Category: Science

Why can’t I lift as much as that guy?

At an event I attended and presented at this weekend, I was watching a friend of mine compete at powerlifting.  He did great considering he took 1st in his category but one thing that struck me was when he was squatting and benching, how much farther the bar was travelling than some of his competitors due to him being quite tall and narrow.  This was especially true with the females, who were using a very wide grip (which is perfectly legal for powerlifting) but had massive torsos and huge legs so the bar did not have to travel nearly as far.  Even the other guys were quite a bit shorter and stockier, which tends to be the trend with power lifting.

So the inner geek in me decided to do some math and see if there was a big proportional difference between what my friend did and for example, what pound for pound another competitor would do if they were simply a different shape or the bar didn’t travel as far.  There’s some very interesting results, but first I’m going to embrace my inner geek and go through some very basic math and physics for you:

A Joule is a unit of energy or work that factors in weight, distance and time and gives us a formula to derive the work done moving one Newton of force through a distance of one meter.  We’re going to assume that for our purposes today, the bar that they were using was travelling at the same speed for everyone.  I thought about getting into acceleration and stuff like that but my head started to hurt thinking about all of the parameters.  So, today let’s assume that the time taken to lift is a constant 1-second per foot of distance for everyone.

For a squat, we need to factor in the fact that the load is on the back, and that means that the weight involved is not only what is on the bar, but the bodyweight of the person in question as well.  They are exerting Joules into the floor.  So my friend puts 100 kilograms on his back at a bodyweight of 85 kilos for a total of 185.  He drops down and then lifts it a total of three feet or one meter over three seconds.

J = 185 * 1 / 9 for a total of 20.55 joules

Competitor number two lifts the same weight – 100 kilograms, but only lifts it two feet or .66 meters over two seconds (because it doesn’t travel as far).

J = 185 * .4356 / 4 for a total of 20.14 joules

So they are roughly the same.  Not a big deal in terms of the amount of force.  However, when another parameter changes, let’s see what happens:

My friend suddenly lifts the bar the three foot distance, but over the same two seconds of time.

J = 185 * 1 / 4 for a total of 46.25 joules

This is 229% more power generated than what the previous person did.  Simply because he lifts the bar further over the same amount of time.  For the second competitor to generate the equivalent amount of Joules, considering that he can only lift the bar two feet over two seconds, he would have to lift 424 kilograms – over 900 pounds!

We can really see how factors like acceleration; displacement and velocity come into play, especially when it comes to lifting things.  This is a very simple example for you not to take anything for granted when generating power on a bar or lever.  That person lifting significant amounts of weight can generate a surprising amount of power, which is the whole idea behind power lifting in the first place.  Hope you enjoyed this little display of how physics can be applied into proper lifting, but also consider things like how far the bar is travelling and at what speed when it comes to your own lifting.

Also, increasing your strength is a very slow process and should be.  Don’t get discouraged when you see guys in the gym lifting a lot more than you are.  Likely they have been doing those lifts for a lot longer, and have other factors into play (like the above) that make it a bit easier for them.  Do what your body allows and is designed to do properly, and keep everything healthy to stay strong and fit another day.  Think about the goal and then just keep moving towards it.  Hope you enjoyed this and feel free to comment and subscribe.

Why is Nutrition so Complicated?

In my line of work one of the things that probably guides the results of people more than anything else is proper eating habits.  Just like exercise, this means eating in a way that your body will respond towards reaching your goals of changes in body composition, whether that be losing bodyfat, gaining weight, gaining lean mass, or growing a vestigial tail.  For the vast majority of people they think this means scale weight.  First of all, here’s a tip – throw your bloody scale out of the window.  Right now.  Scale weight literally means very little in the world of body composition.  For health reasons like obesity, you can certainly consider it but for most of the general population who just want to lose some body fat and look better naked it is a useless tool.  So let’s talk about eating in a way that will help you get healthy first.

The general goal of my clients is to increase their lean mass and reduce their level of body fat.  However, usually what I try to start with is simply getting them healthier and feeling better and 99% of the time, the body composition changes as a nice side effect.  There are a few key things that basically anyone can do in order to accomplish this that I try to get my clients to do, and they are actually quite simple but require a bit of discipline and time management.  And don’t worry; this isn’t your typical “eat 6 times a day and get 1 gram of protein per pound” crap.  Let’s take it from the beginning:

1)      Track your intake.  There are so many free tracking programs out there right now there is really no excuse not to be doing this.  I have two free apps downloaded on my phone I can update anytime, and there are probably dozens of free web sites that will allow you to simply track your calories and macronutrient ratios every day.  It takes ten minutes a day once you know what you are doing and this is absolutely vital to your long-term success in body composition.  Do you know how many times I hear “I don’t have time” or “I need to start doing this”?  Garbage.  If you can’t do this every day and your body composition is a priority then you’re lying to yourself or you are a terrible time manager.

2)      Figure out what your body reacts to.  I’m a believer that we all have food insensitivities, and some of us have full blow allergies as well.  With the amount of evidence out there right now about people’s reactions to things like gluten you can’t help but think that most people have a bad reaction to it.  So if you’re following point #1, all you have to do is make a note on how what you eat makes you feel.  If you eat something, and you immediately feel sleepy, or an hour later you are bloated, or (to be more extreme) something gives you bad gas or bowel movements odds are that your body didn’t like it.  So stop eating it and see if that goes away.  Pretty simple, right?  This might mean you have to give up eggs, or gluten – but you will feel a lot better, and this leads to more energy, which means your body can deal with other things, like getting fitter.

3)      Clean everything up.  When my wife was ill we for a time went on a fully non-inflammatory diet.  This meant no sugar, wheat, dairy, soy, nightshade vegetables, tomatoes, eggs or red meat.  So basically you’re eating lean protein, lots of fruits and veggies, and things without any processing or chemicals.  Things that once came from the earth and were good quality bioavailable foods.  Amazingly enough, after about two weeks we both felt amazing, slept better and had more energy – plus I dropped a few pounds and shed some body fat.  For most people you certainly don’t have to be this extreme, but if you simply start with cutting out sugar and anything else that makes your body react in an adverse way then you’re doing well.  If you are following point #1 and #2 you will hopefully know what you need to get rid of and where your bad habits are so it makes it easier.  You just need a bit of discipline.  Often once you cut something out you don’t even notice it’s gone.

4)      Hit your numbers consistently.  This means getting more consistent with your calorie numbers and macronutrient numbers every day for at least 2 weeks, and then finding out if you are heading in the right direction or not.  Most people eat barely at all during the week because they skip breakfast, barely eat lunch and then have a massive dinner because they are starving.  Then they are home on weekends and have a couple of days where they increase their calories by 50% or more and add things like alcohol.  No wonder they can’t lose weight or gain it.  Many of my clients when I tell them how much I want them to eat claim they simply can’t eat that much or don’t have time.  Again, I go back to point #1 – poor time management and priorities.  If this is something you really want, then just put the habits in place.  This is also just a good general health tip to not stress your digestive system.  If you can do this for a period of weeks (not days) you will be able to see if your body is reacting and then tweak things in order to head in the right direction.

5)      Be real about your habits.  If you drink too much, stop drinking for a while.  If you snack at night, find a new habit that prevents it.  There are TONS of food addicts out there who actually have a serious problem because food can trigger emotions through hormonal response.  This requires more than just tracking and cleaning up – it requires changing the way you think about food and how you deal with situations in everyday life.  Change your patterns and get yourself thinking about food as fuel and energy – not a warm hug when your partner is ignoring you or a stress reliever when you have had a rough day.  Get some other strategies in place.  Once in a while, it’s fine – and won’t completely derail your goals.  But if your choices are bad, have a serious conversation with yourself about why, or find a partner that will help you out.

6)      Don’t stress about what you’re eating.  If you are tracking, eating real good quality bioavailable foods, not eating things your body doesn’t like and hitting your goal numbers then believe it or not, what you eat doesn’t really matter in the long run.  Eat things you enjoy.  Eat things that make your body feel alive, because at the end of the day, food is energy and forms the basis for your body to produce great things or feel crappy.  The choice is up to you.  100 calories of broccoli isn’t the same as 100 calories of Frosted Flakes.  And you will notice that by the way your body reacts to it.  However, if you indulge one day, don’t beat yourself up.  Get back on track right away and just start again.  You’re still better off than where you were before.

Please, please, please don’t ask your trainer for a “diet”.  Your trainer is not a dietician.  If you have health issues or want a specific food outline, go to the people who have taken many years of education about it, not somebody who got their knowledge from a diet they were given themselves by someone and thinks it applies to everyone or got it out of the latest magazine.  I can almost guarantee you if your trainer gave you a diet that this is precisely the case.  Plus, if you follow something for a little while and then go back to the way you were before, you’re going to go back to the way you were before.  To make a change, it has to be permanent and consistent, just like your exercise program.  Remember, we want long term permanent change – not a quick fix.  The reason so many people fail on “diets” is because they never put into place the good habits that will move them towards their goals, just like with exercise.  People want results immediately, and aren’t willing to give their body the time it needs in order to get healthier.  Stop being one of those people and resolve to do better for a period of 4-6 months.  I guarantee at the end of that period you will look and feel remarkably different.

I hope that this helps you think more about what you are doing and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.  Comments and questions are also welcome.        

Why is Physics Important?

Just like any building, your body is a structure.  It has lots of beams, levers, pulleys, and other things that make it work and move around in space.  Physics is the study of matter  if we break down human movement, it is based on principles of physics.  By understanding this side of things, we can affect how our bodies deal with exercise, resistance, force and therefore its improvement.

I’m an advocate that trainers should always be trying to learn.  And this doesn’t mean just reading blogs and articles over and over again.  Even journal studies only go so far.  I’m talking about books.  Really thick ones.  Not ones with lots of pictures (unless it is an anatomy book).  My personal library is pretty big but it doesn’t even come close to some of the higher-level people in my industry.  As professionals we should all always try to improve our craft.  One of the problems in my industry is that there are too many people in it who think they know everything just from reading some articles and taking a weekend course or two.

Many times trainers neglect to even think about minor things when it comes to how they apply force to a person.  Things like jumping, moving weights farther away from an axis of motion, and even speeding up a movement can have a real effect on the joints involved in the process.  The list goes on:  inertia, momentum, kinetic energy, velocity, acceleration and torque.  By being aware of these things as trainers, I believe that we can give people a reduced risk of injury both while doing the exercise and in the future, and also a much more responsible exercise experience while they are performing whatever they want to perform.  We can make people stronger, faster, and more able to deal with the forces that are being applied against us.  But first, just like when with a client; we have to start with the basics of movement and how things work.

In the future, this is what I will be discussing in a series of articles designed to not only help regular people, but also other trainers think outside the box a bit when it comes to their program design.  For example, some trainers will consider things like tempo, but not have any idea how it affects movement – and this applies both in the concentric and eccentric phases of movement.  We can make a very minor change in hand placement or placement of load and affect a whole different spectrum of movement.  We can use the laws of nature to our advantage and really make a difference in the physical realm for our clients and each other.  I’m still learning as I go myself, but I’m doing this in the hopes that we can all learn something and therefore help more people.

Let’s as exercise professionals always keep a couple of things in mind:  The first is to DO NO HARM just like a doctor is supposed to.  Be responsible with people because they are fragile beings who have paid a lot of money to be helped, not harmed.  The second is to make things appropriate for the client at the level they are at, and the level that they want to achieve.  There is no sense turning a grandmother into a  powerlifter or a hurdler when she only needs to be able to pick up 50 pounds safely.

So I just hope I can help open some eyes and feel free to comment and follow me if you’re interested.  Until then keep learning and growing!

Why Can’t I Lose Weight?

After being in the fitness industry for well over a decade, I have seen many people join a facility and attempt to accomplish whatever goal they set out to do.  More often than not this is losing weight.  Weight loss is the number one goal of new members joining a fitness facility, with the statistic being about 70% of members trying to accomplish it.  How many of them actually succeed is another picture entirely.  We have all seen the television shows like “The Biggest Loser” or similar shows where people lose dozens of pounds in a short time and think that we can do the same.  I’ll reveal some truths about those shows in another article, but to begin with I’m going to give you the simplest, most effective way to lose weight and keep it off for the rest of your life:

Exercise a little bit more.  Eat a little bit smarter.

That’s it.  No fad diets, no supplements and no tricks.  It really is that easy.  However, since I’m sure a lot of readers are scratching their heads right now I’ll break it down in terms of numbers that are easy to follow.

In order to lose about 30 pounds over a period of time, a person needs to burn an additional 105,000 calories.  Generally this is best accomplished by both adding exercise into the equation and also creating a caloric deficit through your diet because if you try to do only one or the other, it creates a lot more difficulty, as the math will show.  To lose this 30 pounds at the rate of 1 pound per week (taking 7 months total to take the weight off) you need to lose 3500 calories per week, or 500 per day.  In order to burn 500 calories per day exercising, the average 175 pound female or 250 pound male needs to exercise approximately 45 minutes – every day.  This isn’t realistic for most of us.  Or, you can eat 500 calories less per day and accomplish the same goal.  However, in my experience most of us aren’t eating enough calories daily anyway, so removing 500 calories from our diet daily isn’t realistic either.  I have actually had clients eat an additional 500 calories a day and begin to lose weight, because their burning mechanisms were so shut down it took that much to fire them back up again.  Also, there is more and more evidence coming through research that calorie intake isn’t the contributor to weight gain or loss that we thought it was – hormones have a huge amount to do with it.

However, if you take 250 calories per day  – which is 45 minutes 3-4 times per week – through exercise and 250 per day through your diet then all of a sudden 1 pound per week will begin to come off.  This is basic physiology, but then there is the key that most people neglect:

The exercise has to be more than you were previously doing already, and you need to have a proper baseline established for your caloric intake first and subtract from there.

Nutrition is the most important part of any weight loss equation, so the first step for any weight loss client of mine is to make sure they are eating a consistent amount of calories every day.  If someone averages 1500 calories six out of seven days during the week and then one day on the weekend goes out and eats 3000, their body will simply store that extra surplus because it’s energy demands only account for 1500 calories used per day.  If this same person ate 3000 calories daily on a regular basis, it wouldn’t be a problem because the body would use it.  Establishing a baseline amount is very important, and then sticking to it is even more so.  There are many free tools for tracking this online, and it takes about five minutes a day.  The big key here is consistency.  Once you have that baseline established and can stick to it, then you can decrease the calories per day.  Believe it or not, most people don’t eat enough.  As a general starting point, multiply your goal weight (what you want to weigh) times ten.  This will tell you the amount you will need – at that weight – just to live, breathe and walk.  Exercise adds another element to that, but in order to keep it simple you can begin there.  Just to give you an example, my daily caloric intake as a 36-year-old male at currently 176 pounds is 2600 calories a day – and I’m losing weight.  This amount would be double many of my female clients’ intakes that are trying to lose weight.

Now what about the exercise side?  It accounts for the other side of the coin, but also brings about other benefits like a healthy heart, joint strength and even looking good with less clothing on.  Again, the key here is to figure out what you are already doing, and then add in an extra 250 calories per day, or 500 every other day which is about 45 minutes of exercise.  For example, if I walk my dog at a moderate pace every morning for 30 minutes and that’s it, I need to add in another 45 minutes every other day and it will take care of that side of the coin.  I’m a huge advocate of strength training over cardio, especially for beginners, but it is important to simply find something you like, that fits in your weekly schedule and that you can burn at least 500 calories an hour doing.  But here’s where most people don’t follow through: consistency.  They will do extra exercise for a couple of days, or a week or two but never go through a long term point of change.  I’m talking about six months to a year where they add in 3-4 workouts a week.  This gives you the required calorie burn in order to actually make a significant change.

Obviously there are finer details, but this is a good place to start.  Get consistent, make a change on a regular basis in both your nutrition and exercise programs, and the weight will start to come off.  It really is just that simple.  Why complicate something that isn’t?