Friday, January 29, 2016

Negative Personality Traits That Are Actually Good at the Gym

If you're anything like me, you were raised to be a kind, friendly, even-keeled, intelligent and hard-working person.

Those are admirable traits and something I'd look for in any Regular Guy wanting to be part of my life. But in your fitness journey, some not-so-endearing personality flaws can actually help you reach your goals.

Stubbornness: In most instances, refusing to give in or compromise just makes things worse. People don't like you, and you often don't get things done. But at the gym, stubbornness is a virtue. Push yourself to get that weight up one more time or do one more set. Go an extra quarter-mile on the treadmill or another few minutes on the elliptical. Your tired body really wants you to give in, to compromise, to say "good enough." But the real magic happens in that extra bit of work, where you push your limits. So be stubborn and stick to it -- just know the difference between "I don't wanna" and "I can't."

"I don't like you." "I don't like you, either."
Being Anti-Social: In most situations where you're in a room full of people, decorum suggests that you try to be friendly and outgoing, to engage the people around you. Don't do that at the gym. Sure, it's fine to give someone a quick nod or greeting. But you're there to work, not to socialize. Your time is valuable. Leave the chit-chat for the locker room.

Anger: You know that one guy in your social circle who always seems to be angry? That guy who, no matter the conversation, has a chip on his shoulder? In life, you don't want to be that guy. It's not good for your stress levels or your relationships. But at the gym, you should work out with bad intentions. Attack what you're doing -- don't be passive. Hit it hard. Just don't be a jerk to the people around you.

Do Things the Hard Way: At work, the best way to get something done is usually the easiest and most efficient. Extra effort is best directed at some other project. But in the gym, you're not looking for the most direct path. It's easy to lean back during lat pulldowns and let the cable do the work. Or to let the flywheel's momentum carry you on the exercise bike. If you're running, that shortcut that avoids the big hill is appealing. But you're not getting the full benefit of the exercise that way. Do it right, even if it's harder. Down the road, you'll be glad you did.

Living the good life!
Laziness: Wait, what? How could laziness possibly benefit your exercise regimen? When it's time to rest -- that's how. Work hard during your workout. When you're done, be done. Let your rest day be your rest day -- as Dane Rauschenberg writes, running an "easy three" isn't rest. Fitness gains don't happen while you're exercising -- on the cellular level, they happen when your body is recovering from the damage you did while exercising. If you never give it a chance to recover, you'll never make gains.

What other negative traits do you use to help you achieve your fitness goals? Let's hear it! And if you like what you're reading here, be sure to share it with a friend.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Are You Overtraining?

This is a subject I've been giving a lot of thought to.

I'd been working hard at fitness in the six months or so leading up to when I started marathon training at the top of the year. Or so I thought.

The first full week of training beat me up, mentally and physically. By day three, I could not wait for my rest day -- and I was so beat, I asked my boss to let me work from home so I could truly rest. And I began to wonder: Am I overtraining?

What Are the Signs You're Overtraining?

Experts warn of some specific symptoms of overtraining; click here and here for some of those. But I'd like to add a few more general signs that I've noticed in my own life.
  • You just can't get up. I'm not talking about the usual hit-the-snooze button mornings that every Regular Guy goes through. I mean you seriously can't get your head off the pillow. Your body is asking for rest.
  • Recovery seems to take forever. If you're truly working hard, you're going to have soreness. That's a badge of honor. But when it's carrying over into the next workout, and then the next, and then the next, you need to think about whether you should back off.
  • You dread your workouts. I get it -- it's not always fun or easy to exercise. But if you find yourself really worried about it, maybe there's a bigger problem. This is a voluntary activity, after all. Nobody's forcing you to do it.
  • Stuff you should be able to do is hard. One morning in the early fall, I found myself unable to complete a set of dumbbell presses at a manageable weight. I was tired, I had a headache, and they just wouldn't go up. The prescription: a week off from all exercise.
  • Stress disorders. Exercise should be a stress reducer, not a stress inducer. Here are some physical manifestations of stress that may be signs you need to ease off the throttle:
    • Generalized chest pains. (Though don't mess around with this if you're not sure.)
    • Irritable bowel syndrome.
    • Prostatitis.
    • Tension headaches.
    • Acid reflux.
    • Worsening of a chronic injury (e.g., a bad back, sciatica).

What Can You Do About It?

The obvious advice for someone who's overtraining is to cut yourself some slack. But that's easier said than done. Obviously, you don't want to give up hard-earned fitness gains. And perhaps you're in the midst of competition-focused training, like I am for the marathon. 

So what can you do to keep your momentum but get back to feeling right?
  • Dial back the intensity. Not every workout needs to be done to exhaustion, every set of lifts to failure, every run to the point of collapse. Chances are, if you're overtraining, you've hit a plateau anyway. Give your body a chance to regenerate.
  • Reduce the frequency. The magic number for the average Regular Guy is three days a week at minimum. If you're not on a competition-training plan, consider working in a few more days off.
  • Shorten your workouts. If you're generally exercising for an hour at a time, try a few quicker workouts. Again, it's OK if you're not completely worn out at the end.
  • Take two days off. Two days off isn't going to screw anything up. It might just be the recharge you need. Most scientists agree that you don't start to lose significant fitness for at least 10 days.
  • Take stock of the other stuff. Is your nutrition on target lately? Have you been getting enough sleep? Are you exerting yourself physically in other aspects of your life? Maybe you can fix things without altering your training routine at all.

Whatever You Do, Don't Just Work Through It

If your car is almost out of gas, you don't just keep driving, so you? No. You refuel -- or you run out of gas completely. Likewise, if you're truly overtrained, simply trying to work through it isn't an option. If you keep going, you're just going to be more overtrained, and at some point, your body is going to stop responding at all. Next thing you know, you'll be out of the game for weeks or even months.

This is one case where an ounce of prevention is way better than a pound of cure. So take heed, look for the signs, figure out how you can combat it, and keep on rockin'.

What Say You?

What overtraining signs have you learned to recognize? What strategies do you use to get past it? And what hasn't worked? Comment below, on Facebook or on Twitter. And if you have a friend who seems to be overtrained, share this post with him!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Nutrition vs. Exercise: What Matters More?

It's one of the biggest cliches in the fitness world.

We've all heard or read it: The majority of your fitness happens in the kitchen, not the gym. Depending on who you believe, nutrition accounts for two-thirds, three-quarters or even 80 percent of the equation. But I don't think it's as simple as that.

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you know that I'm a big believer in Calories In, Calories Out. Humans are not exempt from the First Law of Thermodynamics. It's pretty simple: If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. You can alter either side of that equation -- Calories In or Calories Out. So why do so many people insist that diet has so much more impact than activity does?

The reasoning goes something like this: Most people can find more excess calories in their average daily intake than they can burn off. I'm painting with a really broad brush here, but in a reasonably intense cardio session, you can expect to burn about 10 calories per minute. So if you can devote 45 minutes to your workout four times a week, you can burn about 1800 calories -- more or less the amount it'd take you to lose half a pound. Whereas if you're eating 4000 calories a day, you can cut 1500 or more and still get all the macro- and micro-nutrients you need, and you can do it seven days a week. That's 10,500 a week, or 3 pounds.

So that's it, right? Case closed. Diet is way more important than exercise.

I say no.

Exercise Helps Keep Your Metabolism Going. As you lose weight, your metabolism will drop. This is basic science: The less of you there is, the less fuel it takes to keep you alive. One pound of muscle burns 6 calories a day; one pound of fat, 2. If you lose 10 pounds of fat, your body will actually burn 20 calories less per day. But if you lose 20 pounds of fat and gain 10 pounds of muscle, you'll burn 20 more calories per day. A huge difference? No. But it is an extra 2 pounds per year.

Exercise Keeps You Healthier. Yes, losing weight through diet lowers your risk of obesity-related diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. But it doesn't actually strengthen your heart. Exercise can also strengthen your bones, reduce the risk of some cancers and improve your mental health. It can even help stave off dementia. Simply cutting calories can't do any of that.

Lean Bodies Look Better. Let's face it: A big motivation for most Regular Guys is the desire to look a little better. Sure, you can focus on diet and get lean, but really, you'll just be skinny. A little bit of muscle definition -- we're not talking Schwarzenegger -- is the difference between the skinny guy and the trim, healthy-looking guy. Go ahead, ask your wife.

You're Going to Plateau. How much weight have you gained in the past year? If you've held relatively steady for a while, that means you're already at equilibrium -- you're taking in the same amount of calories you're expending. Now, an obese guy might hit that point at 3000 calories or more a day, even without any significant activity. But for most of us, that point is 2500 or less. And I have news for you: You are not going to be happy, long term, cutting any significant amount from that number. So the obvious solution is to ramp up your Calories Out. Still don't believe me? Recent research shows that physical activity has a higher correlation with healthy weight than diet does.

You'll never get this feeling of accomplishment by dieting!
Working Out Is More Fun Than Dieting. Regular Guys, dieting sucks. You're hungry, you're irritable, there's tons of stuff you "can't" eat, and worst of all, it's not sustainable. A better plan is to find an activity you enjoy and use solid nutrition to fuel yourself. Football star J.J. Watt eats 9000 calories a day -- does he look fat to you?

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating the "see-food diet." Even if you're working your ass off, you can burn only so many calories. You still have to balance the CICO equation. And the best way to do that, of course, is with a diet that's heavy on nutrient-dense foods.

But for my money, the bigger factor is exercise. So get to it!

A quick note: There are some folks for whom this isn't good advice. Someone who's morbidly obese will put himself at significant risk by jumping into an intense exercise program. Other people have health conditions -- such as COPD or heart disease -- that should preclude them from intense exercise as well. And, of course, if you're suffering from a long-term or permanent injury, you need to be sure you won't do further damage through your exercise program. If any of these is you, talk to your doctor about fashioning a diet-and-activity plan that will work for you.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The New Ingredient in My Marathon Training: And

As you guys may know, I've decide to run the New Jersey Marathon again, as I did in 2014.

I've set myself some lofty goals (more on that later), so I'm going to have to work hard to achieve them. That means some departures from my Regular Guy routines, and it means some differences in my training from two years ago. My hope is that I'll also learn some life lessons from the experience -- and I hope that I can pass some of that along to the rest of you Regular Guys.

So What's Going to Be Different?


I've been thinking a lot about this word lately. It's going to be my mantra.

Last year, I helped LBC as a race volunteer (courtesy Long Branch Concordance)
Focus on self improvement? I can do more than just that. Completing 26.2 miles is a major life accomplishment, something to be proud of. And I'm looking to improve on my first time out. But I'm also running with a purpose. I'll be raising money for the Long Branch Concordance Family Success Center. Located less than a mile from the finish line of the New Jersey Marathon, LBC has all sorts of programs for folks in need -- everything from financial workshops to parenting education to family fun nights to counseling. LBC is an essential resource in a community that, just blocks from the boardwalk and beach, is still struggling. In the next few weeks, I'll get you all the information on how you can sponsor my run. Let's help the New Jersey Marathon strengthen its communities even more!

Worry more about exercise or on nutrition? Wrong. Focus on both training and my diet. I want to run the marathon at an ideal weight, to help with my pace. And of course, I want to be sure I'm properly fueled during both runs and recovery. So I'm going to be hyper-focused on protein and carb intake, as well as total calories. And I'm dialing back alcohol consumption -- something I was inconsistent about two years ago.

Sacrifice resistance training for treadmill or pavement time?
Nope. Especially in the first half of training, many base runs are just three or four miles. That leaves plenty of time to hit the weights before calling it a day. My pace has improved significantly in the past six months as I've improved my overall strength, so it makes sense to keep that progress going.

Improve pace or build distance? Both. Though my training plan, Hal Higdon's Intermediate 1, advises against speedwork, I'm going to include some. One interval session a week, especially at a moderate distance, will not detract from the overall buildup. But it will certainly help with both leg strength and aerobic capacity. If I find it too taxing, I'll dial back. But for now, that's part of the program.

Write a blog about all my training? I think I'll spare the world. I hope to keep you guys posted on my progress as training moves forward, and avoid a mind-numbing diary, as I wrote in 2014. So keep an eye on FftRG for updates if you're interested, and I promise to try not to bore you to tears with all things marathon.

Here Are My Goals

Raise $500 for LBC. If every Regular Guy pledged just a couple of bucks, I could get to $500 in a heartbeat. That's money that can do a world of good for a family in need.

Dan and I after he finished the Coastal Delaware in 3:48 (courtesy Christine McDevitt)
Beat Dan. Sort of. Regular Guy Dan McDevitt and I started running at about the same time a few years ago, and we try to keep each other motivated and educated. But somewhere along the line, Dan got faster than me. Way faster. Dan is running the NJM (and raising money for LBC) too, and I don't expect to pass the finish line ahead of him. But I am hoping to beat his current PR of 3:48 -- which would be a half-hour improvement on my previous time.

Don't Walk. Two years ago, the wind was howling out of the north on marathon day-- right in my face for the final six miles. I last until about mile 23, but it beat me down and I had to run-walk interval my way home. That added at least 10 minutes to my finish time. I don't want a repeat. I can't control or even predict the weather four months from now, but I want to run the whole way.

Check back here, on Facebook or on Twitter to see how things are going. All advice and encouragement is welcome! And please let me know if you'd like to sponsor my run for Long Branch Concordance Family Success Center -- you can make a difference! 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

6 Ideas to Make New Year's Fitness Resolutions Stick

First off, let me apologize for the absence the last few weeks. Winding down the year at work and the holidays got the better of me, and I've slacked off. And though I'd like to resolve to write at least an article a week, with marathon training on my plate this winter and spring, I don't want to make promises I can't keep.

But I Do Have Something to Talk About: Resolutions

A lot of fitness writers decry New Year's resolutions. They're arbitrary. They're unrealistic. They're too easy to give up on. Sure, that stuff is true. A lifelong commitment to Keeping Fit and Living Your Life shouldn't start with a simple flip of the calendar page. A serious commitment requires a concrete plan and the discipline to stick to it. I get it.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't make a resolution.

Cliche alert: Every journey begins with a single step. You have to start somewhere. If the New Year is what pushes you out the door, that's as good as anything.

So Let's Talk About Making Resolutions Work for You

Incremental Change: Set some achievable, concrete goals, and meet them. Once you do, you can set some more. Running a marathon -- or even a 5K -- might not be in your immediate future. That's OK. Maybe for now you can find time for a 15-minute walk every day. A brisk walk, not a stroll. Or if you're not sure about joining a gym and trying to lift, check out some basic bodyweight moves, like pushups and planks. You'll get better quickly, and then you can set new goals.

Do Stuff You Like: You're not going to keep doing something you absolutely hate. That's not just a Regular Guy thing -- it's just human nature. If you dread it, you'll find every reason not to do it. So find activities you enjoy. Maybe for you that's walking, or playing basketball, or riding a bike. Or maybe it really is picking things up and putting them down. Whatever you do, don't make fitness into a punishment.

Don't Overhaul Your Diet All at Once: A lot of people are tempted to cut their calories down to some tiny amount, ramp up the protein to 300 grams a day, cut out any trace of simple carbohydrates and keep a minimum 10-foot distance from added sugar. Slow down. You're going to make yourself miserable, which means you're destined to fail. And really, unless you have at least some understanding of what you're doing, you're as likely to do harm as you are good.

Learn Some Basics: You're not going to get anywhere if you don't understand the basic principles of nutrition and fitness. You don't have to get a PubNet subscription and bury yourself in research. But find a few good resources, like this one, to learn the essentials. Do you know what a macro is? How many calories do you have to burn to lose a pound? What's the difference between HIIT and steady-state cardio? The trick to achieving a goal is knowing how to get there.

Have a Back-Up Plan: Especially during the coldest months, you may not be able to exercise the way you want to. Weather is a major issue. So is daylight, especially if you live in a rural area where there's lots of wildlife. But even setting that aside, sometimes life gets in the way. If you want to run but can't hit the roads, find a cheap gym like Planet Fatness to use the treadmills. If you just want to get your heart rate up, find a good HIIT workout you can do in your living room. If you're snowed in and were hoping to lift, figure out some bodyweight alternatives. And can we talk about cold for a minute? 35 degrees isn't cold -- you just need warmer gear. I'm a notorious baby, but it has to be in the 25 range or below to keep me indoors. (Caveat: As I write this, it's 12 degrees with a wind chill of 0. I'm not running.) Don't let circumstances derail your progress.

Think About Future You, Not Present You: Many fitness-resolution articles suggest that after people miss a few days, or have a fridge binge, they say, "Screw it, it's a lost cause." Really? I don't think people do that. My wife turned me on to this concept: "Many of the decisions we make seem to suggest that we think about our future self as a different person than the one we are today." We're wired to make ourselves happy in the now. But you do lots of things for Future You. You save for retirement. You get your car's oil changed. You wash the dishes after dinner, not just when you need something clean to eat on. I'm not suggesting you pass up every opportunity for fun or enjoyment -- as I always say, if you really want the cookie, just eat the damn cookie. Just keep Future You in mind when making all these small decisions.

Tying It All Together

The bottom line with New Year's resolutions: The more easily you can fit them into your everyday life, the more likely you are to stick with them.
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew, and make sure you enjoy what you're doing. Start with some basic activity, make some small changes in your diet and don't turn it into a chore.
  • Understand the why of what you're doing. Think about Future You, and learn the basics to get there. 
  • Know that it's not a straight line. You need a backup plan, and sometimes, it just won't work at all. That's OK if you're consistent in the long run. 
What are you doing about your New Year's resolutions? I wanna hear from you! Leave a comment below, or sound off on Facebook or Twitter.