Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It's like turning water into wine. The myth of fat turning into muscle

Sometimes, personal trainers can work magic. This magic usually entails motivating and inspiring people to live healthy lifestyles, or using education and creativity in fitness routines to maximize results. However, personal trainers are are not miracle workers and miracles rarely happen in the gym (except for the few people who may have had a heart attack while doing cardio and lived to tell about it).

One fitness myth that many people believe is that fat can turn into muscle when you workout. Or, that muscle can turn into fat when you stop your regular routine.

It doesn't work that way. Fat is fat and muscle is muscle. They are biochemically drastically different. It's like apples to oranges or oil and water. What happens when you lift is that you build muscle, making it more dense and that muscle burns more calories - getting rid of fat, or really, shrinking the fat cells. The fat does not convert to muscle. When a person stops lifting, the muscle does not convert to fat. What happens then is the muscle atrophies (losing muscle) and burns fewer calories. The loss of muscle increases body fat and increases inches. It's like a balancing scale.

So, while we hope for miracles to happen in our fitness routines, it takes a lot of hard work and commitment to really get results. Eating right for your body and goal, working out with a balanced cardio and integrated training routine and staying on track is the only way to change your body composition, shifting the scale in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Recovering from Memorial Day Weekend. Cyber-client results!

Everyone is still recovering from the festivities this Memorial day weekend. However, there are some updates on results that I just can't keep to myself!

First, there's Wendy who completed another (yes, another!) race this weekend. It was a tough race because it was poorly organized, BUT she still beat her personal time by seven minutes. Seven minutes!!! That's great!

Then Erica posted about her results a couple of weeks ago. While changing her daily habits was a challenge, she did it. And she achieved fabulous results from it. She lost a total of nine inches and dropped 1-2 dress sizes in three weeks! Yea!!

Last weekend Van reached her weight goal. She feels "great, very energetic and positive". Congratulations Van!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sometimes the scale lies. Fat loss versus Weight loss

This is a common mental hurdle for so many people. Everyone wants to weigh a specific amount and it often becomes a motivational killer when the scale gets involved. One great piece of advice for anyone working out; get rid of your scale.

When determining your fitness goal, if the primary goal is to lose body fat, it is important to realize that this is achieved through fat loss, not weight loss. When the body receives the proper amount of calories and nutrients, appearance goals can be reached and maintained. In addition, eating foods that fuel muscle tissue helps burn fat efficiently during exercise and when at rest.

It is very important to understand the difference between fat loss and weight loss. Calories are burned in muscle tissue. One pound of lean body mass burns approximately 30 to 50 calories daily and stores 450 calories of energy. Conversely, body fat is a storehouse for calories. One pound of fat burns approximately six calories daily and stores 3,500 calories of energy.

When not following proper nutrition, a minimum of 25 percent of quick weight loss is lost from lean muscle tissue. If 25 percent or more of the weight lost is from lean muscle tissue, an individual may easily regain the lost weight and most likely gain additional weight. Muscle tissue is denser that fat because it's 70 percent water, while fat is approximately 20 percent water. This is where the scale really trips people up.

Rapid weight loss and under eating cause muscle tissue to be used for energy, which decreases metabolism. Providing the body with the food and nutrients it needs will sufficiently fuel working muscles, initiate fat loss and develop a healthier metabolism.

To lose body fat instead of muscle tissue, you can focus on these points:
  • Loss of body fat rather than weight loss
  • Loss of inches rather than weight loss
  • Positive changes in daily eating habits and exercise habits
  • Positive changes in how you feel
  • Clothes fitting better
  • Eating one to two hours prior to training to fuel muscles and prevent muscle tissue loss
  • Eating within 90 minutes after exercise to replenish nutrients in the muscle tissue

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sometimes you need a boost. Using Pyruvate to accelerate fat loss

You've changed your diet. You workout using an integrated training program. Your body is constantly being challenged, but your results are starting to slow down. This is common and normal. Accelerated fat loss is not going to be a common occurrence throughout your entire fitness program. Some people can accept this and move ahead with patience. Most people want instant gratification. If they are not continually seeing positive and constant results, their motivation waivers. Sometimes, you may consider supplementation during certain periods of your training program. Pyruvate is one of those supplements that can kick it up a notch for you.

Pyruvate was discovered as a fat loss aid by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. When looking for compounds to improve the lipid profiles of obese subjects, researchers found that pyruvate had a positive effect on health, increased fat loss and decreased the amount of lean body mass lost.

In a six week, placebo-controlled, double-blind study (Kalman et al, 1998), researchers found that the supplemented subjects participating in a three day/week aerobic/anaerobic exercise program lost 5.5 pounds of body fat and 2.8 pounds of body weight compared to no changes in the placebo group. Thus with no changes in the placebo group following the same program, the changes in the pyruvate group were attributed to the 6 g/day of pyruvate.

Pyruvate is a buffered (typically with calcium) form of pyruvic acid that is created in the body during the metabolism of carbohydrates and protein. It is also found in several foods such as, red apples, cheese, dark beer and red wine.

Animal studies found that pyruvate supplementation leads to weight loss by increasing the resting metabolic rate. A few clinical trails also indicated that pyruvate supplements may improve exercise endurance, though no increases in strength were found. New research is being conducted on how pyruvate functions as an antioxidant, inhibiting the production of free radicals. Because of these antioxidant properties, pyruvate may inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.

By eating a balanced diet in addition to working out regularly, you can speed things up by adding 3-6g /day of pyruvate to your program.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"I don't want to 'bulk up'". The fitness myth about womens' weight lifting

Whenever I ask a female client about her fitness goals, the answer is pretty much always the same. "I want to lose weight and tone up. I don't want to lift heavy or too much because I don't want to bulk up". Well, I'm here to bust that myth.

Women bulking up and looking like a female version of the incredible hulk is an extremely difficult process. It doesn't happen just by walking into the gym a few times a week and lifting a little. Like most body composition changes, be it fat loss or muscle gain, it comes down to genetics. Some people are just plain lucky. Along with that, it takes a major commitment of time (typically 3 or more hours a day) in the gym lifting with a very specific routine, but also a huge commitment in diet and very strict nutrition. It takes an incredible amount of calories, more than most people can consume in any given day, to allow for hypertrophy (muscle gain). Along with genetics, many hours in the gym, specific lifting routines catered to volume and specific nutritional guidelines, it takes testosterone.

Plain and simple, women just don't have what it takes biochemically to bulk up. Estrogen does nothing for increasing muscle size. The women body builders who scare the rest of the (uninformed) female population out of the gym are taking steroids. Regardless if they admit it or not.

The benefits of lifting are so numerous, that the "chance" of bulking up is overshadowed by results of increased metabolism, bone density and better health and wellness. In all of my years of sports and personal training, I have yet to witness a women bulk up by chance. Or, bulk up easily. Between the goals of body fat loss and muscle gain, losing fat is easy. Way easy. Gaining weight, specifically muscle, takes so much more time and effort. It doesn't "just happen" to your typical gym goer.

So women, lift! And lift heavy! You will absolutely NOT bulk up. You will look awesome. Fit, lean, healthy and strong.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Time Wasting Machine - The Butt Blaster

Is there seriously a machine called "The Butt Blaster"? Yes. Yes, there is. And sadly enough, it's a favorite machine of the women in the gym because they are working towards a shapely rear. This is just like all of the other time wasting machines, with the major exception that it does not have it's place in rehabilitation. This truly is the biggest time wasting machine in the gym. Period.

So what's so wrong with the Butt Blaster? First and foremost, your genetics determine the shape of your derriere. No matter how many squats, lunges or reps on the Butt Blaster you do; your DNA is the determining factor of the curve (or lack thereof). Second, like the other time wasting machines, you can achieve dramatically different results with balance and stabilization exercises.

The primary goal of most women is to decrease the size and "tone" the shape of the rear-end. By incorporating stabilization training, an individual will burn more calories, while utilizing multiple muscle groups simultaneously. In essence, you get more bang for your buck. Simple reps on the Butt Blaster isolate the glutes and hamstrings, burning far fewer calories. If your goal is size and strength, this might be a machine to consider. But, only if the smith machine is being hogged. And even then, you would be better off doing something else.

Other aspects of the machine are of course, the biomechanics. Much like the prone hamstring curl, it is difficult for the majority of gym goers to isolate their core, protecting their spine during this exercise. You'll notice a lack of core strength when an individual kicks back and the low back dips or sways. Oddly, the machine actually fits a small percentage of exercise enthusiasts appropriately, causing an exaggerated dip. This dip can be very dangerous because not only is the body moving ineffectively, but the L5/S1 disc is being compromised. This ultimately results in the development of a disc injury (bulging disc) and subsequent back pain.

If you really want to kick your butt (seriously) the exercise that will always do it is the Alternating Forward/Reverse Lunge. This keeps your Target Heart Rate up higher, thus burning more calories and decreasing your body fat. It's an intense exercise that incorporates all aspects of fitness: strength, power, stability and balance.

So really, stay far away from anything that claims to "blast your butt".

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Battle of Wills. Dealing with temptation.

The daily struggle with temptation is something we all experience. Some people crave salty, crispy snacks; others, sweet sugary treats. Whatever the flavor or texture, it's a challenge that we all have in common.

When I question clients about the progress of their changing nutritional habits, I often hear, "Well, I did OK, but then the kids had (chips, cookies or some other junk food) and I had to have some too". Other times it's that someone had a great week & blew it by eating a pan of brownies at the Sunday night family dinner. Let's face it. Temptation and having strong will power is difficult. If you're an emotional eater, it's even more challenging.

There are so many reasons for the midnight munchies and caving into temptation. For emotional eaters, high stress is the biggest trigger. For other people, boredom is another trigger. Typically (excluding emotional eaters), poor nutrition and the lack of appropriate calories for that individual often leads to after dinner binges.

There are two solutions to this problem. First, one must determine why they are so tempted. Is it something biological and just part of who they are? Could it be resolved through proper nutrition and balance? Is it emotional eating? Figuring out the "why" is always easier said than done. However, once an individual gets to the core of the situation, the resolution becomes much easier.

In the interim, the second solution is to create a temptation free environment. If you don't have those tempting snacks in the house, you can't eat them. If your craving is strong enough to make you get in the car and drive to the local grocery store, it's not so much an impulsive decision and you have some time to talk yourself out of it, thus resulting in making a better choice. It really is that simple.

Many people live in households where other family members (or roommates for that matter) don't share the same nutritional and fitness goals. One member of the family may claim that they don't need to get into shape and question why they are being made to change their habits. In this situation, a level of compromise and respect must happen. Of course, it is always up to an individual on what to eat at any given time. If one choses to eat junk, that's their choice. However, they should be respectful of those under the same roof who struggle with the challenge of changing their eating habits. It's not supportive to eat a bag a chips in front of someone who is trying to change and tends to go overboard with that particular snack.

In addition to determining the cause of the cravings and creating a temptation free environment, one can also use distraction and focusing on the "x factor" for motivation. It's hard to polish off a jar of peanut butter when you're busy with something else (reading, exercising, tackling the things you've been procrastinating on) or thinking about why you started working out in the first place. With these coping mechanisms, a person can be very successful at overcoming temptation.

So, skip the snack foods isle at the grocery store. You and your family don't need that junk in the first place and it will only be your downfall during those times of temptation. Out of sight, out of mind, not in your stomach and not on your butt.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Structural Integrity - How to Observe Posture

Some people have great posture, most people have terrible posture. Our work habits and daily movement patterns greatly effect posture and more often than not, are the cause of poor posture. Posture is the alignment and function of all components of the kinetic chain at any given movement.

Proper postural alignment allows optimum neuromuscular efficiency. Proper posture ensures that the muscles of the body are optimally aligned as well. Without proper postural alignment, we set the body up for degeneration. Altered movement patterns result in muscular imbalances which can place unusual stresses on the joints. This can lead to the development of arthritis.

A quick postural observation can give general structural information regarding the state of an individual's muscles and joints. There are five major deviations to look for: Forward head, protracted shoulders, anterior pelvic tilt, adducted and internally rotated knees and flattened feet. These deviations can be grouped into three postural distortion patterns: lower-extremity, lumbo-pelvic-hip, and upper extremity.

Training with these postural distortion patterns can often lead to reoccurring injuries. The body is not functioning at an optimum level of performance, thus hindering fitness results. For each distortion pattern, there is a group of tight and weak musculature. Combined with SMFR, static stretching techniques and corrective exercises, these various distortion patterns can be resolved, allowing the body to perform at 100 percent again.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tools of the trade - Heart Rate Monitors

Target heart rate training is a very important component to maximizing results in your cardio program. There are a few different techniques to monitoring your intensity, from quick pulse checks to the use of heart rate monitors.

A quick pulse check is a cheap and easy way to make sure you're on track. It is however, not 100 percent accurate and many errors can occur that greatly effect the outcome. To determine if you're working within your training zone, locate your radial artery at the side of your wrist with your index finger, and count the beats for 10 seconds, then multiply by 6. This result should be within the minimum and maximum training heart rate values of your cardio program.

For a more accurate and scientific approach, you can use a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors measure your heart rate during exercise without you having to stop and count, thus eliminating human error. There can be dramatic changes in fitness and body composition among individuals who train with a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors provide immediate feedback of intensity throughout an entire exercise session, and above all else, they are easy to use. Once an individual is educated on the science of heart rate zone training, the use of a heart rate monitor becomes as important as wearing a pair of shoes.

A heart rate monitor is a transmitter equipped with electrode strapped to the chest to record the heart’s electrical impulses and radio precise measurements of the heart rate to a receiver worn on the wrist. Through the measurement of heart rate, trainers and exercisers can structure productive routines and workouts. Heart rate monitors range from basic models that simply provide a continuous readout to more complex mechanisms that store times spent in various zones and download data to a personal computer.

Heart rate monitors can be very useful for outdoor athletes who are too busy clinging to rocks or running through streams, or the gym rat who wants to track the intensity of their routine. They're a great gadget for any fitness enthusiast!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

You complete me. Complete protein versus Incomplete protein

There are millions of different types of protein and each is designed for a specific purpose. When protein (from chicken, beef, fish, eggs, etc.) is ingested, the body must alter it by breaking it down into smaller units known as amino acids. This allows the body to prioritize the distribution of amino acids to sustain life. The body must then rearrange the amino acids into the proper sequence in order to form the necessary protein.

Foods containing protein may or may not provide all of the essential amino acids. Foods derived from animal sources naturally contain all of the essential amino acids in adequate amounts and are therefore referred to as complete proteins. Vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts generally do not have all of the essential amino acids in adequate amounts and are referred to as incomplete proteins.

For years, researchers concluded that vegetarians could easily become protein deficient unless each meal provided a balance of amino acids. Current studies continue to indicate that the body must receive sufficient amounts of the essential amino acids in order to sustain life.

It is now known that protein requirements in vegetarian diets can be safely obtained through a combination of complementary plant proteins that produce the necessary amino acid balance. Proper amino acid balance can be achieved by combining foods from two or more of the following columns:

Monday, May 7, 2007

It's getting hot in here. Why you need to warm-up.

This is one aspect of a fitness program that everyone seems to "forget" or really, leave out. Either an individual simply doesn't allow for the time it takes, or more often than not, doesn't see the importance of it. It is very important and can make a huge impact on your performance during your routine.

A warm-up is generally described as a person preparing the body for physical activity. It can be either general in nature or more specific to the activity. A general warm-up consists of movements that do not necessarily have any movement specificity to the actual activity to be performed (i.e. walking on a treadmill or riding a bike prior to weight training). A specific warm-up consists of movements that more closely mimic those of the actual activity (i.e. unweighted squats and push-ups prior to weight lifting).

Here are a few benefits and effects of a warm-up:
  • Increases heart rate and respiratory rate, helping to increase the cardiorespiratory system's capacity to perform work. Also increasing blood flow to active muscle tissue and increases the oxygen exchange capacity.
  • Increases tissue temperature, which increases the rate of muscle contraction, increases the efficiency of opposing muscle contraction and relaxation, increases metabolic rate and increases soft tissue extensibility.
  • Increases psychological preparation and mental readiness for exercise.
There is speculation as to whether a warm-up is helpful in preventing injury. While some researchers claim benefits, others show no change. It is proposed however, that while a warm-up may not be directly associated to injury prevention, it may be beneficial for enhancing overall performance. In this case, better overall function of the body may allow for more efficient movement patterns, thus decreasing the risk of future injuries.

A warm-up should last about five to ten minutes at a low to moderate intensity. A complete warm-up should include both general and specific warm-ups, with the inclusion of cardio and flexibility programming.

For optimum results, don't neglect your warm-up. It can help to ensure superb performance in your routine and ultimately, help you to achieve your fitness goal safely and effectively.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Off the cuff. Shoulder anatomy and the Rotator Cuff

There are many, many injuries in the gym everyday. A lot of these injuries can be prevented with a little bit of caution and some basic knowledge in human movement and proper exercise form. One of the most common injuries are to the shoulder. The rotator cuff, to be exact.

The rotator cuff consists of four small muscles that form a sleeve around the shoulder and allow us to raise the arm overhead effectively. These muscles, consisting of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis, oppose the action of the deltoid and depress the head of the humerus (upper arm) during shoulder elevation to prevent impingement. Rotator cuff injuries such as tendonitis, bursitis and tears are common among certain populations.

The most commonly injured muscle is the supraspinatus. It is responsible for initiating and aiding in elevation of the arm. If torn, the individual typically experiences persistent pain in the upper lateral arm and significant difficulty raising the arm without compensatory motion from the scapula (shrug sign). The hallmark signs of a supraspinatus tear are nocturnal pain, loss of strength and inability to raise the arm overhead.

Acute tendonitis may also present with similar signs and symptoms, as pain can inhibit motion and strength. However, symptoms associated with tendonitis normally respond to rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication and therapeutic exercise. Pain is often described as a dull ache or sharp pain along the top of the shoulder or upper lateral arm.

Rotator cuff tears are most common in men age 65 and older. Tears and/or injury are typically related to degeneration, instability, bone spurs, trauma, overuse and diminished strength/flexibility related to the aging process. However, youth are also at risk for injury if they are involved in repetitive overhead sports including swimming, volleyball, baseball, softball, tennis, gymnastics, etc. It is also important to mention that instability can contribute to secondary rotator cuff pain and inflammation.

The key to avoiding rotator cuff injury is performing adequate conditioning prior to stressing it with vigorous activities. Many weekend warriors try to pick up the softball, baseball, football, etc. and begin throwing repetitively and forcefully without properly warming up. In addition, they are not likely to condition before the season like competitive athletes. This often leads to excessive strain on the rotator cuff and swelling. The inevitable result is soreness, especially with overhead movement or reaching behind the back. The act of throwing is the most stressful motion on the shoulder. Without proper strength and conditioning, the shoulder easily becomes inflamed.

Since the rotator cuff muscles are small, it is best to utilize lower resistance and higher repetitions to sufficiently strengthen them. Sample exercises include Theraband or light dumbbell external and internal rotation exercises and scaption, which can be performed at various degrees of abduction. In addition to cuff specific exercises, it is also important to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder blade.

There are some common exercises that are known to increase the risk of a shoulder injury if not performed properly. Here are a few of those exercises with some key points to keep in mind in reducing that risk and saving your shoulder.

  • Bench press – Do not lower the bar or dumbbells below where the arms are parallel to the floor
  • Shoulder press – Keep the arms 30 degrees in front of the body and do not lower much below where the arms are parallel to the floor
  • Bar squats – Avoid behind the head bar placement and opt for front barbell squats or dumbbells in standing
  • Dips – Do not lower beyond the point at which the upper arm is parallel to the floor
  • Push-ups – Do not lower below the point at which the upper arm is parallel to the floor
  • Rows – Do not pull beyond the plane of the body to avoid excessive strain on the anterior shoulder capsule
  • Lat pull downs – Keep the bar in front of the head
  • Upright rows – Limit the elevation of the bar or dumbbells to the point at which the arms are parallel to the floor
  • Lateral raises – Keep the arms about 30 degrees in front of the body (elbows are slightly bent) and raise the arms no more than shoulder height
These modifications will avoid excessive stress on the shoulder joint capsule and help prevent rotator cuff impingement. They will not limit hypertrophy (muscle gain-increased size), strength gains or function. They will, however, ensure that you are training safely and minimizing the chance for injuries. If you consistently follow these guidelines, you will have a pain free workout and a better chance of reaching your goal effectively.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ask The Trainer. A lesson on Lecithin

I get a lot of emails everyday. Some are from clients working out on the program and they have a question about a certain exercise. Others are from friends who have health and fitness questions and end up emailing me for answers (which I'm truly flattered by). This morning I answered a question for a friend and I thought that it would make a great post for today.

So without further ado...the very first Ask The Trainer post!
Hi there! Hope you don't mind me asking you a question. It is actually from my hubby! He is reading a book about men who were on a naval submarine. One stated that he would eat almonds after every meal to get lecithin. He was just wondering what that is exactly.

Almonds are a good source of mono-unsaturated fats. This type of fat helps to lower bad cholesterol (LDL), among other great health benefits. However, lecithin is not an ingredient (as far as I know) in almonds, but it is in peanuts.

Lecithin is a fat like substance called a phospholipid. A phospholipid is the major component of a fraction which may be isolated from either egg yolk or soy beans. Lecithin is a compound containing two fatty acids and choline. It is the most common phospholipid in the body.

It is produced daily by the liver if the diet is adequate. It is needed by every cell in the body and is a key building block of cell membranes; without it, they would harden. Lecithin protects cells from oxidation (helping to fight free radicals and other cancer causing substances) and largely comprises the protective sheaths surrounding the brain. It is composed mostly of B vitamins, phosphoric acid, choline, linoleic acid and inositol. Although it is a fatty substance, it is also a fat emulsifier. Hence, it supports the circulatory system. It's choline is
one of the more important aspects.

Choline can be made by the body. It is also found in liver, soybeans, egg yolk and peanuts. The diet will provide 400 to 900 mg choline daily.
Due to its choline make-up, lecithin has been touted as a memory enhancer by improving cognitive function.

So in a nutshell (no pun intended), lecithin is a healthy fat found in egg yolk and soy beans. It helps protect cells from breakdown and helps the body process fat soluble vitamins like A, D, K & E. It's beneficial for improving heart and vascular function. Because it is a fat, it's recommended that lecithin be ingested from a healthy, well balanced diet and not as a supplement.

***If you have a question to Ask The Trainer, email me at***

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

You don't always need non-fat foods. Lipids and their importance in nutrition

Lipids are a group of compounds that include triglycerides (fats and oils), phospholipids and sterols. Most lipids in food and in the body are triglycerides, which are three fatty acids (saturated or unsaturated) attached to a glycerol backbone. Polyunsaturated fats provide important essential fatty acids. Saturated fat and trans-fat are implicated as a risk factor for heart disease because they raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL), while unsaturated fats are associated with increases in good cholesterol (HDL) and decrease the risk of heart disease.

Lipids (or fats) are the most concentrated source of energy in the diet. One gram of fat yields approximately nine calories, more than twice the calorie per gram of carbohydrates or protein. In addition to providing energy, fats act as carriers for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Here are some important fat facts:
  • Work to help balance hormones
  • Regulation and excretion of nutrients in the cells
  • Protects and holds organs such as the liver, heart and kidneys in place
  • Insulates the body from environmental temperature changes and preserves body heat
  • Prolongs digestive process, initiating the release of the hormone cholecystkinin (CCK) which contributes to satiety.
A diet containing 10-30 percent of calories is recommended for fat loss or to enhance overall health. Without this balance, an individual will eventually overeat. And that will not help you get to your goal in any way. However, if an individual consumes too much fat, that will lead to many health problems and complications down the road. It can be a slippery slope.

The best way to balance fat intake is to include healthy fat foods into your diet. By consuming olive and canola oils, and cold water fish like salmon, you can prevent heart disease, hypertension, arthritis and cancer. Your body will be at optimum performance and health.