If you are like most people, around this time last year you were getting frustrated with not being at the fitness level you had hoped for going into the summer. At this time of year, more than any other, I get a lot of questions from friends and relatives about why that is? I've been dieting since the beginning of the year, why can't I lose this last 10 pounds? I've been doing cardio every day, why can't I see my abs? Lets find out.
Today is chilly for mid-March, but summer is coming; I can feel it. I think everyone feels it in the air. For a lot of people, myself for sure, this is the beginning of their favorite time of year. Warm weather, the beach, the pool, refreshing drinks, a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables from the grocery or the green market. Last week I wrote a bit about the best nutrition for moving toward your goals for a body that you feel good in going into this season of bathing suits and tank tops. The bottom line is that it is not hard to eat in a supportive way, to get leaner, stronger, healthier. I find that the hardest part is to unlearn all of the ineffective and often harmful fad diets and bad advice from our national food scientists (so many of whom have espoused horrible nutrition for many decades, resulting in our obesity epidemic). I write about that travesty not infrequently, and I some words on that in the book that I'm now in the process of publishing. Keep an eye here on this blog for more on that soon.
I hope everyone is making good food decisions. It's really is simple; and intuitive. Here's the nutrition primer from last week, in case you missed it:
Now, how about a quick lesson on the most efficient, effective things you can do in the gym right now to improve the way your body looks and feels by the time the mercury hits 80 degrees.
For most people, a leaner, more toned body is what is desired, the coveted swimmer’s build or gymnast’s body. So, many people want to know the best toning exercises. I want to be very clear and dispel a major myth in the fitness industry here: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TONING EXERCISE. None. Not low weights, high reps; not "the three best exercises to tone the arms" article that was on the cover of whatever monthly magazine you read. None. Muscles can only grow or not grow when they are exposed to forces, like lifting weights. They do not have a "tone" setting. Done correctly, strength exercises will make muscles grow. In order for the body to appear leaner, more cut, we need to burn the fat that lies all around the muscle tissue. Bodies with muscle, in the absence of fat, are what we think of as “toned”.
Whether your goal is muscle building, fat loss or both, the first step should always be adding muscle by doing a strength and growth phase. Muscle is metabolically active and adding just a few pounds of muscle to your body will increase your metabolism so that more fat is burned from your body around the clock, even while you sleep. Once we add some strength and muscle to the body, the next step toward that sculpted swimmer’s or gymnast’s build is fat burning, about which I will post next week.
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Now, In order to add muscle to the body in the most efficient way, there are only a few things that we have to do, but we have to do them very well. Muscle will grow only when subjected to a force (weight) at which the muscle reaches fatigue, also called Momentary Muscle Failure (MMF). So, if we are doing 12 repetitions of an exercise we should choose a weight at which we can complete 12 repetitions with good form but not 13 (or as close to that as possible). You may not choose the right weight the first time, but pay attention and make adjustments so that will quickly be the case.
When a muscle reaches MMF, a process called Adaptation begins which causes the muscle to grow stronger and larger. This is similar to what happens when we go out into the sun at a certain strength for a certain length of time. The Melanin will cause our skin to grow darker in order to protect it from burning. It is much like this with muscle - there are signals which strengthen the muscle so that it is capable of lifting the weight to which it has been subjected.
What happens next? During the time we spend outside the gym between workouts, say 48 hours, the muscles adapt to the last workout by growing stronger and larger. If we were to come back to the gym for our next workout and lift the same weights for the same number of repetitions, no further growth would take place; the muscles are already capable of lifting at that intensity so no further adaptation would occur. To go back to sun tan analogy, if we go outside the next day for the same amount of time, and the sun is at the same strength, our skin needs not darken further. This is where the next concept comes into play. In order to continue to grow stronger and add muscle to the body, the muscles must be subjected to a greater force (weight) each time we work out - This is called Progressive Resistance (PR).
From a conceptual standpoint, this is all we really need to know about how to gain strength and size. We just need the nuts and bolts of an exercise program to start the process. It is important to choose some of the best exercises for each part of the body, for each muscle or muscle group. This is the most efficient way to add muscle without spending hours and hours in the gym. Choose big exercises that target multiple muscle groups like Squats, Lunges, Dead Lifts, Chest Presses, Lat Pulldowns, Rows, Overhead Presses, etc.
The body can add muscle aggressively for 4-6 weeks for most people. We want to optimize muscle growth in this first phase of the exercise program so adding muscle is our only goal, though you will burn more calories (and fat) just by increasing metabolically “expensive” muscle. The focus on fat loss comes later for the reasons discussed above. If you try to add muscle and lose fat at the same time, you will not get very good results for either. The Chinese Proverb applies: ‘He who chases two rabbits catches none”.
There is one other important tool that a lot of people forget. We want to track our exercise program; This is so important. And if you’re looking for a trainer and watch one who doesn’t write down his/her client’s program/workout information, run. If we do not do this, we will never know exactly the right weights, sets and repetitions we should be doing to get the best results. So, create a simple workout sheet, bring it to the gym with you and track your numbers so that you will be able to progress from workout to workout and from week to week. I cannot stress how important this is - not doing this is a big part of why MOST people fail to get results in the gym. This is so simple, but could not be more true. I can’t accentuate this too much.
Adding some lean tissue to the body is always the first step toward developing a more toned body, that swimmer's build or gymnast's body. Next week, I will post about the next step - fat loss. and the most efficient and effective ways to get moving in that direction.
If you are like most people, around this time last year you were getting frustrated with not being at the fitness level you had hoped for going into the summer. At this time of year, more than any other, I get a lot of questions from friends and relatives about why that is? I've been dieting since the beginning of the year, why can't I lose this last 10 pounds? I've been doing cardio every day, why can't I see my abs?
I tell them that the answer is simpler than you think. Very simple, actually. You are not combining the right nutrition with the right kinds of exercise. I'm not talking about diets; calorie restricting diets do not work. They never have. They never will. A lot of cardio, say jogging on a treadmill for an hour several days of week, will also not work. Never has. Never will. I've written about the reason for this here in my fitness blog. If one eats in a way that stabilizes their blood sugar and employs exercise which has a concern for adding or preserving lean muscle tissue, one will create a metabolism that for FOR them, instead of AGAINST them 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Add to that, short bouts of cardio done as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and you will burn away the excess fat in your "trouble spots"
Nutrition is the first place to start. Go to my "downloads" page and get the first 2 PDFs there. These are my supportive nutrition guides. Page 1 lays out the rules of supportive nutrition that you will want to follow to improve your energy, retain lean muscle tissue, and burn unwanted body fat. See how close you are to eating in a supportive way. In areas where your habits are different, take one of them at a time and make some changes. You will find that you start feeling more energy throughout the day almost immediately and that within weeks your body will start burning more fat as you use carbohydrates for fuel rather than storing them as fat. Page 2 has a list, for each macronutrient category, of the best foods; if it's not on that list, it is not going to help you in your journey toward a more efficient metabolism and a leaner body. These are real foods, not package, processed chemicals that your body doesn't know how to handle. Michael Pollan, a writer and food activist has said "if your grandmother wouldn't recognize something as food, it's not food". A good adage to live by.
Also, check out my post on How to Eat
As far as exercise goes, you need to pay attention to just two components: Strength Training and Cardio Training. I will write about these in a post next week.
Greg Rothman, MS PT, is a fitness professional, writer and the owner of Empower Fitness in NYC. He received his Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from Columbia University and has twenty years of experience in the fitness and rehabilitation fields. He believes that absolutely anyone can have the body of their dreams once they understand how to eat and exercise in a way that supports their goals. It is his mission to Empower as many people as possible to do just that. His “Recession-Proof” Fitness Programs are an affordable way to find dramatic physical change over the course of 10 weeks. Greg is happy to hear from you if you have questions about any topic related to fitness or nutrition, and can be found at www.GetEmpoweredFitness.com.