Tag Archives: training

Leaner, stronger, faster – stop majoring in the minors to start making big progress.

photo credit: Central Bike Thai

photo credit: Central Bike Thai

Do you ever major in the minors? Spending too much energy on small details while neglecting the “big rocks” may not only waste your time and energy – it can prevent you from reaching your goals effectively. I also must admit that I’ve done this more times than I’d care to remember. I suppose it’s partly because I’m someone who wants to go all in once I commit to a new goal. I’ve often read every detail, absorbed way too much information, and basically got in my own way.

I did exactly that last year, when I decided to sign up for my powerlifting meet. By nature, I’m not a dabbler: once I decide I’m in, I’m all in, baby. I took mental notes at my powerlifting-focused gym, where veteran, record-winning lifters worked out. I read every damn article I could find on the intarwebz. I hired Jordan Syatt, a top notch powerlifting coach.

He gave me my program, and I followed it. I improved my strength and technique. But still, I spent an inordinate amount of time on things like researching the pros and cons of grip widths, knee sleeves, water cutting strategies for meets, and training schemes. I was, of course, excited about my sexy new sport. But when I asked Jordan if I needed squat shoes for my upcoming meet, he just said this:

“Stop worrying about that stuff and just get strong.”

ermagerd, sherz

He was right. That sucked a little, because I love any form of new footwear. There is a time to consider squat shoes, if we need them. If you dedicate yourself to a new sport or really any health pursuit for long enough, you may reach a point where delving in deeper and refining your approach will benefit you. But like I did, you may be spinning your wheels fixated on minor nuances of your training or nutrition that will make almost no difference in your outcomes if you haven’t first built a firm foundation.

I can recall some instances where friends and clients have got caught in a similar trap with training and nutrition:

  • Buying a $5000 bicycle and aerodynamic wheels that set back their retirement savings yet haven’t dedicated themselves to a consistent, well planned training program for gaining speed. I’d like to thank these guys, however, because I like to make a game out of passing dudes on fancy bikes with aerobars while riding my old steel Bianchi with big, non-aero accessories hanging from it. Am I immature? Probably.
  • Obsessing over losing a few percentage points of body fat to become faster in endurance sports yet haven’t spent any time building muscle to help power their bodies.
  • Worrying about complicated periodization schemes when you learned how to deadlift last month.
  • Investing heavily in a new superfood juice, vitamin supplement, or special powder harvested with the same technique used by ancient Mayans yet haven’t nailed down the basics of eating mostly whole foods in your day.
  • Toying with advanced nutrition strategies like intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, and rapid fat loss protocols when you haven’t yet figured out how to consistently eat in a way to create a calorie deficit.
  • Researching the ins and outs of nutrient timing but you’re currently not on top of your calories, macronutrient targets, or eating nourishing foods on a regular basis.

These are just a few examples of times when we over complicate things and fixate on the trees instead of the forest. Sometimes it’s because we are excited and want to belong to the tribe. Plus, squat shoes look kind of bad-ass. We read headlines that tout the benefits of a new supplement or training strategy.

But most of the time, getting faster, stronger, and leaner is a lot simpler than we think. What we typically need more of at first is patience, time, consistency, planning, as well as willingness to dig in and do some hard work.

bigrock

So here’s to keeping things simple. Peek at these lists of the major players before you plunge into the fine details.

If you’re a strength athlete:

  • Have you followed a well-constructed training plan for a solid block of time? I’m not talking weeks – I’m talking months of consistent hard work with a plan to see the fruits of your labor.

If you’re an endurance athlete: 

  • Do you include a progressive strength and power training scheme in your yearly sport planning?
  • Are you eating nutrient dense foods for overall performance and health?
  • Do you appropriately fuel your workouts and understand the roles of protein, carbs, and fats in health and your sport?
  • Do you include workouts for endurance, tempo, and power?
  • Have you spent time building your base, and do you know how and when to plan these workouts in the scope of a training year? If not, the aerobars will not help you enough. Hire a performance coach or get mentoring from more experienced athletes in your sport.  

If you’re losing fat:

  • Have you tracked your calories if you notice that you can’t lose weight?
  • Do you weigh your food to see exactly what you’re taking in?
  • How well honed is your understanding of appropriate portions for your body’s needs, and what kinds of foods will keep you full, fueled, and in a calorie deficit?
  • Do you know how to incorporate more whole foods into your diet?
  • Are you getting adequate protein into your days?

If you want to begin lead a generally healthier life: 

  • Are you exercising regularly most days of the week?
  • Do you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains? If so, high five. If not, start working on these habits instead of worrying about minor supplementation or optimal workout designs.

There is a place for using high-level tactics in your training and nutrition. If you’ve put in the time in your sport and want to squeeze out even more improvement, small tweaks to your training, nutrition, and gear can absolutely help you. If you’re already very lean and want to achieve advanced aesthetic goals, you probably need to investigate some advanced strategies for accomplishing your goals.

Just make sure you haven’t skipped over the steps that make the biggest difference for improving your efforts. Work hard, be smart, and keep things as simple as possible.

Is Cardio Good or Bad For You?

sweatybettyIf you follow fitness media, you’ll see that when it comes to recommendations for exercise and nutrition, there rarely seems to be middle ground. This is particularly true with mainstream popular media: after all, bold, urgent-sounding declarations often get us to click the link, open the magazine, or stay tuned after the commercial break.

I mean, what would you be more inclined to click?

Running on the treadmill is making you fat!

OR

In this 2008 study, researchers found that with 10 untrained collegiate women, strength training alone vs. cardiovascular exercise alone induced a statistically significant percentage of body fat dropped over a 6 week period. However, another study, published in 2009, found that in fact, outcomes were similar in the two groups given an additional intervention of…

By the way I just made that last one up. But you probably barely made it through reading it. Maybe you even glanced away from the screen or opened up Instagram to look at some cats. I don’t blame you.

instagramcat

Simple, direct answers appeal to us. But if you can come away with anything today, please understand that in fitness, a truthful explanation is very often “it depends”.

To make matters worse, fitness professionals often cling to the latest piece of research that emerges. They fail to fully evaluate studies or weigh new research within the greater scope of existing evidence. This is partly because reading all of that research is a huge pain in the ass. What unfortunately results is a pendulum that swings wildly from one extreme to the next.

Cardio is a perfect example:

Cardio burns the most fat!
Cardio makes you fat!

I know, that’s aggravating. But it’s what happens. Fear not, however, because I can untangle some of the mystique around cardio and give you advice. So buckle up and read on. I’ll try to make this almost as pleasurable as a Ryan Gosling meme. Hey girl, hey.

ryangosling

What Cardio Is
Cardio, i.e. cardiovascular exercise, is simply exercise that is rhythmic in nature, is continually maintained (instead of short, intense work/rest intervals),  works large groups of muscles, and elevates your heart rate to a degree that it improves increased use of oxygen in order to improve the body’s capacity of the cardiovascular system.

Clear as mud?

Your body uses different energy pathways to get stuff done. Certain kinds of exercise utilize particular pathways. Cardio uses the aerobic energy pathway.

That’s not very freaking useful either, is it? Instead, let’s talk about what’s important:

What cardio does:
it makes your heart work better, strengthens your bones (if you choose weight bearing exercises like walking), and burns calories. There are other benefits too, but that’s the basic gist.

Stuff that we do that is typically “cardio”: activities like running, walking, swimming, or dance cleaning for starters. (Don’t mock me, it’s my favorite cardio option).

Workout

What Often Gets Played Out
Two opposite types often show up at the gym:

The cardio bunny:
this term is kind of sexist. Ok, it’s really sexist, because I see plenty of dudes toiling away on the elliptical for hours too. But these people believe that they must do tons of cardio to unlock their next achievement. They also often equate a good workout only with total calories burned: sounds like a drag to me. But the term is also used by smug gym rats who post too much on Instagram. So that alone makes me want to go for a jog sometimes.

The powerlifter: I had an old school powerlifting vet come up to me once and caution me to not do any cardio. He warned that I might lose my muscle. Yeah, not so much. It takes a lot of time spent doing cardio to negatively impact muscle growth and strength performance. There is some truth to this idea, but my few walks I do each week are only helping my overall performance, not harming it.

As evidence emerges, we’ve found that cardio doesn’t actually reign supreme when it comes to fat loss. 1 Can you lose fat doing only cardio? It’s possible. Fat loss happens when you burn more calories than you take in. But unless you’re also controlling your food intake, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot of cardio to create a significant calorie deficit.

Moving Beyond Cardio
Cardio burns calories. Yet it doesn’t build muscle the way that some other forms of exercise can offer, especially strength training.

But why care about building muscle, you ask? We care because having more muscle makes fat loss easier. I’ll avoid a long, sciencey explanation and boil it down to this: more lean muscle improves your metabolism. Strength training reigns supreme for building muscle. Metabolic conditioning relies on large muscle groups doing intense work as well, offering some strength benefit as well as torching calories by working at intense pace. The loads are typically less than what we use for strength training, total training time is relatively short, and rest intervals are often incorporated so that work can be harder in effort than what we do with aerobic exercise. 2

The fitness bandwagon has also veered heavily toward favoring strength and high intensity exercise for fat loss because of a mechanism called “EPOC”, or exercise post-oxygen consumption. It just refers to calories you burn AFTER you stop exercising. Strength training and metabolic conditioning have a higher rate of EPOC than cardio. However, the benefit has been somewhat overblown. But that doesn’t stop people from screaming that cardio is now useless for fat loss.

Side note: if you’re doing “HIIT” for 45 minutes, you’re actually doing cardio. The intensity of metabolic conditioning or high intensity intervals can’t be sustained for a long time. Also please, for the love of God, stop calling things Tabatas. You’re not doing a Tabata. I promise. 

Michelle Obama Arms and the Fat Loss Plan

michelleobamaarms

Most clients who come to me with a fat loss goal say they want to lose fat but they also mention that want to change how their body looks. I call this the “Michelle Obama Wish”, because I’ve had several clients mention her arms as something they want. I can’t blame them. The First Lady has some sweet looking guns. She is strong!

If we just lose fat by burning calories and reducing calories, we’ll typically look like a smaller version of ourselves. This is neither good nor bad. But if it’s muscular definition you’re after, get thee to a weight room on a regular basis.

Can You Lose Fat With No Cardio?
Yes. But I don’t recommend eliminating it entirely. Read on to learn why. 

So Why Bother With Cardio?
Because it’s good for you, that’s why. Like eating your vegetables. It also helps you move better, be able to get through tasks like climbing a flight of stairs more easily, and it feels awesome. It’s a huge mood booster! It floods us with endorphins that feel pretty fantasic. It also burns extra calories. If you’re trying to lose body fat, you can use it to boost your calorie deficit.

Also note: going hard with intense strength training and metabolic conditioning cannot be a daily thing for most people. You need rest to recover and build muscle. Light to moderate intensity cardio is a wonderful way to get in some extra activity without burning out.
It’s also restorative: when your muscles are sore and tight, go for a walk. You’ll feel better.
TL;DR: Cardio isn’t the end all be all. It’s also not going to get in the way of your progress, whether it’s fat loss or making gainz in the weight room. Just use it appropriately.

My Recommendations
Evaluate your current use of cardio this way:
-Am I using it mostly as a calorie burning tool? If so, am I using it excessively to attempt to overcome a diet with excess calories, or am I using it to give myself a boost?

-Do I actually like my activity? If not, then why am I doing it?
-Does it move me toward a particular goal? If so, why and how?

The amount we do, the number of days we do it, and the mode we choose is variable: we just have to figure out why we’re using it in the first place and the other pieces will fall into place.

Want an approachable yet scientifically sound approach to fat loss? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll give you my free book Fat Loss on a Budget. Look for it in your inbox! 

 

Notes:

  1. Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, Yeater R. Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 1999 Apr;18(2):115-21.
  2. Talanian, Galloway et al. Two weeks of High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. Journal of Applied Physiology (December 14, 2006).

Weekend Wrap-Up For 8/29/2015: All Around the Internet

Hey all!

Happy Saturday! I hope everyone is having a fantastic weekend. Here in Iowa people are getting a little R&R after a week of sending kids off to school. The weather has been cool and rainy and it feels like the end of summer. I’m ready for fall: bring on the sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes. I’m on the fence about pumpkin beer though. This seems wrong. Anyone give it a try?

I got outside my comfort zone and went to the Iowa Yoga Festival with my girl Emily Friday night. Yoga isn’t something I regularly practice but I probably should. Even though I was pretty awkward at it and have the zen focus of a fly, I left with a happy glow and my body felt soooo gooooood.

Face plant during crow pose, not even once.

Face plant during crow pose, not even once.

My Own Training This Week
I’d been stuck in my strength training for a good month, despite following my routine 100%. My coach reviews my videos after every session and every time he’d tell me that he can tell I can lift more. Yeah right, I’d think. But he could read the expression on my face and see the fear and apprehension. It was time for a mindset re-boot. Something had to change, and it was the way I talked to myself before I trained.

I’m the least new-agey person among my friends. In the past I’ve scoffed at those catch phrases that you’re supposed to repeat in front of the mirror, but I found myself actually googling ‘positive affirmations.’ And I repeated them. Out loud. I felt like a dork but I knew that I had to stop telling myself that I might not be able to do it. So instead I told myself I was strong, hard working, and absolutely capable of lifting the weight. Also I grabbed a donut beforehand, so there’s that.

The result? I crushed it this week, lifting 25 pounds more in my deadlift than I had just a few weeks ago. I PRed my bench press by 10 pounds. What?? So there’s something to mindset, eh?

bonus angry deadlift face

bonus angry deadlift face

Clients Who Are Killing It

My client, Becky, is improving her lower body strength and stability by leaps and bounds lately. This week she began doing an exercise you may never have heard of: the deficit lunge.

Who it’s for: people who already lunge well and want a move that challenges your single leg stability, builds your butt and legs, and also challenges hip mobility.

When to do it: this one feels good early on in the workout because it gives your moving side some extra movement through the hip.

How much: I like 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps per side.

Technique pointers:
-keep your working leg grounded on the step. push through your midfoot and heel so that you don’t come up on to your toe.
-you don’t need your shin to be totally vertical. A little forward lean is fine, but keep your knee behind your toe.
-use a fairly long step back.

Want to apply for a spot to train with me online? Click here to fill out a short form and I’ll get back to you soon! 

Things to Read Instead of Finishing Your Home Improvement Projects/Cleaning the House/Working on Actual Work

I may slack on some home improvement projects on the weekend but I always take some time to sit back and catch up on reading articles that I bookmarked during the week. Grab a drink and cozy up for some great reads. I recommend a pumpkin spice latte. 😉

1. Squats squats squats. First of all, did you catch my article on setting up your squat? Read up if you know how to squat but want to make them mo betta.

2. Weight Loss Motivation: 3 Mind Hacks to Stay Motivated to Lose Weight. Jordan Syatt of Syatt Fitness is a brilliant motivator. I know because I’m his client. He’s really improved my ability to approach fitness with a healthier mindset and his advice here is wise.

3. Cardio Revisited. If you read about fitness online, you probably have a headache over debates about cardio’s place in your training. Tanner Baze’s article on the benefits of cardio is worth the read.

4. Vacation Workouts. Sohee of Sohee Fit is one of my faves to follow for nutrition and training. I’m super envious of her recent trip to Italy and liked reading about how she was able to use moderation to stick with her fitness goals AND eat the gelato. Because you don’t go to Italy and not eat that up. Her advice comes with excellent video demos to snatch up for your next vacay.

5. The 4 Most Abused Words in Fitness. Dr. John Rusin lays it out and should drop the mic at the end. If you read fitness magazines or go to fitness classes you’ve probably heard all of these words tossed around. Yet what the hell do they mean and are they even worth using? Get the straight dope here.

6. Are Wellness Bloggers Doing More Harm Than Good? One of the reasons that I wanted to start featuring articles from other bloggers on my page is that far too few people know about the really excellent fitness minds in the industry. They don’t get nearly the amount of exposure that people on Instagram and Pinterest seem to garner. Just because you have a rockin’ bod doesn’t make you qualified to dispense safe, reasonable advice. Learn more about why in this article.

Get something good out of this or have a question? I’d love to hear from you – send me an email at fit@amydix.com. Have a wonderful weekend!