Are You Healthy?

How to define healthy is one of those questions that’s both simple and complex. We may not have a precise definition but we can probably spot it when we see it. Or feel it.

The key thing is you have to define it for yourself. What does it mean to you? How do you do that? (I hope you didn’t come here today looking for answers, ’cause today’s mostly about questions).

Very broadly, if you can answer the questions below in the affirmative, you’re probably healthy. (Remember, I’m not a doctor though!)

Do you feel good generally?

Are you physically able to perform the daily tasks you need to?

Are you free of chronic pain?

Does what you eat make you feel good?

Do you sleep well through the night for the most part?

These aren’t the only indicators, of course. It’s important to see your doctor regularly. Lots of illnesses don’t have symptoms right away. You could be feeling fine now, but on the road to a bad outcome. You could also be feeling fine now and on track for decades of good living.

If you answered yes to the questions above, the next thing to consider is how to make it likely your answer is still yes years from now.

Being healthy, being capable, and feeling good are great right now and you want to feel that way as long as you can, right?

On the other hand, if your answer for some of those questions is no, it’s a strong indication you have some room to improve your health. It may seem intimidating but understand that it’s possible. You can leverage small changes into bigger results.

What are you doing now that makes you feel good? What are a few ways you can do more of that?

How can you make it so your daily physical tasks are less taxing? What are a couple steps you can take?

If you’re in chronic pain, that’s a really rough spot to be in. Are there strategies you can use to reduce it? What would those look like for you?

Take some time to reflect on what you’re eating. How would it be for you to add in some more food that makes you feel good after?

Also take inventory of your sleeping habits. What are a couple ideas to implement that would pay dividends and help you sleep better?

Hey, I told you this would be a lot of questions.

The purpose is to take stock of where you are right now. To see what’s working and try to do more of that. To see what could be better and mix in a new approach to improve your overall health.

It’s not that you need to pore over every single decision every day. It’s true over time that the little decisions we make daily tend to dictate the big picture. What do we want that larger image to look like? What slight changes can we make that would have a big influence in the grand scheme?

You don’t need to have all the answers right away. Just do what you can and see how it works. Then adjust from there.

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Story Time

Last week a guy at the gym asked me a question. He said he’d been dieting for a while and it was working but he slipped up. He told me he binged on Oreos. He said he’d gained 7 lbs. “That’s a lot of Oreos,” I thought. Also, Oreos are delicious.

He asked if there was any way he could drop the weight in 3 days. “What happens in 3 days?” Nothing. He just wanted to lose the weight as fast as possible. He pitched ideas of eating nothing but broccoli and water, or broccoli, egg whites and water, and even nothing but water.

I’m recounting this story not to pick on the dude at all. We’ve all had moments where we gave in to temptation and ate way too much. It happens. We’re human, not robots. I’ll tell you what I told him.

Me: “You were on track before, right? You were losing weight?”

Him: “Yeah. Then I binged.”

Me: “There’s no point in starving yourself. You’ll be miserable. The 3-day thing is just arbitrary. Just go back to eating like you were when you were on track.”

As much as I like to think of myself as amazingly persuasive, I had the feeling that he had already made up his mind to go the really low-calorie route. That’s fine. He’s an adult, his choices are his own.

Here’s the thing: what happened to him isn’t unusual and neither is his idea that the right move is to counter a binge with severe under-eating.

Indulge me in an imperfect metaphor for a moment, please. You’re driving on the road and a deer jumps out in front of you. You swerve hard to the right to avoid it. Now you’re headed right for the guard rail. Do you swerve really hard to the left or just turn the wheel enough to get you back on the road in the right direction?

You don’t have to overcorrect hard when you slip up on your diet or your training. If you missed your three workouts for the week, would you go six times next week? Of course not. I mean, I really hope not.

All you need to do in order to get back on track is to get back on track. Hope this helps!

10 Stages of Being a Lifter

When you first start working out, you’re like a newly hatched caterpillar. If you stick with it you’ll go through these stages on your way to becoming a beautiful little butterfly!

  1. What the hell is that? You decide you’re going to start working out. You join a gym and you do the tour. Everything looks like some sort of torture device. You have no idea how any of the equipment works. The place is loud, and if you’re starting in January, probably packed with people.
  2. You’re sore. Everywhere. If it’s going to be like this all the time, how do people do this? The bad news is the first couple of weeks can be brutal. You’re doing a bunch of new exercises, working muscles you didn’t know you had. For a while, those muscles are going to scream at you. The good news is this passes.
  3. Is that a … bicep? A few weeks in, you notice some slight changes. Holy shit, it’s working! You spend a little more time in the mirror. Perhaps you start pondering an overhaul of your entire wardrobe.
  4. Acolyte. This might be the most annoying phase. You know just a little bit and you can’t resist sharing your wisdom with anyone and everyone around you. You regurgitate every tip you’ve ever heard with supreme confidence. Try not to linger here too long or you risk losing friends and family forever.
  5. I am invincible! You’re in a solid groove now. It’s been several weeks. You’re stronger every time you enter the gym. The weights keep going up. You wonder how long it’ll be before the Avengers ask you to join. You might not even want to be part of the group, but at least you can give them some workout pointers.
  6. Stuck. Your newbie gains phase is over. You used to increase the weights on the barbell every week, now it’s a lot less frequent. You wonder what happened. Is it time to completely change your training program? Find a new guru?
  7. Switch it up. You make some changes in your training and you’re back on the gains train, even though it’s not like the Newbie Express.
  8. Satisfied! Injured? If you train consistently over time you’re going to get nagging little injuries. Taking a little time off can help. Or, if you’re like me when I first started, you decide, “I’m satisfied. I bet if I stop working out for a while, my gains will just stay.” And you end up chillin’ for months. Don’t do that. They won’t stay. Take a week or two, then get back into it. Your progress won’t evaporate in a couple weeks. If you end up taking an extended break, you will backslide. Fortunately, re-gaining is significantly easier than gaining the first time.
  9. Pruning. You’ve figured out the sweet spot of what works for you and what you enjoy doing. Your efficiency spikes and you don’t waste time doing the newest fad program that got (insert celebrity name here) in amazing shape in only three weeks.
  10. Enjoy the process. At this point, you realize you actually enjoy training. Not just the results, but the training itself. That’s good because you’ve been at it probably a couple years. You’ve had good results. You’re also in the area of diminishing returns. You have to fight for every added pound on the bar now.

10 Best Things About Being an Older Lifter

If you’re 30+ years old, there are tons of things to look forward to in your training.

  I’m not saying I’m old, by any means. I’m 41 and I feel great. I made it past those years where guys can’t resist doing dumb shit without doing any real permanent damage to myself. So that’s good.

  If you’re in your 30s, 40s, or above here are some of the things you can enjoy about being “mature” as you train. If you’re younger and still in what I’ll affectionately call “the meathead years”, this is what you can look forward to.

  1. “How much do you bench?” You no longer put all your self esteem in your one-rep max on the bench press. Nor do you care about anyone else’s. You can concentrate on more meaningful metrics.
  2. All that grownup responsibility makes you better at time management. You know you can get in all the training you need in a few hours a week. No more just hanging out at the gym for hours just ‘cause.
  3. Vegetables! At some point when you weren’t looking, they started tasting better. Now you can enjoy them on the regular, and not just as a slice of lettuce on top of your burger. You have a better understanding of how to be healthy overall.
  4. Knowledge. By now, you have a good handle on what types of training works better for you. Instead of hopping on the latest fad you hear about every few weeks, you understand the fundamentals that drive continued progress.
  5. Focus. You can finally focus for more than 30 seconds at a time without your hormones turning your head to check someone out.
  6. Patience. After you’ve been dinged up a few times you learn to listen to your body. You understand that “no pain, no gain” isn’t an effective long-term strategy. The long game is about making sure you’re able to train for years to come, not recklessly pushing for a single great workout.
  7. Appreciation. You value all the things training can give you. Besides keeping you active and strong, it’s a mental break from the stress of real life.
  8. Bigger Picture. You realize that fitness encompasses more than just lifting the most weight. Your training allows you to be more effective in your life outside the gym.
  9. Setting an example. Finally now you can be the wise old guy that the young kids at the gym may or may not roll their eyes at.
  10. You still got it! It’s one thing to be in the best shape of your life at 19. It’s a lot more impressive when you’re still in shape over 20 years later.

Bonus: Old man strength. It’s real and now you get to be the one to use it!

So if you’re entering your silverback phase, it doesn’t have to mean you’re automatically over the hill. Here’s to many more years of making gains.

 

Training vs. Exercise

Is there a difference between exercise and training?

Often they’re used interchangeably but there’s a subtle and important distinction.

Exercise is a means to its own end. Training is a means to a different end. In other words, you exercise for its own sake. Whether it’s running, swimming, biking, dancing, lifting weights or any other physical activity, you’re doing it because you enjoy it.

When you’re training, it’s for another purpose. It may still be enjoyable, of course. But you’re following a plan with a specific goal. For example, your bike workouts are to prepare you for a specific race.

Neither is better than the other.

 The reasons I have my clients train rather than exercise is because having a specific goal is really motivating. The goals are theirs, not mine. You’re not going to be motivated for my goals. At least I hope you won’t.

 When you have a goal in mind that you really want, a lot of awesome things happen. You have a deadline. It’s not “some day”, it’s a particular time. Maybe it’s 12 weeks, 6 months, or a year. In fact, it’s a great idea to have a mix of shorter-term goals on the road to your longer-term goals.

You can think of the deadline as a finish line, if that’s more appealing to you. Either way, it means that you don’t have time to mess around. Each of your training sessions is a step closer. If you skip a session, you lose a step. Sticking to the plan matters.

It helps you build your mental toughness. You learn to set aside your feelings and do the work. There will be days when you absolutely will not feel like working out. You may even hear a little voice in your head suggesting, “it’s only one day”. You learn to drown that out and push through any resistance.

You use your toughness and the knowledge of an upcoming finish line as fuel to keep you going through even the toughest workouts.

When you learn this, you can apply it to any aspect of your life. Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, regardless of how you feel at the moment.

Let me say again, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with exercising. It sure beats the hell out of sitting on the couch all day. It’s a great way to be physically active. It’s a great flipside to training.

Training is really taxing mentally and physically, so sometimes it’s nice to just exercise. You still get in your workouts but it’s not quite such a grind. Taking some time off to just exercise without a particular end goal can be recharge your batteries. But exercising all the time without a goal can become boring. It’s a good idea to use both phases in cycles. Alternating a few months of training with a few weeks of just exercise can keep you motivated and progressing without wearing you down for a long, long time.

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

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.

IMG_2749

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.