Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Practical Weight Loss Programming

My Garage

I've had many revelations over this last year or so of my fitness journey. I spent some time in a commercial gym observing trainers setting people up for future injury. I read more blogs about exercise and diet than should be allowed by law. I spent an entire year trying to master just three exercise movements (the squat, deadlift, and bench press). All in the name of finding or creating a program that would be simple to follow, give me results, and keep me healthy without overtaking my life.

After all, I'm married with two boys who, at least for now, want me around. I ended up spending a little money on a Craig's List deal and setting up a home gym in my garage, which has been great. I can fit in a quick work out on the weekend, and stir a pot in the kitchen between sets if I have to. Not having to drive anywhere or share sweat with anyone (or fume when some bro is curling in the squat rack or whatever) has been a sweet deal all around.

There are those of us who want to get into shape, and stay that way, in the most efficient way possible. We have families and limited time to get anything done in the gym. We are The Lone Gym Rats who may need a little guidance about programming or nutrition, but due to scheduling, personality, or some other reason, just can't commit to anyone other than themselves when it comes to getting fit.

Several months back I decided to look for a change in programming. I had been lifting weights on the same basic schedule for over a year, and the time felt right to mix things up a little. I started reading up on on-line coaching, and quickly realized that doing this remotely is easy with this here handy-dandy internet.

Initially, I searched for online help for basic programming. What to do when kind of stuff. How many reps? Sets? How much cardio? Once you start looking it's like opening Pandora's Box. There's simply too much stuff out there, and most of it is bad. Having my particular educational background helped me screen through a lot of stuff initially, but I'm no exercise physiologist. When it comes to the gory details of what makes us bigger, stronger, faster than before (and helps me look my best for my wife, patients, and impending 25 year high school reunion), I turn to the experts. And in my estimation, the guys who know the absolute most about fat loss and strength gain are body builders. It's their sport.

Besides, you can only do P90X or Insanity so many times before you get bored, hurt yourself, or get a scratch on the DVD (I did all three). And having some form of coach you can ask questions of is a really good thing when you need it. Having some accountability for your progress (or lack thereof) is motivating too, even if you favor the lone wolf method of working out. Ahem.

I say all of this as the background information. By the end of the year I had bought several e-books, consulted with one online coach for a particular nutrition protocol, and read a ton of stuff written by various coaches on  different programming methods. And I found something that I really like: an e-book written by a body builder who's stayed up on the research. And more than that, a community of people (online) who are going through the same program, asking questions and getting them answered. Pulling for each other. Pushing each other. And all being led by the man who wrote the book in the first place.

And whether or not you are following a "Paleo" style diet (or have other dietary restrictions or preferences) this can all work for you. The best time to start is yesterday. If you're looking to make some changes, and the luster of your New Year's resolutions hasn't faded into total apathy, but you find you need some guidance, check this out. Here's the link: Burn The Fat Inner Circle

The e-book in question is called Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle. I'd recommend buying the e-book before joining the Inner Circle, because you get two free months with your purchase.

You will be encouraged to set goals for yourself. Goals you can actually track. You will be advised to lift weights, which in my opinion is the single best way to change your appearance for the better (ladies included). It's a simple program, really, but it's not easy. Of course, if this stuff was easy, we'd all be lean and mean and I wouldn't write stuff like this.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

One Year in the Gym

In July of 2011 I started a self experiment in creating better body composition by doing the least amount of work possible. I'm busy, after all, with a clinical practice and two small children and a wife. Everyone is busy. It's the way things are these days. I'm sure you're no different.

I decided to get back in the gym and lift weights. I've always maintained that nothing changes your body like resistance exercise. I've spent time dabbling in body weight exercises, and in my years in Florida I got in more than my fair share of surfing. But after nearly a decade of being out of the gym with any real dedication, and with a lot more knowledge this time around, I decided to put myself on a program. I also made some rules for myself. I wanted to get stronger and leaner without living at the gym. I also wanted to do something easily repeatable for my readers here and my patients at the office who are looking for more than pain relief.

Don't hear me saying that I have found the Ultimate Program or anything like that. I'm just going to break down my one year's worth of experience, both good and bad. Then I'm going to tell you want I plan to change.

Step one: lift heavy (at least what's heavy for me), and only do the big three of power lifting (plus chin ups, which are quite humbling). That's right--in the last year I have only done four exercises a week for a grand total of about one and a half hours a week. No cardio at all, other than a little surfing just recently (which felt really good, by the way). Cause not only do I hate cardio, I think that long treks on a treadmill going nowhere is a good way to harm your metabolism. Plus, like I said, I have limited time and so do you.

Here was my schedule for the last year:
Monday--Squats. Usually six sets including a few warm up sets.
Wednesday--Deadlift. Four to five sets. Makes your hands look pretty:
 Not too shabby, but I'm just getting started.

Friday (sometimes Saturday)--Bench press. Five to six sets. I also did the chins on bench day, although not as consistently as I should.

Each of those sets consisted of five reps each, except the chins, for which I did as many as possible. Easy!

This time around (as opposed to ten years ago), I got smart and kept track of everything in a log book. This made walking into the gym a more focused experience; since I was writing things down I had goals--mostly to break the record of the last workout. And the records were set. In my twenties and early thirties I did my share of lifting, but never with a plan or any real goals other than to look like Thor (I even had the long hair in those days). I can now proudly say my forty-something self is much stronger than my Thor me.

Of course, when I got back in the gym it was pretty sad. My old warm up weights had become my top set weights, and left me feeling brutalized for days. I had to schedule my exercises around certain days of the week because I found that after bench pressing heavy weights my arms wouldn't do what I need them to do to see patients (the adjustment is an impulse that comes from the pecs and triceps, which were both rather gooey feeling after the gym). I also got to experience brand new types of soreness that comes from doing the dead lift--something I never really attempted in the past.

One of the beautiful things about starting something like this is that the progress came really fast initially, which kept me motivated. It was embarrassing putting so little weight on the bar in the first months, but I found I was able to add five to ten pounds a week for many weeks straight. I didn't take long for me to feel a little more Thor like. Or at least Batman like, and he's cooler anyway (and yes, I know I'm mixing my Marvel and DC characters. I'm crazy like that).

The results? In one year I added 100lbs to my deadlift, about the same to my squat (I love squattin'!), and a little over 60lbs to the bench. Also my clothes fit quite a bit differently (in a good way), and my weight stayed exactly the same. My testosterone levels most certainly increased which has numerous benefits for a 40-something dude like myself, and I finally feel like I could wear a Captain America shirt without looking too out of place. You know, except for the fact that I'm a 40-something year old man in a super hero shirt.

The limitations of the program I just presented may be obvious, but let me give you my impressions anyway. First off, I got zero cardio training in. And when I say "cardio" I really mean "sprinting, or other high intensity training." Previous to this last year's experiment I had done the Beachbody program, Insanity. I got great results from Insanity, but the problem was the intensity and therefore the sustainability. Insanity got me nice and lean with a resting heart rate in the 40s, but I felt like I had been run over with a truck by the time I was finished. I was as lean as I have been in years, but could barely jog across the street because every joint in my body ached. Insanity is a 60 day program which is geared to beat you into the dirt and get you ripped, but when it's over there's nowhere to go but back to chubby town.

There was an interesting test that came along as I neared the end of the year--my gym had a competition to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The goal was to see who could do the most push ups in 90 seconds. I had done exactly zero push ups since finishing Insanity, but wanted to support the cause. I was hoping to not embarrass myself, as there were about 70 people competing and watching. The results? I pulled off doing 100, and tied for third behind a Marine (103), and a guy who works at the gym (101). Sweet.

I think a combination of higher intensity training (like sprints or anything in the Insanity program) added to a solid resistance training program will be where it's at. And so goes my plans for year two in this experiment. I'll provide more details as I go, so stay tuned. My next post will detail the rather unusual diet plan I've been on for the last year as well.

One last thing to mention--I think joining was instrumental in helping stay on track over this last year. A great friend of mine, who happens to live in Florida, joined with me and we tracked each other and gave props for pushing on through. I've made some friends there along the way. Fitocracy is like Facebook for people who exercise. Join up and find greggreendc if you're looking for friends.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Increase Your Testosterone

This one is for the men. Specifically for the men around my age (early 40s) and older. Men who want to maintain not just their libido, but their muscle mass and health as we move forward into our Golden Years.

Guys, we have to maintain, or increase (if it's low) our testosterone levels if we want to maintain our health. Low testosterone levels will also make you a weak girly man who can't open jars. And we can't have that. Your testosterone level is the rate limiting factor for how much muscle mass you can keep. Your muscle mass dictates the amount of organ reserve you have. In other words, a little extra skeletal muscle influences how well your heart, kidneys, liver, and all the other organs work. I don't know about you, but I want that stuff to work really well.

One of the greatest problems that comes along with excess adipose tissue (fat) is the reduction of testosterone levels. This happens because adipose tissue leads to the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. This can lead to, among other things, a phenomenon known as gynecmastia--the development of female breasts on men. Not all that flattering. Increased estrogen leads to higher retention of body fat, and the vicious cycle continues until it's broken. My challenge: break it now.

The single best thing you can do to elevate your testosterone levels is resistance training with weights. Period. I know for some of you this conjures images of muscle bound bodybuilders who can't scratch their own backs. Let me clear that image up for you by saying that this just doesn't happen unless performance enhancing drugs are used. Resistance exercise can literally be the fountain of youth for men with waning testosterone levels, but you have to be smart about it. The more muscle groups stimulated simultaneously, the more testosterone production is enhanced. What that means is that the "big three" compound exercises--squats, dead lifts, and bench press--are the most bang for your buck movements. It also means that walking aimlessly around in the gym doing curls and other isolation exercises won't get you nearly as far. Increasing your testosterone will lead to increased muscle mass which leads to greater potential for elevating testosterone, so there's another cycle. Unlike the "extra fat leading to enhanced estrogen production cycle," this one is good.

You may be thinking that you don't have hours to spend in the gym, even though the payoff is potentially huge. Let me just say right now: you're wrong. It's a matter of priorities. If your health and well being mean anything to you, you can figure out how to do this. I have a busy clinical practice that closes at 6:30 every night,  two small children at home, and I pull this off. You can too. The preceding paragraph gives you the key: do the big compound movements and get out. My workouts last no more than 45 minutes. Often no more than 30 minutes. I'm not some huge bodybuilder looking dude (as you can see in the picture below), but I've greatly enhanced my testosterone production potential. Most of my patients and friends would never look at me and think under the shirt and tie is the kind of weight lifter's body that they see on muscle magazines with the spray on tans and all that nonsense. And I can still reach my back just fine, thank you.

Me. Still Able to Scratch.

Some resources for how to get started with a resistance program can be found with a quick trip to Amazon--Starting Strength by renowned strength coach Mark Rippetoe (also a Texan--bonus!) will teach you everything you need to know about correct form and a basic routine set up. Another well known resource is Beyond Brawn, by  Stuart McRobert. Read these two books and you'll know more than 99% of the gym rats out there when it comes to working smarter to build muscle. You'll still have to work hard, but having a plan is essential to doing this well. There are plenty of guys piddling around in gyms who have been doing the same thing for years and are not really progressing. Don't be that guy.

Of course, there are some diet related changes to be made--you've got to have the raw materials to make testosterone. The good news is that the raw materials for all the sex hormones are cholesterol and saturated fat. I'd advise most men to decrease their carbohydrate intake to around 150 grams a day and replace the lost calories with fat from grass fed beef, fish, coconut oil, butter, and avocado. Grass fed beef isn't that hard to find these days--go to eat wild and check your state. It takes some getting used to as grass fed beef is leaner than corn fed, but grass fed beef has a much better ratio of omega fatty acids, and the farms treat their animals as humanely as possible. Indeed, grass fed cattle live like kings compared to their feed lot brethren, and the end result is better for them, the environment, and you. 

The one supplement I'll mention when it comes to elevating your testosterone levels is our old friend, magnesium. I've written about magnesium here before, so I won't belabor the point too much except to mention that some studies have shown that magnesium even helps increase testosterone in the elderly/sedentary population, so 400mgs a day for a 50 year old man who pushes some iron three times a week can make a world of difference.

A very important addition to this list is to get adequate sleep. Your body does its healing and rebuilding when you sleep, and inadequate sleep doesn't give your internal construction crew enough time to get the job done. You know, technically speaking and all.  Magnesium supplementation is often helpful if you have a tough time getting to sleep (just in case you didn't click the link in the preceding paragraph), and getting your eyes off blinking lights such as television, computer, and cell phone screens at least 30 minutes before turning in can be huge when it comes to letting your brain power down. Incidentally, e-readers that have the gray background screen like the Kindle won't over-stimulate your brain like the color screens found on an iPad or Kindle Fire. Sorry. Paper books (remember those?) are also fine for power down activity.

There are blood tests that can tell you where you are with your testosterone levels, but if you're over 35, you can count on your levels declining a few percentage points each year if you don't fight back. Low levels of testosterone has been linked to higher levels of clinical depression, and general malaise. A few hours a week is worth the time and trouble to keep your levels up, or even get them higher than they have been in years. You'll look better and feel better, and hey, this is the only body you have--treat it well for many happy returns.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I hereby Issue A Challenge!

The new year is upon us, and with it the inevitable resolutions to get in shape, drop a few pounds, and get healthier in general. The statistics are dismal, however, when it comes to peoples' ability to stick with their plans. This is often because the "plan" is more of a desire without any real thought put into the day to day realities of how to get anything done. The average person knows they should eat a little less and exercise a little more, so they set out with the best of intentions come January first (or, more often, January second after the post hangover meals of the first). I believe that the single biggest obstacle when it comes to obtaining ideal body composition isn't knowledge. It's accountability, or lack thereof.

Knowledge has its place, of course. I still run across people on a daily basis who think whole grains are good for you and so forth. But even if you're carrying around ideas about the details that are in error when it comes to losing weight and getting healthier the basics--eating less than you burn--are what will get you to where you want to go. The details can make things go a little easier, but the basics will get you there. 

Having an accountability partner will help you make more progress, and for reasons that are easy enough to understand: going to the gym or doing some form of exercise is a lot easier to do when there is someone holding you accountable to do so. Eating well is easier to do when you just killed it in the gym. After all, why go through the hassle to work out and then blow it eating some of the leftover bagels sitting in the lounge at work?

Introducing It's a social media site where you can learn a lot about fitness from some smart people, keep track of your workouts, and help others do the same. I've been playing with it for a few weeks now, and I've gotta tell you, it's addicting to enter your latest stats from the gym or track (or whatever--there's just about every kind of exercise you can think of there). You get points for different movements, and can "level up" when you acquire enough points. Cool. I've got a friend or two there already, and we watch each others' performance and even "give props" when warranted.

In the coming weeks I'll give you my opinion about several exercise related topics. In the meantime, drop us a line at the office ( if you're interested in joining me on Fitocracy. I'll be creating a group soon for interested friends/patients so we can help each other out. Let's get over the idea that dropping a few pounds with a temporary diet modification is the answer to anything. I'm committed to a lifestyle of health and fitness. Let's do it together and teach each other as we go.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Feeling Insane? Me Too!

I get the occasional question about the products such as P90X and Insanity. I can't speak from personal experience about the P90X, but Insanity (both the product and state of mind) is another matter altogether. To the uninitiated, Beachbody is a company that has made it's name with do-at-home exercise programs which they hock via non-stop infomercials. Their target audience is people who don't want to go to a gym, but know they need to do something to whittle down the ol' spare tire.

I first heard about Beachbody's flagship product, P90X, when I was in chiropractic college. Many of my classmates were doing it and talking about how well it was working and how tough it is. In those days we were living on the beach, and I was surfing regularly, so I had no desire to do much more than that. Those days are now long behind me, and it takes considerably more effort to get to the beach from Houston than it did in Ponce Inlet, Florida. Such is life.

When I was building out Green Chiropractic, I decided I needed to get back into shape. It had been awhile since I had seen the surf, and I was quickly turning into a fat skinny guy. There's nothing worse than being a fat skinny guy. A good friend had both programs, but wasn't using Insanity, so by default I jumped into what is known as Beachbody's toughest program. I also bought my own copy for future use, which is what I'm using now.

One of the key selling points of Insanity is the fact that other than a television and DVD player, no other equipment is needed except for maybe a mat of some kind for cushion if you have tile or hardwoods. I don't even wear shoes doing the workouts--I was having knee pain with them, but when I tried without shoes (I couldn't get them on before the warm up started, so it was a happy accident) the pain disappeared. A friend of mine wears Vibram Five Fingers for the same reason.

What I like about Insanity is the intensity level, which is as high as it gets. In order to get your hormones switched on for fat loss it's important to hit it hard. And Insanity, as the name might suggest, hits it hard. It's not uncommon for me to be mopping the sweat off my face before the warm up is over.

The program isn't for everyone, and it's really not something anyone should try and do more than once or twice a year. It's really too much to be sustainable. Most people could just do the warm up three times a week and see some big physical changes.

The toughest thing about it is the mental game you have to play with yourself in order to finish the workout every day (six days a week for 63 days). I take a two hour lunch, and do the workout the first hour. The second hour I spend attempting to stop sweating before I start seeing patients. The first month's worth of workouts are between 35-45 minutes, and they get up to an hour or so after that. There's a countdown clock always ticking, telling me how much brutality I have to endure before the end. But when the end comes, there is a huge sense of accomplishment.

Shaun T, the leader of the Insanity gang, is a likable, motivating guy. Someone I'd like to hang out with. He also pushes you hard to keep going, even when you can't really feel your legs anymore. There is a gym full of people doing what you're trying to do along with Shawn T, and you'll start to wonder what they're like, and if you're like me you'll try to pace yourself with some of them (there's one guy in his early 40s I keep my eye on--if he can keep going then so should I). Shawn is also really good at reminding you to keep proper form, and there are virtually zero exercises with form that would jeopardize your low back if you do them right. 

I can't recommend Insanity to everyone--it's too intense for many (there are other Beachbody products out there that are much more accessible), but if you can watch their youtube trailer and not feel the need to hide in the closet, this might be for you. I'm getting close to finishing my second time through this thing, and I had to buy new pants, because even my Florida pants were getting a little too loose.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is It Fish Oil, or Dessert?

Many people, myself included, aren't big fans of the occasional fishy belch that comes after the morning fish oil capsules go down the hatch. I've written about the merits of fish oil consumption before, and now I'm happy to report that there's a new way to get all that goodness in you. And it tastes like lemon pudding. I have a taster open here at the office if you don't believe me. I can't detect one single molecule of fish flavor, and a measly two teaspoon of the stuff gives you 360 mg each of DHA (neuro-protective and thus good for your brain). and EPA (straight up anti-inflammatory). There are also some omega 9's in there, which are good for joint health and a cornerstone of what's good with the Mediterranean diet that gets so much press these days.

So please read my previous fish oil article, and then come by Green Chiropractic to test taste this stuff. Bonus: it's made by Anabolic Labs, which is the only supplement manufacturer in the known universe that also makes pharmaceuticals, so the level of quality and purity doesn't get any better. And did I mention it tastes like lemon pudding?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Foundation

If you want to get healthy and stay that way, there are some foundational nutritional protocols I recommend. If you're sick, I'd wast no time, but even if you're well, these suggestions can help you feel, um, well-er. Prevention is always easier. The good part--most of these suggestions are inexpensive to implement. Pay now, or pay later, and if you pay later it could be a cost far greater than you can fathom right now when everything seems cool. And I promise you won't start looking like the guy in the picture.

First up--and this won't shock anyone who knows me or any regular reader of this blog--take vitamin D. 5,000 IU a day for your average adult should do the trick. You can always get a blood test to see where your levels are, which I do every 6 months, but don't let the lack of knowledge of your level enable you to put off supplementing.

When in chiro school in Florida, a friend of mine, who was about my height, weight and build, got his levels tested around the same time I tested mine for the first time. He was a big golfer, and I was commonly found in the ocean with my surfboard, so we were both getting a lot of sunshine. The results? His was 19 Ng/Ml of blood, and mine was 38. 40 is the bottom end of optimum. I was taking 2,000 IU a day at the time and was getting what he was getting from the sun. The literature suggests that you can take up to 2,000 per pound of body weight if you feel the funk coming on. Yesterday I woke feeling a bit like Bootsy Collins (very funky), so during the course of the day I consumed approximately 150,000 IU. I woke up today feeling mostly normal.

Take D.

Next up--take some fish oil. You want around a gram of EPA/DHA. Some brands are more concentrated than others, so do the math and make sure you're getting enough. EPA/DHA is anti-inflammatory and neuro protective. It will help lower your triglycerides, too.

Take a deep breath before you read the next sentence: Stop eating grain products. I know, this is the hardest part. For some of you this may mean eating thin crust pizza instead of thick, and for others you may start experimenting with almond flour or other no-grain alternatives. See my previous grains post for details.

And finally--take probiotics. There are approximately 10 trillion bacteria in your colon. This means that there are far more of them in you than there is you in you, if you count up all your cells to compare. The type of bacteria in your gut has been found to influence brain function, systemic inflammation, and general health in a big way. If you get too much of the wrong ratio you can get sick. The literature is starting to suggest that virtually all autoimmune disorders begin in the gut, so it behooves us to make our gut work for us.

This is the foundation. There are other recommendations I'd make for specific conditions. Athletes could use a good anti-oxidant regimen. I take everything listed here, avoid grains like the plague, and take CoQ10 along with the other stuff. Insurance. I haven't been full blown sick enough to miss work since December 20. 2006. It's our wish here at Green Chiropractic that you get equally healthy. And if you have any back or neck pain, we'd love to help you with that as well.