No, We Shouldn’t Tolerate Hate Speech

I have been silent on the protests that happened in Charlottesville, mostly because I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts into something more coherent that doesn’t outright spew obscenities at the people involved, the ones clearly on the wrong side of history because we’ve already decided that racism is a bad thing. In fact, I’ve been too silent about a many great deal of things, all because I didn’t want to stir the pot, so to speak.

When I think about it, it’s silly.

Change always happens from someone willing to stir the pot.

ON OUR PRESIDENT

The only thing I’m going to say about our president is that if he truly wanted to condemn the people in these protests, he should have been much more blunt instead of dancing around the issue with vague rhetoric. I don’t know if he’s trying to keep from angering his base, which does consist of white supremacists, but at this point, he shouldn’t care. His vague rhetoric just makes the alt-right think he’s on their side. After all, look at Mitt Romney. He wasn’t afraid to condemn these Nazis and KKK cowards. So why the hell has Trump not bluntly spoken out that he does not identify with white supremacists?

ON BLM AND ANTIFA

I’m also not going to discuss BLM or Antifa in-depth. The fact that these groups even decided they needed to exist is a symptom of a much larger problem. If POC feel oppressed and state that they feel oppressed, everyone else should shut their mouths and stop denying their experiences, especially people who retort by saying, ‘I’m still waiting on my white privilege card,’ and ‘Slavery was forever ago. Get over it!’ and ‘Be grateful for everything you have today! It was given to you by a white person.’ Drop the bullshit and listen to the people who are trying to tell you their stories of times they did not feel safe being a POC in America.

I will finish my point by saying that BLM cannot be classified as a hate group because it was not started with hateful intentions, despite there being extremist sects, just as there are in any freaking group that has ever existed in the history of humanity with its own ideology. However, the Nazis and the KKK were started purely to oppress groups of people they didn’t/don’t like. Not because they wanted rights that everyone else gets to have.

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So why am I using a fitness blog to talk about this? A blog post by Chrissy King made me realize I do need to speak up about it. After all, although my job is primarily fitness, primarily putting people through exercises to obtain their goals, I also deal with all sorts of people from different backgrounds with different opinions, views, and mindsets. Do I speak politics with my clients? No. But I do with gym members who may casually bring them up. Has anyone asked me about how I feel about the protests? No, but I want something to point to in case they do ask. Plus, a blog is a platform. If my tiny little opinion can help someone better understand something, then I’ve done my job.

The Unite the Right Rally was started because groups of people wanted to protest the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials from public spaces. While we can view this as a move to not erase a part of our American history, every person who attended this rally was a KKK member, a Nazi, a white supremacist–the labels don’t even matter because they’re all the same and all believe in the same damn thing: preservation of the white race because of a laughably false belief that we’re being oppressed into extinction.

Frankly, I don’t give a crap if white people don’t exist in the far-flung future. That just means we willingly decided multiculturalism was not a bad thing and that the color of our skin doesn’t erase our heritage. These people are simply threatened because they know minorities get the short end of the stick at times, and they’re terrified of experiencing just that. They want to be the only ones who can oppress, the only ones who can make other people ashamed to be themselves. They’re afraid they won’t be at the top of the food chain anymore.

ON THE TOPIC OF PRIDE

Do you know why white pride is bullshit? Because we know where we came from. I know there is Irish and Scottish in my family. My last name, Forbes, is enough. I can have pride in heritage; however, blacks brought to this country were whitewashed, and I can guarantee you that without an ancestry DNA test, a great deal of them are not going to be able to tell you what’s in their blood. They’re not going to be able to tell you if their Nigerian or Congolese, unless they actually immigrated to America from another country.

And even if they could tell you what’s in their blood, why should they not have black pride? Our country treated them horrifically for a greater part of our history, and I interpret black pride as a way to reclaim blackness as something that was never inferior to begin with. They were never oppressed because of their heritage. They were always oppressed simply based on the fact that their skin just happens to be several shades darker.

If you’re offended by black pride, you really need to reevaluate what you find so offensive about taking pride in something that was once deemed genetically inferior cause “reasons.”

Let’s also stop bringing up how blacks owned slaves too. That did not happen in our country! What happened in other countries has zilch to do with what happened here, even if blacks in other countries were complicit in selling their own off to slave owners in America. The fact is that blacks, POC in general, were disenfranchised for a greater part of our history, and that whites, particularly males, for a greater part of our history, had the ability to do what POC couldn’t do: vote, own property, get an education.

How dare you try to play devil’s advocate by crying that blacks owned slaves too.

ON THE TOPIC OF MONUMENTS

I don’t have a fully formed opinion yet on the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials. On the one hand, I don’t really care because the Confederates were a group of treasonous people anyway. On the other hand, the people condemning the removal never want to condemn our modern day Confederates consisting of the groups of people I mentioned above. They pay lip service by claiming they think racism and the like is wrong, but they’re much more passionate about condemning the other side, the people who want to oppose these racists, like BLM.

They always want to talk about how the other side is filled with hypocrites, but they don’t stop to think why the other side feels like it needs to exist. If BLM feels the need to chant that black lives matter because they otherwise don’t feel like they matter, shut up and listen to why they feel this way. Stop erasing them by chanting all lives matter. Stop crying that blue lives matter; cops aren’t a race of people.

ON THE TOPIC OF HATE SPEECH 

So now on to the heart of the matter. What happened at the Unite the Right Rally was just appalling. This rally was really just an excuse for a bunch of hateful people to gather and publicize their hatred because in America we don’t believe in limiting anyone’s speech, no matter how abhorrent it may be.

But guess what? Hate speech should not be tolerated. We should not be constantly told to tolerate hate speech, or else we’re just as bad as they are. You kick a dog enough times, it will turn around and bite, and, unfortunately, we put the dog down instead of analyzing what provoked it.

We wring our hands and try to take the moral high ground when protests like this turn violent because the other side decided to show up; however, words are never just words because plenty of words have brought about some pretty horrific actions. So don’t act morally superior when someone decides to, for example, punch a Nazi in the face for expressing racist and anti-Semitic attitudes. After all, if you only come out of the woodwork to condemn the person who punched the Nazi in the face, you are otherwise complicit in what these sorts of people stand for. If you are not, speak up before it gets to the point where someone feels like they have to punch a Nazi in the face.

We can say violence begets violence, but I know for many, it can be constantly exhausting taking the high road, when taking the high road oftentimes does absolutely nothing to address the actual issue. If you’ve been watching Game of Thrones, you’ll know Dany is tired of taking the high road because it has thus far gotten her nowhere. I don’t think her current solution was that great, but she is the dog that has been kicked enough times. And oftentimes when people implore others to take the high road, it means ignoring the issue.

I know this could bring upon a slippery slip, demanding that hate speech not be tolerated because it incites violence. It’s a radical idea, right? After all, telling someone you hate pineapple could garner you a punch to the face if a person is in a pissed-off enough mood to be easily offended by pineapple haters. But that isn’t hate speech because pineapple is not a protected class of fruit.

Here is how hate speech is defined by Merriam-Webster: “speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people.”

Here’s another definition from Wikipedia:  “[it] attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender.”

That’s pretty cut and dry.

I’m not advocating for jailing people who express hate speech. I’m advocating for a society that doesn’t give a platform to it. Unite the Right never should have been given permits to protest. They never should have been given any type of power that emboldened them enough to feel like they could come out, not mince words, and be openly hateful about those different from them.

We need to stop giving these people power by arguing how we should be tolerant of hate speech. It’s gross.

I will give the benefit of the doubt that no one knew exactly what Unite the Right would be. It seemed like it was originally supposed to be a mere protest about removing Confederate monuments and memorials. So, frankly, I don’t know what the solution is to preventing hate speech from being given the ability to even breed.

All I know is we need to stop defending hate speech as some sort of God-given right, because the people so adamant about protecting it as a form of free speech, the people so adamant that they’re good people because they’re not racists/sexists/bigots/whatever, never EVER speak up when it matters most. They only speak up when they have some moral  hand-wringing to do because, say, a black person did something that supports their idea that all races do shitty, horrible things to one another. Or when they feel like playing devil’s advocate in a situation that does not warrant one.

People who espouse hate speech do not deserve neither empathy nor sympathy.

FUN FACT! You’re not a good person because you say you are. You’re not a good person because you’re a good parent who would never raise their children to be hateful. You’re not a good person because you could never imagine being part of a hate group. You’re not a good person because you condemn violence in any form. Your goodness is determined by your actions, and if you only ever speak up when it fits your narrative that both sides are just as bad, you cannot call yourself a truly good person. 

I am setting the bar fairly high for what it means to be a good person. After all, we’re all flawed. We all make mistakes. Our mistakes shouldn’t define us. I’m not even claiming to wear the mantel of “good person.” But in my 27 years of life, I’m learning that the most opinionated people, the people who suffer a severe form of cognitive dissonance, will never change their views, no matter what supporting information you give them. You can tell them that 3+3 is 6, and they’ll find a study that says it’s 7 from a website called support3plus3equals7.com. They’re incredibly tone deaf. They don’t even grasp the concept of cognitive dissonance.

These people try to justify their goodness, but they’re deaf to anything that contradicts their current beliefs. These are not good people. These are people who will tell you to take the high road–without offering solutions. These are people who will tell you both sides are bad when one side started it by throwing Nazi salutes. The other side would have never shown up otherwise. These are people who, in their whinging about both sides being just as bad, NEVER offer solutions to prevent the clash in the first place. They’re just there because it makes them feel like morally superior people who can go to bed at the end of the day believing they did something good because they spoke up and said both sides did bad things and they themselves would never do those bad things or advocate doing bad things.

Here’s the solution: stop giving a platform for hate speech, and you won’t have to worry about violent outbreaks.

 

Strength Training’s Importance and Free Weights Versus Machines

In my experience, the average person does not understand how crucial strength training is to an exercise regimen. I can only guess why this is so:

  1. A lack of decent physical education in schools.
  2. When there is physical education, its emphasis is primarily on aerobic endurance, leading many to believe aerobic exercise is all that’s needed for optimal health.
  3. Women being lead to believe that lifting heavy will make them bulky.
  4. Active agers possibly being lead to believe they’re too fragile for weight lifting.
  5. The belief that there is a “fat burning zone,” one that is programmed into a lot of cardiovascular equipment, and that strength training is detrimental to this.
  6. A lack of decent advice from doctors when it comes to what types of exercises their patients should be engaging in.
  7. The overall lack of education when it comes to safe weight lifting in general. It’s easy to get on a treadmill and run or walk (although running is a lot more complex than people understand). It’s even harder to figure out how much you should be lifting, how many sets and repetitions you should be doing, and how long your rests between sets should be.

I totally understand there is a steep learning curve when it comes to weight lifting. Unless you’re truly passionate about lifting or are a personal trainer or in rehab, weight lifting is intimidating. The average person simply does not want to devote a lot of time to learn about programming for strength training.

Much of the people I have met who spend a lot of time with free weights and practice good and safe technique are either passionate about weight lifting, had a trainer in the past, are athletes or did athletics with emphasis on weight lifting as cross-training, or had someone experienced in weight lifting teach them (usually a spouse or a friend).

My point is that the average person, without any of the caveats above, is going to flounder in the free weights. They’ll either touch the free weights once or never again or look like the people in GymFuckery–though not always this extreme.

So it’s hard to convince someone entirely new to weight lifting that strength training is a necessity for optimal health. While we as trainers do orientations for the machines and give out formulaic advice (do 1 set of 12 for every body part or 3 sets of 12 or whatever), most people still gravitate toward group classes because, for one, group classes come with a membership, and for another, they don’t want to bother themselves with thinking about what they need to do, even though the machines are really easy to use.

Sure, they can learn a lot about safe weightlifting technique in a group class, but group classes often emphasize light weights, as lifting heavy in a group setting without one-on-one attention poses a risk.

Yet, the formulaic advice we give is still enough for most people to gain some lean mass and maintain it. But even with most people knowing this, they still may not understand why they need to do it, so I’m going to tell you why you needn’t dismiss strength training, and why even the most basic advice can get you started on the right track.

(If I hear one more woman complain that she’s going to bulk up or one more man talking about how he started losing weight when he dropped the strength training in favor of doing purely cardio, I’m going to hold a public stoning with dumbbells.)

Let’s break it down.

  1. Strength train to preserve lean mass. According to Haff and Triplett (2016), “after age 30 there is a decrease in the cross-sectional areas of individual muscles, along with a decrease in muscle density, reductions in tendon compliance, and an increase in intramuscular fat” (p. 148). In simpler turns, if you’re not keeping up with a program of strength training, you’re going to lose muscle mass. And you’re going to gain fat. A loss in muscle mass thus increases your risk of injury, particularly as you age. A fall at 65 could result in a broken hip if you’re not either building or preserving lean mass. And a loss in muscle mass can make it difficult to get up off the floor. For those who are young, this seems like a far, impossible future, but even strength at a young age can prevent many serious injuries.
  2. To increase or maintain bone mineral content. With a resultant loss in muscle mass, there is also a loss in bone mineral density, making your bones weaker and much more susceptible to fractures. A bone that is exposed to loads is much more likely to adapt to said loads by becoming stronger. And body weight alone generally isn’t enough. Since many group classes are either body weight or body weight with light weights, the stimulus is too weak to allow any meaningful adaptation. This is why resistance training is crucial (Heath). I had a grandmother who broke her hip while in a nursing home and was much too frail to have surgery to repair it. They didn’t give her long, but she lived a couple of years with this hip. I think about this and realize I don’t want to fracture my hip should I fall in old age. That alone is enough to convince me I need to keep lifting weights.
  3. An increase in metabolic activity. The more lean mass you have, the more calories you’re going to burn (Andrews). Muscle mass is much more metabolically active than fat mass, as your body must burn more calories to maintain muscle tissue. I love to look it this way: the more calories I burn, the more I get to eat. And who doesn’t want an excuse to eat more?
  4. It just feels good to be strong. This alone is enough of an incentive for me to strength train. I love knowing I don’t have to make as many trips when unloading groceries because I’m strong enough to carry several loads into the house. While I hate picking up after people who don’t put their weights up, I love knowing I can put up an 80 lb. dumbbell without requiring anyone’s help. We have to pick up and carry stuff all the time. Being stronger just makes it easier, and why wouldn’t you want to make things as easy as possible? Wouldn’t you love to avoid throwing your back out because your lack of strength made it difficult to pick up a box?

So now that I’ve hopefully convinced you of strength training’s importance, let’s break down the difference between machines and free weights and why you don’t want to become reliant on machines long-term.

Frankly, if I had my own gym, I’d have very few machines. I wouldn’t get rid of all of them, as some of them are fantastic for activating underactive muscles, such as the hamstrings in a leg curl exercise. Yet, even in a rehab setting (I was a physical therapy aide for a little bit), you’re going to see primarily a lot of work with bands and body weight and free weights and balancing devices, like bosu balls; thus, a lot of exercises that force patients to work both their core and stabilizing muscles.

If someone’s doing bicep curls for their tennis elbow, a PT isn’t going to have them using a machine: they’re going to have them use either free weights or have them do cable bicep curls, which really force the core and stabilizing muscles to work.

Even in patients with knee problems I never saw the PTs and PTAs being overly reliant on the leg press and leg extension machines. Much of it is still body weight.

In any case, here are some of the perceived benefits of machines:

  1. They’re easy to use, generally require minimal instruction, and anyone can use them with minimal risk of injury. Free weights can increase the risk of injury if you’re not careful.
  2. They are decent for very deconditioned individuals and are good for quickly increasing strength in said individuals. For sedentary individuals, it doesn’t take much to ramp up the heart rate, so free weights might be overwhelming at first.
  3. You can lift heavier without assistance, so these can be great finishers for certain types of workouts, such as ones with the singular goal of really building muscle mass for aesthetic reasons.
  4. They are very efficient for isolating muscles, especially ones that are underactive. For example, my hip impingement caused my hamstrings to be underactive, so the leg curl machine was great for activating them and getting them stronger. Squats and lunges alone would not have done that.

Okay, so while these are all benefits, you don’t want to forever stay married to machines. I see the same people day in and day out using the exact same machines every single time when they’re in the gym with zero progression to using actual free weights. And I know it’s because the machines are easy to use, but they’re just not truly functional. While I understand the term “functional” gets thrown around a lot, muscles never work in isolation.

Let’s back up a little bit and talk about the human movement system. According to Clark et al., “The HMS consists of the muscular system (functional anatomy), the skeletal system (functional biomechanics), and the nervous system (motor behavior)” (2014, p. 7). All of the systems must function together to make the human body an efficient machine. They can’t function in isolation; muscles cannot function in isolation. Sure, you can do leg curls all day, but it’s not training you to efficiently squat. It’s just training you to curl weight, which isn’t something you do during your day-to-day movement.

(The only people who can get away with using machines long-term are bodybuilders, as they can use these as finishers in a workout to thoroughly exhaust their muscles with minimal risk of injury.)

So here are the disadvantages of machines along with why free weights are king:

  1. Isolating muscles doesn’t teach those muscles how to function with the rest of the body. Plus, you’re generally training these muscles in only one plane of movement; the human body is innately designed to function in more than just one plane. Eventually, I had to pull myself away from the leg curl and start doing bodyweight exercises that allowed my hamstrings to integrate with the rest of my body. This meant doing exercises that targeted the hamstrings but also forced me to use my core and stabilizing muscles to keep my balance. As a result, I was able to move on to squats and lunges and actually feel my hamstrings working when, before, it was my quads doing all of the work. Doing leg curls alone would not have taught my hamstrings how to get along with all the other muscles in my body.
  2. You’re sitting your entire workout by using only machines. We sit so much throughout the day to begin with, and then we head on over to the gym to sit some more while isolating muscles and being gifted with the false sense of working hard when we’re not. You don’t have to use your core to maintain your balance and your stabling muscles don’t have to kick in to ensure both postural alignment and correct form.
  3. Machines are giving you a false sense of strength. Take the leg press, for example. You’re a deconditioned individual who can easily press 100 lbs., and while that seems impressive, it’s not. You’re probably someone who weighs a lot more than 100 lbs., so when you actually try bodyweight squats, you struggle to not only do them well but to get out 12 repetitions. When you’re on the leg press, you’re pushing against weight without having to fight neither gravity nor your own body weight.
  4. They’re simply not functional. Going back to the leg press, when are you ever going to find yourself in a situation where you’re seated having to push up against a set amount of weight? Rarely, if ever. However, you’re always goint to squat in some way to sit down or pick up something or whatever. Machines aren’t going to teach you how to properly do this, but bodyweight and free weights will.
  5. There is a lack of full range of motion because these machines, particularly the damning Smith machine, lock you in with a particular set range. Free weights, on the other hand, remove this barrier and allow you to really work these muscles.
  6. There is a lack of variety in exercises. The machines you see at your gym are generally the same machines at every commercial gym out there. But with free weights, there is almost an endless amount of variety to not only keep your workouts interesting but to keep pumping out novel stimuli for your muscles.
  7. If you’re so reliant on machines, you’re going to be at a complete loss of what to do if all of these machines are taken up one day at the gym and you’re left with nothing, or you can’t afford a gym membership anymore, so you have to work out at home. The great thing about free weights is that you can pick up a few of them at some store and have them at home for a rainy day.
  8. You’re not burning as many calories using machines since only one set of muscles at a time is ever working. However, if you’re working multiple sets of muscles, your body has to burn more calories to make this happen. While nutrition is a massive part of weight loss, exercise can help you burn off extra calories you may consume, such as that extra cupcake you had for dessert. Why not make this calorie burning as efficient as possible by doing exercises that encourage the body to burn more?

As you can see, if you truly want to become strong, you’re going to have to gravitate away from the machines and move toward the free weights. Being able to leg press 100 lbs. isn’t going to teach you how to properly squat so that way you can pick up that bag of groceries off the floor. Doing a heavy machine shoulder press isn’t going to efficiently teach your core how to work the way a free weight shoulder press will. Sure, I use machines on occasion, but for the most part, you’re going to see me working with free weights and cables.

References:

Andrews, Elizabeth. “The Importance of Strength Training as You Age.” American Council on Exercise. Retrieved from http://acefitness.org

Bergeron, Stephen. (2013). “Free Weights Vs. Machines: Which is Better?” BUILTLEAN. Retrieved from http://buildlean.com

Clark, M.A, Lucett S.C., & Sutton, B. G. (Eds.). (2014). NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Haff, G.G, & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaigne, IL: Human Kinetics.

Heath, Rory. “Does strength training build stronger bones?” Strength and Conditioning  Research. Retrieved from http://strengthandconditioningresearch.com

Let’s Do a Grocery Store Tour

Unless you have a personal shopper, we all have to grocery shop at some point during any single month. Whether we choose to shop weekly or monthly, it pays to know how to actually shop, which is much more than just going into the store, throwing a few items in the cart, and paying for them.

Knowing how to actually shop not only saves you some money, but you’re also more likely to choose more healthful options. After all, grocery stores are psychologically designed to get you to spend as much money as possible–and not necessarily on the right things. Understanding how and why grocery stores are set up the way they are as well as knowing what they do to tempt you will set you on the right path to saving money and making better choices for you and perhaps your family.

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Let’s first take a look at a typical grocery store layout.

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From happyorhungry.com

Many grocery stores are roughly set up this way, with a few exceptions. Kroger, for example, has shelves set up between the produce and main aisles that are stocked with “organic” foods. They’re set up in such a way that even if you tell yourself you’re not buying organic because of the price tag, your curiosity sometimes tempts you and you end up browsing the shelves anyway. After all, there is no way to avoid this section, unless you plan to not buy any produce, which I don’t suggest.

In any case, you can see from the above picture that the more popular items, ones that make a grocery store money, flank the outer edges of the store. Going back to Kroger, particularly the large Walmart-like stores, the organic foods take up several aisles and have their own space to encourage consumers to spend more money. It’s a marketing gimmick trying to appeal to more health-conscious consumers despite organic not being any more healthful than other grocery store items. While these aisles do contain lots of gluten-free options and the like, they’re still designed to make you spend much more than what you likely planned.

Let’s look at the red X next to ‘start.’ That is typically where the entrance is to many stores. From a fitness professional’s perspective, this is a good thing, as you’re going to be browsing an area filled with healthful options. From a marketing perspective, this is good for a grocery store’s coffers since produce also tends to be pricier than packaged goods.

Many stores try to make their produce section aesthetically pleasing to encourage consumers to browse. And if you’re mindlessly browsing, you’re also going to mindlessly spend more money. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing. Better to spend more money on produce than junk food, right? Certainly, but you may also end up buying too much produce that ends up going to waste. This is why it’s important to always come to the grocery store with an action plan.

Continuing onward, you can see that besides produce, there’s also seafood, the deli, the bakery, and the meat and dairy sections, which are also massive money makers for any grocery chain. The path of the red line on the picture shows the route most consumers take. And, you guessed it, the path takes them by the more expensive groceries first.

Now these do tend to be the more healthful options, but the bakery set up in the corner also sells lots of options that are not so healthful–namely cakes, cupcakes, tarts, certain breads, ect. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to appease your sweet tooth on occasion, but if you go into the grocery store hungry, you might end up buying one too many baked goods.

Now lets look at the blue aisles. These contain lots of prepackaged, processed foods. If you’re not savvy, you’ll end up stocking up on lots of options that may contain too much sodium, sugar, and possible fats, like partially hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats. Some fitness and nutrition professionals advise to avoid these aisles entirely. However, if you actually take the time to look at nutrition labels, you can find options that are good for you.

Let’s look at one now.

 

nutrition-facts-label
From heb.com

Knowing what to look out for on a nutrition label can help you make sound choices when choosing certain packaged goods.

Let’s start at the serving sizes. Many people–and I am no exception–tend to consume more than what the recommended serving size is. For example, a serving size of ice cream is generally 1/2 a cup, but most people eat much more than that. Depending on the type of ice cream, 1/2 a cup is going to be 200 or more calories. And, again, since many people consume much more than that, you might end up eating 400 or more calories. This is why it’s so important to pay attention to serving sizes.

You might buy a smallish bag of chips that says it contains 200 calories, but that bag may contain two servings; thus, it’s really 400 calories if you’re not careful with how much you’re consuming. So if you’re going to buy a few treats, try to purchase treats that come in separate baggies to help with portion control.

However, if you’re someone who still consumes too many sweets despite a food company’s attempts to help with portion control, avoid buying any at all. You’re better off stocking up on fruit to sate your sweet tooth.

The % Daily Value on the label is important to pay attention to. Some packaged goods contain a lot of sodium and saturated fats to extend the shelf lives of certain goods. 20% is considered high, so you’ll want to avoid products that contain that much. The parts of the label colored purplish-blue are nutrients you want to get enough of. A product that contains more than 3 grams of fiber is generally considered a high fiber product.

There are also foods fortified with vitamins and minerals. Some sugary cereals are fortified with them. If you struggle with getting in enough vitamins and minerals for whatever reason, it’s okay to get a box or two.

When I’m looking at the sugar content of any single food product, I always look at what those sugars are attached to. If there’s enough good stuff in the product, and as long as it’s not loaded with saturated fats or even peppered with trans fats, I have no qualms about purchasing said product. Some days call for a quick meal, and packaged products provide that.

One tip I’m going to throw out there is that if you have a child with you, avoid catering to their demands. This sounds obvious, but if you really look at products marketed to children, you’ll notice these products come in colorful, attractive boxes designed to appeal to them. Before you know it, your child is running up to a shelf, grabbing a box, and throwing it into the cart without your noticing.

 

Kids’ television stations are loaded with commercials marketing all sorts of unhealthy food products. A child who sees Gushers advertised on cable television is more likely to want Gushers when out grocery shopping with parents.

Now that we’re through with much of the grocery store, we can take a look at the checkout. While the very first graphic doesn’t show it, many checkouts contain displays of candies and other processed food items. This is another way they encourage you to spend more. Avoid browsing these at all costs.

Here’s some quick shopping tips to make your grocery store experience much easier:

  1. Create a grocery list. Writing down what you need increases the likelihood that you’ll adhere to only those products.
  2. Buy mostly whole grains. The bread aisle tends to be in the aisles marked in blue. Look at bread products that contain more than 3 grams of fiber. A product may be marketed as whole grain or whole wheat, but a single serving may contain only 1 gram of fiber.
  3. Purchase mostly lean meats. Lean meats contain less saturated and trans fats and more of the good fats, such as poly- and monounsaturated.
  4. Compartmentalize your list. Divide your grocery list into produce, meat, dairy, grain products, frozen foods, boxed goods, and condiments to prevent you from having to return to certain aisles because you missed something.
  5. You don’t need to buy organic. The ‘Dirty Dozen’ is a myth. Organic produce contains pesticide residue as well, and it’s the dose that makes the toxin anyway. Even if you didn’t wash your produce, you still wouldn’t be consuming enough pesticides for the amount to be harmful. The only thing organic produce does is empty your wallet of much-needed cash. Plus, the produce tends to spoil faster.
  6. Stock up on containers. I try to purchase vegetables that are already in plastic containers; however, not all grocery stores sell such conveniences. Plastic containers will allow you to stock up on veggies that you can cut up and store in the fridge for later use.
  7. Last, don’t shop on an empty stomach. Even with a list, your hunger might encourage you to purchase foods you normally wouldn’t even consider if you weren’t hungry.

 

Why I Always Recommend Massage

Massage is more than soothing music, aromatic oils, and a pleasant touch. It can be an entire treatment option for tight muscles plagued by pain.

I’m astonished by the amount of clients I have who struggle with their flexibility and had trainers in the past who have never recommended massage for their chronically tight muscles. These same people will stretch and stretch and stretch and see minimal benefit.

And why is this?

Put simply, chronically tight individuals often have adhesions in the muscles (AKA, muscle knots, AKA, trigger points).  These often develop as a result of inflammation, which muscle knot“in turn activates the body’s pain receptors and initiates a protective mechanism, increasing muscle tension and causing muscle spasm” (Clark et al., 2014, p. 205). This is often the result of overuse injuries; thus, when you overuse a particular set of muscles, especially without stretching or giving those muscles a break, injury is bound to happen. A knot is considered an injury, though not one contraindicated for massage.

As a case in point, I have a client, an older male, who is a hardcore runner. He is chronically tight in all the muscles you’d expect a runner to be tight in: hip flexors, hamstrings, even muscles in the shoulders and chest. While he has been doing a stretching program for quite some time before seeing me, it’s clear said stretching program has been unsuccessful in increasing his flexibility–and it’s due to tender nodules that have built up in these muscles, indicative by the many painful spots we found while trying self-myofascial release.

The picture above is an example of what these nodules look like close up. What massage aims to do is break those nodules up and return the tissue to normal. When the nodules have been broken down, it is then possible to stretch the tissue to increase its flexibility.

Otherwise, to stretch knotted tissue is akin to stretching a string with a knot in it–the more you pull the string, the tighter the knot becomes. You may be able to stretch the surrounding tissue, bringing momentary relief, but you cannot stretch the knot out, which is why massage is so important.

Of course, you can always implement self-myofascial release strategies, but if you have a myriad of nodules, which are tender to the touch, massage is excellent for relieving you of the burden of having to do it all yourself. Plus, some tender areas are incredibly difficult to reach with self-myofascial release, so it’s very helpful to have a masseuse tackle those areas for you. (This is why I recommended my runner client to a masseuse.)

***

The first time I ever received a massage was when I was in physical therapy for my hip. I had been struggling with lower back pain on my left side, and what finally cured me of it was deep tissue massage and several sessions of self-myofascial release. I have not had any issues with my back in about a year. My PT also released other tight areas, but due to the condition of my hip, massage is a temporary relief; however, it’s been the best treatment thus far.

I also recently received a massage strictly from a massage therapist; thus, you aren’t doomed to weekly sessions of physical therapy for muscles that are simply knotted and not necessarily injured in the form of tears and inflamed tendons. (By the way, you can find a link to my masseuse’s website in the menu above.)

I went to her based on a client’s recommendation, so I recommend you do your research and ask others who have received massages from masseuses in your area.  Massage, like all professions, has its bad apples. A masseuse, for example, herniated a disc in my psychiatrist’s neck. Another masseuse caused my stylist’s co-worker to miss work due to extreme pain in her neck following the massage.

Mine was amazing and released all of the tension in my hips. I’m due to see her shortly, but I’m fairing rather well. Prior to seeing her, the tension was nagging. Now, even though I know I’m a bit tight again, it’s not so nagging thanks to her work. Her massage has allowed me to actually work out my legs without worrying about the pinching sensation that I usually feel at the front of my left thigh, right near my groin. As for squatting with a barbell without having that issue, only time will tell.

Now if you have a medical condition, such as issues with your spine or joints, it is absolutely vital that you consult your doctor before getting massage, as massage can sometimes worsen certain condition. Granted, most massage therapists are very knowledgeable about what conditions they can and cannot work with; however, a doctor’s recommendation is always valuable.

Massage is generally contraindicated for some of these conditions, although a masseuse can work around some of them:

  1. Fractures
  2. Sprains
  3. Bursitis
  4. Osteoporosis
  5. Rheumatoid arthritis in the acute stages
  6. Osteoarthritis in the acute stages
  7. Herniations
  8. Acute muscle cramps
  9. Strains (any acute injuries, like bruising)
  10. Tendonitis in the acute stage
  11. Carpal tunnel syndrome

A more exhaustive list of indications and contraindications can be found in the link above.

References:

Clark, A. M., Lucett, S. C., & Sutton, B. G. (Eds.) (2014). NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

General Council for Massage Therapists. (2006). “MT1 Principles of Cautions and Contraindications.” Retrieved from http://www.gmct.org/Portals/0/documents/Massage_Therapists_MT1_Cautions_and_Contraindications.pdf

My Journey as a Personal Trainer Part Two

If you haven’t read “Why I Became a Personal Trainer Part One,” you’ll want to start there.

Contrary to popular belief, getting a job as a trainer isn’t always easy. It certainly isn’t in Augusta, GA, where the average gym is only going to pay you, at most, 20 bucks an hour–and that’s assuming you’re training two clients every hour. Otherwise, you’re not getting paid.

The lack of jobs for trainers in this city is ridiculous. And the poor pay even more so. After all, all of the gyms in this area definitely require certifications (not all gyms do). And those certifications require continuing education credits. So if you’re not making money, getting those CECs (or CEUs) just isn’t worth it.

When I was first seeking a job as a trainer, the best I could do was starting out as a membership consultant at a small gym. Most others seemed to want experience of some sort–a department I was severely lacking in. At the time, the Y wasn’t even hiring. And even if they were, one of their caveats is that you already have experience. Same with the current gym I’m at.

Kind of hard to get experience when most gyms won’t let you shadow due to liability issues, unless you’re already an employee of that gym, which means having to settle on something that will at least allow you to get your feet wet.

Yet, being a membership consultant wasn’t all bad. I received a monthly salary plus commission based off the memberships I sold. In the meantime, I could shadow a trainer whenever I wanted. This was actually more difficult than I thought it would be considering I couldn’t shadow all of said trainer’s clients; not all of them were comfortable with someone else watching, so there were very, very few I shadowed.

Even so, I learned enough, made some mistakes along the way, and was able to adopt my own system that I could use on future clients.

So why did I not just stay there and get hired on as a trainer? A shift in management made things go downhill fast. I’m not comfortable with being overly sales-y, and this new shift in management was encouraging some pretty aggressive behavior that pushed me outside of my own ethical boundaries. Luckily, I had just gotten a job at the Y, so I wasn’t completely doomed.

Of course, I had to crush my expectations when I started the Y. Getting clients is impossible (just ask my boss and the head trainer at the gym I’m currently at, as they also once worked at the Y). The floor hours were meager–as was the floor pay. There was far less than zero incentive to sell training, as we received no commission from doing so. We just got paid per session.

Now I tried to justify this by telling myself it’s my first job and it’s about getting the experience, as apparently that’s what the Y is supposed to be for trainers. Yet, the guideline to even receive an interview was to already have experience.

Trainers have to make money too!

So I had to find a second source of income. My first gig was as a physical therapy aide, and I learned so much more from this job than I ever would have training on my own. In fact, this job is the reason I’m back in school with the aim of getting into the physical therapy assistant program.

After three months, however, a better opportunity with better pay came along, and I started working at 9Round. Of course, three months into my stint there, they declared bankruptcy and I was without a second source of income. Talk about devastating. Not only was the pay decent, but I loved the job itself and the members I trained.

That’s when I had to start my own business, and as successful as it was, the hustle was too stressful. I could see starting a business again, but I’d want to do it with a partner so that way I can share the stress.

The period between January and April was incredibly stressful and depressing for me as I struggled finding an entirely new job at an entirely new gym. I was without floor hours at the Y, and I knew I wasn’t going to get any hours any time soon. There was a surplus of trainers who shouldn’t have been hired, as there was no client demand to begin with. (There was no client demand, even when I was hired! It took me almost two months to get my first client. Where I’m at now, it took me a month to get ten clients.)

I despised the drive time, driving from one client’s place to the next. I was always getting stuck in construction traffic. I had to constantly send quotes for new clients and diligently follow up with them. Cancellations drove me nuts, as I’d be left with nothing to do for an entire day. You can’t really appreciate free time until it becomes limited, so I spent most of my time feeling unfulfilled if clients cancelled. Even though the money coming in was decent, I was miserable.

Then an opening finally came along for the Kroc Center, and the rest, as they say, is history. While I feel a little overworked thanks to school, I’d rather be in this position than being entirely underworked and feeling without a purpose. This job pays much, much better, the commission is great, the benefits are stellar, and the overall employee treatment is superb.

I could have totally given up on personal training; however, the fact that I spent so much on continuing education and so much to get my CSCS strengthened my resolve to make this career work out for me, even if I ultimately have to give it up to go into the field of physical therapy. (Really, I’d like to marry the fields of physical therapy and personal training, as they needn’t be at odds with one another.)

So I got to where I am today through the stubborn insistence that I do something with the education I personally paid for. My career is one with a high turnover, but I have no desire to be part of that statistic.

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Sleep for Better Health

Let’s talk about sleep, a necessary activity that sometimes eludes us when we need it the most. I, personally, am incredibly strict about my sleep. Because I take sleep medication thanks to insomnia, which is either its own thing or a symptom of various other issues I have, I need a two-hour lead time in order to ensure I get the eight hours of sleep I need. So if I have to be up at, let’s say, 4 AM (#gymlife for you), I go to bed at 6. I slap on my sleep mask and throw the covers over my head to darken my room.

If I don’t get the sleep that I need, I’m in a nightmarish mood. I’m cranky, angry, tired, frustrated, stressed, and downright murderous. I don’t want anything to do with anyone, and poor sleep is the only reason I ever drink coffee in the morning; thus, I try to make it a rare occurrence–but sometimes even sleep medication can’t quiet an active mind.

Unfortunately, poor sleep is a common occurrence in a society that encourages a sleepless attitude in order to get as many things done as you can. According to Business Insider, our own president gets only a few hours of sleep every night (he claims 3-4).

Apparently he can function on this, but your average person cannot. And we shouldn’t continually reinforce lack of sleep by applauding sleepless people as go-getters, like Uber drivers chasing every dollar they can get while sacrificing sleep in the process. Or people who can only catch a few hours sleep in between the 3-4 jobs they may be working. If anything, sleeplessness is a symptom of a society that doesn’t value people’s health as much as it should and only values people for the functions they can perform.

It’s a downright unhealthy attitude to have. Not to mention, believe it or not, lack of sleep can cause weight gain and make weight loss difficult.

Why is this?

According to David G. Myers et. al. (2016), “experimental sleep deprivation increases appetite and eating; our tired brains find fatty foods more enticing” (p. 95). The reason this occurs is because our bodies increase ghrelin, which increases hunger while decreasing leptin, the hormone responsible for suppressing our appetite. We’re then attracted to more calorie-dense foods and are thus more likely to overeat.

Our metabolic rates also decrease, which means we’re burning less calories. As a result of a lack of sleep, cortisol increases, encouraging the body to produce more fat.

Overall, the mere sight of food on a tired brain is enough to make us want to eat it, as we are less inhibited in our appetite thanks to poor sleep. Even worse, our bodies can’t heal from an intense exercise session without sleep, and we’re more likely to get sick and take longer to recover from an illness (p. 95).

So what can you do to improve your sleep?

  1. Set a sleep schedule. If you are able to go to bed at the same time every day, do it. We’re a habits-based species, so if something hasn’t developed as a habit yet, it’s very hard to get into whatever it is we’re trying to make a habit of. To remind yourself to go to bed at ‘x’ time, you can set an alarm that alerts you when it’s time to go to bed. It may seem obvious to go to bed when you’re tired, but sometimes we get too into our nightly activities that we don’t respect just how tired we are.
  2. Sleep masks, dark curtains, ect. If you’re one of those people who works swing shifts, it’s imperative that you find ways to get yourself to sleep. Unfortunately, our brains do not like to produce melatonin, that sleepy hormone, when the sun’s still out. You then need to darken your environment, and you may even have to take a temporary sleep aide until you can get your body used to going to bed while it’s still light outside.
  3. Sleep medication. We would all love to avoid using medication to treat every ailment we fall into, but that’s not always realistic. Sometimes medication is absolutely necessary, especially if you’ve gone three nights in a row without sleeping. I have to take medication nightly. If I don’t, nothing I do can put me to sleep. This is a case where you may have to see a doctor and get a sleep study done, especially if you’re chronically sleepless.
  4. Exercise, take warm baths, meditate, ect. Exercise is great for wearing you out, warm baths are great for relaxing you, meditating is great for unwinding, and so on and so forth. Basically, try to do something before bedtime that will allow you to relax, unwind, and empty cluttered thoughts that tend to speak to one another while you’re trying to fall asleep. And you preferably want to do this an hour before you even retreat to bed.
  5. No electronics. When you finally go to bed, do not turn on the television, don’t start up your laptop, don’t scroll on your cell phone/tablet, and eliminate anything that can be a potential distraction to falling asleep. If you’re like me, you probably count out the number of hours you have to sleep. And if you do this, you might be prone to obsessing over the time, which is why it’s important to power down all electronics to avoid the temptation of constantly checking the time. I use my cell phone as my alarm, but I keep it on the floor. I used to have a digital clock but decided to shut that thing off because I couldn’t stand waking up and finding, to my dismay, that I didn’t have long left to sleep. It’s far easier to relax when you’re ignorant of the time.
  6. Keep the light off. If you frequently wake up in the middle of the night to urinate (like I do), do not turn on your bathroom light. Go in the dark, as it’s then much easier to fall back asleep. You can have a nightlight to guide you to the bathroom, but I’d advise not turning the bathroom light on. Artificial light is enough to convince your brain that it’s any other time but nighttime. It then won’t be that easy to fall back asleep.

Overall, if you’re struggling to lose weight despite doing x, y, and z, you may just want to check your sleep habits.

Reference:

Myers, David G., & Dewall, Nathan C. (2016). Exploring Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, Macmillan Learning.

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Why I Became a Personal Trainer Part One

I honestly have no clue why I never blogged about why I became a trainer on the old website that was with Weebly. I think I was spending so much time trying to figure out just what I wanted to blog about that simple topics like this eluded me. Now that I feel more put together, I think it’s time for me to join the sea of voices who have also told their stories over why they became trainers. It’s a rewarding field to get into, even though it is a difficult one to succeed in.

***

In the winter of 2015, I developed anorexia nervosa as a result of the snowball effect that was currently my life. Within that snowball was an enormous stressor–essentially a rock someone decided to stick inside said snowball. The flakes were smaller stressors, but, nonetheless, they were ones that fell from a blizzard. I may one day talk about just what that rock was, but I wanted to disappear.

I remember stepping on the scale one day, as I hadn’t been eating as much due to heartburn my Zoloft was giving me. I saw I weighed 112 lbs., which was the lowest I had weighed in a while. And I thought to myself, ‘I’m not even hungry and I lost all that weight? Sign me up!’ Of course, the development of this disorder wasn’t as simple as I’m making it seem, but I took advantage of my lack of appetite to start dropping weight.

Flash forward to a few months later, and I was in the 90s.

To put things in perspective, I currently weigh 123 lbs., and that’s not even my normal weight. That’s a photo shoot-cut weight.

I eventually ended up in the ER with severe dehydration from laxative abuse and was thus admitted to a psychiatric ward for four days in order to put on weight–which I did. My recovery wasn’t difficult at all. I just needed something that would force me to eat again, that would give me permission to eat again. After all, if I didn’t eat while in recovery, they’d either intubate me or keep me longer. Regardless, I was going to have to put some weight on. No use fighting the process.

I also wasn’t in so deep that I couldn’t get out. That’s why recovery was smooth going for me. I had gotten to the point where I was binging anyway because I was so starved. I’d eat so much that I couldn’t stop until my stomach was painfully full. Then I’d purge until I got rid of the discomfort.

It’s not pretty, but it was my recovery that inspired me to pursue personal training.

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Lauryn Evarts’ blog, The Skinny Confidential. I may have stumbled upon it when I was part of this wretched forum called Skinny Gossip. All I know is that I read in her bio that she was studying for a nutrition certification through ISSA, and, of course, I grew curious.

I looked them up and found out they were an organization that offered a variety of certifications, their most notable one being in personal training. I was totally familiar with personal training, but I thought you had to have a degree in exercise science to qualify. Yet, going through the ISSA website, I was happy to discover you didn’t need one to become certified. That’s when I began my research.

I sat on the idea of a career change for two weeks. I was currently in the field of marketing for a home improvement company and thought I was going to stay there, but I was growing tired of it. I also knew from what my research yielded that personal training wouldn’t be any easier since most jobs were commission-based. Yet, I was determined to spread my message.

The idea of being a personal trainer appealed to me because I discovered both during my illness and during its recovery that those with eating disorders weren’t the only ones with disordered eating behaviors and even exercise habits. My disorder did not develop because I thought I was fat. In fact, I was under no impression that I looked normal. I just knew I was skinny and wanted to stay that way.

But there are plenty of people, women especially, who have disordered eating habits by yo-yo dieting, labeling certain foods as good or bad, cutting out entire food groups, jumping on every fad diet bandwagon available, obsessing about calories and macros, and believing that they need to punish themselves with exercise for eating a slice of cake.

You don’t have to have an eating disorder to have disordered eating habits. An eating disorder is a psychological disease, one that is more complex than food and exercise. Disordered eating habits often arise as a result of ignorance about nutrition and exercise and our bodies’ metabolisms–not to mention the myriad of fitness gurus pushing nutrition misinformation.

I was already on my fifth year of ballet and was doing it for about five hours a week; thus, based on ballet technique, being able to understand the technique involved in squatting, benching, ect., was an easy transition. After all, ballet is all about posture: shoulders down, chest up, knees over toes…the whole nine yards. Plus, when I became certified, I didn’t jump into the personal training foray right away. I started out as a membership consultant who shadowed a trainer for three months and trained his clients on occasion.

I’ve been a trainer for about 1.5 years now, and I’ve learned loads along the way. I am blessed to have found a job that pays me, even when I’m not training. It definitely keeps your spirits up, as you still have an income and can still contribute greatly to the gym during the time you’re not training. (I know so many trainers who drop out of the industry due to lack of clientele. You just have to find the perfect gym that’s the right fit for you.) I’m currently collaborating on a nutrition seminar with another trainer, and we’re also structuring a nutrition coaching program. I can also come up with ideas for group classes that I’d like to teach and can even take on a few group classes to keep me busy.

It’s a win-win, the dream life.

Ultimately, I’m a trainer because I want to banish misinformation. I don’t want people to demonize “unhealthy” foods. I want people to learn to love exercise and understand that a great workout doesn’t mean feeling beaten up by the end. A great workout can be a 30 minute brisk walk on the treadmill. We all need to love movement, and we all need to love food, from the sweetest cakes to the bitterest of kale salads.

In part two, I’ll talk about how I ended up where I am now.

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