Saturday, November 13, 2010


The card from the committee coordinating your high school reunion arrives in the mail yesterday, and all you can think about is whether everyone will still view you as the football team’s pom squad captain with the perfect grade point average. Fifteen years, twenty pounds, one husband and two kids later, you realize you couldn’t do the splits even if your life depended on it. Aging is inevitable; Accountability is part of life. But, damnit, YOU were “da bomb” in high school, and you still wanted to shine for your greatest fans and worst critics. So you approach a Gold Standard Trainer, and tell him that you want to look like the eighteen-year-old girl who dazzled a crowded stadium of cheering fans. And he tells you: “No problem. We’ll do some cardio, lift weights, do core and balance exercises…”

And all you hear is “lift weights” (men aren’t the ONLY ones with selective hearing). You gulp hard. You imagine yourself in an environment of meatheads beating their chests, and toasting each other with their protein shakes after a grueling session of pumping iron. But, you imagine a scarier image: You looking like one of those meatheads. Sure, you enjoyed dating the muscular captain of the football team in high school, but you never wanted to look like him! Your perfect workout involves lots of running and five hundred sit-ups a day. Your trainer shakes his head in exasperation, and proceeds to allay your fears:

WEIGHT TRAINING CAN MINIMIZE EFFECTS OF MENOPAUSE AND AGING : Weight training for women should be more than toning and sculpting. Menopause and aging are both associated with a decrease in bone density, muscle mass and an increase in adipose (fat) tissue. Weight bearing and weight loaded activity causes osteoblasts to migrate to the bone surface. The osteoblasts manufacture proteins which are eventually mineralized as calcium, and increase the strength and rigidity of the bones. As more osteoblasts are manufactured through weight bearing and weight loaded activity, more proteins are mineralized as calcium to increase the strength and rigidity of bones. While menopause and aging aren’t the celebrated milestones that women want to reach anytime soon, it does not mean YOU should be pounding on the weights like the aforementioned meatheads. All you need to do is do one full body workout, three times a week. Each major muscle group should be trained once in a two set, 15 repetition sequence at 70% of a 1RM max. Each exercise should include a stability component, such as bicep curls standing on one foot or shoulder presses on a stability ball. Depending on your goals, cardiovascular exercises and food intake will also need to be included in the training regimen. The consistent deployment of this training program will increase the manufacturing of osteoblasts, and therefore increase the calcium production needed to increase the strength and rigidity of the bones. Consequently, the effects of menopause and aging will be minimized.

WEIGHT TRAINING CAN MINIMIZE THE EFFECTS OF ACCIDENTS AND INJURIES: As the human body ages, it becomes vulnerable to accidents and injuries. Weight training is absolutely necessary to increase musculoskeletal strength need to immediately support a fall, or quickly heal from an arthritic pain. Imagine if you were rummaging through your closet trying to find your high school yearbook, and you fell off the ladder and hurt your lower back. If you never did any back exercises, it would take several weeks for the back to heal due to a lack of neural adaptation. If you did back exercises on a consistent basis, then your back was programmed to adapt to stresses generated from applied force, and therefore be capable of withstanding the fall. Therefore, it would take less time for the back to heal given neural adaptation. Weight training as an isolated activity can cause accidents and injuries, so it is very important to take the necessary steps in exercising in a safe and effective manner.

WEIGHT TRAINING CAN INCREASE PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS: But we know what your REAL motive is. At this point, you’re not worried about menopause, aging, osteoporosis or breaking a fall. You want to look hot. You want your greatest fans and worst critics to be eyeing you the entire night, wondering if that dancer body can still do the splits. The striations (cuts) in any muscular structure are mostly created through a low weight, high repetition sequence. Also, it is very important for all muscle groups to rest for at least 48 hours, so the muscles can morph in an optimal way.

So, wipe the sweat off your brow, put on those cross-trainers and strap on those weight gloves. We’re going to hit the weight room for the next few months, so you can walk into that reunion, and be able to put on a great show for the cheering fans! It’ll be like old times…..

See Chicago Personal Training Site for more!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good Form, Bad Workout?

Many beginning exercisers are concerned about using proper form when working out. We have all heard about the evils of using bad form. In general, form is important BUT - don't sacrifice your workout to the "Form Police."
Too many Personal Trainers will tell you that the form must be perfect. They'll say if you can't do an exercise with perfect form, you must stop and/or lighten up the weight. Often you end up with a "workout" that has had the life sanitized right out of it! You keep lightening everything up and stopping as soon as your form falters - and you leave the "workout" without ever breaking a sweat or breathing hard. That's not a workout. That's a waste of time.
Another problem is Personal Trainers that confuse themselves with Physical Therapists. As soon as they see something wrong with your form, they tell you some BS story like "Your trying to compensate with your teres minor, because your infraspinatus is weak." So they give you a bunch of silly "exercises" for you infraspinatus ("exercises" that are so easy most people could do them in their sleep!). I think those trainers are usually just trying to make things sound complex, to make themselves sound smarter than you, and to make you dependent on them. If you ask me, that's like a fireman telling you "Sure, we'll put out the fire, but first, let's dust the shelves, make the bed, and wash the dishes." HELLO - the house is on FIRE - let's set some priorities here! If someone comes to me with an extra 100 pounds of BUTT, I'm going to help them get rid of the butt before I worry about their infraspinatus!
There are times when form is critical. It takes an experienced Personal Trainer to know when form must be very strict, and when it's OK to "cheat." I always say "Cheat to make it harder, not easier." By that I mean when you can no longer keep good form you have two choices: stop - or cheat. Stopping is very easy, and it does your muscles no good. I say keep going, even if you have to cheat. The extra reps you get at the end do you more good than the easy reps at the beginning of the set.
Having said all of this, you must be careful to cheat in a SAFE way. There are exercises where if your form is bad, you risk an injury. So don't cheat unless you know exactly what you are doing. For example, when you are failing with an overhead press, DON'T cheat by leaning back. This puts your lower back at risk for a serious injury. A safe way to cheat would be to bend the knees slightly and let your legs give you a little push, a little momentum on the way up - while keeping the back very straight.
It's hard for most people to know how and when it's OK to cheat. One rule of thumb is that you should never jerk the weights around. The best thing to do is to hire a professional. A good Personal Trainer will always tell you when your form must be perfect, and when it's safe to let it slide a little bit. Just make sure your trainer is putting out the fire before dusting the shelves....

Chicago Personal Training

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Keep your eyes on your goal!

"Jean, I want to try an experiment," I said. My client turned around slowly, looking slightly frightened. She had been through several other of my "experiments," and knew that something exciting yet challenging was coming. "What kind of experiment?" she asked. "Well, I've been training you for about two years. You’ve lost 85 pounds so far, and I’m very proud of you. But for the last couple of months, you’ve been stuck at about 180. We both know you have at least 40 more pounds to lose, but that’s never going to happen unless you stay on the healthy eating program we designed for you. We both also know that you are eating too much junk late at night." Jean nodded. "Let's set a short term goal of losing 15 pounds. Just so you can feel what it would be like to drop 15 pounds, I want you to wear a 15 pound weight vest for a whole day. I want to make those 15 pounds real to you, and I want you to see how wonderful it feels when you take the vest off at night. Do you want to try it?" "Sure" she said. "I have Thursday off. All I have planned is just a little housework, and then I’m going to a basketball game. I can just wear a big T shirt over the vest, and no one will even know. It’s only 15 pounds. How hard can it be? Maybe we should try 20." "Let’s stick with 15 for now," I said. "And I want you to keep a little diary. Just keep a small notebook with you, and write down any comments you have, along with the time of day." I adjusted the weight vest to 15 pounds, and gave it to Jean. We agreed to meet again on Friday, the day after she wore the vest. When I saw Jean on Friday, I asked her "Well, how was it?" "I hate you so much!" she said (I think she was joking...) "I really wanted to dance in here and tell you that it didn’t bother me at all, but it did, on SO many levels. By the end of the day, the only way I could keep going was to keep telling myself it was only a one day experiment. If you asked me to try it for two days, I would have just quit." I asked Jean to show me her diary. Here I’ve included my favorite excerpts: 7:30 am I put the vest on. The weight is evenly distributed, and the Velcro straps are easy to adjust. It does not pinch or anything. It is as comfortable as it can be. This is no big deal. It will be easy. 9:00 am Doing some housework. Normally, I go up and down the stairs without thinking about it. Now, I’m starting to resent the stairs. I’m making sure I do everything I can on one floor before I go to another level. Before I go up or down, I stop and think twice. I make sure I don’t forget anything so I won’t have to go back for it. 11:30 am I’m at the store. Normally I park at the far end of the lot, so I’ll get more exercise in walking to the store. Today, I drove around for ten minutes until a space close to the front doors opened up. 2:00 pm I just drove 3 miles out of my way to go to a coffee shop with a drive through window, so I would not have to make the extra effort of getting out of my car. 3:00 pm I am aware of every ounce in that damn vest, and this is really not so much fun anymore. I’m getting tired and crabby. I’m going home to take a nap. 4:00 pm Taking a nap. My cat keeps trying to crawl on me like he usually does. I keep pushing him away. I don’t want any more weight on me. 6:00 pm A friend just arrived to accompany me to a college basketball game. I live only two blocks from the stadium, but considered asking him to drive me there. We walked, but I felt every step. It was an exciting game, and often everyone jumped up and yelled. Everyone but me. I usually drink a lot of water at the games, but not this time. I don’t want to have to get up and walk to the restroom. I normally go to the party after the game, but this time I just went home. 10:00 pm I have never been so happy to see my bed. The relief when I took the vest off was so great, all I could do was to crawl into bed and go to sleep."It looks like it was a little harder than we thought it would be," I said. Jean nodded. "The difference between how it felt at 7:30 and how it felt at 3:00 was absolutely stunning." Proud that my "experiment" seemed to have had its desired effect, I summed up my main point. "You know, Jean, you are carrying those extra 15 pounds and more around with you right now. You do it every day of your life. Imagine how it would feel to lose 15 more pounds. Imagine how much better you would feel all day, every day." "Wow," she said. "I never thought of that." I was completely taken aback. How could she have missed the whole point of the experiment?! "All I could think about," she said, "is that I used to weigh that much. In fact, only a few months ago, I weighed even more than that. And I am never going back there again," she said defiantly. My experiment ended up teaching me something. We are all constantly at a crossroad where we face many alternate futures. I was trying to get Jean to look ahead to a future in which she was lighter, healthier and happier. Instead, she looked ahead and saw a possible future in which she returned to her heavier self, and it terrified her. Looking at alternate futures can be a very powerful motivation tool. Ask yourself questions like "If I keep exercising and eating right, how will I look and feel in three months? In a year? In ten years?" Visualize that healthy picture. Then ask yourself "If I stop exercising and start having pizza and beer every night, how will I be in three months? In a year? In ten years?" Think about it for a few moments, then ask "Which future would I rather have?" If you can keep those pictures in front of your eyes, you’ll steer away from the future you fear, and toward the future you really want.
Chicago Personal Training