Monthly Archives: January 2011
“I lost 30lbs in one week without exercising or changing my diet, thanks Mr. Magic Blue Pill. Thanks!” “I went from obese to fitness model in 12 weeks just by using this state-of-the-art abdominal device for 20 minutes, 3 times a week.” “On my revolutionary new diet plan, as long as you don’t eat X, you can eat unlimited quantities of anything and everything else, and the pounds will just fly off.” Does any of this sound familiar?
We’ve all heard the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Most of us seem to be able to apply this common sense logic to everything else in our life except weight loss (and maybe money — the get rich quick schemes abound as well). We want to believe these ridiculous claims because we desperately want to lose fat — oh by the way we expect it to happen quickly and effortlessly. Girl (or dude), I wish it really were that simple.
There are millions of trainers, gurus, gadgets, supplements, books, and diet programs all geared towards helping you lose fat. Some are good, some are bad, and some are flat-out ugly. Some are legitimately trying to help you, some are just trying to capitalize on your vulnerability and scam you out of your hard-earned money. Some are really trying to make your waist slimmer, many are just trying to make your wallet slimmer. The fat loss business is a big business just like any other, driven by profits. Its not always about what works, its about what sells.
And with the magic-pill mentality that dominates our society, ridiculous claims (the more ridiculous the better) sell. 2-minute abs? Take a hike pal.
Don’t follow unsupported claims and hype. Many people look for the diets, training programs, or supplements that promise the fastest results with the least amount of effort. They fall for the advertising flash without investigating the true value and effectiveness of a product or program. They are enticed by the one-in-a-million transformation story without reading the tiny fine print that “these results are not typical”. They don’t realize that many companies pay fitness models and athletes to endorse their product, whether they really use it or not. Lose 20lbs in two days, sign me up!
That’s why there are so many bogus products on the market. They sell well because of people’s misguided hopes. People with this habit believe they just need to find the right miracle pill and all of their weight issues will be magically solved. They want to hear that losing weight will be easy. They want to believe that they won’t have to work hard, or sacrifice, or break bad habits, or be uncomfortable in any way. They want to believe they can party like a rock star and look like a fitness model. If any of that were really true, everyone would be in shape and there wouldn’t be a billion-dollar weight-loss industry getting rich off of false hope.
Fit people are more knowledgeable about the body transformation process and look beyond glossy ads and infomercial miracle stories — if a commercial is running at 3am, it is probably a scam. Fit people know it takes time and effort to attain real, permanent results. Go ahead and ask the fittest person you know in REAL LIFE if the process is easy. I guarantee they’ll give you a sideways look, or at least roll their eyes. It takes some work baby!
That’s why fit people look beyond just mere promises or success stories. They look at scientific research. They want unbiased, credible proof that the products or programs they are using actually work. They want to see legitimate studies backing up any bold claims. They want to know what works in the real world, not just what works in the advertising office or in fitness-fantasyland.
Fit people base their exercise programs on the principles of physics, biomechanics, and physiology, not on the principles of “he said, she said”. They look at the hormonal and metabolic effects of diet, not at whatever the flavor-of-the-month, fad diet touts.
We’re not asking you to become experts in the field. That’s our job. But we are asking you to become slightly more informed so you don’t get caught up in the marketing hype. Some of the content on this site may get technical at times, maybe a little too much for your tastes. That’s cool. You don’t have to digest it all at once. But we do want you to know there is a rhyme or reason for everything we advise. There is a scientific foundation behind all of our content.
We know most people are primarily concerned with the WHAT to do for fat loss. We’ll cover that. That’s a no-brainer. But we also want to give every person the option of learning the WHY.
There are an infinite amount of false claims on the market because people continue to chase them. The sooner you start using real science, and stop chasing pipe dreams, the sooner you can get to work and start achieving real results.
So it was hard to convince Kalai to put an update photo on the website. Why? Well, she is not an attention whore like I am. She was doing this mostly as a personal challenge. But I reminded her of two things:
1. On the 29th, she’ll be standing in a bikini in front of a crowd of strangers. On the 30th, she’ll be doing a professional photo shoot at a commercial gym.
2. And drastically more important, I believe her story can help a lot of women out. You see, Kalai is not a fitness professional. She works in program administration and finance for the University of California, San Francisco. She lives a real life, not in fitness-fantasyland. What women often read about in the fitness magazines are figure girls who do 2 hours of cardio a day, 7 days a week, and eat zero carbohydrates for months to get in shape.
One, I don’t believe that’s the healthiest, or even most efficient way to get in shape. Two, the audience doesn’t read about the metabolic damage, post-contest weight rebound, and subsequent lifelong struggle with yo-yo’ing associated with these extreme approaches. Three, that’s not functional for women who have jobs that require mental acuity. Four, there is a difference between a lifestyle plan and peaking. Drastic measures don’t work for permanent results. A training and nutritional plan needs to be functional if it is going to be effective in the long run.
Kalai got great body composition results by weight training 4 days a week for 45-50 minutes, eating a lower fat, moderate protein/carb diet (1:1 ratio) — we chose this approach because she was primarily engaging in anaerobic activity (there are different dietary approaches for different lifestyles and goals), and NO formal “cardio” sessions, especially not 2 hours a day. Nothing crazy or extreme.
Whether that is enough to win some random trophy is yet to be seen, but it was enough to get her healthier and into the best shape of her life — which is the most important. And its maintainable. Alright, we’ll probably go back to cheating on junk once a week — Sunday night is our favorite (I miss you M&M’s) — but she will certainly be able to remain within striking distance of her new all time best.
Doesn’t that sound like a more reasonable approach ladies? Doesn’t it sound better than crash dieting and extreme training programs to get you into some type of shape you won’t be able to maintain anyways? I don’t know, that’s up to you to decide.
Here is her progress photo:
And here is the scary thing: Kalai is actually retaining water in this photo due to reasons she didn’t want me to mention. Maybe we’ll take another one in 5-6 days when she is being nicer to me (haha, just kidding babe). Genetics? Nope. Its science — a true understanding of hormones, metabolism, and the physiological processes related to body composition transformation.
We are launching our new site in February. Kalai will be writing on the site, and she is excited to share with you her first-hand perspectives on her physique transformation experience. I can write about the science, she can translate that into real world principles you can apply in your everyday life. She is also excited to pull from her educational background in psychology to give you new ways of mentally and emotionally approaching the fitness game. Stay tuned.
Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today.
This is never-ending. — Hagakure
There is a tendency in other cultures for most people to stop training, to stop trying to improve, after they reach a certain level of skill — and this is one of the reasons why the Japanese have had an advantage in virtually everything they do. They have been culturally conditioned to never stop training. — Samurai Strategies
Make at least one definitive move daily toward your goal. Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable; however, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable. — Bruce Lee
Kaizen is a Japanese word that literally translates to “improvement” or “change for the better”. But Kaizen is more than just a word. It is a lifestyle philosophy incorporating a focused effort to strive for constant and continual improvement in all areas of life. In modern Japanese culture, it is most often applied in the business setting — the never-ending pursuit of improving the productivity and efficiency of your business.
Of course, this principle can be effectively applied to the health and fitness setting as well. I’d even go so far as to say that kaizen — whether it is consciously applied or subconsciously practiced — is what separates the elite from the average. How are you better today than you were yesterday? No matter where you currently fall under the spectrum, if you constantly strive to improve, you will see results.
Beginners — how can you improve on your consistency? If you are skipping workouts and really only getting to the gym two days a week, can you make a concerted effort to improve and bump that up to three? Can you find ways to increase non-exercise specific activity (i.e. walking to do some errands instead of driving)?
Advanced athletes — have you reached some kind of a plateau? How can you bust through it? The answer lies in the details. Can you be more regimented with your diet, or up the intensity in the gym?
Strength coach Charles Poliquin frequently talks about this concept in its relation to progressive overload. He discusses how the idea of constant and continual improvement can effectively be applied to protocols designed specifically for increasing strength.
The application is simple. With each successive training session, the lifter should attempt to add one more rep to the set or a little more weight to the bar. This ensures constant improvement. Charles specifically talks about adding the smallest plates in the gym (2.5lbs) to the bar each time you train. This sounds like nothing, but small increases made consistently over time add up to big improvements. In a twelve week training cycle, a weekly increase of 5lbs total on the bar nets a 60lbs increase in your lifting total. Not bad, especially for an advanced lifter.
This mentality should not stop with just progressive overload. I believe the Kaizen principle can extend out to all aspects of the fitness game, and can bring you closer to reaching your goals. Here are some practical examples:
• Lifting Technique: Better technique can reduce rebound, momentum, cheating, or using other, unintended muscle groups to complete a lift. This maximizes tension on the target muscle, which of course leads to optimal overload and development. Better technique can also leave you less susceptible to traumatic injury, reduced wear and tear on the joints, and chronic pain. Can you look for ways to perfect your technique? Can you slightly improve your exercise form in some way?
• Nutrition: If you eat 5 meals a day, that totals 35 meals in a week. How many of those meals are bringing you closer to your physique goals? How many of those meals are taking you further away from your goals? Can you improve on that ratio? If you are eating good 85% of the time, focus on increasing that to 90%.
• Alignment/Muscle Balance: Do you sit at a computer all day? Do you have terrible posture as a result? Are tight muscles inhibiting your range of motion or causing chronic pain? Are lengthened, weakened muscles making your posture or performance suffer? Can you look for ways to improve muscle imbalances or lifting discrepancies? Can you add some daily stretches to improve your computer posture?
• Recovery: Are you living more like an athlete or more like a rock star? If you are going out partying every night, drinking, doing recreational drugs, etc., you are not providing the best environment for your body to improve its appearance. Can you find ways to reduce the “sexy time” and focus more on your fitness goals?
• Sleep: This is one of the most overlooked components of development. Proper sleep can help reduce cortisol levels, increase growth hormone levels, recharge the nervous system, increase cellular repair, etc., all leading to better development. Can you skip watching American Idol to get an extra hour of sleep?
• Hydration: Virtually every cellular process in our body requires water. Can you improve your hydration levels? Can you drink 2 liters of water instead of 1? Here’s a fun game — can you make your pee-pee look more like water or lemonade than iced tea (yeah, I know I’m a little off my rocker)?
• Meathead Status: Can you dudes somehow improve on your current meathead status? What about grunting or screaming more during your warm-up sets, wearing sunglasses in the gym, wearing tighter spandex, coming up with cheesier pick-up lines to use on the gym bunnies, acting macho(er) staring at yourself in the mirror more, etc.?
• Diva Status: Can you girls somehow improve on your diva status? What about avoiding strength training and spending three instead of two hours on the cardio machines, taking more pointless, phooh-phooh “exercise” classes, wearing more make-up in the gym, wearing tighter spandex, acting stupid(er), staring at yourself in the mirror more, etc.
I think you can see that the list could go on and on forever. There are always ways in which we can improve — as athletes, as coaches, and as people.
The summary of the kaizen, then, is to never be satisfied with your current level of skill or development. Always try to improve, in every aspect of your life. There is always someone out there who is stronger, fitter, or more skilled than you are. If you are starting at the bottom of the mountain, that’s the only way to climb to the top. And even if you happen to be at the top of the mountain now, remember kings and queens fall, and heroes rise to take their place.
Fear is the one human motion that can hold us back from more than anything else in our lives. Fear paralyzes us, and prevents us from taking meaningful action. It shatters our self-confidence and spirit of adventure. It can prevent us from doing the things we really want to do, trying everything we want to try, and from becoming who we really want to become.
Most of us don’t pursue our dreams and aspirations in life because we are afraid of failing. “Well what if this or that happens? What then?” We may have a life we envision for ourselves in the back of our heads, but we’d rather play it safe, not take chances, and take the easy path to mediocrity. We bury our dreams and passions and settle for the grind of every day life.
So you want to get in shape, huh? You want to lose some weight, reduce disease risk factors, dazzle in a dress, turn some heads at the beach, look good naked, etc. So why haven’t you? Why are you still just dreaming and thinking about it and not actually doing it?
Well, it is that ol’ fear factor creeping up on us and controlling our actions. Fear can be a major roadblock that prevents us from working towards our health and fitness goals. Often times, fear is the underlying cause that prevents us from doing the things we know we need to do to reach our goals — things like exercising more, eating less junk, and controlling our portions.
For many of us, this fear is subconscious. We don’t understand that it is fear that is holding us back. We think its because of a multitude of other reasons: we don’t have enough time, work is too busy, there is too many other responsibilities at home, we don’t have any support, we’re too stressed, we haven’t found the right diet or supplement, our genetics suck and we’re just born to be fat, we’re best friends with the Keebler Elves, etc. But in the end, it all boils down to the fact that we’re just scared to make some tough changes and get started on our health and fitness journey.
FACE YOUR FEARS
Nothing in life worth having comes without some risk. If something doesn’t scare you a little bit, it’s probably not worth pursuing. All heroes, all legends, have taken risk along the way to get to where they’re at. But that’s why there are so few heroes; most of us mortals hate taking risks. We’d rather watch other people do it, and read about their success stories, than do it or experience it for ourselves. For most of us, the fear of failing is far more powerful than the chance at succeeding.
But what if you decided to make a change, instantly. What if you decided you were going to stop being afraid, or at least face and overcome your fears? What if you decided you were going to take a chance, chase your dreams, find your passions, find some happiness, and live the life you’ve always imagined? Doesn’t that sound like a much more exciting way to live. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather fail at what I really want to do than succeed at something I hate. At least I know I’ll enjoy the journey.
THE FIVE FITNESS FEARS
If fear is holding you back from achieving your goals, and most fitness fears are subconscious, then we need to identify what those fears are and give you some psychological tools and new ways of thinking to get past those fears. This is the only way you are going to finally be successful with your long-desired, but long-ignored health and fitness goals. Until you admit your fears and face them head on, you are destined to repeat your ill-fated fitness attempts.
1. Fear of Failure
This is the most obvious one. We are afraid of failing. We are afraid of setting goals, committing to an exercise and nutrition plan, working hard, and still not getting results. We are afraid that even if we make sacrifices and put in our best efforts, we might not reach the goals we have set for ourselves. We have doubt. We have reservations. We don’t believe in ourselves 100% or have the self-confidence to trust that we can achieve what others have achieved. Because we feel we are so far away from where we want to be, we fear that we will be unable to complete the long journey ahead of us.
To me, this fear is also the easiest to overcome. Whenever the fear of failure is preventing you from taking action, just ask yourself two simple questions.
The first question is what’s the worst that could possibly happen if I fail? In most cases, the absolute worst possible outcome is not so bad: I’ll look a little stupid, I’ll embarrass myself, I’ll take a shot to the ego, I’ll lose some money, I’ll lose a little time and effort, I’ll have to put up with some comments or criticisms from my family and friends, I’ll just have to go back to what I was doing before. None of that is really that bad is it?
The fear of failing is usually way worse than what happens when you actually fail. Trust me, I’ve failed at a lot of things in this life. I’ve failed way more than I’ve succeeded, but my life never ended. I’ve always managed to pick myself up, dust myself off, and try again.
The second question is what’s the best that could possibly happen if I succeed? Yeah, that’s what kickstarts my heart and motivates me to get moving. Man, it could change my life forever. I could do something great for myself, I could help and/or motivate a ton of people just like myself along the way, I could gain respect and admiration, and I could move one step closer to becoming the person I truly want to be.
The worst that could happen is not really that bad, but the best that could happen could be life-altering. You know how they tell you to balance risk and reward when making life’s decisions. Well in most cases, especially with health and fitness, the reward far outweighs the risk.
2. Fear of Fate
What happens if you implement the best training and nutrition programs, give them your best effort, consistently adhere to them, but don’t succeed? If you had the best plans, gave it your best effort, and still failed, does that mean you are destined and doomed to be overweight and out of shape the rest of your life? Those questions are what ultimately lead to the fear of fate.
Many people put off pursuing their fitness goals because of this fear of fate. At least if they don’t try now, there is still the hope that one day in the future their situation will be better and they will be able to get into great shape. If they try today and don’t succeed, then it feels like it’s game over. All hope is lost. It is the hope that in the future things will be different that helps us get through the day, and keeps us moving forward. People don’t want to give that up. They live by the “sometime down the road” mentality instead of taking a shots at what they want today.
The problem with this, of course, is that most just end up waiting forever. “Sometime down the road” becomes “in the next life”. There is always a reason to keep putting their goals off. But in reality, it is just the fact that they never get to the point where they truly believe in themselves.
Have faith. You must have faith in your plan and your abilities. You must believe that if you put forth a reasonable amount of effort, good things will come. You must have faith that you are not doomed to any fate, you just have work smart and hard enough to change. If you let doubt or fear control your spirit, you ARE doomed to fail before you even start.
You know the things you want for yourself today? Don’t put them off for tomorrow, because you never know what tomorrow may bring. Your life can change in an instant. If you want something for yourself today, you have to take it today, because you never know if it is going to be available tomorrow.
3. Fear of the Process
There is the fear about how hard the process is going to be. “Oh man, exercising is going to be so painful. Waking up in the morning is going to suck. Giving up Pop-tarts, or Twinkies, or cookies (my personal favorite) will be way too hard and the cravings will be too much.”
Most people have several bad habits, and they fear how difficult it is going to be to break those bad habits and start new, more positive ones. They fear the pain, the sacrifice, the discipline necessary to make real changes in their health and physical appearance.
Let me ease that fear right now. In the beginning, it IS going to be rough. So you shouldn’t make it even more difficult by adding worry on top of it. Any time you make changes, big or small, there is some type of transition phase that is difficult. It is not easy to break bad habits. If it were, everyone would be walking around in phenomenal shape. The reality is you are going to have to work a little bit to achieve your goals.
But once you power through that transition phase, work hard to break bad habits, form good ones, and get things rolling, it DOES get easier. What you have to do is harness the power of momentum, instead of allowing it to control you. Right now your momentum is heading in the wrong direction. The most difficult phase is putting on the breaks and making a U-turn. Once you get it going in the right direction, its smooth sailing.
In other words, toughen up you wimp.
4. Fear of the Peer
There are many fears associated with how you think your friends and family will react to your newfound health and fitness goals.
Will they support you? Sometimes we are scared that we will have no help through this tough journey. We fear our friends and family won’t give us the support we need to succeed. They may not understand when we are tired or moody. They may not get the difficulties of going through a transition phase into a radically different lifestyle. They may make fun of us or ridicule us for trying to make a change of if we struggle initially. They may even unknowingly be working against us with their actions or words.
Will they be resentful? If you have to get up early for a workout or are trying to clean up your act and remove yourself from counterproductive situations, it may mean less time hanging out and socializing. It may mean less time at the usual restaurants, coffee shops, or bars where you can’t overcome the temptations to cheat.
Will they be jealous? If you do start to succeed and make positive changes in your life, will they be jealous that they are not doing the same thing for themselves? Will your ambitious goals put a strain on your relationships?
I think a lot of times we underestimate the care and love that our peer group has for us. A lot of times we just communicate with our peers on a surface level. “Hey what’s up, how are things going, how are the kids, etc.” A lot of life is just the little things, so it’s easy to forget that there are people around us who will do anything for us if we just ask.
But if you truly open up, tell them how you feel, and tell them how important this whole getting healthier and in shape really is to you, I believe they will be supportive. Sometimes you have to ask for what you want/need. I believe if you express how you feel, there are people in your circle who will go out of their way to be supportive, and will be truly happy when you succeed.
If not, then maybe you need to think about making some new friends.
5. Fear of Success
As funny as it sounds, there is also the fear of succeeding. What happens if you do toughen up, make it through this fitness journey, and achieve outstanding results? What then? Most of us fear the new and unfamiliar, even if it is for the better.
Many of us have been overweight for so long that it is just part of who we are. We cling to our identity, and fear having to reinvent ourselves. What happens when you are not the fat girl anymore? Are you then all of a sudden one of those annoying fitness chicks? We are scared of exploring new aspects of who we are or who we can become. It’s easier to keep things the way they are, even if it’s not what we really want for ourselves. Change is always intimidating, even if its what we want.
You have to learn to embrace change, not just in fitness but in life. Why? Life is constantly changing. You have to learn to flow with it. You have to learn to be flexible like water, and just roll with the punches.
Deep down you know you want to make some changes, and you know those changes are going to have a positive impact on your life. So don’t fear the new and unexplored aspects of yourself, in the end it will all work out for the best.
Anyone who tells you they don’t have fear is lying to you, putting up a front, or trying to act tougher than they really are. I’m a fitness professional and I have a ton of fitness fears. All great athletes get the butterflies. Even lions, Queens and Kings of the Jungle, have fear.
But it is not whether you experience fear. It is what you do with that fear that matters. Successful people in all aspects of life use fear to their advantage. They use it to motivate them. They use the excitement and nervous energy to perform. They actually welcome a little bit of fear because they know that’s when they are at their best.
I know you’re scared about making some tough changes and improving your physique. Up until this point, your fear has been holding you back from achieving your goals. But now, you have the tools necessary to take that fear and use it to your advantage.
A healthy diet is the most important aspect of the game when it comes to body composition change. If you retain only one piece of information from this site/blog, I hope that it is this: your nutritional habits will have a far greater impact on your body composition and physique goals than any other fitness component.
I’d go so far as to say this: Most people could reach a healthy/ideal body weight with a solid nutrition plan and maybe some daily walking alone, NO FORMAL EXERCISE SESSIONS NECESSARY. I know that’s going to piss a lot of personal trainers off — and by the way, I’m a personal trainer, and just writing that kind of makes me want to punch myself in the face. But it’s the TRUTH.
Now, if you have higher aspirations of physique development (ie six pack abs, big guns, etc.), that’s another story. Its gut busting weight training sessions for you my friends. But for those just trying to get healthier, feel better, and shed some excess poundage (quantitatively speaking going from 30% plus body fat to something more reasonable like 15% for men and 20% for women) all you really need to do is focus on cleaning up your diet. That’s the fastest, and most efficient path, to real world results.
I also think its the approach most likely to be sustained. If you’ve been sitting on the couch doing nothing for the last few years, its much more likely that you are going to change what you do in the kitchen then consistently haul your butt to the gym. Its easier to choose eating a chicken breast and vegetables for dinner as opposed to being miserable and getting your butt whipped in some crazy boot camp class. And to be quite honest, it is much more effective in the long run.
You don’t need to completely overhaul your life, set aside extra time that you don’t have to get to the gym, deal with crazy soreness or joint pain, wear spandex, deal with gym meatheads and divas, go gung-ho, injure yourself and/or burn-out 3 weeks later, only to give up the whole physique transformation process altogether. All you really need to do is change what you shop for at the grocery store, and make better choices when you are out at restaurants. That sounds reasonable right? Just walk some more and eat better dude/girl — simple.
Trust me, I’ve been in the fitness industry for over 10 years and have trained hundreds of people. The clients who used diet as their primary weapon in the war on fat loss were the ones who obtained the best results. The clients who tried to use exercise to offset a poor diet, or who thought they could eat whatever they want BECAUSE they were exercising or taking a pharmaceutical drug or miracle supplement, obtained mediocre results at best.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, researchers agree on this fat loss hierarchy: