Tracking Calories: NOT the Only Way to Lose Weight!

I’m a huge proponent of information and awareness. Regardless of what the problem or task is, having usable information and building awareness around the situation is paramount to success. Whether trying to solve the issue of bullying, world hunger, or in the case of many people I work with, trying to lose weight, the answer is almost always about gathering information and building awareness around the problem.

Without awareness of an issue, it’s difficult to understand first that there’s an issue to begin with, but second, where the issue actually lies and what solutions are available. This is why gathering information is so important, because it gives you tangible data to analyze and work from when trying to adjust and make changes. 

When it comes to dieting the same holds true. The need for awareness and information about an individual and their specific needs is a major component of any successful fitness and nutrition plan. This allows you to understand where the person comes from and gives you the ability to better help them get where they want to go. Without this background information, it would be like trying to hit a dart board in the dark, there’s going to be a lot of misses. 

As part of the gathering information and building awareness stage, I require clients to track and log their food over a 3-7 day period, usually with a food journal app like MyFitnessPal. This satisfies my need for information, by letting me know exactly what they eat during a short period of time, and increases their level of awareness about their eating habits and food choices that will be valuable going forward. 

While I don’t require clients to track their food beyond the 3-7 information and awareness period, I always recommend them to do so for several reasons. First, they will build a better understanding of portion sizes, and nutrition labels, allowing them to make smarter choices when preparing and eating food. Second, tracking their food gives me up-to-date information on their current habits, allowing me the ability to make more informed and accurate adjustments to the clients nutrition plan. Finally, and this is truly just my opinion, but one that many share, tracking is the most efficient way to lose weight, specifically fat. You can certainly lose weight without tracking calories, I myself recently lost 15lbs over a 5 week period without tracking or logging a single bite of food, but tracking makes the process so much quicker and more effective. 

As much of a supporter of tracking food and using a food journal I may be, I understand that it’s not for everyone. I too have to take a break from tracking food after doing it for extended periods of time, so I understand that tracking can seem or become tedious and difficult to do consistently. In these cases, it’s important to have other strategies and tools to help clients achieve their goals in an efficient fashion. 

If you’re looking to improve your health, and/or lose some weight, without the use of a food log or tracking everything you eat, check out the strategies listed below that will 

Portion Control

This is one of the best strategies as it’s something that will serve you regardless of what or how you eat. Learning proper portion sizes and how to adjust those to fit your needs and goals is a very beneficial skill to have. It works great on it’s own, or in unison with other styles of eating, including tracking calories and/or macros. Understanding portion sizes is a skill that I work with each one of my clients to hone so that they are well equipped to make healthy and smart choices when eating. 

If you want to improve your ability to estimate portion sizes, you first need to practice estimating portion sizes. This means either weighing and/or measuring your foods and matching it to what your thought or estimated, or simply using your hand as a basic guideline for portion sizes. If you’re interested in how to use your hand as a portion control guide, check out the graphics below: 

Low Calorie Alternatives

Low calorie and macro conscious foods are a rapidly growing and hugely popular industry right now. With obesity becoming the norm in many countries, including our own, companies are finding ways to make dieting easier and more enjoyable. As part of this movement, many companies are releasing lower calorie, health conscious versions of many of the foods you love. Foods like bread and tortillas, dairy products like milk, yogurt, and various cheeses, as well as many other options, are now available in lower calorie, and often times higher protein and fiber options which are perfect for the health conscious and/or diet-minded individual. 

Think about it. You don’t have to change anything you do as far as what you eat, you just have to swap it out for a lower calorie, healthier alternative. Without changing much about what you eat, you can easily slash upwards of 500 calories daily and put yourself comfortably in a calorie deficit working towards weight loss. This is a huge benefit for those looking to lose weight, but also for those looking to maintain weight who have a large appetite. It works on a principle called volumizing.

Volumizing is the process of eating more food in terms of overall weight and density, for less calories than before. For instance, I make french toast with 35 calorie per slice bread versus the traditional 70-100 calorie per slice bread, and it not only saves me hundreds of calories in that meal alone, it also allows me to eat 8-10 pieces of french toast, rather than 3-4 for the same amount of calories. This is a huge bonus when dieting, or when you simply have a crazy appetite and struggle to feel full because the eyes are a huge portion of how full and satisfied we are after a meal. The more food you eat in terms of visual size, the fuller you will feel afterwards, regardless of overall calories. It’s for this reason that I use this strategy of switching to lower calorie options year round, regardless of whether I’m working to gain, maintain or lose weight. It allows me to eat and enjoy far more food than I otherwise would be able to, and makes dieting much more enjoyable as a result. 

If you are interested in some low calorie swaps, some of my favorites include:

  • butters, cream cheese, yogurt, milk. Kroger has an entire line of dairy products called Carbmaster that is low in carbs and most products are lactose free.
Kroger CARBmaster, a dieter’s best friend
  • bread, buns, tortillas and other baked goods. These usually come packed with additional fiber as well, an added bonus to your health.
This brand is not only low calorie, they also taste GREAT
  • various meats. Swapping to leaner cuts and versions of meat, including beef, chicken, lamb, pork, etc, will save hundreds of calories, usually in the form of reduced fat. 
This can save you tons of calories and also increase protein intake in many cases
  • egg whites are a great option for reducing calories while still maintaining high protein content. There are many health benefits to the egg yolk, but it comes at the cost of an additional 45 calories. If calories are tight, stick to egg whites. 
Packed with protein and useful in a variety of recipes, egg whites are great to have on hand

Fasting

Restricting the amount of time that you can eat, aka your eating window, can be a big help in reducing calorie intake

Fasting, and intermittent fasting (IF), has garnered a lot of attention, especially over the last year or so. Many people claim that it’s a magical weight loss formula, and while it shows promise for certain health benefits, when it comes to weight loss it works on the same principle as everything else: calories in vs calories out. Fasting is just a tool that can be used to make creating that calorie deficit easier. 

There are many ways of fasting, which will be included in my next blog post which will cover everything you need to know about fasting and whether or not it’s right for you, but for now I’ll go over the most popular and promising versions. 

Easily the most popular version of intermittent fasting, the 16:8 protocol is used often because it fits so easily and naturally into people’s lives. The 16:8 protocol is when you have an eating window of 8 hours, usually from 10am-6pm, or something in that realm, and then fast for the remaining 16 hours. By limiting your eating window, or the amount of time you allow yourself to ingest food, you limit your chances of overeating. It’s much more difficult to overeat in an 8 hour period, than it is to overeat in a 12 or 14 hour period. With this variation all most people need to do is to skip breakfast, or your first meal of the day, and then avoid snacking or eating past a certain point. For most people, this is the easiest form to implement because of the simple and easy to follow guidelines. 

Another popular and promising form of IF is the 5:2 protocol. This involves eating ad libitum (whenever and however you feel) for 5 out of 7 days of the week, with 2 of the days being either fully fasted, or very low calories (500-600). This has been shown to be a viable and useful option for those who prefer to be extremely restricted for a couple days, followed by complete freedom on the remaining days during the week. These are just two of many variations of IF and can be used as a tool to help you control how much you eat, thus assisting in weight loss.

Cutting Out a Food Group 

It doesn’t matter which “team” you’re on, eat in a way that works for you

If you’ve ever eaten low-fat, low-carb, Keto, Atkins, or anything resembling these diets, you’ve implemented cutting out a food group as a way to lose weight. As much as people want to argue semantics over which food group is most important to eat or not eat for weight loss, beyond calorie control and adequate protein, it really doesn’t matter. The reason that diets like low-fat, Keto and others work, is because they cut out an entire macronutrient group almost entirely, making it more difficult to overeat their total calories.

Imagine you were from a family where you ate tons of carbs, pasta, bread, cakes, etc and every meal had some sort of calorie dense, carb portion. If you decided to one day switch to a low-carb diet, a large portion of your overall calories would be removed instantly. This could be very useful when trying to reduce food intake and/or the overeating of specific foods, those foods we like to call “trigger foods”. 

If you want to use this strategy to lose or maintain weight, the first question you should ask yourself is, “can I keep this up long-term?”. If the answer is yes, then you’re going to do just fine switching to a diet where one food group is removed. If the answer is no, you then have to ask yourself if you can consistently eat in this way to reach your goals, however long that may take, and then be able to transition under control back to a more balanced nutrition program. If you feel confident in your abilities to slowly introduce those foods back into your diet, without making drastic changes all at once, you’ll have a better opportunity to maintain the progress that you’ve made and the weight you’ve lost (or not gained), rather than have a negative rebound effect that many people experience after reintroducing a macro group to their nutrition program. 

While I will always require clients to record 3-7 days of food logs during the initial stages of any nutrition program, and will often push for them to continue logging for more efficient results, I understand that tracking food, calories, and macros isn’t for everyone. It’s important that those who don’t “click” with tracking their foods have alternative strategies they can use to make dieting, nutrition, and losing weight easier and simpler. The strategies listed above are great options to help you in improving your eating habits and losing weight, but they’re not exhaustive and there are plenty of others. You probably use many of them in your day to day life without even realizing it. This week take note of the choices you make on a daily basis regarding nutrition and eating, and figure out what you’re already doing to save calories that you didn’t realize at first. 

Listening: The Forgotten Half of Effective Communication

Like any other “normal” couple, my girlfriend and I have our issues. Those issues, while never major, do sometimes end up in some sort of dispute. These disputes over time have changed, but one thing remains: effective communication is the glue that always brings us back together. While we have both improved in our communication skills, it wasn’t always this way, and is something that we had to consciously work on. Through the process of working to improve our communication skills as a couple, I’ve realized how important communication is in everyday life.

If you want to be successful, happy, and fulfilled in life, learning how to communicate properly and effectively is a must. Most people know this, and those that do, tend to turn toward learning how to speak and talk better in a effort to improve their communication skills. While this will certainly help to some extent, it’s leaving half of the communication equation unanswered.

Speaking + Listening = Communicating

You see, communication is about far more than just speaking and entails a large portion, if not majorly defined by, listening. Listening is like the younger, quieter sibling. It’s not as flashy, loud, and easy to notice as it’s older, more sought after sibling, speaking. Speaking, because it’s so apparent as a part of effective communication, often overshadows listening but I urge caution in this regard: those who are truly successful in life, whether it be relationships, business success, or general well-being, are those who not only speak well, but often times those who listen even better. 

You may be saying to yourself, “I hear you Adam, I do, but how hard can it be to listen?” Well, my friend, you have just answered the question for yourself. Hearing and listening are two very different things, and just because you hear someone or something, doesn’t mean you were actually listening.

Hearing + Understanding = Listening

Hearing is the physiological act of your ears taking in auditory noises and sounds. It’s a passive collection of data with no analysis, understanding, or translation of what is actually being said or heard. While hearing is a component of listening (and not actually necessary, mind you, as there are loads of people who are deaf and communicate far more effectively than people with great hearing), there are many more pieces that build the listening puzzle.

Hearing, for most, is a human sense, whereas listening is a human skill. So, while you may not be able to actively improve your hearing (without the use of external devices), you can choose to improve your listening. And learning how to effectively listen will change every aspect of your life, from your personal relationships to those you have in business and beyond. 

Become a Better Listener in 4 Easy Steps

The first step in becoming a better listener is really freaking easy: CARE. It’s that simple. Those that genuinely care about others typically care about what they have to say and are better listeners as a result. So, before you do anything else start working on empathy and caring about others. Not only will this improve your listening and communicating skills, but you’ll start to see the world through a different, more open-minded lens as well.

The second, and arguably just as important piece to better, more effective listening skills is to UNDERSTAND. Rather than listening to a person speak just to wait for your turn to respond, work to understand what that person is saying and why they’re saying what they are saying. This understanding will build into the first point of caring about the person and what they have to say, as well as allow you to actively analyze what’s being said to better receive and interpret this message. By trying to understand the other person, you put yourself in a better position to receive their message, and they will be more likely to receive and understand yours as a result.

The third component to effective listening is CURIOSITY. Being genuinely curious about, or interested in what another person is saying is a great way to build a rapport and relationship with that person during communication. Treat it like a child does almost anything: ask questions, but ask them out of curiosity rather than judgment. And make sure to reserve those questions for the proper time, after a person has finished speaking.

That brings us to the fourth and final component of effective listening skills: PATIENCE. “Patience is a virtue” as they say, and this couldn’t be more true than when it comes to listening and communicating. Too many times when we communicate, we lack the patience necessary for effective listening and jump into the conversation before the other person has had a chance to finish their thought. Not only does this cut the other person’s thought process off, but it also shows that we weren’t fully listening to what they said in the first place. The next time you get that urge, that anxious feeling that you just “need” to speak, put it on the back burner and understand that if you want to be heard and listened to, you must first hear the other person and listen to what they say. You will get a chance to voice your opinion, thoughts, concerns, etc. and by showing patience, and practicing the effective listening skills listed above, you will put yourself in a better position to be understood as well. 

Ultimately, your ability to listen effectively, and thus communicate effectively, will depend on your ability to CONNECT with those that you are communicating with. The four components above all work in unison to help you create that connection in a healthy, and genuine matter and will create deeper, more meaningful relationships with those around you. These improved relationships will lead to more success at home, school, work, and anywhere else human connection and communication is required (everywhere). 

If you want to live a better, happier, and more fulfilled life, I urge you to work on your communication skills, specifically your ability to actively listen and not just hear. The effects that improving your listening and communication skills can have on your life can not be overstated. Whether you’re looking to improve your marriage, relationships with friends and family, get that promotion at work, or simply live a happier and more fulfilled, effective communication is the skill that will bring all of that together. 

When you go out in the world today, take some of the information within this article and use it to improve your communication by focusing on your ability to listen and understand the person. Forget about a response, or getting your point across, and simply try to fully understand what the other person is saying and why. You will be surprised at all the details and nuances you pick up on that enrich the conversation and improve communication.

Vitamin C for Colds, More like Vitamin B.S.

The cold has come, snow is falling, and as they say in Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming” (more like it’s already here). With winter comes a whole host of changes: cold weather, hot drinks, and the dreaded common cold.

The common cold is the most frequent infectious disease that affects humans. Symptoms like coughing, sniffling, and runny noses, among other things, are common occurrences when dealing with a cold. It leads to an average of 12 sick days for adults, and over double that for children. That’s hundreds of missed days of work and school over a lifetime, and an increase in health care costs, so it’s no wonder that so many people want a solution to fight off the common cold. 

One of the most popular solutions, and where many people turn when they start to get the sniffles, is a Vitamin C supplement, like Emergen-C. The praise for supplements like Emergen-C is enough to make you believe that it can cure everything from the common cold to more serious issues like the flu.

But how truthful is that? What does the science say? 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Vitamin C, whether it has benefits for the common cold, and how you can do your best to avoid getting sick this winter, continue reading!

What is Vitamin C? Why is it so popular?

Vitamin C became popular nearly 50 years ago, when Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling made public his theory of high doses of vitamin C being able to prevent and/or speed up the duration of the common cold. Since that time, vitamin and supplement companies have done their best to capitalize on a growing industry, backed by the words and ideals of a Nobel Prize winner.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that your body does not produce and thus must be ingested through diet or supplementation. It’s involved in various functions throughout the body, including the production of collagen and assistance with immune cells in fighting off disease. When someone is sick, Vitamin C is depleted from immune cells, making it Dr. Pauling’s theory about Vitamin C helping fight off and speed up the duration of common colds and other infectious diseases. Unfortunately, like many things, what seems logical in theory doesn’t pan out in practice.

Emergen-C, the most popular brand of “cold fighters”, was introduced in 1978, just a few short years after Dr. Pauling made his theories about Vitamin C known

The research behind Vitamin C is rather thorough, and pretty straight forward. When it comes to Vitamin C there are only a few scenarios where supplementation is beneficial. The only benefits for the average person come from either taking it daily (at least 200mg) or getting it naturally through your diet, or taking an absurd amount (8g or more). Getting your daily dose of Vitamin C, while important, will only reduce the average number of “sick days” every year by about one. While it’s nice to get that day back, it’s important to realize that if you eat a well balanced diet you are probably already getting plenty of Vitamin C and reaping the benefits.

As far as the higher dosage, which in some studies has been shown to reduce severity and duration of illness, it can come with nasty side effects like nausea, diarrhea and possibly kidney stones. Luckily, Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, meaning that anything “extra” will be excreted through the urine and doesn’t pose toxicity issues like fat soluble vitamins and minerals. This doesn’t mean that you can ingest as much Vitamin C as you’d like without consequence, but that the consequences won’t be as severe as fat soluble vitamins. 

There is one very specific population that has shown marked improvement in severity and symptoms of common colds, but the average population doesn’t fall into this category. For those who exercise strenuously outdoors (marathon runners, cross country skiers, Armed Forces individuals), you may find that supplementing with Vitamin C (at least 200mg) will help you deal with less instances of colds, and for shorter duration, but again, if you’re eating a well balanced dieting you may already be hitting these numbers.

If Vitamin C doesn’t work, what does?

This is where things get a bit more boring, and a whole lot more practical. There are few things that will truly affect whether you get a cold or not, and how long that cold will last. None of them are as easy to take and easy to sell as Vitamin C though, which is why they get pushed to the side in search of other “cures”.

Sleep

Sleep is vitally important to your health and wellness, and it becomes even more important during the winter months when immune systems are constantly attacked by different viruses. I cannot stress to you enough how important getting both enough sleep, and quality sleep is. It will improve your immune system, and help protect you from colds and shorten the duration.

Sleep is your key to health and vitality, so prioritizing it is key. Try to get at least 6 hours of sleep every night, but 7-9 is more optimal. This means you have to plan ahead, and get in bed at a certain time to ensure you are getting enough sleep. You should also avoid electronics at least an hour before bed, keep your room somewhat cool, and avoid activities that are overly stimulating. Try to find an activity that calms both your mind and body to perform before bed like reading, writing, meditation, or stretching/yoga. These activities will help you unwind from a long day and signal to your body that it’s time for sleep.

Hydration

During the winter months, people tend to drink less water. It’s a result of the temperature dropping and not feeling the need to drink water the way we do during the summer months. I myself struggle with hydration during the winter months, and have to make a conscious effort to stay hydrated.

Lack of proper hydration, or worse, dehydration, has been shown to negatively affect numerous functions of the body. When it comes to warding of viruses and shortening the duration of those viruses, water plays an important role. It helps to boost immune function by delivering oxygen to immune cells and helping clean out waste and toxins. Hydration also aids in a quality night of sleep, as it helps to keep your nasal passages and throat moist so that breathing is easy and clear. 

To ensure that you are getting proper hydration, try to shoot for around 2/3 of your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 200lbs, like me (at times), your goal should be to drink around 135oz of water. To make it a bit easier to reach your target goal, make sure to start your day with a large glass of water (20oz or more) and always have a water bottle with you. I like to use transition times, like driving to and from work or waiting in line, to catch up and get ahead on water by drinking as much as I can during those moments. 

Wash Your Hands

There is a reason that your mother always told you to wash your hands before dinner and after using the restroom, because washing your hands can be a huge deterrent for viruses. Washing your hands helps to remove germs that can cause sickness, and stats show that consistent washing of hands reduces the likelihood of the common cold by 15-20%. 

If you want to stay healthy this winter, do yourself a favor and get in the habit of washing your hands, especially while in public. Anytime you go to the bathroom, wash your hands afterward and always make sure to wash your hands before you eat. The pores in and around your face are extremely absorbent, so avoiding touching your face (noses, ears, eyes, mouth, etc) and keeping your hands clean is a great way to help keep the colds at bay. 

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Getting a variety of whole foods that are rich in nutrients is a huge part of living a healthy lifestyle. Foods like fruits and vegetables can play a key role in providing your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs to assist and optimize the functions of the body, including the immune system. To do your best in fighting off colds and viruses, make sure to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables from every color of the rainbow. The more variety, the better (in most cases). 

Even though we know that fruits and vegetables are extremely important for health, it’s very easy to not eat them. To make it easier to consume enough fruits and vegetables, make sure that you always have some prepped and on hand. That’s the great thing about fruits and vegetables, they don’t need to be cooked, which makes them easier to include in your diet than foods that must be prepared. You can also bake several different kinds of vegetables at once on cookie sheets and prepare all your weeks vegetables in a matter of 20-30 minutes. The important thing is to then make sure that you have them with you and eat them. Keep snack bags of fruit and vegetables that you can grab and go, or leave at work to make life just a bit easier. 

Stick to the Basics, Live Long and Healthy

As you can see, staying healthy and fighting off colds and sickness isn’t as glamorous or complicated as people would like to make it, but simple doesn’t sell well. Instead of spending money on “cold fighters” that don’t make any difference, try focusing on the basics of health that are time tested for success. Make sure you are getting plenty of quality rest, be sure to hydrate sufficiently, wash your hands, especially in public places and when eating, and focus on a balanced and wholesome diet that will provide all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. 

Do you have any favorite cold remedies or family traditions for when you’re sick? Comment below and let’s share our favorite ways to get over being sick (or at least make it feel more enjoyable)

Improve Your Glute Training for Better Health, Strength, and Sex Appeal

If you spend an hour with me as your trainer, regardless if it’s in a one on one personal training setting or in a large group, there is one word you will hear repeated again and again: glutes. Squeeze your glutes. Engage your glutes. Contract your glutes. Stabilize with your glutes. Glutes, glutes, glutes. They are that important.

The glutes are involved in almost every activity we perform throughout the day. The glutes help to generate force and propel you forward as you walk or run. The glutes contract to help you walk up the stairs or jump over a fence. Even if you don’t care about having round and firm glutes that look great, you still want to tune in and learn how to train these muscles to function at their best for longevity and health.

Related image
You get glute exercises! You get glute exercises! Everyone gets glute-focused exercises!!!

Training for muscle hypertrophy?

You better TRAIN YOUR GLUTES as they’re a major piece in a well-balanced physique, regardless of if you’re male or female. Large glutes make the waist look smaller, leading to a more pleasing and aesthetic looking physique.

Are you a powerlifter or Olympic lifter needing strength and explosiveness?

The glutes may very well be the most important muscle as it is a huge muscle that generates large amounts of force and also stabilizes the pelvis, increasing the efficiency of your lifts and decreasing the likelihood of injury. TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.

Are you an athlete?

If so read the paragraph above again for good measure. Power, speed, and explosion is the name of the game for athletes, so, you guessed it, TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.

Do you have back pain, hip pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, etc?

Many times strengthening the glutes and re-patterning them will reduce tension on other muscles and joints, improve your posture and movement mechanics, and ultimately lead to less back pain and better overall functionality. TRAIN YOUR GLUTES.

Regardless of who you are or what situation you’re in, you need to train your glutes and ensure that you’re training them properly. This means training them with various rep ranges and weights, in several positions and muscle lengths, and having a good understanding of their function and a quality mind-muscle connection (how well you can “feel” a muscle working in various positions). Add those all up and you’ve got a great recipe for a rocking set of glutes that are nice to look at, perform well, and keep you standing upright, healthy, and pain-free.

First things first, let’s talk about the function of the glutes, because without understanding this trying to isolate, strengthen and/or grow your glutes is going to be a futile effort.

The glutes are one of the strongest muscles groups in the entire body and serve multiple purposes. In addition to assisting with stabilization of the pelvis, the glutes also perform hip abduction, external rotation, and extension.

 

Main Functions of the Glutes

Abduction of the hip is moving the leg, specifically the upper leg, away from the mid-line of the body. When you drive your knees wide at the bottom of a squat, or side step/shuffle, you are performing hip abduction. It’s important to note, that while hip abduction and rotation can seem similar, like in the bottom of a squat, they are not the same thing.

External rotation of the hip is the act of rotating the upper leg away from the body’s mid-line. When thinking about external rotation, imagine your thigh/upper leg has a laser pointer shooting straight out from the thigh. When relaxed that laser pointer will point at a target right in front of you. When externally rotated, like in the bottom of a squat, those lasers will point slightly outward at an angle. This is the difference between abduction and external rotation: when the hips abduct, the thigh, and conversely, the knee, are still pointed directly in front of you. In external rotation, this isn’t the case as the thighs and knees will rotate and point outward.

 

Hip extension is moving the upper leg behind the hips and torso. This is one of the most important, and difficult, functions of the hip as many people tend to have poor motor control and/or bracing techniques, leading to movement from lower back, rather than the hips. When you walk or run, you are extending your hip, further reinforcing the importance of strong and healthy glutes.

Hip abduction, external rotation, and extension are the primary functions of the glutes, and should make up the bulk of your glute training. A truly strong and healthy muscle is able to contract through its full range of motion, which means we must train that muscle through in various positions and ranges of motion (ROM). This calls for us to develop and master a strong mind-muscle connection that allows us to load, contract, and use our glutes basically any chance we get.

There are two main components of being able to load your glutes and hips properly. The first is the hip position and control of that position. A muscle functions and develops its best when working from a neutral position. For the glutes, this means keeping the hips as close to neutral as possible and avoiding excessive tilting in either direction.

anterior-pelvic-tilt
I often find strange analogies and ways to express to my clients how they should be moving and what they should be feeling. I call a posterior hip tilt a “tail tuck” because it’s like a dog tucking its tail after it’s been in trouble. An anterior tilt is what I like to call “stripper hips/arch” as it looks like the individual is arching their back to show off their backside. These are simply different ways of visualizing and understanding different movements and positions of the hips and pelvis, you may have different ways of seeing and feeling the movement for yourself.

Just as important, if not more so, is the control and stability of the pelvic position. If the pelvis isn’t properly stabilized, not only will you leak force production, reducing power, output and ultimately, growth, but you will greatly increase your risk of injury. When thinking about alignment and stability of the pelvis, especially during movement, it helps to think about your pelvis a cup full of water. The idea is to keep your cup (pelvis) neutral so you don’t leak or spill water, which is the equivalent of losing stability, leaking force production, and risking injury.

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Image borrowed from Eugen Loki, @pheasyque on Instagram. Check him out for other awesome illustrations and explanations that will help you better understand fitness and exercise!

Secondary to hip position and control of the pelvis, is learning how to properly flex and load your hips. Most people understand how to contract their glutes, they simply squeeze them. Learning how to load your glutes is the key to fully developing strong, healthy, and nice looking glutes.

Loading your glutes comes down to the flexing of your hips. Hip flexion is the act of folding your torso and bringing the lower half of your stomach and upper half of your thighs together. If you were to place hands, palms up, into the front of your pelvis and fold around them, you would be flexing your hips. When squatting and deadlifting you are flexing your hips at the bottom of each movement. Doing this properly allows the glutes to stretch and contract to their fullest, increasing the effectiveness and safety of the movements in which hip flexion is performed.

Many coaches and fitness enthusiasts use the cue “weight on your heels”, and while this can help some people, in many cases this actually interferes with their ability to flex their hips. Instead of flexing the hips, people tend to focus on shifting their weight into their heels, many times lifting the toes to accentuate the feeling. This is not only ineffective for glute training, it also greatly reduces stability and increases risk of injury.

Instead of worrying about your weight being on your heels, try to imagine shifting your hips as far behind your heels as you possibly can while maintain a neutral spine (no arching or rounding of lower back/shoulders). This will allow you to keep your feet planted, improving stability, safety, and power, as well as help to engage and isolate the glute muscles during movements like squats, deadlifts and lunges.

Another cue or idea I like to give my clients (when actively trying to target the glutes) is to keep the shins vertical, and control or restrict forward translation (movement) of the knees. Vertical shin position helps with force production and engagement of the glutes, and restriction of forward knee movement reduces involvement from the quads and emphasizes use of the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings). Learning how to reduce usage of the quads, and subsequent movement of the knees, is a huge factor in being able to isolate and target the glute muscles.

By now you must realize how important the glute muscles are to your overall health, regardless of what your goals are. Everything from sitting and standing, to walking and running, involves the use of the glutes. Learning how to isolate and use your glute muscles is key to being able to engage them to generate force, improve stability, and decrease the risk of pain and injury. Whether you are looking to build round, firm glutes that draw the eye, powerful glutes that can lift thousands of pounds, or simply want to improve your posture, and reduce pain/dysfunction, training your glutes (properly) is arguably the most important thing you can do.

Take the information that you’ve learned here and apply it going forward in your training. Doing so will make each and every workout more effective. And, for more information on the glutes, like the best ways to activate them and exercises to grow them, follow me on Instagram @adamchosenson or AchieveFit LLC on Facebook. Happy glute gains!

 

P.S. Keep in mind, many of the cues used in this article are designed to specifically target or increase output from the glutes and won’t transfer over to each movement. For instance, if you are squatting for maximum power and depth it’s unlikely that you will be able to keep your shins vertical and knees from shifting forward and that’s ok. The cues in this article are here to help you shift your intention on certain exercises (including squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc) to make them more glute focused.

 

I Didn’t Eat Food for an Entire Day… Here’s What Happened

You read that right. For 24 hours, I didn’t eat a single bite of food… and survived. I know, it’s crazy to think that one would choose not to eat food, especially for such an long period, however, there is a method to my madness.

My job is to be on the front line of training, nutrition, and health, to better serve the needs of clients and help them reach their goals more efficiently (quicker, safer, more sustainable, etc). It’s my responsibility to have a wide array of tools at my disposal assist clients in their health and fitness journey. This means different programs, protocols, and approaches to training, dieting and habit change.

Part of this responsibility as a coach is not only to have the research and knowledge to explain what a diet or training program is, but also have experience of actually using the program personally. This gives me an intimate understanding of the program and the process of implementing it. By putting myself through various programs and protocols, I can confidently and expertly apply those protocols to the clients and situations where they’re most applicable.

In this journey to improve my coaching, trying various styles of eating and training, I came across intermittent fasting several years ago. I have used various forms in the past, but never something as drastic or long as a 24 hour fast.

My thoughts were that this could be used as a tool for people who wanted to lose weight, enjoy more meals throughout the week, and could forego eating for a set period of time. It’s a way of restricting heavily for a short period of time, to allow more leniency and flexibility for a longer period of time.

While I don’t believe that fasting, especially lengthy fasts like this one, are for everyone, I do believe there are some applicable situations. It’s important to decide for yourself, with the help of a health professional, if something like this is right for you, based on your current lifestyle and capabilities. Keep in mind, fasting is not a magical weight loss fix, but just a tool designed to assist in the weight loss process.

If you’d like to read more about my experience with a 24 hour fast, what I learned, and how to implement it for yourself, continue reading. And if you’d like to learn more about fasting, as well as other topics on nutrition, training, fitness, and health, check out The Strong Together Community where we discuss all manner of health related topics and focus on getting better, and stronger, everyday.

 

What was I thinking?!
Why did I, or would anyone, not eat for 24 hours?!

fasting meme
Fasting can seem a bit crazy

As crazy as it may seem, the reasons for this extended period of fasting are numerous.

First and foremost, I am slightly masochistic and enjoy challenging myself mentally in strange ways. As much as I love the physical aspect of certain challenges, like sports and crazy adventures, the mental aspect of those challenges give me a sense of satisfaction I can’t explain.

So, I decided to fast for 24 hours to challenge myself and prove that I could do it. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that anything you set your mind to can be accomplished.

Beyond that, were actual tangible and beneficial reasons that I wanted to go through this extended fast. As they say, experience is the best teacher, so I wanted to experience an extended fast to learn as much as I could about the process.

There are a long list of theoretical and hypothesized benefits of extended fasts. I say theoretical because many of the studies that have shown these benefits have been done on animals, or only in short-term monitoring periods. Because there isn’t much research in lengthy trials on human subjects, it’s hard to definitively say these are benefits that will play out in humans, or over the long haul.

The possible benefits include:

  • Cell Autophagy: the cleaning up and recycling of old cells
  • Neuroprotection: protection against neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s
  • Improved Heart Health: reduced blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Increased Growth Hormone Secretion: increased metabolism, growth, weight loss and strength
  • Improved Insulin Sensitivity: better blood sugar regulation and lower blood sugar levels
  • Blunted Hunger Hormone: less feelings of cravings and likelihood of binge eating
  • Improved gut microbiome: improved digestion, metabolism and hormones in relation to digestion
  • Reduced Inflammation: less pain and chronic inflammation, reducing the risk of several diseases

As wonderful as these benefits may seem, the biggest benefit to fasting comes by shrinking the eating window and reducing the possibility of overeating. It’s been used as a tool for weight loss for this reason.

In fact, in a small pilot study comparing the effects of a daily calorie restricted diet versus a 5:2 fasting diet, where participants ate as they pleased for 5 days and then ate 500 calories for the remaining two days, results for weight loss and health markers were similar. This is a promising outcome, especially for those who find it easier to restrict themselves heavily for 2 days, rather than moderately for 7 days.

Fasting is another option for weight loss that takes away some of the awareness needed in a portion control or calorie counting approach. For this reason, I wanted to experiment with longer fasts and alternate styles of fasting, to see how they worked for myself and how clients could implement them if they choose.

I also wanted to do a 24 hour fast to fully experience true, physical hunger.

How many times in your life have you gone 5 or 6 hours without eating and thought, “OMG I am STARVING!!!”?

We all have and I think it’s pretty normal to think and feel this way, at least by industrialized society standards. However, regardless of what your mind is telling you, you’re not starving and likely haven’t felt the effects of true hunger or starving in your life, or at least recent memory. So, I wanted to go through this 24 hour fast to get in touch with the mental and physical aspects of hunger and gain a better understanding of what hunger really is.

I fasted for 24 hours to challenge myself, test out a possible alternative to traditional calorie restricted dieting, and gain a deeper appreciation for food and understanding of hunger. Those 24 hours, while difficult, were extremely rewarding and valuable in terms of the insight that I gained from the process.

Wasn’t it Awful Not Eating for that Long?

While it was certainly a challenge to refrain from eating during the 24 hour period, it was surprisingly easier than expected. I attribute much of this to the fact that I made a decision, a pact with myself so to speak, not to eat for 24 hours.

As of late I have been doing my best to make promises to myself and then stick to them. This has been in an effort to improve my confidence and momentum in current goals that I’m working towardl. There’s something powerful about making a promise to yourself and then fulfilling that promise. It’s rewarding. It’s fulfilling. And it makes you want to continue doing it.

The 24 hour fast was just another one of those promises made in a long list that I have been making and sticking to.

The hardest part about the 24 hour fast was the constant thoughts surrounding food. Immediately upon waking, my first thought was to eat. While I do feel this way a couple of times per week, this isn’t a norm for me, so I imagine it was a result of wanting what I couldn’t have. It’s human nature to want what you can’t have, which is why I avoid overly restrictive diets as they can lead to issues like binge-eating and other issues.

fasting meme 2
What I would’ve done for a Twinkie during that fast

The most surprising part of the whole process?

I did NOT get hangry. If you know me well, or ask anyone who does, they will tell you that I am one of “those people” who need food consistently throughout the day. There’s a reason why anytime I’m a bit irritable, in a bad mood, or just off, my girlfriend asks me when I last ate. I am the walking, talking definition of hangry.

During the fast, the first 16 hours of the process went by super easy. 7-8 hours of this was sleeping, of course, but the remaining hours weren’t a struggle at all. It wasn’t until I reach the 19 or 20 hour point that I really started to notice any serious signs of hunger, mental or physical.

At this point, I started to hear and feel a bit of stomach rumbling that’s consistent with being physically hungry. I also began to feel less energetic and a bit drained, almost like I had been out in the sun for too long. Concurrent with these physical feelings, were the thoughts and feelings surrounding hunger and food that became much more apparent and stronger.

Prior to the 20 hour mark, I had very little thought about food. I can attest some of that to putting up a mental block, and some of it to staying busy, but in a general sense I don’t think the fast affected me too much up until this point. Once I hit that 20 hour mark, things began to change a bit mentally and physically.

My thoughts turned to food and became a bit obsessive. It reminded me of when I was prepping for my first physique show and all I did during the last couple weeks of prep was obsess over food via the foodporn hashtag on Instagram.

Sidenote: if you are tying to stick to a diet, I don’t suggest checking this out. However, if you want to drool over unbelievably amazing looking and sounding food, this is where you want to be.

Back to the story at hand. So, at about the 20 hour mark my mind and body both began noticing that it hadn’t been fed in nearly a day. I started thinking about what I was going to eat, how it was going to taste, and how long until I could eat again. What had been a fairly smooth and easy process, became much more difficult in a flash.

Thankfully, I knew that it was only a matter of four short hours before I could eat again and that giving in at that point would make me feel worse (for breaking the promise to myself), than sticking it out. So, I spent the next four hours drinking water (Mio flavor enhanced!), entertaining myself (Netflix and chill, anyone?), and doing my best to ignore the overwhelming thoughts of food in my head.

Those last four hours took longer than the first 20 combined, but I was happy when they were over and happy that I completed my goal of fasting for 24 hours. The entire process wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, certainly didn’t kill me, and made my next meal arguably the greatest tasting meal I’ve had in quite a long time (they were tacos if you were wondering).

What Did I Learn?

My biggest takeaway from this longer fast is that food, hunger, and eating is as much, and likely more, mental than physical. It is a constant thought and feeling that we don’t tend to notice, until we restrict or don’t have access to it.

When your access to food is restricted, it becomes a constant thought on your mind. When will you eat next, what will you eat, how long will it be until you can finally eat. It can be a bit stressful and overwhelming.

This further backs up the idea that restrictive diets don’t work. The more you restrict, the more likely you are to having those racing and overwhelming thoughts about the foods that you’re restricting, it’s a part of human nature.

Through this process, I realized what hunger truly feels like. Not the hyperbole, “I’m starving!”, but true, physical hunger. While it’s not something I care to experience frequently, and I didn’t experience it to the extent that many in less fortunate situations do, it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it would be.

I had this idea that I would be curled up in a ball, holding my stomach, and unable to do anything productive or active. In reality, this wasn’t the case. I was highly productive for the first 16-18 hours, got in an hour workout with my outdoor Sunday group, and didn’t deal with anything too severe physically.

fasting meme 3
I thought this would be me, surprisingly though I survived and thrived

The fast went against nearly every one of my preconceived notions.

Instead of feeling like crap physically, I actually felt pretty great. Rather than feeling run down, drained, and in a brain fog, I was pretty clear-headed, and had normal levels of energy (until the latter stages). And despite thinking that I would be a big, hangry (and possibly emotional) mess, I dealt with fast pretty well.

The fast taught me plenty about myself, but even more so about food, hunger and the link to thoughts and emotions. This is knowledge, that while I’ve read about and known, didn’t have the same weight as when I experienced it myself. I’m now better equipped to walk clients through the mental aspects of food, hunger, and weight loss so that they can achieve their goals in the most efficient, comfortable, and sustainable manner possible.

How Can You do an Extended Fast?!

If you decide to implement an extended fast, like this 24 hour fast, or one even longer, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your success, as well as your health and safety.

Most importantly, it’s vital that you check with your doctor before beginning any new diet or health protocol, especially with something like an extended fast. Everyone is different and while there are plenty of possible benefits, there are also numerous possibilities of negative side effects.

So, before you decide to challenge yourself with an extended fast, or use one to help you use weight, first check with your doctor to make sure you’re in a healthy position to do so.

After you’ve got the OK from your doctor, now it’s time to focus on how to implement the fast and make it work for you. This means doing a bit of math, planning out you week (not just the day), and setting your mind to the task.

You read that right, I said plan out the week before the fast. This will set you up so that you are in the best position possible to fast for an extended period. Much like your performance on game day is a product of the week(s) leading up to the game, your success during an extended fast will be a product of the work and planning you put in over the prior week.

The important thing will be figuring out how you’re going to breakdown your eating. Some people choose to eat a bit more the other 6 days building up to the fast, some choose to eat the same and use the day-long fast as a way to increase weight loss (I’m less of a fan of this style), and some people choose to use the fast as a way to enjoy a day or two of heavily increased eating.

I fell into the latter category.

I decided to take the additional calories from the day of fasting, and split them between the two days prior. Since I fasted from Saturday at 7pm to Sunday at 7pm, this meant that Friday and Saturday were days where I got to enjoy a pretty hefty increase to calories. For a bit on the specifics of my calorie breakdown during the week of the fast, check out the chart below:

Typical Week
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
3250 3250 3250 3250 3250 3250 3250
24 Hour Fast Week
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
3250 3250 3250 3250 4500 4500 750

All I did was take the 3250 calories from Sunday, and subtract the 750 that I was going to eat that day, leaving me with 2500 calories leftover. I then took the leftover 2500 calories, split it in half, and spread those out over Friday and Saturday, giving me 4500 calories to eat on each day. This allowed me to stay at my maintenance level calories for the week, which was my goal, while consuming a lot more food on Friday and Saturday.

If you wanted to use this process to lose weight, you could reduce the number of calories that you ate throughout the week by a couple hundred each day, or reduce the number of calories eaten on Friday and Saturday by 500 each. This would create a sufficient and healthy deficit that would influence weight loss.

Now that we’ve covered the math portion, aka the boring stuff, let’s touch on some ways to make the fast more enjoyable, or at least easier to get through.

  1. Stay Busy: Line up tasks, projects, and things for yourself to do. This will keep your mind off food, off the amount of time you haven’t eaten or time until you eat, and make the process go by so much quicker. If you’ve been putting off yard work, this would be a great time to do it (I know from personal experience), or if you have a book you’ve been dying to read
  2. Entertain Yourself: This is a great chance to catch up on TV shows, watch a movie, or read a book. If you find yourself low on energy, mentally and/or physically, and unable to perform the tasks you laid out for yourself, immerse yourself in something less physically and mentally demanding. Find a good show to binge, rent that moving you’ve been dying to see, or dig into that book that’s been sitting on your night stand for ages.
  3. Hydrate: Water is going to be your best friend during your fast. Not only will it keep you hydrated, it will also keep you full, to an extent. It’s important to hydrate even more than you would on a typical day, as you won’t be getting a liquid from the foods that you eat.
  4. Calorie Free Flavor: Sip on drinks that will give you some flavor, without the calories that will break a fast. Coffee and tea are two popular choices, but make sure that you’re drinking your coffee black, and your tea doesn’t have calories. I don’t consume caffeine anymore, so I used Mio flavor additives toward the end of my fast to break up the monotony of plain water. It helped take my mind off food, by giving my mouth some flavor and sweetness to enjoy.
  5. Break Your Fast with Self-Control: When breaking your fast, it’s important to realize that you’re going to be pretty damn hungry. It’s likely that after you have your first bite of food, you’re going to get overwhelming feelings driving you to eat more and making it harder to stop. I implore you to temper these feelings as they are simply a defense mechanism your body is sending out against further fasting and possible starvation. Plan your meal in advance, make it something you enjoy, and draw a hard-line to stop when the meal is finished. By doing so you’ll be able to stick to your goals, and avoid eating to the point of getting sick.
  6. Give Yourself an Out: I think the most beneficial strategy for my success was my change in mindset. While I made a commitment to fasting for 24 hours, I also told myself that if things got too uncomfortable or started to feel unhealthy (mentally or physically) I would simply eat. There’s no shame in putting your health above all else, and in doing so it took away a lot of the anxiety or nerves I may have felt by restricting my food.

That’s it. That was my journey with my first, and thus far only, 24 hour fast. While I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable (it’s not a day at the beach or an ice cream sundae), it was certainly better than expected and had plenty to offer.

It was a great opportunity to get in tune with myself, my body, and experience a bit about what true hunger feels like. I gained a greater understanding of fasting and how it can be used as a tool to help clients reach their goals. I learned that hunger is as much, if not more, mental than physical and gained great insight into how this plays a role in weight loss. I’m now better equipped to discuss fasting and advise clients on how to best use it for their goals.

It was a great experience that I plan to do again, and will implement on occasion when it fits into my schedule and life. My next goal is to stretch the fast out for a full 36 hours, fasting from 7pm Saturday night, until 7am Monday morning. While I have no doubts that I can achieve this (if I hadn’t set a 24 hour time period and fixated my mind on a certain time, I could’ve extended this fast out without issue), my biggest worry is the possible effects it may have on my sleep, but that is a bridge to be crossed once I get there.

Again, like any diet or style of eating, fasting is a tool to be used to reach a goal. While there are numerous purported health benefits, the most important benefit is the shrinking of the eating window, and possibly your waistline as a result. And like any tool, fasting should be used when it is right for the job. This will be different for each person and situation, and the biggest question to ask is, “does this fit my current lifestyle? Is it something I can do long-term?” If you answer yes to both of those questions, then fasting just might be the tool that helps your reach your goals, but it won’t do the work for you.

To Train or Not to Train? When Sick, What is the Answer?

I LOVE working out. You will be hard pressed to find someone who enjoys pumping iron more than I do. Taking a rest day for me is like pulling teeth, I avoid it at all costs. It’s a struggle for me to keep myself out of the gym, even knowing that if I do it means I will recover more effectively and get bigger and stronger much more quickly. I’ve worked hard to try and find balance in my training, both reducing the length of my training sessions and increasing the number of rest days per week and month, but it’s still difficult to take a day off. Unfortunately, there are times where rest days aren’t an option, they’re mandatory, like in the case of severe injuries or extreme sickness.

With the change in season and fall weather quickly coming upon us, it’s important to discuss illness and when to train or when to rest. I’ve had several clients cancel sessions this week as a result of being sick and I myself have been under the weather. In fact, I took the past 2 days IN A ROW off from the gym, which is something that I never do. With illness running rampant this time of year, it’s important to understand when it’s good to sweat it out, and when exercise will actually hinder your recovery or even make you feel worse.

Workouts, like lifting weights or running, cause a stress response in the body which is great when you’re healthy and can adapt, but can be a hindrance when your body is already stressed and fighting to recover, like in the case of certain illnesses. It’s important to understand which types of illness will actually benefit from some exercise and which types deserve full on rest and recovery.

Upper respiratory track infections (URTI’s), things like coughs, common colds and illnesses with allergy-like symptoms, are different from more serious illnesses like strep throat, the flu, or other viral infections that deserve serious rest and attention. When dealing with something like a cough or cold, exercise can be beneficial to the recovery process, as long as it’s not overly strenuous. The idea is to exercise at a low intensity, relative to your fitness level, to cause a positive immunity response and speed up the recovery process. Walking, light cycling, or in the case of someone who is well acclimated to weight training, light weight lifting can be acceptable forms of exercise to speed up recovery and improve the immune system. A couple of rules for the first 2-3 days of feeling sick:

  1. Keep exercise to less than 45 minutes
  2. Don’t allow your heart rate to get elevated much more than a basic warm-up for a workout
  3. Avoid excessive sweating, breathing and exertion, below a 3 RPE (this is different for everyone as fitness levels and bodily reactions are different)

It’s important to treat these exercise sessions during the early stages of feeling sick like active recovery and not a workout. You should feel more energized upon finishing the session, rather than drained or worse than when you started. Play it safe and err on the side of caution when necessary, pulling back during a workout rather than pushing harder.

When dealing with more serious illnesses, it’s important to focus solely on rest, making sure to get adequate amounts of food, and water. Exercise will only exacerbate the symptoms of the illness and likely make it last longer, so don’t push it if you’re feeling any of the symptoms listed below:

  • Fever
  • Muscle/Joint Pain (Body aches)
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing/sore throat that has gotten worse

Each person is different and each case will be different, so I often tell people to go by how they feel. It’s important when going by “how you feel” to be honest with your analysis of your symptoms and how you’re feeling. If you’re anything like me, you will try to convince yourself in every way fathomable that you’re, “not feeling that bad” or a “workout will make you feel better”. This sort of rationalization is self-sabotaging and you’ll hate yourself for it when you’re sick for longer and with more extreme symptoms. So be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and understand that a day or two of rest to recover from being sick is much better than trying to push it and having that illness last longer or get worse.

For a great infographic on the subject with more information, details and insight check out Precision Nutrition’s website that has all sorts of information regarding nutrition and fitness.

Moobs. (Man boobs)

What is the first thing you notice on the physique of any superhero or action figure? For me, it’s their chest. The chest always stood out as the body part that seemed to set them apart from the, “rest of us” to make them a little more than human. As a guy who grew up watching superhero TV shows, movies, and playing with action figures, it’s no wonder that I, like so many other males, aspire to build a chest worthy of superhero attire.

Image result for superman photos

I mean, look at the chest on Superman; talk about manspiration. The dude could host a small gathering on the front lawn of that chest.

Walk into any gym, specifically on a Monday, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. It is rare, like unicorn on Mars rare, to enter a gym and not see at least one individual working on their chest. Don’t believe me? Try going to a gym that only has one bench press station on a Monday aka international chest day, it’s like black Friday shopping with meatheads. Maybe it’s the fact that the pecs are right below your face and hard to ignore, or maybe guys are simply trying to compensate for what their female counterparts have that they don’t. The fact is that, the pecs are a highly trained and highly coveted muscle group, but they’re often undeveloped and less than stellar.

FullSizeR

You would think that with so many people so focused on their chest muscles that it would be simple to build a great chest. Certainly, someone has come up with a trick, technique, or some solution so that building a great chest is, “so easy a caveman could do it!”, right?! Unfortunately, that is not the case for many and their chests are flat and saggy, but that is not their fault. They, like myself not too many years ago, simply do not know any better and go at training their chest like a machine gunner rather than a sniper. A machine gun lifter believes that head on, blunt force trauma is the only way to go when trying to build a stubborn body part. On the other hand, a sniper lifter understands that precision is the key to hitting their target and uses precise movements, weights, reps, and execution to take out get a stubborn body part to grow. Both lifters are able to reach their goal, however, the sniper will be much more likely to reach the goal and be quicker as a result.

To be able to successfully stimulate the chest, one must first understand the different functions of the chest and how to integrate those functions into a training program. The chest has three attachment points: the clavicle, sternum, and at the humerus or upper arm.  The three points allow the chest to create shoulder flexion, horizontal adduction, and internal rotation of the shoulder and arm. These are important pieces of information to keep in mind, as the three functions of the pec major must be used to fully contract and stimulate the chest.

PECmajorattachments

To get every fiber of the chest involved one must do three things, preferably while under load. They must use a movement that elevates the arms in front of them, brings the arms toward or across the middle of the body, and the shoulders and arms must internally rotate.

Try it for yourself right now.

Take your arm straight out in front of you with your hand in a neutral position, like you’re about to shake someone’s hand, but with a straight arm. In a completely level or even slightly descending fashion, bring your arm toward the mid-line of your body and contract your pec. Place your opposite hand upon your contracted pec so you can gauge the change in contraction level as we progress here. Next, take your arm across your body, but add in an aspect of elevation of the arm.

Did the level of activation change? Did you feel more of your pec engage?

The final piece is to not only take the arm across the body while elevating it, but to finish the movement with internal rotation of the shoulder, arm, and hand.

Once again, how did it feel? Did the contraction quality improve again?

Now that the anatomy of the pec major has been broken down, it is time to figure out how to program our chest training with these principles in mind. I like to begin and finish my training with an exercise that focuses on training the muscle in a shortened, contracted position to get as many fibers stimulated as possible. This is important at the beginning of the workout as it acts as a primer to get those fibers ready and “excited” to work. At the end of the workout it is a useful tool to get every last bit out of a muscle that I possibly can and stimulate growth.

In both situations, the focus is on the contraction and making it as thorough as possible. Many times this can involve just a few isolated reps at a time where I hold the contraction for anywhere from five to ten seconds. The idea is simply to get as much blood into the muscle as possible and squeeze and hold it there. For the chest, I like to use cable machines with either a handle or a cuff. If grip seems to be an issue for you when you’re training your chest, I suggest using a cuff or dual cuffs. If grip doesn’t get in the way of feeling your chest working then I think a handle is actually the better option as it allows you to shift emphasis to the anterior or front portion of your body through the hand and handle. In addition, it is easier for most people to internally rotate using their hand rather than their arm, making the handle a better solution when grip is not an issue. I then perform a cable fly making sure to start the movement below my chest and finish it above my chest with internal rotation of the hands. This covers all 3 aspects of the pec major function and allows me to get as many of those fibers involved as possible.

Image result for weightlifting cuff

Image result for weightlifting cable handle

Cables or Handles? Choose which gives you the best feel

That same sort of application can be made to similar movements like dumbbell flys as well as all presses. The important thing to keep in mind is that the arms should come toward the mid-line of the body. They should slightly elevate as they go and end with internal rotation. If you use those parameters to develop your workout and exercises when trying to maximize hypertrophy, your chest training should improve greatly. Keep in mind that you are a unique individual so use your sense of awareness to feel out which angles and lines of force work best for your frame and function. Don’t forget that you can also piece together several exercises to work each portion and function of the chest individually. In either case, the idea is to fully contract every inch and fiber of the pec muscle.

Now, go forth and transform thy moobs into a chest with superhero-like proportions. Just don’t put on a cape and try stopping a bullet.

 

Key Takeaways

  1. The pec has 3 attachment points
    1. clavicle: top of chest/neck line
    2. sternum: middle of chest
    3. humerus: upper arm bone, just below shoulder
  2. The pec has 3 main functions
    1. adduction: pulling the arms toward mid-line
    2. shoulder flexion: arms elevated in front of the body
    3. internal rotation: rotate arms inward toward each other
  3. Integration
    1. use the attachment points to target different portions and fibers of the chest
    2. use the 3 functions of the chest to stimulate all the fibers of the chest