COVID-19: The Ultimate Mindset Shift

I remember getting the notification about gyms closing due to COVID-19 and being both worried and upset. A place that I considered a second home, was being closed down for 2 weeks (which turned into 4) in an effort to flatten the COVID-19 curve. I felt like I had lost a best friend, something that has been a daily part of my life for over 12 years, and I wasn’t sure how I would get by.

Writing it out like that, it seems silly. The gym, my best friend? But in many ways, no matter how sad that sounds, it’s true.

The gym was the place I went to when times were good, bad and especially when they were ugly. It was the place I felt most comfortable and free. It was always open, always available, and always gave back more than I put in. When I had no one else, I always had the gym, so the loss of it left me grieving. As such, I went through the various stages of grief.

Denial, anger, depression, and bargaining.

Finally, I came to acceptance and realized that regardless of how I felt, the situation was not going to change and the change that needed to happen was in the way I looked at and approached the situation. Sure, I didn’t have the same equipment that a commercial, or even private gym has, but I did have some equipment and that was far better than nothing. I may not be able to workout in the same way or capacity that I was used to, but I could still workout and get many of the same benefits.

By changing my mindset I went from worrying about losses in muscle and strength, to focusing on the gains I would make in other areas of fitness. I thought about how this setback could be an opportunity to become a more well-rounded athlete and a better fitness and nutrition coach. I went from angry, anxious, and depressed about the situation, to excited, energized and hopeful about what could come of it.

If you want to change your mindset about your fitness and training during this time and go from complaining about what you lost to focusing on what you may gain, continue reading. If not, do your best just to “grind through” until the gyms open, whenever that may be.

The New Status Quo

The most important step in making the most out of this situation is treating these changes like they’re the new “normal”. Stop waiting for things to get back to normal, stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead, adjust and adapt to the situation as it is, rather than how you’d like it to be. This is not only going to be a powerful mindset shift for your training, but for your life as we learn to operate within the guidelines. It does you absolutely no good to put energy into and dwell on what was or what could be. Instead, focus on what is and what still can be.

How can you make the most of the situation as it stands? If this situation was permanent, or at least for the next 6 months, how would your approach to training, nutrition and your daily life change?

These are important questions to answer if you want to change your approach to your fitness during this time and make the most out of a poor situation.

Work on Weaknesses
We’ve all got them. That side of your body that isn’t as strong, that exercise that’s a massive struggle for you, or the area of fitness you’re lacking. Use this time to not only build awareness of your weaknesses, but attack them ferociously so when you get back to your typical gym routine you’re stronger and more resilient than ever before.

Where do you biggest weaknesses lie? What exercises and/or types of workouts give you the most trouble or do you avoid (because they’re hard or “suck”)? What have you been avoiding because it isn’t fun, sexy or doesn’t play up to your strengths?

Answer those questions and then get to work!

Get Creative
Challenge yourself to find creative, new ways to workout. Maybe you decide to use heavy objects around the house, like laundry detergent, milk jugs, or back packs loaded with books or cans. Maybe you have weights but need to find ways to challenge your strength because of the limitations of equipment or amount of weight you have access to, like using offset loads or training unilaterally. No matter what your specific limitations are, take it as an exciting new challenge rather than a setback.

What objects do you have around your house that you can use for exercise equipment?

Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, turn your sights on what you do have and how you can make use of it.

Try New Types of Exercise
Is there a workout class or fitness program you’ve been curious about trying? Now is a great time to jump in and give it a go! Find free workouts online through Google of YouTube, join a live class (I run 3 each week live through Zoom, if you’d like the info comment below) or reach out to a coach or trainer you trust who specializes in the type of exercise you’re interested in. Expand your fitness knowledge and improve the way that your body moves (while working on likely weaknesses from #1) to become a more well rounded human and athlete.

There’s no better time to try something new, and the internet offers you a great opportunity to find all sorts of free or inexpensive options from the comfort of your home. Figure out what interests and excites you (or challenges you), head to YouTube or Google, and find exactly what you’re looking for (and more).

Focus on Mobility and Recovery
You probably have been meaning to get around to fixing that knee pain, improving the depth of your squat, and working on your mobility for years now. You’ve had all the right intentions and may have even found a routine that you started, but I’m going to guess that you’ve never actually put in consistent, intentional time on your mobility. I get it though. It’s not flashy, it doesn’t show as well on social media or in conversations the way a deadlift PR or longest run does, but it’s a necessary component to a fitness program and your physical health. Take this extra time (and likely lack of equipment) to focus on an area that will benefit you not only immediately, but also over the long haul.

For my daily mobility routine that you can do anywhere and anytime, follow this link. It can be done in 20-30 minutes and will touch on every joint and muscle in the body to ensure that your body moves and feels better than every. Start taking care of you body and improving your mobility so that when you get back to your normal training, you’ll be stronger than ever before.

If you want to spend your time upset about the loss of gyms and the change in your typical workout and routine, that’s your choice, but you’re far better off accepting the situation as it is and choosing to find the silver lining. You’ll be happier, healthier and much more productive as a result.

P.S. I am opening up spots in my group coaching program to anyone who is looking for accountability and support in addition to some awesome workouts and training resources. If you’re interested, leave a comment and let me know so I can get you signed up. The best part: it’s entirely FREE! Join today!

“Brain Dump” Your Way to Better Sleep & a Happier Mind

It’s not uncommon for people to struggle to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. For some, this may be a result of unused physical energy (that idea of your body being tired), while others may have a hard time turning their mind off and settling in. Thankfully both are (relatively) easy to rectify with a bit of action, but for today’s sake let’s focus on the mental side of things as this is where more people, in my experience, tend to struggle.

My favorite tool I have clients use to clear their mind, slow down their thoughts and find mental peace to make sleep easier to find is called a “brain dump”. It’s an unscientific term I use to describe the process of dumping everything that’s on your mind and keeping you awake, down onto a piece of paper. It acts as “save button” for your brain, allowing your mind to be at ease knowing that you won’t forget anything important that you’re currently focused on.

You see, the reason that your mind races and doesn’t allow to you sleep is because it deems the information that it’s dwelling on to be important. Things to do, bills to pay, checklists to cross off, these are all things that are important and thus your brain doesn’t want to forget them for fear of messing something up or missing something. To make sure that we reduce the fear, and simultaneously the thoughts tied to it, we use a brain dump to pull those thoughts out of our head and put them down on paper to review later. This gives our brain a bit of relief and can ease some of the mental thoughts and tension that otherwise would be there.

Similar to moving files off of your desk top (your brain) and into a folder (the piece of paper for your brain dump) brings you peace of mind, so to does the process of going through a nightly brain dump. So take all of those stressful, nagging thoughts and life’s annoyances, grab a pen and paper, and get to dumping them out to worry about later.

Here’s how you perform a brain dump:

  1. Pull out a blank sheet of paper, notebook, etc
  2. Grab a pencil, pen or other writing utensil
  3. Write down the first thought that comes to your mind, something that has your focus, then follow it with the next thought and the one after that
  4. Don’t try to work through the things you write out, figure out a solution or anything of that nature, just put it down and hit a figurative “save” button on those thoughts so you can pick them back up the following day
  5. Spend roughly 10-15 minutes doing this (less if you have less on your mind) and reap the benefits of a peaceful night’s sleep
It doesn’t have to be neat, organized, color coded or anything else, just get those thoughts OUT

That’s the basics of a quality brain dump. It’s pretty simple and straight forward and is a very useful tool to help calm down your brain, clear your thoughts, and put yourself in a good position for a restful night of sleep. Sleep is a key component of health, arguably the most largely overlooked, so use this tool frequently to build quality sleep habits and ensure that you’re doing the most you can to improve your sleep and overall health.

How to Calculate Your Macros for Weight Loss Success

How much should I eat? What should my macros be?

Two of the most commonly asked questions that I receive and with good reason, when it comes to weight loss how much you eat is all that really matters. You could eat the healthiest “superfoods” the world has to offer, but if you’re eating those foods in excessive amounts, you’ll be unable to lose weight.

Calories are the regulator for weight. Eat too many, you’ll gain weight. Too few, you’ll lose it. That is an indisputable fact, one of the few that we have when it comes to nutrition and health.

If you’re looking to lose weight, gain weight, or even maintain weight, you HAVE to know how much to eat. And I’m going to show you exactly how to figure that out in the article below.

Step One: How many calories do I need?

The first thing you need to figure out, even before you calculate your calories, is your goal. Are you looking to lose weight, gain weight, or simply maintain where you’re currently at? Answering this question will help guide you in calculating your caloric needs. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to approach things from a weight loss perspective.

Next, you’ve got to figure out how many calories your body uses (roughly) on a daily basis. This is your TDEE, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure. It accounts for everything from the basic functioning of your body aka Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR (breathing, digestion, circulation, etc.), physical activity including exercise and non-exercise activity (NEAT), and the Thermic Effect of Foods or TEF (how food effects your metabolism). For our purposes we will focus on BMR and activity, as these will have the greatest effect on your caloric needs, and if you enlist the strategies for macros below, you’ll take full advantage of the thermic effect of food as well.

There’s a ton of calculators for TDEE out there, all performing similar equations so it’s not so much about choosing the “perfect” or “best” calculator, but rather choosing one and sticking with it. Ultimately this number is only going to be a starting point anyways, so it’s just a tool we use to simplify the process. You can search “TDEE calculator” in google, or follow this link to find the calculator that I use for myself and clients.

Enter in your specific information, including your sex, age, height, weight, and activity level to get an estimation of how many calories your body needs on a daily basis. Leave the bodyfat percentage empty, unless you’ve recently had an accurate bodyfat testing procedure, like a DEXA scan, performed. In regard to activity level, always underestimate your activity to be safe. Choose a selection that is one level of activity less than you believe it to be, as most people grossly overestimate how active they are throughout their daily life. For instance, I typically workout 5-6 days a week and have an active daily life, but I choose moderate exercise (3-5 days per week) rather than heavy exercise (6-7 days per week) to be on the safe side.

Once you hit submit, the calculator will spit out a large number in bold black lettering on the left side of the page. This is your maintenance calories and the starting point for the short self experiment you will perform for the next two weeks. Before we get into that, it’s important to break down and calculate the individual macronutrients as well, as these can play a role in weight loss, performance and health.

Step Two: What should my macros be?

Macronutrients, or macros for short, are the separate categories of nutrients that make up the calories that we eat. They each perform different functions vital to our health. The 3 macros are protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Without going into much detail, the functions of each are laid out below.

Protein

The primary purpose of protein is to build and maintain bodily tissue. The most common tissue we think of is muscle, but protein also impacts the eyes, hair, skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, and much, much more. Protein contains 4 calories per gram. It is an essential nutrient, meaning that your body cannot live without it and you must get it through your diet.

Fat

Fat plays a role in energy storage, protection of vital organs, transportation and absorption of nutrients, and hormone production, among many other functions. Fat is the most energy dense of all the macros containing 9 calories per gram. Like protein, fat is an essential nutrient and it must be eaten consistently to survive and have good health.

Carbohydrate

Carbs are the body’s preferred energy source and provide fiber that’s necessary for digestion, immunity and overall health. Like protein, carbs contain 4 calories per gram. While carbs aren’t necessarily essential, meaning that you don’t have to consume them, they are a part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.

Now that you know a bit about each macro, let’s get into the specifics of how much to eat of each.

Protein is arguably the most important macronutrient, especially in terms of weight loss. It has the highest thermic effect of food, meaning that eating protein increases your metabolism much more than eating carbs or fats. Couple that with the fact that protein is the most satiating and filling macro, and it makes sense why it is most important for weight loss.

The most common and simplest calculation for protein intake is 1 gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight that you have. If you’re like me and around 200lbs, this means that you would need to eat 200 grams of protein every day. The truth of the matter is that optimal protein intake is, like most things with the human body, a range or continuum rather than a specific number or calculation.

The upper limit for protein is almost non existent, with studies showing no ill or adverse effects on protein intake up to 1.5g/lb of bodyweight (Antonio, 2016), so instead of setting a range, I like to use a minimum and an ideal goal. The minimum protein intake for an individual is .75g/lb of bodyweight. Again, taking a 200lb male as our example his minimum protein intake would be 150g/day. The optimal intake of protein is the more common number we see, 1g/lb of bodyweight, or 200g/day for a 200lb individual.

It becomes more important to hit that optimal intake number if you’re in a more extreme deficit (500 cals or more), longer deficit/diet period (12-16 weeks or more), and/or you’re pretty lean already (sub 10% BF for men, 15% BF for women). For most people though, getting at least 3/4 of your bodyweight in protein will be plenty.

After calculating your protein needs, it’s time to figure out how much fat you need in your diet. Again, I don’t set specific numbers him but I do give a minimum intake for health related purposes. That minimum is .3g of fat per pound of bodyweight. The 200lb individual will need to eat a minimum of 60g of fat daily for optimal health and performance purposes. Beyond that, the amount of fat that you take in is personal preference and will only be effected by how many carbs you eat.

Finally, we need to take a look at our carb intake. When it comes to weight and fat loss, carb and fat intake are interchangeable and make no difference in how much weight or fat is lost. This has been shown in numerous studies where protein and calories are equated, so it really comes down to personal preference and figuring out what makes the most sense in your life.

Are you someone who enjoys plenty of carbs like rice, potatoes and bread? Or do you prefer nuts, avocados, cheeses, and oils?

Do you feel and perform better in both your workouts and daily life with more carbs or more fat?

Answering these questions will ultimately decide how to break down your carbs and fats. As long as you hit that minimum fat intake and can stay within your calorie range, the way that you decide to consume the remainder of your calories, whether from fat or carbs, is entirely up to you and will not negatively effect your weight loss.

Protein:

  • .75 x bodyweight = minimum intake in grams
  • 1 x bodyweight = optimal intake in grams
  • Take the number from above (whichever you use) and multiply by 4, the number of calories in a gram of protein. Subtract this number from your total calories you calculated in step 1 of this article

Fat:

  • .3 x bodyweight = minimum intake in grams
  • Take the number above a multiply it by 9, the number of calories in a gram of fat. Subtract that number from the remainder of calories after

Carbs:

  • Fill in with the remainder of calories after calculating protein and fat, splitting the remaining calories between carbs and fats in a way that fits your lifestyle, preferences and needs

Example (Myself)

  • 204lb, 6 foot tall, 29 year old male, moderately active
  • Maintenance calories = 2989
  • Optimal protein intake = 204g x 4 = 816 cals
  • 2989 – 816 = 2173 cals remaining
  • Minimum fat intake = 204 x .3 = 61g of fat x 9 = 549 cals
  • 2173 – 549 = 1624 cals remaining to be split between carbs and fats based upon personal preference

In the example above those remaining 1624 calories can be split in anyway that you see fit. Truthfully, I don’t set specific carb or fat numbers (besides the fat minimum target) and just track protein, fiber, and total calories. This reduces the fixation that many people have with specific numbers, while still allowing one to reach their goals successfully. It works especially well if you’re using a food logging app like MyFitnessPal (MFP), where it does all the adding and subtracting for you. I’ll talk about how to set everything up and optimize your use of MFP in another blog installment coming soon.

Step Three: How do I know if I’m in a deficit?

This is where the self-experimentation comes into play. You will spend the next 2 weeks diligently tracking the foods that you eat and trying to get as close to your maintenance calories daily and weekly as possible. The more accurate you are with your calorie and macro intake (namely protein), the more accurate the experimentation will be which will guide you going forward.

You may be asking “If I already know my maintenance calories and how to calculate my macros, why don’t I just reduce my calories a bit to create a deficit?”

The answer is that the human body is extremely complex and there’s so many minute variations that go into the different processes that effect our absorption of energy and nutrients, metabolism and use of nutrients, that it would be nearly impossible to calculate caloric needs with 100% accuracy. We use the TDEE calculator as an initial estimation of caloric needs, a starting point, eat according to the TDEE number we calculate, and then monitor the way your body weight responds over the following 2 weeks.

Use the scale to gather data. That data allows you to make informed decisions to better reach your goals.

If your bodyweight increases, you are in a caloric surplus and will need to reduce calories (300-500). If you bodyweight holds steady, you’re eating at maintenance levels and will need to reduce your calories slightly (150-300). If your bodyweight decreases, you’re in luck because you’re in a calorie deficit and can continue eating at that amount to lose weight. One caveat, if your weight drops excessively (more than 4lbs, or 2.5lbs for lean individuals) you may want to increase your calories slightly to make weight loss a bit healthier and more sustainable.

That’s the basics of calculating macros for weight loss. The same would be held true if you’re trying to gain weight or muscle, but reversed. Instead of reducing the number of calories from your TDEE, you would increase them and look to gain weight during your self-experimentation rather than lose it. In either case, the numbers that you punch out from the TDEE is just a starting point and it’s best to use the scale to monitor your progress and help guide your calorie intake.

Now that you have the tools you need to calculate your calories and macros to meet your goals, you have all the information you need to start reaching your goals it’s just a matter of putting it into action. So start planning and prepping meals, work to improve your mindset around food, and stay active throughout the day!

Antonio, J., Ellerbroek, A., Silver, T., Vargas, L., Tamayo, A., Buehn, R., & Peacock, C. A. (2016). A high protein diet has no harmful effects: a one-year crossover study in resistance-trained males. Journal of nutrition and metabolism2016.

Getting Lost to Find Myself: Part Two

Monday, I wrote a blog detailing the last few months of struggle in my life and how it lead me to embark on a solo adventure in Costa Rica on a whim. Today I want to switch gears, move away from the slightly heavy, slightly depressive talk about my struggles, and onto the beauty seen, lessons learned, and growth I achieved while traveling alone in a foreign country.

International travel by itself is a marvelous adventure where you not only learn a ton about the people, culture and places that you visit, but even more so about yourself. Add in traveling solo to a foreign country, and the learning and growth is increased exponentially. You learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine. Why you do or don’t do certain things. What makes you get up in the morning. And the things that truly bring you peace, and joy.

Solo travel may seem scary and/or lonely at first, but I promise you that once you embark upon that journey, regardless of where it is, you’ll understand it when I say that EVERYONE should take a trip alone at some point in their life. I grew more in the 8 days spent in Costa Rica than any other time in my life to date. I was challenged every step of the way, mentally and physically, and overcame each and every one of those. Below are some of those challenges and triumphs, lessons learned, and steps taken toward growth. After reading through them, I hope to inspire you to take more trips, traveling both with friends and on your own, and challenge you to live life reinvigorated with overwhelming excitement for what’s to come.

Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company

When I told people that I was traveling alone to Costa Rica, I received a lot of different responses. The two most popular responses I received were that it would be scary, and even more popular, that it would be lonely. Both of these responses are normal, as it can seem both scary and lonely traveling by yourself.

You’re all alone in a foreign country, with no one to reach out to for help or conversation besides yourself. That level of independence and self-reliability is difficult for many people, myself included at one point, to fathom. We’re not used to being outside our comfort zones. We aren’t used to being without the people, places and things that act as security blankets, and it can send our internal alarm systems into high alert.

Sometimes that alarm system is well intended and correct in causing you to pause and think about the journey ahead, while other times that alarm system can hold you back from experiencing life on a different level and growing to new heights. When it comes to traveling alone, I think most of that fear and worry is misguided.

That’s not to say that there aren’t inherent risks or things to fear, but that those risks are far overshadowed by the benefits that foreign travel provides. Traveling alone forces you to spend time with yourself, learn to rely on yourself, and grow comfortable in your solitude.

I remember sitting at dinner the first night in Costa Rica, surrounded by a beautiful landscape, I was also surrounded by many groups of people. Couples, families, and friends were all around me. Everywhere I looked, somebody had somebody. And it started to weigh on me.

Who would I talk to? How would I make it through an entire dinner without anyone around? How weird do I look as the only person sitting alone in a crowded restaurant?

It was far too easy to get lost in those negative thoughts, drowned by anxiety for a situation I wasn’t used to, and rethink my decision to travel alone. As the sun began to set, creating an intense canvas of red, orange, and yellow hues fill with the shadowy outlines of palm trees dotting the rain forest, I realized how crazy that was.

Was it really that bad to travel alone? Did I really need anyone to keep me company or make me feel satisfied? Wasn’t it enough to simply take in the natural beauty around me, internalizing all that I saw and capturing that moment forever?

From that moment forward, being alone stopped bothering me. I didn’t question how much better the trip would’ve been with another person, or how “weird” it may look to people seeing me eating, hiking, and adventuring alone. I stopped caring about what was expected, or what was optimal, and started focusing on what was right in front of me: the natural beauty of the world around me. Pulling my thoughts away from what could be, to what was, allowed me to fully immerse myself in my travels and make the most of every single second.

I recently read a quote that said, “Solitude is the celebration of your own company.” Costa Rica taught me about solitude and the differences between lonely isolation, and enriching solitude. Traveling alone allowed me the opportunity to reconnect with myself and remember how good it feels to enjoy one’s own company. I challenge you to spend more time alone, free from distractions that make you feel less alone, and absorb the world around you. Take in the world’s beauty, analyze your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and start building a quality relationship with yourself that will bleed positivity into every other aspect of your life.

Viva la Pura Vida! Live the Pure Life!

Costa Ricans have a saying, “Pura Vida”, which translates directly to “Pure Life”. Pura Vida is far more than just a saying, and rather it’s a way of life for them. It means to take risks, enjoy the moment, live your best life, be thankful for what you have and the life you’ve been given. It means to climb mountains, traverse through jungles, and be one with the world around you. Pura Vida is a way of saying goodbye, hello, thank you and so much more.

Not only do they use that saying judiciously, they live it even more fervently. Everything that Costa Ricans do is done with a fervor and joy that is hard to explain. The people smile at you everywhere you go. If you say hello to someone, they will return the favor and likely spark up a conversation. The offers for rides and help, even though you’re a foreigner vacationing in their country. It just seems like they’ve got life figured out when it comes to being happy, joyous, and at peace.

Traveling through Costa Rica I quickly adopted this same mentality. It’s hard not to when you’re surrounded by so much positivity and energy. It gives true meaning to the idea that you pick up on, feed off of, and adopt the energy and mindset of those who are around you. The Pura Vida idea seeps into your soul and you’re unable to fight it, not that you would want to.

During my travels I realized how much of my life had been spent living without gusto, excitement and joy. I noticed how much of my energy had been wasted on negative thoughts and behaviors. I understood how easily I had fallen prey to living outside the moment, focusing on mistakes of the past or worries about the future.

As I traveled through Costa Rica, adventuring through the jungles, laying on the beaches, and hiking up its mountains, I realized that life was about more than external indicators of success and happiness and rather, it was about defining your own success and happiness and then creating it. For too long I had lived by the rules, ideas and values of others, forgetting that the ones that matter most are my own.

When you’re traveling alone, in a foreign country full of life you are instantly reminded of this. There’s no one to ask permission or come to a compromise on what to do or eat, you simply have to turn inward and ask yourself what you would like to do/eat. You have no one to rely or depend upon to make decisions, or help make decisions, for you, so you quickly learn to listen to yourself and trust what you hear.

Memento Mori: Remember You Will Die

I nearly died white water rafting in Costa Rica. That may be a bit of a dramatization, but it certainly felt like it at the time. Those 10 seconds I spent submerged under water, fighting to reach the surface and the air that would give me life, were 10 of the longest seconds of my life. Every sensation hit me all at once, not seeing, but rather, feeling my life flash before my eyes. Each time I reached for the surface, only to hit the bottom of the boat I felt death creep closer. When I finally reached the surface, the overwhelming joy and gratitude I had for the oxygen in the air around and my life in general was nearly too much to bear.

Nearly drowning during white water rafter was one of the scariest moments of my life, but also one of the greatest. After coming to the surface, getting back into the raft, and continuing down the river, a smile reached my face that never left.

Why was I smiling when I nearly died?

I smiled because I realized what those 10 seconds had shown and taught me. Those 10 short seconds, where I wasn’t certain I was going to live, reminded me of how short life is. It showed me how much of my life I had taken for granted. And it quickly taught me that if I wanted to live a life of purpose, a life I could not only be proud of, but also enjoy, I needed to stop taking life for granted and start living with respect for this life.

If you’re like me, you spent a lot of your life living as though you were invincible and would live forever. You wasted time and energy on people, opportunities and situations that weren’t serving you or your life goals. You took risks, but not ones that would benefit your life.

Sometimes, you need a wakeup call to remind yourself of your own mortality and get back to living life in a way that moves you forward and helps you grow. This could mean something small, like getting sick, injured, or having a minor life crisis happen, or something more major like a debilitating/life changing injury or illness, death of someone close to you or major life crisis. I have never been one to pick up on the subtleties that life sends my way, joking that I could bang my head against a brick wall 10 times before realizing I’m not getting through, so it’s no wonder that my mortality hit me like a slap to the face that rang out across all of Costa Rica.

Maybe you don’t need to have a near death experience to make the realizations that I did. Maybe just reading this shook enough of something loose to help you start respecting your life, and as a result, living it to the fullest. That’s my hope.

And if not, I hope you do something about it. I hope you realize how short and precious life is. I hope you find a way to begin respecting your life for the gift that it is, and putting the quality, positive energy and effort into it, and yourself, that it deserves. I hope that you realize this before it’s too late. Before you’re on your death bed, wondering where all your years went and regretful for all that you missed out on.

Trust Your Harness

I did a lot of fun, exciting, awe-inspiring, and frankly, crazy shit while in Costa Rica. One of those “crazy shit” experiences was rappelling and canyoneering in the rainforests near La Fortuna. It was my first time doing either, and it was an experience that’s difficult to put into words. Bluntly put, it was cool as hell!

Imagine yourself repelling down 30, 50, and even 200-foot canyons and waterfalls, feeling like a bad ass special forces operator as you jump off the wall of the canyon and gracefully bound and rappel your way to the ground. Okay, so maybe I didn’t look exactly like a Navy Seal or Marine, but in my head, I was a total rock star living out a Mission Impossible fantasy.

The funny thing about the whole adventure is that the actual rappelling and lowering down the waterfalls and canyons wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was the initial set up process where you had to turn your back to the drop off, plant your feet on the edge of the cliff, and lean into your harness. As much as I knew that harness was sturdy and tested against weights and feats much greater than mine, it was still a total mindfuck to lean into it.

This is a lot like life. We tend to fear taking that first step, not knowing what’s over the edge waiting for us, and preferring the comfort of our feet safely on trusted ground. The problem is that if we lived our life this way, never trusting our harness and always choosing the safe route, life would get stagnant pretty quickly. We would never meet new people and make new friends. We wouldn’t be able to grow our careers and find success in them. And we would miss out on a mountain of opportunities that could bring us everything we’ve ever wanted and needed: a life worth living, full of energy, excitement and happiness.

What we tend to forget, or don’t realize, is that we all have a built-in safety harness. Our safety harnesses have been built and developed over the course of our lives as we have overcome challenges, adversity and dealt with everything that’s come our way. Your safety harness is your strength, perseverance, tenacity, grit, determination, emotional intelligence, problem solving, and every other skill, trait and characteristic that makes you you and allows you to continue moving forward despite what difficulties come your way.

If you’re like me and tend to play it safe in life, preferring the paths you’ve traveled endlessly, do yourself a favor and shake things up a bit. Take a new path, or better yet, carve one out that’s all your own. Don’t worry about what’s around the corner, over the edge, or through the woods, just trust the safety harness that you’ve built internally throughout your life and take that first step. I promise you that excitement, happiness, and internal peace are just on the other side of your fears, waiting for you to explore and embrace them.

Forget Doing, Start Being

On my final full day in Costa Rica, the power of being instead of doing culminated within me. I woke up bright and early at 5:30am, as I had been the entire trip. I looked at my plan for the day and built excitement for what was to come. I cleaned up, showered, and got ready for breakfast. During breakfast it began to rain. Not rain like a few drops here and there, but a torrential down pour that left the ground muddy and your clothes soaked.

This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I was staying right near the rain forest, so rain is a part of the program, but typically it’s a quick drench and then it’s over. I spent some extra time at breakfast, hoping for the rain to let up, with no such luck. After spending nearly two hours at breakfast I decided to head back to my room.

Back in my room I became extremely antsy, beginning to feel the initial stages of anxiety kick in as I realized my last day may be spent in a small hotel room, watching the rain. As I paced wall to wall in my room, I couldn’t help but feel like my final day was ruined, like maybe I should’ve left a day early to avoid this. I’m not really sure what happened, but I finally stopped pacing, laid down on the bed, and just focused on breathing. Listening to sounds of the wind and rain battering against the metal of the roof like a therapeutic sleep song, I realized how absurd I was being.

So, what if it rained on my last day? Did that negate all of the beauty I had seen, the things I had experienced, or growth I had accomplished?

I realized that the issue wasn’t so much that the rain was throwing my day off, but more so that I had this deep, unending desire to be “doing” something because that’s the way life is in the U.S. It’s all about maximizing your time, fitting in as much as possible, and the idea to always be doing something. I felt like because I was doing nothing, meant that I had somehow failed at my vacation.

How crazy is that? How does one “fail” at a vacation?

You don’t but you can certainly feel that way if you get caught up in the nonstop go, go, go and more, more, more of life. I sure have been, but that last day in Costa Rica, and several other smaller, less apparent moments, I learned to stop worrying about always doing something, and start focusing on being something. Being myself, being with my thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and being alive and part of the moment.

Though it was the hardest lesson for me to learn, it was easily the most beneficial as it’s given me a peace of mind for my life and an ability to enjoy each and every moment as they come. I’m still working to fight the urge to always be doing something, I think that will always be a part of me, but I’m finding a balance between doing and accomplishing things and turning inwardly and learning to just “be”.

If you struggle with anxiety, or even just thoughts that life should be a constant series of doing and go, go, go, challenge yourself to slow things down, enjoy the moment, and be one with yourself. That alone will bring you a level of freedom and peace that many don’t experience because so much of their lives are driven by the act of doing.

Solo Travel = Growth Acceleration

Traveling solo is a whirlwind adventure that teaches you loads about yourself and the world around you. You learn to rely on and depend on yourself, expand and grow within yourself, and develop a respect for yourself and your life that you may not otherwise.

If you’ve ever thought about traveling alone, I urge you to take that leap of faith and trust in yourself to figure it out as you go. That’s kinda what life is about anyways, taking leaps of faith, trusting in your ability to figure things out, and following through on the journeys you embark upon.

If you have any questions about traveling solo, what to expect, or just want to work through some of the feelings you may be having toward it, please comment below or reach out via email at achievefitllc@gmail.com and let’s talk further!

Getting Lost to Find Myself: Part One

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you likely know that I spent 8 days traveling alone in Costa Rica recently. On Instagram I posted an endless amount of pics documenting the natural beauty of Costa Rica and sharing all the animals that I encountered along my journey (I’m a bit of a nature and zoology nerd). On Facebook I shared my reflections on my journey and the growth that inevitably came my way as a result of that journey. What you probably don’t know, regardless of if and where you follow me, is why.

Why did I travel to Costa Rica, alone and out of the proverbial blue?

The why for this trip has been a long time coming. The past year, hell even the past few years, have been really rough on me. That’s not to say that I’m unlucky, or life’s unfair, I don’t believe either to be true, but I have dealt with internal struggles that few people know about. The culmination of these struggles was self-admittance to the psychiatric ER after a bout of depression became too much to handle on my own.

I wasn’t suicidal, but I stopped caring about life and whether I woke up the next morning. It’s what they define as passively suicidal. I got to a point where life became extremely dark, like I was living in a hole, trying to dig myself out, but every time I dug the dirt just fell back on top of me. I was hopeless and apathetic, not caring about any of the things that usually matter to me.

On the outside you wouldn’t be able to tell. I was going to work and putting on a happy face. I was keeping up with physical appearances and hygiene, which is one of the key signs they use to determine someone who’s depressed. I didn’t miss any workouts, sleep in late, or any of the normal symptoms that we equate with depression. In short, I didn’t fit the mold for depression, but inside, I felt like I was dying. Like someone had taken a heavy, dark blanket and used to it cover my mind and heart. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t feel, and I couldn’t live on my own terms.

That loss of control in my life was nearly too much. Thankfully I had and have some very supportive and amazing people in my life and despite feeling alone in my battle, I never was. Those people helped me get through one of the darkest periods in my life and helped me keep from spiraling entirely out of control. Unfortunately, the depression wasn’t the only issue in my life.

About 6 weeks ago, my girlfriend of 2.5 years and the person I loved more than anyone outside of family, and I broke up.

A little over a week after my trip to the psych ER, something still wasn’t right. I still felt overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety and anger. I still felt like I had lost my vigor for life and was struggling to feel like myself. Standing in the shower one day, the emotions were too much. I collapsed, sitting down, letting the water pour over me, and cried. I cried because I was depressed, but more so, I cried because I realized what was necessary for me to be able to be me again.

Despite knowing how much it would hurt both of us, despite not wanting to in the least, I walked out of the shower and explained to my then girlfriend that things weren’t right. In my life, in my head, and in our relationship. Something was off, pieces were missing, and I couldn’t help feeling like we were going in different directions. I expressed that it had nothing to do with how I felt about her, didn’t detract from how deeply I loved her, but that we had been fighting an uphill battle, staying together out of comfort and convenience, rather than progress and growth, and it had become too much for me to bare. I wanted her to be happy and I knew that ultimately that would not and could not be with me, so I needed to let her go, allow her to grow on her own, and find happiness in herself and with someone else.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Deciding to give up something good, or good enough, for something better, great, and quite possibly amazing. To give up on someone and something that I had worked on and with, fought tooth and nail for, for the last 2.5 years, it broke me. I felt like I was quitting, and that’s something I take pride in not doing. I don’t quit, I don’t give up, especially when there’s no glaringly obvious reason for it.

We didn’t have the typical problems that plague most relationships, my previous ones included, like lying, cheating, or incessant arguing that usually precludes and makes a breakup easy to see and follow through on. We loved each other deeply, and despite that, it wasn’t enough. And that was the hardest part, realizing that despite loving each other, despite wanting to be together, it simply wasn’t enough, and it was time to move on for both of us.

I’m grateful and thankful for the 2.5 years I got to spend with that amazing person. We taught each other so much about love and life and helped each other grow in ways that wouldn’t have been possible had we not found each other. We supported each other through some of the most trying and difficult times of our lives, that we may not have been able to handle alone. For all of that and more, I am thankful, and I will always have a place in my heart for her and I hope that she finds peace, happiness and everything her heart desires in this life.

The most amazing part about the breakup is that it showed me that I could still FEEL. I still had emotions, I still had life and energy inside of me, it had just been lying dormant and slowly dying. Instead of just living free from emotions, or only feeling and living with anger, I could actually feel again. The world became a bit brighter, life became a bit more exciting, and the tears that I shed were not only for sadness at what I had lost, but for happiness at what I had gained: the ability to feel.

Shortly after our breakup, it dawned on me that that there was still work left to do. I had done a lot of adding and subtracting in my life, doing my best to get back to being me, but I still needed a spark, something that would ignite change and spur growth.

Less than two weeks after the breakup I found that spark, or rather, I created it. I booked a trip to Costa Rica on a whim, traveling alone for the first time. I knew that it would be difficult, as traveling alone gives you no one and nothing to fall back on but yourself, but I also knew it was exactly what I needed.

I couldn’t tell you exactly how I knew it was what I needed, but something in my gut was pulling me towards a solo trip, specifically to Costa Rica. I needed the beaches to soak up the sun and re-energize, the mountains to give me an elevated view and assess my life as a whole, and the jungles and rainforests to allow me to get lost, both in their trails and my mind.

Although it wasn’t the best time for me to be taking an international trip, or any trip for that matter, it was the right time for me. I needed to get away from the life and situations I was so used to, get outside my comfort zone, and really force myself to do some deep thinking, work on myself, and create intentional growth. And somehow, the trip to Costa Rica provided all of that and more.

It gave me an opportunity to breathe, think, and live clearly, not worrying about all the responsibilities and the life I left back home. By turning my life upside down for a little over a week, I was forced to assess my life and able to see it from a different, clearer perspective. Costa Rica will always have a special place in my heart for its natural beauty and wildlife, but even more so for the mental and spiritual journey that I went through on its beaches, in its forests, and upon its mountains.

If you’ve read this far, I want to thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit more about me and support me as I navigate through all the struggles and triumphs that this life has to offer. If you’re interested in reading more, I will be releasing the second and final part of the this blog on Wednesday, detailing more about my actual journey in Costa Rica, everything I learned along the way, and how I am going to use that newfound knowledge and growth to start living my life in the way that I’ve always wanted.

Stay tuned, and if you have any questions or comments regarding me, my life, or the trip to Costa Rica, please comment below as I would love to connect with you and answer them!

Health Doesn’t Have a “Look”

Have you ever looked at a person and thought to yourself, “wow they’re really fit (aka healthy)”? Or maybe the inverse has happened where you’ve looked at someone less fit and made the judgment that they were unhealthy. Don’t worry if you have, it’s pretty normal and you are not alone in this regard.

There’s this misguided ideal that you can tell whether a person is “healthy” from the way they look. See a fat person = unhealthy. See a skinny person = healthy. See a fit person = super healthy. While size, shape and/or look can sometimes give insight to health, it isn’t the sole determinant of health and there’s so much that goes on beneath the surface.

This is a common image, I went through hundreds, if not thousands, of similar images all depicting the idea that health and weight/size are the same thing.

Size doesn’t show how active a person is, whether that person smokes or drinks excessively, or the general lifestyle that a person lives. Size doesn’t tell you whether that person is living with an illness or disease, or whether they’re happy or sad. And most of all, size doesn’t tell you how dedicated vs lazy a person is. Weight and size only tell you that, weight and size.

Someone told me something that put things into perspective in this regard. Imagine driving along and noticing somebody walking down the street. This person is noticeably overweight. Many people would look at that person and follow a train of thought similar to the opening paragraph. The person was unhealthy and unfit, maybe going so far as to call them lazy or uncaring about their health. What you may not realize, or may not be able to tell from looking at them, is this person has been on a weight loss and health focused journey for some time, losing 100lbs already. They’ve been active during their daily life, spending 3-4 days per week in the gym, and have improved many of their lifestyle habits to improve their health. So, while their physical appearance may not show it (or tell the whole story), they are living an active and healthy lifestyle that has led to marked improvements in their health. Remember that the next time you make a snap judgment about someone based on the way they look (and remember that it’s ok, judging is natural but we should be mindful of and redirect those judgments).

Now, I want to point out that there’s a lot of research that points to the contrary, making weight and thus, size, the sole predictor of health. Head over to PubMed and check out the meta-analysis (data gathered from numerous studies/research following certain criteria for accuracy to weight a large bulk of evidence) titled: The Medical Risks of Obesity. In it they have gathered data from numerous studies between the years of 1995 and 2008 to draw a clearer picture on the risks of excess weight and disease (one portion of health). The stats are staggering, showing that the risk of nearly every disease is increased with an increase in BMI (body mass index) past a “healthy range”. This study, along with numerous others, paints a pretty clear picture: obesity is linked to health risks and disease. [3]

This chart shows the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and “other” causes. The top chart is for men and the bottom chart is for women.

The problem with BMI is that it’s a very basic and simple formulation for generating a number on health, which is anything but basic or simple. Health is a culmination of so many variables, including but not limited to, how active a person is, how much stress they have and how well they manage it, a person’s nutrition and hydration, how well a person sleeps, overall mental health, and much, much more. To sum up health with a number that is based entirely off of weight in comparison to height, while necessary for the medical and research fields, is a bit flawed.

For instance, I am 6 feet tall and currently weight about 213lbs. That puts my BMI at 29, making me “overweight” and just short of the “obese” cutoff of 30. Anyone who knows me or takes a look at me (there we go with judging a book by its cover again), would laugh at me being classified as overweight, much less nearly obese.

In fact, for me to get into the “normal” BMI classification I would have to lose nearly 30lbs and get down to 184lbs. Not only would this be terribly unhealthy in practice, it’s likely impossible without losing about 5-10lbs of muscle, which would mean losing a vital component to health. Muscle aids in metabolic function (improving insulin resistance and sensitivity, and increasing caloric expenditure), reduces the likelihood of osteoporosis, and increases chances of survival from critical illness or injury, like cancer or extreme burns. So, while losing weight may be a good thing, losing muscle certainly is not. [1,4]

While BMI can give us some indication on overall risk of disease and health, it’s not a conclusive depiction and thankfully, researchers have realized this and found alternative ways to measure health. In another meta-analysis, researchers looked at a different variable on the link to risk of disease: cardio-respiratory fitness. And what they found was interesting. Through the analysis researchers found that cardio-respiratory fitness was a better predictor of disease risk than BMI. In fact, “compared to normal weight-fit individuals, unfit individuals had twice the risk of mortality regardless of BMI. Overweight and obese-fit individuals had similar mortality risks as normal weight-fit individuals“. [2] What this means is that regardless of size, those who were considered fit from a cardio-respiratory aspect had less risk of disease than those who were “normal weight” individuals but lacked cardio-respiratory fitness. In other words, playing the part of health and fitness proved more important than looking the part.

It’s hard to say which basis of information is right. Is health a result of your weight or your cardio-respiratory fitness? The truth is, it’s a combination of the two with lifestyle factors and environment playing a large role as well. That’s why it’s important to remember that health is extremely nuanced, and rarely a black and white topic. The most important point to remember when it comes to health it isn’t so much about what you look like, but rather it’s more about the actions that you take, the habits you maintain, and the lifestyle you live. So, rather than worrying about looking a certain way, or being a certain weight for health purposes, focus on living a healthy life, which includes:

  1. Eating a diet rich in whole foods like lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats
  2. Exercising and moving in your daily life. Aim for at least 3 days of specific exercise each week (45+ minutes), and move throughout the day.
  3. Drinking plenty of water and stay adequately hydrated throughout the day. Your pee should be a lightl yellow color most of the day.
  4. Sleeping at least 6 hours a night. 7-9 is the preferred range, but anything less than 6 comes with increased health risks.
  5. Managing stress. Read, go for a walk, listen to or play music, draw, meditate, etc. Find activities that help you reduce and manage stress and make sure you do them frequently.

If you’re looking to improve your health in a safe, healthy and manageable way, something that you can enjoy and sustain for life, send an email to achievefitllc@gmail.com to discuss a plan that will help you feel your best, be your healthiest, and enjoy your life to the fullest!

Citations

[1] Abramowitz, M. K., Hall, C. B., Amodu, A., Sharma, D., Androga, L., & Hawkins, M. (2018). Muscle mass, BMI, and mortality among adults in the United States: A population-based cohort study. PloS one13(4), e0194697.

[2] Barry, V. W., Baruth, M., Beets, M. W., Durstine, J. L., Liu, J., & Blair, S. N. (2014). Fitness vs. fatness on all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. Progress in cardiovascular diseases56(4), 382-390.

[3] Pi-Sunyer, X. (2009). The medical risks of obesity. Postgraduate medicine121(6), 21-33.

[4] Wolfe, R. R. (2006). The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. The American journal of clinical nutrition84(3), 475-482.

Building the Perfect Workout

Did that click bait “Perfect Workout” title get your attention? Good, because I’m about to dish out the goods, that next level ish that’s going to make your workouts absolute (fire emoji). If you’re tired of heading into the gym without a plan, tired of working your ass off without seeing the results you should, or if you just want some guidance on what the hell to do when you get in the gym, keep reading because I got your back.

I used to struggle to build a quality workout, going into the gym day after day and week after week performing the same old workouts that I had cut out of a magazine or saw some bodybuilder doing. I got tired of not seeing the results, despite putting in the work and wanted to figure out why.

Was I doing too much? Not enough? Why, despite putting in 100% effort in the gym 5+ days a week, wasn’t I achieving the strength and physique goals I so badly desired?

These questions led me to analyze what I was doing, simplify it to the bare necessities, and build up from there. As a result of this process, over the course of the last decade I’ve become skilled at crafting workouts for myself, and those that I work with in person and online. I used to need to build workouts in advance, either as an entire training program or written out before I went into the gym but following the guidelines below, I’ve learned how to create a masterful workout, even on the fly. After reading this article, you too will be able to create amazing and effective workouts, either in advance or on the fly, and finally be able to reap the benefits of all the hard work you put in the gym.

Workout Basics

Creating a workout is relatively easy, it’s like baking a cake. Once you know the general outline for baking a cake, like how much flour, eggs and baking soda to throw together, you can get crazy with the mix-in ingredients to change up the flavors and taste to your liking. A workout is no different. Once you have the basic guidelines down, then you can go wild with the exercises, getting creative and making it specific to your goals.

Unfortunately, people tend to over complicate their workouts, making them more like a game of mouse trap, rather than a beautifully simple and highly effective game plan that gets the job done. Social media has played a large role in this, as people performing crazy exercises and workouts get far more attention than those who are performing the basics and achieving amazing results. While this workout guideline may not get you the views on Instagram, it will get you the results you’re looking for. Follow the guidelines below to build a stronger body, improve your health, and re-energize your life!

  1. Warmup, Mobility, Activation: 10-20 minutes of movement specific mobility and activation
  2. Main Exercises: 1-2 compound exercise, performed for 1-8 reps
  3. Accessory Exercises: 2-3 exercise per body part, or 5-8 exercises in total performed for 6-12 reps
  4. Finishers: hypertrophy/”pump” style work, conditioning/HIIT training, core work, or specific mobility needs
  5. Cool Down: 5-10 minutes to help you start the recovery process

Warmup, Mobility and Activation

The warmup is like the appetizer of a meal. It wets your palette and gets you ready for the main course. Like a good appetizer, a warmup shouldn’t be overly dominant or filling. It should pique your curiosity and get you into the right mental and physical space for the main course, without ruining your appetite.

Getting your mind and body prepped and ready for the workout is extremely important, but often overlooked and/or misunderstood. A good warmup should be tailored to your individual needs and be focused around the movements in the workout to come. What movements will you be performing and how you can you prepare for those movements properly? Answering this question will guide your warmup in the right direction.

Generally, I will have clients spend 5-10 minutes doing a low intensity form of cardio. This isn’t necessary, but can be beneficial in raising the core temperature, preparing your muscles, and lubricating your joints for the mobility and activation work that follows. If you have the time to do this, great, but if not, you can survive without it.

After getting the core temperature up and maybe even breaking a small sweat, it’s time to go into some mobility work. Notice that I use the word mobility here rather than flexibility, as mobility has a direct correlation and transference into movement and strength, whereas training flexibility (passive stretching) can reduce strength and increase the chances of injury. When it comes to mobility work the goal is two-fold: (1) work on mobility directly related to the movements to come, and (2) work on mobility directly related to your personal weaknesses and restrictions.

If you’re going to squat, your mobility should be based around movement requirements of the squat. This means mobilizing the hip flexors, internal and external rotation of the hip, ankle dorsiflexion, and even the thoracic spine in some cases. Focusing on these areas will have direct carryover to the squat and improve your ability to get into a quality squat position, reducing your chances of injury and improving your ability to produce strength.

In addition to focusing on the movements that you’ll be performing, it’s also important to pay attention to your personal muscular imbalances and mobility restrictions. These imbalances and restrictions can wreak havoc on your body if left unattended, especially if you simply push through them while lifting heavy weights or performing challenging movements. You may not need to focus on these restrictions every single day (although I would advise it for your physical health and wellbeing), but when you do give them attention make sure you are giving them 100% effort and extra attention in comparison to other areas.

If you know that you lack adequate dorsiflexion of the ankle and it restricts your squats, it would be smart to spend a few extra minutes on this area. Perform additional reps or exercises and spend more time on dorsiflexion before heading into your workout. Not only will your workout be more effective, but your mobility will improve much more quickly as well.

After mobilizing the joints that will be used during your workout, the next step is to activate the muscles that will be used. Muscular activation is used to prepare your muscles for the work to come by forcibly contracting them. These contractions are used to stimulate more muscle fibers to fire (more muscle fibers = more force produced = strength) and build stability around the joints in conjunction with the prior mobility work.

After activating the muscles, it’s time to now integrate those muscles and joints into actual movement that replicates the some of the movements and demands of the workout to come. Using the squat example, I would go through some goblet squats, lunges, or Bulgarian split squats. All 3 movements replicate the squat and help to instill proper bracing and movement patterns before adding heavier loads.

The warmup should take around 10-15 minutes depending on your needs for that day and how your body is feeling at the time. Some days you may head into the gym feeling mobile and strong, and in this case your warmup will likely be shorter and more efficient. Other days your body may feel tight, out of balance, or just “off” and on those days your warmup is going to be even more important and take just a bit longer. In either case, the important part is to tailor your warmup to your specific needs based of the workout that day and your body.

For my favorite way to warmup (at the moment, it changes as my body and needs do) before squats and/or leg day, check out the entire routine and give it a try before your next leg day!

Main Movements

After the appetizer comes the main course. This is what you’ve been waiting the whole night for. The main movement(s) in a workout are like the steak or lobster, it’s the reason you showed up and ordered the meal.

The main movements in a workout are your strength-based movements. These will typically be compound lifts (multiple joint/muscle lifts) that allow you to load up the weight and challenge yourself. The most common and popular compound movements are the bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, barbell row, pullup, pushup, dips, and lunges to name a few. There are plenty of others, but if you master these and focus on progressive overload (adding weight, sets, reps, etc.) they’re all that you need.

Strength training is performed at the beginning of the workout because these movements are the most technical lifts and require the most energy and focus to perform, so for the sake of safety perform them first.

For a workout the goal should be to perform 1-2 strength-focused movements in the 1-6 rep range. You can go higher than 6 reps for strength training, and I advise that on occasion you do, but the bulk of your work should be in the 6 reps or less range. This will make the primary outcome of the movement strength-based, with a secondary outcome being muscle building. Strength training and the process of building strength has numerous benefits including:

  • reduced sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) [4]
  • increased resting metabolic rate (RMR) aka speed of metabolism [4]
  • decreased visceral fat (abdominal fat) and reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, via increased glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity [4]
  • improved cardiovascular health via reduced blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and trigylcerides as well as increased HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) [4]
  • improved bone mineral density and reduction of risk for osteoporosis [4]
  • reduction of pain symptoms related to arthritis and fibromyalgia [4]
  • increased cognition and reduce risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia [2]
  • improved quality and quantity of sleep [1]

The benefits of strength training are nearly limitless, which is a big reason why I prioritize in my own training, but also that of every client that I work with. Whether you’re someone looking to build strength or muscle, lose fat and improve body composition, or just improve your mental and physical wellbeing, strength training is a necessity. It is arguably the most important part of a fitness program, besides starting and staying consistent with the program itself and for that reason you should make it a priority.

Accessory Movements

The accessory movement portion of your workout acts as the side dish to your main course. They’re not the reason you came to dinner and ordered your entree, but they do add a nice kick of flavor and variety.

This is the time in the workout where you work on isolating and building specific muscles, improving your strength through assistance movements, and working to even out any muscular or movement imbalances you may have. If your workout is lower body focused, you may add in some additional movements that specifically target the quads, hamstrings, calves and/or glutes. These movements can be compound, like step ups, or isolation movements, like leg extensions and curls.

You can also use some exercises that assist in building upon your strength exercises. If you are bench pressing that day, you might perform some close grip bench presses or dips to help improve your pressing strength. Unilateral (single side) work is a great component here as well, not only for building muscle and strength, but also improving muscular balance and movement quality.

When performing accessory movements, the rep range will be a bit higher, as the goal is less about strength and more about stimulating a positive metabolic response in the form of muscular growth and development. Pick 2-3 movements per body part or 5-8 movements in total to add on to your workout. Each movement should be performed for approximately 2-4 sets of 6-12, sometimes stretching to 15-20, reps and be focused on improving your ability to produce strength, building muscle or working on muscular or movement imbalances. While muscle can be built in nearly any rep range, the 6-12 rep range has shown the most benefits for muscular growth, so that’s where most of the time should be spent.

Increased muscle mass has similar benefits to strength training, the most important being improved glucose disposal and insulin sensitivity [3]. This is important for everyone, but especially those with prediabetes, Type 2 Diabetes or those at risk of develop T2DM. Muscles act as a storage and shuttle system for glucose, pulling glucose from the blood and storing it in the muscles until it needs to be used for physical activity. More muscle = larger storage systems and a great ability to tolerate and use carbs for energy. And for purely vanity matters, increased muscle mass adds tone to the muscles and shape to the body, which can improve confidence in one’s appearance and self-image.

Finishers

Finishers are a fancy way of saying, “the final part of a workout”. It’s the dessert of the workout and doesn’t need to be included but can add a nice finalizing touch to a meal and workout. A finisher can be nearly anything from conditioning work (ropes, medballs, sprints, etc) to “pump” style drop and super sets, to intense mobility work. The idea is to make the finisher specific to your needs and to the workout that you’ve just performed.

If you just had an intense back and bicep bodybuilding style workout, your finisher may be a cable curl drop set. If your workout for the day was around building strength and athleticism, including some powerlifting or Olympic lifting movements, then some movement specific conditioning would be a great option. If you’ve absolutely killed your workout and don’t have energy left in the take for hypertrophy or conditioning work, this is a great time to work on your personal mobility restrictions. It could also be a great time to add in core or abdominal work to finish your workout. And if you’re just out of time and in a hurry, you can easily cut this portion of the workout off and move into the cool down portion.

My favorite finishers are:

  • Drop Sets: one exercise performed for a prescribed number of reps, or until failure, followed by a reduction in weight to allow continuance of the exercise
  • Super Sets: 2 exercises performed back to back without rest
  • Circuits/Complexes: 3+ exercises performed back to back without rest, usually in a flow or sequence
  • Metabolic Conditioning/HIIT: high intensity exercise performed for a short duration of time like sprints, sled pushes, etc.
  • Core Work: focusing on anti- rotation, extension/flexion, and lateral flexion

The possibilities for a quality finisher are endless and certainly not limited to those posted above, but if you’re ever struggling to figure out a finisher for your workout try out some of those, or a combination of several, or check out my Instagram where I post tons of tips and tricks, including my favorite finishers that are continuously being updated.

Cool Down

Often overlooked in a workout is the cool down portion. This is the mint or toothpick after a good meal, it ties everything together and lets you leave feeling satisfied and comfortable. Most people breeze right past this portion of the workout because they don’t understand the importance of it, thinking it has little value or use. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

A cool down is designed to take you from the highly stimulated, “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system stress response of a workout into the calmer, “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system. It helps you transition from a state of performance to a state of recovery, which is paramount after a workout. If you’re looking to make the most of your workouts, and efficiently use the nutrients that you take in post workout, don’t skip the cool down portion.

Cool downs can be performed in a variety of ways including low level cardio, stretching/mobility work, and diaphragmatic breath work. The important thing is to find something that allows you to focus on your breathing, slow your heart rate, and release some of the tension that was built up during the workout. This will help you recover faster, making each of your workouts more effective than they otherwise would be.

After your next workout, try performing 5 minutes of diaphragmatic (belly) nasal breathing while lying on your back. Use a 1:2, inhale:exhale ratio. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and exhale twice as long, again using your nose. If you inhale for 5 seconds, your goals should be to exhale for 10 seconds. This will help to shift your nervous system state to a more relaxed position and will do more for your recovery than stretching and/foam rolling for any amount of time.

Though I’ve probably made it hard to believe with my long-winded explanation of building a workout, in reality workouts are simple and should remain as such until simple no longer works for you. If you’ve been performing the same workouts for weeks, months, or even years, or are just looking to make your workouts more effective and achieve better results, use the formula provided in this article to guide you. You would be surprised at how many combinations can be made simply from the information contained within this article, so follow the guidelines and get creative within those guidelines!

Citations

[1] Kovacevic, A., Mavros, Y., Heisz, J. J., & Singh, M. A. F. (2018). The effect of resistance exercise on sleep: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Sleep medicine reviews39, 52-68.

[2] Nagamatsu, L. S., Handy, T. C., Hsu, C. L., Voss, M., & Liu-Ambrose, T. (2012). Resistance training promotes cognitive and functional brain plasticity in seniors with probable mild cognitive impairment. Archives of internal medicine172(8), 666-668.

[3] Sinacore, D. R., & Gulve, E. A. (1993). The role of skeletal muscle in glucose transport, glucose homeostasis, and insulin resistance: implications for physical therapy. physical therapy73(12), 878-891.

[4] Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current sports medicine reports11(4), 209-216.