Monday, August 11, 2008

A Deck of Cards Workout Variation Provides a Total Body Challenge in 25 Minutes

One of my favorite fitness tips is how to use a basic deck of cards to create a challenging workout, and there are plenty of variations of this fitness tip. Whether in or out of a gym, with or without equipment, using the random element provided by turning cards over can provide everyone with a workout to remember.

To refresh your memory about this fitness tip, with the basic deck of cards workout you do body weight squats (black cards) and push-ups (red cards), with the repetitions of each determined by the face value of the cards. Additionally, Jacks are 11, Queens are 12, Kings are 13 and Aces are 15. To save you from doing any addition, this adds up to 105 repetitions per suit and results in doing 210 squats and push-ups each. If you include the Jokers in the deck this adds 20 reps to each move.

Make no mistake about it; if this workout is done correctly there are few routines that are as challenging as this one. Minimizing rest periods between sets and limiting rest periods to no more than 90 seconds after every 10 cards, the goal should be to get through the deck in less than 25 minutes. At first this won’t be possible for the vast majority of folks, and first-timers will be lucky to if they do the deck in 35 minutes. Just keep plugging away and remember that the 25-minute mark is the ultimate goal, not the ultimate reality.

By the way, the fastest that I’ve ever heard of anyone finishing this traditional deck of cards workout is just under 12 minutes. And for the nuts out there, a double deck workout – where push-ups and squats are done with each card flip - was finished in 54 minutes.

A great variation of this basic deck of cards workout it to stick with body weight squats for the 2 black suits and split the red suits between push-ups and squat thrusts. Adding squat thrusts to the routine provides a little more cardiovascular activity while making the workout more doable for those folks who have a tough time with the push-ups.

With less push-ups to do, the rest periods can be reduced, and for some people eliminated all together. The goal for finishing this workout should be 25 minutes (1 rep every 3 seconds for 1500 seconds!) and anything under 20 minutes (1 rep every 2.5 seconds) is awesome.

If you do the deck with the 2 Jokers you’ll do 230 squats, 115 push-ups and 115 squat thrusts. The way to handle the Jokers is to do 10 squats and 10 push-ups for the first one turned over and 10 squats and 10 squat thrusts for the second.

The deck of cards workouts are some of my favorite fitness tips as they don’t require any equipment, can be done anywhere, are portable and are as challenging as any workouts that you could ever try. Give the deck of cards a whirl and you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Disordered Eating is a Main Cause of the Obesity Epidemic

People who allow their food intake to be dictated by external factors – like commercial diets – are engaging in disordered eating. Contrary to popular belief disordered eating isn’t limited to eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia and binge eating, as there are a whole host of behaviors that are included in this syndrome. And while there is no single factor, dieting as been recognized as the chief contributing cause in the development of disordered eating.

Dieting is one of the most common practices/pursuits of our society and for many people has become an obsession, and an unhealthy one at that. Mixed messages and incorrect messages have been sent to the public via the pages of countless magazines and books that have been cranked out by so-called diet gurus, and are distributed by the diet industry. To the tune of approximately $40 billion dollars annually. That's billion.

Among Americans disordered eating, eating disorders and obesity are at all-time highs, thanks in large part to the “solutions” put forth by diet industry that aim to resolve these very problems. This is a complex problem, the scope of which goes well beyond the capacity of a single article to discuss.

In an effort to raise awareness of this problem and to help people get off of this diet addiction, I’m going to talk about this problem of and hopefully will be able to help people recognize if they have fallen into a disordered eating routine so that they can start to take steps to re-learn how to eat properly.

Here’s a little exercise that might help you to understand and/or realize disordered eating attitudes.

Make a list of your 10 or 15 most favorite foods. You know, the stuff that makes you love eating. The stuff that you dream about and that you would eat every day if you could. No feelings of guilt or of “being bad.” Burgers? Pizza? Ice cream? Chips? Cookies? Go ahead, take your time…

Okay. Now that you’ve made up the list, answer me this; how many of these foods do you eat regularly and how many do you actively, consciously avoid? If you actively avoid all or most of these foods you are practicing “restrained eating” and restrained eating is disordered eating.

This is also called “dieting” and dieting is disordered eating.

Of course this doesn’t mean that people who eat nothing but Twinkies, ice cream and KFC are eating the right way. But people who are afraid that a few slices of pizza, a piece of cake, a couple of Oreos, bread, rice, pasta or french fries will go right to their hips, and attempt to avoid eating these foods even though they like and want them, are practicing restrained eating.
To avoid specific foods and entire food groups is to practice disordered, restrained eating.
This position is considered blasphemous by those “experts” who make their livings spreading gospel of diet dis-information, but is true nevertheless. So many people have lost their way when it comes to eating. People are actually afraid of bread, cheeseburgers and spaghetti and meatballs, for goodness sake.

A fancy term used by research-types is “externally regulated, restrained eating.” For you non-fancy term types out there, like myself, this means eating that is determined by rules and guidelines that other people have developed, and that has nothing to do with the internal cues of the individual.

Despite what the “Diet Police” has been getting people to believe, we are all capable of determining exactly when we need/want to eat, what we need/want to eat and how much we need/want to eat. People who practice healthy, internally regulated, attuned eating eat what they want and want what they need and don’t have a weight problem because they know how to listen to their bodies. What some refer to as “willpower” exists in the attuned eater precisely because they have always listened to their internal cues.

The attuned eater doesn’t regularly eat past the point of being full or eat just to eat, doesn’t avoid ice cream and Ring Dings or any other foods that they enjoy. The attuned eater doesn’t moralize about foods and put them into the “good” and “bad” categories, and has flexibility in their habits that allows them to adjust their eating according to the varied situations that life throws at them.

Chronic dieting ruins the mind-body relationship and the natural, intrinsic signal system that allows us to regulate our diet internally.

So if you aren’t eating the foods you like, you need to figure out why. You also should keep checking in for the next installment in this series of articles dealing with disordered eating.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ten Things A Personal Trainer Should Never Do

Rather than provide another list of qualities to look for in a personal trainer, here’s a list of things a trainer should never do during a session. Almost 20 years ago I was taught that there’s a right way and a wrong way to treat clients and I still abide by these guidelines today. I insist that the trainers who work in my facility do the same.

A personal trainer should never…

1) Ask a client, “Have you ever done this exercise before?”

This question reveals that the trainer is not familiar with a client and/or hasn’t kept proper records tracking their client’s sessions.

2) Ask a client, “How much weight do you use with this exercise?”

As in the above, asking this question also reveals a lack of attention to detail and a lack of professionalism by the trainer. If your trainer ever asks either or – god forbid – both of these questions it’s time to look for another trainer. Asking either of these questions is a Cardinal Sin.

3) Leave a client alone during a session and let them continue to exercise.

There are always emergency situations that could result in a trainer being called away during a session, and in these rare instances the client should never be left alone to exercise. But the reality is that trainers do leave clients alone while they are in the middle of a session and rarely because of an emergency. This is unacceptable trainer behavior.

4) Not keep a detailed record of every training session.

Keeping an accurate account of all workouts for each client is one of the trainer’s most important responsibilities and avoids them having to ask the two dreaded questions mentioned above. Furthermore, keeping detailed records allows a trainer to track a client’s progress and can help determine – or rule out - the cause of soreness or other post-workout discomfort.

5) Use mostly equipment during a training session.

Using machines in a session is a sign of laziness on the part of the trainer. Since training on equipment is inferior to working out with free weights you really aren’t getting what you paid for. Anybody can move from machine to machine and do 3 sets of 10 repetitions at each stop. You don’t need to pay someone to watch you workout.

6) Sit down during a session while the client is working out.

A trainer who sits down while a client exercises is a sign of laziness and disrespect. It’s one thing to sit down with your client during a rest period while carrying on a conversation, and I sometimes sit or kneel on the floor while coaching or correcting a client during certain lifts like the squat or lunge. But flat out sitting on a bench or other piece of equipment to rest while a client works is a no-no.

7) Talk to another person – or turn away from a client - while a client is exercising.

The client deserves undivided attention while performing an exercise and needs to be under the watchful eyes of their trainer. During rest periods there’s nothing wrong with speaking to another client or trainer, and frankly I’ve had clients who weren’t interested in talking while they rested. But during exercise, a trainer should always be watching their client.

8) Do the same exact workout with every client.

When you aren’t working with your trainer, watch their sessions with other people. If they are doing the same exercises in the same order with everyone then you aren’t getting the most out of your sessions and certainly aren’t getting what you paid for. People, no matter how similar they seem, require different programs. No two people are alike, and a trainer’s sessions should reflect this reality.

9) Answer their cell phone during a session.

This sounds ridiculous, but I’ve actually seen this happen and it’s the ultimate sign of disrespect and unprofessional behavior. There are rare exceptions to this rule, but not many. Obviously, if your trainer should be paying attention to you and not be talking to other people during your session, they certainly shouldn’t be talking on the cell phones. This is just a sign of the times. 15 years ago it was the beeper, and now it’s cell phones. If it’s time for your trainer to answer their cell during your session, it’s time for you to get a new trainer.

10) Eating during the session.

Another sign of disrespect and laziness, there’s no reason for a trainer to eat during a session in front of a client. I know from the days of having 8 people straight through that the schedule is no excuse for this behavior. The proper way for a trainer to handle this situation is to take 5 minutes before a session starts and explain to their client that they’ve had 4 or 5 straight sessions and that they need to grab an energy bar or a fruit. Even now if I’m booked solid and if I need to grab a fruit, I’ll do so when my client needs to get water or is on a 3-minute break.

This list focuses on “big picture” issues with regard to a trainer’s behavior and quite frankly, frequently trainers who act in any or all of these unprofessional manners haven’t received proper training. In many cases personal trainers are freelancers who answer only to themselves. However, whether a trainer works for a facility or is an independent contractor there is no excuse for them to not treat their clients in a professional manner.

If you run across any of these behaviors, perhaps you can suggest to your trainer that he/she not do whatever it is that is violation of my “rules” and see how they react. Give them the benefit of the doubt. They may apologize and agree that they shouldn’t have done whatever it was. But if they get annoyed or blow you off, you may want to consider looking for another trainer.

Remember, you’re the client. You paid to have someone work with you exclusively for a session. Don’t be afraid to make sure your personal trainer gives you what you’re paying for and for what they are obligated to provide.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Sledgehammer Training With Tabata Intervals

Whether you are a personal trainer looking for something new for clients or a person who trains alone, sledgehammer training is a viable alternative to traditional strength training methods, and a great fitness tip to include into your training program.

Sledgehammer training is a fantastic alternative to the sometime humdrum routine of traditional strength training. All you need to take advantage of this unique style of training is an 8 or 10-pound sledgehammer and either a tree stump, log or old tire. Of course all three together are also great. And safety glasses, you’ll want to get a pair as you don’t want any chips of wood shooting up into your eye. Personal trainers and people who workout on their own should take advantage of the strength benefits offered by sledgehammer training.

Training with a sledgehammer is strength training with a twist, allows you to take advantage of the great outdoors and will push your fitness level to a new and higher level. There is also very little cost associated with this kind of strength training. A good 8 or 10 pound sledgehammer will only set you back about 20-25 bucks and you should be able to score a log or tire for free if you ask around.

So what are Tabata Intervals? Tabata Intervals, or a Tabata Workout, consist of 20 seconds of high-intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest, and this cycle is repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes. Without getting too deep into the science of this program, Dr. Izumi Tabata and his team of researchers provided proof that following this program for 6 weeks can dramatically increase a person’s anaerobic capacity and maximum oxygen consumption.

What was particularly startling about Dr. Tabata’s findings is that this training effect was observed in highly conditioned athletes rather than untrained members of the general population. Untrained people usually exhibit a positive, sometimes drastic, response to training over a short period of time because they have absolutely no training history and conditioning level. Tabata Intervals will push even the fittest of the fit even further into the Fit Zone. Wow, that’s bad; the Fit Zone…geez.

The great thing about Tabata Intervals is that you can use them with just about any exercise imaginable. Sprinting, the stationary bike, squat thrusts, jumping rope, squats, hang cleans, kettlebell swings, you name it and you can Tabata it .

Which brings us back to the sledge and Tabata Intervals.

The key thing to keep in mind is that you have to work all out during the 20-second intervals. And by “all-out” I mean as hard as you can, dare I say “balls-to-the-wall, pedal-to-the-metal.” Sorry girls…

To perform a Tabata workout you cannot just putter along at a relaxed pace for 20 ticks of the clock, you must work as hard as you can. To give you an idea as to the level of intensity that we’re talking about here, if you’ve been pounding away with the sledgehammer and are used to using it, you should be getting 15-18 swings in with the 8 or 10-pounder in a 20-second period.

To paraphrase Billy Shakespeare, let discretion be the better part of valor and caution be preferable to rash bravery. Just do one Tabata circuit the first time that you try this kind of workout and see how you feel during and after. Don’t get all gung-ho and overdo it the first time out. Slow and steady will win the race, especially if you’re working all out.

You can also mix and match in a Tabata-based workout. For instance you can do one, 4-minute Tabata Interval circuit with your trusty sledgehammer and then follow that up with a squat thrust circuit and finish it off with a kettlebell swing circuit. To do all of this you just need 20-minutes. And in this 20-minutes you will kick your own butt.

But for now, try the Tabata Interval program and go through just one circuit while making sure that you are working as hard as possible. Be patient and I guarantee that you will see results.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Healthy Skeptic: Stay Away From Gimmicks Like Whole Body Vibration Machines

Over the past several years the gimmicky gadget known as the Whole Body Vibration platform has come on the scene. This expensive piece of equipment has been advertised as offering people a revolutionary way to get into shape, when in effect WBV machines offer nothing more than a new way to separate people from a lot of their hard earned money.

The big marketing push surrounding WBV revolves around some research that was allegedly done by the old USSR space program and work done by NASA that studied the effects of WBV to combat the effects of weightlessness. Cosmonauts, astronauts and mice were studied and there were some very preliminary results – results that didn’t include observations of subjects in a weightless environment – to indicate that WBV could provide an effective treatment for those who spent time in space.

The fact that studies had yet to be conducted in a zero-gravity environment didn’t stop WBVers from advertising the efficacy of WBV based on these yet to be conducted studies. To read the advertising materials from some of these companies a person would have thought that NASA had rows and rows of astronauts standing on WBV platforms humming along and rebuilding bone strength. The reality is that the state of the research was that these studies were actually proposals and hadn’t been done.

At the time these WBV manufacturers were telling people that NASA research indicated that these machines worked, the real research still hadn’t been completed. And what is even more ridiculous is that people thought that because WBV might work in a weightless environment, or combat the effects of being in a weightless environment, that this method of treatment would have any use for the 99.99999% of us who will never be exposed to zero-gravity.

This equipment has been marketed in an extremely deceptive manner in a field where deceptive tactics are all too prevalent. Units that cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of dollars have been marketed and sold to people despite a remarkably thin volume of research that, if anything, indicates that WBV will do nothing for the vast majority of the population.

In May of 2007 the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research contained the details of 4 WBV studies. In reading the details of these studies it is clear that WBV training is not an effective strategy to use for members of the general population.

The study titled, Whole Body Vibration Induced Adaptation in Knee Extensors; Consequences of Initial Joint Strength, Vibration Frequency and Joint Angle found that improvements from WBV were limited to the weakest subjects and that limited improvements were seen in the stronger participants. The researchers conclude that WBV therapy “will” be ideal for the frail and elderly, and otherwise extremely incapable people. As an aside, the fact that the researchers decided to use the word “will” instead of “is” in their conclusion speaks volumes as to the true efficacy of WBV therapy even as it pertains to a segment of the population that supposedly can benefit from its use.

When you consider the expense and likelihood that there are other less expensive, effective methods that can serve as an alternative, this conclusion does not mean that WBV is the ideal therapy for these people. All this study shows us is that WBV treatment is suited for the infirm, not even that it’s the best treatment for the infirm.

The research certainly doesn’t show that WBV is appropriate for members of the general population and people should steer clear of these gadgets and absolutely should not spend money on any WBV machine.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Worst Training Program Ever

The cover story for the May 2007 edition of Muscle & Fitness magazine features Albert Pujols' training program. This program is without a doubt the worst possible kind of training program that any athlete could follow, regardless of the sport or capability level.

This is a body building, high-volume, low-intensity split routine. There is only one compound movement included in this routine - dumbbell sumo squats - and almost one-third of the program is made up of arm exercises. Pujols' trainer incorporates Smith Machine squats in this program, an exercise that is not recommended for anyone, especially an elite athlete.

When you look at this program it is no wonder that last season Pujols suffered a pretty severe oblique injury, had a hamstring issue and was bothered by a chronic elbow injury.

Pujols is the best baseball player on the planet, but he follows the worst training program possible.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Xenical Closer To Attaining OTC Status

On Tuesday January 24, 2006 federal health advisors to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted to recommend that Xenical - a drug prescribed for weight loss - be made available to the public in an over-the-counter dose. Final approval still has to be given by the FDA before GlaxoSmithKline can sell this non-prescription version.

Over a year later, we're thisclose to seeing Xenical available in an over-the-counter dose.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Xenical (generically know as orlistat), this is a drug that blocks the absorption of fat into the bloodstream, therefore reducing the amount of calories a person gets from a meal. The prescription dosage of Xenical decreases the amount of fat by about one-third and, when combined with a low-calorie diet and exercise, can help promote weight loss. The benefits delivered by Xenical stop as soon as you stop taking the drug.

Approved by the FDA in 1999, this drug hasn't been as popular as anticipated, in large part because of a wide range of gastrointestinal side-effects, most of which are extremely unpleasant, even though they are not dangerous. Well maybe dangerous to your clothing or people in close proximity, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Here is the list of side-effects - and it's a doozy - that you could encounter during your first year on Xenical: abdominal discomfort or pain, anxiety, arthritis, back pain, diarrhea, dizziness, earache, fatigue, fatty or oily stools, fecal urgency or incontinence, flu, gas with fecal discharge, gum problems, headache, increased defecation, menstrual problems, muscle pain, nausea, oily discharge, rectal discomfort or pain, respiratory tract infections, skin rash, sleep problems, tooth problems, urinary tract infections, vaginal inflammation, vomiting.

There's more, as depression, leg pain, swollen feet and tendonitis are side-effects that can crop up after one year of usage. By the way, my bookie can tell you that if you're always soiling yourself, of course you are going to be depressed.

Now my point is not that somehow this drug is dangerous or shouldn't be approved for over-the-counter sale. But I am saying - warning - that given the nature of what this drug is used for and knowing human nature, this is a drug that has a very high likelihood of being misused and abused. And the resulting shit storm - pun intended - will be quite severe.

And I want to be quite clear on this...I am blaming - in advance - the people who will misuse the drug and NOT the companies that develop, produce and market this drug. I have no faith in my fellow man when it comes to this kind of thing.

For it is obvious that if used correctly - and that's a big "IF" considering that we're talking about a weight loss drug - Xenical is safe and effective. But the potential for abuse here is tremendous. As is the potential for soiled garments of all kinds.

The prescription dosage of Xenical is one 120-milligram capsule three times per day with each meal containing fat. The proposed over-the-counter dose of Xenical - called Alli - is a 60-milligram capsule. So do the math and a person could very easily take the prescription level of Xenical by doubling up on the Alli. I don't think that's too much of a problem.

The problems will come when people give in to the inevitable "more is better" philosophy that too often comes into play. These problems will be compounded when people figure that they can double up on that dosage and be able to go on a KFC binge. The term "the Alli Shuffle" will take on a whole new meaning as a result of the misuse of this orlistat stuff.

And anyone who doesn't think that this will happen hasn't been paying too much attention to their fellow beings.

By looking at the information with regards to side-effects - anecdotal and otherwise - it's clear that the most common side effects are the good old fatty/oily stools, gas with fecal discharge, fecal urgency, increased defecation and oily discharge. And just for the record, I know the fourteen-year-old that resides deep inside all of us - and that goes for you girls out there as well - is laughing his/her ass at the comedic possibilities that spring to mind. Actually, my inner fourteen-year-old is dangerously close to the surface ... but I digress.

These symptoms - ladies and gentlemen - represent a veritable Hiroshima of eliminative horrors, and it's no wonder that sales for this drug are in the crapper. But seriously folks, who wants to be sitting on the subway next to an anxious, dizzy person who is suffering from gas with fecal discharge and the concomitant fecal urgency? It's no wonder that people using Xenical are anxious. They know that they may "you-know-what" at any moment, and that any "knock at the backdoor" could turn ugly in a hurry. "Hey Bill, you look anxious today. What gives?"

Ok, I've veered perilously close to the dark side of silliness so - in closing - I will now attempt to regain a modicum of credibility by veering back towards the light of seriousness.

After being approved for over-the-counter sale, Xenical will go on to become one of the most misused and abused drugs ever sold to the American public. And while dry cleaners and purveyors of undergarments and associated "foul weather gear" may rejoice in the newfound need for these goods and services, there will be a lot of unhappy Alli users out there. Lawsuits will follow.

And I'll be here making sophomoric jokes while saying, "I told you so!"