Archive for September, 2008

Curbing diet induced depression

September 28, 2008

When it comes to diet, conventional wisdom dictates that weightloss is derived burning more fuel than you consume. Unfortunately, reality can be quite another matter.

In my experience as a trainer, the two exceptions to this rule are those who underachieve by refusing to diet and those who overachieve by starving themselves.

While the path to weightloss is simple for the first (eat less and exercise more), the situation for chronic dieters is much harder to stomach.

But before I continue, tell me if this sounds familiar: you regularly consume less than 1000 calories per day while running and exercising countless hours without shedding a pound. In fact, you may have actually gain weight despite eating barley anything at all.

If this rings a bell, you have succumb to what I call the two week rule: if you haven’t lost weight for over two weeks, your metabolism has slowed to forego starvation.

While the obvious solution would seem to do more and eat less, this only tightens the screws on your problem. Consuming starvation level calories for months or years on end literally conditions the body to survive by holding on to fat.

Throw in symptoms such as depression, irritability and insomnia which result from overtraining and you have a recipe for disaster. So what do you do?

When logic fails to explain your problem, try doing the opposite: eat more and exercise less. While this may seem a painful process, the only true way to reset your metabolism is to convince your body starvation has ended.

But this doesn’t have to mean gaining fat-though you may gain some muscle. By following a few sensible recommendations, you can turn your problem in to a lifetime progress.

Step #1: Calm down:

First of all, don’t panic-at least if you can help it. Feelings such as overwhelming anxiety, depression, and are irritability are telltale sign of high cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that triggers the body’s “fight or flight” instinct in order to respond to the threat of starvation. By causing the subject to be alert to possible danger, this hormone is the source of both anxiety and insomnia alike.

In this way, numerous cases of chronic depression and anxiety cases can be attributed to starvation dieting. With this in mind, the first step in rehabbing for weightloss is simply finding something you enjoy-outside of dieting.

In one study conducted at the Loma Linda University’s Center for Neuroimmunology in California, a group of men who watched a humorous video were shown to have 30% less cortisol in their blood and significantly lower levels of another stress hormone, epinephrine, during and after the tape compared with a group that sat quietly.

Exploring interests new and old to aids in developing enjoyable passtimes which can take the place of food. Choose activities which occur on a regular basis helps to develop a support mechanism around individuals of shared interest. Some suggestions include:

  • Team sports
  • Yoga/pilates
  • Comedy class

Step #2: Let your body do the talking

After long periods of diet, the first step in healthy eating is learning to listen to distinguish between physical and emotional cravings.

Physical cravings grow worse over time, while emotional cravings occur in response to stress and generally subside after a short time.

With this in mind, wait 5-10 minutes before acting on a craving. True signals of hunger from your stomach may include growls, pangs, or hollow feelings. Hunger cravings also come with fogginess, fatigue and an inability to concentrate.

On the other hand, you may not be hungry at all-or only during periods of stress. This is a sure sign that your metabolism has slowed. But by establishing regular meal times, the body will more accurately signal when it needs fuel.

Step #3: Penciling in your diet:

Just like any appointment, setting regular meal times will structure hunger cravings around your schedule. In logical order, this means eating in a larger breakfast consisting of high fiber and calories, followed by smaller high fiber snacks and tapering calories off throughout the day.

Because it can be difficult to eat every 3-4 hours, simply boost your calories in meals before and after to compensate. For example, if you are stuck in a meeting during the morning, include more fiber and calories in your breakfast to stay satiated until lunch.

But rather than sticking to a specific number of calorie, simply eat until satiety is reached at each meal by consuming high fiber, low calorie foods. A list of such foods can be found here:

Step #4: Re-introducing carbohydrates:

One issue many dieters face is rapid weight gain after going back to normal food. The problem is that extreme diets condition the body to accept only what it knows, but gradually introducing a variety of food gives us options without fear of fat.

The easiest way to do so is by choosing specific days to reintroduce food. This is done by eating low carb for most of the week and choosing one to two days per week with the goal of consuming only starchy carbohydrates. These carbs signal the brain to produce hormones which calm the nerves and fight insomnia.

Some good choices include:

  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oatmeal
  • Low sugar cereals

A rule of thumb is to add one starchy carb day per week until your mood has noticeably improved. During periods of diet, maintaining at least one carb day also helps to fight hunger and keep the mood steady.

Step #5: Taking exercise in stride:

Along with starvation dieting often comes many hours on the treadmill or elliptical. But as the body adapt to this form of exercise, long duration, aerobic cardio greatly increase the demand on an overly stressed body. After several weeks, this repetitive exercise burns fewer calories while contributing to depression, fatigue and insomnia by increasing stress hormone production.

In order to reestablish normal metabolism, my suggestion is to shake things up be replacing aerobic cardio with intensity. Studies have shown that high intensity interval training can burn up to twice the calories of an aerobic cardio session over the course of the day.

Because fat is only used as an energy source when we are at rest, this form of exercise will assist in raising metabolism. With this in mind, try this simple workout:

  • Choose four intense exercises which work multiple muscle groups
  • Perform each exercise for one minute and move on to the next
  • Perform two to three rounds per workout
  • Perform this workout two to three days per week
  • Suggested exercises include: squats, lunges, push ups.

The goal of this routine is to completely fatigue the body in a four minute cycle. While this workout will require extra calories for recovery, it’s brief nature will not cause the same stress as long duration cardio.

After a period of 2-3 weeks, gradually reintroduce traditional cardio one to two days per week. From this point forward, cycling these two modalities every few weeks will ensure a variety of weightloss stimuli.

  • Week #1-3: Intervals only
  • Week #3-6: Cardio only
  • Week #6-9: Mix and match

Week #1-8 summary:

  • Eat based upon your hunger
  • Drop regular cardio for interval training
  • Schedule meal times, but don’t count calories
  • Incorporate at least 1 high carb day per week
  • Find a passtime that can fill down time when cravings occur

Fatloss tip of the day: extreme burpees

September 17, 2008

In spite of the hot Florida sun, many of my clients choose to enjoy the metabolic techniques we utilize at our studio while enjoying the outdoors.

One of my favorite full body fat burners is the burpee, which involves exploding from a push up to a jumping position. While this time tested movements can be used to burn fat like a blow torch, they can also be used for purposes of evil.

Working out on the road

September 15, 2008

After a long day on the road, there is nothing quite like a great workout to get the blood flowing– except of course when you are confined to a pint sized hotel room with nothing more than a bed and bible for equipment.

For even this most dedicated gym goer, this scenario can wreck havoc on your goals. And because so many of my clients fall in to this category, I have been challenged to create a program that utilizes bodyweight movements in minimal space.

The program consists of “speed days” which raises resting metabolism and teaches the nervous system to efficiently recruit muscle fibers along with “slow days” in which your muscles are held under tension until muscular failure.

By manipulating these key factors in fitness, this program can be configured for virtually any goal. For fat burning, simply include an extra speed day or vice versa for muscle building.

Combined with a weekend weighted workout, this program can be modified to build muscle, drop fat and fulfill cardio requirements– simply include an extra speed day for fat loss or vice versa for muscle building.

Program summary:

  • Three full bodyweight workouts
  • Three exercises per day
  • Speed days: Rapid movements designed to raise metabolism and improve coordination.
  • Slow days: Slow movements intended to build and tone muscle.
  • Fat burning: Do 1 slow day and two fast days.
  • Muscle building: Do one fast day and two slow days.

Day #1: Speed day:

Studies have shown speed of movement to be a key variable in the activation of muscle fibers. With this in mind, one method of optimally fatiguing a muscle is to move as quickly as possible.

When it comes to building muscle, speed based movements are always best performed on Monday when the muscles and nervous system are fresh. The first workout of the week utilizes a technique known as step-downs, which pairs three exercises together in a rep range of ten.

The goal is to select three exercises (upper/lower body and core) and perform ten reps of each back to back as quickly as possible. After completing one circuit, “Step down” to nine reps of each exercise and keep moving down the ladder until you hit zero.

Suggested Movements:

  • Push ups
  • Squat jumps
  • Plank to push up

* Perform ten reps of each exercise and step down to one as quickly as possible

Day #2: Slow Day

Another method of efficiently activating your muscles is simply holding in a contracted position. Known as an isometric contraction, this technique forces the muscle to activates additional fibers to maintain it’s contraction.

An example would be lowering in to a half push up position and holding for ten seconds. While this may seem a simple task, the burning you feel in your muscles after several seconds indicates the power of this technique.

With this in mind, the purpose of slow day is to maximally fatigue the muscle by combining isometric contraction with traditional repetitions. This is accomplished through a technique known as rest-pause contractions.

Start by picking three exercises as described above for ten reps. But instead of performing each as quickly as possible, the goal is to include an isometric pause to increase the muscle’s time under tension.

The twist is that you will match each rep with an isometric pause of corresponding length. For example, perform one rep and then include a pause of one second, then perform two reps and pause of two seconds repeating this sequence until you get to ten. It is important to note that the pause comes only after performing each total of reps-rather than after each rep.

Suggested Movements:

  • Push ups- pause in a half push up position
  • Squat jumps- pause in half squat position
  • Plank to push up- pause on the elbows

* Perform ten reps of each exercise and step down to one as quickly as possible

Staying sane on a diet

September 11, 2008

Based upon personal experience, I have long believed that low carb diets drive you crazy. Without carbs, I feel sluggish, tired and barley able to concentrate or string a sentence together.

But despite personal bias (I love carbs), I have learned my difficulties were likely not only due to the absence of carbs, but rather dehydration.

When it comes to mental health, your brain is like a sponge– growing and thriving on water (and information) Water makes up approximately 85% of the total weight of our brains and a drop of even 5-10% below normal levels can cause a slew of mental and emotional problems.

Because the body sheds water rapidly in the absence of carbs, it is important to drink more water while dieting. Unfortunately this is somewhat contrary to the weightloss goals of most dieters.

So how much water does the brain require per day?

  • The Institute of Medicine advises that men consume roughly 3.0 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day and women consume 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day.
  • The average urine output for adults is 1.5 liters a day. You lose close to an additional liter of water a day through breathing, sweating and bowel movements.
  • Food usually accounts for 20 percent of your total fluid intake, so if you consume 2 liters of water or other beverages a day (a little more than 8 cups) along with your normal diet, you will typically replace the lost fluids.

How much fluid should you consume before/after exercise?

  • How much additional fluid is needed depends on how much you sweat during the exercise, but 13 to 26 ounces (or about 2 to 3 cups) an hour will generally be adequate, unless the weather is exceptionally warm.
  • But while water intake is vital daily function, this doesn’t have to come from the tap. Foods which are high in water weight-fruits, and vegetables for example-can provide a significant portion of fluid needs. While these foods are high in water, they are generally very low in calories and make an excellent snack.
  • For more information, check out this list (

html) of water rich foods.

Getting your daily fix:

Much like water, exercise, restrictive dieting, and the hot Florida sun (due to sweating) causes the body to shed essential vitamins and nutrients. Essential nutrients
are those nutrients derived from food that the body is unable to manufacture on its own.

These are mandatory for human life and include, of the following, at least eight
amino acids, thirteen vitamins and fifteen minerals. A complete list can be found
here (

If you find yourself irritable, craving or unable to concentrate normally, chances
are you are deficient in at least one of these nutrients.

With this in mind, included below is a list those most likely to be deficient and
foods in which they can be found:

1. Fish Oil: Perhaps the most important nutrient for cardiovascular health,
Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, relax blood vessels, and reduce
blood clotting. A deficiency in this nutrient vastly increases the risk of
cardiovascular disease, depression, obesity and certain types of cancer.

Daily requirement: 2-4 grams

Sources: Fatty fish (Salmon, tuna), walnuts, soy beans, tofu,Cruciferous
vegetables, (cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprout)

Supplements: Fish oil tablets

2. Vitamin B: A complex of eight vitamin B vitamins worked together to boost metabolism, enhance the immune system and nervous system. Vitamin B
depletion can lead to cognitive and emotional problems.

Daily requirements: 0.5-1.5 mg per day

Sources: Dairy (eggs, mil), breakfast cereals, fish, meat.

Supplements: Vitamin B complex

3. Vitamin D: Vitamin D regulates bone growth and density.People with low
levels of vitamin D may have an elevated risk for heart disease and stroke along with
decreased bone density.

Daily requirements: 5000 IU per day

Sources: Milk, Fatty fish, 10-15 minutes of daily sun exposur

Supplements: Cod Liver oil, Vitamin D supplement

4. Anti-oxidants: Antioxidants protect our bodies from free radicals that can damage DNA and cause premature aging. Low carb diets can generate dangerous free radicals
and cause damage in blood vessels cells.

Daily requirements: vitamin C 90 mg/day, Vitamin E 15 mg/day, Selenium 55 micrograms/day

Sources: Fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes

Supplements: green tea extract, grape seed extract, Vitamins C, E, and Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Food for thought: knowing your rights

September 6, 2008

As a personal trainer, part of my role is to educate clients on healthy decisions. Although these traditionally encompass exercise and diet, much talk around our gym lately has revolved around healthcare.

By 2025, over 100 million Americans will be over the age of 65, while spiraling healthcare costs will leave a good majority of these individuals without healthcare insurance.

With the 2008 elections just around the corner, some propose universal healthcare as a solution to this issue, while others feel this will result in greater costs and lesser return on investment. So where do the candidates stand on the issue?

To clarify the truths from the heresy, Listed below are a few key points (and differences) from the healthcare plans of both John Mccain and Barack Obama:

John McCain: Improved freedom of choice and competition:

  • A new national healthcare exchange in which state borders are eliminated and healthcare plans can freely compete on national level. This increased competition would likely lead to more lower rates and improved coverage for consumers.
  • Every family will receive a direct refundable tax credit – effectively cash – of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of insurance. Families will be able to choose the insurance provider that suits them best and the money would be sent directly to the insurance provider.
  • Those obtaining innovative insurance that costs less than the credit can deposit the remainder in expanded Health Savings Accounts.
  • Allowing states more freedom to regulate healthcare by developing a best practice model – a Guaranteed Access Plan or GAP – that would regulate healthcare premiums and insurance fair competition.
  • Allowing Medicaid and SCHIP funds to be used for private insurance and develop methods to augment Medicaid and tax credits for more expensive care.

Myth: McCain’s plan will raise drug prices by restricting the ability to purchase generic drugs

Fact: McCain supports greater competition to our drug markets by safe re-importation of drugs, by faster introduction of generic drugs, or by any other means.


Barack Obama: Universal government healthcare:

  • A new Public National Health Plan, similar to the coverage available to federal employees. These plans will be available to all Americans, regardless of their health status, for an affordable premium. Copays and deductibles will be kept to a minimum, and subsidies may be available for low-income individuals.
  • A new National Health Insurance Exchange to help Americans find private insurance plans. The Exchange will regulate insurance plans to ensure that they meet the same standards as the Public National Health Plan.
  • A new business mandate that will require businesses to contribute toward the cost of the Public National Health Plan
  • An individual mandate for children
  • Increased support for existing safety net programs, such as Medicaid and SCHIP
  • Tax incentives for preventative healthcare programs (worksite wellness, smoking cessation, etc)

Myth: All Americans would be required to purchase universal healthcare insurance:

Fact: Unlike the plan originally proposed by Senator Hillary Clinton, who would require all Americans to obtain health coverage, Obama only mandates coverage for children. Adults are encouraged, but not required, to obtain coverage under his proposal.

Learn more at:

Office cures for chronic stiffness

September 1, 2008

You feel it in your bones, it goes with you to work and it is eve with you when you sleep. But despite a lifelong bond, your relationship has only become more painful.

For those of you still curious, I am referring to chronic stiffness and much like an unforgiving spouse, it seems we have all spent hours of toil (counseling or stretching) on the issue with little outcome.

The problem for many is not in the effort, but the fact that most stretching techniques

simply don’t work to cure stiffness. The good news is that it is possible to soothe inflexible muscles with a few simple movements– the key word here is movement because they require motion versus static stretching.

Diagnosing your problem:

Before seeking treatment for “tight” muscles, it is important to diagnose the cause your inflexibility.

Muscles which are stiff have simply built up a resistance to movement. This comes as opposed to muscle shortness, in which the muscle has actually lost length and thus the ability to move through a full range of motion. So how do you tell the difference?

Try placing your hand on your stiff muscle while moving it’s corresponding body part through it’s available range of motion. For example, squeeze your bicep while bending the arm. Was the arm able to move through the full range of motion as compared to your other side? Did the bicep strongly contract? Generally this can be compared to your other limb/side to test range of motion.

If the range of motion is limited or the muscle doe not activate strongly, chances are your muscle has been shortened. In this situation– which is significantly different from stiffness-holding a traditional static stretch at the end range of motion for around 15-20 minutes creates a strong enough signal to add muscle length.

Done over a period of 3-4 weeks, end range stretching once per day can greatly improve ROM in chronically shortened bodyparts.

Both caused by remaining in prolonged positions (hunching forward in a chair, laying on one side in bed, etc), stiffness is the early forbearer of shortness. But the best cure for this problem is not holding still, but rather moving the muscles through a full range of motion.

Getting with the plan:

One common misconception amongst new exercise seekers is that strength training builds chronic stiffness. But if your idea of stretching is reaching to hit the snooze button come Monday, try comparing all the hours spent seated during the week versus working out in the gym.

If you spend more than three hours seated perhaps, exercises which work the muscles through the full range of motion (strength training) are among the best ways to combat years of accumulated stiffness. If you have already determined which muscles are stiff versus short, the best plan for attack for curing stiffness are dynamic (moving) stretches.

Much like hinges on a door, certain joints built for movement (hips, ankles and midback) so focus should be placed on these areas of the body. This will in turn eliminate stiffness and/or pain in areas such as the knees and low back that often bear the load for these areas.

With this in mind, included below is a head to toe mobility routines which focuses on decreased stiffness. In the beginning, this sequence should be performed on a daily basis to decrease stiffness and 1-3 days thereafter depending on your age-shoot to add a day of mobility work with each decade of age.

Ankle tilts:

  • Begin in a neutral stance keeping most of your weight on the lunging leg
  • Make sure toes are facing straight ahead of both feet
  • Step out in to a lateral lunge and tilt the non-lunging foot to roll the inside of the ankle along the floor
  • Perform 10 rep and hold each for 2-3 seconds

Ankle circles:

  • Lift one leg in front of you and perform circles clockwise/counterclockwise
  • Concentrate on feeling the movement at the ankle bone-rather than the toes.
  • The key to hitting different parts of the ankle is to perform this drill with the toes pointed in various positions: toes pointed down in/out/straight, toes pointed up in/out/straight
  • Perform 15-20 circles in each directions

Hip circles:

  • Begin in a neutral stance and lift one leg in front of your body
  • Keep the heel of the stance leg on the ground and pelvis straight and level
  • Do circles clockwise/counterclockwise with the active leg
  • Perform 15-20 circles in each directions.

Pelvic tilt/circles

  • Bend knees slightly while leaning back on the heels
  • Place hands on your hips and draw the navel in to the stomach to activate the abdominals
  • Push the pelvis forward and backwards making sure to use the hip rather than the legs
  • Perform 15-20 circles/tilts in all directions.
  • Repeat this motion in a counter clockwise/counterclockwise rotation

Spinal glides:

  • Begin sitting in a neutral position with one leg elevated
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale while rounding the midback
  • Inhale and reverse this motion by lifting your sternum forward and up
  • This movement is coming from the midback, so be certain to keep the low back as still as possible.
  • Perform 10 rep and hold each for 2-3 seconds

Neck glides:

  • Begin seated with the head and upper back straight (versus slouched forward)
  • While keeping the chin level, move the head and neck back and forth
  • This movement should come from the neck, so be certain to keep the shoulders, chest and mid-back still
  • Perform 10 rep and hold each for 2-3 seconds

Exercise recovery from alcohol

September 1, 2008

Say it’s a Friday night and you go straight from work (the gym) straight to the bar. Several shots later, your having a great time, but what has become of your muscles?

Several studies have found that alcohol intoxication leads to elevated cortisol, a stress hormone, levels in the blood stream. While this chemical raises as a stress reaction to strength training, this affect is significantly prolonged by alcohol.

On top of alcohol’s normal affect on mood, It is thought that cortisol can lead to increasing anxiety and impulsive behavior for up to twenty four hours after exercise. The other major affect of cortisol is to promote the
breakdown of protein as an energy source.

Those with increased cortisol levels are therefore predisposed to using muscle versus fat or carbs for fuel. This is a bad thing when we are talking about building or toning muscle mass.

So how much alcohol does it take to achieve this effect? Most researchers agree that alcohol consumption over 1 gram per bodyweight can result in elevated cortisol levels. To put this in perspective, twelve ounces of average American beer contains 13.9 grams of alcohol, while 5 ounces of red wine contains 15 grams of alcohol (a full listing can be found here:

This is around ten beers a 150lbs male and four for a 120lbs woman. Over time, the extra calories from alcohol consumption and chronically elevated coritsol levels contribute to visceral (or the kind that causes cardiovascular disease) fat to build up around the internal organs (in addition to killer hangovers).

But while a night of partying may be unavoidable, exercise can go a long way to protecting the body against excess alcohol consumption. Beginning the day after, lets review a systematic plan for recovery.

Day #1: The morning after:

After a long night of drinking, the focus the day after is on recovery. In particular, research has shown that moderate aerobic exercise-walking, light elliptical work, etc-improves blood flow to the muscles and restores circulation after a long night of drinking.

With this in mind, the best cure for a hangover may be 30-45 minutes of moderate walking or a steady aerobic activity. Because carbohydrates are easy to digest aid in absorbing alcohol, your diet on this day should consist of moderate GI foods calories such as oats, sweet potatoes and brown rice with very little protein or fiber.

Day #2-3: Progressive resistance:

Because alcohol is addictive in nature, it is important to gradually include the intense of exercise to stimulate the release of endorphins to counter the desire for binge drinking.

Two days after a binge, this can consist of a simple circuit of exercises:

1. Bodyweight pushups- 3 x 10
2. Chair squats- 3 x 10
3. Floor back extensions- 3 x 10
4. Jumping jacks- 3 x 60 secs

* Perform these exercises back to back with 90 seconds rest in between circuits.

The goal at this stage is to raise heart rate to speed disposal of excess alcohol from the body and begin burning off any fat accumulation. This process can be aided by gradually decreasing your carbohydrates over this period.

Once this excess has been cleared, day #4 consists of 45-60 minutes of light jogging or high speed walking to kick your fat burning process in to high gear.

For this workout, pick a hill or elevated surface wearing a weighted vest, carrying dumbbells or other heavy objects to increase the calorie demand.

Day #4-5: Cranking up the volume:

By the middle of the week, your body has had time to fully recover. Now is time to crank up the volume in the ramp up to the weekend. This is accomplished by what I call volume multiplication– or doubling the volume from the previous two days exercise. For strength training, this means performing twice the number of sets and reps as the previous days workout.

For cardio, interval training once again sets the body up for fat burning:

Walk- 35 minutes at 2.5-4.0 mph
Interval- 30 seconds sprint every two minutes.

* Perform this scheme for 45-60 minutes in total.

Carbohydrates on day #4 should once again increase to around 150-200 moderate GI grams to replenish the muscles after a low carb cycle. Day #6 should consisting of fibrous veggies only to ensure ideal fat burning.

Day #6-7: Setting the stage:

As the weekend rolls in, rest and relaxation with a diet low in carbs are the keys to prepare your body for action. Assuming either night is the date of debauchery, the idea is to budget your calories to accommodate alcohol and minimize fat gain.

This day should once again consist of a low carb diet of high fiber carbs such as fruits and vegetables. Abundant in vitamins and minerals, the fiber in these foods will fill the stomach and ensure the body is well fortified against a possible hangover.

Alcohol plan recap Diet Exercise
Day #1 High carbs (rice, yams, oats) Slow walking (30-45 mins)
Day #2 Moderate carbs (rice, yams, oats) Circuit training
Day #3 Low carbs (fibrous veggies only) Fast walking (45-60 mins)
Day #4 Moderate carbs (rice, yams, oats) Circuit training
Day #5 Low carbs (fibrous veggies only) Interval training
(30 sec sprint/120 walk)
Day #6 Low carbs (fibrous veggies only) Off