Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fix Your Food - Part 1

Proper nutrition will make all the difference between reaching your goals or falling short. You work hard in the kitchen, and even harder in the gym. Yet while we think we're on the right track, there may be little hidden things holding you back.

For this first installment of Fix Your Food, we'll examine two common mistakes that could be stopping (or even reversing) your progress.

2 Common Mistakes You're Probably Making in the Kitchen

1) Consuming too many calories

You know what a calorie is, and you have a basic idea of how many you're eating. Maybe. If you had to guess, you're probably eating around 2000 a day? Maybe more...maybe...okay nevermind. The truth is, it's really difficult to accurately guess calorie intake - especially if you've never done it before. I find that most people underestimate how much food they're actually eating - especially when you consider that most of our food is loaded with calories and other junk. A small burger from your favorite fast-food place is easily around 500 calories. Combine a drink and fries? There's your total recommended intake for the day.

If you're not currently tracking your food - go to myfitnesspal.com or a similar online tracking website, create an account, and start logging your food. You'll be surprised at how many calories you're consuming in a given day.

2) Consuming too many calories - Part 2

This tip goes to the people who ARE currently tracking their food. I'm willing to bet you're still underestimating portion sizes! I made this mistake for the longest time - and I've only recently begun to realize how much of a difference it actually makes.

Think about the last meal you logged. Now, how much of that food did you weigh yourself? How much of that food was pre-programmed into the calorie counter? Chances are, you're wrong and don't even know it. Here's an example of a recent breakfast I had. Basically, it was a homemade breakfast burrito. Three of them, to be exact. I estimated and logged the food, but then I went back and really measured it with a food scale and I was shocked. See the differences:

For my breakfast I used and estimated:

- A small portion of sausage (smaller than my palm - I estimated 2.5 oz) = 213 calories; 14g protein
- 3 scrambled eggs (whole egg - I like my yolk) - estimated at 210 calories; 18g protein
- a couple of spoonfulls of a corn / black bean / tomato / green pepper mix (I keep on hand and I ignore these calories)
- 3 small tortillas (fajita sized) - serving size says 35g at 90 calories each = 180 calories

So based on my off-the-cuff estimations and using myfitnesspal, I came up with a total of about 600 calories and 35-40g of protein. Keep in mind, this was my estimation, with a quick verification by myfitnesspal.

Upon re-measuring the food with a scale and more precise counts (still using myfitnesspal), I came up with:

- 3.4 oz sausage using my preferred brand = 289 calories; 19g protein
- 3 scrambled eggs (whole egg) 184g = 304 calories; 20g protein
- 135g of tortillas (they were 10g heavier than the package said) = 333 calories; 7g protein

Which added up to 926 calories and 46g protein. A whopping 326 calories MORE than I had originally estimated!

Now assuming I had made that same 300 calorie mistake for every meal of every day in the week. This equates to about 21 meals per week...and adds up to... 6300 calories per week!

Bolditalicized, and underlined because that is a HUGE difference. This equals about 2 pounds of body fat PER WEEK that I could have potentially been losing.

The holy grail of calorie counting

The Take-Home Message

Based on my recent experience, I must recommend that everyone find yourselves a food scale and begin to accurately weigh your food - compare it to the calorie counter - and make sure you're not overeating like I was!

I got a cheap food scale from Wal-mart at a little less than $20. Make sure you get one with a "tare" feature, so you can weigh the food in a bowl - this makes it much more convenient for cooking and eating purposes.

Also as a quick note, all food is typically measured before it's cooked. So for example, three ounces of chicken is measured while it's raw, then cooked. It gets smaller when cooked, but we still consider it "3oz of chicken."

As always, let me know if you have any questions! Feel free to discuss this topic in the comments section on facebook.

All the best,
Jeremy Bushong

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Strength and Size Are Not Related (At First)

Contrary to popular belief, muscle size doesn't have as much to do with strength as we might think. For this article, I'd like to clarify how strength is developed and why it's different than just getting "big & bulky". In addition, we'll look at the physiological properties of strength and muscular size and how training programs can address each property individually.

What's Your Goal?

Everyone has different fitness goals. You know what your goal is and you have an ideal for what you want to accomplish. Maybe you want to lose weight and be able to run a 5k. Or perhaps you want to build functional strength after a surgery or injury. Maybe you want to improve your tennis serve or vertical jump. Heck, maybe you want to look like Hugh Jackman (The Wolverine, not Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, c'mon...).

No matter what your fitness goals, you'll get fast and efficient results by weightlifting. 

If the bar ain't bendin' you're just pretendin'
- Hugh Jackman (Twitter)

Unfortunately, many people carry negative connotations about weightlifting. Some people are afraid of building big, bulky muscles. Some people feel that weightlifting "slows you down." Yet the exact opposite is true. With a proper weightlifting program, you can build long, lean muscles and improve coordination, balance, and speed!

Understanding Muscles

Before we go any further, let's take a look at what we're working with. When talking about strength, we're talking about the ability of a muscle to contract. That is, the ability of an individual fiber to get smaller.

The word Muscle comes from the Latin Musculus, literally, "Little Mouse" because of how certain muscles (biceps) looked like little mice. Now, the Romans and Greeks didn't actually think mice lived under the skin, but they were relating the anatomy to something they could understand. When you look at a whole muscle, it kinda looks like a blob of meat. That's because it is. It's a blob of meat.

This muscle is called the "Biceps" because it has two main bodies (heads). The
triceps on the other side of the arm has three heads.
Some muscles have multiple heads, some do not.

You'll notice that what we consider the "main" part of the muscle is in the middle. The purpose of each muscle is to move a joint like a lever. The biceps, for example, exists to move the distal part of the arm. In order to do this, the muscle must have a starting point and a connecting point. To move a lever, the muscle must become shorter and thicker so that the connecting point can be moved to the starting point. It's all leverage!

So if the muscle contracts and gets shorter, it moves a lever, but how does it contract? How does it get shorter? And what controls how much it contracts? The answer is what we commonly call "Muscle Fibers". Also known scientifically as myofibrils, these are the little strands that are clumped together to form the shape of the muscle.

You don't have to worry about the scientific names of the stuff in the muscle, but this illustration shows how a major muscle is broken down into ever so smaller parts. Basically, it's a strand of muscle fibers wrapped together, then grouped together, then wrapped together again. Much like how rope is made. 

See the resemblance?

To actually cause a muscle contraction, the individual fibers (the smallest piece of the muscle), must be told to shorten. The brain sends a signal down the spinal column, which then goes through the nerves in your body and sends a signal to the muscle. This signal triggers the individual fibers to get shorter. The larger the signal, the more fibers contract.

This is the key point of the entire article: The bigger the signal from the brain, the bigger the contraction in the muscles. This means that we can consciously control how much of those muscles fibers to use every time we move. This process is known as motor unit recruitment.

Motor Unit Recruitment

Okay so we know that a signal is sent to the muscle and it contracts. But it gets just a little more complex than that. Remember how I said the stronger the signal, the stronger the contraction? This is because each group of fibers must be stimulated individually in order to contract. In exercise science, we call each group of fibers (connected to a nerve) a motor unit

If we stimulate a small group of fibers, we move a little bit (think brushing your teeth). If we stimulate a large group of fibers, we move a lot (think of starting the lawn mower). We recruit more muscles to do harder jobs. Like a switch we can turn on and off, we can control how much or how little muscle to use.

This is so that we don't brush our teeth with the same force as starting the mower!

I tried to find a funny picture to illustrate, but I'll settle for a cat.

Now, like with any skill, a little practice goes a long way. We control how much force to produce for a given skill. When we do a weightlifting exercise (especially if it's a new movement), we don't quite know how to recruit the motor units properly. The exercise may be a little wobbly, a little uncoordinated, and you might feel weak.

However, with enough repetitions, your brain will send more and more signals to the muscles so that you can contract with more and more force each time. 

This is how you get stronger without getting bigger! You're literally "learning" a new skill.

Unfortunately, he never learned how to recruit his legs.

Weightlifting and Muscular Size

Okay, so you do enough weightlifting repetitions and you can get stronger because you're brain and muscles are learning how to move properly. But doesn't weightlifting make your muscles bigger?

Yes and No.

There are currently two schools of thought for how muscles get bigger.

1) The muscle fibers themselves get thicker (most likely)
2) The muscle grows more fibers (unlikely, less research to support)

Body building takes years of hard, dedicated work. There is a common phrase: "In order to gain one inch of size in your biceps, you must gain 15-20lbs of muscle throughout your entire body." If everyone who lifted a weight suddenly got big, bulky muscles, we would all be bodybuilders. 

In order for muscles to grow bigger they need two things:
1) Stimulus to grow
2) Nutrient resources to grow bigger.

So while weightlifting can make your muscles bigger, you must be providing each muscle with enough stimulus (lots and lots of reps with heavy weight) to grow and you must be eating enough calories to make them grow (lots and lots of protein and carbohydrates).

Short and sweet: If you're dieting (below maintenance calories), you can get stronger, but you won't build muscle.

Now there is one final thing to add. The question is then brought up: "Wouldn't bigger muscles make me stronger?" And it totally makes sense. If you have MORE muscle, then you should be stronger, right?

Yes. That is theoretically the case.

However, strength comes first, then with enough repetitions and stimulus, the muscle can grow to get bigger.

Wrapping It All Up

So the take-home points are as follows:
  • Muscles contract, get shorter, and move a lever
  • A stimulus from the brain tells the muscles to contract
  • The stronger the stimulus, the stronger the contraction
  • We can learn to contract harder with practice
  • The muscles can get stronger (more contraction) without getting bigger
  • Bigger muscles can potentially create stronger contractions

I hope this helps clarify how strength and muscular size are separate, yet related. We can train specifically for strength, and in addition train for size. However, they do not necessarily happen at the same time.

As always, feel free to contact me with questions, or "like" and discuss this article on my facebook page:

All the best,
Jeremy Bushong

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Getting Started with Nutrition

Nutrition Program

Nutrition is the single biggest factor when it comes to changing your body weight. The food you eat  is essential to fueling your daily activity, improving and maintaining your health, and providing energy and nutrients for your immune system. With a proper nutrition program, you will boost your progress in the gym and maximize results. However, there is no shortcut. Strong adherence to a sensible eating plan is the best way to reach your fitness and health goals.

Getting Started

Nutrition can be complicated, and there are many diets, false information, and fads on the market to confuse you. to make things worse, researchers are constantly learning new things about nutrition - mechanisms in the body which aid in nutrient absorption and metabolism. Basically, everything we think we know about advanced nutrition and proper eating is constantly changing. However, there are a few fundamentals which don’t change - by following these fundamentals and not relying on fads, you can make progress toward your goals and see DAILY RESULTS!

Food Fundamentals
The basic rules to eating are simple: To lose weight, eat less. to gain weight, eat more. It’s really that easy. Don’t pay attention to nonsense posted in fitness magazines or supplements on the market. They’re usually a waste of time and they’re just trying to make easy money. The reason the fundamentals work is because they’re based on a simple basic mathematical property called the “Energy Balance Equation”. It goes like this:

Daily Caloric Balance = Energy Consumed - Energy Expended

If the daily caloric balance is in the positive for extended periods of time, you will gain weight. If the balance is in the negative for extended periods, you will lose weight.

One of my favorite analogies is to picture your body like a kitchen sink holding water. Water can come in from the faucet, and leave through the drain. The more water coming from the faucet, the faster the sink will fill up and overflow. The bigger the drain, the faster water will leave. For this analogy, your food is the faucet and your activity / exercise is the drain. Now keep in mind, for the energy balance equation to work requires consistent daily commitment. The key phrase is “extended periods of time”. If there’s a lot of water in the sink, it may take a long time before the changes are noticeable.

Using this analogy, it becomes clear there are several methods of which to empty the sink. The first option is to reduce the water coming from the faucet. The second option is to widen the drain at the bottom. However, the best method is to do both! Basically, the best way to lose weight (body fat) is to decrease your caloric consumption and increase your energy expenditure.

Note: For more information on Calories and how they work, check part 1 of “Exercise Essentials” here.

Getting More Specific

Now that you understand the basics of weight change, we now need to get a little more specific on your unique needs. If you look back at the Energy Balance Equation, you’ll notice there are two main factors: Energy Consumed and Energy Expended. These may not be as straightforward as you’d think, so we’ll examine them more closely.

Energy Expended

Your body is constantly using energy. Every motion you make consumes energy. Lying completely motionless, your body still uses energy to maintain the basic functions of living. Even your brain is constantly consuming energy. This is called your base metabolic rate, or BMR for short. To add to this, every time you eat food, your BMR is increased in order to digest food. This is called the thermic effect of food or TEF for short. Finally, any additional movements you make such as walking, brushing your teeth, or exercising require additional energy. This energy is typically consumed during the activity and is equivalent to the intensity of the action. That is, running for 10 minutes consumes more energy than walking for 10 minutes.

All three factors combined make up your energy expenditure and will ultimately affect your daily energy balance.

Energy Consumed

As you might imagine, “energy consumed” is the food you eat. Most items contain energy, and depending on the type of food, may contain more energy than other things. Some items contain so little energy that the act of digesting them costs more than the food provides, such as celery. On the other hand, some items are extremely dense and can drastically increase your energy intake (and subsequently, your waistline). You can’t always tell how much energy an item provides by its shape or size. Generally speaking, most foods offer the following units of energy (Calories):

  • Carbohydrates: 4 Calories per gram
  • Protein: 4 Calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 Calories per gram

As you can see, even though you can consume the same amount of grams of fat and carbohydrates, the amount of energy received from each item is different.

Getting Personal

Understanding where energy is spent (the drain) and where energy is consumed (the faucet), we can begin to manipulate these amounts to match our goals. However, each person is different. Because of this, our manipulations will be different. In order to understand how much energy to consume, we must first consider how much energy we require. Remember that we consume energy even while at rest. In addition, bigger people consume more energy than smaller people.

When it comes to calculating our resting metabolic rate and calorie requirements, there are many methods. However, all of these methods only get us CLOSE to the actual number. Instead of using complicated equations, I follow a simple rule: Eat between 13-16 Calories per pound of bodyweight. Even if you use very complicated calculations, you’ll get pretty close to this number.

Women: Consume 13-14 calories per lb of bodyweight.
Men: Consume 15-16 calories per lb of bodyweight.

These two numbers make up your total resting metabolic rate (which includes BMR, TEF, and light daily activity). So take a moment and do the math. How much energy do you require?

Daily Caloric Requirements = _________________

Now it’s getting a little easier. In order to lose weight, we eat less than that amount. To gain weight, we eat more.

I’m going to ask a serious question, and I want you to pick your honest answer.

Do you want to lose weight:

Slow and Steadily Moderately Fast Really Fast
(2-4lbs per month) (5-10lbs per month) (15-20lbs per month)

Each method requires a slightly different approach. The “slow and steady” plan is the most convenient and flexible, as it allows you to progress toward your goal while maintaining a social life. The “moderately fast” plan is good for active and athletic individuals who need to change their body weight while staying active and energetic. The “really fast” plan is the toughest plan to follow, but can offer amazing results if adherence is perfect. However, it is the least flexible plan and does not allow for much social wiggle-room. This plan is for people who want to attack their weight-loss goals quickly or for people who prefer to have a rigid, structured eating program.

For the "Slow and Steady option", we simply subtract 200 calories per day and continue with your normal exercising. Any additional cardio will be a bonus. This puts you in a deficit of about 1400 calories per week which = about 1.5 - 2 lbs per month. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less depending on your activity level. This also allows for the usual "sidetracks" that occur. Sometimes you’ll want to spend time with friends and family, consuming too much food/drink. With this slow and steady option, it doesn't affect you too much. There won't be any muscle loss during this phase, as long as you’re eating at least 50g-70g of protein per day.

For the "Moderately Fast" option, you become a little more focused. Subtract 500 calories per day while maintaining your current activity level (maybe add a little extra cardio or weightlifting), but do not deviate from this plan. Every day you're hitting 500 under maintanence and not a single calorie more. This will create a deficit of 3500 calories per week (from diet alone), which is about a pound per week. At this rate, we should see about 1-2lbs per week with exercise, assuming you don't deviate from the diet. Ideally there will be no muscle lost during this phase (especially with exercise and weight training), but protein consumption will need to increase to 70-100g per day to compensate.

The "Really Fast" option, it requires immense focus and willpower. However, it's over in 4-8 weeks. For this option, we consume considerably less than our maintenance calories (with just enough calories to live and exercise). This option is usually pretty difficult and most people won’t follow because it's mentally taxing. It requires very strong willpower. For this option, we eat 1000-1200 calories under maintenance while consuming extra protein to make sure no muscle is lost. For this plan we will be consuming between 120 - 180g of protein. (Protein shakes may help here). At this rate, you're seeing a bodyweight change of 3-4lbs per week.

Keeping Yourself Honest

So it’s clear that calorie counting will be very important. To do this, I recommend creating a free account at a calorie counting website, such as www.myfitnesspal.com, and logging your nutrition EVERY DAY.

This is the most important step, because we often over-consume calories without realizing.

So now you know how many calories to eat, and a method to begin tracking them. Start this step today and begin your fat loss journey!

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me:

Jeremy Bushong, MS, CSCS

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Elements of a Strength and Conditioning Program

You want to start exercising on a regular basis. You want to TRAIN for a goal. Maybe fat loss, muscular strength, or to run a 5k. You need a program that's designed for YOU - not something you picked up in the latest issue of muscle and fiction magazine.

This article will discuss the elements required to build a strength and conditioning program.

Building a Strength and Conditioning Program

Any good exercise program will have fundamental building blocks of fitness. By this I mean a good exercise program will focus on developing the following characteristics:
  • Joint Mobility & Stability
  • Muscular Strength & Endurance
  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Improved Work Capacity (Short-term high-intensity tolerance)
  • Mental Toughness
Using these 5 basic characteristics, you can program a fitness plan to meet any goal (fat loss, sport training, general health). Let's look at each characteristic individually so we can better understand how to train for them.

Joint Mobility & Stability

Before we can stress the body with new exercises, we need to make sure each joint can handle the movements. Believe it or not, most of us aren't able to move the same way elite athletes can move. So why do we try to instantly copy their workout routines from websites and magazines? We first need to address mobility and stability.

Joint Mobility - The ability of the joint to move through it's entire range of motion. For example, the shoulder should be able to go fully overhead without having to strain. You should be able to raise your arms overhead without pushing your neck forward, straining your lower back, or compensating ("cheating") the movement. A recent article from Tony Gentilcore on T-nation addresses this topic and provides an illustration.

On the left - Excessive forward head and lower back arch.
On the right - No "cheating" or movement compensation patterns.

Joint Stability - The ability of the joint to move through the range of motion while maintaining it's structure. Basically, if you feel like your knee is "sliding around" when you bend or stand out of a chair, this is a lack of joint stability. This could be due to structural damage (the ligaments have been torn or the cartilage worn out), or a lack of proper muscular control (the quads are in-proportionately stronger than the hamstrings). 

Lack of joint mobility and stability can limit the availability of certain exercises, but with proper exercise selection we can improve these characteristics. 

Muscular Strength and Endurance

Muscular Strength - The ability of the muscle to produce a force against a resistance across a moment arm (joint). In this case, we're using the physics term of "moment arm".

Muscular Endurance - The ability of muscle to sustain force production utilizing short-term metabolic pathways to produce energy and resist fatigue. 

The ability of the muscles to produce force (and sustain that force) is crucial for posture, proper movements, sport performance, and overall health. Muscular strength is not just about being able to bench press 200lbs for a single rep (although that is an aspect of strength), it's also about the proper balance of strength.

Most good exercises require multiple body parts. Take the squat for instance. I've written about why I use the squat so much, but it does a great job at building both muscular strength and endurance in the legs, core, and upper body. In addition, it focuses on joint stability and mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles. A good squat requires a lot of physical ability. 

But muscular strength has even more benefits to the average person. Imbalances in muscular strength due to inactivity can directly affect your posture and your health. People who are constantly sitting and working on computers have a forward "slouched" position. This position shortens the front of the shoulders, and elongates / weakens the rear part of the shoulder. In short, it causes a neanderthal look.

Up Next: Shoulder pain, impingement, rotator cuff injuries,
back pain, knee instability, and cardiac arrest.

By properly selecting the right exercises based on your posture and joint mechanics, we can help reduce these imbalances and prevent injuries from happening. Furthermore, by training muscular strength and endurance, we can improve sport performance and reduce the build-up of fatigue within the muscles. 

Cardiovascular Endurance

The ability of the heart and lungs to provide sufficient blood flow and oxygen to the working tissues is required for overall health and athletic performance. Basically, if you can't provide fuel to the machines, they stop working.

Cardiovascular endurance also plays a significantly huge role in our health and longevity in regards to aging and premature death. I've written about the health benefits of exercise in previous articles. You can read about it HERE.

Improving cardiovascular endurance can be done in many ways - long distance, slow-intensity endurance training (running / swimming / biking) is just one method. Cardiovascular endurance can also be trained with short-term high-intensity exercises, circuits, and even some forms of weightlifting.

Even if your sport is 100% anaerobic (explosive, short-term, high-intensity), training for cardiovascular endurance can improve your recovery between workouts and improve overall performance.

Improved Work Capacity

Work Capacity - The amount of work which can be done in a given time. Think "As many reps as possible in 5 minutes". I find most people don't have a sufficient work capacity to train toward a simple weight-loss goal. Let alone elite athlete status. Let me give you an example:

Jake is a 16 year old kid who can't do a single pushup, but wants to look like the bodybuilders in the magazines. He buys an issue of muscle and fitness, turns to page 16 for the latest "bodybuilding workout". He's told to do 25 reps of pushups between bench press sessions in a single workout to help build his chest muscles. 

Do you think Jake can handle that workout? Probably not - his work capacity is too low.

C'mon Jake. Don't be a wimp...

In this case, just getting Jake to do a single pushup would be a 100% increase in "sport performance." This is why each fitness program must be build specifically for the individual to see maximum results. 

To build work capacity, I first start with basic stuff. Can you jog for 3 minutes straight? Can you do 15 bodyweight squats without stopping? Can you do a simple bodyweight circuit for 5 minutes? These are all examples of gradually increasing work capacity so that future workouts can be more productive. It's a slow-gradual process and there is NO SHORTCUT.

Mental Toughness

The last aspect of a good fitness program is the hardest for most people to grasp. It's simple 
  1. Do hard work.   
  2. Don't make excuses. 
  3. Don't quit. 
  4. Don't complain. 

Actually, I don't mind complaining as long as you do the first three.

Mental toughness is something that has to be earned. It can't be given. However, I find the people with the most mental toughness are the ones who survive the first few stages of the strength and conditioning programs.

If you can get past the initial soreness, time-management, and general fatigue, you'll be on your way to seeing the results you want deserve.

All the best,


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Exercise Essentials - Part 3: Getting Your Move On

In part 3 of Exercise Essentials, I'll finally start talking about exercise (and why it took three installments to get here), what "exercise" means, and it's role in YOUR fitness program. I'll also be going into detail on the health benefits of exercise and the physiological changes it offers.

Getting Started

The first two installments of the series discussed briefly the importance of calories and nutrition in your overall fitness program. There's a reason I chose to write about nutrition first: It's simply more important.  Especially for those of us who are primarily concerned with fat loss. Weight management is all about nutrition and calorie counting and while exercise certainly plays a role, it's a secondary role. Just like those character actors we all recognize from the movies. The ones who's names are never on the movie poster.

I'll give you a dollar if you can tell me who this guy is...

So while exercise isn't quite as important as nutrition for fat loss, it's still really, incredibly, unbelievably important for overall health. Also, if your goal is to build muscle mass or improve athletic performance, then exercise will be your PRIMARY focus. But first we have to define exercise and training.

Physical Activity vs. Exercise vs. Training

To start this whole discussion, we need to understand that physical activity is different than exercise. This is important because when it comes time to plan our schedule and exercise, we need to make it in addition to our current activity levels. 

I define physical activity as the act of doing day-to-day stuff, like going to the pool or making the extra 100 foot walk to Walmart because you didn't get that open parking spot. On the other hand, exercise is planned physical activity with the sole focus on improving health and physical fitness. It's important we separate these two terms. Sometimes they can overlap, but we never want to substitute planned exercise for regular physical activity. By that I mean: Don't kid yourself. 

If you skipped the gym but decided it was okay because you walked around the mall, you're only making it harder for yourself to stick to a plan. In the long run, this mental attitude will throw you off track.

Training, on the other hand, is a gradual increase in exercise intensity and duration so as to achieve a specific goal. If you haven't set a specific goal, then you cannot TRAIN to reach that goal. In my opinion, exercising without specific short-term and long-term goals is a guaranteed way to drop out of a fitness program. 

Research indicates that about 50% of people who start an exercise program will drop out within the first 6 months (Lippke, Knauper, & Fuchs, 2003). If you don't have a goal, a direction, or a training plan to get there, you're not going to be motivated long enough to gain the health benefits of exercise.

Actually, this might be considered physical activity...

Set a goal.

Train for that goal.

Earn that goal.

Why Exercise is Important

So earlier I said that for fat loss, nutrition is the primary concern. So why is exercise so important? Though I don't have a source, I once overheard a quote which sums it up nicely:

"Nutrition controls the direction of change, exercise controls the magnitude."

Essentially, diet will control whether you change weight, and exercise will help direct how quickly and by what amount that change will occur. In addition to the weight changes, exercise is immensely important to overall health. I could write an entire book on the health benefits of exercise, but that's already been done. Instead, I'll sum just a few key points in a list.

In short, exercise training (both strength and cardiovascular) helps:

  1. Control body weight in both short- and long-term. (Jakicic et. al., 2003).
  2. Improve blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels. (Leon, et. al., 2000).
  3. Improve bone mineral density in pre- and post-menopausal women (Kemmler, 2004).
  4. Improve oxygen use and heart-lung functions in all age groups (Kohrt, 1991).
  5. Improve heart function in patients with prior heart attacks (Adachi, 1996).
  6. Improve insulin sensitivity and A1C levels in patients with diabetes (Zanuso, 2010).
  7. Prevent ischemia (heart attack) and associated deaths (Joshi, 2007).

There are many more, and I'm sure I've forgotten quite a few such as a stress and mental well-being, but you get the point. Now I don't know if you read all of that list, but numbers 5, 6, and 7 are pretty huge. Like, life-saving huge. A ton of current research in the exercise field is devoted to finding out exactly how life-saving exercise is. The American College of Sports Medicine has a new motto: Exercise is Medicine.

It's also easy on your deductible.

In fact, many current studies are linking the LACK of exercise and physical activity as the number 1 cause of heart disease, diabetes, and other major diseases. It's becoming increasingly important that people begin to exercise and be physically active.

Even if your goal is not to lose fat or gain muscle, staying active and exercise can literally SAVE your life.

How to Exercise

For most of you reading this, you're already training with me. We picked a goal, and we're working toward that goal. For others, you may be wondering what you can do to start a program.

When I talk about "exercise", I'm talking about a general program consisting of cardiovascular and muscular training. A simple example would be:

  • At least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day.
  • Strength training of major muscle groups 3-4 times per week.
  • 2-3 high intensity sessions per week.
There's already a ton of programs you can follow. Most of us have heard of the "at-home" programs such as P90X or Insanity, or a strength training program such as Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength. Whatever your choice of training, it's important that you stick to it.

Don't fall into the 50% category. Pick a goal, train for that goal.

In future installments I'll discuss the components of a successful fitness program as well as how you can design one yourself.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at info@bushongtraining.com or "like" my facebook page at www.facebook.com/bushongtraining.

All the best,
Jeremy Bushong


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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why You're Losing Fat (But Not Weight)

For anyone who's attempted a serious weight loss program, you've probably used the scale to help gauge progress. You've also probably had some serious setbacks and frustrations with the dial not moving in the right direction. If you're frustrated with your weight loss progress, this article may help you come to terms with why you are still losing body fat but not losing weight.

Importance of Scale Weight

Typically most of us begin a weight-loss program with the hope and expectation that we can drop a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, the term that we use for this program ("Weight Loss") is what causes the most frustration. Rather, "Fat Loss" is the term that would provide better benefits - both psychologically and physiologically. 

A scale is commonly used to find a starting point to further measure progress. It's a simple method as it only takes a few seconds and doesn't require any preparation. Many trainers (myself included), doctors and physiologists use this method to find a baseline - but that doesn't mean it's the most accurate. 

Other methods such as bioelectrical impedance, bod-pods, DEXAs, or underwater weighing can provide significantly more accurate information as to your body composition. They can indicate precisely how much body fat (in pounds and percentages) you carry, as well as muscle and bone mass. The downside is that often these are either expensive, time consuming, or difficult to prepare. Hydrostatic underwater weighing, for example, used to be the gold standard for finding body composition. The downside is that participants have to expel ALL of the air in their lungs while a researcher (usually a student or intern) attempts to read a wobbly scale before drowning occurs.

Just breath out for a minute while I do some calculations...

The DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry)  is now considered the best method for obtaining the most accurate body composition results. The only downside is that it's a very expensive machine which requires considerable set-up and experience. Basically, you'd have to visit a doctor's office every time you want to measure progress and that can take quite a hit for your insurance bill.

Just hold still for a bit while I calculate your deductible...

So while scale weight can be incredibly inaccurate (or an outright lie) as to what's going on physiologically, it's very simple to do and requires no extra work. This is why it's so common. But again, a major downside is that scale weight can be easily manipulated. In fact, you can vary your body weight between 10-30lbs in a 24 hour period.

True story! Just ask any wrestler, fighter, or athlete who competes in weight categories. It's not pleasant, but it can be done.

So What's the Deal?

As far as weight is concerned, the scale doesn't care where it comes from. Clothes, water, that leftover burrito that's slowly making it's way through your intestines...yeah. That all contributes to what the number says. 

The most contributing factor to scale numbers is water weight. That is, the weight of water that is flowing through your blood, cushioning your muscles, or hydrating your skill - all contributes to the number on the scale. In fact, if you drink 16oz of water: Congratulations, you just gained a pound!

Someone stop her before she gets too fat!

Before you freak out and start throwing away all your water bottles, understand that this is a normal day-to-day fluctuation in weight that is REQUIRED. Remember, over 50% of your body is composed of water. Depending on who you ask, that number could be as high as 60-70%. When you drink water, it's slowly absorbed and shuttled into the blood stream, muscles, brain, and even fat cells. This is where the scale confusion comes from.

Fat Cells Need Water Too

Assuming you're properly dieting and exercising, you should be in a calorie deficit. That is, your body is expending more energy that it is consuming. As a result, you will gradually burn excess body fat.

While this can get a bit complicated (and I have forgotten many of the physiological steps since I've been out of school), the basics hold up: Eat less, exercise more, lose body fat. 

The frustration comes from when body fat is slowly lost, yet excess water is retained. During new exercise programs, or diets in which you consume more water, your body may get a little confused with what to do with all this excess H20. Water retention may be increased so as to provide for the newly working muscles. In addition, there is some research and professional speculation that fat cells themselves absorb water after they have been depleted.

That's right, you're burning fat, and then regaining the weight in water! 

Now add in the fact that some people hold more water than others (women especially), and that caffeine, hormones, food intake, and monthly fluctuations can further add to the water retention, and you have a recipe for frustration.

Don't Panic

So how do we deal with this seemingly impossible task? The best thing to do is to keep calm and continue as planned. Don't get frustrated with the apparent "lack of progress". As time goes on, your body will remove excess water and learn how to properly balance H20 levels, leading to a appearance of steady weight-loss.

Here are a few tips:

1) Don't weigh more than once per week.
2) Weigh consistently - same time, same place, same outfit once per week or less.
3) Use your appearance in the mirror and the fit of your clothes for guidelines.
4) Don't quit or become frustrated after short fluctuations (small ups or downs). 

Remember, it's the long-term health we're concerned about. However, if you're actively dieting, exercising, monitoring your food intake, and being honest with yourself, you'll make the progress you want to see.

Don't look for shortcuts, but don't give up.

As always, email me with questions or comments: info@bushongtraining.com