Archive for April, 2011

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!