Happy Memorial Day!

Hopefully you have today off and are enjoying the holiday. It’s the unofficial start of the summer which means lots of opportunities for barbecue, burgers, and drinks.

You can enjoy being social without undoing your gains, if you use a little strategy.

First, plan ahead. You can “save” your calories for the party by limiting your intake beforehand. Getting your protein in early will help you feel more satiated. Reduce your carbs and fats intake beforehand.

Second, be mindful. You can enjoy some of your favorite foods at the party but there’s no rule saying you have to stuff yourself to the gills. There’s no need to track every calorie (unless you want to), but don’t just fill your plate, shovel the food your mouth, and repeat. Take some time to enjoy the food.

Third, you can have a drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, remember you don’t have to drink all of it. Be careful of calorie-loaded mixers like soda which can easily add hundreds of empty calories to your intake.

Fourth, have fun!  Depriving yourself of fun times and good people for the sake of fitness doesn’t make any sense. Unless it’s your job to be top-tier fit, there’s definitely room for an occasional indulgence. So enjoy it with zero guilt, and return to your regularly scheduled training and nutrition programming tomorrow!

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Front Squat

Front squats are an awesome squat variation. Because the bar is in front of you, they train your body differently than back squats do.

You maintain a more vertical torso throughout the movement which really works your upper back. This is a more quad-dominant exercise, too. Back squats put more emphasis on your hips, hamstrings and lower back. One version isn’t necessarily better than the other.

If you’re looking to train in the clean and the snatch, front squats more closely mimic those movements than back squats.

If you have adequate wrist mobility, you can hold the bar in your fingers. If not, that’s okay, you can cross your arms over each other. Either way, the bar actually rests in the natural groove between your shoulder and collarbone. Real talk: having the bar there takes some getting used to. It’s not the most comfortable thing at first.

The actual movement is the same regardless how you hold the bar in a front squat. Brace your core and unrack the weight. Take a couple steps away from the rack. Your feet will be about shoulder width apart, perhaps a bit wider. The exact width will vary from person to person. Find a comfortable stance and go with it.

Keeping your core tight, descend by bending at the hips and knees until your thigh is parallel (or slightly below parallel) to the floor. Drive through your midfoot to ascend back to the starting position. Repeat for reps. If you’re only doing a couple, you may be able to remain braced without taking another breath until you’re done. If you’re doing more than a few, you exhale a bit as you ascend. Inhale at the top. You still want to ensure you keep your core tight throughout the set.

More than likely you’ll use a lighter load for front squats than back squats. You can add them to your leg training in place of back squats or, if you’re really ambitious, in addition to them.

Your Mission…

Your mission today is to have a great workout.

  Hitting the weights? Good. Aim to knock out one more rep than you did last time or add 5-10 lbs. to the bar. Get your mind right and focus. That extra rep may not seem like a big deal, but that’s how you make strides over time.

  Do whatever you need to in order to be in the right frame of mind. Put in your earbuds and listen to music. Visualize the bar moving. Feel the muscles you’re working. See yourself with the strength and physique you want. Then go put in the work.

  Running? (or cycling, rowing, swimming, etc.?) Push yourself today. Look to shave off just a little bit of time or cover a little more distance. Visualize yourself with unlimited energy, great form, and most of all: fast.

When you’re done, make sure you eat, hydrate, and sleep in a way that supports your goals. These all need to work together for you to accomplish your goals.

  Progress doesn’t tend to happen in huge jumps. It’s the result of consistent focus and effort on getting just 1% better today than yesterday. You have that opportunity today (and every day actually). Don’t squander it.

Have an awesome workout! If you want to tell me about your workout, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or email me!

Don’t Go All Out!

You might be thinking why would a fitness blog tell you not to go 100%?

There’s a time and place when I think you should, but I think that’s on a very rare occasion. If you’ve been training for a specific event (like a 5k or a powerlifting meet), when the moment to compete arrives, then by all means, go all out.

But if your goals are more general than a specific event, I think the best approach is to push yourself but don’t spend much time with the pedal to the metal.

Basically, the harder you push, the more you’ll have to recover. If you treat your workouts like contest day, then you’re not actually training, you’re testing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with testing. It lets you know where you stand on a maximal effort.

But it’s not training. Say you go for your one-rep squat max and you hit a new personal record. That’s great you set a new PR. You’ve also taxed your muscles and nervous system. This is great if you were at a meet, not so much if your next session is in a day or two. You won’t be recovered sufficiently and your next workout will reflect it.

Training is building your capacity. You do that by stretching yourself a little bit at a time. Working in sub-maximal ranges allows you to do this without undermining your recovery.

A true one-rep maximum effort is going to tax you more than say a 3- or 5-rep max effort. Improving your PRs on sets of 5 means you’re getting stronger (and ultimately adding to your 1-rep max) while still allowing you to recover for your next workout in a day or two.

One way I like to think about it is comparing it to school. Testing for your max is like taking a final exam. Finals are a big deal (at the time) but it’s not actually learning. Your classwork, homework, and studying are when the learning happens.

You work on adding a little bit of knowledge and understanding while reinforcing what you already know. What this is for your brain is what train hard but sub-maximally is for your body.

Also like school, you can show up and go through the motions. Again, the results you’d expect this approach to have on your knowledge are comparable to what half-assing your workouts will do for your physique.

Beating this academic analogy into the ground just a little while longer: just like you need to make sure you’re well-fed and well-rested to do well in class, you need to do the same with your fitness.

And (last one, I promise), it’s also a good thing to take breaks. I’m not suggesting you take 3 months off from training in the summer, but your body definitely needs a bit of time away to fully relax and recover.

Okay, that’s it. You want to find out your one-rep max on the bench once every few months? That’s cool. But if you try to test it every week you won’t see as much improvement as you would if you just put in hard, sub-max work week after week.

Are We There Yet?!

You’re eating right and exercising but you’re not seeing any results? What should you do?

It’s so easy to get discouraged. You’re using discipline and making sacrifices and it doesn’t seem like there’s any reward. Not seeing results can be frustrating. It’s like the kid in the back of the car on a long road trip asking “are we there yet?” every ten minutes.

Keep going. Be patient.

There’s a lot that’s available to us almost instantly these days. Unfortunately, changing your physique isn’t one of them.

Whether you’re trying to shed fat or pack on muscle, please understand that it takes time. Not days. Not weeks. Think in terms of months or years.

“Stick to it even if you won’t see changes for a while” is a really tough sell, I get it. But it’s really the only way ‘cause there are no quick fixes that last. It’s tempting to compare yourself to others but that’s a recipe for disappointment. They’re never going to be you, you’ll never be them.

Find some support. We all have times when we question if we’re on the right path. Being able to share the moments of doubt can help you stay on track. It’s important to understand you’re not alone.

Work the plan. If you have a solid approach (appropriate calories, exercise, and recovery), it will work. But not if you get discouraged and quit. Following your plan consistently is how you get the results.

Relax. Getting stressed out is counter productive. You can’t directly control the outcome so don’t focus on it. Instead concentrate on the daily actions you can take to make that outcome more likely. It’s a subtle thing, but focusing on what you can do rather than what’s going to happen is empowering. Find the most enjoyable way you can to eat right and be active.

Use meaningful measures to track your progress. Understand that the number on the scale is going to fluctuate a lot. It’s one indicator, not the only one. There are several useful ways. Are you feeling better? Are you getting more capable? Eating better and being more active will improve your life beyond a reading on a scale. If you used to get winded going up a flight of stairs and now you can tackle several floors easily, that’s big progress. Are your clothes fitting differently? Perhaps the scale hasn’t changed much but your waistline is shrinking. Look for signs of progress.

We get to see the before and after pictures of people who’ve made big transformations. What we don’t see is the part in the middle, which is where most of the time is spent. That’s likely where you are right now.

Just keep going. You got this.

 

Fitness Q&A

 

 Instead of the posts I usually do, this one’s going to be a little different. I’m going to answer a few questions I’ve been getting from clients and friends. Here goes!

What’s the best way to get lean for summer?

 If you’re looking to drop a few pounds for summer you’re going to have to eat a bit less. I know “a bit” is a little vague. In order to lose weight you must consume fewer calories than you burn.  Try to reduce your calories by 10-20%. It doesn’t seem like a lot, and that’s intentional. Cutting your food intake by 40% or more may get you some fast weight loss initially but there are serious drawbacks. You’re going to be miserable if you drastically drop your intake suddenly. After the initial weight loss, your progress will slow. You keep cutting your calories by 40% and soon you’ll be at or below the minimum your body requires just to function.

  A more modest deficit of 10-20% gets the scale moving in the right direction without making you miserable and leaves you some room to gradually increase the deficit if and when it becomes necessary.

  You can track your calories if you want. I’d recommend that for most people. But you don’t have to. It takes some discipline to stick with it, but consistency is imperative to achieve your desired results.

  In order to get really beach ready, include 2-3 strength training sessions per week. They don’t have to be excessive. Strength training cues your body to hold onto muscle despite your reduced food intake.

What’s your daily diet like and how does it affect your training?

 I must confess, I’m not a foodie. I like food but not the way a lot of you do. I know I’m missing out on all the joy that delicious food brings. I like to have a few go-to meals and basically eat them most of the time.

 I eat chicken or beef pretty much every day. I include plenty of vegetables daily as well, usually carrots, spinach, or broccoli. I don’t need a ton of variety but when I do get sick of having one thing, I’ll switch things up. I spend a couple hours on Sundays preparing most of my meals for the upcoming week. It’s more convenient for me than cooking daily.

 I don’t eat before I work out. You might feel your workouts suffer if you don’t have something before you train. That’s cool. As long as your total daily food supports your training, it’s not all that important when you eat.

  My diet is very consistent but it’s not perfect. You don’t have to eat totally clean in order to be healthy and make progress in the gym. I include room for things like burgers, whiskey, and ice cream on occasion. My goal isn’t to be single-digit body fat, super shredded. I can enjoy stuff like that in moderation without it affecting my training.

What’s a good pre-workout meal? What’s a good post-workout meal?

  If you’re going to eat before you hit the gym, that’s cool. Simple carbs like a piece of fruit can give you a little energy boost without making you feel sluggish. A heavier meal will take longer to digest. You don’t want your body focused on digestion when it’s time to workout.

  After a workout, you can refuel with some protein and carbs. Maybe you’ve heard about an “anabolic window” post-workout? Basically the idea is that your body is primed to use nutrients for muscle repair and growth right after a workout. There is some truth to it, but it’s largely overstated. The most important thing is that you hit your protein and calories targets by the end of the day.

Does it really matter how long you rest between sets?

 The short answer is yes. If you don’t rest long enough, your ability to do subsequent sets will be less. But you don’t want to rest so long that you cool down, either. Most of the time 1-2 minutes between sets is enough to recover. But if your workout is more strength-based, meaning you’re doing reps in the 1-5 range, you might need a little longer to recover, 3-5 minutes.

 If you feel recovered after 3 minutes, there’s no reason to take 5 minutes. Go ahead and hit that next set. If you’re new to training this may seem like eternity, but as the amount you’re lifting increases those few minutes will start to feel like seconds.

Thanks for the questions, keep ‘em coming!

Everything You Need to Know

Everything you need to know about fitness can fit on an index card.

Everything you need to know about health and fitness can fit on an index card. Seriously. There’s an endless amount of stuff you could learn. A few of us happily dive down that rabbit hole. Most are just as happy with the bullet points, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

So here goes:

  1. For body composition (i.e., what you look like) the amount of food you eat is the main thing.
  2. For health (i.e., how you feel), the quality of the food is most important.
  3. Be consistent with your training. Base it around activities you enjoy most of the time. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to stick with it. Your consistency will drive your results.
  4. Focus on proper form and getting stronger at the compound lifts (such as squats, pull-ups, and bench press).
  5. 45-60 minutes per weight training session is plenty.
  6. Doing something is better than doing nothing. If you don’t have time for a full workout, do what you can.
  7. Sleep is vital. Prioritize it and you’ll improve your life in every way.
  8. Dietary supplements aren’t magic. They can’t make up for a terrible diet.
  9. Drink plenty of water. How much? More.
  10. Train hard, but not stupid. Listen to your body.

Obviously this isn’t everything there is to know on the subject but if you did nothing beyond this list, you’ll get great results. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to do more. There’s always going to be a “brand new” diet plan and workout regimen making outrageous promises. That’s marketing. No knock on it, they’re simply trying to get you to buy their product. Any good program is going to incorporate the tenets listed above.

Keep them in mind and go have a great workout!