Back when I worked in a desk job, I like to think I knew a thing or two about creating a stellar Facebook page (no, really, that's what I did). Other than the ridiculous sums of money companies would pay for something that was free AND took 10 minutes to make, I realized a few things:
- If you want likes and comments on Facebook or Instagram, post sunsets. People like colors. It's just that simple.......well, that or babies.
- Sardines on whole wheat bread (sans condiments) are not a suitable sandwich combination
- I was constantly behind the eight ball with my diet and exercise, due to all of the noise (Intermittent Fasting, Paleo, 7 Minute Workout, Crossfit, running, etc.)
Fast forward to today, and I'm fortunate to love what I do and do what I love. Beyond that, I've realized certain principles - either ones that I've reverse engineered, or heard from another source - that can change the game when it comes to getting stronger/losing weight.
Separately, these thoughts don't have enough meat to really be blog posts by themselves (and in some cases, they sum up blog posts I've already written)....but put together, I think they make for a better read. And let's face it....who doesn't want secrets that will look make them look better nekkid??
Hooookay, here we go:
- If you want to see true weight loss success, completely separate your diet and exercise.
When I started as a personal trainer, I was a lot more "green." What do I mean that? Along with being naive and thinking I knew everything, I always erred on the side of telling people what they wanted to hear. But, as I've become more confident and gained more experience, I've been a lot more blunt in telling people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.
Here's an example:
Client: "I want to drop my bodyfat and look more toned. After all, bathing suit season is just around the corner."
The Old Me: "Well, we can definitely add more conditioning to your workouts, which will help get you over the hump. Let's also set up a food log (which I'm sure you'll be 100% honest on..) and we can see what needs to be tweaked. Now, let's do 20 minutes of corrective exercise before we even touch a weight!!!!!"
The New Me: "If you want to lose weight, then you need to look at yourself and ask, what am I doing differently in the kitchen? Treat diet and exercise as completely separate, because otherwise it's a losing proposition. Now, let's go deadlift."
Was The Old Me a lot nicer? You bet. But did I ever see lasting, real results with clients? Nope.
Enter The New me. With a more tell-it-like-it-is approach, I've found that I've helped eliminate many of the assumptions our culture has put in our head about exercise: you can eat whatever you want as long as you work out hard enough; you deserve a treat after you workout; 7 minutes a day is all you need to get in shape. Of course, these are all crap. Exercise isn't exactly useless, but if it's impacting what you're putting in your body, it could be.
It's only when you finally think to yourself, "I hit the gym hard today, but of course, that doesn't change what I'm going to eat" that you'll finally get over the hump. I've had clients tell me that after they changed their mindset about exercise and diet, they've had what I like to call the "Jumanji moment of clarity." It's as if they finally saw the light, and how the previous approach was sabotaging their own efforts.
- Strength Goals still trump Physical Goals
This past weekend, I hit somewhat of an interesting milestone for myself - no, it wasn't deadlifting 510 pounds (although, I'm getting there!) - it was dipping below 10% bodyfat (9.7% to be exact). Oddly enough, for the first time in my life, I felt pressure about my body.
OK, so let's backtrack. Bodyfat has never been a goal for me. I usually hang around 10-11% year round, and only weigh myself/track my bodyfat every Saturday. I've found that it usually keeps me accountable, and while there's fluctuations, my bodyfat has been slowly decreasing (~2%) for the better part of a year. You could argue that since bodyfat has never been an expressed goal of mine, there's no way I'd be as happy as I was when I deadlifted 500 pounds. Touché. I get that.
But, I believe it furthers a point I've made before: picking an arbitrary weight or bodyfat goal will not be as rewarding as picking (perhaps an also arbitrary) strength goal.
With strength training, it takes little to maintain but a lot to gain. As an example, I'm pretty sure I could pick up 500 pounds today, but if you asked me to pick up 520, it may result in a miserable failure. Usually, once you hit a goal, it takes very little training to maintain that type of strength.
With weight and bodyfat, it tends to go the other way. If you're down to a bodyfat or weight that's unusually low for where you normally sit and you've done it through restrictive means, you need to consistently keep up that effort. Plus, you're going to feel the pressure and guilt that comes with trying to keep yourself at that level.
Rather than saying "I want to weigh X pounds" or "I want to be X% bodyfat," pick a strength goal based on your weight: a pullup; squatting your bodyweight; deadlifting 1x, 2x, or even 3x your bodyweight; or 10 solid pushups. Not only will these goals be more rewarding than looking a certain way, they help keep your bodyfat in check without that being the primary focus.
- When in doubt, train grip and core.
Credit Pavel Tsatsouline with this gem, as both grip and core strength are often way underdeveloped. Why are these two so important? With almost every exercise, where people start to have trouble is when they don't understand - or simply don't know how - to get tight. We know there's a neurological phenomon called "irradiation" which can instantly make you stronger than you would otherwise be.
As an example, pick a friend, shake their hand, and try to squeeze their hand. Then (if they don't kick you in the face for crushing their hand without warning), repeat the process....but this time, focus on squeezing your glutes, your core, and your free hand as well. Odds are, they will find this second handshake to be MUCH more powerful than the first one.
To help increase this phenomenon, you have to train your core. Rather than doing 2 1/2 minute planks (which are useless), focus on creating as much tension as possible. This concept can often be hard to grasp, as it shifts your focus away from feeling fatigued or "the burn" (which is actually just hydrogen atoms from the krebs cycle. *The more you knooooow!*). Rather, think about trying to acheive the hardest possible contraction you can for as little as 10 seconds.
One the same note, training grip strength is not something you can do by visiting your closest sporting goods store. While certain exercises like bottoms up carries help, you can also work on getting industrial strength hand strengtheners. They are unbelievably difficult, but they help. And, when combined with contracting your abs as hard as you can, it will make you stronger and more efficient.