Monthly Archives: March 2013

The inner skinny person


In this case you could really have an entire thin person inside you with room to spare.  The above image is a full-body MRI of two women, one weighing 250 lbs (113.3 kg) and the other 125 lbs (56.6 kg.)

The colors  seen in the image represent the following:  Red=Muscles, Yellow=Fat, Bones=White and Organs=Black.

Looking at the toll obesity takes on the body from head to toe, I draw your attention first to the neck region.  Excess pressure caused by neck fat will result in headaches, snoring and sleep apnea, with by itself has a host of side-effects including memory problems, fatigue, breathing difficulties,depression, leg swelling and hypertension.

Forgetting the clear case of “jiggly arm-itis” for a second, I draw your attention to the black sacs in the middle of the chest.  Those are the lungs.  Although a size comparison shows them to be fairly even, the subject on the lefts increased obesity makes it harder to breath at night since fat will push its way Northwards towards the lungs.

I said forget about the “jiggly arm-itis” for a second…the increased layers of arm fat will increase the load on the shoulder joint, which is basically a shallow ball and socket joint that is already prone to injury.

Taking a step back…you will note that the bones of both subjects are similar in size despite the large weight differential.  So much for the “I’m not fat, I’m big boned!” excuse.   Dinosaurs had big bones.

Note that the subject on the left has fat forming around her organs, which is known as visceral fat, as well as having an enlarged heart.

Visceral fat just doesn’t sound nasty…it is nasty.  Visceral fat produces chemicals that have been linked to several forms of cancer and is directly linked to heart disease.

At a minimum, the enlarged heart will make breathing more difficult and does not pump properly.

The hip joints, knees and ankles are under quite a bit more strain on the obese subject.   Compare the knee and ankle joints of the two subjects and note the effect the excess weight has on the lower limbs.

For every pound of excess weight lost, there is a 3-5 lb reduction of pressure on the knees.  Taking the low figure, a loss of 10 lbs would equate to 30 lbs of pressure removed per knee.  

The feet also take a beating from carrying excess weight and can lead to   Plantar Fasciitis and an altered walking gait, which in turn effects all joints and muscles north of the feet.

If this isn’t enough motivation enough to try and lose weight then I have no idea what is.


Frustration with Diets

I hate the word diet.    There, I said it.

Allow me to explain myself.  I am not against any dietary requirements or restrictions that are part of a medical treatment, plan, culture, religion or personal choice.  Unless of course you are a cannibal, then not only am I against it, I’m glad I am a pretty fast sprinter.

I hate the word diet in general since its meaning has popularly become “foods we are taking away from you.”   You can’t have any carbs!  You cant have any form of fats!  You can’t have any fruit! etc etc etc.

This by itself implies loss, and most people don’t handle loss very well.

Unless your doctor has stated “Lose this weight or you will die!” I am not one to fully take things away.

To me, a diet should be a way of eating that won’t drive you crazy with complex rules and unless medically ordered should not be severely restrictive.

Presupposing there are no medical conditions that come with dietary requirements such as with diabetics, I usually ask my clients to simply eat more natural foods and try to keep my guidelines fairly simple.

1.  Water.  This is your primary drink of choice.  Green Tea and a daily glass of red wine are also acceptable choices.  In the case of my workouts, I am personally offended when you bring  an itty-bitty bottle of water to our sessions.  No worries, you will only make that mistake once.

2.  Reverse the order, eat more veggies than fruits.  A good rule of thumb, make 1/2 your lunch and dinner plates multi-colored veggies and fruits, Your new favorite colors are dark greens, reds, oranges and the dark berry tones.

3.  Use cooking ingredients your great-great grandparents could have used.  Unless of course your great-great grandparents were Mr. and Mrs. Dr. Frankenstein, or cannibals.

4.  Eliminate processed foods. (I know this one is tough) Try to eat as few things, if any, that come from a box, drive-through or greasy bucket.  Honestly, other than fried chicken or shrimp is there any food you would want served in from greasy bucket?

“What’s for dinner tonight Honey?….Grilled Alaskan Red Salmon with a Baked Sweet Potato and a chilled side salad,,,,served in a greasy bucket.”   The bucket sort of ruined the image didn’t it?

5. Eat and Purchase your food mindfully.  Read the labels and look for the least amount of ingredients. If the first three are sugar and things you cannot pronounce you really shouldn’t be holding it in your hands in the first place.  If possible, buy local source veggies and fruits or grow your own.

6. Take your time to enjoy your food and chew it thoroughly.  Keep the TV off, put the phone and iPad away, be grateful for the for the food in front of you.

7.  There are often healthier versions of a food you like.

8.  The deep fryer is not your pal.  It will turn any healthy food into an unhealthy food, or an unhealthy food into an even unhealthier food.

9.  Enjoy the guilty pleasure foods in moderation.  If it is date night, time with the children or movie night or whatever the event.  Use a smaller plate and eat slower. I believe that if I allow you a small amount of treat foods you will learn to eat them in moderation.  If I were to take them away fully you would binge at first opportunity.

10.  Tell your personal trainer / fitness nutritionist the truth.  We know when you are eating more than you tell us.  The jelly and white powder from the doughnuts you ate to supposedly carbo-load before you hit the gym is still smeared in your goatee.

Tools to help you

1. Determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Daily Caloric Needs (DCN.)

You burn calories 24 hours per day no matter what you’re doing.  The BMR indicates what you burn over 24 hours if you stayed in bed all day, basically immobile.  The daily caloric needs is adjusted based on your activity level.

BMR decreases with age, making it more difficult for older adults to lose weight than younger adults.  Regular cardo/resistance exercise can increase your BMR.

The daily caloric needs  is based on a formula that uses your BMR and applies an activity factor to determine your total daily energy expenditure (calories).   Remember, leaner bodies need more calories than less leaner ones. Therefore, this equation will be very accurate in all but the very muscular (will under-estimate) and the very fat (will over-estimate.)

2. Know your calories and be honest about yourself.

My caloric needs (not adjusted for a lean body) sit around 3000 calories. This may seem like alot but don’t let the number fool you. That caloric need is for a person with a physical job that exercises frequently.  A man of my age/height/weight who is sedentary needs 1000 less calories per day than I do.  

A Big Mac, Large Fries and Large Coke at McDonald’s clocks in at 1350 calories, nearly half of my days total, and nearly all of my sedentary doppelgangers in a single sitting.   This also presupposes this was all we ate….I’m sure we could have polished off another Big Mac or 1-2 pies no problem, maybe even re-filled our Cokes on our way out the door.

3.  Be calorie poor and nutrient rich.

Once you know your BMR/DCN you can create a small caloric deficit.  You may actually be eating MORE (or more often) low calorie nutrient rich foods and far less calorie dense nutrient poor foods such as Big Macs or total nutritional duds such as doughnuts and alcohol.

Finding the Right Personal Trainer

I commend those of you considering hiring a personal trainer to help you reach your goals.  You are the type of person that knows that they need help, guidance or motivation and are not afraid to ask for help.

Personally, I think everyone could use a trainer.  Elite Athletes have trainers and even some personal trainers have their own trainers.  I myself have several mentors and seek out people that I recognize as subject matter experts.

How does one go about choosing a personal trainer? If you are a member of a commercial gym with staff trainers then your agreement for personal training is with the gym itself, not with a specific trainer.  As such, a trainer you select may not be available.  This in itself is usually not viewed as a valid reason to void your agreement as far as the gym is concerned.

It is important to state what your goals are, and what you are looking for in a trainer. This will help the assigning manager in selecting an available trainer that can best suit your needs and schedule.  Having previously been responsible for matching clients to trainers, I can vouch for the effectiveness of a good pairing, and the potential headaches of a bad pairing.

Things I would ask my potential trainer:  (1) Are you CPR/AED/First Aid certified?…Basically, are you prepared and able to handle a bad situation and possibly save my life?   (2) What is your experience in working with people with similar conditions to mine?….Basically, am I going to be a guinea pig?   (3) Do you have any current or past clients I can speak with? ….Basically, Do you get results and are you able to back it up?  (4) What is your education/credentials in personal training?  (5) Will we get along?

On (4), there is a long-standing debate in the personal trainer community over credentials and the worth of certain granting organizations over others.  Personally, I believe that the credentials held are only as good as the trainer that holds them.   That said, credentials from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) are held in high regards and will get an aspiring trainer hired in nearly any gym in the United States.  In several cases, a 4 year degree in an exercise science related field is a prerequisite just to sit for the proctored certification examinations.

On (5), Whenever I work with a client for the first time I inform them that the first session is more of an assessment than anything.  I am assessing their strengths and weaknesses, what motivates them and noting any health risks or warning signs that might require attention.

We are both seeing how well we click together, there has to be some chemistry between us in order for things to work.  I let them know quite frankly that if they feel I am not a good trainer for them then there are no hard feelings and that I would gladly work with management to find them a better fit.  So far nobody has asked for another trainer.

Things I personally don’t consider, but some people do and I fully understand the reasons why.

Male or Female trainer?  So long as they get results I don’t care. Personal training is a profession where based on equal experience women earn the same as their male counterparts, and in some cases out earn them.  

Older or Younger Trainer?  Age itself is not an indicator of skill.  There are younger trainers out there that are very on-point in terms of customer service, motivation and program design just as there are older trainers that are simply going through the motions.  There also happens to be older trainers out there with better physiques than people half their age and have a lifetime worth of knowledge to share.  In my present own gym we have three male trainers in our 40’s-50’s and the 50 year old is the most physically impressive among us.

A lot of initials after their name?  The only person I’ve known that made a big deal about the initials after my name was my mom….and even she asked if my clients see and feel results.

Smaller vs Bigger Trainer?  Just because the trainer is bigger than you doesn’t mean they can make you look like them.  Just because the trainer is smaller doesn’t mean they can’t make you smaller or bigger.  Personally I would pick whichever trainer could teach and motivate me the most.

Fit looking vs Fat Trainer? Before I get blasted on this one, I have a divided opinion.  If I want coaching on power lifting or strongman routines then a fat trainer is fine by me.  If the trainer was once really huge, lost a significant amount of weight and is still losing weight then I am totally good with it.  After all, this trainer has personally experienced (and is succeeding in) something that others want to succeed in.

Outside of those two specific situations, a fat trainer is often not looked upon very favorably by gym go’er’s or their fit looking peers. If anything, the hiring criteria for the gym could get called into question.  The fat trainer may have fantastic skills and a encyclopedic body of knowledge but a they must walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Now that I’ve hopefully given you a few ideas on how to find the right personal trainer, I will leave you with this good feeling ending.

Sometimes the right trainer finds you, and I believe you will know it when it happens.

Gym Myths

Working in a gym is my idea of the near-perfect job.  I get to help people all day long and get to wear shorts or track pants to the office.  I am surrounded by other trainers with a variety of skills and knowledge and have a fantastic group of clients that I see on a regular basis.

I say near-perfect for two reasons.   (1) I can only stand listening to the same piped-in music for so long.  and (2) I have to dispute gym myths on a near daily basis.  As far as #2 goes, I calmly state what is scientifically proven factual, and I believe I do this without sounding like a pompous a$$.

I do not think I am the smartest person in the gym.  Never.  The more I read, the less I realized I knew in the first place.

That said, every day someone proves I’m not the dumbest guy in the gym either.

Tonight I will hopefully be able to shed a little light on some gym myths that truly need to be put to rest.

“You can turn fat into muscle”   This would be like turning lead into gold.  Fat and Muscle are two different substances and one cannot convert into the other.

“If you stop working out, your muscle will turn into fat.”  This probably came from the same guy that can perform the fat-to-muscle alchemy miracles.

“Squats are bad for the knees / Deadlifts are bad for the back”  This is true if your form for either of these exercises is poor.  Properly coached and performed safely both exercises have demonstrated exceptional abilities in rehabilitating the knees or back.  Now if someone says “I don’t squat/deadlift because of my bad knee/back.” Then they either don’t know any better, have poor form or know they suck at squats/deadlift and only want to do exercises they look good doing.

“Lifting weights makes you stiff and inflexible.”  This has long been proven false, yet still sticks around for some reason.  Weight training actually increases flexibility by moving joints, ligaments and the muscles through their full-range of motion.

“Eat less, Exercise More.”  The idea is that you are burning off more calories than you consume.  Under that interpretation you can lose weight.

The problem is the statement has a fatal flaw in it.

“Eat Less” means you are slowing down your metabolism.  “Work out more” means you are speeding it up.  This is like me telling you “Save your money, but max out your credit cards.

Although lengthier, try this instead “Eat mindfully and Exercise smarter.”  Generally if someone wants to lose a significant amount of weight, they typically lack the dietary discipline or knowledge to know what “Eat less” is.  6 doughnuts are less than 12, but that doesn’t erase the damage that the 6 doughnuts do.

Eating mindfully means eating whole natural foods that nourish your body, not exceeding your daily caloric needs and eating foods that don’t contain ingredients that are either impossible to pronounce or longer than this blog.  Eating mindfully means being a nutrient millionaire, yet being in the lower ends of the calorie tax bracket.

“Exercise smarter” has a catch.  First, any form of getting up and moving is better than not getting up and moving.  That said, there are exercises that are more beneficial to you than others.

For example, imagine your entire workout was composed of small isolation movements (bicep curls, calf press, seated leg extension etc.)  Although you are working muscles, they are relatively small compared to the muscles engaged during big exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull-ups and push-ups.  Squats by themselves require the effort of more than 200 muscles to accomplish the task.

Remember: Muscle is metabolically demanding.  Muscle tissue is roughly 8 times more metabolically expensive than fat.  Big muscles are more metabolically demanding, and can lift more than little muscles.

“But Chris, I can’t do a push-up/bench press/pull-up!” No worries, everyone has to start somewhere.  For every exercise there are numerous regression and progression techniques to get you there and make the best use of what you can accomplish.

Is your workout boring?

Despite the overwhelming documented evidence proving the positive effects of regular exercise, few people meet the U.S. governments recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

Many people don’t even meet Jack LaLanne’s recommendation of 30 daily minutes of exercise.

Even more disheartening, many people that start an exercise program drop out within a few weeks to months.

Among the top reasons:  Time, Money, Procrastination, Lack of Knowledge, Intimidation/Social Phobia, Lack of Support and Boredom.

Let me address boredom.  Yes, this is a very real concern.  Yes, this can be controlled. The problems origin can be either (a) You don’t know what you are doing.  (b) Your trainer sucks.  or (C) You are not challenging yourself enough.

For gym go’er’s:  Don’t stick to a routine you learned 20 years ago in high school and don’t try and copy every move you see “fit looking” people do.  Try taking a group class, they can be fun!  Don’t be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone from time to time, the initial little challenge could turn into a pleasant surprise.  In my particular case, I have recently took up taking hot yoga classes.  Not only am I having a blast sweating in a room filled mostly with women, I learned that the smaller the yoga instructor is, the more I will be getting beat up.

If you are thinking about hiring a personal trainer, I suggest you pay attention to the trainers at your gym and watch how they interact with their clients, are they active? Do their clients appear to enjoy what they are doing (even if the trainer is making them a sweaty mess) and most especially watch the trainer while the client is working.  Do they educate and motivate the client, or simply count?  You want the trainer that puts the word PERSONAL in personal training.

For trainers:  If your routines are the same for ALL of your clients you are working on auto-pilot…and this is not a good thing.   If you are training all your clients in only one training method regardless of the clients goals then you are either limited or lazy.

Don’t think for a minute that other gym go’ers are NOT taking notice of your actions or inaction. If there are two universal truths, gym go’ers watch, and gym go’ers talk.

Personal Rant: I am not a fan of machine-only workout programs and am even less a fan of machine-only trainers.  Yes, I know that machines have their place and I use one or two of them with select clients, but if your belief is that “machines are safer than free-weights” then I ask you send me credible proof.

A dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, squat rack, barbell or even old-school calisthenics should be nothing to be afraid of.  Of course using these things means you (as the trainer) will have to rack and re-rack weights, demonstrate and explain safe technique, spot and issue coaching cues, instead of telling the client “move the pin up/down and repeat the pre-set movement X times.”

Take notice of what CrossFit has to offer; Fairly short workouts that are scalable to the individuals ability using primal movement patterns (push,pull,squat,run,jump etc) and a variety of methods including calisthenics, kettlebells, cardio events and weight lifting.  Given such diversity it would be hard for me to imagine someone getting bored of this sort of workout.  If your clients are bored, YOU might be part of the problem!

Women and Weightlifting

Most of the women I meet who are thinking about hiring a personal trainer seem to have nearly the same goals.

(1) Lose  weight.

(1) Tone the arms, Especially that jiggly back half of the arm.

(1) Flatten the belly.  Especially that part below the belly button that “appears to go around the back when viewed in a certain light.”

(1) Trim the thighs.  Especially the part of the thighs that runs from the ankles to the rear of my pants.

(1) Round out the butt. Especially to give it some lift/perk/bubbling.

Absolute #1 criteria….Don’t make me all bulky!

With all those items covered, allow me to shed a little light on the subject on Women and Weightlifting and hopefully bring a smile to your face.

The WRONG personal trainer will tell you…

“High repetitions with light weights are the key to muscle tone.”

The RIGHT personal trainer will tell you…

Lifting a light weight for many (15+) repetitions has been conclusively proven to cause little muscle growth or strength gains.  This in turn makes it ineffective for fat burning.

Muscle Tone is simply having some muscle mass and a low enough bodyfat level to show it off.

The WRONG personal trainer will tell you…

“You can’t train like a guy, cause you ain’t a guy….here, grab that pink shake weight.”


First, I have to get this off my chest, there is no good reason for a dumbbell to be colored pink…even if it is part of the Malibu Barbie playset.  Secondly, there should be no room nor tolerance for a shake weight in any gym in the United States.  Third, I would be highly suspicious of any guy that buys a lady a shake weight as a present.

Now that I have ranted….

The RIGHT personal trainer will tell you…

Biologically speaking, it is incredibly difficult for a woman to become bulky regardless of how hard they train unless they are on a course of performance enhancing supplements.  Why is this? Because female testosterone levels are between 5-10% of the average males level.  In short course, it is 10-16x harder for a woman to gain muscle mass than a guy.

The WRONG personal trainer will tell you…

“I’m putting you on a program that will re-shape your muscles to make them long and lean, like a dancers!”

The RIGHT personal trainer will tell you…

There are no exercises that will change the shape of your muscles.  The muscle shape was a matter of genetics.  Yoga, Pilates or weight lifting will all strengthen and build your legs, but weight training will get you there the fastest.  That said, Yoga and Pilates have the added benefit of increasing your flexibility.

The WRONG personal trainer will tell you…

(Pick a flabby area)…”sure, I have an exercise that will burn off that particular section of your arm/leg/torso/butt.”

The RIGHT personal trainer will tell you…

Spot reducing body.fat is impossible.  Body fat reduction requires a whole body effort

P.S.  If you are training on your own, don’t be too afraid of trying a heavier set of weights.  Typically I’ve found the average woman to be 5-10 lbs stronger than she thought she was…and the average guy to be 5-10 lbs overly optimistic.