Category: Article Posts

Scary Secrets of the Fitness Industry

Most of the fitness industry is based on sales and marketing, not getting you actual results.

Kind of scary, huh?

As I’ve stated before, there is a lot of marketing garbage that most fitness companies use in order to get people to spend money and not get anywhere.  This is how profits are made.  If people who owned gym memberships used them frequently, gyms would go out of business.  Their pricing model is even based on it being JUST expensive enough to have one and not cancel it for years, even though you never use it.

And how many fitness gadgets have you purchased over the years hoping that one would finally get you to be consistent, just to order another one that’s almost the same for Christmas a year later?  An Apple Watch, a FitBit and a Garmin all do almost the same things when it comes to exercise recording.  But some of you probably one of each.

I’ve compiled a very basic and sometimes downright frightening list of stuff to watch out for, either in person, on social media or especially through careful marketing tactics:

viprpic

It’s a stick.  With handles.  Not kidding. 

Most personal trainers are very under-qualified to design proper exercise programs.

Most commercial chain gyms sell a lot of personal training, simply due to the fact that sales of training are pure profit for them.  Unfortunately, this has also led to some companies (and any major chain does this frequently) having trainers on the floor who haven’t even taken a certification course yet and simply “know how to work out”.  In fact, this is how they are recruited to work there.

In my career, I have worked with every level of the spectrum, from a high school dropout who was recruited to be a trainer because of her looks, to a kinesiology grad who actually couldn’t coach someone through a bench press or name any of the muscles involved beyond “the chest”.  Even those who have one certificate have had about 25 hours of classroom instruction, which is less than one course for one semester at any post-secondary institution.

However, some trainers go above and beyond this and are constantly looking for new educational opportunities – these are the ones you should be investing your money in.  There are some brilliant people out there who really care about their craft and are willing to take the time to really learn the why behind what they do to people.  Seek these people out and you will reap the rewards.

Don’t just accept any old trainer that a gym throws at you, because frequently it is just “who is available?”.  Your money should go towards what you are paying for – quality, qualified attention with proper program design.  If you decide to get training at a chain gym, buyer beware.

That ideal physique online or in magazines doesn’t really exist.

Having trained many fitness competitors and bodybuilders in the past decades, I know a lot of methods to help people drop fat fast and get more defined so they look great under lights or in front of a camera.  The trouble is that absolutely none of these methods are in the slightest bit healthy or realistic for most people and require a ton of restricting.

When a competitor is so lean that they are about to step on stage, they typically have manipulated their sodium and water levels dangerously and are on little to no carbohydrates, sometimes for up to weeks at a time.  They will also gain back massive amounts of weight in the form of water and carbohydrate after competing, sometimes up to 10% of their body weight in a matter of two weeks.  This is not anything close to what an average person should go through.

When you see someone in a magazine, they are typically not this bad, but are not too far from it – airbrushing takes care of anything else.  Never, ever look at a person in a magazine at more than a model and believe the promise that if you follow their “super effective” diet then you can look like them unless you are willing to suffer through the same regimen that they do.  There are also trainers out there who swear up and down that if you follow their “magic program” you can look just like them, which is ridiculous.

Instagram is rampant with this.  What the girls and guys there don’t tell you is that their photos are highly filtered and it took them about 20 shots to get the perfect angle.  Don’t think for one second that they stepped into the gym looking like that.

You really don’t need a gym membership at all

I design workouts for clients all the time using simple bodyweight movements, with no equipment and very little time invested.  If you are truly motivated to make a change, it takes nothing to put on your shoes and go for a fast walk, do some simple bodyweight squats, modified push-ups and mild planks and believe it or not – that’s a workout!

The things that gyms have is lots of fancy equipment that 75% of which you never need to touch and for some people, they enjoy the social aspect and group exercise, which is great.  But it’s not anything that you really need in order to start the process of getting healthier.  And choose weight training over cardio – every time.  Walking and the like is a good start for most people, but once you can transition into strength, do it and stay there.

As I said in one of my previous articles, if you can just clean up your eating and get in 30 minutes of (extra) activity (ideally strength work of some type) 4 days a week, you will start to see some significant changes.  You can work every muscle in your body easily with bodyweight and resistance bands if needed.  Once you are in the habit, a small investment can get you a really decent home gym without having to worry about lineups or travel (or monthly expense).

Very few supplements have been proven to do anything useful and are mostly a waste of money. 

Often I’m asked “which protein powder is better?” or “I heard that x is good for you.”.  According to scientific research, and not the studies done by the supplement companies themselves, of course, there is little evidence to show that any supplements will actually make a big difference for you physically when it comes down to quick changes.

There are exceptions to this, but when you think of protein powders (eat animal protein or vegan options), creatine or other supplements and one type of brand versus the other, the differences between them are at best negligible.  You can save a lot of money by going for something less expensive without the marketing hype behind it.

And for athletic performance, there are very tried and true methods to increase the ability to perform for any workout and recover from a workout.  We just tend to believe marketing hype and “research” from companies like Gatorade and Nutrabolics.  More money = more ads.  It does not equal better results.  For people strapped for time, these things can be worthwhile and sometimes I actually recommend them based on the person involved and their situation.  But please, don’t make it your first choice and don’t fall for marketing hype or ads in magazines, or what is recommended by the latest “fitness pro”.

fitnessmodel1

This guy will tell you that you can look like him.  You can’t.  Without lots of drugs and ten years of training.  

That really fit person has been training that way for a very long time.

Most really fit people that you see winning races, have ripped abs and big muscles or just look great in an outfit have more often than not been going through years of exercise and eating properly (or had artificial help – but I’m really trying not to go there for this article).

Sometimes you will get people who were athletes when they were younger and they tend to respond very well to exercise, but for the majority of people just stepping into a gym, it is a matter of years to see big changes that will stick with you for a lifetime.

And, if you have never been active before you need to give your body time to adapt to the physical changes you are going to put it through.  This only adds to my previous posts that training is a long term solution and that you need to give yourself at least a year of consistent training for about 3-5 hours per week at a minimum to see long term results.

If you have a friend, co-worker or relative who is really fit, ask them how long they have been regularly working out for.  The answer will probably be for many years.  That’s how you get results for life.

There are no quick-fix solutions (that really work) short term that isn’t incredibly unhealthy or dangerous or requires surgery.

Going on a crash diet?  Your body will pack on whatever you lost plus reinforcements.  Desperate and going for bariatric surgery?  Have fun not being able to eat properly or absorb proper nutrients – for the rest of your life.  Going to train super hard for that sport or event because you started really late?  Risk of injury increases exponentially.  I can’t say it enough, but I’m going to again.

There are NO quick fixes when it comes to the human body.  It takes time, effort and proper guidance to get to where you want to be, and how long it takes depends on what your body will allow and how effective your program is.  Your body is not stupid.  It will tell you when anything is too hard when it is not happy and cutting something out, depleting it or taking it beyond its capacity is asking for trouble somehow.

Give yourself proper planning, time and apply things consistently and you will get there.  Instead of months, it might take years, but the only way you’re NOT going to get there is by stopping.

Why doesn’t the industry want you to know this stuff?  Because then you won’t spend your money on supplements, poor personal training, and cash grab quick-fix solutions.  Don’t fall for it.  Get into a habit, make it a permanent change and give yourself time.  Being healthy isn’t something you do for a little while.  It should be something that you do for the rest of your life in order to live longer, healthier, not have aches and pains and be on medications and be a good example for your family and friends.  Feel free to comment if you disagree.

What Fit People Do That You Can Too

I reinstalled my Instagram recently and while it is a great time waster, it is largely useless unless you want to look at pictures of people posing at the gym, food or inspirational memes.  If I didn’t have a business, I simply wouldn’t bother with social media at all.

selfiememe

However, one thing I do have a lot of on my feed is fitness personalities, and most of them men and women who love to post selfies showing off various body parts.  I’ve written before about how this is not real life and how very few members of the population will ever be able to (or should) achieve a defined abdomen, bulging muscles and be able to look like they could hop onto the pages of a fitness magazine tomorrow.  And frankly, why would you want to put yourself through that type of suffering in order to just look good for some likes on social media?

Then there is the athletic side of the equation.  I’m not talking about your high paid professionals, I’m talking about the average amateur person competing for a national or possibly even Olympic ranking within their respective chosen sport.

They still manage to look incredibly fit and perform at a very high level of athleticism consistently, day in and day out.  Genetics play some part in this, as does guidance from good (and bad) coaches and parents over their lifespan.

There are some things that these people do that brings them success that anyone can do, even if you work long hours and have other things going on in your life (like we all do).  Here’s the trick – follow these little advice nuggets and you too can have an excellent physique, be healthy well into your later years and also do it without losing massive amounts of time for other important things.

They train consistently and make it a priority

At the gym I work out of, there are regulars who come in at least 3-4 times a week like clockwork.  Some of them are well into their 50’s and even 60’s and look fantastic.  You can almost set your watch by the times they come in because it is part of their routine and they obviously prioritize it.

Anyone who looks fantastic or performs at a very high level rarely (if ever) got there quickly.  Olympic athletes train consistently for over ten years before getting to that level.  Endurance athletes usually take about 5-7 years to build a proper base for performance at endurance sports.  Professional athletes have been doing it since childhood.

Even that girl who is doing the photo shoot with airbrushed abs still worked hard 5-6 days a week for a period of many months before taking their clothes off.  There is something to be said for simply sticking to a program day after day and prioritizing effort – this is something that will get results over time.  As my mantra often is, consistency wins the day.

Another thing about these people is that it is high on their priority lists and part of their daily lifestyle.  I know guys with families who get up at 4am to train, work full time jobs and still manage to be home for dinner.  Some people train shorter amounts but 2 times per day.  It is possible if you prioritize it.  Amateur athletes often have at least one job and sometimes two (I had three in college for a time), but still manage to get their workouts in daily.  I’ve written before about time management and this is a prime example of it.

They realize that nutrition is really, really important

Any athlete prioritizes their food and eats for function, not emotional happiness.  They don’t drink alcohol or consume excess sugar as a general rule.  They focus on macronutrient profiles and eating things that aren’t processed and packaged.

While there are times when they will have a good solid meal that isn’t about nutrition, it is the exception, not the rule and probably happens less than once a week and is geared towards either reloading glycogen stores or giving themselves some relief from fanatical eating.  They prepare meals ahead of time and take them to work.  All quite easy things to do – people just don’t prioritize it.  Taking an extra ten minutes in the morning to pack lunch means one less press of the snooze button to most people.

Some fitness people and bodybuilders overdo it on supplements, but sometimes that is necessary for them to hit their macronutrient goals due to time.  What is a better option, getting in the macronutrients you need or skipping a meal altogether?  Food is fuel – and if you put crappy fuel in, then you’re going to get crappy output.  This one piece can make or break a fitness program.

They know that recovery is another component of fitness 

Sleep, taking rest days and listening to your body are all things that any athlete needs to be successful.  Having good habits like going to bed early and keeping to a schedule that sustains your training is a priority.  My clients have programmed rest and recovery days and if they need extra time off, they take it.

Things like massage and even physio or other recovery related appointments can also be important parts of this in order to maintain proper performance.  As long as you are consistent (see point 1) you won’t have to worry about it.  Skipping social engagements (or leaving early) so that you can rest because you need to train in the morning is a good example of this type of prioritizing.  If you want to perform at a high level, you need to be disciplined.

arnold

One classic example I remember was a high level triathlete who used her off day to get a massage and then do her recovery work so she could train hard the rest of the week for 3-4 hours a day.  Recovery doesn’t have to mean doing nothing, it can be doing what you need to do to prepare for the next day.  Again, release work and stretching/mobility movements can be done typically anywhere and takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes at most.  Make it part of the day.

They have a plan and stick to it      

I have a client who is a successful marathon runner who has his plan laid out for the next year and a half, culminating in doing a full Ironman triathlon in 2020.  Sure, his training will get modified along the way and we have many sub goals set between now and then, but the long term plan is in place.

My job as his trainer and coach is to make sure he gets there and performs at a high level.  Your goals might be different but having a laid out path is always better for focus than just going at it without guidance.  You can feel free to change it, but you always need a path to start with.

I can’t count the amount of times people walk into a gym thinking they want to do something and then get confused, lose momentum and then just stop rather than figuring out and planning.  This can be done in four week chunks, expanded to three months, then extrapolated over an entire year quite easily if you have a good coach.

Likely in your profession or business you have annual goals you need to achieve – why not in your fitness as well?  Plan long term and give yourself a realistic view of what you can achieve.  Don’t rush results, because odds are it isn’t going to happen.  A good coach can help with this type of thing.

I only point these things out because people sometimes need perspective.  When you see people who perform well or look fantastic there is a good reason for it, and many of them are right above you on this page.  They didn’t get there overnight, and neither will you.

Anyone can start at any time and make a commitment to themselves to make some simple changes to start going down that path.  Like I always say, it is never too late to get started.  Don’t get discouraged because it doesn’t happen overnight – just remember, that athlete or even that random Instagram person never, ever got there quickly and neither will you.

How to (Re)Start Running for Spring

Ah, spring.  Here in my city of Ottawa we received over 3 meters of snow (that’s 9 feet!) through the winter this year.  Only the most dedicated (or crazy depending on your interpretation) runners were outside in that!

Inevitably what I see every year is a bunch of people who hung up their running shoes when the snow started flying 5 months ago.  Yes, you may have done some short treadmill running during the winter, but odds are that most of you got in about half of the volume you’re normally used to (or less) over that time.  This means that flying right back into a normal schedule when it gets nice outside can be a recipe for disaster.

My business always sees an influx of knee, hip and ankle related issues around May.  Usually because people decided they could go right back to what they were doing five months ago.  And they shouldn’t.

running 2

Want to avoid that?  Here’s some simple tips for getting back into spring for experienced AND new runners:

New Runners:  Start with walk/run

When you run, the main difference from walking is that your body has both feet leaving the ground for a split second (or jumping).  This changes the forces involved from mostly vaulting over stiff knees (walking) to absorbing and stabilizing with a bent knee (running).  Walking forgives things like bad stability much more than running and gives the muscles a much needed break when someone may not have optimal form (as most new runners don’t).

Running requires muscles to absorb and stabilize loads repeatedly.  Just for some perspective, if you’re running a 5k and take 35 minutes, and your gait is 72 foot strikes per minute, that’s over 2500 repetitions each leg and it’s corresponding several dozen muscles has to absorb and control each of them.

As with any exercise, progression is important and adapting to load is as well.  Therefore, one minute of fast walking and then one minute of running is a good start.  You can then build up the time running once you have accomplished step two, which is:

New/Returning Runners: Focus on form at the beginning, not speed or time.

If you’re new or getting back into form, then you may want to work on HOW you are striking the ground at the beginning.  Running should be much more of a forefoot/midfoot strike with a rebound, rather than heel striking.  Are your feet relatively aligned to your hips and knees?  Do your ankles have proper support and balance laterally (side to side?).  Do you have the right shoes, or do you need new ones?  These are all questions to ask yourself when spring hits.

Many times, back when I worked at the Running Room I saw new runners pick up very low stability cushioning shoes and had to caution them away, because at the start you need that extra support until your muscles acclimatize to the forces involved.  And don’t be afraid to spend the money!  (PROTIP:  Find the shoes that work then look online for last years’ model – often they are half price for the exact same thing).

running 1

Returning Runners:  Figure out your weekly mileage goal – then reduce it by 20% to start off.

Often I see experienced runners who have been doing 20km a week during the winter suddenly head outside and start back doing 30-40km per week right away.  Gradual progression is necessary.  If you hadn’t benched more than 150 pounds for several months and then loaded 300 pounds on a bar, your body would not be happy.  Running carries the same necessary progression.

Whatever your goal is (marathon, half, etc.) go to the target weekly mileage and work BACKWARDS.  Then, when you hit the first 2-4 weeks reduce it even more and ease into the mileage.  Risk of overuse injury drops greatly as a result.  You can find good progression programs online just about anywhere – use them.

New/Returning Runners:  Check your ego.

Another big thing I see is far too lofty ambitions too fast.  New runners have a progression – finish a 5k.  Then maybe shoot up to 10k first season.  Next year maybe a ½ marathon is possible if you do it right.  Oh, but my friend did their first half marathon in less than six months of training!  Yes, and now they have tape all over their legs and a standing appointment with a physio.

Experienced runners, you think it’s a good idea to run a ½ marathon in 12 weeks of training just because you did one last year?  Nope.  Be realistic with your intentions and check your ego.  Otherwise you’re on the fast track to getting hurt.  Probably again because you did the same thing last year.  If you don’t have time to train properly, adjust what event you’re doing or lower your time goal/mileage.

If someone comes to me and wants to run a marathon, I’m all for it.  But if you’re new to running you need two years of progressed training to do it properly.  That’s a simple fact and you can ignore the laws of progression all you want, but you will pay for it in the end.

Now, those of you who have been diligent over the winter on the treadmill, these guidelines may not apply.  What I usually tell people when starting to run outside again if they have been inside all winter is to cut back slightly and watch your pace, because this tends to increase when not on a treadmill, plus the added factors of slight inclines and declines can make a difference.  Otherwise have at it and continue your program.

If you want any more information or just want to ask a question you can reach me at strengthrehabottawa@gmail.com or through Facebook or Instagram any time.  Hope you have a fantastic spring – if it ever arrives!

Don’t Rush Back

If you follow sports at all, you know who Lebron James is.  He is likely one of the most athletic and skilled sports figures of all time and has been for over 15 years.  One of the major factors in his long career is that even with among the highest amounts of minutes played in the NBA, he gets injured very rarely.  In fact, in 15 years the longest he had been out due to injury (until recently) was two weeks due to a sore back.

Recently he experienced what has been called a strained groin muscle. This is a common injury for many of us, but especially sports participants who have to do high velocity movement like basketball, hockey and football.  He’s been out of playing or even practicing for 4 weeks and it has just been reported that he will be out likely at least another two.  Suggested recovery time for an injury of this nature is 6-8 weeks so this is right on track.

My point is that this individual has access to the best rehabilitative care in the world.  He has trainers, physios, any therapeutic thing he wants all day every day.  He has access to literally the best of the best.  Yet still he takes a long time to heal from an injury.

Rushing back from hurting yourself is something I see a lot in my practice.  Typically someone hurts themselves and then does about half of what they need to in order to return to their activity and then gets really surprised when the injury either recurs (and is usually much worse) or they hurt something else that is linked to the original injury.

how-to-maintain-strength-and-muscle-when-youre-injured-stack

The typical timeline requires rest, therapy and then slow easing back into movement and activity.  It depends on the severity of the injury obviously, but if one of the most athletic people on the planet still needs 6 weeks to recover from a strain with access to the best therapy in the world, a regular participant has no business returning to activity having done basic physiotherapy and resting for a couple of weeks.

Here are some typical timelines for injuries I see often in my practice (according to the Mayo clinic):

Sprained hamstring:  Grade 1 is 3-4 weeks, Grade 2 is 6-8 weeks.

Herniated Disc in the back:   6 weeks.

Rotator cuff surgery:  4 to 6 months.

ACL surgery in the knee:  6 to 9 months.

Concussion: Anywhere from 2-9 months depending on the severity.

This is also taking into consideration that you are doing all of the things you need to do in order to heal the injury.  Now, I get to help these people after they have completed physiotherapy which usually makes my part of the job much easier – if they have done what they needed to do in physio.

The best way you can help yourself to make sure this doesn’t happen again is:

  • Find a competent therapist (not a cookie cutter hook you up to the machine and walk away therapist).
  • Do your exercises daily (they exist for a reason – you can also do your own homework easily for modifications or progressions).
  • Figure out your new limitations (often after surgery scar tissue will not allow the same range of motion or strength through a range of motion).
  • Find out why it happened in the first place (was it a fluke accident like a fall, or an overuse injury).
  • Strengthen the supporting muscles around the joint as much as possible (this needs to be done with proper progressions and regressions)
  • Re-establish range and proper movement before re-entering the activity (ie don’t rush back – the whole point of this article).

physiotherapy-exercises

The injury recovery process can be frustrating to active people but unfortunately, the one thing I can tell you after dealing with hundreds of them over the years is:  if you try to rush, you’ll make it worse.  After all, if elite athletes need to take the time, so do you.  If you take the time now to make things fully better, you’ll be able to enjoy your activity longer and hopefully never have the injury get worse or recur.

If you need any more details or are interested in exploring further, feel free to reach out to me via email at strengthrehabottawa@gmail.com.  I’m happy to help!