Top 5 Questions You Should Ask Me (or Any Other Trainer)

A friend showed me this a article called "11 Questions Every Athlete Should Ask Their Strength Coach." The author asked "some of the most elite, highly respected and educated coaches and trainers in the world" which questions they would ask their own coach. They came up with some really good suggestions, and I think you should ask me and any other trainer or fitness coach these same questions to help you get the most out of your training. Below, I've listed the top 5 questions along with my own responses. 

1. What is this exercise doing for me?

If you want, I can tell you want to do during each workout and you can silently go along. But it's great for you to know why you're doing each exercise. The more you know about what an exercise is doing for you, the better you'll be able to do it, notice its benefits, and improve upon it in the future. 

2. Why did you choose training as a career path?

Being a personal trainer is really hard. It's physically, emotionally, and intellectually demanding in a way that not many careers are. But I love it. Before I became a personal trainer, I worked in sales and marketing and spent most of my time in an office sitting down in front of a computer for 8+ hours a day. Long story short, I hated it. I felt physically unhealthy and emotionally stagnant. So I spent a few years shaking up my career path, exploring options, and soul-searching to figure out what I wanted to do. I tried a lot of different things. Most of them were hard, and many of them sucked. But gradually I realized that I enjoyed and was good at teaching, and I remembered that I had always had a passion for fitness. Becoming a personal trainer was an obvious next step after that realization. It was scary, but I quit all my marketing work and poured myself into becoming a fitness coach, and it's been the best single decision I've made in my adult life (the best single decision I made in my childhood life was to NOT answer David's "do you like me, yes or no" note, but that's a story for another time). I love my job. Helping people become healthy and happy always puts a smile on my face, and I'm so happy to work with you and other people like you. :)

3. How will you help me reach my goals?

Whew, that's a doozy. I try to help my clients not just with their physical training needs, but with their nutritional, mental, and emotional needs as well. In addition to interviewing you and asking about your goals, I use the Functional Movement Screen to assess your strengths and weaknesses and create your fitness plan. I periodize your training to give you periods of emphasis and growth in certain areas. Sometimes we'll be in a strength/hypertrophy/power cycle, a cardio conditioning cycle, a skill and technique cycle, or a recovery cycle -- it all depends on your goals. How we measure progress varies, too. Sometimes we'll check your body fat percentage, or maybe we'll just go by how your clothes fit, or how you feel when you look in a mirror. And everyone's goals take different lengths of time to reach. Maybe you'll get there in a few months, and maybe it will take a few years. I just hope that once you reach your current goals, you'll be excited to set new ones!

4. Why are we doing this over and over again?

Have you ever wondered "OMG WHY IS MJ MAKING ME DO SO MANY SQUATS RIGHT NOW" during a workout? If not, that probably means I need to make you do more squats! Just kidding... maybe. ;) There are many different reasons why I'll have you do the same movement many times in a training session or training cycle. Maybe it is so you can work on your endurance. Maybe we're perfecting your form. Or maybe we're just working on building some muscle! Don't be afraid to ask the next time we work out.

5. Why should I train with you?

This is a great question for you to ask. You probably want a personal trainer who listens and pays attention to your body and your feelings. You may also want a trainer who will do the research and planning necessary to help you meet your unique goals in a way that is safe and efficient for your unique body. And maybe you want someone who takes a multi-disciplinary approach and thinks out of the box to keep you on your toes and expose you to new things that you may not have tried. I can do that for you. 

Got any other questions that you don't see here? Just contact me and let me know!

How to Mitigate Stress by Lifting Weights

Life is stressful. Sometimes that stress is good. A healthy amount of stress makes you perform better at your job, work harder on your personal relationships, and grow stronger as your body changes to meet greater demands.

But too much stress without time for recovery can put you into a state of chronic stress. And when you get there, you may also experience:

  • Moodiness
  • Feeling like you're out of control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Low self-esteem or depression
  • Desire for isolation
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, upset stomach, aches, pains, and tense muscles, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, insomnia... 

The list goes on. Too much stress can ruin your happiness and your health. We can't avoid stress, but we can manage how much it impacts us.

One of the best ways to manage anxiety and de-stress is by lifting weights. This study shows that "resistance training at a low-to-moderate intensity produces the most reliable and robust decreases in anxiety."

The study defines "low-to-moderate" intensity as lifting weights that are less than 70% of your one rep maximum (1RM) -- that is, 70% of the heaviest weight you can safely lift if someone held a gun to your head and told you to lift the heaviest thing you could (wait, am I stressing you out more with that image?). 

This is the same weight range that most people use in an average weightlifting session. For example, if you're lifting 5 sets of 8 reps, and you feel like it's about a 7 or 8 out of 10 on a difficulty scale, you're probably lifting at about 65% of your 1RM. 

So, what should you do if you're feeling stressed out? Come on into the gym and lift weights with me, that's what! You'll feel better in no time, and you'll also benefit from increases in muscle mass, endurance, and bone density. 

photo credit: anieto2k 6/52³: Estrés / Stress via photopin (license)

The Scariest Thing About Halloween is Weight Gain

Halloween is almost here, and you know what that means: it's officially THE HOLIDAY SEASON -- or rather, the Holiday WEIGHT GAIN Season. 

Between now and January 1st, everywhere you turn you'll be bombarded with candy, baked treats, rich meals, and boozey parties. It's a fun time of year for foodies and social butterflies. But it can be a troubling time of year for your health.  Most people gain a bit of weight over the holidays. If you're at a normal weight, that's not too bad. But if you're already trying to lose weight, any additional pounds can discourage you enough to make you want to quit. So how concerned about holiday weight gain should you be? This article puts it in perspective:

"Depending on how you measure, the estimates of how much the average person gains over the holiday season varies. The number you usually see thrown around is anywhere from 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years, but this is based on self-reporting, which (unsurprisingly) tends to be skewed with a hefty helping of post-holiday guilt.

"The actual research is a little more optimistic. This study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people’s perceived weight gain varied between 0 and 6.7 pounds with an average of 3.5, but their actual weight gain was just under 1 pound. So in reality, the 'holiday weight' is nothing to panic over: it’s nice to avoid it, but if you can’t, it’s not a catastrophe.

"The overweight are the most at risk. Study after study (e.g. this one and this one) has tracked holiday weight gain and found that people who start at a higher BMI tend to gain more weight. In the same 2000 study that busted the 5-10 pound myth, 20% of obese subjects and 10% of overweight subjects gained more than 5 pounds, compared with only 5% of non-overweight people.

"The formerly overweight also struggle. This study tracked 178 successful weight losers (people who had lost at least 77 pounds and kept it off for at least a few years), and 101 normal-weight people who had never been overweight. Despite making more careful plans and working harder to maintain their weight, 39% of the weight-losers gained at least 2.2 pounds over the holiday, compared to 17% of the normal-weight group."

Woooooo gobble gobble wooooooo I'm a spooky turkey ghost!"

Woooooo gobble gobble wooooooo I'm a spooky turkey ghost!"

Yikes. You've probably worked hard to get your body healthier, and these studies show that the holiday season could undo some of that hard work. So how can you enjoy the holiday parties while staying on track to achieve your fitness goals and avoid holiday weight gain?

  1. Commit to going to the gym -- whether or not you "feel like it." I like to say that this is about discipline, not motivation. You don't brush your teeth in the morning because it is fun; you do it because it is good for you and you like having fresh breath and white teeth over halitosis and gum disease. You don't go to work because you feel motivated; you go because you need to earn a paycheck and you like being able to afford a roof over your head and pumpkin spice lattes. Similarly, you may not always feel like going to the gym, but you'll feel better after you spend time taking care of your health, and you'll enjoy looking and feeling stronger and healthier. 
  2. Stay away from trigger foods. Try to figure out which foods make you binge and avoid them like the plague. For example, a few years ago I gorged on so many chips at a Super Bowl party that my tummy was distended with a truly visible "food baby," and I felt so full that I was nauseous. Since then, I've avoided eating chips at parties because I know that their delicious fatty-salty combo will trigger me to eat way, WAY too many and regret it. Instead, I bring hummus and veggies to parties and stick to eating whole foods that come from the outer edges of the grocery store. This includes produce, cheese, and meat, all foods that are more nutrient dense than processed party snacks like chips. They are also more filling and satiating, which means you won't want as many of them. 
  3. Drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. This won't just keep you from consuming as many calories -- this will also help you avoid a hangover so that you'll feel fresh and ready to go to the gym next day. And by the way, my favorite hangover cure is... drum roll... working out. It always makes me feel like I've just burned off all the poison I consumed the night before. 

For the next few weeks, I'll try to help you navigate the holidays to have fun and stay healthy. Stay tuned!

photo credit: Ravi_Shah 285/366 - Snack Size via photopin (license), SuperfitNutrition Holiday Food Safety Tips via photopin (license)

Which Should You Do First: Cardio or Weights?

Have you ever stepped into the gym, full of confidence and purpose and ready to get yo' fitness on, only to freeze in confusion, torn between the two greater goods: cardio or weightlifting? You probably know that the best way to lose weight and live a healthier life is to combine cardio and weight training, but which one should you do first?

Cardio is a lot more fun when you do it outside in a beautiful place.

Cardio is a lot more fun when you do it outside in a beautiful place.

Cardio vs. Weight Training

Public health organizations mostly tell you to do steady-state aerobic exercise. This "cardio" exercise does enhance cardiorespiratory fitness and has some impact on body composition -- that is, it can assist with fat loss. Aerobic exercise increases the number of critical cardiovascular components in your body, like tiny blood-carrying capillaries. It also builds your mitochondria, which as you may recall from biology class, are the "powerhouses of the cell." Additionally, cardio exercise improves cholesterol levels and increases blood vessel flexibility.

Yet research demonstrates that resistance exercise training has dramatically positive effects on the musculoskeletal system. Weight training helps you maintain functional abilities (perform healthy human movements) and prevents osteoporosis, sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), lumbar pain, and other issues.

Recent research shows that resistance training may also have positive impact on health risk factors such as insulin resistance, resting metabolic rate, glucose metabolism, blood pressure, body fat and gastrointestinal transit time. By reducing these risks factors, you reduce your chance of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer. 

Weight Training Before Cardio?

There’s a popular belief that lifting weights before cardio will deplete up all the energy you already have stored in your body and force your body to use fat for fuel. Although this idea isn't too far-fetched, studies show that this theory isn't 100% accurate.

A recent study on women (specifically women who may be considered "beginners" in fitness) showed no difference in results regardless of whether they started their workouts with cardio or lifting.

A recent study on men (specifically clinically obese men) showed slightly better results for participants who lifted weights before they performed their cardio exercise. But this improvement was minimal.

So what's the final verdict on which type of exercise you should do first?

Lifting is a lot more fun when you track your progress and appreciate your results.

Lifting is a lot more fun when you track your progress and appreciate your results.

It All Depends on Your Body and Your Goals.

I want you to see exercise as an enjoyable part of a healthy lifestyle, not a painful chore. So if you hate doing cardio after your workout and love doing it before, well, do what you love. If that doesn't get you the results you want, then change your strategy.  Everyone's body is unique so you may respond differently to a training stimulus than someone else; there is no universal prescription for health. 

So let's say you don't really have a strong personal preference on doing cardio before or after weightlifting. In that case, do the most important type of exercise at the beginning of your workout, while you're fresh. If you want to focus mostly on weight training, do that first. If you want to focus mostly on cardio training, do that first instead. And if you just really feel like mixing it up, do whatever you feel best about on each day.

However, I generally recommend that you involve cardio in your workout in 4 key ways:

  • Include easy-breezy cardio in your warm-up before you lift. This means a few minutes (less than 10) in a light jog, row, or cycling bout. You should find a pace that gently increases your heart rate an loosens up your joints but doesn't leave you feeling gassed. You should be able to pass the "talk test," that is, hold a conversation or sing while you move.
  • If you're training for fat loss, include bouts of cardio (running, burpees, bunny hops, brisk walks) in between your lifting sets. This offers a variety of benefits, from increasing blood flow to your muscles to boosting your metabolism. Just make sure you don't perform your cardio so intensely that you lose proper form on your lifting. 
  • Finish off your workout with a 10-30 minute cardio session. I usually only recommend this on days when your lifting regimen is light or focused on your upper body. You don't want to push your cardio efforts too far if your stabilizing muscles are too fatigued to protect you from injury.
  • Include one day each week that is devoted to either long and slow cardio (like long runs or rides) and/or short and explosive cardio (like sprints, hill drills, or box jumps). These days should comprise about 10-20% of your total training and should really push your limits. This is a great way to bump your overall fitness, endurance, and power up to the next level.

There are lots of ways to incorporate cardio and weightlifting into your routine, and your regimen doesn't have to look exactly like someone else's.  Just remember that you can’t out-train a bad diet, so no matter what you choose to do, make sure you eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods!

Do You Need to Take Dietary Supplements?

Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, a dietician, or a doctor.  I'm just a personal trainer. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat a medical condition. It is just meant to inform you and help you make good decisions. Speak to a doctor or other health specialist for more specific information about your own health.

After you’ve called it quits on junk food and unhealthy eating, you may come to the conclusion that you could do more for your health. Maybe you could lose more fat or gain more muscle or eat more nutrient-dense foods. But when all of that may sound like too much for you to handle, you might start thinking about using dietary supplements to help you reach your goals. From vitamins to protein powders, some supplements can help people reach their health and fitness goals, but are they right for you?

What are supplements?

The word "supplement" means "something that completes or enhances something else when added to it." Supplements are not only found in our bodies, but also in our lives. For example, you could have an extra job to supplement your income. When we talk about dietary supplements, we are talking about additional sources of macro- and micro-nutrients (protein, carbs, and fats are macronutrients, and just about everything else is a micronutrient) to our bodies that go beyond what you consume in your normal diet.

If you eat nutritious and balanced meals daily, in most cases you won’t need supplements. There are a few exceptions, so its a good idea to ask your doctor to regularly test you for nutritional deficiencies and surpluses. This is especially important if you're in an unusual health situation or eat an unusual diet. For example, some vegans and vegetarians may benefit from adding iron, B-vitamins, creatine, and vitamin K2 to their diets, because these micronutrients can be difficult to acquire with a plant-based diet. 

Can I use supplements for muscle building?

You can always find someone at the gym walking around with a shaker bottle full of a pre-workout, post-workout, or in-the-middle-of-the-freakin-workout beverage. But do these expensive concoctions work?

Yes and no. Some people do find it difficult to eat enough protein in their normal diets, and they can benefit from the convenience of a healthy, natural protein shake. And some components of pre- and post-workout supplements, like creatine, BCAAs (that's branch chain amino acids, the building blocks of protein) and even caffeine have proven benefits. In the right forms and correct dosages, these supplements can reduce your perceived rate of exertion (which helps you workout harder), increase work capacity and power output of the muscle while promoting physical endurance and lean body mass gains, lessen muscle breakdown, speed recovery, and even support cognitive function. 

If you do supplement with protein, creatine, BCAAs, or other muscle-building supplements, you should choose the most natural, highest quality forms of them. Avoid products that have added artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners. For example, when I make a protein smoothie, I use unflavored organic whey, hemp, or pea protein and add my own flavors through whole, natural ingredients like berries, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs. And when I take creatine, I just pop a few pills of pure creatine monohydrate. This is way healthier and tastier than consuming the fake crap that is often included in pre-packaged smoothie or shake mixes. 

When you add supplements to your diet, make sure you know what constitutes a healthy dose. Remember, too much of a good thing can quickly become a very bad thing. This is true even for seemingly innocuous protein, the overconsumption of which can lead to weight gain, cancer, and even kidney stones. So choose and use any supplement with care. 

Can I use supplements for losing weight?

Fat-loss supplements with bold claims like, “Lose ALL THE WEIGHT in 5 days!" have probably caught your eye. But these claims really are too good to be true. Even prescription fat loss pills have more bad side effects than good results.

Before jumping on the miracle pill bandwagon, clean up your diet. It’ll cost you less to work with the (healthy) food that you already have than to spend more money on a supplement. Remember that 80% of your weight goals can be made or broken by your diet. You can run as many miles as you want, but that fat won’t go away if you’re constantly feeding your body crap.

And while you’re cutting out all that processed junk and replacing it with whole, natural foods, implement cardio and weight training into your daily routine. This is the most long-lasting, efficient way to lose fat and keep it off.

Should I use dietary supplements at all?

You really only need to use dietary supplements if a trusted physician confirms that you have a nutrient deficiency. Supplements, like we have discussed, are an addition, not a replacement to your normal meals. The best way to get your macro and micronutrients is by eating a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense foods. And even the most innocent supplements can be dangerous.

The supplement industry makes a ton of money by promising amazing results. Some supplements are effective, but the industry has a lot of problems. Sometimes they make false claims, and because of the way they are regulated, they can't really be held accountable for their lies. Even worse, there is a huge, systemic problem with contamination in the supplement industry. Even trusted brands that have a lot of integrity struggle with supply chain problems that leave their products vulnerable to tampering and fraud. So when you take a supplement, you run the risk of consuming incorrect ingredients or even toxic substances like powdered plastic or sawdust. 

So the answer to the question, "Should I use dietary supplements?" is really, "It's up to you, and it depends on a lot of factors." You should carefully weight the pros and cons and speak to a few health professionals (and get tested for deficiencies) before you shell out cash for supplements. For example, the supplements I take are high-quality and come from sources that I trust. They have low risks associated with potential overdose, and I'm careful to take only as much as is not provided by my diet. But I also know that taking them (or not taking them) involves some level of risk, and I am OK with that, for now. You should try to stay safe and healthy in the same way by doing your research and doing what is right for your own unique body.

How Do You Get a Flat Stomach and Visible Abs?

The washboard abs. The six-pack. The slim waist. Whatever you want to call it, you probably have wondered once in your life how to get a flat stomach.

When I interview my new clients, I almost always hear them cite their stomach as one of their biggest problem areas.  Now, I would prefer that all my clients forget what they look like and focus on what their bodies can do. I believe that if you train for function -- getting stronger, moving better, feeling healthier -- then the changes within your body will start to show in your appearance. I think "looking good while naked" starts by "moving better and stronger while clothed."  I also honestly believe that "having abs" is an arbitrary and silly aesthetic goal. MANY people are healthy and attractive even though they don't have visible abs. In fact, some people, especially women, would have to diet down to dangerously low body fat percentages to get to a range that would allow their abs to become visible through their skin. 

Your body is unique. Where you tend to accumulate fat and what your body fat level may be at homeostasis is (mostly) up to your genes.  Maybe you SHOULD have visible abs at the body fat range that is healthiest for you, and maybe you SHOULDN'T.  That depends on a lot of things that are beyond your control.

Ultimately, I want you to be healthy and happy with your body no matter what it looks like. But people always ask me about how they can get abs, and that's what I'm going to tell you now.

You're limited in how much you can alter your genes (hello, epigenetics), but that doesn’t mean belly fat can’t be budged. If you want to get a flatter stomach, you have to first incorporate both strength training and cardio to your daily routine.

Lift Heavy Things

Abs are short for abdominals, a muscle group that keeps your internal organs in place and helps your spine stay in line during daily activities. Pretty much all your movement relies on your abs. So to say that you "want abs" is illogical because everyone has them! You just might not be able to see them.

To build your abs, you’ve got to strengthen them. You can start off by incorporating core exercises into your workout routine. Each session should include at least one movement that is anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation (rotary) training, or hip flexion with a neutral spine. Exercises like ab wheels, off-set farmer carries, Pallof press variations, and jackknifes are excellent ways to focus on your core muscles, making them bigger and stronger.

Lifting heavy weights through functional movements like squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups will also lead to fast development of a stronger core. Skip the weight machines and incorporate free weights whenever possible.

But no matter how big and strong your abs grow, you still won’t be able to see them if they’re covered in a layer of fat. This is where cardio comes in.

Include Cardiovascular Exercise

An effective strategy for losing that fat is through cardiovascular exercises. These exercises force the body to use up energy in calories. A few cardio exercises you can incorporate are burpees, rowing, cycling, and plain ol’ fashion running.

But I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen.” In other words, exercising is only half the battle.

Eat Nutrient Dense Foods at a Caloric Deficit

Five words: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. If you eat cookies and burgers all day, you’ll look and feel like you eat cookies and burgers all day. Being aware of the food choices you make is essential for losing belly fat and getting a flatter stomach.

Here are a few things to try to help you make smarter decisions with what you eat:

  • Keep a food diary of everything you eat. I recommend using MyFitnessPal. Track your food but NOT your exercise, and calibrate the settings to accommodate for all the calories you want to consume on an average day (find this with IIFYM). Do this for as long as it takes you to understand how many macronutrients (calories of protein, carbs, and fat) are in the foods you usually consume. This will help you make healthy decisions. 
  • Skip out on the fast food every week (grab a cookbook and prepare your own meals). Try to eat the freshest, most nutrient-dense foods that you can find.
  • Always read food labels! Food producers are sneaky about including a lot of hidden sugars and other nonsense in their products. Don't get caught off guard by what you're eating.
  • DON'T BUY THINGS THAT YOU KNOW YOU SHOULDN'T EAT. When you go to the grocery store, don't even look at Oreos, Doritos, and other useless packaged junk. If you don't bring it into your house, you can't accidentally binge on it.

Accept Your Abs as They Are

Unless you're a professional model, no one that you care about is going to judge you negatively because they can't see a your rectus abdominis poking through your skin -- and if they do, they suck. Like, really, really suck.  

If you are one of those lucky individuals who can healthfully have visible abs, hooray for you! If you got it, flaunt it! But if you aren't, remember that most people can be fit, healthy, and happy without visible abs. Work to get to a body fat percentage that is healthy for your age and gender and try to be as strong and functional as possible. I promise that if you do that, you will be VERY happy with your abs. 

If You Lift Weights, Will You Get Bigger Muscles?

As more and more fitness trainers and blog articles describe the many benefits of strength training, many ­­people who never tried it before are now curious about lifting weights. Unfortunately, some folks worry about "bulking up," so they refrain from it.

In my professional experience, women tend to be the most concerned about getting "bulky," but I've also encountered men who worry about this. (I don't blame women for this -- we are constantly bombarded with media messages that tell us to be smaller and frailer, but that's a soapbox message for another article.) They are afraid that if they lift weights, their arms will get too big for all their shirts, their legs will look like tree trunks, and their midsections will grossly thicken. So instead of benefiting from weightlifting, they revert back to the same old cardio-centric program that has never worked before and probably never will.  Then they wonder why they're still gaining or can't lose fat. 

You may think that lifting weights will turn you into the Hulk, but the concept of gaining bigger muscles isn’t so black and white...or green. It is WAY harder than you think to get those giant muscles that you fear. Instead of getting bigger, weightlifting (done right) is the best way to get those long, lean muscles or smooth, toned look that you crave.  

Unless you're dumped in a bucket of radioactive ooze or whatever, it's gonna be REALLY hard to look like one of these guys. 

Unless you're dumped in a bucket of radioactive ooze or whatever, it's gonna be REALLY hard to look like one of these guys. 

Of course, weightlifting CAN make you bigger, if you train and eat in a way to support that growth. Here are some things to consider, whether you ARE or are NOT interested in making your muscles grow larger. 

What is your gender?

Women don’t have nearly as much testosterone as men. This means that unless their bodies are very unusual (like some Olympians this year) or take steroids, they can't bulk up at the same rate as men, according to Tipton. Testosterone and a few other sex hormones help in the production of proteins that build muscle. And in the process called hypertrophy, these hormones go overboard and muscle fibers are created. 

So ladies, if you’re afraid of getting as big as Arnold Schwarzenegger, don’t be. It’s genetically impossible.

Regardless of gender, if you want to make a difference in your health, one of the best ways to do that is through strength training. And if you want bigger muscles, hypertrophy should be your goal. In order to reach hypertrophy, you’ve got to lift. Heavy.

One way to do this is by finding your one-repetition maximum (the maximum amount of weight you can lift in one rep, or 1RM) and then lifting in a strategic range of reps, sets, and percentages of that weight (to learn more about lifting on your own, check out the Science and Practice of Strength Training -- but a good personal trainer is the best person to talk to about this).  Now, I don’t recommend you going to the gym and piling a bunch of weights on a bar; there’s an easier (and safer) way to do this.

There are several calculators online that can help you calculate your 1RM. Here’s a calculator from Bodybuilding.com, or if you’re really up for the challenge, you can calculate it yourself using Brzycki’s formula (hint: use the calculators).

Of course, these calculators won’t always be accurate. It’s because they give you your 1RM free of conditions and situations you may be in. For instance, it doesn’t account for if you’re not used to lifting every day. or if it’s even your first time in the gym and you’re feeling nervous.

The more accurate route is to test out your max with yourself AND a personal trainer to prevent injuries. 

To summarize, if you don’t want to get too bulky, your chances of that happening are slim if you’re a woman. And even if you're a dude, you're going to have to work hard to bulk up. But there are two other factors that play a hand in the muscle-building process.

What do your genes say?

The type of muscle fibers that your body predominately uses is determined by your genetics. There are two main types: fast- and slow-twitch fibers. Fast-twitch fibers contract fast and make it easier to gain muscle.

Slow-twitch fibers do have their perks, though; they’re ideal for activities involving endurance, and they fatigue a lot slower. You can research which types of fibers your body is mostly comprised of following this guide.

How intensely are you training?

Regardless of your gender and genetics, you have to push yourself if you’re interested in gaining more muscle. Doing the same number of reps with the same weight will engage your muscles, but it won’t make them any larger. If you want to see change, you’ve got to make a change! That's one thing that a certified personal trainer like me can help you with. We can put together a plan that varies the intensity and techniques of your workout in the right way to  fit your body and your goals -- whether or not they include growing massive muscles. 

Do you lift? Do you want to learn how to make lifting fit your goals? Just get in touch with me today to set up a complimentary consultation. We'll get you started safely and successfully. 

What is the Best Way to Lose Fat?

It’s the question that everyone asks at least once in their life, hoping that the answer will be as easy as buying products promoting weight loss. However, fat loss is a lot more complex than choosing fat-free cheese. (Seriously, is that even cheese?)

The best method for fat loss differentiates from person to person. Everyone’s body responds differently to everything. 

But one strategy that remains consistent to all fat-loss tips is exercise. If you want to lose your gut, you’ve gotta get off your butt.  And cardio alone probably won't cut it -- you should always add weight training into your program if you want to lose fat. 

Many people believe that if they do some type of walking or low-intensity workout that doesn’t involve much muscle building, it leaves their body no excuse but to burn fat. These people are right - partially. 

The amount of fat lost during more intense workouts is smaller compared to low-intensity ones, but the downside is that you’re doing far less work and burning even fewer calories. 

When you’re trying to lose fat, you need to focus on intensity. The more intense your workout, the more calories you’re burning. Since calories are a measurement of energy, the more calories you’re using, the more energy you’re using, and the more energy used, the more oxygen you’ll need (or else you’ll pass out). 

Oxygen is like the key to all the doors hiding the fat lodged near your stomach, in your arms, your waist, etc. You need high-intensity exercises to boost your heart rate. This will, in turn, enable your body to demand oxygen, which will help you burn calories from fat.  

But once you get in that stage of fat-burning, don’t think you can stay there forever! After all, you can only demand oxygen for so long until you really pass out.

Eventually, you’ll have to slow down so that you don't over train your body, but that doesn’t mean your fat-burning capabilities have to slow down as well. Prolong your fat-burning time by lifting weights. 

Build muscle to burn fat. 

Build muscle to burn fat. 

Strength training helps because it’s an anaerobic exercise.  In other words, you don’t need to rely on oxygen so much to burn fat.

When you lift weights, your body skips all those steps and goes straight to those fat reservoirs. That’s because when you’re lifting weights, you’re also boosting your metabolism. The faster your metabolism, the more fat your body uses up as energy. 

You may be thinking, “Why not just lift weights since that burns fat faster?” You definitely can lose fat by just lifting weight. But this study suggests that compared to just weightlifting, cardio and strength training together burn fat more efficiently (Dolezal & Potteiger 1998).

So what should you do if you want to lose fat? You can try going for a jog, dancing, or doing any other type of activity that’ll get your heart racing. But don’t forget to combine that cardio with weighted movements like squats, deadlifts, chest presses, or your other favorite muscle building exercises. Lifting weights is the key to building lean muscle tissue, boosting your metabolism, and turning into a fat-burning machine.

A Beginner's Guide to Your Muscles, What They Do, and How to Work Them

The fitness world can be confusing. When you first dive into fitness, you'll hear a lot about the different muscles in your body, what they do, and how to exercise them. If you're not a fitness professional, all the technical jargon that your personal trainer throws around might give you a headache. More knowledge is always better, but not all of us have time and interest in learning about the intimate details all the complex muscles in our bodies. 

Fortunately, you don't need to have an exhaustive, complete understanding of your anatomy to learn how to use your body well. This is a list of the biggest muscles and muscle groups that you need to know about. Learn these, and you'll be able to understand and make decisions about your body way better than most people.

Lower body

Quads

Quads

Quads

The four big muscles on the front of your thigh are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis,vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Collectively they are called the quadriceps femoris or quads.

  • Primary Function: straighten the knee and flex the hip
  • Targeting exercises: squat, lunge
 
From top to bottom: Glutes, Hamstrings, and Calves

From top to bottom: Glutes, Hamstrings, and Calves

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are muscles on the back of your thighs: the Biceps Femoris, the Semitendinosus, and the Semimembranosus. 

  • Primary function: bend the knee and extend the thigh
  • Targeting exercises: deadlift, cable pull-through, good morning

Calves

The calves are composed of the gastrocnemius, the soleus, and the tibialis anterior. 

  • Primary function: move your foot
  • Exercises: calf raises

Glutes

Your butt is made up of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. 

  • Primary Function: move your hip and thigh
  • Targeted exercises: glute bridge, hip thrust, hip extension
 

Core

Chest

Pecs

Pecs

The major muscles in the chest are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. 

  • Primary function: move and stabilize arm and shoulder movements
  • Targeted exercises: bench press, fly, push-up
A Trapezius B Teres Major C Teres Minor D Latissimus Dorsi E Sternocleomastoid F Rhomboid Major

A Trapezius B Teres Major C Teres Minor D Latissimus Dorsi E Sternocleomastoid F Rhomboid Major

Back

The back is a huge major muscle group. The primary muscles you'll hear about here are the trapezius and latissimus dorsi, or "traps and lats."

  • Primary function: pull the arm down or bring the body up towards the arm, stabilize the torso, control the shoulder blades
  • Targeted exercises: row, pull-up

Abs 

Abs

Abs

Abdominals are comprised of obliques, the rectus abdominis, and the transverse abdomonis. 

  • Primary function: assist in the breathing process, protect the inner organs, provide postural support 
  • Targeted exercises: crunch, reverse crunch, leg raise, ab roller
 

Arms

Shoulders

The the biggest muscle group in your shoulder are the deltoids: anterior, posterior, and lateral.

  • Primary function: move the arm
  • Targeted exercises: shoulder press, row, lateral raise

Upper Arms

The two biggest muscles in the part of your arm above your elbow are the biceps and triceps.

  • Primary function: bending and straightening your forearm
  • Targeted exercises: triceps kickback, barbell curl

Forearms

For the purposes of this basic introduction to muscle groups, I don't think you need to know the names of all the little muscles in your forearms.  It is most important to learn about what they do and how you can exercise them.

  • Primary function: flex and extend your fingers, flex the elbow, and turn the hand to face down or upwards.
  • Targeted exercises: wrist curl, farmer carry
 

So, now you know the most important muscles. Knowledge is power, so your workouts should become even more powerful!

photo credit: Romain via photopin (license)

A Not-So-Brief History of How I See My Body

A Not-So-Brief History of How I See My Body

My story is not the story of dramatic weight loss or weight gain. In fact, it is about the opposite of that.  It is about seeing your body as something it is not. Even though I have spent years cajoling, bullying, and forcing my body to look a certain way, and even though I have often felt fat and ugly and gross, my body has stayed mostly the same, and it looks fine.  This is a story about body dysmorphia.