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Monday, September 28, 2009

It's okay to indulge (a little)

Guilt. It's what drives so many of us to attempt to follow militant diets, or spend hours doing cardio exercise, trying to reach a calorie burn that matches whatever it is we ended up eating to cheat on that same militant diet.

While I certainly won't deny that nutrition is a critical element of both a plan to lose weight and transform your body, staying on a too-strict plan without any of the foods you truly enjoy is a plan that is destined to fail you.

Eventually, you will rebel, and a bag of Oreos or a large meatlovers pizza later, you'll wonder how in the world you ended up here!

So how do you find some balance in your nutritional plan? There are a number of approaches you can take, but all of them allow for some indulgence (please, just do ONE of these!):

  • Declare one meal per week your "cheat meal." For those who crave fatty or high carb foods, this can be the meal where you eat at your favorite restaurant and order your favorite meal, even if it's fettuccine alfredo with bread on the side and a glass of wine! (Cheat meals shouldn't last all day -- or all weekend!)
  • Enjoy one special treat each week. If you have a sweet tooth, this can be a great way to enjoy that ice cream (or in my case, chocolate brownie) treat you enjoy looking forward to.
  • Indulge in a very small treat each day. This should be less than one full serving of a treat. Some examples might be a dark chocolate square, a mini cookie, or a small wedge of brie. Make sure you include these calories in your daily totals.
If you're eating on plan the rest of the week, these small indulgences won't mean a thing in the grand scheme of your nutritional plan. Since you can look forward to honoring your cravings, they won't grow out of control, leading to cheating and the inevitable guilt that follows.

Remember that, regardless of the nutritional plan you follow, torturing yourself towards 100% compliance will undoubtedly lead to either a miserable, deprived existence, or (more likely) cheating. So make a nutritional plan that includes a plan for indulgence while maintaining about 90% overall compliance on a weekly basis. You'll be happier, and it will be easier to stay on plan because you won't feel so deprived.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The importance of sleep

When you have a hectic schedule like I do, with a full-time job, two kids (and their activities), and a husband, trying to keep up with an exercise program and plan meals can be difficult to manage. The one thing that always seems to be sacrificed for me is sleep. I've been recently reading about the importance of sleep and its effects on weight loss, muscle building, and health.

I've always been a night owl. I'm not a morning person and tend to get bursts of energy late at night that allow me to stay up late and even be very productive in the wee hours of the night. I'm trying to get more sleep, but it's a constant struggle for me. It's a learning process for me, and I'm trying to get better. But there are still plenty of nights where I sleep 5 hours. So take this post as a "do as I say, not as I do."

There's a common perception that the "right amount" of sleep is eight hours per night, but of course, the amount of sleep varies from person to person. So let's start first by talking about the right amount of sleep for good health. A research study conducted by Boston University School of Medicine found that study participants that reported sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours a day had an increased incidence of diabetes, compared to those who slept 7-8 hours per day. So getting adequate sleep helps keep you healthy.

With regards to weight loss, sleep deprivation can be a big problem. People who are sleep deprived tend to eat more, and choose high calorie sweets and starchy or salty foods. I'm sure you've heard of the late night munchies, or maybe even succumbed to them. So if you must stay up late, plan a filling healthy snack, like scrambled eggs.

If you're trying to build muscle, sleep is even more important. Weight training breaks down your muscles. Your body needs regular periods of sleep and rest in order to recover. While you sleep, your muscles are responding to your workout, repairing themselves, growing, and getting stronger. Stay sleep deprived, and you'll find that no matter how hard you work, you won't get the strength gains you should.

Since everyone is different, you'll need to determine how much sleep you need. One way to do it is to spend several days sleeping as much as you want or your body feels like you need. This will allow you to make up any "sleep debt" you've accumulated from repeated lack of sleep. Once you've done this, then you should be able to find your sleep has stabilized and you naturally sleep approximately the same number of hours per night. That should be the amount your body naturally needs. Try to plan your schedule so that you get this amount of sleep on a regular basis.

Other good advice about sleep is to keep your sleep environment free from distractions. Don't use the computer or watch TV in the same place where you sleep. It's also good to limit "screen time" right before bed. That includes computers and TV.

So as challenging as it can be, make a commitment to yourself to get more sleep tonight, and tomorrow night. It's good for your health, and you might just see some gains in your weight loss or muscle-building efforts! Good night, and sleep well!

Monday, September 14, 2009

What is the best form of exercise?

People spend an amazing amount of time trying to find the best exercise. A google search on the words retrieves millions of articles on the subject, and there are nearly 20,000 books on exercise! People search through dozens of these resources looking for answers. They'll look for the best exercise for weight loss, muscle growth, whittling their waist, or whatever their current goal is at the time. Then they'll spend hours each week sweating away at whatever exercise is the recommended one of the era, even if they hate it the entire time. It's a recipe for failure. If you're going to stick with an exercise program for the long-term, it has to be fun and something you enjoy.

So when you're answering the question "what is the best form of exercise," the best answer I can give is "the one you'll do regularly."

Love running? Fantastic! Plan distance runs, high intensity interval sprints, and hill runs to hit different body parts and increase your ability. Hate it? Don't do it! There are so many wonderful alternatives, and even though most people want to do some "cardio," running is not the only way to do it!

What about weight lifting? Enjoy pumping iron? Wonderful! Find yourself an olympic barbell and lift away! Hate lifting weights? No problem! Once again, there are lots of alternatives to a traditional weight workout, and hefting dumbbells or barbells is not the only way to do resistance training.

When you've found something you really enjoy, you'll know it, because the next time you don't feel like exercising, and force yourself to do it anyway, you'll feel energized and excited about 5 minutes in, rather than feeling bored and forcing yourself through the entire workout.

So here's a list of FUN and sometime unconventional exercises that can be used for cardio and/or resistance training. If something sounds interesting, give it a try! It's certainly better than trudging through another hour on the stairmaster!

  • Kettlebells - Gaining in popularity in the past year, kettlebells are a way to get resistance training and cardio in a single workout, with just one weight! You swing, lift, and hold the kettlebell while doing moves like squats and lunges. It's challenging and many women who try it are surprised at how much they enjoy it, especially relative to traditional weight lifting. I will say that I recommend trained instruction - I train with an RKC certified instructor. Want more information on kettlebells? Check out Dragon Door and read up on Kettlebells at Charm City Kettlebells, which is a blog/site run by a fantastic RKC certified instructor, Sandy Sommer.
  • Dance - While there are lots of fun dancing options for exercise, another hot trend is ZUMBA! In these instructor-led group sessions, you dance to fantastic Latin music. The movements are structured to give participants an amazing cardio interval workout, and the classes are amazingly fun and filled with energy. Find a class here: http://www.zumba.com/us/
  • Group Weight Lifting - Great for people who like lifting weights but are intimidated by the "weight room," Group Power classes put weight-lifting into the relative safety of an instructor-led group exercise class. You get all of your resistance training for the day in a one-hour class, set to music, with an exercise routine that's been predetermined by your instructor. As you get stronger, you add more weight. Need a light day? Use less weight. It's up to you. More on group power here: http://www.quantumfitness.ca/programs/power.asp
  • Play Like a Kid - Remember hanging from the monkey bars, jumping rope, and hula hooping? Well back when you were a kid, you did them because they were fun, but did you realize they are all great exercise as well? Plus, they're inexpensive, you can do them at home, and you can even have fun getting the kids involved! Jumping/skipping rope and hula hooping are great cardio workouts. Next time you take the kids to the park try using the monkey bars and you'll add some resistance training.
  • Play Like a Grown-up - Made popular first in Southern California, Pole Dancing Exercise classes are springing up all over the country! Pole dancing can help strengthen your core, giving the benefits of resistance training, while an intense dancing session can also give a great cardio workout. For your comfort, classes should be women only, and there should be a beginners class for those who are new to the concept.

So these are just a few fun ideas that will take you out of your current bored, tedious exercises and give you something new and fun, that will hopefully keep you engaged for years to come. Which of them is the best form of exercise? Only you can answer that question!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Time for another Transformation Contest!

September 18, 2009 is the last day to enter the latest Turbulence Training Transformation contest (TC6). If you're one of my regular readers, you'll know that I credit Turbulence Training with helping to get me over my weight loss plateau and give me a figure I didn't think it was even possible for me to have anymore!

I decided to join in on this contest, but I've already made my major transformation, so I don't expect to be a winner or even a finalist. Even so, I could stand to get a bit leaner, and the contests always help me with my focus and intensity. So there's still more for me to achieve over the next 12 weeks. Plus, Craig Ballantyne has offered a GREAT incentive to help encourage people to finish the contest.

This time around, everyone who completes the 6th Turbulence Training Transformation Contest and submits Before and After photos and a 300-word essay will receive SIX MONTHS FREE Membership at www.TTMembers.com. I couldn't pass up that opportunity, and neither should you!

The contest runs twelve weeks from the day you start, and you must conclude your transformation and submit your entry by midnight EST on Friday, December 11, 2009. Complete rules can be found here. The male and female winners will receive $1,000 in prize money!

For this contest, I started my transformation on September 1, 2009. I would love to have some of my readers in the contest with me! There are two great risk-free ways to get started in the contest. First, if you subscribe to my blog, I will send you a free Turbulence Training bodyweight workout, and you can use that to get started with the contest. If you want a weighted program, or a more robust selection of programs from which to choose, you can purchase a 21-day trial membership that grants you access to MANY Turbulence Training workouts for just $4.95.

There are a few reasons why I love my membership to www.TTMembers.com.

  • First, the support from other members is amazing. When I'm feeling like I don't have the motivation to keep up with my workouts or nutrition, the other members are there to support me.
  • Second, you get access to Craig Ballantyne himself! Any question you have for him, from nutrition to exercise substitutions for his workouts, Craig will answer. It's been great to be able to get his perspective and advice.
  • And finally, I love the workouts of the month. Every time I think I'm focused and ready to use one of the awesome workouts in the Turbulence Training archives, Craig comes out with an amazing new workout that I'm excited to do. Right now, I'm loving Turbulence Training for Lean & Jacked Meatheads, one of the August 2009 programs.
So if you've been intrigued and thinking of starting a transformation of your own, now is the time! I would love to help keep you motivated and help you achieve your goals. Best of luck, if you decide to enter!