The Importance of Conditioning

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Photo by Alexander Redl on Unsplash

Two weeks ago, I competed in my fourth powerlifting, my first in the 72kg weight class. On paper, it was my second best showing (by Wilks), but in reality, it was roughest.

I only went 1/3 for my squat and for my bench, and it wasn’t a strength issue. My second attempts were both weights I had hit before, several times, but my conditioning was terrible, and it showed.

What is conditioning? It is just training to be fit. It could be running, pushing a sled, using a rower, etc. The goal is to get your heart rate up, again and again, so that over time, you adapt, and the work is not so strenuous anymore.

In powerlifting, you have to do each lift three times. You have 5-10 minutes between each attempt, so your conditioning doesn’t have to be that good.

Mine, however, was so bad that 5-10 minutes was not enough time for me to recover. I did much better on the deadlift, but that’s because there was a 30 minute break between the bench and the deadlift. I can’t count on that break to be there every time, so I need to make conditioning work a priority.

Why should the Average Person care about conditioning?

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Photo by Matthew LeJune on Unsplash

Your goal can be to get stronger, get bigger, get leaner, doesn’t matter. Any goal will be easier to achieve if you have good conditioning.

Let’s say you have an hour to workout before you go to work in the morning. In that time, you can only do 12 work sets. If you ever need more than 12 sets to improve, you will have to work out more days each week.

If, however, you improve your conditioning, such that you can do 15 sets in the same hour, then you can increase your training volume without adding more workout days.

This will give you more free time and will make it easier for you to recover from your workouts.

What am I doing to fix my lack of conditioning?

A few things. I started running again, 3 days a week, 20-30 minutes at a time, nothing too crazy, but I’m improving quickly. I also am doing Pavel’s Simple and Sinister, and I started using giant sets in my training.

A giant set, is basically a short circuit. Instead of doing your exercises one at a time, you do them in rounds and take a break in between rounds.

E.g. My Monday’s look like

  1. Bulgarian Split Squats
  2. RDLs
  3. Box Jumps
  4. Ab Wheel

I do three rounds, and this takes me 10-15 minutes. If I did each exercise on it’s own, it would take me at least 30 minutes.

I will need more than two weeks to see how helpful this additional work is, but I expect that I will be in much better shape when I return to the platform. I may have been knocked down, but I am never out.

An Introduction to Premium Ice Cream

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Photo by JÉSHOOTS on Pexels.com

Not all ice cream is created equal. If you have ever bought the cheapest ice cream in the store, then you probably realized that the ice cream was light, airy, and melted quickly.

This is because cheap ice cream has a lot of overrun. When you make ice cream, you have to pump air into the cream, else you just have a block of frozen cream.

The more air you pump in, the more overrun your ice cream has, i.e. the less cream you get in each pint. This lowers the cost for the manufacturer, but it also lowers the quality of the product.

There are other differences between premium ice cream and the cheap stuff. Premium ice cream will use better quality ingredients, have more mix ins, offer more interesting flavors, will have more attractive branding/packaging, and of course, will cost more money.

I can get a cheap pint of ice cream for $2.50. A premium brand of ice cream can be $6-$10 if I get in at a store, and if I need to have it shipped to me (that’s right, premium ice cream companies will often pack their pints in dry ice and ship them), I am be looking at $14-$20/pint.

Is premium ice cream really worth paying 5x as much money?

To me it is, but ice cream is my expensive hobby. I don’t drink alcohol or go out to bars. When I did, it would easily set me back $50-$100 in a weekend.

If I get some quality ice cream instead, it will last me 1-2 months.

Now I don’t eat this stuff all the time. I only eat ice cream 1-2 times a week, and I will get a generic one if I’m going to be making milkshakes or serving it on the side of some apple pie.

But if I’m eating ice cream on its own, I want the good stuff.

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Salted Crack Caramel from Clementine’s Creamery

 

Don’t Just Hire Any Trainer

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

If you were auditioning for a Broadway play, you would not have your mother coach you just because she has read some articles written by Idina Menzel. You would hire an actual singing coach.

This person would be able to tell who he has coached and what his former clients have achieved. He would have testimonials for you. He would have a resume.

Unfortunately, people are not so discerning when it comes to their bodies. They will often hire whatever PT gives them a good sales pitch at the gym or even worse, they’ll hire an Instagram celebrity who has no credentials at all and offers his six pack as authority.

If you are paying someone for advice, then you should know what makes them qualified to advise you in the first place.

What to ask if you are thinking of hiring a trainer?

Well, for one, you should tell the trainer what your goals are (hint: you should have already decided what your goals are) and ask him how he can help you achieve them. The trainer should be able to give you a thoughtful response, not just a song and dance routine.

In addition, I would ask about:

  • Education/certifications
  • Coaching/Training History
  • Client Achievements/Testimonials
  • Personal Achievements

Now, not every trainer will have a lot to offer in every category, but the trainer you are looking to hire should be able to offer something in some of them. If they can’t or refuse to answer your questions openly and honestly, move on.

No Pain, No Gain

“No Pain, No Gain!”

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Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

This is one of the most oft used phrases in bodybuilding and in fitness, but many people have no idea what it means.

Is fitness supposed to hurt, like I broke a bone hurt?

Is my workout for nought if I’m not sore for 5 days afterwards?

What it actually means is that in order to make progress, you have to exert yourself.

By far, the biggest problem people have in fitness is that they under train. They do not do enough work to get the results that they want to see, they get demotivated by their lack of progress, and then they quit.

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Photo by Hunter Newton on Unsplash

A few months or years later, they try again, but because they do not know what went wrong the first time, they repeat the same mistake and end up in the same disappointing place.

People do not do this on purpose.

It’s not that they’re lazy or they don’t want to improve, but it is because they do not know any better.

Most people genuinely do not know what it means to physically work hard. They stop long before they actually have to because they don’t know any better, and since they never push themselves hard enough, their bodies never have to adapt. They never have a reason to grow.

Let me tell you about Billy.

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Photo by Marco W. on Unsplash

Billy runs for his local high school track team. He is competing in the State Tournament.

Jake, a recruiter, has come to scout talent, and he is prepared to offer scholarships to the top three finishers in the 800m race.

If Billy can secure third place (or better), he can get a free college education.

The horn sounds. The race begins.

Billy is in a pack of boys all running around the track. After the first 50 meters, the pack starts to thin out. Billy is towards the front of the pack but there are a couple of kids in front of him. He won’t win, but third place is definitely in reach.

Now, we’re at the end of the race. Billy is neck and neck with another runner, Devon. All Billy has to do is sprint the last 10m, and he can earn third place.

Billy, however, does not sprint. He runs the last 10m at the same pace he had been running the entire time.

Devon sprints.

Devon gets third place, and the scholarship offer. Billy gets nothing.

Billy’s friends can’t believe it. “What’s wrong with you? All you had to do was sprint!”

Billy looks confused. “I thought I was sprinting.”

Billy wasn’t lazy. He was ignorant. The boy had no idea that he could go faster, that he could have done better. He only knows one speed. He doesn’t know how to make his body give 100%, so he always gives 75%.

The sprint at the end of a race, that’s what no pain no gain is all about. It’s not debilitating soreness or trying to make your body break. It’s about reaching from within and driving when you need to drive.

It is actually understanding what you’re capable of, and not just assuming that you can only go at one speed. It’s “learning to sprint” in whatever sport it is you play.

Of course, you cannot sprint all of the time. Sometimes, you need to jog or even walk, but the ability to sprint is an important one, and recognizing when it is time to sprint is another.

“No Pain, No Gain” became popular in 1982 when Jane Fonda used it to motivate her followers in her exercise videos, the more you know.

Keep it Simple, Stupid! (ft. Occam’s Razor)

“All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.” William of Occam.

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William of Occam was an English scholar, philosopher, and theologian, believed to be from Ockham (surprising I know), a little village in Surrey.

One of the things he is most well known for is Occam’s razor, which states that when you have competing solutions to a problem, the solution that requires the fewer number of assumptions is most likely the better one.

A more crass way of saying this is “keep it simple, stupid!” This phrase was commonly used by the US Navy in the 1960s. They sought to keep their designs simple and effective instead of overcomplicating them and creating more things that could go wrong in the future., the more you know.


In health and fitness, people love to overcomplicate everything. They have to have fancy meal plans, calorie cycling, carb cycling, and strategic meal timing, all to try to do something simple, like lose weight.

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The training programs are even better. You have to change your workout every two weeks to confuse the muscle, am I right? If you don’t slam down a protein shake on the gym floor, your workout was wasted, no gainz for you brah! Everything has to be optimized. If your routine isn’t perfect, you won’t build any muscle.

Forget about consistency and effort, the things that matter are all available to you for 5 easy payments of $19.99. 5 EASY PAYMENTS OF $19.99.

This must be what people want to hear because the health and fitness industry is worth billions in the US (167 billion as of 2017), yet most of the country is overweight, and obesity is on the rise. People are spending billions on how to improve themselves, yet they are still weak and fat. Why is this?

Because people are looking for complicated answers for what are simple problems.

For example, weight loss. If you are too fat, then you are eating too much food. It’s that simple.

I recently got into an argument with a person who is morbidly obese, has not lost any weight in months, and is convinced that he is not overeating.

What is more likely, that A. his metabolism “broke” due to no known reason and that his body is “holding onto” his every calorie, refusing to lose weight and violating the laws of thermodynamics or … B. he’s just miscalculating what he eats.

Occam’s razor says to pick B as A requires more assumptions.

People, though, want to pick A, and they do. It’s much easier to claim that some external force is causing the problem like “starvation mode” than to admit that they are the problem.

The person did not want to hear that he needed to eat less food. He decided, of course, that the problem was that he was not eating frequently enough. That eating something in the morning would help.

“I’m not losing weight. Let me try eating more food.”

That has never worked, ever! And it never will. You cannot empty a tank by pouring more gas into it, and you cannot deplete your fat stores by adding in more energy.

Occam’s Razor as It Applies to Fitness.

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Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

If you are too weak, then you are not working hard enough at the gym. That’s about it. Getting strong is hard work, and it takes time. It doesn’t come just by following the motions for a few months and then quitting when you don’t look like you lift yet.

You have to actually push yourself over and over again. You may have some ugly reps and some failed ones. That’s okay.

People, though, don’t just try harder when they don’t get results.

They pay for over-wrought routines written by IG stars, and they read articles on T-nation and convince themselves they are overtraining. Yep, that’s right. I’m not getting any better. I must be trying too hard. Let me try less, and see if I improve.

What is more likely? That you need to A. work harder or that you B. have a rare syndrome that typically only happens to competing athletes with type A personalities.

Like the poor souls trapped in “starvation mode,” weak people don’t want to hear that they aren’t trying hard enough, that they haven’t been working out long enough, that they haven’t yet earned the feats they want to achieve.

It’s much easier to say, oh no, I tried too hard.  Let me take two weeks off lifting, and then return to the gym with an easier program than what I had before. This kind of thinking sets people up to fail.  It will literally take them backwards, and when it doesn’t work, the person will feel defeated and will likely quit.

If you find yourself stuck, think about the possible solutions, and then start with the simplest one. It is probably correct.

If, and only if, the simplest solution does not work, is it time to consider a more complex one. Then, it may be prudent to reach out to an expert and seek some more guidance. Coaching is valuable. I would not have gotten into the business if I didn’t think I was producing value, but many people hire coaches for the wrong reasons.

They want the fancy solution when the answer is right in front of them. You don’t need to pay anyone to tell you to eat less food. I’ll tell you that for free.

 

Fitness is Its Own Reward

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

If you are fit, then you are well-suited for your environment. You are healthy, and you are able to handle your day to day tasks with ease.

If you lack basic fitness, then even the most mundane chores, carrying in your groceries or picking up your Amazon order, can become a challenge.

I never really thought about fitness, until I realized how unfit I was. I used to be so out of shape that I could not walk up a flight of stairs without taking a rest in on the landing.

I did not think the problem was with me. Instead, I thought there were too many stairs. I would use the elevator at every opportunity.

The problem was not the stairs. The problem was me, and even though I didn’t know it, working out became my solution.

Most of my accomplishments can be measured numerically: how much weight I have lost, how much weight I can squat, how many pull ups I can do.

What I can’t measure, however, is all of the little things I can enjoy now that I couldn’t before: the feeling of fitting into an airplane seat with ease, the confidence in going on a hike and knowing I’ll be able to complete it, the ease of carrying in all of my groceries in one trip.

Fitness means that physical challenges are fun instead of things to be feared, and that I can enjoy life more fully than I could before.

To me, that’s a fantastic reward.

 

 

 

 

How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

One of the most common complaints I hear about eating healthy is that it costs too much.

Get a cheeseburger, it’s $5. Get a quinoa bowl, it’s $10.

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Photo by Prudence Earl

Yes, restaurants tend to charge more than healthy options. They know that if you’re cautious about what you eat, then you will probably pay more for your food. The costs of the ingredients may be similar, but the perceived value is higher with the quinoa bowl, soyou have to pay more.

Don’t let this keep you from taking control of your diet. You can eat healthy on a budget. Here’s how.

Make your own meals.

Whether you want the cheeseburger or the quinoa bowl, you can get a lot more for your money if you buy the ingredients yourself.

The cost of making your own cheeseburger.

2lb of ground beef $8

8 pack of hamburger buns $2

1/2 pound of cheese $2

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Photo by Alireza Etemadi on Unsplash

You can make 8 1/4b cheeseburgers for $12 or $1.50/burger. Add lettuce and tomato ($4 for 1lb of each), and you can make your cheeseburgers for less than $2/each.

Now let’s look at making your own quinoa bowl.

1lb of quinoa $4

1lb dry black beans $1

2lb frozen corn $2

4 avocados $5

You can make 8 quinoa bowls for $1.50.

Look at that, the $5 “healthy food” mark up is gone.

Now this is pretty easy for me because I like cooking. I find it enjoyable, and I like being able to control the calories, seasoning, etc. Not everyone loves cooking and that’s okay. Start with simple recipes. Use a timer. Take a class. I took one in college. It was fun.

Read the Menu Before You Go

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Photo by Josh Bean on Unsplash

Tonight, I’m going to see Solo with my family. We’re going in the evening, so I will get dinner at the theater (it’s a dine in movie theater).

When I eat out, I try to decide on my order before I leave the house. People who pre plan their order are more likely to pick healthier options.

The theater has always posted the calories, but now that there are new labeling regulations, they also post the macros, fiber, sodium etc.

I usually get the chicken tenders dinner. I have tried other entrees with varying levels of (un)success, but I always make my way back here.

Today, I looked up this entree, and this is what I saw:

1270 calories (not including the sauces), 81g fat (17g saturated fat, 4g trans fat), 101g carbs (6g fiber, 11g sugar), and 43g protein.

On average, I burn 2200 calories a day. This one dinner is 57% of my daily calories (assuming I’m maintaining my weight).

If I’m trying to lose 1lb a week, then I’m at a 1700 calories a day, and this one dinner is nearly 75% of that.

How do I account for the calories?

Well, I could have coffee for breakfast, have a protein shake for lunch, and save most of my calories for dinner.

I can go over for the day and make up for it in the subsequent days, e.g. eat 1600 calories instead of 1700 for a few days.

I can write this off as a one off and eat normally, accepting that going a few hundred calories over my plan set be back a small amount.


OR

I can just order something else.

Now, I like the chicken tenders, but I don’t love them. They’re usually pretty good, but they’re sometimes too salty. Sometimes the fries aren’t crispy enough. I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t order them. If I can always get them the next time.

When I reviewed the rest of the menu, I saw that most of the entrees were over 1000 calories, some of them over 1500 calories, but I found one category that was (comparatively speaking), a gem, the flatbreads.

There are three flatbreads, ranging from 660-710 calories. They have (at least) 500 fewer calories than the chicken tenders, no trans fat (which I try to avoid), and less saturated fat. They also have less protein, but they still have a decent amount (26-33g).

If I get a flatbread, I can just eat what I would normally eat for breakfast and lunch. I don’t need to account for it on a later day.

I also save $4.

I wouldn’t have realized this if I hadn’t read the menu before I left. I would have just gotten the chicken tenders because that’s what I usually do. I, like many people, am a creature of habits. If you want a better outcome for yourself, you have to build better habits.

Read the menu before you leave. Make an informed decision.

A Bad Plan is Better Than No Plan

When I first started working out, I had no idea what I was doing. I would go around the gym, do each machine and then leave. Rinse, repeat. After three weeks, I maxed out the leg press machine and didn’t know what to do next.

Do I stop training my legs? Have they reached their peak condition?

I didn’t know I could squat or lunge. I didn’t even think to leg press with one leg and work my weigh up that way. I just stopped using that machine.

Eventually, I stopped going to the gym all together. I would make my way back, a few years later, but then I’d quit again. I just didn’t know how to sustain my progress for more than a few months.

When you first start working out, everything works.

You’re small. You’re weak. Looking at a dumbbell will make you a bit stronger. After a while though, the progress slows. The gains stop. What do you do?

If you’re like past me, and you know next to nothing about fitness, you get fed up and quit.

If you’re smarter than I was, you have some kind of a plan.


You have a program or a coach to tell you what to do. It could be a random plan you grabbed from a muscle magazine. It could be your school’s strength and conditioning coach. It’s not all that important (generally speaking) what the source of the plan is.

What is important is that you have a plan, so you don’t just quit like I did.

I didn’t actually get serious about lifting until I graduated college, about 7 years after I first set foot in the gym. I didn’t actually have a very informed plan to follow.

I did squats and deadlifts one day and bench press and lat pulldowns the other day. I chose those exercises because I read they were good. I did a reverse pyramid because I read that was good. I added 5lbs a week because I read that was sustainable.

Did I actually know any of these things to be true? Well no, but I believed they were true, and that was enough to get me started.

More importantly, it was enough to get me over the “oh no weight lifting is hard, hump” that will inevitably come when you adapt to your training.

Having a plan gives you something to focus on, and it stops you from wasting time wondering what you should have been doing. It gets you to commit. It gets you to try harder because you now have something that you’re trying to accomplish.

Of course, I would recommend a good plan before a bad plan, but I’d rather see someone with a crap routine that inspires him or her to work hard than with nothing at all.

Don’t wander around the gym aimlessly. I used to do that. It doesn’t work, not for very long.

Get a plan, preferably a good one, but even a bad one that you like is better than nothing.

How to Lose Fat

Over the decades, we have seen every diet. You should go low carb. You should go low fat. You should only eat slow carbs. You should avoid sugar.

The truth of the matter is, none of this matters for weight loss.

I repeat, none of this for weight loss.

The only that matters for weight loss is eating fewer calories than you burn. If you eat at a deficit, you will lose weight. If you eat in a surplus, you will gain weight. If you eat at maintenance, you will maintain your weight.

This is very simple, but people try to make it hard so they can sell diet books. They will tell you lies such as you are eating too little to lose weight and you are in starvation mode.

Impossible. You cannot fail to lose weight by eating too little. If starvation mode were real, then people could not starve to death.

They will tell you carbs make you fat, so avoid them and you will lose weight. They will tell you that calories do not matter.

This is a lie. Carbs do not make you fat. Insulin does not make you fat.

The truth of the matter is, when you restrict your calories you lose weight, even if your diet is terrible. If you only eat only one Twinkie a day, the weight will fall off of you. I do not recommend that. It would be a terrible way to live, but you would lose weight very fast.

I am not going to tell you that diet composition doesn’t matter. It does. It will affect your health, your satiety, your performance, your happiness, etc, but it does not matter when it comes to losing weight.

Diet composition, does matter, however, when it comes to losing fat. When you lose weight, you are losing a combination of fat, water, glycogen, in some cases muscle tissue, etc. If you want to optimize your fat loss (and who doesn’t), then you need to pay attention to what you eat.

The following recommendations should help you lose fat. They will only help, however, if you are in a caloric deficit.

Eat enough protein (at least .6g for each 1lb of bodyweight). Why?

  1. Protein is muscle sparing.
  2. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient.
  3. Protein has the highest TEF.

Eat enough dietary fat (at least .3g for each 1lb of body weight). Why?

  1. Fat does not make you fat.
  2. Fat is important for hormone balance.
  3. You need fat to live

Eat your micros: vitamins, minerals, etc.

Yes, I said eat your micros. Relying on a multi and eating nothing but junk is not the way.

  1. Eating vegetables and fruit will help you stay full.
  2. They are a good source of fiber.
  3. They will help you maintain a healthy blood pressure, can reduce your risk for heart disease and strokes, reduce your risk for infections.
  4. Women should aim for at least 25g of fiber a day; Men 38g

If you are healthy, you can train harder and better. If you are healthy, you can enjoy all of the hard work you are doing for your body. If you are healthy, you will have a better quality of life.

Note: I did not set any carb requirements. Carbs are not an essential macronutrient. This doesn’t mean that carbs are bad. It just means there is no minimum amount of carbs that you need to function healthily. Eat as many or as few carbs as you want, just make sure that you are in a caloric deficit AND you are getting adequate micronutrients and fiber.

What does this look like? I’ll use Bob as an example.

Bob is 34 years old, 5’10, and weighs 200lbs. He works out 4 times a week, burns about 2800 calories a day, and would like to weigh 170lbs.

If Bob eats 2000 calories a day, he will lose about 1.6lbs/week, and he will reach his goal in about 22 weeks. Keep in mind the amount of calories he burns will decrease as he loses weight, so his deficit will get smaller over time. (This is why it won’t just take 18.75 weeks)

Bob should eat at least 120g protein, 60 grams of fat, 38g fiber. Once he accounts for his protein and fiber requirements, he has 980 calories left over.

2000-120*4-60*9=980.

He can spend his 980 calories on carbohydrates. He can spend them on more protein or fat, or on a combination of the three.

He just needs to make sure he gets to 38g of fiber a day and that he gets in his vitamins and minerals.

This is all Bob has to do to lose fat

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Photo by Jorge Zapata on Unsplash

. He does not need to worry about low carbs or slow carbs or post workout dextrose.