Category: Fitness

Surviving your diet on vacation

With schools letting out and summer just around the corner, that can mean only one thing (okay, it can mean a number of things)….

Summer vacations!

This is a notoriously slow time in the nutrition and fitness business. And rightfully so I suppose. The weather is nice and lugging your butt to the gym to lift isn’t really very enticing now is it? Farmer’s markets are opening and offering up fresh, local produce (and pizza, tacos, guacamole, dog treats, pretzels, and wind chimes) so eating healthier is easier and typically more palatable due to the freshness of everything. People are also heading to the park and riding bikes and are, in general, more active this time of the year.

I also have been doing this now for just shy of 7 years and so I’ve witnessed how people’s nutritional habits/tendencies vary during different times of year. And they’re exactly what you might think they’d be. From Halloween until January 1st, our dietary intake is typically less than stellar. January to spring break is usually tidied up a bit with some not so great days mixed in there.

And then there’s summer. Summer is a mix of a bit of everything. There’s the aforementioned increased intake of fresh fruits and veggies, but there is also a lot of potato salad made with loads of mayonnaise sitting between potato chips and hot dogs.

So what do summer vacations look like? Well first let me tell you what I tend to hear from clients who are about to embark on a trip.

“Well we’ll be doing a lot of walking!”

“There will be a lot of fresh fruit”

“We’ll be near the beach so plenty of fresh fish”

“The hotel has a gym in it”

“We’ll be so busy we won’t even hardly think about food”

And the list goes on and on, but there is a single recurring theme to each of those statements….

Good intentions.

And that’s cool in theory, right? I mean positive thinking is a good thing. And when you think about it, it makes sense too. Vacations are supposed to be fun, relaxing, getaways so the mood is a positive one overall. The problem lies in what I call the “screw-it-itis” syndrome. It goes a little something like this:

“Yeah, I could get the grilled grouper with a side of rice and pineapple, but screw it I’m on vacation! I’m getting the fried grouper sandwich with a side of fries and a margarita. I’ll get back to eating healthy when I get home.”

Happens all. the. time.

You know you’ve done it. I sure know that I’ve done it. So what do we do about it?

The answer, as is almost always the case, is it depends. However, some people respond well to, and this is typically the first place I go with my clients, but to remember the “why” they are on this health/weight/fitness journey in the first place. Do you need to come off medication? Do you want to be around to watch your daughter grow up and get married? Do you want to be able to complete that half marathon you signed up for in the fall? That “why” needs to be more important than that fried grouper sandwich and fries. There is a great quote by the late Zig Ziglar that reads: “The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want right now”. So by learning delayed gratification, you can really make the change. It just isn’t always easy. In fact, it almost never is.

So the post title is obviously about vacationing, but the meat of this post can be applied to any situation where you’re vulnerable to make a decision that isn’t helping you get closer to your goal. As a matter of fact, I’m looking out over my gym right this moment and I know I have a lift scheduled here in 5 minutes. And I gotta tell you I really don’t want to do it. I’m tired from my lift yesterday. It’s beautiful outside. I need to head home and do laundry/pack/clean for my trip to Chicago tomorrow. But you know what? I’m lacing up and doing it anyway. It won’t be my best, but it will keep the habit. And as a bonus, it will get me one step closer to a goal I set for myself. So I’m just gonna suck it up and bang it out.

Til next week!



The Punch Clock Workout, what is it?

Some workouts, or training sessions as I like to call them, Flat. Out. Suck.

If you’ve ever exercised for any period of time in your life, then you know this to be a fact. Sometimes they get bad enough that you cut the session short and call it a day. Maybe it was because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Maybe you were a bit under the weather from a cold. Or maybe it was self-induced from a night out with friends. Whatever the reason, it was rough, brutal even.

I actually have a rule for this type of session. And I try to pass the rule along to my clients as well. The scenario goes a little something like this….

  1. Going for a run or to go lift (or whatever you do) is the LAST thing you want to do.
  2. Lace up and get your butt out there anyways (unless you’re truly really sick or injured or something).
  3. Do at least 5 minutes of your workout.
  4. If after 5 minutes it is clearly not going to work, then go home.

So why do I have this rule and why the hell haven’t I told you what a punch clock workout is yet? Just hold on a second, I’m getting to that.

So first, why do I have this rule? It’s pretty simple, really. For starters, it keeps you in the HABIT. Just the act of lacing up and heading out is a success because you didn’t break the cycle. I can’t tell you how important this is. I’ve witnessed far too many clients or acquaintances not feel like working out one day and then the next thing you know, 3 months has passed and they’ve fallen out of the habit. You see, I was actually corrected by my girlfriend, Megan when I did one of my Talk Back Tuesday segments on Facebook. I had mentioned that whoever said it takes 3 weeks to build a habit is full of shit. And I stand by that. But here’s where I was wrong and she was right (sounds familiar). I then stated that it takes upwards of 6 months or a year or something to that extent. She corrected me and said, “no, changing a habit is a life long thing. It never really ends”. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that was the gist of it. And yep, nail on the head. Couldn’t have said it better myself… because I didn’t, but anyways…

This goes for nutrition as well. I’ve seen so many people eat what they considered to be a “bad” meal or have a weekend binge only to think that they’ve blown the diet. They then go the next week, 2 weeks, or months and beyond eating poorly. Now, did that one meal or poor weekend of eating ruin their diet? No, of course not. Did it help them get closer to their goal? No, but one or two “off” meals won’t really derail you either. The habit that was broken here was not hopping back up on the horse. You need to have amnesia in these situations. You ate it. It was delicious. Don’t feel guilty. Just hop back on and move forward. It’s as easy as that. And yet I still see people falling into the “I’ve blown it” trap. The habit should be to go right back to eating well most of the time. We all have those meals, it’s natural. But the successful ones forget it and move on.

“Okay cool Alec, thanks for the sage advice. Now what the frack is a punch clock workout?!”

I’m glad you asked! The punch clock workout is a term I picked up from Mike Robertson. In essence, it simply means grinding through a training session that totally sucks. You aren’t feeling it that day, but you want to get the workout in. You aren’t able to put full effort into it for whatever reason, but maybe you’ve missed a few sessions lately or you’ll be going on vacation soon. Whatever the reason, you just grit your teeth and bear it. So this obviously comes from the workers who aren’t particularly found of their jobs and more or less go through the motions. Just get through the 9-5. And to be clear this isn’t just for jobs that require your to literally punch in and out, but it seemed to come off the tongue better than “the office assistant who can’t stand his boss, but drudgingly comes in and does the work anyways” workout.

So that’s kind of how I came up with my rule. I was training back in 2011 for the Muncie Half Ironman and was getting some really crappy sessions in. But I figured out that if I had at least put on the shoes and gotten a half mile or so out, that I could grit my way through it. If however, I could tell this was NOT gonna happen, then I’d turn around and head home. But I had to keep the habit, or the cycle, going. And what I found was that I could count on one hand the times I stopped and came home. And this was during a 12 week training cycle that had me doing up to 10-12 training sessions a week. So I didn’t miss very many. And I’d argue strongly that if I had felt like crap and DIDN’T lace up, that I would have needed more hands to count my missed sessions.

So that’s the post this week. Sorry I left you hanging until the end there on the punch clock thing. Hope you picked up a thing or two. Let me know in the comments section if you have any tricks you’ve come up with to keep consistent with either diet, exercise, or both.

Til next week!

Guys…. I bought a Fitbit

So as the title says, I caved and bought a Fitbit. It all kind of started because my girlfriend, Megan had one for work. It was the clip to your waistband kind and she ended up losing it and was looking for a new one. We came across the Fitbit Flex 2, which is worn on the wrist and is very small and lightweight. I decided I’d go ahead and get one as well because this one is waterproof and it tracks your swimming. I typically swim 2-3 times per week, so I thought “what the hell”.

I’ve only been wearing it now for 3 days, but as far as I can tell, the following are my takeaways so far:

  • It’s really lightweight and small. I usually wear a watch on my left wrist, so I decided to put this on my right wrist. I thought it would bug me or get in the way when I’m say, typing on a keyboard. But you know what? I hardly notice that it’s even there. Well done, Fitbit.
  • It can tell that you are swimming. I thought I’d have to plug in some shit to get it to know that I was about to do laps, but it automatically could tell (via accelerometers I assume) that the way it was moving, I must have been swimming. And not only that, but it was “to the freaking T” accurate in how many laps I’d been swimming. To be frank, that was pretty awesome… or was it creepy?
  • As accurate as it was for the swim, it’s kind of wishy washy in terms of tracking steps. For example, I had the app open on my phone and walked around and counted the steps in my head as the ticker on the phone also tallied them. That part was fairly accurate. However, I did the same thing while sitting and just waving my arm around and it counted steps too, so it’s not perfect. This is cheatable, no doubt about it.
  • Somehow it knows how you sleep. Again, I thought this would bother me by having to wear it to bed, but I didn’t notice it. I’m guessing it knows you’ve gone to bed when it stops moving for a while? Anyways, I’ve only worn it one night because I needed to charge it for another night. The battery life is just “meh” in my opinion. I’d like to see it go straight through for at least 3 or 4 days, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Anyways, the night I did wear it, it said that most of it was sound sleep. I was “restless or awake” for something like 16 minutes total. I guess that’s pretty good. The second part was how long I slept. Now, I have a good idea of how many hours I get and the Fitbit essentially verified that. And i’d imagine that if you’re a parent to young kids, the number will piss you off,  but I got 8 hours and 16 minutes of sleep. And I feel my best when I get at least 8, but 9 seems to be my best number.
  • Last, but not least in what I’ve noticed in these last few days is that I get more steps in than I thought. Yes, I do own a small gym, but a lot of my day is spent sitting, unfortunately. Or so I thought, anyways. I truly believed I’d maybe rack up between 4,000 and 6,000 steps a day, or the equivalent of 2 or 3 miles. So far I haven’t had a day under 12,000 steps. And I haven’t worn it on a run yet, so that was pretty eye opening.

So there you have it. My take so far on these wearable fitness doohickeys. Overall the technology is pretty neat. And I didn’t think I’d ever wear one or care for them, but here I sit (or maybe I should get up and start walking….). One last thing of note though before I get off my butt. If you are looking to become healthier by walking more, then you absolutely should because as I’ve written about before, it’s one of the best things you can do for your body. However, with that said, if you are looking for walking more to really make changes to your body (at least aesthetically) then it probably won’t do too much. Hit the weights, hit the pool, or hit the pavement with some gusto for that.

Ok, that’s all for today. I’m gonna go for a short walk because it’s beautiful outside and I’m going to Costco tonight for pizza. Seriously. And I’m excited about it.

Til next week!

Nutrition and Exercise: It’s a game of inches

You’ve maybe heard that football is a game of inches. And I suppose that’s true to a point. I guess whenever I think about football being a game of inches I always think back to the late Steve McNair throwing to Kevin Dyson (had to look the receiver’s name up) on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV (yeah I had to Google that one as well). If you’re not familiar, McNair threw near the goal line and Dyson caught it, but he was tackled literally 1 yard short of the goal line for what would have been the game winning score. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be and the St. Louis (now LA) Rams won the Super Bowl.

1 yard short.

So this got me to thinking about how this relates to the world of nutrition and fitness. And actually the more I think about it, how it really is relative to most anything we do. It’s just that last little bit of effort. That extra 2 percent.

I was working with (training) a client a couple of weeks ago and he was doing step-ups onto a box. He had dumbbells in his hands and I was instructing him to focus on lowering himself to the floor as slow as controlled as possible. Ideally, I’d be aiming for him to lower on a 3 second count. As the exercise rolls on this becomes more difficult, but we’ll not address that stuff in this post today. Now fast forward 2 weeks and I see him again for the same program. He’s a former collegiate athlete and has a good training background which makes my job easier because he remembered my cue to lower slow and controlled. After a couple of sets he tells me that the difference in how much more difficult the step-ups are because of this is extraordinary. He also noted that after the session 2 weeks ago he felt it made a big difference in how his legs were getting bigger and stronger (spoiler alert: he’s correct).

Now I’ve been in a lot of gyms over the years and I can tell you I’ve seen some really poorly performed exercises. And the step-up is certainly one of them. Nearly ever time I see it performed, the person is stepping up and then…. smack! That’s the sound of their foot contacting the floor. They plop right back down. No control. No slowing down. And you know what? It’s why they aren’t getting any stronger too. That 1 second fall to the floor as opposed to a 3 second slowed descent to the rubber is all the difference.

The last 2 percent.

Now how about nutrition? What’s the tie in with the whole “game of inches” when it comes to diet? Well this kind of coat tails off of the last post I put up regarding the difference between intensity and consistency where I explained that someone who puts in decent effort over the long haul will have much better results than someone who “kills it” for a few weeks, then wears out and reverts back to poor eating and exercising habits before “killing it” again a couple of months down the road. I could get deeper into that, but I already have so I’ll move on. The way I see that last little bit of effort with nutrition is all over the place. It could be not having that last bite of food on your plate “because it’s there” when you’re already satisfied. It could be opting to use spices on your chicken as opposed to slathering it in sugar-laden BBQ sauce. Maybe it’s ordering a 6 oz filet instead of the 8 oz.

Now none of these things seems like a big deal. I mean, what’s the big deal with an extra 2 oz. of steak? It’s only about 150 calories or so. And so what if you have 50 or 60 calories coming from BBQ sauce as opposed to 0 from the spices? Who cares if you finish off the last bite on your plate? It’s only 1 bite!

The last 2 percent.

The devil is in the details…. done consistently over time. Is anybody else seeing a pattern with these blogs lately or is it just me?

Til next week!

My take on “rest days” and de-loading

Over training. It’s a bit like the Loch Ness Monster, paranormal activity, or Big Foot. We’ve all heard about it before. There are theories as to whether or not it exists. But like the majority of the population’s take on ‘Ole Nessy, I just don’t think it exists.

I’ll pause here for a second as I hear jimmies being rustled.

Okay, look it probably does exist when you look at your extremely high level, pro and Olympic athletes, but I’m not referring to them. I’m talking about regular Joe’s like you and me. A basic physio 101 course is enough to put it to rest, really. We can adapt like you wouldn’t believe to the external stressors that are put on our bodies. Think about it this way. Let’s say you decide to quit your job and become a garbage man. Now, these days a lot of the trucks are fully automated and you don’t have to physically haul the bags in like the old days, so for the sake of this scenario the year is 1996. Anywho, you finish up your first day on the job. The next morning you wake up and….. Whoa! Holy shit you’re sore! Muscles that you didn’t know existed are screaming at you. But guess what, you’ve got to get your ass out of bed anyways and get to work. Can’t call in to the boss on the second day because you’re sore. You just get back to it and suck it up. And you’re probably sore most mornings for about a week or so, but then you adapt and it becomes no big deal.

So if you look at the “total volume” of weight being moved around by the garbage man over the course of the day, some experts would say that he needs at least 24-48 hours of rest in between his shifts or else he’ll run the risk of over training. Really? He’s performing the same move over and over and over for hours on end and he’s just fine. We go to the gym 3-4 times a week or maybe go out and run 3-4 times per week (really just insert whatever it is you do here) and yet if we don’t take time off in between we’ll wind up injured and over trained. I’m just not buying it, man. This, however, is NOT to say that performance may decrease and burnout will likely increase, but I’m saying that you won’t necessarily be over trained assuming your diet is on point and you are getting 7-9 hours or more) of restful sleep at night.

So yes, I understand that exercise merely provides the stimulus for which our bodies can adapt and improve from. But what is the cutoff? How much is too much? And does that change as we continue to become more and more trained? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I just am having a hard time buying into the whole over training thing.

So this brings me to “de-load” days. The idea behind these is that you build up reps, sets, weights, miles, etc. over a period of time (e.g. 3 weeks) and then you cut way back on those reps, sets, weights, miles, etc. for a week before returning back to the building stage. The idea of this is to give the body ample rest and to prevent over training. And I’m not necessarily knocking it in practice because I certainly believe that it can be highly beneficial. My problem with it is the way we just plug them in to programs. I’ve found that life is really good at providing it’s own stimulus for a de-load week. You get sick. You travel. You’re just not on your A game. Whatever the reason, it’s my personal belief to not predetermine your de-load weeks or rest days. And another aspect of it to consider is that let’s say you are heading into a de-load week and are told to decrease your load by 30%. BUT… you feel freaking awesome! I say screw the program and kill that session. Again, there will be days when you aren’t on a de-load and you feel like pure doo doo butter and will have a crappy session with weights closely resembling that -30% anyways.

So in summary, does over training exist? Yes and no I think. Should it be at least considered? Absolutely. Should de-load weeks be predetermined ahead of time? I think 99% of the time the answer is no. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but for us average folk, I say no.

My Crossfit Experience

Note: I am planning on taking another intro class at at least 1 more CrossFit gym to further my experience with them as only visiting one is clearly not enough. 

Yes, you read the title of the post correctly. You see after I put up my blog titled “In Defense of Crossfit” I got quite a bit of feedback. Some of it positive, some of it not so positive. And for the responses I got that weren’t so positive, I probably owe you an apology. I wrote that piece based on the accounts of other friends and colleagues and articles I’ve read and heard about when it comes to Crossfit. I had never actually experienced it for myself… until this past Saturday that is…

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