Body Change: How to increase your results, and avoiding the vampires

Well hello my beautiful little gym puppies; all excited and full of swagger, yet scared at anything new. I’m the same way – wanting to do what I’m best and most comfortable at, and shying away from anything remotely foreign to my prior gym experience. This just makes us human, and is a clear indication of our working brains that protect us from possible injury and death.

The challenge is, this subconscious fear of changing our rituals and comforts stops us from achieving the body composition changes we’re in the gym to change in the first place. After all, our bodies are capable of unbelievable levels of adaptation to the same routines. You know this if you’ve ever heard of, or worse, experienced a plateau; the body figured out the best and easiest possible way to do something we repeatedly did, and now it’s no longer effective at getting us towards the change we wanted.

So, in this post, I’m going to cover just a few of the ingredients needed to create the changes in your body that you want, plus highlight some of the biggest ways people get sabotaged by the best of intentions.

Intensity Matters:

In life, we change the most when life is the most severe. As painful as it is to lose a loved one, go through a break up, we change the most about ourselves immediately after a major loss in life. Athletes learn more about how to be better athletes after a defeat than a victory, and especially more is learned when the defeat is humiliating. Heck, I learned more about money in a few months of being broke than I did in the years of econ I took in school plus what my parents tried to teach me when I was younger.

The same is true in your body: the level of change is predicated on the level of intensity on your body. Plain and simple, muscle only grows in response to force production, and fat doesn’t get burned anywhere near enough to justify gym time unless we’re working harder than we want to. Sometimes, we need to grit our teeth, grunt some, and curse after a set. I do want to be clear here, there’s zero reason we should be in physical pain. But, the chief reason I have a job, the personal trainer is the easiest way to take yourself right up to the point of pain, and stay there as long as possible to create the best changes. Otherwise, just like being bored in a classroom leads to a lack of learning, our bodies get bored of a lackluster workout.

Lack of Recovery

There’s a trend going around the fitness world these days of getting enough rest and avoiding stress in life. Like anything in my industry, there’s some truth to the idea, but a lot of confusion in the actual practice. I’ve personally been trying to change my vocabulary to say recovery in place of rest. Most people I work with hear rest and think either sitting on the couch relaxing, or sleep. I think of recovery as a much broader scope, and yet more prescription based; I don’t need to foam roll as much after a yoga class, and I need way more protein after a 2 hour lifting session. If I don’t want my knees to hurt ten years down the road, I want to make sure I have mobile hips, but I don’t need to mobilize my hips every day, just on days I’m about to do legs.

This becomes the biggest physical reason people don’t see results; the workout itself does nothing for you. You see the results from how the body reacts to the stimulus, and we can effect the recovery way more than the workout simply by focusing on tissue mobility, amazing nutrition and hydration (yes, they’re two different things), and rest. Otherwise, your next workout will end up being not only more dangerous, but even counter to your goal of positive change.

Positive Psychology – The Double Edged Sword

The genesis of this post was witnessing two women doing a 5lb dumbbell chest press on the floor, talking to each other the whole time. Bad form, heads turned towards each other, resting for 5 minutes at a time between terrible sets. I get it; socialization is one of the biggest ingredients of adhering to a gym schedule. But, if you’re able to have a casual conversation with someone during a set, congratulations, you’re socializing, not working out. And you’re running the risk of that gym buddy being a bad influence instead of an accountability partner.

The same is true with posting about workouts on social media. I know a guy that’s regularly posting on Facebook about his workouts and weight-loss journey. Every time he posts, he gets dozens of comments of encouragement about his bravery, dedication, and how inspiring he is. But, he has lost the same damn 20 lbs over and over for 5 years due to injuries happening every 3-6 months. At what point do we have to say that the positive psychology train needs to be serviced and re-calibrated? At what point do we realize that when we reinforce a behavior that is hurting someone, we’re the ones hurting them?

I personally invite everyone who reads this to be a positive change in the world by asking people like this what they’re recovery program is like? “Wow, you crushed that workout! How are you going to recover from that? Stretching? Protein? 10 hours of sleep?” We need to spread the message that not only fitness, but a healthy lifestyle is much more than just 1 hour in the gym 3-5 days a week.

Lack of Progress

The last thing I’ll mention is that it’s nice to get encouragement from your circle of friends, and feel like you’re accomplishing something by getting off the couch and moving your body. But many people much smarter than I have repeatedly said progress equals happiness. I say this for a few reasons. One, write down your workouts, and measure the results! Write down the number of days you’re going to the gym, and measure the progress of consistency. Do something to reinforce the changes you’re making.

But I say this, lastly, that people encouraging us that we’re on the right path when we’re not seeing results confuses and frustrates us. If this is you, I’m so sorry on behalf of these positivity warriors. But I’d invite you to analyze why other peoples opinions are more important that yours and your observational skills? If it’s not working for you, try something else. If that doesn’t work, try something else. And when you get completely outside of what people encourage you to do, and it works for you…well, they say something is only stupid until it works. Then you’re a genius.

I wish you all the best in your endeavors, and if there’s anything I can further help with, let me know. Otherwise, I bid you Farewell.

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

Lungs

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.

How foam rolling can dramatically help with weight-loss and pain

If you’ve been exercising for any length of time, chances are you’ve seen or heard foam rolling. For most of my clients, there is a love/hate relationship with this method of tension release. If you’ve ever had a massage before, you know how wonderful and relaxing it feels to work out any kinks or knots you may have. But while foam rolling achieves the same thing, it just plain hurts. I’m selling it so well, right? Well, let’s get into a little bit of science behind why it works, and then outline how it can help not only reduce any pains and aches, but also dramatically help anyone lose weight.

Let me first say that any calorie burning and work is done at the cellular level. Every cell in our body has a certain amount of energy available to it, and can perform only a certain amount of work before it gets too tired to function, and has to replenish its energy. One muscle is made of hundreds, if not thousands, of muscle cells all contracting and expanding together to move us through the world. Think of it like a small army working together to make movements easy and efficient. Put even simpler, many hands make light work.

But if we have knots in a muscle, some of those cells cannot contract, cannot use energy, and cannot be involved in the weight loss process. Even worse, the other non knotted muscle cells have to work way too hard, making them fatigue quickly, making us take rests sooner than we’d like during a workout. Even worse, those cells also have increased risks of injury when they fatigue, and need much longer to rest before we can use them again. Think of it like pulling all nighters for just a few days can lead to even the simplest tasks becoming impossible. In exercise terms, we call that over-training, and this can lead to a weight-loss plateau faster than anything else.

Stretching should help, right? Well, stretching is a great way to stay limber, yes. But think of the full chain of cells in a muscle like a really big rubber band. If we tied a knot into the rubber band, the muscle would stretch, but NOT the cells involved in the knot. Enter foam rolling. By applying direct pressure to the knot, we force just those tight cells to clench hard for about a minute (the pain), and then release their stored tension (the release). Unfortunately, tighter/bigger the knot, the more pain we experience. On top of that, the release may take up to a week of foam rolling every day to fully release the knot. But, the relief for my clients with chronic pain is immediate and sustainable after only a few days of ‘treatment.’

If every cell in the muscle can be used for movement, not only does life get easier, but we have more cells using energy at once, and each movement we do burns more calories! Not only that, but we can perform harder movements, at higher intensities, and even take shorter rests.

So what do we foam roll? Well, the whole body would be nice. But unless you’re retired, or a personal trainer and do this for a living, there’s not enough time in the day (a minute per knot, remember?) For most people, three major muscle groups are really the culprits of most pains, and the biggest muscles that use energy/calories: the middle back, the glutes (butt muscles), and quads (thighs). These three groups need to be free to do not only more work functionally, but when they get tight, they actually turn off other muscle groups (ex: tight quads mean the hamstrings and glutes can’t function well. And a tight mid back means the low back and neck do way more work. Eww back pain!)

I leave techniques for foam rolling to any YouTube video or self experimentation you desire. But bottom line is this: foam rolling means more work in less time, faster weight loss, and a lot less pain.