Category Archives: Exercise

Interval Training

A recent study was published that is now making its way around the news lately, and I thought I would touch on that. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The study had 4 groups:
    • Vigorous Resistance Training (RT) only
    • High Intensity Interval Training only (HIIT)
    • Combined light RT and moderate cardio
    • Control group (that did nothing)
  • The population was sedentary adults 30 or younger or older than 64
  • The study was done for 12 weeks
  • Variables that were measured at baseline and after 12 weeks:
    • Insulin sensitivity
    • Aerobic fitness
    • Mitochondrial respiration
    • Lean mass

So here’s what happened:

  • The group that did vigorous RT had more lean mass gains (duh)
  • The group that did HIIT improved their aerobic fitness the most (also duh)
  • The group that did both had modest gains in aerobic fitness and lean mass
  • Everyone experience better blood sugar levels (insulin sensitivity)

These were observed in both age groups

What was surprising:

  • In the HIIT group, the older group saw changes in over 400 genes, while the younger group saw 274 genes change. Most of this was due to changes in the number and health of their mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell). Aerobic fitness is heavily dependent on enzyme activity in the mitochondria, so many genes are involved. HIIT by far influenced the most genes compared to the other groups, see table below if you’re interested:


# Genes Δ HIIT RT Combo
Young 274 74 170
Old 400+ 33 19


So what is High Intensity Interval Training exactly? We hear that term thrown around a lot. Interval training is just alternating periods of work and rest. High intensity is a relative term. How intense the work is relative for the individual. What might take a 25 year old athlete to get to 90% of their max heart rate will be way more work than a sedentary 65 year old. The general recommendations are to start with a 1:3 work to rest ratio, and as you progress, work to 1:2 and 1:1 ratios if using time based intervals. So let’s say you sprint on the treadmill for 30 seconds, then hop off onto the sides and rest for 90 seconds, repeating for a set number of repetitions. Another method is to sprint as fast as possible for a given distance, time, or reaching a target heart rate, then resting until you reach 60% of your predicted maximum heart rate (or true max if you have had it measured), then repeating once we know from a heart rate monitor that you are recovered to go again. That is the basics of what it is.

Interval training does not have to be done with sprinting. You can also use an exercise bike, such as an airdyne or a spin bike, you can use the stairmill, rowing machine, swimming, etc. In fact, for most beginner clients with no real exercise history, I would not start them with sprinting. Same for people with orthopedic issues, I would use the rower or bike instead and even start with low intensity intervals. Interval training does not have to be done with just a traditional cardio method either. It can be done using other methods, or even combined. For example, you can use battle ropes, push-ups, kettlebell swings, burpees, etc., all combined in timed circuit.

So, we know that interval training influences a lot of genes with sedentary people, young and old, but why else do it? HIIT is far superior to steady state cardio when it comes to fat loss. HIIT is also very effective at improving aerobic fitness capacity. So if your goals include becoming more fit and losing fat, HIIT would be a great part of a well rounded workout program.

Home Gym Essentials

Whether you need to accumulate equipment over time, or money is not a concern, you can make a nice home gym on just about any budget.  In my opinion, this list of equipment is a must:

TRX Suspension Trainer

This is where I would start.  You can get the most versatility out of this “gym in a bag”.  You can work your pulling movements, pushing movements, squats or lunges, and work your hips and core with this.  You just need a good place to anchor it to.  You can get away with using the door anchor that comes with it, but as you get more advanced, you will need to have it anchored where you can be directly under the attachment, or go beyond the attachment point.  In my house, my basement is unfinished, so I use an I-beam.

PowerBlock Dumbbells

You pretty much need some form of external load to use with your exercises, so you need these. These are pricey, but think about how much money and space you save if you buy these instead of several pairs of dumbbells. Regular dumbbells are at least $1.00 per pound. If you are a woman, you can probably get away with buying a pair that go up to 40 lbs. per hand.  If you are more advanced, buy a set that can go heavier. If you are a man, you can start with a 50 lb. set, and then buy expansion kits that can make them go to 70, 90, and even 125 lbs. per hand.

Adjustable Bench

You need a bench.  It should adjust from flat to a few different angles for incline. You don’t need to get a commercial grade bench; it’s just going to be you using it so you won’t have to worry about meathead kids tearing it up doing stupid stuff. Just make sure it can handle a decent load. I’ve seen benches with stickers on them saying they could only handle 250 lbs., I weigh 200 lbs., so I could only use 50 lbs. when laying on it!?! I think that company is trying to keep you weak. I personally use the bench PowerBlock makes, it gets the job done and can hold 550 lbs. You’ll be able to do a variety of pushing, pulling, single leg squat variations, and hip thrusts with a bench.

Adjustable Kettlebell

Same reason as having adjustable dumbbells, you’ll save money and space if you have one of these.  Regular kettlebells average $1.50 to $2.00 per pound when you buy them.  Exercises that you need a kettlebell for are swings, goblet squats, and Turkish Get-Ups just to name a few.

Medicine Ball

These are a great modality for power development, and very versatile. If you have a concrete wall to throw against, you can do chest passes and rotational throws, or just use a partner. You can also slam them on the ground.

Adjustable Plyometric Box

For people more advanced, you can use a plyometric box for box jumps, single leg hops, and depth jumps. Just about anyone can use a box for step-ups. You’ll want something that at least goes as high as your knee.

Resistance Bands

If a cable machine is out of your budget, you can use resistance bands to do most of the exercises you would do with cables. These are also portable, so you can take them with you on business trips and vacation to get in your workouts.


You don’t have to buy the official “val slide” that was marked up because it’s fitness equipment. Just buy the set of 4 sliders at your local hardware store for $8. You can work your legs and core very well with sliders, and just like the resistance bands, they’re portable to take on your trips.

What Exactly Is the Core?

When people talk about the core, they often think of just your abdominals.  It is not that simple.  The muscles of the core can be divided into three categories, the local stabilization system, global stabilization system, and movement system.

The local stabilization system is made up of muscles that attach directly to the spine.  They work together to achieve stability between vertebrae or segments of your trunk.  An example would be the transverse abdominus.

The global stabilization system is made of muscles that attach the spine to the pelvis. They work together to help transfer loads from upper extremities to lower extremities and provide stability between the pelvis and spine. An example of a muscle in this category is the external and internal obliques.

The movement system is made up of muscles that attach your extremities to your spine and or pelvis.  They are responsible for producing force during dynamic activities.  A muscle in this group is latissimus dorsi, or lats for short.

All three of these systems of muscles must work together to achieve stabilization.  When we refer to stabilization, we are talking about your body’s ability to distribute weight, absorb force, and transfer force efficiently.  In other words, all movements stem from the core and any inefficiency in these muscles lead to poor balance, force production, and increase your risk of injury.  The best way to train the core is with movement patterns.  Machines at the gym may be great for improving strength in isolated muscles, but they don’t load the core as well as movement based exercise.  Machines neglect to train how we move in everyday life.


rk, Micheal, Scott Lucett, and Donald T. Kirkendall. NASM’s Essentials of Sports Performance Training. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010. Print.

Lasting Results

Every year when January comes, people think about changing something about their lives and it is usually related to weight loss.  As a personal trainer, it’s great for business, but I would also like to see changes to everyone’s lifestyles that make lasting results, year round so that the next year, you just keep doing what you’ve already been doing!

Here are a few habits I have noticed about people that have success losing weight and keeping it off:

  1. Make exercise or physical activity a part of your daily ritual, like brushing your teeth.  You don’t have to work out every day, just make more active decisions, like parking at the far end of the parking lot, get up from your desk a few times a day at work, take the stairs, walk the dog, etc.
  2. Make healthy foods convenient. Make meals ahead of time and keep it either in the freezer or refrigerator so that you always have something ready. Keep healthy snacks with you in the car or at work so that you avoid moments of weakness. When you’re in a hurry, make a meal replacement shake.
  3.  “Out of sight, out of mind” and “in sight, in mind”.  Keep unhealthy foods in your house put away, or better yet, don’t buy them!  Keep healthy foods where you can see them, like a basket of fruit on the kitchen counter.
  4. When you are browsing the fridge or the pantry, think first. Are you actually hungry? Don’t eat out of boredom, better yet go workout!
  5. Don’t justify eating ice cream because you worked out.  Just because you worked out doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want, you won’t gain any ground on losing weight.
  6. Don’t obsess about messing up your diet for one meal. Don’t beat yourself up; nobody is going to eat absolutely perfect all the time.  Don’t discourage yourself!

Deadlift vs. Squat

Many people don’t know the difference and some use these terms interchangeably. There is a big difference between these two powerful lifts. The squat is a more knee dominant movement, placing great demand on the quadriceps. The deadlift is a hip dominant movement, requiring strength and mobility of the posterior chain of your body and less demand on the quads. They are both great lifts for strengthening your whole body, however which one you do depends on the training goal, and the particular goal for each training session.

In the deadlift, the hips shift backward first, with some knee bend. This loads up the glutes Deadlift-300x195and hamstrings as well as the quads. Since you are holding onto a weight, it also engages your upper back and your muscles for your grip, not to mention your core is engaged because it connects your upper back to your hips. It’s a practical lift for everyday life. What kills me is when someone has awesome form on a deadlift, and then they set the weight down by rounding their back. Rounding your back under a load = bad. The deadlift is all about keeping your low back arched and your shoulders back, aligning the spine in a position that won’t hurt it under load. The deadlift is also a foundation to learn other exercises such as the kettlebell swing or the Romanian deadlift also called a straight leg deadlift.

In the squat, your hips move down first, creating an end position where your lower leg and singlearmfrontsquattorso are parallel to each other if you took a picture and extended lines out from those segments of your body. It uses the same muscles as the deadlift, but in a different way. The knee bends to a greater angle and the load is more on the quads.  The upper back is either supporting something or holding something up near your shoulders, different than pulling up on something like in a deadlift.

I often hear from clients that before they worked with me that their back or knees hurt when doing a squat or a deadlift. Doing a deadlift or a squat doesn’t hurt you, your form hurts you. Unless there is an underlying orthopedic problem, it is always due to poor form. I cannot emphasize enough on learning the right technique.

Training John vs. Jane

The most common response when meeting a new female client is “I want to tone up, but I don’t want to get bulky.” For the most part, training has the same effect of both genders. Training can help you improve strength, build muscle, lose fat, gain speed, build bone and other connective tissues, improve brain function and change your metabolism. However, there are a few differences between men and women.

  1. Men and women have the same strength potential. Muscle is muscle, it doesn’t matter what gender you are. Women just tend to be smaller in size, so they don’t usually produce the same force as men. Because of the difference in hormones, men tend to have less body fat and more muscle mass than women of the same height and weight.
  2. Women tend to have larger fat cells and have more subcutaneous fat under the skin. Men have more fat stored as visceral fat, or fat around the internal organs (which is also the unhealthiest). This difference is why women store fat around their upper arms, hips and thighs and men store fat in their belly.
  3. Women have a different resting metabolism than men. Women tend to use more carbs as fuel at rest, and burn more fat during exercise than men. Men are just the opposite. This explains why women are better ultra-endurance athletes.
  4. Women have different strength ratios between agonist and antagonist muscle pairs. An example is that women have more strength in their quadriceps than they do in their hamstrings. This difference is a possible explanation why women are at a higher risk to tear their ACLs.

Here’s the practical application of all of this:

The best model of training for fat loss consists of weights and intervals. Women should stay away from just doing cardio! It’s important to have a baseline of cardiovascular fitness, but it will not help women lose fat. Women start with less muscle mass, so the fear of using heavy weights and getting “bulky” is not a real issue. You have to train really hard to gain size for either gender, period.

Due to the difference in strength ratios between muscle pairs, many women are “quad dominant” and need more attention to training the posterior chain (hamstrings and calf muscles). People with quad dominancy tend to have trouble engaging their core without engaging their legs first. This can be helped by working with me.

When it comes to diet, women need to be more carb conscious than men do. Diets that consist of lean protein, good fats, and veggies and fruits lead to gaining lean muscle and losing fat. Men can tolerate more complex carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes better than women and still lose weight. Carbohydrate sources should be coming from your vegetables and fruits. I say “veggies and fruits” instead of “fruits and veggies” for a reason. That reason is sugar, and vegetables have a lot less than fruit so there should be more emphasis on eating veggies. Also, because women burn more fat than men during exercise, they don’t need to replenish as much carbohydrates in their post workout shake or meal as men do.

Why Runners Should Strength Train

When I ask people about their workouts, I often hear “Oh I run to strengthen my legs”, and it makes me cringe. Nothing is wrong with running; you just are not maximizing your results if that is all you do. Here are the top 5 reasons why runners should do resistance training:

  1. Strength training will help with any muscle imbalances that may make you more prone to injury due to dysfunctional movement patterns. A common weak muscle in the quad is the vastus medialus obliquus, this can lead to knee pain when running. Also, weak calf muscles may lead to shin pain. Resistance training should be done in multiple planes of motion so that muscle imbalances decrease or disappear. Strength training also stimulates protein synthesis in not only your muscles, but the surrounding connective tissues as well, helping make a joint stronger and more stable. In addition, strength training helps build bone strength. With all of these training adaptations, chronic aches and pains will be less or go away.
  2. Resistance training makes your muscles more sensitive to insulin than running or aerobic exercise does. Runners often consume more carbohydrates than most people, so it is important to strength train to keep up your insulin health.  Nobody wants diabetes.
  3. Because of #2, your metabolism goes up and you will process carbohydrates better, burning more fats than carbohydrates. This will help you have a better body composition, having more muscle and less fat.
  4. Running increases oxidative stress in your body, promoting inflammation. Inflammation makes losing weight harder.  Strength training has been shown to counteract oxidative stress as well as supplementation with products like Juice Plus.
  5. Perhaps one of the more obvious benefits of strength training is that you will get faster because you are stronger! If you are stronger, you will use less effort to move your body. You will then use less energy and should be able to run longer.