Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to Pick a Personal Trainer

New Years is coming around and it's about this time that gyms start to see a huge influx in memberships and personal training clients.  Maybe you've decided that this is the year that you're going to get serious about your health and fitness, and to that extent you've decided to hire a personal trainer to help get you to where you want to be.  Excellent!

Deciding to get a personal trainer can be an amazing investment in your health.  Most people haven't made the time investment to become experts in fitness and exercise, and in that case it is very appropriate to hire a trainer to help guide you.  Hiring a trainer off the bat can help you save a lot of wasted time if you're not 100% certain what you're doing when you go to the gym. 

Whatever the reason or whatever your goal, you've decided you'd like to hire a trainer.  But how can you tell if you're getting the best help for your money?  Sadly not all trainers are created equal.  Personal training isn't the cheapest service around and it would be worth your time to find a trainer who is worth the price. (And trust me, a good trainer is definitely worth it)  So here are some keys to look out for when you're shopping around:

1) Certifications and Degrees

It's an interesting thing about personal training certifications: They mean everything and nothing at the same time.  There is no national certifying body for personal trainers like there is for some other professions.  Many gyms have their own certification processes that consist only of weekend courses, which is definitely not enough time for someone to be taught and assessed as a proficient trainer.  There are hundreds of different certifications that one can get that labels you as a "certified" trainer.  This does not mean that the person knows what they are talking about.  There are some certifications that are considered more reputable: they cost more to get, cover a lot of material and are, in general, what some of the higher-end gyms and studios look for when hiring a trainer.  Some of these certifications to look out for are: NASM, ACSM, ACE and NSCA.  CSCS, RKC, MES, LAT or ATC are some more advanced, optional certifications that will probably increase the chances of that person being committed to their profession.

At the same time, just having these certifications is no guarantee that the person knows what they're talking about, will work well with you, is committed to keeping themselves well-educated or is worth your money.  As well, simply having a degree from a university in the field doesn't mean that they know how to design a program or teach correct form, but they will be more likely to have a good base understanding in anatomy and physiology, which I believe is integral for anyone who wants to train. 

You want a trainer who's book and street smart.
Take a look at this blog post by Nick Tumminello for more information on certifications:

2) The Assessment 

When or even before you hire most trainers, there will be some kind of assessment or consultation.  Every trainer will do assessments and consultations differently depending on what information they find useful.  But regardless of style, if a trainer does not at least ask you some form of the following questions, you will want to consider looking elsewhere:

-Do you have any medical conditions?
-Do you suffer from any bone or joint problems / pain from any previous injuries?
-Do you take any medications?
-What are your goals?  (A fair amount of time should be spent discussing this)
-Do you currently exercise? / Have you exercised or played sports in the past?

Aside from that, most trainers will do some kind of initial assessment to see where you're starting at.  Things that are included in these assessments can really vary from trainer to trainer, but a pretty comprehensive assessment will consist of:

-Body composition assessments (Skin fold, circumference, BIA, etc)
-Postural Assessment

A few things we can see in a postural assessment.
-Upper body strength (push-up test, bench press test)
-Lower body strength (leg press)
-Cardiovascular endurance (3-minute step test, 1-mile treadmill walk, etc)
-Flexibility (Too many to list)
-Muscular imbalances (Single-leg squat, squat, overhead squat)
-Balance (Single-leg squat, 1-leg stand with eyes open / closed)

Knee valgus is one of the things we look for in a squat assessment

-Core stability (Bird-dog, plank, toe tap)

I myself usually do a couple body composition tests, a postural assessment, a few flexibility tests, muscular imbalances and core stability.  A trainer should put you through at least a few assessments, but which ones they choose will vary based on facility policy and trainer preference.  If your goals are physique-related, a body composition test should be done, preferably skin folds or circumference measurements.   If you have a lot of aches and pains, a core stability, flexibility and muscular imbalances assessment would be appropriate, etc.  If you have no baseline, then how can you know for sure you're making progress?

However, assessing your performance should never stop at the initial assessment.  Looking for muscular imbalances, balance issues, inflexibility, etc. should happen every session. 

3) Questions to ask your potential trainer

-What is your background in training / how did you get into training?
Asking this can give you a lot of information about your trainer.  They'll probably talk about any sports they used to play and at what levels, their certifications and / or degrees, how long they've been working out, what kind of training they specialize in, how long they've been a trainer, what kind of clients they've worked with, and you'll probably be able to tell if they're truly passionate about what they do. 

-What is your training philosophy?
Again, this can give you a lot of insight into how your trainer views their job.  Preferably you want someone who can talk about the benefits of what they do with their clients, not just how awesome their training style may or may not be.  For instance, if I was asked this question I'd probably talk about how I believe strength training is an important element in anyone's workout plan, and why I believe that, as well as how although that is something I'm passionate about, I do incorporate other aspects of fitness to make a well-rounded plan.  This would also be an opportune time to ask about how they motivate their clients.  If this differs from how you perform best, let them know!  It's nice to be told up front that you are best motivated by being yelled at, since that saves us the time of having to figure it out and going through trial and error.

-What would a typical workout with you look like?
Well, hopefully they'd mention that workouts vary from person to person depending on goals and individual needs.  But you want to know that your trainer does have a method to how they construct workouts and that they do plan in advance for their clients.  Not all trainers do this - some just wing it.  You do not want a trainer who 'wings it.'  You'll want someone who can explain why they do what they do in layman's terms.  This way if you have any concerns about how they do things you can bring them up there and have them laid to rest before you get started. 

-Information about fitness and exercise always seems to be changing.  How do you stay on top of things?
This is just a nice way of asking your trainer if they strive to continue learning about their profession.  The real factor that determines whether you have a truly good trainer on your hands is if they make a big effort to know as much as they possibly can about training and practice what they preach.  I spend an embarassing amount of time reading various internet blogs, sites and forums as well as whatever books I can get my hands on about training and to some extent diet.  If you've got someone who has practical, hands-on experience in training (preferably by having trained themselves extensively), and who reads a lot, it really doesn't matter what certification they have or where they got their degree.  The certification in no way teaches someone everything they need to know to be a good trainer. 

4) Things to look out for during a session

-A trainer who texts while they're in a session with you.
I've seen this happen.  A lot.  Even once is too many times.  Save yourself the time and fire them immediately.

Let me just stick you on a machine while I catch up on facebook...

-A trainer who doesn't work around your injuries
If you have a sprained ankle, those suicides are probably not the best idea.  If you have a lot of shoulder pain and doing bench press hurts, chances are you're not going to want to do them.  If your trainer ignores these complaints entirely it's time to find someone who listens.

-A trainer who can't adjust a workout
Let's say that your trainer has you down for doing some squats one day, but you're not quite yet ready for them, ie. your knees cave in, you can't hit depth, your back rounds, you're not stable, etc.  Does your trainer have you continue doing an exercise incorrectly, or do they have you do box squats with a lighter weight, or have you regress the exercise to lunges or goblet squats instead?  Did you injure your shoulder in between sessions and now can't do certain exercises?  Your trainer needs to care about you doing exercises safely and effectively more than they care about sticking to whatever exercise they had planned out.  A good trainer can adjust. 

-A trainer who doesn't listen to you
If you bring up concerns during a session your trainer should take them seriously and address them  to your satisfaction(unless of course you're asking the same question time and again).  This goes along with having a trainer who can give you solid reasoning for whatever you're doing.

-A trainer who listens to you too much
Some people need to be pushed... some harder than others.  There is always a client who will pull out every excuse in the book as to why today they really can't run those stairs or squat that weight and a trainer needs to be able to discern when you're actually in pain and when you're just tired.  Of course, it's always nice if you're just honest with yourself!

-A trainer who works well with you
Sometimes personalities clash.  Sometimes you find that you'd rather work with another trainer in the gym than the one you have.  It happens.  Just make sure it's not because you want a trainer who will go easier on you.  Remember why you hired us in the first place!


So I hope that this post will help you in any kind of decision making towards personal training.  I'm sure there are some points I missed or just skimmed over, but this should be a pretty sufficient overview.  So good luck to everyone in keeping with your fitness goals this year and the years to come!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Respect the Journey

Take a long look at the pictures above.  They probably aren't very pleasing to your eyes.  It's probably not a physique you'd ever want to have.  You may even be a little disgusted.

It's completely fine to not want to look like a bodybuilder, I'd say most people don't.  However there's a trend I notice when talking about bodybuilders with many people that I do find a little disconcerting.  Bodybuilders are spoken of with disdain, with disgust, as though they were somehow less human than the rest of us merely because of their chosen sport.  As though because we don't like their physique ideals something about them must be flawed.  If you search google for 'female bodybuilder,' the first link is '20 most revolting female bodybuilders'.  Doesn't that seem wrong?

In truth, bodybuilders are doing what most people want to accomplish, but to a higher degree: Losing fat and gaining muscle.  They're experts at it.  Thankfully for most of us, we don't have to work half as hard as a boydbuilder must to achieve our goals. 

I'm hoping that this post will serve two purposes:

1) Lend more evidence to why merely doing strength training is not going to 'bulk' you up.  We'll take a look at how some bodybuilders train - it's probably a bit different than your typical strength routine!  Bodybuilders would love if they could just wake up one morning super bulked up from a few months of strength training!

2) Come to respect bodybuilders for their resolve, consistency and dedication to their sport instead of being repulsed by it. 

What is bodybuilding?

Before we start this discussion, let's clearly define what bodybuilding is.  In general, the goal in bodybuilding is to build as much muscle as possible with the highest amount of definition and distinction between muscle groups.  The more fat there is, the less muscle definition there is for the judges to see.  The fake tans, oil, and minimal clothing is as well to enhance muscle definition and make it more visible to judges.  Symmetry and proportion are also judged.  Sugar-loading immediately before competition, dehydration, and lifting weights before going on stage combined with drastically low body fat percentages are some techniques used to help increase vascularity and get that really 'shredded' look.  Before going on stage a competitor may also take in a high amount of carbohydrates in order to make the muscle appear fuller and larger.  Let's take a look at a few different kinds of 'bodybuilding':

Figure Athletes - Figure competitions focus mostly on muscle definition rather than size of the muscle.  While not really in the realm of bodybuilding, they are related and worth noting. 

Natural Bodybuilding - Bodybuilding competitions that focus on muscle size and definition but whose competitors are drug tested.  The first two pictures of this post are of natural bodybuilders.

Professional (Generally Non-Tested) Bodybuilding - This is where you'll find the Ronnie Colemans, the Jay Cutlers, Iris Kyle, etc. 

                                        Iris Kyle looks like she cares a lot about your opinion.

My friend Charlie is a former bodybuilder and had this to say about what it's like to prepare and be in a competition:

"You shave body hair, and start the coats of protan about Thurs [for a weekend competition]. You can not be too dark. Your posing routine is about 90 seconds long, so you should have been practicing for the last 3-4 weeks. Posing should be done the last 6-8 weeks. Posing actually makes you harder. On stage I have a bad habit of totally shutting everthing out, so I don't even see the crowd. I am very stoic and look way too serious. I am focusing on what I'm doing and forget to smile and don't have much interaction with the crowd. This would probably be better with more experience.
The show is actually fun, but I have got to admit it feels a little weird to stand around all day with a bunch of scantily clad people, tanned to the extreme, and oiled down."

Exercise Routine

So let's take a look at a standard bodybuilding routine for maximal results:

5 day split, 1x a week frequency 

*Numbers at end in parentheses () are how many sets to failure to do on that exercise
*Rest 90-120 secs between sets, 2-3 mins if you did a set to failure on a compound movement and are about to do another set to failure on the same movement

Monday- Chest/Calves

Incline Dumbbell Press - 4x 6-10 (2)
Flat Barbell Press - 3x 6-10 (1)
Decline Dumbbell press - 3x 6-10 (2)
Standing calf raises - 4x 8-10 (2) (1-2 mins rest for calves)
Seated calf raises - 3x 8-10 (2)
Leg press Calf raises - 3 x 12-15 (2)

Tuesday- Back

Pull ups - 50 or as many as you can do in 10 minutes
Barbell Rows - (torso at 45ish degree angle) 4x 8-10 (1)
Close neutral grip pulldowns - 3x 8-10 (2) (really like 3 sec negatives on these)
Seated straight bar rows - 3x 8-10 (2)

Wednesday- Legs (2-3 second negatives recommended on all exercises)

Lying leg curls - 4x 6-8 (2)
RDL's - 4x 8-10 (1)
Leg press - 4x8-10 (I like doing these before squats to help loosen up the hips) (2)
Squats or Front squats - 3x 8-10 (1)
Hack Squats (close stance) - 3x 8-10 (2)

Thursday- Arms/Abs Supersets for arms

Pinwheel Curls - 4x 6-10 (1)
Decline Elbows flared CGBP - 4x 6-10 (1)

Preacher curls on vertical side (spider curls) - 3x 8-10 (2)
Lying Behind the head extensions - 3x 8-10 (2)

Alternating Dumbbell curls - 3x 8-10 (2)
French Presses - 3x 8-10 (2)

Cable rope crunches - 3x 12-15 (2) (1-2 mins rest for abs)
Weighted Leg Raises - 3x 12-15 (2)

Friday - Shoulders/Traps

Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press - 4x 6-10 (2)
Cable lateral raises - 3x 8-12 (2)
Seated Dumbbell lateral raises - 3x 8-12 (2)
Incline Bench Rear delt raises - 3x 12-15 (2)
Standing cable X's - 3x 20-30 (3)
Shrugs - 4x 8-10 (2)

Staci, a natural female bodybuilder in the 118-132lb weight group gave a general idea of how much time she spent in the gym and how much cardio she also did on top of her regular training days:

"During off season, I am in the gym for 1 hour a day for weight training 4 days a week and cardio will take up 2 of those other days, with 1 day full rest. When I am cutting for competition, I am in the gym in the morning for HITT (High Intensity Interval Training) before breakfast and for another hour later in the day for weights. I will do this for 4 days, and depending on energy levels, I will put in a few more cardio sessions the other 3 days as well."

Is this a little bit more than what you've been doing at the gym?  Now bear in mind, this is also just a sample.  Bodybuilding requires you to take note of whether or not an exercise is working for you, whether or not you should consider a different angle on the bench when you're doing incline bench press, whether or not you should widen or narrow your grip, are you making sure to target both your soleus and your gastrocnemius on calf day?  Bodybuilders need to have a good, basic understanding of human anatomy to be successful.  How can you make a muscle bigger when you don't know it exists?  How can you make sure a muscle is activating unless you know what its function is and what bone or joint it attaches to?

So if one needs to have a broad knowledge base in anatomy and physiology (or hire someone who does) to be successful in bodybuilding, why do commercials like this exist?


Sure, they're a little amusing.  But they're also offensive to anyone who takes the pursuit of muscle seriously.  Where does this stereotype even come from?  Considering how confusing most people find the subjects of fitness, fat loss and exercise, those who have mastered them should be considered intelligent, shouldn't they? 

Nutrition and Supplements

If you think that your diet is restricting, try a bodybuilder's who is preparing for competition.  Men strive to reach levels of 2-8% bodyfat, women around 9-15%.  For reference, average bodyfat percentage for men is 18-25% and for women is 25-31%.  How do you have to eat to get to these numbers?  Charlie said this about dieting for competition:

"The diet is the tough part. Lifting is fun, being hungry for 12-16 weeks is not. Diet for competition is usually a low carb diet. I will go between 100 and 200 grams of carbs a day, 30 grams of fat and 250-300 grams of protein. total calories 1700-2000. The target is no more than 2lbs of weight lost a week, anything more your losing muscle. Off season diet is 3500-4000 calories a day with protein being about the same , but way more carbs...

Three weeks out from the show I wanted to quit. I was grumpy, tired , hungry, and wondered was it all worth it. I didn't quit, because I knew I would beat myself up if I did. The diet messes with your mind. You question everything your doing and wonder if your screwing up. This is why I think a coach is the most important thing you can have. Someone to talk you off the ledge, to have a sane mind that can hold you to the plan and can gauge your progress and make adjustments without sabotaging everything."

Here is an example of what a male 180lb bodybuilder's diet might look like who is preparing for competition:

Wake Up - Power Drive in1L water, 1 multi+
Breakfast -3 whole Omega 3 eggs, 30g Havarti cheese, 2 pieces lean turkey bacon, 0.25 bell pepper, 2 oz baby carrots, 0.25 avocado, 1 cup green tea, 1 cup water, 3 HOT-ROX OR Abs+, 3 Fish Oil capsules
Snack - 5g BCAA and 2.5g creatine, 1L water
Lunch - 6 oz extra lean beef, 2 pieces lean turkey bacon, 30g Havarti cheese, 2 oz spinach, 1 small tomato, 0.5 small zucchini, 0.25 small red pepper, 0.25 avocado, 1 teaspoon flax oil, 1 tbsp vinegar, 1 cup water, 3 HOT-ROX OR Abs+, 3 Fish Oil capsules
Pre-Workout - 5g BCAA and 2.5g creatine, 1L water
During Workout- 5g BCAA and 2.5g creatine, 1L water
Post- Workout - 5g BCAA and 2.5g creatine, Power Drive in 1L water
Dinner - 6 oz extra lean beef, 2 pieces lean turkey bacon, 30g Havarti cheese, 2 oz spinach, 2 oz broccoli, 2 oz cauliflower, 2 oz green beans, 0.25 avocado, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 tbsp vinegar, 1 cup water, 3 HOT-ROX OR Abs+, 3 Fish Oil capsules
Pre- Bed - 2 whole eggs, 0.25 green pepper, 2 oz carrots, 1 serving Greens+ Daily Detox, 3 Fish Oil capsules, 3 ZMA

Total Cal: Between 1800-2000

Taken from: 

Everyday food is logged.  How many ounces of chicken, how many almonds, how many tablespoons of peanut butter?  Exact calories and macronutrient levels must be measured.  There can be no cheating involved - you bring your food to work, to restraunts, to birthday parties and holidays.  Research the correct supplements, take them at the exact right times according to your training each day.  Any deviation might mean the different between first and second place. 

Then there is the diet you have to follow post-competition: The bulking phase.  The goal in this phase is to put on as much mass as possible before having to prepare for competition again.  Most people would probably see this as appealing, getting to eat massive quanitities of food in order to try and put on mass.  But it can be a little harder than that, especially for those who do not put on mass easily.  Having to eat 8,000 - 10,000 calories a day everyday can be grueling!

All that work and this is the progress one may see in a year. (50 weeks between pictures of Shelby Starnes)

The transition between a bulking and cutting phase can be very taxing as well.  Think of how drastic the changes are between the two different diets!

Imagine going through this transformation every year. (Yes this is the same guy, Lee Priest. Yes, seriously)

Staci had this to say about switching between phases:

"The main difference between off season eating and pre-contest diet is the amount of calories. When I am bulking, I aim for about 2500 to 3000 cals a day. When cutting, I am looking at around 1400 to 1000 cals, depending on the workout for the day. Macros will move up or down, obviously but keep protein very very high...The transition can be grueling. The key is to not reduce the amounts to quickly, as you will almost go in to shock psychologically and mentally. Obviously your body is use to taking in so much, and when it is not receiving, it will come back to bite you...[[One time]] I cut my cals too quickly and had a difficult time functioning, as far as speech, cognitive and emotionally. It was an eye opener to see just how much this affects you."

Even in light of all this, the physique of a bodybuilder will probably be continually unappealing.  And that's okay.  Take a look at this video of a young female bodybuilder:

Chances are good she doesn't care if you think she's too manly looking, or that you don't want to look like her.  But I just want you to look at the confidence she exudes while on stage.  Just from her body language you can see the hard work she put in, the dedication, and you can tell she knows she's amazing. 

Even if you don't want to look like her, we should respect her for her resolve.  We should respect her for having the guts to even decide to prepare to get up on that stage.  We should respect her for the respect she has for herself. 

That's something that we should all strive for, no matter in what manner. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I don't Like The Biggest Loser

So this post I'll actually talk about a media other than magazines.  It seems more pertinent to today; magazines just aren't quite as popular as they used to be.

I'll preface this by saying I have a guilty pleasure for before and after shows - especially ones about weight loss.  (Though it's also the reason I know the channel number for HGTV)  A&E's "Heavy," obesity documentaries, hell, even MTV's "I Used to be Fat" I flock to and watch with the utmost attention. So it would seem that I'd love watching The Biggest Loser, right?  No.  I hate it.  I can't watch more than 5 to 10 minute bits of it.  Mostly it's because that's as long as the show can go without this happening:

Now I get it, being overweight can take a toll on emotions, and sometimes being overweight is the symptom of a larger, emotional problem.  So it's not like I expect that part of weight loss to be totally neglected.  Crying on shows like these is expected.  But on the Biggest Loser, it happens entirely too often.  The focus of the show should be on the diet and exercise - not on the crying.  But I guess crying and touching moments gets ratings.

Other reasons I cannot support the show:

1) Creation of Unrealistic Expectations

The show centers around the big "weigh ins;" this is where the competition arises, where the show gets its name, where all the hard exercise and dieting culminates on a giant scale for all of America to see.  What are the results we often are presented with?  Over 10 pounds lost, usually.  Sometimes even into the 20's!  What an accomplishment!  Yes, indeed it is, but then maybe someone only loses 5 pounds that week.  They feel ashamed, they feel as though they did something wrong and they let their team and the trainers down.  More than likely someone is crying.  There's a chance they're going to get kicked off of the show for not doing well enough.

It took 10 minutes and a commercial break for these numbers to finally pop up.

Think about this for a minute.  These contestants are receiving feelings of shame and guilt for losing weight.  Not only losing weight, but losing more weight than is even recommended by most fitness professionals: 1-2 pounds a week, maybe 3 for the obese.  They face punishment for not losing enough.  What kind of message does that send?  What if as a viewer you go a week without losing any weight, or God forbid, you actually gain a pound?  Any chances of thinking "well there are a lot of factors that go into weight loss and the numbers don't always mean anything significant or meaningful' decreases by virtue of the now-instilled unrealistic expectations.

And there are a lot of factors that go into what the number on the scale reads.  The most applicable one to The Biggest Loser is water.

What contestants on the show go through before a weigh in is akin to what a wrestler, fighter, or anyone who needs to make a weight class will go through before weigh-ins.  The most prevalent method for losing weight quickly is fluid manipulation.  This will mean dehydration, frequent trips to the sauna and working out in heavy clothing for maximal sweat production.  Cutting out all of the carbohydrates and solids a few days before helps as well: carbohydrates cause your body to retain water and solids can take time to go through your entire digestive track.

(For more details on weight-cutting methods, see

Here are some quotes from former contestants themselves on how they prepared for weigh-ins:

Ryan Benson:

“I wanted to win so bad that the last ten days before the final weigh-in I didn’t eat one piece of solid food! If you’ve heard of “The Master Cleanse” that’s what I did. Its basically drinking lemonade made with water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. The rules of the show said we couldn’t use any weight-loss drugs, well I didn’t take any drugs, I just starved myself! Twenty-four hours before the final weigh-in I stopped putting ANYTHING in my body, liquid or solid, then I started using some old high school wrestling tricks. I wore a rubber suit while jogging on the treadmill, and then spent a lot of time in the steam room. In the final 24 hours I probably dropped 10-13 lbs in just pure water weight. By the time of the final weigh-in I was peeing blood.
Was this healthy? Heck no! My wife wanted to kill me if I didn’t do it to myself first. But I was in a different place, I knew winning the show could put us in a better place financially and I was willing to do some crazy stuff. All this torture I put myself through has had no lasting effects on me (that I know of) and at the time it was sort of a fun adventure for me – but I am sure it reeked havoc on my system.
In the five days after the show was over I gained about 32 lbs. Not from eating, just from getting my system back to normal (mostly re-hydrating myself). So in five days I was back up to 240 – crazy!”

Kai Hibbard:

"I dehydrated off 19 pounds in the last two weeks before the BIG weigh in. I stopped eating solid food after eating only protein and asparagus (a diuretic) then I had two colonics and spent the night before the weigh in and out of a sauna. there really was no “diet” the day of the weigh in, we weigh in as dehydrated as possible on empty stomachs after 2 hour workouts in the morning."
So if most of this weight loss is actually water, how much is really fat loss?  Which brings me to my next point:
2) Emphasis on weight loss, not fat loss.
For a lot of people, weight loss and fat loss are synonymous.  In reality, however, this is far from the truth.  When we talk about 'body composition,' fat is only one factor; bone density and muscle must also be considered.  
Let's say you've lost 5 pounds, according to your scale.  Excellent, right?  Your goal weight is 130lbs and you're that much closer!  But what if you got that way by being sedentary and losing 5 pounds of muscle?  Is this still a positive step towards your goal weight?
What if you gained a pound one week?  Most people who are dieting and exercising in an effort to lose weight would see this as a big blow to their confidence.  It may even make you consider giving up.  But what if you got that way by exercising regularly and gained 3 pounds of muscle?  Is this still a negative roadblock on your way to 130lbs?
This is a reason why I don't recommend meticulously weighing yourself.  Maybe once a month would be appropriate for making sure you're making a general trend downward. but since there are more factors that go into the scale number than just your body fat, it can be confusing and downright discouraging to weigh yourself more often.  Most people don't want to weigh a certain number just to be able to say they weigh that number.  Most want to weigh whatever their goal weight is because there's an image in their head of how they'll look at that number.  In that case, I feel it is more appropriate to track progress with circumference measurements, accurate body composition tests, checking if your clothes fit better, or the tried and true method of looking at yourself in the mirror and liking what you see.
She probably knows how much she weighs, but does it really matter?

So, a contestant on the Biggest Loser would be encouraged to not gain any muscle - in fact they would be encouraged to lose it!  How is that encouraging a healthy lifestyle?
3) Unrealistic Methods
This is a point that gets touched on over and over by people who critique the show.  Contestants are held on a ranch where their only job is to lose weight, free from distractions of everyday life.  All the tools needed to accomplish this are at their disposal: knowledgeable trainers, nutritionists, therapists, supportive teammates, and a $250,000 prize for the winner if the rest of that wasn't motivating enough.
We're not learning about real-life tools for how to lose weight - we're learning how exercising 4-6 hours a day and eating food prepared for you that is approved by nutritionists with no chance of getting outside junk food will make you lose weight.  
It is certainly arguable that the show isn't supposed to be educational, however, so I'll just leave this point as a personal peeve of mine.
4) Overtraining
I want you to get up out of your seat right now and put on a 300-lb weight vest.  Got it?  Okay good.  Now I want you to go run a mile.  Oh and it's mid-day, sunny, and hot.  Oh and it helps if you've been sedentary for most of your life.
That sounds like fun right?  Well it is something that contestants are told to do their first day.  I wouldn't be making someone so massively overweight and previously sedentary go for a brisk walk, let alone a mile-long jog.  Forcing someone under those conditions to do that isn't 'pushing' them to work hard, it's just plain dangerous.  
And that's not an isolated incident.  A sign of a good workout isn't one where you throw up, especially if you're new to the exercise game.  It's not hard or skillful to make someone throw up; it is however to make them have a difficult workout where they are pushed to their limits safely.  
And regardless of if you have nothing better to do with your day, working out for 4-6 hours everyday is going to lead to overtraining.  Overtraining leads to depression, lack of motivation, and stress fractures among other things.  It's a good way to get more people crying, though!
5) Jillian Michaels 
Sometimes I like Jillian Michaels.  Sometimes the things she says are, while tough, true and what people need to hear.  However, other times what she says is just cruel and abusive:

Trainers know that sometimes you have to yell at people to motivate them, and to push them to places that they never thought they could get to.  However, this does not work with everyone and trainers also know that you have to adapt your methods for certain people.  Some people are going to shut down completely if you yell at them like Michaels does in this video.  If a contestant quit because of how they were treated and couldn't take it, it's certainly their loss, but as a trainer, have you done your job if your client walks away?
As well, I don't like when people use their fame to sell useless products.  See: Jillian Michaels weight loss pills. (Use to jumpstart any sensible diet and exercise program, then attribute your success to my product!)
Selling out: The Pill

6) The Overall Process and Message

It seems wrong that someone gets kicked off just because one week they happened not to lose as much weight as another person.  Weight lost in a given week doesn't necessarily say anything about how hard someone worked - which is really the good ol' American mantra isn't it?

How I would change the show:

The Biggest Loser has the potential to be a huge positive force in the fitness industry, instead of the generally negative one it is now.

There are certainly good aspects of the show.  I am very much in favor of how it promotes working out and dieting as the way to lose weight rather than product placement of pills / supplements / weight loss surgery.  If the show inspires just one person to make positive changes in their life, well I certainly can't complain there.  But there is opportunity for it to do so much more.

1) Instead of focusing on weight loss, focus on fat loss.  Bring in some really accurate body composition analyzers, such as a DEXA machine or hydrostatic weighing.  They can certainly afford it and contestants won't have to resort to unhealthy weight-cutting techniques.  At the very least, explain why someone may lose a lot of weight one week and then not near as much the next despite the same amount of effort.

2) In spirit of the entire purpose of the show, keep the competition in place.  However instead of kicking someone out give the option of staying on the ranch for the rest of the duration of the show.  

3) Teach methods that contestants and viewers can bring into their real, daily lives.  How to eat healthy on a budget, how to fit in exercise around work, how to lose weight without the help of a squad of professionals and infinite free time, etc.

4) More emphasis on nutrition.  As it's near impossible to out-exercise a bad diet, nutrition really needs more time in the spotlight.

5) More specifics on the workouts.  Give viewers an idea of what contestants are doing, show proper form for a couple of exercises an episode.  Give an idea of what someone can do to exercise efficiently when they don't have 4-6 hours to exercise.  Of course, points 3, 4 and 5 take time to explain.  Which brings me to point 6:

6) Less crying.  Please.  Seriously if you took that out you'd probably have at least 10 minutes more time on your show.  Weigh-ins don't need to be as dramatic as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and don't have to take nearly as long.

But I guess that's television.  Crying and drama get higher ratings than real information.

A good summary of all these points plus more can be found in this clip, for Inspired: The Movie.  It's short and pretty enlightening!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Women's Health - Better than Cosmopolitan, not as good as Oxygen

I thankfully got a lot of feedback from my last posting.  Rants are always popular it seems.  

Some of the feedback I got was that I shouldn't expect anything better from Cosmopolitan in regards to fitness articles, but that they though I'd have a point if it was Women's Health.  I'll save my retort to that for the end of this article, but in the meantime let's take a look at Women's Health.  

Their magazine for this month didn't have much in the way of fitness articles.  They did have a 1-page spread on a kettlebell circut however which was pretty decent.  I like kettlebells, they're a lot of fun.  

Well, okay, this is just silly.

"The secret to shaving time off your workout without sacrificing results: doing dynamic combo moves that target at least two muscle groups (think quads and biceps) in each rep...they are great time-savers and also challenge your stabilizer muscles which help improve core strength and balance."

True enough!  This is one of the reasons that I like moves such as the squat or deadlift - they work multiple muscles in one movement rather than isolating muscles like one does on machines.  As well since you're using more muscles, you will be saving time doing just a few exercises cover your total body rather than going from machine to machine isolating muscles for no particular reason.  And, as I mentioned in another post, free weights will make you use your stabilizer muscles and improve core strength.

They recommend doing the circuit of 4 exericses they give you for 2 sets with an 8-10lb kettlebell.  I always dislike it when magazines give you a recommended weight.  I get asked this all the time: "What weight should I be using?" If you want a universal answer here it is: Whatever makes the routine difficult for you.  When it comes to doing strength training, the weight should be heavy enough that the last 2-3 reps are strenuous and difficult.  In the case of this circuit, it's going to be whatever makes you want to lay on the ground and die by the end of it.  No, seriously.  Circuits are supposed to be HARD.  They are a combination of strength and cardio that are excellent for getting your metabolism up and burning calories while maintaining muscle.  Not to mention a million times more interesting than running on a treadmill or chilling on an elliptical.  

Has clearly progressed from the 8-10lb recommendation

They don't give you a rest interval between sets either, which is also important and a component many seem to forget about.  For circuits I usually say 60-90 seconds.  As well it should be mentioned that a workout like this should not be your entire routine for a strength day unless it's a rest day and you just have a compulsion to go and workout. (That's not just me right? .....right...?)  Something like this should take place after you already do your strength training at the end of your workout.  You could also do this instead of your typical cardio day. (Assuming your goals are physique-related and you don't have specific running goals.)

The four exercises they give you are a little complicated for a beginner and require some serious coordination.  However, it's in no way a bad routine.  Hooray!

So in an effort to get some more out of Women's Health, I picked up "Women's Health Ultimate Weight Loss Guide," something apart from their usual monthly magazine.  80% of the book is about diet, which is great.  Diet is about 80% of the battle when it comes to weight loss, a point they make in the beginning of the guide.  Unless you're a teenage boy, it's hard (impossible for most) to out-exercise a bad diet.  However this is not a nutrition blog so I'll leave all that part alone.

Let's get to the fitness part!

First fitness chapter they have is entitled "Fast Track to a Fit Body," because I guess the title "The slow and steady track with moderate, over-time changes to a fit body" just is never enticing.  In this article they'll be talking about interval training and high-intensity training.  The tagline for this chapter is "The workout secret that will slash pounds - and the time you spend in the gym."  This annoys me.  This isn't a 'secret.'  Fitness knowledge is free and available and out there to anyone who cares to take the time to look.  Women's Health isn't selling you something that hasn't already been said before.  I guess that's just me getting uppity over semantics but the language of health and fitness magazines and infomercials really bothers me.

" that....?"
"Yes, it's the secret....of how to slash pounds."

Anyways, where was I?  Oh yes.  This article.  They cite a study that concluded that interval training will get you the same benefits as a longer, steady-state cardio workout in much less time.  As far as what they mean by 'benefits,' I'm not sure.  Why don't magazines have to cite their sources?  They go on to talk about how to mentally prepare yourself for high-intensity, how to know if you're making a max effort and a couple of examples of interval training.  Then I came upon a wondrous quote that I was very pleased to see:

"Picking up the pace during spin class isn't the only way to pump up your routine.  Programs such as CrossFit and P90X are intense workouts that have women busting out pushups, lifting barbells and swinging weights.  (And no, these chicks don't look like bodybuilders.)" Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay.


"Some women are intimidated when they see a workout like 50 pullups, pushups, and squats because they assume they can't do it...But the challenge empowers them.  They get a chance to do things they thought were impossible."

"There's just now way around it:  If you're not uncomfortable, you're not working hard enough."

There's a tear in my eye.

I'm just so HAPPY!

"Only 20% of your workouts should be high intensity"

....aaaand there it goes. 

 So if you exercise 5 times a week only 1 should be high intensity?  Maybe this is true if you're an athlete during the in-season.  However, CrossFit gives a workout of the day...everyday.  People who do CrossFit do it many times per week.  I do high-intensity work 2-3 times per week.  They give all these lovely quotes about working hard and then tell you to only do it once a week, and that's if you're one of the few people who works out 5 times a week?  Just wrong.  If you're a beginner, yes, chances are high intensity work isn't something you can do more than maybe once a week.  However as you get used to the workload this will change.  The definition of high-intensity also needs to be refined if they're going to put out this kind of statement.  

But, let's not put down Women's Health.  Here's another great quote they give in this guide:

"To burn more fat while weight-training, higher weight, fewer reps instead of lower weight, more reps."


However, Women's Health does not hold a candle to Oxygen in the fitness department.  If you want good info on exercise and fitness Oxygen is definitely the way to go.  It's targeted towards women, however the information is just as applicable to men.  Their models actually look like they workout.  It's shocking, really.  They have success stories from readers every issue who go on to do powerlifting, figure competitions, bikini shows, etc. from their advice.  One of their readers submitted in a sarcastic piece of mail that takes after my own heart: 

"I hate the gym!  A friend took me to her gym for a workout last week.  I hated it.  There were too many sweat-covered grunting gorilla types.  I had to get out.  I realize that Oxygen is a big promoter of weight lifting, but sorry guys, Oxygen just isn't right for me.  I get much more from Shape magazine because they don't believe in strenuous exercise - and neither do I.  When I feel an urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling goes away."

From the cover you wouldn't be able to tell how good this magazine is, except for the fact the cover girl has meat on her bones.

So I'm going to transition here onto the retort I got back the most from my last blog post; that no one should expect good fitness information from Cosmopolitan - it's Cosmopolitan.  It'd be like expecting an electronics magazine to have a decent article on fitness.

Well, if an electronics magazine decided for whatever reason to write an article on fitness, I would indeed expect them to have decent information in it.  If you're going to put out any kind of writing on any topic to the public, if you're going to give advice to anyone about anything, you better know what you're talking about.  Cosmopolitan covers a variety of topics and frequently fitness is one of those topics.  Whether or not their main focus is telling women how to have better sex, if they are going to write about fitness they should write with care and with an informed opinion.  The whole idea that people don't expect good information from Cosmo is telling.  Considering how many women (okay so it's probably a lot of 14 year old girls reading how to give better blow-jobs also) read the magazine and take it for truth should be enough argument to say that we should expect better.

Well this is probably the longest post I've written!  If you made it this far, congratulations!  You win my gratitude!