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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Push-ups: Then and Now

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a video of myself doing push-ups back in August 2008. I thought that those of my readers who are struggling to do push-ups from the toes might find it interesting. Hope you enjoy my kids being cute in the background!

Watching it, you can see that I struggled to do just two push-ups from the toes before giving up. My form was pretty poor, with my rear coming up too high, but I got them done!

The point is, we all have to start somewhere. I started with two sloppy push-ups from the toes.

So now let's see the video I shot today (thanks to DH, my camera man):

As I explain in the video, this was actually my second set of thirty. You should have seen my face when DH explained that the first take didn't actually record! My form is MUCH improved although I still see more areas for improvement, like my hand placement.

What's amazing is that I went from those two push-ups in August 2008 to being able to do about 30 push-ups within the span of three months. I first accomplished a set of 30 push-ups by November 2008. Although I haven't significantly upped my one-set number since then, my form has improved, and as I learned last night, I can now do multiple sets of 30 push-ups in one session. I know that if I focused on push-ups more exclusively, I'd be able to use the hundred push-ups program to do far more than 30-35 of them at once, but I'm happy with where I am right now.

So what do you think? Can you do any push-ups from the toes? However many you can do (even if it's zero), set a goal and work towards it. You might surprise even yourself!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Evolution of a fitness plan

In the final post in my one-year look-back series, I wanted to walk my readers through how my fitness plan has evolved over the past year - as well as how my physical fitness has improved. I didn't start out doing 30 push-ups in a row, cranking out chin-ups, or running a mile without getting winded. Not even close!

Perhaps it might help if I dial back a bit further, just to give you some context. I am not a traditionally athletic person. Those of my readers in the U.S. might recall doing those "Presidential Fitness Tests" in school. Well, I was the annoying girl who hated running so much that she insisted on walking the required "mile run," while the rest of her class sat on the bench and waited for her. I can see the physical education teachers rolling their eyes right now! While I enjoyed swimming, dancing, and horseback riding, I only did the latter competitively. I was not a soccer, softball, lacrosse, or field hockey player. The closest I came to running track was being half-sibling to an alum of my school's cross-country team. So I didn't have any personal experience to pull from, or default mode of training to fall back on.

But running...hate it though I did, I had forced myself to do it once before, back in 2002, and dropped down to a svelte 117 pounds. So that's where I decided to start.

It begins...
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 was the first day of my new workout plan. My neighbor was waiting outside for me at 6:00, and she'd kick my butt if she got up early and I was a no-show. So I made myself get out of bed and get outside. As a physical education teacher, she had the plan. We walked to warm up, and then did jogging intervals, running for about 45 seconds at a time, and then walking for two minutes to recover, with a cool-down walk at the end. It took us 33 minutes to do 2 miles, with about 8 minutes of running and about 25 minutes of walking. I have to say, it was REALLY hard for me. Every time we started running, I wanted to stop almost immediately! Later that night, I did 20 crunches on a stability ball.

That was the first day. Each day after that, we ran a little longer, and walked a little less. As the days wore on, we added a "long run" in the middle, skipping one of the walking intervals. And every few days, I'd do some crunches on the stability ball.

Two weeks into this, I started doing a routine of stability ball exercises, which effectively were a form of resistance training. This included crunches, push-ups, wall squats, hamstring curls, etc. I did these exercises in the evening, while I continued the running and walking intervals in the morning. By this point, the running and walking had progressed quite a bit. I was now running as many minutes as I was walking (about 15 minutes each). It was getting easier, and we kept pushing ourselves to make it harder again.

Then came Friday, August 1. The local running store was holding "Friday Night Runs" in August. It was a timed run on a flat, paved trail near our home. You could run 2.5 or 5 miles. I had never tried to run 2.5 miles without stopping to walk, but decided to try. And I did it! After just 6 weeks of training, I ran the 2.5 miles in 28 minutes! So much for the girl who couldn't run a mile! Just after Labor Day, I ran a 5K. I had done a few, years ago, but never was able to finish without walking at least once. This time, I ran the entire race, finishing in 33 minutes.

I also started the 100 Push-ups program for the first time in August. I tested my regular push-ups and could only do two, so I started with the lowest level in the program, switching to knee push-ups when I couldn't do anymore regular push-ups. Although I stopped the program when it started interfering with other workouts I was doing, I was able to do 30 regular push-ups by November. Look for some video showing me back in August, trying to do push-ups, and a follow-up one that shows the change in my ability. I'll post that separately later this week.

I introduce some "Turbulence" to my training
By the time October rolled around, I was ready for a more intense resistance training program. That's when I started Turbulence Training. I started off with the 4-week bodyweight program (which I send all of my email subscribers for free), and switched to the TT 2K3 workout (2K3 = 2003, the year Craig Ballantyne created the workout) near the end of the month, when I was able to start working out with weights.

Here is a sampling of the weights I used in that workout (all weights listed for two-handed exercises are for both hands), along with the weights I used last week for the same workout:

October 2008
Chin-ups 3x6 chin-ups at -52lbs (using an assisted chin-up machine)
DB chest press 3x8 at 40lbs
DB 1-arm elbow out row 3x8 at 15lbs, repeat other side
DB low-incline press 3x8 at 30lbs
Decline push-ups - could only do 6 per set 3x6
DB incline curl 3x8 at 20lbs

Forward lunges 3x8 30 lbs
Side plank 3x30 sec per side
Romanian Deadlift 3x8 40lbs
Jackknife w/ ball 3x15 reps
Step-ups 3x8 40lbs
2-leg Hamstring curl w/ ball 3x15 reps

June 2009
Chin-ups 4 unassisted chin-ups, 1 + 5 assisted (-22 lbs) in remaining 2 sets
DB chest press 3x8 at 70lbs (+30 lbs)
DB 1-arm elbow out row 3x8 at 30 lbs, repeat other side (+15 lbs)
DB low-incline press 3x8 at 40 lbs (+10 lbs)
Decline push-ups - 3x15 (+9 reps per set)
DB incline curl 3x8 at 30lbs (+10 lbs)

Forward lunges 3x8 60 lbs (+30 lbs)
Side plank 3x60 sec per side (+30 seconds)
Romanian Deadlift 3x8 75lbs (+35 lbs)
Ab-Pike 3x15 reps (Same reps - harder exercise)
Step-ups 3x8 60lbs (+20 lbs)
1-leg Hamstring curl w/ ball 3x15 reps per side (Same reps - harder exercise)

As you can see, my strength has very much increased over the course of the last 8 months. For the curious who are also using the Turbulence Training Program, here are the names of the other workouts I did in the following months:

TT 2K4
TT 2K5 (only 2 weeks)
TT for Female Strength Phase II
TT Gain Muscle Lose Fat
TT for Buff Dudes and Hot Chicks (BDHC)
TT Fusion Fat Loss Intermediate
TT for Meatheads
TT 2K3 (tried again specifically to see how far I'd come since I started)

I get serious about Kettlebells
The Turbulence Training programs recommend you replace "long, slow, boring cardio" with high intensity interval training (HIIT). I started off doing treadmill sprints for my intervals, building on the running I had been doing over the summer. But running inside is far less interesting, for me, than running outside, and I found myself skipping HIIT sessions because I dreaded stepping onto the treadmill.

But my friend Anna, from Path to Fat Loss was a kettlebell enthusiast, and her descriptions of what she was doing piqued my interest. There were several kettlebells at my gym, and I decided I would learn to do the Kettlebell swing (the most basic kettlebell move), and use swings for HIIT at least once per week.

So, near the end of November, I replaced one of my normal HIIT workouts with kettlebell swings. I did 30 seconds of swings, with 90 seconds of recovery for six total intervals. I used a 12kg kettlebell to start, but found it was very difficult to keep good form on the last three intervals, so in future sessions, I switched to an 8kg kettlebell. Within two months, I was consistently using a 12kg kettlebell for swings. Then, at the end of February, I started working a 16kg kettlebell into my routine. I would do half of my intervals with the 16kg, and the other half with the 12kg. I loved how I could get a great HIIT workout that left me out of breath and exhausted in just 12 minutes.

In April, I started working with a RKC certified trainer in a weekly group class. She helped refine my swing, and taught me a few more exercises. Now, here's the kind of circuit I might do for a quick HIIT session after my weight lifting workout:

30 seconds 16kg swings
5 weighted squats (16kg)
30 seconds rest
30 seconds 12kg overhead swings
30 seconds 12kg one-hand alternating swings
30 seconds rest
30 seconds 16kg swings
30 seconds jumping jacks
30 seconds rest
30 seconds 12kg overhead swings
5 weighted lunges (12kg) per side
30 seconds rest
30 seconds 16kg swings
5 burpees
30 seconds rest
30 seconds 12kg overhead swings
30 seconds 12kg one-hand alternating swings
30 seconds rest

In conclusion...
It amazes me to look back and see how far I've come in the past year on all levels - appearance, nutrition, health, and fitness. But there's one common thread in all four posts, and that's that none of these changes happened overnight. Dozens of small, incremental changes accumulated to influence my physical ability, health, appearance, and diet. So if you look at the way I live my life now, and think "that's great, but I just can't do that right now," don't be ashamed. If you asked me a year ago, I would have said the same thing!

Find one thing - just one - to change and start there. Maybe it's eating real food for breakfast, or starting a daily walking habit with a friend. Maybe it's signing up for a yoga class or cutting back on alcohol, sweets, or fatty foods (whichever is your vice). But whatever you do, don't let it stop there! Once you've acclimated yourself to that first change, decide on the NEXT thing you will change.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. "
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Evolution of a healthy body

Continuing my one-year lookback, I thought I'd take a moment to share some of the ways my body has physically changed over the past year. Now, I don't have baseline measurements for everything, and that's because when I started my journey I didn't have any idea that this was going to be a life-changing experience. I figured I'd drop a few pounds, look better, and that would be that.

So let's talk about the different things that have changed about my body over the past year.

Obvious, this one. I started off weighing 135, and now weigh between 110-115. My weight loss graph on Dailyburn shows that it took me until mid-July to lose the first 5 pounds, and then another month to get to 10 total pounds of loss, and a weight of around 125. At this point, my weight started to creep back up a bit. I started getting more careless about my diet, and wasn't exercising as frequently.

My weight peaked at 128 in September, and then, after starting Turbulence Training and cleaning up my nutrition even more, I saw it fall steeply and steadily to 116.5 at the beginning of December. Now I had hit my goal of 117 pounds, and was feeling great. But as it turns out, I wasn't done!

Starting in January, I picked up with my Turbulence Training workouts again, and this time I saw my weight drop steadily down to 110, which was what I weighed in high school! I now average around 112-113 on a daily basis.

Body Fat
I do have a scale that measures body fat using electrical impedance, but I've found it highly unreliable. So I only have a few body fat measurements I can share with you. In order to get a good baseline, I actually have to go back to the summer of 2007. I weighed 122 pounds back then, thanks to the weight loss stimulated by nursing my son many times each day. At that time, my body fat was 26.9%. So if you assume that my lean body mass stayed the same and adjust for the increase in total body weight, my body fat would have been around 34% in June 2008.

The next measurement I have is October 15, 2008. My weight was 122.5, and my body fat was measured as 21.3%. That's a huge amount of body fat lost in a short period of time!

I had my body fat measured yet again on December 12, 2008. My weight was 117, and my body fat was measured as 15.5%. The trainer who took my measurements (both times) couldn't believe that I had dropped so much body fat in just two months! She was absolutely blown away!
Finally, I had my body fat measured one last time on March 29, 2009. My weight was 111, and my body fat remained at 15.5%. That actually told me that I lost a little bit too much weight, since it indicated that I had lost one pound of fat, and five pounds of muscle. (That's why I've been trying to add some muscle back to my body, and am comfortable with a slightly higher weight range.)

To come from an estimated 34% body fat to 15.5% body fat in one year was amazing. But the health benefits are even better - lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, and a whole host of other ailments!

Body Measurements
Again, I don't have measurements from the very beginning of my journey, but I can tell you that I was squeezing into a size 8, and my upper body was enormous, relative to the rest of me. It was very difficult for me to find appropriately-fitting clothing, and I usually had to pay a premium to find something that I could wear. It was not uncommon for me to be unable to button a jacket, and I had to pay $50-$80 for a well-fitting bra (at 34DDD, most stores didn't even carry my size).

By September, three months into my journey, I was fitting comfortably into my size 8 suits, and could even wear some of the larger size 6 items in the back of my closet. I finally some measurements on September 30, 2008:

Chest - 36"
Waist - 30"
Hips - 38"
Thigh - 19.5"
Calf - 12.75"
Arm (unflexed) - 10"
Arm (flexed) - 10"
Clothing size - 8
Bra size - 34DD

I took them again on December 14, 2008:
Chest - 34"
Waist - 28"
Hips - 36"
Thigh - 18"
Calf - 12"
Arm (unflexed) - 9.75"
Arm (flexed) - 10.5"
Clothing size - 4
Bra size - 34D

And one last time on March 29, 2009:
Chest 34"
Waist 26.5"
Belly button 29.5"
Hip 35"
Thigh 17.25"
Calf 12.25"
Clothing size - 2 or 4
Bra size 34C

As you can see, some of the skinnier parts of my body actually started to increase as I put on muscle, like my calves and my arms (and I was not complaining).

This is one area where I really wish I had a baseline measurement for June 2008. But even without it, I saw some really interesting changes.

September 28, 2008:
Total Cholesterol - 141
HDL (good) - 49
LDL (bad) - 76
Triglycerides - 77
TC/HDL ratio: 2.8

January 2009:
Total Cholesterol - 129
HDL (good) - 50
(Full panel results were not supplied)
TC/HDL ratio: 2.6

March 29, 2009:
Total Cholesterol - 133
HDL (good) - 61
LDL (bad) - 61
Triglycerides (bad) - 55
TC/HDL ratio: 2.2

Although my levels were healthy when first measured, they are now even better, putting me at a very decreased risk of coronary artery disease.

Other factors
I mentioned earlier that when I was heavier, I had an enormous chest. It had actually gotten progressively larger with each pregnancy, growing from 34D to a 34DD and finally a 34DDD. I had planned to get breast reduction surgery, like one of my older sisters, because their size caused me significant back strain, and it was very frustrating trying to find clothing that was attractive and fit well.

After my body fat started falling, I realized that losing this weight was going to help me avoid MAJOR SURGERY! Now, as a 34C, I can actually wear shirts designed for someone of my petite frame. I feel like I gained all of the benefits of the surgery, without any of the risks, costs, or recovery.

It is amazing to look back at all of these statistics and see how my body has evolved from one that was clearly unhealthy, to one that is much healthier than the average woman! I've likely extended my life, and the years I have will be more enjoyable because I am so healthy and happy.

Of course, there are some fitness-based indicators that show the improved health of my body, but I will cover those in another post, later this week. I hope you are enjoying this series. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Evolution of a successful diet plan

After posting my pics from a year ago, I wanted to go back and compare some specific things, to see not just how my body has transformed, but also how my LIFE has transformed. I'm starting with diet.

Last year, I joined a site called Gyminee (now DailyBurn.com), and started tracking my food intake and exercise.

On June 19, here's what I ate (and sadly, this was typical):
Breakfast: Attain shake with skim milk
Snack: Half a chocolate chip muffin
Lunch: Half a small roast beef hoagie w/ cheese, apple, coke slushee
Snack: Bag of mini cookies (6)
Dinner: 1 slice cheese pizza

The awful menu continues, with a same attain shake (my so-called "diet" breakfast) and 22 oz Coke slushee each day. On the one day where I was eating somewhat healthy, the only thing I had in addition to these two items was steak (7-8 oz) with corn on the cob and roasted potatoes. Back then, I used to complain that I had a really hard time eating the amount of protein I was supposed to eat without blowing my fat and carbs for the day. (I was trying to hit a 30-40-30 ratio of Fat, Carbs, and Protein daily.)

If the me of today met the me from back then, I'd point out that it's really no mystery! If you get all your protein from pizza and hoagies, you're going to blow your fat limit. And if you indulge in a 22oz soda, frozen or otherwise, your carbs will be through the roof as well! Amazingly, I was losing weight, although slowly, thanks to the regular exercise and calorie restriction (even if the calories I was eating were crap, they were still fewer than I had been eating before).

So let's flash forward about a month:

Monday, July 21, I had the following:
Breakfast: Attain shake with skim milk
Snack: 1 oz almonds
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with baby spinach and 1TB of ranch dressing
Snack: 14 baby carrots
Dinner: 1.5 Buffalo-style chicken tenders with jasmine rice, soy sauce, and ranch dressing
Snack: 1/8 C mint chocolate chip ice cream (basically a big spoonful at bedtime)

Big plus? I was actually getting vegetables, and not all my protein was coming from fatty foods.
The downside? I was still going overboard with fat (all that ranch dressing didn't help), and my sodium was off the chart at 4000mg or more.

And, of course, it's quite likely that my portions weren't perfectly estimated, so I was likely eating more than I thought. But it was certainly progress. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell that I was still having those Coke slushees. But they were less frequent, and I cut back from the 22 oz. size to the 18 oz. size. And the weight kept dropping off.

We're going to skip forward now to October 6.

Breakfast: Attain Shake with skim milk
Lunch: Hummus, mushrooms, broccoli in mini whole-wheat pitas (2 small); 14 baby carrots dipped in 2TB Skippy Natural peanut butter
Snack: Stonyfield farm fat-free strawberry yogurt (6oz); 20 almonds
I was actually fasting that day after lunch, so I'll give you the October 7 dinner instead:
Dinner: Grilled chicken w/ bowtie pasta and red sauce, w/ low-fat mozz cheese
Whole wheat garlic toast (bread, butter, garlic powder)

I also reported right around this time that it had been a week since I last had a Coke Slushee. As you can see, my meals were getting healthier and healthier. I was getting fewer sugary treats, more vegetables, and more "whole foods." However, I was still using sugar-sweetened peanut butter, a "diet shake" for breakfast, and my day was a little skimpy on protein.

So now let's see where I am today. This is actually what I ate on Tuesday, June 9:
Breakfast: Mango, blueberries, lowfat no salt added cottage cheese, cinnamon, walnuts
Lunch: Homemade chicken salad on a honey wheat wrap with baby spinach; celery and carrots with natural peanut butter (made without sugar or salt - just peanuts)
Snack: Sliced nectarine, nonfat greek yogurt, granola (low sugar - only 6g per 1/3 C)
Dinner: Chicken stir-fry - chicken, mixed veggies, 1/2 TB soy sauce
Snack: 8oz skim milk w/ 1TB Ah! Laska choc syrup
Unplanned eating: 1 C popcorn (OR "simply salted" variety), 6 almonds

I've ditched the processed foods, and I feel like my brand choices are really great for the prepackaged items I DO buy. I'm focusing my meals much more around fruits, veggies, and lean protein - whole foods all. I get my macronutrient ratios pretty close to my targets (tend to end up around 25-50-25 instead of 30-40-30), and those extra carbs are primarily coming from fruits and veggies. AND, I still haven't had a Coke Slushee (or a soda, for that matter) since October 2008.

What have I learned (and what do I hope you can learn) from this retrospective? Well, there are a few things:
  • Even small changes in your nutrition can yield results. Back when I was eating the worst foods, logging my intake and sticking to 1200-1400 calories still helped me start losing weight.
  • You might not be ready to make (and stick with) a dramatic change right from the start. But if you keep making continual adjustments and improvements, you will end up with a diet that IS a dramatic change from the one you started with.
  • As you progress, foods you thought were healthy might end up on your "banned" list. Keep an open mind and be willing to consider change. It was very hard for me to stop relying on the convenience of a "diet" breakfast shake, but now that I've done it, I've found it actually isn't any more trouble to make and eat a real breakfast.
I hope you've found this retrospective interesting. I'll continue to look at the transformation of my physical fitness, personal health, and other factors over the past year. For those of you beginning your journey, PLEASE take measurements and pictures. You will really value having the opportunity to compare your final results when you reach that finish line!

Friday, June 12, 2009

What a difference a year makes!

I've been feeling a bit reflective lately. I've come up on the one-year anniversary of the start of my fitness and health quest. The past year has, quite literally, changed my life. Just look at the pictures above. In the first one, taken June 9, 2008, I was clearly overweight. The shorts I was wearing were size 10.

Now look at the second picture, taken on my 9th wedding anniversary in the same tank top. This time, the shorts are size 2, and the remainder of the changes are pretty obvious! (Is it just me, or am I also taller? Hah! Just kidding.)

When I started on this journey, I had no idea how far I would come. In fact, my own husband made a bet with our neighbor that I wouldn't last 3 weeks! Fortunately, my friend and neighbor Carolyn was a great workout buddy, and helped get me going each morning. Now, not only am I completely transformed, but I'm using my experience to help motivate others. You can't get much better than that!

Thinking about this, I think I'm going to go back to some of the earlier workouts I did, so that I can see how my weights and stamina compare to what they were then. I'll be sure to report back what I find out. More to come!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Test in Meal Conversions: Pizza

A few weeks back, I did a post where I explained that it's often possible to take a food that is traditionally unhealthy and/or fattening, and make a homemade version that is healthier and has reduced fat or saturated content. In my first post, I made a low fat and healthy chicken salad, saving hundreds of calories over a comparable sandwich from the local store. I thought now might be a good time to share another meal conversion I enjoy making, this time for a bit more of a decadent item - pizza!

The pizza we're going to use for comparative purposes is a Sbarro Chicken Vegetable pizza. Since my pizza will use chicken and vegetables, I wanted to choose something as similar as possible, but be aware that my recipe will save you even MORE calories and saturated fat over a pizza that uses red meat, like a supreme pizza.

Sbarro Chicken Vegetable Pizza Nutrition Facts:

Serving Size 1 slice (280.0 g)
Calories 530
Calories from Fat 153
Total Fat 17.0g
Saturated Fat 8 g
Cholesterol 45mg
Sodium 1260mg
Total Carbohydrates 69.0g
Dietary Fiber 5.0g
Protein 24.0g

Now let's make a healthier version at home. We're going to make a southwestern-flavored pizza with chicken and vegetables.

First, instead of using pizza dough or a pizza crust, I'm making my pizza on a wrap. For this recipe, I'm using a Flat Out multi-grain wrap, but you can certainly use whatever brand you like. The key is to make sure you don't overdo it on the size. The wrap I'm using is only 53 grams in weight. Compare that to a Mission 12" tortilla, at 104 grams, and you'll see that portion size is important! Whole wheat is ideal, but sometimes the whole wheat varieties are much higher in sodium, so weigh all factors when choosing your wrap. As an alternative, if you want to make your own crust, a healthy alternative is this spelt pizza crust recipe I found on another blog.

Next, we're going to saute some vegetables: mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, and red peppers. You can use whatever vegetables you enjoy best. If you have some scallions, I recommend throwing those in as well! In the picture I included above, I've used carrots instead of red peppers. But veggies are veggies! Use what you like. I throw mine on a nonstick griddle and cook them without any butter or oil. You can also cook them in a wok.

Now it's time for the chicken. If you're like me, you typically will make a batch of chicken over the weekend, and then reuse it throughout the week. In this case, I have a number of grilled chicken breasts. So, let's take one of those, slice it into pieces until we've used up about half the breast (3 oz or 85 grams), and throw it on the griddle to warm it up and give it a little crispiness on the outside. If you're a vegetarian, black beans might be a good alternative to chicken, since this pizza has a bit of southwestern flair.

Put your wrap on a baking stone or cookie sheet, and spread it with about 2TB of your favorite salsa (mine is made by restaurant On the Border, and has a good kick to it!). Why do I use salsa instead of pizza sauce? Well, I've found that pizza sauce is usually filled with a ton of sugar and sodium. Salsa is just as tasty (if not more so), and is healthier to boot!

Top the wrap with your chicken and vegetables. Then take about 1 ounce (28 grams) of grated part-skim mozzarella cheese, and sprinkle it over top. Don't go overboard with the cheese, as even part-skim is calorie dense. You can substitute a mexican blend of cheeses, or if you're a vegan, just skip the cheese all together!

Put the wrap into the oven, warmed up to about 400 degrees. Now is the hard part - watch it closely! Wraps will crisp up quite quickly and you don't want yours to scorch. The idea is to get it crisp and melt the cheese without burning the sides. So turn on the oven light and watch it the whole time. Remove from the oven after about 5 minutes, or whenever it appears done.

I'll list our ingredients, and then the nutritional information, so that you can compare.

Skinless Grilled chicken - 1/2 breast (3oz, 86 grams)
1 Multi-Grain Wrap (53 grams)
2 TB Salsa (30 grams)
1 oz Part Skim Mozz Cheese (28 grams)
1/4 C Mushrooms (48 grams)
Half stalk Broccoli (57 grams)
1 C Spinach (21 grams)
1/2 Small red Peppers - 1/2 small (37 grams)

The total weight of the pizza ends up at 360 grams, which means it's actually 30% more food than the original. Keep that in mind and let's see how the nutritional facts stack up for my healthy pizza:

Calories: 367
Calories from fat: 103
Fat: 12 grams
Saturated fat: 5 grams
Cholesterol: 88 mg
Sodium: 785 mg
Carbohydrates: 27g
Dietary fiber: 10g
Sugars: 4g
Protein: 47g

Okay, so with a serving size that's 30% larger, I've reduced the calories, fat, and saturated fat by 30%. Sodium is high for a single meal, but still 40% less than the original. Using a wrap and ditching that sugary sauce drops the carbs by a whopping 60%! Meanwhile, we've nearly doubled both the fiber and protein.

If you want to make an even MORE dramatic change, use just a sprinkling of cheese or skip the cheese altogether. Do that, and the final product will have just 287 calories, 6 grams of fat, and only 1 gram of saturated fat.

Is there a meal you'd like me to convert from high fat and high calorie to healthy? Let me know your ideas and I'll use it in a future post.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Resistance Isn't Futile

Many women (and even some men) that I know have figured out how to lose weight by eating healthy. They might be using Weight Watchers, or a program like Jenny Craig, or maybe they're just being successful counting calories. But once they lose the weight, then the really difficult part starts: How do they keep it from coming back?

Well, first, let's look at how things change during weight loss. Using a general formula (the Harris-Benedict formula), we can estimate that if a 30 year-old woman is 5'6" tall, exercises 3 times per week, and starts off weighing 200 pounds, she needs to eat about 2150 calories per day to maintain her weight and 1650 calories per day to lose weight. Once she hits her goal weight of 135 pounds, she now needs to eat about 2175 calories per day to maintain her new weight.

Okay, that's a general formula. But let's consider two scenarios:

In the first scenario, our friend started off with 46% body fat. She lost weight and reduced her body fat percentage through dieting and cardio, but is still "skinny fat," meaning that she's slim but has a high percentage of body fat - say 30%. Well, if we consider lean body mass (using the Katch McArdle formula) instead of just total weight, our calculations change. After making the adjustment, she should only be eating 2000 calories per day to maintain her weight. If she's using the more general calculation above, she'll be eating 175 calories a day too much. That leaves her gaining more than a pound per month!

In the second scenario, our friend again started off with 46% body fat. But this time, she lost weight and significantly reduced her body fat percentage using a combination of dieting and exercise - both resistance training and cardio. So now she's slim AND she's maintained some of her muscle mass so her body fat percentage is just 20%. When we consider her lean body mass, she can eat 2200 calories per day to maintain her weight. So she can enjoy an extra 200 calories per day, compared to the first scenario, without watching that hard lost weight creep back on. Isn't that the kind of advantage you'd like to enjoy?

So how can you apply this knowledge for yourself? If you're one of the (many) women who loves your cardio, aerobics classes, and the like, but runs FAR away from the weight room, it's time to take a second look. It's important to maintain your muscle mass while you lose weight so that it won't be as easy for the weight to come back when you stop dieting. Resistance training, also called weight training, is an essential part of a successful weight loss plan.

And resistance training doesn't have to use weights. The important point is to stress and challenge your muscles, so that they respond by growing. You can do this with bodyweight exercises OR with weights, as long as you keep your workouts challenging. In fact, you can get a complete bodyweight resistance training workout for free by signing up for my email list (on the right).

To get the biggest benefit from a resistance training workout, you should focus on large movements that work multiple muscle groups. That means you should not consider bicep curls and tricep kickbacks with 5 pound hand weights as your "resistance training" workout. Some of the best exercises are those that work your lower body. That includes squats, lunges, and deadlifts. All three of these exercises can be done both with weight and without, and each uses multiple muscles so you're working efficiently AND buring calories. Kettlebell swings are another great way to work the muscles in your lower body. For your upper body, focus on various types of push-ups, work on doing your first chin-up, and doing either inverted bodyweight rows, or bent-over dumbbell rows with weights. Want to work abs? Check out my popular article about how to get great abs.

If you are an exercise class junkie, never fear! You can get resistance training in a class setting. Many gyms now offer group weightlifting classes with an aerobics feel, but using barbells and weight plates to add resistance. There are also "boot camp" type classes that use bodyweight exercises to coach participants through resistance training workouts that can be done anywhere, without any equipment!

Still feel lost? Find a good personal trainer and ask them to design and help you learn a resistance training plan that you can do without having to use exercise machines, and will give you a good basic workout. Specifically mention the exercises I listed above, so they understand you want a serious workout and not 20 minutes of lifting tiny pink dumbbells over your head.

And feel free to ask me, too, if you need ideas on how to get over your fear of resistance training. Remember, resistance ISN'T futile!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

7-Minute Weight Loss Circuit

I recently read a summary of a very interesting study regarding energy level and quality of life in women. In the study, healthy sedentary women (average age around 57) were put into one of four groups. Three groups did exercise at varying levels of intensity, from light exercise (The amount of time spent exercising ranged from just over one hour weekly in the light intensity group to three hours weekly in the high intensity group.) The fourth group was a control group - they didn't begin an exercise program.

The result? While the groups doing more exercise lost the most weight, all three exercising groups showed marked increases in vitality, and reported improved quality of life in mental, social, and physical respects. What can we learn from this? You don't need a long intense gym workout to gain the psychological benefits of exercise. And when it comes to mood and staying on track with your weight loss plans, even a short, light workout may be all it takes to keep your momentum up.

As I've mentioned before, missing one workout can often lead to two or three missed workouts, and it can be difficult to stay on track. But if you are pressed for time, having a short workout that you can do at home may be what it takes to help you make it to the gym the next day.

With that in mind, I wanted to share a short weight loss circuit designed by Craig Ballantyne, the author of Turbulence Training and a frequent contributor to Men's Health Magazine.

7-Minute Weight Loss Circuit

By: Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS


One thing we have to lose from our workout mindsets is the idea of this "60-minute workout". Forget about spending that much time in the gym. Instead, choose better exercises that are more efficient. This will allow you to get your workout done faster, eliminating the "no time" workout excuse.

To do so, you need to eliminate irrelevant exercises. I know you want to do an exercise for shoulders, and one for arms, and one for abs, and one for this and that. But before you do, ask yourself, will these really get me to my goal, or have I just been convinced by bodybuilding magazines that I need 40 sets per workout to get results?

Now, taking those lessons, we can then create some pretty incredible bodyweight workouts as well. And these bodyweight workouts can get finished fast!

In fact, here is a 7-minute bodyweight circuit that can help you lose weight, burn calories, and blast your metabolism. You don't need machines or weights. You can do this anywhere!

Bodyweight squat (10-20 reps)
Pushup (10-20 reps) - do it on your knees if you must
Reverse Lunge (10 reps per leg)
Plank (30 second hold)
Close-grip Pushup (10-20 reps)
Side Plank (20 second hold per side)
Mountain Climber (10 reps per side)

Do this with no rest between exercises. Rest 1 minute at the end of the 7-minute circuit and repeat up to 3 times.

If you are a beginner, do fewer reps and take longer rests.

It's a tough, tough bodyweight circuit, especially the combination of two exercises late in the circuit. This combo literally exhausted me to my knees...twice...before I was able to finish the circuit.You can do the circuit up to 3 times.

Another weapon in your fat loss arsenal. Now you'll know how to train efficiently and eat effectively for fat loss.

Don't wait any longer to get started! Get all of these bodyweight exercises, and more, in the Turbulence Training workouts that you can do in the comfort of your own home. No more annoying drives to the gym, waiting in line for machines in an uncomfortable environment, or being intimidated by the super-buff gym bunnies. Lose fat, get fit, and workout your way - at home with only a bench, a ball, and dumbbells.


Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Author, Turbulence Training

About the Author

Craig Ballantyne is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and writes for Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Maximum Fitness, Muscle and Fitness Hers, and Oxygen magazines. His trademarked Turbulence Training fat loss workouts have been featured multiple times in Men’s Fitness and Maximum Fitness magazines, and have helped thousands of men and women around the world lose fat, gain muscle, and get lean in less than 45 minutes three times per week. For more information on the Turbulence Training workouts that will help you burn fat without long, slow cardio sessions or fancy equipment, visit www.TurbulenceTraining.com.