5 Ways to Sleep Better… Tonight!

Often overlooked in this era of long hours, never-ending workdays and smartphones with constant attachment to our work lives, getting sufficient amounts of QUALITY sleep is a critical part of lowering stress and losing bodyfat.  There is a significant link between those who sleep well and those who look and feel younger, healthier, and fitter.  How do you sleep better, faster?

#1. Sleep in a Batcave.

The environment you sleep in should be as dark as possible.  Removing all sources of potentially disruptive light is a great first step to a better night’s sleep.  Install blackout curtains over your windows, close your bedroom door and shut off all other lights in your house, and use an alarm clock that allows you to dim the LED screen.

#2. Remove Electronic Interference.

Have you ever walked by a television that you could swear was still on, but when you looked at the screen, it was black?  Most electronics in our homes give off a low-frequency “white noise,” as most modern electronic devices such as TV’s, stereos, etc., never actually turn “off”, but simply go into standby mode, meaning they still draw a small amount of electricity so that they will turn on faster.  Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Unplug any electronics in your bedroom from the wall at night (televisions, stereos, computers, etc.) or use a power strip that you can switch off
  • Turn off your wi-fi at night
  • Keep your cell phone charging out of your bedroom

#3. Eat the Right Things Before Bed.

One common cause of waking in the middle of the night is something called reactive hypoglycemia – essentially, when somebody eats something that spikes insulin heavily before bed (usually simple starches and sugars), blood sugar drops in the middle of the night, and you wake up, ready to eat.  To avoid this, focus on proteins, healthy fats, and vegetables before bed, and if necessary, use a small amount of slower-digesting carb sources such as sweet potato, brown rice, or even oatmeal with your last meal (some people do sleep better with a little bit of carbs later at night).

#4. Avoid Overstimulation.

Avoid working on stressful work projects right up until bed, read a book instead of watching TV, watching a comedy instead of a pulse-pounding thriller – try to avoid anything that might jack up adrenaline and simulate the “fight or flight” feeling.  Try to begin winding down about an hour or more before you want to hit the sack for the night.

#5. Use Natural Sleep Aids.

While most pharmaceuticals tend to leave the user feeling groggy the following morning, there are several natural, effective products that you can use to help wind you down at the end of the day.  Try using them within a few hours of bedtime, although some people get the greatest benefit by using multiple doses beginning as early as 4 or 5pm:

  • Different chelated forms of magnesium (1-1.5g in divided doses for women, 1.5-2g for men)
  • Taurine (2-3g)
  • Inositol (between 1-10g about 45 min before bed on an empty stomach)
  • And many more

If you want to know more about how you can fix your sleep quickly and safely, feel free to contact us for a consultation to design an evening routine that works for you!

Knee Pain Part 1: You’re Doing It Wrong

Knee pain seems to be far and away the most prevalent nagging, reoccurring injury in recreational athletes and trainees that I have worked with, probably more than lower back and shoulder issues combined.  There are a few reasons for this.

First, there is a trend of promoting “knee-friendly” training routines in fitness magazines and blogs, including exercises such as partial squats, Smith machine squats, leg presses (partial range), and leg extensions.  The problem with this is that in reality, most of those exercises do more harm than good, for a variety of reasons.  Let’s break it down.

Partial Squats

Partial squats – a barbell squat to no more than 90 degrees.  Two problems here – the first is that you are shortening the range of motion, which essentially puts more demand on the thigh muscles to decelerate the weight faster because of the shortened movement.  Here’s a good analogy – would you rather have 1000 feet to brake from 75 miles an hour, or 500 feet?  Your brakes are working a lot harder to slow down a ton of weight (it doesn’t help that most people can squat up to 2 or 3 times as much weight in a partial squat vs. a full range squat).

The second downside is that the vastus medius oblique, or VMO, which is your knee’s major stabilizer, is most active during both the first 15 degrees and last 15 degrees of a squat.  It is least active at or just above parallel.  So you’re using more weight, requiring more work from your joints, without the help of the muscle designed to keep the knee safe.

The answer here is just to squat through a full range of motion.  Ideally, a squat should be below parallel, with the hamstrings making contact with the upper part of the gastrocnemius (upper calf).  In conjunction, the lowering stage of the squat should be performed under control, taking three or four seconds to lower the weight, and the overall load should be reduced to ensure correct technique.

Smith Machine Squats

Smith machine squats are usually the quickest substitute for conventional barbell squats that you’ll see recommended in training articles.  “Oh, your knees hurt?  Okay, squat on this”.  If you’re not familiar with a Smith machine, it is essentially a barbell set on two guided supports that allows the bar to move in a single plane of motion – straight up and straight down.

A major problem here is that when you squat, you don’t only go straight up and down, there is horizontal movement of both the hips and the barbell, so having the “safety supports” inhibits the natural mechanics of the movement and actually places significantly more shearing stress on the patella (kneecap) than a conventional squat performed correctly.  And again, as with partial squats, the leverage you gain from the machine usually encourages more load on the bar, making things even worse.

Leg Press

Truth be told, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the leg press.  In fact, for bodybuilders and those only interested in looks, it’s a solid leg exercise, when done right.  However, most of the time you’ll see people going through an incredibly shallow range of motion with far too much weight.  The problems and resolutions are essentially the same as for the barbell squat.

Leg Extension

The leg extension is a bit of a different beast than the others.  Its primary function is indeed to strengthen the VMO, which, as mentioned earlier, is one of the main ways to stabilize the knee.  So what’s wrong with the leg extension?

First, the leg extension is what’s known as an open kinetic chain exercise, meaning the foot isn’t stabilized and the stress isn’t applied the same as a squat or leg press.  The issue with that is that the angle of pressure from the shin pad can create undue stress at the knee joint, so while it’s sometimes a useful exercise for developing the VMO, the trade-off is that it can inherently damage the joint.

The other problem is that I have had problems fixing poor motor patterns with people who have done a lot of leg extensions in their training lifetime.  What does that mean?  It means that the leg extension conditions the muscle to fire exclusive of any other thigh muscles, so the body gets strong operating in isolation.  But when an individual begins squatting or lunging, they can’t apply that leg extension strength to the new movement, putting them at a disadvantage again.

So What Do I Do?

In the next part of this article, I will go over what changes to make to your leg training to spare your knees, as well as why all the training in the world may not save you from knee pain if you neglect these other variables.

Get Leaner While Eating Out Part 1: Fast(ish) Food

If you travel or work long hours, one of the biggest challenges you may encounter is being able to go out to restaurants with co-workers or clients and still find meals that meet your nutritional needs for your goal.  To that end, I have put together some of my favorite options for “quick fix” restaurants – none of these places have a drive-through window, but you can still get in and out relatively quickly if you’re strapped for time on a lunch break, and most if not all of them will also deliver.

Chipotle

This has to be my absolute favorite place to go grab something when time is limited or I find myself without an adequate amount of food at work for the day.  It’s very, very easy to get what you need and none of what you don’t, since they put everything together step-by-step based on what you tell them.

Recommended: Fajita Salad

Get a salad bowl with no dressing (their vinaigrette has more sugar than I would like; pretty typical for most commercial dressings) and ask them to add fajita vegetables instead of rice and beans.  Add whatever meat you prefer; if you’re male, you should be getting a double-serving of meat (my preference is half carnitas, half barbacoa).  Top with pico de gallo and stay away from the corn salsa, sour cream, and cheese.  Some guacamole on top is also acceptable.  Skip the chips (sorry) and the Corona (obviously).

Jimmy John’s

Fast, cheap, and they deliver – what more could you want?  They also use all nitrate-free meat and offer every sandwich in “Unwich” form – no bread, instead using romaine lettuce as a wrap for everything.  Skip the potato chips and cookie and go for the unsweetened iced tea for a drink (if available).

Recommended: #14 Bootlegger Club

Turn it into an “Unwich” to save a ton of unnecessary carbs.  Ditch the mayo and add cucumbers, avocado, oil & vinegar, oregano (if you like oregano), and onions.  Peppers are optional but fine to add.  $1.99 gets you double the meat.  Add a pickle on the side and you’re good to go.

Panda Express

How in the world can you eat healthy at a Chinese restaurant?  Admittedly, there are fewer options here, but it can still be done.  Look for the meat options that aren’t breaded or slathered in lots of sauce.

Recommended: Mandarin Chicken & Broccoli Beef

Use the mixed veggies for a base – white rice, chow mein, fried rice, it’s all bad.  Go for the 2-entree plate and get mandarin chicken without the sauce – it’s by far the highest protein chicken option on the menu (string bean chicken is okay but half the protein and some carbs).  Add broccoli beef for some extra protein and more veggies.  Skip the fortune cookies and get either no-cal iced tea, or just water.  Drink up because you’ll need the extra fluids from all the added sodium in Chinese dishes.

Boston Market

The biggest issue for a lot of people here is skipping out on the “comfort foods” that Boston Market is popular for – when you’re starving, it can be difficult to say no to cornbread and chicken pot pie.  Not impossible, though, so just go in knowing what you want before you get there.

Recommended: Quarter White Chicken

While any of the chicken options are frankly fine, the entire half chicken will be too much for most people, so go for either the quarter white chicken or the three piece dark – there’s not so much extra fat in the dark meat (about 8 grams) as to be relevant but if you don’t have a personal preference, go for the white.  Get steamed vegetables or green beans on the side and try to bypass all of the other sides.

Next time, we’ll look at sit-down restaurants to show you how to entertain clients or business associates and not come out of it with an insulin hangover and an expanding waistline.  In the meantime feel free to comment below if there’s anything else you’d like to see!

Poliquin Classic: The Meat and Nut Breakfast

When people ask me for the best single dietary tip for optimal leanness, energy and sustained mental focus, I invariably tell them to try the rotating meat and nuts breakfast. Clients ranging from NHL & NFL stars to corporate executives rave about the increased mental acuity and focused energy they derive from this food combination. The meat allows for a slow and steady rise in blood sugar. The nuts provide a great source of healthy smart fats that allows the blood sugar to remain stable for an extended period of time.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. My seminar hosts are well made aware of it. It is a non-negotiable item. I am very grateful to have hosts all over the World that cater to my breakfast needs. My Dominican host Juan Carlos Simo always comes by the hotel with a kick ass breakfast. The best salmon I have ever had. Mats and Helen in Sweden bring me elk for breakfast.

What you eat for breakfast sets up your entire neurotransmitter production for the day.

To read the rest of this article, please click this link: The Meat and Nut Breakfast

Post-Halloween “Back from the Dead” Workout

If you’re like many people, you bought a little bit more Halloween candy than you ended up giving away to trick-or-treaters, and hey, who wants to let a perfectly good bag of fun size Milky Way bars go to waste?

But now you woke up with the world’s worst insulin crash, and you’ve been dragging all day. What to do? The idea of an hour-long training session sounds entirely unappealing, and lifting heavy won’t go so well with all of that newfound fluid in your joints from your sugar binge. You’d rather get in, get out, and forget that this day ever happened.

If that sounds like you, try this tonight:

Pairing #1: Kettlebell Swings with Push Presses

For big-money movements, the standing press is a no-brainer, as is the deadlift. However, if you’re not in the mood to move some weight, swap out deadlifts for some kettlebell swings – the movement pattern is similar and it’ll crank up your heart rate faster. Use a weight that’s reasonably heavy for the swings and explode up. Do the same for the push press, but control the lowering portion for about 2 seconds.

Pairing #2: Walking Lunges with Dumbbell Snatches

These two exercises fill in the gaps that weren’t hit in pairing #1 – a quad-dominant leg exercise, and a big upper body pull.

Pick a weight you can lunge with about 20 yards, set it down, take a quick breather, and then perform 6-8 dumbbell snatches with the same weight. Do your snatches from a hang position – that is, don’t let the dumbbell touch the floor between reps; keep it above your knees instead.

All four exercises are very dynamic movements, with all but one using an X0X0 tempo – that is, as fast as possible on the way up, no rest, and lowering quickly back to the bottom position before beginning the next rep.

The Workout

A1) Kettlebell Swing – 20-25 reps, X0X0, rest 15 seconds
A2) Barbell Push Press – 8-10 reps, 20X0, rest 60 seconds, repeat for 5 rounds
B1) Walking Dumbbell Lunge – 20 yards, X0X0, rest 15 seconds
B2) Dumbbell Snatch from hang – 6-8 reps, X0X0, rest 60 seconds, repeat for 5 rounds

Viola! You’re done!