My gym, 10 Fitness, partners with a personal training company called Custom Built. Occasionally, they host free workshops. I attended one of those sessions recently, and I wanted to share with you what they taught us. I’m going to relay as much of the information as I can without editorial comment, and then I’ll follow up with how I plan to change my approach based on what was presented.
There were several presenters introduced throughout the afternoon’s session speaking on topics of nutrition, resistance training, cardio workouts, balance, and motivation. The overarching theme of the session was that fitness comes from a multi-faceted approach that takes into account all of these things. Focusing on (or omitting) any of them will prevent or retard success.
Click on through to read the full review of the seminar.
In the words of Lester Jackson, the Custom Built Personal Training regional manager who was the featured speaker, “People tend to work harder and not smarter. Too many times, I see folks in the gym working hard at the wrong things.” To summarize his main points as succinctly as possible, Mr. Jackson encouraged us to lead balanced, healthy lives. To do this requires powering our body with what he calls “Energy Foods,” getting regular exercise, taking time to relax and do something that we truly enjoy, and getting the sleep necessary to allow the body to recover from exercise. “With no rest and recovery, there will be no development.”
Mr. Jackson also encouraged us to work toward quitting smoking, quitting drinking, finding ways to improve communication in the relationships in our lives, and to generally focus on improving the quality of our lives rather than the size of our biceps.
The need for personal guidance in the gym was reinforced through the notion that, “every body is a different project.” We all come to the gym with different goals and different challenges and limitations. No website, product, or self-help book can be as effective as the advice of a trained professional who is looking at your individual needs.
“Cardio. Which muscle does that work?” The correct answer is, the heart. Cardio strengthens the heart and respiratory system, which is vital for life, but it does little to work the rest of the muscles in the body. “Cardio is great for burning calories, but once you step off the treadmill, you stop burning calories.” Resistance training, which develops lean body mass, was recommended as a more effective approach to long-term weight loss and weight management.
The benefits of having lean muscle mass were presented. It was emphasized that for those seeking to lose weight, lean muscle mass consumes calories even when an individual is not exercising. “Even 48-72 hours after you stop working out, that lean muscle mass is still burning calories for you.”
The next presenter, Brett Smith, spoke about nutrition. His approach was not incongruent with what we have been learning about nutrition from the registered dietitians at UAMS, but I do live by the rule, “Ask a personal trainer about working out. Ask a dietitian about diet.” Mr. Smith focused on making a permanent, sustainable transition to a healthy lifestyle rather than any temporary fixes.
“Balance should be your aim.” He introduced a notion he called 6+1, in which you relentlessly stick to your eating plans 6 days per week, saving any foods that are off limits for the one cheat day. Smith spoke at length about his affinity for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and how a balanced, healthy lifestyle will occasionally include these types of foods. “With 6+1, you can always remind yourself that the Reese’s Cup isn’t gone forever. Either you’re just a few days away from it, or you just had it.”
Next, he introduced the concept of calorie deficiency, which is consuming fewer calories each day than you expend. He recommended using bodybuilder.com to calculate what he calls the Resting Metabolic Rate. I’ve heard this referred to elsewhere as the Basal Metabolic Rate. The calculator he recommends can be found here, although the dietitians I’ve worked with prefer a more accurate formula, which I link to in my post, Weight Loss 101.
Mr. Smith explained that once you know how many calories your body consumes at rest, you can work toward building a calorie deficit by eating only as many calories as you need at rest and working off additional calories through exercise. “If you go to the gym and burn 800 calories and then go eat 800 calories extra will you lose weight? No.” Smith explained that for each 3500 calories lost through calorie deficit, a pound of fat is lost.
Smith explained that what you eat is as important as how much you eat, and he encouraged us to make good decisions using some simple sayings. “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” From this, he encouraged the consumption of whole wheat breads and brown rice, never white. A simple rule he gave was to look at the ingredient list. If the word “Enriched.” is in the first four ingredients, put it back on the shelf. If the number of grams of sugars is greater than the number of grams of protein in your bread, put it back on the shelf.
“If it swims or flies, it’s OK to eat.” Chicken, turkey and tilapia are Smith’s preferred sources of protein. Red meat should be avoided unless the goal is to add bulk for body building. “If you have to have red meat, eat it on your +1 day.”
Almonds, avocado, EVOO, and natural peanut butter were recommended as healthy sources of fat. “I wouldn’t make it very long without peanut butter. Dang. Now I’m thinking about that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup!!,” Smith lamented. Running short on time, this very energetic speaker closed with, “You can’t be serious about losing weight without knowing how many calories you need per day.”
The next speaker talked more deeply about the importance of balance and relaxation in life. From a physiological standpoint, muscle development comes from breaking down tissues which are repaired when we rest and when we sleep. Even if we do the work in the gym, eat the right things at meal times, and drink plenty of water, the tissues cannot be repaired unless they are given sufficient rest.
The time commitment for a fitness regimen was stated to be 4 hours per week when “done right.” By coming to the gym with a game plan, we were told that it was possible to maximize results while minimizing time in the gym. The following triangle was drawn on the board:
We were told that while most people come to the gym and spend the majority of their time focusing on cardio, only 10% of an effective weight loss strategy should focus on cardio. Ninety percent of weight loss is achieved through nutrition and resistance training. This segued into a discussion of “Skinny Fat,” remarking on the various body types and how people appear after weight loss done “the wrong way.”
While this discussion lasted some time, the upshot was that losing fat without developing underlying muscle leaves an individual looking deflated and unhealthy, while losing weight while developing lean muscle in the process allows the body to transition to a healthy state without this appearance.
The order in which exercise is conducted is also important to getting optimal results, we were told. The first step in any workout routine is warm-up, which gets the body to its target heart rate, which is a range between 65%-85% of maximum heart rate. By keeping the heart rate in this zone during exercise, optimal fat loss occurs. If the heart beats faster than 85% of its maximum, protein is consumed during exercise rather than fat, which is not beneficial.
To calculate your target heart rate, you must first determine your maximum heart rate:
Maximum = 220 – Age
The low end of the target heart rate range is 65% of this number:
Low = Maximum x 0.65
The high end of the target heart rate range is 85% of this number:
High = Maximum x 0.85
After warming up, resistance training should always come next. While the presenter was adamant about this, he did not present evidence or reasons to support the case other than, “You don’t want to burn all your energy doing cardio before you do resistance.”
The next speaker’s bullet point was, “The best machines in the gym.” The fact that each machine is designed to work a particular muscle or muscle group in isolation was explained, and the speaker explained that no single machine was better than another, as they were all designed for a different purpose. A better answer was to exercise without machines because exercises which provide greater opportunities for variation and instability develop the stabilizer muscles in addition to the muscles being focused on.
The audience was thanked, and questions were invited. One participant asked about recommended supplements. The presenter recommended getting nutrition from “real food” if at all possible, stating that the body responds best to natural nutrients. Another attendee asked about getting rid of “bat wings and belly fat.” Resistance training was recommended in this case, as the solution is to build muscle to fill the void in the arms and in the process, the development of this muscle will burn the fat.
Door prizes were given away to several lucky participants who won packages ranging from 3 months of online support to 12 face-to-face training sessions. Everyone was offered steep discounts on training for attending the seminar.
The bottom line…
I agree with the majority of the information presented in this session, most of which was not new to me. I like the approach that this organization recommends regarding balance in all aspects of life. I agree that weight loss is not something that can come from the gym alone, but that must involve a nutritional aspect. I like some of the homespun sayings that the nutrition speaker gave, as they align with what I’ve learned in my nutrition classes. I agree that “real food” is a superior source of nutrients for the body. Some of the nutrition information presented was extremely generalized, and the presenter’s understanding of how to calculate calorie requirements for establishing a calorie deficit was a bit off. The main idea was communicated effectively, though.
What I’m Doing Right
I’ve established a calorie deficit, I’m eating a diet which is nutritionally balanced, and my workout regimen includes both a resistance training element and a cardio element. I also have a game plan, which is my ActivTrax system which generates a resistance routine tailored to my current ability level.
What I’m Doing Wrong
I’m currently spending 6 or more hours per week in the gym, which is more than the trainers recommended. On Fridays, Sundays, and Tuesdays, I walk in, spend an hour on the elliptical machine, shower, and walk out. This burns around 700 calories per day, or 2100 calories per week. On Saturdays, Mondays, and Thursdays, I walk in, spend 30 minutes on the elliptical machine, do a 30-45 minute resistance training which uses Nautilus machines, shower, and leave. This burns around 800 calories per day, or 2400 calories per week. According to the presenters, I spend too much time working on cardio.
Additionally, I’m doing my exercises in the wrong order. On resistance day, I should decouple my warm-up and cardio phases, placing the resistance training between them.
Finally, I’m not sleeping as much as I should be. While I’ve never needed much more than 6 hours of sleep to function, I’ve lately been getting less than that, and it has contributed to feelings of irritability and exhaustion. The presenters underscored the importance of rest and relaxation in a fitness regimen.
Based on what I’ve learned, I plan to make a couple of changes to my workout routines. First, I will cut back on cardio by one day per week. While cardio burns calories “in the now,” it doesn’t leave long-term benefit past heart health, which I apparently already have based on my resting heart rate being alarmingly low to the hospital nurse who took me in for gallbladder surgery. The day which I’ve chosen to jettison is the one after “leg day.” This will allow my muscles the time required to regenerate the tissues uninterrupted. Additionally, this will free up an hour of time during my week which can be used to get things done that prevent me from going to sleep at a reasonable hour. That’s the plan, anyway.
Additionally, I will take the trainers’ advice and do resistance before cardio. Although I’m not clear on the reasoning behind it, I’ve seen other resources which recommend that exercise be executed in that order, as well. It shall be done!
Nutritionally, I plan to keep following the leadership of my trusty team of dietitians at UAMS. They haven’t steered me wrong yet, and I trust fully that they never will. Knowing that I have an endocrinologist following up with me periodically to make sure that the dietary decisions that I make are physiologically and metabolically sound makes a whole lot more sense to me than, “if it flies or swims, it’s OK to eat.” You go ahead and eat that wasp, dude.
I’m glad I went. I hope my “brain dump” is helpful to those of you who couldn’t make it, and I’m curious to know if you’d like to be my guest next time a session like this is offered.