injury tips

4 Tips to Stop Hurting Yourself

Many people will experience some sort of an injury from exercise, and a lot of the common injuries that come up during our consultations can be avoided by taking a few simple precautions.

#1 – Stretch & Foam Roll (With Purpose) Before Training

I used to be the queen of not stretching before training.  I would walk into the gym and hit the weights.  Well, I don’t know if I can blame it on getting older, or just taking my training more seriously, but those aches and pains that shouldn’t be there started following me around day in and day out.  I finally made a change and now spend 15-20 minutes before each training session just rolling and stretching.  When I have legs, I am loving on that foam roller like you wouldn’t believe, practically crying from how tight my legs have become just since the day prior.  I pull out my lacrosse ball from some extra glute work when needed, and then always do about 5 minutes of various hip stretches.  When I walk towards the weights, I am feeling good and able to get more depth with my squats and deadlifts, push a little heavier, and always end up with a much better workout, and most importantly, a pain free workout.

Takeaway: Budget 15-20 minutes to prepare for your lifting session

#2 – Know the Difference Between Good Pain & Bad Pain

When you go to the doctor and try to explain a stomach ache, they always ask if the pain is dull, achy, stabbing, etc.  Thinking about these things during training is also valuable.  If the pain is burning (think about your quads during Bulgarian split squats), then that is good pain.  Feeling sharpness in your knee during Bulgarian splits squats, however, is bad pain.

Here are some keys to know whether the pain is good or bad.  Are you feeling a burning pain in the muscle you are trying to work?  This is good and likely from lactic acid buildup.  How about sharp pain – sharp pain anywhere is not a good thing.  For me, I run across this when doing particular shoulder movements (I have some long-lasting issues from playing water polo in high school and college).  So, I don’t fret, I just make a change – I could change the weight, change the movement, change the hand position – there are multiple things I can do to alter the movement and still get a great workout that’s free from the wrong kind of pain.

Takeaway:  Listen to your body and be adaptable.

#3 – Don’t Try to Compete in the Weight Room

Is the person next to you deadlifting 50lbs more than you?  Well, good for them, but don’t try to copy them.  I had this conversation with a friend of mine the other day and they told me how much the squat.  It was a lot more than me, and I told them no way, no how could I squat that much and I wasn’t about to try.  Why?  Because I know my body and its limitations.  I also know that this friend weighs more than me which usually means that they have the capacity to lift more than me.

Worry about you, not someone else.  Lift what you can lift and always work towards your own personal PR’s – forget about the person next to you and their PR.

Takeaway: The only person you should be trying to out lift is yourself.

#4 – Move More on a Daily Basis

This one seems so simple, yet is so often neglected.  There is a reason that the term “Desk Jockey Syndrome” has become so popular.  We, as a population, sit  . . . a lot.  Some of this is because of our work, and some is because of habit (where’s the remote?).  Regardless, this hunched over, unsupported lower back, sitting on our ass all day phenomenon has created poor postures, weak glutes, weak core, rounded shoulders, and aches and pains where there shouldn’t be.  We are seeing it more and more with standing desk stations now, or the fitbit that tells you to take a quick lap around the office.  The theme is the same  – stand up, walk some, move your muscles so they don’t get so tight and stiff.  If you don’t have the option to use a standing desk (say you are a driver for a living), then take the opportunities you do have to move.  Park farther away at the grocery store and walk, use the stairs instead of the elevator, be active while you are watching your favorite night-time show, whatever.

Takeaway:  This one is simple, MOVE.

excessive training

Trainers: Stop Killing Your Client

There is a trend in the personal training industry right now where workouts are simply competitions to see who can tolerate the most punishment, whether it serves a purpose or not (other than bragging rights).

I was recently at a commercial gym with a friend and we decided to take a heated yoga class with incorporated cardio – we were intrigued and both have a good fitness capacity, so we figured “Why not?” About halfway into the class, the instructor had us doing some crazy plyometric something or other for 48 rounds . . . yes, 48. Even the instructor couldn’t do all of the rounds. When did it become normal, or okay, to create a workout so challenging that no one could complete it (okay, maybe not no one – I am sure there are those anomalies). It got me thinking, what does this actually accomplish? I get it though. If you cannot complete the workout as prescribed, then you must suck and therefore come back next week and the next week until you get it – makes sense considering they are trying to make money off of your misfortune.

There is yet another problem with running clients into the ground. Let’s use the example of this class again. We were doing plyometric cycling split squats (don’t bother searching YouTube for it… I’m pretty sure it was named by drawing a series of adjectives out of a hat) combined with jump squats. If I, someone who is athletic, had trouble completing these, how about someone who is overweight and still building up their fitness level? Now, we have not only the feeling of failure, but also the likelihood that they will hurt themselves by performing movements that their joints are not (and do not need to be) accustomed to. Where is the regression? Where is creating an environment that utilizes effective movements while preventing injury? Trust me – that room was heated to 95 degrees – we didn’t need to do all of the crazy stuff to break a sweat.

People are brainwashed to think “No pain, no gain” and that you have to be literally on the verge of death in order to have a “good workout”. These philosophies couldn’t be further from the truth. You CAN have an effective workout and live to tell about it. You CAN walk out of the gym and feel good about what you accomplished, and you CAN continue to progress towards realistic goals. The thing of it is . . . you CAN. Stop subjecting yourself to workouts that the instructor cannot even complete, set yourself up for success.

At All Strength Training, we design workouts to be efficient and effective. Key word – Effective: successful in producing a desired or intended result. If your intended results was to fall on your face and feel like a failure – congratulations, you did it! If your desired result is to make progress with your physique, get stronger for the gym and life, and feel awesome about training session, then your approach should be different.

Train smart. Don’t underestimate recovery. Fuel your body. Relish in your Results.

Morgan's 10 diet tips

10 Tips for When You Start a Diet

Making a big diet change comes with its challenges. Every year, I participate in AST’s Ultimate Challenge fat loss competition as a way to re-focus after the holiday season. Here are some of the things you want to be ready for.

  1.  Prepare your food: This one is pretty obvious—make sure you always have goal-friendly foods that you know the macros for in your fridge. Plan at least a couple of your next-day meals the night before and log the macros that evening so you can grab them and go in the morning. Always have veggies chopped up or on hand for when you are hungry but can’t eat anything else.
  1. Plan for “Emergencies”: Not real emergencies like your arm falling off, I’m talking about food emergencies, like when you’re caught working late or out running errands that are taking longer than expected (or, when you think you should eat that arm). In a bind, you should always know what your nearest convenient snack options are. My faves include a prosciutto-wrapped cheese stick from 7-Eleven, a bag of raw nuts from a gas station/convenience store, and a piece of fruit from the grocery store.
  1. Eating out: This is an inevitable reality for most of us. Knowing where you can go and where you can’t is important. Yes, it’s easy to order a chicken breast, piece of fish or steak with a side of veggies or a salad anywhere, but will you?  Be honest with yourself, because it can be hard to say no to “cheats” at your usual haunts. If it’s not the Whole Foods salad bar (and yes, I’m only talking about the part with leafy greens), Chipotle, or a steak house, you will not find me there during periods of more aggressive fat loss.
  1. The numbers don’t lie . . . except when they do: You are going to have to get used to this idea: your weight and body fat measurements will not always be in direct correlation with how closely you’ve stuck to the plan. I’ve been weighing myself at the same time every day on the challenge. Here are my results:

weight fluctuation

  1. Your mental capacity might suffer: What was I doing? What did you say? Did you see that? You are not losing it. These are all questions I’ve asked myself during the first week of my diet. Often referred to as “brain fog,” it’s just your brain adjusting to running on fat, rather than carbs (its preferred energy source).  It doesn’t last forever.
  1. Your workouts might suffer . . . temporarily: Mine usually do.

workout log

Chalk it up to having less energy. For most of us, we are consuming less energy, a.k.a. less food. This will be temporary.

  1. Plan your social life around activities, not food and drink: By now my friends and family know that I do this every year. I am not willing to go through a social dry spell for two months, so I see them for goal-friendly activities like having coffee, taking a yoga class, or visiting the spa. I usually go on at least one vacation during my diet and, yes, it’s possible. It just requires a little more research than the average trip.
  1. Catch up on your to-do list: In some ways I look forward to doing this every year because it gives me time to complete outstanding projects. It gives me a chance to binge-watch a show, complete a craft, or learn something new on YouTube. One year I made a rug, this year I’m working on learning a new language.
  1. When all else fails, trick yourself: Although my diet-breaking cravings vary from year to year, nothing beats desserts. I’ve learned to trick myself into enjoying the following in place of desserts:

Protein Pudding: Mix 1 cup of 2 percent Greek yogurt with 1 scoop of protein powder. Optional: 1 tbsp PB2, unsweetened cocoa powder or 1 scoop chocolate/espresso Wellness Greens.

Coconut Latte: Combine 2 shots of espresso with 2 tbsp – ¼ c coconut milk, stir in 1 packet stevia and top off with a dash of cinnamon.

I also make sure to end every night with a dessert-flavored tea. Argo Tea and Republic of Tea have some great dessert options.

  1. Forgive yourself: I’ve never had a perfect diet, but I’ve always looked better at the end than in the beginning. If you slip up, just reset the next day and start over. Don’t sweat it. It’s all about making lifestyle changes that make you look and feel better permanently.

 

meal prep

What Kind of Meal Prepper Are You?

We all know that food prep is essential to keeping nutrition in check, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You have to be willing to experiment and try new things before you find a plan that’s right for you. Here are a few different styles of prepping to help reach and keep your goals.

Traditionalist: Good for people with a fairly open schedule

The traditionalist plans their menu for a couple of days at a time.  They shop once weekly or, at most, or make a couple of trips every few days. They cook each meal before eating, and save time by prewashing/chopping veggies and pre-seasoning proteins. Frozen steamer veggies and precooked proteins are efficient options for this type of prepping.

Double Duty: Good for people with extra time in the morning

This style of prepping is all about planning a menu for the week and making a single shopping trip. This prepper is a master multitasker who cooks many dishes at once, while preparing their breakfast. This is a great way to save time by prepping a couple items each day, which can then be mixed and matched throughout the week.

Weekend Warrior: Good for people who don’t have a lot of free time during the week

The weekend warrior plans their menu for the week and makes one weekly shopping trip. They are able to set aside two to three hours each weekend dedicated to prepping and cooking all food for the entire week, cooking multiple items at the same time using an oven, grill, rice cooker, etc.

The Long Game: Good for people with really busy schedules and just have a couple free days a month

World-class organization skills are required to play the long game. This brave soul plans their meals for up to a month at a time and shops accordingly. They spend a couple of days preparing large batches of meals that are then portioned our and individually frozen. Caveat: It can be difficult to freeze and reheat veggies, so try blanching before freezing.

Non-Prepper: Good for people who are EXTREMELY busy, don’t like cooking or won’t cook.

This one should appeal to the convenience seeker. The non-prepper outsources most meal prep to an individual or service. They try out services to see which best matches their tastes and nutritional needs. Saves time by leaving it up to the pros and letting someone else do the work.

How Do AST Coaches Prep?

Staff Member: Zach

What is Your Prepping Type? Weekend Warrior

What are 15 items are on your grocery list every week? eggs, egg whites, grass-fed beef, chicken breast, cod, basmati rice, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, pineapple, strawberries, natural peanut or almond butter, coconut oil, spinach, saurkraut, Best Bar Ever

Current Prepping Obsession: a Chipotle-inspired cilantro-lime white basmati rice that I pieced together – 3 cups of rice combined with 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, the juice from half of a lime, 1tsp garlic powder, 1tsp Celtic sea salt, and 1tsp coconut oil and steamed. I eat a ridiculous amount of rice for my carbs so it can get boring quickly

Staff Member: Christine

What is Your Prepping Type? Traditionalist/Double Duty

What are 15 items are on your grocery list every week? wild salmon, cod, eggs, Canadian bacon, avocado, almond butter, sweet potatoes, blueberries, strawberries, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, rice cakes, dark chocolate 

Current Prepping Obsession: crockpot chicken and bacon (recipe from Paleo Magazine)

Staff Member: Morgan

What is Your Prepping Type? Double Duty/Weekend Warrior

What are 15 items are on your grocery list every week? whole chicken, chicken breast, ground venison, eggs, cucumbers, red peppers, celery, carrot, mushrooms, whole fat plain Greek yogurt, Asiago cheese, almond butter, avocados, acorn squash and rice.

Current Prepping Obsession? Chicken or Turkey Bone Broth Soup (recipe from Wellness Mama)

Staff Member: Jackie

What is Your Prepping Type? Traditionalist

What are 15 items are on your grocery list every week? eggs, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, arugula, split chicken breast, grass fed beef, salmon, heavy whipping cream, red pepps, apples (or some other type of fruit), peanut butter, pecans, full fat yogurt, some type of grain (long grain rice, oats, quinoa, etc…)

Current Prepping Obsession?

Smashed cauliflower (…steam it…then smash or process it…add delicious things like olive oil or grass fed butter, rosemary, and roasted garlic)

Curry roasted cauliflower with pistachios (more cauliflower for you…because let’s be real…cauliflower is magic… http://fitmencook.com/curry-roasted-cauliflower-with-pistachios/)

Butternut squash (or sweet potato) hash (cube it…roast it in coconut oil…season it any way you want…add crumbled turkey bacon ((or pork bacon for you paleo peeps)), wilted greens…top with a fried egg, green onions, and a little sriracha)

Staff Member: Scott

What is Your Prepping Type? Weekend Warrior

What are 15 items are on your grocery list every week?
Chicken thigh, ground beef, chicken breast, frozen vegetables, frozen strawberries and blueberries, eggs, egg white cartons, spinach , Brussels sprouts , salad kits (Costco), sweet potatoes, soups. I do all my shopping at Costco.

Current Prepping Obsession? Marinating chicken thighs in chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. (recipe from TJ Davidson)

 

Healthy living traveling

Travel Woes No More

As some of you know, a couple weeks back I took a weekend trip to L.A. Like anyone traveling (especially around the holidays!) I experienced the usual concerns about being away from my routine, the possibility of falling off the wagon, and gaining unwanted body fat. However, after taking quite a few of these trips, I’ve learned that with a little bit of planning, you can stay on track almost anywhere you go.
BYO
Water Bottle: Don’t let yourself become dehydrated because airport water costs $6. Keep your bottle filled and bring it, wherever you go. For a best bet, bring one with a built in filter so you can refill anywhere. Check out this Brita Bottle.
Snacks: You never know when you might be delayed. Don’t find yourself at the mercy of the Hudson News snack wall. My favorites are raw nuts, fresh fruit or Ostrim sticks/jerky. Beyond the airport, they are easy to toss in your bag for daily excursions.

Fresh Fruit
Supplements: Bring them and take them. Separate pills and powders into single servings using Ziplocs, Tupperware or a GoStak. If you know you won’t have access to fresh fruits and veggies, bring a greens powder and multivitamin to supplement your daily intake. These were a lifesaver for me while biking RAGBRAI this Summer, where the best salad in town could be found at Subway.

What to Wear

-Always pack workout clothes, shoes and a swimsuit, no matter where you are going. If you don’t have them, you won’t workout. Even if you don’t make it to an actual gym, you may still wear them for other activities. Also, Athleisure is a trend because Vogue says so.

Nice Butt PopPhysique

Getting “Unplanned Exercise”
-Walk whenever possible. Bookmark spots you want to hit in advance so that you can easily see where you’d like to go and if walking is possible. I like to spend a little time on Yelp before I go anywhere. Mapping my “must see” spots ensures that I can hit more spots by walking between places that are relatively close. Sorry, Uber! Track your steps. If you don’t have a fitness tracker, use an app. My favorite for walking, running and biking is Charity Miles, which donates 25 cents to a charity of your choice for every mile you log.

-If traveling to a city research bike-sharing options. This can be a great way to get around and see things up close. Book an Airbnb that lists bike use or check the amenities of your hotel. I learned this tip while visiting the Hotel Monaco in Philly, which included “loaner bikes” under their amenities.

-Incorporate outdoor activities into your planning. Your body and wallet will thank you. See the photo of me and my friend atop the Hollywood Sign Hike.

Morgan LA view

Getting “Planned Exercise”
-Check out local studios for drop-in rates or join your family and friends at their favorite facility. This past year I lifted along side a friend at Industrial Strength in Portland and got my flow on at Yess Yoga in Minneapolis.

Venice Barbell

Eating Hacks
-Visit the local grocery store, co-ops or farmers markets for at least one or two meals a day. Erewhon in L.A. had a variety of clean prepared food options, as did The Wedge in Minneapolis.

Main Street Farmers Market

-Plan your cheats and stick to that schedule. Being away from home doesn’t give you license to eat anything you want. Even if you aren’t tracking, get in your protein and veggies at every meal and try to eat your cheats during your meals nearest to activities.  I suggest using Precision Nutrition’s Portion Control Guide because it requires nothing more than using your hand.

De-Stress

-Make sure you plan for at least one R&R activity, wherever you go. My faves include yoga/meditation, spa visits, beach/pool days or even an unplanned mid-day nap. This is important for your mood, health and quality of life.

 

When the Body Takes Over

Underneath the Surface: Life with GI Problems

I have been wanting to write about this for quite some time, but have always came up with excuses to hold off – I am a horrible writer, I ramble, I can’t tell the difference between 1st person and 3rd person – you get the idea.

I have always prided myself on being an open book about pretty much everything, and this particular part of my life has been all-consuming for the past 2 decades.  I have had gut issues that cause me severe pain since I was 14 years old.  I remember frequently laying on our brown corduroy couch where I would push from my ribcage down to my pelvic bone and you could hear “bubbles” popping, moving.  It was the weirdest sensation (and one that I still encounter).  I didn’t know what those “bubbles” were, but I knew that they hurt and that if I could move them around with the pressure of my hands, I would get a smidge of relief.

When I was 21 years old, I ended up in the Emergency room, still without answers as to why the pain would sometimes bring me to my knees.  On that particular incident, I was folded over unable to stand up straight with such sharp pains that it was near impossible to get a deep breath.  Doctors gave me fluids and sent me on my way.

As I got older and finished my degree in Exercise Science, I wanted to learn more and more about the body, nutrition, and what ailment I could be dealing with.  In 2011, I chose to try eating gluten and dairy free, which helped, but didn’t completely alleviate, my symptoms.  In 2013, someone in my life was diagnosed with Chron’s disease and I decided that I was on a mission to finally figure out what on earth is wrong with me.  Why can I feel ok one minute and be bloated to looking 5 months pregnant the next?  Why would I have constipation that lasted days on end even though I ate clean, kept fiber where it should be, and stayed hydrated?  Why do I have chronic inflammation and subcutaneous water retention that comes and goes as it pleases?  Just . . . why?

So, in March 2014 I had a colonoscopy and endoscopy and was diagnosed with Celiac disease.  This was a very odd diagnosis considering I had been 100% gluten free for years – even the doctor was baffled that I had obvious remnants in my system.  Since gluten had already been removed, I asked the doctor what else could be causing me so much pain.  I received the notorious answer . . . “IBS, here is a prescription for your constipation”.  In my world, I call IBS “I Bull Shit”.  I believe that there is always some underlying issue or stress or something that causes the symptoms and that no one should just roll over and accept them as normal.

In the summer of 2014, I began to work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner from the United Kingdom.  We ran a stool test and found that I had SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) which we eradicated with natural remedies.  I also followed with an elimination diet where I ate a total of 10 different foods for 30 days.  The first 2 weeks I felt amazing!  And the second 2 weeks I was in pure agony, curled over in pain for most of it.  It made no sense – how could I feel so great and then feel so awful without changing a single thing.

If you’re not sure how dramatic the changes can be, here you go.

Gut Before & After

The picture on the left is a bad day, the picture on the right is a good day.  Could be hours apart, maybe a day or two.

In January 2015, my inflammation and weight gain went a bit haywire regardless of no change in my training or diet.  So, in May 2015, I began working with an acupuncturist who decreased my training volume drastically, took out all vegetables, and had me eating over 70% of my diet as starchy carbs.  Sure enough, I dropped the weight and started to feel a little better.  This lasted for a few months until my gut started to hurt again and I stopped responding to the acupuncture and herbs.  So, I began working with yet another doctor in December 2015.

Currently, I am working with both a local doctor and the one in the United Kingdom still searching for answers.  It was recently confirmed that I have a large intestinal bacterial infection as well as a small intestine infection and was put on a 2 week course of antibiotics.  Needless to say, I don’t feel any better and the doctor’s suspect that I did not eradicate the infections . . . and that is where I am today.

Why was this so important for me to share?  I want my clients, my friends, my family, to know that I get it.  I get what it feels like to fight what feels like a losing battle.  I understand how hard it is to keep trying to find answers when all you want to do is give up.  I know what 1 step forward, 2 steps back feels like.  I wanted to tell me story so that others might have some hope to get up and keep fighting, keep looking for answers.  I have to believe that there is healing and that this is not my destiny, and I hope that if you are dealing with your own struggles that you keep fighting too.

surviving the holidays healthy eating

4 Quick Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) During the Holidays

surviving the holidays healthy eating

I am sure “Surviving the Holidays” is probably the #1 searched thing on google at this time of year.  Luckily you don’t have to spend time sifting through all the other stuff out there, you have me!  So, let’s get right to it, shall we?

Step 1: This is not feast or famine.  I read a book recently called “It’s Not About the Broccoli” about how to teach your children good eating habits and one of the concepts was to teach your child to be a good taster (you can buy it here if you want.  Don’t expect your child to clear the plate with a new food, just have them be comfortable tasting it.  The same is true of adults.  Tasting a food still lets you enjoy mom’s homemade cookies and the moist pumpkin bread that only comes around this time of year, but doesn’t require you to eat an entire pan of cookies or the whole loaf of bread.

Step 2: Eat slowly.  The food is not going to run away on you, so take your time eating and enjoying it.  The majority of people who find that they overeat do so because they eat quickly.  Slow it down, savor it, chat with friends and socialize between bites.

Step 3: Mindset is HUGE.  If you expect to gain 10 pounds over the holidays, then you probably will simply because you tell yourself “Well, it’s inevitable, so I might as well scarf it down and enjoy it”.  Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but it is not inevitable.  Be smart, just as you would throughout the rest of the year.  If you know you are going to a holiday party tonight, then plan on eating more protein and greens during the day in anticipation.  We talk about balance all year long, what makes the holidays any different?

Step 4: Enjoy yourself.  This is a special time of year to enjoy time with family and friends, so give yourself some grace.  Our children had a request this year – “Mom, can you and dad stay home this Christmas and not go to the gym to workout”.  Yes, even we fall into the trap of We can’t miss a day at the gym!  You know what?  Family is more important and experiences are more important than extra training or 1 missed workout.  Get over it, move on, and know that the gym will be there another day.

Stress Fat Loss

Stress “Buffering” for Better Health and Fat Loss

Stress Fat LossWith the bulk of AST members falling into the “busy professional” category, whether it be sales rep, CEO, accountant, stay-at-home mom, and many others, the biggest constant is always stress management.  While working on lowering the amount of stress you’re exposed to should be important, there are certain stresses that aren’t practical to eliminate – a newborn who’s only sleeping for an hour at a time, a long commute on Lake Shore Drive every day, mandatory overtime to meet project deadlines – it’s not always an option to completely rid yourself of the stresses in your life.
But one thing that we do know can help is to use different tools to help buffer your body’s stress response – getting an environment where a stress that used to feel like a 10 out of 10 now only feels like a 7 or an 8 (or less, in a perfect world).  Less adrenaline, less anxiety, less disrupted sleep… all things that when left unadressed can impact your efforts to get in shape and improve your health.

1 – Get Better (and MORE) Sleep

There are a few things at play with this one here – some that you can control, and some you can’t.  The obvious one here is, you just stay up too late.  Not for any real, time-sensitive reason, but maybe because you have been coming home from work and binge-watching old episodes of Who’s the Boss well into the evening hours.  The answer isn’t very complicated, just GO TO BED ALREADY.  Seriously.
Besides, Angela is the boss.  Everybody knows that already.
whos-the-boss-angela
She called to tell you to be in bed by 10.
If you want to do everything you can to improve your sleep quality, you may want to look into the 10-3-2-1-0 approach to your sleep routine:
10 hours before bed – no more caffeine
3 hours before bed – no more food
2 hours before bed – no more work
1 hour before bed – no more screen time (computers, cell phones, TV’s)
0 – the number of times you’ll likely hit the snooze button
Even installing applications like f.lux on your  computers can help, as it reduces the blue light glow from your screen and drops the intensity of the light coming from your screen to mimic the rise and fall of the sun.  Mobile options like Twilight are also available for Android and iPhones and work the same way.

2 – Meditation

You may not be able to crank out an hour of yoga or tai chi every day (although if you can, go for it), but you can certainly spare 10 minutes of your time that you might currently be using for Facebookery or Netflix binges, and replace it with guided meditation and deep breathing exercise.  The Headspace app takes you through an ongoing… program? I guess that’s an appropriate thing to call it… and as you work your way through and improve your proficiency, new tools are introduced to keep you challenged along the way.

hero-get-headspace_1
www.headspace.com

You can do it at any time of the day, but the most popular usage seems to be first thing in the morning or at bedtime.  If you’re an anxious sleeper (your body is exhausted but your brain is working overtime) then placing it at bedtime may have the most bang for your buck.

And yes, I know I just suggested ditching electronics for an hour before bed, but I’m willing to make an exception here if you can’t get it in early enough.  It’s better than trolling your roommate on Twitter, anyway.

3- Supplementation

Let me get this little disclaimer out of the way first – there isn’t a supplement in the world that will allow you to drop endless amounts of stresses onto your system.  Relaxitor (I call dibs on that name, by the way) won’t fix your lack of sleep, the gallon of Red Bull you drink every day, the poor planning that leaves you sprinting out the door late for work every morning… BUT… there are things that can help boost your body’s defenses against chronic stress loads that aren’t necessarily within your control.

Rhodiola rosea – I’m going to save us all time by just directly citing the benefits from Thorne Research:

“Rhodiola rosea has been extensively studied in Russia and Scandinavian countries for over 35 years and is categorized as an adaptogen because of its ability to increase resistance to chemical, biological, and physical stressors.* Rhodiola has been found to inhibit stress-induced depletion of important brain neurotransmitters.* The adaptogenic properties of Rhodiola are attributed primarily to this ability to influence the levels and activity of neurotransmitters and the amino acids that mimic the effect of opiates in the brain, such as the beta-endorphins.* Because it is an adaptogen, Rhodiola has the potential to normalize neurotransmitters in the central nervous system without causing drowsiness or fatigue. In other words, it helps maintain normal levels of brain chemicals but, when they are already normal, Rhodiola will not further affect them.*

Russian studies suggest a positive role for Rhodiola in situations characterized by a decline in work performance, poor appetite, sleep disturbances, irritability, and fatigue.* Studies have found improved mental performance in physicians on night duty who were supplemented with Rhodiola.* Medical students given Rhodiola during exam periods reported improved concentration and performance, as well as enhanced well-being, improved sleep, and greater mood stability.*

In addition to aiding sleep, Rhodiola can enhance mood and decrease occasional episodes of worry and nervousness, allowing for more efficient functioning under stressful conditions.*”

Rhodiola tends to work well as an almost “catch-all” type of stress supplement as it has benefits in improving a wide array of stress reactions.

Suggested Use: 300-400mg per day, in divided doses

Relora (Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense) – once again, I may as well turn it over to Thorne’s summary of benefits for their version of Relora:

“Individuals who are occasionally anxious, feel stressed, or eat when stressed can have trouble maintaining their optimal weight.

Relora Plus is a proprietary blend of plant extracts from Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (two major botanicals used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1,500 years) along with a mix of B-vitamins, including active forms of B2, B6, B12, and folate.

Studies have demonstrated that the plant extracts in Relora Plus help to lower morning cortisol (a marker of adrenal stress), increase salivary DHEA, manage stress-related eating, and help manage body weight.* Study participants felt significantly more relaxed, less anxious, and better in control of their mood and stress-related eating habits.* The B-vitamins in Relora Plus are nutritional cofactors in the creation of neurotransmitters and have been shown to support mood.*”

Suggested Use: 500mg per dose, taken 2-3 times daily

One quick note on stress supplements – a common prescription for them is to take them toward the end of the day, or after training or some other stressful event.  However, if you’re already doing a poor job of handling stress, waiting until after things have already started to accumulate before addressing it is like waiting until the dam has already broken before you try to fix it, instead of making improvements so that it never breaks in the first place.

Most people will benefit the most by dividing their intake into more than one dose and taking it throughout the day, with at least one early-day dose so that you can buffer the effect of stressful events as they happen.  For the two supplements listed above, the recommendation here at AST is:

Thorne Rhodiola Rosea – 1 cap (100mg), taken 3x/day (although I may do 2 caps earlier in the day if I’m trying to get to 400mg when stress is HIGH)

Thorne Relora Plus – 2 caps (500mg), taken 2-3x/day (again, on the high side when stress isn’t being tolerated well)

Thorne Rhodiola Relora

Supplementation is never a magic fix, but when done in conjunction with other efforts, including nutrition and lifestyle changes, it can be extremely valuable.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Cubs Fly the W

Answering “Was It Worth It?” (and a Timely Hangover Cure)

So, we’re located in Chicago, about a half mile from Wrigley Field.  And in case you haven’t set foot near a TV, a radio, Facebook, Twitter, a Goodyear blimp, or a still-drunk-but-soon-to-be-hungover stranger dressed head to toe in blue and red yet this morning, the Cubs just won the World Series, in a Game 7 with more twists and turns than your average M. Night Shyamalan movie and three decades of Days of Our Lives reruns combined.  I haven’t checked yet but I have low expectations on our 5am session attendance rate this morning.

Cubs Fly the W
There’s no way that bear is walking in a straight line this morning.

And it would be really easy for me to call up anybody who missed their workout this morning and give them a hard time for choosing to stay out late drinking and partying.  After all, I’m their trainer, so why shouldn’t I expect anything less than perfect attendance from my clients?  And a hangover?  Surely you would have had just as much fun had you been drinking diet A&W and eaten tilapia and Brussels sprouts out of a Tupperware container at 12am?

Except this wasn’t just a regular Wednesday night in Chicago, and I would be shocked if the reason anybody missed their workout this morning was because they stayed up too late drinking Leinenkugel and watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy.  It was capping off a once in a lifetime experience for literally everybody.  I don’t know that there is anybody in Chicago who was alive the last time this happened.

And if any of my clients had a few too many drinks, stayed up too late, maybe had to go to the hospital from 2nd degree fireworks burns… I don’t care.  I’m happy for them, because in the end if I asked them “was it worth it?”, I can’t see any answer except “yes.”  Because life doesn’t revolve around your body fat percentage or your MyFitnessPal consistency, and sometimes all of that day to day health stuff has to take a backseat to more important things.

It’s not unlike the advice I’ve given to clients who are planning their wedding, and want to “run the menu” by me to see if it meets my approval.  “But it’s your wedding… why would you care what I think?  It’s just one day and it only happens once.”  And like I told another client of ours earlier this week, you may as well celebrate the Cubs in the World Series while it’s happening, because even if they go back again in a year or two, the shine is off of the apple.  And not unlike a wedding, it’s just not the same the second time around.

So please… if you are trying to decide whether you made the right choice in neglecting your diet and training program, ask yourself “was it worth it?”  And if you can answer “yes,” than who really cares?

And if you happen to be dealing with an epic hangover this morning, you may want to contact these guys:

http://ivmechicago.com/mobile-therapy/

Mobile IV hangover treatment.  I highly suggest you book now because 100,000 other Cubs fans are probably calling them.

Fitness is a Skill, and It’s Okay to Suck at It

Ever learned something new?  Of course you have, you’re sitting upright and reading this in English, so already we’re looking at three things I’m assuming you weren’t able to do when you were born.  Too simple?  Okay, do this for me.  Close your eyes and try to remember the first time you did any of the following:

  • rode a bike
  • drove a car
  • learned to play an instrument
  • learned a new language
  • had… relations

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it wasn’t a very glamorous first attempt.  Seriously, don’t lie, or I’ll ask your parents/driver’s ed teacher/guitar instructor/Spanish teacher/high school girlriend for the truth.

But honestly, did any of us have that high of expectations?  I have three kids.  I’ve already watched two of them learn how to ride a bike and have seen plenty of scraped knees and high-speed tire-to-tire collisions.  In a few years I’ll master the art of sitting in the passenger’s seat when they learn to drive, wondering at what speed it becomes more life-threatening to tuck and roll out the door than it does to remain in the car.  I might get to see one of my kids angrily drop  his guitar when he keeps messing up his AC/DC solo because he can’t quite get the pentatonic scale just yet.  Maybe I’ll overhear one of them that their llamo es Ethan and “donde esta el bano?”.  And that last one… will never happen because my kids are never moving out of my house and I will chaperone them everywhere they go forever.  Shut up.

Seriously, we spend the better part of our lives learning new skills and failing at them, and you know what?  It’s accepted.  It’s understood.  We don’t have to like it, but it’s a part of life.  We aren’t born with the ability to drive a manual transmission sports car while playing the solo to “Back in Black” and singing the lyrics in Spanish (unless you are, in which case you’re my hero now and forever).

For real, Google?
For real, Google?

Yet when it comes to getting in shape and everything that comes with it, we have an innate fear of sucking.  We quit REALLY EASILY.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever started a diet and quit before the first day was even over because you didn’t realize that a potato wasn’t a vegetable and OH MY GOD I JUST BLEW EVERYTHING OH HEY IS THAT BURGER KING?!  Or we join a gym on January 1, and have stopped going after 3 weeks because I don’t have gunz like Schwarzenneger yet and I can only squat 50 pounds and I AM SORE IN PLACES THAT I THOUGHT WERE ONLY USED FOR BABIES TO COME OUT OF AND I’M A GUY SO WHY DOES IT HURT LIKE THAT?!

Somewhere along the way, as a society we all just sort of decided that this is a thing we’re supposed to be good at.  But it’s not.  Want examples?  Sweet, I’ve got plenty.

Ever wonder why some people do these big transformation competitions come out the other side looking like they were carved from granite, while you did it and came out with hunger pangs and sweat stains in all of your “going out” t-shirts?  It’s probably because the first guy has done this like three times before, he’s been logging his food since Nixon was president and he can tell you exactly how many grams of fiber are in a cup of quinoa off the top of his head, while you’re still trying to figure out if green beans are a vegetable or a legume, and what the hell is a legume, and how do you pronounce it anyway?  Is it le-GOOM or le-GYOO-me?

Trainers and gym rats are also terrible at this when they’re talking to somebody new to the gym.  I remember a few years ago, I was working with a new client who was a very in-demand electrical engineer and we were doing his first training session.  In a single sentence, I asked him to grab a pair of 25lb dumbbells, told him to load 10lbs onto each side of a barbell, and grab hold of a TRX.  After much, MUCH confusion, I saw him try to put a spring collar onto one end of the bar.  First he tried to slide it on, and when it wouldn’t go on, he then tried to pound the collar onto the bar with his palm, before finally giving up with the most dejected expression I may possibly have ever seen on somebody’s face in a gym.  It was at that moment that it dawned on me that I had basically spent the entirety of our time together asking him to do things that he had no idea what they meant, and I never even stopped long enough to teach him first.  Even though I KNEW it was his first day in a gym.  Ever.  I was the living embodiment of what happens when you assume…

I used to make that mistake when helping clients with their nutrition too.  Their first nutrition consultation I was giving them protein goals, talking about their macros, bringing up cycling carbs around their workouts, only to find out two weeks later that they hadn’t made any changes because I never explained to them what protein is and they were too intimidated to ask.

Those situations might sound funny to some of you, and they might strike a huge chord with others, depending on which side of the fence you sit on.  If you’re a fitness enthusiast, you probably assume that everybody knows exactly what you’re talking about, because you’re so deep in the Matrix that you forgot what it was like to be new.  If you’re new, you’re so used to your fit friends talking to you in a way that you can’t understand, but they make it sound so effortless that you feel like an idiot if you have to ask them, “what… what’s a kettlebell exactly?”

A nightmare, apparently.
A nightmare, apparently.

This is a call to those of us in the fitness world to do a better job of making our world a little less intimidating to those entering it for the first time.  I know if I took a guitar lesson for the first time and the instructor said, “okay, I want you to do a run in an A pentatonic scale and I want you to make sure your vibrato is nice and clean, and maybe give me a pinch harmonic or two to really drive it home”, I may have ended up in the corner chewing on my guitar and weeping.  Yet that’s basically what I did to the client I mentioned without realizing it.  Ever since, I’ve embraced the concept of teaching the basics and never presuming.  More of us should do the same.

And if you’re brand new at this and feel overwhelmed by everything that you feel like you’re supposed to know but don’t, know this: when I was 8 years old I drove my Huffy straight into a pine tree at what felt like 30 miles an hour.  Eventually I figured it out.  So will you.  Let me know if you need some help.