Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

fat sick and nearly deadThis is not a new movie (from 2010) but I have just watched it and I really recommend it. It is a documentary based on a guy’s quest for the cure of a rare skin condition. After being on medication for years with little results, Joe Cross decides to reboot his life through juicing. He spent 60 days cruising the USA while on a complete juice fast[1] interviewing Americans along the way.

Even though it seems quite a radical approach (well, in fact it is radical) he could restore his health and even help others along the way. However, the real lesson in the movie is hardly about a new fad diet. I believe that his goal was not trying to convince people to engage in his challenge, but to understand what motivates people to eat what they do on regular basis.

I would say that the movie is more about behavior change than it is about diet. Several interviews throughout the movie clearly showed that people know what they are doing wrong. They just don’t see a reason strong enough to change it. All they say is “I know I shouldn’t eat that much fast food but” or “I should eat better but.” There was always a “but.” Not even the threat of debilitating diseases seems to compel people to change. Most call themselves weak or say they have no will-power. Some say that they need the instant gratification they get from food which means that eliminating that little pleasure from their lives is perceived as bad as, if not worse than, a debilitating illness or even death.

Which makes me think: What has to happen in someone’s life to push her/him into a new direction? What do you think?

[1] The only thing he ate for the duration of his self-imposed challenge was fresh fruits and vegetables in the form of juice.

What Is Body Sculpting?

lean&tonedSculpting comes from the word sculpture which refers to a structure that have been carefully carved or molded by very experienced hands resulting in harmonic lines that please the eyes. Well, body sculpting is not much different.

One thing to keep in mind is that as with the plastic arts, body sculpting is a long-term project not an easy-fix measure. You may have seen those late-night infomercials promising a super-toned perfect body if you only use their gadget every day for five minutes. Those ads are mesmerizing – it looks so simple! Then we buy their product and soon enough realize that we’ve been duped. The problem is that they hire very fit models who have been working on their physique for years, physiques that we all dream to have one day.

Does this mean that you will never get a better body unless you were born with good genes? Absolutely not – all it means is that you need to train appropriately.

Body sculpting is not much different than body building. Both use weight lifting techniques to improve body composition, aka reduce body fat and increase muscle mass. I would say that the term “body sculpting” is used to sell strength training to females because the term “body building” scares women away.

The goal of body sculpting is to increase lean body mass as you decrease fat deposits, creating a more defined toned look. Most women don’t want to show off some serious muscle definition; all they want is to be firm and not jiggle. However, to get this look, you must lift weights and lift a little heavy. All right, calm down – YOU WILL NOT GET BULKY! Trust me on this one; getting muscles to grow is hard work. You would need way more than a couple of strength training sessions per week to get big.

Many women seem to go to the gym every day, but can’t seem to get the results they expect. They spend hours on cardio machines in the hopes of getting toned legs but in reality they are just wasting their muscles away. Don’t get me wrong – cardiovascular training is a valuable tool to improve heart and lungs health, but it won’t help you building muscles. Keep in mind that one of the most important principles of training is specificity which means that the results you get are closely related to the type of training you do. Therefore, if you want a lean body that shows off some muscle definition, you must train for this outcome.

Ask yourself what you really want to accomplish. If it is a sculpted, toned, firm look, then you must lift weights in order to build some muscle. And I don’t mean doing bicep curls with “Barbie dumbbells” (those pink one-kilo dumbbells reserved for females) for tons of repetitions. You must choose exercises and loads that challenge different muscle groups to elicit change. Otherwise it is just a waste of your time.

Now if you never trained with weights and have no clue how to start, you are better off hiring a trainer to help you set up a balanced program that addresses your particular needs. You can discuss with your PT what you want to achieve, how much time you can commit and by when you would like to get the results.

Keep in mind that it is a lifelong process – not a short-term goal. As you become more proficient, your body will suffer adaptations and you will need to redesign your program in order to keep getting results. A competent trainer can guide you through this process and help you get the best looking body you’ve ever had.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

habit loopBehavior change is one of the major components of weight management programs. It is true that exercise and diet play important roles in weight loss, however if the individual cannot build healthier lifestyle habits, the results won’t last. This is because once the person goes back to his/hers old habits chances are that the pounds are going to begin piling up again. Therefore, long-term commitment is a must.

Changing someone’s behaviors is not an easy task. First, the person must be open to change (for more on that read “Increasing the Odds of Successful Change”). Keep in mind that change is only possible if the individual is willing to change. However, once the person is on board, change is possible if habits are addressed.

According to Charles Duhigg author of “The Power of Habit,” a “habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: when I see a CUE, I will do a ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.” This is what he called the habit loop and it is an energy-saving strategy used by our brain in order to become faster and more efficient. This means that habits are instinctive pathways created by our brain in which we don’t have a conscientious participation. Not that we don’t know what we are doing – we do. Actually at some point we made a choice, but after some time the routine became ingrained in our brains and we stopped thinking about it.

The truth is that habits are powerful because they create what it’s called a neurological craving. This means that your brain start waiting for a preset reward whenever you see a particular cue which automatically unfolds a routine. Ok, but what does this mean? Let me break it down for you.

A CUE is a factor that triggers a behavior pattern. It could be something you see, a feeling, a smell, even a specific time of the day. The thing is that when you are exposed to this factor, it will drive you to inevitably perform a predetermined routine.

The ROUTINE is the habit itself. It is a sequence of behaviors performed spontaneously once you experience the cue.

A REWARD is the actual craving. It is the reason that pushes you to perform a routine. This craving appears immediately when you see the cue.

So how can we use this information in our favor? Keep in mind that it is almost impossible to just get rid of an old habit (neurological cravings are too powerful to be simply ignored), but we sure can try manipulating its variables (cue, routine and reward). In his book, Charles Duhigg suggests the following:

Initially, you must identify and understand the variables that compose your habit loop. Therefore, your first step should be recognizing the routine – the behavior you want to change. What exactly have you been doing that you are not happy with – smoking, mindless eating in front of the TV, having too much coffee, alcohol drinking? That’s the easy part. Everybody seems to know what needs to be changed; the hard part is actually doing it.

Then, discover what exactly you have been craving. Is it nicotine, caffeine, social interaction, need to do something fun? This is tricky and to figure this one out you have to experiment with rewards. It may not be that obvious; this step requires a bit of self-awareness. For example, some people may smoke because the act of holding a cigarette provides a sense of self-assurance in socially awkward situations, so in the end the expected reward is not nicotine, but confidence. Charles suggests slightly changing the routine in order to notice how you feel afterwards. This means that once you feel the urge to smoke, you should try doing something else instead, such as playing with your phone, calling a friend or reading a newspaper. Later you analyze your feelings. Did your craving go away or is it still there? I never said it was easy, but once you discover what you are craving, you can redesign your habit. The goal is to create a new routine that will provide de same reward, just in a different way.

The next step is to identify your cue. What is triggering the undesired behavior – boredom, stress, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, food commercials? To isolate possible cues, you should look for patterns. Charles recommends writing down details of what is going on the moment you feel the craving for several days. Then, compare and analyze your notes to find common points.

Now that you’ve identified all components of the habit loop, all you have to do is to set a plan of action. This means that you will actively choose to behave in a certain way whenever you see the cue that triggers the habit. Keep in mind that the reward is still going to be the same; all you are changing is how you are getting it. The goal is to teach your brain a new pathway that will lead to the reward you’ve been craving. Once it is ingrained, it will become a habit and you won’t have to think about it anymore.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

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.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

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.

References

AIF. Master Trainer: Fitness Instructor Workbook.

AIF. Master Trainer: Personal Trainer Workbook.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

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.

References

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Flow


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

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.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

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.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

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.

mindset


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.

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.


Carla Torres is an AIF Master Trainer based in Rhodes, NSW. Her mission is to promote exercise, proper nutrition and healthy habits as a way to empower individuals to make decisions leading to better quality of life.