Working with a Personal Trainer

working with ptFor a beginner, the gym environment can be very overwhelming. Lots of complicated equipment, big guys grunting and throwing weights around, and flirtatious girls in spandex is not something that is easy to handle at first. So for new gym goers, having a personal trainer can be the best way to feel welcome and safe in a health club. If you just joined a gym on impulse and have no idea how to start training, consider the following:

The first thing you’ll need is to learn how to use the machines and other fitness equipment which means you may need some assistance. Even though, some machines may seem self-explanatory, you must set them up correctly before using them. You will also need to know which ones to use in order to have a balanced program (otherwise you will end up doing only bicep exercises, for instance). Lastly, you need to know proper lifting technique so you won’t injure yourself in the process. Therefore, you are better off hiring someone who will take care of all those details for you.

Besides, a PT will guide you through the shortest path to success. One of the most common mistakes people make is not setting proper goals – if you don’t know where you want to go, how do you expect to get there? Your trainer will help you set realistic goals that are attainable and design a plan of action, leading to those goals. Working with a trainer is the fastest way to get results, because he/she will select the best exercises for what you want to achieve and will push you out of your comfort zone without compromising your safety.

In addition, a trainer can adjust the program to suit any particular need or limitation you may have at any given time. This means simplifying exercises that are too much for you to handle at first, and progressing them once you get stronger. And this happens on a daily basis!

Having a trainer also helps you save time in the gym. When you arrive, your session is already planned and set up for you. You don’t need to have a plan, you don’t have to adjust the machines or remember the weights you used last time. You don’t even need to put the weights back when you are done. It is max workout in minimum time.

Lastly, a trainer will give you consistent, non-judgmental, and unconditional support, assisting you to overcome obstacles that may appear, holding you accountable for your actions, keeping sessions interesting to promote long-term motivation, and helping you to stay on track. This support can help you create healthier lifestyle habits which you will follow for years to come. For a PT, your success is his/her success, so he/she will be always on your side.

The truth is that hiring a personal trainer is an investment on your health and well-being. Both beginners and more experienced exercisers can benefit from personal training services. You may think that you know enough to work out on your own, but image how much better you could be if you had some professional assistance.

Rules for Bulking Up

Want to put on some size? Keep reading.

bulk up

Proper Program

Bulking up, putting size, getting big… These are all synonyms for hypertrophy or muscle growth. Training for hypertrophy requires a special type of exercise program to elicit the desired physiological adaptations. What you want is to stress the musculoskeletal system, forcing the muscle fibers grow in size and number. Keep in mind that it is different than training for strength gains for instance, which places the nervous system under stress and most adaptations happens in the brain and neurons. Therefore, a program designed to develop muscle mass relies more on training volume than on heavy lifts.

Long story short, to induce hypertrophy, you need to lift as much as you can for as long as it’s possible. The goal is to create micro-tears in the muscle tissue which will get thicker as it is repaired. This is only possible when muscle is kept under tension for long periods, promoting temporary fatigue of the fibers which then leads to the recruitment of more motor units (motor neuron plus its muscle fibers).

In programming, this is translated as a training volume of at least 250 reps/workout, six to 15 reps per set (60% to 85% 1RM), and three to six sets per exercise. In addition, each set must last at least 60 seconds (minimum time the muscle must be under tension to elicit the desired outcome) which means that the tempo of the sets must be around 3:2 or 4:3, emphasizing the eccentric phase because it’s the one that causes more tissue damage. Confusing? That’s what pros are for. Ask a personal trainer to design an effective program for you.

Recovery Time

Adequate rest is adamant for muscle growth. It is important to notice that physiological adaptations only occur after the training session is over (not during it), which means that if you train hard every day but don’t have enough recovery time, you will not grow bigger. Actually, you may get smaller since your body will be constantly in a catabolic (break down) state due to a chronic release of cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and is release during exercise. However, when the body is exposed to it chronically, it promotes metabolic imbalances, muscle waste and suppressed immunity. Keep in mind that to stimulate an anabolic (build up) state and enable muscle growth and repair, you must secrete testosterone, insulin and human growth hormone (HGH) which are only released during recovery. Hence, a minimum of 48 hours between training sessions is recommended in order to promote full recovery of every system involved (musculoskeletal, nervous and endocrine).

Proper Nutrition

Refueling after training is also fundamental to promote growth and repair. After a workout our body needs to replenish energy stores and repair muscle tissue. For this to happen we need to ingest certain amounts of carbohydrates and protein (1g/kg of carbs and 10-20g of protein). We have a window of opportunity of 30 minutes post-training to replenish fuels. Liquid meals should be preferred because they are digested and absorbed faster. Chocolate milk is a simple example of a post-workout meal.

Also, for people wanting to put on some size, consuming regular balanced meals is fundamental to avoid putting the body into a catabolic state, in which you would be breaking down precious muscle tissue. Aim to consume around 1.5 g of protein per kilogram of body weight and create a positive energy balance of 500 to 1,000 kcal per day.


AIF. Master Trainer: Fitness Instructor Workbook.

AIF. Master Trainer: Personal Trainer Workbook.

Finding Your Inner Drive

Have you ever thought about what motivates you to exercise? I mean what makes you want to hit the gym floor for a smashing workout? The promise of results (losing 10 kg), external rewards (a new dress!), enjoyment (it is just fun!), or a person (my doctor told me to)? Motivation is defined as “a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.”  Simply put, it is what drives us to move forward or to keep going when things get tough. Do you know what motivates you to exercise?

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation focuses on external factors such as results, rewards, or other people. Many people will say that getting results motivate them. And while I agree that results are powerful motivators, I also believe that they are short-lived factors. Before you give up reading, let me explain. Let’s say you want to shed a few kilos. What will happen after you accomplish it? Or even worse, what will happen if you can’t quite get there for any reason?  Won’t you feel demotivated? My point is you need something for the long run, a motivator that is so powerful it will be with you no matter the circumstances. Something no one can take it from you. That is called intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is an inner force that drives you to act without external rewards. You do it simply because you enjoy the process of doing it. The activity in itself gives you satisfaction and pleasure. You see it as an opportunity (to learn, to grow, to practice) rather than an obligation. Hungarian psychologist Csikszentmihalyi defines completely focused motivation as “the flow,” a mental state in which the person is fully immersed in the task at hand. It’s said that people in the flow experience a feeling of spontaneous joy.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to experience such feeling. So, how can you find your inner drive? Experts say that the following factors contribute to increase intrinsic motivation: challenge, curiosity, control, cooperation or competition, and recognition. I would say that since everyone is different, you need to dig deep into your feelings in order to discover what rings your bells. The goal is to find activities that put you in “the zone” – that place where time seems to fly and the activity seems effortless. I know you must be thinking that I am crazy and you will never be able to find an exercise modality that is effortless. However, think of when you go out with friends. You may dance the whole night (in heels!) and don’t even notice the tiredness. So yes, it is possible.

My advice is: try as many modalities you need until you find something that speaks to you. Think outside the box. Go for activities that seem interesting rather than activities that burn more calories. Remember that if you enjoy an activity, you’ll be more likely to perform it for longer and more often. Find an enjoyable activity that offers you a “me time” and you will want to do it no matter how stressed you are or how bad your day was. And yes, maybe you will try something and realize that it is not for you. That’s ok. Just move on to another activity. And keep in mind that if you never try, you will never know.


What is Intrinsic Motivation?


Proper Form: Practice Makes Perfect

Go to any gym and you will see a festival of bad form and poor exercise technique. People lifting too much weight with no regard for proper form. No wonder there are so many injuries among “lifters.”

Maintaining good posture is a fundamental part of any exercise technique. That’s because when you use correct form, stress is evenly distributed throughout the muscles, bones and joints, making you less prone to injuries. Besides if body structures are well-aligned, muscle recruitment is more efficient, which means that the most adequate muscles for the activity will be called into play, requiring less effort and energy to perform it.

But do you know what proper form is? Here are some tips for keeping good body alignment during any exercise.

  1. Neutral spine – Our spine has a series of natural curvatures that should be maintained while we exercise. These curves receive and redistribute forces, protecting the spine from ‘wear and tear’. Neutral spine refers to the maintenance of these natural curvatures, meaning that rounding or overarching the back is a big no-no. To keep your spine neutral imagine that there is a line pulling the top of your head, elongating your trunk.
  2. Chin in – It is very common to poke the head out while performing push-ups and curl-ups. Also, looking yourself at the mirror while doing dead-lifts or squats compromise the alignment of the neck. So to keep your neck in check, tuck in your chin as if you were holding a tennis ball under your jaw.
  3. Open chest – Our current lifestyle habits (sitting for long periods of time in front of a computer) make the chest muscles stronger and tighter than the back muscles, leading to a rounded shoulders position. The problem is that this position hinders movement of the arms and put the shoulder joint under great stress. To prevent injuries, keep the chest open and proud by bringing the shoulder blades back and down.
  4. Core engaged – Abs and back muscles are responsible for protecting the lumbar spine. These are called core muscles. When you fire up those muscles, your hip bones take a position that maintains the natural lumbar curvature. A good way to engage those muscles is by bracing yourself as if someone was going to punch you in the stomach.
  5. Soft joints –Locking the knees while standing or the elbows at the end of a movement reduce stability, putting the joint at risk of injury. Keep in mind that knees and elbows work as door hinges, which means they can only move forward or backward and any lateral force or rotation may damage their ligaments. Therefore, keep your knees soft while standing and never lock your elbows at the end of the movement.
  6. Joint alignment – In order to protect weaker joints, it is important to keep them aligned with stronger ones. This means stacking the joints by aligning wrists, elbows and shoulders, and ankles, knees and hips as much as possible.

These are simple principles which anyone can apply to any type of training. Practice them in front of a mirror to create body awareness. With time they will become automatic and will come naturally.

Reversing the Biological Clock

Exercise is the best anti-aging treatment.  However, most individuals seem to prefer being sedentary and risk having many chronic diseases associated with age. Maybe it is because we are completely surrounded with too many so-called “easy ways to reverse the clock.” Botox, plastic surgeries, anti-aging lotions, you get the picture. Unfortunately, these quick fixes only work on the outside. What about the inside? Our heart, lungs, muscles, and bones – they too suffer the effects of aging. As we get older, we tend to lose muscle and bone mass, our flexibility becomes limited, the production of hormones declines, our cardiorespiratory capacity diminishes, and our cognitive function becomes impaired, among others.

The good news is that living an active lifestyle can make your body stronger and more resistant to the wear and tear of time. Regular physical activity contributes to maintain/build muscle and bone mass, keeps your heart and lungs attuned, and improves metabolic function and hormonal production all of which prevent many chronic diseases related to aging.

I know you must be thinking that now is too late; you should have started when you were young. However, this is far away from the truth. The human body is able to respond to exercise at any age.

My husband’s grandma still runs long distance events (5K and 10K) – and she is 92. Her secret is that she keeps herself busy, walking everywhere and attending Pilates and swimming classes three to five days a week. She is the epitome of independent living. Last year, she fell at night and broke her foot, which would be a hospital nightmare for anyone of her age. However, because she kept herself active, in over a month she was up and walking. And if you are thinking that she must have started when she was young, think again. She began her first exercise program on her mid-fifties.  Therefore, age is not an excuse.

Still, you should start slowly, increasing volume and intensity as you get used to exercise. Also, depending on your current health status, you should see your doctor for medical clearance. Age is not a contraindication to exercise, but some medical conditions may require special programs.

Adjust your mindset

As a new year starts, millions of people make resolutions that they don’t believe they can accomplish. In the US, the number one resolution for 2014 was to lose weight (University of Scranton). Unfortunately, only 8% of people are expected to be successful in achieving their goals. Why these statistics are so pessimistic? Well, the truth is that most people want something, but few are willing to work for it.

Keep in mind that just because we write down a simple statement, it doesn’t mean it will magically happen, no effort needed. Therefore, if you really want to achieve your goals this year, it is time you change your approach.

According to Carol Dweck, PH.D., author of “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success,” there are basically two types of mindset: the fixed and the growth. People with a fixed mindset think in a black and white manner (smart or dumb, weak or strong, successful or failure). They believe their attributes are carved in stone, seeing themselves as a finished product.  Because of those beliefs, they tend to be judgmental and have the need to prove themselves all the time. When faced with a challenge, they run away, trying to avoid a possible failure. If they “fail”, they tell themselves that they are not as smart as they thought; they feel sorry for themselves and resign. This means that they lack motivation to keep going through adversities. Consequently they can’t achieve their full potential.

People with the growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that a person’s true potential depends on effort, that everyone can change and growth through practice and experience. They see challenges as an opportunity to learn. When facing an obstacle, they ask themselves: “how can I overcome this?” or “what can I learn from this experience?” Because of this way of thinking, they are highly motivated people and are more likely to succeed in life.

In fact, studies in neuroscience shows that challenges do make you stronger, faster, and smarter because they force your brain to make more neural connections over time. Thus, if you adjust your mindset to be OK with assuming risks, making occasional mistakes, and learning from experiences, you may accomplish whatever you want.

Don’t be afraid of struggles and setbacks. Life doesn’t go in a straight line anyway. More likely than not, obstacles will appear and you can look at them as an opportunity to learn or you can feel sorry for yourself. It is your choice.

However, changing your mindset is not a simple process. There will be times in which willpower won’t be enough; you’ll need strategies. Make concrete plans determining what, where, when, and how you want. It is also important to put effort into your goal. Writing it down and waiting for it to happen, won’t do the cut. Move towards your goal. And when you face setbacks, don’t give up. Analyse what happened and ask what you can learn from it. Oh, and try to enjoy the process.


Save Your Children

Forget about kids’ menu. Chicken nuggets, French fries, grilled cheese are all poor nutritional options, training the child’s palate to accept artificial flavors and reject the taste of real food. Instead, give your children small portions of what you will have for dinner including vegetables, whole grains and lean cuts of meat. Remember that it is your responsibility to offer your kids new and exciting dishes which incite their curiosity and develop their ability to make smart choices in the future.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Prevention is the best medicine – I’m sure you heard this before. An overwhelming number of studies have shown that our lifestyle choices are responsible for causing or preventing many chronic diseases. So why is it so hard to improve our lifestyle choices? Maybe it is because we don’t feel immediately threatened by any health issues. At least not right now. However, as we get older chances are that our body won’t be able to deal with all the abuses we do when we are younger.

As the years go by, it is more common than not to put on some weight. Then, we blame our metabolism; we convince ourselves that it is slowing down as part of the aging process and it is only natural to gain a couple of pounds, until they start piling up, and you end up overweight and miserable. Also, many will develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, among others. And now, we blame our genes; it runs on the family, we say.

The problem is that we never think that what happens to our body is our own fault. It is so difficult to assume responsibility for our acts that we fabricate excuses to justify our poor behavior. Let me tell you something: you are going to be in this body for a long time; you can’t exchange it or return it. So, you need to take good care of it, otherwise it will be run down and useless.

It is possible to age gracefully and in full health. All you need to do is to respect your body. Provide it with real nourishment, not some fast-food junk you bought because you were in a hurry or because you “didn’t feel like cooking.” Exercise it to keep your joints “well-oiled,” your muscles strong and your heart healthy. And give it enough rest. These are just simple guidelines, yet many people can’t seem to follow.

The good news is that it is never too late to start eating healthier and exercising regularly. You don’t need to change everything at once. Just do one small change at a time. A good start would be assuming responsibility for your health and reflecting on how your actions impact your life and body. If you can set your mind to do the right thing, your body will be happy to follow it.

Push-up 101

Push-up is an excelent body-weight exercise that doesn’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere. However, many people feel intimidated by it and end up missing the opportunity to work out  many muscle groups at once in a few minutes.

Its initial position  is the plank, in which the body is in a straight line from head to toe. To get into a plank position, start by lying down facing the floor with hands on the ground outside your shoulders. Bring the shoulder blades together to activate the back muscles, engage your core, lift your body from the floor, straightening your arms, and push your heels back to activate your glutes and legs. Practice holding the plank for 30-second intervals, in order to build the core strength that is necessary when performing push-ups.

Watch this video for basic tips for performing perfect push-ups.

Push-up 101

On the Road Mini Circuit

It is holiday time and many of us don’t have time to go to the gym. For those, I put together an exercise routine that doesn’t require any equipment, can be done anywhere (I did it barefoot on my office floor), and can be completed in 10 minutes (if this is all the time you have). It is a mini circuit composed of four exercises, challenging your whole body in a short period of time. However, if time is not an issue, feel free to repeat the circuit as many times as you’d like. Check it out.

On the road mini circuit