Here comes summer…and shorts and miniskirts and swimsuits. Of course that means hitting the gym hard for the push to present well on the beach or when you make your first poolside appearance of the season. A well-shaped backside is always in style and, while some feel the best way to tone your butt and achieve a booty lift is by having body fat redistributed through a surgical procedure called a Brazilian Butt Lift, others have invested in a specialized workout program bearing the same name.
The fact is that working out is the best way to tone your butt and reduce fat, and it’s the technique that will garner lasting results. Though you can’t spot-reduce or literally move fat from one area of your body to enhance another when working out, high intensity interval training routines (HIIT) or circuit training workouts that focus on your glutes and hamstrings will build muscle where you want it while reducing body fat overall.
DIY Lifting Butt Workouts
If you want to invest the money in hiring a trainer from Brazil or purchasing a “special, secret” workout to build your booty, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s your money. However, if you already know the secret exercises that reshape your butt by targeting your glutes and supporting muscles, you can spend the cash on summer wear that accentuates your newly toned hindquarters. This is no time for men to tune out. Flat, baggy 501 cut-offs or cargo shorts on a guy are just as unappealing as saggy or over-stuffed ones are on a girl. Get busy with these seven exercises to cultivate a sexy gluteus maximus that will have the opposite sex doing double-takes.
Lunges – you’ll feel your glutes engaging when you perform a number of lunge exercises, from walking lunges to weighted lunges or explosive lunges, as “Fitness” magazine suggests. Women’s Health and Fitness recommends a Lower Half Lunge, a variation that also works to tone core muscles while contracting your glutes and getting your heart rate up for a nice fat-burning workout.
Some find it easier to maintain proper form when squatting with resistance bands instead of free weights.
Squats – squats are another glute-centric exercise that also recruit your hamstrings as stabilizers and get your quads working as synergists, making them a terrific and effective butt lifting exercise. Maintaining proper form while squatting is essential for avoiding injury, and that’s why some people steer clear of this exercise altogether. However, you can safely perform bodyweight squats without equipment or using band-based equipment such as the TargitFit Trainer.
Kickbacks – if you have access to the weight lifting equipment, rear kickbacks are killer for working your glutes. Alternatively, you can forego the equipment and weights and use gravity to your advantage by performing Heel Sky Raises.
Reverse Hyperextension – reverse hyperextensions do require equipment, but it doesn’t have to be specialized. If you belong to a gym, go ahead and take advantage of what they have to offer. Alternatively, any raised flat surface at home such as a countertop, can be used to support your torso while you to lift your legs straight behind you for this glute-targeting, butt lifting exercise.
Dumbbell Deadlift – deadlifts are considered a booty-lifting exercise because they work your hamstrings, the muscles located right below your glutes. Hand weights, dumbbells or even gallon jugs filled with water can be used to add weight and an element of resistance to this exercise.
Leg Curls – any exercise in which you bend your knee and press back against resistance will build and strengthen your hamstrings to provide a nice foundation to press your glutes upward. Gyms typically have a number of leg curl machines, but resistance bands are effective for leg curls, too.
Skip rope or jog in place between each butt lifting exercise to turn butt workouts into high intensity interval training routines (HIIT workouts) that will reshape your booty. Photo via POPSUGAR Fitness/YouTube
The best way to tone your butt and engineer your butt lift is by putting these exercises into practice at least once a week, either on their own or by adding them to your leg day. If you do them more than once a week, just allow 72 hours between glute workouts so your muscles can rest and recoup. You can perform them as circuit training workouts, doing 10 to 12 reps of one exercise before immediately moving to the next exercise, and making sure to go through the entire circuit three times. Allow 60 seconds for rest between each circuit. Alternatively, you can do them as HIIT or high intensity interval training routines. Do one exercise as many times as you can in 90 seconds, then jog in place or get on a stationary bike or treadmill to keep moving but at a more moderate pace for 30 seconds. Then move to the next exercise, continuing the 90/30-intense/moderate intervals until you’ve done each exercise three times. You’ll feel the burn, for sure and, by performing your butt workouts as a circuit or HIIT, you’ll have the boogie back in your butt in no time.
Right now, we’re at a point in time when proper nutrition is more vital than ever. Even if you’ve never been told to your face that how you eat affects your health, you already know somewhere deep inside that it’s true. Just consider how you feel physically and emotionally after a junk-food binge. Those feelings are your body trying to tell you what you wouldn’t accept from anyone else. Maybe in the past, you simply didn’t feel like changing. But in a world where you can no longer hug your friends in greeting and have washed your hands raw, maybe you don’t have the luxury anymore to be stubborn. It’s time to start taking a closer look at what you eat and incorporating healthy foods that will reduce stress and boost your immunity.
First Stop: the Produce Section
You can’t go wrong with fruits and veggies, in general, but when you’re aiming to strengthen your immune system, you’ll want to include ones packed with specific antioxidants like vitamins C, A, and E, beta carotene, and allicin. For those, red bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, and citrus fruits are the superstars. Mushrooms are known as a source of Vitamin D, good for keeping your body’s T cells functioning properly and optimally, and the palatable fungi also activate white blood cell production and mobilize them to fight infection. Berries tend to be loaded with antioxidants, too, and blueberries do double-duty, hitting both lists of immune-boosting foods and foods that reduce stress. Garlic, ginger, papaya, and kiwi are other foods you’ll find in the produce section that will help ward off illness.
Fish tops the list of immune-boosting meats, but shellfish, beef, and poultry are also good for increasing immunity.
It might come as no surprise that fish—specifically the cold-water oily type associated with Omega-3’s—is recommended eating for a strong immune system. Tuna and salmon are the typical types of fish that get good press in this case. Some of your favorite shellfish, however, are loaded with zinc, another antioxidant that fights sickness and increases immunity. When you dine on clams, crab, lobster, mussels, or oysters, you’re also giving your immune system a boost.
If you’re not a big seafood fan, don’t despair. Both poultry and lean beef are vital for a healthy immune system. Chicken and turkey provide Vitamin B6, essential for fighting off viruses and, since it’s a good source of zinc, beef is a delicious alternative to shellfish.
Dairy Foods for Immunity
When you hit the dairy aisle, be sure to snag a dozen eggs and some yogurt. The live cultures in yogurt have been found to stimulate your body’s natural defenses. Plus, both eggs and some brands of yogurt contain Vitamin D. Be sure to read the labels to be sure you’re getting products fortified with Vitamin D, so you know you’ll reap the benefits this vital vitamin provides in strengthening and regulating your immune system.
Snack on This
Granola and trail mix are kitchen-sink-type snacks–you can load them up with all the immune-boosting ingredients you want.
Even what you nosh on between meals can help build immunity. Sunflower seeds and almonds are good sources of Vitamin E, an essential antioxidant that protects cells. Almonds also bring other essential immune-boosting nutrients to the table like fiber, manganese, and magnesium. Another tasty nut you should be sure to add to the mix is walnuts. They’ll add polyphenols and Omega-3 fatty acids good for cutting immune-depleting stress. Whole grains, specifically oats and barley, are superfoods when it comes to immune-strengthening capabilities. Studies have found that the specific fiber they contain (beta-glucan) helps increase immunity to serious illnesses including influenza and anthrax. Taking all this into consideration, you’ll probably want to whip up some tasty trail mix or granola. The terrific thing about this type of snack is that you can use whatever nuts you want to and add in some sunflower seeds and even some dark chocolate chunks for good measure to optimize your immune system’s effectiveness.
Washing it All Down
Drinking water and other fluids flush toxins from your body, so it’s vital to stay hydrated when you’re healthy as well as when you’re sick. Water is great for cleansing your system, but drinks such as orange juice or tea contain antioxidants and other nutrients that bolster the immune system. Citrus juice, such as orange, provides Vitamin C, and green and black tea provide antioxidants. What’s more, green tea contains an amino acid (L-theanine) that has been found to decrease inflammation and increase germ-fighting capabilities in your cells. On the other hand, you could also opt for turmeric tea, a spicy beverage that contains curcumin that acts as an anti-inflammatory that also activates and regulates T cells.
Put it All Together
Looking for a way to incorporate a load of these foods into one meal? Whip up this healthy stir-fry for dinner, then finish with dark-chocolate dipped berries or a dark chocolate chunk oatmeal bar. Nobody said boosting your immune system can’t be delicious.
Immune-Boosting Stir Fry
1 lb chicken or beef, cut into 1-inch cubes or 1 ½ – 2 lbs of crab
2 inches peeled ginger, sliced into 12 pieces
1 large bunch broccoli (1 lb), florets trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 chopped scallion
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 lb maitake, shiitake, or reishi mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp peanut or olive oil for frying
1 c cold water or ½ c cold water + ½ c cooking sherry
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp oyster sauce (optional)
**If you’re using crab, clean it and cut it into pieces. Pat it dry with paper towels, then place in a large bowl. Toss with 1 to 2 Tbsp corn starch to coat, then proceed with frying step.
Whisk the sauce ingredients together and set aside.
Heat wok or frying pan over medium-high heat, then add oil. Allow oil to heat before adding meat and frying until pieces are cooked. (The beef will brown; the chicken will no longer look pink; the crab will turn red.) Remove meat from pan with slotted spoon to strain out excess oil and set aside.
Place vegetables in hot wok, replenishing 1 Tbsp of oil, if necessary, starting with the ginger, scallion, and garlic, and frying for a couple of minutes, until aromatic, then add in the rest of the veggies. Stir as the mixture fries and when the mushrooms start to reduce in size, add the meat back in, continuing to work quickly to keep the mixture stirring as it cooks.
When the broccoli is crisp-tender, pour the sauce mixture into the wok. Continually stir until the sauce boils and thickens, coating the meat and vegetables generously.
Lucky us—to get hit with two pandemics at once. While everyone is hyper-focused on COVID-19, most are ignoring the rampant stress that’s spreading faster than the coronavirus that spawned it. The thing about the situation that should be concerning health officials and everyone else is that all this trauma and drama affects immune systems, leaving the world’s over-stressed population vulnerable to catching the disease that’s causing all the anxiety and negative energy to begin with. Last week, we shared the secret to immunity against all diseases: exercise. No surprise, working out also battles stress. It’s one way staying fit keeps you from getting ill. Let’s talk about that more, along with a number of other things you can do to fight stress and stay healthy when the world is freaking out.
How Stress Breaks Down Your Immune System
When you get stressed out, you could experience several immediate physical reactions including anxiety, headache, restlessness, chest pain, or nausea. Those are direct results of your body flooding with adrenaline and cortisol, a hormone that, under normal circumstances, helps you deal with stress in a healthy way by assisting with blood glucose levels, controlling your metabolism, and helping regulate blood pressure. Unfortunately, when stress hormones are released, they also signal your body to shift all its energy onto that “fight or flight” situation, and it ends up shutting down other necessary systems including your immune system. Again, under normal circumstances, that state is supposed to be temporary. That’s why, when you’re subjected to ongoing, long-term stress, cortisol levels remain elevated and begin to affect your health, causing alarming effects including:
Understanding how stress can leave you susceptible to infectious disease is only part of the solution. The next step is recognizing that, even though you “get” an enforced open-ended vacation from normal life, the current situation is stressing you out. Maybe you don’t feel it 24/7, and maybe you feel like you’re dealing with it fairly well. Still, no one can completely escape the shock, upset, and strain that the complete chaos and upheaval in our schedules have caused. Once you’ve cleared those two stages, you can move on to managing the stress and maintaining your health.
Naturally, we feel that exercise is the number one way you can keep your immune system strong. Just in case you think we’re biased, though, you should know that it’s at the top of the Mayo Clinic’s list of ways to manage stress. That’s because when you work out, your body reduces the amount of stress hormones it releases. Plus, getting your blood flowing clears bacteria out of your airways, and it turns your white blood cells into fierce illness and infection fighters.
Enforced togetherness can add to stress.
When you’re not used to it, being cooped up in close quarters with the family can be a cause of stress in itself. Many people might deal with that stress by going to the gym. But, wait. What if you can’t get to the gym because of a shutdown or quarantine? Stress levels go up. Additionally, a vast number of people who work out do it to ward off depression, fight PTSD, or deal with a number of emotional issues. That’s what makes this plague an issue of mental health as well as one of physical health. Many officials blithely suggest “working out at home” and “going outside for a walk and outdoor activities.” It makes you wonder if those officials have ever worked out a day in their lives. Spring is barely here, and most of the country is still experiencing winter-like weather, so outdoor workouts aren’t likely to happen right now. What’s more, studies have found that resistance training boosts the amount of immune cells circulating through your system. That means even if the weather was good enough to go for a jog or bike ride, the loss of access to your usual workout can have a negative effect on your immune system if you resistance train.
Body weight exercises can be a fairly good short-term solution for weight lifters who can’t get to the gym.
If you don’t have access to the equipment you normally use, don’t let the research bum you out. You can try to get your hands on some home fitness equipment, but be prepared for many companies to be sold out of stock. At the end of last week’s blog, we gave a handful of links to articles that list alternative ways to exercise when you can’t get to the gym, including bodyweight exercises, equipment-less routines, and outdoor workouts. And, if you do have access to a health club and haven’t been exposed to COVID-19 and aren’t sick with any type of illness, be sure to do everyone a favor (yourself included) by wiping down the equipment with disinfectant (all the responsible gyms are well-stocked now) and using hand sanitizer frequently.
Other Stress-Reducing Tricks
If you temporarily have to change up your workouts to something different, consider yoga, tai chi, or kickboxing. All three get your brain involved, helping keep you mentally healthy while you’re staying physically healthy. Definitely do get some outdoor time in, if weather permits. Getting out into nature has been shown to reduce stress—even if it is in a relatively urban setting like at a park or along a greenbelt. Consider starting a meditation practice, too. Meditating for just 15 minutes a day delivers a slew of health benefits including stress reduction.
And while we’re talking about mindful things like meditation, yoga, and getting out into nature, we suggest you seriously consider unplugging. When faced with tons of free time, many people got excited at the prospect of catching up on their binge-watching. While there’s nothing wrong with catching a few back-to-back episodes of Mrs. Maisel, Stranger Things, or Westworld, sitting on the sofa like a slug for weeks on end will eat away at your overall health—mental as well as physical.
What’s more, staying tuned into the news all day every day will certainly drive you over the edge. We say #boycottthenews . The media isn’t passing on any good news, anyway. They’re not giving us an accurate picture of the current outbreak compared to past pandemics, and they’re focusing solely on the death toll while leaving out the number of people who have recovered, which happens to be in the hundreds of thousands. Even the World Health Organization says you should limit your news check-ins to once a day—twice max. It’s the media and social networking that have stirred up all this panic and stress, turning way too many people into information junkies glued to their screens like methamphetamine addicts jonesing for their next benny. Break the habit. We promise you’ll be happier and healthier.
Sticking to a schedule can be cathartic during an uncertain time like this, and it’s especially helpful for those who are still working, but who are doing it from home now. Knowing what you’re going to do each day gives you purpose so you don’t feel at loose ends. Even if you worked from home long before corona hit, your schedule may have taken a hit. More people at home with you and/or new, extra duties will do that. Take a deep breath, accept the fact that you’re living Normal 2.0 now, and set up your new schedule–then stick to it.
Don’t look at quarantine as vacation–use it to take care of those to-do’s you haven’t had time for.
If you’re not working while at home, instead of being tempted to spend your days staring at the TV or computer screen, do something creative and fun. Work on a jigsaw puzzle, start a journal, build a tree house, paint the living room, learn to play an instrument, clean out your closet or the attic. There are probably a ton of to-do’s you’ve been meaning to get to. Do them now, and if they’re activities the whole, quarantined family can get in on, all the better.
What You Eat Can Strengthen or Weaken Your Immune System
You still have access to healthy food–don’t undermine your immune system with preservative-loaded processed foods.
Finally, make sure what you eat supports your health. A recent study showed a link between diet and stress, finding that diets lacking Omega-3’s and fiber were linked to increased stress, anxiety and depression. What’s more, WebMD says that stress and dehydration work in a vicious cycle—stress can dehydrate you and dehydration can stress you. Make use of all that bottled water you hoarded when this all started, and use it to wash down healthy, stress-fighting foods such as citrus fruits, nuts, and even a bar of dark chocolate. And when you make out your online grocery list, be sure to include things like:
avocados (guacamole, anyone?)
tuna, halibut, or salmon
milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs (especially if they’re supplemented with Omega-3 fatty acids)
fiber-rich foods such as beans, peas, berries, broccoli, and kale
We saw the empty shelves at the market, so we know your emergency pantry is brimming with canned goods and processed foods. The problem is, a lot of the food you’ve squirreled away is bad for your immune system. The good news is that this isn’t a full-scale emergency situation. Grocery stores are still open and there’s plenty of fresh foods available to be delivered right to your doorstep. Eat fresh and healthy now to shore up your immune system, and save your stash for a time when it’s truly needed.
The Final Word
Most of all—and this can’t be emphasized enough—remember that this is all temporary. Half the world is healed up already. It’s true that things aren’t likely to return to the way they were in 2019 and before, but the fear and anxiety will die down, businesses will open their doors, and people will come outside of their homes once again. And we’ll all get on with our lives.
In this day and age, how could a microscopic organism shut down the entire world? It sounds like a bad B movie: The Bizarre Virus That Took Over the Planet. What’s extra surreal is that healthy people really don’t have anything to fear from COVID, yet the crisis has caused health clubs across the country to close. Now, we can’t speak for everyone, but our hometown gym makes it a policy to disinfect the equipment daily plus provide spray bottles of industrial-strength disinfectant throughout the facility so members can clean the equipment before and after they use it on top of the cleaning the gym does. Right now, a well-run fitness club is probably the cleanest, healthiest place you can be. Yet, considering how contagious the coronavirus is and the many unknowns still surrounding it, you can kind of see why health officials want to minimize people’s interactions as much as possible. But! We digress…
Instead of debating the fine line drawn around health clubs designating them as “unessential,” we’re choosing to talk about some hard facts today. Like the fact that, generally, COVID is NOT a death sentence. Yes, it is highly contagious, and people have died from it, but the overwhelming majority who contract it recover. In fact, over 212,000 people worldwide who contracted the virus have already recovered. RECOVERED! That’s extremely good news, but no one is focusing on that because it wouldn’t stir up a frenzy. What’s more, because more than 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild and not life-threatening, it’s likely that the recovery rate is actually much better than is being reported.
The fact is, a vastly larger number of people die from the good old-fashioned flu every year. In the 2018-2019 flu season, 34,200 people died from basic influenza in the U.S. Plus, with influenza A and B hitting Americans from both sides, we’ve had a double-barreled flu season this year, so incoming mortality numbers from the flu are expected to match or exceed last year’s. At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 death-toll is around 2,860 and it’s true that the numbers are going up every day, so it’s hard to project what a total number will be by the end of it all. Still, the press won’t point out to you that there have been pandemics in the recent past that were at least as bad if not worse. Take H1N1 from 2009, for example. In one year, that insidious disease was responsible for over 12,400 U.S. deaths and killed about 575,400 people worldwide. As serious as the coronavirus is, when you take ALL the available information into consideration, this current outbreak doesn’t warrant the level of freakout it’s getting.
So, here’s the bottom line: most of those who do contract the coronavirus will recover from it and the basic treatment will be the same as the regular flu. You’re not even likely to be hospitalized and will convalesce at home, feeling feverish and achy, drinking lots of fluids and downing gallons of chicken soup but, odds are, you will recover.
That’s not to make light of the situation. Just putting it in perspective. Naturally, if you are sick –with anything!—or feel ill or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or any other illness, you should stay away from public places and avoid contact with anyone anyway. You should have already been practicing good hygiene—why did it take a worldwide pandemic to get you to wash your hands? Staying away from others when you’re sick and using soap, water, and hand disinfectant shouldn’t be your new normal. It should have been your normal all along. Helpful and interesting fact: did you know that the World Health Organization says only those infected should be wearing masks? If you’re not infected or caring for someone who is, you’re wasting a mask and that’s a shame, considering there’s currently a shortage of medical masks.
AND (you knew we were going to segue into an exercise lecture) you should be working out to stay healthy and reinforce your immune system. Exercise strengthens your entire body, not just your muscles. It makes all your cells stronger so they can fight off all diseases. In that light, we decided to pull out a previously published post on exercise and illness to provide a refresher for those who’ve forgotten how important working out is for your immune system. If nothing else, it’ll give you something to read during isolation:
Exercise During Cold and Flu Season
Starting in the fall and lasting until spring, the season of sickness typically peaks in late January/early February. It may be surprising, but the solution to staying healthy during this notorious time of year isn’t found in a doctor’s office or pill bottle.
Exercising Strengthens More Than Muscles
Exercise literally transforms your T cells, making them into warriors ready to fight infection and even cancer!
Building strength and losing weight are the typical reasons for working out, but physical activity also strengthens your immune system, which is essential for defending your body against all types of infection. Of course that includes colds and influenza, but EurekAlert! reports that exercise bolsters the immune system enough to fight off cancer. If working out can help defend against the #2 cause of death in America, it can be trusted to help you stay fairly healthy throughout cold and flu season. If you’re the type who needs science to prove that physical activity really does help, consider the study published in the American Journal of Medicine. It found that women who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise–as little as a 30-minute walk every day–had half the number of colds than women who did not exercise at all.
How Working Out Helps
Working out increases blood flow and your temperature, which flushes your system and helps your body fight off infection.
When something works well, it’s always interesting to know why it does. In the case of working out and exercise as cold remedies, however, doctors admit that they don’t know exactly why they are effective. According to MedlinePlus, some theorize that increased blood flow during exercise causes white blood cells and antibodies to circulate throughout your system more quickly. Also, when you exercise, your body temperature goes up kind of like when you have a fever, inhibiting bacteria growth and helping your body fight infection. The increased blood flow and quicker, elevated breathing during exercise flushes your system, helping eliminate bacteria from your airways and lungs, too. Plus, working out reduces stress hormones in your body which chip away at your immune system. Fewer stress hormones equal stronger immune defenses.
Benefits of a Healthy Diet
Packed with healthy, healing foods, chicken soup comes by its illness-fighting reputation naturally.
Nutrition plays a big part in staying healthy any time of the year. Healthy Eating recommends padding your diet during cold and flu season with immune-boosting foods such as garlic, beef and chicken, peanuts, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products that contain probiotic cultures. Chicken soup has a legitimate reputation for being a flu and cold remedy because it contains zinc from the chicken, antioxidants and vitamins from the veggies, and antibiotic and healing properties from garlic. Don’t wait until you get sick to stay hydrated, either. Drink plenty of water and fruit juices, specifically citrus juice which contains Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant.
When You’re Sick
If increased heart rate is a side effect of your cold meds, skip exercise until you’re off medication.
When you do catch a cold, working out might be the last thing you feel like doing. However, working out is OK if you don’t have a fever, and exercise can even help you feel better. It will get your temperature up in a healthy way and increase blood flow. Plus, exercise often helps decongest your sinuses and lungs.
WebMD points out the importance of listening to your body to determine if an illness is serious enough to keep you from exercising. For example, if you have a fever, skip the workout. Also, taking prescription or over the counter cold and flu medications that affect heart rate is another reason to forego exercise. If you do decide to workout, don’t share your germs. Minimize the chances of passing on your cold by wiping down all the equipment you use when you’re finished and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer frequently.
If you aren’t able to make it into your health club because of enforced closures, do what you can at home and outside. It might even be a good chance to overcome a plateau you’ve been struggling with. We have some great resources here on our blog about working out at home and alternative workouts–the links are listed below. With a little extra time on your hands, make it a priority to stay active and stay healthy.
You’ve seen the monsters that compete in professional bodybuilding and hopefully you know better than to believe any of them who claim to be all-natural. Even amidst warnings of health issues and even death, the pros have increasingly developed a collective attitude that they can’t compete–and win–unless they use steroids. The fact that admitted juicers keep winning the big titles essentially proves that theory to be true.
It’s kinda sad that a sport that started out as a way to distinguish those who have the discipline to naturally manipulate their bodies into artistic physiques has become a showcase to reward the guy who has access to the best drugs. Let’s step down off the soapbox, though. Last we checked, it’s a free country, and everyone should be able to do what they want to, provided it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s lives. So, for argument sake, let’s overlook the fact that possession of and selling anabolic steroids is illegal, and let’s say that it’s OK that pro bodybuilders believe in better physiques through chemistry. Should the average Joe (or Jane) resort to steroid use instead of hard work, commitment, and perseverance to lose weight and build muscle? Um, the answer is still “no”.
First, a Little Myth-Busting
Why bother taking steroids if you’re not going to get the most out of them by working out?
Some people resort to ‘roids because they think it’s a quick and easy way to get the physique they want without putting in any of the work. While it’s true that you can gain muscle without working out by using anabolic steroids, you’ll see the biggest gains and get the best results if you do lift weights. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, subjects who received doses of testosterone and worked out gained two to three times more muscle mass than their counterparts who only did one or the other. So, if you’re going to juice, you might as well work out, too, to get the best results.
Steroid use adjusts your body so it uses all types of fuel more efficiently.
OK, so you’re willing to work out, but you still want to juice because it will help build more muscle faster. It’s understandable to be tempted to use something that has been proven to increase muscle mass quickly. And isn’t it a bonus that steroid use turns your body into a machine that ultra-efficiently uses protein, but can also make good use of almost any type of fuel? Who wouldn’t love building muscle while not having to compulsively follow a strict diet? One of the biggest draws to steroids, though, is that using them slows the body’s process of making fat cells, according to a study published in Endocrinology. When you can eat whatever you want–typically the more, the better–and only gain muscle mass and no fat, it might seem like a no-brainer.
Payin’ the Piper
Most steroid-users who die succumb to death from natural causes, but at very early ages like Mike Matarazzo who died of a heart attack at age 47. Image via Chronic Hunter/YouTube
Ah, but there’s a dark cloud behind the steroid silver lining. You might enjoy a few years of looking hot and being as strong as Hercules, but you gotta know that you can never get something for nothing. The bill will come due at some point; consistent steroid use will take a toll on your body and your health, and you don’t have to juice long-term to see the effects. Research has shown that even brief steroid use has permanent effects. Yes, those effects can be both good and bad, but when the bad includes:
stopping the body’s testosterone production
decreased sperm count in men
hair loss (for men)
excessive facial and body hair (for women)
risk of enlarged heart
liver disease and liver cancer
tendon ruptures c
complexion problems like acne and jaundice
is it really worth it? All of these are results of steroid use, according to WebMD, and if you’re already genetically prone to any of them, using steroids will increase the likelihood that you’ll experience them. In fact, it can also speed up the rate at which you develop a condition you’re prone to.
Even if you have a natural skin-tone, there’s a line you cross from looking fine to looking freakish.
Yes, there are a few cases of long-term steroid users who haven’t yet suffered severe effects from having juiced, but they tend to be people who can afford to pay a doctor to provide quality meds and monitor their health closely for the rest of their lives. Plus, there’s always a chance that their use will catch up with them at some point in the future.
Anyone who is serious enough to look into the facts and fiction of it all are likely to come to the same conclusion we did. In the face of overwhelming negatives and just a handful of conflicting, positive reports, the potential risks of steroid use outweigh any benefits. Besides, it’s more of an accomplishment to look amazing and have done it naturally and entirely on your own than to look like a Marvel mutant courtesy of medicinal enhancement.
Think you have what it takes to compete in a bodybuilding, physique, powerlifting or other fitness-based competition? Even if you don’t right now, you might enjoy the challenge of preparing for a contest and seeing how far you can go. No, competing isn’t for everyone. You can’t be too sensitive or self-conscious, and your self-worth can’t be tied to your physical appearance. Yet, you have to be confident and believe you can do well while carefully balancing the ability to take constructive criticism and ignore the haters who just want to insult you for the sheer joy of tearing someone else down. If you can handle that part and want to give competing a shot, here are the basics on how to get started.
Pick a Competition and Show
Powerlifting, bodybuilding, whatever your preference–get your feet wet by starting out at a smaller, local show with less competition than a national show.
The first thing you need to do is decide what kind of competition you want to compete in. Are you into powerlifting? Maybe you have great genetics and want to show them off in a bodybuilding contest. Physique contests are a newer addition to the bodybuilding competitions that don’t require contestants to have the extreme muscularity that traditional bodybuilding meets do, according to AsktheTrainer. That’s not to say that physique contests are easy to win, but they might be a good starting point for someone who has never competed before or who has a hard time packing on muscle mass.
Once you know what kind of competition you want to enter, start looking for upcoming shows that are about a year away. That will give you time to train and prepare. Search the Internet, ask around at the gym, or query other people who have already competed in similar competitions to find out about shows in the near future. Oxygen recommends looking for local shows when you’re starting out because:
they’ll be smaller than national shows
the competition is more likely to be on equal ground with you
you won’t have to spend a fortune on travel and accommodations
it will be convenient for family and friends to attend and support you
Also, take a look at how many other novices will be competing in any show you’re considering. A show with a good number of beginners like you will pit you against others who are on the same level.
Develop a Program
Get help from people with experience and do your homework to develop a training program that will take you from Point A to Competition-Ready.
Over the next year, you will need to train in a specific way so you can get into proper/optimal shape for the competition you want to enter. There are a million ways you can develop a program for yourself, from reading books to following experts’ training plans to consulting with a professional trainer. The best approach would be to incorporate all of those to arrive at a truly personalized program that will take you from your starting point to being competition-ready. Remember, the plan you create will need to change with you and as the competition grows nearer. It should be developed to accommodate building and cutting phases (obviously, “cutting” won’t be necessary for powerlifters) as well as include an off-season plan so you can stay in shape and continue to improve for future competitions.
Don’t Train in Vain
All your hard work will be for naught if you don’t also include dieting as part of your plan, and this, too, depends on what competition you will be entering. Powerlifting competitors have it good when it comes to that part of the training because they don’t have to be hyper-focused on watching fat and carb ratios. Physique, bikini, and bodybuilding contestants, on the other hand, do need to worry about such things. Beverly International is a terrific resource for fitness competitors of any type because they offer advice on diet, supplements, and even workouts tailored to your specific goals. The advice is free but, of course, the supplements are not. =D
Pick your posing-wear and learn what mandatory poses (or lifts, for powerlifters) you’ll need to perfect for the competition.
You want to go into any competition you enter looking like you’ve done it a million times before, so you need to be aware of the numerous other details associated with most contests. Bodybuilding.com has a comprehensive checklist that takes you through an entire year of getting ready for a competition. Some of the things you might not have thought of include
journaling to keep track of your progress as well as your mental/emotional state
picking your posing-wear
learning what poses are mandatory and working them into a routine
taking pictures of yourself a couple of times each week throughout the year
It would also be helpful to get with someone who has experience competing or judging the type of show you will be entering. They can help evaluate your physique and give advice on weak areas you need to work on.
A lot of the time, it’s lack of knowledge that stands in the way of reaching fitness goals no matter what they are from trying to lose weight to building muscle. Hiring a personal trainer is one way to get direct access to the knowledge and experience you need, but have you thought about attending a fitness conference?
Every year, different fitness organizations from IDEA Health and Fitness Association to the American College of Sports Medicine to World Spinning and Sports Conditioning hold 3 to 4-day conferences focusing on everything new and exciting in the fitness world. Professionals such as trainers, health club owners, aerobics instructors, and dieticians are the obvious type of people who usually go, but many conferences, such as the one hosted by the WSSC, allow anyone to attend. As long as you’re registered, you can take in as many lectures, demonstrations, or workshops as you want to. With all that knowledge and insight, you’ll be more prepared than ever to reach your goals.
What Can I Learn?
You can learn practically everything you’ve always wanted to know about health and fitness at a conference, depending on which one(s) you attend. The Spinning Experience expo centers around spinning and conditioning classes, so you’ll get to try out the newest spinning, Zumba, and other classes. Others, such as the ACSM Summit offer a number of lectures and workshops in addition to workouts and personal training classes. If you opt for ACSM’s Summit, you can learn about nutrition trends, designing diets, and weight management along with exercise as medicine, as well as how to promote health and wellness at work.
How Do I Find a Conference?
Finding the perfect fitness conference could be just a flew mouse-clicks away.
There are a ton of ways to find a fitness conference, starting with an Internet search. If you are looking for a specific type of conference, such as one that focuses on Jiu Jitsu, be sure to include that in your search. If finding a conference close to you is important, look for ones in your state or states nearby. Maybe you’d like to make a holiday out of it and travel to an exotic location–that’s fine because many conference promoters enjoy holding their expos in Hawaii or the Caribbean.
Alternatively, you can talk to local health and fitness professionals to see which conferences they are aware of. Doctors, dieticians, personal trainers, and even PE teachers have the inside scoop on upcoming events because they are on all the mail lists. Even if the person you talk to won’t be attending, you can still find out the when, where, and who to contact for a conference you’re interested in.
What if it Changes Your Life?
You could find an entirely new career at a fitness expo.
Well, it should. If you are serious about attending a fitness conference, you’re at least going with the goal in mind to get back on track with health and fitness. You may come away with a whole new direction for your life, though. A seminar on personal training might inspire you to become a personal trainer. A vigorous conditioning class might make you want to teach similar ones at a local gym or in your own studio. You may even become interested enough in sports medicine or nutrition to go back to school and get a degree that could open doors to an entirely new career. Even people who are already in the health and fitness industry have come away from a conference motivated to embark on an exciting new path that benefits others as well as themselves.
If this describes your failed attempts at controlling your weight long-term, you’re not alone. It’s a disheartening sequence that most people have experienced. Would it surprise you to know that it’s those crash diets that can cause weight gain? Restricting calories has a negative effect on metabolism that makes your body want to hold onto stored energy. In fact, your body will fight harder against weight loss than it will against excessive gain. While a stringent diet may be effective for short-term weight loss, it will also be short-lived.
Your Metabolism Plays a Part
Your metabolism is a process that describes how efficiently your body burns calories. The fact that you burn calories just by being alive is one that largely gets overlooked. Your organs burn calories by functioning, and the amount that’s utilized even if you were to sit inert 24 hours a day is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). The surprising thing is that your BMR burns anywhere between 60 and 80 percent of the total calories your body uses each day, depending on how efficient it is. Naturally, a range of different factors go into determining what each individual’s BMR is, but you can get a pretty good idea of what yours is by using a BMR calculator.
Additionally, you’ll use another 10 percent breaking down, digesting, and absorbing food. So, that’s a total of 70 to 90 percent of your calorie use burned on just “being.” Sounds like good news, right? It can be, but remember that in order to avoid weight gain, your metabolism has to burn all the calories you take in and to lose weight, it has to use more calories than you take in. The disappointing part is that you don’t have much control over your metabolism. Exercise and some foods can increase your overall calorie burn, but it’s difficult to speed up your BMR.
It can be hard to speed up your metabolism, but researchers have found that things like hormone imbalances and aging can slow it down. Plus, severe calorie restriction tends to slow it down, too. Scientists from the National Institutes of Health interviewed contestants from The Biggest Loser immediately after they completed their challenge and again 6 years later. The goal was to see how their drastic weight loss had affected their metabolisms and if they’d been able to keep the weight off. The research findings showed that most of the contestants (13 out of 14) re-gained a considerable amount of weight after their dramatic losses. Plus, four of them ended up weighing more than they had before appearing on the show. ☹
Neuroscientists believe the phenomenon is due to our bodies having a “set point,” a comfort zone that your body believes your weight should fall into, no matter what you’d like to weigh. If you cut your caloric intake drastically, your body will slow down the metabolism to keep you near that set point and to prevent you from dropping too much weight.
A Glimmer of a Silver Lining
Keep in mind that it’s when you lose weight with a crash diet or extremely low-calorie eating plan that you are more likely to kick your body into that “set point” mode. A modest reduction in calories coupled with an increase in physical activity (yes, we mean exercise) doesn’t tend to make your BMR drop. That means gradual weight loss (dropping 1 to 2 pounds per month) is a better plan that will stick long-term. The goal is to ease your body toward burning a moderate amount of calories more than it takes in so that it has a chance to get comfortable with a new set point.
Yep, admittedly that’s a bummer for those of us who want it all off now. But an uncomfortable truth for most is that successful long-term weight loss means making lifestyle changes. Things like:
adjusting portion sizes—pay attention to how you feel after eating half your dinner, for instance. You might be surprised to find that you feel sated and don’t need to clean your plate. It’s a way to cut calories without actually counting them.
weigh yourself weekly—frequent weighing has been proven to help with weight loss because having an actual number acts as an incentive to keep going.
exercise often—even walking daily counts toward physical activity. But remember: the more intense the activity, the more calories you will burn.
don’t skip breakfast—breaking the fast has shown to help keep weight off because it reassures your body you aren’t going to starve it away from its set point.
Commit to cultivating just these few good weight loss habits for…well, forever. They’re all fairly small, simple changes anyone can make. None are life-altering in themselves but, over time, they can affect your weight and your health in better ways than a crash diet can.
When you have a sweet tooth, having to forgo your favorite treats is torture if you’re trying to lose weight. The good news is that there are a number of sweet things you can snack on that won’t work against you. In fact, there are some that will actually help with your weight loss goal. How awesome is that? This Valentine’s Day, satisfy your craving for something sweet and still stay on track for losing weight.
If your downfall is sweet and crunchy snacks, honey roasted almonds will be your go-to treat. The almonds provide protein and fiber, both of which are essential for weight loss. The weight loss secret to this treat, however, is in the honey. A study in the Journal of American Nutrition found that honey has an appetite-suppressing effect, so you’ll feel satisfied faster and won’t feel hungry again for awhile.
No, not chili cherries–these are frozen, not spicy, and will help you lose weight because they’re low in calories and full of fiber, according to LIVESTRONG. An important part of this snack is to freeze the cherries. That will encourage you to eat them slower (no one likes brain-freeze!) plus, Prevention says that it makes them taste like an Italian ice.
Skim Milk Shake
Substitute half of the milk in a protein shake with cold coffee for a tasty sweet snack with a kick.
There’s a reason supplement companies build their products around sweet-tasting foods, and that’s to help you trick yourself into eating what you should while enjoying it. It’s the enjoying it part that some drop the ball on, but there are a few protein shake mixes out there that taste great. Beverly International‘s chocolate and rocky road Ultimate Muscle Protein shakes are good examples. Mixed with a cup of skim milk, both taste rich and decadent, giving you a real chocolate milk or milkshake experience while sneaking in necessary protein and nutrients. As you know, eating protein helps curb your appetite plus it actually burns calories to digest it, so you get a two-fer when you opt for a protein shake.
Want an energy-boosting trick to enhance a cardio session for more fat burning? Mix the Muscle Provider with 1/2 cup of skim milk and 1/2 cup of cold coffee left over from breakfast. It will taste like a Frappucino, and the caffeine in the coffee will give you the oomph you need for an effective workout.
Berries and Yogurt
Don’t confuse this snack with yogurt that comes with the fruit in the bottom. Buy your own fresh berries and mix them into a cup of Greek yogurt yourself.
Opt for Greek-style yogurt for this snack to cash in on the extra protein. It doesn’t hurt, either that the yogurt will provide healthy bacteria to keep your digestive system working optimally for weight loss. The berries bring the actual “loss” factor to the table. Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that the anthocyanins in strawberries, blueberries, and many other berries stop your body from storing fat.
Chia Seed Pudding
Throw some berries in with a basic chia seed pudding to get the added weight loss benefits the fruit provides.
Chia seeds’ secret weapon is that they’re high in fiber, so they’ll fill you up and keep you feeling full. In fact, according to Healthline, just 2 tablespoons contain almost 40 percent of your daily fiber needs. They are a bit heavy on calories for such a small amount, but that shouldn’t matter if you stick to one serving and factor it into your total daily calorie count. A simple recipe for the sweetly satisfying pudding is to mix coconut or almond milk with chia seeds and a splash of vanilla and let it sit overnight in the fridge. Alternatively, DailyBurn has a collection of chia seed pudding recipes to appease your sweet tooth.
Don’t Forget Chocolate!
Dark chocolate seems to offer the most health benefits, but lighter versions still have healthy side effects such as improving memory and fighting inflammation.
Valentine’s Day and Chocolate go hand-in-hand–can you really have one without the other? The good news is that you don’t have to, even if you’re working on a fitness and weight loss resolution. According to Prevention, chocolate is healthier than we’ve traditionally been led to believe. Moderately indulging in chocolate offers benefits ranging from improved memory to lowering bad cholesterol, keeping blood vessels healthy, and reducing your risk for diabetes. A good, quality chocolate, in general, should provide the positive results you’re looking for in a healthy sweet treat, but dark chocolate appears to be associated with the most health benefits, including aiding weight loss. It’s been found to cause you to feel full faster and longer and also reduces how much carbs and fats you digest and absorb.
Athletes often aren’t given much credit for their intellectual prowess, but the most successful ones rely heavily on their brains to reach their goals and achieve success. An article1 in Flex points out that, although Arnold Schwarzenegger is famous for his physique, it was his brain that pushed him past his peers and propelled him to success in many areas. Mohammed Ali is another ideal example of a successful athlete who used his brain to convince himself that he was the greatest–and the results of his mind-over-muscle “experiment” are well-documented in the annals of sports history.
Although there are basic, common factors for reaching a fitness goal, whether it’s losing weight or building muscle, Shape points out that there is no one best way for anyone because everyone has a different physical makeup and genetics. However, we all have brains and, even the smartest ones typically can’t differentiate the fine line between real and imagination. So, if you’ve been struggling to lose weight or gain muscle and nothing seems to make a difference, put your brain to work.
You Can’t Argue With Results
Picture yourself stronger than ordinary, and you will become stronger than ordinary.
Some may scoff at visualization as a fitness tool, but research and anecdotal evidence have proven over and over that it works. Studies on using visualization with weight training, for example, have consistently shown significant increases in strength when participants visualized exercises before performing them. Additionally, people have lost hundreds of pounds using visualization. On the Huffington Post website, Stephen Mariani chronicled his visualization weight loss journey that took him from 475 pounds down to 184–that’s some significant weight loss, people!
Visualization is One Part of the Plan
Visualization delivers the best results when you use it along with a diet and/or exercise, depending on what your goal is.
You will probably see some progress using visualization alone, but people who have lost weight the quickest or who have gained the most strength use it along with other proven techniques, specifically diet and exercise. Sure, it might feel good to increase your strength by 15 percent or lose 5 pounds in a month, but wouldn’t it be more satisfying to have a strength increase of over 50 percent, or lose over 30 pounds in 30 days? Those aren’t imaginary numbers. They are actual, attainable goals if you combine visualization with a new or existing fitness regimen.
See Yourself Fit
Just as with any weight loss or strength building technique, consistency is the key to thinking yourself thin or strong.
Getting your brain to cooperate in your weight loss plan or muscle-building objective may be the hardest thing you’ve ever tried to do. You’ll have to be disciplined enough to block out everything else for several minutes at a time, several times a day. David Hamilton, Ph.D., a doctor of chemistry who is also a mind-power specialist, reveals in one successful weight-loss-through-visualization story that the subject was visualizing five times a day. She wasn’t just thinking about it that often, but actually shutting out all outside distractions and imagining little Pac Man-like creatures nibbling away at her fat cells. Other people have successfully dieted down their weight by picturing themselves eating smaller, healthier meals and imagined how full and satisfied they felt afterward. If five times in one day doesn’t seem doable, give two or three times a try, setting a timer for 5 minutes each time. First thing in the morning, before you get out of bed, and last thing at night, before you go to sleep, are often perfect times when nothing else will interfere.
How can you doubt a technique that worked so well for Arnold? Image via BestClips/YouTube
Visualizing for strength-gains can be done several times a day, but doing it right before and even during your workout is a sure-fire way to get quicker results. See yourself easily lifting more than you currently lift, even if it’s just 5 to 10 pounds heavier. Then, while you’re actually doing an exercise, concentrate on your muscles, visualizing them growing and getting stronger. It’s the technique used by the Terminator himself, and there’s no denying that it worked for him.
1FLEX, “Mental Muscle,” Joe Weider’s FLEX, November 2016, 38.