Meal Planning 101

Eating healthy on regular basis can be quite challenging. In my experience, the best way of avoiding falling into the junk food/take out trap is being prepared. If you arrive home from work and have everything ready to prepare a delicious and nutritious meal, you will be less likely to end up at McDonalds drive thru.

Here are some tips for creating your own meal planning system. This is the method I use to plan my meals and grocery shopping for the week.

  1. Start an recipe library. I collect healthy and easy recipes which I keep in a folder divided into categories (beef, chicken, lamb, pork, eggs, vegetarian). I always get the free magazines from the grocery stores. They usually have seasonal recipes and make shopping much easier. However, I only keep the recipes I know I will be able to do. My criteria is healthy, quick preparation, and delicious😉
  2. Selecting the menu. When I am planning the weekly menu, I pull my recipe folder and choose five to six recipes. I try to include a variety of vegetables, grains, and protein sources to improve nutrient consumption and create some excitement. Also, I distribute the meals according to my schedule. Ex: I usually plan fish dishes for Mondays and Fridays because those are the days I can get fresh fish from the local fishmonger. So you should choose what works for your lifestyle.
  3. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. Because of my work schedule, I can only cook in the evenings so I prepare a bigger batch for dinner and portion out my lunch servings. It is time effective and a great way to avoid second helpings. That’s portion-control at its best.
  4. Create go-to breakfast options. I usually have two or three breakfast options which I alternate during the week. I start by choosing a protein source, then adding a fruit or veggie, and finishing with a smart carb (oats, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, whole grain bread). Because I leave home really early in the morning (think 5am, folks), I don’t have time to prepare breakfast before work. So, I have everything ready-to-go in advance. This way, there is no excuse to stop for a coffee-shop pastry.
  5. Create go-to snack options. Same as for breakfast: have two to three options and alternate them. Rule of thumb, unless you are trying to gain weight, your snacks should be 200 kcal or less. That means that a giant muffin is out of the question. Ex: boiled egg and small salad, hummus and carrots, yogurt and fruit.
  6. Make you shopping list based on your menu. Once you’ve made your plan, create your shopping list based on the ingredients you need for the week. Number one rule is stick to your plan and avoid buying anything out of your list. Don’t keep high calorie snacks and lollies at home. If you don’t have them at hand, you won’t eat them. And if you are really craving something special, then you will have to make the effort to go to store and get it. You might give up just by thinking of it.

Take away notes: As I said before, this is what works for me. You can use it as a template but I strongly suggest that you make adjustments according to your lifestyle. I usually shop once a week for most items but get fresh produce and meats as I need them during the week. You may choose to plan only three days at a time. Anyways, do whatever works for you.

Working the Back – Horizontal Pull

The basic horizontal pull exercise is a row. It targets mainly the horizontal fibres of our back muscles. When you develop a strong back, those muscles pull the shoulders back (flattening the shoulder blades against the rib cage), giving you a nice open-chest posture like ballerinas and military people have.

Rows are similar to pull-downs/pull-ups. They both engage the same muscle groups and involve shoulder and elbow joints. The difference between the two exercises lies in body positioning. In a pull-down, weight is moved from above the head to the chest (vertical pull). In a row, load is moved horizontally (seated cable row) or in an angle (bent-over row), depending on how you position your body. Rows could be considered the opposite movement of chest presses.

The Movement

There are many types of rows, but I’ll describe the three most common ones. All the other variations come from one of those movements.

Seated cable row – Sit facing the machine, placing your feet on the pads. Knees should be bent and back should be straight at all times. Reach for the handle and pull it to your chest, bending your elbows. Slowly, return to the initial position. That’s one rep. Perform one or two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Single-arm row – Kneel over a bench with one arm supporting the body. Keep a straight back. Hold a dumbbell with your free hand, keeping the arms straight. Inhale, and pull the weight toward your chest. Exhale and lower the weight. That’s one rep. Perform one or two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Bent-over row – Hold a barbell close to your thighs, arms extended. Bend your hips and knees until you achieve a half-squat position. Your back should be straight. That’s the starting position. Bending your elbows, pull the bar close to your chest. Slowly, lower the bar to its initial position. That’s one rep. Perform one or two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.

Muscles Involved

The primary muscles involved in this exercise are the biceps (arms), the lats (middle back), the posterior deltoids (shoulders), and the upper back muscles. These exercises also require the help of several stabilizers such as abdominal group muscles, deep back muscles, deep shoulder muscles, and wrist muscles.

Varying the starting position forces the body to recruit different fibers from the muscles involved.

Tips for Proper Form

  • Keep a neutral spine (don’t arch or round your back).
  • Control the movement at all times – avoid momentum.
  • Inhale when pulling.

Variations

Just by describing the movement, I already gave you three variations. The options are endless. On cable rows, you have several grip options by changing the handle. You can also choose to perform the movement from a squat position, which requires core stabilization. If you don’t have access to a cable machine, it is possible to perform the same exercise with elastic bands.

You have the option of performing bent-over rows with overhand (palms facing down) or underhand (palms facing up) grip on the barbell, or with a neutral (palms facing each other) grip if you replace the barbell for dumbbells.  You can also perform this exercise on top of a Bosu, which will recruit more stabilizing muscles.

The Holiday Effect – Part 3

Oh Diet. Isn’t it everybody’s nemesis? How good it would be if we could eat whatever we want, whenever we feel like and not have severe consequences on our waistline.

I came back from my two-week vacation four kilos heavier. Now that I’m back home, I had to do something about it. Besides exercising 6 times per week (read the previous article for more info), I had to get my eating habits back on track.

You’ve probably heard several times that diet is responsible for about 80% of weight-loss (especially if you intend to preserve lean mass in the process). Unfortunately, exercise alone cannot make a significant dent on the energy balance equation in order to lead to considerable fat loss. Therefore, dietary adjustments are adamant.

However, we don’t want to simply skip meals or starve ourselves. That would generate a metabolic disaster since the body would perceive it as a threat and kick into conservation mode, slowing down your precious weight-loss.

Having that in mind, I designed my nutrition plan based on eliminating processed foods, limiting restaurant foods and take-outs, and focusing on eating plenty of fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts and healthy oils, and lean protein sources. Simple enough.

The idea was to fill up the plate with fibre-rich vegetables in order to make me feel satiated. But I wasn’t limiting myself to salads because I knew that wouldn’t work for long. Instead I found recipes that replaced refined carbs with veggies and whole grains.

Another change was to include lean protein in every meal. Keep in mind that protein intake is very important during a weight-loss process because it is used to build and repair muscle. Also, the digestion of protein takes longer and requires more energy which keeps you feeling full for longer and increases your basal metabolic rate (meaning that you burn more calories in the process). Breakfast was the biggest challenge I faced because it’s not as if I could have a full serving of chicken breast at 6 am. Nonetheless, I found ways of sneaking protein everywhere I could.

To improve adherence, and not rely solely on willpower, I looked for recipes that appealed to my taste buds. It is much easier to stick to a diet if you look forward to have your meals. I created a folder with my favourite recipes so I could easily plan a weekly menu.

Preparation is another big step to success. My daily schedule is hectic: I wake up too early (4:30am at times) and arrive home late night (8:30 or 9 pm). If I didn’t have a plan chances were, I would eat whatever I could get my hands at or rely on take-outs. You see, restaurant foods are designed to be yummy (so you become a frequent customer). For that, meals contain way more salt, sugar and fat that you would consume if you were to prepare something similar at home. Mind you, I don’t have anything against enjoying a nice family dinner out. I just believe that it should be left for special occasions.

So, I planned the weekly menu based on recipes I intended to prepare, made a grocery list and went shopping. And no, I didn’t spend my whole Sunday meal prepping. My preparation is usually minimal. It consists of washing and cutting fruits and veggies, maybe preparing a batch of breakfast options and organizing the fridge. That’s it. Every night, I prepare enough food for dinner and next day’s lunch. I take to work my breakfast, lunch and any snacks I may have. The only thing I buy is my daily cup of coffee.

Here is this week’s menu plan. Next time, I’ll be posting some of the recipes. If there is anyone in particular you would like me to post, just write on the comments. Until next time😊

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Breakfast

Ricotta and spinach egg muffin

Berry and chia pudding

Ricotta and spinach egg muffin

Berry and chia pudding

Ricotta and spinach egg muffin

Berry and chia pudding

Ricotta and tomato omelette

Mixed berries with yogurt and seeds

Ricotta and tomato omelette

Mixed berries with yogurt and seeds

Post workout

Protein powder

banana

Protein powder

banana

Protein powder

banana

Protein powder

banana

Protein powder

banana

Lunch

4 salmon sashimi

4 salmon nigiri

(store bought)

Zucchini spaghetti with grilled salmon Carrot and orange salad w/ smoked paprika chicken tenderloin Sweet potato mash with spinach salad and veal/pork patties Crab Nicoise salad
Dinner Zucchini spaghetti with grilled salmon Carrot and orange salad w/ smoked paprika chicken tenderloins Sweet potato mash with spinach salad and veal/pork patties Crab Nicoise salad Broccoli and snow peas with hummus and roast chicken

The Holiday Effect – Part 2

So, this was the first week of my get-back-into-shape program. My plan was to exercise six days per week, stick to a clean diet, drink more water, take my vitamins…

Exercise was never a problem for me. Since I’m a trainer and work at a gym, I have no excuse for not working out. I designed a program focusing on gaining lean muscle while maximizing the fat burn. It was inspired on Jim Stoppani’s “Shortcut to Shred” program. It consisted on heavy to moderate load weight training with bouts of cardio exercise in between sets. Since I was going to train six days per week, the program was split into two phases: the first three days contained heavy compound exercises and the following three were composed of moderate load isolation exercises. All the sets were to be taken to temporary muscle failure and the last set was a drop set (progressively reducing the load to include a few more reps in the set).

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Chest

Triceps

Glutes

Horizontal pull

Biceps

Abs

Legs

Shoulders

Chest

Triceps

Glutes

Vertical pull

Biceps

Abs

Legs

Shoulders

Active Recovery

Table 1: Program split.

But maybe I was too ambitious on my return. The idea was to perform a 30-second bout of cardio (high knees, start jumps) after every set. However, that didn’t last long. After the first round, I was exhausted and wasn’t being able to perform the exercises with proper form (I was shaky and my stabilization was poor). Therefore, for safety reasons, I was forced to stop.

I never felt so weak. I had to reduce the load several times in order to complete a set. The good news was that taking a set to failure was not a problem. Mind you that I have a training partner, therefore we can take sets to muscle failure safely. For the first time, I felt drained during my workout session and couldn’t wait to get it over. The first day back was the worst. Besides feeling physically exhausted, I also felt frustrated. Nonetheless life goes on.

The next few days, I was so sore I could barely move. My chest and triceps were on fire, my legs were wobbly and you couldn’t touch my lats without me screaming. But I am stubborn and decided to stick to my plan. I did complete the workout plan for the whole week. Yes, I had to cut the cardio acceleration exercises and reduce the load. Besides that, I was on course.

In the following post, I will talk about my diet plan (struggles and all), healthy substitutions you can make to stay on track, and macronutrient balance for fat loss. I will even throw in a few recipes. Stay tuned.

Want a sneak peak of my exercise program? Click here to download.

The Holiday Effect

I just came back from a two-week vacation. Like many people out there, I used the excuse of being on holidays to overeat and under exercise. During those short two weeks, I managed to ignore completely all the health principles I teach and normally follow. I guess that just makes me a human being.

Besides being away from my regular daily routine, I found myself being ridiculously sedentary. Cold weather and lack of a plan contributed to me spending endless hours on the couch in front of the TV. I didn’t even walk much (we drove everywhere we needed to go, mostly restaurants). The result of that impressive lack of physical activity was that I felt sluggish and tired all the time, even though I wasn’t doing much.  

If that wasn’t bad enough, my diet was a complete wreck. Imagine eating no green vegetables for 15 days. My meals consisted of mainly refined carbohydrates (think bread, pasta, pastry, cake, cookies) and fatty protein sources (cold cuts of meat, sausages, juicy steaks, fried chicken). Dessert was a given. I had too much salt, fat and sugar, and not enough nutrients or fibre. I was consuming soda and sugary drinks (which I don’t even like!) just for the sake of having something other than water.

During the whole time, I was eating just for fun because I can’t say I was actually hungry. And I managed to ignore any sign of fullness. You see, many of the restaurants we visited were “all you can eat” which means that in order to be “worthy” I needed to eat a lot, even if I felt completely stuffed after.

You know what is the saddest thing of all? I was completely aware of what I was doing. I just didn’t care. I kept telling myself that I was on holidays so I had the “right” of acting that way. Did this ever happen to you?

Unfortunately, the effect that those sloppy days had on my body were devastating. On the first couple of days, I got sick. A bad cold. I blamed the long flight and lack of sleep but I know that not drinking enough water or getting proper nutrition wasn’t helping my cause. Because I was constantly dehydrated (not enough water, vegetables and fruits), my skin was dry and blotchy. My face became covered in breakouts. My poor eating got me constantly bloated and constipated. I felt worn-out and lethargic. But the reality only sank in when I weighed myself at a drugstore scale. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Four kilos in 15 days.

Now I’m back on track. Since arriving home, I have cleaned up my diet (no more indulgences for a while), loaded my plate with veggies and fruits, reintroduced whole grains, included lean protein sources in every meal, been drinking plenty of water (and water only). I’m also back to the gym (to work and workout). My plan is to exercise 6 days per week. I will be posting my exercise program, diet plan, and progress. Let’s see how long it’s going to take to shed those unwanted kilos.

Developing the Chest

In weight lifting, a press is an exercise movement in which resistance is pushed away from the body. This resistance can be represented by barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, elastic bands, machines, even your own body weight.

There are many exercises that fit this description, such as chest presses, shoulder presses, leg presses, push-ups, and dips, among others. These exercises are performed from different starting positions, but all of them are composed of two phases: a lifting phase in which resistance is pushed (or pressed) away from the body, and a lowering phase when the exerciser brings the weight back close to the body.

In this article I will describe two exercises that targets the chest muscles.

Chest Press

Also known as bench press, this exercise as the name indicates is largely used to develop the chest region. But don’t get overexcited. Performing a hundred bench presses won’t tone your breasts or make them bigger.  Strength training exercises will only build up muscle mass, and our breasts are composed of mammary glands and fat. Anyway, I still believe you should include this exercise, or any of its variations, in your program, because this multi-joint exercise not only engages chest muscles, but also the triceps and the front part of the shoulders.

The Movement

Start by lying down on a bench, belly up and back flat. Hold a barbell placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, palms facing your feet. Controlling the movement, lower the bar to your chest. Then extend your elbows, lifting the bar. That’s one repetition (rep). Perform one or two sets of 10 to 12 reps.

 

Muscles Involved

  • The primary regions involved in this exercise are the chest (pectoralis), the front portion of the shoulders (anterior deltoids), and the triceps muscles. However, many core muscles (abdominals, glutes and back muscles) are needed to stabilize the body. Forearm and hand muscles are also engaged while keeping the grip.
  • An interesting aspect of chest presses is that by varying the inclination of the bench, the hand positioning, or the movement angle, you can recruit muscle fibers from different areas of the chest. However, women are seldom looking for chest definition (as men are), so consider those alternatives as a way to introduce variety into your program.

Tips for Proper Form

  • Keep your body in contact with the bench – don’t arch your back.
  • Control the movement at all times.
  • Inhale when lowering the bar, exhale when lifting.

Variations

  • Start with a flat bench press, keeping your feet flat on the floor. This variation distributes the effort evenly through the chest area. If you don’t have a bench, you can perform this exercise on the floor. However, the range of motion will be slightly limited because you won’t be able to lower the bar to the chest.
  • Positioning the bench at an incline angle will place emphasis on the upper part of the chest, while a decline bench will work mainly inferior chest fibers.
  • Another option is using a pair of dumbbells instead of a bar. This alternative offers a greater range of motion, but more stabilization is required to control the weights separately.
  • If you want to place more challenge on your core muscles, you can perform a flat bench press with raised legs. Still need more challenge? No problem. Replace the bench for a stability ball. Keep both feet on the ground, but hold your pelvis up while performing the exercise.

Push-ups

A push-up is a body weight exercise that can be very challenging if you haven’t built yet enough upper body strength. This is one of those total body exercises that seems to engage every muscle you’ve got. It requires a good amount of core strength to maintain the body aligned throughout the movement. Fortunately, there are a few modifications you can do in order to incorporate this amazing exercise to your routine.

The Movement

In a full body push-up, you start from a plank position: belly facing the ground, back straight, arms shoulder-width apart, legs and arms fully extended, and palms and toes supporting the body. Keeping a flat back, slowly bend your elbows, lowering the rib cage as close to the floor as you can. Then, push back, extending your elbows until you are back to the initial position. That’s one repetition. You can do sets (one or more sets of 12 reps) if you are strong enough to complete those. If not, do as many as you can and try to include one more repetition each time, until you can perform 12 reps without rest in between.

Muscles Involved

  • We can consider this movement an inverted chest press. Therefore the primary muscles involved are the same: chest muscles, front part of the shoulders and triceps. However, a push-up requires stronger stabilization than a bench press, largely engaging back, shoulders, arms, wrists, abdominals, legs and glutes muscles.

Tips for Proper Form

  • Keep your body in a straight line.
  • Control the movement at all times.
  • Inhale when lowering the body, exhale when lifting.

Progression

  • If you don’t think you can complete even one full body push-up, don’t be discouraged; I have alternatives for you. And as you get stronger, you can progress to more demanding variations. If you never performed a push-up in your life, start with a wall push-up. Stand about three feet from a wall, placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance. Bending your elbows, allow your face to come closer to the wall and then push back. Try doing between eight and 12 repetitions to start. Once you can complete two sets of 12 reps, it is time to progress to incline push-ups (using a countertop, a chair or a bench). The movement is similar, but have in mind that the lower the bench, the harder it will be. Start with a high chair and progress to a lower one.
  • Another option is a kneeling push-up, in which you have to lift only part of your body weight. Whatever alternative you choose, be sure to gradually increase the challenge until you get to the full body variation.

Variations

  • Already mastered the push-up world? I have options for you, too. Introducing challenge to your routine is the key for getting continued results and avoiding plateaus[1].
  • As in the bench press exercise, different positioning of the body recruits different muscle fibers. An incline push-up will engage mostly inferior fibers of the chest, while a decline variation emphasizes mainly the upper chest area. If you want to challenge your balance, place your feet on a stability ball for a decline push-up or use a Bosu ball for a more demanding incline push-up.
  • Do you want to try something funkier? Perform single-leg push-ups or try the spider-man variation.

[1] A plateau is a training period where you stop seeing improvements. It usually occurs because our body gets used to and comfortable with exercise routines and won’t need more physiological adaptations. To get over plateaus, it is essential to keep challenging your muscles in unexpected ways.

3 Steps to Success

You probably heard this one before. All you need to do to lose weight is exercise more and eat less. But if it is that simple, why so many people fail miserably?

While the energy equation makes total sense on paper, it is an oversimplification of the process. The truth is that as human beings, we are complex organisms. And each one of us has unique characteristics. That’s why a one-size-fits-all approach cannot possibly work for everyone.

Now, while you will have to discover what works for  you, there is a common denominator in the equation: CONSISTENCY. Doesn’t matter what you do, if you don’t stick to it long enough, chances are you won’t see results.

What’s the secret? Motivation? Willpower?

Motivation is the excitement you feel when you begin a new project. It can definitely help you get started. However, it tends to fade away as time passes and you need to constantly remind yourself why you chose to go through this path.

Ah willpower! Willpower is great but it is a limited resource. When you force yourself to do something you don’t want to, you are using your willpower. The problem is that it won’t last forever.

So how can you make it work?

First of all, you need a plan of action. A plan of action is a step by step guide, a fool-proof system that is easy to follow. When you are writing your plan, break down your big goal into small manageable steps. Focus on behaviours (things you can do on regular basis) that when performed over a period of time will lead you to your ultimate goal. If you don’t know how to do this, look for professional help. An experienced trainer or coach can guide through this process.

The second step is accountability. The goal here is to make sure you are taking the small steps you devised on your plan. You can use your trainer or coach to make yourself accountable. Or find a friend with a similar goal and keep track of each others progress. Another idea is to use your social media as a diary  and post your plan and daily progress. If you prefer something more discreet, create an accountability sheet and stick to your fridge door or bathroom mirror. Fill it out everyday to keep track of your progress.

Need a sample? Download it here.

The final step is support. Surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through. This way you can talk about your frustrations, celebrate your successes, and find solutions to problems.

Keep in mind that results come from performing simple things over a period of time. If you trust the process and work on staying on track, you will see that the work you put in will pay off.

Can I Have Carbs?

The 2 Week DietFirst of all, keep in mind that carbohydrates are not bad for you. They do have an important function for the body which is supplying energy to the brain and muscles, especially during exercise. However, not all carbs are the same. There are different categories which are:

·        Simple sugars – table sugar, honey, lollies, candies, cakes , pastries

·        Starchy carbs – grains (rice, barley, wheat, rye), beans, potatoes, corn, peas

·        Fibre-rich carbs – veggies and fruits

Usually veggies and fruits are very low in calories and can be consumed in larger amounts than the other carbohydrates, especially when trying to lose weight. However, after exercise you may consume starchy carbs in moderation because at that time the body can process them better. Therefore, if your goal is to lose weight, you should save starchy carbs such as rice, potatoes, corn and bread for the days you have a training session (if you exercise every day, you may eat them every day;)).

How much should you consume?

·        If you goal is weight loss, you can have one serving of starchy carbs with the first meal after your training session.

·        Choose whole grains (brown rice, barley, whole wheat breads) over processed ones (white rice, white breads, cakes, pastries).

·        Sweet potatoes are preferred than white potatoes.

·        Have starchy carbs together as part of a meal rather than on its own (lower glycaemic load)

To simplify, one serve is about the size of your cupped hand. 

Training the Core for Mobility

When I say training the core most people think about performing endless crunches or holding a plank forever. One of the most important, and often neglected, movements of the trunk is the rotation. Even though we tend to perform this movement several times during the day without noticing, this movement is not target properly in the gym. Let’s take a look in the muscles involved and a few exercises option to get you stronger in this plane of movement.

Trunk Rotation

Trunk rotation refers to the rotary movement of the spine on the transverse plane. The human spine is composed by seven cervical vertebrae (neck), 12 thoracic vertebrae (chest), five lumbar vertebrae (lower back), the sacrum (lower back), and the coccyx (tailbone). These bony structures are separated by intervertebral disks that act as shock absorbers and allow movement between the vertebrae. Each vertebra is capable of moving in three directions (back and forth, lateral flexion, and rotation), and even though the movement at each joint is small, the spine as a single structure has great flexibility and range of motion.  Because the pelvis is attached to the vertebral column, spinal movements are usually transmitted to the hip bones.

Most of the movement from spinal rotations comes from the thoracic and cervical regions. However, the ribcage attachment at the thoracic level limits mobility. Rotation is also limited at the lumbar region because of the size and shape of these vertebrae.

Spine rotation is performed during many daily activities and sports. For instance, when you are seated in your car and you reach for the seatbelt above your left shoulder you are performing a rotational movement. Driving a golf ball or hitting a baseball are examples of spinal rotation during sports events.

The muscles involved in trunk rotation movements are part of the core structure of the body. Our core is composed by muscles of the back, abdomen, hips, and pelvic floor, which are responsible for body stabilization during movement and the maintenance of posture and body alignment. A strong core can improve performance of activities of daily living and sports, and play an important role on injury prevention.

Muscles Involved

Trunk rotation is performed mainly by the abdominal oblique (external and internal) muscles. The “obliques” are located on both sides of the trunk in the abdominal region, connecting the ribcage to the pelvis. When the pelvic bones are stabilized, the oblique muscles pull the ribcage towards the hips, creating a rotational movement of the whole spine.

On posterior region of the trunk, the erector spinae muscle group and the iliopsoas muscle group work in synergy with the oblique muscles. Also, deep and tiny muscles connecting one vertebra to another rotate each vertebra individually.

Rotation Exercises

Trunk rotation drills are examples of functional training exercises because they tend to mimic movements of common daily activities. These exercises are meant to strengthen the core muscles. During these exercises, even though the prime movers are the oblique muscles, many other muscles are engaged in order to stabilize the body and keep good form.

Below you will find a few exercises to train those muscles in a functional way.

  1. Broomstick twists

Standing with your feet hip-width apart, hold a stick behind your upper-back. Keep pelvis stable while you slowly rotate the upper-body from side to side. Contract your abdominals and buttocks to maintain a neutral spine.

This is a good exercise for beginners because there is no load (weight) on the spine, which is appropriate when one is learning a new movement. Perform this exercise in a slow and controlled manner for best results. Long sets (20 repetitions or more) may be adequate.

  1. Seated trunk rotations

Sit on the floor with your legs bent in front of you. Hold a medicine ball or a light dumbbell with both hands, keeping it close to the chest. Engage your abdominals, and rotate the upper-body to one side, keeping your back straight. Come back to center and repeat to the other side.

This is also a beginners’ exercise, and you should strive for a slow and controlled motion. Light weights are more appropriate than heavier loads. When you feel you are ready for more challenge, try leaning backwards while keeping your abs tucked and your back straight. Another option is to lift the feet from the ground, balancing on your buttocks.

  1. Walking lunges with twist

Stand with feet close together, holding a medicine ball or dumbbell with both hands. Keep your elbows bent and the weight close to your chest. Step forward with one leg, and slowly lower the hips down by bending the knees. Your knees won’t touch the floor. Find your balance, and then, slowly rotate your torso towards the extended leg (the one on the back). Don’t extend your arms, and keep your core engaged. Rotate back to center and extend your knees as you come back to standing. Step the back leg forward, and repeat the drill. Walk in a straight line, alternating sides.

This is an intermediate exercise, and walking lunges should be mastered before attempting this drill. Choose light weights and perform the exercise in a slow and controlled manner for safety reasons.

  1. Wood chop

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and hold a medicine ball with both hands. Squat down while you rotate your hips and arms to one side, bringing the ball closer to your foot. Slowly, stand up at the same time as you rotate your hips and arms to the opposite side, bringing the ball above your opposite shoulder. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions, and then, change sides.

This is an advanced movement and should be performed with caution. Use light weights and perform the movement slowly until you master the exercise. Keep your core engaged at all times to protect the back.

  1. Ball Russian twist

Sit on a stability ball with your feet planted on the floor. Slowly lean backwards on the ball until your upper back is supported and your knees are bent in a 90 degree angle. Push your pelvis up to maintain back support. Extend both arms in front of you – hands pointing to the ceiling, and palms touching. This is your starting position. Slowly rotate your torso to one side, while keeping your feet grounded and your pelvis tucked. Roll back to center and repeat to the other side.

This is an advanced exercise which requires some core strength to be performed. Abdominals and glutes should be engaged at all times in order to maintain balance and protect the spine.

Do You Know How Your Body Burns Calories?

The 2 Week Diet
Metabolism and Energy Needs

Metabolism is the group of biochemical processes that occur within an organism in order to maintain life.  However, the term is commonly used to refer to the breakdown of food and its transformation into energy. But how does food become energy?

Energy Intake

It is common sense that the human body needs some kind of fuel in order the work properly. This fuel is obtained from food sources. Everything we eat and drink is broken down into to smaller units that are absorbed by the digestive system, and then, released into the bloodstream. Travelling through blood vessels, these small units are distributed to all body cells where they will be used to create energy.

The body can use carbohydrates, fats and proteins from the diet to produce energy. However, during exercise, the primary nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates and fats; protein contribution for energy is small. This energy is measured in kilocalories (kcal), or just calories[1].

For example, the breakdown of one gram of carbohydrate releases four calories. Proteins, fats, and alcohol are also energy sources; vitamins and minerals are non-caloric nutrients. See the table below for detailed information.

Nutrients Energy yielded
Carbohydrates 4 kcal/g
Proteins 4 kcal/g
Alcohol 7 kcal/g
Fats 9 kcal/g
Vitamins, minerals and water

Energy intake or caloric intake is the total amount of calories consumed during the day through foods and drinks.

Energy Output

Energy output is the opposite of energy intake. It refers to the total amount of calories burned during the day through metabolism, digestive processes, thermogenesis, and physical activity. The amount of energy a person expends daily varies with age, weight, height, and physical activity levels. Genetics and hormonal differences can also affect the demand for energy.

Everyone needs a minimal amount of energy just to stay alive (to maintain heart, lung, kidney, liver, and brain function). This is known as basal metabolism[2], and in a sedentary person, can contribute to as much as 60% to 70% of the total energy output. People with great percentages of lean body mass[3] usually have higher metabolic rates[4] at rest than people with more fat tissue. This is because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat tissue. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass which can drop our basal metabolic rate considerably. However, regular exercise can maintain muscle mass and contribute to a higher metabolic rate in older adults.

The body also burns energy during digestion. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). Different foods have different TEFs. The principle behind TEF is simple: the harder it is for the body to breakdown a nutrient, the more energy it will burn during the digestive process. For example, protein rich meals take longer to digest than sugar and fat laden foods. This means that protein requires more energy to be digested, thus having a higher TEF value. Also, a large meal has a higher TEF value than a small meal or a snack, because large meals will take longer to digest.

Meal rich in TEF (% of calories consumed)
Proteins 20% to 30%
Carbohydrates 5% to 10%
Fats 0% to 3%

Another way the body expends energy is through thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is the amount of energy needed to maintain body temperature. However, its contribution to the energy output is rather small.

The best way to boost energy expenditure is through physical activity. Exercise increases the demand for energy on the heart, lungs, brain and working muscles. Therefore, calorie burning is enhanced both during and after an exercise session. The table bellow shows estimated caloric expenditure for a 150 pounds person during physical activities of several intensities[5].

Walking the dog 204 kcal/hour
Walking at a moderate pace 224 kcal/hour
Walking at a brisk pace 340 kcal/hour
Backpacking 476 kcal/hour
Jogging 476 kcal/hour
Running at 5 mph 544 kcal/hour

Energy Balance

Energy balance is the state in which the energy intake matches the energy output. This means that all calories consumed are burned. It is important to keep the energy equation balanced in order to maintain a stable weight throughout our lives.

Energy Intake = Energy Output

When the energy intake is greater than the energy output, a positive energy balance occurs, meaning that there is more energy available than your body can actually use. According to the law of conservation of energy, energy may neither be created nor destroyed[6]. So, because this extra energy can’t be just thrown away, it is stored mostly as fat, and weight gain occur.

Energy Intake > Energy Output → Positive Energy Balance

On the other hand, when the energy output is greater than the energy intake, there is a negative energy balance. This means that the body has to figure out a way to balance the energy equation in order to survive. One way of doing it is using the energy stored in the fat tissue. That’s what happens when we exercise. The body uses fat as fuel, leading to weight-loss.

Energy Intake < Energy Output → Negative Energy Balance

However, when the caloric intake is dramatically reduced for extended periods of time (such as when you engage on a crash diet), the body has no alternative but to shift to a conservation mode. It will try to reduce the energy demand by slowing down the metabolism. This means you’ll be burning fewer calories at rest, and the low levels of blood sugar will make you feel sluggish and cranky. In this case, weight-loss is impaired, because to burn fat as fuel, the body needs energy, which in this situation, you won’t have any to spare.

A safer approach to weight-loss is to modestly reduce the caloric intake by 250 kcal to 500 kcal per day, while increasing the energy expenditure by 250 kcal to 500 kcal per day (through exercise). These steps will create a modest energy deficit with which the body can deal. Following this guideline may lead to a weight-loss of one to two pounds per week[7].

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[1] Kilocalorie, popular known as calories, is the unit of heat energy. Calorie is defined as “The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C.”

[2] “Basal metabolism is the minimal amount of energy expended in a fasting state to keep a resting, awake body alive in a warm, quiet environment.” Contemporary Nutrition, seventh edition.

[3] Lean body mass is the total mass of the body minus fat tissue. It is usually used to refer to the amount of muscle mass in the body.

[4] “Metabolic rate is the amount of energy expended in a given period.” Available at http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/metabolic+rate

[5] Available at http://caloriecount.about.com/activities-walking-ac17

[6] Available at http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Energy+conservation+law

[7] ACE Personal Trainer Manual, third edition.