumping tend to come well ahead of learning (continuing education) and teaching for these folks.  Because of this they tend to miss the forest for the trees and “muscle” clients into listening to what they have to say.

Maybe you’ll get the impression they’re not listening to you.  Or that they’ve no interest in learning anymore than they already know.  Or maybe it appears they’re more interested in pushing their agenda onto you than they are working with you.  If this is the case, run away.  Fast.

A lot of these guys get their certification (which involved a weekend Internet course, mind you) and feel that it’s their job to go out and tell people what’s what in the exercise world.  Poor guy doesn’t even realize that turning off their learning once they pass a certification exam puts them miles behind the pack.  Hell, it’s barely past the starting line.

This is a lagging indicator for the most part.  By that, I’m saying it’s tough to judge if your trainer falls into this camp or not before hiring them.  That’s why you can’t be afraid to fire your trainer.  If you learn that they’re not progressive or attentive – ADIOS!

How much?

Most trainers and gyms offer a wide array of packages and services.  The national average for a personal training session is around $50 depending on what source you use.  Obviously this is going to vary based on location, trainer, gym, etc.  I’ve seen sessions offered as low as $15 and as high as $100+.

As an example, you can learn about the training options and prices offered by Body-Improvements.

Going after the cheapest you can find isn’t always a recipe for success obviously.  However, doing some accounting of the available trainers in your area and their costs is probably a worthy cause.


Chain gym, independent gym, studio, or in-home…

For the most part, most big box gyms (like LA Fitness, Gold’s, etc.) have trainers on staff.  In my experience, trainer-quality at these places is very low.  The gym tends to worry less about trainer credibility/quality and more about sales.  They also take a large chunk of the training revenue meaning a lot of these trainers are paid little.  You get what you pay for.  Also, these trainers tend to have less leeway and freedom to do what they feel’s best for the client.  For instance, I know someone who works at LA Fitness. He wanted to buy an adjustable box for box squats and LA Fitness wouldn’t allow him.

Independently owned facilities tend to offer a mixed bag of trainers.  If the owner is a fitness professional himself, things tend to be pretty good compared to gyms that are owned by businessmen.  Reason being? – a fitness professional who has taken things to the extent where they own a facility tends to know what to look for when hiring other trainers for his staff.  I feel that when a fitness professional opens his own facility, it shows that they’re serious and passionate about their career.  Businessmen who know nothing about the foundations of fitness, on the other hand, do not know what to look for and are generally passionate about one thing – making money and that comes well ahead of integrity.

I include studios and in-home trainers for completeness.  Trainer-quality here is a crapshoot – use the criteria listed in this article to assess competency carefully.  The benefit to studio or in-home training is privacy, which is huge for certain clients.

I’m biased in that BI owns a full blown facility as well as a private training studio.  I wouldn’t send anyone I care about to any of the trainers at the local big box gyms based on what I’ve seen and heard.  Gordy and I are fitness professionals first and businessmen/owners second.  We offer whatever we feel is best for our clients with no hidden agendas and ideally that’s something you can find in your locale.

Whatchu talking about fat boy?

I’ve been in numerous discussions about this and it’s invariably a hot button issue.  Should your trainer walk the walk so to speak?  I’ve to admit – I know some overweight fitness professionals who are very worthy of hiring.  Obviously one’s physique doesn’t determine one’s intelligence and experience.

There’s something to be said, though, for practicing what you preach.  Many clients derive motivation from their trainers.  If you’re hiring a trainer, for instance, to help you lose weight, how easily are you going to “swallow” his advice if he, himself, is fat?

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to this.  It’s important to manage expectations though.  Not all fit professionals are going to have the same look.  Fitness comes in many packages.  A trainer who loves long distance running isn’t going to look like a trainer who loves powerlifting.  Form follows function.  To a degree, how a trainer exercises himself will dictate how he ultimately looks.

It’s also important to note that fitness isn’t what you see on the front of the bodybuilding magazines.  That would be steroids.  Not fitness.  Don’t expect trainers to have hulk-like muscle mass.

Exercise form

At the heart of personal training is coaching trainees how to safely and effectively execute various exercises.  Of course there’s programming, motivating, educating, and other things but these are beside the point.  The fact is, in order to be an effective trainer you need to know how to get people to move their bodies properly in various situations.

Frankly, most trainers SUCK! at this.  Even if they did in fact know what proper exercise form looked like, they likely wouldn’t be good at getting their clients to do it.

The lack of hands-on demonstration in most exercise physiology courses and certifications is mostly to blame.  Laziness is also to blame.  No matter how you slice it, proper form is the functional unit of exercise and most people, including trainers, don’t know what it looks or feels like.

Knowing this, it should be obvious that to separate the quality trainers from the rest simply witness the form they’re allowing to pass as acceptable while training clients.  The problem with this is in order to assess form, you yourself need to know what’s good and what’s ugly.
Certainly it’d be great to know what proper form looked like in all major exercises.  That’s not realistic though.  What you can do is familiarize yourself with say, squats.  It’s the perfect metric to use seeing as how so many trainers have their clients do some version of it (barbell squats, front squats, lunge variations, etc.).

On its most basic level, squatting is simplistic.  However, there are subtleties that allow you to pick out a good squat from a bad (depth/rom, heels, chest up, positioning of back throughout movement, tracking of knees, etc.).  You can use these subtleties to measure the trainer’s “form knowledge.”

Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength book has extremely detailed explanations of the barbell squat.   Even better is his Starting Strength DVD.  These resources will also arm you with information about the press, bench press, deadlift, and power clean exercises.  BI also has a number of instructional exercise videos on its website and detailed explanations on its forum.  Johnny Mnemonic also has a fantastic video series he calls Squat Rx on youtube, which you can find here.

Most trainer’s instruction on squat form is so far from good that a precursory glance at the links above would give you enough information to rate them on.

Dr. Trainer?

You want a trainer who’s going to guide you towards your performance, health, and physique goals safely and efficiently within his scope of practice.  SCOPE. OF. PRACTICE.  This is something most trainers simply don’t get.  They’ll prescribe diets, diagnose injuries, and try soft tissue therapy on their clients.  All of these things, plus more, are well beyond the scope of a trainer.

As stated on their website The National Strength & Conditioning Association defines the scope of practice belonging to a trainer as:

Personal trainers are health/fitness professionals who, using an individualized approach, assess, motivate, educate and train clients regarding their health and fitness needs. They design safe and effective exercise programs, provide the guidance to help clients achieve their personal health/fitness goals and respond appropriately in emergency situations. Recognizing their own area of expertise, personal trainers refer clients to other health care professionals when appropriate.

And the scope of a strength coach as:

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCSs) are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. They conduct sport-specific testing sessions, design and implement safe and effective strength training and conditioning programs and provide guidance regarding nutrition and injury prevention. Recognizing that their area of expertise is separate and distinct, CSCSs consult with and refer athletes to other professionals when appropriate.

Ask the trainer in question if they have a network of professionals they refer their clients to for specific nutritional guidance, injury diagnosis, massage therapy, sport psychology, etc.  If they hint that these are things they handle, make sure they have the necessary schooling and credentials to perform such work.  And if they don’t have a network or if they do handle those things on their own without the proper authority to do so, I’d look elsewhere.

U no reed teh Engrish gooder, no?

If I’ve not expressed my opinion clearly enough yet, let me break it down into clear and frank terms.  I feel that most people calling themselves trainers are the equivalent of booger-eating morons who’ve no business instructing you or anyone else how they should or should not be exercising.

I’ve found that the best trainers are engrossed with reading and learning about their industry.  They go to conferences to hear other professionals present on various topics.  And they have small libraries of textbooks, journals and books regarding all the nuances this field has to offer.

The “not best” trainers don’t read a damn thing having to do with this field.  And on the slight chance that they do, it’s almost always a magazine.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my doctors prescribing me advice they learned from the magazine shelf.

Bottom line is it’s reasonable to ask the trainer in question how they go about continuing education.  How do they expand their knowledge?  What are the top 5 influential books they’ve read? Who do they pay attention to in the fields associated with performance and physique improvement?

You don’t have to be familiar with the answers they give you (assuming they have actual answers).  You can certainly write them down though and do some digging on the Internet.  Swing by the forum if you’re unsure and ask there.

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If a trainer is actually worth it, this sort of questioning will stand to reinforce his or her credibility. If they’re not worth it, it should be pretty obvious given their responses.

Go into a trainer interview with specific goals, questions, and expectations and be sure you’re prepared to express them clearly. You want the trainer to know you’ve put a lot of time and effort into figuring out what you want from a trainer. You want them to see clearly that you’re not just another easy sale blindly trusting any old “fitness professional.” Don’t be afraid to put them on the hot seat. They should have to earn your business, and if they’re actually worthy, it won’t be hard.Go into a trainer interview with specific goals, questions, and expectations and be sure you’re prepared to express them clearly.  You want the trainer to know you’ve put a lot of time and effort into figuring out what you want from a trainer.  You want them to see clearly that you’re not just another easy sale blindly trusting any old “fitness professional.”  Don’t be afraid to put them on the hot seat.  They should have to earn your business, and if they’re actually worthy, it won’t be hard.

The blog has a pulse, but it’s very low.  In an attempt to revive it, I thought I’d start sharing some of the emails I receive from the many people who send me questions.  Others can hopefully learn a thing or two and I don’t have to worry about coming up with topics to write about when I barely have time to exercise myself.  I do have 2 articles that should be coming out within the next week.  The first is the final part of the “State of the Industry” article and the second is a very simplistic article about the Pareto Principle and basic food rules. 

In the meantime though, here’s a relatively recent exchange I had with someone via email.  Her comments are in red.

I see that you work with morbidly obese clients. While I am not morbidly obese, I am overweight. My biggest obstacle is food. I go to the gym regularly, enjoy being outdoors and I live in New York where I walk a lot, but I’m just maintaining my current weight (which is not where I want to be) because I over-eat on the weekends. I will do very well on the weekdays but as soon as Friday night comes around, I’m off the wagon for three days. If you look at my food diary, you’ll see that I usually don’t log on the weekends because it would be ridiculous (probably 3000 calories/day) and I don’t want to guilt of seeing it in “black and white.” YET, I continue to do this.

What advice do you give your clients to get their eating under control?

Well that’s a problem that’s widespread among people, but the causes of it are very unique to the individual.

A few questions:

1. Are there foods that trigger the uncontrolled eating?

2. Are there environmental cues that trigger the uncontrolled eating?

3. Why do you want to lose weight?

4. What does it mean to you, truly, if you don’t lose weight?

1. Foods that trigger uncontrolled eating: typically they are carb-heavy and/or starchy things like pizza, white bread, tortillas and potatoes. I also overdo it when it comes to cheese. I can eat pizza to the point of sickness, which is a little sad to admit. I am not too into sweets. I can control myself around cake, cookies, etc.


2. Environmental cues that trigger the uncontrolled eating: unfortunately, being with my boyfriend and going to his house in Long Island. We switch back and forth every weekend and it seems I can be “better” when we’re at my apartment. He lives in a basement apartment and his parents are right upstairs. His mom is Italian and cooks really well. Enough said. Also being at sports bars, where we like to go and watch the Yankees. If we sit there for a 3 hour game I inevitably open up that menu. And if I don’t, the boyfriend will…and I do not stop him.


3. Why I want to lose weight: I like feeling pretty and sexy. I’ve gained about 10 pounds since meeting the BF (when I was at my lowest weight ever) and I felt better during sex without the extra 10 pounds, so I think it would be freaking great if I was at my goal weight. I love shopping for clothes and I want to expand my store choices. I want to feel better in a bathing suit. I want things to be less jiggly all over. At my heaviest, I could not go straight through the subway turnstyle, I had to turn my body sideways to fit. Those victories made me want to lose more. I guess now that I can fit comfortably in an airplane seat, I’ve lost some motivation. More recently my boyfriend and I have talked about marriage and kids. I don’t want to get pregnant and still be overweight.


4. Truly, if I don’t lose weight…I’m afraid of what will happen. Even though I have established going to the gym and I am dedicated to physical activity, on a weekly basis I am eating more calories than I’m burning and like the 10 pounds I’ve gained in two and half years, I’m just scared of that increment continuing to tick away. I don’t want to go back to where I was. If I don’t lose weight, it means unhappiness…perpetual unhappiness.

So the short of it is you need to condition yourself to bypass short-term gratification for the benefit of long-term gratification. Right? It’s the choices you make in “the heat of the moment” that are conflicting with what’s ultimately making you unhappy.

Interrupting the automaticity that accompanies the “right now” is easier said than done, I understand.

But start with small changes. For starters, let your boyfriend know how you feel. If he cares about you, he’ll do what he can to make things easier for you in the weight control department. Inform him of what this means to you. That’ll help minimize the chances of totally blowing things when you go to see him.

Rid your house and ask him to rid his of the foods you can’t control. If you know temptation gets the better of you, then strip these foods of their power. Unless there’s a true addiction going on, your cravings won’t be strong enough to drive you to bypass eating what’s “on hand” and travel for your binge food.

Write out a list of your whys and read them every morning and every night. Set up reminders in conspicuous places to get your mind thinking on the right track as frequently as possible.

Ultimately, you have a choice. You either live in accordance to what it is you say you want OR you talk a big game yet do the polar opposite when life’s smacking you in the face. Control is attainable, you just have to be willing to reach out and grab the reigns.

You’re certainly not alone. The weekends are tough for most folks I work with. It makes sense, too. As a society, we’re conditioned to let loose on the weekends. We work hard during the weeks so we can play hard during the weekends. The weeks, for most of us, contain a lot of structure and rigidity, so it’s easy to couple structure and rigidity with meaningful exercise and nutrition.

In addition to this, most people have not only been conditioned to let loose on the weekends since they were kids… they’ve also been conditioned to eat poorly during this time, too. Think about when you used to go out to eat with your parents. When you’d get to have sleep overs at friends houses. When you’d have birthday parties. Weekends.

So put your game face on and decide that you’re going to improve your lifestyle during the weekends. I’m not asking you to be a bore. There are ways to live loosely on the weekends without gorging yourself.

First step should be breaking the association you have with relaxation and eating. Relaxation doesn’t have to accompany eating crap and lots of it.

Also, eat to live. Don’t live to eat. Many people, especially Americans, plan their fun times on the weekends around food. It’s amazing to me how most everyone I encounter perceives eating with friends as a good time. For me… hell, that’s a bore. I’ve conditioned myself to grab food with my friends on the go so we can get to where we’re heading to have fun. That might be a hike. Or fishing. Or bike riding. Or whatever keeps me moving. Living.

Food is simply the fuel that keeps me going.

Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy a nice meal on occasion with my wife and friends. But it’s not a weekend ritual. And when I do go out and have a nice, giant meal… I don’t let it turn into my entire weekend. I make healthy choices beyond that.

Which brings me to my last point. Prepare healthy choices in advance going into the weekend. Have fruit salads made, lean meats cooked, fresh veggies ready to bite into.

In my experience, it’s about slowly regaining power/control of your habits on the weekends. It won’t happen overnight but the more you practice it and the more habits you adopt, the more you’ll override your unhealthy conditioning with your healthy conditioning. The more you’ll believe that you do have it in you to make better choices.

But the fact remains that you have to want this. You can’t just say it. You have to mean it. And have very good, emotionally-backed, powerful reasons backing what you mean. Without them, consistency and longevity aren’t going to be a reality.

A couple of things really stood out for me:

regarding my boyfriend: “inform him what this means to you.” I’ve told him I want to be healthier and I bemoan my (our) bad choices to him but he doesn’t know why I want to change and he doesn’t know how I feel it will benefit our relationship and make it stronger. This is something I’m actually energized to talk with him about.

Your observation that the structure of a work week helps so much to keep a good eating and exercise plan on track. Monday through Friday I wake up at the same time, I go to bed at the same time, I take lunch at the same time, I go to my gym classes and do my laundry on the designated day and it’s easy to align my my eating. Then the weekend comes and all of sudden I’m not on a schedule; I’m sleeping in, staying out late and feeling like it’s my downtime and I can do whatever I want and basically associating my time to relax with food. Another point that I’ve been oblivious to.

Even though I’ve heard some of this before (eating to live and not the reverse, not making socializing with friends about food or eating out), you still gave me a lot to think about. Also thanks for being straight with me. I do need to put up or shut up. I gotta put the game face on and get myself together.

I may turn your email into bullet points and adding that to my list of “whys.”

Based on my experience this is quite a common issue. Guys are happy the way you are and, due to their own insecurities, might be offended or scared of you losing weight and becoming “more sexy.” His mind starts going crazy with thoughts like, “What does that mean for me once she’s sexy?”, “Will she leave me for someone better looking once all is said and done?”, “I have no interest in getting fit – will this break our relationship?”

On and on the questions race.

Guys can be silly and stupid.

If you really love him and he’s the man you want to be with, I think it’s a matter of having a very frank discussion with him. Let him know that you’re not doing this for him or the relationship. You’re doing this for you. You’re not happy with your physical self and want to pursue improving it. Indirectly, a happier more confident you will lead to a happier, sturdier relationship… so there’s benefits all around.

Let him know that even if he finds you sexy, that doesn’t override the feelings you have internally. While you appreciate his appreciation of your body, again, this is about you and what you want.

Sometimes you have to spell it out for us guys.

And if it’s a matter of him being insecure about what this sort of change will ultimately mean for the relationship, you need to help build his confidence up.

The reality is if you’re with someone who isn’t on board with your fitness endeavor… either consciously or subconsciously they’re going to sabotage your efforts every chance they get. It’s human nature.

Best to the both of you and my door is always open.