Monthly Archives for February 2011

Archives for February 2011

Top 10 Exercise Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them).

Getting results like these means avoiding these 10 exercise mistakes...

Within a few hours of arriving in Toronto (I’m living here for the next five or six weeks), my boyfriend and I joined a nearby gym. Included in said gym’s marketing materials was a bookmark with the “Top 10 Exercise Mistakes to Avoid.” Perplexed more by the idea of a bookmark than anything else (people still read things written on paper?), I took one home.

Turns out, their list of gym mistakes was pretty good.

So, I’m going to elaborate on the list – and give you tips for avoiding the pitfalls. Sound good? Great. Here are the 10 big mistakes:

  1. Not setting your goals. You need to know where you want to go in order to get there. Going to the gym and just moving weights and doing cardio isn’t effective when it’s done in a vacuum. Each time you lift a weight or engage in an exercise, it should be an intentional and necessary step to whatever goals you have.
    Simple fix: Write down specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely goals (aka “SMART” goals) for yourself.
  2. Not having a plan. Goals tell you where you are going, but you also need a plan for getting there. A plan breaks down goals into specific exercises, reps, sets, etc over time.
    Simple fix: Creating a workout plan can be overwhelming, so I’d recommend working with a trainer (or hire me by downloading my Ultimate Guide to Working Out – which will create a plan for you). Alternatively, you can make a commitment to educating yourself. Read fitness blogs, do searches online or sign up for a personal training course.
  3. Not getting an assessment before you start an exercise program. This probably made the list because gyms, like trainers, need to cover their butts. And assessments done either by trainers or physicians sometimes bring to light serious issues that must be taken into account before starting a new program. For older populations, people with joint problems, injuries or medical issues, an assessment is especially important.
    Simple fix: Get an assessment before starting a new routine. Some gyms offer assessments (know that they’ll also use it to pitch personal training to you), or else you can visit a physician and ask if you’re ready for exercise. For everyone, it’s recommended. For at-risk populations, it’s a must.
  4. Starting too hard, too fast. I’ve always said that exercise routines must be sustainable. Human beings are creatures of habit, and we deal with change best when it is small. When starting a new exercise program, you’re probably super excited and pumped up to get started. There’s a tendency to bite off more than can be chewed; channel that energy into a sustainable exercise commitment.
    Simple fix: Start out slowly. If you’re just getting started with exercise, do it 30-45 minutes a day, two to three days a week. Slowly increase the frequency and duration over time. Here are some more tips to avoid gym burnout…
  5. Not changing up the routine. For those of us that have been exercise for a number of years, changing up the routine is critical. Our bodies adjust to whatever exercises, sets and reps that we perform – and we fall into a rut or reach a plateau.
    Simple fix: Switch your workout up a few times per year. Doing so keeps your body evolving, muscles guessing and ensures maximum results.
  6. Doing only cardio. I’d add to this, doing only strength training. As it turns out, strength training and cardio go hand-in-hand. To get best results (whatever results you want), you should be doing both. Even if your goal is strictly weight loss, you’re cutting yourself super short by skipping out on the metabolism-boosting free weights.
    Simple fix: Incorporate both strength training and cardio in ANY exercise program.
  7. Exercising with incorrect form. Sometimes, we compromise form to make an exercise easier. This is cheating, and it robs your body of real results and increases your risk of injury. Other times, simply through ignorance, we may not be doing an exercise properly. It’s super dangerous; proper form is essential.
    Simple fix: Use a mirror or spot to ensure that you’re maintaining proper form while exercising. If you’re not sure what proper form is, do a Google search for some of the exercises you’re performing. Check out the diagrams and compare the posture to your own.
  8. Spot reducing effort. Spotters bring a number of great benefits to the table. They – as mentioned above – can keep a critical eye on your form, and they can help you get more bang out of your workout. A spotter should be used to help you get in a 7th rep when you can only do 6 on your own. But some people rely too heavily on spotters, and use them to get in the 6th rep when they could have done it with their own effort.
    Simple fix: Use a spotter to push you, and not to make your workout easier. If you know how many reps you typically do, tell the spotter, “I usually do 6 reps but I’m going to go for 7 today.”
  9. Following the latest trends and fads. Today it’s the bacon diet or the miracle pill, and tomorrow it’s the “wear one shoe” exercise routine. Exercise fads are marketing gimmicks to get your money. And they usually lack a real scientific foundation. Tempting as they may be, avoid at all costs.
    Simple fix: Use time-tested and scientifically proven exercise strategies or advice rather than fly-by-night fads.
  10. Ignoring nutrition. Exercise is part of the equation. But nutrition is another. You can exercise until the cows come home, and you may not see significant results if you ignore what your consuming. Nutrition is super important – it will accelerate or decelerate your results.
    Simple fix: Educate yourself. Know what you need to eat, and how your workout will affect that (i.e., protein intake, etc.). I put together a downloadable e-book called Eating for Fitness in conjunction with a nutritionist to answer your burning nutrition questions. Alternatively, educate yourself online by reading and subscribing to reliable nutrition sources.

So there you have it: 10 of the top fitness mistakes and some simple fixes.

I can think of about 1,000 others. Feel free to sound-off with some of the top mistakes you see people making in the comments below.

6 BEST Tips to Stay Hydrated!

You’ve probably heard that the average person needs to drink 8 to 10 cups of water per day to make up what the body uses and loses. But for active folks who exercise, that number can easily double.

Drinking upwards of 20 cups a day is a challenge, so here are a few tips to help you get yours:

  1. Make it smart. Knowing why your body needs water – and realizing all the amazing benefits it provides – can serve as motivation to help you drink up. Decreased risk of cancer, clearer skin and increased productivity are a few of the reasons to stay hydrated. Water also aids in fat loss – it curbs appetite, replaces sugary drinks and boosts your metabolism. Knowing this can keep you motivated.
  2. Make it mindless. If you’re going to consume 64 – 200 fluid ounces of water (8 – 20 cups), then drinking it will need to be super convenient. Have you ever noticed how if you leave a bag of chips open while watching TV, you somehow manage to mindlessly eat the entire bag? Take advantage of mindless consumption by leaving a pitcher or water bottle in your workspace or at home. You’ll take a sip here, and a sip there – and before you know it, it’s all gone! I’m actually putting this point to practice right now with a quart-size water bottle. Try it – I swear it works!
  3. Make it fun. If you like pretty things (who doesn’t?!), put your water in a special container. You can buy a nalgene (those unbreakable plastic bottles) or a fancy chrome mug. Presentation counts, and so perhaps water will be more appetizing in a pretty container.
  4. Make it flavorful. Drinking large quantities of water can get a bit monotonous, so you might benefit from switching things up. I don’t recommend adding sugary powders to water as you’ll dramatically increase the number of empty calories you are consuming. I also avoid sugar-free drink mixes; I’m personally weary of artificial sweeteners in bulk. But… adding a slice of citrus fruit can make a noticeable and welcomed difference. If you need more flavor, squeeze half of a lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange into your glass or pitcher.
  5. Make it a pre-meal tradition. Drink a tall glass of water 15-30 minutes before you eat. Thirst is often misinterpreted by the mind as hunger. You feel hungry, but your body is thirsty. So, drink water before each meal. Not only will you be increasing your hydration, but you’ll probably drop a few pounds in the process.
  6. Make it the first thing you do in the morning. We all have a morning routine. We wake up, brush our teeth, take a shower and so on. Once your feet hit the floor, walk to the kitchen and start your day right: With water. It will help replace lost fluids during sleep (when we wake up, our bodies have often gone without food or drink for more than 8 hours). I prefer room temperature water in the morning, but do what works for you!

I hope these tips help you honor your body and your life with proper hydration. If you have any additional tips, please share them in the comments below!

How to: Training to Avoid Back Injuries Down the Road.

Bad backs and related injuries can be absolutely debilitating. They can translate to time out of work, sleepless nights and chronic pain. So it’s no wonder that people are very weary when it comes to their backs and exercise.

The reality is, the best way to prevent debilitating back injuries down the road is to train regularly. If you go to the gym sporadically – on and off, or just on the weekends – then you’re more likely to experience back problems than a regular gym-goer.

Because so many people fear future back problems, there’s a tendency to skip back workouts. Ironically, it’s one of the worst things you can do. Using weights and machine to train your core, back and lower back is hugely beneficial in preventing back problems – or aiding in a faster recovery. It has been proven that muscular development leads to shorter recovery times if back surgery becomes necessary.

In addition to muscular development, lengthening tight muscles through stretching also helps prevent back injury; spend a few minutes stretching after each workout.

And last but not least, allow for proper recovery times. Just like any muscle group, if your back muscles are sore from a previous workout, don’t exercise them again until they recover! Exercising an already weakened muscle is a recipe for injury.

Bottom line: To prevent back injuries down the road engage in a comprehensive strength training program that includes core, back and lower back exercises, stretch at the end of your workouts and allow for muscle recovery.

Should You Switch Up Your Exercise Routine?

It’s generally recommended that exercisers train their larger muscle groups (think chest, back, quads and hamstrings) before the smaller muscle groups (shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms, calves, etc). Why? Because larger muscles are supported by the smaller muscles. If you exercise and fatigue the smaller muscles, the larger muscles wonโ€™t be able to work properly.

Perfect example: Most back exercises require grip strength. If youโ€™ve already exercised your forearms, your ability to work your back will be limited by your fatigued forearms – and not by the muscles you are targeting!

But two new studies are showing that it may also be good to occasionally switch things up, and reverse the order.

Researchers from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and A.T. Still University in Arizona looked at exercise order in a routine that involved bench presses, lat pulldowns, triceps extensions and biceps curls. When the workout started with bench press exercises, only the bench press gains were greater than the gains when the workout was performed in reverse. Participants’ strength increased much more with the other three exercises when the order was reversed – a finding that flies in the face of traditional thinking.

Another study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that whichever muscle is trained first is going to get the most gain in strength and muscle mass compared to the muscle you train last.

So while there may be good logic to the idea of training large muscles first, there is also great value in occasionally reversing the order and switching things up. Bottom line: Variety, when it comes to working out and exercise order (and life in general!), is a good thing.

How to Feel Confident at the Gym.

Is he sexy? Sure. Should you compare yourself to him? Probably not.

With the exception of a handful of Olympians, there will always be someone faster, higher or stronger than most of us. But when it comes to the gym, many people expel a great deal of energy comparing themselves to the men and women around them.

At my gym, there’s a new member that is working hard to get into shape. Not a day passes where he doesn’t ask me how fast I run on the treadmill, or how much weight I’m able to do on a given exercise. He then pits my level of fitness against his own, and perhaps – to some extent – uses it as motivation.

But comparing yourself to others is a dangerous game that doesn’t always yield healthy results. Because of his age and health conditions, it’s unlikely that the aforementioned individual will be able to run at my 11.3 MPH treadmill pace. And if he tries – which he has – he’s likely to injure himself (though he hasn’t yet). Moreover, over time, the process can be physiologically defeating and take the wind out of any workout’s sails.

Comparing yourself to yourself, however, can be much more effective. When you hit the gym, it’s not about how much resistance or weight the man next to you is able to move – it’s about how much weight you are able to move relative to your own goals. What the people around you are doing is irrelevant – each of those individuals has a different health history, age, goals, etc. than you. What you are doing, on the other hand, is very relevant.

If you are looking to increase the amount of weight you bench press, for example, then your point of comparison is your last few chest workouts (and not the bodybuilder lifting next to you). If you’re looking to maintain muscle mass, then look no further than the mirror, your BMI and fitness history.

My point is this: Whatever your goals, use yourself (and not other people) as a reference point. It’s safer, healthier and far more effective.

Do you compare yourself to others at the gym? Why or why not?

Loose Skin After Weight Loss.

Dear Davey,

I have had loose skin for about 2 years now and I don’t know how to make it go away. I got it when I lost a lot of weight from working out. Could you please give me and the other people out there suffering with loose skin some advice? Thanks!

From,
James

Dear James,

Congratulations on your weight loss! And a special congratulations for keeping the weight off for two years! That’s fantastic.

Loose skin is a common problem after weight loss, especially if a lot of weight is lost in a short period of time. The “elasticity” of skin depends on a number of factors. Some of these factors are beyond your control:

  1. Age. No surprise here. Younger individuals have more elasticity in their skin, and they tend to see a better recovery from loose skin following weight loss.
  2. Genetics. To a large extent, the firmness of your skin while aging is determined by genetic factors. So you can blame it on mom and/or dad, though such blame may prove unproductive. ๐Ÿ˜›

But many factors are within your control:

  1. Smoking. The skin of smokers ages faster than non-smokers.
  2. Weight loss rate. Losing weight faster than 2 pounds a week puts the dieter at a higher risk of loose skin.
  3. Weight gain time line. Individuals that gained weight quickly (and then drop it) are less likely to experience loose skin. Moreover, someone that has carried the extra weight for 10 years is at a higher risk for loose skin than someone who has been carrying the extra weight for 10 months.
  4. Sun exposure. Past and present sun exposure damages the skin and decreases elasticity.
  5. Water and proper nutrition. Staying properly hydrated with a healthy, high-vitamin diet (Vitamins C and E are especially recommended) keeps skins healthy.
  6. Build muscle. This is a big one. Adding muscle to your frame can help rebuild your shape and minimize loose skin. Hit the weight room often and hard.

So, it makes sense to focus on those factors that are within your control. Don’t smoke. If you have more weight to lose, release it slowly, and do it as soon as possible. Wear sunscreen. Stay hydrated and maintain a nutritional, vitamin-rich diet. And, last but not least, maintain a vigorous exercise program that includes strength training to build your muscles.

For some individuals, this won’t be enough. As a last resort, some individuals require surgery to remove the excess skin. The procedure is not for everyone; it is expensive and involves certain risks. As a general recommendation, it’s advised that individuals should wait 1 year (once their weight has stabilized) to consider this option and speak with a professional. But it’s truly a last resort.

I hope this helps, James. And again, congratulations on your weight loss!

6 Important Questions to Ask Before Joining a Gym.

Earlier in the year, I shared 6 helpful tips for finding the right gym. But even once you’ve found a gym that feels like a good fit, there are still a handful of questions that you should ask before signing the dotted line:

  1. What are the terms of the contract? Often times, gyms offer an introductory price or special promotion. It’s important to know how long the promotional price will last, and what the price will be thereafter. Ask how long the contract will last (some are month-to-month, and others require full year commitments). Moreover, ask if the price of membership can be increased without notice and if monthly membership can be frozen (i.e., if you take an extended trip).
  2. What exactly does my contract include? Many gyms charge separate fees for their different services – including a towel fee, laundry fee, group class fee, etc. In addition, some gyms charge different rates for memberships that are restricted to just one club vs. all the clubs in their network. Does your contact include access to other facilities or is that extra? The monthly contract rate may not take these fees into consideration, so know what you are getting in advance.
  3. Does the contract renew automatically? It happens with cell phone companies, and it happens with gyms, too. If you sign up for a full year commitment, what happens when that year is over? For some gyms, membership automatically renews for another 12 months. Obviously, it’s important to know if your gym is one of them.
  4. How can the contract be broken? Gyms – also like cell phone companies – don’t make it easy to break a contract. Some require early termination fees. Other gyms will dissolve the contract if you relocate to an area in which they don’t have a facility, but they’re probably require proof of your new address.
  5. What happens if I move? Speaking of relocating, ask about the gym’s relocation policies. I, for example, had a hard time getting out of a contract because I relocated to an apartment 45 miles from one of the gym’s facilities. They had a 50-mile relocation policy. As if anyone would drive 45 miles to use a gym! Know it before you sign it!
  6. What happens if the gym goes out of business? It happens. And if you’ve signed a full-year contract (especially one that is pre-paid), know what will happen to your money. Will you get any back? To that end, you may want to stick with an established gym rather than one that’s newer.

Those are my top 6 questions to ask before signing a gym contract. If you have any additional tips or questions that should be asked, please share them in the comments below!

Low-Carb Vs. Low-Fat Diet: Which Is Better?

What does it take to release weight and look more like this? A low-carb diet? A low-calorie diet? Turns out... either!

If you want to lose weight, you’re faced with the difficult decision of deciding which diet you’ll embrace. For most of us, there are mainly two types of diets: Diets that restrict carbohydrate intake (think Atkins) and diets that limit calorie/fat consumption.

There has been a lot of recent research on the effectiveness of both types of diets – and a number of studies have compared low-carb and low-fat dieters. One such multi-center study followed low-carb and low-fat dieters for two years. In addition to the dietary restrictions, dieters were given exercise routines and support. At the end of the study, both groups of dieters lost the same amount of weight: an average of 24.2 pounds. Moreover, for the most part, their health parameters were nearly identical.

Other studies have concluded similar findings. Both diets are very effective, especially when combined with exercise and support. So, it’s not really a matter of which diet works – it’s a matter of which diet works for you.

What foods can’t you live without? If pasta and bread come to mind, then low-carb diets probably aren’t sustainable or realistic. You’ll probably opt for a low-fat or low-calorie diet that limits portions of what you’re already eating. If you can’t give up that juicy steak, maybe a low-carb diet is a better approach. And if you can’t give up either the pasta or steak, you’re just screwed (just kidding – even low-carb diets allow for some carbohydrate intake. You can have pasta, just smaller portions and less frequently).

So, if you’re embarking on a weight loss journey, take some time to determine what diet works best for you. And since no two individuals are alike, the diet that works for you may be different than the diet that works for your partner, spouse or friend. It’s about finding a diet that feels sustainable and realistic for you.

The Big Disadvantage of Weight Lifting Gloves.

Weight lifting gloves come with a price!

If you’ve ever been to a gym, you’ve probably seen men and women wearing weight lifting gloves. They are worn for a variety of reasons, but generally because they:

  1. Increase grip strength. Weight gloves make it easier to hold dumbbells and barbells while performing various exercises.
  2. Decrease calluses. Weight gloves prevent hands from becoming callused as a result of dumbbell and barbell exercises. They keep your hands silky smooth.
  3. Additional wrist support. Most weight lifting gloves wrap around the wrist and provide additional support during heavy lifting.

The benefits are admirable. But weight lifting gloves also come with a huge disadvantage: Weight lifting gloves damper real gains in grip strength. When it comes to lifting heavy boxes, changing a tire, hanging off a cliff or any other real life situation, you probably won’t have your gloves. In essence, the gloves provide a false sense of grip strength. Instead of strengthening your grip and forearms, the gloves do the work for you and prevent real gains.

For this reason, I retired my weight lifting gloves years ago. Sure, smooth hands are nice. But when I find myself hanging off the side of a 40-story building, I’ll be glad to have my grip. ๐Ÿ™‚

Do you wear weight lifting gloves? Let me know in the comments below.

New to the Gym and in Need of Help?

Hey Davey,

I’m new to the gym and i just wanted to ask a few questions to get me going and get me on the right track. I weigh about 190 lbs. and am 5’11”.

I am mainly going to the gym to turn all this fat into muscle. I go to the gym 5 days a week, and the first thing I want to know is how long will take for me too see results? Also, if I am looking to turn this fat into muscle should I be doing any cardio exercise or should I just focus on the free weights?

Thanks for the great questions – and congratulations on joining a gym. You’ve already taken the hardest step: The first one.

First things first, I don’t mean to split hairs… but, you will never turn any of your body fat into muscle. Fatty tissue and muscle fibers are totally different. When you exercise, you’ll lose the fatty tissue and build muscle. It’s a technicality, but it’s important to understand how the process works.

Secondly, it’s great that you’re feeling ambitious enough to exercise 5 days a week. I generally advise my clients to start with 3 days a week for 30 – 45 minutes. Small changes are sustainable changes, and people that go all out tend to burn out. As I’ve said before, getting into shape is much like running a marathon. You’d never start a marathon by sprinting, and in the same way it’s important to pace yourself and ease into your new lifestyle.

Third, the time line for results varies from person to person. The first changes you’ll notice may be internal. You might have more energy, better sleeping habits or more focus. These changes can happen very quickly – even within a few weeks. You may also notice that you’re less winded when exerting yourself in life – be it climbing stairs, running after a bus, etc. And of course, you’ll notice changes when you look in the mirror, too. The muscles in your arms build fairly quickly, so you’ll probably start noticing a difference with you biceps in as little as 6 weeks. Since most of the changes happen slowly over time, I always advise my clients to take “before” and “after” pictures on a regular schedule. Some changes may be too slow for your eye to notice, but you can easily compare pictures from different months.

Last but not least, it’s extremely important that you do both strength training and cardio. Cardio has a zillion tremendous benefits that you won’t want to miss out on, and in many ways the cardio will complement and improve your performance in the weight room – not to mention overall health. And don’t worry: Moderate cardio does not result in muscle loss.

Again, congratulations on opening this new, healthier chapter in your life! Keep us posted on your success.

Is Strength Training Bad for Your Heart?

It’s Valentine’s Day. On this day about love, it only makes sense to talk about your heart.

Are you one of those guys (or gals) that only does strength training and skips out on cardio? Perhaps you’re going for muscle size, and you’re afraid that the cardio is going to kill, limit or reverse your muscle growth. (This, by the way, is a misconception.) It happens all the time. I’ve seen a number of serious gym enthusiasts pass by the treadmills and exercise solely in the weight room.

Be Warned: Turns out, doing strength training and skipping cardio is actually bad for your heart.

Researchers from the University of Austin spent a great deal of time studying the effects of intense strength training. After a good weight lifting session, there’s a good chance that your body will be sore; soreness generally peaks at about 48-hours after the workout. If you were to examine your sore muscles under a microscope, you’d notice inflammation. Researchers discovered that this inflammation causes increased arterial stiffness – which is not good for blood vessels and arterial health. And although weight training does also provide heart-healthy benefits, the arterial stiffness is something worth paying attention to.

Doing cardiovascular exercise reduces this inflammation. So, hit the weight room hard – but make some time to spend on the cardio machines, too. Hopefully, this study will be a real eye-opener for those people who think it’s okay to skip out on the cardio.

Is Love the Secret to Being Healthy?

Is "love" the secret ingredient to a healthy lifestyle?

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and so love is definitely in the air. When we think about love, it’s usually in the context of our boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands or wives. But what does love have to do with a healthy lifestyle? In my opinion, a lot.

If you add the secret ingredient of love into your relationship with your body, it changes everything. If you love your body, you’re much less likely to make decisions that are destructive. Loving your body means making decisions that honor it. Suddenly, McDonald’s seems like a less tempting choice. Healthier foods are more appealing. And as our bodies also crave movement, going to the gym can be an expression of love.

Most of us have a hard time loving our bodies. We don’t always like what we see when we look in the mirror. But I think it’s okay to start small:

  1. Start by loving your body for the functions it performs. Loving your body for how it looks may be a big leap, so start by loving your body for what it does. It’s the vessel through which you’re able to experience this world, and it tirelessly breathes, moves and functions so that you can experience it all. Surely, you can love your body for that. Express gratitude for all that your body does.
  2. Use kind, uplifting and loving words to describe your body. Catch yourself when you say,”Oh, that’s a terrible picture of me.” Or, “I feel so fat and ugly today.” These words are powerful, and they are charged with a great deal of energy.
  3. Dedicate time or gifts to your body. In Diane Petrella’s spiritually-rich The Inspiration Diet (which I strongly recommend), the author speaks to the importance of making gifts to your body. These gifts need not be grand or expensive, and instead can be quite simple and small. Like sipping on a cold glass of ice water, and dedicating the experience your body. Or taking a walk. Or my favorite, a candle-lit bath.

You can approach a healthy lifestyle one of two ways. You can make changes in your life from a place of discontent and frustration (which is what most people do). This approach comes from a place of weakness. Or, you can make changes in your life that are driven from love. This approach comes from a place of power.

It’s up to you. But it seems to me, a little love can go a long way.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Newsflash: Ab Workouts Won’t Give You a Flat Stomach.

Yesterday, I was hitting the gym and chatting it up with a new member. He was asking me about a few of the machines, including one that works the obliques (aka side abs). He was totally excited to try the machine out, and explained to me that he’s trying to get rid of his “love handles” and extra fat around his waist.

But alas, the belief that ab exercises will reduce love handles or create a flat stomach is one of the most pervasive exercise misconceptions out there.

Ab exercises build and strengthen abdominal muscles. They do not convert fat tissue into muscle. And they don’t shrink your midsection. In fact, it’s impossible to target parts of the body from which to lose weight.

If you have a belly, and embark on a comprehensive and ass-kicking ab workout, then you’ll likely develop much stronger and bigger ab muscles over time. But those ab muscles will still be hidden under a layer of fat – and even the smallest layer of fat will hide a six pack.

If you want a flat stomach, then you need to do three things:

  1. Cardiovascular exercise. Cardio burns calories during and after exercise. It will help reduce body fat.
  2. Comprehensive strength training. Muscle does wonders to boost the body’s metabolism, so put into practice a total body strength training program. Adding muscle will increase the number of calories your body burns each day.
  3. Proper nutrition. A clean, healthy diet will complement your exercise program and keep body fat to a minimum.

So, if you aspire to showcase a washboard stomach – or just flatten things out a bit – then know that you can crunch your way until kingdom come, and it won’t make a whole lot of difference. Instead, do cardio, strength training and eat right. Simple and easy? No. But it works.

7 Powerful Fat-Loss Tips Based on Science!

Looking at this picture long enough may also increase your heart rate and burn a few extra calories. ๐Ÿ™‚

I spent my morning digging through a shit-ton (it’s my blog – I can swear if I want to) of research on fat loss. There have been a whole bunch of recent studies, and they’ve provided new insights into the science of shedding fat.

Here are 7 of the key takeaways:

  1. Meal frequency is not related to weight loss. You’ve probably heard the theory that it’s best to eat many small meals throughout the day. In fact, it was something that I was taught during my personal training certification. It seemed to make sense. The theory was that increased meal frequency prevents the body from going into starvation mode (i.e., slowing down metabolism), increases the caloric cost of digestion, suppresses hunger, etc. But when researchers at the University of Ottawa put the meal frequency theory to the test, they found that it actually doesn’t make a difference. People that ate 3 times a day vs. 5 times a day lost the same amount of weight.
  2. Green tea is a weight loss miracle. Research from Maastricht University in Holland is making me a green tea believer. Green tea promotes weight loss, weight maintenance, improved blood sugar regulation and even decreases abdominal fat! Of course, green tea doesn’t do it alone – you need to combine it with a comprehensive exercise and nutrition program.
  3. Olive oil reduces risk of obesity. There’s been a lot of recent research on the power of the Mediterranean diet, which contains lots of vegetables and unsaturated fatty acids. Olive oil, as it turns out, is a key part of that. Spanish researchers found that participants who consumed the least amount of olive oil were 2.3 times more likely to be obese. Olive oil has also been linked to reduced risk of heart disease, type II diabetes and stroke.
  4. Go nutty for nuts. Nuts are high in calories and fat – so it might seem strange that they’re a great weight loss food. But they are. Researchers from Purdue University found that nuts are high in nutrients and antioxidants, that they help prevent degenerative diseases and that they are linked to reduced body fat. Nuts prevent hunger (consume a handful before going out to eat!), and they take a long time – and lots of energy – to digest. This research is providing new support for the caveman diet – which holds that we should eat nuts, berries, vegetables, lean meats, etc. – just like our ancestors.
  5. Drink whey protein 20 minutes before a meal. Looking to reduce your calorie intake? Try drinking some whey protein 20 minutes before eating a meal. The Minnesota Applied Research Center in Minneapolis found that the protein consumption caused a much greater loss in body fat than the placebo. The whey protein maintains blood sugar levels, which decreases appetite. And, the protein provides the building blocks your body needs to recover from your exercise program.
  6. Eat foods that are low on the gylcemic index. The glycemic index measures how fast certain foods increase blood sugars. Foods like white bread are very high on the index, and foods like whole grains are ranked much lower. Those foods that are high on the index seem to trigger fat storage – though researchers aren’t quite sure why. Here’s a list of how some of the most common foods rank.
  7. Poor sleep = increased abdominal fat. Researchers from Wake Forest embarked on a multi-year study and found that too little – or too much – sleep led to increased risk of obesity and abdominal fat. 6 – 7 hours a night was found to be ideal.

So there you have it: 7 scientifically proven fat loss tips to put into practice! What do you think? Are you surprised by any of the findings? Will you be making any changes based on the research?

How to Find a Good Workout Partner!

Workout buddies wanted.

I love working out alone. I can go at my own pace, do what I want and stay focused. But there’s something to be said for having a workout buddy. In fact, gym partners bring a lot to the table, including:

  1. Accountability. If you know that you’re scheduled to meet your workout buddy at the gym, you’re less likely to skip your workout. Exercising with a partner helps minimize missed workouts.
  2. Assistance. If you’re exercising with another person, you can always have a spot. Workout buddies can help can an eye on your form, and provide any assistance you might need. It’s convenient and adds another layer of safety to your workout.
  3. Motivation. If your gym buddy has his game face on, he can really push you to get that extra last rep or two out of your exercises. It can really make a big difference!

Are you ready to jump on the workout buddy bandwagon? Before you start searching for a partner, keep in mind that it’s best to exercise with someone that is at or above your current fitness level. Moreover, you’ll be spending a whole lot of time with this person – so make sure it’s someone that you enjoy! And lastly, ensure that this individual is punctual and committed. Getting stood up or delayed at the gym isn’t fun.

To find a workout buddy:

  • Start with your friends. Search on your Facebook, and try to identify a few fitness-oriented friends. You’ll want to exercise with someone close by; long commutes to the gym tend to be unsustainable.
  • Family members can also make good workout partners, but make sure they’re serious about their fitness commitments. I’ve exercised a number of times with my sister, and it was totally worthwhile and a great bonding experience.
  • Coworkers are another workout buddy resource. You can create standing pre or post-work workout dates at a gym near your office. Alternatively, you can exercise during your lunch hour. Ask around or circulate an office-wide email.
  • Approach someone at the gym. Maybe you’ve made a friend or two at the gym, and noticed that you’re on the same schedule. Strike up a conversation, explain your situation, and ask if they know of anyone that might be interested. You just might get a bite.
  • Ask at your gym’s front desk. Other members may have inquired, or your gym may have a network board or other resource for members to connect.
  • Use the internet. Craigslist.org, realjock.com or any number of other online communities and forums are fertile grounds for finding workout buddies. Just make your intentions to exercise clear, as some folks may be searching for a workout in the bedroom rather than the gym.

If you have any workout buddy tips – or know of any great resources for finding a gym partner – let us know in the comments below!

How to Build Your Calf Muscles.

Our calf muscles are one of the hardest muscles to build.

Calf muscles can be very stubborn. Much like our abdominal muscles, they get a lot of use. Every time we take a step or a climb a stair, we’re using our calves. So in order to build a bigger calf muscle, we really need to apply a lot of stress the muscle.

When it comes to training almost any of the muscles in our body, there are usually a zillion exercises. Unfortunately, calves seem to be the exception – there’s not a lot from which to pick. But here are a few favorites:

Donkey Calve Raises

Famed bodybuilder-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger was known for using an exercise called donkey calve raises. It’s great because it doesn’t require any gym equipment. Simply bend over a bench, and have a workout partner hop on your back. Then, with all the extra weight pressing into your legs, raise your calves by coming up on your toes. If it’s too easy, you can have your workout partner hold dumbbells or wear a backpack filled with weight. And yes, it really does look as gay as it sounds.

Weighted Calve Raises

Similarly, you can find a block of wood or step that’s 4 – 6+ inches thick. Stand with just your toes on the edge of the block (make sure it doesn’t flip!) and gently lower and then lift your heels using your calf muscles. You’ll probably want to use some dumbbells or wear a weighted backpack for an extra challenge. Alternatively, you can load a barbell with weights and rest it across your the back of your shoulders (as you would for a squat). Some gyms even have machines wherein you can do calve raises, though they make the exercise a bit easier by taking balance out of the equation. It’s most effective to use free weights, and remember: It takes a lot of stress to cause calf muscle growth. Use heavy weights!

Uphill Cardio

Jogging or running – especially uphill – or using the stairmaster are good ways to strengthen your calves. But, because the resistance is fairly low, you won’t see a large amount of muscle growth. You may see some growth – but using an incline or stairmaster is more a complement than supplement for the above exercises.

And don’t be disheartened if the growth is slow! Many professional body builders would be excited to see .25″ of calf muscle growth per month; it’s certainly a slow transformation. So, start today. ๐Ÿ™‚

Running Inside Vs. Outside: Pros & Cons.

Matthew McConaughey getting his outdoor jog on.

I’m in Palm Springs for a few days, enjoying a nice little vacation from winter. The lovely hotel at which I’m staying doesn’t have a treadmill, and so I’ve decided to take my cardio out of doors.

Running outside is a totally different beast, and so it begs the question: Is it right for you? The answer depends on a number of factors, and there are pros and cons for each.

Running Inside (Treadmill)

I love treadmill running for one reason: It’s easy to clock speeds and distances. It’s totally measurable. Nothing is left to guesswork, and if you set the treadmill to 9.5 MPH then that is the speed at which you will run. Moreover, the course is entirely customizable. You can add in hills whenever you want. Treadmills give a lot of control to the runner. And, they can be used any time of the day, any day of the year – rain, sleet, snow or shine.

But treadmill running isn’t all sunshine and roses. Many people find it painfully monotonous, even if running with headphones or watching TV. I actually enjoy the monotony; it feels like a meditation to me. But beyond the repetitive nature of treadmill running, many running enthusiasts will notice that the belt does provide some running assistance – and that there is no wind resistance indoors. If you’re training for a running event, you’ll find it much harder to achieve treadmill speeds outdoors. Adding a slight elevation to the treadmill (even 1%) can help overcome the belt’s running assistance and lack of resistance.

Running Outside

I think the biggest advantage to running outside is the ability to enjoy the scenery. But actually. I had so much fun running up and down the desert streets of Palm Springs, checking out the architecture and viewing the landscapes. It was gorgeous – and my cardio time literally flew right by. When running on the treadmill, time tends to stand still. Outside, it’s quite the opposite. In addition, outdoor courses are the real thing. There are hills, ups, downs, turns and wind resistance. If you’re training for a running event, nothing beats actual pavement experience.

Unfortunately, however, it’s much harder to determine running speed, keep track of distance, etc. Unlike the treadmill, outdoors running isn’t measurable – and the runner has little control. And snow, ice, rain or darkness can make for dangerous running conditions.

Conclusion

If you’re just running for exercise, and provided you are not completely bored by indoors running, then the treadmill is probably your best bet. If, on the other hand, you’re training for a competitive running event, there’s really nothing that can beat actual outdoor training – or at least a mix of indoor and out.

Do you run inside or out? Why? Let us know in the comments below.

8 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Diet!

Creating a stronger, healthier body is about making small upgrades to the food you eat - resulting in big changes!

When it comes to health and fitness, small changes can make a big difference when done repetitively over time.

To that end, here are 8 easy ways to upgrade your diet:

  1. Replace 2 non-water beverages with cold water. Your body loves water; it has a number of powerful benefits like boosting your metabolism and curbing appetite. Each day, replace two non-water beverages (like coffee, beer, soda, sugary drinks, etc.) with water. You’ll spare yourself more than 100,000 calories annually – or the equivalent of 31 pounds of body fat!
  2. Eat darker greens in your salad. Swap out iceberg lettuce with darker leafs like spinach, romaine, arugula, etc. Darker leafy greens are much richer in nutrients – and taste just as great! It’s a small change with a big nutritional payoff.
  3. Opt for sweet potatoes instead of traditional potatoes. Sweet potatoes are the super hero version of regular potatoes. They are supercharged with increased fiber and vitamins – but with less starch. There is more sugar in sweet potatoes (they are “sweet” potatoes afterall), but the trade-off is worth it.
  4. Go grass-fed! Grass-fed beef has fewer hormones and antibiotics than traditional grain-fed beef. Moreover, the ratio of detrimental omega-6 fatty acids to beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in grass-fed beef is about half that of corn-fed beef.
  5. Swap your snacks. Instead of reaching for potato chips or other not-so-healthy snacks, opt for unsalted nuts – they’re high in fiber, protein, and omega-3โ€™s. A few handfuls can be a big upgrade to any diet.
  6. Eat quinoa instead of pasta or rice. Quinoa (pronounced, “KEE-nwah”) is high in fiber and protein! It only takes a few minutes to prepare this amazing Incan seed, and it makes a tremendous substitute with almost any meal.
  7. Drink green tea instead of coffee. Coffee tends to deliver a caffeine buzz quickly, while tea delivers a buzz slowly over time. Furthermore, green tea is loaded with cancer-preventing antioxidants and has been linked with a zillion powerful benefits.
  8. Educate yourself! Stop listening to advertisers and marketers and pay real attention to the labels on your food. Check out the calories, saturated fats, trans fats, sugar content, sodium, etc. in some of your favorite foods. Moreover, check out the ingredients. Can you identify what’s in your food? Ignorance is not bliss; it can land you with heart disease or diabetes. Know what you’re feeding yourself.

Upgrading your diet doesn’t need to be dramatic – it’s about making small changes here and there that add up over time. If you put into practice some of the above tips, I think you’ll enjoy a big difference in your life.

Do you have any tips? Let us know some of the ways you’ve upgraded your diet in the comments below!

How to Get Rid of Man Boobs.

For most men, man boobs can be eliminated through a combination of cardiovascular exercise, strength training and nutrition. For others, a conversation with the doctor may be needed.

Dear Davey,

I’m embarrassed to admit that I have man boobs.

It’s hard for me to even write this email, but I really have no idea how to get rid of them and you’re my only hope.

What advice do you have?

Thanks,
Ryan

Dear Ryan,

Thanks for your email and the courage to reach out.

Let’s face it: Man boobs can be a sensitive subject for men. It can be embarrassing and emasculating, despite whatever humor the name might imply.

What Causes Man Boobs?

Man boobs are generally caused by body fat, gynecomastia or some combination of the two. Often times, men gain weight in an unflattering way on top of their pectoral (chest) muscles – and this can lead to the creation of man boobs. For other men, man boobs are the result of a hormonal imbalance in a medical condition termed gynecomastia. The body produces decreased testosterone and increased estrogen, usually in response to medicine. And of course, for some people, it’s a combination of both weight gain and gynecomastia.

How to Get Rid of Man Boobs?

If your man boobs are the result of weight gain, then your remedy is a combination of cardiovascular exercise, strength training and proper diet. It’s not a magic fix, but it’s very doable. In essence, you’ll have to create a calorie deficit wherein you burn more calories than you consume – and the most effective way to do this is through exercise (and not starvation).

As cardiovascular exercise is very demanding, you’ll incinerate calories during and after your workout. Interval training is recommended for weight loss, and intervals can be practiced on a treadmill, bike, rowing machine, elliptical, etc. In a nutshell, interval training is alternating between a medium-intensity pace and a high-intensity pace.

Strength training does two things: It adds on muscle (which will burn calories all day long) and helps to shape and remodel your body, including your chest area. While a total body exercise program is recommended, put special effort into chest exercises like push-ups, the chest press, the pec fly, etc. Since you’re looking to build muscle in this area, it’s best to do a workout that combines a low number of repetitions for each exercise (6-10 reps) and heavy resistance (i.e., a lot of weight).

But if your man boobs are caused by gynecomastia due to medication, then you’ll need to talk to a physician. There may be alternative treatments, or options that are available to you. I’m not a physician, and I do understand that each situation is very different. A conversation with your doctor is strongly recommended, difficult as it may be.

But for most men, it’s a jockstrap and not a bra that is needed to treat man boobs. It’s about hitting the gym, or even exercising at home. It’s about becoming more active, stronger and healthier through exercise and proper nutrition. Man boobs are treatable, and the sooner you get the ball rolling, the better. As one of my favorite fitness quotes says: “A year from now, you’ll be glad you started today.”

Dear Davey: Help Me Get Rid of My Belly!

Hi Davey,

I am 5′ 8” and 173 lbs. I used to weigh 194 lbs. I started to diet and exercise, but I have not managed to loose any weight on my stomach. I have this little pot belly that I just can’t get rid of. I have tried cruches, side bends. It will not come off.

Can you please give me any hints as to what I can do to get this belly off of me.

Thanks,
Kenny

Dear Kenny,

First of all, thanks for the email and congratulations on the weight loss.

Second, you’re in good company. Turns out, most of us can’t crunch our way to a flat stomach or six pack abs. That’s just not how it works.

If you want more muscular arms, doing strength training arm exercises will do the trick. We can target muscle growth to the areas we want. But the same is true with getting rid of body fat. We can’t pick and choose those areas of our body from which to release body fat. It comes off in a predetermined and often unbalanced order – and yes, the belly is often the last place where men lose it.

The best way to release body fat is to use a workout that combines cardiovascular activity and strength training. The cardio (I always recommend interval training) gets your heart pumping, and the added muscle from strength training burns calories all day long. Oh, and don’t forget about nutrition – that is, of course, the other side of the health and fitness equation.

If showcasing your six pack is a focus, know that you’ll have to achieve a very low body fat percentage (probably 6% – 8%). Even the smallest layer of body fat will prevent your abs from popping through.

Doing crunches or side bends alone won’t really do much. At the very most, it will create some strong ab muscles that will be hidden under your belly.

Hope that helps!