Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Basics – Exercise/Training

Now that you have the diet down, here are our recommendations for your workouts. These recommendations will differ depending on your current weight and level of general fitness.

If you are severely overweight and deconditioned:

  • Most people can reach a natural, healthy bodyweight with proper nutrition and walking alone; no gym or formal exercise sessions are necessary. You may move to the structured when you reach a healthier weight
  • Focus on cleaning up your diet and walking more. Walking can be done anywhere! Being a member of a gym or having a home treadmill may come in handy during inclement weather, but it is not necessary.
  • Avoid high intensity aerobic activity or heavy weights
  • Exercise 4-5 days per week. Give yourself 2-3 days per week off per week to optimize recovery and prevent burnout.

If you are a healthy individual who wants to change his/her body composition:

  • Your goal is to increase lean muscle mass through weight training. Having more muscle mass increases your body’s resting metabolic rate. Fat loss will be the result of (1) your clean diet and appropriate caloric intake; and (2) increased metabolic “burn” from muscle mass
  • Emphasize strength training; To a lesser extent, interval-based cardio and outdoor recreational walking is okay.  Avoid low-intensity, long distance endurance training (e.g., jogging and cardio machines)
  • Training options: 2 days per week for full body routines (also known as “splits”), 3 days per week for push/legs/pull splits, or 4-5 days per week for individual body part splits. Give yourself 2-3 days off per week to optimize recovery and prevent burnout
  • It’s ideal to work out at a gym facility, since they will have all the weights you need for your workouts. However, you can achieve excellent results at home too, using your body weight, resistance bands, or dumbells.

Training Principles for All:

  • Ideally, you will want to exercise at a regularly scheduled time during specific days of the week. This will help to make it part of your routine and automatic, instead of something that is a chore or can be pushed aside. When strength training, it is also ideal to eat at least one meal at least one hour before working out.
  • Use mostly free weights; supplement with machines only if necessary.
  • Train from a stable base. DON’T use unstable surfaces (balls, wobble boards, standing on one foot, etc.).
  • Focus on basic exercises – lunge and squat movements, dumbbell and barbell rowing and pressing motions, pull-up/dip movements, etc. The human body is a simple lever system and does not need “complicated” or “innovative” exercises to produce results.
  • During each session, train 1-3 muscle groups (body splits). Perform 3-5 exercises for large muscle groups, 2-3 exercises for small muscle groups.
  • Perform 2-4 sets of 5-15 repetitions (reps).
  • Rest 30-120 seconds in between each set.
  • Keep the rep tempos (speed at which you lift/move the weights) around 2-0-2-0 (2 seconds up, 2 seconds down).
  • Lift and lower weights under control, and keep CONSTANT TENSION on the muscle. Don’t pause or lockout to rest in between reps, and don’t cheat by swinging or using rebound/momentum; this puts you at risk for injury.
  • It’s not just about how much weight you lift. Focus on stimulating and overloading the muscle. This is better for the muscles, better for the joints, and better for overall safety.
  • Focus on feeling the muscle work during the set, not just on moving a weight from point A to point B. Think of this as bodybuilding or body shaping as opposed to power lifting. Check your macho (or diva) ego at the door.
  • Switch training variables — within the confines of the overall parameters — regularly (exercises, order of exercises, reps, interest rest, etc.) in order to vary the training stimulus and prevent boredom/training plateaus.
  • Don’t get sucked into fitness trends, and cool-looking “innovative” stuff you see in the gym or TV. The basics are the basics for a reason — THEY WORK.

The Basics – Nutritional Overview

Let’s start our discussion of the basics with our nutritional overview. Why? Because what you put in your mouth (or perhaps more importantly, what you DON’T put in your mouth), will have the greatest effect on your body composition and changes to your physique. Here are the basic principles that guide our recommendations:

Nutritional Overview: We emphasize a natural, animal and vegetable-based diet over a refined sugar & flour-based diet. Animals foods provide our bodies with all of the essential nutrients necessary for survival – essential amino acids and essential fatty acids – in the right quantities, proportions and ratios. This is what we evolved on; you can’t beat nature.

What should you eat? Natural foods:

  • Lean proteins with every meal: chicken or turkey breast, fish, shellfish, lean cuts of red meat (filet mignon, top round, sirloin, leanest ground beef), lean cuts of pork, egg/egg white mixtures (1-2 whole eggs per 4-6 egg whites)
  • Natural, starch-based carbohydrates with every meal: yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice (any kind), or rice based products with no additives (unflavored rice cakes)
  • As many non-starchy vegetables as you wish with any meal (spinach, broccoli, etc).
  • Fruit as dessert only
  • Drink 2-3 liters of water per day. Tea and black coffee are fine.
  • Use herbs and spices to flavor foods – garlic, sea salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, paprika, etc.
  • Use low fat and low sugar condiments = salsa, pico de gallo, wasabi, mustard, etc.

What should you avoid? Pretty much all man-made, processed foods, along with sugar, dairy, and fat:

  • Sugar and concentrated sources of fructose: high fructose corn syrup, pure cane sugar, table sugar, fruit juices, smoothies, dried fruits, soda, “sweets”, pastries, mochas, etc.
  • Sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and flavorings
  • Trans fats, hydrogenated oil, margarine
  • Vegetable oils, flax seed oil, and other processed oils
  • Dairy – milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream, cream
  • Bread, pasta, and flour-based products
  • Grains, including “whole grains” – breads, cereals, tortillas
  • Beans, legumes
  • High sugar and/or high-fat dressings and condiments
  • Processed meats – hot dogs, salami, etc
  • Tofu and soy-based products
  • Alcoholic beverages

When should you eat?

  • If you are sedentary, eat 3 times per day.
  • If you are active and exercise regularly, eat 5 times per day.

How much should you eat at each meal?

  • Protein: 4-8 ounces (0.25-0.5 pound). This is about the size of your palm, a deck of cards, or your iPhone.
  • Carbohydrates: 8 ounces (1 cup). This is about the size of your fist or a baseball. When you start out, measure it exactly so that you know what it looks like.
  • As much/many non-starchy vegetables as you like.

Where should you eat?

  • Whenever possible, eat at home so that you have control over what goes into your meals.
  • Sit at the dining table, or somewhere away from the television, computer, or anything else that will distract your attention from your meal.

Got this down? Great! Next, let’s talk about Training/Exercise.

From Runner to Ripped

Before I talk about my bikini contest prep, I should give you some history about my fitness and athletic background…

I started playing volleyball in middle school, and continued through high school and college. Being on the NCAA Division III team of an institution that prized research over athletics – and had torn its former Division I football stadium down to build a library – our training sessions weren’t terribly hard-core. Nonetheless, I always gave it my all and stayed in decent enough shape (after I recovered from gaining the “Freshman 20”).

When my collegiate “career” ended, I started jogging. Slowly. With basketball players whose advanced cardiovascular conditioning meant they would run and talk to each other, thereby distracting me from my own heavy breathing, while I simply listened but didn’t have to respond (not like I could anyway).

I kept it up, and in my own time I grew to like jogging (or dare I call it running? How fast do you need to go for it to count as “running”?) This was peculiar to me, since one of the reasons I stopped playing basketball in high school was because we ran too much. I would get anxiety attacks before the timed mile, and wanted to stay home sick when we had the dreaded “6-lap run”, which is 1.5 miles. But I digress.

Having been an athlete, I was no stranger to the weight room, but sometimes I just didn’t feel like going to the gym, and when crunched for time I figured a cardio session would give me better results than lifting weights. Cardio burns more calories, right? And burning calories burns fat, and then you lose weight. I thought if I ran enough, I could eat whatever I wanted and still control my weight. In my 20’s, this was certainly the case. Once the clock struck 30, however, not so much. Thankfully, this is about the time I met Nate.

Nate’s vocation and his passion for weight training made me more aware of my own workouts, and I asked for his help. In the beginning, he created plans for me with a significant amount of weight training, but also included cardio to make me happy. This made for long sessions at the gym, up to 90 minutes, just so I could get my cardio in at the end.

He tried to get me to curtail my cardio numerous times, but I was always resistant. For a while we compromised by switching from endurance cardio (30-60 minutes) to high-intensity interval training (a.k.a. HIIT, which lasted 20-30 minutes). I could still run, got my heart pounding, and I thought sure, HIIT makes you burn more calories in a shorter period of time! That’s good!

As Nate did more research on diet and exercise and the effects of both on body composition, he became more and more convinced that the extra cardio I was doing was actually hindering my goals of getting/staying lean. When I decided to compete in the bikini contest, he would only train me under the condition that I follow his instructions without question. I was completely in his hands.

Nate designed my training plan with the following goals: (1) build muscle up top (I’m sort of pear-shaped, so this would make me look more proportionate), and (2) create some kind of muscle in my lower half, where I previously had none. When I started training for the competition, I had what I called a “butthigh” (pronounced “buh-THIGH”) – my butt ran right into the back of my thigh, with no distinguishing difference between the two! Even when I tried to flex my glutes, nothing happened. So pathetic. But the only way to make it better was to work it out! Here’s a sample of what my training plan looked like at the end of my contest training:

TUES — BACK, LEGS I

  • Rack pull-ups 3 x max
  • One arm rotating dumbell rows 3 x 10
  • Lat pulldowns 3 x 10
  • Single stiff leg deadlifts 3 x 15
  • Single glute bridges 3 x 15
  • Sumo deadlifts 3 x 15

WED – CHEST, ARMS, ABS

  • Flat dumbell press 3 x 10
  • Push-ups 3 x max
  • Rope extensions superset alternate dumbell curls 3 x 10
  • Skullcrushers superset concentration curls 3 x 10
  • Cable crunch 3 x max
  • Decline crunch 3 x max

SAT — LEGS II

  • Elevated split squats 3 x 15
  • Hyperextensions 3 x 15
  • Hamstring curls 3 x 15
  • Cable glute kickbacks 3 x 15
  • Calf raises 3 x 15
  • Seated calf raises 3 x 15

SUN – SHOULDERS, ARMS

  • Seated dumbell side laterals 3 x 10
  • Seated high rope rows 3 x 10
  • Alternate dumbell front raise 3 x 10
  • Rope extensions superset Alternate dumbell curls 3 x 10
  • Skullcrushers superset hang concentration curls 3 x 10
  • Cable crunch 3 x 15-20
  • Decline crunch 3 x max

It looks like a lot, but by timing my rest periods between sets (40 seconds in between each set), things moved along quite nicely, and I was never in the gym for more than 45-60 minutes. No different than going to a class at your own gym, right?

What’s missing from these workouts? CARDIO!

That’s right, I did no formal cardio during the 12-week period before my contest. Our focus was building lean muscle mass, and using the caloric deficit from my diet to lose fat. You’ve probably heard that muscle burns more calories in your body than fat. Thus, by increasing the amount of lean muscle mass in my body (by weight training), I not only look better and more “toned” (which is the point of training for a bikini contest, right?), but my body then burns more calories throughout the day, which results in more fat loss, which means looking even BETTER. You see the wonderful cycle here?

Were you afraid you’d get too muscular from lifting all those weights?

I was never worried that I’d get huge like a man, because that is physically impossible without using steroids or growth hormones. However, in the past when I trained with both weights and cardio, I did have concerns of getting bigger than I was comfortable with. Each time I started a program (and there were many “new starts”) I would feel my pants get tighter, and I was convinced that I was getting “bulky” from doing lunges, squats, and leg extensions. My ridiculous way of thinking was this: Muscles will just make me look bigger; when you’re wearing pants no one can see your muscles, they just know that your legs are big! RIDICULOUS, RIGHT? My knee-jerk reaction was to cut the weights and increase the cardio.

What I needed to realize, and finally did in time, was that I had to give my body time to adjust. I started to build muscle, and for some period of time I would feel bigger, but that was only until my body actually started losing fat. Until then I’d have my new muscle plus my old fat…I needed to be patient. Nate promised me that if I would just “stick with the plan”, my body would respond just the way we wanted. As always, he was right.

How long did it take to see results?

My upper body responded the fastest, and soon the trainers at his Nate’s gym would see me working out and make comments to him like “Dude, your wife is ripped!” We went to Hawai’i a few weeks after I had started training for the show, and family members commented on my “guns”, which were apparently visible from a balcony four floors up. The comments made me very self-conscious at first. I wasn’t sure if that was the look I wanted…did I really want to be “ripped”? Did that mean I looked like a guy?

After Nate explained to me that these comments were coming from trainers, who know what they are talking about and what their clients aspire to look like, and family members, who are supportive and encouraging, and I became less worried, and more confident. I enjoyed getting stronger and feeling like I was making progress with my training, and that I was making positive gains in some regard. These gains were a sort of positive reinforcement for me, and inspired me to keep working hard.

My lower body took longer to respond. This was expected, but I was still worried. It was slow going at first, but after 2 months I starting losing fat in my lower half. I didn’t even notice it at first, but suddenly my clothes were getting looser, and eventually nearly all of my pants were hanging on me (and looked borderline horrible). It was like a snowball effect, and was actually quite amazing. The last two weeks before the show were the most significant, and the change most noticeable, and the weight just fell off. Surprisingly to me, the “bulky legs” I feared in the beginning never matriculated. In fact, I could have used a little more muscle and definition.

How much weight did you lose? What was your body fat percentage?

To be honest, while I would periodically get on the scale, I never used my weight as a regular gauge of my progress. A person’s bodyweight fluctuates a lot, even over the course of a single day, based on food and water intake, exercise, and hormones, so to track it frequently would mean nothing. It might have been interesting to have taken regular measurements of weight or body fat percentage for data purposes, but when came down to the bikini contest, none of those things really matter. All that matters is how you look on stage, and how you look in person.

What did you learn from this method of training?

I learned first-hand something that Nate has been telling me for years…that when it comes to body composition change, or losing fat, or just trying to look good, weight training trumps cardio every time. From personal experience I can tell you that I was leaner and had a better physique after training for this bikini contest – with no cardio – than I have ever been in my entire life. If you look at my photos, I don’t look overly muscular at all.

Think about it: compare at the body of a marathon runner vs. that of a figure or fitness model. Which one of the two is leaner with more definition in their muscles? Who looks more “fit” or “defined”? The figure or fitness model, who will unequivocally be lifting more weights in their training programs than the distance athlete.

That’s not to say that cardio doesn’t have value. It absolutely does. But you need to be sure you know WHY you are doing the cardio. If it’s because you like it, it feels good to you, you are trying to get your heart rate up for an extended period of time to increase your cardiovascular endurance, etc., then yes, cardio is the answer. But if you simply want to look good – or great – and lose fat and gain some muscle, then get off the treadmill or stairmaster and pick up some weights!

Q: What’s the best way to train your body to burn fat instead of carbs while exercising?

ANSWER:

The actual answer to your question is low intensity aerobic activity, after a period of fasting (so first thing in the morning). The real question, however, is this — is that the most efficient and effective approach for your goals? Assuming your goal is to lose body fat — I would say absolutely not!

Its not about how many calories you burn while exercising, or what percentage of those calories come from fatty acids as fuel. True body composition transformation comes from the number of calories you burn the other 23 hours of the day. We burn predominantly fat at rest, so the question is how do we burn more calories/fat at rest? The calories burned while exercising are relatively small and insignificant compared to that number.

The answer is to increase your resting metabolic rate. The amount of lean muscle you carry is positively correlated with resting metabolic rate. Your best approach is to strength train, build some lean muscle, boost your resting metabolic rate, and burn more calories at rest. The body burns fat as rest like I said, but as the intensity of the activity increases, it starts to burn more glucose. During high intensity activity, the body is deriving 100% of its energy from glucose. So during strength training, you will actually be burning more glucose than fatty acids, but this is exactly what you want (although it might not seem so on the surface).

High intensity strength training causes microscopic damage in your muscle cells. To repair this damage (in the recovery process) requires energy. This repair happens in between training sessions, not during. And what are we burning in between training sessions at rest? FAT. Your body will burn fat in the recovery process from strength training, a hell of a lot more than doing one our of non-challenging aerobic activity.

That just scratches the surface. Strength training also has positive impacts on growth hormone secretion, which is our primary fat burning hormone. Just remember this, fat loss is not about how many calories you burn (or whether or not those calories are coming from fatty acids) its about the metabolic and hormonal responses to exercise. These are far more dramatic with glucose-burning strength training than fat-burning aerobic activity.

To put into practical terms for you:

1. Strength train 3-4 times a week for hormonal release, to build metabolic-boosting lean muscle mass, to cause muscular damage that is energy-costly to repair from, and maybe to look cool in spandex :)

2. Don’t worry about what exercise modes burn more fat. That’s meaningless. You will burn plenty of fat at rest assuming you are in a relative calorie deficit, and your metabolic rate is high (from consistently strength training).

I hope that makes sense, no time to edit, heading to a training session. If you have follow up questions fire away.

Q: What’s a good workout schedule to get to 8% body fat?

ANSWER:

1. Nutrition by far is the most important component of getting ripped. Focus on that more than the training program — trust me. Eating clean is great, but to reach low single digit body fat percentage you need to be more detailed. Paleo/low carb advocates may claim that all you need to do is cut carbs to get ripped, but the process is much more complex than that. A Paleo diet is a good way to reach a healthy, natural body weight, but at some point dropping more fat (ie 4-8% body fat) becomes somewhat unnatural. Getting ripped would have been disaster for survival during the caveman era.

I generally start people on 1g of lean protein (from lean meats) and 1g of carbohydrate (from vegetables, and a select few starches -potatoes, rice) per pound of lean body mass, with dietary fat as by-product of your protein sources (assuming you are eating things like chicken, fish, and lean beef). No added fats. The science and reasoning behind this is complex (amino’s support a positive nitrogen balance and protein synthesis, carbohydrates fuel the anaerobic energy production pathway, the ratios control blood sugar and insulin/glucagon axis etc.), but the practical application is simple. Eating starchy carbohydrates is blasphemous to low carb proponents, but again, we are talking about a physique goal beyond just “normal”. And we are talking about an anaerobic athlete vs. a sedentary slug.

2. Your body fat percentage is a ratio of fat:lean muscle mass. There are 2 ways to improve this: dropping body fat AND gaining muscle. Too many people focus on the first and not the second. And especially if you are a naturally “leaner” type, you need to focus just as much on building muscle as you do dropping fat. I would do a 4-day traditional bodybuilding-style split, 3 sets of 10, higher volume, etc, which has been researched and proven to be the best plan for muscular hypertrophy.

Cardio sucks for fat loss and circuit training is a myth. Its not about how many calories you burn while exercising, its about how many calories you burn the other 23 hours of the day in the recovery process, and the metabolic and hormonal effects of your training program. Traditional strength training/bodybuilding training is far superior in these aspects. Your training should not be geared towards burning calories, it should always be about building muscle (even if you just want to burn fat, because lean muscle contributes to a higher resting metabolic rate). Let your body burn fat in the recovery process, combine that with a targeted nutrition plan, and you’re on the road to Rippedville.