Exercise, fitness, Nutrition, Opinion, Progress, wellness

Holiday Wellness

Wellness Tips for the Holiday Season:

1: Do what you want to do. If you love your family and want to spend the season with them, do so. If your family stresses you out, and being with them isn’t what’s best for you, don’t feel pressured to. Your mental health is more important, so do what’s best for you.

2: Enjoy your holiday. (Close to Tip One, but slightly different.) The holiday season is the end of your year, and you should enjoy it. Of course, keep your physical and mental health in mind, but feel free to indulge a bit. Go out for drinks with friends, share a dessert you’ve been meaning to try, blow off your friends and look at Christmas decorations, whatever you want to do, do it.

3: Don’t worry about your diet. Enjoy the food of the season! Don’t go nuts, but make sure that you aren’t neglecting your life in the name of “health”. Remember: veggies are full of vitamins and minerals, not just “low cal options” and exercise is there to enhance your health, not to punish you for eating and drinking too much the night before.

4: Try to stick to your routine. This can be a hard one, depending on your holiday plans, but do your best to stick to what you do daily. Just because you’re on vacation and relaxing doesn’t mean you should neglect all of the habits you’ve worked so hard to form! If your schedule allows, try to get the same amount of exercise in, even if it means three 20 minute walks around the neighborhood instead of three days in the gym. Staying active will only help translate into your new year.

5: Reflect on your year. This time of year can be hard for us, whether financially or emotionally. Make sure, even if you feel like you’re struggling, that you give yourself credit where credit is due. Reflect back on your year, and on your accomplishments and successes. Reflect on your not so big successes, but the lessons learned from them and not the negative feelings. No matter how your year went, let’s focus on the positives, and the lessons we can implement in the next year.

Enjoy your holidays, wherever you decide to and with whomever you decide to. This was all around a rough year for a lot of us, so be sure to give yourself a chance to relax, reflect, and get a game plan for next year. Happy holidays everyone!

Exercise, fitness, Progress, wellness

Bump It Up

How have your workouts been lately? Are they still really challenging, or have the once challenging lifts become easier? As you continue to perform a workout, exercise, or movement in general, your body and muscles adapt to the movement, becoming stronger, and making the movement easier. In order to grow muscle size, endurance, strength, or stability, the intensity must be increased past the point of adaptation. This is a principle in fitness known as Progressive Overload. There are many ways to easily increase the intensity of your lifts to ensure that you are making sufficient progress from them.

Increase the Weight

The easiest way to increase the intensity of any movement is to increase the weight used. How do you know that it’s time to increase the weight? Let’s talk about the 2 for 2 rule. This rule states that when you feel as though you could do extra reps in each set, from the last two workouts, it’s time to increase the weight. This ensures that you won’t be increasing weight prematurely, or before your body is actually ready. To reduce the risk of injury, you should be sure to gradually increase the weight, with no more than a 2.5-5lb increase on upper body movements, and a 5-10lb increase on lower body movements.

Increase the Volume

Another easy way to increase the intensity of your workouts is to increase the volume of exercise you perform in the workout. Volume refers to the total amount of sets and repetitions of movements in a workout. To increase the intensity, you could increase the amount of sets by one (two to three sets, three to four, etc) or you could also increase the amount of repetitions you perform (12 instead of 10, 6 instead of 4, etc). I would not increase both the sets and repetitions at the same time though, as this may increase the intensity too much too quickly, with little time for adaptation. If you decide to increase the repetitions, be sure that it is still within your intended range, so as not to change the intent of the lift. This means to keep the range within 8-15 for hypertrophy, 1-6 for strength, and 15+ for endurance.

SuperSet for Super Gains

Instead of performing a straight set, of three sets of 10 repetitions of an exercise with a one minute rest in between sets, try to superset two exercises. This means combining two exercises into a single set, by performing all reps of exercise One and then all reps of exercise Two with no rest in-between. You rest after all reps of both exercises are complete. Increasing the amount of work without increasing the amount of rest will increase heart rate, breathing rate, and the amount of stress placed on muscles. You can either combine two similar exercises, such as a squat and a lunge, to really stress your leg muscles, increasing the volume and intensity placed on those muscles, or you can combine two opposing muscles, such as with a row and a bench press, working back and chest. This type of superset allows for more work to be done with less rest in between, as the rest period for one muscle group occurs when you are performing the repetitions for the second muscle group. For pure strength gains, I perform straight sets, with no second exercise, as the rest time for those lifts are two-three minutes. After I have performed my strength lifts, I then superset lifts for an increased intensity, and stress on the muscles to make them grow.

Between these three variables, it is very easy to increase the intensity of your workouts. Remember, without proper intensity, your muscle size and strength won’t increase, as they don’t have the proper stress to stimulate the adaptations. What would be the point of working out if you weren’t actually gaining anything from it? Each workout should be difficult and challenging, giving your body the necessary stress to progress.

Exercise, Nutrition, Opinion, Progress

Health Between the Holidays

We did it! We survived Thanksgiving, and we’re now officially in the holiday season. I already made a post about surviving the holidays (read it here), but here’s a new take on the topic. Before we go any further: one day of overindulgence will not ruin your progress. Your body is smart, and knows how to handle extra calories on a single day (and even a few days of overindulgence won’t ruin your hard work. Just don’t let all of your healthy habits go out the window.) I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed my vacation the past few days, and I do mean enjoyed (pretty sure I had pie for breakfast the past three days), but am I giving up for the rest of the year? Absolutely not.

The four-five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas is incredibly tricky, especially when it comes to health and fitness. It’s in these five weeks that most people get the “all or nothing” mentality, feel like they failed, and throw in the towel on their fitness goals. They think “in just a few weeks, the holidays will be over, it’ll be a new year, and I’ll start then.” Now, really think about just how much time that is.

*It takes three weeks to form a new habit, so, in five weeks, you could be well into integrating your second healthy habit. I’ve talked about how a healthy lifestyle is nothing more than a combination of healthy habits implemented into your daily routine, making a healthy lifestyle. Take the next few weeks to get your water intake up and go for a walk a few days a week to make a huge difference in your health and fitness journey success, especially getting a jumpstart on January.

*Sustainable weight loss is between .5-2lbs per week, depending on your current status and goals. But, in five weeks, you could be 2.5-10lbs closer to your ultimate weight loss goal. I know you have that magic number in your mind, that magic weight (we all have it, no shame). Imagine starting in January, with your goals not so out of reach. And, even if you don’t have a goal weight in mind, implementing healthier habits over the unhealthiest of the holidays helps to offset those indulgences as the season goes on.

Five weeks doesn’t initially seem like a significant amount of time, until you list out what you can really accomplish in that timespan. Now, it becomes just another time period in which we can get closer to our goals.

Putting off your health goals until the “time is right” really sets the tone of those goals as well. Unfortunately, the tone those goals now have is that they aren’t a priority, and can be taken over by anything more pressing. This is why you make the resolution to lose the same ten pounds year after year, that goal isn’t a real priority to you. If it was, you would have hit that goal, and not let other priorities push it out of the way. It’s time to stop the resolution cycle! No more dieting for January, let’s get healthy for life! Believe me, I’m not saying to start a restrictive, regimented plan today. Starting a crazy, restrictive diet, especially during the season of holiday parties, will do nothing but set you up for failure. What I’m saying is now is the time to wake up and prioritize your health. Now is the time to write out your goals (and make sure to make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). Now is the time to pick a few steps, that you are confident that you can implement into your lifestyle, to help reach your goals.

I overindulged in the past week. I feel it today, I feel off. I don’t feel guilt for not following my routine on vacation, and I don’t feel like a failure in my goals. Today, I am back on my usual routine. Today, I am prioritizing eating lighter, with more vegetables at each meal, increasing my water intake to my usual levels, and going back to my usual exercise program. I’m not “making up” for anything, or going overboard in anticipation of Christmas, I’m just going back to my habits. I’m taking care of myself today, for life, not for January. Who’s with me?

Exercise, Other, Progress

Deadlift Your Way to Better Movement

The overall strength movement that gets the biggest negative reputation anywhere besides the fitness industry is the deadlift. There are plenty of deadlift fail videos out there, with the lifters fainting, falling, rounded/breaking backs, you name it. But what if I told you that there is no other movement as effective for total body strengthening than the deadlift? Along with that, did you know that the deadlift directly relates to everyday movement? Let’s dig deeper into the deadlift:

Deadlifts 101

The deadlift is a total body strengthening movement. It begins with a hip hinge, training proper lifting from the floor, as well as core strength and stability, upper body strength and stability, and posterior chain (glutes and hamstring) strength and stability. The biggest fear with the deadlift is that the lower back is in danger, but, with proper form, the deadlift will greatly reduce your risk for lower back injury and reduce lower back pain. The stronger your core is, no just your abs, but your actual deep core, the less stress that is placed on your lower back. As well, the main imbalances many people have include weak glutes/hamstrings and weak mid backs. These imbalances tend to be the leading cause of both lower back and knee pain. The deadlift actually trains these weak areas, increasing the strength, stability, and endurance of these muscles, helping to alleviate the imbalance.

There are many different deadlift variations, all with similar, yet different outcomes. The conventional deadlift involves feet around hip width apart, with toes pointing forward, and hands on the bar outside of your feet. The conventional deadlift is more of a true hip hinge, and recruits more glutes, with also more lat and mid back engagement. The sumo stance deadlift involves a wide stance, with toes pointing out. Your hands will be inside of your feet on the bar. The sumo stance deadlift recruits more glute, quads, and less back, as you are more upright in the starting position. The romanian deadlift, and stiff leg deadlift, are also true hip hinge movements, with more of an emphasis on hamstring strength, as the knees stay straight, but not locked out. Depending on the intention of the movement, each variation is incredibly efficient in strengthening the intended muscles. Deadlifts tend to be best programmed for strength (3-6 sets, 1-6 repetitions), as they can be loaded, and the load helps to translate to everyday life. However, deadlifts can also be programmed for hypertrophy (3-5 sets, 6-12 repetitions), which also helps lead to overall movement and strength gains.

To begin to learn the deadlift, learn the hip hinge. Once you properly learn to hinge from the hips, rather than bend from the lower back, you can continue to progress in the movement. As well, begin to learn the deadlift with a dumbbell or kettlebell, as there is less chance for form slips. Once you can easily do a hinge with a kettlebell or dumbbell, you can progress to a hexagon barbell or a barbell, as long as you are sure to maintain proper form.

The movement itself is not flexion/extension of the lower back, but a drive through the hip hinge, using the legs as the main movers. This helps to teach the movement pattern that you should lift through your legs, not your back. The deadlift also teaches you how to properly brace your core, and pull your shoulder blades back, helping to reinforce proper posture. The deadlift is not a scary movement, and should be incorporated into programming for a healthy, strong body.

Tips for a Successful Deadlift

1: Start light! Learn the movement first, then begin to progress in weight or volume.

2: Keep feet as close to the barbell as possible to begin the movement.

3: Keep core braced the entire time. Pull your belly button in towards your spine (while still breathing) to fully brace your core.

4: Vary the set and repetition amounts to get all the benefits from a proper deadlift.

Conventional Deadlift:

Sumo Deadlift

Romanian (Stiff Leg) Deadlift

Exercise, Nutrition, Opinion, Progress

Surviving the Holidays

Here we are! It’s the most wonderful time of the year! From October to January, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the various December holidays in between, there are parties and celebrations galore. Each celebration may be unique in it’s traditions, but they all share a common characteristics: lots of food and drinks. Before we go any further into this topic: Enjoy the holidays! Do NOT let your diet get in the way of family time or enjoying your time over the holidays. Each holiday (minus Hanukkah and Kwanza) is one single day. Just like one day of eating salads won’t make you skinny, one day of indulgence won’t break your progress. The point of this post is to make you aware of the choices you are making, especially when holiday parties start popping up like zits.

The Food

Halloween has millions of pieces of candy by the bagful, Thanksgiving brings multiple dinners, and the December guys brings work parties, family gatherings, and celebrations out the wazoo. How is someone supposed to stay on track during a time like this? Simple: we do our best. If we just gave up from October-December, then we need to start over in January (holla resolutioners), and then the cycle begins again. Let’s break the cycle. The biggest thing to remember with Holiday food is moderation. Snag an appetizer as it’s passed around the office party, snack on a fun size candy bar from the community bowl, and have a slice of pumpkin pie. All of these snacks can be part of a healthy lifestyle (and they should be, nothing is off limits with a healthy life), as long as we practice moderation. The problem comes when we can’t stop at one piece, one slice, one drink etc. Again: one day won’t ruin you. However, if you decide to indulge, keep it to one day. Multiple days of going over calories and macros will add up come January.

One of the best tips that I can give you to deal with the Holidays is to keep your routine. Maybe lighten up your earlier meals a bit (one egg and two egg whites instead of three whole eggs or 1/3 cup oatmeal instead of 1/2 cup, etc), but mostly just stick to what you know. If you decide to starve yourself all day in hopes of “saving up” for a big meal or party, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to go way overboard because you’re, you guessed it, starving. It’s much better to go into a big food situation satisfied and blood sugar on track, than ravenous and cranky. Except for your occasional all out day (plan that one in advance, make sure that’s the day you want), keep tracking your food. You’ll be surprised what you can eat, while still staying within your goal ranges.

The Alcohol

Even more dangerous to a healthy lifestyle than party food, is alcohol. Not because alcohol can’t be in a healthy life (moderationnn), but because the calories in alcohol don’t fill you up, are devoid of any nutrients, and can cause you to eat foods you usually wouldn’t after you indulge. One gram of alcohol contains 7 calories (as compared to 1g/4cals for carbs/protein and 1g/9cals for fats), but contains no nutritional value. To track alcohol itself in a food tracker, either take from your carbs (alcohol cals divided by 4) or fats (alcohol cals divided by 9), depending on which works best for your preferences. The other tricky part about is alcohol is, unless you’re sticking to beer and wine, the alcohol is usually mixed with something to make it more appetizing. Those mixers add sugar and calories, making that 140 calorie shot of vodka into a 350 calorie vodka cranberry. The lowest calorie mixers include soda water/seltzer, diet soda, and fresh fruit juice. I would say to tweak your drink order itself if 1) you know you’ll be indulging a lot tonight or 2) you know you have a lot of alcohol based events coming up. Otherwise, enjoy what you enjoy (and fully enjoy it) and move on.

As well, be sure to keep your stomach full before a night of drinking. You need to make sure your body is able to metabolize the alcohol, and slowly enough (due to food) so it’s not too much too fast. Another issue with drinking is the after drinks snacking. I don’t know about you, but pizza after happy hour is my jam, even if I planned on eating a healthier snack when I get home. Try to keep yourself full and happy before drinking, so hopefully you don’t feel the need to get snackage on the way home. Have some satisfying, yet healthy, snacks waiting for you when you get home too, and hide the not so good for us snacks. The easier it is to access, the more likely you are to eat it.

What do we do?

Halloween is known for it’s candy obviously, and Thanksgiving has the feast to end all feasts, and Christmas is a time of overindulgence with a rich family meal on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and they are only a month apart (if you celebrate Hanukkah, as I do along with Christmas, it is celebrated by frying foods in oil, not any better health wise). If we do nothing, and just overindulge until the cows come home, January is going to be a rude awakening. The biggest thing to remember: consistency is key. Even with your parties and events and meals, stay on your normal workout routine and nutrition. Do not try to “make up” for the extra calories with less food or excessive exercise. That won’t do anything but make you miserable when you aren’t partying. This season is all about fun and enjoyment, so don’t let you fitness goals stop you from enjoying your life. Health is an all around state of mental and physical well being, so being obsessive over calories during the holidays impedes on the mental health aspect. Take a deep breath, plan out the next few months, and continue to smash your goals. Holiday goal: maintain your routine and enjoy the season.

Exercise, Other, Progress

Say Goodbye to Slouching

Hey, you! Yeah, you right there. Are you sitting on the couch or at your desk, or maybe even laying in bed, right now, digital device in front of you, shoulders slouching? I bet you are. Because of how sedentary our lives are now, with driving and sitting for work, our posture doesn’t need to work nearly as hard. Whether you try to prevent it or not, a mainly sedentary lifestyle (I’m guilty of slouching on the couch too, don’t worry) causes our muscles to develop some strange imbalances. The main muscular imbalance I see (besides those pesky glutes, read more about that one here) is an overactive upper back and chest, with no other muscle helping to oppose it. This causes that round in your shoulders, and that slouching that I’m sure you’re trying to break yourself of.

Of course, you can try and maintain a “shoulders back, chest up” posture 24/7, but that’s actually harder than you think. Especially when it is from muscles pulling your body into this position, just practicing good posture isn’t enough. We need to get to the root of the problem, which is the overactive and tight muscles. So what do we do for tight muscles? We try to lengthen the tissue that is tight, while also strengthening those muscles that aren’t doing so hot at holding your body in the right place. Lengthening tissue, such as with stretching and foam rolling, is only a temporary fix, not lending itself to any long term results unless the stretches are done daily. This, as well as many other aspects of fitness, benefits greatly from consistency over anything else. To help with upper back tightness, and those dreaded rounded shoulders, we need to stretch both the trapezius muscle (your upper back) and your chest and front of shoulder muscles. This will allow for your shoulders to have enough leeway to gravitate back down, instead of being elevated, and also allows for the shoulders to be able to roll back into their place.

The next step in correcting your upper back tightness is to strengthen some muscles. We are definitely staying away from any exercise that activates the trapezius or chest muscles. The first muscle we need to activate is your serratus. This is the muscle that holds your shoulder blades down flush against the rib cage. With the serratus strengthened sufficiently, you don’t need to worry about your shoulders rounding forward, as you have a strong muscle holding them back and against your body. The serratus is also essential to efficient overhead pressing (and healthy shoulders). Serratus exercises involve gaining control over the motion of your scapula, and they are very different from the normal exercises I show you (and awkward and hard at first, but please just do your best and stick with it. They get easier!) The one thing to remember is to perform these exercises with your shoulder blades as down and back as you possibly can!

(Each exercise is a progression on the first)

Exercise 1: locked shoulder blade rocking (20 reps)

Exercise 2: Scap Pushup (8-10 Reps) Squeeze shoulder blades together for a second and then spread shoulder blades apart as far as possible.

Exercise 3: Scap Pushup to Downward Dog (8 Reps) Don’t let Shoulder blades rise in the downward dog!

As well, the mid back muscles, such as the rhomboids, are muscles that will actively oppose the shoulders migrating upwards and forwards. The rear delts are the last muscle we want to strengthen to oppose the sedentary lifestyle. Rear delts directly oppose the forces of the front of your shoulder, helping to keep them upright, rather than rounding. Keeping these exercises between hypertrophy ranges and endurance ranges for workouts will help to build the muscle strength and size, as well as allow them to get used to working and holding for long periods of time.

Exercise 1: Face Pulls (12-15 Reps)

Exercise 2: Reverse Pec Dec (12-15 reps)

Exercise 3: Chest Supported Rear Delt Fly (10-15 Reps)

All rear delt exercises should be performed with shoulders down, and the motion lead by the elbows.

Exercise 4: Barbell Bent Over Row (6-10 Reps)

Exercise 5: Chest Supported Row (6-10 Reps)

Keep Shoulders down and back, and squeeze shoulder blades together to get rhomboids activated!

Exercise, Opinion, Other

Ladies, Don’t Be Afraid to Lift Your Weights

Year after year, female client after female client, it’s always the same. “I want to tone,” “I don’t want to get big and bulky,” and all sorts of variations. This blog is going to discuss the reasons why women won’t get bulk by accident, and it’s going to be short and sweet.

To get started, let’s look into how you even get “bulky.” Muscle bulk is simply muscle hypertrophy, or the tissue getting larger from increased stress and volume placed on the tissues. As well, testosterone in the body plays a big part in muscle tissue increase, in both and men and women. Testosterone is the main anabolic hormone in the body, assisting to build muscle size and strength, along with human growth hormone (HGH). However, women have between 15-20% less testosterone in their body than men, and that testosterone is much less respondent to training stimulus. Estrogen and progesterone levels in women are also much higher than in men, with these hormones being catabolic, or contributing to tissue breakdown, they keep muscle at bay. With our body’s build and hormone makeup, it is actually physically impossible for women’s muscle size to get to be as large as a man’s.

I know what you’re thinking, “Molly, what about those crazy looking women bodybuilders?” (Also, those body builders have worked hard on their physique, and whether you agree with it or not, it should be admired.) As well, those bodybuilders can not achieve the size or definition that they have without artificial help. Anabolic steroids are artificial sources of hormones, such as testosterone or HGH, that push muscle growth further than the body could achieve alone. Even so, those female bodybuilders work incredibly hard to build that size, so even with anabolic steroids, being big and bulky doesn’t just happen.

So now, how do I get toned? Easy. We increase our muscle mass (naturally, by lifting weights and keeping our volume within 3-5 sets of 8-12 repetitions), and decrease our body fat. Being toned is nothing more than having a low enough body fat to see the muscle tone underneath. If you feel that you are getting too large of muscles from lifting, either decrease the repetitions to a strength range (1-6 repetitions) or increase them to an endurance range (12-20 repetitions). However you want to do it, lifting weights and increasing muscle size and strength has incredible health benefits. Resistance training has been shown to increase lean body mass, leading to better body composition, increase bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis, and also help increase stability and decrease the risk of injury. Don’t stray away from resistance training simply because you are afraid of getting big. It takes more energy and effort to get bulky than you realize, and I promise it won’t happen by accident.