- Bullshit – just say no!
Bullshit is everywhere although, sometimes, it can be hard to spot until you have stepped in it! Advertisers and marketers use bullshit to convince us to buy things we really don’t need. Politicians bullshit us to make us believe that they have out best interests at heart and food manufacturers bullshit us by saying that diet cookies and sugar-free ice cream is actually good for us!
The fitness industry is often guilty of the same bullshitting tactics; any time you read about an easy exercise or pain-free workout that will help you shed fat fast or build muscle I guarantee it’s pure, 100 percent bullshit because these things don’t come easy.
However, the most serious and harmful type of bullshit is the bullshit you tell yourself because, deep down, you know it’s bullshit but you choose to believe it anyway.
Bullshit baffles brains or so the old military saying goes and it’s true in all too many cases. If you slather on enough of the stinky stuff it’s easy to disguise the truth and convince yourself that you are right when you aren’t.
Break out your bullshit detector and grab a shovel because it’s time to dig yourself out of the bullshit you are currently telling yourself so you can start changing your body, diet, health and life for the better.
Here is my list of the most common examples of bullshit I come across…
I’m not fat – I’m just big-boned
Bullshit! While some of us do indeed have bigger bones, that bone size has nothing to do with the fat around your belly or your butt. Bones don’t flex like muscles or jiggle like fat – they are the support structure that hold the rest of your tissues and organs in shape. Here’s the truth; you can be big boned and slim and your belly? That’s not made of bones!
I’m too old to exercise
Bullshit! Exercise is more and not less important as you get older. When we are young, our bodies are naturally fit and muscle and bone mass are at their peak. However, as we age, we lose muscle, bone, fitness and mobility and the result is we are less able to perform physically demanding tasks. If you want to enjoy a long, productive and independent life, you need to exercise. Forget about six-packs and marathon running though – exercise for seniors is all about preserving or regaining muscle mass to improve functionality, confidence and quality of life.
I don’t need to exercise – I have an active job
Bullshit! Being physically active and exercise are two different things and anything you can do all day sure has hell doesn’t count as exercise. Exercise is all about overloading your muscles, heart and lungs so they get stronger and fitter and jobs like bricklaying, gardening or collecting garbage do not overload your muscles sufficiently to produce any meaningful training effect. If you have an active job I will probably need to modify the type of workout you do but you still need to hit the gym regularly to stay in shape. In fact, getting in shape will make your job easier!
My diet is great – I don’t need to make any changes
Bullshit! I hear this one a lot. To lose weight eat less, exercise more and don’t drink your calories. You are overweight for a reason and that reason is you don’t watch what you eat. What many people think of as healthy food is in fact the opposite; diet foods, low fat but refined carbs, pre-prepared calorie controlled meals, diet sodas – all junk food in disguise. Any food with a marketing budget, a billboard or a TV commercial will make you fat so be smart and don’t fall for all that marketing BS. Your diet is not great otherwise you’d be slim, fit and healthy. This is the same for you guys that want to add muscle; you have to get mentally prepared for the fact you have to eat proper foods and not just supplements that save time but don’t produce the same result as proper nutrition.
I deserve a dessert or a glass of wine every night because I exercise
Bullshit! A typical dessert contains anywhere between 500 to 1000 calories which is a lot more than most people can burn off in a workout. If you are having a high calorie dessert every night you are, at best, undoing your work in the gym so you’ll make no progress or, at worse, actually eating more calories than you burn and slowly gaining weight despite your workouts. You cannot outrun a bad diet so stop trying. One glass of standard wine is anywhere from 120 to 160 calories and provides no nutritional value whatsoever; these little habits add up.
I don’t do weights because I don’t want to bulk up
Bullshit! People who say this have no idea how damn hard it is to build muscle. It doesn’t happen by accident or overnight – it takes years of dedication to build quality muscle and that includes diet, exercise and lifestyle. You won’t “end up looking like Arnie” just because you do some weight training. You aren’t going to “look masculine” because you hit the gym two or three times a week. If building muscle was easy, everyone who went to the gym would look muscular and awesome. Needless to say, this far from the truth! Stop making excuses not to lift weights – it’s arguably the most important form of exercise. Hard? Yes. But the health and fitness benefits will make it all the more worthwhile.
I’m too busy to go to the gym
Bullshit! How much TV do you watch? How many hours per week do you spend on Facebook or other social media sites? How many nights a week do you go out drinking with your mates? Barack Obama, arguably the busiest man on the planet, finds time to exercise regularly and as you AREN’T the President of the USA, you really have no excuse not to find three to five hours a week for working out.
It’s not my fault – it’s my genetics
Bullshit! Blaming your genetics for being overweight and unfit is just a way of making excuses for being lazy. Of course, genetics do play a role; your hair and eye colour, predisposition to certain ailments, your intelligence etc. are all influenced by genetics BUT you don’t have to be a victim of your genes – you are free to take action to minimize gene expression and forge your own path. So what if your Mum and Dad were fat? You don’t have to be! I know because my father was overweight and died of a heart attack – I’m not fat and am doing everything I can to make sure I don’t go out the same way. Hard work and dedication trump genetics every time so by all means acknowledge your genetics and family traits but then get off your butt and do it anyway.
I don’t do cardio because it might hurt my gains
Bullshit! Lots of guys looking to build muscle use this excuse but fail to realise they are neglecting the most important muscle in their body by doing so; their heart. Massive delts and bulging biceps aren’t going to do you any good if your heart is the size of a peanut! Twenty minutes of cardio three or four times a week will not hurt your gains and might actually enhance them as you’ll be fitter and better able to recover between sets as a result. Cardio can also help you lose fat and keeps your heart, lungs and circulatory system in good health. Strength training is important but so too is cardio.
It’s okay – I’ll train legs on Friday
Bullshit! Too many guys are overly focused on their upper bodies and neglect training their legs. The result? Lots of guys who look ridiculous in shorts or never wear anything but long pants – even in the height of summer. And as for saying you’ll train them on Friday? Double bullshit! If there was ever a day you are going to miss training, it’ll be Friday. Train legs on Monday when your exercise enthusiasm and energy are highest. That way you never need to be embarrassed when it’s time to step into your shorts and expose your legs to the public.
My lack of progress is down to my PT
Bullshit! I see this a lot; people who think their PT will fix everything and that working out with a PT will nullify their crappy diet, lack of willpower, inability to commit to anything and whatever other baggage they are dragging around behind them. Ultimately, even the best PT can only show you the way; it’s up to you, the client, to follow the path! And working out with a PT does not give you free licence to eat what you want or be lazy in and out the gym – I’m good but I’m no miracle worker!
The bullshit I get told all the time is just that; bullshit. What many people fail to realize is that their results don’t lie and when you BS yourself about your eating and your exercise you are the one missing out at the end of the day. I always find out when I do caliper testing with a client, this tells a story of what has been happening outside of the gym when not with me.
Most of us have a finely-tuned bullshit meter that can detect bullshit whenever it’s near but, for reasons unknown, we are less adept at detecting our own bullshit. Next time you catch yourself saying something like “I don’t have time to exercise”, pause for a moment and then decide if you are telling yourself the truth or just bullshitting. If it’s pure BS, give yourself a swift kick in the pants and get up and off your butt and do what you need to do. Bullshit? Just say NO! Bullshit does not = results —————————————————————————————————————————-
- Fitness – don’t over complicate it
Pick up any fitness book, health magazine or workout website and, quite probably, you’ll be inundated with tons of information – some of it very scientific and complex. Visit more sources and inevitably you’ll find contradictory information that leaves you questioning what you read earlier!
And here’s a dirty little secret the marketing people don’t want you to know; many articles about fitness and weight loss are deliberately controversial just so that you’ll click on them and read them which increases their Google rankings and so you can be sold to!
This is called click baiting and is a very sneaky way to a) keep you misinformed and b) sucker you into visiting a page your might not otherwise have gone to see. And then I get a client sending me an article they saw of some guy who has put on 8kg of muscle in 4 weeks by taking a certain supplement, or a person who has dropped 20kg in 2 months, true stories, dishonest advertising taking advantage of some people’s naivety; don’t fall for it.
Remember, anything that suggests that fitness is easy, you can lose weight without dieting or that THIS is the NEW and ONLY workout you need to do is just a click bait bullshit trap!
There are no quick fixes, magic pills, one-size fits all workouts or clubs, cliques or groups with all the answers. Fitness and weightloss come down to simple principles combined with hard work and dedication – and it ain’t no secret! There maybe some underlying reason you maybe are not gaining weight or losing weight, when all normal avenues are exhausted and you are working out correctly etc, but this is something that may need blood analysis or doctors appointments to determine.
Anyway, rant over and back to the subject of information overload…!
This can lead to something called “paralysis by analysis” which is the term used to describe being so overwhelmed by the choices you face, you end up doing nothing. The only loser in this situation is you as yet another month or year will go by without doing something about your growing belly, lack of fitness or low energy levels.
Unfortunately, much of the information doing the rounds in magazines and on the internet is complex simply for complexity’s sake. People who write about fitness have to find ways to make age-old principles and ideas sound fresh and exciting when, in truth, they are anything but. And the rest of the information, if not overly complex, is often just plain wrong!
In many ways, the internet is to blame for much of this; it’s just too darn big! There are so many sources of material it’s hard to know where to look for reliable.
So, how do you avoid being overwhelmed by all the fitness and nutrition information around? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff, the diamonds from the dross? The answer is KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Adherence trumps complexity every time!
While there IS a place for complex workouts, multifaceted diets and complicated training programs, in the vast majority of cases, a simpler approach will work almost as well for most people. The difference in results between simply going out for a hard run for 30 minutes or doing some form of heart rate controlled, blood lactate monitored interval program on a state-of-the-art treadmill is negligible. In terms of adherence, simpler exercise and nutritional approaches are usually more sustainable because they tend to throw up fewer obstacles than more complex and involved methods.
So, let’s look at some simple exercise and nutrition approaches that work even though they aren’t mega-complicated, state-of-the-art or overly scientific.
Weight training is as simple as it gets; grab something heavy, lift and lower it until you get tired, take a short rest and then repeat. Your muscles can’t tell if you are using a $50,000 machine or a rock in your garden; they just know tension and effort. So long as tension and effort are sufficient, you will get a good workout.
As to how best to arrange your weight training program, lots of people lose sleep over how to plan their training week and what exercises they should be doing. In reality, you can get a great workout from just three exercises per workout and three workouts per week. Just make sure you do a solid leg’s exercise, a pushing exercise and a pulling exercise in each workout and you have covered 80% of your bases right there. Any added extras are up to you and should be selected according to your specific needs.
Pick a weight that is challenging, take your set to the point where you are unable or unwilling to do more reps and do enough sets that you feel your muscles are tired but not totally destroyed. Rest 48 hours and then do it again but using different exercises. Try to add more weight to the bar or do more reps week by week and, if you feel your progress is stalling, change the exercises you are performing or work in a different rep range. Strength training really can be that simple!
Do your cardio
Cardio is good for your heart and lungs and helps you burn fat too. There are lots of different approaches to cardio but so long as your heart rate is elevated and you are breathing harder than normal, your workout will do you good. It doesn’t matter if you row, run, cycle, jump rope, do step ups or roller skate – if you are out of breath then what you are doing is working.
Yes, interval training may burn more calories. Yes, using a heart rate monitor will ensure you are in exactly the right training zone to optimize fat burning. Do you have to do these things? No! Just get up and get moving for 30 or so minutes three or four times a week. Who cares about this stuff?! Worry about programing and order of exercise or what is correct and not later; get moving NOW!
Stretch and mobilize
Your muscles need to be stretched to ensure they stay flexible and supple and keeping active will help preserve your joint mobility. Ten minutes per day of stretching will ensure your muscles and joints stay in good shape so that you are less likely to suffer otherwise avoidable injuries and aches.
At the end of your workouts, just work up from your toes stretching each major muscle group. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 or more seconds – the tighter a muscle feels the longer the stretch should be. There are stretching approaches that will improve your flexibility faster; proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, CRAC stretching and other exotic-sounding methods but simply stretching little and often will get you close to your flexibility potential.
Of all the fitness and weight loss subjects, nutrition is arguably the most complex and controversial. On one hand, you have the high carb/low fat/moderate protein approach to diet and weight loss and on the other the high/protein/moderate fat/low carb approach. In between, there are fad diets, fasting, meal replacement drinks and bars and a whole bunch of other stuff that will just make your head spin.
The reality is that nature already has good nutrition figured out so all you need to do is eat a diet that contains a variety of healthy, naturally-occurring foods and steer clear of sugar and fat-laden processed junk. Your diet will automatically be better than the vast majority of the population if you do this. Drink a couple of litres of water a day, enjoy the occasional treat such as a glass of wine or a few squares of dark chocolate and you have a simple recipe for good health. Honestly, just stop eating crap! How else do I put it?! You know it’s bad for you so why eat it the stuff that is reason you are overweight?
Of course, taking into account nutrient timing, different carb sources, the glycaemic index and other variables can make your diet more effective but we’re only talking small advantages here. Simply eating predominantly natural foods will ensure your diet is healthier than 90 percent of the population.
Keep fitness simple – don’t over complicate it. Added complexity might give you some small advantages but, in the grand scheme of things, added complexity doesn’t always deliver proportionately better results. Focusing on the simple basics will get you most of the way there – just keep turning up and working hard and you WILL lose weight, get fit and look great!
- Cortisol, stress and why you are overweight
“Stress is like spice – in the right proportion it enhances the flavour of a dish. Too little produces a bland, dull meal; too much may choke you.” Donald Tubesing
Modern life can be stressful. Your job, traffic, finances, boss, spouse, family and lifestyle in general can all cause stress. Stress, it could be argued, is one of the most serious but avoidable causes of illness and unhappiness around but that’s kind of ironic because, not so many years ago, it was stress that helped keep you alive and well. To help explain why, we need to think about how the body uses and deals with stress and specifically something called the fight or flight response…
So, imagine this; you’re walking through the jungle happily searching for food to eat when you come across a big-assed tiger doing much the same. You see him, he sees you and your stress response kicks in. In an instant, your body goes from standby mode to fully activated. Your adrenal glands, located on top of your kidneys, dump about a cupful of adrenalin into your system and your body responds by…
- Increasing your heart rate
- Increasing your breathing rate
- Dilating (opening up) your blood vessels and airways
- Diverting blood away from your digestive organs to your muscles
- Increasing your blood glucose levels to fuel your muscles
- Dilating your pupils
- Moistening your skin
- Increasing muscle tension
In short, you are now like a coiled spring ready to run or fight for your life! Sensibly, you choose to run so you sprint through the jungle and make it safely back to your cave. Once you reach the cave, you have expended a ton of energy so you sit down, let your breathing and heart rate return to normal, blood flow to your digestive system resumes, your blood glucose levels return to normal and you may well feel hungry, relaxed and tired. In other words, you are back to your pre-fight or flight state.
It’s interesting to note that your body doesn’t differentiate between psychological stress and physical pressure; it just knows stress. As far as your body is concerned, being confronted by a tiger and getting yelled at by your boss are the exact same thing and it responds as it always has – fight or flight.
Unfortunately, modern life is potentially more stressful more often and, unless you are in the habit of punching your boss or throwing your computer through the window, your stress levels remain elevated for long periods with no real release valve. Exercise, of course, is a great form of stress relief but even with regular workouts, stress can still make its unwelcome presence known.
The main hormone, other than adrenalin, involved in the stress response, is cortisol. Cortisol is essential as it helps regulate your sleep cycle and aids in recovery but the amounts on your body normally vary throughout the day – something frequently referred to as the circadian rhythm. Excess stress, however, means that cortisol levels end up being elevated around the clock and that’s a problem – one that could be harming your health and also making you fat…
In addition to helping regulate your sleep and recovery cycle, cortisol also helps regulate carbohydrate and fat metabolism, the release of insulin, your blood glucose levels, your appetite and it is also catabolic which means it causes the breakdown of muscle. Cortisol-producing stress affects your waistline in several different ways…
- The fuel for the fight or flight response is sugar so stress makes you crave sugar to replace the fuel your body expects to use
- Cortisol increases hunger levels and, in particular, cravings for carbohydrates, excesses of which have an affinity for being converted to body fat
- Moving sugar around the body requires insulin – a hormone that inhibits fat burning and promotes the uptake of unused calories into fat cells
- Many people, instead of finding an energetic outlet for their stress, comfort eat instead which contributes to creating a calorific surplus and therefore weight gain
- Stress-fuelled comfort eating can become habitual and as life is frequently stressful, many people eat high sugar foods almost as a pre-emptive stress coping mechanism
- Cortisol causes muscle breakdown. Reduced muscle mass leads to a decrease in metabolic rate which is the number of calories you need per day. This results in an even greater calorific surplus. Remember; muscle helps burn stored calories so less muscles equals less fat burning
Prolonged elevation of cortisol is associated with abdominal or visceral fat storage. This is the most dangerous type of fat hence its colloquial name, heart attack fat. It’s clear then that stress and cortisol could be making you fat or inhibiting your ability to burn fat so it’s important to learn how to deal with this scourge of modern living. The best strategy is to avoid stress in the first place but, modern life being what it is, that’s pretty hard unless you are prepared to quit your job and move into the outback and live a very basic, solitary existence.
If stress avoidance is difficult, consider implementing these stress coping strategies…
Improve your coping ability
- Learn to organize and prioritize your time
- Set and work toward realistic goals that do not put up an emotional fight to achieve
- Learn to delegate
- Avoid unnecessary perfectionism since it’s a fantasy that will never come true
- Don’t take on more than you can reasonably cope with
- Ask for help before you become desperate for it
- Develop a stress management plan. Take steps to reduce demands while increasing your coping resources to tip the balance of stress in your favor. Follow the steps outlined in this PDF http://www.fosteringresilience.com/pdf/stress_management_plan.pdf
Learn to relax
- Develop daily relaxing rituals e.g. taking a 30-minute walk at lunchtime to escape the stress of work
- Focus on your breathing – breathe deeply and rhythmically and into your abdominals/diaphragm rather than your chest
- Consider trying yoga or tai chi
- Learn how to meditate
- Get a massage or some other form of relaxing, self-indulgent treatment
- Exercise – but not too close to bedtime
- Improve your personal life skills
- Learn to be assertive (NOT aggressive) to ensure you get a fair deal in life
- Improve your self-esteem and self-worth
- Practice positive thinking
- Surround yourself with optimistic, positive people. You are the average of your five closest acquaintances!
- Don’t internalize your stresses – discuss the things that bother you with a trusted friend
Analyse and change your lifestyle
- Eat a diet rich in vital nutrients so your body functions optimally and you have plenty of energy as well as mental clarity. Cut down on sugar as it only adds to stress
- Engage in regular physical activity – not just exercise – to reduce stress via distraction
- Take up a hobby so you have less time/opportunity for worrying
- Cut down on caffeine – too much can increase nervousness and stress
- Do not smoke – nicotine is a powerful stimulant that can increase stress levels
- Do not use/abuse sleeping or stress medication. Such drugs are only meant for short term usage, not as a long term crutch
If you are watching what you eat and exercising regularly but are still finding it hard to lose weight, especially around your waist, stress could be the reason. Stress, as well as making you fat, also increases your risk of developing heart disease so it really is a good idea to learn how to avoid and cope with stress effectively.
Can we add something in here about what the benefit of cortisol are as we naturally need this in the morning. Excess cortisol via exercise or chronic exercise. —————————————————————————————————————————-
- What do I mean by transformation?
If you Google fitness, exercise or fat loss, you will inevitably get back lots of results offering to help you lose weight, get fit, build muscle and shape up in just a matter of a few short weeks. For reasons I can’t fathom, many so-called fitness experts want you to believe that you can undo years or even decades of inactivity and eating junk food in just a couple of weeks of healthy living. Bullshit!
TV reality shows don’t help either. Using very suspect diet and exercise programs, these poor contestants do indeed lose a ton of weight in a relatively short time but what you don’t hear about is how quickly they regain it when they return to “normal life” where every meal isn’t prepared for them and a trainer isn’t standing over them ensuring they work their butts off for several hours a day. This weight lost is most likely muscle as well as fat which is not the best way to lose fat, see the scale’s article here:
And if you have seen those amazing metamorphoses that are often posted on the internet or featured in fitness magazines showing how much people have managed to change in 30 days – don’t be fooled. In some cases clever lighting, airbrushing, instant spray tan and even changing posture can make these “amazing” achievements seem better than they really are. The reality is that many of these dramatic before and after pictures are nothing but faked bullshit advertising in disguise designed to sell you something.
Quick fixes don’t fix anything – they simply screw you up. Crash diets make you fatter and not slimmer, balls to the wall workouts that are unrepeatable and unsustainable can leave you injured and frustrated and total immersion fat loss or fitness camps are great while you are there but do nothing to change your long term behaviours.
It’s long term behaviours that have made you weak, unfit and overweight so long term behavioural change is what is needed if you want to reclaim your fitness and health and lose weight. How is it I’m the only one saying this!
So, needless to say, I don’t believe in quick fixes, crash diets or stupidly hard but unrepeatable workouts. Instead, I believe in transformations.
To me, transformation doesn’t mean fitness for a month or dieting for three months; it means changing your attitude to food and exercise forever. Remember, if you stop exercising and eating healthily, you WILL regain the weight you lost, your fitness levels WILL quickly decline.
You CANNOT store fitness and a bad diet will soon result in weight (as in fat) gain so, unless you like taking one step forward and one step right back again, whatever you do to get fit and lose weight must be sustainable. You literally have to transform your lifestyle to transform your body. And the key to an effective transformation is sustainability and creating long term habits, not jumping on the latest quick-fix band wagon.
So, instead of 30 day quick fix plans or seven day detox diets, this is what I believe in…
Balanced exercise programs that address cardio and strength training that are periodised and grow with you. Doing 100 burpees a day for a month is fine but what about next month? What about next year? Exercise needs to be part of your life from today until the day you die – it should be as important as breathing.
Your diet should not be faddy or viewed as a short term thing; your diet is how you are going to eat from today until you have your last meal. No fancy, weird foods, no unnecessary supplements – just plenty of healthy, natural foods. As you lose weight and reach your fat loss goal, you can relax a little and introduce a few of the foods you have been avoiding but, by and large, your diet should be the same whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain it. Just the quantities of food may change slightly.
Speaking to supplements, fat burners, energy drinks and all that jazz have no place in a long term transformation. Assuming these things even work, what happens when you reach your goals and then come off these products? If they were effective, you’ll experience some kind of drop off in performance or weight regain. Don’t look for shortcuts in magic pills – they promise a lot but deliver very little. Save your money and spend it on top quality groceries instead.
Other nutritional considerations for effect transformations include:
- Worrying less about your weight and more about how you look and feel – water weight is easy to lose; just try a juice only diet and see!
- Learn how to prep your own healthy food so you know exactly what you are eating.
- Make conscious food choices that are both naturally high in vitamins and minerals and are not simply empty calories.
- Accepting that losing weight requires hard work in the gym and outside the gym meaning you also need to get a handle on your lifestyle and become more accountable.
- Cut down your alcohol intake – alcohol is nothing more than empty calories and is also an appetite stimulant what will upend your fat loss efforts faster than you can say Long Island ice tea!
- Surround yourself with positive people who will support your efforts to shape up and lose weight rather than derail your efforts with bad advice and negativity.
My entire personal training business is based on transforming not just how you look and feel but every aspect of your life so that you can enjoy being fit and healthy not just for a month or a year but forever. Can you imagine how painful it would be to make a million dollars, have it for a month and then lose it all? That’s what 30 day fitness programs and crash diets are like – instant gratification but no long term benefit.
Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Are you fed up of losing weight only to regain it? Have you had enough of getting fit only to lose it gain because your workout was unsustainable? If so, please get in touch. I don’t do fads. I don’t do quick fixes. Instead, I do transformations.
- Posture problems – upper crossed syndrome
Posture describes the alignment of your joints and position of your limbs and it can be good or bad. Bad posture usually involves limb or joint misalignment which places a lot of unnecessary stress on muscles, ligaments and even the bones and joints themselves. This can lead to joint instability, muscle pain in the affected area and even the surrounding areas.
One of the most common postural abnormalities is upper crossed syndrome which is the postural curse of the modern world affecting a great many people.
What is upper crossed syndrome?
Upper crossed is characterised by the following abnormalities…
- Tight deep neck flexors
- Tight pectoralis major/pectoralis minor or chest muscles
- Tight upper trapezius muscles
- Weak middle trapezius or upper back muscles
- Weak rhomboids, the muscles between the shoulder blades
- Weak lower trapezius muscles
This results in several anatomical changes including:
- Forward head position characterised by chin-jut
- Increased cervical (neck) lordosis
- Increased thoracic (upper back) kyphosis
- Elevated and rounded shoulders
- Rotation or abduction and “winging” of the scapulae
All of these changes result in a rounded upper back, inwardly rotated and hunched shoulders, a forward-jutting head and unstable, inflexible shoulders. Imagine how you look sat down and slouched in a chair – with upper crossed syndrome you look the same even when stood up.
What causes upper crossed syndrome?
Upper crossed syndrome is all too common and can be the result of several factors. It can affect men and women, young and old. Upper crossed syndrome is usually the result sedentary lifestyle, prolonged sitting with bad posture, poor exercise technique such as biking with rounded upper back position, and/or imbalanced training like the typical 20-year-old guy who trains his pecs Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, (haha do you get the point!?) often with poor technique,while all but ignoring his upper, mid and lower back.
Another cause of upper crossed syndrome is the habitual use of things like cell phones, laptop computers and e-reading devices that make you crane your neck forward to stare at the tiny screens. Yes – like you are probably doing now!
Upper crossed syndrome is essentially the result of a combination of tight muscles and weak muscles failing to keep your joints aligned optimally; the tight muscles overpowering the weaker ones and pulling your head and shoulders forward out of proper alignment.
What are the problems associated with upper crossed syndrome?
Like all postural issues, upper crossed syndrome is more than just unattractive, it can have a significant impact on your long term comfort, function and health. Problems associated with upper crossed syndrome include:
- Shoulder pain
- Loss of shoulder function and mobility
- Upper back pain
- Neck pain
- Fixed kyphosis of the upper back
How to fix upper crossed syndrome?
The good news is that, even though upper crossed syndrome can be painful, serious and is all too common, it is also very fixable. It will take time, effort and commitment but the result will be less pain, increased functionality and a considerably better appearance. Fixing upper crossed syndrome requires a three-prong attack…
The main muscles that need stretching in upper crossed syndrome are the pecs or chest muscles and the upper trapezius. Both can be stretched at home and without the need of equipment so if you suffer from upper crossed syndrome, you have no excuse for not doing these exercises!
Think about it like this; if your shoulders are rounded, you end up looking like a taco shell, so you need to reverse this and this takes time. You didn’t wake up one day and your shoulders were in this position. You need to open your chest up by stretching the pecs, lats, abdominals, intercostal muscles (rib cage).
Massage can really be beneficial so working with a good physio that can help you to correct your posture and advise you as to what is the best. You can also get a great self-massage using a tennis ball as well as a foam roller.
Also keep in mind that if there is any restriction or mobility problems in the hip area ie glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back erectors, then this can also be the culprit. Stretching the lower half can help with the upper half. See lower crossed syndrome for lower body stretches.
- Doorway chest stretch
Stand in an open doorway and place your forearms on the vertical door frames so your palms are flat and your elbows are roughly level with your shoulders. Lean forward and push your chest gently between your arms to stretch your pecs. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds while breathing rhythmically and keeping your hands, face and shoulders relaxed.
- Upper trapezius stretch
Place your left hand behind your back and your right hand on the top of your head. Push your left shoulder downward while gently pulling your head over to the right. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and then change sides.
As it’s taken years for these muscles to tighten up, it may take months to restore them to their optimal length so make sure you do these stretches several times a day to speed up the process – especially after long periods of sitting.
You can also complement your stretching with self-myofascial release (a form of self massage) using a foam roller which can help release adhesions and promotes circulation and relaxation.
The main muscles you need to strengthen to correct upper crossed syndrome are your upper back muscles, specifically your middle and lower trapezius and your rhomboids which are all located on and around your scapula or shoulder blades. In addition, the entire posterior chain needs work including the glutes and hamstrings but you’ll learn more about these muscles in the lower crossed syndrome article.
- Band pull aparts
Grasp and hold a resistance band out in front of you at shoulder-height. Stretch the band apart and across your chest to form a T shape with your arms. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat. This exercise is ideal for home use so make sure you have a resistance band handy. Do a set every hour you have to sit at your desk. You can also find some sort of solid structure and do a band face pull.
- Cable face pulls
Stand facing a shoulder-high cable machine fitted with a rope handle. With an end in each hand, step back and straighten your arms. Lift your chest and pull your shoulders down and back. Without jerking the weight or lowering your elbows, pull your hands in toward your face as though you were going to stick your thumbs in your ears. Pause for a second, and really focus on the muscle contracting stabilizing and working, and then extend your arms and repeat. Use a moderate weight that allows you to perform 15 to 20 repetitions. Face pulls provide an excellent antidote to bench presses and other chest exercises so consider supersetting face pulls with every chest exercise you perform. Alternatively, perform seated rows but remember to focus on retracting your shoulder blades and keeping your chest up. A good tip would be for every chest pushing exercise do a pulling type exercise to keep balance.
- Prone back extensions
Lie on your front with your feet on the floor and hands clasped behind your back. Lift your chest and shoulders off the floor and hold for a second or two. Lower yourself back down and repeat. make this exercise more effective by extending your arms in front of you or using a back extension bench.
- Wall Angles
Stand with your back leaning against a flat wall and your arms bent to 90 degrees, elbows and arms pressed flat against the wall. Keeping your arms and shoulders against the wall but without arching your lower back, slide your arms and hands up the wall as high as you can. Lower your arms and repeat. If this proves too difficult, lie on the floor on your back with your legs bent and do the exercise there instead.
Poor posture is partially habitual – we get used to sitting or standing with a slouch because, despite being wrong, this position becomes comfortable. To break this cycle of poor posture, you need to learn what good posture actually is and then practice getting and staying in the right position.
To find good posture in the first place, stand with your back to a wall with your feet around hip-width apart and 30 centimetres away. Lean back against the wall, tuck your chin in, lift the crown of your head, push your shoulders back, lift your chest, turn your arms so your elbows point backward and your thumbs are pointing forward. Do not allow your lower back to arch excessively. This is (or should be) good posture.
Once you have this position nailed, try to recreate it without the use of the wall for reference. Practice it whenever you get the chance to make good posture a habit whether you are sitting or standing. With repetition, this new, correct posture will become habitual.
To help rediscover proper sitting position, try Brugger’s relief exercise. Sit on the edge of your chair. Place your feet flat on the floor and your hands by your sides. Lift your chest up, arch your lower back slightly and tilt the crown of your head directly up at the ceiling – think long neck and tall. Turn your palms outward, shrug your shoulders down and back and rotate your hips outward. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and then rest.
Upper crossed syndrome affects virtually everyone who works at a desk or drives a vehicle and causes a lot of discomfort and dysfunction but, by stretching, strengthening and re-educating, it is possible to fix it. If you care about your appearance and health, take steps to fix your posture before those annoying aches and pains become permanent features. And stop slouching!
- Posture problems – lower crossed syndrome
Everyone has posture and it can be good or it can be bad. Good posture means your bones, joints and limbs are positioned in such a way that minimal muscle tension is required to hold you in place i.e. your head is held tall and your neck is straight. In contrast, poor posture means that your bones, joints and limbs are misaligned which means your muscles have to work much harder to hold you in place e.g. a forward head position means the muscles on the back of your neck have to work harder than normal to keep your head up against gravity and can cause joint dysfunction.
There are several well-known postural abnormalities that can directly be attributed to spending too much time sat down but one of the the most common is lower crossed syndrome.
What is lower crossed syndrome?
Lower crossed syndrome is a postural misalignment condition that affects the lower body and lower back. It is the result of overly tight and overly weak muscles that subsequently fail to keep your pelvis in the correct position. The result of overly tight and overly weak muscles, areas of the body affected include:
Typically short and tight
- Erector spinae group and quadratus lumborum
- TFL/iliotibial band
- Adductor brevis
Typically weak and/or stretched
- Abdominal group
- Gluteus medius
- Gluteus maximus
- Vastus medialis
- Tibialis anterior
- Plantar fascia
This results in protruding abdomen, excessively arched lower back, flexed hips and a lack of buttock musculature. I also find that when clients have these issues, they have less stability in the lower limbs, and find controlling biomechanics difficult when performing lunges squats or every day normal human movement patterns.
What causes lower crossed syndrome?
There are several factors involved in the development of lower-crossed syndrome, one of those is thought to be a previous injury to the joints, ligaments or muscles in the low back, pelvis or hip that wasn’t treated properly and left certain muscles tight and short. This shortening and tightening of the muscles can also occur from repetitive activities such as cycling or with poor posture, in particular poor core abdominal muscles often leave the lower back and pelvis less supported and more likely to develop muscular imbalances.
Long periods of sitting can also often be blamed for lower crossed syndrome and as many of us spend a large proportion of our time sat down, lower crossed syndrome is all too common. Once a group of muscles have become tight and short, the relative opposite muscle groups become weakened and as a result the previously mentioned tight muscles tighten further. This starts a negative feedback cycle that, if untreated, accentuates the muscular imbalance.
What are the problems associated with lower crossed syndrome?
The most common result of lower crossed syndrome is specific postural changes; however these postural changes can, if left untreated, be a contributing factor to injury development and recurrence. Facet joint strains as well as pelvic and hip dysfunction are all likely problems that may develop due to the altered muscle balance. Specific postural changes include anterior pelvic tilt where the pelvis overly tilts forward, increased lumbar lordosis (the spinal curve of your low back), lateral or sideways lumbar shift, lateral leg rotation (outwards rotation), and knee hyperextension. The resultant increased stress on certain joints can also cause early degenerative joint disease also known as osteoarthritis.
How to fix lower crossed syndrome?
Because lower crossed syndrome is primarily caused by tight and/or weak muscles rather than bone abnormalities, stretching and strengthening exercises can be used to effectively treat the problem. Like most postural issues, lower crossed syndrome can take months or even years to develop and so may take time to fix too but if you stick with it and work hard, you can correct this postural problem and save yourself a lot of unwanted and otherwise avoidable lower back pain.
Fixing lower crossed syndrome requires a three-pronged approach…
The most important muscles to stretch for fix lower crossed syndrome are your iliopsoas or hip flexors, your erector spinae or lower back muscles, your hamstrings and your calves…
- Runner’s lunge
Step out and into a split stance, bend your legs and lower your rear knee to the floor. Keeping your front shin vertical, move your rear leg back and sink your hips down toward the floor until you feel a stretch in the front of your hips. Keep your torso upright as leaning forward makes this stretch less effective. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds on each leg without bouncing or holding your breath. Do this stretch after sitting for any length of time to stop your iliopsoas getting any shorter.
- Supine knees to chest
Lie on your back with your head resting on the floor. Bend your legs, hold on behind your knees and gently pull them in toward your chest. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and then relax.
- Supine assisted hamstring stretch
Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Take a belt, strap or rope and loop it over one foot. Push your foot up into the air until your leg is as straight and as vertical as you can comfortably manage. Use the belt/strap/rope to hold your position and gradually ease you into a deeper stretch. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and then change sides. If your leg starts to shake or cramp, ease off a little as you may be overstretching your muscles.
- Standing calf stretch
Place your hands on a wall at shoulder-height and then adopt a split stance with your legs. Push your rearmost heel down and into the floor while keeping your foot perpendicular to the wall. Slide your foot further back to increase the depth of the stretch. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Next, bend your rear leg slightly to shift the stretch down and into your lower calf – called your soleus muscle. Again, hold for 30 to 60 seconds and then change legs.
You can also complement your stretching with self-myofascial release (a form of self massage) using a foam roller which can help release adhesions and promotes circulation and relaxation.
The most common culprits of lower crossed syndrome that need to be strengthened are your gluteus maximus or your butt and your abdominals…
- Supine hip bridge
Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Push down through your heels and lift your hips up toward the ceiling until your shoulders, hips and knees form a straight line. Lower your butt back to the floor and repeat. Make this exercise more demanding by using only one leg at a time, resting and holding a barbell across your hips or placing your feet on an elevated surface e.g. a step, to increase the range of movement.
- Heel slides
Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the floor palms down and in the curve of your lower back – there should be about an inch/three centimetres of space. Brace your abdominals as though you are about to get punched in the belly and extend one leg to slide your foot out and away from you. Do not allow the position of your lower back to change. Ensure the pressure exerted by your lower back on your hands does not vary. Slowly slide your foot back in and then do an identical rep on the opposite side.
Lie on your front with your arms bent and your weight resting on your elbows and forearms. Lift your body up off the floor so that your weight is supported on your toes and arms only. Your body should form a perfectly straight line. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds but do not hold your breath. Lower your hips back to the floor, rest and repeat.
Poor posture is partially habitual – we get used to sitting or standing incorrectly because, despite being wrong, this position becomes comfortable. To break this cycle of poor posture, you need to learn what good posture actually is and then practice getting and staying in the right position.
To get yourself into optimal posture, stand with your feet around hip-width apart with your knees slightly bent and your weight evenly distributed between your toes and heels. Pull your chin back and in, pull your shoulders down and back and think tall – lift up through the top of your head. Arch your lower back as much as you can and then push your pelvis forward as far as you can. In most cases, the right position is between these two extremes – neither over arched or flat.
This position will undoubtedly feel unusual and even uncomfortable initially but, with practice and combined with the stretching and strengthening exercises described above will help you learn and then maintain good posture.
Lower crossed syndrome affects virtually everyone who works at a desk or drives a vehicle and causes a lot of lower back, hip and even knee pain and dysfunction. But, by stretching, strengthening and re-educating, it is possible to fix it. If you care about your appearance and health, take steps to fix your posture before those annoying aches and pains become permanent features.
- What sitting is doing to your health
Sitting down all day is bad for your general health and also your posture. Many of us spend untold hours sat down in a hunched position and then wonder why, when we jump up to do some exercise, we end up with terrible back pain. Sitting all day causes something called “tissue creep” which is term used to describe the gradual lengthening and weakening of muscles that, when suddenly loaded, become injured.
Long periods of sitting can cause your hamstrings to shorten, your hip flexors to tighten up, shorten your calves and tighten your abdominals so that you look like you are sat down even when you are stood up! It can also lead to weak glutes and over stretched erector spinae muscles which will predispose you to back injury.
You can remedy many of these issues by stretching the tight muscles, strengthening the weak and/or stretched ones and doing your damndest to sit less and stand more. Working at a standing desk, having walking meetings and using a fitball chair are all good ways to further avoid the dangers of prolonged sitting. For more information on how to undo the damage caused by sitting, see our articles on upper crossed syndrome, lower crossed syndrome and posture.
In addition to predisposing you to injury when you exercise and ruining your posture sitting all day can have a seriously adverse effect on your health.
Current research (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/) suggests that spending long periods of time being seated can have a very negative impact on your health. In fact, this serious situation is often described as “sitting disease” and is commonly associated with an increased risk of suffering…
- Heart disease
- Poor posture
- Reduced bone mass
- Decreased functionality
There is no denying that your (hopefully!) frequent trips to the gym are doing you good but it’s also a great idea to increase your activity levels to further reduce your risk of suffering those diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
How can you go about doing this without becoming an exercise obsessive or full time athlete? Good question!
Exercise versus Physical Activity
Firstly, it’s important to differentiate between exercise and physical activity. Exercise tends to be structured and pursued for a very specific reason e.g. weight (fat) loss or muscle building. In contrast, physical activity is less structured and simply involves moving more and sitting less. For exercise to be beneficial, it needs to be sufficiently challenging. In the case of cardio, this means elevating your heart and breathing rate and for muscular health, this means working until your muscles feel fatigued.
Physical activity doesn’t have to be so challenging to be rewarding and beneficial. Your heart and breathing rate WILL increase but not as noticeably and as for your muscles; they should not really suffer any real signs of fatigue. To repeat; physical activity is NOT exercise which is why it’s often given the acronym NEPA which is short for Non-Exercise Physical Activity.
In fact, physical activity should be purposely kept at a relatively low level of intensity. Why? Because ultimately it should be a healthy addition to and not a replacement for your regular workout routine. If additional physical activity leaves you tired and not so inclined to hit the gym then you may end up actually doing less exercise than you need to.
Overtraining – the Danger of Too Much Exercise
There is such a thing as too much exercise and too much exercise or insufficient rest between workouts can lead to something commonly referred to as overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome is usually characterized by loss of exercise motivation, low levels of energy, sore joints, suppressed immune system leading to frequent illnesses and even disrupted menstrual cycle in women. Needless to say, as exercise is supposed to be a healthy pursuit, overtraining is best avoided!
In contrast NEPA is much less likely to contribute to overtraining and can, in fact, promote to recovery between workouts by preventing muscle stiffness and encouraging better blood circulation – things that sitting at your desk simply cannot do.
Get more NEPA!
So, assuming you are hitting the gym two or three times a week to work on your muscular fitness and clocking up around 150 minutes per week of cardio (as per the standard American College of Sports Medicine guidelines), what else should you be doing to optimize your health and fitness?
Sitting is arguably one of the unhealthiest things that many of us do on a daily basis. If you spend a lot of time sitting, you are risking your health, fitness and posture so try to simply stand up more. Stand up whenever you take a phone call, walk to your colleague’s instead of calling or emailing them, try walking meetings rather than the usual boardroom setting, get up and change the TV channel by hand instead of using the remote…look for any opportunity to get up off your butt and stand up!
Walking is arguably THE most accessible form of NEPA. You don’t need any specialist equipment and can do it almost anywhere and anytime. Look for ways to get more walking into your daily routine. Opportunities for walking include…
- Walk to and/or from work or school
- Meet up and walk with friends rather than chat on the phone or at the pub
- Walk your dog/kids
- Walk after dinner instead of watching TV
- Walk during your lunch break
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Park on the far side of carparks and walk the extra distance from your destination
- Get off the bus/train a little earlier and walk the difference
- Make family walks in the park part of your weekend family routine
- Ban car use for journeys less than one mile/1.6 kilometres
- Walk to the gym instead of drive
Many of us are over-reliant on mechanized transport but driving and being a passenger means you sit more and expend no meaningful amounts of physical energy – a double whammy of health risks.
Seek out NEPA opportunities
There are dozens of daily opportunities to clock up NEPA minutes during the day. Here are a few things you to consider…
- Wash your car by hand
- Cycle for transport of pleasure
- Carry your shopping in a basket instead of using a grocery cart
- Play sports with your kids
- Play active games with your kids such as hide-and-seek or tag
- Use an interactive video game console such as X-Box Kinect rather than controller-based games
- Do chores around the home such as cleaning and repairs
- Do some gardening or tidy your yard
- Rearrange your furniture
- Do some decorating
- Volunteer to help out a less able neighbour, friend or relative and do some of their physically demanding tasks such as sweep up leaves or clear snow
How much NEPA?
Because NEPA should not be overly tiring and can actually enhance your energy levels and speed up recovery, there is no real upper limit to how much you can do in a day. It all comes down to your lifestyle and how much you can realistically fit in. However, as most of us work best when we have specific targets to focus on, aim to accumulate around 60 minutes per day of NEPA. This can be comprised of any type of physical activity; just choose things you enjoy.
Increasing your daily activity levels so that you spend less time sitting might sound a little daunting and time consuming but really, it doesn’t have to be. Walking can often get you where you want to be faster than driving because of heavy traffic and playing with your kids or dog is just plain fun! Other NEPA activities such as car washing and gardening may even save you money as you won’t have to pay someone else to do them.
60-minutes of NEPA per day equals 365 hours of additional physical activity a year which, assuming a very conservative 300 calories per hour, means you’ll burn 109,500 calories more per year than if you were sedentary. That’s roughly the equivalent of 15 kgs of fat! NEPA could very well be the difference between being overweight and unhealthy or reaching your ideal healthy weight and you won’t have to do a single minute of extra exercise.
- Is your self-image hurting your results?
Losing fat, getting fit, building muscle and improving performance should all be rewarding, empowering and even enjoyable pursuits. Okay, for some people the hard work associated with doing great things to your body and health isn’t so enjoyable but the rewards should make all the effort more than worthwhile.
However, some people sabotage not only the process but their potential results by getting way too hung up on their self-image and worrying more about how they look to other people than the progress they themselves are making.
Let me give you an example; I know a guy who turns up to the gym week in and week out, he watches what he eats, trains hard, follows a smart program and exercises with great intensity and technique. It’s clear to look at him he’s in way above average shape and he is, quite frankly, a dedicated and enthusiastic exerciser. He’s fit and healthy and looks better than so many people who go to the gym.
But, rather than enjoy these facts, all he ever does is dwell on how he isn’t a champion bodybuilder, how he doesn’t look like the guys in the magazines and can’t lift the same weights as the superstars he wants to emulate. All his self-image doubts are making him miserable when, in reality, he should be really happy with what he has achieved.
Another example; I know a girl who has lost nearly 20 kg, gone from not being able to run at all to being able to beat many guys in local fun runs, who can now do pull-ups and pushups like a pro and who has gone from being a very overweight smoker to a healthy eating, fit non-smoker in 18 months. She has literally turned her life around.
However, rather than be happy with her achievements, all she does is bemoan the fact she isn’t a size zero supermodel and doesn’t have a six-pack!
Now; there is nothing wrong with having goals and aspirations and wanting to emulate stars of stage, screen and sport but it’s important to realize that, ultimately, your results are limited by your genetics, your body type, the amount of time and resources you can dedicate to training and nutrition and balancing exercise with home and family life and work commitments.
Almost all of the astounding figures physiques you see in magazines are the result of virtually full-time dedication, very strict diet and exercise programs, long lists of expensive supplements, clever lighting and even air-brushing and, in the case of many bodybuilding and figure/physique competitors, illicit steroids and drug use too. They present an unrealistic and unattainable goal that is, simply, out of reach of the average gym goer. Most elite athletes – whatever their sport – also have been blessed with great genetics and genetics make a big difference to your ultimate results and how you will eventually look.
For most average Joes and Joannas, trying to achieve the level of development as these admittedly hard working but genetically blessed super-people is like thinking you can win the Australian Grand Prix in a BMW M3. Now there is nothing wrong with a BMW M3 – it’s a great car – but it ain’t no formula one car! Champions are great for inspiration but you can’t be them or have their exact same dimensions or body parts.
So, instead of comparing yourself to other people, you’d probably be much happier comparing yourself to you. You should be your own main source of motivation and competition. You should be your own role model. Focus on trying to be the best version of yourself that you can be rather than worrying about how you stack up against other people who often, because they lucked out in the genetic pool, will always experience better results than you do.
Too many people, especially guys, make the mistake of following a workout that was used by a champion bodybuilder and this is another cock-up that will severely limit your progress. Champion bodybuilders are often on so many steroids they virtually rattle when they walk and are so genetically blessed that just looking at a barbell makes them grow. Of course, they also work hard but they also have the luxury of being able to dedicate almost all of their time to training and recovery.
Another thing to consider is training age; you might be just starting out and your bodybuilding role model may well have been training for ten or twenty years. It’s totally unrealistic to expect to look like your role model when they have literally thousands of hours of training and eating right under their belts and you are only just starting out.
Social media has a lot to answer for too. A study found that seeing other people’s images on FaceBook and Instagram can leave you feeling even worse about your own body and not better. It looks like it’s not actually motivating or healthy to constantly compare yourself against other people. A lot of the people who post these images, memes and so on only do it to get “likes” and boost their own feelings of self-worth whereas the people viewing them don’t get the same thing out of the deal and may even end up disillusioned because they don’t look like the pictures they are seeing. And as for the images themselves, remember, they do not necessarily represent the “real world”.
I’m not trying to bag any of these people; many are genuinely trying to make a positive impact on other people’s lives. But, it can be frustrating when you see someone who is giving out advice, when they themselves have never transformed someone physically and helped changed another person’s life or have never been over 12% body fat. Losing fat weight, or putting on lean muscle mass is all so individualized it’s not funny and everyone is unique and different we have different views on exercise, or diet, and different genetics one size really really doesn’t fit all.
What can comparing yourself to someone else do to you?
- You set yourself up for failure before you have even started
- You may ruin your motivation
- Could cause depression or low self esteem
- It could lead to decreased motivation
- Might cause you to drop out of exercise because you fail to emulate your realistic role model
For an average Joe, following a champion bodybuilder’s routine is training suicide! Not only is the program going to be too hard and too long for the average exerciser, it won’t allow for our guy’s non-enhanced recovery ability and the fact that he simply does not have the genetics to support such an enormous effort for long. Undoubtedly, within a few weeks of starting such an advanced workout, our boy is going to be sore, tired, probably injured and may well give up exercise altogether.
I don’t know why but the gym is really the only place I ever see people trying to emulate unrealistic role models. A natural trainee following a champion bodybuilder’s workout is like a novice runner following a champion marathon runner’s workout; it just doesn’t happen.
It can take months sometimes to even get a person squatting properly, a bad one I see is people on the leg press, a great machine for building up leg mass fast, for those that can functionally use this, what I do see is people using this piece of equipment and their knees caving inwards because they can’t perform the foundational exercises firstly, unlike a champion bodybuilder who has taken the correct steps in order to get to using these type of equipment.
Another common mistake is comparing your weight to someone else and thinking if you weigh the same as them you should look the same. Needless to say this never really happens. Some bodybuilders weight 120kg but while they look impressive at that weight, other people just look fat and will be very unhealthy. However, some guys will cram their faces with junk food in an attempt to get up to 120kgs and end up unhealthy and bloated.
In contrast, a model might only weigh 50kgs but if you are taller than them or simply a different body type, you might look very skinny and even become unwell if you weighed the same.
So, I implore you, stop judging your progress, achievements, performance and appearance against other people and, instead, focus on the journey you are on. Genetics are what they are – unmodifiable. And whatever genetic hand you have been dealt, you can still make tremendous progress and achieve an amazing transformation if you train hard and eat smart. Put your energy into changing yourself – energy spent worrying or comparing yourself to other people really is a waste of effort.
That’s why, when I set goals with clients, they are always challenging but realistic, lofty but grounded in reality. There is no point setting goals that will never be achieved – that’s almost guaranteed to result in frustration and unhappiness.
Weight loss, transformation, diet and fitness are all meant to be both physically and mentally healthy so don’t ruin it all by trying to emulate others. Instead, focus on your own personal journey. Many people make the mistake of doing unhealthy things in an effort to emulate their heroes such as plastic surgery, taking steroids or following unhealthy diets or becoming obsessed with exercise. This sort of thing inevitably leads to failure rather than a better, happier, healthier life.
Avoid these obstacles before you start down a dangerous path of destruction by making sure your goals are realistic. By all means have role models but use them for inspiration rather than trying to look exactly like them.
Remember too that the process is just as important as the end goal and it’s the process of exercising and eating well that will win back your health, give you energy and vitality and extend your lifespan.
- Different types of body fat
Most people have an appreciation of body fat – even if that appreciation is limited to the fact that they know they should have less of it! In all but a few cultures, an accumulation of excess body fat is seen as unattractive and modern medical science tells us that having too much body fat, especially belly fat, can have a negative impact on your health. Being overweight or obese is blamed (quite rightly) for many medical conditions and disease including…
- Coronary heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Various cancers
- Non-specific back pain
- Hormonal irregularities
- Problematic reproduction and sexual dysfunction
- Premature death
However, as certain as we are that too much body fat is bad for us, there is more than one type of fat and not only does the type of fat you are carrying affect your health risks but so too does the location of the fat. That’s not to say you can get away with carrying lots of fat so long as it’s the right type or in the right place – body fat is always bad when carried in excess (or too little for that matter). In fact obesity means the accumulation of fat to such a degree ill health is the result – literally that your body fat is killing you!
Adipocytes and adipose tissue…
Firstly, let’s delve into what fat actually is. Although fat looks like one, big, solid mass, it’s actually a huge number of fat cells called adipocytes. Collectively called adipose tissue, adipocytes can be empty or they can be full depending on your nutritional status i.e. whether you have a lot of stored calories or whether you don’t. So while we say that you are dieting or exercising to lose fat, the reality is we are trying to empty our fat cells.
You have billions of adipocytes and each one can swell up to 20 times in size. Excess calories from dietary fat, protein or carbs are converted to fat and then stored for use as fuel later on when (and if) you fail to eat enough and need an alternative source of energy.
Fat cells don’t only swell dramatically in size, they can also multiply – and that’s very bad news indeed. Let’s say you overeat for many years and your adipocytes are pretty much full of stored energy. Don’t worry – your body simply makes more fat cells (a process called hyperplasia) so you can keep on getting fatter. This essentially means there is no limit to how fat you can get. Having lots of fat cells doesn’t necessarily doom you to being overweight; it just means you are potentially very efficient at storing fat and will have to be very careful with your diet to avoid fat gain/regain. Hence why if you lose a lot of body fat, you still have those cells, so then if you fall off the bandwagon of exercise and diet, you then regain at a rapid pace.
Some body types, properly called somatotypes, are more predisposed to storing fat too. Where ectomorphs are naturally thin and mesomorphs are naturally muscular, endomorphs tend to naturally carry body fat. This doesn’t mean you are doomed to being overweight because your body type – just that you may gain fat more easily or find it harder to lose because of your underlying genetics.
A tale of two hormones….
The location of your main adipose tissue stores is predominantly the result of hormones – specifically testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone, the primary male hormone, tends to promote fat storage around the abdomen which is why you tend to see “beer bellies” on men and not so much on women. This type of body shape is referred to as android obesity or central obesity which has nothing to do with robots from the future but, instead, refers to the scientific prefix for all things male – andro.
In contrast, estrogen tends to send fat to the body’s peripheries such as the hips, arms and legs. This is called gynoid obesity and while peripheral fat storage is not as high a risk for heart disease, it is still strongly linked to diabetes and all the other illnesses associated with being overweight.
While both types of obesity are harmful to health, android obesity is generally considered more of a health risk than gynoid obesity simply because it has the greatest influence on the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. For this reason, fat stored around the abdomen or belly fat as it is often referred to, is also known as “heart attack fat”.
Apples and pears…
A simple way to remember the different body shapes is to think of fruit – apples and pears. Apples (android obesity) are round and store fat mainly around the abdomen while pears (gynoid obesity) are more like icebergs and store fat the hips and butt. While android obesity is generally associated with men and gynoid obesity is generally associated with women, when hormone levels are disrupted, these conditions can be reversed.
For example, a guy with man boobs and a fat butt has got more estrogen than he should have which is why he is storing fat in areas that are normally where women store their fat. In contrast, a women with a beer belly is likely to be lower in estrogen than she should be and so testosterone is proportionately higher than normal. This is one of the reasons that simply eating less and exercise are not always enough to help you lose weight – you also need to ensure you eat healthily, eliminate environmental and nutritional toxins, manage your stress levels and otherwise get yourself healthy so that your hormone levels are optimized for efficient fat burning.
Brown versus white
In addition to their location, fat cells also vary by their blood supply and function. Brown fat cells are arguably “good” fat cells because they have a relatively good blood supply and are equipped with a large number of mitochondria which are basically heat-burning engines. Brown fat cells are designed to be used for energy and as such are very mobile. Brown fat is generally found in the muscles of people with low levels of the stress hormone cortisol, people who are fit and healthy and those who get plenty of good quality sleep. Temperature may also influence the formation of brown fat cells and cool temperatures seem to influence their formation so turn the AC up!
In contrast, white fat cells are normally found around the abdomen and have a poorer blood supply, fewer mitochondria, are harder to burn, and are found in people who are sedentary, stressed and sleep deprived and formation can be increased by warm temperatures. Needless to say, you want less of this type of fat and more of the brown fat if you are interested in losing fat as easily and quickly as possible.
So how do you ensure that you have more brown (good) fat and less white (bad) fat? Simple!
- Exercise and stay active
- Get plenty of quality sleep
- Avoid environmental and nutritional toxins to optimize hormonal levels
- Do not overeat
- Learn to avoid or manage your stress
- Make sure you try to keep cool – especially when you are sleeping
Fat is essential for the proper function of your body and, in fact, body fat is a secreting organ that produces a whole host of chemicals. But, too much can significantly shorten your lifespan. Many people make the mistake of thinking that fat is merely an aesthetic issue but, in reality, it is so much more than that. Remember, being overweight can shorten your lifespan by as much as ten years so doing something about your bulging waistline is an investment in your future!
- Waistline and heart issues
Ask most people why they exercise and/or diet and inevitably they’ll tell you they want to lose weight. Wrapped up in this answer is also the desire to change their body shape, get fit and improve their health. However, despite this, there is a real obsession with how many kilos they weigh.
Obviously, your body has mass, that’s why when you step on the scale the needle moves but more important than your actual weight is what that weight is made up of and where it is located.
For example, you can lose weight by simply skipping a few meals so that your digestive tract and stomach are empty or simply sweating or urinating. A litre of water weighs one kilo so if you pee out 500 ml you’ll instantly be half a kilo lighter. Have you lost anything meaningful? No! Will this lost weight be quickly regained when you eat or drink next? Yes!
So, focusing on your weight is a mistake but how else can you track your progress and results and also establish whether you are about the right weight for your build? Good questions!
In fitness, we often use tools like bioelectrical impedance machines, skinfold callipers and DEXA machines to measure how much of your weight is made up from fat compared to muscle, bone, skin and organs. This results in something called your body fat percentage. Body fat percentage tests vary in accuracy by method and the person conducting the tests with DEXA being the most reliable and accurate but, for reasons of simplicity and ease, the medical profession relies on two other tests; the body mass index and the waist to hip ratio.
Body mass index compares your height to your weight and uses the following calculation…
BMI = Weight (kg)/Height (m)2
If that looks kind of complicated, don’t worry, there are lots of online calculators and apps you can use instead such as this one: http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bmi-calculator
Once you have your BMI result, simply compare it to the following chart…
< 18.5 Underweight
18.5–24.9 Healthy weight range
30.0–34.9 Obesity I
35.0–39.9 Obesity II
≥ 40.0 Obesity III
Unfortunately, as quick and easy as BMI is, there are several factors that can result in inaccurate readings. For example, if you are an avid exerciser and you carry significantly more muscle than the average person, you will score a higher BMI simply because you are “penalized” for being heavy even though you may be very lean – muscle is more dense than fat. It is not uncommon for bodybuilders and strength athletes to be categorised as obese when clearly they are not.
A simpler and yet more useful measure is waist to hip ratio. Waist to hip simply compares your waist measurement to your hip (butt) measurement and while it doesn’t take your weight into consideration, it is a useful tool for identifying your risk of heart disease, heart attack and developing metabolic syndrome as takes into account the location of your major fat stores.
We all have fat – some of us have a lot and some of us have a little. However, it’s not just the quantity but the location that is important. Fat around your thighs, arms, hips and legs is not especially healthy or attractive but does not significantly increase your risk of suffering heart disease. In contrast, fat stored around your abdomen is sometimes even called heart attack fat and is very unhealthy. Your waist to hip ratio reveals whether you are carrying too much fat around your waist and if your waist measurement is too big to be considered healthy.
To calculate your waist to hip ratio, measure your waist and then your hips – use the widest parts. Next, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to produce a ratio.
For example, if your waist measurement is 100 cm and your hip measurement is 112 cm, your waist to hip ratio would be 0.89. Once you have your ratio, compare it to the chart below…
|0.95 or below||0.80 or below||Low Risk|
|0.96 to 1.0||0.81 to 0.85||Moderate Risk|
Again, if maths isn’t your strong suit, use an online calculator like this one: http://www.bupa.com.au/health-and-wellness/tools-and-apps/tools-and-calculators/waist-to-hip-ratio
Your waist measurement alone is also an excellent indicator of your risk for developing heart disease and as most of us already know our waist measurement from the clothes we buy, this is a very easy way to identify your risk for heart disease. They say size matters and in the case of your waist, smaller is better!
Like BMI, there are a few factors that can reduce the validity of this test – some medical conditions cause abdominal distension which will create a bigger waistline that is not actually caused by fat and pregnancy is another thing that invalidates this test. However, both waist to hip ratio and waist measurement alone are very reliable indicators of your risk of suffering heart disease.
Risk is increased at ≥ 80 cm
Risk is high at ≥ 88 cm
Risk is increased at ≥ 94 cm
Risk is high at ≥ 102 cm for men
Now, before you start banging out crunches in an effort to lose centimetres from around your waist, remember that no amount of abs exercises will magically trim fat from your stomach. Losing fat from your abdomen and waist requires a holistic approach including diet, exercise and mindset.
Many people suffer “middle age spread” as they hit their late 40s and 50s and big bellies are becoming more and more common in younger people too. Unfortunately, there is an unbreakable link between abdominal fat and risk of suffering from heart disease, heart attacks and a host of other medical conditions. If you care about your long term health and maximizing your lifespan, make sure you stay on top of your waist measurement and don’t just buy clothes with a larger waist.
- Why the scales might be lying to you
While it’s great to set measurable goals and monitor your progress as you exercise to get in shape and eat healthily to lose weight, the scales might actually be doing you more harm than good. In this article I want to explain why living and dying by the scales may actually hurt your progress.
Firstly, have you ever noticed how much your weight fluctuates from one day to the next? I know that mine can go up or down by as much as a kilo in the space of a day! The problem with your weight is that it is affected by so much more than the amount of fat you are carrying.
From time of the day to time of the month, your weight is very transient indeed.
Your weight is the sum of all the stuff contained in your body. That includes internal organs, muscle, water, skin, hair, bone, undigested food, stored minerals and substrates such as glycogen (stored carbohydrates used for future energy) as well as fat. Of all the things on that list that make up your bodyweight, the only thing you really want to lose is fat but something as simple as drinking a tall glass of water or eating a meal can make your weight jump up by half a kilo.
Try this; weigh yourself after you have a pee and then after you have drunk some water or eaten a meal. I guarantee your weight will fluctuate by as much as a couple of kilos despite the fact that your body fat levels will not have changed one little bit.
Your bodyweight changes naturally depending on what stage of food digestion you are in, how much muscle glycogen you have and how hydrated you are and fluctuations in weight do not really reflect your fitness or diet progress. Remember, and this is worth repeating, weight loss and fat loss are not the same thing!
Your weight can also vary significantly around your menstrual cycle. Water retention commonly occurs at this time and hoping on the scales when you are carrying more water than normal would suggest you have gained weight even if you have dropped fat which can cause anxiety which, ironically, may lead to stress eating even though you are making good progress.
Also, it’s important to understand that a cubic centimetre of muscle weighs a lot more than a cubic centimetre of fat or, if you prefer, a kilo of fat takes up a lot more space than a kilo of muscle.
Because of this it’s actually possible to lose fat, gain muscle and your weight remain unchanged. You might even gain weight which, if you pay too much attention to the scales, could leave you thinking that your diet and exercise efforts have been nothing more than a waste of time when, actually the opposite is true.
However, while gaining muscle and losing fat might not be reflected on the scales, your shape, performance and health will change significantly. Check out the physique of a 100 kg bodybuilder compared to a 100 kg overweight office worker to see the undeniable truth of this.
That’s why BMI, the comparison of your height to your weight and a tool used by doctors to assess your risk of developing heart disease, is flawed and wholly inaccurate for people who exercise.
Jumping on the scales and seeing weight gain when you are desperately seeking weight loss can be very disappointing and even depressing – especially if you have been slaying it in the gym and eating properly. An unexplainable weight gain could be enough to make you question the point of exercising and eating healthily and may even trigger a dietary or exercise relapse. Motivation can be hard to come by at the best of times but it seems like the scales might actually be conspiring to derail your efforts!
So, if weighing yourself can lead to disappointment and disillusion, how else can you monitor your progress? There are several methods you can use that reveal your body composition rather than dwell on your body weight. Good methods include:
DEXA scans – a type of x-ray scan that accurately analyses your body composition, I use DEXA scans with lots of my clients as they are arguably the most accurate way to see how much fat you are carrying compared to muscle and bone.
Underwater weighing – muscle and bone sinks while fat floats so weighing yourself while immersed in water can reveal how much fat you are carrying. This is not quite as simple as taking your scales to the swimming pool and underwater weighing is normally only performed in sports science labs and universities. Considered by many as the “gold standard” for assessing body composition, even underwater weighing is not infallible which is why I prefer DEXA scans. For example, intestinal gas could result in an inaccurate reading.
Skinfold callipers – while not as accurate as DEXA scans, skinfold callipers are more accessible and easier to use BUT accuracy depends on the person doing the test so results may vary. Skinfold callipers are a good way to monitor progress providing the tester knows how to use them properly.
Bioelectrical impedance – while muscle conducts electricity, fat does not so if you pass a very mild electrical current through your body, it is possible to estimate your body fat percentage according to the resistance to the electrical current. Bioelectrical impedance machines are very easy to use but are not very accurate as changes in water levels will adversely affect the results. Like your weight on the scales, don’t take bioelectrical impedance readings too seriously.
Circumferential measurements – if you are losing centimetres from the circumference of your thighs, hips, waist, chest and arms, you are probably losing fat even if your scale weight remains unchanged or is increasing. Remember, a kilo of fat takes up much more space than a kilo of muscle so losing centimetres is a much more reliable indicator of exercise and diet success than your weight.
Before and after photos – muscle and fat affect your body shape in very different ways and the best way to see this is to look at photos taken several weeks or even months apart. Providing the photos were taken in similar lighting, you should plainly be able to see how your body shape has changed even if your scale weight has not.
Now, I’m not telling you to throw away your scales but I am definitely cautioning against daily or even weekly weigh-ins. There are several far superior ways to monitor your progress and as fluctuating scale weight can really do a number on your mindset and motivation, it’s best to steer clear. Remember, you are so much more than what that scales tell you and your successes cannot be measured by your weight alone.
- The psychology of weight loss
Psychology is basically the study of how your brain works and your brain has a huge impact in your ability to lose weight and get in shape. From diet adherence to resisting temptation to justifying your food choices, it’s your brain that’s the governor. If you can get your brain working for you rather than against you you’ll get much better results from your diet and exercise programme…
The psychology of change
Whenever you attempt to modify your behaviour, and dieting and exercise are big behavioural changes for many of us, you go through a well-documented series of stages which is detailed in something colloquially called the cycle of change but is more properly called the Transtheoretical Model of Change. The cycle of change (we’ll use that term is it’s way easier to spell!) consists of six parts.
People in the precontemplation stage do not intend to take action in the foreseeable future, usually measured as the next six months. Being uninformed or under informed about the consequences of their behaviour may cause a person to be in the precontemplation stage for a long time. Both the uninformed and under informed tend to avoid reading, talking, or even thinking about their high-risk behaviours. They are often resistant, unmotivated, or unready for help and essentially have their head in the sand.
This is the stage in which people intend to change in the next six months. They are more aware of the pros of changing, but are also acutely aware of the cons. This weighing the costs and benefits of changing can cause people to remain in this stage for long periods of time. This phenomenon is often characterized as chronic contemplation or behavioural procrastination – paralysis by analysis. To make any progress, contemplators must move into the next stage sooner rather than later – act TODAY!
In this stage, people are ready to take action in the immediate future, usually measured as the next month. These individuals have a plan of action, such as joining a gym, consulting a personal trainer, starting a diet or buying a new pair of running shoes.
After time spent thinking about making changes, the time has come to get up and do something positive. Action is the stage in which people have made specific modifications in their lifestyles within the past six months. At this stage, enthusiasm is generally high because of the novelty factor but any new behaviours have yet to become habitual.
During the maintenance stage, motivation may wane which can lead to cutting back on exercise frequency/volume/intensity or being less strict with nutrition. It is during this stage that motivational strategies such as goal setting or working with a trainer are especially valuable. Maintenance sounds like a good place to be but, in truth, it is possible to exercise periodically, eat moderately healthily and end up making no real progress. The people you see in the gym who look exactly the same as they did last year despite exercising and dieting are in this phase of change.
This stage refers to dropping out of exercise and eating properly altogether. In some cases, this might be a break of just a few weeks but for others it could be months or even years and you would be amazed at how fast someone can gain weight in a relapse phase. For whatever reason, this person has failed to maintain their new habits and will, subsequently, lose all of the benefits accrued previously as, sadly, you cannot store fitness.
So how can you ensure you stay in the action/maintenance stages of change and avoid relapse? There are several effective strategies you can use that will help keep you on the diet-and-exercise straight-and-narrow path!
Make changes slowly
It’s very easy to become overwhelmed if you try and change your entire lifestyle overnight and all it takes is one minor glitch for the whole house of cards to come crashing down. For example, good on you for giving up smoking, cutting out alcohol, giving up coffee, changing your diet, walking 30 minutes a day, going to the gym three times a week, taking up yoga etc. but for many people, a slip up in just one of these areas can be enough to stop all action and trigger a relapse. Instead, just make one small change at a time and then, once mastered, change something else. This is a much more successful way to change your lifestyle.
Reaffirm your desire for change daily
Make your first thoughts of the day positive affirmations of your desire for change. “Today I’m going to enjoy my workout and eat clean” is much more empowering than “shit – I really want to skip the gym and eat donuts for breakfast”. Take control of your thoughts and make sure you start each and every day with a positive mindset.
Do things you enjoy – mostly!
Your brain hates it when you do things you don’t enjoy as, essentially, it wants you to be happy. Following a diet that contains foods you hate is a recipe for disaster so seek out things you enjoy or at least don’t actually hate. A good trainer will always be able to provide you with several actionable options so you can choose the things you are most likely to enjoy. Hate running? Try mountain biking. Hate squats? Lunges can be just as effective. Don’t like salad? Try roast veggies. There is always more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. But be realistic; sometimes doing things that are tough is the best way to get results and break through plateaus. For example, deadlifts are hard but the results you’ll get from doing them can make the suffering worthwhile – even if you don’t enjoy it at the time.
Write it down
Research suggests that writing down your desires will make them more real and tangible and so you are much more likely to adapt your behaviours to achieve them. Simply thinking you want to lose weight is not as powerful as writing down why and by when you want to lose weight. Many people use SMART goals to achieve this (specific, measurable, achievable, reordered and time-bound) but another way is to write an essay describing in detail what you want to do and why.
Focus on the changes and not the results
Whether you want to lose weight or build muscle, focus on the process more than the results you seek. Results are often nonlinear and can even be very slow to manifest but that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing things right or that you are wasting your time. In fact, many of the benefits of eating properly and exercising are from the actual things you are doing and not the results you are seeking. Enjoy the process without losing focus on your goals and you are much more likely to stay in the action/maintenance stage.
Forget rewards and punishment
Many people make the mistake of using food as a reward for good behaviour and exercise as punishment for bad. For example, just because you’ve been to the gym doesn’t mean you can reward yourself with a junk food pig out, or huge night out on the town – it’ll just undo all your good work. Also, just because you had an unplanned dessert yesterday does not mean you have to thrash yourself in the gym today. Rewards and punishments confuse your brain and place a positive connotation on bad behaviours and a negative connotation on good behaviours. No wonder your brain ends up working against you! Moderation is key, cutting everything out can cause you to want it even more and give you the feeling of missing out.
Your brain might not be a muscle but if you can train and harness its power, it can take you to places you’ll never believe. Look for ways to work with your brain and not against it and you will experience far better, faster results than you ever thought possible.
- Pre and post-training nutrition
So, you’ve finished your workout, hit the showers and reckon that’s your all you have to do to lose fat, gain muscle or get fit. WRONG! If you are serious about maximizing your results, you need to also consider what you eat or drink immediately after your workout has finished and over the next few hours. Likewise, if you want your workout to be as effective as possible, you also need to think about what you eat beforehand too.
Pre and post-training nutrition (or the lack of it) can make or break your progress so make sure you don’t just hit the showers and head home (or worse – to the pub) but actually plan in advance what you are going to consume before and after exercise.
Exercise takes a lot out of your body. In fact, exercise is actually highly catabolic which means it breaks your body down. The aim of pre and post-exercise nutrition is to ensure you have all the nutrients you need to get you through your workout without running out of energy and then, once the dust settles, that you put back in everything you need to facilitate recovery.
Recovery is dependent on supplying your body with what it needs. Not refuelling properly or adequately means that your body’s anabolic (repair and recovery) processes will not happen in a timely manner and may not happen at all. The specifics of what you eat are determined by your training goals.
Training for increased strength and muscle size (ladies please still read this)
Lifting weights is predominantly an anaerobic activity and anaerobic activities are fuelled mainly by glucose or, more specifically, muscle glycogen. Muscle glycogen is simply glucose bound to water molecules that are then stored in your muscles. Glycogen stores are localised which simply means the glycogen in your legs is for use by your legs. The only exception to this is liver glycogen which provides an emergency supply of glucose for your brain.
So, before hitting the gym, you should consume carbohydrates to ensure your muscles are fully stocked with glycogen and your blood glucose levels are optimized. That way you will have plenty of energy for your workout and won’t run out of steam halfway through. To achieve this, have a starchy carb meal; the best pre-workout foods being oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, or rice cakes a couple of hours before your workout and then maybe top up with a faster acting carb like a sports drink just before you start.
Of course, you should moderate the amount of carbs you consume and the type of carbs you consume according to your ability to use carbs for fuel. Some people are not great at using carbs and it makes them feel sluggish or leads to fat gain. Experiment with the types and amount of carbs you eat to make sure you are getting exactly what your body wants and not sabotaging your progress by just eating carbs with no real plan. If you notice your performance increases with carbs e.g. an extra rep or two per set, you’re probably a “good” carb user but if you don’t see any real benefit, you may be more of a protein-dominant type.Likewise, if you feel weak or tired because you didn’t consume many carbs before exercise, you know that you need carbs to optimize your energy levels.
During your workout, you should only really need water to keep you hydrated although some people do like to keep their energy levels topped up by sipping on sports drinks throughout their workout. Be warned though, sports drinks are often very sugary and calorie-dense so don’t gulp gallons if you are trying to avoid fat gain.
Another couple of substances that you might want to consider consuming during your workout are Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and creatine. BCAAs are anti-catabolic which means they may prevent muscle breakdown especially if you are exercising while on a diet to skipped your pre-training meal because you hit the gym too early to eat. Creatine, on the other hand, helps your body produce more ATP which is essentially your main source of energy for all muscular contractions. Creatine may help you get an extra couple of reps out per set and recover faster between sets and workouts.
Once your workout is complete, you need more carbs to replenish the used glycogen plus protein to start the repair of your muscle tissues. Opinions vary as to exactly how much you need of each but a 30 gram portion of protein and 90 grams of carbs (1:3 ratio) is one common recommendation. Ideally this should be consumed immediately after exercise and then, within two hours or so, a balanced protein/carb/healthy fat meal should be consumed.
Training for increased fitness
Training for fitness inevitably involves doing cardio, for example running. During cardio, carbs and fat are used for energy in varying amounts depending on how hard you are working. The lower the intensity, the more fat is used and the higher the intensity, the more carbs. As even the leanest person has more than enough fat for energy, the main focus for cardio workout pre-exercise nutrition is again carbs and during long workouts or races it may also be necessary to take more carbs on broad to avoid “hitting the wall” and running out of glycogen.
Once your workout is complete, cardio exercisers need to replace lost glycogen but do not need to replace lost fat. A side-order of protein can also be beneficial because although cardio is not as muscle damaging as lifting weights, some damage does occur. For this reason, cardio exercisers should consume more carbs than protein in the post-exercise period – say 4:1 in favour of carbohydrate. This is ideally consumed in liquid form for rapid assimilation.
Training for fat loss
If you are training for fat loss, you may have to modify the above guidelines to avoid undermining your results. Having lots of glucose in your system can inhibit fat burning because you are essentially providing your body with two forms of fuel at once and it will always preferentially use carbs if they are available.
To make your workout as fat burning as possible, try to limit carbohydrate intake before exercise and even consider exercising in a fasted state. Low carb cardio and fasted cardio forces your body to preferentially burn fat for fuel – exactly what you need. However, some people don’t do well on low/no carbs or exercising while fasted so if you experience a big drop off in performance, try experimenting with a small, pre-workout, carb-based meal. I have used fasted cardio before and it works really well – especially if you have a black coffee beforehand for energy. But, it can be exhausting focusing on cardio only and not throwing in weights as well. If you plan to do a metabolic or strong man type fat loss session with some form of weights mixed in with sprints or cardio, try to have some carbs so then that way you are able to utilize the carbs so you have for the energy for lifting weights.
Because we are all different, some people do well on fasted workouts while others do not so if you feel weak or ill exercising without having eaten then skip the fasted workouts as you’ll get a greater benefit from being able to train longer or with greater intensity.
Once your workout is complete your muscles will have used at least some of their glycogen supply so carbs consumed in the post-exercise period are mostly going to be diverted to your muscles and liver. Subsequently, this is a good time to eat carbs even if your primary goal is fat loss. Eating more carbs after exercise than before is commonly called carb back loading. However, if you want to ensure you do not inadvertently sabotage your fat loss efforts, only consume moderate amounts of carbs and also add some anti-catabolic protein. A 1:1 ratio of carbs to protein is ideal.
So, to recap:
|Type of training||Pre-training||Post-training|
|Hypertrophy (muscle building)||Carbs and protein – source of carbs dependent on carb sensitivity||Carbs and protein – make sure it’s immediately after to maximize recovery|
|Fat loss (weight loss)||Limited/no carbs plus protein||Carbs and protein – keep carbs relatively low|
|General fitness||Moderate carbs, moderate protein||Moderate carbs, moderate protein|
|Include healthy fats in all pre and post-training meals but be aware they can delay digestion so adjust quantities accordingly. Olive oil, organic peanut or almond butter, coconut oil are all good choices.|
Proper pre and post-training nutrition does require some thought and planning but in the same way you would not set out on a long journey with your car’s fuel tank almost empty, nor should you expect your body to function properly without the right fuel. Food is fuel for your muscles so make sure you provide it in advance and also replace it when it’s been depleted. That way, you’ll always get the best possible results from your workouts.
- Cardio versus weights
Most forms of exercise fall into one of two categories: cardio or weights. Some exercisers focus exclusively on cardio while others do the opposite and do only strength training. In fact, this often gives rise to the question “which is best” and some people will never even consider moving from one camp to the other.
In order that you can make an educated and informed decision as to whether it’s cardio or weights you should be doing, let’s examine the pros and cons of each of these popular forms of exercise.
Cardio, sometimes called CV or aerobics, stresses your cardiovascular system which consists of your lungs, heart and circulatory system. Jogging, swimming, doing group exercise classes and circuit training are all common and popular forms of cardio. Most “cardio addicts” are either competitive endurance athletes training for their sport or people who are exercising specifically to lose weight as cardio is often associated with fat burning and weight control.
The pros of cardio
- Cardio workouts preferentially burn fat which is strongly linked to exercising for fat loss and weight control.
- Cardio is very good for your heart, lungs and circulatory systems. Cardiovascular fitness is usually linked to improved cardiovascular health.
- Cardio can reduce your blood pressure, reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular and coronary heart disease and can reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
- Cardio, when not performed excessively, can enhance immune system function.
- Cardio workouts can be easily adjusted to fit your individual fitness levels and is suitable for beginners and advanced exercisers.
- Cardio exercises are generally very accessible and include activities such as jogging and walking which can be performed anywhere and not only in a gym.
- The intensity of cardio workouts can easily be adjusted by simply going faster or slower as required.
- Many cardio workouts are pleasant and relatively easy to do, especially if you exercise in the so-called fat burning heart rate zone.
The cons of cardio
- Cardio is not very effective for developing strength and may actually lead to muscle loss (atrophy) and weakness if taken to extremes.
- Cardio activities such as running and cycling can reduce joint flexibility and mobility and the high volume of receptive movements can lead to joint problems such as osteoarthritis.
- Too much cardio can significantly impair immune system function, trigger inflammation, increase cortisol production, cause fat gain and even lower testosterone levels in men.
- Cardio workouts are inevitably long and get longer as you get fitter.
- The better you are at a cardio activity, the less effective it becomes for fat burning.
Lifting weights, more properly called strength training or resistance training, is all about increasing the size, strength or endurance of your muscles. Lifting weights may also increase muscle tone but this is a somewhat confusing term as it means different things to different people. Tone, in a medical sense, means the readiness to contract and firmness to the touch but to a gym-goer, tone is how the muscle looks. Luckily, hitting the weights can address both definitions of tone.
Lifting weights is often incorrectly confused with bodybuilding and the sport of weightlifting and while these sports do involve training with weights, you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or weightlifter to benefit from pumping iron.
The pros of weights
- Weight training allows you to strengthen not only your muscles but your bones, ligaments and tendons too which can make these structures more resistant to injury.
- Having above-average strength makes many everyday tasks less demanding.
- Lifting weights can help older people regain or maintain muscle which will enhance functionality and may allow them to live a more independent and active life.
- Bigger muscles burn more calories – even at rest. This means that you’ll experience better fat loss because of increased metabolic rate so say goodbye to that belly fat!
- Lifting weights significantly increases your carbohydrate tolerance and reduces insulin resistance which makes it harder to gain fat and also reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
- Lifting weights allows you to specifically target parts of your body that you would like to improve e.g. working more on your legs or butt.
- Weight training teaches proper lifting technique which should lead to fewer lower back injuries.
- Weight training progress is easily measureable by noting the number of reps you are performing or the weight you are lifting.
- The huge variety of weight training exercises means that your workouts can be very varied which will minimize the risk of boredom.
Recap: Weights can shape your body and sculpt your figure, they increase muscle mass which is great for your longterm health in fighting off disease of the mind and body. Increased muscle mass burns more calories at rest.
The cons of weights
- Many exercises, especially those performed with free weights, can be tricky to learn and may even be dangerous when performed incorrectly.
- Selecting the wrong exercises or following a badly-designed workout can adversely affect your posture.
- Some weight training exercises require very specialist equipment and often can only be performed in well-equipped gyms.
- Some weight training exercise should not be performed alone as there is a risk of getting pinned by the weight – barbell bench presses for example.
- Weight training does not burn as many calories per minute as most cardio exercises so may appear as a poor choice for fat burning.
- Many women believe that weight training will make their muscles big, bulky or appear masculine.
- Weight training is often seen as the reserve of men and few women understand its value – especially for fat loss.
So, which is best – cardio or weights?
The biggest exercise misconception is that you should do cardio OR weights when, in actuality, virtually every exerciser would really benefit from doing both. Even ardent weight lifters and bodybuilders need to do some cardio for health and fat burning while elite endurance athletes should lift weights for improved performance and better joint health.
There really is no debate – both cardio and weights are important and should be included in your weekly exercise plan. Yes; you may want to emphasize one over the other because of your specific fitness goals but, even then, the benefits of not doing cardio or weights is far outweighed by their benefits.
So, don’t be a dummy; make sure your workout plan includes a mixture of cardio AND weights!
- Why I use DEXA scan with my clients
As a personal trainer, I strongly believe that it essential to monitor my client’s progress. All too many trainers just supervise their client’s workouts with little or no thought as to the effectiveness of the programmes they have written. Goals set at the outset by the client are not addressed and the trainer has no starting benchmark by which to judge the success of their workouts or their dietary advice. I have a word for these types of trainers – unprofessional. In contrast, I make it a point to always assess my clients before I begin working with them and then reassess them periodically to monitor and their measure progress.
Of course, progress and results are dependent on adhering to a good programme, working hard and consistently and being smart with your diet but that’s a given! It doesn’t what measuring tools I use; if you aren’t doing the work in the gym and eating right or you blow all your good work with going out and drinking lots of alcohol, you’ll all but destroy any benefits of monitoring or, at the vest least, your results will reveal that you aren’t being serious about your efforts…
Programmes are designed and adjusted according to the client’s needs and goals and how they are progressing. By regularly assessing my client’s progress, it’s easy for me to see what works and what doesn’t. The result? My clients get the best results possible for their time and effort.
Yes, things like flexibility and posture assessments, fitness tests and psychological profiling, goal setting and dietary analysis take time but it’s time well-spent. Which do you think is better; a few extra hours now or months or even years of ineffective exercises and diets? The answer is obvious when you think about it like that.
Assessments also provide an excellent opportunity to start educating my clients. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on my education so why shouldn’t you benefit from my knowledge – above and beyond my ability to design your workouts and push you to work harder.
For example, when you go to your doctor and he tells your blood pressure is 135 over 75 and says it is ”okay”, what is he really telling you? How okay are you? What do those readings mean? Could you take steps to make your readings better? When I take someone’s blood pressure, I make sure they understand why I’m doing it, what blood pressure actually is, how their BP affects them and how they can optimize their blood pressure for better health. That beats “okay” by a freakin’ mile!
As well as blood pressure and a host of other health and fitness tests, I’m also very enthusiastic about something called a DEXA scan.
Short for Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, a DEXA scan is a medical diagnostic machine that is primarily used for measuring bone density which can also be used for accurately assessing body fat levels. It’s as simple as laying on a table and getting a full-body X-ray but using much lower doses of radiation. Completely non-invasive but operating with pin-point accuracy, a DEXA scan not only reveals how much fat you are carrying but also its location and therefore your health risks as visceral or abdominal fat is much more dangerous than subcutaneous fat; a DEXA scan differentiates between the two.
So why should you care about your body fat percentage when you only really want to lose weight? Good question!
Your scale weight is simply the collective mass of all your bodily tissues and contents and includes things like your muscles, skin and bones, internal organs, mineral and substrate stores, water, undigested food and body fat. It is possible to lose weight without losing fat but it is always fat you actually need to lose as none of the other things that make up your weight are harmful. If you want to lose scale weight don’t eat or drink, and sit in a sauna like what boxers do to fit into a certain weight class, and you will drop kilos but this isn’t fat so don’t fool yourself.
Even just going for a pee can result in anything up to a kilo of weight loss (one litre of water weighs one kilo) but that lost weight has no influence on your fat levels or your health. That’s why we need to look deeper to find out what your body mass is made up from. This is something called body composition and usually results in a body fat percentage. Your body fat percentage has very little to do with your scale weight.
Acceptable body fat percentages vary from person to person. Gender, age and the type of activities you do will determine what your ideal percentage actually is. For example, a male competitive bodybuilder in competition shape would probably have a body fat percentage of around five percent whereas a reasonably fit and active, general-exercising female should aim for closer to 25 percent. That’s a huge difference, right?!
There are other ways that I could assess body fat percentage instead of using a DEXA scan but they are nowhere near as accurate or consistent. Methods that many other trainers use include…
Skinfold callipers – a pair of graduated “tongs” that measure the thickness of skinfolds taken at various parts of your body. This is as much an art as it is a skill and developing competence takes a lot of practice. Even skilled operators can make mistakes and being pinched all over your body is very invasive. Additionally, all callipers are not created equally and calliper tests can vary from three skinfolds to ten – the more sites being the more accurate test. This all adds up to a heap of variables. Skinfold callipers are not inherently bad – it’s just that DEXA is better as there is a recognized 3-5% variance in accuracy between caliper assessments and DEXA scans.
Bioelectrical impedance machines – muscle has a high water content and therefore conducts electricity fairly well. In contrast, fat is a poor conductor. By sending a mild electrical current through your body, it is possible to estimate your body fat levels according to your level of resistance. While bioelectrical impedance machines are completely non-invasive, they are also highly inaccurate and inconsistent. Results can vary from one minute to the next and if the results aren’t consistent, there is no point even considering such a test.
Circumferential measurements – losing centimetres is a good way to track your progress but doesn’t really reveal how much fat you are losing. I like circumferential measurements but because they don’t provide the location or percentage of body fat, the results have limited importance.
Underwater weighing – considered the gold standard in body composition assessments, underwater or hydrostatic weighing works on the principle that muscle sinks while fat floats. It’s not as simple as standing on some scales while submerged in water though; underwater weighing is done in a laboratory environment and is not very accessible. DEXA scan results compare favourably to hydrostatic weighing and also reveal your bone mass – an important factor for determining your risk of developing osteoporosis. That’s another benefit of DEXA scans for you!
So, that’s why I like DEXA scans and use them with my clients. They provide me with essential information I can use for both designing your programme and measuring your progress and they reveal so much more than any other test ever will. In short, I think DEXAs are invaluable and I don’t understand why more trainers don’t take advantage of them.
Hi, my name is Dinny Morris. I’m a personal trainer and in sunny Sydney, Australia.
I work with men and women at all levels of their physical development, from overweight couch potatoes who want to get in shape, to professional athletes and natural bodybuilders who want to beef up strength and body mass.
Hi, my name is Dinny Morris. I’m a personal trainer and in sunny Sydney, Australia.
I work with men and women at all levels of their physical development, from overweight couch potatoes who want to get in shape, to professional athletes and natural bodybuilders who want to beef up strength and body mass.