jessie321, Author at Ageless In Shape - Page 2 of 3

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Staying Motivated Heading

Getting And Staying Motivated: How To Not Give Up, And Stay Committed & Inspired To Keep Working Out

Staying Motivated Heading

Let's face it, whether you are a seasoned weight trainer, exercise fanatic or just starting out on your journey to getting in shape, at some stage you are going to reach a point where you just lose all motivation and just want to give up.

It may happen after a few weeks or a few months if you are new at weight training. You may be seasoned workout enthusiast with years of experience and a well developed muscular body with the perfect six-pack. Yet, for some reason, sometimes inexplicable for the person the involved, the will and motivation to keep on working out and exercising simply seems to evaporate into thin air all of sudden.

Exercising becomes a burden and the excuses to skip a workout starts outweighing the reasons to keep going. Worst case scenario you give up all together, with the chances of returning to the gym drastically declining longer you stay away. But why does this happen and can we do anything about it? 

Why We Lose Our Drive And Stop Training

There is no one specific reason why we lose our motivation and will to keep training. It not only depends on whether you are just starting out your fitness journey or have been training for 10 years. There are a lot of factors at play here. Lets look at a few of the most importance ones.

1. Not making progress or seeing any results

No Results

We see this most often among people new to weight training.  As already mentioned in another article (which you can read here) your body has an amazing ability to adapt to change. This is especially noticeable when you start training for the first time. Your body starts to respond rapidly to the new stresses on body, making it very easy to keep working out. Unfortunately, these changes start slowing down after 3-6 months and may even come to a complete standstill. For a many novice trainees this can be very disheartening, especially if they don't have the know-how to progress past this sticky-point or plateau.

A seasoned weight-trainer may experience this same phenomena, but this may happen after years of training and seeing constant progress. Even following the principle of Progressive Overload (read more about it here) does not seem to work anymore. This can be a little more difficult to address, but needs to be addressed pretty quickly, as it may be much harder to get started again after finally giving up after years of training.

2. Losing Interest And Plain Boredom

Bored

This is seen quite a bit, but especially among people who are consistently following exactly the same routine over and over again. Even while still seeing change and making good progress getting in shape, you may start feeling stagnated and even get bored of performing the same repetitive routine week after week. This makes it harder to set time aside to go to gym or perform your home workout routine. After all, why do you want to go and put your body through so much stress if you aren't even looking forward to the prospect?

Luckily, this is not such a difficult to problem to solve. Hint.... "Variety is the spice of life" More on that a little later.  

3. Distractions And The Demands Of Everyday Life

family

It is no secret. As we grow older, the perceived time we have available to us decreases dramatically. Work becomes more demanding, you get married and children may follow shortly afterwards. You constantly feel overwhelmed and tired, and "gym time" gets less and less priority and starts getting relegated lower down your to-do list as the months and years go by.

Distractions are not limited to growing older and the associated demands and added responsibility. A large percentage of younger people face many distractions of their own. The dramatic increase and accessibility of online and "on-demand" technology can be singled out as the biggest culprit.

I don't even have to discuss social media, as its influence and addictive nature has already been well documented. The sheer number of platforms available is staggering (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Whatsapp etc.) According to a study by the The Telegraph in 2015, teenagers spend and average of 27 hours per week on social media. Imagine what the number is today.

On top of that more traditional broadcasters and newer companies are now live-streaming movie and television content to your mobile device, directly competing with social media for your attention. I can go on and add online gaming  to the mix, but you get the picture.

So, where do you think does going to gym and staying in shape slots into position when it comes to priorities in the mind of the younger potential workout enthusiast? This will not be hard to answer!

4. The Absence Of Consequences Or Accountability If You Stop Working Out

accountability

For every action or lack thereof, there are consequences one way or the other. If you keep showing up late for work and start calling in sick when you don't feel like working, you will receive a warning which will quickly be followed by losing your job if you don't pull yourself together. No job, no income. A situation we all are desperately trying to avoid.  

The same with eating. If we skip a meal or two, we start getting hungry very quickly. Even if you manage to withstand the hunger urges for a sustained period of time, your body will suffer the consequences. Losing wait, severely weakening your immune system and an increase in loss of energy are just some of the consequences.

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for neglecting your workouts or stop exercising altogether. Especially if you are exercising alone or nobody knows about your training regime. You now have no one to answer to, which makes it that much easier to quit. Off course the consequences of not exercising, like gaining weight, a weakened immune system and loss of energy may make you feel guilty for a while. These aren't "urgent" consequences that are immediately felt however, making the instant gratification of relaxing at home, watching tv or socializing with friends a lot more appealing.

A Solution For Every Problem

Now that we know some of the main reasons why we lose motivation or even completely stop working out, can anything be done about it? Absolutely! Let's go through the 4 problems listed in the previous section and see how we can combat and overcome these obstacles.

1. Not making progress or seeing any results (solved)

No Results

This common problem is actually not that hard to address. All it really requires is a little more knowledge, your imagination and some experimenting.

As I already mentioned, your body is amazing in its ability to adapt. The trick is to learn to keep catching your body "off-guard", forcing it to adapt again and again, which means new growth and progress. The principle of Progressive Overload is used to achieve this. I have already discussed it in detail (which you can read here), but in short it simply means putting the body under new stress to force it to keep adjusting. This can be done in by various means:

  1. Never allow your body to get used to a weight. As soon as you can comfortably perform a routine without reaching failure, increase the weight your using. This way more stress on the muscles causes new growth and change.
  2. Another very effective way to force your body to change, is to lesson the rest period between your sets, putting your muscles under tension long before they are used to be trained again, stimulating more muscle breakdown and growth.
  3. Mix it up a bit. Off the top of my head I can think of at least 10 different exercises for each muscle group. This is not even taking into consideration the different variations in which you can perform each of these exercises. You'll be surprised what a difference bringing in a new exercise into your routine can make to stimulating new growth and making rapid progress. 

Just a quick last thought on forcing new growth and getting results. I know I mention it a lot, but again, but please don't be afraid to experiment. You may just "stumble" onto a routine that works wonders for you.

2. Losing Interest And Plain Boredom (solved)

Yes, doing the same thing over and over again, can become tedious and boring. Especially when performing a strenuous and exhausting activity week after week you can start losing focus and interest very quickly.

One solution that works very well, has just been mention in the previous point. Mix it up. Changing and working in new exercises not only stimulates new growth, but keep things interesting. You know the saying, "a change is as good as a holiday" ?  Well, if you are lucky enough to live in an area where you have access to more than one gym, use it! Not only does the different environments help prevent boredom wit a change of scenery, you are also exposed to different groups of people with different training styles. Perfect for keeping you motivated and stimulating new ideas.

Another very effective way to stay interested, is to find or stay focused on a role model that inspires you. If its a celebrity that you can easily find plenty of information on, that much better. You may admire the build of Zac Efron, the more muscular Dwayne Johnson or the classic bodybuilder shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger. On the female side, the classic curved but always toned body of Jennifer Lopez, the athletic and ripped Jillian Michaels or the super-fit Jessica Alba inspire millions of women worldwide. It really doesn't matter, chose whoever inspires you, look for photos of them on Google and build up your own private collection. Chances are there are also numerous videos of them on Youtube. Whenever you feel a lack of inspiration or motivation, look at your collection or favorite video. You'll be pleasantly surprised what a difference just looking at an inspirational figure and someone you admire can do for your motivation.

3. Distractions And The Demands Of Everyday Life (solved)

Although there is no denying the fact that the demands of work and family can rob you of the abundance of time you had earlier in your life, let's look at a few facts:

Despite these increase on demands on our time, we still manage find time for a lot of time for "non-essential" activities. In 2016, The New York Times found that on average,  the typical American adult spend an astonishing four and a half hours per day watching television. Things get a little better with social media, but not much. In another article from the same New York Times in 2016, it is reported that the average person spends 50 minutes a day on Facebook, by far the most popular platform. This is followed by Youtube with 17 minutes. 

All of this does not sound too bad, but if you add it all up, the average time spend on these leisure activities alone amounts to more than five and a half hours. This not even taking into consideration other social media use and additional leisure activities. Yes, these times vary among different countries, genders and age groups. But let's be very lenient and subtract 2 hours for any skeptics, still leaving more than three and a half hours still available. 

Now let's have a look at how much time you need to stay in shape. It has already been proven that you only need 90 minutes of vigorous training per week  to stay in shape. That is three workouts lasting only half an hour each! Now, you really want to argue that you are unable to find time to exercise and stay in shape? If you are more serious and committed to achieve even more ambitious results, four sessions lasting forty minutes per week are more than enough to reach almost any goal. That is less than three hours per week. (If you are looking to get started with a workout plan I can wholeheartedly recommend for men and women of any age, read this article.)

To sum up, you can probably find an excuse not to find the time to exercise and stay in shape. It has already been shown that if you really don't want to do something, you will always be able to find multiple "legitimate excuses" not to. With that said, it has been thoroughly proven that there no way you can blame a lack of time for not being able work out and stay in shape

Getting the younger generation (specifically those that are not already inspired and avid workout enthusiasts) to set time aside for exercise, is a pretty tough nut to crack. This is also a topic for a whole other discussion. I am wiling to say this much about it though. I think the most important part is education and encouraging children to get involved in physical activities and sports at an early age. I can go on, but I may tread on a few toes and wind a few people up, so lets leave it at that.

4. The Absence Of Consequences Or Accountability If You Stop Working Out (solved)

accountability

The ease with which you can give up on something when there are no real consequences or someone to answer to, is simply astonishing. Deciding to get and stay and shape, unfortunately is one of those decisions you normally take by yourself and pursue in isolation. So you can see how easy it is to cut back on your training and even give up, especially when working out starts getting difficult or you really struggle to get results.

The best solution is actually in the description of the problem. Being held accountable can be one of the main driving forces, keeping you going and pushing you through tough times and ultimately help you reach your goal. So, create that accountability.

 All of us have one or more person in our life close to us and who's opinion we value. It can be a spouse/partner, friend or sibling. Do yourself a huge favor and tell them about your decision and goals. And not just one person. Tell as many people close to you as you can manage; your partner, sibling and as many of your friends as possible. Even if you already started on your journey, tell them what you are doing and trying to achieve anyway.

This may be a bit uncomfortable and sounds self-serving, but your future self will thank you for it. Why? Simple, you created accountability. Everyone now knows about your commitments and goals. They see it when you leave for a workout, or come back late after one. It comes up in conversations, when you discuss future meetings or talk about about each other's week.

Now imagine contemplating giving up on your training. All of the sudden its not something you can do without having to answer some uncomfortable questions at the very least. You may even be chastised a bit by friends and family, especially if you were very vocal about your original decisions and goals. The mere thought of it will help you to keep going and not give up on your goals. And you will be glad you did it!

Apart from this very important step, there are a few other things you can do to help even further. Start keeping a diary, even if it is just to write down your reasons for starting and what your goals are, and keep track of small accomplishments and milestones along the way. Whenever you are in doubt and even think about giving up, you can always go back to it and remind yourself why you started in the first place and how far you've come.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel

How Many Reps Heading

The Best Rep Range For Muscle Growth: Shedding Light On A Controversial Subject

How Many Reps Heading

As the heading of this article suggests, this is one very controversial subject I am about to jump into. As one fitness author once stated. If you really want to start one big bloody fight, walk into a room filled with personal trainers, strength coaches and physiological therapists, ask which rep range is the best, and then take cover!

Yes, it really is that controversial and experts in the field are very divided and just as passionate about their own personal convictions. Just to clear things up, if you are a bit in the dark about what exactly are being discussed...

The amount of repetitions (reps) performed per set of exercise to achieve the best possible result, in most cases muscle growth and strength, is the topic of conversation. (Obviously this includes the best rep range to get in shape in general and get a overall toned body.)

You can blame the whole controversy and different approaches on the 2 type of muscle fibres in your body.

Fast-Twitch And Slow-Twitch Muscle Fibres

Muscle Fibres

Fast-Twitch And Slow-Twitch Muscle Fibres are the two types of muscles found in your body. They differ quite significantly in the way they function and respond. 

Fast-twitch muscles are more abundant in the body, and also bigger in size than their slow-twitch cousins. They are also much stronger, and is used for big explosive movements, especially with heavier weights. Professional weight-lifting and sprinting are examples of where the use of fast-twitch fibres come into play. Unlike slow-twitch fibres they respond best to lower repetitions with heavier weights (typically 4-6 reps).

Not as abundant as fast-twitch fibres,  slow-twitch fibres are also the weaker of the two. However, slow-twitch fibres take much longer to fatigue, and are ideal for endurance activities like long distance running and cycling. They also respond best to higher repetitions with lighter weights (typically 16-20 reps).

Rep Ranges And The Different Schools Of Thought

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that strength coaches and advocates of developing fast-twitch muscle fibres, strongly defend the "heavy weight, low reps" approach. A long rest between sets, normally 3-5 minutes, is followed to allow the muscles time to recuperate before the next heavy set.

Bodybuilders however, traditionally followed a "higher repetition" approach, normally between the 8-12 rep range. In general, they also follow an approach of "training to failure" with relatively heavy weights. (Training to failure means performing a set until you are unable to perform another repetition.)  Rest periods between sets are between 90 seconds and 2 minutes in general.

If you compare professional weightlifters and bodybuilders, it is very clear that bodybuilders are a lot bigger, with more defined muscles and less body fat. Yet, weightlifters are much stronger. More on that later.

To throw a third spanner in the works, there is a relatively new school of thought, advocating sets with long repetitions (16-20 reps) with very little rest in between (40 seconds or less). The argument is that the entire muscle is exercised (both fast-twitch and-slow-twitch fibres) through a process called progressive overload, resulting in muscle growth.

Making Sense Out Of The Chaos

Questions

Yes, it is very confusing to say the least. But what if I tell you that all these approaches mentioned in the previous section all have legitimacy? The only way to make sense of it all, is to break it down point by point and look at the facts:

1. Always Consider Your Ultimate Goal

Always take into consideration what the goal of the whole website is. To help men and women of all ages get and stay in shape. It may mean different things for different people. However, in general this means building some muscle, burning fat and in the process create a well-toned and healthy body. Does this mean that all the routines and principles followed by the extreme disciplines of weight training like endurance training (long repetitions) and weightlifting (short repetitions) should be completely avoided and ignored? Not at all! 

2. Progressive Overload: What It is And Why It Is So Important

This is probably the single most important principle to remember no matter what your goals are when it comes to weight training. If you want to see and keep on seeing changes in your body, you need constant Progressive Overload. But what is it and why is so important?       

In short, Progressive Overload is the continuous pressure being put on the body, forcing it to change. It can best be explained by looking at the beginner weight trainer. Whenever you start training with weights for the first time, you see your body changing very quickly, for the first 3 to 6 months anyway. Your body has never experienced weight training before, so it needs to adapt quickly to these new forces being put on it.

As we all know, the body is extremely good at adapting though. In general this a very good thing, but not so much when you want your body to keep changing. You experience this first hand when, after 3-6 months of weight training, the changes to your body starts slowing down and even come to a complete standstill. (In weightlifting terms it is commonly referred to as hitting a plateau.)  The only way for your body to keep changing, is to force it by applying more stress on it. This can be done in a variety of ways.  Increasing the weights you use, adding more reps to your sets, as well as shortening the rest periods between your sets are all methods used to stimulate progressive overload.   

Very few people dispute this principle. It is the way to reach this point where the body get stimulated enough to change, that brings me to the 3rd point.

3. Different Ideologies, Same Claim

I f you look at the advocates of short and heavy weight training, the goal is to use heavy weights which allows you you to do no more than 3-5 reps before reaching failure, using fairly quick explosive movements. This stimulates the fast-twitch fibers into growth. When a weight can be successfully lifted for 5 or more reps, the weight is increased to stimulate more growth. The principle of progressive overload is applied.

Advocates of the 8-12 rep range, aims to do the same. Slower and more controlled movements are used however, to exhaust the slow-twitch fibres and allow the fast-twitch fibres to come into play through the use of more repetitions. Again, the principle of progressive overload is applied.

Again, advocates of the 16-20 rep range also aims to do the same. Using very slow controlled movements with plenty of repetitions puts the focus primarily on slow-twitch fibres. The goal and theory is that by completely exhausting these fibres, with very little rest between sets do you get to fully stimulate the fast-twitch fibres once the former is completely fatigued. And yet again, the principle of progressive overload is applied.

Does this not leave us with the same unanswered question: Which rep range is best? Not really. We now have some clear facts and can see some familiar patterns emerging that will help determining the best option...

A Logical Conclusion

You will probably not be surprised to know that there are plenty of research supporting all 3 ideologies, as all of them are effective to some extend.

One ideology seems to stand out though. The 8-12 rep range appears to be the sweet spot. No, it is not because it is right in the middle between the other 2 more extreme viewpoints. Research backs this up, and leans heavily in favor of using this rep range with moderate weights for maximum results.

Remember the importance of stimulating both fast-and-slow-twitch fibres? Studies have shown the 8-12 rep range to put just enough stress on the slow-twitch muscles fibres to exhaust them fairly quickly before activating and putting the stress on the fast-twitch fibres. A fairly short rest period (approximately 40-50 seconds maximum) is also recommended to enhance the effect of progressive overload and stimulate the maximum amount of muscle fibre.

There are 2 other big advantages of using this rep range. First, using a high (16-20) rep range often cause your supporting muscles, joints and ligaments to tire before the bigger muscles you are targeting becomes fatigued. This causes you to stop prematurely or use too light a weight to finish your set, making it completely ineffective.

The second advantage may be even more important. Using a very heavy weight places your tendons and joints under a lot of pressure, making you more susceptible to injury. The same apples to using a high rep range, with the accumulation of reps building up unnecessary stress and tension on your joints and tendons. 

A Final Thought

So, we have determined the 8-12 rep range to be the most effective range for the best results (with which many experts will disagree no doubt). Does this mean the other schools of thought can be completely be disregarded? Not at all...

Remember your body's amazing ability to adapt? Well, even wit this "ideal" 8-12 rep range routine and even continuously adjusting your weights to keep you muscles stimulated through progressive overload, you will still find yourself at a sticking point or plateau at some point, where you just can't seem to make any progress.

This is the perfect time to set aside a week for some heavy weight, low repetition lifting. Making a sudden change like this has shown to "catch your muscles off-guard"  and stimulate fresh growth. You may even want to add a second or third week of heavy training before returning to your usual routine. As I mentioned in other articles, don't be afraid to experiment.

A lot more can be said and debated about the topic of the best rep range, but I trust you now have more clarity on the issue that will help guide you through your workouts. 

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel


 

Home Workout

Working Out From Home: Getting Your Exercise Done When You Cannot Make It To The Gym

Home Workout

For any fitness or physique athlete, there is just nothing more welcoming than a well-equipped modern day gym. No matter what your need or goal, there are a multiple of equipment and weights suitable for any exercise or movement. There are times however, when you are not able to make it to the gym for a variety of reasons.

fireplace

From "gym fanatics" to people just striving to stay in shape, we all run into some obstacle from time to time.  Let's be honest: Sometimes we just don't feel like getting out of the house in crappy weather and drive twenty minutes to the gym and back, all for a forty minute workout. It should not be an excuse, but we have all been there. And its not due to lack of motivation or dedication.

The good news is that, with a little innovation and with the help of some furniture, you can give all the muscles in your body a good workout, with improvised exercises and using your body weight. And all of it from the comfort of your home. Just remember, this should be an occasional substitute for going to the gym, not the rule. (Obviously if you don't have access to a gym at all, this is the perfect alternative until you can find a better option.)

Moving on to the exercises, please take note that the same principles applied in my article on your "Starter Workout" (read the article here), applies to your home workout as well.  

Use the table below to see what specific exercise can be used to target the appropriate muscle group.

Exercise

Muscles Targeted

Sets

Reps

Push-up

Chest, Triceps

2

10

Dumbbell Row

Back

2

10

Push Back Push-up

Shoulders

2

10

Standing Squat

Legs

2

10

Seated Dip

Triceps

2

10

Lying Chin-up

Biceps, Back

2

10

Crunches

Abs

2

16

The table above shows the total number of exercises and sets that makes up one training session

Don't be fooled by the term "home exercise". When properly performed, these exercises give you body a proper workout, and can still be very strenuous for any person new to resistance training or anyone who haven't been training for more than 6 months.  Therefor please heed the following warning:

Make sure to consult your physician before attempting any of the exercises described in this article.

As with the "gym version" (which you can read here) of the beginner program, the same steps and principles apply to the home workout.

The Exercises

In this section, I am explaining each exercise with the aid of a video clip of me performing the particular exercise.

Please note that I took great care to only make use of everyday furniture and objects you will find in any home. Some home exercise routines require a set of dumbbells and a bench. Off course this makes exercising a lot easier, as well as including a huge variety of additional exercises possible not otherwise available. 

Most of us, however, don't want to waste money and don't have enough space to accommodate equipment we may only use a couple of times a year. For this purpose I am focusing on an "equipment free" home exercise plan.

Here are the exercises, as laid out in the table above:

Push-up

As illustrated, performed with a straight back and elbows to the side and not at a wide angle to the body. Arms tucked in too closely to the body may put too much emphasis on the triceps, and too wide put a lot of stress on the shoulders and should be avoided.

Bent-Over Dumbbell Row

Performed with a bench or set of chairs. Rest your right arm and knee on the bench with your upper body parallel to the floor. Hold weight in left hand and start with a straight arm. Raise it all the way until the weight is your body height before lowering it. Do the same with your right side with left knee and arm on the bench.

Push Back Push-up

Very much the same as a push-up, with one big difference. As illustrated, after lowering to the floor, push back with your arms instead of up, while bending your knees to allow your body to be pushed back. Straighten your legs while in the "raised" position before repeating.

Standing Squat

With feet slightly apart, keep your arms outstretched for balance. Start lowering yourself into a seating position until your upper legs are at least parallel to the floor. Keeping your arms out-stretched helps you keep your balance while lowering yourself. Don't bent forward!

Seated Dip

Using a chair, bench (or footstool), place your feet together and elevated. Make sure your butt is positioned just in front of your seat before lowering yourself until your elbows are bent at about 90 degrees. Keep your elbows tucked in at all times.  

Lying Chin-Up

Use the edge of a table or desk. Position yourself underneath it as illustrated. Place your hands about shoulder-width apart. While keeping your back straight, pull yourself up as high up as you can or until your head touches the table/desk.   

Crunches

While lying down  on a aerobics/yoga mat (or soft carpet to protect your spine), bend your knees as illustrated. With your hands on the sides of your head, lift your upper body up towards your pelvis until your shoulders are completely off the floor. Do not keep your back straight, but imagine curling it up as you try and pull your shoulders towards your pelvis. 

These exercises form the basis of a solid home starter workout program. It can be used by the beginner, but also the more advanced trainer. By adapting these exercises to make it more challenging or adding additional exercises that place even more strain on your muscles, you can turn any home exercise into a very challenging one, no matter what your level of experience or fitness.

Helpful Hints And Advice

It is important to highlight a few points to remember while performing this home workout. This section also shows you how to adapt your workout to make it easier if you are experiencing some difficulty in performing some of these exercises, as well as how to make it more challenging to help you advance past the beginner stage.  

a) Push-up

One of the evergreen exercises to effectively train your chest and biceps. Some people may still have difficulty performing one proper push-up, especially if you are not strong enough in your upper body yet.  There is an easy solution.   Rest your lower body on your knees (not your feet) while performing the push-up. This takes off almost half the weight off your muscles, and makes it much easier for you to perform the exercise.

Just don't get complacent and as soon as you can easily perform 10 repetitions on your knees with ease, start perform the exercise in its proper form using your feet and whole body weight. Remember to keep your back straight at all times, no matter which form of the exercise you perform.

b) Exercising Your Back

Two exercises that targets the back are illustrated in this program. The bent-over dumbbell row and the lying chin-ups both targets the back, directly or indirectly. If you have a very weak back or are nursing an injury, you can stick to just chin-ups to start out with. Although primary targeting the biceps in this variation of the exercise, it still stimulates enough muscle fibres in your back. 

To create a"proper" full range chin-up that is both more challenging to perform and put more emphasis on the back muscles as well, you have to find a horizontal bar you can properly grip and is higher than you can reach with your arms outstretched while lying on the floor. Position yourself underneath the bar so that your lower chest is directly below the bar. Reach out and grip the bar with an overhand position. While keeping your back straight, raise yourself up until your chest touches the bar before lowering yourself until your arms are fully extended. Repeat. This exercise can be very challenging, so stick with the original exercise illustrated until you are comfortable.

c) Seated Dip

As your triceps are already worked out with the push-up, this exercise can be seen as an optional exercise, use in conjunction with push-ups, if you feel the push-up does not fatigue your triceps enough.

If you find the traditional seated dip too challenging, you can lessen the load by not keeping your feet elevated, but placing it on the floor while performing the exercise. This makes performing the exercise much easier and give  your triceps the opportunity to strengthen until you are able to do a full set with your feet elevated. 

d) Leg Exercises

As you would have already seen, the standing squat is used as a good starting exercise for your leg muscles. For a large majority of people who are already strong in their legs, this can be way too easy an exercise to perform. You can immediately make this exercise more difficult by lowering yourself past the parallel position until the back of your legs touches your calves. You get a much better stretch, a full range of movement and place a lot more strain on your leg muscles, working much harder to push your body up from that low position.

You can turn your home leg exercise into a really serious muscle building routine by adding exercises like lunges and wall squats to seriously enhance your leg workouts. By adding basic equipment like a simple pair of dumbbells, can be very effective and contribute to leg muscle growth, especially combined with lunges. More on these advanced exercises later on.

e) Make Your Workout More Challenging And Effective

A final word on how you can make home workouts more effective if don't find it challenging enough. First, the 40 second break between sets can be reduced to 30 seconds. This alone will place a lot more strain on your muscles and cause them to fatigue a lot quicker. A second very effective method, is to add a 3rd set to each exercise. As with the gym version, just that one extra set will have a huge impact on your routine.

And this takes care of the basic home exercise. I covered as much detail as I can think of, but know there are still a lot of unanswered questions and additional issues to be addressed. Feel free to leave me any comments or questions and I will answer as promptly as possible. 

In the future, I may include a separate article dedicated to a more advanced home training program, and also include a section for exercises that can be done with the assistance of just a bench and set of dumbbells. Let me know in the comment section if you are interested, and I will make a point of including it sooner rather than later.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and let me know if there a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.

Wessel

  

eating plan for workout day

How To Structure Your Eating Plan On Training Day: The Perfect Companion For Your First Workout

eating plan for workout day

This article forms Part Two of the “Your First Workout” series. (You can read Part One here) In this section, we focus on a typical good eating plan to follow on your workout day. Keep in mind that his will differ a little from your diet on non-training days.

The foods described in this article, can be substituted with a huge variety of alternative source, so don't be concerned if you really dislike the specific foods described. The purpose is just to show you what type of food should ideally be taken throughout the day. (More info on some alternatives sources later on in the post.)

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates

First, some good news for everyone who love their carbohydrates. This is the one day where you are encouraged to increase your carbohydrate intake. Hang on, just don't get too excited too soon. I am not referring to refined carbohydrates like sugary drinks, candy bars and refined wheat products like white bread, bagels and donuts. I am referring to "healthy" complex carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, oats and sweet potatoes.

Before moving on to describing the different meals, some clarification is in order to explain why carbohydrates plays such a big role on your workout day. 

First, your workout, if performed properly, requires a substantial amount of calories to burn to keep energy levels sustained throughout your training session. Having build up a sufficient amount of carbohydrates in your system, insures you have a sustained source of energy that will keep you performing at your optimum level, without having to worry about your body using precious muscle tissue instead of food as an energy source.

fat measure

There is lot of controversy and diverse opinions over the more "liberal" use of carbohydrates. Especially proponents of diets like the Paleo and Atkinson's Diets, believe carbohydrates should be avoided at all costs. The problem is, if you are already following a diet extremely low in carbohydrates, you have "very little room to play with" when burning calories. Without sufficient fuel to burn as energy during and post-workout, it is extremely easy for your body to start consuming muscle tissue as energy, which can put your body in a catabolic state. A situation that can sometime be tricky to reverse. 

I would rather recommend having a surplus of carbohydrates, which may turn into some fat as storage, than burning away your hard earned muscle gains. It is much easier to dial back your carbohydrate intake and lose the excess fat gained, than to rebuild the muscle tissue lost. It is a process of trial and error, and you will learn in time what amount works for you. Each person's body respond differently.

Enough about carbohydrates for now. Time to move on to the actual eating plan. I will first discuss the eating plan, and in the following section discuss how you can adopt it to your schedule. I will also go into more detail, explaining why the different foods are consumed at certain times. We will also be looking at some alternatives.

The Eating Plan

If you read through physique and fitness magazines, online blogs and watch Youtube videos, you will see that the the trend is to advocate breaking down your meal plan into at least 6 smaller meals. This is close to ideal and make it a lot easier for your body to stay anabolic and digest your food properly. It also helps to keep your metabolic rate up which helps your body to keep burning fat for much longer. Therefore, we will start with a 6 meal plan.

Meal 1

1 bowl of oats 

2 Scrambled eggs

1 cup of coffee / glass of orange juice

Meal 2 (pre-workout)

1 small protein or meal replacement shake

1 apple or banana


Meal 3 (post-workout)

1 Protein Shake (preferably whey protein)

1 Potato

1 grilled chicken breast

½ avocado


Meal 4

4-6 ounces of Cottage Cheese

1 Sweet Potato

1 cup of greek yogurt.

Meal 5

6-8 ounces of lean steak (or tuna)

1 cup of rice

1 cup of steamed vegetables

1 small mixed salad with a table spoon of olive oil  

Meal 6

1 cup of cottage cheese

1 protein shake (preferably casein protein)



This is a basic breakdown of what a healthy optimal eating plan on your workout day can look like. Now let's look in more detail at the timing of the meals compared with when you do your workout, and how to adjust them to suite your schedule. 

Timing And Organizing Your Meal

The sample meal plan, is set up for your typical late morning workout. But to be realistic, who of us have time or permission to take off from work at eleven in the morning? Most people choose to do their training either early in the morning before work, during their lunch hour or late afternoon after the workday is finished. Each of these three time-slots will be used as a basis to help organize you meal plans accordingly.

Early Morning Training:

morning exercise

You need at least an hour or more (in most cases more than 2 hours) of no food intake before your workout starts. This gives your body time to digest your meal, and allow the nutrients to enter the bloodstream. Directly after eating, blood is focused around your digestive area to aide with digestion and the uptake of nutrients in the bloodstream, not the muscles where it suppose to be working when you are training a muscle group. 

For that reason, breakfast is not an option for you. Meal 2, which serves as quick "energy boost", should be taken immediately after waking up. After completing you workout, Meal 3 should be taken as quickly as possible. Around lunch time Meal 4 and repeat it mid-afternoon. Dinner should be Meal 5. Meal 6 should be taken about an hour before bed. 

Yes, you are missing out on breakfast. To compensate for it, I normally take some complex carbohydrates during my late night "snack" the previous night, as it is still in my system when training the next morning. I can honestly feel the difference if I didn't have any carbohydrates the night before workout the next morning. Try it and see if it works for you too.

Lunch Time Training

midday workout

Here, the order of your meals stay the same as described in the table. You just don't have to rush your breakfast and eat it just before leaving for work. Just remember to take Meal 2 an hour or more before your workout. As with the other two scenarios, make sure  Meal 3 (post-workout) is taken as quickly as possible after your workout. The remaining 3 meals are taken as normal.

Late Afternoon Training

afternoon workout

With this routine, your meal order get "mixed up" quite a bit, but with good reason. It looks as follows:

You start with Meal 1 (breakfast) as normal. This however, gets followed by Meal 4 to sustain energy and protein levels.  Meal 2 (pre-workout) is taken mid-afternoon to boost energy levels for your workout. Meal 3 (post-workout) is taken as quickly as possible after the workout. This is followed by Meals 5&6 as normal.

The Plan And Indredients Explained

Obviously there is a reason for the type of foods in the eating plan and when they are taken. Nutrients aren't just randomly chosen and thrown together.

Oats: A grain based carbohydrate that is the perfect way to start the day, providing sustained energy throughout the day. It also provides the body with healthy fats and help maintain muscle mass.

Eggs: Often being described as the the perfect food, it is great source of protein. Although the yolk of the egg has been "accused" of contributing to increased cholesterol in the human body in the past, recent studies showed that even though the yolk itself is high in cholesterol, a very small percentage is actually absorbed by the body. It is also easy to digest and a great source of energy, making it the perfect breakfast companion.   

Coffee: The advantages of coffee are too numerous to mention, but the obvious standout being the boost in energy it provides to kick-start your day. Recently studies showed that having multiple cups of coffee throughout the day have additional health benefits.

Orange Juice: Rich in vitamin C and fibre while improving blood circulation. The natural sugar in orange juice also provides a boost in energy. 

Whey Protein Shake: Normally in powder form, and mixed with water or milk. Whey is not just quickly digested, but enters the bloodstream and muscles very quickly, which is essential after a workout when your body needs the nutrients quickly to stop muscle breakdown and assist in recovery.

Apples: One of richest sources of nutrients to support the immune system. Eating an apple before a workout provides a surprisingly high boost in energy to fuel your workouts. Some researchers even stated that it is better source of energy than caffeine.

Bananas: Another great source of energy to be taken before a workout. It is also rich in potassium that helps with muscle contraction and nerve function, as well as assisting with digestion.

Potatoes: Also rich in potassium and vitamin C, potatoes are complex carbohydrates that is used by the body as a sustained source of energy. It is also more quickly absorbed by the digestion system than sweet potatoes, and stays in your system much longer than simple carbohydrates. This makes it ideal as a post workout energy source that helps to raise insulin levels, which in turns help with the uptake of protein in the body. Caution should be taken when consuming potatoes in numbers though, especially on non-training days when energy demands are much lower. Excess energy provided by potatoes can easily be stored as fat.

Sweet Potatoes: Very similar to potatoes in many respects, it is considered to be a healthier alternative as a complex carbohydrate. It has a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes, which means it doesn't cause an insulin spike, and therefore forms a more stable source of energy to be taken alongside a protein source later on during the day.

Chicken: (especially chicken breast): A "light" white meat which, alongside red meat, it is one the main sources of protein, used by physique athletes and bodybuilders the world over. Due to its capacity to be digested much quicker than red meat, it is ideal to be taken during the day when you still need to be active. For the same reason it can be taken in smaller portion more frequently without taxing your digestive system. 

Red Meat: Whether in the form of beef or lamb, red meat has for many years been considered the main staple food for any athlete seriously pursuing muscle gains. Packed with protein and iron, there is very little disagreement as to its position as a protein powerhouse. Only one word of caution. Red meat takes some time to digest. If you eat too much, or have a slow digestive system, it can make you feel sluggish and lethargic. This may be a problem if you still need to be active and alert. This is why I almost always recommend eating it in the evenings when you are slowing down and have plenty of time to let it digest and be absorbed by your body. Obviously if you take it in very small bites (snacks) throughout the day, it won't be a problem. As a part of a main meal and at 6-8 ounces or more, I would definitely recommend sticking with dinner.

Mixed Vegetables: We all know what vegetables are, but I would put emphasis on including greens, such as broccoli, peas and spinach, as well carrots and beetroot. There are plenty of other healthy vegetables to choose from, but the five examples I mentioned, really takes the crown when it comes to supplying the body with anti-oxidants, vitamins and fibre. It also plays a big part in aiding the body's digestive system, which is crucial with a diet high in protein. Make sure you include include at least one mixed vegetable portion in your daily diet plan. 

Salad: A mixed salad is an excellent source of fibre and light in calories. You can actually combine this with any meal, not necessarily just dinner. Apart from including healthy ingredients like green lettuce, tomatoes, olives  and peppers, you can also give your body a good protein boost. Including ingredients like feta cheese, avocados and strips of bacon or chicken is just one of many ways to increase your protein intake. 

Casein Protein Shake: Normally in powder form, and mixed with water or milk. Unlike whey, casein is not quickly digested and stays in your system for hours. This make it ideal to take as a late-night meal/drink just before going to bed. As you are going to be "fasting" for the next seven hours or more, you need a protein that stays in your system for some time. Casein fits the bill perfectly.

Cottage Cheese: Another high protein source.  It also packed with essential minerals and light in calories, which means it won't keep you up at night. And the best part, is that the protein is casein based!

And that covers all the foods mentioned in this eating plan, alongside an explanation of each one, as well as the purpose and timing of each meal. I need to re-emphasize that this by no means the only correct eating plan available. It is just one of many variants, and even within this eating plan, you can substitute almost all the ingredients with an alternatives of your choice.

And Now, For A Spanner In The Works!

questions

The eating plan just laid out and explained to you, is the "ideal eating plan" for the perfect person with the perfect metabolism, digestive system and the ideal ideal body type. And that is the big problem. None of us are perfect and a surprisingly large percentage of people are unable to follow this eating plan rigorously and over the long term.

Guess what. That's OK! You don't have to and still get results.

Right now you are probably thinking why you bothered reading through this article, just to be told it is fine not to stick with it. So what was the point? Bear with me.

In an ideal world with the ideal body, you will respond extremely well to this diet. Even though most of us do not, there are some universal truths to be taken out of this plan:

  • All the foods described in the plan, are "clean" foods which means they are healthy foods that will benefit your body as a whole when taken in moderation and at the appropriate time. You now have framework of the type of foods that can benefit you.
  • Never starve yourself. That is probably biggest lesson you can learn from this eating plan. I will go as far as recommending eating something whenever you are hungry. Just try and stick to the right type of food and not reach for the closest candy bar whenever you have a food craving.
  • Carbohydrates is not the bad guy. Many nutritionists and "diet gurus" really believe any form of carbohydrate is pure evil that will immediately transform into fat as soon as it enters your body. This eating plan clearly disproves this theory. Some people with certain body types may actually require a much higher carbohydrate intake. (Read the relevant article about body types here.) And there is nothing wrong with having a "cheat day" where you can enjoy your favorite pizza and ice-cream. Again, this plan provides you with a framework as to what carbohydrates are healthy and when is the best time to take them
  • The importance of protein. I can't emphasize the importance of protein enough. It is absolutely essential for muscle and bone development, maintenance, along with assisting with numerous other important body functions. This plan clearly illustrates this point.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

This diet is a complete departure from almost 99% of the principles normal diets usually follow.  I stumbled across it a few years back as it happened to suite my eating habits at the time.

I'm one of those people with no appetite in the morning and throughout most of the day, and late night I am hungry enough to eat an elephant. After countless rebukes and attempts, I managed to adopt a healthier routine by starting to incorporate literally bite-size pieces of the diet plan, eventually managing to end with a plan close to the one in this article. Which leads me to this book: 

(Important, this section is just to illustrate to you the extremity to which diet plans can differ.)

Renegade Diet

The Renegade Diet

As I mentioned, this book literally throws all conventional wisdom about diet and eating plans out the window. It basically promotes the idea of fasting for 14-16 hours, under-eat for 4 hours and then over-eat  for 4 hours in the evenings. Yep, that is about as crazy and out there as it gets. The really crazy part? The theory and principles are actually backed up by scientific evidence. It's validity can be debated in many ways.

Since I still have my biggest meal in the evenings and struggle to take in enough calories during the day, I followed the diet plan for a while. I was quite surprised how well it worked for me. Looking at the before-and-after pictures of other participants, as well as reading reviews and testimonials, confirmed my own findings. 

Does this means this will work for everyone? Probably not. Is it a healthy diet plan. Also, probably not. Is it sustainable? I have no idea.

Therefore, I cannot condemn or promote it. I have no evidence as to its true effectiveness or hidden dangers. The eating plan in this article, however, has been proven to work and be a healthy way of reaching your goal. The goal of this section is make you aware of how different each one of us is, and responds to different diets. I would really encourage you to not just follow any eating plan blindly, but make adjustments and and don't be afraid to experiment a little. You are the best expert in finding out what is best for you.

Anyway, if you are night eater like me, go and have look at "The Renegade Diet" by following any of these links (in the book title and picture as well.) Go and find out what it is all about and make up you own mind. Who knows?

Conclusion

If you feel your head is spinning right now, I don't blame you. It is a lot of information and you may have to read this more than once to make sense of everything. The whole goal of this article is to provide you with a rough framework you can work from, especially when you are putting together a diet plan from scratch. Use it as starting point.

Now, it's up to you, and my only remaining advice to you is: Experiment, experiment, experiment.... It is going to take time, but: "Try, adjust, look at the results. Repeat."

Your body is unique and  will respond different to everyone else's. You owe it to yourself to find what works best for YOU.

I went a little further than the intended scope of this article, but I hope this article was useful in helping you better understand how a diet plan works and can be followed, especially on your workout day.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, take care and start stocking up on some of these super foods for your diet plan!

Wessel


your first workout plan

Your First Workout Plan: The Best Starter Weight Training Program For Men And Women

your first workout plan

Finally... You just convinced yourself and decided to commit and get yourself into shape.

You literally went to town on your gym outfit. New sweatpants, gym shirts and the all important new pair of training shoes are all laid out on the bed. You even remembered to get training gloves, a good training belt, a water bottle and a very cool looking gym bag to complete your go to accessories list for your gym workouts.

Your first month's membership? All paid up. All set then. Very well, but now what? Did you plan what exactly you are going to do once you walk through those gym doors?

your first workout

Maybe you read an article in a fitness magazine or watched a Youtube video that inspired you. Is the athlete in the article an advanced weight trainer and following an exercise program suitable for a beginners? Worse case scenario, your friend, who has been a gym fanatic for years and already competed on stage, hands you his best and most intense workout schedule.

But most probably, once you walk through those doors, your general floor instructor will do what almost 99% of gyms do when joining for the first time...  Introduce you to circuit training, which you are suppose to follow for the first few weeks.

(A circuit is a combination of exercise machines, roughly placed in the shape of a circle. Each machine trains a different muscle group. You train for a set period of time, an alarm goes off and you move on to the next machine and start exercising as soon as the next alarm sounds. The idea behind circuit training is to exercise each muscle in you body and get you body as a whole conditioned and used to weight training.)

In general, I agree with the principles and goals of starting out with circuit training. I agree with the goal to get your whole body ready and prepared, by exercising and training every muscle in your body to allow it to get used to weight training. I disagree with the practice of starting out with circuit training for 2 reasons:

1. I don't agree with the idea of using a group of exercise machines to prepare your body for weight training. Obviously certain muscle groups can be trained very effectively by exercise machines, but I prefer using the actual exercises you will be using later on during your more advanced weight training programs. There is just no real substitute for doing exercises you will end up doing anyway at a later stage, especially the use of free weights (barbells & dumbbells).

Gym Circuit

2. More often than not, you are left to your own devices doing circuit training week after week. Inevitably you end up getting bored out of your mind or getting despondent after seeing no results after months of doing the same thing over and over again. The big unfortunate outcome is that you give up. The point is, no matter what your definition of getting in shape is (building muscle, getting a well-toned body or losing fat), at some point you must move on to a more specific workout program targeted towards reaching your goal. Circuit training was just supposed to be a starting point. Don't blame yourself though.

Here I lay the blame with big gym franchises and authoritative fitness magazines and online authorities who, I feel, should pay more attention to educating their members/readers. Teaching exercise basics, following up on your progress and goals, and adjusting a trainee's program accordingly (or at least point them in the right direction), should form the foundation and number one priority of any fitness authority or institution. 

With that out of the way, I am going to take you through a full body workout program, using exercises you will probably be using throughout your training "career". Remember, this is a starter program. It is not for anyone who has already been training for a while and are already on an intermediate to advanced level and accustomed to weight training.

So, I am going to assume the following: You are over 30 and/or starting to train for the first time, or haven't trained for more than a year and are starting all over again. Before starting the exercise plan, please heed the following warning:

Make sure to consult your physician before attempting any of the exercises described in this article.

I am going to lay out the program first, then explain how it should be performed, before moving on to each exercise and explain it in more detail.

The Program

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Flat Barbell Bench Press

2

10

Lat Pulldown 

2

10

Seated  Dumbbell Shoulder Press

2

10

Leg Press

2

10

Lying Leg Curl

2

10

Lying Triceps Extension

2

10

Standing Barbell Curl

2

10

Standing Calf Raise

2

10

Crunches

2

16

The table above shows the total number of exercises and sets that makes up one training session

In the following session I will describe how you should proceed through the program and how each exercise should be performed.

How To Follow The Program

The program consists of a full body workout followed 3 times a week for the first 3 to 5 weeks. Before starting the program, please take note of the following.

  1. Take it easy on yourself, you are just starting out. If you find it hard to cope with 3 full sessions per week, don't hesitate to restrict it to 2 sessions per week. Where you would have trained on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, simply reduce it to a Monday and Thursday. Try and stay active during non-workout days though, by going for brief walks or even doing some cycling. Staying active helps to keep your metabolism active and "up to speed".
  2. Ideally, completing one exercise program should take 40 - 45 minutes maximum. (Read my article about optimal time spend in the gym here). At first, you may have some difficulty finishing the session within this time, especially if you haven't done any exercise for some months or even years. That is completely fine and understandable.  You can drastically reduce the time and stress on your body by doing just one set of each exercise. Remember you are just starting out so your body is adjusting to sudden change. Just don't get too complacent, so try and increase your sets back up to 2 per exercise during your second or third week.
  3. You WILL feel sore and stiff a day or more after each training section in the beginning. I can almost guarantee it. This is very normal. Don't worry, it get's better as your body adjusts and you get used to the exercises. (To be honest, I still look forward to being a bit sore the day after training a muscle group. For me it is a sign that I trained properly and exhausted my muscles sufficiently. No, I am not a masochist, it is just a "happy pain" many a seasoned fitness enthusiast enjoy, knowing the results that stems from the "pain". ) If you find the soreness to be intolerable, you can lessen its effects by deploying any of the 2 previous points. Just hang in there and don't quit. It will get better.
  4. One last point before moving on. As already mentioned, please take the time to go see your physician for a quick checkup before commencing with the program. Especially  you heart and lung function is important and must be functioning properly. You will be putting your body on a lot more stress than it was probably used to for years, so just play it safe and make sure everything is in order.

Time to move on to the performing actual exercises. Follow it as closely as possible, and try and keep good form throughout each exercise. Here are the steps:

Follow These Steps

1

As already mentioned, the program consists of a full body workout followed 3 times a week for the first 3 to 5 weeks.

2

Each workout consists of 2 sets, and each set consists 10 repetitions.

3

When choosing the appropriate weight, choose a weight that you can do a maximum of 15 repetitions with. (Yes, you will be doing 10 repetitions, but as you do more sets with little rest in between, you will soon realize how hard it is to finish 10 reps. Especially as you get more advanced and move on to 3-4 sets).

4

Start each exercise as described, making sure you use a controlled movement (no jerking or throwing the weight around). Use 3 seconds to lower the weight slowly to bottom, before applying force and lift/contract it all the way back up over a period of 1 second.

5

After finishing your first set, rest only for 30 - 40 seconds before starting you 2nd set, no more. Use the same rest period when adding a 3rd or 4th set.

6

When you finished your 2 sets, rest as little as possible before moving on to the next exercise on the list. No more 1.5 to 2 minutes maximum rest.

7

This completes one workout session, which should not last longer than 45 minutes, but will most probably take you approximately 30 minutes. 

And that is how one workout session is done,  performed 3 times a week. The goal is to make you body used to weight training while starting to transform at the same time. If you are a quick starter and your body adapts rapidly to the exercises, here are a few ways to move to the next level. (This forms part of the slightly more advanced or "intermediate level" workout plan,  before training regimes become more specific and start splitting programs into differently sections as well as using multiple exercises per muscle group.)

  1. Once you reach a point of finishing your workout well within half an hour and you still feel energetic and "fresh", it is time to step up your training. Add a 3rd set to all of your exercises, but stick to the same amount of repetitions and time resting between sets. You will be surprised just how much of an impact adding just one set to all your exercises have.
  2. The second step to advance, should be used whenever you reach the end of your 2nd or 3rd set (whichever is your last set of an exercise). Once you are able to finish 10 full repetitions of any exercise on your last set, you should increase the weight in order to keep your muscle under sufficient tension. In other words, you must always battle to finish 10 repetitions of the last set of an exercise.

I don't want to get ahead of myself and stick to the topic of your "first or starter program". At least now you know how to keep advancing once you reach a goal in your training. 

Next up, the exercises themselves. What major muscle groups the exercise target and how it should be performed. 

The Exercises

Here are the exercises in no specific order of importance, but just following the list. I will just point out that, if you look at the list, you may have noticed that your bigger muscle groups are targeted first and smaller ones last. The reason for this is simple. When you start your workout you have more energy and since your bigger muscle groups require more energy, it just makes sense to do them first. As your energy diminish, you move on to the smaller muscle groups that require less energy. 

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Muscles Exercised: Pectoral 

Hold bar more than a hand's width outside shoulders. Lower bar slowly until it touches your lower chest and push it back up rapidly to the starting position. Repeat. 

bench press

Lat Pulldown

Muscles Exercised: Lats (Upper Back) 

Grip the curved section of the lat pulldown bar and pull it all the way down behind your neck until it touches your shoulders.

Slowly let it lift all the way back up until your arms are fully extended and allow it to stretch your back. Repeat.

lat pulldown

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Muscles Exercised: Shoulders (Deltoids) 

Although not shown in illustration, please use some back support. Preferably use a bench with an adjustable back, set at 90°.

Hold the dumbbells just above shoulder height, elbows all the way out and flush with your body. Push the weights straight up and let them touch at the top of the movement, while making sure your elbows stay out throughout the movement.

Lower weights slowly to the starting position, keeping elbows out. Repeat.

seated shoulder press

Leg Press

Muscles Exercised: Upper Legs (Quads) 

Place feet at least a body width apart for stability. Slowly lower the platform past a 90° angle until the back of your legs and calves almost touch. 

Push the  weight back up rapidly until your legs are straight, keeping your knees together. Don't "lock out*" your knees at the top of the movement as it may damage your ligaments. Repeat.

leg press

Lying Leg Curl

Muscles Exercised: Hamstrings 

Hook your ankles behind supports. Curl your legs up slowly until it reach an angle of at least 90° before returning to the starting position. Repeat.

lying leg curl

Lying Triceps Extension

Muscles Exercised: Triceps 

Using an EZ-bar, start by holding it about the width of your body with arms straight.

Slowly lower the bar down and backwards to just behind your forehead. Push it back up in the same fashion until arms are extended. Keep your elbows  together throughout the movement.  Repeat.

lying triceps extension

Standing Barbell Curls

Muscles Exercised: Biceps 

Using an EZ-bar, start by holding the weight about the width of your body with arms extended. With your arms tucked in tightly against you body, curl the bar up until fully contracted. 

Slowly lower it back down to the starting position. Using just your elbows, keep the rest of your body as still as possible. Repeat. 

standing barbell curls

Standing Calf Raise

Muscles Exercised: Calves (Lower Leg) 

Adjust the height of calf raising machine to allows you to stand with your calf muscles fully stretched while still under weight.

Keeping your legs straight (but not locked out*), slowly lower your body until you feel your calves fully stretched, before raising it up again until your calves are fully contracted. Repeat.

standing calf raise

Crunches

Muscles Exercised: Abdominals 

While laying on a flat surface, raise your upper body until shoulders are lifted off the ground. (Imagine trying to pull your shoulders towards your pelvis.)

Lower back to starting position. Repeat.

abdominal crunches

* "Locked out" or "locking out " means straightening your arms or legs so far that your elbows and knees literally "clicks" into a fixed position where all the load is taken off the muscles and transferred to the joints and ligaments, putting a lot of pressure on them. This can potentially lead to serious injury or damage.

And there you have all you exercises explained in as much detail as possible. A few notes on the exercises:

  1. All the exercises illustrated targets a primary muscle group which is mentioned. Quite a few secondary muscles are used in the exercise as well though, especially during compound (multiple joint) movements. Most of the illustrations show these secondary muscles that come into play.
  2. Although the ideal grip for exercising the target muscle group is described, a variety of different grips and grip positions can be used to change the emphasis of the exercise, and changing something as simple as a grip position, can completely change the primary muscle that gets targeted. More on that in a later article.

I hope this exercise program will help you make a good start when embarking on your path to getting into shape. At the very least it should make things  a lot clearer for you, and point you in the right direction.

If you are looking for a complete workout plan, from beginner to advanced, including valuable information as to what diet to follow and when to eat what, read my guide to the best programs I can recommend here.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, if you haven't yet, you now have no excuse not to walk through those gym doors.

Take care!

Wessel


anxiety and exercise

Anxiety And Exercise: How Exercise Can Help Reduce The Symptoms Of Anxiety And Depression

anxiety and exercise

Most of us experienced it to some degree. You feel your chest tightening up, you break out in sweat and finding it hard to breath. It feels like you have knot in your stomach and your heart is beating so fast it feels like it is going to to jump out of your chest.

I just described the most severe form of anxiety. At some point we will all experience this sensation, and it is normally as a result of very stressful, and sometimes sudden event. For most people it will only happens occasionally and not the extend I just described.

However, for a large number of people this is a real problem. They suffer from what is called, chronic anxiety syndrome. I am one of them. I already described the symptoms of anxiety, but what is it and what causes it?

Definition

I am not going to go into detailed descriptions and bore you with details. There is more than enough information you can find online. In general, anxiety can be defined as the excessive fear experienced as a reaction to either external factors or sometimes "medical condition or predisposition".

There are various forms of chronic anxiety, but the important thing to note is that people experiencing this disorder, experience it so often and to such an extent, that it can have a severe and debilitating effect on normal daily life.

One thing it is not however, is an illness or disease. It simply is an disorder that is very hard or sometimes almost impossible for some people to control.

Causes

Normally anxiety is build up over time by everyday stress, or can be caused by a sudden traumatic event. As mentioned, most of us experience this to some extend at some points in our life. 

For some people, there may be an underlying medical condition. A certain percentage of individuals are just genetically predisposed to experiencing anxiety. (This seems to be hereditary, and can be determined by studying the person's family history.) Studies has also shown that people with abnormal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which cause an imbalance in brain chemistry, are also more prone to anxiety disorders.

In some cases, as in mine, anxiety can appear out of the blue in the form of a panic attack. There seems to be no external event or underlying medical condition that seems to trigger it. For instance, I may sit on the couch listening to music, when all these physical symptoms I described in my opening paragraph, appears "from nowhere".

All in all, there are a variety of causes, and lot more questions than answers remain. It is just important to note that it is a very real and serious disorder that affect more people than you may be aware of.

Treatment

A whole book (literally) can be written about all the different approaches and treatment of anxiety and related disorders. I will just mention a few, and they can be roughly be divided into 2 sections.

Lifestyle and Holistic Approach: Holistic approaches like meditation and breathing exercises are used to control and reduce the frequency and severity of anxiety. Lifestyle choices, like avoiding unnecessary confrontational or stress inducing situations, and promoting activities like adequate and regular sleep, are actively pursued. Adequate sleep, for example, has been proven to promote a general sense of well-being which assists in reduces anxiety. 

Medical: Through prescription medication, a variety of different anxiety disorders can be treated. From treatment for specific anxiety episodes, to long term treatments that help to control the frequency of anxiety are used. Sometimes, even antidepressants are used as a long term treatment for certain types of anxiety disorders. 

Interesting Side Note: You may have noticed that I used the term "depression" more than once when discussing anxiety, and with good reason. For years, researchers in the medical field were able to showcase the similarities between the root causes of both disorders on a continuing basis. Although the symptoms of depression and anxiety seem to be worlds apart, the root cause seems to have a lot more in common. Many experts go as far as stating that the main cause for both disorders are exactly the same when looking at biochemical interactions and brain function. The fact that many anxiety disorders are treated with antidepressant medication, highlights this point. Therefore, when I point out the advantages of weight training to combat anxiety, take note that it is just as beneficial in reducing the effects of depression.)

Moving on, I would like address one uncomfortable issue when it comes to both anxiety and depression. It is one very unhealthy form of "treatment" many of us choose as coping mechanism, which is…

Alcohol and Anxiety

So who is guilty of going down this road? Let me be the first to put up my hand. Those of you who already read my life story (you can read it here), will know I mentioned a few "bad habits" I had in my past. Well, this is one of them.
I am not going to make a deal of it, but just make a case as to how easy it is to use the wrong solution like alcohol to deal with stress, more specifically anxiety in my case, and how quickly it can spiral out of control. Soon after moving into my new apartment close to my new job in my early twenties, I started to feel the stress of work and the ever increasing responsibilities of everyday adult life.

Having a glass of wine in the evenings after work seemed to have a very calming effect. Not too long after that I needed a second glass of wine to have the same effect, which turned into three a few months later. Not wanting to feel like I am drinking too much, I changed to using bigger wine glasses to consume "the same" amount every day. The size changed yet again at a later stage that could hold the same amount of liquid as a coffee mug!
Let's just say I finished up consuming the equivalent of 3-4 bottles of wine. Yet, I convinced myself I didn't have problem. After all, I only drank in the evenings after 6pm and never changed to more potent alcoholic drinks like whiskey or vodka.

Nevermind the fact that I started feeling horrible most mornings, battled to get out of bed and had to find excuses to call in sick for the day or show up late for work. I walked around with bloated stomach and face and were feeling nauseous more often than none. My eyes were constantly sore and bloodshot, and I needed more eye drops than I can remember to make life tolerable. To make things worse, I started getting anxious more often than I used to, and experienced it more severely.

Surely all these signs and symptoms should have served as enough of warning to stop? Well, try and tell an alcoholic who is set on denying he/she has a problem and need to find any excuse for drink, to stop drinking.
I literally had to be yanked out of my delusion and address my problem very quickly, after a random blood test revealed I had serious problem and I was diagnosed (again) with Hodgkin's Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes). I was told by my specialist if I have more drink, I could die. (Yes, he was obviously over-exaggerating the situation to scare me, but it worked and I stopped drinking and went cold turkey that same night.)

"Ever heard of term, "alcohol anxiety"? Neither did I until I realized it was one of the side effects of my unhealthy little habit, making an already bad situation much worse. As I mentioned earlier, after following my drinking routine every night, I started feeling more anxious more quickly, especially after the effects of alcohol, and found it harder to control. Well, that is "alcohol anxiety" in a nutshell.

So, why am I bringing up alcohol abuse in an article about anxiety and exercise? Simply for two big reasons. First, it is SO easy to fall into the trap of abusing the wrong type of "solution", especially alcohol, when you are battling with anxiety. It starts as an innocent way of coping, but gets out of control very quickly, and is a vicious circle extremely difficult to break out of.

Secondly, and tying in with my first point, is that you DO need some way of coping with the symptoms of chronic anxiety. And no, using prescription medication is not nearly enough on its own or a complete solution to the problem. The outlet and release that exercise (specifically weight training) provides for all the pent-up anxiety and energy, can just not be matched.

In my opinion, there is no healthier and more productive way of dealing with the symptoms, and in some cases even the root causes of anxiety, than a healthy exercise regime. Obviously part reason I am advocating exercise so strongly, is that it literally saved me from going back to my old habits, especially after recovering from cancer and having to face everyday life again. And as you should know, the stress and pressure you are confronted with day after day, year after year, will NEVER go away. And if you want to see exercise as just another "crutch" to lean on, I am perfectly fine with it. This is the one "crutch" or coping mechanism I will gladly embrace.

How Exercise Help Reduce And Control Anxiety

By now, you should have formed a general idea as to how exercise helps to alleviate and sometimes prevents the symptoms of anxiety on many levels. But how exactly does it manage it achieve this?

Exercise is not a cure for anxiety in any form. Let's be clear about it. But exercise, especially weight training, can play an invaluable part in how you experience and cope with anxiety until it pass.

It plays an important role through a direct and indirect means.

Basically it works on 4 levels to dramatically reduce the effects of stress:

  • 1
    Vigorous exercise quickly acts to reduce the tension and tightness that build up throughout your body as a result of stress and panic attacks.
  • 2
    Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, the "feel good" hormone crucial in fighting off emotional pain and stress. This immediately starts to counteract the effects and symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks.
  • 3
    Studies further found that sustained exercise decreases one's sensitivity to the body's reaction to anxiety. It also discovered that exercise also decreases the frequency, as well as intensity of panic attacks under certain circumstances.
  • 4
    As a result of a reduction in these stress hormones that occur as a result of exercise, one's overall sense of well-being may be greatly improved.

I can personally testify to all 4 these facts. Whenever I experience severe anxiety, and the situation and time allows it, it is the ideal signal for me to hit the gym. The one "advantage" of the pent-up stress and energy developed through anxiety, is that you have so much more energy to realise and take out on the weights.
One of the first things I notice, is how tense your body is when you start training. You don't realize it as much when inactive, but when you start exercising with weights that put resistance on your muscle, you quickly find out how "tightly wound-up" you are. Within 10 minutes of vigorous training I can already start feeling my muscles relaxing.

I can testify to the other advantages as well, but the ONE thing I want to focus on, is the importance of the endorphins released during my workouts. In all honesty I cannot think of a single exercise session where I didn’t feel much better afterwards, than I did before my workout. Almost everyone who experienced that euphoric feeling after a vigorous exercise session, will know what I am referring to.

I have been going into training sessions feeling "completely stressed", tired and overworked or even very depressed due to some external factors. I sometimes even have to force myself to go, as more often than I care to admit, I just feel too drained, tired or depressed to do it spontaneously.

But I can also add, that not once did I regret forcing myself to do it. I am always glad I pushed through an exercise routine afterwards. I feel better and more positive about everything and my whole sense of well-being are vastly improved, relaxing after a training session. I also seem to be able to think more clearly and be more alert. Somehow exercise seems to also clean up all the cobwebs in your head that build up throughout the day. And this is just not personal experience, it has actually been scientifically proven. Go ahead, Google it!

There are numerous other advantages of exercise, both directly and indirectly. It improves sleep and sleep patterns, which has proven to reduce stress and anxiety. It has also shown to deplete the level of cortisol, the hormone released by your body under stressful conditions that is closely associated with anxiety disorders. These are just a few examples of the additional benefits of working out / exercising.

In summary, the importance and advantage of exercising to combat anxiety disorders cannot be dismissed. As I already mentioned, it is not cure by any means, but goes a long way to help you live a happy and relatively stress free life.

To read a personal account, you can read my story here. I hope you found this article helpful, especially if you are battling anxiety on a daily basis. To be honest, I feel a little embarrassed mentioning my alcohol misuse. I think it’s the first time I actually wrote or express it in so many words. Oh well, admitting it too myself was harder than everyone else knowing it. But if it helps only one person, or make him/her aware of this danger and realize that there are better and healthier ways of dealing with anxiety, it would be more than worth it.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, get motivated and stay motivated, I dare you.

Wessel

Exercise and Nutrition Terminology

What Does It All Mean? An Introduction To Exercise And Nutrition Terminology

Exercise and Nutrition Terminology

Remember the last time you were in a conversation with experts in a field completely unfamiliar to you? For example, a highly experienced medical doctor for 30 years, find himself in conversation with a group of internet marketers, talking about Leads, USP's, Hooks, ROI, PPC, "Squeeze Page" - and you stand there nodding your head and putting on your bravest smile, hoping nobody notice the blank expression on your face. Sounds familiar?

question marks

It doesn't matter who or how highly educated you are. At some point in your life, you will find yourself in a situation where you are in a room full of people from an industry vastly removed from yours, throwing around terms and phrases you never heard before. They may as well be speaking in a foreign language. It either has or will happen to all of us.

This fact started dawning on me as I was writing some of my other posts. I was using terms like training regime, weight training, cardio and "sets & reps" etc. These are the most basic terms used in the health & fitness industry, so surely everyone should know what it means?

This assumption is probably as relatable as me standing in a room full of hedge fund managers, where the most basic of sentences they use, will be as understandable to me as trying to read ancient hieroglyphics off an ancient wall. This brings to the reason for this article.

I am going to presume that most readers are unfamiliar with even the most basic terms in the health & fitness industry, and start with a list of the terms I have and will use in the future. Obviously this is just a starting point and the list will grow and evolve, either in this article or a follow-up. For readers already familiar with most of these terms, I am not trying to be condescending at all. I just want everyone to be on the same page as we travel through this journey of getting and staying in shape.

Let us start with the "exercise part" and take it from there:

Exercise Terminology

workout

Exercise Program (Training Regime, Workout Program): This is the collective term describing a whole series of exercises, which in turn consist of a certain amount of sets and repetitions of specific movements to train a combination of muscle groups.

Rep (Repetition): The process of lifting and lowering a weight once. (For example, one bicep curl consists of holding a weight in your hand, and curling it up towards your shoulders before lowering it all the way down again.)
Set: The amount of reps (repetitions) you do of a specific exercise (movement).

Let me illustrate with an example. You are instructed to do an exercise, consisting of 4 sets wit 10 reps per set. This simply means you have to do 10 repetitions of certain movement (exercise), rest for a certain of period, and do another 10 repetitions. You repeat this 4 times (4 sets).

Cardio (Aerobic / Cardiovascular Exercise): In general it refers to any activity that significantly increase heart rate and respiration. It usually involves your major muscle groups and is done in a constant and rhythmic way, ranging from low to high intensity. It also normally doesn't require any big external force. Walking, jogging, running, as well as swimming and cycling are typical examples of aerobic exercises.

Resistance (Weight) Training: This activity involves the use of an external force in the form of weights to provide resistance to the natural movement of a muscle. This exercise stimulates the muscle directly and force it to adapt, strengthen and grow. Don’t let the name, "weights" fool you though. Yes, it can be physical weights like dumbbells or barbells, but it can also be dedicated exercise machines or even you own body to us as resistance and effectively train a muscle or muscle group. Hence the term, resistance training.

Obviously you get exercises that incorporates both types of training, sometimes with great results. (One discipline that immediately comes to mind is crossfit. There is no greater example of combining cardio and weight training exercises. I have yet to see one crossfit athlete that is not in great shape. I will be the first to admit I don't have the time, energy or guts to participate in demanding sport, but really admire those who do.)

I've wondered way off topic now, but you get the general idea. I will get more specific, explaining different exercises, equipment, weights and related terms in future posts.

There are quite a few terms when it comes to diet and nutrition that are unfamiliar, misunderstood or even misrepresented. Here are a few explanations that will hopefully help to clear up any confusion.

Nutrition

nutrition

Before moving on to nutrition, I just need to point out that when looking at exercise programs, it's important to note that some programs take a holistic approach (meaning it incorporates a diet or nutritional plan with the physical exercise program), while other programs just focus on the physical aspect of the training regime.

If you have read any of my other articles about getting in shape, you will know by now that your diet plays just as an important part (if not more) as the different physical exercises you perform.

The important point I am trying to make, is that I personally find it very important for any comprehensive exercise program to have at the very least, some kind of guide or reference to a relevant nutritional guide or diet plan. I don't expect every program to include its own complete diet plan to follow. But since nutrition plays such a vital role, I would expect any program or regime to at least point any participant in the right direction when it comes to following an appropriate diet plan.

Ok, I finished adding my two cents. Let's have a look at some relevant nutritional terms.

Nutrition: Yes, the irony is not lost on me, having to explain the very term I've been using so often and are the heading of this section. But specifically, since this term is used so often and sometimes loosely, is it important that we know exactly what it means.

I did some research, as I honestly had some difficulty explaining it in words, knowing its complexity and far-reaching effects. In all seriousness, it seems most definitions seem to oversimplify its definition.

Cambridge Dictionary defines it as follows; "the substances that you take into your body as food and the way that they influence your health" - Not a bad explanation, but not nearly as detailed as I would have liked.

I kept on searching but could not find any satisfactory definition among online dictionaries and related sources. Then I stumbled across Wikipedia's definition. Although Wikipedia is known and respected as a source of up-to-date information, it seems it is pretty good at defining terms as well.

It describes nutrition as "the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food in relation to maintenance, growth, reproduction, health and disease of an organism. It includes food intake, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion".

Yes, it is a very detailed (and maybe confusing) explanation, but have a look at it again. It makes sense and illustrates exactly how important it is and how what you consume, interacts with so many functions in your body on so many different levels.

Diet: Sometimes mistakenly used as a substitute for nutrition. It is more specifically a designed or prescribed selection of food to either improve a person's physical condition or prevent some disease or disorder. For our purpose we will use it in the context of changing a person's physical condition. (It is just important to note that diet or diet plan does NOT refer to the misconceived practice of severely restricting any food intake in order to lose weight quickly.)

Protein: Considered to be essential for human growth and proper bodily function, proteins are organic compounds, consisting of amino acids which are the important building blocks of muscle. Not only muscle, but also bone, skin and a variety of other important bodily functions depend on protein for proper growth and maintenance. Specific example include meat, milk, eggs and beans.

Carbohydrates: Technically defined as a nutrient consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and in most cases are produced by green plants in its natural form. The important part for us is to note that it is mainly converted and used by the body as energy. Specific examples include potatoes, rice, sweet potatoes, wheat and wheat derived products.

Fibre: Substance (e.g. cellulose, lignin and pectin) found mostly in fruits and vegetable, and passes through the body indigested where it plays a vital role in food digestion and helping it pass through the body relatively quickly. Also found in brown bread and other seed based products. Sometimes more commonly known as "roughage" used to promote colon health.

Fat: We all have a general idea what fat is, but it needs to be defined a little more to explain it properly. It is one of the 3 major food sources (along with proteins and carbohydrates) consumed by humans. Technically it is called triglycerides, which are esters of 3 fatty acid chains and the alcohol, glycerol. (Just in case you wanted to know.)

Fats can be divided into external and internal fats. External fat are obtained from both plant and animal sources. Contrary to some popular believe, certain fats are actually essential for the body to function properly. Essential fatty acids found in certain plant derivatives like flax seed and meat derivatives like Omega-3 fatty acids from salmon, play an important part in heart and brain function, as well as supporting a healthy immune system.

Inside your body, fat is mainly stored to be used as a source of energy. Additionally, it plays a secondary important function, as it can be found around your organs and underneath your skin, providing a layer of protection and insulation from external fluctuation in temperature. 

I know it's just a few terms and not even a drop in the bucket of all the terms available for explanation. It covers the absolute basics though, so that it will enable you to better understand articles using these terms and the context in which they are used.

Now is your chance to find out more about the term you need an explanation for. Simply drop me your term or list of terms in the comment section below. I am the process of compiling a much more comprehensive a list of terms for a future article. I will be more than happy to add any suggestions you may have to the list.

Until next time, if you haven't yet, seriously start considering getting your feet wet with some exercise programs. I have compiled and are recommending a few "starter programs" for you in this article. Go and have a look!

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

See you in the next article!

Wessel

Cardio and Weight Training

Cardio Vs Resistance Training: Which Is Best For Getting Into Shape?

Cardio and Weight Training

Hitting the treadmill or hitting the weights for 40 minutes? Now there is one question that will get you into hot water, no matter which stand you take.

There is no doubt that both are very healthy and effective ways of exercising and obtaining a healthy lifestyle. Just remember however, we are talking about getting into shape. Now this will obviously mean losing fat for most people, while obtaining a toned or even muscular look at the same time.

Cardio

Even in this context, there is a huge percentage of people swearing by cardiovascular exercise (aerobics) as the best means of burning calories and loosing fat. Although this fact is not disputed and already proven, when it comes to getting into overall shape, it falls short of of the benefits provided by resistance (weight) training for a few reasons.

The most obvious one is that cardio raises your heart rate and do exercise most muscle groups to some extent. Unfortunately it does not put sufficient stress on your muscle groups in order to facilitate real change in your body composition. Even the argument that weight training does little to improve overall fitness, has been debunked by the recent tendency of resistance trainers to dramatically reduce the amount of rest between exercise, promoting a good deal of cardiovascular fitness in the process. The difference and advantage of resistance training runs a lot deeper though.

Let's first look at the body's ability to burn calories

One study revealed that after 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, your body's metabolism is raised for 2-3 hours. If you do weight training with the same amount of intensity, your metabolism is raised substantially and stay elevated for up to 38 hours! This means you are still actively burning calories (and fat) more than a day after your exercise. (Some studies even claim much longer periods of elevated metabolism, but let me stay conservative to keep perspective.)

But what is the reason or proof for this phenomena? After a 30 minute cardiovascular session, your metabolism needs to slow down along with your heart-rate, some recovery needs to take place and that is why you still burn calories hours after your workout.

weights

Here is where the difference with weight training comes into effect. With vigorous weight training, some healthy muscle damage (micro tears in the muscle fiber) occurs. When your body starts recovering, it needs to do a lot more than just recover from the exercise itself. It also needs to restore and rebuild muscle tissue. The latter may take up to 48 hours or more (according to some studies) for a muscle to completely recuperate. During the bulk of this time your body needs energy for this process, which means it is still burning calories (fat).

In other words, you are not just burning fat for a longer period of time, but also sustaining or gaining lean muscle tissue. This need NOT be a concern for my female readers or men wishing not to look like a bodybuilder. This will not happen. Your muscles will simply look firmer and more toned. (A different approach to the type of weight training, as well as changes in your diet are required in order to build serious muscle.)
This ties in nicely with the next advantage of weight training I would like to address:

Lean Body Muscle and Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

I must be very honest here. Until recently, I was completely oblivious myself of this scientific finding and the theory behind it. It makes perfect sense once explained though.

Let us start off with Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). What exactly is it and why is it important?

In essence, your BMR is the rate at which your body is consuming energy when in a completely rested state and you do nothing but breathe. Basically, when you are lying in your bed fast asleep is the perfect example. To calculate this rate, your body's lean muscle mass is taken into consideration, which is represented by your muscles, bones and organs.

Here is where it becomes very relevant and interesting. It has been determined that the more lean muscle you are carrying, the higher your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and therefore the amount of calories (fat) you are able to burn. This means that muscle tissue is considered to be fairly stable (provided sufficient exercise and nutrition is provided), and therefore has proven to be a very sufficient long-term strategy for burning fat.

Since one of the primary benefits of weight training is gaining lean muscle, this added benefit becomes very relevant and important, especially when burning fat is your main goal.

In summary, I will restate my original observation that both forms of exercise are very efficient and helps promoting a healthy lifestyle. I am not "choosing sides" at all as to which is the better one overall. To prove my point, it is very well known fact that most bodybuilders (who obviously fall in the weight training camp) do extensive cardiovascular exercise shortly before a competition in order to remove that last layer of stubborn fat.

On a side note, this is why most professional competitors involved with crossfit workouts and competitions, are usually very muscular and lean. Both purely cardiovascular exercise, weight training and a combination of both are used in this discipline. It requires a lot of time, hard work and a LOT of nutrition. I have the world of respect for these athlete, but it is definitely not something will recommend for anyone who just wants to get into shape…

And there you have it. I know this topic is a hotly contested one, and there is more than enough room for arguments from both sides. However, if getting and staying in shape is your ultimate goal, resistance (weight) training wins this round fairly easily.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, don't give that dumbbell such a skeptical look…

Wessel

Five questions to get in shape

Are You Ready To Get Into Shape? – Answer These 5 Questions To Find Out

Five questions to get in shape

Let me start out by stating the following fact: No matter what your gender or age, you CAN get and stay in shape. This has been proven scientifically many times over. As long as you are physically healthy, there is nothing holding you back.

My reason for starting off with this bold statement, is that too many people are being held back by myths and misconceptions. (Read my full article addressing this issue here). If I had my own wish, I would love to convince and motivate everyone to adopt this lifestyle with all its numerous health benefits, as I experienced it myself and know so many other people of all walks of life who are experiencing the same  numerous benefits.

Having said that, I realize that not everyone may be ready or able to commit to it right now for a variety of reasons. This does NOT mean you will not be ready at some point in the future, so please, never dispose of this idea completely. 

Enough talk, lets get to the questions...

1)  Is your "Getting Into Shape" a realistic goal?

magazines

Yes I know, it sounds like a rhetorical question to ask, but let me explain. Many people have an unrealistic image of what "being in shape" means and therefore, what they must strive for. The perfect figure of the bikini fitness model on the cover of "Shape" Magazine and the incredible muscular physique of the bodybuilder on  the cover of "Muscle & Fitness" is NOT a reflection of reality. (I cover this misrepresentation here.) 

This does not mean you cannot obtain that trimmed midsection and six-pack, or obtain that muscular look you've seen on the cover of your favorite bodybuilding magazine. The trouble with that, is if this image becomes your ultimate goal, and you are not willing to settle for anything less, you may actually be sabotaging yourself.  And once you've given up chasing an impossible dream, it is that much harder to start again.

I know not everyone is going to agree with me, and I know I said it before, but I will keep on saying it until it sinks in. The ONLY person you should be competing against is yourself. As long as you keep beating the person in the mirror from yesterday, you ARE making progress. And if you keep on beating this person week in week out, year in year out, I promise you: You will be very happy and satisfied with what you see in that mirror. You may even end up surpassing any goals you have set for yourself. 

2)  Are you willing to commit?

commit

Getting in shape, essentially requires 2 very important elements: Time and Consistency. Period! Every other requirement plays a role as well, but none as important as these 2 elements.

Unfortunately this not the type of activity where you can reach your  goal by pouring all your energy and effort into the first few weeks, and then take off for a the next week or two. Just as is the case with food and sleep, you need a fixed schedule to stick to to get positive results. 

In order for you to either burn fat, tone or build muscles and get fitter/stronger, you need to exercise consistently.  After each workout, you should give your body just enough time to rest and recover before exercising again. Doing this continuously month after month is the only way to reach your goal. It can take 6 weeks or even 3 months, but you WILL see results. The biggest "secret" and requirement, is that you keep doing it consistently.  

(It may be difficult in the beginning, but I promise you it gets easier over time, especially when you start seeing results. It also doesn't mean you cannot take off for a week approximately every 3-6 months. Even take it easier for a week or two when you feel fatigued, but just keep going.)

So be honest and ask yourself if you're willing to commit the time and effort, EVEN when you don't feel like it.

3)  Are you willing to set aside a specific amount of time each week?

Time

Yes, I know it is sometimes very hard to find "spare" time. Especially as you progress into your adult life, demands on your time do take its toll, The increase in hours spend at work, family commitments, especially after children arrives on the scene - all takes a bit more time away from your already "full schedule".

However, you may be surprised to find out that you only need 90 minutes of exercise per week (or three 20 minute sessions) to stay in shape.  If you really need an excuse not to be able to find this relatively small amount of time, you may want to rethink how serious you really are about getting is shape.

4)  Are you willing to make small changes to your diet?

nutrition

Let's just get one thing straight out of the way. You do and must NOT starve yourself at any stage in order to get in shape. (You can read more about it here) You should never be left feeling hungry.

Small changes mean you may have to stop or drastically reduce certain foods that are very detrimental to your goal and health. It also means that you may have to increase or decrease certain types of food like protein or carbohydrates. (You can read more about nutrition and exercise in this article)

5)  Can you stop making excuses?

excuses

One interesting observation I made through the years: If someone really doesn't want to do something, they will always be able to find an excuse not to it, and it will be valid excuse. When that same person desperately wants to indulge in some time consuming activity he/she really loves, miraculously the time needed for it somehow becomes available. (Yes, I am just as guilty as anyone else).

This simply means that, if you really need to find an excuse not to start getting in shape despite overwhelming evidence, then you definitely are not ready. Not in any shape, form or size - to be brutally honest.

And there you have it. Five Questions that will help you decide how ready you are to make that commitment. It is a guideline, and not the "Ten Commandments", but should steer you in the right direction.

If you feel ready to get started and need some guidance,  I am introducing you to some workout programs I can wholeheartedly recommend in this article.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

See you in the next post!

Wessel


Food for Exercise

Nutrition and Exercise: Eating The Right Food To Stay Fit And In Shape

Food for Exercise

What you choose to eat when trying to get into shape, is more than important. It is essential to choose the right diet to accompany your exercise program.

Let's first have a look at some of the most popular "diets" or nutritional plans available today. I am just listing them, as explaining each one will literally take days and a thousand pages. (For a detailed explanation of each diet, follow this link.)

1.  Atkins diet
2.  The Zone diet

3.  The Paleo Diet
4.  Ketogenic diet

5.  Vegetarian diet
6.  Vegan diet

protein

I will just comment by saying that these diets cannot be more diverse and contradicting each other more vigorously. 

Proponents of some of these diets believe in it so strongly, that they will almost defend it to the death and refuse to even consider another point of few.

Let me first make it clear that I am NOT agreeing or disagreeing with any of the principles these diets are based on.

I do, however, disagree with certain elements of some of these diets, the reasons for which will become clear through the course of this article. I will be focusing on 3 areas where I believe a lot of confusion exists.

Before getting to those areas, I need to make one statement, which just happens to be a fact:

NO diet or nutritional plan can or will be successful without being used in conjunction with an effective exercise routine.

Let me be blunt. You can be on the the perfect diet tailored to your specific body type and metabolism. But you will not get the results you are looking for by sitting on the couch while doing it.

You may lose weight (not necessarily fat), if that is your aim. But you know that "flabby look" that are so common with people relying on just dieting? Well, you are well on your way. And if you are trying to gain weight, you definitely may reach your goal. It will just be in the form of fat, not muscle!

I know many of you may dislike what I just said, and I hate to be the bearer of "bad" news. But if you want to reach your goal, you need to get off your butt and a break a sweat. And you know what? You may actually end up enjoying it, and start experiencing all the other benefits of exercising / working out.

With that out of the way, let's get to the 3 areas I trust will help guide you in this maze of contradicting information and ideas. Remember, these are guidelines, and should be used as just that. Your own body may have its own specific requirements which may differ vastly from these guidelines.

1) Eat according to your body type

Nutrition And Body Types

I discussed the 3 main body types you can be classified into in a previous article, so I will not go into a detailed explanation here. (You can read the article here.) You can use this classification as a rough guideline to help you determine how to adjust your diet.

Before getting to the specific body types though, there is one nutritional component I recommend for ALL body types. That component being protein. I cannot stress its importance enough, and many of you may see this as common knowledge. You will be surprised how many people are oblivious to this fact, and may knowingly or unknowingly be seriously neglecting sufficient protein intake in their diets.

Proper protein intake is not just necessary for healthy muscle and bone formation, but also essential for numerous other processes in the body to function properly. I am not going to get involved in a debate about what specific type of protein to consume. There are too many schools of thought and too many diets propagating different proteins. That is a topic for another discussion, and I would like to stick to the the subject of this article.

Just remember, whichever body type I am discussing, protein intake is an important part that can be seen as being part of each body type by default. Let's get to these body types…

a) The Ectomorph

As you are already carrying very little body fat and your goal is most probably to gain muscle, your aim should be to protect the muscle you already have. In addition to maintaining your muscle, you should also eat enough protein to fuel muscle growth when following a vigorous training program.

Due to the increase in energy demands, your body may require more nutrients to "burn" than you are consuming. (Remember, your body uses nutrients as fuel to meet its energy demands.) As a result, your body may start using muscle tissue for energy, the last thing you want to take place.

Increasing your carbohydrate intake, especially before and directly after your workouts will help to prevent this from happening. Don't be afraid to experiment a little with the amount of carbohydrate intake when starting out. Your body type allows you to get rid of excess fat relatively quickly, which may form if you consume too much carbohydrates.

(Remember, when I talk about carbohydrates, I talk about healthy complex carbohydrates. I will be discussing carbohydrates in more detail in the next part of this article.)

b) The Mesomorph

Your body type allows you to have a more balanced diet. Depending on your goal, whether you want to maintain a toned body, gain some muscle or obtain a more defined body, your nutritional requirements my vary.

As usual, I always recommend a fairly high protein intake (especially if building muscle is your goal). You may want to increase your carbohydrate intake if you follow a very intense workout regime, to help cope with your body's energy demands.

I need to caution you here though. It is very easy to overcompensate by consuming too much carbohydrates. Excess carbohydrates may be stored as fat, and due to your body type, it can be a bit more difficult to get rid of than you think. While you may be able to build muscle more quickly, the ectomorph has the upper hand when it comes to burning fat.

c) The Endomorph

With you bigger bone structure and natural tendency to carry more fat, your nutritional requirements differ quite substantially from other body types.

I know it may be a bit of a generalisation, but if you have this body type, chances are you are carrying an excess amount of fat, and most probably one of your main goals is to tone down and lose that fat.

Obviously, whatever your diet, it should be used in conjunction with a high intensity exercise regime. As with the other body types, a sufficient amount of protein is recommended. Here however, I will recommend not going overboard, even with protein consumption. Remember, your body converts nutrition into energy. This means if your protein intake is too high, it may slow down or even stop your body's ability to dip into your fat storage and use it as energy.

For the same reason you should be extremely weary of carbohydrates. If you get sufficient nutrition through protein and other nutritional sources, you should really try and keep carbohydrates to a minimum.

This does NOT mean you must starve yourself at all. You should never find yourself feeling hungry (I am addressing this misconception in this article). Make sure you eat sufficient protein, vegetables and fiber reach foods to meet your nutritional needs. You don't need to completely avoid carbohydrates, but just limit its intake as much as possible.

I have just given a rough overview on how to use your body type as a guide to adapt and adjust your diet. Please note that this a very rough guide, and the actual interaction between body and nutrition is a lot more complex.

2) Energy Sources: Fats and Carbohydrates

Fats and Carbohydrates

As I already mentioned, your body needs to burn calories (in the form of nutrition or fat stored in your body) to be used as energy. When your nutritional intake is not sufficient to support your body’s energy demands, it will turn to fat storage in your body to use as fuel. This may be exactly what you want if you are trying to loose fat.

In a lot of instances though, you need all your energy to come from your nutritional intake. This is especially true if you want to gain muscle and already have a low fat percentage. Here you want to avoid your body using its own tissue as a source of energy at all costs.

This is where things become very divisive and controversial. Depending on which school of thought you subscribe to, things really goes from the one extreme to the other. Some diets advocate you should stick to protein and vegetable intake only, and all energy should be derived from the natural carbohydrates and nutrients already present in these foods. Other diets advocate a moderate to higher carbohydrate intake to make sure your energy demands are met. On the other side of the scale, you get your more “extreme” and controversial diets. They subscribe to the philosophy that apart from your protein intake, all your energy should be derived from the consumption of fat. In some cases, you are actually given cart blanch, where you are free to eat as much fat as you want to meet your energy and nutritional needs. (I think we all know which diet I am revering to.)

I already discussed the intake of carbohydrates, so I do not need to add to it here. I feel the issue of fat needs to be addressed however.

First though, I want to be clear about one fact that has be thoroughly proven scientifically. Fats are essential for healthy body function, especially in promoting a strong immune system. The fat found in fish oil (especially salmon) is very rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are important for proper brain function, as well as supporting a healthy cardiovascular system.

Other fats derived from foods such as nuts, avocados and olives (also called monounsaturated fats), have numerous health benefits. These include improving cardiovascular and blood-pressure function, and even plays a role in the control of diabetes.

Even the fat that can be found in and around meat and other animal products, may assist in fulfilling additional energy requirements, especially for low endurance exercise.

Fat becomes a problem though, when it is used for the soul purpose of providing energy to the body. Instead of carbohydrates or another form of nutritional supplementation, fat is used in large quantities to fulfil this role.

Here I need to caution you to be very careful. I honestly feel I will not be doing my duty if I don’t point out the dangers of this practice. Although I am not denying that this diet may have advantages, a lot of research still has to be done to determine how the benefits and dangers stack up against each other.

Fat consumed with the intent of being used as a substitute to provide the body with energy, is one of the easiest nutrients to be added to your body's natural fat storage. Fat stored in the body in turn, is also a lot more difficult to get rid of, as many of you already know.

The health dangers of consuming large quantities of fat are quite numerous. Its negative effect on blood pressure and cholesterol has already been well documented. In turn, this have a direct effect on cardiovascular health. Left unchecked, taking in more fat that can be used as energy, will inevitably lead to some degree of obesity. The dangers of obesity and its negative effect on heart health and diseases like diabetes are well known and documented.

I will leave the final decision over to you on whether you choose to follow such a diet plan. I just feel very uncomfortable to endorse you to go down this slippery slope.

I briefly covered ways in which you can use theses 3 body type classifications to adjust your diet for better results. I will encourage you to do your own research as well, but in a nutshell, the information you just read, should help guide you in the right direction.

We now move on to the part of nutrition that has been the source of numerous debates, disagreements and completely contrasting beliefs.

3) Carbohydrates: Friend or Foe?

Carbohydrates

I honestly feel sorry for the poor carbohydrate… It is properly the most scrutinized, criticized and researched nutrient of all. It’s either loved or despised, depending on who you talk to. Also, the type of sporting activity a person is involved in plays a huge part in the attitude towards carbohydrates.

I already made my own position regarding carbohydrates, very clear. I honestly believe carbohydrates has its place and remains an important part of any nutritional plan combined with an effective exercise regime. The amount you consume though, may vary by quite some margin, depending on a lot of factors, some of which I already discussed.

Having said that, I need to point out 2 important issues that needs clarifying:

a) Types of Carbohydrates

b) Timing and Carbohydrates

a) Types of Carbohydrates

When I refer to carbohydrates, I refer to your healthy, or complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be divided into 2 groups. Simple and complex carbohydrates.Simple carbohydrates are mostly refined forms of carbohydrates. These include sugary drinks, sweets (chocolates, candy bars etc.) and ice-cream to mention a few. Staple food like bread and breakfast cereals also falls within this category.

The problem with simple carbohydrates is that it gets processed by the body very quickly, which results in many unwanted situations. For starters, because it get processed so quickly, it can be stored as fat before your body gets the chance to use it as energy.

It also causes a spike in insulin levels. This means if you eat a lot of simple carbohydrates throughout the day, the sudden spike and drop in insulin levels plays havoc on your energy levels. The constant tired and exhausted feeling experienced by people who are guilty of this practice, are quite common.

On a much more serious note, the abuse of these carbohydrates, combined with the resulting weight gain, and the havoc it causes with your insulin levels, have been directly linked to serious diseases like diabetes. It is also closely tied with cardiovascular disease and quite a few other serious disorders.

Complex carbohydrates, are mostly used in their original form. Rice, potatoes and sweet-potatoes fall within this category. The reason they are considered to be the healthier alternative, is that the body takes much longer to absorb this type of carbohydrate. It also provides a longer and sustained release of energy. This gives your body more time to process it and use it as energy.

So, the advantages of using complex carbohydrates in combination with an effective workout are very clear. I don’t need to even go into the health benefits, compared to simple carbohydrates. I think you get the idea.

b) Timing of Carbohydrates

To maximize the advantages of carbohydrates and minimize its disadvantages, when you take your carbohydrates is just if not more important than the amount of carbohydrates you take. 

Remember, the main reason you are eating carbohydrates is not just to provide you with sufficient energy when exercising. It is also to make sure your body is not dipping into your muscle tissue “reserves” due to lack of proper nutrition.

In general, there are two time slots during the day that is best suited to focus on your carbohydrate intake. That is before and directly after your workout. Obviously working out on a full stomach is not an option, so take that meal at least 2 hours or more before your workout. You may even have to give yourself more time, depending on how fast or slow your digestive system is.

Your second carbohydrate rich meal should be immediately after your workout session. Your body is now in serious need of recovering and rebuilding your muscle tissue that has been broken down during the workout. Taking carbohydrates in combination with a fast acting protein supplement, will help your insulin levels to spike, making it more susceptible to the absorption of protein.

The exact time will depend on when your workout is, but you now have a good idea as to how to space your carbohydrate intake in relation with your workout.

One last important point about the timing of your carbohydrate intake: If possible, never eat carbohydrates immediately before going to bed. Your body goes into a resting a mode and will not be burning calories and turn it into energy. The result will be that these excess calories will most probably be stored as fat.

The exception to this rule, will be if you train first thing in the morning (as discussed earlier this article). Obviously in this case, the only realistic time to take your carbohydrates, is before going to bed. One way of assisting the process, is to make sure that you take some protein with your evening meal. That way the absorption of your nutrients get slowed down, which means you still have enough energy left in your system when you start your workout.

It’s not the ideal solution, but it does work. (I follow this procedure and it works well for me. Trust me, if I didn’t take carbohydrates the night before my workout, I can really feel it, and it really is a battle getting through that session!)

I Hope you gained some more insight into how to structure and adjust your diet for the best possible results. I know there is a lot more detail to discuss, but I think this a good overview to help you get the basics right.

In future posts, I will point you to some helpful nutritional guides and recipes that will suite your requirements and give you tasty alternatives.

(By the way, I trust you have started your workout regime by now. If not, why not? Read my article where I introduce you to a few very effective exercise programs to start with here.)

As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my  mailing list  to get informed whenever a new article is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.

Until next time, enjoy experimenting with your diet!

Wessel