What is your training for?

Training needs a goal. That’s pretty clear when following a program, or pushing through those days when your motivation just isn’t quite up to par. But its easy to get burnt-out over time; when you spend your days constantly thinking about your diet, mentally planning your next few weeks of training, and the scheduling that’s required to make it all work…well, let’s just say that burn-out sometimes feels like the smart choice.

Yet lots of us stick to it, through thick and thin. People who are new to exercise and fitness often get fixated on the process, because there’s so much to learn. So how do you keep the motivation up, day after day? One way is by taking advantage of your training to do new things, or things that you love to do and just improve by virtue of training.

Take me, for example: I run, and I hit the gym. That’s my thing. It can be a lot. However, I also live on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. And what is readily available anywhere in BC? Mountain biking. It’s a great sport, it’s hugely rewarding, it’s an incredible workout, and it showcases the bang-for-buck you get for time spent at the gym and worrying about the diet. But most of all, it’s just fun.  This is one way I stay motivated. Check out this video on mountain biking, and you’ll see why I find mountain biking to be both a motivator and a reward for time spent in the gym:



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Use dynamic stretching, not static stretching, to warm up: study

A new study just came out that performed a meta-analysis of  pre-exercise static stretching by analyzing data gathered in 104 other studies on muscle performance. The conclusion is fairly surprising:

The pooled estimate of the acute effects of SS on strength, power, and explosive performance, expressed in standardized units as well as in percentages, were -0.10 [95% confidence interval (CI): -0.15 to -0.04], -0.04 (95% CI: -0.16 to 0.08), and -0.03 (95% CI: -0.07 to 0.01), or -5.4% (95% CI: -6.6% to -4.2%), -1.9% (95% CI: -4.0% to 0.2%), and -2.0% (95% CI: -2.8% to -1.3%). These effects were not related to subject’s age, gender, or fitness level; however, they were more pronounced in isometric vs dynamic tests, and were related to the total duration of stretch, with the smallest negative acute effects being observed with stretch duration of ≤45 s. We conclude that the usage of SS as the sole activity during warm-up routine should generally be avoided.

What they’re saying here is that static stretching as your only warm-up is going to inhibit muscle performance. However, that does not mean that dynamic stretching — faster stretches that move your muscles in a more natural way — is as bad. Dynamic stretches should probably be what you go for.

Granted, the degree of impairment on muscle performance isn’t huge, just -5.4% on strength, -1.9% on power, and -2.0% on power. But still, if dynamic stretching has less of an effect, it might be more worthwhile to use that, instead. Save your static stretching for yoga class, or maybe post-workout flexibility exercises.

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The progression principle (ctd)

I just wanted to highlight another example of the progression principle in action, this time in the dieting world. This comes from a post discussing the current thinking about cheat days and dieting over at Greatist.com. While I encourage you to read the whole post, here are the important bits:

  • Psychologically, it may be effective to accept that it’s only possible to stick to a diet about 80 percent of the time. The other splurges are totally natural and a-okay.

Here’s what they had to say about guilt, slipping up, and back-sliding:

The key, according to Joe, is getting past the guilt of assigning “good” and “bad” tags to various foods. Rather than turning a minor slip-up into a major back-slide, she says cheaters should simply accept what they ate, and continue with their diet as planned.

So what are we talking about here? We’re essentially talking about the progression principle, or the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, you will stay on target for your diet plan. 20% of the time, you will slip-up now and then. You may even back-slide. That is OK. As long as you accept the slip up, and then return to your plan as normal, in the long-term you will continue your upwards progression. This holds true in diet as well as training or any behaviour you’re trying to change.

Remember, when you’re habit-forming — and that’s what dieting, exercise training, or learning a skill is — you are building new pathways in your brain. Through repetition, you are making those pathways easier to access. But sometimes your brain will revert to old habits; it’s a resilient organ, and that’s in it’s nature. Expect these slip-ups to happen from time to time, but just make sure you stay on target the rest of the time. If you can manage that, you’ll find that the new behaviours slowly become easier, and the slip-ups will reduce. Torturing yourself over missing a calorie goal or missing a workout once in two weeks is not worth it. Simply accept the slip, adjust your timelines, and move on.

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The Progression Principle

I came across this video while reading a great post over at StrengthRunning.com, but I wanted to highlight it here because it’s not just applicable to running. In fact, it’s applicable to weight training, weight loss, diet, or any sort of situation where you are developing a new habit or skill. Check it out.

In the video, Jason describes using a long-term, staggered approach to training. This approach assumes that there will be plateaus in achievement, but more importantly, also assumes rest periods where negative progress occurs. In the context of this approach these plateaus and negative progress periods are actually desirable, because they allow the body to rest and heal. This is important, because it allows the body to adapt.

Most people plan for a perfectly linear progression when they’re trying to do something — move straight from A to B, without deviation — because that seems like the shortest route to get there. The problem is that that strategy allows for no mistakes; it requires perfection. And nobody is perfect. Training or developing a skill using the progression principle, on the other hand, might take longer, but it’s more resilient; it takes rest and recovery into account, and allows the average person to continue even when the inevitable breaks in routine, or the other demands of life, intrude.

For example, I’ve been off training all week due to a non-fitness related medical issue. Rather than stress about it, however, I’m viewing this as an opportunity; a good chance for my body to recover and rest, and get ready for another 5 weeks of hard weight training.

The progression principle, as outlined above, is a useful way to think about breaks, whether they’re by choice or not. Planning your training (or weight-loss, or diet changes) with the progression principle in mind gets you out of the “never-fail” mindset, and can keep your motivation and progress up. Worth thinking about.

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Healthy Bastard’s Road to Fitness Part 2: Exercise

I’ve been having a discussion with a friend of mine  who is a new father and was an avid runner until he became a father. However, life being what it is, he has found he has little time for running anymore, and is slowly getting out of shape. So he’s planning on getting back into shape, but doesn’t have a lot of time to do it.

We’ve been talking a lot about it over e-mail, and he’s been recently interested on what I have been doing with myself lately. So what -have- I been doing with myself lately? In a nutshell, I’ve been exercising since about Nov. 14th. But what does that look like, given that i was totally sedentary at the time?

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Say it again: watch calories, not fat

Just wanted to highlight this little tidbit in the Vancouver Sun which reiterates something I’ve believed for a while now: it’s not so much important where you get your calories from, so much as how many you get, if you want to lose weight.

Bray, of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and his colleagues randomly assigned several hundred overweight or obese people to one of four diets: average protein, low fat and higher carbs; high protein, low fat, and higher carbs; average protein, high fat and lower carbs; or high protein, high fat and lower carbs.

Essentially, they were testing high-carb diets, low-fat diets,  low-carb diets, and high protein/fat diets (like paleo). The results?

At six months, people had lost more than nine pounds of fat and close to five pounds of lean mass, but some of this was regained by the two-year mark.

People were able to maintain a weight loss of more than eight pounds after two years. Included in that was a nearly three-pound loss of abdominal fat, a reduction of more than seven per cent.

The team found no differences in weight loss or fat reductions between the diets.

Mainly saying, it doesn’t matter where you get your calories, just as long as you stay under your caloric limits. Now that being said, different diets will have an effect on other health factors, like heart health, cholesterol, insulin resistance, and so on. But for straight weight loss, it’s less calories, not less fat.


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Interrupted routines and how to survive them

This last week was a busy one around here at Healthy Bastard. Exams to write, social engagements, the constant work of life…it can get overwhelming. Because I had procrastinated earlier this month, I was under some deadlines for school, and I had to choose between the gym and my education.

I chose education. That meant I missed three days of my routine this week, two lifting days and one running day. Oof. Does this mean that I’m no longer a gym goer? Does it mean I lack discipline? No, it doesn’t.

One of the things that everybody runs into when changing their diet or their exercise regimen is interruptions. So here you are, you have this great plan to eat right every day of the week, to hit the gym three or four times a week, without fail, and to keep it up. No excuses! No retreat!

We all talk like that, either to our friends or just to ourselves. But the reality is that eventually, life will outpace you. You will not be able to hit the gym on Monday morning, like you have been doing for three weeks. You will not be able to go grocery shopping and start your week off with a full meal plan and your fridge stocked up. Sometimes, life just gets busy.

I’ve been the guy who has started and stopped routines in the past. You work so hard, for weeks or months, and then you get knocked off your game, your streak gets wiped out, and boom, that’s it; your motivation is gone. This is the point where many people quit; where they say, “Okay, I’ve had enough. I’m just the sort of person that can do this.”

And every time, they’re wrong.

You see, even the best athletes know that discipline isn’t about never falling down; it’s about standing back up again.

Photo Courtesy Severin Sadjina

So what do you do when your routine is a mess, you’re behind on your meal plan, or you’ve just blown your calorie limit?

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Healthy Bastard’s Road to Fitness Part 1: Diet

So I promised in my previous post to talk about how I’ve been approaching this whole lose-weight-and-become-a-healthy-bastard thing. However, I was a bit puzzled, initially, by how to break it all down. For those of us who are looking to shed the pounds and haven’t spent a lot of time learning about how to lose weight and build muscle, this can be the most confusing part of the process. But as far as I have discovered, weight loss  and muscle gain consists of five discrete factors that combine to form a fit and healthy lifestyle. These are all big topics, so I’m breaking this notion into five posts. This post is about diet.

Healthy Bastard’s Road to Fitness Part 1: 80% of Weight Loss is Diet

Read on for more:

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Welcome to Healthy Bastard!

Where you’ll join me on my journey from fatass to fitness.  The goal of this blog is to document the diet, fitness techniques, and tools I use to shed the weight and become one of those fit sons-of-bitches whom you pass on the street and say, “look at that healthy bastard. God damn him.”

But first, some backgrounder, if you don’t mind.

Who are you, and why are you becoming fit?

My name is Steven, and I used to be a pretty heavy guy. I’m 6′ 2″, and 33 years-old. At the beginning of November, 2011, when I decided to start getting in shape, I weighed 225lbs, and was pretty sedentary due to being a full-time student. This is a far cry from January 2010, where I rang in at my all-time heaviest at 237.5lbs.

So in early November, after an October full of Canadian thanksgiving dinners, beer nights, halloween candy, and one too many essay-writing sessions with my formerly-trusty study partner, Jim Beam, I started to feel terrible. Really bad, in fact. I felt bloated, couldn’t sleep at night, and was often craving sugar. And after attending an Italian-themed birthday potluck for a friend, where I pigged out on spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, and so on, it went from bad to miserable.

The night of the potluck, I was awoken every 3 hours with night sweats, was constantly thirsty, and felt awful. Now, I would expect this, to an extent, after a huge and heavy meal. But the problem was this lasted 36 hours. I didn’t feel okay again — I’m not talking about feeling normal — for two days.

So I went to a walk-in clinic on November 15th,, because I didn’t have a doctor at the time. He sent me for a diabetes screen. What followed were 48 hours of intense stress, while I waited for the results, and more misery. I cut my diet back, drastically, and not in a healthy way, just because I was worried about being or becoming diabetic. I googled frantically about everything blood sugar related — diabetes, glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, carb load, glycemic index, and so on.

But the tests came back clean. I was neither diabetic, nor pre-diabetic according to the numbers…a fasting blood sugar of 5.3, where the top end of normal is 5.5. This was a huge, huge personal relief for me, I felt like this was a major wake-up call. I thought, “now is the time to stop eating like an asshole, before I do become a diabetic.”

Changing the Script

So, on November 28th, 2011, I had meeting arranged with a new MD. I hadn’t had a constant MD in years; the one I’d had for a few years, in the early oughts, retired. One I picked up in 2010 packed up and moved to Calgary six months after I saw him for the first time. But my wife insisted I needed some medical supervision, and so found an MD accepting patients, and I made an appointment. But between November 15th,when I took my diabetes screen, and November 28th, I was full of questions of the doctor, still stressing, and had no outlet. So I did what seemed to me to be the best thing: start exercising and stop eating crap.

Because my health was at risk, as far as I was concerned, I immediately started in on diet changes. To start with, I got rid of refined sugars, alcohol, coffee (sugar vector), and tea. I also drastically reduced my intake of cheese, most refined carbs like bread, and other things.

I also started exercise. During this period, I was on a study break from school and getting out to the gym there, where I have a pass, is a long drive. Plus, I didn’t quite know where to start. So I started with body-weight exercises in my living room — squats, pushups, planks, and Y-T-I raises. These were really good for working the stress out; I did these three days a week, while I counted down the days to my doctor’s appointment. I also started light running (which I’ll talk about another time).

In the end, these helped calm the nerves, and prepare my body for more serious fitness. While my diet was not great, and the exercise was not great, both allowed me to feel a little bit better.

The Doctor’s Appointment

I remember walking into the Doctor’s office pretty nervous. I had a copy of my earlier diabetes screen in hand, and was preparing to hear the words from the doctor that “you’re on the way to being diabetic. Get used to it.” I was almost dragging my feet, like I was about to go to the gibbet. But that’s not what happened.

First thing: my doctor is a practicing MD and also a practicing heart surgeon. He was young, maybe 40, visibly fit, and looked like he knew his stuff. The doctor took a look at my test results, and declared that no, I don’t have diabetes. He then looked at me, narrowed his eyes, and said, “But you need to start making healthy choices in your life. You’ll find that we focus a lot on that, in this practice.”

Thereafter, he told me that I needed to change my diet, lose a lot of weight, and exercise every day for a minimum of 30 minutes. And then he suggested that we’d meet up again in February, to revisit my progress.

Since then, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m proud to say that just a little over two months after that first visit to the walk-in clinic, I weigh in at 199lbs, and exercise 5-6 days a week. And I feel great.

In subsequent posts, I’ll be talking more about what I’ve been eating, what my training looks like, what tools I use, and how I stay motivated.

Thanks for reading, and stay healthy.



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