Fit & Balanced: A Training Guide for All

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Are you ready to start working out on a regular basis but you’re not sure what to do?

Maybe you’ve been following a workout program but, for whatever reason, you are inconsistent or not getting the results you’d like. Or maybe the workouts you’ve tried have been geared to one exercise modality that you just can’t stand.

Well, look no further – today I’ll outline the most convenient and balanced fitness program that anyone, at any experience level, can stick to!

Day 1 –30 to 60 minutes strength training & mobility

Day 2 – 30 to 60 minutes cardio & active recovery

Day 3 – 30 to 60 minutes strength training & mobility

Day 4 – 30 to 60 minutes cardio & active recovery

Day 5 – 30 to 60 minutes strength training & mobility

Day 6 – 15 to 30 minutes interval training & active recovery

Day 7 – complete rest day

d11d36da94df967077e137592a80f25aFirst, just to clarify, the time of each workout will depend on the individual’s schedule and their level of experience. If you are planning to squat hundreds of pounds, you’re going to need at least 5 minutes between sets. However, if you learning squat mechanics with just your bodyweight, you’ll probably only need 30 seconds in between sets.

Plus, if you overcommit and develop the belief that a workout doesn’t count unless its 60 minutes, you may end up skipping workouts on busy days, rather than getting in 30 minutes of quality work to continue making progress.

The “Strength Training & Mobility” workouts start with a 5 minute warmup to wake up f42fd2699a2f96e23792fe1d41d2f0bbstabilizer muscles, improve movement patterns, and practice “prehab” exercises. Prehab exercises target muscles that tend to be tight, passive, or weak, leading to the most common injuries and imbalances (usually shoulder, knee, and lower back).

The rest of the workout will consist of 10 exercises, strengthening every major muscle group of the body. While we strengthen the muscles with these exercises, we also want to improve mobility. To do this, lift the weight fairly quickly, maybe in 1 to 2 seconds, but then make the lowering or returning phase last at least 4 seconds.

As we lift a weight, our muscles shorten, but as we lower the weight, the muscles lengthen, providing an active stretch to the muscles and tendons.

Below is the outline for the “Strength Training & Mobility” days.

Warmup:

BirdDog/Quadruped – 5 repetitions each side, holding outstretched position for 5 seconds each time

Deadbugs – 10 repetitions in all, holding outstretched position for 2 seconds while exhaling

Glute Bridge – 10 repetitions, holding top position for 1 second

Clamshells – green band around knees, 10 repetitions each side, 1 second hold per rep

External Rotations – 10 repetitions each side

Full Body Workout:

Squat – 3 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions.

Deadlift – 3 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions

Pushups –3 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions

Rowing / Back Pulling Motion – 3 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions

Single Leg Lunge or Squat – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Single Leg Deadlift – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Rear Shoulder Fly – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Bicep Curl – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Tricep Kickback – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Side Plank – 2 sets of 10 to 30 second hold each side

And there you have it – 10 exercises, performed a few times each, that will ensure balanced development, injury prevention, and improved function for years to come!  

One thing I omitted from this program is specific tailoring based upon experience level, restrictions and injuries, etc. For example, a novice might perform the squats by sitting back and down onto a chair and standing back up. An intermediate trainee may perform the movement holding a weight in front of their chest and no chair. And an advanced individual may use a full barbell on their back loaded with hundreds of pounds.

Then, of course, there are many technique details that can’t be efficiently communicated in a blog. Whether keeping the knees out and feet flat on the floor during a squat, or tucking the elbows in towards the body during pushups, form is crucial. But unfortunately, the best way to convey this is through one-on-one work.

fitness-tips-for-beginner-or-newFor the “Cardio & Active Recovery” days, pick whatever form of conditioning is most entertaining for you. This can be running, hiking, riding a stationary bike in front of a television, etc. The point here is that you want the activity to be enjoyable enough that you can stick with it, but isn’t so difficult that you have trouble performing the next day’s workout. You can also practice some of the prehab movements from the Strength day, do some foam rolling and stretching, or attend a Yoga or Pilates class.

Just make sure you do something active for 30 to 60 minutes that leaves you feeling mobile and healthy!

Finally, try tohiit perform higher level conditioning, such as high intensity interval training (HIIT), at least one day a week. You can do 30 seconds of kettlebell swings with 1 minute rests, hill sprints, farmer walks with heavy weights in each hand, or intervals on a rowing machine – really whatever you want!

On the 7th day, marked as “Complete Rest”, you don’t need a highly structured workout, but don’t fear activity. Only the highest level athletes need a day where they do nothing at all. Go for a walk, do a little stretching, go to the beach and go for a swim.

The structure of this program includes 3 scheduled strength and mobility sessions, 3 scheduled cardiorespiratory / cardiovascular sessions, and 1 day where you don’t have to commit to any one thing beforehand.

This program will provide enough stimulus to improve heart and lung health, while improving strength, balance, mobility, and bone density, without resulting in over-training. Just make sure you eat healthy for the rest of the hours of the day outside of the gym!

And if you need any help learning the exercises and perfecting safe and effective technique, don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks for reading!

 

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Abdominal Exercises

Most of us are familiar with typical situps and crunches. These movements have been the primary abdominal exercises for the last few decades. Why? Because they can be done anytime, anywhere, with little focus. They are easy to “progress” by simply doing more. Finally, they leave the stomach sore. All these things sound pretty good, right?

Unfortunately, situps are one of the worst exercises for abdominal strength and stability!

The main problem with situps is that they are performed in a posture that places a great deal of stress on the spine. Unnecessary curving of the spine may damage the discs in the back and produce wear-and-tear on the vertebrae. We already tend to hunch in front of computers, driving cars, and carrying heavy objects – why exacerbate this rounded posture during exercise too?

coreAnother problem is that poorly performed situps, involving a bouncing motion and a pull from the legs, will only target one of many “core” muscles– the rectus abdominis. The hip flexors in the front of the thighs and hips, along with upper body muscles, will assist in the situp motion, taking focus away from the core. It is also very easy to “cheat” this exercise by relying upon momentum or a bounce off the ground.

Finally, situps are not a functionally specific movement. Very rarely in life do we have to fold our bodies forward at the hips. Alternatively, we do have to brace with all the muscles in our core when lifting an unwieldy object or even stepping down stairs.

Now that we know situps place undue stress on the back, don’t effectively work all the core muscles, and are not a functional movement, let’s look at some alternatives.

The single best exercise to learn is a “plank”. Start by laying facedown on the floor with the forearms andplank toes in contact with the ground. Tighten through the core, or think about drawing the bellybutton towards the lower back, to raise the hips off the ground until your back is straight. Hold this position for 3 seconds before slowly lowering the hips back to the ground. Perform for 10 repetitions. As these become easier, extend the time and eventually add more motion.

DeadBugAnother excellent movement is known as “dead bugs”. For this exercise, lay on your back, bring your arms and legs straight up toward the ceiling, and bend the knees to 90 degrees. While maintaining contact between the lower back and the ground, extend your right leg toward the ground and left arm overhead. Pause just before the limb touches the ground and fully exhale. Bring both limbs back up to the starting position and alternate sides. The most important parts of this exercise are making sure the lower back does not arch, and that you don’t forcibly hold your breath in the bottom position. Both these errors will result in lessened activation of the core muscles.

These exercises will target the deep core muscles, specifically the transverse abdominals and obliques, more effectively than situps. And, as previously mentioned, we’ll be working the core while lengthening the spine, ensuring better posture.

I hope this post provides some insight into how best strengthen the core, thereby relieving back pain while improving posture and balance. Please let me know if you’d like more exercise ideas or would like me to review the efficacy of other movements.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Seasonal Affective Disorder

For all of my followers in the northeast United States, it’s that time of the year again!

The sun is rising late and setting early, the sky is cloudy, and the temperature is dropping. All this can contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).

S.A.D. affects about 6% of the United States every year. Common symptoms may include oversleeping, low energy, carb cravings, poor focus, social withdrawal, lack of pleasure, and hopelessness.

It is believed that S.A.D. is caused by a lack of sunlight, resulting in a skewed circadian rhythm and lowered serotonin levels.

Fortunately, there are many things one can do to combat symptoms and improve their emotions and outlook.

The first step is to purchase a “lightbox” for light therapy. These emit a much brighter and whiter light than typical lamps. Exposure to this bright light, particularly first thing in the morning, will simulate the sunrise, improving serotonin production and establishing a healthy circadian rhythm.

I am in the process of purchasing such a light source and will provide a review of my personal experience with this protocol.

The second recommendation is to stay active. Find 30 to 60 minutes every day for exercise. Exercise is known to improve mood by providing a sense of success as well as releasing endorphins in the brain.

The last recommendation I can make is to eat healthy. This means starting your day with a large serving of protein and ending your day with a moderate serving of carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or fruits. Adequate protein in the morning, and throughout the day, will provide the body and brain with amino acids necessary for healthy cognitive function and stable emotions. Carbs at night will help induce sleep and up-regulate serotonin production. Eat fewer carbs throughout the day to avoid blood sugar crashes, causing lethargy and furthering negative emotions.

Many people find success with certain supplements. I personally have tried 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor), GABA (a dopamine precursor), and melatonin (the brains natural sleep chemical). Thus far, the melatonin seems to be the most effective, but only at regulating proper sleep-wake cycles. I noticed no results from any other supplement, regardless of timing or dose.

I do increase my supplemental Vitamin D in the winter from 2,000 to 5,000 or 10,000 a day. I don’t notice a direct result from this but I’m lucky if I get 5 minutes of direct sunlight a day when the temperature drops below freezing. Sunlight is our only significant source of vitamin D, and low levels have been linked to depression as well as many physical conditions.

Finally, there is always the option of medications. If feelings of hopelessness or despair become strong enough, visit a doctor to discuss further options.

I will post a follow up after I experiment with light therapy / dawn simulation for a few weeks. Try these tactics and let me know if you have some of your own!

SAD

How to lift without “Getting Bulky”

paulromasco-com

 

My personal goals involve increasing muscle mass, reducing body fat, and performing heavy barbell lifts.

However, the majority of my clients do not share these goals. Most of my clients want to lose weight, regain function, improve posture, and reverse disease.

In fact, one of the most frequent concerns I hear from those trying to get in shape is that they “don’t want to get big muscles”.

For that reason, I’m going to discuss what causes muscle growth, and how you can avoid getting bulky muscles while still leaning out and improving performance.

The technical term for developing muscle size is “muscular hypertrophy”. Hypertrophy is merely the process of tissues increasing in volume. And the form of muscular hypertrophy that results in the largest muscular gains is “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”.

Strictly speaking, 8 to 12 repetitions with a moderate weight is the protocol for hypertrophy training. However, intensity and volume are the real deciding factors.

Intensity is accomplished by working until the muscles can no longer perform the exercise properly, known as “failure”, and moving quickly between sets.

Volume is an equation of sets, reps, and weight. This means that 2 sets of 20 repetitions

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Female Olympian in the 165 lb. weight class. Does SHE look bulky?

with 5 pounds will result in more growth stimulus than 3 sets of 1 repetition with 50 pounds.

I personally perform an exercise for 4 sets of 15 repetitions if I am trying to increase muscle size. Almost any load can cause significant growth when performed for 15 slow and focused repetitions.

I bring up the topic of intensity to address those that avoid lifting heavy weights because they don’t want to bulk up. The classic bodybuilder approach of 8 to 12 repetitions means that “heavy weights” (relative to the individuals strength) cannot be used.

BulkyThe weights that bodybuilders handle may look heavy but this is merely because they are very strong and have been lifting, with regular improvement, for a long time. It may look like a bench press with two 75-pound dumbbells looks heavy, but if the individual is doing it for 8 or more reps, they could handle over 100-pound dumbbells for fewer reps.

Contrarily, lifting a massively heavy weight for fewer than 5 repetitions will actually train the mind more than the muscles. Yes, the body is getting a great workout, but lifting a maximum load for 1, 2, or 3 repetitions results in more neurological adaptations than muscular growth.

So, if any rep range can stimulate muscle growth, and 8 to 12 reps with a moderately-heavy weight is the most promising to grow muscles, what can you do to avoid “bulking up”?

  • Always feel like you could do 2 to 5 more repetitions with perfect form. The moment you go to failure, and technique breaks down, you are causing muscular damage that will result in the muscle growing larger during recovery.
  • Also, take the time you need to rest between sets. Many bodybuilder programs recommend timed recoveries under 60 seconds, sometimes as low as 15 seconds. Starting your next set before the muscles are ready is a surefire way to stimulate muscle growth.
  • Finally, don’t consume excess calories! One of the main goals of exercising is to increase lean body mass, but, if you don’t want your muscles to grow considerably larger, eat at, or even below, maintenance so your body replaces fat with lean mass.

One last point worth making is regarding “toning”. The same people that say they don’t want to “grow muscles” say that they “only want to tone”. Believe it or not, tone means muscle! There is no way to make fat or skin look “toned”. The definition or tone visible on a fit persons arms, legs, or torso, is actually their muscle.

This doesn’t mean that you have to train like a bodybuilder and put on 50 pounds of muscle to looked toned… but replacing body fat with lean body mass (also known as muscle) is necessary to achieve a fit physique.

The world of fitness, nutrition, and health is filled with mixed messages, preconceived notions, and bogus ideas. But please don’t give any mind to the false claims that lifting weights and increasing strength will make you bulky!

If you work within your limits, have a program structured to your goals, and don’t eat to excess, you will achieve a healthy and proportionate figure.

And as always, if you would like professional guidance, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at paulromasco@hotmail.com !

 

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Donate Blood!

I am always offering ways to improve health and performance. Improvement in these areas is an admirable goal for any individual.

My number one recommendation for everyone is to first improve their diet –replacing packaged foods with vegetables, fruits, and local meat and eggs.

However, an ideal diet, high in nutrient density, can have one unfavorable outcome: elevated blood iron levels.

High iron levels become an issue when an individual starts eating adequate protein but doesn’t participate in activities that result in bleeding. Historically, we would risk injury during hunting, defending ourselves from prey, or just living life with fewer comforts than we have now.

This is more problematic for men than women, as women have a natural method for disposing of excess iron through blood on a regular basis.

High iron levels in the blood can pose as an oxidative stress for the body. And, if you recall the concern of fats becoming oxidized, you’ll remember that it’s the process of oxidation that causes most of our health problems.

Many studies that claim red meat causes cancer, actually examine iron levels in the blood. It is well accepted that unnaturally high iron levels can indeed be a precipitating event in the formation of different cancers.

So, if we are shooting for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, and understand that grass-fed beef is the second healthiest protein source after seafood, what can we do to avoid the risks of over consuming iron?

Donate blood regularly!

This is something I have started recently and recommend for most healthy individuals, particularly men.

Not only can you help an individual that may be in dire need of blood, but you will also reduce the oxidative stress in your own body.

The American Red Cross allows you to donate blood once every eight weeks. This is because most donations will take about one pint of blood, which takes the body four to six weeks to fully replace. However, the plasma in your blood will be replaced within 24 hours so symptoms of fatigue should not last longer than this.

Donating blood is a stressor for the body, so you will need to curtail your exercise schedule accordingly. I usually donate blood on the Saturday before a recovery week. This means that I won’t have any scheduled exercise within 2 days of donating blood, and even when I do return to the gym on Monday, my workouts will be at half intensity for the following week.

Even though eating after giving blood can be beneficial, make sure you are still making healthy choices! Some donation sites still offer juices, cookies, or candy. I would recommend coming prepared with a piece of fruit or a protein smoothie.

Anemia, often caused by low iron levels, is common in our country and may be more problematic than “high-normal” levels. For this reason, I recommend getting a ferritin blood test before donating blood on a regularly basis.

On average, 10% of women nationally have anemia, while only about 2% of men have it. Because of this, I believe a regular blood donation schedule is far more beneficial for males.

Take a look at the effort you put into exercise. Consider how much time you spend shopping, cooking, and eating. Add up how much you spend on health insurance. Now ask yourself: is donating blood every few months to improve your health and possibly save a life, worth 30 minutes of slight discomfort?

Not every step we take to improve our health will directly help a fellow human – but this one will!

Blood-Donation

One Size Fits All

In exercise and fitness training, a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being a personal trainer and health coach.

Every single day, I encounter something new. Whether it’s a client’s specific goal, preference, injury, or condition, everyone has different wants and needs. This requires alterations, to say nothing of completely different programming.

My oldest client is 91. My youngest is 13. I have middle-aged clients trying to lose weight. I have young men playing soccer at division 1 colleges. I have new mothers that want to return to their favorite sports. I have seniors reversing rheumatoid arthritis and regaining balance and energy. Some of my clients want to get off a long list of medications. Others just want a fun and challenging workout a few days a week.

These differences between individuals contribute to my hesitation to recommend routines based entirely around weight machines.

Machines allow you to adjust the height of the seat, and sometimes make an adjustment for leg length, but beyond that, you’re pushing or pulling in a pre-determined range of motion. Different people will need to move differently based on their build and body mechanics. And, just as importantly, these types of actions won’t transfer as effectively to real life.

When you pick something up, push a heavy object, or take a very high step up, there is nothing guiding your body through space. Your muscles and joints will be working on their own, free of outside influence.

Machines are useful to isolate a muscle group, and help an individual develop a mind-body connection with that muscle, but they should not be where you spend the majority of your time.

I start most my clients with a series of assessments, performing different movements that are common in everyday life. Their ability to execute these actions, along with the goals they have stated, will specify exactly what we must do together.

These assessments usually consist of a gait analysis, squatting down into a chair and back up, bringing the arms overhead, and holding a plank or pushup position. But, as previously mentioned, I may omit some of these, use alternatives, or do something completely different based on the client.

The same mistake of using a “one-size fits all” approach is apparent in our nations nutritional recommendations. The USDA recommends that everyone consume 45-65% of their calories from carbs, 10 to 30% from protein, and 25 to 35% from fat.

This is akin to recommending that 15% of all calories come from dairy…or that 5% of calories come from peanuts. What if an individual is lactose intolerant or allergic to peanuts?

As evidenced by our current diabetes and obesity rates, most Americans cannot tolerate upwards of 50% of their calories coming from carbs. Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that if I average more than 40% carbs, more than 4 days a week, I start to gain fat, even in a calorie deficit.

Remember, carbs are fuel for high intensity activity, while dietary fat is truly essential for optimal health. After a lifetime of consuming more carbs than the body can safely store and burn, it loses its “insulin sensitivity”. This means that the sugars last too long in the blood (causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease) and are eventually forced into fat storage.

I work with my clients to find the most sustainable and healthy nutritional path for them. I base my nutritional recommendations not only on their dietary restrictions, activity level, and current conditions, but also their preferences and lifestyle.

I personally cook a few big meals on weekends so I have leftovers available on weekdays. However, I may have to suggest a different approach for clients that don’t have the time to, or interest in, trying this. Some of my clients are vegans or vegetarians that require more vitamin supplementation and creative protein options. If a client has sugar or chocolate cravings, we’ll work to find the healthiest options and optimal timing for indulgences.

Some foods are healthier than others, but I’ve never insisted that a client consume a certain food or avoid another. I merely work within their parameters, to find out what will guarantee them success in the long term.

These examples show the importance of individual personalization. Personal trainers, and health professionals of all kinds, must be able to tailor the theories learned through education, to best serve each client.

No two people are the same, so why should their exercise and diet be the same?

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Epidemiological Studies

I spend hours every day reading studies, articles, and researching health-related matters. When I find a new publication or exploration of a topic, I get excited to dive in. That being said, some studies and articles are more useful than others.

One type of study that is used frequently to make health claims and guide public policy is an “epidemiological study”. Epidemiology is the study of a set population, or group of people, to develop correlations or inferences.

The problem is that these do not prove anything. When we find a strong correlation between factors, we should use that as a starting point to conduct further research. An epidemiological study, by itself, should never be the basis for making health policies.

Let me give some examples.

Epidemiology suggests that soy is a healthy incorporation in a diet. This is due to the fact that Asian countries consume high amounts of soy on a regular basis and don’t experience the same health problems as Western nations.

However, no other factors are taken into account.

The soy that Asians consume has not been genetically modified to the same extent as ours, nor has it been grown in soils depleted of minerals. Also, most Asian dishes use fermented soy or the bean in its natural state.

Asian cultures consume more wild-caught fish (high in anti-inflammatory omega-3s), sea vegetables (loaded with vitamins and minerals), and opt for white rice, with less anti-nutrients and gut-damaging proteins than typical “heart-healthy” whole grains such as wheat and oatmeal.

Historically, Asians don’t consume as much processed food as Americans. They don’t cook in corn or canola oil, they don’t have packaged foods at every meal, and they don’t go out to eat as often.

And finally, they are far more active – walking, biking, and taking the stairs as part of daily life.

Because of these factors, we cannot confidently say that the consumption of soy in Asian countries is the cause of their better health.

When we look at soy mechanistically, we find phytoestrogens that have the potential to skew hormone levels, leading to fat-storage and growth of cancer cells. It is extremely high in inflammatory omega-6s. Take into consideration our growing practices, extensive refinement process, and consumption of soy byproducts, and soy consumption in the US no longer seems as safe.

Another example of epidemiology lacking substance:

In March of this year, there was a headline stating: “Animal protein-rich diets could be as harmful to health as smoking”. These news reports were based upon two studies: one epidemiological study of over 6000 adults and one study of mice in a laboratory.

The results of these studies suggested that a high protein diet (over 20% of calories) was “positively associated with diabetes-related mortality”. When you look at the numbers, one person in the “high-protein” group (consisting of over 1000 individuals) died from diabetes.

The lead researcher running this study owns a plant-derived protein supplement company…explaining the claim that only animal-protein is dangerous.

Some other issues:

There was no way to control for protein quality. There has never been a study showing negative outcomes from consumption of wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, or eggs from pasture-raised chickens.

The mice that experienced growth of cancer tumors were implanted with melanoma cells before the study began. Plus, the study found that high protein consumption was “not associated with all-cause, CVD, or cancer mortality”. Therefore, the protein-cancer correlation was in fact disproved.

Finally, diet was self-reported. The average participant reported consuming 1,800 calories a day…30% lower than the national average. This suggests major under-reporting.

So, even though the study was riddled with flaws, and actually found no increased risk from animal-protein consumption, the results were phrased to dissuade individuals from consuming meat.

To get back to my original point – epidemiology is used too often to prove a pre-existing belief, promote a political agenda, or increase profits.

By itself, epidemiology is no different than trying to claim that the number of birds flying over a particular region somehow determines cancer rates in that area.

Certainly we should use any research tactic available to ask questions and form a hypothesis…but ultimately, we need to examine issues in every way possible.

Once we’ve investigated mechanisms, done cohort studies and some “food-diary” studies with pictures, it’s time to form a hypothesis and conduct a blinded, crossover, metabolic ward trial to draw some real conclusions!
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