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The Art of Listening To Your Body

listening to your body fit and glamorous

Sssshhhhhhh… do you hear that? Your body is talking to you. It talks to you all the time.

It tells you when it is tired. It tells you when it is hungry. Those days when you hit the gym and you just have no energy whatsoever, your body is talking to you then too. Sometimes it pays off to ignore the signals and power through, especially if you’re the type of person who lacks motivation. You probably shouldn’t listen to your body if every time you want to hit the gym, it tells you it would rather sit on the couch and eat potato chips. But if you’re highly motivated, you’re diligent and consistent, perhaps to a fault, learning to listen to your biofeedback, learning when to change your approach, ease up or back off entirely can be the difference between getting amazing results, getting mediocre results, and avoiding overtraining and injury.

Overtraining and Injury
Yeah, yeah, yeah I know, I know. Everyone thinks they’re “overtraining”, its become a bit of a buzzword and frankly, a bit of a wank in a lot of cases. But the fact is, that in a periodized training program, proper rest and recovery is planned from day-to-day, week-to-week and month to month. You don’t go all out hard every training session, every week, all the time. That’s flat out the wrong way to go about things. I know there are certain niches and subcultures within fitness that have glorified all out intensity, all the time (you know, pukey, uncle rhabdo… we know who I’m talking about), but that approach is flat out wrong. You have rest days (yes, and sometimes two or even three in a week!) and proper “deload” weeks and phases of training that might last longer than a week that aren’t high intensity at all. So if you aren’t thinking about your training in those terms and instead, pushing as hard as you can at every single session, you probably find your results are very hit or miss, you have constantly nagging aches pains and injuries of varying degrees and not the results you’d expect for the effort you’re putting in. Your body needs its recovery periods to repair, rebuild and come back better, stronger and more prepared.

(That’s what being fit is all about, are you prepared and “fit” for the task at hand? Well, are you?)

Through personal experience and in working with hundreds of clients over the years, I can tell you everyone does better and gets better results on a well-thought out program, with planned recovery and rest. Proper rest allows your body to be fully recovered and prepared to push yourself to the limit when it really matters – on your likewise planned high intensity sessions and where it matters most, in competition.

The Log Book – Not Just For Workouts.
A lot of people log their workouts, and that’s a valuable practice I always strongly encourage. But what about the other elements of that going into your training and fitness? Like your food, your sleep patterns, your water intake… when you have a bad workout… do you usually know why that might be? Do you just train “really hard” and eat “really healthy”, but if I ask you for specifics as to how you train, when you take days off, and what you eat, amongst other variables, are you going to be the type of person to um and ahhh and tell me it changes every day, but you can’t really tell me how?

If this is you, you aren’t serious about your training or getting results. And if you think you are and you’re putting a huge effort into “training really hard” every day (which probably means you go to the gym and train to exhaustion, doing random exercises for 1 – 2 hours per day), then you’re spinning your wheels.

For example, several years ago, I discovered I train MUCH BETTER when I have high fat breakfast. For me, whether carbs were present didn’t make a difference, but it was important that I had at least 10 grams of fat in my first meal, then I would power through training that day.  If my meal was carbohydrate dense with low to no fats, training that day sucked. So, oatmeal and egg whites were not optimal, but oatmeal, egg whites and a tablespoon of coconut oil did the trick.  This is what works for me. I discovered this by logging all variables like meals and meal type, sleep and time of training to workout that the main factor in was the type of breakfast I had (followed by sleep quality and also, how many days of consecutive training I had done already). Of course, there’s quite a lot of information out there that suggests a high fat breakfast is the way to go to optimise training, but I don’t follow this practice because of that information – I follow it because I took notes, listened to my body and figured out that was how I perform best. It’s nice that there is some science and literature to back up my practices, but it works for me and my body and that’s why I do it.

Common Sense… Not So Common!
Some people might tell you to use your common sense when it comes to training and fitness. There is an art to listening to your body, and sometimes the signals can be distorted, especially since we get mixed messages about what we should be doing, how to train, how to eat, just do it, no excuses… the catch phrases are endless. So I can’t blame you if you’re reluctant to simply rely on your instincts and common sense. You’ve been told over and over again not to. But I’m here to tell you, if you’re at all in doubt, fall back on your common sense, and not the extreme or over-the-top prescription that can come from a lot of so-called experts, trainers and self-styled fitness authority figures.

People talk about willpower, and yes, to have success and reach your fitness goals, a lot it is merely making a decision to eat better and exercise and then doing the damn thing. I completely agree with that. Suck it up, buttercup! Ooops, another catch phrase. A little “stick-to-it-ness” and yes, willpower is required and will get you over the line. But, for example, when you’re training every day and your whole body aches, your joints are clicking and squeaking, your muscles are screaming and you feel that kind of overall deep fatigue where you could just melt into the ground on the spot, that might be a day where instead of forcing yourself to train again as planned, maybe you listen to your body and take an unscheduled day off and stretch or get a massage?

Just a thought.

Think about this: you aren’t going to lose any gains or results from all the previous consecutive days and weeks of hard training just because you took a day of full rest that your body was telling you it needed. In fact, you’ll get more work done and be able to train at a higher intensity when you get back to your program. And as far as fat loss goes, your diet should be doing most of the work, so a day off with dietary adherence (i.e: that means you stick to it!) is not going to set you back in any way.

Do you believe in listening to your body? How many rest days do you typically take in a week?

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FitGlam Finisher, Monday April 21st

Finisher Metcon Free Workout

Fit & Glamorous Free Weekly Workout

Follow me on Instagram! I’ll be posting next week’s workout next weekend, add me to your feed, check back then.

Use this to round out your regular lifting program, and don’t do it more than 3 times in one week! More isn’t always better, you have to be patient and consistent, if your results are lacking, look to your nutrition first. Let me know how you go in the comments, cheers lovelies!

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Scarlett Johansson Trains Hardcore For Her Superhero Body

Scarlett Johansson AvengersNatasha Romanov is a superhero in a skintight slinky black catsuit, and Scarlett has to be in tip top shape to play her.

Scarlett trains “like a guy”, her words! Yep, you read that right.  Scarlett does chin ups, push ups, explosive movements and lots of circuit training to get into Hollywood superhero shape. Her trainer, Bobby Strom, gets her started a few months before filming. She eats lots of lean proteins, vegetables, oatmeal and drinks lots of water and trains with weights. Here is what he told Self Magazine about her workout:

“I was having her do a lot of balance, coordination, and core work, but what she really loved was the strength training – things like pullups and kettlebells - and the idea of feeling and looking strong.”

Scarlett Johansson, on her diet and the “secret” to getting in shape:

Salad and chicken and, you know, nothing else, pretty much,” she said, laughing. “It’s that old tried and true ‘work out like a dude and eat like a rabbit’ [plan].”

Scarlett stays in shape year round, eats well, and kicks it up a notch with her diet and training right before a big movie. So this isn’t how she eats and trains year round, its a high intensity plan for being in her best shape for a targeted period of time. The rest of the year, she still works out and keeps in good shape, but she’s a little more moderate, which is an important take home point as well.

Scarlett Johansson Avengers Body Workout

In general, this is how Scarlett trains:

- she uses “big bang” movements that use lots of muscles and burn lots of calories, i.e: squats, lunges, push ups, and even olympic lifts.

- she uses high intensity circuits, no more than 90 minute sessions per day.

- she uses a variety of tools like dumb bells, barbells, kettlebells, TRX and bodyweight movements

- she trains like a dude and is not afraid of some hard work for big results!!!

Scarlett Johansson for Dolce & Gabanna, 2012.

Scarlett Johansson for Dolce & Gabanna, 2012.

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You Are Special & Why Cookie Cutter Plans Don’t Work

When we wanna get fit, often it seems like the most obvious thing is emulate the person whose results we want, the person we want to look like.

We want to know what they eat and how they train, and we want to do exactly whatever “secret” it is they do, so we can look like them too.

So you follow their Facebook page or Instagram and read everything they say, maybe you buy their workout plan or diet and you copy what it is they do, or what they say they do.

But you don’t get the same result. Often, you don’t even get a similar result.

The reason is that cookiecutter plans don’t work. One-size-fits-all fitness is a myth. Let me explain. The foundations of being fit, strong and looking amazing are more or less the same for everyone, that is true. But we each have unique genetics that give us unique strengths, weaknesses, individual biochemistry, individual anthropometry, muscle belly size, length, etc.

Guess what? It means we’re all unique! Your mum was right, you ARE a special little snowflake after all!

speshul snowflake

Well, OK.. you are and you aren’t! Because you’re a special snowflake, you can’t just take some random workout and expect it to transform you into someone else who also just happens to do that work, i.e: your favourite fitness model. She probably doesn’t even do that workout at all, hate to say it. You need something designed for you to get you to greatness. On the otherhand, because you are NOT a special snowflake, you you can ditch all the gimmicks, magic bullets and quick fixes, because if you haven’t realized, they don’t work. The basics work. Ignore the ads, propaganda and shameless self-promotion. Do what has been proven to work, and that is:

1. Lift weights at least 2x per week, 3 – 4 days a week of lifting is ideal. Focus on multi-joint movements, preferably with freeweights. Lift “heavy” for no more than 10 reps per set. Things like squats, deadlifts & lunges for the lower body and overhead presses, rows and push ups for the upper body. Use single joint/isolation exercises and machines only for parts of your body you want to pay a little extra attention to, and do so AFTER your squats, lunges and presses, etc.

2. Clean up your diet. Looking “toned” is a function of muscular development and optimized body fat levels. You can’t lose body fat with a crappy diet, so clean up your diet! Focus on lean proteins and vegetables at every meal and watch your carb intake. Don’t eat too much. It isn’t much more complicated than that.

3. Do a bit of cardio, not too much. Keep it to under 1 hour per day, at a maximum! If you’re doing more cardio than this, you need to re-examine your diet. You cannot out train a poor diet. Personally, I start out clients with 15 minutes of cardio per day and I don’t increase it unless we stop getting results. I never prescribe more than 30 minutes a day. If we hit a plateau we re-examine the diet and change up the cardio protocol. Use cardio as a tool for weightloss wisely. More is not “more”.

The above should be the foundation of any training and nutrition plan. Beyond this, your individual goals, preferences, genetics and athletic background need to be considered in order to customise a plan to help get you to your best, your pinnacle. So there may be tweaks to your diet, there may be a certain focus on a part of your body you want to work on, certain movements, you may have injuries you need to work around – it all depends on your individual needs, and what you need to get you to the pinnacle of fitness.

It’s going to be something different than what I need.

It’s going to be different again to what the guy two treadmills over from you needs.

It’s going to probably be different than your training buddy and your favourite fitness model.

You can not all follow the same training and diet plan and get the same result. It doesn’t work that way.

What program has gotten you the best results?

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Your Body Is Awesome & You Should Throw a Party!

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What a peaceful and beautiful thought it is, to be content with what you have and rejoice in the way things are? Granted, I understand that for many it might be hard to truly feel this way, and sadly, they may have a legitimate reason to feel that way… but we all have something to be thankful for. All of us. Something, someone, something positive in our lives, something good. In my darkest times, it has always been helpful to remember what I do have, always.

And slowly, steadily I have been lucky enough to come to feel that way about my body. I say “lucky” without a shred of irony, since in our society, with the constant message that you’re flawed, fat, unworthy, you’re lucky if you can shake it all off in any meaningful way and actually begin to feel good about yourself.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t like and what you want to fix, what about if you were content with what you had and you celebrated your amazing body and your good health and all the things your strong healthy body enables you to do?

What about if every day you thanked your body and felt grateful for your health and wrote down 3 things that were awesome about you, how do you think your attitude might change? I bet you’d start to feel happy and inspired and joyful, and learn to love your physical self. You might even throw a party and “rejoice”… (remember to invite me, please! hehe).

Nothing about you is lacking. You are good and you are enough. You have everything you need to be awesome and you already are; every day you get better and better. Each healthy meal, each training session, leads to a better you.

What do you like the most about your body?

What’s your best feature?

Whats the coolest thing you can do? Badass bench press number? Can you do the splits? Feel free to brag a little in the comments! It can be anything. I wanna hear it! Just a reminder, it doesn’t have to remotely be something that would make you “good” competitively, personal goals and triumphs, no matter how humble they may seem, are perfect. Please share!

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Busting the 1200 Calorie Myth

busting the 1200 calorie myth.jpg

One of the most pervasive and destructive nutritional myths is that 1200 calories is the magic number of minimum calories it is safe to diet at.

Who said that? It’s bullshit!!!

1200 calories is far too few calories for most people to diet safely or effectively on.

In my career as a trainer, I can’t tell you how many women I had as clients who were spinning their wheels because they were undereating. Usually, the problem was made worse because they were overexercising too. Hey, I have to put my hand up and admit… at one time, I have been that person. It’s what I call the “1200 calorie prison”. You drop down to the magic “minimum calorie” number because you want fast results, right? Or maybe you just didn’t know any better, you read it in a magazine or YOUR TRAINER told you that was the right amount of calories for you. There is so much misinformation out there and sadly, sometimes we can get it from so-called “trusted” sources. Whatever the reason, you jumped on the 1200 calorie bandwagon and if you stuck to it, it probably became your “1200 calorie prison”, since as soon as you start eating more after undereating for an extended period of time, you pack the weight back on (and then some). And so begins a vicious cycle.

What Happens When You Cut Calories to 1200?

Initially, you get great results, because you slashed your calories. But then it stops. You might also be doing lots of cardio every day, up to an hour or more. Because cardio gets the fat off, right? [No!] But the results aren’t coming anymore. Your weight loss has stalled. You might cut your calories even further, and/or increase your cardio and you might see a slight difference from that change, but you stall again really quickly.

WHAT THE HELL? Calories in, calories out, right? You are eating so little, and exercising so much, and you have nothing but mediocre results to show for it.

Why This Is Happening

Your body is smarter than you give it credit for, and also, has different goals to you. Your body’s primary objective is not looking a certain way or seeing a certain number on the scale. Your body and all its biological functions are programmed for survival and reproduction.

So what happens when you slash calories and hammer your body with an excessive exercise routine? Your body takes these cues as a red flag for imminent starvation and death, if things are allowed to continue. Your body is not going to let this continue. Nope. No way. Humans as a species didn’t make through tens of thousands of years of evolution, fighting off sabre tooth tigers, floods, droughts and other assorted calamities to come undone with the advent of the treadmill and a poorly thought out diet regime.

This Is Why You’re Stuck.

The response to rapid caloric expenditure and loss of fat reserves is downregulation of your metabolism to slow or stop this process.  From the most basic survival standpoint, your fat reserves are your body’s protection against famine.  Your body will also favour shedding muscle tissue before fat because muscle is metabolically “expensive” to maintain; fat is more valuable from a survival standpoint. Your body is programmed to shed muscle and hold onto as much fat as possible when it is faced with a famine scenario, which is what you’re putting it in when you undereat and overexercise. The downregulation of hormones responsible for weight loss also coincide with the upregulation of hormones that make you hungry. It’s a losing battle, and even if you have the grit to fend of hunger, its a pretty miserable way to live. This doesn’t feel good. It isn’t healthy. And I bet you probably don’t look that great either. Grey skin, fine lines, tired eyes, lethargy, aches and pains all over your over-exercised body. Its not a way to live. You can feel better and look better. There is no reason you can’t be an optimal body weight and be the picture of health. You just have to dump the extreme measures, acquire patience and kindness towards yourself and trust the process.

That’s the gist of it. There is further reading at the end of the article if you’d like to read more about it.

So how many calories should you eat to lose weight?

Calorie intake is a highly individual thing. It depends on your starting body weight, activity level and individual metabolism. There are dozens of calculators and fancy formulas all over the web, which I will include links to, but the most effective way is to use a simple formula and then adjust using biofeedback.

Start with your body weight in pounds. The conversion from kilos is 2.2, meaning take your body weight in kilos and multiply it by 2.2 – that is your body weight in pounds.

An ideal starting point for figuring out weight loss calories is your bodyweight in pounds x 10 – 12. So if you weigh 145 pounds (65.9kg), then ideal weight loss calories for you would be in the vicinity of 1450 – 1740.

I always recommend you start at the top end of that calorie range, use that as your calorie goal and stick with it for at least two weeks, preferably a month! If at the end of 2 weeks, you see no weight loss, drop your calories by about 150. If after the first 2 weeks you are losing more than 1 kg (approx. 2lbs) per week, then you should increase your calories.

Losing too fast is NOT good! It means you are very likely losing much more muscle than fat (so you’ll look less “toned” and carrying less muscle also means a slower metabolism) AND, losing too fast means you will plateau fast – your body will downregulate in response, as discussed above.

You don’t have to slash calories like crazy to see a result. A small calorie deficit and consistency with your diet and exercise routine will do the trick. If you still aren’t seeing a steady drop or improvement after at least a month period, then you can drop by about another 150 calories. This process is one aspect of what is broadly termed using biofeedback to adjust your program. It is basically a fancy term for listening to your body, which you should absolutely always, always do.

The above process is what you would use to bring yourself slowly out of a 1200-calorie diet (or any deficit that is too low). Simply add 100 – 150 calories to your plan every two weeks until you get up to maintenance calories (meaning, no gain or loss, just maintaining). The process to get you back into weight loss mode is a little more complex and takes time and patience (probably Part II of this piece), but adding a small amount of calories every few weeks will at least get you eating more, with very minimal to no weight gain. You’ll feel better and look better and have more energy.

You can also use this process in reverse to GAIN weight. Add 150 calories each week above your maintenance calories until you gain a small amount, say .5 – 1kg per week at most (1 – 2lbs). If you’re gaining more than that, your weight gain is too fast and you’re certainly gaining mostly fat, which is undesirable unless you’re bulking to become a sumo wrestler. Some people have a goal to gain weight, yes, even women who are not bodybuilders and who have a desire to look conventionally attractive. Fullness and shape on a woman is awesome.

Whatever your goals, lifestyle or activity level, this is a more or less foolproof, safe way to figure out what your calories should be, completely individualised  for you.

Should Anyone Be Using 1200 Calories For Weight Loss?

YES! It would be appropriate for a very small person who weighs 54kg (120lbs) or less to eat 1200 calories a day in order to lose weight. But it’s safe to say they are in a very small minority of dieters, since most people are bigger than that and also, people who weigh that much usually aren’t dieting. But yes, if you are 120lbs or smaller and you’d like to lose a bit of weight, you’d be in the small minority of dieters for whom the 1200 calorie one-size-fits-all minimum would be OK.

How About Obese People, Does 10 – 12 x Bodyweight Work For Them?

Here is where that simple formula unravels a bit. Generally, after a bodyweight of 100kg (220lbs), 10 – 12 x “bodyweight in lbs” generates a result of too many calories for weight loss. For my obese clients, my practice is to start them off at 2200 – 2500 calories, and then use biofeedback and hunger to gauge how to adjust calories from there. Sometimes, an obese person may need to lose weight rapidly for medical reasons and so, will be on much lower calories with a view to losing as much weight as possible in a short amount of time. However this type of extreme diet should be medically advised and supervised.

How To Break The Diet Cycle

First things first, if you want to break out of your 1200-calorie prison, I do believe with a mindful approach you can do it without excessive weight gain, however you will have to put any weight loss on the shelf until your metabolism is back up to snuff.

Only then can you think about losing weight, and you have to be committed to eating a reasonable amount of calories and following a reasonable, maintainable program. You are beautiful as you are, and also worthy, lovely and deserving regardless of your size and weight. The diet will still be there when you’re ready to approach the process with love and respect for your body. Until then, we have to work on fixing your mindset just as much as your metabolism.

Another important note in getting your metabolism revving again, is that you will need to drop ALL CARDIO. Your cardio is counter productive to the process of coaxing your body and metabolism back to normal, healthy function. Depending on how long and hard you dieted, this process can take up to a year or more. Its often less, but if you’ve been hammering your body on low calories and excessive exercise for years, the healing can take just as long. Cardio training for weight loss is a tool that should be used mindfully and can be re-introduced when or if you’re ready to re-start the weight loss process.

Have you found yourself on a super-low calorie diet you didn’t know how to break free of without gaining too much weight? How did you change the situation, what did you do to get help? Please share your experiences and insights in the comments.

Further Reading:
US National Institute of Health – Adaptive Thermogenesis in Humans
Tom Venuto – “Starvation Mode
Bodybuilding.com – Calorie Know How: Get The Equation Right To Get Results