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Exercise As Punishment

I’m annoyed.

Sometimes it is such an uphill battle fighting all the nonsense in the fitness/nutrition world that I just want to wave my white gym towel and say ‘Ok biggest loser…you win’. Obviously, I won’t ever do that, but the things people put on the internet – and worse, what people follow and share – is just mind boggling.

Take this little gem, for example.


Now, to be fair, this truly looks harmless enough. It gives a realistic look at what the calories in these items are comparable to, and sometimes that is necessary when deciding if something is really “worth it”. AND, frankly, the items listed are definitely treats that shouldn’t be consumed 24/7. But that’s as far as the compliments go.

First of all, whether we realize it or not, this attitude and behavior is the beginning of a very slippery slope to food restriction and over-exercising. If you literally think in terms of how many minutes you need on the stairclimber per piece of pizza, do you really think it will stop there? Every time you see a calorie label, your brain is automatically going to convert it into some ridiculous exercise plan that is going to have you going above and beyond the necessary (and safe) recommendations. Not to be offensive, but it is SO easy to rationalize poor decisions and putting junk in your body if you use exercise as your “morning after” pill.

Further, we are humans – not animals. And, contrary to popular belief with all this Paleo nonsense, I’m willing to bet most of us aren’t struggling to survive between meals. This adds an important component in regards to diet and exercise. You have control over what you eat, how much you eat, and why you’re eating it. You’re also in control of what you like to do for activity and what makes you happy. Using exercise as a “guilt trip” makes you resent food, and view working out as a punishment instead of something that can make you empowered and all around awesome. As well meaning as these charts might be, this really promotes the wrong kind of thinking. Dogs use the reward/punishment system. A brain as sophisticated as a human’s should be beyond that.

Lastly, just because you DO indulge occasionally, does not mean you have ruined all your efforts in the gym. This is a journey, and it doesn’t get ruined by a few cookies. It is so easy to get sucked into such negative thinking (ahem- refer to the above chart) when really you should be feeling proud of your efforts each and every time you eat something healthy, or spend time getting active. If you really made an effort to count your triumphs instead of your failures, by the end of the month, you’d actually see progress. This progress might inspire more progress, and then before you know it, you’re setting higher goals.

I’m just a big fan of everything in moderation. I also can’t stress enough that no matter what they look like on tv or on the competition stage, compensating social activity and occasional indulges for strict caloric intake and aesthetics is not healthy either. There are a lot of extremes out there, and too often we fall for them and then punish ourselves when we can’t keep up with ridiculous standards. Instead, take a step back, and start appreciating your body and yourself. Find people that motivate you, but don’t tear you down. And PLEASE don’t eat cookies and then do jumping jacks, because nobody wants to clean up after you.

A tale of 10 Chin ups

Once upon a time, at the beginning of this year to be exact, I set out to accomplish the awesome task of completing 10 unassisted [neutral grip] chin ups.  Why?  Several reasons: including (but not limited to):

A) Chin ups/Pull ups are bad ass.

B) They help in more ways than I can count [grip strength, core activation, lats/biceps/forearms/etc., energy transfer…..]

C) 10 sounded way better than 7


Now, even though I dominated my first real unassisted chin up a few years ago, I had finally reached a point where I wasn’t improving. I could manage 4-5 with various weights attached to me, I could do assisted and eccentric til the cows came home (which, they never did, so I just kept going) and I could do way too many sets of 5-6 reps with ~1-2 minutes of rest in between, but never more than 7 at a time. Hmmm.

Then it dawned on me. If I wanted to get better at pull ups, I should probably do more pull ups.

I realized that even though chin ups were my goal, I was treating them as an accessory movement and programming them into my workouts 1-2 times per week, [3x if I was really pushing it]. I also took note of the total reps being completed each session and saw that they were all in the ~25-30 rep range. So by the end of each week, I was totaling MAYBE 75 pull ups a week if I was lucky. Granted, I was using different methods (weighted, eccentric, assisted, different rest intervals) but not in the same week. I would go all assisted one week (different reps/sets/rest intervals) then go to weighted, then to bodyweight, and then back to assisted.  Each variation still felt challenging and I would make little advances, so I was convinced it was working, but then I would go to test my regular chin ups and be stuck in the same spot. I realized that despite my variations in intensity, I was completing the same number of reps per week and therefore not overloading the movement anymore. SO my evil genius mind got to working…

Practice makes perfect, so if you want to get better at something, practice THAT thing. I changed my programming to focus exclusively on this goal. I was tentative before to overdo it on chin ups because I didn’t want to have angry elbows, tight lats, and/or overtrain my back. But, by varying the intensity, I realized I could cram lots of pull ups/chin ups into one week of training with very little consequence. I also made sure to program some overhead/QL stretches for the tight lats, and included asymmetrical work to keep my upper body balanced.

Each week looked something like this [I am only including the chin ups and not all the other stuff]:

Day 1: Bodyweight pull ups (never to failure – just sets of 5-6 reps) totaling ~45 total for that session. I bumped that up to 50, then 55, then 60, then 65, etc. each time

Day 2: Weighted pull ups (sets of 3-4 reps) totaling ~30 reps, 35, 40, 45

Day 3: Assisted pull ups (sets of 8-10) totaling ~50, 55 (I didn’t go beyond 60 for these – you probably can, but I didn’t)

Day 4: Bodyweight pull ups again (usually if I did sets of 5 on day 1, I would shoot for sets of 6. Sometimes I had it, sometimes I didn’t. This was a chaos day – I would mix the sets to try to achieve 50 any way I could. It was a great challenge)

Each week I would have a total number of reps completed, and for 3 weeks I kept that number increasing, and then by week 4 I would do a mini-deload and go back to week 1 numbers.

Then one magic day, I walked into the gym, walked up to the bar, cranked out 10 in a row, did a little dance (in my head) and that was that.

And that is how my dream came true and I conquered the neutral grip chin up.

The End.


REAL resolutions!

Considering 2011 is a few days from being just a memory, I feel obligated to discuss the dreaded topic of “New Year’s Resolutions”. What kills me is that a lot of people’s resolutions are the same: “lose weight” “get fit” “work out more” “eat less” etc.  In my opinion, these are all just wishes.  There is no constructive analysis of where you are, where you want to be, and, most importantly, how you’re going to get from A to B. There is also no basis in reality.  What exactly does eat less mean?  Can you really eliminate ALL CARBS for the WHOLE year? (no. you cannot. and if you try, you’re just going to be mean and cranky. stop it.)

Even the most dedicated gym rats (myself included) did not just wake up one morning at 6am and decide that we were going to do this every day, 3 hours a day, for the rest of forever.  It was a slow process, usually prompted by another goal/reason and then became a lifestyle.  That’s the key: it was a PROCESS.  Things don’t happen overnight, and sometimes you have to be satisfied with small gains before you can reach your ultimate destination.  You’ll see, too, that even when you reach your supposed “goal” – you’ll find something else to strive for – it really never stops.  But people get caught up in doing too much too fast, and it gets overwhelming. - hilarious blog - check it out.


SO, instead of harping on what we all do wrong, I’m going to offer some tips for successful goals to getting fit & fierce in the new year.

1. Make a tangible performance goal. What does this mean? For example: maybe your broad goal is to get in shape, or lose a few pounds, but you don’t really have a way to measure progress outside of a scale.  Instead, focus on something performance related and commit to it: sign up for your first 5k run/walk, triathlon, half marathon, or whatever your level might be, and commit to training for it a few times a week.  For the endurance activities, figure out your mile pace (either walking or running) and try to improve it throughout your training, and set a goal for your finish line time. You’ll be amazed how committed you’ll be to achieving this goal, and as an added benefit, you’ll see the results in the mirror.  For my weight lifting buddies, and gosh I hope there are some of you out there – same rules apply.  If you’re new to training, make it your goal to dominate technique, practice, and then challenge yourself to hit new personal records. Maybe you’ve never done a pull up before, maybe you want to be able to do 10 pull ups, maybe you want to increase your squat whatever it is – pick something that you want to improve, and go after it.  Just “getting stronger” isn’t going to cut it – focus on something and practice it.

2. Don’t try to overhaul your diet overnight – eliminate slowly. When it comes to eating, our bodies get used to what we put into it, and slowly weaning yourself off of certain things yields more longterm success than quitting “cold turkey”.  Think of it like a smoking addiction: not many people are successful by just waking up one morning and never smoking ever again.  Processed foods/sugars/caffeine work the same way – you have to gradually wean yourself off them and it is a PROCESS.  So what does this mean?  Instead of starting 2012 eating nothing but seaweed and egg whites (I think I just vommed a little), try a more realistic approach.  Pick something in your diet you know is your problem area (soda tends to be mine) – and try to replace it as often as you can. If you have more than 1 a day, try to lower that number. Even replacing just ONE regular soda a day with water reduces your caloric intake by ~200 cals.  That can add up to 1400 a week if you eliminate one soda every day! Crazy.

3. CHILL out – stress causes our cortisol levels (a steroid hormone) to rise incredibly, which will spike blood sugar & suppress the immune system.  AKA: promote fat storage and elevate your chances of getting sick. Dagger! While sleeping your life away is NOT an option, there’s a one-two punch that can really jumpstart your metabolism – friends! Instead of meeting friends for dinner, drinks, movies, or other sedentary activities, make an effort to combine fitness & fun.  Go for walks, go to the gym together, sign up for a spin class, play a sport, etc.  Not only will it hold you accountable because it’s not just for you, it’s a great way to catch up with friends while keeping your cortisol levels in check. Convince your happy hour crowd to convert to kickboxing – you won’t regret it.


My goals for 2012 are mainly coaching related.  The high school lacrosse season starts in a month and performance-wise, I want a winning record and to take district.  I am also making it my own goal to make sure to give each player one SPECIFIC skill or aspect of their game to work on throughout the season.  Something performance related that, by the end, we can measure and see improvement.

For my own training, I’m focusing on being able to complete a muscle-up.  It is the most bad ass upper body exercise out there and I’m going to nail it. I also really want to stop dying when I do 120’s – my goal is to be able to do 10 more consistently before the world ends 😉

What are some of your goals? Do you have other suggestions for making 2012 the best year ever? hit me up!