Fat Loss Fallacies: Spot Reduction

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Fat Loss Fallacies: Spot Reduction

Every time I give a presentation to folks outside the industry, I’m reminded of how much misinformation is out there. Sometimes I think that the general public has moved beyond certain ideas, but I think that working in the industry for many years has created a sort of bubble that makes me forget how pervasive some of these fallacies are. I am going to debunk one of these obnoxiously persistent myths today - specifically with respect to fat loss.

One of the longest-lasting false ideas in the world of fat loss is the notion of spot reduction. Spot reduction, simply put, is the idea that you can target a particular area of your body for fat loss. Sometimes this is referred to as “toning”, and it's really hard to convince people that this doesn't exist to any meaningful degree. In fact, I've had numerous instances over the years where I try to explain this to clients and they truly can't seem to internalize the idea. The incredible number of infomercials selling workout tapes and equipment to target the abs is a testament to this. I’m not suggesting you shouldn't work your midsection. However, if you think doing a bunch of ab work is the best way to have a chiseled six pack, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

First of all, why do people think that working a muscle group will burn fat stored on top of it? This is partly because of what I alluded to earlier: the notion is convenient for the sale of certain products. It allows companies to market quick and easy - and too good to be true - solutions for your flabby midsection or arms. Thus, certain marketing tactics promote this idea. On top of that, it seems intuitive to people - that burning sensation you get can easily be associated with fat burning, which are pretty much completely unrelated. High-repetition sets of exercise cause muscle pH to drop(acidity to increase) because of certain chemical reactions in the energy system used to power the movement. In fact, carbohydrates are the primary energy substrate used to power this kind of activity.

The only thing you can do that has a similar effect to spot reduction is to increase the size of the muscle in question. By doing this, the amount of muscle increases relative to the amount of fat sitting on top of it, thus potentially making it more visible. However, you need to add quite a bit of muscle for this to happen, and once your body fat reaches a certain level it becomes nearly impossible to add enough muscle to make the relative change enough to be visible. As an example, although sumo wrestlers do look somewhat muscular, you may be surprised to hear that they are some of the most muscular individuals on the planet (yup, they even beat bodybuilders in many cases). However, the fat on top obscures the visibility of the muscle underneath.

So how do you actually get rid of fat in a given area? Well, you’ve simply got to lose it everywhere. The free fatty acids released from fat cells enter the bloodstream where they can be used by any other tissue in the body that needs it for energy production. Unfortunately, we don't get to decide what fat cells are most sensitive to giving up their stored energy. A full explanation of how this works is a beyond the scope of this article (and to be honest, is still in the realm of theory to my knowledge). Suffice to say, not all fat cells respond to the demand to release their stored energy with equal urgency; some fat cells are more “greedy.”

Ultimately, this comes down to creating a calorie deficit, as you may have heard before. If you lose enough fat, the area that you want to tone will eventually become more visible. However, results do vary. I can't guarantee that you will have a visible six pack at 10% body fat. One person might have ab visibility at 13%,while another person might need to get to 6%. Additionally, making sure that your body chooses to burn fat rather than lean tissue is also important. This is why resistance training is so important: it signals to your body that your muscle needs to be preserved when losing weight.

Let's recap. If you want to “tone” a certain muscle, you do in fact want to work that muscle. However, you want to try to make the muscle grow. Muscles grow and shrink - they don't tone. Assuming that the muscle lacks visibility because of body fat on top, you should also strive to reduce your body fat through sensible eating and exercise (I bet you've heard that before). If you're pretty muscular already and just have a lot of fat on top, then emphasize dropping body fat. If your body fat is low but your muscle mass is also low, then focus on building muscle. Most people should probably be doing some combination of the two.

Hopefully you can use this information to your advantage, and it should reinforce what we preach here: there are no quick fixes. You need to find a lifestyle that allows you to eat healthy and be more active to achieve your goals. We don't need misinformation getting in the way. We'll keep doing our best to make that path clear!

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Workout Fuel

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Workout Fuel

I get asked questions about what foods and when to eat before/during/after workouts (referred to as peri-workout nutrition) to maximize results in the gym quite a bit. It’s one of those details that attention is given to because everyone intuitively recognizes the value in sound peri-workout nutrition practices. However, it’s not nearly as complicated as you might think. In fact, the value of consuming specific nutrients around your workouts has shown to be less important than we once thought. Worry not - I’ll guide you through the relevant details to help make sure that you’re on the path to success. Also, keep in mind that I’ll primarily be talking about peri-workout nutrition strategies with respect to resistance training, unless noted otherwise.

First of all, make sure your priorities are straight - peri-workout nutrition should not be your highest priority. Make sure your caloric intake is set to a value that is appropriate for your goals. Do you want to build muscle or lose fat? If your calorie intake doesn’t reflect your goals, then it’s probably more important to devote your energy to making sure that’s in order before your worry about peri-workout nutrition. Are you consuming adequate protein to maximize changes to body composition? If you’re not ingesting 1.5-2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day (this can be adjusted if you have very high body fat or very low muscle mass), then don’t worry so much about peri-workout nutrition. Consuming adequate protein throughout the day is far more important than consuming protein at a specific time relative to your workout. If drinking a protein shake after your workout happens to be an easy way for you to get in the protein you need to meet your goals, then more power to you.

Alright, let’s assume that your daily calorie and protein intakes are where they need to be to meet your goals. Then, is it better to consume calories before, during, or after the workout? Well, the answer is that either can work. Basically, it’s ideal to not allow a window of greater than 4-5 hours between the meals that sandwich your workouts. If you ate 3 hours before your workout, and your workout lasted an hour, then you probably want to consume something pretty soon after you finish. In fact, it’s even totally fine to workout first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, but just keep in mind that post-workout nutrition becomes significantly more important in this scenario. Let’s assume that you generally eat pretty soon before your workout. If you eat an hour before your workout, and your workout lasts another hour, then as long as you eat in the next 2-3 hours you won’t be leaving any gains behind (disclaimer: some people report GI distress when eating that soon before a workout. I’ve had numerous clients over the years who felt more energized eating shortly before their workout, but plenty of others who had upset stomachs as a result. Make sure you do what works for you).

Consuming calories during a workout is really only necessary during very long workouts. Personally, I do it sometimes because I make my protein shakes with a lot of water in them; it helps me hydrate during a workout, and I find it very convenient. However, this practice isn’t something I would say is necessary or beneficial aside from the practicality factor. Bottom line: make sure you’re not going too long on either end of your workout and you’ll be fine.

So, now that we know when, let’s tackle the what. Should you consume carbs, protein, whole foods, shakes, etc? Top priority is protein. The minimum amount you should consume pre- or post-workout is about 20g. If you are in your 60's or older, then 40g may be more appropriate. For some reason, age seems to influence the body’s response to ingesting a particular amino acid called leucine, which helps to trigger increases in protein synthesis (an important part of building muscle). It doesn’t particularly matter if it’s a shake or whole food either - this should be dictated by convenience and practicality. Protein shakes conveniently range from 20-30g per serving, so they can work just fine. However, shakes are only necessary if the ease of use is important to you. If you’d rather consume whole foods, then by all means, go that route. Your GI response should also be considered. If it’s most convenient for you to eat shortly before a workout, you may find protein shakes work well because they’re easy to digest. However, plenty of people can eat whole foods before their workouts without issue. What about carbs? Well, it used to be thought that you had to consume all of this stuff in a short window right after your workout. In reality, consuming calories within that window isn't particularly valuable, considering that studies have shown that doing so doesn't significantly alter results. However, it is important to consume carbs if you’re working out again relatively soon. For example, if you worked out at 6PM, and plan on working out the following morning at 7AM, then you probably want to get some carbs in before you go to bed to make sure performance in the workout the following morning is unaffected. Otherwise, eating fairly normally will probably take care of your carb needs. Even then, carbs aren’t totally necessary for all resistance training workouts. If you’re doing very traditional strength training in low to moderate rep ranges (basically under 10 repetitions per set), then carbs don’t matter a ton. You will eventually want to consume some, but you don’t deplete enough of your muscles’ stored carbs for it to be a huge concern. If you’re performing especially long or high-volume (high-repetition) workouts, then carbs become more important.

Let’s recap:

  • The meals surrounding your workout should be about 4-5 hours apart
  • Consuming calories during a workout only matter if that workout length exceeds 2 hours
  • Protein is important in peri-workout nutrition, but total daily intake is more important
  • Carbs become more important with increasing workout length/workout volumes

That’s really all there is to it. Hopefully that makes peri-workout nutrition practices seems less obnoxious and complicated. Making sure these practices are sustainable and reasonable to carry out is perhaps the most important aspect of all. Thankfully, the things that truly matter with respect to workout nutrition are fairly easy to follow.

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Resistance Training and Running Performance

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Resistance Training and Running Performance

For many people, aerobic running (long-distance running) is the preferred choice of exercise over weight training, which is not a bad thing given the health benefits (Penedo & Dahn, 2005). In fact, research shows that aerobic activity such as running is closely related to good health, increased energy levels, improved mood, and a lower body fat percentage. Additionally, aerobic capacity - your body’s ability to take in and assimilate oxygen into exercising muscle cells in order to synthesize energy - is a strong predictor for mortality (Garber et al., 2011).

In order to obtain the health benefits of aerobic running, performance in this variable must increase. However, there are physiological limiting factors on aerobic performance - in other words, there are reasons why running performance is limited. It’s important to understand these physiological limiting factors so that we can focus on improving them in order to increase our performance and obtain health benefits.

So, what are these physiological limiting factors? What are the main reasons that we fatigue when we run? First, aerobic capacity(VO2 max) isn’t high enough. This means that the body cannot sufficiently supply oxygen to working muscles while exercising. This will limit performance because your muscle cells are not creating energy as fast as your body is using it. However, this can be increased by aerobic exercise, so as long as you’re running at high enough intensities, you’re improving your body’s ability to utilize oxygen for energy production.

The second reason is glycogen depletion. This means that the glucose molecules, which are used to create energy, that are used as energy during high intensity exercise are being depleted. However, this more prevalent when running very long distances, such as marathons.

Lastly, and perhaps most important, is what’s called metabolic acidosis. Metabolic acidosis occurs when there’s an accumulation of acidity in the muscles from high-intensity exercise. Have you ever felt a burning sensation in your muscles when you were doing high-intensity exercise? That’s because of the buildup of acids in your muscles.

This increase in acidity interferes with the ability for oxygen to be used by the working muscle cells, denatures enzymes in the muscles, and can interfere with our ability to contract our muscles. This is a huge limitation on our ability to continue aerobic activity past a certain intensity and duration. However, if we can increase our ability to handle this increase in acidity, we’ll be able to tolerate this fatigue more efficiently, allowing for a greater aerobic performance. The body’s ability to adsorb these acids so as to prevent them from causing fatigue is called buffering capacity.

So how do we increase our buffering capacity? The answer is resistance training. For example, completing multiple sets of a leg exercise (squats, leg presses) at moderate intensity (8-12 RM) with limited rest intervals (60-90 seconds), is an effective way to increase buffering capacity. This type of exercise will quickly increase the acidity in the muscle and blood (and to a greater degree than longer distance running), which will force the body to respond and adapt, allowing for a greater buffering capacity to be achieved in the future. This increase in buffering capacity can then be useful in running performance, allowing you to run at higher intensities with delayed onset of muscular fatigue.

The American College of Sport Medicine (ACSM) recommends that an even amount of time be given to aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise (Garber et al., 2011). The good news is that both types of exercise can help increase the other, allowing for a greater level of physical fitness to be achieved. So, whether you simply jog around the neighborhood to stay healthy or you are training for your next 10k, resistance training can help!

References

1) Garber, C. E., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M. R., Franklin, B. A., Lamonte, M. J., Lee, I. M., ... & Swain, D. P. (2011). Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(7), 1334-1359.

2) Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current opinion in psychiatry, 18(2), 189-193.

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Kilo Strength Society

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Kilo Strength Society

For those of you who read the blogs I write, you may know that I am quite drawn to corrective exercise, pain and injury management, and clinical bodywork. What you might not know, however, is that I also have a passion for strength training and muscle building that I wanted to share with you today.

Before I talk about that though, I think it’s important for me to confess to you that I honestly didn’t have this passion as little as three months ago. Yes, that’s right. The truth is that, if I’m being honest, about three months ago I would’ve told you that I was getting kind of burnt out with training. At that point in time, I had just finished taking a course for a technique called P-DTR, or Proprioceptive - Deep Tendon Reflex, a neurological tool for helping people with pain and refining movement. I was taking this course for a year and before this, I completed a six-hundred hour massage school program to get my soft tissue license. The point is that I had jumped into the clinical bodywork rabbit hole and was obsessed with using my neurological and soft tissue skills because these techniques were truly helping me make huge breakthroughs with my clients. Originally, I decided to study massage and bodywork to enhance my training, but it seemed like the scales were tipping and that training was starting to support my massage and bodywork instead.

I was a bit lost, to say the least, and for a time I very seriously considered going to chiropractic or physical therapy school to fully commit myself to bodywork, rehabilitation, and healing. So what happened? How did I go from considering a career change to claiming that I have a passion for strength training and muscle building - two types of training, by the way, that many could argue are quite opposite of bodywork and rehabilitation?

In late February, our team took a trip down to Southern California, to visit another training facility called Kilo Strength Society. We were there to take a course called Advanced Strategies to Program Design, my first training course in almost two years since I’d been so preoccupied with massage school and P-DTR. Honestly, I originally wasn’t going to go, but Bryant and Justine were covering the class, Coach Anthony was going to drive a bunch of us down, and many people who I look up to as mentors told me how good the material was going to be, so I said to myself “f*** it - hopefully it’ll be a good final training course before I go all in on bodywork.” I’ve never been so wrong.

The owners of Kilo Strength Society and teachers of the course have had years and years of experience training elite level professional and olympic athletes, and it truly showed when class was in session.

Each day of the course began with a full workout - they believed that if you were going to make a client do something, that you better know how it feels to go through it yourself. Afterwards, we dived into the various theories and techniques of program design, and I was blown away. They covered everything from establishing proper strength ratios, to targeting every fiber of every muscle for balanced development, to utilizing an undulating periodization to design a program for an athlete spanning over sixteen years or even more. This list could go on and get nerdier and nerdier, but we can talk about all the specifics another time. “There’s a reason for every exercise in the program; no exercises just because,” said Stephane Cazeault of Kilo. And that’s what I was drawn to - the precision, perfectionism, and intent with which every detail of every exercise is thought out to get the athlete closer to his or her goal.

This was, without a doubt, the best personal training course I had ever taken. Other courses seemed to cover similar important concepts, but Kilo taught me how to execute and use all the knowledge I already possessed to create a truly custom, purposeful and challenging program for both me and my clients. This course reignited the personal training flame for me, but unlike my bodywork courses, it didn’t tug me in the opposite direction and make me want to stop doing bodywork and corrective exercise. Kilo’s program design techniques are so thorough that I learned to understand how this balanced approach becomes corrective exercise. Kilo’s strategy is to attack weaknesses and in doing so, almost becomes a form of advanced corrective work. Kilo was helping me to reconcile this tug o’ war between training and bodywork and making me realize how much I love the integration of both in my service.

If you’re in Southern California, I cannot recommend Kilo Strength Society enough. If you’re a trainer or coach, Kilo are the people to learn from. And if you’re looking for an integrated and intentful exercise and bodywork service, I’m excited to help.

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4 Ways To Improve Your Work/Life Balance

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4 Ways To Improve Your Work/Life Balance

For a lot of people, the pursuit of a healthy work/life balance seems impossible. With so many of us torn between juggling heavy workloads, managing family responsibilities, finding time for our spouses, and squeezing time in for our own hobbies, it's no surprise that San Francisco was rated one of the most stressed cities out there. And that’s not balanced, or healthy. So, how do you perform for life? Better question is: how do you find time for yourself? Let’s be honest, we all have to work - some more than others. Whether you’re a lawyer or a janitor, we all have our own responsibilities. In theory, we all have a brief understanding of what work-life balance means to us. Basically, “work hard, play hard.” It’s also good to keep in mind that stress affects everyone. Although we cannot eliminate stress entirely from our lives, we can minimize it by choosing to live life to the fullest. Whether that’s finding more time to spend with family, going on vacation, or reading a book, just find something you enjoy and take the time out of your busy work day to do it. In this blog, we’ll approach work/life balance in a couple of ways.

1. Set your priorities.

Work/life balance all starts with clarifying your priorities. There is no set model that works for everyone, so find what works for you. For example, my health is very important for me. No matter how busy my work schedule gets, I will try to find at least one hour of the day to get a workout in. There are twenty-four hours in a day - I’m pretty sure you can find at least one hour of that time to do something that you like.

2. Use your calendar.

What has helped me stay on point for the last few years was putting my priorities in my calendar. I put everything on my calendar, including my workout times, work time, events I have on the weekends, etc. This helps me keep track of what I have to do for work, but it also helps block out time for myself. If I don’t plan my week, I won’t get much done. Make a list of what you want to get done that week and stick with it. Having a schedule and prioritizing the most important things makes life a lot easier.

3. Master your time-management skills/become more productive at work.

How many times were you caught using social media, taking long lunch breaks, or chatting with co-workers in the office when you should be getting work done? Have you ever thought to yourself how much time you could have saved if you weren’t so distracted? All of that time could have been used for all of the things you said you wanted to do, but didn’t have time for. The key to achieving work/life balance here is to choose to manage your time. Choosing to manage your time effectively is the first step to living a healthier, happier life.

4. Take care of yourself.

Last but definitely not least: try to find time for yourself. Whether it’s going out for a jog, watching a movie, reading a book, etc. Just take a breath, step away from your responsibilities, and enjoy life. You can’t take care of anything else if you can’t take care of yourself.

Everyone has a choice of how they want to live their lives. So...why not now?? Take action and choose how you perform for life.

 

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