Listen to the Bees for a safe Workout

Ever wonder why they call it working out? After 6 years of being a personal trainer, the answer is pretty obvious: working out is not only work, but it’s hard! Our nervous system loves to optimize for the easiest and most efficient methods through life, and anytime a change comes, the system rebels. What does it sound like, you ask? Excuses, complaints, and sometimes the occasional adult tantrum. Heck, I even had one guy literally fall asleep mid session (no, not pass out. Just zzz). Our nervous system is more influential than we sometimes realize.

Working Out
Drill Seargent

But, I know as the trainer, that it’s my job to get people through their nervous system rebellion. And I’m almost ashamed to admit that after years of trying to be suave about it, I’ve adopted some of the easier clichéd trainerisms: “You can do this,” “Only two more!” “Come on, client,” and my personal favorite, “PUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSHHHHHHH!!!”

But the main question I have today is this: at what point do you stop pushing? Is losing weight as easy as “no pain no gain, bro.” Or at some point in time do you have to recognize that the bees don’t care how hard you push through the pain?

Honey Bees

Bees? Wait, what Omid? Story Time!

I have the pleasure of working with some fairly extreme cases: knee and hip replacements, post surgery rehabilitation, scoliosis and vertigo, multiple sclerosis, parkinsons, etc. Remember when I mentioned excuses? Well, these clients really do have some pretty big issues to ‘just push through.’ Not only that, but they have a unique perspective on hard work that humbles me on a daily basis.

Still, the nervous system doesn’t change much from person to person. Excuses are universal, and the condition doesn’t spare us from the hard work.

So one day, a client with a particularly well versed excuse vocabulary is going through a difficult workout, and asks me, “Do you hear that?” (Questions and stories are one way the nervous system tries to delay the inevitable next set.) “There’s a buzzing coming from my fireplace,” the client says. I try to dismiss the excuse by explaining that a neighbor is using a weed whacker outside, and the sound is reverberating through the chimney. 

“Yeah?” I ask. “It’s probably your neighbor building some more on their house down the street. Rest time is over, next set.”

“It sounds like there are bees in my fireplace,” says the client, gasping for a recovery breath after some particularly hard work. I fight the urge to roll my eyes at their obvious ploy to distract from the task at hand. Until a bee flies out between the glass dividers, two feet from my clients head.

Ok excuses, you win this time. The client cried bees, and the workout was over.

The rest of the story makes for great dinner conversation, but since it happened, I’ve been thinking about the bees of working out. When do excuses turn into the nervous system crying for help? More importantly, if we use the mind over matter principal, are we risking turning off our warning systems that are there to keep us safe, and setting ourselves up for injury or worse?

To answer help answer that question. here are some simple tips for figuring out the difference between an excuse and a bee:

back pain
  1. Pain. Pain is always a no-no. Pain is always the body’s way of telling us that there is a problem in the system. Sharp, stabbing, or shooting pain is something to best listen to, and either adjust – whether lowing the weight, taking a longer rest, or decreasing range of motion – or stopping all together. Slow and steady wins the race.
  2. Shortness of breath. I don’t mean breathing hard. Working in a depleted state is critical to burning fat, and the main reason people hire someone like me; to push them hard enough to get results. But if at any point it feels like the next breath won’t happen, or oxygen is not entering the blood stream, slow way down or stop and rest. I can tell you after 6 years of being a personal trainer, the next rep in this state leads to passing out.
  3. Sudden changes in temperature. Obviously when we work out, our core temperature rises. But any variation over a few degrees, whether up or down (especially down) is a sign to either slow down or stop. To water the science down, it is the body’s failure to respond appropriately to the stimulus or situation presented to it. Sweat is good, but a fever is not!
  4. Blurry vision.  The nervous system is programmed to prioritize the eyes over many other systems. If you ever feel tunnel vision, or blurry vision, stop immediately. It’s a sign that the electrolytes are imbalanced, and the body is prioritizing energy to the heart, and not the eyes and brain.
  5. Cracking. I’m surprised I have to explain this as often as I do, but clicking and cracking is not normal. Muscles are mostly water, and when you hear cracking, it doesn’t mean the joint is getting lubricated. It means the muscles are failing somewhere in the system, and bones are hitting each other. When you hear it, listen to the bees, and change something. Vary the weight, the range of motion, the exercise, or (more often than not) the joint is not mobilized properly.

I could go on, but those 5 cover most of the common bees that we hear in the gym. Remember, our body is vastly complex, and the one thing that ties it all together is the nervous system. While we only have feeling in about 20% of those nerves, the body tends to communicate to us through a breadth of signals that we can learn to listen to. Mind over matter can help us get through a workout, yes. But it can also set us up for some pretty serious things later in life.

Listen to the nervous system, listen to the bees, and you'll be happy and healthy for years to come!

Trouble Losing Weight? Diet and Exercise might not be the answer!

I’m about to say something controversial: diet and exercise are not the most important parts of losing weight. Yup, that’s right. A personal trainer saying that there are more important things involved that the very reason people hire me.

Before you run off and hire someone else, let me first use a quick analogy to make my point. When we think of our home, we often think of the color of the walls, what kind of curtains we want to use, hardwood vs carpet, etc. But to me, all that is useless if the house is built on an unstable foundation. It might look great for a while, but cracks will start to appear, and pretty soon the whole house is worthless because the roof is starting to collapse. Time to demolish and start again.

To be clear, diet and exercise ARE important. But just like the house, diet and exercise are not the foundations of health and sustained weight loss. So where do diet and exercise rank in terms of importance? Here’s the whole list.

Kettlebell Front Squat

#5 – Exercise

Without going too deep into the science, weight loss all comes down to calories. The current model is CICO (calories-in, and calories-out), where if we burn more calories than we take in, we lose weight. When it comes to calories-out, there’s two big parts.

Part 1 is what we call our basic metabolic rate. Think about BMR as the calories the body would use even if we were in a coma. The challenge is, according to the US department of Agriculture, the daily recommendation for calorie intake is anywhere from 2,000 to 2,600 calories. So, to make up the difference between BMR and what we eat on a daily basis, exercise and movement is needed to drive up the number of calories burned.  

Easy example: 2,200 calories in from food, BMR of 1,100. I’ve got 1,100 calories left to ‘burn’ through exercise, or the leftover calories will be stored as fat.

#4 – Nutrition

Shrimp and Grapefruit

Following the same logic as above, nutrition is the calories-in portion of our equation. If we eat more calories than we burn through BMR and exercise, the body stores the extra calories for future use. Great news if it’s 500+ years ago when we would sometimes have to go days without eating. Bad news when our refrigerators are stocked, and the nearest grocery store or restaurant is only a few blocks away.

So, to balance that equation, take in less calories through food. If we keep the same BMR from above at 1,100, but only take in 1,700 calories through food, I’d only have to ‘burn’ 600 extra calories through movement to maintain weight.


And this is where most people stop. Eat less, move more, making calories-in less than calories-out, and we lose weight. Right? Well, for some people. The next three points are where things get tricky and quite frankly frustrating to think about. Because the next three points are where I find most people fail to lose the weight they want. Before I list them, I need to make one point clear, and that’s about what we’re made of.

You are the product of 37 trillion cells coming together to make up one big body. What’s even cooler is that those cells don’t stay the same through your life. Just like we need to replace batteries in our electronics, when a cell has burned as many calories as it can, it gets replaced by a new cell.

The problem is lifestyle gets in the way of that replication process. And that’s where our next 3 factors come in.


#3 – Sleep

Omid Sleeping

It makes sense that WHAT we eat is just as important as how much we eat. If we want a healthy body, we need to eat things that will support building better cells. Veggies and good quality fats are imperative to that process just as protein is vital for building muscle cells. But it’s when our head hits the pillow that the process of healing and rebuilding cells takes place.

The vast majority of human beings need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but it’s more than the amount of time between the sheets. Sleep is more about the quality of recovery we get. Think about it this way: we all know that stress is bad for us. Cortisol is what we call a catabolic hormone; a hormone that breaks things down. Sleep produces what we call anabolic hormones; hormones that are coupled with rebuilding processes. If we don’t sleep enough, or worse off, we’re still stressed from bad food and too much screen time, the body never gets rid of enough cortisol, and the cells don’t grow back right.

Let me be clear on this point. Sleep is critical for the cells to replicate well. If we don’t sleep well or enough, the cells that grow are not as strong as the previous cells. Those new cells now are less capable of burning calories efficiently, and therefore we’re handicapping the calories-out part of the equation. I can’t stress this enough, so I’ll say it again: Sleep trumps exercise!

#2 – Hydration

Water Glass

Ever heard the expression ‘burning calories?’ Well, to burn something is to take it through a chemical reaction. Every single cell inside your body is electro-chemical, and water is the number one thing those cells need to maintain every single function. Think about it this way: the body can survive up to ten days without food, but only 2-3 days without water.

You can eat the best diet in the world, but the cells in the gut need water to properly break down the food. You can do the best weight based workout ever, and sleep 9 hours, but the cells need water to get rid of all the waste from the muscles breaking down. You can even meditate for an hour every day, but without water, the adrenals get stressed out and produce cortisol at alarming rates.

The number one challenge to water is this: getting too little water (dehydration) and getting too much water (hyponatremia) both feel the same! It’s all about getting the amount of water you take in to balance your sodium levels. The rule of thumb is this: 0.5oz of water per pound of body weight. But keep in mind, everyone is different, and that fluctuates depending on your diet and activity level.

#1 – Respiration


Everyone breathes. Period. The body can go a few days without water, but if you stopped breathing, you’d be brain damaged within only 4 minutes, and dead within 10. Yet with little exception, everyone fails to breathe WELL. This point is massively important because every cell in the body respires just as we do. When a cell takes a breath, it brings in fresh resources and calories to do a job, and then excretes the waste products left over. (Fun fact, when we talk about burning calories, the biggest waste product is carbon dioxide that leaves us via the lungs. That’s right, if you want to lose weight, breathe more!)

I want you to think about your breath as the accelerator pedal in the car, and the respiration of the cells as the speed (mph). When you want to get up to a faster speed, you apply more acceleration by pushing down on the pedal. But once you get to the desired speed, you can’t just stop applying the accelerator; otherwise the car will slow down bit by bit. Cell respiration is your speedometer, and the frequency of your breath is the gas pedal. When we breathe poorly, it’s like starving the engine of gas, so the whole thing slows down. Every cell in the body respires less, and a whole host of things gets produced less effectively: hormones, neurotransmitters, ATP, carbon dioxide, and even calories don’t get burned at the same rate!

You can have the best diet and exercise regiment ever created, but if you’re not breathing well outside of sessions, the body is slowly going through asphyxiation from the inside out. The good news is that just like that gas pedal, you don’t need to deep breathe every second of every day. About once an hour, stand up and take a few full breathes to keep the ‘speed’ of the cells up.

The last thing I want to mention about the respiratory system is that because oxygen is the highest priority to our survival (remember, dead in 10 minutes without it), it is thus intertwined with a ton of other systems we have. I could write a book on that topic alone, so for the purpose of this post I’ll be brief and only list a few examples:

            The Muscular System: Take a big breath in, and notice what shape your body takes, or what movements happen. Then breathe out, and I mean ALL the way out. Every ounce of air out, and see what shape your body takes. It’s more than just the diaphragm, but the whole muscular system moves with the breath.

            The Digestive System: When we take a full breath, the diaphragm pushes down on the digestive system, moving around the internal organs almost like a massage. This helps squeeze and push not only food through the system, but helps stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes to help break down the food.

            The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): This is the branch of the nervous system coupled with rest and digestion. Without going into too much detail, think of the difference in how you breathe when you’re truly relaxed, vs. how you breathe during sympathetic nervous system arousal (running away from a tiger).

            The Immune System: Oxygen manipulation is one of the primary ways the immune system combats foreign invaders. New research and treatments are now looking into the effects of using ozone as therapy for cancers and even joint pain!


house of cards

I’d like to start to close out this post by expanding on the house analogy from before. The foundation of our house, as said before, is respiration, water, and sleep. Those create a stable floor that we can then build our walls of diet and exercise on. But the challenge isn’t that the foundation starts cracked. It’s that when we start to see results from starting slow and learning the basics, we tend to skip over some of our foundational habits. Getting to the gym is more important than sleep. Lifting a heavier weight is more important than breathing properly. Pretty soon our foundation is getting corroded from bad habits, and the value of our house is dropping little by little.

What’s worse, and I say this from years of experience as a coach, is that people are all too quick to make up excuses for foundation problems. “I’m just old, that’s why my back hurts,” instead of realizing that respiration is one of the prime movers of the spine. Or, “I’m just stressed because my boss yelled at me,” instead of realizing too little water stresses out the adrenal glands.

If you ever find yourself in a state of sub-optimal health, start with the foundation of your house first. Or, if you haven’t the faintest idea on how to fix the issue, hire someone like me to train not just your muscles, but the whole body from the inside out. Because remember, you are 37 trillion cells, and every one of them need training to stay healthy.

Empty Reps

If you've been working out and watching what you eat, you've no doubt heard about CICO, or calories in, calories out. If you want to lose weight, you need to intake less calories than you expend through the day. To do this while still getting all the nutrition you need, you have to minimize the empty calories. That's why low carb diets work so well.

But this post is not about nutrition as it is about the workout itself. Most people understand the concept of empty calories, but then waste reps at the gym. Swinging the weights, not getting the heart rate high enough on the elliptical, resting for way too long between sets, picking a weight that is too light, or even forgetting to breath during the exercise! All of these will not only stop you from getting to your fitness goals, but will also waste time that could be better used for the rest of life!

Personally, if my workouts last longer than 30 minutes, I'm doing something wrong. I'm a big fan of high intensity workouts that push me to the maximum. But high intensity doesn't always mean high heart rate, or big heavy weights. Even in a basic bicep curl, I'm squeezing my core, butt, and bicep as hard as I can during every rep, maximizing my own effort, and breathing as much as I can. 

The best analogy I can come up with is if you're at work, and want to get a promotion. You work your butt off, turn in work that is above what is called for, and love the process to EARN the promotion. You don't get rewarded just by showing up. 

It's the same with your workout. Every rep counts, just like every calorie, or work assignment. And if you can't push yourself to that point, that's where a good trainer/coach comes in handy.