Author: Sarah Sweeney

Personal trainer, qualified nutritionist, and lifelong athlete turned bodybuilder - is there anything Sarah Sweeney can’t do?! More impressive than her credentials are the fact that Sarah balances out her competitive side - winning the Dallas Europa Pro 2016 - with being a full-time mom and managing her own personal training business. With personal ambitions to grow her own coaching brand, expect for Sarah to continue to set unparalleled standards of excellence going into the future.

What weight? Ideal bodyweight and health by Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on October 21, 2019

 

When people begin a weight loss journey, it makes sense that they place a heavy emphasis on the number they see on the scale. It’s easy to measure, it’s easy to track, and it makes it very salient whether you’re making progress toward the ideal body weight you’ve set for yourself.

 

So, what’s the deal with weight anyway? How did this simple number grow to carry so immense weight and power? (Pun intended.) Well, because a lot of us have grown to equate our body weight (or ideal body weight) with a particular feeling—if we weigh a certain amount, we’ll look a certain way. If we reach a certain number on the scale, then we will feel a particular way about ourselves. Since it’s these feelings we’re after, we chase numbers on the almighty scale like some deity promising us immortality.

 

But, there is a problem. When we reach our sacred number we either:

 

  1. Reach this goal and don’t feel the way we expect.
  2. Reach the feeling we want but haven’t met our goal weight yet.

 

In either case, there is confusion and frustration swirling inside us. In the first case, we think our original ideal body weight might not have been enough. We need to get leaner and leaner until we achieve the feeling we’re after. (Leading to obsessive and unhealthy practices.)

 

In the second case, we might feel like we’ve fallen short of our goal. We feel good about ourselves and where we’re at, but something about those elusive few extra pounds gnaws at our accomplishments.

 

The truth of the matter is that “ideal body weight” is more of a range than a hard target. And the ideal body weights on most charts can be wildly inaccurate. For example, according to those charts in most doctor’s offices, I should weigh about anywhere from 30 to 2 pounds less than I do now. 

 

According to my BMI I’m obese. During my first bodybuilding show I was right at the edge of this somewhat arbitrary threshold, and yet, my bodyfat percentage was under what is considered “athletic” for a female. As an IFBB Pro, I typically come in “overweight” by BMI standards, but have an “underweight” bodyfat percentage. 

 

There will be a weight at which you feel your best. As long as your bloodwork comes out in good ranges, then your actual body weight is less important. I get it, it can be hard to set aside this number we see at our feet every morning.

 

Whether we can convince ourselves of its reduced importance or not, this information will still hold some meaning of progress for us. Instead of trying to ignore this, let’s instead dilute its power with a variety of other, non-scale forms of success that can also be easily tracked.

 

  1. You’re satisfied after meals

One of the problems of eating highly-processed foods is that they don’t give you the same feeling of satiety as more nutrient-dense foods. As a result, you can eat a substantial amount of calories without ever really feeling full—leaving you going back for more. By incorporating nutrient-dense foods into your diet, you should be able to finish your meal and feel satisfied (full but not stuffed).

 

  1. You have more energy

After getting into a regular exercise routine you may notice you have more energy in the morning and throughout the day (compared to when you didn’t exercise). This is one of the benefits of a healthy diet and regular activity. You might even find that you don’t need as much coffee or any at all!

 

  1. You get better sleep 

You have an easier time falling asleep and wake up less throughout the night. Regular exercise and a healthy diet improve your overall sleep quality so that you feel more rested upon waking.

 

  1. Your clothes fit better

Maybe you have a pair of jeans that you weren’t previously able to get into, or perhaps your current clothes are fitting more loose than usual. How your clothes fit is one good indication of whether your fitness program is working or not.

 

Remember, muscle is smaller, per pound, than fat. Even if the scale may not change you could still be getting smaller.

 

  1. You’re generally in a better mood

Exercise has been shown to provide mood-enhancing benefits. In fact, exercise has become more popular as a prescribed treatment for depression, as it can alleviate many depressive symptoms. Aside from direct mood-enhancing mechanisms, the increased self-esteem and confidence gained from regular exercise can also put you in a better all-around mood.

 

  1. You’re stronger and don’t tire as easily

Perhaps you noticed you aren’t as out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs? Maybe you had to move something heavy and it didn’t seem as hard as it was before? Maybe you even accidentally broke something when trying to tighten it!?

 

If you notice you are stronger and less tired in your day-to-day life, then this is a good indication that your fitness is improving.

 

  1. It feels more like a lifestyle than a diet

Do you find that you naturally gravitate toward healthier food options? Perhaps you were forced to miss a workout, and something just didn’t quite feel right.

 

A good indication of progress is when fitness activities (food prep, exercise, logging, etc.) feel natural and not forced. These activities start to become part of your life, and as such it will be easier to maintain these healthy habits for the long haul.

 

Are you making progress in these other areas? If so, chances are your fitness program is doing exactly what it is meant to do—improve your health, your appearance, and your overall well-being.

 

How does your body learn? with Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on October 2, 2019

Have you ever noticed when you learn a new exercise, it’s hard? Not just a little bit hard, but A LOTTA BIT hard. It’s awkward, it requires a lot of effort, and it generally feels like it’s never going to get easier. Until it does. Eventually, the thing that was so challenging the first time you tried it begins to feel almost effortless. It requires little thought, almost becoming rote in its simplicity. How does this happen? And how can you make sure you learn good habits when you are learning new skills in the gym?

 

Motor Learning

When we are young, our brains learn new things very easily. When we are in our twenties and early thirties, we still tend to pick up new motor skills fairly adeptly, and in less time than it takes an older person, age 65 plus. Part of this may be the fact that we are still (hopefully) pretty active at this age, so new movements and exercises don’t look as foreign to us as they might to our senior counterparts. Part of it, too, is the fact that we aren’t dealing with physiological changes in muscle or vision loss that often accompanies aging.

 

However, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn new complex motor tasks as we get older. Lifelong learning, in fact, is believed to be beneficial for our overall mental and physical well-being. Our brains retain their plasticity and their ability to establish new connections, but it takes a little more effort. The effort it takes is lessened if you challenge yourself frequently to learn new skills. The gym is a great place to practice learning.

 

Neuroscience research suggests our brain sends all the appropriate signals to the muscles before we move. For instance, if you are preparing to do a handstand, before your hands touch the floor, your brain informs all the muscles via the nervous system what needs to happen for the handstand to take place, essentially predicting your next physiological state. This doesn’t mean real time feedback isn’t useful or doesn’t occur. The sensory nervous system sends a play by play as soon as the movement begins. “The floor is uneven,” “the weight isn’t centered,” “the toes, oh the toes! Why aren’t they pointing?” The motor nervous system tries to remedy as much of this feedback as it can by sending signals to the right muscles to adapt to the desired outcome.

 

Now, let’s throw another voice into the mix. You are up in your handstand, trying to keep your balance and point your toes, when a coach says, “drop your ribs.”

 

“My ribs, where are my ribs? Oh, right, in the front. Drop? What does that mean? To the floor or to ceiling?” Your brain, being the people pleaser that it is, processes the words before you start talking to yourself and begins changing the rib position, trying to figure out the right way to move.

 

And with that, you fall out of your handstand, still not sure where your ribs were supposed to go.

 

Handstands are a complex skill that require many components to be successful. I am completely INCAPABLE of doing even ONE.  It’s possible, or maybe even likely, that had the coach cued you between repetitions you would have been more successful at understanding what she meant. I use handstands as an example here because it is something that many of us know the mechanics of, probably could do at one time, but would readily fall out of if giving interrupting cues. As a coach (who used to be a classroom teacher, but not one who typically teaches handstands) it is important to know how your intervention can both promote and prevent learning. 

 

Learning and refining complex motor skills happens with a higher degree of success and a little more quickly when you receive feedback after performing the task. If you had been given the cue differently you also may have been more successful. Had she given you a tactile cue, for instance, the correction you made would have been more automatic, requiring less conscious thought. 

But what about when you are first learning a skill? How do you take information and implement it in a meaningful way?

 

Learn with Patience

When you are first introduced to a skill, there is a period of time where you simply try to figure out how to do the thing. Let’s pretend you are learning how to do a kettlebell clean. Moving the kettlebell from the floor to the rack position is the goal; the path it takes to get there varies at first until you gain a level of competency. You don’t need tons of cues at first, other than the basic idea of how the kettlebell gets from point A to point C. You need a general understanding of the path the kettlebell should take, and the coaching you receive during this time period should help you perform the movement effectively.

 

This part of the learning process requires patience. As a student, you want all the information on how to clean. At the same time and despite the fact you probably don’t possess the basic motor control/strength/stability/mobility to be successful at the skill yet. You may find yourself watching YouTube videos and reading blogs about the ideal way to grip the kettlebell and drive through the hips, assuming the more information you have, the faster you will gain a level of proficiency.

 

Working through a few ugly reps is challenging, but necessary. Coordination for a skill improves significantly after a little bit of practice, and trial and error is how we begin to figure out what works. Efficiency will improve whether or not you know every single step to the perfect clean. In fact, it’s often better from a learning perspective to focus on one or two things at a time. It’s kind of like having all the pieces to a puzzle, but you aren’t sure what the final picture looks like. Too much information can muddle the process. Figure out the overall picture and then lay out the pieces.

 

Once the exercise begins to resemble the desired outcome, you can begin fine tuning the motor pattern through specific feedback. This is an excellent time to hire a coach for a few sessions to assess your form. He will give you targeted cues to groove the skill. It’s easier to learn a movement well the first time than it is to re-learn a motor pattern you do often that is filled with inefficient habits.

 

Novelty Is Good for Your Brain

Even if you have progressed a skill to the next level, it’s always a good idea to occasionally return to the basics, looking for an opportunity to make the movement a little smoother. Maybe you play with tempo during these sessions, slowing the movement down, adding pauses, speeding the movement up. Maybe you change your focus: what does it feel like to emphasize the feeling of the hip drive for the clean? What happens if you enter the handstand differently? The basics are only boring if they are always experienced the same way.

 

Handily, there is research the suggests novelty is good for the brain. It keeps us engaged and helps us see things in a fresh way, improving our ability to learn. In addition, our bodies are designed to move in many different ways; we just need to remember to challenge them outside of what we like and what is comfortable.

 

3 Steps to Put Your Learning to Practice: 

  1. For the Beginner

Learning a motor skill falls into two categories: understanding the general motor pattern and sensing what it feels like. The general motor pattern describes what the skill generally looks like? What body parts move? What does the skill accomplish?

 

Let’s pretend you are learning a basic hip hinge pattern. The general pattern is that as your hips move back, your torso stays long and changes the angle with the hips. The hips drive the movement. An easy way to learn this is to stand with your back toward the wall, about a foot’s distance away from, with your arms across your chest. Your feet are about hip distance apart. Move your hips back to touch the wall and then stand back up to center. This is the general motor pattern.

 

If one hip moves faster than the other or you’re holding your breath and narrowing your eyes, you won’t know you are doing these things. Check in with yourself for a couple of reps. Notice which hip touches the wall first or notice what your breath feels like and what your eyes are doing. The ability to sense natural physical tendencies during new situations in the gym often mirrors what you do during new situations in life. The ability to feel these tendencies makes it easier to choose alternative ways to breathe or move the hips or relax the eyes. This is sensing what happens during the movement.

 

A good way to set yourself up for success during the learning process is to make sure you focus on one thing while you are practicing the skill. If you think about too many things, you will be the handstanding student earlier, and she fell down.

 

  1. For the Intermediate Learner

Once the very basics have been mastered, the skill becomes more about performance. In the example of the hip hinge, let’s assume the hip hinge was being taught in order to learn how to do a kettlebell clean.

 

You can hip hinge well and you are able to clean the kettlebell to the rack position. Yet, it doesn’t feel smooth, so you video yourself to see what you are doing. You notice there is something weird with your torso, so you compare it to the video of a well-known coach performing the motion. “Aha!” you think to yourself. “I am arching my back when the kettlebell gets to my knees.” So, how do you fix this?

 

You could try imagining you are doing the lift your normal way, with your back arching a little bit, and then imagine what it would be like to do differently, driving from the hips as the kettlebell stays close to the body during the movement. How would this feel different? What would you have to do to perform the clean in this manner? The ability to imagine you are performing a skill a specific way expedites learning and has been shown to improve coordination and motor recruiting beyond the initial learning phase. Plus, it’s an easy way to get extra practice between sets or during your cool-down without impacting recovery.

 

Another option is to try to perform the clean differently for the next set. If I were coaching you in this hypothetical situation, I might say, “See if you can exhale as you grab the kettlebell to get your ribs down towards your pelvis. Keep that position as you pull the bell up from the ground, driving your feet into the floor.” Often, by focusing on one goal for the movement, in this case getting the ribs in a particular position, is enough to change the strategy for the upcoming set.

 

  1. For the Advanced Learner

Goal setting can be important at this stage to offset boredom. What do you want to do with the skill you mastered? Lift more weight? Combine it with something else? Progress the exercise?

 

Whatever it is you want to accomplish, approach it thoughtfully. Checking in with a coach occasionally can be helpful to ensure you aren’t getting sloppy or are avoiding certain aspects of the skill. A coach can also be helpful at providing ideas to vary aspects of the movement. If you don’t have a coach, video yourself occasionally and try to watch yourself with an open mind, observing the quality of the skill.

 

Progressions are only as good as the foundation you have established for yourself. Approach your workout with the enthusiasm and focus of a master honing his craft and you will reap the benefits.

Alcohol and Body Composition

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on August 13, 2019

Alcohol and Body Composition

Are we getting drinks or DRANKS? Are we drinking ourselves out of achieving our health and fitness goals? Many people enjoy its sedating influence and it does play a vital role in many of society’s traditions and practices. But, one effect alcohol has, which is not widely discussed, is its impact on body composition. In its purest form, ethyl alcohol, which supplies seven calories per gram, alcohol provides energy, bumping up one’s total energy balance whenever it is consumed.

Unlike macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fats, alcohol supplies what nutritionists often refer to as empty calories: calories without nutrition. To make matters worse, it is the first fuel to be used when combined with carbohydrates, fats and proteins, postponing the fat-burning process and contributing to greater fat storage.

This is what physically happens to your body when you drink:

When you drink alcohol, it’s broken down into acetate (basically vinegar), which the body will burn before any other calorie you’ve consumed or stored, including fat or even sugar. So if you drink and consume more calories than you need, you’re more likely to store the fat from the Cheez Whiz you ate and the sugar from the Coke you drank because your body is getting all its energy from the acetate in the beer you sucked down.

Further, studies show that alcohol temporarily inhibits “lipid oxidation”— in other words, when alcohol is in your system, it’s harder for your body to burn fat that’s already there. Since eating fat is the most metabolically efficient way to put fat on your body—you actually use a small amount of calories when you turn excess carbs and protein into body fat, but excess fat slips right into your saddlebags, no costume change necessary—hypothetically speaking, following a high-fat, high-alcohol diet would be the easiest way to put on weight.This does not mean that you cannot drink moderately and lose weight.

Take note: Alcohol is not a diet food

In a 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the drinking habits of 19,220 U.S. women aged 39 or older with “normal weight” (based on BMI) were tracked for 13 years. 60 percent were light or regular drinkers, while 40 percent reported drinking no alcohol. Over the course of the study 41 percent of the women became overweight or obese, but the nondrinkers were the ones who ended up gaining more weight. Meanwhile, the risk of becoming overweight was 30 percent lower for women who limited themselves to one or two alcoholic beverages a day.

Still, alcohol is not a diet food: A 5-ounce glass of wine has around 150 calories, a 1.5-ounce shot of vodka or 12 ounces of light beer, 100. For every drink you have, you have to subtract something else from your diet or log another mile on the treadmill— or risk weight gain. Further, people eat about 30 percent more food when they consume alcohol, possibly because alcohol interferes with satiety or simply because it makes your judgment fuzzier about whether or not you should have a second helping of doughnuts or potato skins.

Here are some big concerns with alcohol consumption.

1. Alcohol Supplies Almost Twice As Many Calories As Protein And Carbs

At seven calories per gram, alcohol supplies almost twice as many as protein and carbohydrates. In fact, alcohol has only two fewer calories than fat, which has nine per gram. It must also be remembered that the calories in alcohol lack the nutrients beneficial for a healthy metabolism and will therefore hasten fat storage.

The calories found in the average alcoholic drink are quite concentrated compared to many foods, and this actually causes one to inadvertently take in many more calories than would otherwise be consumed. Alcohol is quite deceptive in that it passes through the system rapidly, often before the drinker is aware of the number of drinks they have had.

Alcoholic drinks also contain calories from other sources, which add to overall caloric intake. Certain cocktails, for example, contain fats. Wine and beer both have high carbohydrate content. Although the affects these various calorie types have on the body are different—carbohydrates release insulin, which can hasten fat storage, while fats will be stored directly in the fat cells—the overall result is added body fat.

An example of how many calories can be easily consumed can be seen with a small glass of wine: a 5-ounce glass of wine will typically contain 110 calories, 91 of which come from the alcohol itself (13 grams), with the remaining five grams coming from carbohydrates.

Beer contains more carbohydrates (although many of the “Lite” beers have a carb content similar to a glass of wine) and less alcohol than wine, but is seen as being more fattening, due to its higher energy content.

2. Alcohol Loosens The Inhibitions

While drinking, people usually will not stop to consider the impact alcohol is having on their bodies; such is alcohol’s affect on loosening the inhibitions. The result of this relaxed thinking could mean more calories consumed and extra body fat gains. Those drinking might also eat more of the wrong kinds of food, without thinking of the consequences.

Alcohol tends to have an appetite stimulating effect as it provides little in the way of nutrition, leaving a craving for other foods at the time of consumption. Add this to the fact that fatty and salty foods tend to accompany most occasions featuring alcohol (as well as alcohol actually stimulating one’s appetite for these kinds of foods), and the general loosening of resolve that goes with an inebriated mindset, and you have a recipe for excess fat gain. Alcohol has also been shown to affect motivation, making a healthy diet harder to stay on while it is being used. This in turn affects overall ability to maintain healthy lifestyle choices.

3. Alcohol Can Damage The Stomach, Kidneys, And Liver

Given alcohol is a by-product of yeast digestion; it can have an irritating effect on the lining of the stomach and gradually weaken the kidneys and liver, leading to serious health problems—even death in certain instances. Any weakening of the stomach will lessen the rate and efficiency at which food is digested, which ultimately interferes with a healthy metabolism and the weight loss process.

The liver—which processes toxins and breaks down fats for fuel—is crucial when it comes to maintaining a healthy body composition. Alcohol is at its most destructive during the liver’s detoxification process.

4. Alcohol Lowers Testosterone

Testosterone, which has a powerful fat loss effect, is reduced whenever alcohol is consumed, thus halting its full potential as a fat burner. Also, testosterone as an anabolic hormone, contributes to gains in lean muscle mass. Lowered testosterone means fewer muscle gains, and less muscle means a lowered metabolic rate.

A lower metabolic rate will make the job of losing fat all the more harder. This is what governs the way we use energy. Those with a higher metabolic rate will burn more calories at rest. By interfering with testosterone production, alcohol indirectly causes the body to lower its metabolic rate (and thus the rate at which it uses energy) and directly prohibits testosterone from exerting its powerful fat-burning effects.

5. Alcohol Increases Appetite

Touched on briefly in point two, alcohol can increase appetite, making the combination of alcohol and a fattening meal all the more worse. Various studies have shown that alcohol consumed before a meal increased caloric intake to a far greater extent than did a carbohydrate drink. Research has shown over and over again that if a group of people were given a meal and allowed to eat as much as they wanted, alcohol, rather than a soft drink, would increase the amount of food consumed.

Some more general guidelines follow:

Drink alcohol with a lower caloric value, and a higher alcohol percentage (like wine for example). Less will be consumed, meaning lower overall calorie consumption.

Avoid high-calorie liqueurs. These are extremely deceptive (they taste so good) and will add enormously to overall caloric content.
Keep healthy food on hand when drinking. As mentioned, drinking will relax the inhibitions and cause one to compromise their nutritional habits.

If drinking beer, try a lower calorie alternative. Also, drink diet sodas with various spirits to significantly lower the calorie content of these drinks.

Drink water between alcoholic drinks. This will increase feelings of fullness and may help to prevent over consumption of alcohol.

Conclusion

So, what is one to do? Given alcohol plays a large role in celebration and social cohesion, can one completely refrain from its use? It really depends on the goals a person has. Most could probably consume limited levels of alcohol (two or three standard drinks once per week) without any problem.

Larger amounts (more than seven drinks at any one time, or drinking multiple times per week), often described as binge drinking, can cause major problems and probably should not be advocated. Maintaining reasonable levels of health, while enjoying a few drinks—using moderation as the key—should be no problem. However, athletes—who definitely are not your average population—wanting to improve performance, and those wanting to lose weight are a different issue entirely.

Alcohol, as shown, will negate any efforts to lose body fat and will alter performance for the worst. The best advice would be to totally abstain, or severely limit, until performance and weight loss goals are obtained.

Don’t Stress About it: Why freaking out is making you fat …

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on July 12, 2019

For most of us, stress is a fact of life. Unfortunately, research reveals that it’s also a fact of fat. Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weight—or even add pounds.

Here’s what happens: Your body responds to all stress in the same way. Every time you have a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to release potent hormones. You get a burst of adrenaline, which taps stored energy so you can fight or flee. At the same time, you get a surge of cortisol, which tells your body to replenish that energy even though you haven’t used very many calories. This can make you hungry…very hungry. And your body keeps on pumping out that cortisol as long as the stress continues.

But few of us reach for carrots in these situations. Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension. This soothing effect becomes addicting, so every time you’re anxious, you want fattening foods.

With your adrenal glands pumping out cortisol, production of the muscle-building hormone testosterone slows down. Over time, this drop causes a decrease in your muscle mass, so you burn fewer calories. This occurs naturally as you age, but high cortisol levels accelerate the process. Cortisol also encourages your body to store fat—especially visceral fat, which is particularly dangerous because it surrounds vital organs and releases fatty acids into your blood, raising cholesterol and insulin levels and paving the way for heart disease and diabetes.

What Is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that falls under the glucocorticoid group. It is produced using cholesterol by the two adrenal glands located in your kidneys. This hormone is released when you experience stress, exercise and even when you wake up in the morning. It is an important hormone in your body working to maintain homeostasis by determining your energy needs. This hormone is part of the “fight-or-flight” response. It can temporarily slow processes not associated with the stressor and increases the energy produced by various metabolic pathways. When you are stressed, this hormone works by choosing the type of energy you need, whether from fats, proteins or carbohydrates, and how much you need to evade with the stressor.

Where it comes into concern is that over long periods of time where you are experiencing frequent high stress and chronically elevated cortisol, there can be a negative effect on immune function, weight/ weight gain and increased risk of chronic disease.

What happens is that you are faced with a stress and a hormone cascade is triggered and cortisol is secreted. It causes the body to flood it with glucose to supply energy for a “fight-or-flight” and keeps insulin from storing the glucose. Cortisol further narrows the arteries and your heart rate increases. Eventually the stress goes away and your hormone levels return to normal, but a constantly fast-paced life full of stresses can cause the body to frequently secrete cortisol, resulting in negative health outcomes.

Cortisol Complications

Some of the negative health outcomes and associated diseases include weight gain and obesity, diabetes and blood sugar imbalances, GI problems, immune system suppression, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, dementia, depression, fertility issues and cardiovascular disease.

Specifically for insulin resistance and diabetes, the effects of long term stress and resulting cortisol can have huge impacts. When you are stressed, cortisol causes the body to access your protein stores to make energy for you to fight or flee the stressor, but this mechanism causes increased insulin resistance because it blocks the effect of insulin. It does this so that there is energy/sugar available to be used by the muscles. This insulin resistance increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and blood sugar issues because the glucose levels in the blood remain high and insulin is not able to transport sugar to the cells that need it for basic bodily functions.

With weight gain, repeatedly elevated cortisol can cause stored triglycerides to be relocated to the visceral fat cells, primarily the ones in the abdomen and under muscle. It also causes fat cells to mature, which may result in increased amounts of cortisol produced at the tissue level. The insulin resistance is also hindering your weight maintenance or weight-loss efforts. When your cells are not getting the needed sugar/glucose to fuel them because insulin is being blocked, your brain is signaled to eat more food. This leads to a desire for high-calorie foods, overeating and the resulting weight gain. Cortisol also can affect what you are craving and your appetite by influencing other hormones and stress-effected bodily processes.

How to Keep Healthy Cortisol Levels

If you are concerned you have high stress and possibly high cortisol levels, consider having a saliva test being done at your health care provider. But probably the best way to maintain normal cortisol levels is to decrease stress in your life and improve your diet. Some people are even recommended to try a low-inflammation diet. The key parts of this diet are the elimination or reduction of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, trans fats, and by choosing low-glycemic foods. Probiotics are supported in addition to focusing on whole plant foods and regular exercise. Consult a dietitian to help you customize nutritional recommendations for your specific goals, preferences and conditions.

Myths continue to surround this very important hormone because of the many ways it can affect your bodily processes and nutrition status. How it reacts with other biochemical components, the immune system and all the related health outcomes plays a very important role for people looking to reduce illness, stress, fatigue and other health complaints. Many products are being marketed to supposedly reduce or suppress cortisol levels, but diet and lifestyle choices continue to be the most effective way to manage cortisol levels and reduce risk for illnesses and chronic disease.

6 ways to combat stress:

  1. Stick with your fitness plans. Life happens and sometimes we need to focus on other aspects of our day in order to get things taken care of – kids, work, financial issues, emergencies all take priority sometimes. Being physically active, even just a little bit, can help pump endorphins and dopamine into your system to offset the negative effects of stress.
  2. Eat slowly. Under stress, we tend to scarf down even healthy food. In fact, research has linked this behavior to bigger portions and more belly fat. But down, savoring each bite, and paying attention to feelings of fullness may lower cortisol levels along with decreasing the amount of food you eat, thereby shifting the distribution of fat away from the belly.
  3. Focus on healthy choices, not “dieting”. It’s ironic, but constant dieting can make cortisol levels rise. In addition, when your cortisol levels spike, your blood sugar goes haywire, first rising, then plummeting. This makes you cranky and (dangerously) ravenous. When your brain is deprived of sugar—its main fuel—self-control takes a nosedive, and your willpower doesn’t stand a chance.
  4. Don’t overdo the caffeine. Next time you’re under duress, choose go easy on the energy drinks and lattes. While moderate amounts of caffeine have been shown to have many benefits — when you combine stress with excessive caffeine, it raises cortisol levels more than stress alone. You’ll experience these effects even if your body is accustomed to a lot of java.
  5. Power up on nutrient dense foods first. Deficiencies in B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium are stressful to your body. And these deficiencies lead to increased cortisol levels and food cravings. You can fight back by eating a breakfast that’s high in these nutrients. A grapefruit, or a large handful of strawberries are great additions to supply vitamin C; 6 to 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt, which contains calcium and magnesium; and a whole grain bagel or toast with a bit of avocado or coconut oil. Whole grains are bursting with B vitamins, while these healthy oil contains fatty acids that can decrease the production of stress hormones.
  6. Sleep it off. The most effective stress-reduction strategy of all: Get enough shut-eye. Your body perceives sleep deprivation as a major stressor. Getting an average of 6½ hours each night can increase cortisol, appetite, and weight gain. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours. As if that weren’t enough, other research shows that lack of sleep also raises levels of ghrelin, a hunger-boosting hormone. The good news: A few nights of solid sleep can bring all this back into balance, and getting enough regularly helps keep it there.

No gym, no problem – bodyweight training for growth

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on June 11, 2019

Summer means the kids are out of school, your schedule is turned upside down and you may be away from your fancy, well-equipped gym more than you like. When resources are limited, creativity to reach your goals is a must. You can increase your muscle mass and build strength and power with bodyweight exercises, and virtually no equipment in any location.

Like any form of resistance training, if you can challenge your muscles enough, they will adapt by growing larger and more powerful; and like any form of resistance training, this means hard work.

There are 5 essential keys to building muscle mass and strength with bodyweight only:

  • Absolute Failure
  • Progressive Loading
  • Increased Time Under Tension
  • Train Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers
  • Patience and Consistency

 

Absolute Failure

Bodyweight training for hypertrophy is no different than other forms of resistance training. In order to stimulate muscle growth, you have to use exercises that challenge you with appropriate resistance and push until you can’t complete another repetition.

Perhaps more importantly, training to failure will challenge your mental toughness and give you a greater idea of your true physical limitations.

How to Train to Failure

With some bodyweight exercises, you will find it hard to complete several repetitions. With other movements you may be able to do dozens of repetitions.

In order to go to failure on these movements, take a page from traditional bodybuilding by using giant sets, drop sets, pre-exhaustion and negatives at the end of a set.

Giant Sets:

Giant sets today are often called complexes, as in dumbbell or barbell complexes, or set up as ’rounds’ of several exercises performed back-to-back with no rest between.

For bodyweight workouts, a giant set might look like this:

  • Pushups to failure
  • Pike Pushups to failure
  • Bench Dips to failure
  • Plank Walk-outs to failure

Use giant sets when you want to crank up the fat-burning intensity while stimulating multiple muscle groups.

Drop Sets:

Drop sets are a method for taking a particular muscle group to complete failure in one set. Using pushups as an example, you might do the following, with each exercise being progressively easier until no more repetitions are possible:

Pushups (flat if you can do 25 or less, with feet elevated if you can do more than 25 in a row)>Pushups on your knees (or flat if starting with feet elevated) >Pushups against an incline (such as a counter or desk; or to your knees if you were doing them flat)

If you have pushed each set to true failure, by the time you get to the easiest form of the pushup for you, it should be nearly impossible to complete one more rep.

Pre-Exhaustion:

By pre-exhausting the supporting muscles in a movement, you force the major movers to do the majority of the work.

For example, try performing Bench Dips for the triceps before doing pushups, pike pushups or handstand pushups.

Before doing pullups, try performing suspension trainer ‘curls’ or contracting the biceps isometrically.

Negatives

Negative repetitions are a great way to build up to a difficult movement, and an excellent way to stimulate muscle growth.

To perform negatives as a finisher to a set, perform as many repetitions of the exercise as possible. When you can’t do any more, get to the contracted position and slowly lower your body over 5 seconds. Repeat 3-6 times or until failure is reached.

To do negatives at the end of a pullup set, you might jump to the top position or use a chair/ladder to get there before lowering your body under tension.

You can also do all negative sets. To do this, get into the contracted or starting position and slowly lower/raise your body under extreme tension. Do as many reps as you can in good form.

Develop a good base training level before attempting these techniques, and be sure to give the body plenty of time to rest when you push it this hard!

Progressive Loading

To continually get stronger and pack on muscle, the body must be challenged with greater and varied stresses.

This means you will have to increase the volume of overall work you are doing, or, more appropriate to your muscle building goals, do harder movements.

Here are a few ways to progress bodyweight exercises. Once you can do more than 10-15 repetitions of these exercises without going to failure, consider adding one of the advanced failure methods listed above.

Pushups:

Elevate feet. Use a ladder, wall, chair, whatever you have. Too high and it becomes primarily a shoulder press.

  • Suspend feet in a suspension trainer
  • Suspend hands in a suspension trainer
  • Suspend hands and feet!
  • Wider hands-Wider!
  • One arm assisted pushup
  • One arm pushup
  • Scorpion pushups
  • Archer pushups

This is just a brief sample of methods to increase the difficulty of the common pushup. You could also simply use a slow cadence with a pause at the bottom of the movement to increase the tension on the muscles, but more on that later.

Pullups:

  • Slow cadence. Forget kipping, pull the shoulder blades down and in, then use a strict pulling motion up and down, pausing at the top.
  • Throw a towel or thick rope over the bar and pull up while hanging onto the ends
  • Do close grip pullups
  • Side-to-side motion at the top. Pullup, hold yourself there and move all the way to the left, then right
  • Behind-the-neck pullups
  • One arm pullups
  • L-Sit or knee tuck pullups. Do an L-sit with your legs straight out in front of you, then pullup. If this is too hard, try tucking your knees to your chest instead
  • Clapping pullups. If you can generate enough power, blast above the bar and clap your hands together
  • Muscle-ups. Next to the one-arm pullup, probably the most difficult pullup exercise.

For the average person, just increasing your repetitions and using a focused and strict full range of motion will be enough to challenge you for a long time.

Another way to progress is to simply use different exercises. Instead of using only dip and pushup variations to work your upper body pushing muscles, grab some gymnastics rings or a suspension trainer and perform the exercises on those. While your at it, do chest flyes, a great exercise for isolating the pectorals that builds incredible strength.

Still another, and simpler method, is to continually push the point of failure further and further away; that is, do more and more repetitions. As a regular practice, however, higher and higher repetitions will build more endurance than anything else.

Squats:

To make bodyweight squats harder, try the following:

  • Squat to a box at parallel height, relax then explode back up
  • Squat down, shift your weight to one leg and pushup
  • Do Airplane Squats-Squat down on one leg with one leg trailing behind, hands out to your sides
  • Do Pistol Squats-Squat down on one leg with the other straight out in front of you
  • Do Hack Squats-Squat down with your hands behind your back, together or separate, and lower yourself slowly to parallel while balancing on the balls of your feet

 

Increased Time Under Tension

If you can increase the time the primary movers are under tension during a repetition and throughout the set, you can stimulate more muscle growth.

This is what using a slow cadence will do, assuming the exercise is performed correctly. Try taking 4 seconds to raise or lower the body, 4 seconds at the bottom/top position, and 4 seconds to come back up.

Your muscles will recruit more muscle fibers than if you used a fast rhythm, and it should be harder to do higher repetition sets.

Isometric Contraction

At the end of set, isometrically contract the working muscles for 5-10 seconds, another way to increase their time under tension.

Increasing the time under tension alone is not the final word in increasing muscle size with bodyweight exercises, but it is a start.

According to Charles Polloquin, one of the best things to do for greater hypertrophy is to use tempo variations; that is, use a slow cadence for some sessions and use a faster cadence in others. The first will create more constant tension throughout the movement, the second will train the muscles to develop greater power and force.

Train Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

As the largest muscle fibers in the body, fast twitch muscle fibers must be trained in order to build muscle mass.

This means ‘going heavy’ and fatiguing the muscles. By going heavy, or placing greater force demands on the muscles, the body recruits more fast-twitch muscle fibers. To do this, choose an exercise that you can only comfortably perform 1-5 repetitions in.

By fatiguing the muscles, the same thing happens. As slow-twitch muscle fibers fatigue, the body recruits more fast-twitch fibers. To do this, perform giant sets with no rest between sets or repetitions.

You can also fatigue the muscle fibers by eliminating any rest between reps during ‘heavy’ sets.

Patience and Consistency

No matter what type of training you do or what you want to achieve, patience and consistency will help you achieve your goals.

Bodyweight muscle building does work, but there is a high level of skill involved with many advanced bodyweight exercises that takes time, hard work and patience to learn.

 

Save your Sanity and Set your Intentions with Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on May 8, 2019

In light of May being Mental Health Awareness month, and as someone who has to actively work to maintain my own mental health (I’ve personally dealt with an eating disorder and Postpartum Psychosis, among many other challenges in life).  I decided to write my own list of daily reminders to see if I could identify any interesting patterns – things that stand out as my coping mechanisms.

You’ll notice that a lot of the things on this list address negative emotions and sources of anxiety. I’m a firm believer that happiness is 100% controlled by you and I try not to blame other people or external factors if I feel unhappy or frustrated. That’s why so many of these daily reminders revolve around eliminating negative thoughts that only I can control.

 

  1. Slow down

I have a tendency to rush to complete and do things quickly in the sake of progress. This can result in me not being 100% happy with my work or having to redo things later. I have to remind myself to slow down so I can achieve the right balance between output and quality.

  1. You don’t have to do everything right now

This leads me to the next point, you don’t have to do everything right now. It’s okay to delay projects or ideas until the future when you can give it the focus it needs. It’s better to do one thing really well rather than 10 average things. Think of your life in seasons where you completely reinvent yourself, change jobs or do something completely different.

  1. Remember how far you’ve come

As our life’s change on a micro scale every day, we often forget just how far we’ve come over the long-term.

Hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

If you think about any time you’ve received a pay rise, at the time it felt great. But your lifestyle slowly adapts to the new level of income and over time we no longer appreciate the additional benefit.

Whenever I feel frustrated with my current situation or lack of progress, I think back to where I was almost eight years ago working a full-time job as a teacher and slogging through graduate school. Back then, all I wanted to do was be working for myself. And here I am now, actually doing it. It’s easy to forget as the change has been gradual but I’ve come a long way and this is worth remembering.

  1. One day you’ll be dead. Live life NOW

If you’re a client of mine, you’ve likely heard me talk about this idea before. This is a principle from the Stoic school of philosophy. The idea here isn’t to be morbid but to remember that life is fragile and your life could end tomorrow. It’s a powerful way of remembering to live life now. Stop putting things off until “one day”. Stop waiting for the perfect moment before you start a business, go travelling or have a baby. As Steve Jobs famously said, remembering that you’re going to die is the best way to get the most out of your life now (or words to that effect).

  1. Remember what’s really important

Along this same vein, remember what really matters. In our day to day lives, it’s easy to get caught up worrying about money, our jobs and material possessions. These things pale in comparison to what’s really important: our friends, our family, our health, our free time, our beliefs and doing what makes us happy.

All of those things, material things, can be replaced, recreated or simply done without. The intangibles are just that – you0 cannot hold them but they are the real treasures.

  1. Happiness is a choice

As I mentioned at the start, I feel like happiness is more of a verb than a noun. External factors and people can lead us astray, but we get to decide how to react to these things. I know this is easy to say and much harder to practice in reality. But when you remind yourself that happiness is something only you can control, you begin to take ownership of your own happiness. If you feel frustrated or angry, you’ve done that to yourself. Forget about the person who may have triggered this emotion. It’s your choice to get upset. So instead, choose to be happy.

  1. Respond to hostility with kindness

On a weekly basis, I come across hostility and negativity. I’ve literally had people sit down for consultations with me and then tell me to pound sand because they don’t want to listen to sound science. While I could respond by pointing out their stupidity, I choose to be really polite and respond with kindness. That doesn’t mean I let this go. I’ll often point it out if someone is being unnecessarily rude but I do it in a very civil way.

The way I see it, responding to aggression with aggression only adds fuel to the fire. By contrast, when you respond with kindness, people often backtrack on their words as they become aware of just how hostile they’re being.

  1. Everything will be okay

It’s funny how often the things we worry will happen usually never come to fruition. One of the biggest lessons I learned from Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Workweek is the benefit of “fear setting”. In the book, Ferris talks about defining the thing you are worrying about and describing what the worst case scenario would look like. Then he gets you to think about how likely this scenario is.

The example he gives is starting a business. The worst case scenario is you quit your job, lose 6 months and some savings. But the reality is you could recover from this very quickly if you need to.

I’ve done similar exercises a number of times in the past when contemplating a big decision or potentially life-altering events. In my experience, even if something does go wrong, it’s almost never as bad as you think (because we naturally think about the worst case scenario in our head). Everything is usually okay.

  1. Be present and don’t use your phone to fill idle time

In our fast-paced world, very rarely do we get time to be present. Every minute of idle time is spent playing on our phones. This means we never get a chance to just sit and be alone with our thoughts, to explore ideas and let our minds wander. It also means we get addicted to the stimulation.

So whenever I’m standing in line at the supermarket, sitting in a waiting room or simply on the toilet, I try not to reach for my phone to fill this idle time.

  1. People aren’t really looking at you

If you think about it, it’s crazy how often we make decisions about what to wear, what to buy, what to say or how to act based on what other people will think about it. We continually worry about what other people might think.

But think about it some more and you’ll realize that all the time you worry about other people, these people are equally concerned about the opinions of others and aren’t really looking at you at all. So whatever it is you’re worried about, get on with it. The chances are the people you’re worried about are too distracted to notice.

It’s “Always Something”: Stop hitting the pause-button

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on April 15, 2019

“I’ll resume healthy eating after my vacation… once the baby is born… after Dad gets out of the hospital… January 1… Monday.” While this kind of “pause-button mentality” seems reasonable, it could be ruining your health and fitness. Here’s why, and what to do about it.

 

After all, what’s the harm in taking a break from a nutrition and fitness plan when you’re:

  • leaving for vacation,
  • completely swamped at work,
  • pregnant, or just after delivery,
  • injured, or
  • caring for an ailing family member?

 

The thought process boils down to:

If I miss some workouts, eat the wrong things, skip the homework… I fail.

 

Aren’t I more likely to succeed if I take a break, just until I have the time to do it right?

 

This is what I call the ‘pause-button mentality’.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I think it’s normal — even commendable — to want to do your best. To consider taking time to regroup and then resume (or start over) when life feels easier.

At the same time, this completely natural and well-meaning impulse is one of the fastest, surest, most reliable ways to sabotage your plans for improved nutrition, health, and fitness.

Here’s why — and what to do instead.

 

Starting fresh after you lose your way is a really comforting thought.

 

That’s probably why New Year’s resolutions are so popular, especially following the indulgence-fueled holiday season.

Give me that cheesecake. I’ll pick my diet back up on Monday!

 

In fact, the idea of a do-over is so alluring you don’t even need a mess-up for the pause-button mentality to take over.

Every January, I welcome a new group of clients. Every summer, I take in the second wave.

 

In July, six months in, just knowing that there are new clients starting the program fresh in January makes some July clients “itch” for a new beginning, even though they’re already making progress, changing their bodies.

If only you’d let me start over, I’d really nail it this time!

 

But here’s the problem: The pause-button mentality only builds the skill of pausing.

 

Whether it’s tomorrow, Monday, next week, or even next year, hitting that imaginary pause button gives you some sense of relief. It allows you a little respite from what can be really a tough slog.

(And the middle is always a tough slog, it doesn’t matter what kind of project you’re working on.)

This perceived relief is compounded by the illusion that if we “start fresh” later we can find the magical “right time” to begin.

 

Listen, I get it.

It can feel absurd to try to improve your eating and exercise habits while you’re in the midst of chronic stress / looking for a job / starting a new job / going on vacation / caring for aging parents / raising small children.

That’s probably why there are so many 21-day this and 90-day that. What adult has more than 90 days to go after their fitness goals with an all-out effort?

 

But what do these intense fitness sprints teach you?

The skill of getting fit within a very short (and completely non-representative) period of your life.

 

What don’t they teach you?

The skill of getting fit (or staying fit) in the midst of a normal, complicated, “how it really is” sort of life.

This is why the yo-yo diet thing has become such a phenomenon.

 

It’s not about willpower. It’s about skills.

In most fitness scenarios, you learn how to get fit under weird, tightly-controlled, white-knuckle life situations.

You build that one, solitary, non-transferrable skill — to slam the gas pedal down, drive the needle into the red, and squeal down the road for a little while, burning the rubber off your tires until you (quickly) run out of gas and crash. What you don’t build is the ability to get fit under real-life conditions.

 

That’s why it doesn’t stick. Not because you suck. but because the natural and predictable consequence of having a limited skill set is short-term progress followed immediately by long-term frustration.

 

What will be different next time?

 

Generally, when it comes to life, we know we’re not always going to be on our A Game. Sometimes we’re superstars. Most of the time we just do our best.

 

We muddle through. We keep going.

 

So why do we expect it to be any different with fitness?

 

See, perfectionism is not the point. “Completing” a program, is incredible, goal-crushing and downright fulfilling, is not the point.

 

Being the “best” for a tiny window of time is not the point.

 

The point is to keep going. Sometimes awkwardly, sometimes incompetently, sometimes downright half-assed. But to keep going nonetheless.

 

As I often teach my new clients: The “all or nothing” mentality rarely gets us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”. That’s when I propose a new mantra: “Always something”.

 

Instead of pressing pause, adjust the dial.

Nowadays I like to think of my fitness and nutrition efforts as a dial.

There are times when I want to dial my efforts up, and times when I want to dial them down. But I never want to turn the dial off completely.

 

Here’s how this plays out in the context of my life: Sometimes, say when I’m training for a particular goal, my fitness dial might be tuned to 9 or 10 out of 10.

Channel 10 means I work out every day. Every meal is planned and carefully considered. I think a lot about fitness. And not much about anything else.

 

Work, family, hobbies…they’re all in maintenance mode (with the permission of the people this affects, of course).

 

However, as I write this, my life involves the following:

  • Some serious life curve balls.
  • Being a PRESENT wife.
  • Raising a rowdy six-year old boy.
  • Running a growing business.

 

So some days and seasons, the dial rarely goes past 5 or 6. I work out, maybe, four days a week. And most of the majority of my meals are planned, but they are always “on plan”.

(For the record, I’m totally cool with that. There is no guilt about having my dial set a little lower. What’s most important is that the dial is still set to “on”.)

The important lesson: There’s a big difference between tuning your dial to 4, 5, or even a 3 (rarely), and turning the whole thing off.

And when you realize how doable — and effective — that can be, you see that there’s never a good reason to hit “pause”.

 

I get it. It’s easy to discount the lower channels. Especially when you’ve done more in the past. But remember your new mantra… “Always something.”

 

In my opinion, pressing pause is buying into an imaginary ideal: a “perfect” time when everything will fall into place; a beautiful, linear trajectory from total suckiness to apex awesomeness.  Asking for a restart because you don’t want to mess that line up is deluding yourself that somehow, next time will be easier. Next time will be perfect. No interruptions, no distractions…no…life.

 

Unfortunately, there is no perfect time.

We may have magical moments, of course. Short periods of time when things seem to “click” and come together. But then the dog poops on the rug. Or the kid throws up on the couch. Or both… and then one or the other tracks it all through the house. You keep pressing pause, and your progress looks like the wave pool at the water park.

 

Or, worse yet, you end up flatlining, stuck on a never-ending (maybe eternal) pause.

 

What to do next.

Fitness in the context of real human life is just like the rest of life.

We’re all just doing the best we can in challenging, complicated circumstances. We are all living messy, imperfect lives. We are all human. If we can just keep moving forward, no matter what happens, no pause buttons, no do-overs, we win the game.

 

Here are a few strategies for getting out of the pause-button mentality and into a more realistic, effective, sustainable way of thinking.

 

  1. Try the dial method.

Think of your fitness like a dial that goes from 1 – 10.

If you were to dial it up to “10”…

  • What would your workouts look like?
  • What would your nutrition look like?
  • What other actions/habits would you practice in that scenario?

If you were to dial it down to “1”…

  • What would your workouts look like?
  • What would your nutrition look like?
  • What other actions/habits would you practice in that scenario?

Giving thought to your life right now, where is your dial set?

Would you like to make any adjustments?

Could you move the dial up a channel, or even half a channel?

If so, what would that look like?

On the other hand…

Should you move the dial down a channel so you can stick with health and fitness even during a difficult time?

 

  1. Aim for a little bit better.

An all-or-nothing approach usually doesn’t get us “all”. It usually gets us “nothing”. You know what actually works? Small improvements done consistently over time work.

You might be trying to make a meal out of hospital cafeteria food, or gas station food, or airplane food. You might be spending hours awake with a newborn in the middle of the night, or stuck in yet another full-day meeting.

 

These aren’t ideal scenarios, but they’re not necessarily hopeless either.

Look around. Get creative. See if you can find some small — maybe minuscule — improvements.

 

  1. Anticipate, strategize and plan.

Since we already know that stuff is going to go wrong, the best thing we can do is anticipate and make plans for how to deal when they do.

A simple way to do this is by answering two questions:

  1. What’s likely to get in the way of what I hope to accomplish?
  2. What is something I can do today to help me keep going when I face those obstacles?

For some people, that might be a Sunday ritual where they prep food for the week so they won’t be scrambling for healthy meals on busy weeknights. For others, it might mean having a healthy meal-delivery service on speed dial.

Don’t be surprised and dismayed when things go haywire. They will at some point. Just arm yourself with the best tools and strategies so you can stay in the game when you’re thrown a curveball.

“Cardio Sucks… Do it Anyway!” … Says Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on March 8, 2019

A blueprint of how you can incorporate cardio to see faster results.

Yes, cardio sucks; especially when you can watch binge watch just about anything on Netflix instead. Whole industries have been built around getting people fit without cardio, or at least creating a setting where they forget they’re doing it. Soul Cycle blares house music so you feel like you’re in a night club, CrossFit gives you dozens of different exercises to prevent boredom, hot yoga classes make you sweat so much that you forget how much pain you’re in and just marvel at your body’s ability to perspire. But strategic cardio sessions are important.

Why Cardio?

Why do cardio? Because it will:


• Increases fat metabolism
• Reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease
• Improve mental health by decreasing stress, depression, and increasing cognitive ability


Essentially, cardio makes you smarter, thinner, and happier.

When

When, where and how you do cardio is just as important as actually doing it. Running until you pass out every day is rarely productive. Below is a blueprint of how you can incorporate aerobic exercise into your routine and see faster results.

Your Goal: Increase Strength

Circuit Training: Full-body workout alternating between different muscle groups for each set. You want to hit every muscle in your body by doing compound exercises, (exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time). This is full-body cardio, unlike running or biking where you’re utilizing just one muscle group, this workout incorporates everything. Have you seen the movie 300? Those guys were doing circuit training, and their 1,800 ab muscles came from bursts of intense exercise followed by brief rest periods. I typically have my clients using this type of cardio at least once a week.


Below is a list of 8 exercises. Once you complete each exercise, take a 90 second break, and then repeat FOUR times. High intensity is key, don’t stop moving during your sets. If you already have a preferred strength training
 routine, you can replace the recommended exercises below with your personal favorites. But don’t forget the circuit training formula: no rest in between exercises, 90 second break in between sets, and repeat at least four times.


1. Push-ups: 15
2. Sit-ups:15
3. Pull-Ups: 5–10
4. Jump rope: 2 minutes
5. Plank: 40 Seconds
6. Wall-sits: 30 Seconds
7. Single-leg bridges 10 (on each leg)
8. Inverted rows: 10

Your Goal: Increase Muscle Mass

HIIT(High Intensity Interval Training): Sprinting has been scientifically proven to increase testosterone and human growth hormone, which in turn leads to faster muscle growth. Not to mention it takes a fraction of the time that endurance training does, giving you more time for Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other productive activities.
The most effective way to achieve muscle growth is to add a two-day split. One day dedicated to HIIT, and another to
 strength training. I provide an example of Day 2 strength-training below, but feel free to replace it with your current strength training regiment. Usually, I only want to see this style of cardio done 2-3 times a week. It can be extremely taxing and actually “eat” your muscle if overdone.

• Day 1 = HIIT Example: Run 400 meter sprint x8 with 60 second rest period in between each sprint. HIIT Option-2: Swim 50 meter sprint x8 with 45 second rest period.
• Day 2 = Upper body exercise:
o Push-ups 4×15
o Pull-ups 4×7
o Sit-ups 4×15
o Jump rope: 10 minutes
o Inverted Rows 4×10
o Tricep dips 4×7
o Swiss Ball Jacknife w/ Push-up: 4×8


After Day 2, take one day off, and then start again on Day 1. Your workout schedule should be two days on, and one rest day in between.

Your Goal: Decrease Body Fat

Endurance training: There’s a sweet spot when doing long distance aerobic exercise that maximizes fat metabolism. WARNING: Endurance training tends to be the most mind-numbing workout out there is, but it’s the best way to lose weight. That being said, I find it easy to zone out to music on my iPod the whole time. It’s kind of like meditating but with Drake in the background.


Pro endurance athletes know this level of training as Zone 2, and it can be achieved by getting your heart rate between 60%-70% of your max heart rate. To do this, first:


1. Identify your favorite aerobic exercise (spinning, swimming, running, rowing, etc.)
2. Calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) = 220 — your age, and multiply by 0.6 and 0.7. (For example, if you’re 32 years-old, your MHR is 188 bpm. Multiplied by 0.6 and 0.7, you get a range from 113 bpm-131 bpm)
3. When you exercise, stop and check your pulse 2–3 times throughout the workout. Count your pulse for a timed 30 seconds and then multiply by two to get your beats per minute. In the example mentioned above, if your heart rate falls between 133 bpm-131bpm, you’re in optimal fat burning mode.


As a general rule, effective cardio will last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours in Zone 2. Unlike HIIT, this style of cardio can be done in tandem with strength training days. This is can be done daily if needed to meet your goals.

Follow these rules to get the most out of your cardio session

Here are a couple principles to help you get the most out of your cardio session:


• Cool Down => Stretch, stretch, stretch! Flexibility and range of motion are vital for muscle growth and injury prevention. Unless you’re someone who thinks walking with a cane looks cool when you’re older, be sure to stretch after every workout. Here is an effective stretching routine that will help:

a. Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch

b. Supported Forward Fold

c. Pigeon

d. Shoulder Pull

e. Back Twist

• Diet: All this physical activity is rendered useless without a proper diet. Adequate protein intake is necessary for muscle repair. Therefore, men should (more is fine if you know that works for you already) shoot for 1 gram of protein/pound of body weight, and women should get 0.7 grams of protein/pound of bodyweight every day. Good sources include chicken breast, egg whites, fish, lean beef, hard cheeses, and just about anything else from animal sources. Vegan and Vegetarian options are great as well.

• Sleep/Rest: Muscle repair takes time. Do not work out the same muscle group two days in a row. You need a minimum of one day of rest in between each exercise and eight hours of sleep every night. Non-negotiable.

Here’s your guide, now it’s up to you to use it. The beautiful thing about cardiovascular exercise is it only takes one session before your body starts adapting. Within a few weeks you’ll see the profound effect aerobic exercise can have on your body composition and performance.

Sarah Sweeney Podcast with D D On The Spot

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on February 5, 2019

On this podcast we have Sarah Sweeney on to share her fitness journey. We talk about how she was in an accident shortly after graduating high school and how years later that injury effected her when she was trying to get in shape. Also being that she’s 5’10 we discuss problems tall people have in the gym. She was an absolute delight to talk to everyone go check her out.

Links:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sarahsweene…

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SarahSweeney…

Website: http://sarahsweeneyfitness.com

Dangerous Lies #3: The only thing that matters is strength by Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on February 5, 2019

The reality is that the only thing you should be training for and setting goals for is something that will truly light your fire. Humans are visual creatures and we are motivated by what we see in the mirror. Whether it’s socially acceptable or not, we care what we look like and we like to know that how we look is generally pleasing to others as well. Strong is beautiful and becoming strong is a transformative experience. Often our pathway to that strength is purely a desire to uncover the beauty of our incredible bodies. That is fine and good and wonderful.

PC Lie #3: Focus on strength, not looks.

Do this insteadTrain for anything you want. Tackle your aesthetic goals shamelessly.

One trend in internet guru fitness advice is telling lifters not to work out in order to improve the way their bodies look. Some will even say, “You are not your body parts” or to “separate the person from the problem”.  Well obviously, but that’s a silly argument. Of course I’m not my legs, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like mine to look spectacular.

They like to brag about this idea too: “I only train for performance.” Performing what? Mirror selfies? Because you’re sure post a lot of them. Hey, we all like to look good. Admit it. You’ll be okay.

Want perky glutes? Monstrous traps? Round shoulders? A tapered waist? Scary arms? There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’d like these. What’s lame is denying you do and bashing other people for having these goals.

Of course, you can set goals that have to do with looks, but only if…

  • You’re willing to be consistent. If you lift regularly, you’ve earned the ability to choose your goals, no matter how frivolous they seem to others. But don’t fantasize about looking better when you can’t commit to being in the gym. Make getting to the gym regularly and often your first goal.
  • You’re not going to develop a complex. There are things that truly matter and things that don’t. Being able-bodied matters. Getting stronger matters. Avoiding injury matters. But year-round ab definition? It doesn’t really matter. So, if your mind is consumed by your lack of abs, then zoom out for a while and set some goals that won’t make you a mental case. I work with clients all year around to develop targets that truly serve their needs on a deeper level than how much they can bench press.
  • You’re not trying to look like someone else. Striving to look your best is different than striving to look like some celeb, athlete, or fitness guru. If you’re trying to look like someone else and you’re over age 20, it’s honestly a bit creepy.

The Best Way to Set an Appearance Goal

Most people believe that in order to reach one goal you must pursue that one thing alone, with little regard for anything else you’d like to achieve. But there’s another way.

Think of it as the corkscrew method. Instead of going full-tilt towards one goal in a linear manner, you’re inching closer to it, while gradually strengthening everything else along the way. Like a corkscrew digging deeper into the wine cork, you’re hitting other little goals as you get closer to the one that you want to achieve the most, and you’re keeping it from becoming all-encompassing.

It’ll also keep you sane. Because even if you’re not perfectly satisfied with your (insert body part here), it doesn’t matter that much because your work capacity, strength, speed, skill, or any combination of the these, will have improved. So, you’re forced to drop the one-track mind and take look at your capabilities from a big-picture approach.

Unless you’re a paid athlete, stop being extreme and unbalanced in your pursuit of goals, and instead become better in multiple aspects. This doesn’t mean you should sign up for a marathon and a strongman competition in the same week. It does mean that you can put a bit more effort into building a body part while also improving other facets of your athleticism and allowing that to have a ripple effect throughout your entire life.

You don’t have to sacrifice everything you’ve already got going for you in order to have nice glutes. Become more awesome overall, give a little extra attention to something you value, and reap the benefits all around.

Dangerous Lies We Tell Ourselves — #2 JUDGEMENT FREE LIVING

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on January 16, 2019

We’re all doing it anyway. You’re judging me for this article right now. And while most people won’t admit this, judging others is a form of self-improvement. When we see people doing things, we judge it as positive or negative, and may then either avoid or emulate those behaviors. I would ask though, that you approach “judgment” in a different way – one that allows you to learn from those around you, while possibly turning that learning back onto the subject you may be inclined to judge. Approach with CURIOUSITY WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.

PC LIE #2: Never judge anyone under any circumstances.

Do this instead: EVALUATE certain people for certain behaviors, and seek to understand the motivation for those choices.

Ever see someone order an extra-large bucket of popcorn soaked in melted butter at the movie theater? Ever see someone go to town at a buffet who clearly shouldn’t be going to a buffet at all? Or how about that friend who keeps up with the Kardashians but can’t make it to the gym?

You probably don’t want their results, so not specifically judging them, but evaluating them motivates you to make different choices. In turn, rather than literally handing down a verdict of declaring their behavior and choices as BAD, taking time to understand them may allow you to motivate them to make different choices themselves. If that idea makes you feel like a jerk or a terrible friend, then realize that you’re seeking to identify their priorities, attitudes, and behaviors – things within their power to change – not circumstances they were born with. The word and activity of judgement has such a negative connotation. Let’s supplant it with an active evaluation that seeks to understand in a curious and altruistic way.

When you are surrounded by a society full of people who have been conditioned to make certain choices, and enact in certain behaviors that are not only short-sighted but downright destructive to themselves and potentially those around them, judgement alone does nothing to improve your life or theirs. You must seek to understand what it is they must believe in order to see those decisions (such as ordering the extra-large bucket of popcorn) as logical and in their best interest. The reality is, we know those choices are dangerous, and the compounding interest on socially acceptable, albeit negative, life choices is irrefutable. In the end, there must be a driving belief held by that person that allows them to justify and rationalize the detrimental path they are walking.
Sometimes we aren’t even conscious of these dangerous beliefs around our behavior choices.

People typically just respond in the way that feels automatic and safe, even if their beliefs and responses are severely limiting us. Over time these beliefs carve deep grooves in your brain circuitry. The longer we hold on to a belief or fear, the more ingrained it is in our minds. Our adult lives have further added layers of responsibilities, stresses, and disappointments to foster limiting beliefs about ourselves.

Getting to the bottom of these beliefs, seeking to EVALUATE and UNDERSTAND, not just to JUDGE, is imperative to that motivation to make healthier, more sustainable life choices for yourself and those around you.

The goal is to know the WHY behind the HOW and WHAT. Simply labeling behaviors, and ultimately the people who choose to participate in them as inherently good or bad does nothing for anyone.

Dangerous Lies We Tell Ourselves — #1 BODY LOVE

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on December 6, 2018

Women get lied to a lot. Corporations and marketers know that women are more likely than men to take care of themselves and make purchasing decisions. It’s not that women are more susceptible than men to bogus health claims, it’s just that women are literally bombarded with them in ways that men are not. Ladies are aggressively targeted with emotionally charged claims about their health, fitness and well-being.

These lies number in the thousands, but there are a few that continue to make the rounds that have literally no science to back them up and a flat-out detrimental to any goals of legitimate success in reaching your goals, changing your health status and improving your life. Many of these ideas focus on being politically correct. But the reality is that they are creating a false sense of security that will leave you unfulfilled and looking for another quick fix.

PC LIE # 1: “Body Love” is crucial. You should praise yourself every time you look in the mirror.

Do this instead: Love effort, love achievement, and stop being so self-absorbed.

Body Love” is a term used mainly by people who fixate on their bodies, feel like crap about their bodies, and then broadcast to the world the exact opposite. They want you to believe that THEY believe every dimple and crevice of their flesh is attractive, so they’ve created a movement to make it socially acceptable.

Talking about how much you love your body means you’re probably trying to convince yourself of something you really don’t believe. The problem isn’t a lack of self-love; it’s a lack of effort, action, progress, and fulfilment… and overwhelming self-obsession. “Body Love” is code for this self-obsession. It’s forced narcissism, which is now encouraged and applauded these days. It’s ultimately a shiny object, distracting you from addressing real issues and having your needs met on a deeper level.

Insecurity and narcissism aren’t really opposites. They’re both the result of fixating on yourself too much and feeling a lack of significance. “Body Love” has become a socially acceptable way to broadcast that fixation and try to gain significance in the public arena.

THE ALTERNATIVE TO PRETEND “BODY LOVE”: ACHIEVEMENT AND PROGRESS IN A MEANINGFUL WAY

Need a self-esteem boost? Do something worthy of esteem. Do work that improves your life and that of those around you. Choose something hard, uncomfortable, and outside your current skill set. Put yourself in a situation where you must suck for a while because it’s that difficult.

This is especially valuable for those with body image issues. Why? Because when you try something for the first time you’re going to have to focus on the craft rather than yourself. This will give your mind a reboot. As you become more competent, you’ll develop REAL satisfaction, not the contrived, “I love myself for being me” bullshit. That stuff is a facade, plus nobody believes you when you say it.

Achievement always trumps words. And learning to do a new skill when you’re surrounded by people better than you is a reminder of what you CAN achieve with the right work ethic. Just get your mind off yourself. Connect. Make actual friends, and not the kind who are also insecure narcissists because they’ll convince you that “Body Love” is good, but only because they’re in the same situation – totally compensating for a belief that’s not there.

Raising a “Normal” Kid as a Bodybuilding Parent | IFBB Figure Pro Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on December 3, 2018

The reality is, that our children (especially young children) are brilliant mimics. They learn so quickly and with the effortless fluidity that we do not experience as adults because their brains are literally imbued with more plasticity than ours. This is not something that I take lightly as the parent of a young boy (or any gendered child for that matter, but I will discuss that further at a later point).

For me, bodybuilding was a part of my life before I became pregnant and gave birth to my son in 2012. Prior to him coming into our live, my husband and I generally ate similar foods. When I was preparing for a show and being extremely stringent with my food and training regiment, it was really something that I just happened to be doing. He and I often still went to the gym at the same time, I just needed to be doing more cardio than him typically. He would grab a burger here and there if he wanted, I just didn’t partake in the food. After welcoming our son into the world, there was suddenly a set of eyes and ears that would be watching, hearing and learning how to experience the world through everything to which we exposed him. All of that included what is in all senses of the words, an extreme lifestyle.

From day one, my husband and I knew that with all the knowledge we have of nutrition and health science, it would be foolish not to nurture a healthy eater. At the same time, though, it would be foolish to nurture a disordered eater who also had skewed expectations of what a woman (body, mind and spirit) is. He will learn what that is, and model what that is from us – particularly me.
One of the biggest things that we have used as a guiding principle in our approach to food with our son is making sure that he is always presented with nutritious foods, but also knows that we choose those foods for a reason. I did breastfeed as long as possible, but he was also supplemented with formula and I pumped so that others could help feed my son while I returned to work. His first foods were complex carbohydrates and dense fats that would encourage his growth and weight (I have a skinny baby): sweet potatoes, egg yolks, avocados, blended vegetables, a few pureed meats here and there, but also a few cookies here and there.

The same principle continues now, we are just able to actually talk about it with him now. He is presented with a wide variety of foods, obviously ones that are purchased and controlled by his parents. He eats chips, cookies, ice cream and plenty of other “normal kid foods”. These foods though, are limited and when we feel he has had enough, or that is not the best choice for him we explain that to him. Last year was his first year in public school and I made a point to pack his lunch daily. While that may not be a realistic choice for every family, for me it was not only important because we do keep a somewhat Kosher household, but it also helped me make sure that he was getting a good blend of nutrition to stay as focused as a toddler can in school. At first, he really wanted to eat the school lunch because that’s what he saw many other children doing. Every time he came home and asked about it, we had a discussion about whether he liked the lunch I packed (typically a gluten free sandwich of either almond butter and low-sugar jelly or turkey, a piece of fruit, a crunchy snack, and a small treat – he always liked it) and what he thought would be good about the “tray lunch”. After a few of these discussions, he came to the conclusion that he enjoyed not only the experience of food from home, but how the food made him feel (strong, healthy, focused… but also loved).

Often, when mommy is preparing for shows, or simply choosing not to eat the occasional bowl of chips he might enjoy after school, we have similar conversations. These are food choices that mommy and daddy make because of the way the foods work in and for our body, as well as how they make us feel physically and emotionally. THAT is the key, for me as a parent, to keep in mind as we shape our child’s relationship with food (as well as fitness, because our conversations and modelled behaviors about physical fitness are very similar). Food is both an essential, biological part of life and an experiential, communal part of life. It is attached to, arguably, every part of our hierarchy of needs (Maslow’s).

Forming and contributing to my son’s healthy relationship with food and fitness is of utmost importance to me, and honestly allows me to do the same despite the extreme rigidity with which I must approach my own training and nutrition to be successful as professional physique competitor. I am so proud when he gladly chooses fruit over those chips after school, when he does chose to indulge in ice cream but will easily say “I’ve had enough”, or will just generally know when he is legitimately full and satisfied.

Having this approach with my parenting helps me stay cognizant of the choices I make daily. He sees the choices I make, he knows why they are in place at certain times, but he also gets to be a part of the moments when we let loose. My hope is that this effort we make in our parenting will allow him to have a strong healthy body, that is physically capable, and a mind that is sound and strong into a long adult life. He may not follow my footsteps into bodybuilding, but I do not want him to go in the other extreme out of resentment or a terrible relationship with food and fitness either.

Marriage and Momming Can Work with Bodybuilding with IFBB Figure Pro Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on November 9, 2018

marriage, momming and bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is a lifestyle; which is a very positively skewed way of saying that bodybuilding consumes every aspect of your life. Some would call it obsessive. Others would call it a healthy obsession. Whatever you want to call it – it’s a big force that takes up a lot of space in a person’s life. So how does that affect relationships? Especially if your partner is not a bodybuilder his or herself? And even if you expand that beyond romance – friendships, family, and work relationships may all suffer (or thrive) due to the lifestyle change that is bodybuilding in your life.

Honestly, I have walked on both sides of the line with this lifestyle. I love it. I still very much so aspire to live it, breath it, and be it daily. I have, however, come to learn some very important things about not only how I approach this lifestyle, but how to best make it work for not just myself but also my ENTIRE family. This includes my spouse, my child, and my extended friends and family.

There was a time, at the beginning of my bodybuilding adventure, that my husband and I struggled to see eye to eye on things. Today, I can proudly say that we have walked through the rough stuff and we can now pursue these things as a team.

Is there room for someone else when bodybuilding has such a huge focus on self and self-improvement? Can you bring your whole self to each moment and be fully present without slipping into narcissism?

The biggest thing to keep at the forefront of your mind as you journey through this lifestyle, is that you chose this. In every moment, your choice to be a bodybuilder should not be the focus. Can you participate in family functions, without making your choices to possibly bring your own food, or abstain from certain activities in pursuit of your goals, without making that the focus. Your choice does not become someone else’s burden.

The key that has helped maintain a somewhat functioning marriage for over eleven years, is this personal commitment to being fully present for all the important things. When necessary, I get up extremely early (upwards of 3am occasionally) to get fasted cardio and meal prep done well before my son gets up so that he gets my full attention from the moment he wakes up. I am lucky enough to be able to train while he is in school, but prior to school-age I would make sure to schedule my training when he would have childcare at the gym or when my husband could be home with him.

Having somewhat congruent nutrition plans with my husband is extremely helpful as well. At the end of the day though, I am responsible for my own food choices, as is he. Maintaining a healthy relationship with food is important for everyone in our household as well. Having a young person, and a non-bodybuilder husband, in the same house means there will be food in the house that is not for me and my goals. That does not affect, or create any negative issues for me, because that choice is ultimately mine. My choice not to partake of the ice cream, snacks or anything else for that matter, does not diminish anyone else’s enjoyment of those things. In prep in particular, I have always chosen to speak about my food choices very specifically as such with my son. I do not frame a single thing as something I “cannot” have. I always present it as a choice – I “do not want” something. Basically, I have always approached it as “thanks, but no thanks”. So far I have seen a positive relationship between mt son and food. He does not have a problem eating vegetables, or turning things down that he does not want, but he also understands that treats are sometimes fun, and good, to have. My husband does not have a problem ordering pizza for them on occasion, and I do not enjoy meal time with my family any less as I eat my chicken and broccoli amidst the smell of pepperoni and marinara sauce. The important thing is the moment, not what is going in our faces at the moment.

At the end of the day, communication with your loved ones of what is important, approaching your pursuit of bodybuilding as a choice (a gift really), and choosing to put in the effort to be prepared (which may mean bringing your own food to your momma’s house so she doesn’t have to cook 7 pounds of fish for you, finding a gym nearby and training during times that do not take away from the limited time you have together, etc) will go a long way. The less you make your lifestyle a burden upon those around you, the more your loved ones will support and help you achieve your goals.

Most overlooked supplement MAGNESIUM by IFBB Figure Pro Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on November 8, 2018

Ask the average strength athlete to list the supplements they can’t live or lift without, and the list will probably stop at protein powder and creatine. Folks with a higher budget might add fish oil, branch chain amino acids, beta alanine, zinc, and other useful pills and powders that can improve performance in and out of the gym. Generally speaking, magnesium rarely appears under essential supplements for strength athletes.

That’s bad news, since most Americans are deficient in magnesium – it’s actually the second most common deficiency in developed countries after Vitamin D – and it’s one of the most important nutrients for strength athletes in particular.

What’s the Big Deal?

It might be helpful to think of magnesium as the relaxation nutrient: it improves sleep quality, stress levels, blood pressure, and it even relaxes the muscles within the digestive tract. (That means it helps you poop, which is why too much of the stuff can cause diarrhea.)

The side effects, so to speak, of magnesium insufficiency are similar to just experiencing stress. It’s likely that people don’t realize they have low magnesium simply because they think they’re stressed out. The most common theory as to why is that magnesium serves as a ‘placeholder’ in the NMDA receptors in our nerves, which cause excitement and stimulation. If magnesium is low, then there’s more passive stimulation of the NMDA receptor. NMDA receptors play an important role in brain health and the function of neurons, as well as overall nervous system functionality.

Low magnesium, then, can cause a lot of the problems associated with high stress, namely sleep problems and high blood pressure. But an adequate intake, in addition to better recovery and a link with higher testosterone levels, has another important benefit for athletes: it helps to relax muscles and reduce cramping.

Most folks are deficient in magnesium because its main dietary sources are nuts and leafy greens, on which the standard American diet is woefully low. Supplementing isn’t necessary if you’re hitting the RDI of 400 milligrams through food, but a daily supplement of 200 milligrams is a good idea for most lifters, to help the twenty-three hours between workouts, but not the workouts themselves. This supplement is going to work during your recovery periods, ultimately leading to improved overall health and training.

Looking for more food sources of magnesium?

  • 1 ounce raw cacao nibs and/or 1 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 medium avocado
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds
  • 1 ounce cashews, almonds or Brazil nuts
  • 1/2 fillet of wild caught salmon or mackeral
  • 2 cups winter squash

Why Are There So Many Kinds of Magnesium?!

Your average multivitamin probably comes up short in supplying magnesium, so if you want more in your diet, you’re going to want to find a dedicated supplement – but that’s where it gets really confusing.

Magnesium supplements don’t just vary wildly in price; they vary in what kind of magnesium they offer.  There’s magnesium oxide, citrate, glycinate, gluconate, aspartate, threonate, orotate – and those are just the ones we’ve heard of. Is there a “best” form for your body, especially if you’re a lifter?

Well, there are three basic categories of magnesium: oxide, threonate, and everything else.

Magnesium oxide is the cheapest, it works, but it’s also the most likely to cause intestinal problems and be eliminated from the intestines before being absorbed. (You can look at this as “discount diarrhea.”)

Then there’s threonate, which is preferred by some well-known coaches like Charles Poliquin. It’s argued to be the best absorbed, but it’s the most expensive.

I generally recommend the third, “everything else” category, with aspartate and citrate being perhaps the best (and equal) picks.

These forms are in the happy medium of having less intestinal problems and better absorption than oxide, while coming at only a relatively mild, or nonexistent, price increase. These two forms of magnesium are the most popular since it’s well absorbed and doesn’t result in diarrhoea unless too much of a dose is taken.

The Takeaway

Vitamin deficiencies are rare, but minerals are too often left by the wayside. The good news is that unlike a lot of important supplements for athletes (we’re looking at you, fish oil), magnesium is inexpensive, plus it has tremendous potential to not only improve your performance, but your sleep quality and stress levels as well – which will improve just about everything else.

One of my favorite supplements for magnesium, as well as improved overall sleep and recovery is ProjectAD’s Bulldoze. This not only includes your needed supplementary intake of magnesium in a quality form (aspartate) but is also coupled with another (often deficient) mineral, zinc and its vitamin friend B6. Taking these at night will help ensure that your intake of magnesium is adequate, and your nighttime recovery is optimal.  

Overcoming Genetics, Motivation with Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on October 1, 2018

Do genetics matter? Are we going to be forever defined by what genes we got from our parents and their parents? 

The reality is YES IT DOES MATTER. Genetics play a role and it affects muscle growth and success in the iron world. But it all boils down to you. Even if you’re a hardgainer, you can overcome this “plight of the gain less” and dominate it. You may not have the winning genetic lottery numbers, but that doesn’t mean you have to count yourself out.

Get a new pair of Genes

I wish it were that easy.  Go to your favorite shop and pick a pair of nice genes that fit you perfectly. Easy peasey, right?  Not so fast, Tonto! It doesn’t work that way. We get what we get from our folks.  We’re stuck with “them genes” till the day we head off into the sunset.  We can pin some of the blame on our parents and their ancestors for the state of our genes, but I suggest not bringing it up on the dinner table.

Studies have shown that genetics affect body fat and dictate where it’s stored. Some people are pre-disposed to store fat in their abdominal area, some in the face, while some store fat in their thighs. And, drum roll please…some people are genetically predisposed for fat storage in the buttocks. Holler if you like big butts, and please don’t lie! 

But don’t think of this as an advantage -yet. The fat storage in these regions can become a major issue. Ever meet a guy who was lean all over but had a spare tire hanging from his midsection? That’s the ugly and un-healthy “pear shape” a lot of the guys dread and if you’re one of them, I feel for you.

Spread the Fat

The ideal genetic scenario is far from the examples above, where fat storage is greater in one or more areas of the body. The genetically gifted will store fat, but the fat will be evenly distributed all over the body. So, let’s say two guys, identical twins, same height, weight, age and fitness level were to pig out for the next couple of weeks, eating 1,000 more calories and doing absolutely nothing (completely sedentary).

The genetically gifted freak still looked pretty lean, didn’t gain any abdominal fat and actually looked “bigger”, despite not working out at all, while gaining weight and a little bit of fat. The fat was evenly distributed across his entire body, so the changes weren’t as evident and negligible. These guys are the elite of the elite, and there just aren’t too many of them. If you think you belong to this group, congratulations! You just won the Arnold Schwarzenegger Genetic Lottery! Bah-humbug!

The not-so gifted guy not only gained more weight and more bodyfat, but he stored it in his abdominal region, chest and face! Talk about getting the short end of the stick! If you think you belong to this group, don’t fret, as these guys are a dime a dozen. The next time you’re in the gym, take a look around and you’re apt to see one struggling to gain muscle and lose fat.

The genetic lottery can be manipulated

Most of the successful athletes and champion bodybuilders are mesomorphs. It’s just easier for them to succeed because of the way their bodies are built. The blueprint is already there, and they just added the pieces through proper training and good, clean nutrition. Please note that the keyword here is most. Why? Because, my dear Watson, anyone can beat their poor or average genetic predispositions, and overcome the limits of their body type.

Take a look at Hugo Rivera. The guy stands 5’4” tall, but is built like a truck, is an all natural bodybuilder, and has won numerous awards. He overcame adversity growing up,(including childhood obesity, followed by anorexia in his early teens)  and became a beast in the world of bodybuilding and a well respected writer and speaker. There are a lot of people who fought tooth and nail to get to where they wanted to be physically, regardless of body type, genetics be damned. 

It didn’t matter to them if other people told them it can’t be done, that they couldn’t be strong enough, fast enough and big enough. It shouldn’t matter to you, too. Remember, genes play a role, nothing more, and nothing less. What role it’ll play in your bodybuilding journey is up to you. If you give genetics the leading role in your life movie, you’ll always take a back seat and be the supporting actor.

Conclusion

Don’t let it define you, and stop wasting time blaming your parents because your genes are affecting your muscle growth. Train hard. Give it your all every single time. Up the intensity and be consistent. Eat healthy, follow a program and stick with it till you see results. If a program isn’t working after hitting it hard for some time, explore other options and find the one that works for you. Were all built differently, so try and don’t be afraid to fail.

Muscle Growth Q & A Hacking with IFBB Pro Sarah Sweeney

Posted By Sarah Sweeney on August 23, 2018

In this series of Q & A’s, we tap into the knowledge base of some of the most respected and knowledgeable heads in the industry, this episode with Project AD Personal Trainer, Nutritionist and Mommy – Sarah Sweeney.

1) Is it best to vary rep ranges when training solely for hypertrophy/muscle gain, or is there a sweet spot bodybuilders should generally stick to?

Bodybuilding is one of those funny things where the body looks as though it would be incredibly strong, and in general we are VERY strong, but the training for this look does not necessarily encourage pure, brute strength.

I’m more focused on controlling the weight, and concentrated time-under-tension with my training. In general, this is a good approach for most athletes pursuing a more aesthetic approach to fitness.

I tend to train in specific splits, for about an hour a day — I’m often working supersets of 2-4 exercise with rep ranges of 8-15, as well as utilizing paused reps and drop-sets.

2) What is the optimal training frequency for muscle growth?

Any lagging or slow-responding body part should be trained twice per week. That being said, I allow for three days between those training sessions. For example, if I’m training shoulders on Monday, I won’t hit them again until Thursday.

3) Training twice per day: are there any circumstances where you would advise this for muscle growth if somebody has the time?

Other than lighter weight, and functional work, possibly included in HIIT cardio, I wouldn’t generally recommend weight training twice a day. The nervous system needs time to recover, your nutrition needs to be impeccable and there’s definitely a point of diminished returns with the risk of overtraining.

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