Is it necessary?

Having little money/ being broke ever since I left home has forced me to put things into perspective in terms of what is necessary when it comes to my personal fitness.

Things were simple when I first started exercising about 12 years ago. I worked out at home and scaled back my calorie consumption. I wasn’t paying for a gym membership and I was consuming little calories that came from food my mom bought. I dropped -too much- weight and found myself having to re-evaluate the angle I was taking.

I later joined a gym located around the corner from my house. It was one of the half dozen weight rooms ran by the city of Brampton in their recreational department. In addition, I eventually smartened up when it came to nutrition — or so I thought.

Fast forward a little futher and I am paying for a gym membership and have begun picking up my own groceries; because eating copious amounts of lean chicken and turkey with rice and broccoli is the only way to get fit (rolls eyes so hard they almost fall out). A couple of decent chicken breasts are easily 10 bucks; which adds up mighty quick when that is the bulk of your diet.

My time spent on fitness websites were at an all time high, gawking over all the amazing physiques telling myself I will look like that one day. Heck! I may even compete. Before I could even think about that however, I needed supplements, lots of glorious supplements!!!

Of course whey protein was the first to be added, then branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), followed by L-Arginine, Beta Alanine, creatine, and caffiene. I even wrote a post about it all. My once zero dollars spent on supplements easily became 100-130$ every 4-5 weeks.

Wake up call

At the end of fast tracking a second diploma in early 2016 I found myself with a lot of debt, and jobs that paid me little or offered few hours. I couldn’t spend money unnecessarily without it coming back to bite me in the ass. There were days where I had to decide to put gas in my car or groceries in my fridge. I remember pulling to the side of the road one afternoon and cried as I fought anxiety and tried to figure out how the hell I am going to keep it together.

At this point my purchasing of supplements days were long gone. After 3-4 years of taking supplements I had no choice but to put it to rest until I was in a more stable financial situation. My days of eating chicken and turkey breasts were also behind me. Meat had always grossed me out, I just got it in my head that it was the best way to be lean and fit. Now, without a bunch of money to waste on dead carcasses; I began eating more beans, lentils, rice, pastas, and even bread.

Funny thing is, my strength did not deteriorate; if anything it increased. Is it possible the supplements weren’t doing much and I simply wasn’t giving my body what it needed from food? Yes, yes it is. Is it also possible that eating a plethora amount of animal products isn’t the optimal diet for a weightlifter? Yes ma’am, thats what I have come to believe.

Now I know this post comes with no hard core facts, just personal opinion. Take from it what you may. Im simpy suggesting you don’t waste your money on a bunch of supplements. If anything supplement your deficiencies, while considering the time of year. For example, I take Vitamin D3 drops in the fall/ winter because of the lack of sunlight.

As for the meat — I honestly believe it’s not good for us humans. Maybe 1-2 times a week; but not every meal, every day. Without getting into the science and health facts, to me eating more plant based foods just makes sense. From my experience I feel better, my skin looks better, and I carry the most muscle mass I ever have, all while spending less on groceries.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

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Recipe: Curry Chickpea

Basmati Rice – 1 cup+
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 1 tbsp
Red Onion – 1 Small or Half a Medium; diced
Small Garlic Cloves – 3 Large or 5 to 6 Small Cloves; minced
Bell Pepper (red, yellow or green) – Half; sliced
Salt and Pepper – a few shakes
Curry Paste (red, yellow or green) – 2 tbsp
Coconut Milk – 1 can
Tomato – 1 small; diced
Cumin – 1 tbsp
Crushed Cayenne – 1 level tbsp *optional
Soya Sauce – 2 tbsp
Brown Sugar – 2 tbsp
Lime – 1; juiced
Chick Peas – half a can; drained and thoroughly rinsed
Basil Leaves – 3 Leaves; dried or fresh

Curry Dish
Not the best photo, but I promise it tastes awesome.

I rarely eat meat, and I do my best to limit my intake of dairy products. With that said, while I wouldn’t consider myself vegan, I do try to avoid animal products as much as possible. This leaves me searching for nutritious and satisfying meals that are easy to make and won’t empty my wallet. Thankfully this hasn’t been hard to do and I have managed to master (I think so anyways) a few solid recipes.

The recipe I want to share today is a Chickpea Curry Dish. I have listed the ingredients in the order in which they should be added to a large skillet; except for the rice, which should be cooked separately – ideally in a rice cooker.

I find it easiest to dice, mince, and slice all of the veggies, and have all the ingredients ready to go before starting the cooking process. You can heat up the skillet on medium / low high heat while cutting your vegetables, adding the oil after it has been heated.

After adding the extra virgin olive oil, toss in the diced red onions and minced garlic cloves. Let this fry for a couple minutes, then add the sliced bell pepper. I prefer to use green bell peppers but its completely up to you. Add a few shakes of salt and pepper on top of the veggies and make sure to stir/ flip it around.

Next step is to add the curry paste. Please note the word paste – not sauce! I like to use red – but again it is up to you what colour you want to incorporate. Toss in 2 tbsp and stir it around the pan and the vegetables. Shortly after, add the can of coconut milk and continue to stir until the colour become homogenous.

Toss in the diced tomato and add a tbsp of cumin. I love cumin and it certainly couples well with the curry paste to add even more flavour. On that note, I also recommend adding some crushed cayenne or chilli flakes to add some heat; but how much, if any, is your choice. Afterwards, add the soya sauce, brown sugar, and the juice from 1 lime into the mix. Give it a good stir then finally add the half can of chickpeas (I find a full can to be way too much) and 3 basil leaves. Let this sit, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes.

Serve in a bowl with a side of rice and enjoy!

Personal Training – why you may want to consider it a side job

Personal-Trainer-2

I could of sworn I found “my calling.” After losing weight and gaining strength I wanted nothing more than to help others do the same. So I began my journey towards becoming a personal trainer. 7+ years later and I have learned so much and can’t help but wonder if I would have chosen a different route had I known what I know now.

I earned my diploma in fitness and health promotion in 2011. I was proud of myself as that program was challenging and demanded a lot from me. I finished it within the 2 years and within that time I attained a personal trainer certificate (that cost a lot of money). Like many students, when I graduated I thought things would be easier in terms of finding suitable work and making money – it wasn’t.

Finding a job that didn’t require a degree and 5 years experience was immensely difficult. I was hired by a commercial gym – what I thought would be a solid opportunity; yet quickly realized you’d have to give up part of your soul, because everything was about revenue and dollar signs. They expected me to put on a shirt with their name on it, walk their gym floors, perform BS fitness appraisals, and try to sell their over priced packages; all the meanwhile making absolutely nothing unless I sell. The best part was being expected to cold call old members (am I the only one who really doesn’t see the benefit in this?) in hopes they would re-sign and buy personal training. The one meeting I sat in on discussed nothing of client success, needs, programming; or anything truly important to the clients – just how much money was made.

Needless to say that didn’t last long and I moved on to work for gyms in the municipal setting, which proved to be much better; but not without its challenges. You will still need to build a clientele. Personal training is the one service that people not only have to pay for, but they have to do the work as well. Sure, the trainer writes the programs, ensures proper form and execution – but the client has to show up.

Your income will vary from week to week, month to month; until you’ve built up a reliable and consistent clientele. Keep in mind that even those most committed will go on vacation, get sick, move, or have other commitments that take the forefront. With proper notice this will leave you with gaps in your schedule, and less money in your account.

Another thing to consider is how much of a cut your employer will be taking from you. Some places may ensure you get consistent hours working as part of their fitness staff, but will still take more than half of your hourly personal training wage; which may leave you wondering why you don’t just work for yourself.

I explored that option after realizing I could make $50+/hr instead of 15 or 20. Here’s the thing – I don’t have my own facility and driving around can get costly. The time it takes to get from one location to the next can be exhausting and ultimately cost you money in gas and time. Not to mention, if you don’t target areas of higher income it is very likely you’ll be limited to the number of people who can and will pay for your service. I did start up my own small business and saw some success but ultimately learned it is so much easier to have the clients come to you.

With that said, I looked into renting space in order to conduct my own group fitness classes and one on one personal training. You will have to pay a facility rental fee for each hour you use their space. Unless you have the numbers, for the first several months at least, you will be making very little or even lose money. Thats not to say you can’t find success in this profession; I just want to warn you that it isn’t easy in any sense of the word.

What about privately owned gyms? I’ve dipped my toes into those as well. I’ve applied and interviewed at multiple locations around the GTA and Toronto. What I have come to learn is that the bottom line is business. People are in it to make money. I get it – we have to survive. These gyms (and others) have tiers of personal trainers. The more money you put into “earning” certificates, the higher level trainer you become with better pay. It doesn’t matter how much you study on your own time – you must spend hundreds of dollars to get the credentials that will allow you to move up in wage and status. I suppose you can find such thing in many other professions.

So, lets remove some of the pressure and try working for a not-for-profit organization. I did just that, and yet again gained no job security or steady income. Not-for-profit organizations have extremely tight budgets and often rely on government grants and donations to keep programs running. With that said, your wage as a personal/group trainer will be way less than the effort you put into it. This is when your passion to want to help others must out weigh the need to generate income. If your anything like me, you’ll wish it was that simple; but with creditors at your door and rent payments to make – it’s devastating getting paid less than you deserve/require.

Another thing worth mentioning is the hours you’ll work – they will (more than likely) be all over the place. Unless you become so popular that people work around your schedule, you’ll have to work around the clients. This means getting up at 5am and training clients before work; possibly return during the lunch hour, and then again late at night. This is most definitely not a 9-5 weekday job; not even close.

I do not mean to come of as a negative ninny. If you’re passionate enough and put in the work, you can find success. At the very least I can say that I have accomplished what I wanted to do – help dozens of people improve their lifestyle, lose weight, gain strength, and increase their independency. I have had many moments over the past 7+ years that reminded me why I wanted to make this a career. I am not one to give up but I have learned the value of having a back up plan and not isolating yourself to one source of income. It’s a smart thing to have no matter what profession you are in, especially personal training.

Keep Moving.

Weightlifting

September 1st, 2015 I made the move from Brampton to North Bay, Ontario. I came in light of new experiences and the opportunity to learn how to Olympic style weight lift from one of the best coaches, Larry Sheppard.

My desire to get in shape started when I was 16 years old, and now at 28; I have learned so much through education, personal successes, and failures. However, just when I thought I had a good grasp on everything; my style of training has been completely flipped in pursuit of becoming an athlete.

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For as long as I can remember I worked out to look good. Vanity and lack of self esteem pushed me towards the commercial facilities where mirrors line every wall, and platforms are non existent. I’ve worked out in gyms that don’t allow chalk, and have had employees tell me I can’t drop the weights as I was performing heavy deadlifts.

I dipped my toes in the physique competitions – but in all honestly they were super amateur. It’s something I am proud of in the sense it took hard work and courage; but at the same time I roll my eyes because it just wasn’t me.

I wish I had known someone in the powerlifting or weightlifting community 10 years ago; but would-a-should-a-could-a; this is where I am at now and thats what matters. I began learning the snatch and clean & jerk in early September 2015.

What is the Snatch?

Snatch+Phases+Trajectory-lowres

The Snatch is the first of the two Olympic lifts to be contested, followed by the clean & jerk. The aim is the lift a loaded bar from the floor to overhead, in one smooth, continuous motion.

The athlete begins by setting themselves up so that the bar is directly over their metatarsals with their feet hip width apart; toes turned out slightly. A wide “hook grip” is used on the bar (fingers on top of thumbs), and the arms straight with the shoulders directly over the bar, or slightly in front of it. The thighs should be almost parallel to the floor (depending on femur length), and the back remains straight and tight with extension in the thoracic vertebrae. The chest should be open and head titled back.

“Lift off” begins the moment the bar is separated from the floor as the athlete then moves into the “first pull.” During this phase the lifter begins to extend their knees and moves their hips upward while keeping a constant back angle relative to the floor. Centre of gravity shifts towards the heels as the lifter pulls the bar close to their body. The bar begins to accelerate at the end of this phase as they “transition” to position themselves appropriately for the second pull. During this transition is where you’ll often see the “double-knee” bend.

IMG_0387
$50,000 Eleiko platform from the Pan Am games

The “second pull” is an explosive movement that is executed through the extension of the hips, knees, and ankles (triple extension); followed by a strong elevation of the shoulders (shrug). This is where the bar will “brush” the hips and feet leave the ground to quickly move into the squat position. The “turnover” phase occurs as the lifter begins to pull themselves under the bar, and the “catch phase” occurs the moment the lifters feet have landed on the platform, catching the bar overhead with arms locked out. It is finished only when the lifter shows control of the bar by standing up and bringing the feet together.

What is the clean & jerk?

The clean & jerk is the second lift to be contested and is comprised of two stages which also has the athlete lift the bar from the floor to an overhead position.

They begin by setting their feet under their hips and by grabbing the bar just outside their legs using a “hook grip.” The bar is lifted to the top of the knees where the athlete then performs the “triple extension” through explosive extension of the hips, knees, and ankles; followed by a big shrug. The aim here is to get the bar as high as possible before dropping into the squat and receiving the bar in the “racked” position (bar sits in front of the neck resting on the anterior deltoids). The lifter then stands back up and readjusts their grip width in preparation for the jerk.

IMG_0403

The jerk begins where the clean finishes; with the bar across the shoulders and the back vertical. The lifter dips just a few inches by flexing the knees; then through explosive extension of the knees the barbell is propelled upwards off the shoulders. The athlete pushes the bar with their arms and quickly drops under by splitting their feet in a lunge type fashion (one forward and one back). The bar is received overhead with the arms straight, and once stable; the lifter recovers from the split position by bringing their feet back together.

Ofcouse these explanations may be missing some aspects, but you get a good idea of what I have been up to over the past 8 months. I have competed in 3 competitions thus far and took 3rd place in my weight class in my last competiton on April 9, 2015. I still have a long ways to go before I am even close to competing on a more serious level (these girls are strong!!!), but I am just happy to have found something new and exciting. It feels great to be more concerned over how I perform rather than how I look.

Most importantly, I have been working hard to learn how to coach these lifts. I have engulfed myself in everything weightlifting and succeeded passing my level one weightlifting certification with the NCCP. I will have a second diploma in strength and sports condidtioning in a couple weeks time and I hope to find work in the health promotion and coaching fields.

The Complete Power Look Program – My progress

I just wrapped up the first phase of “The Complete Power Look Program” that I picked up off of one of my favourite training sites – TNation. The first phase was 4 weeks in length and I am now transitioning into the second, with 3 phases all together.

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 WHY I CHOSE THIS PROGRAM:

  •  4 years ago I transitioned from endurance training into heavy strength training in the pursuit of lots of lean muscle mass and continual increases in strength. I build my programs around the 4 main lifts – Squat; bench press; deadlift; and overhead press (push-press/military press). This program is built around these king exercises for 10 weeks, with changes to the reps/sets and the accessory exercises every 3 or 4 weeks.
  • This program uses the front squat instead of the back squat, and the push-press instead of the military press; which I absolutely love because my spine could use a break from heavy back squats, and I will benefit from the push-press since the military press is one my weakest exercises; the push-press will allow me to move more weight and use the eccentric phase to help build strength.
  • I chose this program to learn more about proper strength training programming. The use of % RM is something fairly new to me, as well as the manipulation of the set/rep schemes each week.
  • I have yet to incorporate exercises to correct weak areas in my main lifts such as the deficit deadlift, floor press, and top-half press from pins.  Therefor, I can’t wait to see my new 1RMs at the end of the program.

 MY CURRENT 1RMs

MY CURRENT 1RMS

EXERCISE WEIGHT(LBS)
Front Squat 120
Bench Press 90
Deadlift 200
Push-press 90

WEEKS 1-4: My thoughts and progress

  • Figuring out my weights for the accessory exercises, along with mastering the correct movement pattern for new exercises, always contributes to the challenge during my first week on a new program.
  • The deadlift from a 2 inch deficit challenged me the most; the increased forward lean made it harder to sit back on my heels. With that said, I feel like my low back and quads were more taxed than usual, but the whole posterior chain benefited from an increased range of motion.

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  • Getting a solid push-press technique down took me a few tries. Learning how much momentum to use, along with keeping a solid stance took time, but I improved immensely as the weeks progressed.
  • The bent-over barbell row with torso angled at 90 degrees attacked my mid/low traps and biceps.
  • The paused front squat was a fantastic incorporation of time under tension and my quads benefited.
  • On squat day, arms remain in the front squat grip position for almost the entire workout – very hard on the wrists if you aren’t used to it.
  • The Bulgarian split squat with a front squat grip was new to me, and it just made me love the split squat even more.
  • I have already seen an increase in the size of my triceps thanks to the floor presses, and significant anterior chain development thanks to the front squat and push-press.
  • I no longer work-out; I TRAIN.

WEEKS 5-7: My thoughts and progress

  • I thought the deadlift from a 2 inch deficit was hard; and then came the sumo deadlift from a 2 inch deficit – holy shit, hands down the most challenging exercise for me this phase.
  • The wide-grip bench press initially made me nervous (not-so-good left shoulder), but I was surprisingly stronger than I thought I would be. It’s too bad my right side is noticeably weaker despite it being the more stable of the two (I’m a southpaw).
  • Deadlift from pins (pins just below knees), blasted my mid/low traps and lats.
  • Week 5 – day after push-press, my triceps were extremely sore due to the half push-press; I loved that one, along with the 1/2 bench press.
  • Week 6 – the night after the 3×5 front squats my quads and anterior delts were screaming! I continue to see immense anterior chain development and I love it.
  • EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: USE OF GUARDS OR PINS. I’ll admit, I was an idiot and actually performed a couple moves incorrectly and felt it right away. Read the whole program and make sure you understand each exercise before walking into the weight room (unlike me).
  • Week 7 – Front squats; my legs were feeling strong and my confidence was going up as quick as the weight that day. Also, I knew I had made gains because resting the bar on my anterior delts was less uncomfortable = shoulder development, woot woot!!
  • Sumo deadlift is still blowing me away (I made a lot of notes about this one, so I’m not kidding).
  • Noticeable development of my “top shelf” a.k.a. Upper Traps.
  • On average, these workouts have been taking me 30-45 minutes to complete. I stick around afterwards to bang out conditioning work such as BARBELL COMPLEXES or I practice aspects of the Olympic lifts, which I hope to soon conquer.

SIDE NOTES: 

If you have a look at THE COMPLETE POWER LOOK PROGRAM you’ll see that Christian Thibaudeau offered exercises for optional bonus work. I am always game for more, but I decided I would choose the exercises (it’s hard for me to follow a plan designed by someone else and not have a say at all). Moreover, you’ll notice there isn’t any direct ab training included in this program. I add 1 or 2 weighted ab exercises after training, but make sure not to overdue it – this program is incredibly heavy on the core!

This is me back in January of this year finally hitting one of my long term goals – 200lb deadlift. I hope this program takes that number up a notch, or two.

Lost Battle with Mental Illness

My passion lies in promoting health and fitness while helping others lead a long, happy, and healthy life. Beyond promoting good nutrition, physically active lifestyles, and consistent exercise; I am a huge advocate for mental health. As I mentioned in a previous article (Beyond Blue), this factor is often overlooked when considering ones overall health status.

Many people view psychological disorders differently from other diseases such as cancer or heart disease; but the reality is they are just as serious, and just as commonly end in death. Like cancer, there are treatments, but some begin too late and fail to save the diseased individual.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), someone around the globe commits suicide every 40 seconds. In the year 2000, 815,000 people lost their lives to suicide — more than double the number of people who die as a direct result of armed conflict every year (306,600). For people between the ages of 15 and 44, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death and the sixth leading cause of disability and infirmity worldwide (World Health Organization, 2002).

While catching up on the world’s news this morning, I came across this heart breaking, eye opening story which I felt compelled to share. A young woman by the name of Natalie recently took her life after a long battle with mental illness.

Natalie and her Mom

My daughter, who lost her battle with mental illness, is still the bravest person I know

I was more than taken back by this story, and my heart goes out to Natalie and her family, as well as anyone who has lost a loved one due to mental illness. I truly believe –as the article suggests- that psychotic breaks are not sudden, but are rather a climax of a long buildup. If the body can become ill; so can the mind. Educating yourself on topics related to mental health will help you get a clearer understanding of the diseases, and hopefully detach the social stigmas surrounding them.

  1. World Health Organization (October 2002). World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva.World Health Organization (October 2002). World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva. http://www.who.int.

Annoying Gym Goers

I can give credit where credit is due. It’s great to see people at the gym instead of sitting around being lazy all day. However, there’s actually a few people I wish would just stay at home. Here is my list of people that drive me crazy at the gym.

8. Terrible Trainersbad-trainer-WH

As a trainer I can spot a terrible trainer from across the gym floor. There used to be a trainer at the gym I work out at who was a prime example. He would stand – too close – to his clients as they performed every move incorrectly, nod his head, and tell them to keep going as he constantly checked his cell phone. Not to mention he would hit on any young cute girl that walked past him. I wanted to punch him in the face, but luckily he got fired before I could.

This isn’t to say that all trainers are bad. There are plenty of amazing trainers who truly want to help others succeed. If you ever decide to hire a Personal Trainer, shop around first, and make sure you don’t end up with some idiot who’s over charging you to do ineffective and/or incorrect exercises.

7. Talkersplease shut up

It blows my mind how many people converse more than they lift. The coffee shop is for chatting people, not the weight room floor.

The talkers don’t seem to understand or respect gym etiquette. They will interrupt your set to talk about nothing at all or totally mess up your rest period because they just don’t shut up. I understand you can make friends at the gym, but when I’m going for my PR deadlift or catching my breath between sets, I really do not want to talk to you.

On the same note, please don’t strike up a conversation in the change room while you’re completely naked. I admire how comfortable you are in your own skin, but jeezzusss, wait until after.

6. Flexing in the Mirrors More Than Lifting-ers

justin-bieber-flexing-instagram

It seems to be the younger guys that do this most; they’ll pace the floor and flex in the mirror more times than I can count. Having to walk around you to get my equipment as you aimlessly wonder around isn’t really my favourite thing. It’s also a little distracting catching you constantly flexing in the mirror behind me as I complete my set. Did you come here to train, or practice your posing? I’m pretty sure the latter can be done at home.

5. Rack BlockersBlocker

1-arm rows are one of my favourite exercises and I think everyone should do them, just NOT in front of the dumbbell rack. Blocking any equipment as you do an exercise is just plain rude, and if I so happen to accidentally drop a dumbbell on your foot one day, it’s going to be your fault.

4. Unnecessary Gruntersgrunter

Overall, this one hasn’t been much of an issue for me. I myself curse under my breath every now and again or let out some unattractive noises as I complete a heavy set. The people I’m attacking here are those that do it excessively or unnecessarily. A man where I train grunts loudly after every, single, rep. It doesn’t matter is he’s curling 15’s or pressing 80’s, he is loud, excessive, and sooo f****** annoying. If you’re doing it for attention, you got it, but not in a good way.

3. Nipple Shirt Wearers

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These guys are usually jacked and decide to show it off by wearing spaghetti strapped tank tops that expose everything but their lower abdominal’s. They seem to think they are a gym god and just beg to be looked at. Everything from the way they walk to the way they stand just reeks of arrogance. Hey, you might be in amazing shape, good looking, and possibly have a great personality to boot; but I’ll never know for sure because I have already labelled you as a douche bag.

2. The Cable Cross-overers

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There is one big pulley system at the gym where I train. It sits in the middle of the floor and you either have to go through it, or around it to get to the other side of the gym. During peak hours, few things tick my clock more than that guy hogging 2 out of the 3 pulley systems to perform cable cross-overs. First off, I have to duck under the cables if other routes are blocked, second, you’re taking up too much damn space, and third, someone else is probably waiting to use ONE of those pulleys. Save this exercise for when traffic is low and opt for other variations when its busy. Thanks.

1. Non-unrackers

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Do you have any idea how many times I get all pumped up to do some squats just to spend the first 10 minutes of my training session unracking 4 plates a side on the squat rack? LIKE REALLY?! Mr. Macho can apparently (half) squat 400 pounds but can’t seem to put the plates away afterwards. This makes me so angry because these people consciously make the decision to not put their equipment away and leave their mess for the next person to clean up. I’m wasting energy moving your plates, and the first thing we learn in kindergarten is to put your toys away before taking another. If you’re contributing to the mess you are a straight up jerk.