I’m still basking in the afterglow of the Fitness Summit, an industry conference in Kansas City where passionate fitness pros gather to learn, share information, network, and have fun. It was a phenomenal experience – professional conferences are usually boring and dry, but our gathering was ridiculously entertaining while still giving us plenty of useful ideas to take back home. I brought home a little hangover with me too (drinking skill: 0). But overall, the experience was a shot in the arm of excitement that made me ready to jump out of bed this morning and get going with my clients.
The summit provided plenty of ideas that I’ll tuck into my toolbox, but some of my best takeaways are lessons that anyone trying to improve their health should nab too. Here are the biggies:
1. Get creative to find the movements that work for your body.
Nick Tumminello, often dubbed “The Trainer of Trainers”, has an incredible knack for cutting through b.s. and helping people reach their goals. He reminds us that there isn’t a single tool or technique that works for everybody. I had the good fortune to chat with him about programming, and along the way he gave me some advice for working with my own mother, who has arthritic knees. Squatting exercises feel painful to her.
Instead of giving me a bunch of tests and corrective exercise suggestions, he asked me why she needed to squat. We talk about the squat and deadlift being fundamental movement patterns, but Nick sees them as fundamental gym movement patterns. My mother doesn’t pick up her groceries from a classic squat position. So why should I demand that she perform a squat if it always bugs her knees?
Squats and deadlifts are fantastic exercises and most people will find some form of them beneficial, but certain variations on movements fit us better than others. I can retool the basic human movement of lowering the body in a way that allows her to work on her fitness while minimizing pain. It just might look a bit different than the typical exercises that I use. This idea was also resonated in David Dellanave’s discussion of biofeedback and listening to our bodies, which I’ve talked about in another post. My takeaway: If something isn’t working for our bodies, we can try something a little different.
2. Stop avoiding carbs before your workouts already.
Dr. Susan Kleiner is a Registered Dietitian, PhD, and author. She is also a hell of a lot smarter about nutrition than I am so I appreciated her lecture. Kleiner argued against ketogenic diets (low-carb, high fat, moderate protein) for athletic performance. Stop fearing carbs! They don’t make you fat. They fuel your training, allow you to work harder, and give you a positive impact on your overall metabolism. She spoke of feedback loops that impact our metabolism, which is a bit over most of our heads but just know this – when you chronically skip meals, fast before workouts, and starve yourself of carbs, you screw with your metabolism. And you feel like shit. “Never underfuel your training,” she emphasized.
3. Smaller deficits disrupt your metabolism less than larger deficits. This is another nugget from Kleiner. When we want to lose weight, we might assume that knocking our calories down more will make a bigger impact. In the short term, maybe. But in the long term, cutting out 300-400 kcal from our maintenance calories is better than 500 or more. Kleiner says the body doesn’t slow metabolism because the smaller deficit “doesn’t disrupt the feedback loop of the metabolic pathway”. I’ll ungeek that for you: figure out how much you can eat without gaining weight first. Then if you want to lose weight, eat a little bit less than that. Try it. You’ll be less hangry too.
4. Cholesterol’s impact on the body is still kind of confusing, but it’s important to understand.
In one camp, we have people freaking out about eating any saturated fat. In the other camp, we see people guzzling copious amounts of Bulletproof Coffee. (Seriously, it’s butter melted in coffee. I’ll take my butter on bread, thanks. But do whatever rocks your boat I suppose.) Some doctors, including Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, have concern about going to either extreme.
Nadolsky cleared the cholesterol confusion for us and gave us the straight dope about how it impacts our arteries. Lately there have been a lot of books and blogs shrieking about “the cholesterol myth”. Apparently, LDL and total cholesterol aren’t the strong markers for heart disease that scientists once believed they were. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore our overall intake of saturated fats. While the cholesterol itself might not be a big deal, it attaches to problematic little proteins called apolipoproteins. The cholesterol is the cargo, and the proteins are the boats. Together, they become cargo ships sailing right through your arteries. The ship isn’t very considerate, because it crashes into the walls of your arteries and bangs them up. This happens pretty slowly, but over time, it puts you at greater risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease.
There are other risk factors too, along with steps you can take to give yourself better protection against disease. Don’t smoke. Exercise. Eat a decently balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean meat and fish. Certain saturated fats can actually help lower LDL. And no, nuts won’t kill you. (I didn’t realize some people actually were anti-nut. Who knew?)
5. Fear Can Screw Up Your Workouts. Chill out.
I’ve been heavy deadlifting lately and my coach, Jordan Syatt of Syatt Fitness, knew something was off when I sent him videos of my lifts. I was able to meet with him in person at the summit, where he took a closer look at my form. When I chose a light weight I rocked the hell out of my deadlift. So what was going on when I bumped up the weight?
Jordan asked me if I felt fear when I set up for my heaviest sets. I did, along with nervous jitters and a million reminders to myself to keep the bar in the right place, my lats engaged, my breath executed perfectly, and so on. My brain zoomed at a thousand miles per hour and I panicked when I faced a really tough set. Fear and nerves make it much more difficult to execute your exercises well. Even if you’re not powerlifting, going into your workout with confidence and trust in yourself will make a positive impact on how you move.
6. Surround yourself with people who have a positive mental outlook. I believe every trainer this weekend shared a commitment to make the clients we serve not only function better physically but also have better overall health and well being. Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake is a badass strength coach and friend of mine. She trains at the Movement Minneapolis and writes great stuff at Strong is Fun. This woman fills me with happy energy every time we talk. Jennifer is crazy strong and has sweet ninja moves that she shares, but more importantly, she reminds me to be kind to my body and mind and speaks in a way that helps me value my overall well being. Her words and actions demonstrate that things like the shapes of our bodies and squat records don’t define us. She has a thoughtful, empathetic approach to fitness and life that I look up to. Find the people around you who make you feel awesome. Then go be the person that makes other people feel awesome.
7. The real secret to long-term weight loss.
It’s this one crazy thing! Just kidding, it isn’t. But hopefully you know that already. Alan Aragon, who we sometimes call Lord Aragon, is a nutritional high wizard and co-author of the Lean Muscle Diet. He summarized the real key:
“Personal preference is the biggest determinant of long term adherence.”
Aragon called for an end to the diet wars. There is no particular diet that will help us maintain a healthy weight. The habits that we can live with for life are the ones that we should use to lose weight. He listed 10 key markers of a sustainable diet and they were so spot-on that I’ll share them here:
1. Respects personal taste preferences.
2. Supports physical and mental performance goals.
3. Covers macronutrient and micronutrient goals.
4. Does not promote unnecessary or scientifically unfounded food restrictions.
5. Respects intolerances and allergies.
8. Socially acceptable (no roadkill diet, please).
9. Compatible with personal lifestyle or religion.
10. Sustainable in the long term.
If you’ve yo-yo’d back and forth trying to lose weight, take a look at that list and see if your methods mesh with these.
Aragon showed us a fancy pie chart with “20% diet and exercise, 80% HFL”. HFL? Have a fucking life. Eating well and exercising is important, but it shouldn’t consume us. Life is too short. We need to move. We need to eat well. But we also need to laugh, celebrate, and take pleasure in the world around us. If you find yourself consumed with your fitness goals, it might be time to re-evaluate the place it has in your overall life. Look at the big picture and find a mentally healthy place to settle into.
That’s a wrap! There were many more lessons over the weekend, and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow, and make new friends. Get out there and kick some ass at life this week! What lesson helps you the most? Let me know in a comment below.