IF YOU ARE NOT ASSESSING, YOU ARE JUST GUESSING
Tracking your progress is an important part of staying on track with your fitness goals. Keeping a food log, workout log, taking "before and after" photos, recording body weight, body fat, circumference measurements, and personal records (PR's) are all great ways to keep you on track and moving in the right direction.
When first starting a program, you may not see much movement on the scale. Do not get discouraged. It is likely that you are gaining a little muscle and shedding a little body fat. This is the initial phase we all go through when our bodies are adapting to new stimuli. Stick with it.
When tracking body weight, weighing yourself every single day can sometimes do more harm than good. Your body weight fluctuates daily and at different times based on things like fluid, sodium consumption, and undigested food. Minor daily fluctuations on the scale can be discouraging to a person’s weight loss efforts. Instead, weigh yourself once a week in the morning on an empty stomach, wearing minimal or no clothing, using the same scale. Different scales will skew your readings so the scale needs to stay consistent.
Also, the scale is just one tool for measuring progress. Remember, the scale only measures WEIGHT loss. Take body fat readings each week of the month to measure FAT loss. There is a big difference between these two. Look at it like this. Hypothetically, two twin brothers agree to participate in a 6-week research study designed to assess how different combinations of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) affect body composition. Both twins are put on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, and both adhere to the same workout program. Assuming all things are constant like body weight when starting, and the amount of weight used in the workout program, twin "A" consumes 2,000 calories of Oreo Cookies each day, twin "B" consumes 2,000 calories of lean meats, vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and a fairly low amount of starches and sugars. Assuming twin "A" hasn't had any health complications after 6 weeks (which would be a miracle), their body WEIGHT may be around the same range but who do you think will come out with a lower body FAT percentage? How about just overall better health? The answer to that is obvious.
For body fat readings, if you do not work with a trained specialist such as a certified personal trainer, strength coach, doctor or physician who can take your skin fold readings using calipers to measure specific spots on the body regularly, you can take your own body fat readings using a handheld body fat loss monitor. The most commonly used body fat reader is the Body Logic HBF 306 Body Fat Analyzer. This body fat reader is a handheld device that uses a method called "bioelectrical impedance analysis" to estimate body composition and in particular, body fat percentage and body mass index (BMI). I believe most health and fitness professionals would agree that this method is not the most accurate. I think the rate of error is somewhere between +/- 2-3%. So for example, if your reading is 20% body fat, you could be as high as 23%, as low as 17% body fat, or somewhere in between. Obviously not the most accurate, but this is the most practical for most people, so rather than focus on the actual body fat percentage number, focus on the body fat percentage range. If your body fat range is going down each week, you are making progress.
The American Council on Exercise provides the following body fat percentage ranges for men and women:
Description Women Men
Essential Fat 10-13% 2-5%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-24%
Obesity >32% >25%
Here are a couple of pictures to give you an idea of what these ranges can look like:
In addition, take circumference measurements along with these readings to gauge progress in areas like the waist, hips, thighs, chest, and arms. Again, if you don't work with a certified personal trainer, strength coach, doctor, or physician regularly, you will need someone to take these for you. These can be measured fairly accurately by a spouse, significant other, friend, or any willing participant. You should measure these with minimal to no clothing for the best accuracy. Personally, I used the cheapest tape measure for a few years. Every one of them broke at the tip after a few months. Five broken tape measures in all. I have since moved on to the Health o Meter Digital Tape Measure, HDTM012DQ-69 and am very happy with it. This tape measure gives you a digital reading each time and is also durable and easy to transport.
Small changes can be hard to recognize when you are looking at yourself in the mirror everyday. “Before and after” photos are a great way to go back and compare where you are now to when you started. Make sure you are taking the pictures from the front and side each week. Keep the angles and lighting consistent. This will give you a more accurate picture of changes in body composition.
Below is one of mine. 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.
Last, but certainly not least, how you are feeling mentally and physically? Do you have more energy? Do you have more peace of mind knowing you could have eaten that pizza and watched that movie but instead you went to the gym? Have you noticed a change in the way your shirts fit? Are your favorite pair of jeans a little too big now? Good, keep doing what you are doing. That’s progress.
Yours In Health,
21 NUTRITION TIPS & 5 SUPPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.
- Take a multivitamin and a fish oil supplement every day.
- Give your food time to digest and control your portions. Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.
- Focus on lean meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and little to no sugar.
- Fad diets do not work. You may initially lose some weight, but in the end, you'll gain it back and more. No fad diet will ever do what a consistent healthy diet does.
- Mix it up. Eat a variety of foods. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, taste the rainbow. Green smoothies are a great way to get a good portion of your fruits and vegetables, phytonutrients, and antioxidants for the day. Green and red supplements are also helpful here.
- 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. There are no shortcuts, magic pills, or special pieces of equipment that can replace a healthy diet and consistent exercise.
- If you travel often, bring healthy snacks and meals. Low sugar protein bars, bananas, mixed nuts, and trail mix are all good choices.
- 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 than driving.
- Prepare healthy meals at the beginning of each week that can be stored in the fridge for easy access later. Quinoa, chicken, and vegetables are all quick and easy to make. This eliminates guesswork or resorting to unhealthy food later because you weren't prepared and pressed for time.
- Try to eat from each food group and do not eliminate a macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein, fat) 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. Your body needs carbohydrates for energy. Cutting them out completely can cause mood swings, hunger, disrupted sleep, and low energy among other things.
- Allow for a few "cheat meals" or a "cheat day" throughout the week. 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, enjoy something that may not be the healthiest option from time to time, it won't kill you.
- Weigh yourself weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, not everyday. Always do this in the morning on an empty stomach 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. It happens. No one has a perfect diet. Not even professional athletes. Brush it off and get back on track.
- 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. You will, however, notice that your clothes may start fitting a little differently as your body composition changes.
- Avoid soda, both regular and diet. They hold 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, which spikes insulin, raises blood sugar, and triggers fat storage. Eat whole fruits and make green smoothies instead.
- 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 instead. 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. You can't out train a bad diet.
2) Fish Oil
3) Green Supplement
There are plenty of nutritional supplement options on the market 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,
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