Why eating less and exercising more doesn’t ALWAYS work for long-term weight loss

Guest Post by Eirik Garnas

I apologize in advance for posting a long post, but I think it is a great article and a good read.  Hope you enjoy!

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the numerous studies investigating the effects of calorie restriction and exercise on weight loss, it’s that people usually creep up towards their original body weight when they start eating to satiety again or ease up on their training regime.

Despite these poor long-term results, the notion that we just have to exercise more and eat less seems so intuitively right and is also so deeply rooted in people’s belief systems that few question its accuracy. Some folks even claim that calories are all that counts and that it really doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you reduce your energy intake.

spin-class

While a subset of the population manages to stay relatively lean by doing some type of regular exercise and eating purely based on their energy and macronutrient needs, it’s clear that this doesn’t work for everyone. We’re losing the war against obesity, and it seems that the mantra to eat less and exercise more could be doing us more harm than good.

The laws of thermodynamics

There are two laws of thermodynamics that are especially relevant to body weight regulation; the first law basically states that the form of energy may change, but the total is always conserved, and the second law says that the entropy of an isolated system does not decrease.

When discussing body weight regulation it’s essential that we always adhere to these laws of thermodynamics, and recognize that the amount of energy that is contained in the body will increase if energy intake is higher than energy expenditure. This basic fact is well supported in the literature, and studies show that increased food energy supply is more than sufficient to explain the obesity epidemic (1,2). We essentially eat a lot more calories than before, and this steady rise in energy intake has driven the increases in body weight over the past several decades.

So, it’s well established that weight gain results from an imbalance between how much energy we consume and how much we expend. However, this basic fact doesn’t tell us anything about why we actually overeat.

binge eating

A general belief seems to be that weight gain simply results from inactivity, poor self-control and gluttony, and the first law of thermodynamics is extrapolated to mean that we can just tell people who are overweight and obese to eat less and exercise more to permanently shed the fat. The problem with this analogy is that the human body isn’t a passive vehicle, but rather fights to maintain what it considers to be a balanced state.

If we look beyond the basic concept of calories in vs. calories out and start to dig a little deeper into human physiology and the scientific literature, it quickly becomes clear why deliberately restricting calories and exercising more isn’t an effective strategy for permanent weight loss for many individuals.

You’re fighting your brain’s hard-wired mechanisms for regulating fat storage

Have you ever wondered how some people maintain a relatively constant body weight year round, why an obese person over-consumes food even though he has plenty of stored energy in the form of body fat, or why restricting caloric intake doesn’t result in a linear decrease in fat mass depending on the magnitude of restriction?

The answers to these questions seem to lie in the intricate feedback system between the brain, gut, and fat cells…

The body fat setpoint and homeostatic regulation of body fat

In 1840, a doctor named B. Mohr was one of the first researchers to discover that obese people often have damage in certain areas of the brain. Since these first discoveries, we’ve learned that the hypothalamus in the brain is the primary control center for the system in our body that regulates fat storage on a long-term basis (the energy homeostasis system).

The amount of fat mass we carry is biologically regulated, and the brain tries to keep body fat within a certain range by influencing our appetite, body heat production, metabolic rate, and whether energy is directed towards fat tissue or lean mass. We essentially have a body fat setpoint that the brain homeostatically guards (3,4,5,6).

If we try to alter the amount of body fat we carry by manipulating food intake and physical activity induced energy expenditure, the brain will act to bring fat mass back to the original level by increasing hunger and decreasing energy output. Since these mechanisms can only prevent a certain degree of fat loss, we will naturally start to lose weight when we reduce the amount of calories we consume and/or exercise more. However, as most people who have restricted calories for some time know, we will also be hungry and tired.

Tired-Athlete

As sustained voluntary calorie restriction significantly impacts the quality of life and requires a high level of discipline, most people eventually start to eat to satiety again and usually creep back up towards their original body weight.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition clearly illustrates the idea behind the body fat setpoint. They gave lean and overweight subjects a diet that contained 50% more calories than they naturally consumed, and as expected, all of the participants gained a significant amount of weight during the six weeks of overfeeding. The brain tried to defend the body fat setpoint by increasing metabolic rate and body heat production, but these compensatory mechanisms can only prevent a certain degree of fat gain. The interesting thing happened when the overfeeding phase was over and subjects were allowed to eat as much as they wanted for the following six weeks. All of the participants lost the majority of the weight they had gained although they didn’t restrict calories (7).

Calorie restricted dietary interventions point to the same thing; while deliberately reducing energy intake and increasing energy expenditure is necessary for someone who’s already lean and wants to lose more weight, it’s not a long-term strategy for those that are overweight and obese. What we have to do is acknowledge that weight loss isn’t just about making a conscious decision to eat less and exercise more.

The thermostat in your house is a good representation of how the homoestatic system works. If it’s cold outside and you open all the windows to your house, the heating system will kick in to try to keep the temperature around the adjusted setpoint (e.g., 72 degrees F). If you keep the windows open, the heating system will always try to get the temperature back up, but it can only compensate for some of the lost energy. However, if we close the windows, the temperature will quickly rise back to the original setpoint.

The same principles apply to homeostatic regulation of body fat. If we expend energy by exercising more or eating less, the brain will decrease metabolic rate, increase hunger, reduce body heat production, etc. in an attempt to fight fat loss. If we chronically restrict calories we will lose weight, but the body will always try to get things back to what it considers to be a balanced state. When we can no longer take the cravings and begin eating to fullness, our body weight creeps back up towards the original setpoint, and we get a feeling of defeat and failure.

The brain is less sensitive to signals from fat cells in people who are overweight and obese

If the energy homeostasis system was always working properly, no one would be obese. Why doesn’t the the brain respond to the elevated fat mass in people who are overweight by decreasing hunger and increasing metabolic rate, heat production, and use of stored fat as energy?

Part of the answer to this question is found in the negative feedback system between fat stores and the brain. Signaling hormones travel between fat cells and the control center in our head and enable the brain to measure and regulate the amount of body fat we carry.

The key hormone involved in this process is Leptin. Leptin is produced by the body’s fat stores which then travels to the brain where it produces a response at the receptors in the hypothalamus. A high leptin signal is supposed to ramp up the use of stored energy and trigger less interest in food, while a low leptin signal should initiate food seeking behaviour and energy conservation (3,5).

Since leptin production correlates with with the size of the fat stores, people who carry plenty of fat mass produce a lot more leptin than someone who is lean. So, why isn’t the brain responding to these high concentrations of circulating leptin by decreasing interest in food and burning more stored energy? Studies have made it clear that overweight and obesity are characterized by decreased leptin sensitivity, which means that the brain doesn’t respond adequately to the signal from leptin (5,8).

Let’s consider an example to illustrate the effects of leptin resistance on weight gain. Let’s say we have a woman who weighs 300 lbs. Although the fat stores of this person produce a substantial amount of leptin, the brain only responds partially to the signal and therefore thinks that the body carries less fat mass than it actually does. If the woman loses even more leptin sensitivity, the brain will trigger hunger and decreased energy expenditure in an attempt to store more fat and boost leptin production further.

So, it could seem that the more leptin resistant we become, the more body fat we have to carry to maintain the same level of leptin signaling in the brain. If we suddenly become very leptin resistant and the brain only receives half the signal from leptin (hypothetical), fat mass will double over time and we will settle in at a new, higher body fat setpoint.

leptin

This is not to say that leptin is the only factor involved in the feedback mechanism between fat cells and the brain, far from it. However, leptin signaling seems to be a key component and is also intuitively easy to grasp in the sense that leptin resistance is similar to a malfunctioning “thermostat”. While a lean person’s fat thermostat keeps body weight around a lean setpoint, the thermostat of someone who is obese is constantly elevated.

Leanness is the most natural state of the human body, and a perturbation of the energy homeostasis system results from a gene-environment mismatch

Have you ever considered the fact that humans and animals living in a specific ecological niche are relatively lean almost year round? Wild animals, hunter-gatherer tribes and some non-westernized populations all maintain a fairly low level of body fat, and increases in fat mass only happen when it’s appropriate for survival and reproduction (9,10,11). As I discussed in my last guest post at BretContreras.com, some traditional populations such as the Kitavans remain lean even though they have access to an abundance of food and are only moderately physically active. Studies also show that hunter-gatherers have leptin levels that are many times lower than westerners, indicating a well-functioning feedback system between fat cells and the brain (8,12).

While this doesn’t mean that we have to emulate the lifestyle of our paleolithic ancestors to be healthy, it does suggest that some aspects of our modern environment perturb the body’s mechanisms for regulating fat storage.

The key in figuring out why the body fat setpoint is elevated in overweight and obesity is to study non-industrial populations that are lean and healthy, and then use this information as a framework for deciphering the latest scientific research on homeostatic regulation of body fat. Only by removing the factors that cause the body to want to store more weight can we design an effective weight loss strategy.

So, how do I lower my body fat setpoint and lose weight?

While there’s still a lot we don’t know about the underlying causes of leptin resistance, elevated body mass setpoint and overeating, it’s clear that changes to the setpoint can be both a cause and consequence of weight gain, and that inflammation in the hypothalamus and food reward play an especially important role (3,5,13). That’s all well and good, but what we really need to know is how we can tweak our diet and lifestyle to lower the setpoint, eat less without deliberately restricting calories, and lose weight. Let’s briefly take a look at some of the practical solutions to long-term weight loss.

Avoid highly rewarding food

Numerous obesity researchers now consider food reward to be an essential factor in the modern obesity epidemic (3,4,14,15). The reward center in our brain labels things as good or bad and makes us seek out energy dense food, warmth, sex and other types of behaviours that benefit survival and reproduction in a natural environment.

The problem is that this system isn’t designed to handle Big Mac’s, donuts, cookies, and other western foods. These processed products are engineered to be addictive in the sense that they contain a wide spectrum of rewarding properties such as fat, starch, salt, sugar, and glutamate. And it’s not just the highly processed stuff that is problematic. Even salted nuts and deep-fried, cured bacon contain a fairly rewarding combination of fat and salt and probably shouldn’t make up a large part of your diet if your trying to lose weight.

donuts

So, what this basically means is that the energy homeostasis system evolved to deal with simple, whole foods such as meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, and that modern, processed foods alter the brain’s mechanisms for regulating fat storage. Studies suggest that leptin action in the brain is insufficient to inhibit overeating of highly processed food, because these rewarding products engage powerful neural responses that oppose leptin (5).

It’s really a vicious cycle where hyper-rewarding food triggers addictive processes in the brain and overeating. Energy imbalance leads to more fat mass, leptin resistance, and consequently a higher food intake (15).

Bottom line: Highly rewarding, processed food drives weight gain. A diet primarily composed of simple, whole foods should be the key component of any weight loss program.

Take good care of the trillions of microorganisms that live in and on your body

Besides food reward, all of the microbes that live in and on the human body (the human microbiome) seem to play an essential role in the whole process of inflammation, leptin resistance, and weight gain. In a guest post for BretContreras.com, I highlighted the fact that the human body is only 1% human from a genetic perspective and that the microbiome provides functions that stretch far beyond the physiological capabilities of the human host.

The bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract (gut microbiota) are especially important to our overall health as they maintain healthy gut barrier function, digest otherwise indigestible food components, and regulate our immune system. The problem is that antibiotics, highly processed food, caesarean sections, and other factors associated with life in the modern world perturb the microbiome and promote a state of dysbiosis. The balance of “good” and “bad” microbes in the body has shifted, and the gut microbiota becomes inflammatory.

So, how is it that bacteria potentially can influence systemic inflammation, leptin sensitivity, and weight gain? One of the leading current hypotheses is that dysbiosis increases gut permeability and allows toxins found in the wall of proinflammatory bacteria to interact with our immune system and enter into systemic circulation. These endotoxins then trigger a state of low-grade chronic inflammation and leptin resistance in the hypothalamus (8,16).

microbiome

The human microbiome is one of the hottest topics in the scientific community at the moment, and numerous studies show that obesity is associated with changes to the gut microbiota (17,18). So, although the human microbiome is shaped throughout our life, it’s largely inherited from our family, and part of the hereditary component of obesity therefore results from transferring an “obese microbiota” from mother to child.

While more long-term human studies are needed before we know to which extent bacteria affect weight regulation, it’s already clear that the human microbiome has a profound impact on our health and well-being.

Bottom line: The human microbiome is involved in body fat regulation. Avoid antibiotics if possible, breastfeed your children, and preferably perform a vaginal birth. Avoid food that promotes the growth of harmful bacteria (e.g., highly processed food, refined flours, sugar), eat food that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria (e.g., onions, leeks, properly prepared legumes), and eat “probiotics” (e.g., sauerkraut, kefir, dirty vegetables from the garden).

Exercise to improve metabolic health and build muscle

I know I’ve just made the case that exercising really isn’t effective for weight loss, but let’s look a little deeper. About a year ago I reviewed the scientific literature on exercise and weight regulation and concluded that isolated anaerobic or aerobic exercise usually isn’t very effective for weight loss. Most people compensate for the increased energy expenditure by eating more and/or being less active during the rest of the day, and exercising to “burn the fat” therefore makes little sense. This is also consistent with the body fat setpoint theory which suggests that the brain homeostatically guards a certain amount of fat mass.

Resistance-Training-Women

However, some people respond to exercise by losing a fair amount of weight, and this probably has to do with the beneficial effects exercise has on metabolic health. A moderate amount of exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve leptin and insulin sensitivity (19,20,21,22,23).

For the record, no one’s arguing that heavy resistance training and aerobic exercise aren’t an important part of a healthy lifestyle, it’s just that exercising to lose weight (and keep it off) isn’t effective for the vast majoity of people.

Bottom line: Exercising to “burn calories” makes little sense since most people compensate for the increased energy output by eating more food and/or being less active during the rest of the day. However, regular exercise allows you to eat more food without gaining weight and can also have a small impact on weight loss.

Make sure you’re eating enough protein

The Protein-Leverage Hypothesis suggests that humans aim for a targeted protein intake and that protein is prioritized over fat, carbohydrate, and total energy intake (24,25,26). A recent study also shows that body-weight loss and weight-maintenance on a low-carbohydrate diet seems to depend more on the protein consumption than the carbohydrate intake (27).

protein

One common mistake among people who want to lose weight is to only eat foods such as fruits and vegetables in an attempt to reduce energy intake. While fruits and vegetables are great, they are also very low in protein and energy and should be matched with grass-fed meats, seafood, eggs or dairy to make for a more satiating meal. Eating carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes for breakfast and lunch won’t help your weight loss efforts since your body will crave for more energy and protein later in the day.

Bottom line: Protein is a very satiating macronutrient and should make up at least 15% of your daily energy intake.

Properly prepare whole grains, legumes and other plant foods that are difficult to digest

While everyone agrees that refined flours shouldn’t make up a large part of a healthy diet, some researchers have also speculated that the human leptin system isn’t adapted to a diet based on whole grains because antinutrients and proteins in cereal grains potentially contribute to leaky gut, inflammation, and leptin resistance (8,28,29). While some reports suggest that a grain-free diet is superior to a grain-based diet in terms of weight loss (8), few long-term human studies have found a causal link between consumption of grain fiber and weight gain.

Sensitivity to “toxins” found in grains seems to vary from person to person depending on human genetics, gut health, and whether we have the necessary microbial genes in the intestine to degrade harmful antinutrients and proteins. The problem seems to be that many people make cereal grains the staple of their diet and therefore eat less of more satiating foods such as fruits and vegetables (30).

The fact is that modern wheat is very different from the grains our ancestors used to eat. While celiac disease affects below 1% of the population, some studies suggest that gluten sensitivity is on the rise, and gluten and wheat germ agglutinin can be damaging even for those without celiac disease (31,32,33). A recent study also found that a gluten-free diet reduces adiposity, inflammation, and insulin resistance (34). Although several recent diet books make the case that gluten should be avoided by everyone, the fact is that few long-term human trials have investigated the effects of gluten on body weight regulation and health.

soaking-grains

Healthy grain-based cultures usually soaked, grinded and/or fermented grains and legumes to make them more nutritious and easier to digest. Using these traditional processing techniques could be a viable option if you’re sensitive to antinutrients and/or eat a lot of legumes and cereal grains on a daily basis. Even just soaking oats overnight in water and lemon juice and then cooking over low-moderate heat will make for a healthier dish than just plain oats and milk.

Bottom line: Improperly prepared cereal grains are hard on the digestive system, but more research is needed to establish the exact role antinutrients and proteins such as gluten play in the modern obesity epidemic. Eating grains at the majority of your meals probably isn’t a good idea if you’re trying to lose weight, because grains contain some potential gut-irritating compounds and are typically lower in micronutrients and less satiating compared to fruits and vegetables. Traditional processing techniques make whole grains and legumes easier to digest.

Other strategies to lower inflammation and/or unconsciously reduce food intake

Several other factors such as insufficient sleep (35,36,37), high omega-6/omega-3 ratio (38,39,40), low vitamin D levels (41,42) and high cooking temperature (43,44,45) have also been associated with increased low-grade inflammation and/or obesity. While probably not as important as the major factors above, these things also play a role.

Putting it all together

Areas in the brain maintain the size of the fat stores within a certain range by influencing food intake and energy expenditure. In a “natural” environment, the energy homeostasis system regulates body weight at a level that is optimal for survival and reproduction, and leanness is therefore the natural state of Homo sapiens. Dysregulation of the energy homeostasis system and elevation of the body fat setpoint result from a gene-environment mismatch in the sense that the body’s mechanisms for regulating fat storage aren’t designed to handle highly rewarding food, broad-spectrum antibiotics, insufficient sleep on a long-term basis, and other factors associated with life in the modern world. If we try to lose weight by increasing exercise induced energy expenditure and/or restricting calories, areas in the brain that are responsible for regulating fat storage will trigger hunger and decreased energy expenditure in an attempt to regain the lost fat mass. To be able to design a plan that will cause permanent weight loss, we have to address the factors that are causing the body to want to store more weight. Only then can we ramp up the use of stored body fat and eat less without deliberately restricting calories.

I want to make it perfectly clear that deliberate calorie restriction is necessary if you are already relatively lean, but still want to lose more weight. The reason for this seems to be that very low fat mass is below what is considered optimal for survival and reproduction, and the brain therefore protects fat stores by increasing hunger and decreasing body heat production and metabolic rate. I also want to emphasise that although everyone can lose a substantial amount of weight if they adhere to the principles outlined in this post, genetics do matter.

muscular kid

Eat a diet primarily composed of simple, whole foods such as meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, grass-fed dairy, fruits, nuts, and properly prepared whole grains and legumes. Make sure you get enough protein. Take care of the microbiome by eating prebiotics, beneficial bacteria, and avoiding food that encourages growth of harmful bacteria. Exercise to improve metabolic health, try to get enough sleep, make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D and omega-3, and reduce the production of advanced glycation end products by gently cooking your food.

Individual differences are important, and while some people are able to stay lean while still eating a fair amount of highly-processed food, others must make a significant effort to reduce the reward value of the diet, improve gut health, and follow all the other recommendations.

My Two Cents

I just wanted to add a short tid-bit here because I do not want people to take parts of this article out of context. Particularly the part saying that exercise and cutting calories are not an efficient way to lose weight.  What Eirik is trying to say here is that those two things are not enough based on the research presented.  Yes we need to exercise, it can lead to body composition changes, There is no doubt that increasing muscle mass and cutting calories will have a positive effect on how you look, feel and function.  But there are also other reasons that can be causing one to be overweight and struggle to lose the weight, and or plateau at certain points that they can not break through.

Please comment with your questions and thoughts below.  I would love to hear them!

About the author

eirik-garnas_organic-fitness-author

Name: Eirik Garnas
Website: www.OrganicFitness.com
Besides studying for a degree in Public Nutrition, I’ve spent the last couple of years coaching people on their way to a healthier body and better physique. I’m educated as a personal trainer from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and also have additional courses in sales/coaching, kettlebells, body analysis, and functional rehabilitation. Subscribe to my website if you want to read more of my articles on fitness, nutrition, and health 


Staying True to Your New Years Resolutions

Happy Holidays everybody, and Happy New Year.  It is an exciting time because a New Year is beginning, new opportunities are on the horizon, and well, there is a new blog post here!

That time of year is here when the gyms are getting busy again because everyone is done feeling guilty about what they have eaten during the holiday season.  And they are ready to start off the New Year the right way with a better, healthier them.  But as February and March roll around, those once exciting goals of losing weight, getting shredded and looking like a sexified Ryan Grosling are in the past.  Well let’s hope this year, this IS NOT you!  And one way to do that, is reading this here post as it will give you a guide to staying on track for the long term.

Gosling

RULE #1: Keep Goals

The only way to achieve success, not just in the gym but in life, is to set goals.  I already spoke of this in a past post, and I think it is very important.  Your goals must be specific and obtainable.  If not, failure is often the case.  Goals give you a direction, and when you obtain them they are much more gratifying.

Here is a list of my weight lifting goals for 2014:

Weight = 175 lbs- Currently 163 lbs

Front Squat = 225 lbs – Currently 195 lbs

Deadlift = 315 lbs – Currently 275 lbs

Military Press = 135 lbs – Currently 115 lbs

Turkish Get-up = 100 lbs – Currently 88 lbs

I have toned down how high I set my goals this year. With school it gets very hard to continually progress without overtaxing myself.  I believe I will have no problems reaching these goals, or surpassing all of them by 2015.

RULE #2: Get a Friend 

FUnny workout ecard

Make sure that person’s goals fit with yours.  

Otherwise they could potentially be very bad influences.

Having somebody with similar goals as you will make your journey easier.  Recruit a friend or family member to join you in reaching your goals.  Maybe it is to lose 20 pounds, or walk 10,000 steps a day, or bike 50 miles a week.  Whatever the goal is having somebody at your side makes reaching your goals less daunting.  This also makes you accountable to someone else, which means you are making a commitment.  If you had to meet your best friend at the gym at 8am every morning, you can’t just skip on them.  Well you can, but that would be pretty douchey of you.

RULE #3: Tell People

By telling everybody around you what your goals are and how you’re going to achieve them this year will put more pressure on you and make you commit to your goals more.  Tell people on a consistent basis.  This does two things, one it does what I said before; it puts pressure on you, because who wants to fail in front of their friends and family?  And two, by constantly talking about your goals and how you will achieve them will help you believe that you will accomplish your goals in your own mind.  Once you feel like you can accomplish your goals, your chances of doing so are greatly improved.

RULE #4: Check Your Progress

Pick a regular interval that you will test your progress. So if you want a 315 bench and you currently are benching 250, you must test your bench every month or so to see if you are moving closer to your goals.  If you are not moving towards your goals, you must sit down and think why.  Is it my nutrition, lack of sleep, have I been inconsistent, etc… Once you figure this out, it will help you break through those frustrating plateaus that we all hit from time to time.


Exercise of the Month: Kettlebell Arm Bar

Hello everybody, welcome to my first edition of the exercise of the month, the Kettlebell Arm Bar.  It is very nice to have some time off from school so I can put some work into this blog.  And my brain is fresh so you know you are getting top quality work!

Since kettlebells are a pretty big thing these days, and they are found in almost every gym, I figured I’d start off the exercise of the month with a great shoulder strengthener/mobilizer/stabilizer that I use every week I work out.

Kettlebells

Why I love this exercise:

· Improves your shoulder stability:  The kettlebells have this great feature that no other piece of gym equipment can offer, the center of gravity of the weight is not in your hand.  With a kettlebell, the majority of the weight is in the bell which is not what you’re holding.  You are holding the handle, which is being pulled down by the weight of the bell.  This allows for greater muscle activity/stabilization as the resistance arm has A) been increased and B) requires higher control of the muscles at hand.  This all allows for the shoulders stabilization to increase.

· Improves Thoracic mobility – As you roll over and drive your hips into the ground, this will open up your thoracic spine, making it more mobile.  Combine a mobility movement with stability and watch your range of motion increase.  We call this sticking.  It’s very common to stretch and a day later be just as tight as the day before.  But add some strength and stability during a mobility exercise, and watch it stick. Meaning 2, 3, 4, 100 days later, you will feel looser then you do right now, not doing this exercise.

· Improves shoulder strength – By teaching your body how to stabilize itself through the lats and rotator cuff, it well help increase the strength of shoulder by association.  The shoulders thrive off stability.  An unstable shoulder will leave lots of weights on the ground, and will keep you from reaching your full potential.  The more stable those shoulders are, the stronger your grip is; the stronger irradiation of energy through your body equals you being stronger and less likely to get hurt.  What’s not to like about that?

TECHNIQUE

· First, for safety reasons, we begin cradling the kettlebell.  That is us lying on our sides grasping the kettlebell between interlaced fingers – seen in video above.

· From here we can safely roll over onto our back.  Extending the arm that is holding the KB and bending the knee with the same side leg.

· Once in position, get the core tight and pack your scapula.  I like using the cue spread your lats rather then pull shoulder blades back and down.  But you can use whatever gives you the best results.

· Once set, you must rotate over to your side; keep in mind you are not mindlessly rotating.  Your body must stay connected and you must rotate through your core, the whole body rotates as a segment.  To do this you must push your heels into the ground and keep your glutes tight.  This will allow you to get to your side.

· From here, maintain your tightness as your lift your leg up and over the stationary leg.

· Now, squeeze your glutes hard as if you were trying to press your pelvis into the floor.  Almost as if you were trying really hard to lay on your belly.

· Hold for a specific count or amount of breaths.  I typically do 15 seconds, but it depends on your goals here, and rationale for doing arm bars in the first place.

· Once you’re done with the rep, roll back over to your back with the same tightness you rolled over with.

· Pull the KB back to your chest.

· Roll over to the cradled position.

· BAM YOU ARE DONE!

· … Now do the other side.

Currently, the way I am inserting this exercise into my workouts is I super-set it with my bench press.  I will do this exercise before I bench so it will increase my shoulder stabilization and work on me using my lats, since the lats are a big player in a strong bench press.

You can also use this on your off days, as a warm-up or during any other part of your workout, as long as you have a reason to increase shoulder mobility, stability and strength (which will ALWAYS be the case).


How Do You Breathe?

Hellllllllllllooooooooo again everyone. I know I have been MIA. And I am sorry to scare you all off what has been a vacant website lately. I have not disappeared completely, physical therapy school has just been demanding too much of my time. I hope to be able to most more frequently. The new aim is once to twice a month. So keep that in mind a check in periodically.

Also please leave some comments on what you’ve liked, disliked and also leave some topics you wish I’d write about. It may be a perfect way for you to get some of your questions cleared up.

As for me school is going great and my knowledge is growing exponentially, so I have tons of new ideas and hope I’ll be able to drop some knowledge bombs sooner rather then later.

This brings me to what may appear to be a very odd topic of the day.

BREATHING

Every person in this world breaths thousands of times per day, so why on Earth am I trying to teach you about something so basic? What if I told you your breathing may be the cause of your neck pain, decreased energy and the reason why you can’t lift a respectable amount of weight?

Do I have your attention yet?
Good there is a lot more to breathing then you may possibly think. So lets get down to business.

There are two ways to breath, one is diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, which is when the majority of the work done for breathing is done by your diaphragm (a major player in breathing).  I know that for a lot of people the stomach is a sensitive area, and nobody wants to be pushing their belly outward, but hopefully I can help you realize the importance of good breathing, especially during exercise.

Diaphragm

You can see here how when this contracts it will push your belly outward.  

The other is called thoracic breathing (chest breathing), which is the drawing of minimal air into the lungs primarily but the use of the intercostal muscles rather then the diaphragm.

Intercostals

You can see how much smaller these muscles are, and there location is above the diaphragm causing the chest to rise rather then the belly.

Now that we have some better understanding, lets get into why one versus the other.

Lets first put into perspective, how much do we really breath?  Lets test your knowledge.

Is it A) The amount of times every girl in United States looks up a picture of Ryan Gosling

Is it B) The amount of tax dollars taken out of your paycheck in a year

Or is it C) Roughly 20,000 times.

The answer is C.  I know it was a tough question, but I bet you got it.  So we breath just about 20,000 times per day.  That is a lot, so now I hope you are starting to see the importance of  proper breathing.

THE WHY

  • Studies show that belly breathing can help reduce stress.  This is one reason why diaphragmatic breathing is used in many of the stress-relaxation techniques that are out there.  There are ties to yoga, meditation, tai chi, guided imagery and many others.  The thought here is that it helps decrease the levels of cortisol in your body.  This is THE hormone of stress.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing increases intra-abdominal pressure.  This is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE component to lifting weight.  Especially for all you aspiring strong men.  This helps stabilize the spine, and help the core musculature activate maximally allowing your strength to go through the roof, and keep you from leaving weights stuck to the ground.
  • Can increase your energy levels.  There are lots of different rationales out there about this, non that I have seen that are scientifically rooted.  I just go by this off my own experience.  Since beginning to belly breath, I have more energy throughout the day, sleep deeper and wake up earlier then I used to.  Give it a try for yourself.

THE FIX

Posture

  • Having poor posture can cause poor breathing habits, or it could be possible that poor breathing habits leads to poor posture, but this leads us to the which came first conundrum that we all heard about between chickens and eggs.  No one will ever be ever to tell you the answer, but by fixing one, you certainly have a better chance at fixing the other.  So rounded shoulder, forward head, tight pecs are all causes for you to be breathing improperly.

Exercises 

The first drill you can practice can either be a way to test how well you belly breath and/or be the first exercise that you should practice when trying to be able to belly breath.  It is as simple as this –

  • Lie on your back
  • Knees bent
  • Arms poking your obliques
  • Place a book on top of your stomach (around belly button)
  • Take a deep breath in and try to fill your stomach as far as you can

Once you can fill up your stomach with air and can watch the book rise up and down with every breath.  It is time to make things more complicated.  When it comes to lifting in order to have increased spinal stabilization, you must be able to fill your midsection 360 degrees.  So once you mastered the drill above, get into the same setup and focus on now doing this.

  • Take a deep breath, watch the book on the stomach rise
  • Feel your obliques push your fingers outwards

If you are worried about your stomach being pushed out, remember that in normal belly breathing, people won’t be able to see your stomach moving in and out, and it certainly won’t be as exaggerated as this video.

Once you can do this, consider yourself a belly breather.  You now know how to use your diaphragm to breath more deeply and you now know how to take a breath and use that breath to increase the stability of your spine.

Once you know how to breath in, its time to teach you how to breath out.  This is not so much for everyday health, but to learn how to breath out while exercising.  When exercising, we take a large deep breath before we begin the lift, as to increase spinal stability, and as we do the concentric phase of the exercise (usually the coming back up phase) we breath out.  But how do we breath out without completely losing the spinal stability we just learned how to create?  GREAT QUESTION!

  • Lie in the same setup as before (you shouldn’t need the book on your stomach by now, YOU’RE A PRO!)
  • Place a straw in your mouth
  • Take your deep breath in to fill your stomach, obliques and lower back
  • Then as you breath out, breath out through the straw.  The goal being to get out all the air you inspired (that is the hard part).

Thanks Tim for participating in this video, now everyone can see how sexy you breath

Once you got this down your ready to incorporate this into your exercises, and by now belly breathing should be a perfectly natural thing.  Just remember when breathing during your lifts, especially with heavy weights, you don’t want to completely get rid of all your air, you want to get rid on 3/4 of it so you can use that remaining 1/4 to maintain spinal stability.


Are You Training Too Hard?

jamaica-beachesI just got back from beautiful Jamaica, yes the country… not Jamaica, Queens. The weather was perfect, the people were extremely friendly and there were just a few too many cocktails to be had.  But as much fun as I had, this vacation came at a perfect time in my training program.

With today’s Cross-fits and all these insanities and P90 X, many of us get into a state of over training.  We push our bodies to the limit too often, too much and too hard.

Now before you go calling me a pansy, I am not saying do not work hard.  What I am saying is that we must be methodical with how we work out.  We need to know when to turn it up, and when to take a step back, so we don’t over work our central nervous system.  This has many benefits, one is you will have more energy for your workouts, and for life.  And 2, you will help prevent injury by not exercising in a fatigued state, allowing your body to function at its most optimal level.  And finally, you won’t plateau as often or as long and you do now.

Now of course there are other stresses in our lives besides exercise.  We have relationships, jobs, school, bills, enemies, etc.  Whatever our stresses are can really affect your body, and your workouts.

So here is a very simple way to know what days you should be working out hard, and which days you should take a step back, or maybe even the day off.  Base your training routine around your heart rate.

EKG

Now I know many of you right now are like, what are you crazy? That is so much work; I do not even know how to take heart rate.

Well my good friends let me simplify this for you.

If you have a smart phone, download an app called Instant Heart Rate. It measures your heart rate through the flash in your camera. And it works pretty well, I manually did my own and my girlfriend Jen’s heart rates directly after measuring it through the phone.  They are usually only one beat per minute off, which is pretty remarkable.

So, the first thing you need to do is take a week off from the gym, or just go on vacation like I did.  Then while off, every day measure your heart rate at the same time of day, every day.  This will allow you to get a stress free baseline, so you know what your heart rate is at the most relaxed state.  It is best to do it when you wake up, before you get out of bed, as this is the most accurate.  But if you decide to wait until mid-day, make sure you sit down for five minutes before you take your heart rate.  Keep in mind that mid-day will almost always be higher than it is in the morning.  My heart rate in the AM can be around 50 beats per minute, but in the evening can be around 64-65 beats per minute.  So just keep this in mind when using this method.

So to the methodology.

Once you have your baseline.  You are to measure your heart rate every morning.  It takes all of about five seconds of your life, so it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.  If your heart rate is in the ball park range of your baseline, go as heavy, as crazy, or as hard as you would like.

If your heart rate is about 10-15% higher than the baseline, you may want to take it easy that day.  Tone down the amount of weight that you would lift, or instead of doing a high intensity workout, you can do some moderate intensity weight lifting.

P.S, you will quickly see that if you do a very high intensity workout like that of cross fit or insanity, that you will have a very high jump in heart rate from one day to the next.  So it’s usually a good idea to take the next day off, or plan something easier than usual.

If your heart rate is over 15% higher than your baseline heart rate, I would take the day off.  This will keep your body fresh and your mind sharp both in the gym and outside.  If you follow this principle, you will lose more weight, put on more muscle and prevent injury as your hormonal levels will be more balanced, and your nervous system will always be fresh and ready to go.

Try this technique out and let me know what you think, it worked great for me. My dead-lift went up 50 pounds in a month; bench went up 20 and squats 40.  So have fun with it, and watch the results pour in.


THE BIG 5 – The Final Saga Push-up/Bench part II

Happy New Year everybody.  I can already see that the new year equals a new me campaign has started for many as the gym I work out at “The Matrix” (no relation to the movie) is getting more and more crowded by the day.  On an even more awesome note, I will be in sunny Jamaica next week, relaxing and getting off the stress of the school year.

Also a very special thank you to Frank Duffy for being the poster boy of this blog.

In my last post, we talked all about the bench press, and as usual I ranted on for a while and left no room for the push-up.  The push-up is one of my favorite exercises, and is one that is butchered very often everywhere I turn.  People’s backs sag, or shoulders round, heads fly fowrard and for some reason, everyone forgets what full range of motion is.  But after this post, hopefully I won’t feel the need to bleach my eyes when I go home after seeing all the horrific techniques that I come across in the gym.

Let us begin with the setup;

  • I like to begin this exercise in a quadruped position, that is on your hands and knees.
  • From here, we are going to pull the ribs down, and pull the scapula onto the ribcage.  (Try thinking of pulling your shoulder blades down towards your hips.  And remember DO NOT squeeze your shoulder blades together, but pull your arm pits towards your hips).
  • Then extend both legs out one by one, and as you do squeeze your but cheeks as hard as you can.

image

Once set up, your body should be in a straight line, looking much like the plank we covered way back when in my earlier post on core strength.  Once setup, we can get to the niddy griddy of the push-up.
image

TECHNIQUE

  1. Set-up as stated above.
  2. Use your scapula to pull yourself down to the ground.  You do not just want to drop here.  You want to keep stiff throughout your entire body, and physically row yourself to the ground. 
  3. Once you get about a fists distance from the floor explode back up to the starting position.  Meaning that at the top the ribs are still down, and scapula are on the ribcage.
  4. Repeat

Now that we all know how to do a push-up lets talk its benefits.

STABILIZATION – One of my favorite advantages to the push-up is not the fact that it helps develop the upper body, but that it helps with scapula stability, anterior core strength and to some degree help teach proper hip and knee extension.

What is the benefit to improved stabilization, well for one, it will help you lift heavier weights in almost all of your other lifts.  Improved stability gives you a better base to push or pull from, so in returns all your major lifts like bench, dead-lift and squats get better.

INCREASED MUSCLE MASS – The push-up develops the chest, triceps, shoulders on top of those stabilizer muscles.  This will help give both men and women that added tone and definition that every person in this world strives for.

VERSATILITY – The great thing about push-ups is there are so many variations of push-ups that you can never get bored of them.  And they should almost always be in your program regardless the goal.  If its strength you can always add resistance to yourself, if your body weight is too light.  If the goal is endurance you can just do max reps and try to do as many as possible in a time frame or in a set range.  You can manipulate the foot position to help make it harder or easier.

Seems a lot more complicated now doesn’t it.  Some people with some coaching can have great push-ups, some other people just don’t have the strength.  So what can we do if we lack strength?

THE PUSH-UP PROGRAM

If you struggle to do push-ups, the first stage would be to do elevated push-ups.

The first thing you really need is good back strength and stability.  Set your focus on many scap push-ups as well as horizontal rowing.  Lots of TRX rows, bent over rows, one arm rows etc…  The stronger and more stable we are from the back the better our base for pushing becomes.

The second thing you need is good anterior core strength, so lots of planks, dead-bugs, roll outs etc…  If you are unfamiliar with any of these, or all of these refer to my core strength blog here.

Now you can work on all these things along with your push-up strength all at the same time.

Go to a smith machine, set the bar at the appropriate height that will allow for good technique, but also challenges you strength wise.  The elevation decreases the amount of stabilization required to perform the lift, so it will make it easier.  As you get stronger at a particular height, make sure you decrease the height so you can continually challenge yourself and get stronger.

As you get stronger, test your push-up strength from a kneeling position.  The technique for all this exercise is the same as above.  The only difference is we are on our knees.  So remember to make sure that we do not stick our butts in the air, and that our lower backs don’t sag.  These are the two most common mistake that I see.

Once you can do 3 sets of 10 from a kneeling position, test your push-up and see how you do.  Chances are at this point you can get 3/4 of the way down, any lower and you won’t be able to get up.

From here things get trickier.  Now its time to make sure we build a little extra strength.  We can do negatives at this point so we can work on really learning to squeeze those blades the entire way down.

To do negatives, get into your push-up position as stated above.  Once locked in row yourself to the floor slowly, taking about 5 seconds to get all the way down.  Once at the bottom, get up however you can, and repeat.  We are all stronger in the eccentric phase (down phase) then we are in the concentric phase (up phase).  So we will take advantage of this.

We also need to build chest strength in the up phase at the same time, so dumbbell presses or bench press can be a very useful exercise.  Even for you ladies.  So refer back to my post last week on the bench press.  As you get stronger with these lifts, it will make it much easier for you to push yourself up from the bottom position.

Sample Program:

Exercise

Sets

Reps

1a

Inverted Row

3

x10

1b

Smith Machine Push-ups

3

x10

1c

Plank

3

3 (10) second holds

2a

One Arm Row

3

x10 ea

2b

Side Plank

3

x10

2c

Scap-push-ups

3

x10

Exercise

Sets

Reps

1a

Push-ups from knees

3

x10

1b

Scap-push-ups

3

x10

1c

Stability Ball Rollouts

3

x10

2a

Bent Over Row

3

X8

2b

Paloff Press

3

x10

2c

Negatives

3

x6 5 sec. decent

Exercise

Sets

Reps

1a

Weighted Negatives (weight plate on your back)

3

x6

1b

Inverted Row

3

x12

1c

Dead Bug

3

x10 ea

2a

Bench Press

3

X6

2b

One Arm Row

3

x10 ea

2c

Plank

3

3 (10) sec holds

I hope that this helps those of you who want to be able to do push-ups, or want to do more push-ups.  Please leave feedback on how this post helped you!


The Big Five – The Final Saga: Push-ups/Bench

Mayan

I hope everyone has some Happy Holidays, and also are thankful that we survived the horrific end of the Mayan calendar.  Now that we all made it past the apocalypse, its time to stop letting ourselves go and get back into shape.  Again, it has been a long time since I put up a blog post, and it is time to end the saga of the “Big Five.”

THE BIG FIVE -THE BENCH PRESS.

Just about every guy in this world wants to have a bigger bench.  It is part of that XY gene every man carries.

The bench press is one of my weaker exercises, and because of this I had to work extra hard in order to push heavy weight. Through my hard work I have learned a trick or two along the way that can help take your bench to the next level.  But before we get to the tricks of the bench, we must first talk about technique.  This is the ground work to building a big bench, and many times just changing the technique can add a few pounds to your bench instantly:

heavy-bench-press

TECHNIQUE

  • Once lying on your back, place your hands on the bar slightly wider than your shoulders’ width.
  • Place your feet behind your knees, so that only your toes can touch the floor (you need this so you can drive your feet hard into the floor).
  • Squeeze your glutes hard, and try to pull your pockets apart (this will help you lock your glutes even tighter).
  • Pull your rib cage down to activate your core musculature.
  • Pack the scaps and pull the bar off the rack.

That was just for the set-up, now for the actual lift:

  • Pull the bar down to your chest as if you were doing a row.  You want to have full scapular retraction at the bottom.
  • As you are about to drive the bar back up, drive your heels to the ground (your heels should NOT touch the ground, your heels should only get closer to the floor.
  • Drive your shoulders into the bench and push hard towards the ceiling.
  • Make sure you maintain all the cues above in the set-up through-out the entire range of motion and through-out every rep completed.

Why make the bench technique so complicated?

Well for starters, force production starts from the ground up.  If you want to lift maximal weight, you must push hard through the floor to help increase force production.  The same reason we drive our shoulder blades into the bench as we push the weight up.

The scaps stayed packed so the chest musculature can perform its role maximally.  If we shrug or let our shoulders round out at the top we use other muscles to assist in the lift making us weaker rather then stronger. For you guys who are naturally strong and are lifting over 315 with bad technique, imagine how much you can bench if you use good technique and follow these techniques.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in the bench press is dropping the bar to their chest. You MUST, I will repeat this: YOU MUST have tension in your back through out the entire range of motion.  Your body is like a rubber band.  Your body stores energy within it so you can use it later.  The best example of this is you can jump higher with a running start then you could from a stand still.  By pulling down you will allow greater eccentric loading on the body, so when it comes time for the concentric portion, the weight will just explode off your chest.  This may take some time to get adjusted to, but it will surely pay off in the long run if you get the movement down pack.

BENEFITS TO THE BENCH PRESS

  1. Increased Muscle Mass – Every guy wants big pecs.  It is aesthetically pleasing, and will earn you respect from all around you.  Plus it will allow you become Mr. Romeo and help you get that lady you’ve been eying.
  2. Increased Strength – Both men and women can benefit from increased strength.  The compound movement of the bench press will help increase chest strength, tricep strength, and to a small degree, back strength (mostly in a stabilizing role).
  3. Improved Athletic Performance – This is something you will hear a lot, from a lot of people.  I am not a big believer in this.  Yes, you will be stronger, but how will that really affect you on the court or field? Probably not too much.  Dead-lifts and squats will help you a lot more with that.  But I definitely think that if you have a big bench, you most likely will have pretty big numbers in all your other lifts and also, for many athletes, it is a confidence thing.  When you bench big, you feel better about yourself and from a psycho-social standpoint can help increase a players’ performance by increasing their so-called “swag” on the field.

Improving Your Bench

Once you have the technique down, it’s time to get stronger.  There are quite a few ways we can go about that.

First, and what I personally believe to be the best way, is to increase your back strength and stability. I feel that almost everybody who attempts the bench press falls flat here.  With a weak back, there is no anchor for the pecs to work through.  This will cause energy to be lost through the chain causing missed pounds off the bar.  Here are some assistance exercises that can be used to improve scapular stability and back strength:

Scapular Stability

Scap Push-ups:

This is an exercise that is botched up quite often, but when done correctly can help with shoulder problems, and can help build us the stability needed to bench.  The scap push-up helps with upward rotation of the scapula as well as helps us get the scapula to sit on the rib cage better by targeting the serratus anterior.

To do a scap push-up get into a push-up position.  Get your core really tight by driving your belly button towards your chest, squeezing your glutes and drive your toes towards your knees.  Once set up, the movement is very simple – just pull your shoulder blades towards your feet.  YOU ARE NOT TO SQUEEZE YOUR SHOULDER BLADES TOGETHER.  All you are doing is squeezing your arm pit.  Your shoulders should move down towards your feet, and not together.  And you should not move.  Your body should pretty much be in the same position as you started, just your scaps pulled lower.  Once you get a good squeeze let the arm pits go and repeat.

Back Strength

In order to increase back strength, one should work both bilaterally and unilaterally.

Inverted Row

This is one of my favorites; it is just like an upside down push-up.  You can use either a TRX or a smith machine to do these.

To do an inverted row, just set up in a TRX or smith machine; grab the bar or handles and step underneath your hands.  Your position should be the front of your body facing the ceiling.  Once here, you will row yourself to the top so that the bottom of your chest touches the bar, (or by your ribs if your using a TRX).  Make sure your elbows go out, and your shoulder blades come together.

One Arm Row

Set up on a bench with the same side leg and arm resting on the bench.  The other leg and arm are off the bench, the leg on the floor so you can push through it.  Use the free arm to grab the weight and row it to your ribs.  Making sure again the chest is out, elbows are out and you slide your scapula towards your spine.

Stay tuned for part 2 that will discuss the push-up.