If Health Fit An Equation…

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I remember back in high school being talked into taking AP Calculus. Never mind that the entire class didn’t make sense, I somehow ended up passing and sitting down to take the AP exam at the end of the year.

Sitting down to take the test, I start scanning the paper and saw what closely resembles the Matrix on the page with numbers flowing in orderly fashion. Only problem – I wasn’t anywhere close to being Neo.

For those that aren’t familiar, AP exams are graded out of a possible 5 points (or at least they were back in the day when I was taking them). I quickly learned one thing – unlike golf, the lowest score doesn’t win on an AP test.

I remember the last question describing some sort of scenario where I had to determine the optimum trajectory and velocity of a rocket that wanted to blah, blah, blah. I thought about writing “Isn’t this NASA’s problem?” and leaving it at that. I think I settled on drawing a picture of a rocket ship with a guy on top with an arrow pointing to him labeled “rocket man”.

Not surprisingly, I received a 1 on that particular exam – likely because giving me a 0 wasn’t possible since I had spelled my name right.

Needless to say, I wasn’t destined to join the space exploration team up in D.C.

So, I joined the fitness world where it isn’t necessary to count over 15 on most days.

 

In this age of endless simplification for easier thinking, you’ll constantly hear about the equation for health and fitness.

Writers, trainers, and reporters alike try to make things as simple as possible, boiling optimum fitness down to X steps. Trust me, I’ve written plenty of “X Ways to Do ____” articles. If you pick up any fitness magazine, there’s a good chance that a list story makes the front page.

Why? Because consumers want to read them.

If you see a story titled “5 Steps to Flat Abs”, you’re likely going to flip directly to it because hell, it only takes 5 steps. How simple!

Since I’m a health and fitness professional that claims to be able to shred your midsection and drop pounds like Kate Middleton on a shopping spree, I should have a pretty good grasp on the equation for a flat tummy.

Well, if you gathered anything from the first paragraph, it should have been that complicated math just isn’t my thing. Yet, the majority of my clients (provided they are willing to put in the work) reach their goals.

The Health and Fitness Variables

Like I said above, I don’t like to count over 15, and I sure as hell can’t solve an inverse dynamics problem or an integral. But, I do know how to whip somebody into shape. Here are the factors to consider:

Sleep – I had a conversation the other day with a client that’s experienced tremendous results so far, but wants to knock off a little more around her stomach region. My reply wasn’t about exercises or about diet, but rather about her sleep schedule. Did she feel rested when she woke up in the morning? No. Did she watch TV before bed? Yes. Turn off the electronics and relax before you hit the hay. Don’t worry about getting eight hours. Worry about waking up rested.

Stress² – Yep, that’s stress squared because it’s really damn important. If you’re stressed out right know, it isn’t the optimum time to reach your goals. Sorry to break it to you. You can make steps in the right direction, but in order to fully commit yourself to whatever your goal might be, you need to manage your stress levels. Your body interprets stress in the same manner so working out and a bad day at work are going to seem exactly the same. Ignoring this fact will leave you facedown in bed tired and exhausted.

Support system – Your friends help to dictate you as a person. If they are overweight and lazy, chances are it’s going to be difficult for you to break the trend. Surround yourself with others that are supportive and understanding of your goals.

Movement – Notice I didn’t say exercise. Working out has a bad connotation to many people. Most of America doesn’t want to exercise but they don’t mind moving around a bit. Focus on moving every day whether it’s yoga, walking, or weight lifting. Move more each week until you’re exercising.

Food³ – If you’re shoving crap in your mouth all day, chances are you’re going to look like crap. Improve your food and you’ll improve your body with all other factors remaining the same. Focus on eating vibrant colors with each meal and you’ll be on the right track.

I don’t believe in one general equation to solve all of your health and fitness needs. 

It doesn’t make sense. It’s similar to saying that there is one main food everyone should eat for their optimum body. In the quest for simplicity, we attempt to boil everything down to one thought or one message. In the end, it’s really not that simple.

Your body is a complex machine and if anyone ever tells you that they know the secret to health and fitness, you know you’re about to hear a sales speech.

In reality, what we do know is what has worked for us and for others. When working with my clients, I’m relying on education and past experiences with others that have the same goal.

I don’t have the answers to health and fitness, but I have a damn good idea of how to figure your situation out. 

Being a fitness expert is similar to being a mathematician: you still don’t know the answers to every equation out there, but given enough time, you could figure it out.

The Take-Home: Your Equation

Your different than everyone else. So, ipso-facto, your variables are going to be slightly different.

Just like an equation can be solved differently every time (which always pissed me off about math), your path to health and happiness is completely different than everyone else’s. So, why boil it down to one particular equation?

Highlight the area that is causing the biggest roadblock to your success.

Is it sleep? That can be an easy fix. Eliminate all of the electronics in your bedroom and leave the bed for sleeping, not watching TV. Go to bed when you’re tired and wake up when you’re rested. At least one day a week, try to wake up without an alarm clock.

Is it food? Forget exercise and master cooking.

Solve one piece at a time and move down the list of variables. Don’t get frustrated. If something doesn’t work, try a new approach just like you did in math class.

Alright, that’s a long enough rant on equations. How would you combine the variables into a cute one-liner? What was your experience in math class? Love it? Hate it? Tell me in the comments below.

Double-Spacing Your Life

snow-mountains-wallpaperRemember back in grade school when you had to write those awful papers? Sitting down to type out your thoughts about Jane Eyre was about as boring as sitting through the teacher reading those drawn-out instructions for standardized tests – which of course they had to read verbatim although they were the same every year. You would sit there and watch your cursor on the screen laugh back at you.

Then, you found it. The magic button that would ultimately lead to your literary salvation throughout English class…the double-space button.

Never mind that your teachers insisted that you use said button to give them more margin for red marks and critiques. Every little bit helped when piecing together a two-page report on an old novel that you couldn’t even make sense of much less read. Such a magical and wonderful sight to see your 3/4 page paper turn into a page and a half in the blink of an eye. It was almost as if the work was cut in half for each paper you had to write.

Double-spacing a paper works its magic in a couple of ways:

  • It separates each individual sentence allowing for clarity of focus.
  • It’s easier on the eyes to read.
  • It makes it seem as though you have a lot to say when in reality, you are struggling to put words to paper.

In the past, I’ve written quite a bit about not overwhelming yourself and living a stress-free life (for examples, see how to live your morning like a hero and how to manage your energy not your time.) The general take home is to spend more time doing the things you love to do and less time doing the things you hate. Makes sense right?

The double-spacing tool can be used in your own daily schedule to reduce stress and improve happiness.

Take, for instance, characteristics of the typical individual:

  • Wakes up to a blaring alarm clock frazzled with not enough sleep.
  • Scrambles to get ready in the morning because they neglected to prepare anything the night before.
  • Lives their day in constant chaos moving swiftly from meeting to meeting on a constant caffeine buzz.
  • Ends their day exhausted but still has family obligations that keep them up far too long repeating the endless cycle.

Sound familiar? In the writing world, that would resemble a long, single-spaced paper that is housed in one complete paragraph – no breaks, no separations. The print would be too tiny to read, and you would be strained to make it through the entire thing while maintaining dedicated focus. It’s the kind of thing that makes your eyeballs hurt after awhile. The page that you read through only to realize at the end of the entire chapter that you really had no idea what went on during the last few pages. What was Noah saying to Allie on that last page? And who the hell is this Lon character? (Full disclosure, I’ve read The Notebook and a few other Nicholas Sparks books.) It’s the type of print that makes you sigh with disappointment when you flip to that particular page (What the hell…no pictures?) – much like this paragraph.

It’s busy, sort of stressful, and makes your eyes hurt – not too different than the typical schedule listed above.

Fixing the Busy Paragraph – Adding Spacing

For books, it’s an easier fix. Increase the spacing and adjust the font so it’s more pleasing to a reader’s eyes. For life, it’s a bit more complicated, but it would go something like this:

Plan out your day in advance. Flying by the seat of your pants is a surefire way to having a packed schedule filled with busy appointments and rushing around to get things done. I recommend planning out your day the night before. What are your must-do’s that absolutely have to get done? Separate tasks into lists based on importance so you can attack the highest priority items first.

Schedule breaks. Just like a double-spaced paragraph has breaks after each line of text, schedule breaks throughout your day depending on stress levels and task requirements. If a certain hour is going to be extremely taxing, schedule a 15-30 minute break afterwards to reflect and recoup. For simpler tasks, this may get cut down to 5 minutes of letting your mind wander before attacking the to-do list again.

Practice clarity and focus. One main reason why a single-spaced page of text is so stressful upon first glance is that it presents too many things at once. Focus your efforts on one task at a time and don’t move on to anything else until you’re finished.

Schedule more time than you think you’ll need. Think something will take you 30 minutes? Schedule 45 instead. That way, you won’t be rushed, and you’ll have more time to reflect – which brings me to my next point.

Reflect. Just like a teacher littering your paper with red marks, take time to reflect on the big events of the day. How did they go? Could you have done better? Part of the benefit of “double-spacing” your life is allowing time for reflection. Take 5-10 minutes and make a list on how you could improve for next time.

Thoughts, questions, comments? I want to hear them. Love Nicholas Sparks books? Tell me your favorite below along with the book you dreaded the most in school.

 

The Pursuit of Aesthetics

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A few months ago, my girlfriend and I were at a loss for what to do in our workouts and what we were looking to achieve. We had no real goals in mind so we joked about doing a photo shoot. Well, that joke inevitably turned into a reality, and we laid out an eight week plan to get camera ready.

To say that it was difficult would be an understatement.

Foregoing all of the luxuries we take for granted like having a beer every once and awhile proved to be challenging – not to mention Fall may be the toughest season to diet through. I mean c’mon, no Halloween candy? Plus, watching TV leaves you foaming at the mouth for all of the delicious treats showcased in commercials.

But, we made our way through it and finally had the shots taken.

The Prep

Outside of eating a little cleaner and staying away from alcohol, the prep wasn’t all that different than our normal workouts. The only slight difference was adding a few more sprint sessions per week. Outside of that, Char and I mainly stayed with an upper/lower split hitting each twice a week. Towards the end, we added in a circuit day with bootcamp equipment like tire flips, rope slams, sled drags, and the like which can loosely be described as torture.

Here’s a sample week of workouts towards the end:

The workouts were pretty tough but the food was the toughest part. We stayed extremely clean with our diets throughout the eight weeks with the only exception being a weekly trip to Genghis Grill on Saturday nights to binge on protein and rice for our high carb days.

Sample Low-Carb Day:

Breakfast: 5 Eggs, meat (bacon or sausage), spinach, peppers, avocado

Snack: Protein shake mixed with water

Lunch #1 & #2: 8 ounces of chicken, broccoli (eaten twice)

Snack: Protein shake, fruit, almonds

Dinner: Steak, big salad

Sample high carb day:

Breakfast:  Same, but with 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter

Snack: Protein shake mixed with a banana and milk

Lunch #1 & #2: 8 ounces of chicken, broccoli, sweet potato (eaten twice)

Snack: Protein shake, fruit, almonds

Dinner: Steak, big salad, with 1.5 cups of rice

Yep, that was it for 8 weeks. To say that I’m impressed by bodybuilders who routinely are on these sorts of diets is a complete understatement. Eating the same foods over and over again became really monotonous and boring although it did make food prep a hell of a lot easier.

One tip I would give anyone looking to improve your diet is forget variety. Learn how to eat well before you go crazy with recipes.

Every week, Char and I would run through the store to get the same key ingredients that constitute our entire week of meals. Traditionally, it would have taken us an hour or so, but that time was trimmed down to 30 minutes in and out the door after buying the same foods week after week.

During the week leading up to the shoot, we relied on our buddy Jason – a fellow trainer and bodybuilder – for peak week diet and workout advice. The plan slowly cut down on carbs over the period of 4 days before ramping back up and cutting out water for dehydration. Below is a recount of the final 36 hours…

36 Hour Countdown…

Friday

5:45AM– Hallelujah! Friday is finally here. After 4 days of steady carb depletion, we’re finally going to be able to indulge.

6:45AM– My excitement wanes as I come to the realization that our carbs are going to come from three pieces of dried toast. That’s a letdown.

8:00AM– Time for some work. Head into the gym for an all-day training. Crazy amounts of carb ingestion inevitably will lead to a mid-afternoon crash. This should be fun.

11:30AM– The disappointment of breakfast is only surpassed by the joy of scarfing down 8 ounces of chicken, 1 1/2 sweet potatoes, and some broccoli – all sprinkled with a little bit of salt.

12:00PM– Think I dosed off there for a minute…

12:15PM– Seriously, I think I’ve made a trip to the bathroom every hour for the past 2 days. Consuming 2 gallons of a water a day does work on a man’s bladder.

2:00PM– Another delicious lunch of sweet potatoes, chicken, and broccoli.

3:00PM– Alright, so now we stop drinking water until the shoot (3:00PM on Saturday). That shouldn’t be hard. After guzzling down bottle after bottle the past few days, there’s no way I’ll be thirsty.

3:03PM– Damn, I’m parched.

4:00PM– Char and I push ourselves through a last depletion workout. My mouth feels like I’ve been walking through a desert for weeks and it’s only been an hour.

5:00PM– Twix bars are a proper form of carb loading right?

8:00PM– Dinner is composed of chicken sausage, salad, and you guessed it, more sweet potatoes. After eating a farm full during this prep, there isn’t anything sweet about them. This is all choked down with a few sips of water.

Saturday

6:00AM– Perhaps the only beneficial thing about this water depletion is I’m forced to drink copious amounts of coffee since it’s both a stimulant and a dehydrator. My love for the black gold continues to grow.

7:00AM– Force down 4 eggs, spinach, a regular potato, and three pieces of dry toast. Tastes wonderful…

9:00AM– Same breakfast as before just swap out the toast with dry rice cakes. Supposed to have 350g of carbs today. Don’t know how I’m going to make it.

1:00PM– Last full meal before the shoot consists of a Gargantuan from Jimmy John’s. Loading up on carbs, protein, and sodium. Splash it down with more coffee.

1:30PM– Go through a light circuit to keep myself warm and pump up a little bit. Looking dry and lean.

2:30PM– Eat a pack of Clif shot blocks for 25g of carbs and some additional caffeine. Wash it down with more coffee. The cafe individual probably thinks I’m an addict.

2:32PM– Pump up routine in full effect.

3:00PM– Go time.

The Results

To start, these pics turned out even better than I could hope thanks to the magic of Alix Mozota. She’s a photographer in the Denver, Colorado area, and I couldn’t say enough nice things about her. She did a wonderful job as you can see below. If you need any photos done out this way, I highly suggest you visit her site and contact her.

All in all, I was very happy with the way things turned out. Being that this was my first photo shoot ever, I’d say I was pleased with my size and definition. If I ever were to do it again, I’d like to gain about 15 pounds. In fact, that will be my goal over the next few months.

Also, before I get lit up with comments, that’s a plastic tube on my left side, not a huge vein. It’s the result of a surgery I had when I was really little. I had a condition called shunted hydrocephalus. It’s not going away any time soon.

[Photo Credit: All photos were taken by Alix Mozota of Pixie Dust by Alix.]

Lessons on Getting Leaner

I’ll confess: this was my first time actually dieting down for any kind of physique transformation so I was relatively new to the whole thing going in. Overall, I’d consider the experiment a success. We’ll be doing another one in a little while, but for now, it’s back to eating and training normally. Outside of how to create the biggest bowl ever witnessed at Genghis Grill, I learned a couple interesting things along the way:

  1. Spray tanning is a necessary evil and perhaps the most confusing thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never been tanning in my entire life before this shoot and I won’t be going again unless it’s for the camera, but being tan definitely helps your overall look.
  2. Water depletion is the worst kind of torture out there. It’s like psychological warfare. I was really looking forward to the carb up, but it was difficult to enjoy with no water.
  3. It’s absolutely amazing what your body can do in 24 hours. Starting Friday morning and ending right before the photo shoot, I was amazed by how much more definition I gained.
  4. Isolation exercises are key. Beforehand, I rarely did them. In prep, I had to start implementing them if I wanted definition. I started even doing lateral raises and front raises to get more definition out of my shoulders. I haven’t done those in years.
  5. The pre-shoot pump is key. I was weighing in at around 152 lbs during the shoot, but I’d say that I look a bit bigger than that. After the carb up, you have to get in a light, high volume lift. You’ll be amazed by the results.
  6. Nutrition cycling works wonders. Whether it’s carbs or calories, I’m a believer in ramping up and down throughout the week. First off, it helps you maintain the high intake on the high-calorie days. Second, it ensures that you aren’t constantly flooding your body with carbs and calories to help reset hormones and such. I’m currently experimenting with a 24-hour fast once a week. We’ll see how that goes.

Actionable Steps for You

  1. Get a coach. The best thing about having friends in the fitness industry is being able to call on them for advice. Neither of us had ever been on a diet looking to lean out for a shoot or show. Luckily, we had several bodybuilders and figure competitors to help us along. Find someone that knows in detail what it takes to achieve what you’re looking for. They will be your best resources.
  2. Make it easy. If you have to buy all of your food and cook it from scratch, be prepared to invest a ton of your time. Frozen veggies and crock pots are your friend. We would cook a bulk of our meals on Sunday so we had less prep time throughout the week.
  3. Make it public. To be honest, I may have backed out of the whole thing had we not set a date and told our friends and co-workers. Telling other people makes it real and puts the pressure on you to actually go through with whatever it is you’re doing.
  4. Do it together. Find someone that is looking to achieve the same thing you are and partner up. It will be more fun and you’ll be less likely to skip a workout. There were plenty of times where Charlotte helped keep me on track and vice versa.
  5. Take pictures and measurements. Although I didn’t post them here, we took pictures every few weeks to track our progress. It’s hard to see how much progress you’ve made unless you know where you start. We were also conscious of our weight and body comp throughout the entire process.

Wrap-Up

Would I do it again? Hell yeah, and we will in the future. For now, it’s back to traditional eating. First meal after we got done: pizza and beer. I think had a pizza the next day complete with 5 donuts. The whole thing was a pretty crazy experience.

Now, I want to hear from you. Have you don’t a physique transformation diet? How did it go? Have you had photos taken? Would you do it again? Let me know in the comments below!

 

The Rock in My Shoe

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The other day, I was walking into work when I noticed that I had a small rock that had somehow found it’s way into my shoe. Now, this small little event is trivial in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t hurt to walk. It was just a little bit annoying. With every step, I felt the pebble move around on the bottom of my foot pressing up into my heel one moment then on my big toe the next.

Call it laziness or just call it being busy – I didn’t take that rock out of my shoe for three days. That’s two nights of taking off my shoes and sliding them in my closet without taking a few moments to search my insoles for that pesky little bugger.

It wasn’t too annoying. When it was bothersome,I would just dig my toe into the ground to push the annoyance up towards my toes where it didn’t bother me at all.

I went through workouts. I trained clients. I walked. I ran. All with that little rock floating around in my shoe.

What Are You Ignoring?

Although the rock was tiny and didn’t cause any inconvenience at all to my day, it was still annoying. I’d have to move my foot around to shift the pebble to a comfortable spot rather than just taking the time to slide off my shoe and correct the problem.

It’s a silly example, but it rings true for so many other aspects. We neglect small, somewhat trivial aspects of our daily tasks because we’re focusing on the big picture. In reality, those little things can matter quite a bit. I can tell you that it was a simple relief to not have to fidget my shoe around during the day.

I’ll give you another extremely simple, yet powerful example. Thank you cards could be the easiest thing to send out. All it takes is a few moments to jot down your thoughts, scribble the address on the front, and drop it in a mail box. On the receiving end, those few actions can mean the world to someone. The other day, I receive a handwritten thank you note in the mail. It probably took no more than a few minutes to write and send off, but those few minutes spoke volumes.

Do The Simple Stuff

“As simple as possible, and no simpler” – Albert Einstein

Far too often, we focus on the big ticket items that will have a monumental impact. Inherently, that makes sense. With limited time, it seems natural to focus on the to-do list items that will have the biggest payout. But, those items also take the most time.

Take the time to do the mundane tasks, as simple as they may seem. Make it a point to cross the quick and easy things off your list rather than always keeping your eye on the big picture because no matter how simple they may seem to you, they may have a profound impact on someone else.

Reverse Engineering Happiness

The other day, I asked everyone on Facebook and Twitter about their thoughts on the equation for happiness. Essentially, if you had to break happiness down to a single, mathematical formula, what would it look like?

(I don’t know why I was so naive to post this on Saturday afternoon while everyone’s chugging back beers before college football games. I received some great responses.)

Friends=Work=Love

(Health + Love) ^ Bacon = Happiness

Love + Goals = Happiness

Now, I think that these responses accurately represent the general perspective. Each combines some from of experiences, individuals, fortunate circumstances (money, objects, achievements, goals), and even bacon.

Overall, this sounds pretty true. In order to be ‘happy’, we need to be surrounded by people that genuinely care about our best interest whether it be family or friends. We also benefit from having the appropriate resources to provide for our family and experience a few of the luxuries in life: a nice car, snazzy clothes, a huge house to clean, etc.

So, by that reasoning and logic, we would need to increase all of those variables to lead to a greater level of happiness.

I would tend to argue that we’re going about it all wrong.

In fact, I think we’re going about it backwards.

Let me explain.

My Equation for Happiness

Focusing on the elements of happiness first, then hoping they lead to the desired result later is a bit like staring at a pile of wood and hoping to build a house without first picturing what you want to build.

Is it going to be two-story? How many bedrooms will it have?

Traditional thinking is backwards. We’re examining the smaller pieces and forming a whole. In reality, we would be much more successful at achieving happiness if we worked backward, looking at the finished product then the elements we need to get there.

Let’s take this general equation for happiness that includes the gist of everyones’ suggestions from above:

Happiness = Experiences + Luxuries + Relationships

Whether you agree with all of the terms used in the equation above is irrelevant. The point is that our happiness is constructed of certain elements that form our life. Those elements can be further broken down like this:

Happiness = (Work + Vacations + Free time + Goals) + (Money + House + Car + Clothes) + (Family + Friends)

All of those subitems are things that require investments of our time – even “free” time. In order to have free time, you must work at something to allow yourself to have time off.

Happiness: Think Sdrawkcab

So, the majority of individuals are working their tail off to increase all of the subitems – more money, a bigger house, a better car, a trip to Jamaica – in hopes that those items will equate to happiness in the end.

We’re all staring at a pile of wood.

What if we worked in reverse order? What if we first pictured our happiness?

Take a second to perform this exercise:

Close your eyes, wherever your are (unless you’re driving). Take a moment to define happiness for you. What does it look like? Who is it with? What are you doing? Try to think of the happiest moment in your life. Are you driving? What are you wearing? Be as vivid as possible. Once you have that image in your head, try to freeze it in your mind remembering as many details as possible.

Now, take a second and compare that to your current life. Are they similar? If not, what is different? How are you making “happiness” happen?

If you’ve ever listened to a business podcast or read a business book, you’ll likely hear the term “work-life balance”. That can mean different things to different people. But, one thing everyone can agree on is that for each minute you spend working on attaining more of the subitems on the above list, you’re sacrificing something else whether it be a vacation or just time with your family. There will always be an opportunity cost for our actions. We’ll have to give up something to achieve something else.

In the business world, you’ll often here individuals comparing “a lot” of money versus “enough” money. That’s an important distinction. Making “a lot” of money surely means you’re being successful, but it also means that you may have to work more, therefore foregoing another opportunity.

Rather than focusing on achieving as many of the subitems as possible (money, cars, clothes, friends, etc), focus your attention on your scenario for happiness – your ideal life – and then work backwards.

Figure out how much money you would need to make to do the things you want to do.

Find out what kind of car you would truly be happy driving. It may not be a Mercedes. Why waste extra money on luxury because everyone else tells you that it’s the cool thing to do?

What friends do you need surrounding yourself for true happiness? Are you using extra time keeping up with acquaintances that, in ernest, don’t care about you?

When working backwards, we can develop a plan to achieve exactly what we need to be happy. We’ll waste less time on working our tail off to accumulate items that simply takes away from the items we truly care about.

I encourage you to keep that image of true happiness at the front of your mind at all times. That’s what you’re working towards. Are you getting closer or farther away?

Making Simple Seem Difficult: A Rant About Supplements, Exercise, and Mass Media

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Here’s a Facebook message I received the other day from a friend regarding training that spurred this post.

First off, I’ve been taking GNC pro performance amp wheybolic extreme 60, which I was told hand in hand with the ripped vitapak would help me gain more muscle definition and slight muscle mass and lose fat (with cardio involved as well of course). Now, I got to the point where I’m looking to focus more on gaining muscle mass, and I know for the most part how to adjust my workouts to do that, but I’m not sure if the new product that was suggested to me (amplified mass xxx) is the right one. I want to gain muscle mass, not gain the fat I lost back. The nutritional values just had me worried a little. Do you suggest something else? Or am I reading too much into this?

As you can imagine, this answer is a little more in-depth than just a simple “yes” or “no”. But, outside of the actual question, I was a little bit perturbed by the fact that this individual was essentially being manipulated and sold to by the lovely folks at GNC. I was also a bit humored by the supplement names – AMP Wheybolic Extreme 60? That sure does sound intense. Supplement names have always brought me a little chuckle. It’s almost a competition to figure out who can come up with the most intense sounding adjectives on the market.

I feel like a loser when I take simple “Whey Protein”. Apparently, the AMP stands for Advanced Muscle Performance, which I’m surely missing out on. One of the claims on the website is “Increase Strength & Stamina with Half the Sets”. Half the work/all the results? Gimme, gimme, gimme!

Back to the topic at hand.

This guy came to me looking for advice. Essentially, he was looking for direction on supplement choice and how to direct his training program to gain a little more muscle mass. His last sentence really stuck out to me as one that a lot of young lifters are asking themselves, “Am I reading too much into this?”

The answer is yes.

Simple Answer to a Complex Question

On a scientific level, the question “How can I best gain muscle mass?” can be a complex one at best. In the real world, it actually isn’t that hard at all. Almost every good personal trainer will tell you something along the lines of the following:

  1. Eat more than you burn.
  2. Consume a ton of protein (recommendations vary but somewhere around a 0.75g-1g would do the trick)
  3. Perform some kind of carb cycling. The timing of your macros is important, but don’t be afraid of carbs if you’re trying to gain weight.
  4. Drink more water than you think you need.
  5. Lift heavy, multi-joint exercises with a few isolations thrown in.
  6. Limit aerobic cardio.
  7. Lay off the booze.
  8. Train hard and rest harder.
  9. Sleep at least 8 hours a night.
  10. Eat bacon. (okay this one isn’t real…or maybe it is)

No where in there does it call for the use of XYZ SuperFantasticAbShredder Protein Powder (patented) to get you to your goals. But, we as trainers love to make things complicated. So we bicker back and forth about reps, rest, time under tension, exercise choice, body part split, should squat, shouldn’t squat, creatine, glutamine, Jack3d, and all of the other controversies that surround working out.

We’re confusing the mass public into thinking this is harder than it really is (to read more on this, Jon Goodman had a great post here). Sure, protein powder makes it easier to get in the protein you need, but I’ve met a ton of jacked dudes that have never taken N.O. Explode or any other N.O. supplement in their lifetime.

In my opinion, the role of a personal trainer is to simplify working out. Make it as simple as possible so people can follow along, to steer clients in the right direction at the crossroads of their path to a six-pack. That directly competes with the job of many others in the fitness biz which is…

To sell stuff.

Supplement Companies Make Money

The bottom line is anytime you walk into a GNC, the store clerks are licking their chops to sell you a supplement. No matter your goal, they have something for you. In my opinion, part of the plot to get you to buy is to make the store look as confusing as possible. They have rows upon rows of every supplement under the sun.

All of this confusion and I-can’t-find-one-simple-thing, leads you to ask a store clerk which is almost synonymous with handing them your wallet and buying something. Inevitably, they’re going to ask you what your goals are then mention all of these fancy words while talking to you. Chances are, they’ll through in words like muscle pump, jacked, definition, cut, and shredded to get you all jazzed up on your new supplement routine.

I’m not saying that all supplement reps are dirty crooks that are out to take your money, but they are employed to sell stuff. It’s in their best interest to get you to buy.

And we’re buying a lot of it. The supplement industry is absolutely huge. Billions of dollars are being thrown their way for these crazy-named supplements.

And we’re asking for it.

The Mass Media Tells You What You Want to Hear

Working out is difficult. There’s no doubt that getting the body you want requires some effort and yes, some sweat. So, you’re relieved when you hear that this new supplement on the market promises to be the magic pill when it comes to weight loss.

To our minds, a magic pill sounds a lot better than, “Stop being lazy you sissy and go do some work”.

We’ve created a demand, and they are filling it.

You can’t get mad at them for marketing to our current mindset. However, you are perfectly justified in getting pissed off at a bunch of erroneous claims that aren’t actually backed by research.

Until there is no demand for the quick fix or the magic pill (never), companies will continue to spend millions of dollars on advertising, research, and development to make billions of dollars off of us, the consumers.

Simplify Your Training

Often times, the best answer to your fitness questions is the good ‘ol KISS method of keep it simple stupid. I’m a huge fan of getting really good at the big lifts and eating a ton of whole food.

If you’re looking for an awesome lifting guide that takes advantage of simple concepts to get maximum results, I’d recommend this guide by JC Deen and Jordan Syatt. Although it says beginner, I’ve followed it for a few months with great results.

No where in the bible of shreddedness does it say that you have to take in protein powder to get the body you want. In fact, I’d rather you take in real food.

But, the fact remains that eating seven chicken breasts during the day can be quite nauseating and time consuming. So, that’s where supplements are actually useful – to provide a convenient source of macronutrients. When it comes to chasing down the best protein powder available, I look for the shortest, simplest ingredient list for a whey protein that tastes decent. Don’t worry about the crazy adjectives in front of the label. They likely won’t do anything different, unless you want to argue the placebo effect.

The harsh truth is getting the body you want requires a lot of work and some sacrifice along the way.

Ending Notes

There’s a lot of misleading information out there. Use reasoning to help you sift through the pretenders.

Isolate a few of your favorite sources and only read from them. Reading everything will leave you more confused.

Take your training as a serious undertaking. That means limiting alcohol consumption and late weekend nights.

Track your progress and change something that isn’t working. Keep it up for at least four weeks before trashing it in favor of something else.

Enjoy the process, not just the end result.

Thoughts? Comments? What’s worked for you in the past? Do you take AMP Wheybolic Extreme? Am I missing out? Let me know in the comments below!

What’s M_ssing?

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The other day, Char and I gave both of our dogs a bone. Not one for both of them, one for each. They each had their own tasty bone to enjoy on a Sunday afternoon. Now, if you’ve ever watched two dogs chewing on bones right next to each other, you inevitably already know what is coming next.

They switched. One went over and sniffed the other’s prized possession and they seemingly came to the mutual conclusion to switch bones. They then proceeded to chew for awhile before switching back.

As soon we gave them bones, they instantly started to make comparisons to the delectable treat the other was gnawing on.

We do that all the time.

If you’ve ever been introduced to someone new, you’ve made a comparison. In fact, you make comparisons all of the time without even thinking about it. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. How do we stack up against the competition? Part of it is due to the competitive nature in today’s society. Another part is due to the media. They want you to compare yourself to others because chances are, you’ll end up concluding that there is something out there that you need to become a better you.

We’re in a race to become better than the next person so we can get a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car, etc. In a world where the goal is to be better, better, better, we end up forgetting everything that we originally have. Picture a 5 year old that’s playing with some toys on the ground. All of the sudden, you bring out a brand new shiny toy, perhaps something from his Christmas list. All of the sudden, the other toys become absolutely obsolete. All of the attention is spent focused on the new toy in his hands. Our attention and gratitude can be that short-lived.

What’s Missing

Just like a dog with a bone, we’re extremely well-adapted to figure out what we lack that others have, hence why professional athletes are coveted as models and spokespersons for clothing lines. As soon as you see someone else with a shirt, cellphone, watch, or some other small, yet lavish accessory, you immediately notice that you don’t have that object. When you’re surrounded by wealthier individuals, you’re quick to notice how much money you don’t have. All of this not having leads us to want, want, want.

This faulty train of logic leaves us in a constant state of unhappiness with our current situation. There’s always someone with a nicer car, better clothes, and a larger paycheck.

Shedding Light on What You Do Have

Think for a second about the last time you encountered someone in a wheel chair. Now, you likely saw them moving around, perhaps taking the elevator or just moving past you in the hallway. I’d almost guarantee you did not feel an instant rush of gratification at the ability to walk or jog on your own feet. In the same token, the individual in a wheel chair likely doesn’t feel an immense appreciation for sight when witnessing a blind person walking with their furry friend.

We’re immune to our own fortunate circumstances. No one is blaming you. It’s difficult to appreciate everything we’re blessed with on a daily basis: the ability to walk, the breakfast we eat, etc. No one is expecting you to shed tears at the first instant you wake up in the morning only to thank your lucky stars when you crawl safely back under the covers at night.

So what can we do? We can notice what’s there…what we have in our life. Although it seems extremely common, not many people are doing it. Here are some key steps:

Don’t compare your behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel. Click to Tweet!

Don’t compare your behind the scenes to someone else’s highlight reel. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes for someone else. In public, everything is going great but don’t assume that always translates into their personal life.

Spend 10 minutes a day alone. We crave social interaction and attention. Even when we are alone, we usually have our head craned down to focus on our iPhone. Take 10 minutes out of your day to sit alone and reflect. Think about anything – family, work, school – but make sure it’s in a positive light. Now isn’t the time to get anxious about making dinner for the in-laws.

Show extreme gratitude. I’d argue that the majority of times that you say “thank you” are knee-jerk reactions that you make without even thinking about the actual meaning. This is fine when someone hands you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. But, when a friend goes out of their way to help you, go out of your way to thank them.

Compliment others sincerely. The quickest way to brighten someone’s day is to make a sincere compliment that really hits home. This goes beyond the typical “you look good today” and really brings out a certain attribute or skill that they do really well.

Change your lens. It’s easy to say but even harder to do. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to just switch your views overnight, but the goal is to notice what you have, not what you lack.

 

How to Fail at Twitter

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Forget MySpace. Twitter is the new popular kid on the block. More and more individuals are turning to Twitter as both a marketing strategy and a way to keep up with their friends and colleagues. Twitter is quickly becoming a social standard. How many followers you have is an indicator of your popularity. Hell, you can pay $5 to gain 20,000 followers. However, these 20,000 people will never comment or interact with you. They won’t help spread your message. They’ll just exist, and usually as drones.

When someone adds you on Twitter, it’s typically because of one of a few reasons:

  1. You’re popular (someone like Arnold) and you have throngs of adoring fans.
  2. It’s a friend that wants to know what you’re doing. These are perhaps the most tolerant of Twitter followers, and they will likely put up with all of these rules without unfollowing.
  3. They find your message/topic interesting. They share the same passion and are willing to help spread your voice. You don’t want to make these people mad as they are likely the ones to help your message reach a broader audience.

Now, upon starting your new online “follow” relationship, two things can happen. The most common of those is absolutely nothing. They read your status updates, you read theirs, and nothing more comes about. On the other hand, there is the potential for interaction. Either you two can bounce ideas off of each other, share stories, or build a business relationship. This second aspect is what makes Twitter so darn appealing. You can reach out to experts in the field and connect with top authorities on whatever interests you.

Far be it from me to be an expert on the inner workings of Twitter. I’m not the world’s most sought out expert on social interaction. However, I do use it quite a bit, and I’ve come across my fair share of annoyances. There are certain guidelines that shouldn’t be broken – a code among Twitter fellows if you will. Breaking said code will get you un-followed within the blink of an eye. Here’s a guide to failing at Twitter.

Rule #1: Break an idea into multiple tweets.

Perhaps THE best thing about Twitter is that it limits tweeters to only 140 characters including spaces to present their ideas. In a world where everyone is busy, this is a lifesaver. I want to find out what you’re up to, but I don’t have time to read a diatribe about your favorite burger joint – so 140 characters is a perfect amount.

However, there are those out there that break up a thought across multiple tweets like this:

And then, I have to find and locate the second part of the idea.

Now, this is great info, and I still follow this account. However, breaking an idea across multiple tweets is like starting a conversation and running to a different room. I don’t want to have to locate your next tweet to find out what you’re talking about. If you can’t say it in 140 characters, post it elsewhere.

Rule #2: Ask for a follow-back.

There appears to be an unwritten rule on Twitter that if someone follows you, you in turn follow them back. Now, that assumes a few things. First, we only get followed by people that we feel are interesting. Second, both parties are tweeting about the same topic/central theme so it’s beneficial for everyone involved. Of course, both are rarely true.

So, whenever someone follows me (unless they are a spambot), I generally check out their profile, view their tweets, and ask myself if I want to see more of their information on my feed. If the answer is yes, then we’ll form a twitter bond so powerful that unicorns will cry. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the answer may be no. At this point, no amount of pleading is going to help. For instance, I’ve had people mention me asking for me to follow them back. Understand this reassures that I will never follow you. It’s like pleading with a girl to go out on a date with you. Don’t look that desperate.

Rule #3: Attempt to involve me in a pyramid scheme.

Seriously? I’m here to learn some cool things and share my thoughts. Please don’t tweet me about your sales business. For the record, this was the second time I was contacted about joining this pyramid scheme. The first message (which I deleted) was much more sales oriented.

Rule #4: Retweet EVERYTHING from _________ (insert funny parody account here).

Simply put, if I wanted to see all of their tweets, I’d follow them myself. Now, some are really funny in which case a retweet is warranted. But every…single…one?

Rule #5: Attempt to sell yourself or your product

This one may be a bit hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. Either it’s during a Twitter chat where everyone is tweeting about the same topic or idea, or you’re having a conversation with someone over Twitter and all of the sudden, a keyword triggers someone to hop into the mix with more information…and of course, their link.

There are appropriate ways to include a link and then there are sleazy ways. It’s up to you to decide when, but if you’re searching Twitter for conversations on weight loss and interjecting comments trying to get clicks, it’s annoying.

Rule #6: #Hash #Tag #Every #Thing

We get it. You’re trying to appear in bigger searches that relate to your topic, but when you hashtag every keyword that appears in your tweet, it just looks like you’re trying too hard. #fitness #twitter #rules #getatme #holla

Now, these rules apply mainly to Twitter. However, you can fail at Facebook too. Check out this post from Jon Goodman to find out how.

The only appropriate thing for me to ask you to do at the end of this post is to follow me on Twitter and share the hell out of this post. Alert everyone of what not to do on Twitter. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what irks you. 

 

The Benefits of Losing Control

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Many of the thoughts in here come from the ideas behind the book Stumbling on HappinessI highly suggest you pick it up and have a little read. It’s short and entertaining plus it delves into the reasoning behind why we love and appreciate control.

The fact is that human beings come into the world with a passion for control, they go out of the world the same way, and research suggests that if they lose their ability to control things at any point between their entrance and their exit, they become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed. – Stumbling on Happiness

We are blessed with the ability to adapt to our surroundings. We have foresight – not the ability to predict the future, but rather the ability to know what comes next without actually experiencing it. We’re using past experiences and knowledge to predict the outcome of a certain situation. For instance, you don’t have to touch a stove burner when it’s on to know that it will be hot. Your past experiences plus all of the information you’ve heard about stove burners leads you to the assumption that if you touch it, you’ll get burned. It’s not exactly rocket science.

This ability to predict the future is one of the main elements that separates us homo sapiens from our knuckle-dragging, hairy cousins. Now, you may be sitting there thinking that your dog or your cat has the powers of foresight and prediction. Perhaps when you’re cooking, your dog lays on the floor of the kitchen because he just knows you’ll drop something on the floor. The difference: your dog had to experience you dropping food multiple times and taste that this food would likely be delicious before keeping camp in the kitchen.

Animals must experience before they make judgement. They can learn to predict certain scenarios. You and I are born with it. You could never touch a stove burner in your life yet you still know that it would burn your hand.

The Power of Control

You and I love to control elements of our lives. As the opening quote so eloquently reiterates, it’s when we lose that ability to control that we wallow in a pit of despair. For instance, when was the last time someone (either your mom, a significant other, or a friend) told you to do something whether it was fold your clothes, eat breakfast, get dressed, or even take a shower.

We don’t like to be told when, how, and where to do things. We like to have control over our lives including when we get dressed, what we eat for breakfast, and who we associate with (hence why you get pissed off when your parents try to define your circle of friends). Relinquishing that power leaves us void of some element of control.

When we lose control, we lose a certain aspect of our lives. Hence why entrepreneurship is becoming ever more popular. It allows the ultimate amount of control. In contrast, being chained to a desk all day and dictated to is the ultimate lose of control. As the quote above illustrates, when we lose this sense of control, we become “unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed.”

Why You Should Lose Control

So, having control is a good thing. It allows you to feel confident and secure. However, I’d be willing to argue that often times, in order to succeed, you must lose control. When we are holding on to something so tight, we often overlook the big picture and forget about our surroundings.

Time and time again, you’ll hear about young entrepreneurs that quit college or got fired and started their own business only to become the most successful ____ ever.

Everything great happens outside of your comfort zone. The best vacations are often the most unplanned. The best nights out often start with you almost deciding to stay in before going out for “just a few hours”, yet it leads to the night of your life.

These are not coincidences. When we attempt to plan everything out, we remove the chaos from our life, and most of the time, that chaos makes things interesting. Control is great in most instances, but sometimes, you have to throw caution to the wind.

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” – Mario Andretti

So, I urge you to lose control over at least a few aspects of your life and see where it takes you. Don’t invest all of your money in the stock market, that’s an example of losing control, but it’s also a perfect example of stupidity. Take baby steps and relinquish some control. See where it takes you.

As I stated above, many of the opening thoughts to this post are from Stumbling on Happiness. If not simply because you’re impressed with the opening quote, I would urge you to pick it up because it contains so many useful and extremely interesting tidbits. Plus, I don’t make any money off that link so why would I lead you astray?

Idealizing Imperfection (Why Lance is Still a Hero)

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If you’ve turned on the news or bothered to glance at any sports talk show in the past few weeks, it’s hard not to notice the amount of hot water Lance Armstrong is currently boiling in. Not only does the USADA have mountains of evidence against him; former teammates including his main sidekick for quite some time, George Hincapie, are testifying that not only did he take drugs, he attempted to spread and sell them.

That sure is a slap to the face – your best buds testifying against you in court. Lance has now been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and erased from the record books. A quick downfall for someone that was a hero to so many.

Lance is an idol, especially to the cancer survivors benefited by the Livestrong Foundation. He’s a superhero in the eyes of many kids and athletes across the world. Lance is a lot of things to a lot of people. Now that he’s assumed a different position at the bottom of the rankings in the sporting world, many are quick to cast him out and forget all that he’s done. Just the other day I overheard a dad talking to his son about what a scumbag he really was and how the dad “knew all along” that he was a doping cheat.

I’m calling bullshit.

The Conception of a Hero

A few weeks ago, I published the first new blog on my new site outlining the monomyth presented by Joseph Campbell about the journey of a hero. In most cases, heroes exist in our imagination. We dream of dudes flying around in capes saving the damsel in distress. Lance embodied the many ideals we admire in supernatural beings.

First, he overcame great adversity with conquering cancer and all that jazz.

Second, his meteoric rise to fame was largely out of his control. In general, we don’t like individuals that scheme and manipulate their way to the top. Most superheroes assume their powers to no fault of their own. The Hulk, for instance, got all green and strong after he was hit with some gamma rays trying to protect a teenage girl. Lance stumbled upon his athletic prowess through years of hard work and an innate ability to consume more oxygen and last longer than most other humans.

Third, he was unbelievably consistent. It’s almost as if you knew Lance was going to win on the first day of the Tour de France similar to how you just know Batman is going to defeat Bane in the end. Lance emerged as a frontrunner in physical performance when he survived cancer. Then came the amazing stories of him riding his bike in the hospital and we admired him for his determination and perseverance. Then, the unbelievable happened – he won the most competitive cycling race in the world. To the surprise of many, he kept winning for a total of seven titles and became the most decorated Tour rider ever.

That’s a fairy tale if I’ve ever heard one.

For awhile, Lance stood on a pedestal untouched by even the purist of humans. He created a vocal support system for cancer patients donating millions of dollars to fund research. With his seemingly honest and forthright character, he quietly (read: loudly) brought cycling to the forefront of our attention.Think for one second, how much you would know about cycling had Lance not won a single Tour de France.

Chances are that you wouldn’t know much.

Lance put cycling on the map. In doing so, he brought throngs of new viewers and fans and encouraged millions of others to hop on two wheels and start pedaling. Simply put, the world would not be the same today without Lance. Now that it’s come out that he likely took performance enhancing drugs, everyone is quick to dismiss his accomplishments and toss him into the pit of despair.

Think for one second what you would have done in his shoes. Try to envision the amount of pressure on you to continually succeed. You have a following of cancer survivors writing you each day to wish you good luck and let you know what an inspiration you are to them. I say this knowing it’s impossible for you to ever imagine what it’s like to walk a mile in Lance’s shoes. It’s impossible to know the pressure that comes along with that type of admiration.

My point is this: at the end of the day, most people likely would have taken the drugs too.

Not because they are cheating, lying scumbags, but simply because it’s the quickest way to make a difference in the world. I know I would have. Lance had a chance to make a difference in both cycling and the treatment of cancer, albeit he did so in a dishonorable fashion – admire him for trying.

Furthermore, I’d like to point out that they aren’t even able to pass along his titles to others that finished the Tour right behind him because like Lance, so many of them fell prey to the same temptations. Jan Ullrich can test positive and hardly anyone cares, but the moment a cloud of doubt surrounds our beloved Lance, we cast him out like a leper.

My Closing Thoughts

Unless you can honestly say that you’ve been in his situation and chosen differently (which an extremely select few individuals have), I don’t believe you have a right to lambast Lance for his personal choices. He’s not the first, and he certainly isn’t the last to take performance enhancing drugs. He’s still an extraordinarily talented human being as he has demonstrated by performing at a pro level in both cycling and racing triathlons.

Any doping Lance took part in still didn’t reduce the amount of pain he endured climbing the Alps during his seven Tour wins.

Furthermore, it’s unfair to say that he has single-handedly ruined the sport of cycling. He’s surely cast a cloud of doubt, but every serious fan had their suspicions long before this whole Lance debacle. Lance is just another case of the bad scientists being ahead of the good ones which will forever be the case.

This piece is meant to share an opinion, not start an intergalactic war. I would love to hear your condensed opinion on the issue. However, please do so in a polite manner. I’m entitled to my thoughts as this is my blog.