Finicky Eater?

For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I was never able to put on any weight. I was a really skinny kid. So skinny, I barely cast a shadow.

Being a finic- I mean, selective eater doesn’t mean you can’t make great gains. Just as there’s no one food you have to avoid in order to lose weight, there is no food you absolutely have to eat in order to help you put on muscle.

I know this is probably contrary to some things you’ve heard. Maybe you’ve read about the GOMAD approach. If you haven’t, that’s drinking a Gallon Of Milk A Day. Some people actually do this. I think it’s excessive, but if that’s what you want to do, go for it.

There’s no arguing that milk is the one substance specifically evolved to grow little baby mammals into larger ones.

(I’m not going to get into the merits or morality of humans drinking other mammals’ milk. I will say, I’m totally against depriving baby almonds from their moms’ milk though).

IMG_2748As long as I can remember, I have hated milk. The taste, texture, smell, everything. I must have been stubborn about it ‘cause I don’t recall my parents ever trying to force me to drink it. I must have gotten enough calcium and vitamin D ‘cause not only have I never broken a bone (knocks on wood), I am still alive. I made it all the way to adulthood!

This isn’t to knock milk specifically. If you love it, good. I solemnly swear to never take yours.

I was born lucky enough to develop a finicky appetite with other foods too. I’ll spare you the list (you’re welcome). It wasn’t like I grew up only on junk food or anything like that. There’s a bunch of healthy foods I like.

The truth is, if you’re a finicky eater, that’s okay.

It doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life as a malnourished stick figure.

What it does mean is if you’re looking to put on lean mass, you’re going to have to do a couple things. You’re going to have to eat a whole lot of the few things you do like. And you’re going to have to keep trying new foods, even if you’re pretty sure you’re going to hate it. Once in awhile you should even retry something you hated just to see if your tastes have changed.

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It never made sense to me why anyone would force someone to eat something they clearly hate. Any nutrition you miss from not eating something you dislike can likely be made up by eating something else you do like. So don’t think that you should replace your most-despised vegetable with Pop-Tarts. Being a picky eater doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat mostly healthy. Any calories you’d miss from one food can always be replaced by eating something you prefer.

 

Making sure you eat proper nutrition will help keep you healthy. But it’s the calories that are going to help you add size. Simply put, in order to put on size you need to eat more calories than you burn consistently over time. The fancy term for this is eating at a “calorie surplus”.

The best way to make sure those excess calories are used to fuel muscle growth rather than fat is to do strength training. You want to lift weights a few times per week. Focus on getting stronger at compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench press and pull-ups while eating at a slight calorie surplus.

Be patient, this will take time. Especially if you’re finicky.

 Thanks for reading. I hope this helps!

 

 

P.S. No. I’m not trying milk again. Last time I tried was when I was in college and I’m good. Same for liver and brussels sprouts.

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Strategy vs. Tactics

Any time you hear someone say they’ve got the hottest new “hack”, they’re talking tactics. There’s nothing inherently bad about tactics. In fact, you need to use them in order to accomplish your goals.

But just lumping a bunch of tactics together probably isn’t going to get you want. Looking at tactics is looking at a small part of a picture, zoomed in all the way. You can see great details, but it’s impossible to see the whole picture.

Strategy is zooming out to see a larger part of the big picture. You use strategy as a wider-scale approach to accomplishing an objective.

The objective is the overall goal you want to achieve.

Put another way, the Objective is the whole picture; the Strategy is the picture divided into smaller parts; Tactics are the magnified close-ups.

Objective → strategy → tactics

Here are two examples to show you how this might work in real life:

Example 1:

Objective: Have $1 million dollars [you can pause and raise your pinky now, if you want]

Strategy: Make money

Tactics: get a job, buy lottery tickets, rob banks

Once you have your objective (what you want), you’ll have to choose your strategy (your broad plan or plans how), which will lead you to your tactics (the small, direct actions you take).

To get your objective, you can use one or a few strategies, and you have a ton of choices when it comes to tactics.

Example 2:

Objective: Gain 20 lbs. of muscle

Strategy: Lift weights, eat at a calorie surplus

Tactics: barbell training 3 days per week, eat 3000 calories a day, take steroids

I’m not recommending you take steroids. Just using it as one example of a tactic a person could use in an attempt to achieve a goal. You want to think about all three levels in the hierarchy before taking action.

For any given Objective, let’s understand that there is more than one Strategy to accomplish it. In fact, you’d probably do well to implement more than one. You don’t need a million, by the way, just a couple. Similarly, within any Strategy, there are countless Tactics you can use. Remain flexible in your approach when choosing Strategies. Be particularly flexible in adding, implementing, and switching Tactics.

Your objective is the most important thing. The strategy is the next important thing because it will dictate which tactics you employ.

If you don’t decide on a strategy before you choose your tactics, basically, you’re just guessing. By choosing your strategy first, you’ll more easily be able to tell which tactics make sense for you and which don’t.

Here’s where we get to the fitness “hacks”. Maybe a new workout plan or new diet or new exercise device fits into your strategy. But maybe it doesn’t. Know your strategy and you’ll have the answer.

Objective: What’s the one big thing you’re after?

Strategy: What’s your wider-scale plan to make that happen?

Tactics: What are the steps in that plan?

Thanks for reading. I hope this helps. Any questions or comments, leave ‘em below.

Pick One Thing

When it comes to fitness goals, I believe the best strategy is to pick the one you want most and focus on that.

Sure, just about everyone wants to be Stronger, Leaner, with Bigger Muscles, Six Pack Abs, and Aerobic conditioning.

It’s really, really difficult to be all those things at once. I know, that’s not what most people are going to tell you.

You can achieve any one of those goals. But trying to get them all at the same time will have you stretching in opposing directions.

Getting really strong means you’ll focus on lifting increasingly heavy weight. You’ll be taking long breaks between sets. You’ll eat at a surplus to fuel your progress. You won’t be doing bodybuilding-type workouts so you won’t have perfect delts.

Getting really lean means you’ll focus on dropping fat by eating fewer calories. You’ll train hard in the gym to stay strong, but it’ll be really tough to increase your strength.

To get bigger muscles you’ll concentrate on bodybuilding training. Higher reps than working on pure strength. You’ll pay special attention on growing lagging parts.

For aerobic conditioning you’ll emphasize that kind of training, which means you’ll de-emphasize strength training somewhat.

Pick one direction and put your energy mainly towards accomplishing that. Don’t worry, it’s not forever! You work at that for a few months, and then if your interest or priorities shift, you adjust your training to align with your new goals.

Your goals are specific to you and it’s natural they’ll change over time. Rather than chase them all at the same time, cycle through different points of emphasis you’ll see improvement in all of them over time.

For example if you spend six months focused almost exclusively on improving your one-rep max it will go up (assuming you have adequate programming, nutrition, and recovery).  That’s the good news. The bad news is your aerobic capacity as well as your ability to do high volume training will suffer.

So you spend the next six months working on your aerobic capacity.  You’ll definitely make gains there. You’ll also backslide some (but not totally!) in your maximum strength. When you go back to focusing more on strength, you’ll see you’ll gain back what you lost and more, pretty quickly. It’s kind of like taking two steps forward in one capacity and one step back in another. It’s not a perfect analogy but a useful way of thinking about it.

Don’t be afraid to take several weeks or even a few months specializing in one aspect.

Thanks for reading! Any questions or comments, leave ’em below.

Thanksgiving!

I’ll keep it simple: Enjoy the holiday. Enjoy the food. Enjoy time with your family and friends, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Don’t worry about tracking calories or making sure you hit the gym. The whole point of fitness is to make your life better, not to consume your life.

I hope you have a great one!

Come Monday though, it’s time to get back to the mission!image1

What is Online Training?

WHAT IS ONLINE FITNESS TRAINING

It’s a relatively new way to do personal training. In fact, I still encounter many people who have no idea what it is. That’s cool, I’m here to explain.

Normally when you work with a trainer, you and s/he meet up and go through your workout. The trainer helps you with the programming (which exercises, how many repetitions, how many sets, how much weight, etc.). Hopefully the trainer explains how to properly do each exercise and why it will help you reach your goals. It’s nice having someone in person with you to guide you through the process.

An online trainer provides all of that, only I’m not physically there with you when you’re working out. I work with clients via email to figure out what their goals are and what kind of programming will help them get the best results. There’s a continual exchange back and forth as we adjust the workouts based on their progress. The clients still get the guidance, support and motivation to hit their goals.

If you’re totally new to fitness, in all honesty, online training may not be best for you. At the beginning stages it’s imperative that you learn to lift with proper form, and having someone there to observe and correct in person is more appropriate.

If you already know your way around the gym then it may be a solid option. I like to have my clients send me some video from their workouts, especially early on. If you have a smartphone, you have a video recorder and you can send me the footage. This way we can ensure the form is on point and make occasional tweaks as needed.

A huge upside is that it leaves the client free to workout according to his or her schedule. The best time for the client to do the training may not sync with the availability of an in-person trainer. This is ideal for someone who works odd hours, for example. Or if a client travels a bunch, this way they can easily stay on top of their workouts.

Another benefit is that some online trainers offer nutrition plans as well. You want to make sure that he or she is properly qualified though. A specific nutrition plan is very different than more general diet guidelines. A specific plan is more detailed, telling you exactly which foods to eat, how much and when. For that, you definitely want to be confident the person knows what they’re talking about. A good trainer can help you with guidelines, such as approximately how many calories are appropriate for you and targets for the amounts of protein, carbs, and fat to eat.

Online training isn’t inherently better or worse than in-person training. It’s just a cool option that works better for some clients. It’s more interactive than ordering a program off a website or following one from a book. And it’s more independent than in-person training.

Here’s an example of how the entire process might work.

The client reaches out and I respond. We discuss several things via email or skype to figure out if it’s a good fit. A particular trainer may not be a good fit for a particular client. And a particular client might not be a good fit for a particular trainer. The relationship aspect is still fundamental for helping the client achieve their goals. Online or in-person, it’s still paramount in order for the client to get the most out of it.

A good online trainer will want to know about the prospective client’s current lifestyle, goals, training experience, and general health, to start. We’ll go over other pertinent information such as injury history or orthopedic surgeries.

From there it’s important that we’re both clear about expectations. The last thing you’d want is to have confusion about this. You want to know what you’re getting from me and what you’ll need to do to hold up your end. This clears up a lot of confusion for everyone.

If you’re a good fit, I will work with you to design a program that’s tailored specifically to you. It needs to be based around where you are currently relative to where you want to be. It takes into account things like how many days per week you can train and what equipment you have access to. Importantly, it’s not just a dictatorship, it’s an exchange. A good trainer will factor in the exercises that are most enjoyable to you.

Once you begin the training, there will be communication on a predetermined basis. It will vary based on client need. Maybe you check in via email after each training session. Or maybe it’s once a week’s worth of training is completed. There’s feedback based on what’s going on both in and out of the gym. It’s a way to provide accountability and support, which is one of the main reasons people fail to achieve their fitness goals.

We’ll adjust your training along the way to ensure continued progress towards the best outcome. Ideally, after the length of the agreement the client is in better shape and is more knowledgeable about the process of getting and staying fit and healthy.

Online training is a great option for some people. You’re not dependent on just who happens to work at your local gym. Maybe the trainer at your gym is great. Maybe not. But if she or he moves that affects your training. With online training, geography isn’t a limiting factor that way. In fact, it means you can work with a trainer thousands of miles away from you.

This is a general overview of how online training works. If you go with this option, please make sure you’re totally comfortable with the trainer you choose. They should be knowledgeable, experienced, eager to help you reach your goals, and available.

Thanks for reading. Hope this helps. Any questions, just hit me up jquinn.fitness@gmail.com

How to Get Your First Pull-Up

You want to be able to do pull-ups or chin-ups but you can’t do any just yet. That’s no problem. It’s an impressive feat of upper body strength. Maybe you’ve thought it would never be possible for you. Follow the steps below and you’ll be able to get your first one pretty soon.

The most obvious difference between the pull-up and the chin-up is the placement of your hands. With pull-ups, you use an overhand grip, meaning your palms are wrapped around the bar facing away from you. For chin-ups, you grab the bar with your palms facing you. This makes for some differences in which muscles are worked, but they’re minor. For most people, chin-ups will be somewhat easier. Either exercise is a great way to improve your back strength and develop a great looking back.

Real quick, let’s make a deal: For the rest of this I’m going to use “pull-ups” and you’re going to agree that it means “pull-ups or chin-ups”, even though we know they’re not exactly the same. Deal? Deal.

LatThis is a diagram of your lats (latissimus dorsi). The large fan-shaped muscle ranges from your armpit to your lower back. Its purpose is to move your upper arm down, back, and towards your side. It’s the primary muscle involved when you do pull-ups. The exercise does basically works all the muscles in your back. It also trains your biceps (the muscles on the front of your upper arm), forearms, and grip strength.

Now that we’ve got that covered, we can really get to business. In order to make it happen, you’re going to have to develop a good strength-to-bodyweight ratio. This may mean you have to lose some fat. The leaner you are, the easier pull-ups will be. If you’re not as lean as you’d like, you obviously can still work to get stronger. You don’t have to wait to begin this progression.

You can build pulling strength by doing lat pulldowns and using the assisted pull-up machine but in order to get better at pull-ups, you’re going to have to do pull-ups.

Doing negatives are a great way to make this happen. A negative is when you actively resist the force of the weight as it extends your muscle. That sounds fairly technical. A more common sense way of thinking about it is: fighting gravity as it pulls the weight back down.

Visualize picking a weight up with your hand and bending your elbow to bring the weight towards your shoulder. Now imagine lowering it as slowly as possible. That last part is the negative. You’re going to do that with pull-ups.

If you can jump up and grab a pull-up bar so that you’re holding it tight and your chin is just over the bar, that’s probably best. You’re already in the top position for doing a pull-up.

If you’re not there yet, no sweat. Find something stable to stand on that will allow you to maneuver yourself into the top position. Really make sure it’s stable for safety’s sake. You can also use your workout partner, if you have one, to give you a boost up to the top position.

From there, you extend your arms as slowly as you can to lower yourself to the dead hang position. Really fight the gravity pulling you down. You know you’re doing it correctly when you feel your lats working. You’ll likely feel the stretch in your upper arms also. Once you’re fully extended, let go of the bar and gently drop down to the ground. Then repeat. The first few times you do this you probably won’t be able to resist too long. That’s okay. Just keep working.

Start really easy and just do a couple negatives. You’ll likely experience some soreness the day or two following. That’s okay. As you do the exercise more frequently your body will adapt and you’ll get less and less sore.

I suggest you do this at the beginning of your workouts when you’re nice and fresh. You want to focus on slowing down your descent more over time. Doing just a few high quality reps is better than doing several reps of lesser quality.

Soon you’ll feel more confident and comfortable with the movement. This should happen over a few weeks. Then you’re ready for the next step.

For this you’ll jump up to the bar, same as before. Only instead of slowly lowering yourself down, you’re going to hold yourself up in that top position as long as you can.

There are essentially three ways you can contract a muscle. 1) Contract it: This is what you probably think of when someone tells you to “flex”. You shorten the muscle, as in when you flex your biceps, you shorten it to move your elbow joint to bring your forearm to your shoulder. 2) You resist as you extend it, as in the case of the negative. 3) Isometrically hold it. This is where you’re working the muscle but it’s not actively lengthening or shortening. Picture trying to shove a wall. As hard as you push, it’s not going anywhere. Even though your arms aren’t moving either, you’ll still feel the muscles working.

You will be working your entire upper body in this isometrical hold pull-up. Eventually you’ll fatigue, your arms will start to extend and you’ll end up in the dead hang position. Rest a minute or two and repeat the hold a couple more times. As you keep working this, you’ll notice you’ll be able to hang longer and longer, a sign of improved strength.

Then you’re ready to try doing a pull-up from the dead hang position.

Reach up to grab the bar with your arms fully extended. Raise yourself towards the bar in a smooth motion. Keeping your whole body tight will help this. Brace your abs, flex your butt and legs. Try not to kick or swing or otherwise use momentum. Thinking of the motion more like bringing your elbows towards your sides, than raising your chin over the bar might help you engage your lats. Once you reach the top part of the pull-up your chin will be above the bar. Lower yourself under control to the dead hang starting position.

Congratulations! You did it! Can you do 2?

I know you will soon enough. I’ll wrap this with a couple tips:

  • If you find yourself craning your neck to reach over the bar, focus on bringing your collar bone towards the bar instead of getting your chin above the bar.
  • Don’t shrug your shoulders towards your ears. There’s a tendency to want to shrug both at the top and at the bottom of the exercise. Keep your shoulder blades down.

As you get more confident doing pull-ups, you can try different variations. Besides an underhand or overhand grip, there’s a neutral grip. That’s when your palms are facing each other. It’s more comfortable for some people. If you have access to rings, you can definitely use them for your pull-ups. Rings offer more of a challenge in terms of stability. But their ability to rotate will help you find your body’s naturally efficient groove to do pull-ups.

These are all vertical pulling movements, meaning you’re moving up and down. For your best progress, you definitely want to include some horizontal pulling lifts, such as inverted rows or dumbbell rows in your workouts also.

Hope this helps! Any questions, leave ‘em below. Thanks for reading.

Calluses?

Solutions if lifting weights is giving you rough callused hands.

If you’re like me, you see the calluses on your hands as circumstantial evidence that you spend a fair amount of time in the gym, lifting heavy stuff.

What? You’re not like me? Okay cool. I’m the weird one. If you want to workout and avoid developing calluses, keep reading.

If you workout, at some point you’ll most likely develop calluses on your hands. They come from your skin’s reaction to the friction from holding the weights. Your skin tries to protect itself by growing thicker, tougher skin. It’s good for inside the gym, but maybe less so outside the gym. Even in the gym, you run a risk that you could tear open the callus. Not the most pleasant visual, I realize, but it does happen.

Here are a few ways you can prevent them from happening to you:

Wear lifting gloves. You know, the leather ones with the fingers cut off. Having a layer between your skin and the weights will help. The downside is some people feel it interferes some with the ability to grip the weights. If you use lifting gloves, remember to wash them.

Use lifting chalk. Rubbing some lifting chalk on your hands helps by drying your skin a bit. When you lift, you sweat. Yes, even your hands. You feel the weight slipping so you grip tighter, which increases the friction, which leads to calluses. Applying some chalk dries the sweat, making it easier to grip the weight. But if you use too much, it actually adds to the amount of friction. And it can make a mess, which can be inconvenient.

Use a pumice stone. About once a week, you can use it to sand down the parts of your skin where the callus is beginning to build. Do this when your skin is still a bit moist after you shower. You don’t have to go overboard and rub the flesh raw, of course. Use moisturizer after.

You can also use lifting grips. They’re like a combination of wrist wraps and a little hook. Maybe you’ve seen people use them to do pull-ups at your gym. They’re pretty reasonably priced. They’re not as restrictive as lifting gloves. A downside is they work far better for some lifts than others. They might not offer too much help on pressing lifts.

Similarly, you can buy kinesiology tape (it’s sometimes referred to as goat tape) and apply it to your hands. It’s a barrier between your skin and the bar that won’t restrict your motion. The downside here is it may not be the most cost effective option.

Finally, you can use a looser grip on the weight. I don’t especially recommend this because, while it may be easier on your hands, it might be harder on your toes if you drop the weight. If you use this method, please be careful.

Generally speaking calluses aren’t a big deal, but they do happen. Now you know what to do to try to prevent them, and how to deal with them.

Thanks for reading!