Thank you to everyone who voted for me for the Chicago Reader Best Of Chicago 2014 award! I am fortunate to have such awesome clients and fans and appreciate everyone's support!
WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL FITNESS TRAINING?
Functional fitness training can be described as any program that includes exercises designed to mimic and/or help you to perform daily tasks or activities safely and efficiently. Examples of these types of tasks or activities include loading and unloading furniture from a truck, or picking your kid up and carrying them up the stairs.
Functional exercises are generally multi-joint movements that involve using both upper and lower body muscle groups simultaneously while engaging the core.
For example, while an exercise like a dumbbell curl ONLY works the bicep and is performed in most cases for aesthetic purposes, an exercise like a dumbbell farmer’s walk trains the body to lift heavy objects properly off the ground, engaging the core, driving through the heels, then moving those heavy objects from point A to point B. Muscles worked: glutes, quads, hamstrings, upper traps, forearms, and core. In addition, it’s not a bad high intensity cardio workout either. In a real world scenario, an exercise such as this is much more likely to transfer over to a common task such as carrying two heavy grocery bags from the store to your car.
SHOULD YOU BE INCORPORATING FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENTS IN YOUR EXERCISE PROGRAM?
Everyone can benefit from performing functional movements. Don’t wait until you slip a disc in your back trying to pick up that 50 pound bag of dog food before you decide it’s time to learn how to deadlift properly. Lower back injuries are the most common, nagging, reoccurring injuries in our society today. In fact, 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time[ref]Jensen M, Brant-Zawadzki M, Obuchowski N, et al. Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine in People Without Back Pain. N Engl J Med 1994; 331: 69-116.[/ref]. Experts estimate that as many as 80% of the American population will experience a back injury at some point in their lives[ref]Vallfors B. Acute, Subacute and Chronic Low Back Pain: Clinical Symptoms, Absenteeism and Working Environment. Scan J Rehab Med Suppl 1985; 11: 1-98.[/ref]. Knowing the reasons why people experience these injuries and training your body in ways that will help you to avoid them is something everyone can and should do.
If you’re a bodybuilder, does it make sense to perform only functional movements in your routine? No. You’ll most likely be going with a split routine of some sort. However, for most everyone else, whether you’re a stay at home Mom with two kids, or the owner of a refurbished vintage furniture store (had to throw some of my real life client examples in here), you need to know how to properly squat down and pick up your kids or your furniture, then properly lift them up and carry or load them off somewhere.
The answer for 99% of us is yes, at the very least, the two foundational functional movements, the squat and the deadlift, should be incorporated in your program somewhere.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FUNCTIONAL FITNESS TRAINING?
- Reduced risk of injury.
- Improved ease of daily tasks.
- Safe, efficient and effective performance of common activities.
- Improved balance, agility, and strength.
- Improved quality of life.
EXAMPLES OF FUNCTIONAL EXERCISES
- Squat, deadlift, lunge (all variations)
- Push-up, pull-up, dip
- Kettlebell swing
- Dumbbell carry
- Medicine ball slam
- Box jumps
- Sled push
- Battle rope
- Core rotation exercises
Yours In Health,
Coach Brian Donovan
Six weeks from my fitness photo shoot, I was 178.5 lbs., around 12% body fat, and in decent shape, although not camera ready. By following a few steps outlined below, I was able to get those numbers down to 169.5 lbs. and 7.5% body fat in time for my shoot. If you are looking for some tips on how to do the same, read on.
Before & After Photos
There is a 2-week span between each picture on the left and right. In the photos on the right, I am down from 10.5% to 8.5% body fat, lost 3.5 lbs. of fat, and gained 2.5 lbs. of lean muscle. These were taken 5 days from the photo shoot.
Hire A Fitness Coach
Even if you are an experienced fitness coach, like myself, I highly recommend you consider hiring another coach or trainer with experience in fitness modeling or fitness photo shoots to help you train and prepare if this is your first time. I consider myself to be a pretty well versed coach, but I’ve never done a photo shoot. I recognized that this was not my area of expertise, so I hired someone that I knew had extensive knowledge with this to help me. I read as much as I could about how to prepare, and I asked other coaches and trainers that I knew had done photo shoots to give me whatever tips or advice they had. So if you're a coach or trainer, set your ego aside and get the right help, it’s well worth it. If you're not, that's even more reason to hire a coach.
Cut Out Alcohol
If you are serious about getting into the best shape possible, cut out alcohol. There is really no benefit of any kind you will get from consuming these empty calories and carbs in the weeks leading up to the shoot. Plus, hangovers equal bad food choices and crappy workouts or none at all.
Make The Necessary Changes To Your Diet
Aside from cutting out alcohol, there are probably some big changes that will need to be made to your diet. This will be different for everyone so I can't layout a specific diet plan here. Generally speaking, you will want to eat a diet high in lean meats and vegetables, have a certain amount of healthy fats and carbs at specific times of the day, while keeping sugar, starches, and sodium low. Eat your carbs for breakfast, pre and post-workout only. Eat your healthy fats such as nuts and avocado, sugars such as fruits, and starches if any, during the day, not in the evening. Do not eat carbs and fats in the same meal as you risk storing body fat. Keep them separate. The constant throughout should be protein and vegetables. Dinner should be lean meat or fish and lots of high fiber vegetables. Use Mrs. Dash and natural spices to flavor up your meats and vegetables to avoid sodium. Prepare food ahead of time and keep it in Tupperware and Ziplock bags for easy access throughout the day and when at work.
Train With Intensity
While this seems obvious, it is so important. A lot of times, we get complacent with our workout routines, even us coaches and trainers. Your body is smart and it will learn how to adapt and adjust to whatever stresses you put on it frequently. If you do the same exercises, same weights, and the same amount of reps all the time, then you can expect the same mediocre results. It’s cliché but most of you know that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. You need to get out of your comfort zone, change it up, and challenge yourself. Stop taking 5-minute breaks between sets to flip through your phone. This is one of the reason's why I hired a great fitness coach. I knew that no matter how tired I was that day, I was going to get my butt kicked, he was going to make me uncomfortable, not let me rest, and push me beyond what I am capable of doing alone. The intensity with which you train will make all of the difference. I recommend in addition to your strength training days, you incorporate two days a week of HIIT (high intensity interval training) such as treadmill sprints and Strongman workouts (sled push, box jumps, battle rope, medicine ball slams, jump rope, kettlebells, jug carries, etc.) into your routine for fat burning. Do this in the morning in a fasted state for maximum results.
If you're not assessing, you're just guessing. You will need a starting point in order to know whether or not you are moving in the right direction. Record your starting weight, body fat percentage, and measurements. Come back to these frequently. Your fitness coach should have the tools and equipment to track these things for you. I know it is tedious, but if you can, keep a food log or record your meals with an app or a device like Fitbit. If you can't do this, you should know generally how much of each macro you are consuming daily just by eyeballing your portions.
Drink Plenty Of Water
You’ve heard it a million times. Here is a million and one. Drink water! Drink a lot of it throughout the day. Keep your muscles hydrated. They are made up of approximately 75% water.
Get Proper Rest & Recovery
You do not get stronger during your workout, you get stronger as your muscles recover. If you are constantly in overdrive, breaking down the same muscle groups day after day, you are wasting your time. This is counterproductive. Get enough sleep and take the necessary days off to let your muscles recuperate.
Consider These Vitamins & Supplements
There are a few vitamins and supplements that I highly recommend. A multivitamin with your first meal of the day, 6000 to 9000 mg of fish oil daily, a BCAA (branched-chain amino acid) supplement first thing in the morning and pre-workout, whey protein post-workout, and in the 4 to 5 days leading up to the shoot, I recommend green tea extract. The caffeine contained within green tea extract increases the amount of urine your body expels, acting as a diuretic, making you produce more urine, and helping you to shed excess water weight. It also helps to give you more energy for your workouts, it boosts your metabolism, and it helps to burn body fat. I personally take and recommend Poliquin Group supplements to all of my clients.
If you are fair-skinned, I don't recommend tanning beds for health reasons but I do recommend spray tanning or using some sort of bronzer to give your skin a darker appearance. It is no secret that tanned skin photographs better than pale skin under brighter lighting conditions and will provide more definition. Also, depending on what kind of look you are going for, consider rubbing on a little baby oil prior to the shoot for a shinier appearance.
48 hours before the shoot, start to cut way down on carbs and water. 24 hours before the shoot, cut carbs and water out completely. Only drink water very minimally if needed. If your mouth gets dry, swish some water around, sip a tiny bit and spit the rest out. The goal is to shed all excess water weight so that your skin is tight and your muscles are well defined under the lights. The night before the shoot you will want to carb up as your muscles will be looking for carbs and most of what you consume will go straight to them. People vary here on what they carb up with. I chose 100% brown rice and quinoa. For breakfast, which should be your only meal until after the shoot is over, have some protein such as chicken or steak along with a small amount of complex carbs such as 100% brown rice or baked sweet potato. Do not eat to more then 80% full and do this at least 90 minutes before the shoot. You do not want to be bloated or have a full stomach once the cameras are on. Complete a final high rep, low weight workout 30 minutes before the shoot. Pre-workout, drink a glass of water with either sugar or honey in it. Do this again post workout. This will raise your glycogen levels and have your muscles filled out for the start of the shoot.
During The Photo Shoot
If the shoot is a long one, keeping a few light weight dumbbells or resistance bands and some 100% brown rice cakes on the side is a good idea so that you can pump up between breaks if you are feeling flat. No water, no fiber, no fat.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own, and these are the methods that have worked for me. Everyone's body is different and your body may respond differently than mine to different things. For example, some people prefer to carb up the night before with something like a cheeseburger or cheesecake. I chose not to on my first shoot, but maybe I'll try it the next time. There is no one right way so try different methods and techniques. Find what works best for you.
I hope this article has been helpful to some of you prepping for your own fitness photo shoots. If you found this article useful or know someone who would, please share it!
Coach Brian Donovan
My Photographer: Ali Engin, Owner Of Ali Engin Photography ©
My Fitness Coach: Mike Thomson, Owner Of Fast & Fit Coaching LLC
My Vitamins & Supplements: Poliquin Group
Eat, drink, and be merry. It’s that time of year again. So before we kick off this month and a half marathon of good times and overindulging, let me weigh in with 5 practical steps you can take between now and New Year’s Eve to minimize set backs and help you to maintain your fitness this holiday season.
It has been said that the average American gains anywhere from 5 lbs. to 12 lbs. between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Don’t be average this year.
- Maintain exercise. As busy and as stressful as the holidays are, it is important to maintain some sort of physical activity. It is OK to go for shorter duration, higher intensity workouts here such as intervals or circuits. Just get it in. 20-30 minutes is a lot better than nothing at all. Short duration, high intensity workouts can create a caloric after burn known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) which allows your body to continue burning calories long after your workout is over. Up to 36 hours in fact.
- Watch your alcohol consumption. I know. No one wants to hear this one, so I’ll start with a positive. Some studies have shown that moderate drinkers (one to two drinks per day) are less likely to suffer from diabetes, arthritis, dementia, heart attack, and stroke. That’s great news if you’re a moderate drinker. On the flip side, overconsumption of alcohol decreases the use of glucose and amino acids in your skeletal muscles, which has a negative affect on muscle growth. In addition, the large influx of carbohydrates causes the body’s insulin levels to spike, which much like a high-carb diet, forces the body to burn the alcohol for energy rather than body fat. Not to mention you take in a massive amount of calories with hardly any nutritional value. 7 calories per gram of alcohol to be precise.
- Try a new healthy recipe. You don’t have to go Paleo here. Don’t be the guy that brings a bag of unsalted almonds to Thanksgiving dinner. Just try searching for some healthy holiday recipes and give one a shot. You may like what you find and you’ll thank yourself later. Click here for ideas Ultimate Holiday Cookbook: Healthy Holiday Recipes – Cooking Light.
- Don't starve yourself in anticipation of the big meal. Holding off for that big meal will most certainly cause you to overeat, going back for seconds and thirds. Skipping meals can also slow metabolism and aid in fat storage. So have a little something for breakfast. Try starting with a salad before you dive in to the main course. Enjoy yourself and enjoy the food, just keep everything in moderation.
- Don't save unhealthy leftovers. For me, this is always a tough one and takes all of my willpower. While I love my Grandma’s stuffing, and feel the need to confirm each year that it will be on the table, Grandma’s stuffing stays at Grandma’s house when Thanksgiving is over. I don’t need to be eating Thanksgiving dinner five days in a row and I recommend you don’t either if you have fitness and nutrition goals you are trying to accomplish. Stock up on the left over veggies and white meat, just avoid the unhealthy stuff like pie and stuffing.
These are just a few practical ways to keep you moving in the right direction with your health and fitness during what tends for most to be a bump in the road. With that said, the holidays are not about fitness or guidelines. The holidays are about spending quality time with family, friends, loved ones, and being thankful for those three things. This is usually best done over a good meal and a few adult beverages, all in moderation of course.
Yours In Health,
Coach Brian Donovan
- Drink plenty of water every day.
- Take a multivitamin & fish oil supplement every day.
- Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.
- Focus on lean meats & veggies, nuts & seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.
- Fad diets do not work. They may at first, but in the end, you'll gain the weight back and more. No diet will do what eating clean and healthy does.
- See last tip. Remember it.
- Mix it up. Try to eat a variety of foods.
- When it comes to fruits and vegetables, taste the rainbow. Don't eat your favorites every single day. Green smoothies are a great way to get a good portion of your fruits and veggies for the day. Green & red supplements are also helpful here.
- If you need to lose weight, set healthy goals. Challenge yourself but be realistic. A good Personal Trainer can help you set these goals. Don't be fooled by late night infomercials and weight loss contestant shows. There is a lot of "extra" that you don't see upfront.
- If you travel often, bring healthy snacks and meals. Low sugar protein bars, bananas, and trail mix are among my favorites.
- If you have junk in the house, you will eat junk. Don’t buy it. Problem solved.
- Do some sort of exercise each day. Get out and move. Even if that means just walking somewhere rather then driving.
- Do not add salt to food. Excessive sodium is to blame for 85,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. We eat way too much of it. Sodium retains water, which in turn contributes to heavier body weight. Instead, use Ms. Dash flavorings, herbs, spices, or other non-sodium products.
- Prepare quick healthy meals at the beginning of each week and keep it in Tupperware and ziplock bags in the fridge for easy access. Personally, I like to make quinoa and chicken on Sundays. Quick and easy. I keep the quinoa in Tupperware throughout the week. I keep the chicken in ziplock bags. No guesswork. No resorting to unhealthy food because I wasn’t prepared.
- Try to eat from each food group and do not eliminate a food group for any reason. A lower-carb diet is what most people need but don't know it. A no-carb diet is what no one needs....don't try it. It is totally unhealthy and you will not last. What you will be is moody, hungry, and without energy.
- Limit your alcohol intake. It is a killer and adds a ton of empty calories. Not to mention you make terrible eating decisions when drinking and when hungover.
- Try to apply the “80/20 rule” to your health. 80% of the time: eat healthy, exercise, and work hard. 20% of the time: live a little. If you’ve put in the work during the week, go out and enjoy yourself over the weekend. You’ve earned it.
- Weigh yourself monthly. Always do this in the morning on an empty stomach, on the same day with the same scale, to avoid inaccuracies. Do not obsess over the scale. Food and water during the course of the day can add up to 5 lbs. The ultimate goal is to create healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle.
- Don't think that because you had one bad meal, you might as well have a bad day, and that a bad day means you might as well forget it. It happens. No one is perfect with their diet and exercise routine. Not even professional athletes. Brush it off and get back on track.
- Which leads me to my next point. Have a "cheat day" or two. Eating clean and healthy 100% of the time ain't easy. See my post "Starch & Your Body Fat" for more on how to structure your "cheat days".
- There are no shortcuts. Don’t be unrealistic. It took some time to put that weight on, it will take some time to get it off. Focus on building consistent habits both with exercise and healthy eating. Be patient. In the beginning, you will trade burned body fat for the muscle you are building. Because of this, you won’t see much movement on the scale.
- Don't drink soda pop (regular or diet). There is no nutritional value. High fructose corn syrup should be avoided at all costs. There are plenty of studies linking HFCS to obesity, diabetes, and weight gain. In addition, there is nothing healthy about food dyes, chemicals and artificial sweeteners.
- Keep fruit juice to a minimum. It is very high in sugar. Instead eat whole fruits, and make green smoothies.
- Avoid processed foods. They contain all kinds of additives and preservatives. This includes frozen dinners, boxed and canned foods.
- Eat whole natural foods that have not been altered. If there is no label on it, it is probably a whole food.
- Get in the habit of reading nutrition labels. Be conscious of what you are putting in your body.
- Fitness is 70% diet, 30% exercise. You can spend all the time you want in the gym but it is time wasted if you are not eating right.
2) Fish Oil
3) Green Supplement
There are plenty of options for these supplements but they are not all created equal. Pharmaceutical-grade supplements are of higher quality, contain less contaminants, and go through a more stringent process of regulation. I personally recommend Poliquin Group supplements to all of my clients as I have found them to be the best. For more information, visit my Nutritional Supplements page.
Yours In Health,
Coach Brian Donovan
A lot has been made of fish oil over the last few years. In the health & fitness industry, many consider it to be somewhat of a miracle supplement. Studies have shown that fish oil has many benefits with little to no side effects when taken in the correct dosage.
So what is it and why should you care?
To start, fish oil contains omega-3 essential fatty acids which are found naturally in fatty and oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and halibut among others. These essential fatty acids are known as “good fats". They are "essential" because you can only get them through diet and supplementation. Your body cannot produce them on its own. Fatty acids, such as Omega-3's, despite being misunderstood by some, are actually the building blocks of fat and are vital to your health and well being. As mentioned above, research has shown that the health benefits of fish oil are numerous. In fact, too numerous to mention here so I am going to bullet point below what I feel are some of the major benefits:
- Improved body fat loss during exercise
- Powerful anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce joint pain and help with arthritis
- Improved heart health
- Improved brain function, growth and development
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased depression
- Increased hair & nail growth
What to look for on the label and how much you should take:
- Most major manufactures of fish oil remove mercury and other harmful pollutants. Check the label to make sure
that it is purified fish oil.
- The most important omega-3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA. Check the label to see what types and amounts of omega-3 fatty acids the fish oil contains. Make sure it contains at least 50 percent of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Check the expiration date. Although fish oil contains a small amount of vitamin E to help preserve it, if you expose fish oil to air for a lengthy amount of time, it can spoil.
- Do not take more then the recommended dosage on the label. Taking more can cause increased risk of bleeding.
In conclusion, fish oil is relatively inexpensive and can be found in any vitamin and mineral store, grocery store, drug store or pharmacy, health food store, and of course online. It can last you months at a time and in my opinion is a great investment towards your health, no matter your age or physical condition. While it can be obtained from eating fish, unless you eat fish every day, I highly recommend taking a fish oil supplement. I refer all of my clients to Poliquin Group as I believe their Fish Oil EPA-DHA 720 Blend is of the highest quality, it is pharmaceutical-grade, and I have experienced the benefits firsthand. If you have questions, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours In Health,
Coach Brian Donovan
Squats give you greater overall muscle and strength gains than any other exercise. Because the exercise involves the largest muscle group in your body (glutes, hamstrings, quads) and requires a high amount of energy, the movement triggers what is known as a neuroendocrine response. In short, this response causes the release of extra testosterone and growth hormone into your bloodstream, which in turn will help you to build muscle not only in your legs, but your upper body as well. In addition, squats require a great deal of core strength.
There are some out there who will tell you that squats will ruin your knees. This is wrong. There have been numerous studies conducted which prove that on the contrary, when done properly, squats not only strengthen and tighten your knee ligaments, but are also very effective in building core and upper body strength. It has actually been determined that squats place less stress on your knees than leg extensions! And perhaps my favorite part, squatting is a functional movement. I can't think of a single example where a leg extension would translate over to something you would have to do in a real life situation. On the other hand, you squat every time you get out of or sit down in your chair at work.
My recommendation, do squats 2-3 days a week in conjunction with a full or upper body workout for stronger knees, a tighter core, and improved lower and upper body strength.
Yours In Health,
Coach Brian Donovan
Let's start with what starch is. Starches are actually long complex chains of simple sugar, also known as “complex carbohydrates”. Like sugar, starch has the potential to elevate blood sugar levels quickly. Some starches are actually more glycemic than some sugar. High glycemic foods spike your blood sugar level, which in turn releases the hormone insulin in the body. Insulin actually increases the storage of fat in fat cells while also preventing fat cells from releasing fat for energy. In other words, insulin actually turns off the "fat burning switch" and tells the body to store fat. Quick spikes and drops in blood sugar can cause a person to overeat, have low energy, mood swings, and hunger cravings. For most people, the answer to the question "how can I burn more body fat?" is to eat a diet that is lower in carbohydrates. Most Americans consume more then enough carbohydrates on a daily basis. If carbs are not burned as fuel through physical activity over a 24-48 hour period after being consumed, they turn to fat. As a side note, it is highly advised not to attempt to cut out carbohydrates completely. No-carb diets are unhealthy, and unsustainable. Your body needs certain amounts of all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) each day for different functions. Cut one out and you will crave it like no other. Interestingly, many people who have committed to a lower-carbohydrate diet have actually reported increased levels of energy. In general, focusing mainly on lean meats, a variety of vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, while only having a little starch and sugar daily is a good way to structure your diet. Try to eliminate processed foods and foods made from refined grain. Avoid most baked goods or goods made with flour.
Foods that are highest in starch:
Some of the highest on the Glycemic Index (GI) include grains (wheat, rice, barley, oats), potatoes, corn, and beans. Also high up on the GI are bread, pasta, cereal, toast, muffins, bagels, oatmeal, granola, pretzels, crackers, biscuits, cookies, cakes, pie crust, and anything else made with flour.
The best starchy foods are whole beans or lentils. When choosing grains, select those which are whole and intact when cooked, such as brown rice, barley, amaranth, and quinoa. Get the rest of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and if you eat dairy, than milk, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt. Foods that are high in fiber can create a feeling of satiety, or fullness, which can help reduce hunger cravings in between meals. If giving up bread, rice, cereal, and pasta altogether is not an option, than the best choices are low-carb breads or wraps which have less starch and more fiber, choose brown rice over white rice, eat high protein high fiber cereal such as Kashi, and try quinoa pasta such as Ancient Harvest.
Making the change:
I recommend trying one of these two methods in order to start scaling back your carbohydrate and starch intake. This first one is my personal preference.
- Monday through Friday, try little to no cereal, bread, rice, or pasta. Increase your protein intake in order to maintain and build lean muscle. Protein, like fiber, will also give you a feeling of satiety which will help curb hunger. Saturday and Sunday are your cheat days. That doesn’t mean go overboard, just enjoy whatever it is you like to eat and don’t worry as much about the diet.
- If that method doesn’t suit you or your schedule, try allowing yourself 3-4 cheat meals per week instead. Same rules apply.
Coach Brian Donovan