AtA: Setting Up the Weight and Maintaining the Challenge

Posted July 7th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Do you have any tips for getting the bag on for pushups? It’s getting too heavy for me to do that part properly without the weight being centered at my lower back, which seems bad.

If you don’t happen to have someone who can set you up, you can put the bag on a chair, then kneel next to the chair and draw it onto your shoulder blades with your outside hand, bracing yourself with your close hand and your knees. Then replace your hand and get in push-up position. You can also try varying your hand spacing, doing incline push-ups by putting your feet on a higher surface, or for something still more advanced, see if you can bust them out one-handed. Those are my fav.

Alternatively, you can do one-hand flyes/presses using the straps on, say, the edge of a couch or step so that you have clearance for the full range of motion. Or simply switch to overhead presses, or one-hand overhead presses until such time as your shoulders get strong enough to support one-handed push-ups.

Lastly, plyo push-ups going for height/clearance will never stop being a challenge. That is, until you can explosively push yourself up to standing position without breaking at the knees or hips. Which would be pretty impressive. You probably want to do them on carpet, a mat, a wood floor or something with some give. Concrete is for people that hate themselves.

Squats is kind of a pain for that too when you have no squat cage. You have to find some appropriate-height surface in your place to set it on and then roll slide into position on the back of your neck, or just do Zercher Squats.

I like Zerchers for the same reason I like hill sprints; you can’t do the weight you could on a back squat, but it’s a lot harder to do them wrong. And it lends itself to a natural functionality when you are doing something that requires you to squat and lift.

A great compound movement is cleaning the bag off the floor and throwing it over your shoulder in a fireman carry; you can not only scoop more weight than you might be able to hustle into zercher, but you also get additional stimulus to the torso and body to balance the weight. Just switch sides between sets (or for true brutality, drop it back to the floor and clean it up again for each rep).

I’d also recommend giving the split-squats a try with the bag in zercher position.

AtA: Workouts and Carb Meals

Posted June 25th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Quick question on nutrition, I have always been told that you should eat your carb-heavy meals before you exercise instead of after but the book says to do the opposite. Does this matter at all, and if so, do you have an opinion on which is better?

I recommend it after (obviously), and though the carbs are the distinguishing factor (compared to the Base meals), I still consider protein to be the emphasis.

The metabolic state that comes with exercise obviously only extends beyond the workout (your body for whatever reason has a hard time predicting when in the future you may work out). While there’s some credence to be given to having the carbs available ‘as fuel’, that’s going to be significantly more of a factor for endurance athletes rather than someone doing the exercises in the book (or for a typical human, natch).

A more practical reason is the shocking (shocking, I say) frequency of people eating a pre-workout carb meal and then unforeseen circumstances preventing them from doing the workout at the time they’d planned, thereby sitting around with carbs in their tum and insulin up, and nothing to do for it. I look at carbs as a type of reimbursement; you do the work, then you get paid.

The other part of it is general restriction of carbs; if you had a carb meal before and after a workout, and had two workouts that day, 4 of the 6 meals you’re eating are low-fat, moderate-carb. Even with that much exercise you’re potentially throwing off the macro pretty fierce, and that’s problematic inasmuch as you’re not getting proper amounts of fat as you are getting ‘too many’ carbs. One peak meal per workout is my general rule.

Base/Peak is the approach I recommend most often to most people. However, if you’re doing it a different way and you’re getting/have the results you want, then there’s no real need to change it to what I’m saying. The same can be said for the Brain Over Brawn program: if you’ve legitimately and faithfully done it by-the-book and aren’t seeing the results you want, do something else.

AtA: Of Calories, Cravings, and Variety

Posted June 18th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

DH writes:

To be honest I didn’t really “get it” until I did it. I really love food, especially sweets, and I never thought that I’d ever be that way either. When people talked about it, it sounded really weird and unlikely to me. I basically set out to create meals that would fit into my desired calories and macronutrient breakdown so that I could be assured I was getting the right amount. I didn’t think that tracking every meal and then fudging towards the end of the day was really the right solution for me. Especially because this way I could make sure that a good number of the meals were portable and I could cook things that needed pre-cooking bulk. I was afraid that doing the same meals would get boring but it was actually really easy and ended up not being a problem at all really. A month or so I in I went to the grocery store and glanced a box of cookies and realized I didn’t even have the faintest desire to buy them, which was totally out of character but also totally awesome. Not having to deal with the whims of my gustatory desires is pretty cool a lot of the time.

This really resonates with both my own experience and what I hear from others.

One thing that stands out when helping people change their eating habits is especially prevalent with people who have means. They’ll go out to restaurants 2-3 times a day, eat expensive, decadent foods, yet hardly even taste them anymore. When ‘treats’ become commonplace they lose the magic of being ‘special’.

You get almost the same vibe from people who simply eat fast food constantly (due to travel, habit, whatever); in many cases it feels like they’re too depressed to generate the motivation to cook even crockpot-level foods or deal with a stove. If they do eat at home it’s a frozen dinner, because they’re too exhausted/depressed to deal with the car/drive-through.

By starting (or resetting) your diet with simple (but not bland), basic meals, you can regain an appreciation for what makes food taste good in the first place, and by focusing on your health/fitness/aesthetic goals you undermine all the emotional attachments that come along with eating garbage-food.

And yeah. The best thing is seeing something you remember loving and being disgusted by it, rather than simply trying to play the MY WILL IS STRONG OH GOD DADDY WAAAAANT game. When I was a kid I used to love Little Debbie cakes, but after being apart from them for a few years and then having the opportunity to try them, I realized they tasted like wax ass. As there is nothing redeeming at all in their nutritional content, that’s a pretty good habit shift to get.

AtA: Brain Over Brawn and Older Folks

Posted June 11th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

My mom is willing to eat a good diet but won’t lift, and my dad is willing to lift but refuses to diet. It also seems like older people seem to think that it’s impossible to get in good shape when you’re over 50, and considering than 90+% of people that age are in poor shape it’s really not hard to see why they would think that.

I also think that the accepted wisdom until recently has been “Oh you’re old take it easy you don’t want to have a heart attack” and that mentality seems to be ingrained in people’s heads. Luckily it seems like the medical community is slowly starting to see the light and is recommending lifting to more older people. I work out at a university gym and there’s quite a few older people who look like they’re just starting out.

Back when I was first getting started in the field, I remember all the old dudes who would faithfully come in to Bally’s at 6am, 5 days a week. It was practically a social club. But many of these dudes had been at it for twenty+ years and were still benching 135 and so on. Though I’ve repeatedly spoken out against the numbers game, I personally don’t feel like there’s a definitive end-game, even for little old ladies.

Though when I approached them as a trainer (for what was probably their 2000th time rejecting some young asshole trying to tell them their business), they were very canalized in their approach to nutrition, exercise, and so on. Even these men who have a lifetime of exercise behind them have been patiently sticking that same metal peg into the same gap in the weight stack for longer than I’ve been alive. While normally I’d take a ‘to each their own’ tact, those same people almost universally expressed dissatisfaction with their gains and their current ability. Though they were largely unable to affect change, they were also terrified to stop doing what they’ve been doing for fear of losing even their most modest of gains.

It’s a hard place to be, I’m sure. But it’s strange to see so many otherwise-successful men who probably listen to (and value the advice of) experts all day in their business, yet write off physical prowess to the chemistry and ferocity of youth. I’ve actually got a pretty thick notepad  of observations that I’ve been slowly putting together regarding the age/gender-related disparities both from social and biological perspectives; I’m hoping to put it into a decent paper some day.

That said, you, myself and (I imagine) anybody who actually likes their folks has to deal with this sort of thing. My successes (where I’ve found them) have yet to have a common thread though, so I have a hard time proffering advice for helping others. The best tentative approach I’ve found (and that I tried for in the book) is relating to people as people, or human-animals, and really pushing the whole tribal thing we’ve been at for millions of years, in stark comparison to this last little few-decade hiccup of macbooks and automobiles. We’re all much more alike than we are different, and the things that do distinguish us are seldom these big blanket generalizations of boy/girl, young/old, etc. I know I’ve won over more than one older dude by painting up role models like Sam Elliot and Clint Eastwood; even some of the most wobbly grandpas out there enjoy envisioning themselves as grizzled old hardasses.

The short and sweet is that Brain Over Brawn (and nutrition, and fitness, and especially resistance training) don’t have an expiration date. Short of being medically bedridden (which you may yet avoid if you exercise between now and then), there’s seldom a reason someone can’t lift right up until curtain call. And doing so is very likely to give you not only more years to keep at it, but a higher quality of life throughout.

AtA: The Pollan Conclusion and Brain Over Brawn

Posted June 7th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

[...]when I was reading the section on food and obesity and your critiques on the food industry, I though I was reading Pollan. Yet you arrived at a very different conclusion, and a low carb one at that, with room for exceptions. I was wondering if you came across Pollan when you were researching the food and nutrition section, and if so what your opinions are of him? More broadly, is the recommendation of 40:20:40 p/c/f because you feel this is a reasonable goal for people to aim for, or is this what you have found is an ideal ratio from your experience helping your individual clients?

Pollan is certainly a hell of smart dude, and even though some of his thoughts are hard (for me) to mutually reconcile, his books are worth reading just because he has an incredible style, and puts forth some really well-researched analysis that may blow your mind, even if the particular study may be familiar to you. He also manages his activism where he can get his point across without coming off with that slimy ulterior-motive aftertaste that’s so frequent lately in the wake of evolutionary/historical diet becoming A Big Thing. I’ve only read “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, but Food Rules is in my cart and I intend to read it soon.

My major divergences are probably summarized due to two things:

1) Individuals. People are radically different not just on the genetic and biological levels, but on the ways all these systems interact with each other. There are millions of permutations that make it to where two people on the exact same diet and program will almost invariably get differing results. Hard to say with someone’s lineage what sort of responses, tolerances, and so forth will apply, and each of those things complicate still further based on the the interactions of food, stress, stimulus and so forth.

In short, people are mad complex and there’s no blanket solution. However, one thing that is becoming apparent (thanks to diabetic research more than anything diet or supplement companies have contributed) is that many diet profiles are complicated and hindered by poor carbohydrate control, especially in excessive sugars. Vice versa, controlled-carb diet studies suggest that body composition and health are improved, independent to exercise or even (gasp) genetic/ethnic diversity.

That said, I seldom advocate extremism (the exception being against trans fats) and I feel like carbs have a place in a diet, and exercise both enhances the benefit from carbs and minimizes the potential negative impact.

2) Practicality. A pragmatic, realistic approach for “everyone” is a core concept of Brain Over Brawn. Even if we had the infrastructure in place for everyone to switch to a quinoa-and-red-yeast-rice diet tomorrow morning, not everyone has the money to buy everything organic and local, and even fewer have the immediate desire. Or to give up all their foods, or eat “mostly plants” or anything else. It’s certainly something I can agree with philosophically, and I respect Pollan’s stand against the factory-farm food industry. But it’s not going to change overnight, and my target with Brain Over Brawn was specifically designed to be things that can change overnight, or even right now, as someone reads it.

And all that said, I agree with you. Macros really aren’t that important in the grand scheme, especially since the type and quality of food, the foods with it, the eater’s internal chemistry (both genetic disposition and at-the-time), add so many factors that the same meal could have a significantly different effect on a different person or just a different day.

The best practical solution I’ve found is to orient carbs to exercise, making carbs less of a factor for people when physical activity is also less of a factor for them, and allowing for increased carbs alongside more exercise (both as a reward, and due to the tendency for higher tolerances due to improved physical profile). I allow for most vegetables in Base meals (without fearing for carb count), and for fruits as well in Peak meals; the 40/40/20 split is a target for people who simply can’t come to terms with the Base/Peak division of meals. Going with the Base and Peak meal design makes accurate counting/hair-splitting largely irrelevant; restricted carbs for sedentary people, carb allowance for active people. Bing bang boom.

AtA: Thoughts on ‘The China Study’ and meat

Posted May 12th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

Have you ever read the book The China Study? I’d be curious what your thoughts on that are, if you have.

I read it back when it came out. Though I thought the findings from his sourced studies were interesting, I didn’t find them conclusive and feel he had to make some serious stretches to attempt to correlate them with the anti-meat/dairy agenda he’s pushing. The main thing I ended up taking away from it was that it came off like promotional material for a Vegan lifestyle, albeit significantly less slimy-salesman and shameless than the crew that writes the “Skinny Bitch” series.

While it might very well be true the average American could benefit from adhering to the lifestyle proposed, that’s because we’re by and large so awful that just about any change is an improvement. While I am convinced of the necessity and manifold benefit of vegetables and fruits (and thereby recommend having at least a serving with each and every meal), I feel there are also a multitude of benefits from the consumption of meat and animal-related protein products. The DHA/EPA from fish, essential amino acids that are extremely low or unavailable in plant sources (like carnitine and carnosine), iron, zinc, B-complexes and so on.

I’m not saying there’s nothing to the study, but I think the conclusions he draws don’t tend to follow. You can also find reasonably credible studies showing that wheat is killing us, and that soy will give your unborn children sexual deformities.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t really advocate any sort of extremism. Everything’s got cancer in it, we’re all gonna die immediately, sky is falling. I think meat and dairy are an important part of a diet, but I strongly recommend the vegetables and their glorious antioxidants and phytochemicals and so forth also, not instead of.

While I don’t have a fundamental concern with the consumption of meat and dairy, the ‘factory farm’ situation and the unethical and insane treatment of animals and what we do to them chemically and biologically for profit purposes is mortifying. I however do not have a solution at present and have yet to see one manifest (a whole lot of yelling ‘fire’ but few people with buckets). It’s ever in my thoughts though.

Foods: tortillas and noodles now with reduced guilt (or guilt free)

Posted February 1st, 2010 in Foods by Clint

I’ve been around to check, and most every local grocery store offers low-carb (and often high fiber) tortillas. The most common example I’ve seen is La Banderita’s Xtreme Fiber tortillas.

The nutritional label claims:
Total Fat 2g
Total Carbs 5g
Dietary Fiber 12g
Sugars 0g
Protein 8g

You could actually wrap your Base Meals in one of these without worry, and get that floury goodness you crave without all those carbs messing with your meal profile. Fiber is of course awesome, you get a nice bit of protein in there, and by all appearances there’s no real downside.

The other honorable mention I would like to give is to Barilla for their “Plus” line, which includes fiber, ALA Omega3 fatty acids, and protein. The carb count would still limit pasta to a Peak meal to have after you exercise, but according to their label:
per 100g
370 calories
Total Fat 3g (360mg of ALA Omega3)
Total Carbs 67g
Dietary Fiber 7g
Sugars 3g
Protein 17g

So if you decide to go for pasta for a Peak meal, I suggest you try swapping out your regular noodles with Barilla Plus (I haven’t really seen other high protein/fiber noodles on the market so far). They taste great to me and I have yet to have a complaint at the table, and both you and your family can appreciate the significantly improved nutritional profile over regular noodles. They also come in a number of shapes from rotini to angel hair.

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