Wave Your Way to Increased Strength

When you first start training with weights, you have nowhere to go but up. Beginners who workout consistently typically see improvements with just a basic routine, but the more you train, the harder it becomes to make progress. You may be pleased that your muscles have definition and that your strength has improved, but when your strength gains hit a plateau, a strategy like a wave workout will help increase your muscle strength.

The Concept

Training for strength requires lifting heavier with fewer reps and getting more rest between sets during your workout. A 4-week wave workout is ideal for increasing strength because it requires you to increase the weight you lift while progressively decreasing your reps. You’ll rest longer than you’re probably accustomed to before and after your wave sets, and you’ll also allow your muscle groups to rest longer before working them again, too.

4-Week Gains

Consistent training and sufficient rest are essential when wave training.

James Stoppani tells readers of the “Encyclopedia of Muscle and Strength” that the wave training method could boost their strength up to 10 percent over 6 to 8 weeks. And in the “Men’s Health Book of Muscle” Ian King and Lou Schuler note that strength increases are noticeable after just the first couple of workouts. How much your strength will increase after working a wave can vary. A lot will depend on your individual genetics. However, training consistently and getting sufficient rest between workouts will maximize the strength benefits that wave training can produce.

How to Implement Wave

Pick only one exercise during each workout to focus wave training on.

To ensure you get a full body workout every week, yet still get enough rest between workouts, the “Men’s Health Home Workout Bible” recommends splitting your training into two workouts, an upper-body day and a lower-body day. You’ll schedule three workout days per week, leaving a minimum of one day for rest between each workout day. For example, you could workout Monday, Wednesday and Friday leaving Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday for rest days. Once you know what kind of split you’ll be working, it’s important that you not try to perform every exercise as a wave. Trying to do wave training throughout your entire routine every day is a formula for fast fatigue and burn out. Stack recommends picking one exercise each session to “wave.” Place your wave exercise at the beginning of your workout. If you try to do a wave in the middle or at the end of your session, you’ll already be fatigued and might not be able to lift as heavy as you need to to see optimal results from the technique.

Working a Wave Routine

Wave training gets you lifting more than usual right away putting you on your way to serious strength gains.

With a wave workout, you’ll do a group of warmup sets, or a wave, of each exercise followed by two to three waves of progressively increasing weights and progressively decreasing reps. For example, you’ll do your warmup wave starting out with 10 reps at 30 percent of your maximum weight, rest for 2 minutes, followed by 8 reps at 55 percent, rest for 2 minutes; finish with 5 reps at 75 percent. After a 4-minute rest, you’re ready to begin your first wave by starting out at 80 percent of your maximum weight for 8 reps. Rest for 4 minutes then increase the weight to 85 percent for 5 reps. After another 4-minute rest increase the weight to 90 percent and only complete 2 reps. You’ll be ready for wave number 2 after a 4 minute rest. You should still perform the descending reps 3, 2, and 1, but this time you’ll start out at about 83 percent of the maximum weight you can lift, then increase to 88 percent and finish with 92 to 93 percent. Your third wave will be even heavier: 85 percent, 90 percent, and finally 95 percent of your max weight. You should be able to get in at least two sets in your third wave. Try for 6 reps in the first set, 3 reps in the second set and 1 rep in the third set. It’s possible that you may only go to failure rather than completing all the reps in this last wave. Even if you’re only able to successfully complete the second wave, you’ll still be lifting more than usual and be on your way to serious strength gains.

Once you’ve done your wave exercise for the day, finish your workout with normal weight, sets, and reps with the rest of your exercises.

Take Care

Warming up before any weight lifting workout will help avoid injury; warmups are especially vital when you’re challenging your muscles to lift more than they’re used to lifting. The key to a successful wave workout is conservative increases. You should only increase the amount of weight for each wave by two to three percent, using only 30 percent of your maximum weight for your warmup and starting your first wave at 80 percent of your maximum. Additionally, you might want to alternate wave workouts with your normal routine to give your body a better chance to recover and minimize risk of injury. For example, you could make your first and third workouts in a three-day split wave workouts one week, then do a wave workout during your second workout the following week.

The Best Workout Secret: Mix It Up

It’s so easy to get into an exercise rut, hitting the gym on the same days every week and doing the exact same workout over and over. Humans are creatures of habit, so there’s something comforting about knowing exactly what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. That’s why we hate to break it to you, but your tried-and-true go-to workout is probably working against you, keeping you from losing weight or making strength gains. Yes, yes, it worked wonders for you when you first started doing it three years ago, so we wish we could say it ain’t so. However, even though it’s in your nature to find a comfort zone and stay there forever, it’s in your body’s nature to crave variety. Changing up your workout will benefit you in numerous ways.

Types of Exercise

Along with strengthening and aerobic conditioning your workout should include balance and flexibility exercises.

There are four basic types of exercise, according to the National Institutes of Health:

  • strength
  • aerobic
  • flexibility
  • balance

…and guess what? Your body needs them all. Strength training builds muscle to support your skeleton and to provide the power to lift, push, and pull. Aerobic or cardio exercise keeps your lungs, heart, and circulatory system healthy and in working order. Flexibility training keeps you limber and stretches your muscles for a wide range of movement, and it helps avoid injury. Finally, balance or stability exercises help you maintain control over your movements so you can perform common activities like walking across the room without falling over. The really good news is that many exercises overlap so, for instance, even though resistance training focuses on building strength, it can also help you develop better balance. You can even intentionally perform a workout to cover multiple bases, such as resistance training at a fast pace for a HIIT workout to get your strength training and aerobic exercise in one shot.

More Reasons for Multiple Exercises

An example of a comprehensive and well-rounded exercise regimen could include boxing, aerobics, and Pilates.

Your body is a master at adaptation, meaning that it can get used to even the most challenging workout routine. Mixing up your workout challenges your body so it and you are less likely to adapt to and get bored with your routine. Plus, not knowing what to expect keeps your body on its toes, so to speak, so you won’t plateau as often or, if you do, you’ll be able to push past that stagnant level to see results faster. OneLife Medical points out that changing up your workout will give various parts of your body a break to avoid overuse injuries, too. What’s more, different exercises burn different amounts of calories so, rather than wandering aimlessly between exercises, you can intentionally choose workouts to address the calorie burn you want or need at any given time.

Find What Works for You

Weight training, TargitFit classes, kickboxing, aerobics, yoga, Pilates, rowing, Tai Chi, and a myriad of different outdoor activities including rock climbing and mountain biking. With all that and more to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide, but you don’t need to do them all. Pick a handful that interest you most and give them a go, but do try to make sure that, between them all, they address the four types of exercise. Once you’ve tried several, you can pick three or four you like the best and that your body responds to the most.

Fitness apps are useful additions to workouts. They offer a variety of exercise alternatives and can help keep you on track no matter what your schedule is.

In an interview with Shape magazine, Kate Hudson revealed that, though her body responds best to Pilates and she loves doing it, her workout regimen also includes biking, walking, and boxing. Additionally, because she travels so much, workout apps are her secret weapon to keep exercise in her schedule no matter what else is going on in her life. Hudson favors QE2, Hot5, and Sworkit, but there are tons out there and more being developed every day. Don’t want to wade through the entire vast lot of them? That’s OK. PC Mag did the homework for you and came up with a list of the 25 best ones. Bonus–many of them are free.

Reverse Pyramid Routine for Weight Training

Add muscle and size with a reverse pyramid routine.

 

A reliable method for gaining muscle strength and size is to train using an upside down–or reverse–pyramid. Reversing a typical weight training pyramid routine is one way of encouraging hypertrophy, which happens when you tear the muscle cell down by working it so that it can repair bigger and stronger. This sets your muscles up for optimal growth in size and strength.

What is a Pyramid

A true full pyramid routine takes you to the point of maxing out with heavy weights and back down again, but that takes a lot of time.
Image via Stefan Tosic/YouTube

A full pyramid routine for weight training is effective, but it is also time-consuming. And because full pyramids take up so much time, the number of different exercises that can be performed in a single workout tend to be limited. The premise is this: you begin your workout with an exercise such as bench press, performing the first set with light weight and 10 to 12 reps. Your second set is performed with slightly heavier weights and slightly fewer reps, such as 8 to 10 reps. Then your third set is performed with weight as heavy as you can press for at least 5 but no more than 8 reps. At this point, you’ve worked to the top of the pyramid and will work back down to the lightest weight and the most reps. Often people only train using the first part of the full pyramid, starting out with light weights, high reps and ending with heavy weights, fewer reps.

The Reverse Pyramid

With the upside down or reverse pyramid, you’ll only use the top-to-bottom part of the full pyramid routine. This will have you starting out with the heaviest weight you can successfully lift for at least 5 reps, moving to slightly lighter weights for the next set and finally ending with a set of light weights with more reps. Bodybuilding.com advises adjusting the weight and reps to accommodate your fitness goals. For example, using a 10, 12, 14 range of reps is supposed to help you lose fat while a range of 4, 6, 8 is supposed to do more for increasing strength.

How it Works for You

With your heaviest set first, you’ll be able to put all your energy into pushing through the set.

When you start out using the heaviest weights while training with a reverse pyramid, you aren’t yet fatigued from doing multiple reps with lighter weights first. All your strength and energy are available to press or lift the heavy weight. Then, as the workout progresses, the weight gets lighter–not just in your fatigued muscles’ perception, but literally. Mentally you can push yourself to work through the heavy initial set because you know it will be getting lighter as you go.

The Benefits

bench press

Any type of resistance can be used with a reverse pyramid workout, just as long as the resistance/weight can be increased to a challenging amount.

Because of the way the reverse pyramid functions, your muscles’ recovery will be more efficient. The recovery time for your muscle cells will still be the same as for any workout, about 48 hours. But because of the way your muscles are stressed with the upside down pyramid (using maximum weight at the start) the cells will rebuild bigger during the recovery. This results in gaining strength and size over a shorter period of time. You’ll also save time training because you’ll be performing fewer sets. That means you’ll be able to put more intensity into your workout and spend less time doing it.

Good Stretching Routines for Legs

Stretching before a workout can be helpful in preventing injury and enhancing performance, depending on the type of stretches you do. A study published in Sports Medicine found that dynamic stretching before a workout positively affected performance levels and the controlled movements even resulted in expanded range of motion. Static stretching, which is done simply by reaching to a point of tension then holding the stretch for a moment, will help with flexibility, but not much else. Static stretches are useful, though, when performed during your post-workout cool down because they’re an effective way to keep moving while bringing your heart rate down. Plus the improved flexibility will stay with you long-term to decrease chances of future injuries.

Walking Lunge Stretch–Dynamic

The lunging action in this movement will stretch most of your leg, affecting your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Make sure you have enough room to walk several long strides. Step out as far as is comfortably possible with your left foot, bending your left knee and keeping it just above the toes of your left foot. As you step, lower your right knee to just a few inches above the ground. Keep your upper body straight, abs tight. Rise up, bringing your right leg forward to take the lead in a long stride and bending it in the same way you did your left leg, this time lowering your left knee to just a few inches above the ground. Take at least 10 strides.

Butt Kicks—Dynamic


Butt Kicks will work on your quads and give you a little cardio warm-up while you do it. While jogging in place, bring your heels up to your glutes with each step. You’ll feel the stretch in your quadriceps with the exaggerated pull-back of the steps, and jogging in place will increase your heart-rate. This stretch can be performed a set number of times for the stretching benefits or for a per-determined amount of time to enhance the cardio aspect.

Inner/Outer Thigh Stretches—Dynamic


You might need a stabilizing object, such as a pole or even a chair for performing this stretch for your adductors and abductors. Standing straight and holding onto a chair with your right hand for support if you need it, lift your left leg out to the side. Swing the leg back down and across your body in one smooth motion. Keep your upper body straight, concentrating on moving nothing but your leg during this stretch. Continue moving the leg back and forth through the full range. Do several repetitions, at least 10, before switching sides and stretching your right leg.

Sprinters Stretch–Static


You might know this one as a hurdle stretch. Sit on the floor with your right leg bent behind you and your left leg extended straight in front of you. Lean back slowly. This part of the stretch will work on your quads. Hold the stretch, without bouncing, to the count to 10. Then lean all the way forward, reaching for your toe. This second part of the movement will stretch your calf and hamstring muscles. After completing both parts of this stretch, switch legs and repeat the stretching process on the other side, performing 2 to 3 times on each side.

Butterfly Stretch–Static

butterfly stretchYou’ll really feel it in your inner thigh muscles when you perform a butterfly stretch. Start by sitting on the floor. Bend your legs, bringing the soles of your feet together. Pull your heels in toward your body. Hold your feet with your hands, lean forward, and press your elbows down on your legs. Hold the position steady without bouncing for 10 seconds, then relax the pressure on your legs. Repeat this one 4 to 5 times.

Standing Quad Stretch–Static

The standing quad stretch is a useful one for runners and, as the name suggests, works on your quadriceps. Standing up straight, bend your left knee and catch your left foot with your right hand. Pull your left leg into your body, all the way to your glutes if you are flexible enough. Hold steady for a count of 10 before releasing your foot and moving to the other side to stretch your right leg. It may be necessary to do this one with a chair or other stabilizing object if you need help with balancing on one foot. Also, if you’re not limber enough to grab your foot with the opposite hand, you may have to start out by using your left hand with your left foot and your right hand with your right foot. Repeat this stretch 3 to 4 times with each leg.

Brain Exercise–It’s Not What You Think!


We’ve discussed how exercise is an effective approach to anti-aging, but the focus in the past was mostly on looking and feeling young and retaining balance and overall health. While some may be of the opinion that they don’t care about mental decline as long as they look fabulous, a recent article in Prevention Magazine1 outlined a surprise anti-aging benefit of working out to keep you forever young.

Olga’s Secret

Researchers believe that staying extremely physically active was the key to Olga’s mental acuity well into her 90’s. Image via BBC News/YouTube

Timothy Gower’s article in Prevention introduces readers to Olga Kotelko, who lived to the impressive age of 95, and details the research she inspired and helped to advance. It wasn’t Olga’s longevity that sparked neuroscientists’ curiosity, but her extremely sharp mind. Right up until she passed away, Kotelko’s cognition was far better than other adults in the 90 to 95 age range, based on speed and memory tests. Additionally, an MRI scan showed that physically, though not perfect, her brain had fewer irregularities and aberrations than others her age. One neuroscientist quipped that if she were to guess Olga’s age based on her MRI, she would have thought her to be almost 30 years younger.

So what was Olga’s secret? The single thing that she did differently than the majority of nonagenarians was to be physically active. Olga didn’t just stroll around the mall, though. She excelled in track and field, and it wasn’t just that she gave the events a good go. Olga Kotelko won 750 (!) gold medals and set almost 40 world records in long jump, javelin throw, sprinting, and other events–and it was all accomplished in the years after she turned 77 and before she passed away at 95, proving that it doesn’t matter how old you are when you start, just as long as you do start!

Not Just Luck

Grow your brain while you grow your muscles–exercise has been shown to enhance growth factors that increase gray matter in the memory center of the brain.

Lest you rush to the assumption that Olga was just lucky, or had good genes, researchers have studied thousands of seniors and found that Kotelko’s results in staying mentally sharp can be duplicated by anyone who is inclined to make the effort. When the aerobic activity, physical activity, and brain activity was measured in adults between the ages of 60 and 80, the ones who were most physically active showed patterns linked to improved cognitive function. Specifically, their brains were more oxygenated, and their patterns of brain activity were better.

In fact, based on specific studies, researchers believe that, just like muscles, brains benefit from exercise because it increases oxygen and blood flow and reduces stress through increased endorphins and levels of norepinephrine. What’s more, a 2019 study linked exercise with memory activation. One of the most significant responses in the brain to exercise, however, is an increase in growth factors that actually support the creation of new nerve cells and improve cognitive agility. Further, research published in Scientific Reports found that people who work out regularly have more gray matter in the memory centers of their brains, the hippocampal region. Considering that there was a time when it was believed that there was nothing that could be done once neurons died, that revelation is huge.

A Dr’s Prescription to Reverse Brain Aging

Brain teasers are useful for improving cognitive function in your later years, but experts say that exercise is even more important.

The evidence for exercise being just as good for the brain as it is for the body is so overwhelming that doctors from psychiatrists to neuroscientists are recommending working out as a very real way to not just stop aging in the brain but to reverse it and even avoid dementia. Psychiatrist Dr. Gary Small developed a protocol for a 14-day program, detailed in his book “2 Weeks to a Younger Brain,” co-written with Gigi Vorgan. Though Dr. Small confirms that puzzles and brain-teaser games are useful, he says that working out is more effective because of the physical effects it has on the brain. Other doctors, including Washington University in St. Louis professor of psychology Dr. Mark McDaniel say that you’ll get the best results from engaging in both resistance training and cardio exercise.

What Works

Whatever your basic exercise routine, add something new like kickboxing or intervals for an element of challenge that will maximize brain benefits from working out.

Challenge is the key that optimizes the benefits of exercise to improve brain function, restore memory, and reverse the aging process. That doesn’t mean you should dive right in to signing up for a triathlon or biking across the country. Instead, suggestions from health and fitness professionals center around simply tweaking routines. Take a fitness class you’ve never participated in before to learn new routines and skills. Walk or jog a different route every month, maybe one that is rocky, uneven, or uphill, or add in some intervals. Even if you’re already accomplished at your favorite sport such as weight lifting or tennis, sign on with a trainer now and then to learn new techniques and exercises–or try something different like golf, rock climbing or kick boxing. Any physical activity that also requires you to learn something new increases communication in different parts of the brain, which just adds to the benefits your brain is already reaping from exercise.

 

1Timothy Gower, “Forever Young,” Prevention, April 2016

 

Circuit Training Routines for Women

Some women shy away from weight training because they don’t want to “bulk up”, but circuit training has emerged as a useful way for women to lose weight and get fit. First, the inherent flexibility of circuit training allows you to tailor your workout for toning and fat loss. That same adaptability means you can continually change up your workout to keep it interesting–which means you’ll be less likely to lose motivation to work out.  

How It’s Done

You can use your body weight or resistance equipment when circuit training. Image via Nicole Pearce/YouTube

You probably know what circuit training is, but let’s refresh our memories. In a typical free-weight workout, you go through a list of exercises, doing about three sets of each one before moving to the next. With circuit training, you can start with that same list of exercises but instead, you’ll do one set of one exercise and then immediately move to the next one and the next, resting no more than 15 seconds between each exercise. The sets are timed, too, instead of consisting of a certain number of reps. You just do as many reps as you can within the allotted time–anywhere from 30 seconds up to 1 minute. Once you’ve cycled through the complete circuit once, you start over, with the goal of going through the entire circuit 2 to 3 times. The number of exercises in a circuit is up to you. Beginners might start out with as few as 4 or 5 different exercises, but there can be as many as 12 or more different exercises in a circuit. If you attempt more than 6 exercises, though, you’ll probably only have the time and energy to go through the entire circuit once or twice.  

Examples of Circuit Routines

Just about any workout routine can be done as a circuit. Image via HASfit/YouTube

The number of different exercise combinations you can use for circuit training routines are endless. You can group upper body exercises together one day, then do a lower body circuit on a different day. Or, do a couple of full-body days, doing different exercises each day. For example, you might try crunches, rows, machine chest press and dumbbell flys one day, then squats, lunges, leg curls and leg press the next day. A useful feature of circuit training is that you can incorporate aerobic exercises in with free weight and machine exercises, jogging in place or climbing on the stair-stepper for a set (30 to 60 seconds) in between the resistance sets. This adds a fun dimension to your workout, and it’s nice to be able to get your cardio done at the same time as your resistance workout. 

Circuit Training Especially for Women

Women can tailor their circuit training to focus on specific fitness goals, and they love that circuits accomplish cardio and resistance training at the same time.

Anyone–men or women–can certainly benefit from circuit training, but the ease in which each person can adapt a circuit for their fitness goals makes it especially useful for women. If toning and fat loss are the main goals, circuit training can handily accomplish them with small adjustments to the routine. Lighter weights and longer set times will burn more fat and tone muscle without building it up excessively. Also, taking shorter rest times between sets will keep your heart rate up for more effective fat burning. The routines themselves can be tailored to concentrate on areas you want to work on most, like toning your abs, working on definition in your calf muscles, or tightening up the backs of your arms.

Circuit Training Equipment

Jen working out

The elements of numerous exercises and being able to quickly move from one to another makes the TargitFit Trainer perfect for women’s circuit training.

If you belong to a health club, you’ve already got some quality circuit training equipment at your disposal. Your gym might even offer circuit training classes you can attend. But if you prefer working out at home, your local sporting goods store will have a selection of equipment that can be used for circuit training at home. Items like resistance bands, dumbbells, and fitness balls are all basic items that can be purchased fairly inexpensively. Or, you can have access to over 115 gym-quality exercises with one piece of equipment with the TargitFit Trainer. The workout gear you choose depends on your budget and your preferences for exercise.

 

 

 

Myth-Busting the Fat-Free Fallacy

Diets for losing weight have become such a part of our culture that it’s second nature to mentally evaluate the approximate fat content in any food before deciding whether or not to eat it. Even when someone goes for it and indulges in that pile of french fries or buttery croissant, societal programming kicks in with a guilt trip. Dieters rejoice: this article has been written to explain the important role fat plays in staying healthy and to help you break free from the fallacy of fat-free indoctrination.

Diet Healthy: Include Fat

Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Burning fewer calories than you consume–from any type of food–is the issue.

The news sounds too good to be true, and yet it is. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that high-fat diets weren’t to blame for excess body fat. Additionally, the research concluded that weight loss diet programs that reduced fat intake weren’t the solution for quick weight loss — or any type of weight loss, for that matter. In fact, HelpGuide.org reports that the nation’s obesity rates doubled during the height of America’s fanaticism over low fat diets. Though recommendations from professionals such as doctors and personal trainers used to be to cut the fat, that’s now considered outdated advice. These days, the smart money is on eating a balanced diet. So, logically, to diet healthy, you have to eat some fat.

Fact: Your Body Needs Fat

Those who have struggled with cutting fat to accommodate a quick weight loss diet will be gratified to know that there’s a reason they crave fat. It’s not just in your head: you really do need fat and can’t live without it. According to Medical News Today, fat is a nutrient that your body requires to function normally. Fat gives you energy and helps other nutrients work properly, too. Harvard Health lists some other important things fat does for your body such as:

  • assisting in muscle movement
  • helping build cells
  • reducing inflammation and decreasing joint pain
  • helping your blood to clot

Additionally, certain kinds of fats can help reduce serious injuries, such as fractures. So, you get it: your body needs fat. However, though sometimes it feels like making fat is what your body does best, it actually doesn’t produce some of the most essential fats it requires. That means you have to get them from your diet.

Up to 30 percent of your calories is a healthy level of fat intake.

Ah, but how much fat do you need? The CDC used to say that adults over the age of 19 should get 25 to 30 percent of their caloric intake from fats. Guidelines have recently been revised to recommend oils instead of eating solid fats, but the 25 to 30 percent guideline still applies in general, depending on your age or whether your a man or a woman.

Naturally, you should follow your doctor’s advice if he recommends a lower fat intake for you due to health concerns, but you still need fat even if you’re on a weight loss program. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a study that recommended that natural bodybuilders get between 15 and 30 percent of their daily calories from fat. So, if a bodybuilder who is trying to eliminate as much body fat as possible is still supposed to get at least 15 percent, the average person trying to lose weight can be successful on the lower end of the non-competitor’s scale by getting between 20 and 25 percent of their daily calories from fat.

Sorting the Good From the Bad

Non-hydrogenated, natural fats are not only acceptable, but they’re good for you, too.

Simply eating all types of fat, wherever and whenever you can get it isn’t a smart dieting strategy, nor is it healthy. So what is a healthy diet that includes fat? It’s one in which you use oils instead of solid fats when possible. Yes, that means dipping a crusty hunk of French bread in olive oil and herbs is an acceptable and healthy alternative to slathering it with butter or margarine. The best fats for a healthy diet have little or no trans fats and are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Dr. Mercola says that even some saturated fats are healthy, if they’re naturally saturated and not hydrogenated. These types of oils aren’t just better for you; they’re literally good for you. They can

  • help lower your cholesterol
  • curb hunger by making you feel satisfied
  • decrease risk of heart disease
  • enhance your immune system
  • improve your metabolism
  • support weight loss

Non-hydrogenated olive, sunflower, coconut and safflower oils are all healthy fats, as are the fat from avocados, nuts and fish. Get most of your 25 to 30 percent from these sources and try to stay below 300 mg of cholesterol, and you’ll do well.

Common Sense: The Best Way to Lose Weight

Use common sense. Eat a variety of foods–including fat–in moderation instead of overdoing some and eliminating others.

Isn’t it funny how when people hear something is bad for them, they go overboard avoiding it altogether, and when something is good for them they do the opposite and overdo it? The experts and the studies may point to fat as being necessary, good for you, and effective for losing weight,  but that doesn’t equal permission to go on a full-fat diet. The best way to lose weight is to maintain control and focus on moderation. Eat all types of foods, not eating too much of any one type. Try to eat healthy fats when you can and be sure to get enough protein, too. When you toss fruits, veggies and grains into the mix, you’ll finally be on a diet that is satisfying and doesn’t make you feel bad for eating what comes naturally.

 

Working Out: Buddy-Up, Or Go It Alone?

It can be nice to have someone to work out with, but your health and fitness shouldn’t be tied to anyone other than yourself.

There are loads of reasons for wanting a workout partner when you make the commitment to lose weight, get in shape, or even take on a significant goal like training for a competition. Ideally, a workout partner would make the experience more enjoyable, keep you accountable, push you to break through plateaus, and be there to spot you when you’re lifting to failure. The truth is that not just anyone will consistently meet those criteria, and you’ll have to be as discriminating when choosing a gym buddy as you would interviewing for a roommate.

The Argument Against

You won’t be able to push your limits if your workout partner’s strength doesn’t match your own.

Having someone to talk to in the gym may be a nice little bonus a workout buddy can offer but, ultimately, it’s not a good idea to get hooked on working out with a partner. If their dedication wanes, your workouts and goals will suffer. Too many people bag it when their workout partners don’t show up or call at the last minute to beg off. Even if you can find someone who keeps you accountable and gets you into the gym, you still won’t get the most from your regimen if their goals, workouts, and strength don’t match yours. You’ll be using different equipment or have too much downtime between sets because you have to keep changing out weights. Plus, the stronger out of the two of you won’t be able to max-out on lifts because the other one may not be able to provide a safe and proper spot.

Experience is another issue that keeps people from being effective workout buddies. If one of the partners has a significantly higher skill level, that person may end up spending valuable time explaining fundamentals and demonstrating proper form instead of getting a good workout.

If You Must

The strikes against having a workout partner don’t mean that it’s impossible to find someone you can work out with–but, typically, you have to hire them, and they are called personal trainers, not gym buddies. I kid, but if you’ve decided that you absolutely must have a partner to work out with, don’t become so dependent on them that you can’t exercise without them. Also, take your time to make sure you end up with someone who will help you reach your goals rather than hinder you.

First, look for a partner who has similar goals, experience, and strength, so that you can avoid the pitfalls mentioned above. Double-check your schedules to make sure that you can both consistently work out at the same time on the same days so no one gets stood up. Also, you should both be flexible and open enough to be able to make changes when needed, even if those changes mean moving on to working out alone or finding a different gym partner.

Tips for Being the Ideal Workout Partner

This can be hard to accept, but it’s not all about you. If you are set on finding a good workout partner, you need to be a good workout partner. That means doing unto the other person as you expect them to do unto you. Muscle and Fitness came up with a list of rules of being an excellent workout partner including keeping your workout dates and showing up on time, knowing how to coach without over-coaching, and knowing when  your partner needs a spot so you can offer help when necessary, but don’t end up robbing him of a rep he could have pushed through.

Also, do your workout partner the courtesy of not bringing personal problems to the gym. You both look to each other for motivation and encouragement; if you hit the gym feeling down, you’ll bring your partner down, and both of your workouts will suffer. On the other hand, generating excitement and motivation will benefit the both of you. Forbes reported on research done on the effects of pasting on a fake smile. The results showed that even if a smile is forced rather than sincere, not only will your mood improve, but so will the moods of those around you–including your gym buddy’s.

What? Lose Weight Eating Carbs!

Carb-lovers take heart: Resistant Starch makes you healthier and helps you lose weight.

Dietary carbohydrates have been so demonized, admitting to your love of bread and pasta can make you feel like an addict in a 12 step program. If you’ve tried to go Keto or attempted Atkins, there was probably a point where you would have gladly bartered your grandmother for a baked potato or a bagel with schmear. Thankfully, Prevention has good news for carb-lovers, and it turns out it’s not all that new. Based on studies from 2009 that actually expanded on a discovery from the early 1980s, nutritionists are saying almost any carb can be manipulated into a type of carbohydrate that not only helps you lose weight but can also make you healthier.

The “RS” Factor

Amylose is RS’s secret weapon that makes carbs harder to digest. Image via NEUROtiker/Wikipedia

There are two types of carbohydrate molecules that make up any starch: amylopectin and amylose. Amylopectin is highly branched, and they’re the ones that affect blood glucose and insulin levels. Amylose, however, is linear and limited, and they don’t tend to digest so well. Actually, Amylose starches don’t fully digest in the small intestine, and it’s this resistance to digestion that has earned them the title of “Resistant Starches” (RS).

What RS Means for Weight Loss

RS makes you feel fuller, faster, so you’re less likely to overeat.
Image via Rob and Stephanie Levy/Flickr

Your body can’t absorb what it can’t digest, so foods with a high RS factor offer all sorts of benefits when it comes to weight loss. Prevention says Resistant Starch can be considered a dietary fiber and that it works like other fiber does, taking up room in your stomach to make you feel fuller faster so you’ll eat less. In addition to that benefit, RS has been shown to actually turn off hunger hormones, offering more help in eating less. What’s more, nutrients are released into the bloodstream at a slower rate after eating RS, so your appetite will remain stable.

According to Precision Nutrition, you’ll only use around half the calories per gram when eating RS versus consuming other starches. That means only 50 percent of the RS calories you eat will be absorbed by your body. Since you can’t digest RS, it gets moved along from your small intestine to your large one, where it ferments and creates butyrate, a beneficial fatty acid that programs your body to use stored body fat and recently consumed fat for energy. By making sure that as little as 5.4 percent of the carbs you eat are RS, you could burn 20 to 30 percent more fat after a meal.

RS Fights Disease

The butyrate that encourages your body to burn fat also protects the colon lining, so it hinders the absorption of things that can cause cancer and helps your colon resist DNA damage that can lead to diseases such as cancer. Also, the fermentation process that RS promotes encourages high levels of healthy bacteria in your gut which results in a strong immune system. Plus, when RS bypasses the digestion process, your blood glucose and insulin levels stay on a more even keel. That’s good news not only for diabetics who thought they had to say “buh-bye” to carbs but also for those concerned about heart disease caused by arteries clogging up and hardening when blood sugar and insulin levels get chronically high.

Making Starch Resistant

Slip some hi-maize fiber into your pancakes and other baked goods to up the RS factor.

Some foods already carry RS, such as whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables and fruits like bananas. The starch in certain foods can be manipulated, however, to turn it into RS, and the process is so simple you may already be doing it for some of the carbs you consume. Apparently, heating and cooling foods such as pasta, potatoes, rice, tortillas, and bread crystallizes part of the starch into RS. That doesn’t mean you have to eat your baked potato cold, but allowing it to cool off after dressing it and before you eat it will increase the RS. Freeze your bagels and bread (they’ve already been heated when they were baked), and run cooked pasta under cold water–the heating and cooling cycle is what transforms regular starch into RS. And, if you want to get even more RS in your diet, make pancakes and bake muffins using RS-rich flour in place of about 1/4 to 1/3 of the all-purpose flour called for in recipes. Just look for “Hi-Maize Natural Fiber” on the label.

The Super-Charged Super-Nutrient You’re Not Getting Enough Of

Think your diet is pretty healthy? If you’re eating the USRDA recommended daily amounts of the various food groups, then there’s a good chance you are eating healthy. However, if you aren’t making the right choices when it comes to some of the foods you eat, specifically in the fruits, vegetables, and grains categories, you probably aren’t eating as good as you think. The fact is, studies have shown that only about 5 percent of adult Americans get enough fiber in their daily diet. Because many foods contain fiber, you can’t exactly call it a super-food, but it is a super-charged nutrient that’s essential for health. Read on to find out why you need more of it in your diet and how to increase daily fiber intake to make your body healthier and even help with weight loss.

Benefits of Fiber

Sufficient fiber in your diet keeps the bacteria in your gut healthy–and that helps keep you healthy and trim.

So, here’s the odd thing about fiber: you can’t digest it, so your body doesn’t absorb nutrition from it. “Why should I eat something I can’t digest?” you may ask. Because your body can process it into something useful that has important health benefits. Fiber used to be categorized as either soluble or insoluble, but researchers have found that there are different sub-types including viscous and fermentable fiber, both of which your body is capable of processing. Those types of fiber get broken down in your system and can serve as food for the bacteria in your gut. If you don’t eat enough fiber, the “microbiome” in your intestines becomes imbalanced. The bacteria can begin eating away at the mucous lining of your stomach resulting in stomach and digestive problems and, eventually, immune reactions.

Remember, though, that a variety of different types of fiber is necessary for health, including the insoluble type. Even though your body can’t digest or process it at all, it’s still useful because it keeps your digestive tract clean. As it moves through your intestines, it activates movement of everything else, so nothing remains behind to keep your system from working properly.

If those benefits sound a little too vague to get you excited about dietary fiber, the Mayo Clinic points out that the fiber in oats, beans, and flaxseed helps lower cholesterol and can assist in keeping your heart healthy by also lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation. Soluble fiber also helps control blood sugar, making it useful for people with Type 2 Diabetes and even helping reduce the risk of developing the disease altogether. Plus, the Institute of Cancer Research reveals that fiber-filled fruits and vegetables can protect against various cancers such as:

  • colon
  • esophagus
  • larynx
  • mouth
  • pharynx
  • rectum
  • stomach

The Weight Loss Factor

There are numerous ways fiber helps you keep the weight off.

You may have heard that fiber can help with weight loss, but maybe you don’t understand how it works. Fiber tends to be low in calories, but it’s bulky, so it makes you feel full faster than less substantial foods do. Your body has to work at processing it—remember, some of it can’t even be processed!—so, you burn more calories when you eat fiber and it increases the amount of time your stomach takes to empty out. That means not only do you feel fuller after eating fiber, but you’ll feel fuller longer, so you won’t be tempted to snack between meals that include healthy amounts of fiber.

That explanation can sound like smoke and mirrors, but there’s more to fiber’s weight loss factor than trickery. One very specific type of fiber—glucomannan—has been shown to be exceptionally effective in reducing how much protein and fat your body absorbs. Plus, going back to those friendly little bacteria in your gut, studies have shown a link between obesity and decreased stomach bacteria, also finding that increasing dietary fiber to improve the microbiome in the intestines decreases obesity and risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Of course, you’ll get the best weight loss results if you not only increase your fiber intake but also shift gears on your overall diet to eat healthier along with increasing your physical activity, too.

Upping Your Fiber Intake

Mixing and matching fiber-filled foods is a delicious way to get more of the super-charged nutrient into your diet.

Yep, getting more fiber in your diet works to ward off horrific diseases and helps keep your weight down. So, how much do you need, and how can you make sure to get more of it each day? Basically, an adult should eat around 30 grams of fiber daily. While some people would like to think that’s as simple as taking a fiber supplement like Metamucil and not worrying about the fiber/diet/exercise factors, unfortunately, it’s not that easy. You may see some minimal results from supplements like those, but it’s better if you get a variety of different types of fiber from a variety of foods. The good news is, there are loads of delicious things you can snack on and use to prepare meals that contain fiber. Healthline lists over 20 of them, including:

  • pears
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • pears
  • pumpkin
  • beets
  • artichokes
  • legumes like lentils, garbanzo beans, split peas, and kidney beans
  • quinoa
  • whole grains
  • nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and Chia seeds
  • sweet potatoes

Each food delivers a different amount of fiber, but it all adds up. The good news is that some of the tastiest nibbles contain the most fiber, such as oats (10.6 grams of fiber per 100 grams of raw oats), popcorn (14.5 grams of fiber per 100 grams of air-popped corn), and dark chocolate (10.9 grams of fiber per 100 grams of chocolate).

Get creative when thinking of ways to eat more fiber. Combine food and fiber types, like topping a banana yogurt smoothie with whole grain granola and nuts. Cook up a delicious pot of seven bean soup. Or, go gourmet with a savory plate of pasta smothered in a delectable fiber-packed sauce. There are so many options, you might forget you’re actually eating healthier.