What A Workout Does to Your Brain

This post originally appeared on the Crew blog

I distinctly remember the sunrises during my senior year of high school. While my classmates were sleeping, I was on the roads racking up miles with my cross country team to avoid the Florida heat. We would hit the showers then shuffle off to class. At the time, I thought this was absolute torture. Getting up early in the morning was bad enough, but exercising on top of that?

That type of activity wouldn’t be anything new at Naperville High School in Naperville, IL. The school was profiled in the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain. Naperville encourages students to attend physical education classes and offers early morning options so they can get a workout in before the first bell. As one would expect, the students have a lower obesity rate, but they’re also seeing benefits in the classroom.

To improve mental performance, many individuals resort to hard work and repetition. In turns out, they might be missing out on one of the most powerful brain boosters in the world – exercise.

Continue reading “What A Workout Does to Your Brain”

Four Pieces of Training Advice That Work

When I was working 6-8 hours straight with clients, I thought I was doing well.

I had a pretty high resign rate meaning that well over half of my clients were continuing to work with me month after month. We were having fun! We would laugh, they would sweat, I would get paid. Seems like everyone got what they wanted.

Almost.

I’d say that maybe 60% of my clients were making progress towards their goal. That’s not great when you’re paying $100+ an hour for a workout.

Truth be told, I could have done better. Looking back now, there are several things I would have changed to increase their chance of success. I want to share those items with you now. Whether you’re at the peak of your fitness or just getting started, I think improving your health is simpler than you might imagine.

Going back, here are the four items I would emphasize for someone looking to get in shape.

Continue reading “Four Pieces of Training Advice That Work”

Intangible Benefits (Why Success Isn’t Always Obvious)

Last November, I decided to sign-up for Scrawny to Brawny, a year-long coaching program for anyone wanting to gain weight and change their physique.

Fast forward ten months later, I’ve gained a total of three to five pounds.

While that might not be the case study they’re going to plaster on the advertisement for the program, I still consider this past year a huge success. Let me explain why.

Continue reading “Intangible Benefits (Why Success Isn’t Always Obvious)”

The Beginner’s Guide to Using Protein Powder

Walk into any gym nowadays, and you’re just as likely to hear the rattling of a shaker bottle as the clanking of weights. Powders, bars and other supplements have become so ingrained in our culture that it’s hard to imagine not following up a great workout with a shake of some sort (and sometimes even mid-workout). Protein powder is, in many ways, leading the supplement charge. Created by various sources — from whey to soy to pea — and popping up everywhere you look — from GNC’s to neighborhood grocery stores — the popular supplement has cemented its place in our minds and in our diets.

With the help of Brian St. Pierre from Precision Nutrition, I helped to create this beginner’s guide for DailyBurn. You can check out the full article here.

Continue reading “The Beginner’s Guide to Using Protein Powder”

The Intersection of Health Research and Actual Fitness Improvements

Daniel Duane writing for the NY Times had a really interesting piece concerning the application of research results to workout routines:

The problem is that everybody in the fitness industry grabs onto this basic science — plus the occasional underfunded applied study with a handful of student subjects — and then twists the results to come up with something that sounds like a science-backed recommendation for whatever they’re selling.

Regardless of whether you’re a regular weekend warrior or a fitness fanatic, you’ll likely find yourself having reached some of the same conclusions in the past. Duane raises some interesting questions centering around personal training and the fitness industry in general. This struck me as a particularly common complaint or realization:

As for personal trainers, I’ve known great ones. But the business model is akin to babysitting: There’s no percentage in teaching clients independence by showing them basic barbell lifts and telling them to add weight each time. Better to invent super-fun, high-intensity routines that entertain and bewilder clients, so they’ll never leave you. The science of muscle confusion, in other words, looks a lot like the marketing tradecraft of client confusion.

It’s akin to the old adage “Give a man a fish, feed him for the day; show a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” It’s no secret that personal trainers build their income and their livelihood off repeat business. Resigning clients are a wonderful thing as they help guarantee a certain level of income for trainers in a business that is anything but steady.

However, to Duane’s particular argument, there are a lot of contributing factors that feed in to this public mistrust of trainers. I covered a handful of them in this post on what’s wrong with the personal training industry and how it can be fixed:

  1. As an industry, we went a bit overboard with the whole functional fitness craze trying to convince every client that they needed to be standing on a BOSU ball doing single-leg squats with a dumbbell in each hand. I’m not even sure where this all started, but it caught on like wildfire throughout the personal training industry leading to everyone ditching main barbell moves in search of their “functional” counterparts.
  2. There are a ton of sleazy salespeople in the world of personal training that are fantastic at getting you to sign a contract but terrible at delivering results. They’re trained in the latest sales tactics and use proven arguments to get you to hang around when you know you should quit. These people help to ruin the industry for the great trainers that are out there delivering results at a fair price.

If you think you’re getting screwed over by your trainer, follow the list here to help make personal training work for you. Seriously, ask questions, demand explanations, and take charge of your sessions. It’s one thing to sit back and complain about how you’re getting taken advantage of in the gym arena; the much better option would be to take ownership of your training sessions and demand a good return on your investment.

Duane continues:

The human body is an adaptation machine. If you force it to do something a little harder than it has had to do recently, it will respond — afterward, while you rest — by changing enough to be able to do that new hard task more comfortably next time. This is known as the progressive overload principle. All athletic training involves manipulating that principle through small, steady increases in weight, speed, distance or whatever.

Progressive overload is the foundational principle for strength training, and one that I’d argue everyone is familiar with in some form or another even if they’ve never been inside the walls of a gym. It’s a lovely principle that fails to hit home in today’s society.

Our society is based on immediate results and big “bang for your buck” purchases. As Ryan Holiday states in The Obstacle is the Way:

We are A-to-Z thinkers, fretting about A, obsessing over Z, yet forgetting all about B through Y.

Ryan was referring more to business in the book, but it applies to literally everything today. We want short-term success, and we want it now.

Duane goes on to conclude:

So if your own exercise routine hasn’t brought the changes you’d like, and if you share my vulnerability to anything that sounds like science, remember: If you pay too much attention to stories about exercise research, you’ll stay bewildered; but if you trust the practical knowledge of established athletic cultures, and keep your eye on the progressive overload principle, you will reach a state of clarity.

If only it were that simple! First, most individuals in our culture are completely mystified with exercise in general. So much hocus pocus exists in the fitness industry today that novice gym users literally have no idea what the “right” thing is to do when they walk in the gym.

Should I try Crossfit or go for yoga?

Is it bad to squat with my knees going over my toes?

Should I use machines or free weights? Well, scratch that; the free weight area is clogged up with muscle-bound dudes wearing tank-tops. I’ll just stick to cardio.

The “keep your eye on the progressive overload principle” sounds great in theory, but it lacks any real application. For that advice to be practical, the general public would have to have some actual understanding of how to structure a workout or actually achieve their goals. Unfortunately, 80% of Americans lack that knowledge altogether.

The solution isn’t just to start ignoring mainstream health and fitness news (although that’s a solid start). The key is learning to be your own editor. No one is going to filter the truth from the lies for you. It’s up to you to take ownership over your health and fitness. If following the principles of progressive overload is enough instruction for you, have at it. For everyone else, build your base of fitness knowledge and a team of trusted friends and advisors. Do your homework on new theories that hit the market. Settle for results, nothing less.

The Evolution of Fitness Trackers

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing some of the most advanced fitness trackers on the market (including one that can predict and quantify your movements in the gym). At the same time, I’ve also expressed my hesitations on the current push for the quantified self movement. Currently, I feel like the movement presents users with an overwhelming amount of data, but in my opinion, it doesn’t spur behavior change, which is the only point of tracking the numbers in the first place. Data without understanding is absolutely meaningless. As I’ve mentioned before, Exist, an app created by the two developers at Hello Code, is set to change that. I’m really excited to see the kinds of tools they put in the hands of consumers and where their small app can take the quantified self movement as a whole.

In the spirit of dreaming big, I thought it would be cool to share some areas that I’m hoping fitness trackers improve on in the new few years. No doubt some of these are already being worked on at the moment. Many of the items I’m proposing aren’t anything spectacularly new or innovative. However, they are tough to implement. So, keeping that in mind, here’s a wish list of where I would like to see quantified self movement in the future.

Continue reading “The Evolution of Fitness Trackers”

Your Own Worst Enemy

I pulled into Rogue Strength and Performance around 8AM on a Friday morning, still digesting breakfast and buzzing from too many cups of caffeine. I walked through the door and introduced myself to a few of the coaches and clients that were either finishing up sessions or just getting started with the fun. I paused for a second taking in my surroundings. The place was exactly what you would look for in a gym; that is, if you’re looking for a garage gym complete with graffiti on the walls, chains and old bars stained with sweat, and a “results at all costs” attitude. This was surely not the place where you would find heated towels in the locker room. Admittedly, it was a far cry from the commercial gym I’m used to, but I loved it.

After a few brief conversations, I was on my own for what seemed like a normal workout. I foam rolled, stretched, and warmed-up following the guidelines laid out by my training program. Then, I powered through the prescribed workout. It was tough, but it didn’t leave my gasping for air on the ground or feeling unable to drive home. I found a spot on the turf and started to roll again, ready to shower and get on with the rest of my day. Surely, the fun was over.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Continue reading “Your Own Worst Enemy”

Use Your Quantified Self Data

With more fitness watches, technical gear and health apps on the market than ever before, users have every opportunity to gain deeper insights into their daily habits, a revolution known as the “quantified self.” But while these tracking devices might be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, the amount of data they provide can seem limitless. In fact, between steps taken, calories burned, hours slept, and many more metrics, sifting through the numbers can be more overwhelming than navigating the gym in January.

So which metrics are most valuable when it comes to changing habits and getting closer to your health and fitness goals? To help you make the most of your data, we’ve broken down the four main metrics measured by most fitness trackers, what they actually mean, and how to start putting them to better use.

I’ve previously blogged about quantified self and why I’m not hopping on the train just yet. One of my main arguments against the fitness tracking movement is that I don’t believe users actually put the data into practice. I was really excited to share some thoughts on DailyBurn on how to put all of this data to use.

Read the rest of the article here.

This article was also syndicated on The Daily Beast here.

TRX Exercises to Build Strength

Could your own bodyweight be the only weight needed to build strength and get a great workout? The TRX Suspension Trainer makes a strong case for “yes.” With two adjustable straps that can be hung from either a mounted bar or a door frame, this highly-portable piece of training equipment proves that nothing fancy is required for a tough workout. And since it relies on an individual’s bodyweight for resistance, exercises can be easily manipulated to suit a variety of fitness levels on the fly. To get your feet wet, here are eight TRX exercises to try in a quick circuit that will work the entire body.

An article that was originally published on DailyBurn made it on to the Huffington Post. If your goal is to get healthier in the new year, I strongly urge you to check out the TRX as it’s one of the most versatile pieces of fitness equipment that you’ll find anywhere.