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fitness program failure

Fitness Program Failure: Top Five Reasons

Fitness program failure happens for a reason, and with so many out there, both online and at local fitness facilities, you need to understand the top five reasons why programs can fail – as it will improve your chances of starting one that will work for you. That said, let’s paint a picture…

You just saw this great online program, or maybe it was a flyer at the gym. You know the one…it states you can get (fill in the blank) results in 12 weeks? The fitness guru on the material is in great shape, the sales pitch sounds great, you see lot’s of testimonials, fitness technical terms were all over…you buy it, you sign up, you download it, all excited, and in a month you’re wondering how anyone does it. You’re not alone, and you have probably encountered at least one of the five top reasons for fitness program failure…

1. Time

Having the proper time to follow a fixed workout program can be one of the most challenging aspects. To make the program work, you have to follow its schedule, both in terms of days of the week, but also in duration. For example, say it’s a 90-minute routine, five days a week, for 10 weeks…Can you do that? Many individuals look at plans online, and come away with the age-old “I can do that” and then find out it’s not so simple. There is also no real answer to this challenge outside of the one that you bring to the situation: Either you have the time, or you do not (and do not forget proper rest!). But that is the issue time brings to your efforts to follow a fixed routine, and why you are setting yourself up to see less than expected results if you cannot put in the time the program assumes.

Take away – you are going to struggle to follow the program, and get expected results, if you cannot provide the time the program requires. This is true whether you are using the local gym or working out at home. Do some real research into the program’s time requirements, and lean conservative in your schedule assumptions. And if you are working a home-based program, and do not live alone, then others might affect this too.

2. Acces

Do you have access to the equipment the program calls out? If it is a home-based program, do you have everything you need at home? If not, can you get them? Do you have space for them? Before you think the gym is safe for this element, think again. How many times have you been to the gym and it was packed? You could not get anything you wanted that night? Well, this plays out more so in a fixed fitness program – in that, say it’s leg day on your program, and every squat rack, leg press, leg extension, and leg anything is in use. And it’s the only time you have that day…You see where this is going. If your program is not built with alternative plans for when this happens, it can create a disappointing day.

Take away – consider the equipment and space access expectation of the program. Nothing at home…are you OK with shelling out extra costs to acquire the gear? Have a gym membership…how packed does the gym get during your available workout times? You need to consider how well you can access the program’s needed elements throughout the duration of the program. Even the “at home, no equipment required” program can have access issues – can you access space to workout each day?

3. Program is not for you

This is simply making a poor program selection. It can be for various reasons, but we need to be thinking about how our body responds to types of training, and whether a program we want is a program that will work. This is not a repeat of the Time and Access issues noted above, but rather that the program is not suited for your physiology, personality, etc. If you are not fond of resistance training, then “Muscle Mike’s 10 Week Bulk Up Blitz” might not be your thing…in that are you going to bring the drive to get each workout done? Are you going to follow the program? Will obstacles easily make you put off a session? Or, perhaps the program reflects what you were, but no longer are? That is, maybe that program would have been perfect for the you fresh out of college, but is it perfect for your late 40s and family life? In the end, your ability to avoid fitness program failure is also partly driven by how well it suits you.

Take away – know thyself and choose wisely. Your program is likely not going to have a trainer to adjust it as you progress or have issues – but is a “buy and follow” deal. So take the time to think about what you really can handle and are in the mood to do. While the program is intended to change your body, you need to start by looking at your body. Be real with age, injuries, likes, dislikes, etc. The more honest you are, the better you will pick a fitness program you can follow. You can always build on success.

4. Nutrition

This is where we just need to have some brutal honesty. Your dedication to your fitness program is all thrown into the waste bin if you blow the nutrition side of the process. Hitting every workout, full intensity, week after week is great until you hit the local fast-food drive-through five nights a week. If you look at most of the programs out there, they are going to talk about nutrition. Now some may be trying to get you to buy certain foods, etc – but the bottom line is they are saying the full benefits of the program are only found when the nutrition backs it up.

Take away – there is an old saying: abs are made in the kitchen. That very acutely sums up this point. You need to understand your fitness is made of your nutritional intake as well, and you undermine any fitness program if you cannot maintain proper nutrition. Moreover, you need to look up what is needed for your program too – maybe it’s a high protein, high-calorie, low carb, gluten-free, etc – you might find it’s not easy to follow.

5. The program is…garbage

Well, you knew this one was coming. There is a lot out there for fitness programs. Some are created by educated and trained individuals or teams. They base their routines and instructions on proven and safe processes and information. And there are a lot more from that person who goes to the gym, looks great, can drop a lot of cool-sounding fitness buzz words, recite advice they heard from an expert – but actually are not trained or certified in what they are putting out. In short, they are putting out pseudo-science garbage and setting you up for fitness program failure. And sometimes, it can be dangerous. So if the program is garbage, it’s not going to work. Worst case, it can also risk injury.

Take away – do not be fooled by what the marketing looks like. Take the time to check up on the credentials of the program. Just because someone can pay to have ads always in your face, does not mean they are a quality fitness program creator.

In the end, this is not telling you not to purchase a fitness program. Quite the opposite – a fitness program is a great tool to develop your performance and improve your health and we encourage you to go for it! But, what we want you to be tracking is that there are many reasons these programs can fail, and we hate to say it, but often the reason falls on the buyer, not the program. Do your research, consider our top five tips, and as always…

-Train Hard!

Dumbbell goblet squat at the gym

Ten Great Dumbbell Exercises You Need to Have In Your Routine

Dumbbells…a gym staple and an item found in many home kits. They’re not as effective on overall muscle and strength development and body composition (fat) management as performing heavy, barbell based, compound movements – but are still an important tool in your performance efforts. So, are you bringing dumbbell training exercises into your workouts?

Dumbbell exercises have been shown to activate a number of different muscles and stimulate muscle growth, help improve both muscle force and flexibility, and promote coordination and stability for muscles and joints. Even more, you can use them for a variety of exercises, ranging from simple mobility work to intense resistance training.

While in theory, you could often just replace a barbell with dumbbells for a motion – using dumbbells provides more than just a change in weighted item – dumbbells bring additional muscle action into play – notably in stabilization, that will not only improve your overall physical performance – but will help address muscle and mobility imbalances. They also allow you to introduce more range of motion resistance moves into your kit.

Before we get into our list of dumbbell exercises you should have in your routine toolkit, we also want to make sure you lift properly with them – improving your performance takes a set back with injury, and we want you to keep progressing!

There are two issues that many have found out the hard way by not controlling the dumbbells. First, in some motions, it is easy to get “swinging” with a dumbbell. This motion could involve a limb, joint, or both. As with all weights, movements are supposed to be controlled – you control it up, you control it down. Watch out for “out of control” weighted motions that run the risk of joint injury. Second – watch the joints when using dumbbells – they are not made to hold up well against strains that leverage against their natural alignment. Dumbbells can quickly fall to the side, wrenching an arm or leg in an angle that wrists, elbows, knees, shoulders, ankles, etc are not made to move. Performance is about being a mindful athlete and using a controlled effort in your routine, not throwing around metal for ego.

That said, you better have these dumbbell exercises in your routine kit!

1. Incline Dumbbell Press

incline dumbbell press

Muscles worked: The clavicular head of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and and the triceps

Benefits: Targets the smaller, often underemphasized clavicular head, which isn’t as powerful as the sternocostal head but is nevertheless key to the muscle’s overall power. The exercise forces each pectoral muscle to work independently, so your strong side can’t compensate for its weaker counterpart, helping to prevent and correct muscle imbalances.

2. Shoulder Press

dumbbell shoulder press

Muscles worked: The anterior and lateral deltoids, triceps brachii, pectoralis major, serratus anterior, and external oblique

Benefits: Works all aspects of the deltoid muscle; dumbbells activate more of the anterior deltoid than when using a barbell. Whether from a seated or standing position, the dumbbell exercise engages the core for stability. Avoid locking your elbows, as this transitions to emphasis to your triceps, rather than keep it focused on your deltoids.

3. Bent Over Row

dumbbell row

Muscles worked: The posterior deltoid, brachialis, brachioradialis, middle and lower trapezius, infraspinatus, teres minor, teres major, and latissimus dorsi

Benefits: This motion targets your back and shoulders in the same motion. As a functional exercise, it is a great way to develop muscles and motion used throughout the day when picking up things. Knowing how to properly position your back and brace your abs can protect you from strain.

Alternative to increase difficulty: Assume a plank position to engage your core. You will likely have to decrease weight and or reps.

dumbbell row from plank position

4. Tricep Kick-Back

tricep kickback

Muscles worked: The triceps brachii, and posterior deltoids

Benefits: This helps build a stronger tricep muscle, working all three heads. This will help you not only in daily functional movements, but also support other pressing motions in your training, such as chest and shoulder presses.

5. Twisting Bicep Curl

dumbbell bicep curl

Muscles worked: The biceps brachii (short and long heads), brachialis, and brachioradialis

Benefits: The simple process of starting with your gripped hands facing your body and then moving to the traditional supinated position during the curl helps work both the long and short head of the bicep, while also bringing the brachioradialis into the effort. In short, you activate more muscle fibers that a full range supinated curl, or hammer curl alone.

6. Goblet Squats

goblet squat

Muscles worked: The gluteus maximus, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, biceps femoris, erector spinae, vastus intermedius, sartorius, rectus femoris, medial deltoid, anterior deltoid, and biceps brachii

Benefits: Removes the tension and risk to lower back that a tradition barbell squat might cause, while maintaining focus on your quads and glutes – the major muscles in this exercise.

7. Pullover

dumbbell pullover

Muscles worked: The latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, pectorlis major, triceps brachii, and teres major

Benefits: The motion beings into play many stabilizer muscles throughout your body, such as abs, upper back/scapular region, and the gluteal muscles. This in turn helps develop key strength in muscles critical in supporting many full chain body motions. You can help stabilize the motion by contracting your chest and elevating your ribcage, contracting your gluteals, and keeping your feet flat.

8. Weighted Lunge

weighted lunge

Muscles worked: The vastus lateralis, rectus femorus, gluteus maximus, vastus medialus, adductor magnus, and soleus

Benefits: Adds more functional complexity to the training, and thus can offer more all-around development than quadriceps-focused motions. This dumbbell training exercise uses the gluteus maximus, adductor magnus of the inner thigh, and the soleus of the calf – in short, a compound motion. You also will need to bring in your stabilizer muscles in your back and legs to sustain your balance.

9. Lateral Raise

lateral raise

Muscles worked: The anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, trapezius, and supraspinatus

Benefits: The motion primarily targets the deltoid’s lateral head, with some activation of the anterior and posterior heads. As an isolation dumbbell exercise working the lateral head of the delts, it helps strengthen your shoulders and can help correct strength imbalances between your right and left sides. Make sure the movement comes from your shoulders, not your neck. Avoid shrugging or “jerking” the dumbbells or flexing or extending your elbow as your arm is raised to keep proper form.

10. Fly (Regular or Reverse)

incline dumbbell fly
bent over dumbbell fly

Muscles worked regular fly: The pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid, and coracobrachialis

Benefits: While helping with all-around pectoral development, the motion opens up your chest muscles, which may may help reduce upper back pain, increase range of motion, and reduce tightness in the upper body. Be careful with the weight you use to help obtain a full range of motion without overextending. Avoid bending your elbows excessively as the weight descends or flattening them as the weight ascends to avoid strain on your shoulder joints.

Muscles worked reverse fly: The anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, triceps brachii, rhomboid, and trapezius

Benefits: Helps with a scapular retraction or pulling your shoulder blades in toward each other – which counteracts risks to posture caused by excessive chest training or prolonged periods of work at a desk or driving that tend to round the shoulders. Research indicates specific strength training such as the reverse fly is an effective tool to reduce pain and disability in neck and shoulder areas.

As with all exercise planning, if you have a shoulder, neck, or back injury, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out whether this exercise is appropriate. Dumbbell exercises are a great tool, but can also easily pull a joint, torque your body, or cause other unexpected movements if not properly handled. A key item to remember is to only lift manageable weights you can control in both eccentric and concentric phases, and that heavy weights (beyond what you can control) can result in poor technique. If you feel any pain during the exercise, slowly lower the weights and end the exercise. Additionally, beware of over-training risks with dumbbells, as their use may seem minimal compared to other motions, but overuse can risk fatigue, plateau, or injury. As with any fitness program – safety first.

– Train Hard!

negative effects of excess weight

Research Update: Can Exercise Counter the Negative Effects of Excess Weight?

You’ve probably already noticed in several news organizations the publication of research findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that assessed the claim that a high cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) might mitigate the detrimental effects of excess body weight on cardiometabolic health, termed the ‘fat but fit’ paradox. Can CRF negate the negative effects of excess weight? Let’s find out…

We’re going to skip to the end of the story for you:

According to study author Dr. Alejandro Lucia of the European University, Madrid, Spain, “Exercise does not seem to compensate for the negative effects of excess weight. This finding was also observed overall in both men and women when they were analysed separately.”

…refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity…

Joint association of physical activity and body mass index with cardiovascular risk: a nationwide population-based cross-sectional study

Study highlights

The specific study notes, “…the present findings, which are based on data from insured active workers across Spain, represent one of the largest studies to date (n = 527 662) and refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity.”

Want more data, then try “…a study conducted in 2196 participants reported that although PA was associated with a lower CVD risk within each BMI category during a 30-year follow-up, individuals with overweight or obesity presented with an increased CVD risk regardless of their PA levels…”

Or let this one sink in, “… in line with our findings, a systematic review concluded that an excess BMI is associated with increased CVD risk irrespective of PA levels.” Put another way, physical activity (PA) levels for those with a high BMI, did not alleviate cardiovascular disease (CVD) risks.

We’re not selectively pulling from this study. It shows PA is a good thing for any BMI level, but the study does not find that PA negates BMI or excess weight affects on health or CVD risks.

How did we get here?

The key point to notice is the researchers wanted to use science to test the “fat but fit” claim that has grown in recent years. What has driven this claim in several areas of modern culture is the conflation between a healthy body image and a healthy body. One is emotional, the other physiological. Too many supposed health and lifestyle outlets have been amplifying the belief that all that matters is that you are happy with who you are, and any level of activity is sufficient for health. First, we’re going to stay away from that argument here – there’s too much to unpack. Second, this study shreds that from the physiological aspect.

Third, if you have weight to lose, you have weight to lose. It’s not criticism, it’s about health.

A performance-focused solution

Building your lifestyle program around performance is a solid method to combat the negative effects of excess weight. Below are three tips, each from our performance triad, on how you can tackle your BMI, if needed.

Nutrition: Get serious about what you eat. No really, get f*ing serious about what you eat. Do not go nuts, do not go to extremes. But performance management of your BMI means you own your results. Performance diets are not guesswork, either – you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers. Want more nutrition advice, then check out our article on Performance Diet Tips.

Fitness: Solve your time issues by using short duration, micro-HIIT sessions. These have shown the potential to be more beneficial than traditional exercise routines that rely on steady-state. Sound new? Their not – a 2016 study showed that one minute of intense training within a 10 minute period yielded the same results as a 50-minute steady-state trained group over a 12-week period. See our full Fitness Tip on Micro-HIIT.

Rest: As much as you exercise, and feed your body, a notable portion of your ability to manage weight comes from your rest cycle. Check out a good overview at The Healthy on how sleep helps burn fat. For now, here are some quick tips to help ensure you get proper rest: stick to a regular time for bed, it will keep your body on a schedule, do not over-sleep on the weekends, or off days, as this too will impact your body’s ability to manage its rests cycles, be careful with naps; they are fine, but too many, too long, or at the wrong time, and you can mess up your body’s sleep cycle, and during the day, get as much exposure to light as possible; this not only helps the body develop vitamin D, but also helps tell it to be awake. You can see more from us on rest here.

– Train Hard!

Top Winter Performance Tips

You are not alone if you struggle to maintain your fitness routine during the winter months. Your routine faces shorter daylight hours, harsher weather, holiday events, family gatherings, and of course, lots of food. If you feel like you have to choose between performance and the season, then let’s do a reset on that mentality, and then get down to work with our top winter performance tips!

First, it’s all on you. If you want your routine, then it’s not a choice at all – you just get it done. With the proper performance mindset, you will find you can easily sustain your performance during the winter months.

Second, you are going to have to make some adjustments to deal with the variances of the winter months. Proper planning is about adapting to life’s events to keep you on your performance track.

Third – with all the winter events, you better have some fun and down time in there. Performance is balance. As hard as you push and focus on your plans, you need mental health as well. Time with friends and family, a day or two of rest, and other items are just as important to sustaining your performance as squeezing out one more AMRAP session.

We’ve done cold-weather exercise before – but this time, we’ve selected three tips for each of the performance triad elements – fitness/movement, nutrition, and rest/recovery, to focus on key areas to keep your performance on track.

Exercise

For this part of the performance triad, in the winter months, there are three key tips to keep you on track:

  • Stay Active: Keeping active is the key to coming out of the winter months with your performance levels intact. No matter what the schedule, travel plans, weather forced closures, etc, you can run, jog, walk, do home workouts of bodyweight exercises, yoga, callisthenics, etc. By keeping active, you will keep your metabolism fired up, which will help in many areas: weight management, stress management, hormone balance, and sleep patterns.
  • Dress for the Weather: It can be tricky or at times deceptive to dress for winter exercise. Too much, and you can develop hyperthermia, too little and you risk developing hypothermia. Layering is the best approach. We can break it all down, our send you here, where Very Well Fit has a great article on cold-weather layering.
  • Join a Class: One of the best ways to stay motivated is to develop a means of accountability. If you find yourself wavering during the winter months, a class is a way to impose a sense of accountability to your efforts. Whether because you spent the money, or you do not want to be a no-show in front of others – class membership has been shown to help in fitness routines. If commitment is not an issue – then try taking a class in something you would not do the rest of the year when you are on your normal routine. Yoga, spinning, CrossFit, and others are great ways to keep active, make new fitness friends, and have fun.

Nutrition

With all the food choices, most of which are carb and sugar loaded, it can appear challenging to sustain a performance diet – but we can help with these tips (which all directly tie together):

  • Plan Your Meals: This is a tip that is a constant year round, but likely more important during the winter months when gatherings, family meals, and sweets abound. It can be easy to get caught up in all the food – but this is where meal planning can save you. By planning your meals, you can ensure you sustain proper nutrients, and not face the cravings of an empty stomach vs plate of winter sugar cookies! Planning your meals does not mean you cannot have sweets or those other holiday meals – rather, by planning you will ensure that you are getting proper nutrition at all other times, and not over-indulging when those festive times come.
  • Limit Sugar: Excessive sugar intake is one of the quickest way to add to fat storage. Now this might be hard during the winter season – this is one where you need to focus on keeping your sugar intake under control. But if you plan your meals, as noted above, then you will help keep your body fuelled and it will be easier to resist sugar and all the excessive calories that come with it.
  • High Protein Intake: Protein is a key tool in diet management. It keeps you satiated – meaning you are less likely to indulge in excess eating, and helps your body burn calories by being a denser material to digest. Ensure your meals contain good sources of protein, such as chicken and fish, and you will help control your desire to eat excessive amounts of unhealthy food items.

Rest/Recovery

The third part of the performance triad, and often most neglected is rest and recovery. Your winter performance routine needs to have adequate rest and recovery to ensure you are maintaining a balanced performance pattern. Here are three tips to support your efforts:

  • Get Adequate Rest: While the nights may be longer, many do not get adequate sleep and rest during the winter months. Limited and insufficient sleep can have even more effects on your body than muscle health. If you are one who puts off getting adequate rest, you risk impaired concentration, mood changes, weight gain, and a weakened immune system – something you do not want at the peak of cold and flu season! We’ve listed tips before, here, to help you get your proper rest and recovery time.
  • Stretch/Do Yoga: Recovery means resting your muscles. Not only through sleep, but also through stretching and exercise such as yoga. These techniques will help your muscles rest and recover from resistance training or hard cardio training. By giving your muscles care, you not only reduce the risk of injury, but also aid in their ability to recover and provide sustained performance training. If you are looking for tips on specifics, you can check out our other work on adding yoga to your routine.
  • Vitamin D: Make sure you get as much natural sunlight as possible. Natural sunlight exposure is the easiest and most reliable way for most people to get vitamin D – and the hardest to maintain in the winter months. Normal exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for 10-30 minutes is sufficient time to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and other factors. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in your body fat and then released when sunlight is gone.

If you just finished reading, and are thinking these top winter performance tips sound easy – they are, but at the same time, so many people fall off their performance routines during the winter months because they do not follow these simple steps. So easy yes, but yet not done by so many who come out of winter wondering how they got out of shape!

In the end, do not confuse a performance mindset with difficulty. It’s the dedication during the winter months that makes your performance, not the difficulty. Follow these tips, and watch how you charge into spring weather!

– Train Hard!

yoga for core strength

Best Yoga Poses For Core Strength

Core strength is a common element in most athletic endeavours. It is also an area everyone should consider for overall good health as well. While your core is often engaged in many workout routines, yoga poses offer a means to target your core muscles, to work and develop them.

Before you dismiss yoga as a performance tool, consider that regular yoga practice can reduce your risk of injury and condition your body to perform better in other fitness areas. Yoga is a form of functional fitness, and its motions use both large and small muscles and move in many directions (twisting, arcing, etc.), in contrast to limited bi-directional motions along the traditional sagittal, frontal, or transverse planes.

What is Your Core

Often, the core is confused with the abdominal muscles. Many think, that’s it. While the abdominal muscles are part of the core muscle group, to understand “core strength” you need to understand the core muscles. When we refer to core muscles, we mean major muscles that include the pelvic floor muscles, transverses abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and trapezius.

If you want to develop all-around core strength, you need to work this entire group, not just parts. This is why so much has been written on why abdominal work alone is not enough for improving core strength. Moreover, if you look at the list of muscles, you can see why a plank is so effective at hitting many of them.

Best Yoga Poses for Core Strength

Our list of poses is intended to work your all-around core. You can put them all together and form an entire core training session, or add 1-2 poses into your regular routine to help provide all-around training depth and variety.

  • Plank Pose
  • Side Plank Pose
  • Upward Plank Pose
  • Bird Dog Crunches
  • Half-Bow Half-Locust Pose
  • Locust Y Jumping Jacks
  • Twisting Boat
  • Listing Boat
  • Figure-4 Bridge

If you find that you enjoy yoga in your performance training, you can check out our other article on simple yoga poses. And if you really want to take the plunge, but are not sure where to start, we recommend checking out Yoga with Adriene – she offers a phenomenal online video selection through her YouTube channel. For the guys, if you want something more focused, check out Breathe and Flow’s yoga for men. Between these sites, you can easily find a yoga session suited to your ability – and help you add to your own list of the best yoga poses for core strength.

-Train Hard!

Top Five Performance Diet Tips

Your training efforts are only as solid as your diet. You might not want to hear that, but the truth is that you cannot out-train a poor diet. And supplements, they are there to supplement – not replace a poor diet. If you want to improve your performance, it only makes sense that you implement these top five Performance Diet tips.

Before you allow images of lettuce and rice cakes to flutter through your mind, you need to understand that the Performance Diet is not about going hungry or starving yourself. Quite the opposite – it is about ensuring that you are obtaining sufficient macronutrient balanced calories to support your training efforts. In fact, you may find yourself eating more than you imagined!

What is a Performance Diet

Let’ start this with what a Performance Diet is not. It is not something you go on, then off, then on again. That’s a yo-yo diet, and those are the exact opposite of a Performance Diet. A Performance Diet is something you follow – it’s a lifestyle, not fad.

It is a diet that ensures you have sufficient calories and macronutrients to meet your daily needs – physical, mental, and recovery. It is a diet that evolves over time, changing with your needs – but always meeting your performance needs – never undercutting them.

Top Five Tips

1. Develop dynamic caloric requirements

Your routine is never static – you will go through periods of intense training, maintenance training, down-time/rest, bulking, cutting, etc. Depending on your program, all these phases have different names. They also have difference caloric intake and macronutrient needs.

You need to work with information sources, nutritionist, or a trainer, to ensure that you are adjusting your caloric and macronutrient needs for each of these phases. For example, a calorie and protein-heavy Performance Diet is perfect for putting on muscle mass – but if you are working to shift your training to perform well in a half-marathon, while the calorie count might remain high, the protein level will not. This is an example of how a Performance Diet is not always a Performance Diet if it does not align with your current needs.

The take away is to keep monitoring your current needs, and adjust your Performance Diet, to sustain performance results.

2. Don’t neglect protein in your morning meals or snacks

Protein is important for your body to repair tissue damage from training – in simple terms, sustain and build your muscles. As it is more dense than other foods, it also requires more calories to digest, and creates a sense of fullness when consumed.

By consuming protein as part of your day’s first meals or snacks, studies have shown this to benefit muscle health and to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, energy expenditure, satiety hormones, glucose regulation and by decreasing the desire to snack at night. Notably, a 2017 study examined the effect of a high-protein breakfast compared to that of a high fat or high carbohydrate breakfast over a period of 12 weeks on glucose and insulin levels following the consumption of white bread four hours after the breakfast meal. The participants who consumed a high protein breakfast showed improved blood sugar control and insulin levels after consuming the white bread.

3. Cycle your nutrients and calories to match your daily needs

Not all days are created equal when it comes to your caloric and macronutrient needs. So do not treat them as such with your diet.

This tip is about looking at your caloric and macronutrient needs at the weekly level, not daily. It enables you to increase your caloric intake on days of long or intensive training, and cut back on days you do not need as much.

You can work out how to cycle particular macros in this tip as well – using high protein and fat on days of intense training – to force your body to use more fat resources for energy while focusing on carbs more during rest days.

This is also a tip in which we are going to point you to a great article on Healthline.com for more reading. We could repeat it all, but just click the link to read a solid, research-based summary on calorie cycling – why it works, and how to apply.

4. Focus on food before supplements

Many people fall into the trap of thinking supplements can make up for poor diets. This is not the case. Your Performance Diet needs to come first from food. When that is not enough, then you can kick in with the supplements – which research has shown to have positive effects on performance.

In a Performance Diet, we are likely referring to adding protein or meal replacement shakes when you lack the ability to eat more, or possibly access to normal food. Running around all day between client sites – OK, protein shakes are a great tool to get in a healthy snack that promotes tissue health and provides a sense of satiety – keeping you from nutrient-weak, yet easy to obtain snack options. Or if you just cannot eat more (sometimes your stomach just says “done!”) – but you know your workouts will suffer if you do not get enough calories – then have a shake.

Studies have also shown that many in developed countries actually do not obtain sufficient nutrient levels from food – even though the caloric intake is adequate. This is another reason to consider supplements – if your diet is lacking a nutrient value necessary for your performance. But the stress to this point is “necessary,” and you should not be taking any supplements that lack a direct value to your performance goals.

If you use supplements, be sure to check they are of quality, without excess filler ingredients or sugar, or other elements that work against your efforts. So even when used on top of healthy food choices, you still need to read the labels when choosing them.

5. Do the math to figure out your needs – do not guess

Performance Diets are not guesswork. Hate to say it, but you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers.

There are several online tools for this, and we’ve even covered it in our Achieving Your Target Weight article. What you need to understand is that while there is some truth to the old saying of “listen to your body” – the reality is more often than not, your body is not accurately telling you what you need to sustain a Performance Diet.

Do the math, trust the numbers.

How to Maintain

The first part of maintaining your Performance Diet is understanding it takes time. Time for you to see real results of the diet change. Why? Because this is about performance – obtaining real performance.

If your performance diet is set right, you will see results, and will be able to sustain them – not just look or feel good for a moment. But give it time. Everyone starts from somewhere…

But as your performance efforts continue, the key to maintaining the Performance Diet is to go back to the books – back to the math and update your needs. For example, if you start your performance journey overweight, without much muscle mass – but now have less fat and more muscle – and are more active, your dietary needs to sustain and grow performance from that point are different from when you started. That might sound obvious, but…

What makes most people give up is the plateau – and while there can be many reasons for one, dietary issues are common. In this, we mean that people fail to adjust their diets to meet their newly found performance levels, and then fail to see more growth. Do not fall into this trap. We recommend that every 2-3 months, you take some time to assess your Performance Diet. Check your calories and macronutrients against your current body and activity, and where you want to go next. Make a plan, and execute…

In the end, performance fitness means owning your workout effort, and your diet. Cheat at one; you fail at both.

-Train Hard!

Density Training: Performance Results In Less Time

Time is likely never on your side when it comes to scheduling your fitness routine. So how can you maximize your workout efforts to see performance gains? Welcome to Escalating Density Training…

What is Escalating Density Training

First, Density Training is a measurement of workload vs time. Escalating, in the sense of this training, is taking one of those components, and increasing (workload) or decreasing (time) in order to escalate the effect on your training. Rather than focusing purely on the weight you lift, this will target sets and reps to perform as much work as possible in the amount of time you allot for your workout.

Let’s go over this using a simple barbell bench press:

Say you can press 150 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps, in 5 minutes. So in this, your density is 150x3x10 = 4,500 lbs in 5 minutes.

The escalation can occur in various ways:

  • Sustain the time, and work in an 11th rep on each set. 150x3x11 = 4,950 lbs in 5 minutes
  • Shorten your rest interval, and do the same weight in 4:30 minutes.

This is to give you an example of how the density math works. However, the reality is this is going to be applied to your entire workout. When implementing this, you will measure and apply this to each exercise throughout the whole workout.

Density Training Application

Implementing the process into your routine is simple – but beware of underestimating the intensity of this process. It’s going to involve pushing your muscle groups, and as you want a decent rep range, focus on the technique.

Follow the process below, and you will see improvements in your performance:

  • You’re going to have to do a workout at least once, to establish the baseline for your density measurement – keep a good journal for this, either on your phone or old school pen and paper.
  • Start with a weight you can complete full sets, for the first 2-3 sets – you do not want to be hitting failure in your first couple of sets, but it is okay if you do hit failure in later sets of your routine.
  • Use opposite pairing for your muscle groups for Density Training; for example, if you are going to work on the chest with dumbbell presses, then pair it with a leg extension or seated row. Mix it up – you need to be able to keep pushing your muscle groups throughout the whole workout.
  • Get a wide range of reps into the program; do not stick with the same rep ranges or set counts throughout your routine.
  • This is about reps and time driving density volume – not adding weight. If you feel you have more in the tank, do more reps, or shorten the rest intervals.
  • For each session, plan on rep increase, or time decrease to target density escalation, and record your results. Do not figure it out as you go.
  • Remember, even 1 rep is an improvement – if all you get is one more rep in the same amount of time – celebrate, you increased your density. Same with time – if you could only do the same volume in 10 seconds less, you still increased your density.

5 Key Training Benefits

Following the Escalating Density Training process, you should find improvements in 5 key areas:

  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Hypertrophy
  • Fat burning
  • Time (more efficiently spent in the gym)

You can build your entire program around this for a whole cycle, but this is very taxing to your body, so we do not recommend this as your standard training regime. Use it as an effective tool to boost your fitness performance, but as with all intense programs, give your body proper rest and recovery before resuming another cycle.

– Train Hard!

Research Update: Do Supplements Help Performance?

Supplements are ever present in the fitness industry. We’ve covered some of them in other articles, but the question is always out there – do they help with performance?

In October, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released the results of a 12-week exercise regimen study conducted on 148 active duty Air Force airmen. The exercise regimen combined strength training and high-intensity interval aerobic fitness challenges. Additionally, half of the participants received a twice-daily nutrient beverage that included protein; the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA; lutein; phospholipids; vitamin D; B vitamins, and other micronutrients; along with a muscle-promoting compound known as HMB. The other half a placebo. Neither the participants nor researchers knew who received the supplement or the placebo.

In short, half of the group were given supplements during the study.

The Findings…

For both groups, the exercise regimen alone alone “improved strength and endurance, mobility and stability, and participants also saw increases in several measures of cognitive function. They had better episodic memory and processed information more efficiently at the end of the 12 weeks.” The participants’ body fat percentage was reduced and they showed an increase in the oxygen-uptake efficiency (VO2 max). They also showed signs of increases in the accuracy of their responses to problems designed to measure fluid intelligence.

In short (again), exercise is good for you – the whole group saw benefits, both physically and mentally, from performing a regular fitness routine.

Researchers found that those who also consumed the nutritional supplement “saw all of these improvements and more.”

Those that took the supplement drink displayed an improved resting heart rate and greater improvements in their ability to retain and process information. Additionally, their reaction time on fluid intelligence tests was better than the placebo group.

Some Questions…

While the study saw improvements in the supplement shake group, it did not fully ascertain why this occurred.

  • How did the shake affect the macronutrient, micronutrient, and vitamin profile of the test subjects?
  • How did the shake affect daily caloric intake?
  • How was the shake timed with optimal intake windows for the participants?

Matt Kuchan, a co-author of the study, stated “it is possible the active supplement closed nutrient gaps,” since the average American diet that the airmen were on is well-documented to have nutrient gaps. He believes, though, the positive effects “resulted from the combination of muscle and brain nutrients,” and that the nutrients in the shake, which are found in healthy foods, would be difficult to replicate in a natural diet.

Bottom Line…

The study showed that those on the supplements obtained more results in physical and mental performance. While there are questions as to the “why” – the result is that the supplements helped close some gap for the participants’ that supported achieving higher performance levels.

As the term itself states, supplements are to supplement – not replace – dietary needs. But with many individuals, even athletes, trying to balance access to quality nutrients and daily responsibilities, supplements offer a mechanism to help people achieve their fitness performance goals.

– Train Hard!

optimize protein drink consumption

Optimizing Protein Shake Consumption

Protein shakes can be a great tool to help improve your fitness performance by helping meet your macronutrient needs. Optimizing protein shake consumption is an important aspect of your training regimen. The online fitness industry has thoroughly covered the benefits of protein supplementation – We’ve even done it here.

However, maximizing the benefit requires you to know when are the best times to add the supplement to your diet. What we offer below is based on studies, and represents what the general population should follow.

How you consume a protein supplement depends on your goals. We will keep it simple here – are you trying to lose weight and preserve lean mass, or gain weight?

Protein Intake for Losing Weight

This section is not really about shakes – but rather protein consumption to lose weight. You can take shakes, but here we intend to help you understand the benefits of protein snacks in your efforts to burn fat.

Protein is a key macronutrient for fat loss. Its consumption increases metabolic activity, and reduces your appetite through the reduction of the hormone ghrelin. Thus, a steady intake of protein throughout the day will help your calorie management efforts – a key element to both losing and gaining weight.

A study published in 2014 examined whether a high-protein afternoon yogurt snack improves appetite control, satiety, and reduces subsequent food intake compared to other commonly-consumed, energy-dense, high-fat snacks. The findings demonstrate that when compared to high-fat snacks, eating less energy-dense, high-protein snacks like yogurt improves appetite control.

The summary is that consuming protein-rich snacks throughout the day, whether food or shakes, will help control your appetite and support your ability to eat less. Combined with effective calorie-burning resistance training, this method will directly support your efforts to burn fat.

Protein Shakes for Weight Gain

To build muscle, the science is simple – you need to consume more protein than your body uses during resistance training. But with that, we begin a tale of two proteins – whey and casein. Both support your efforts to build muscle tissue, but their make up varies:

Whey

One of two major milk proteins. It is the liquid remaining after the milk has been curdled and strained. There are three varieties of whey – protein powder, protein concentrate, and protein isolate. All provide high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine).

Casein

Casein gives milk its white color and accounts for 70 – 80 percent of milk protein. The casein protein exists in a micelle – that has a hydrophobic inside and a hydrophilic outside. During digestion, casein is released as the micelle breaks down. The casein released from multiple micelles then aggregates and is digested via proteolysis. This is the process by which proteins break down into simpler, soluble compounds. Digestion is slow due to the aggregation of casein. This allows the protein to provide a sustained release of amino acids – sometimes lasting for hours.

There are other forms of protein, but as this is focusing on protein shakes – we’ll keep it to the most popular products as of this article’s publication.

When to shake, and when no to shake…

Optimizing protein shake consumption is not an exact science, although several studies demonstrate consistent data. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2017:

“…The timing of energy intake and the ratio of certain ingested macronutrients may enhance recovery and tissue repair, augment muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and improve mood states following high-volume or intense exercise…”

Here are highlights from the assessment:

  • Consuming carbohydrate solely or in combination with protein during resistance exercise increases muscle glycogen stores, ameliorates muscle damage, and facilitates greater acute and chronic training adaptations
  • Ingestion of essential amino acids (EAA; approximately 10 g) either in free form or as part of a protein bolus of approximately 20-40 g has been shown to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS)
  • Post-exercise ingestion (immediately to 2-h post) of high-quality protein sources stimulates robust increases in MPS
  • Ingesting a 20-40 g protein dose (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass/dose) of a high-quality source every 3 to 4 hours appears to most favorably affect MPS rates when compared to other dietary patterns and is associated with improved body composition and performance outcomes
  • Consuming casein protein (~ 30-40 g) prior to sleep can acutely increase MPS and metabolic rate throughout the night without influencing lipolysis

A 2002 study also suggested that consuming a small meal of mixed macronutrient composition (or perhaps even a very small quantity of a few indispensable amino acids) immediately before or following strength exercise bouts can alter significantly net protein balance, resulting in greater gains in both muscle mass and strength than observed with training alone. This suggests there is a window right before and after training that optimizes your protein intake.

What this means is you should be consuming protein throughout the day. How much depends on the macronutrient requirement for your fitness objectives. Ideally, you should consume as much protein as possible from lean, non-processed food sources. You can use the above findings in the study to help you understand when to assist and maximize your protein intake with a shake.

Now, why are we not saying explicitly to take X at the following times? Simple – your training plan, combined with your metabolism and diet requirements will create an “optimal window” unique to you. But you want to be following four rules in general:

  1. Consume most of your protein from whole, unprocessed food sources
  2. Target a good source of protein 2-3 hours prior to your workout (snacks right before the workout should be more carb-focused)
  3. Consuming a good quality, high-protein shake within two hours of resistance training is likely within your “optimal” window
  4. Casein protein shakes will work best before sleep, as it takes longer to digest and your body’s recovery will benefit from the sustained amino acid release.

And finally, remember – protein shakes are a supplement. They should be taken to supplement your whole food consumption – not as a replacement. If you use them, be sure to select ones with quality ingredients, without fillers and other non-essential ingredients.

-Train Hard!

Bodyweight exercises when no gym

Body Weight WOD – Basic/Beginner

WODs (Workout of the Day) are a great tool to improve athletic performance. While normally associated with Crossfit, they should be considered a key factor in anyone’s program if you are trying to improve performance.

Try switching out your cardio session once a week, for four weeks, with a different WOD each week – this will challenge your body, force your muscles to constantly adapt, and add creativity to your program.

v-up ab exercise on a bench

Basic WODs for Beginners

If you are looking for a quick WOD to get you going without the need for weights, try these two variations below:

3 rounds x 10 reps of the following bodyweight exercises (no rest between rounds):

  • Air Squats
  • Sit-Ups
  • Decline Push-Ups
  • Dips or Ring Rows (depending on what you can access)
  • Burpees

5 rounds x 5 reps, without rest between rounds:

  • Burpees
  • V-Ups
  • Mountain Climbers
  • High Knee Jumps
  • Bear Crawl (1 rep = right and left forward motion)

Try these, or variations to challenge your performance levels. Make sure you stay hydrated, and you can add some solid core exercises at the end of the WOD to push yourself.

-Train Hard!

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