Saturday, March 6, 2021

Movie Star Makeovers

I've always been impressed when a movie star makes a drastic physical transformation in order to portray a character in a film. This is usually the case in superhero and action movies. Many months prior to shooting, these actors are working hard around the clock and have unlimited budgets for personal trainers, dieticians, and other experts to help them achieve a very muscular and fit look. As you can see below, Christian Bale has gone through a range of extremes for a variety of movie roles.

It's always surprising when you see one of these stars in a different movie a year later and they look just like a normal person again. This just goes to show how important consistency and lifestyle change is for long term results. When they stop the extreme measures they were taking, they return to their "normal" selves. Frequently when you see someone make one of these amazing transformations in such a short amount of time, people will accuse them of using performance enhancing drugs like steroids. Some critics accuse anyone who has larger muscles than them as being on the juice, but there are also less jealous observers out there with very valid concerns about these fast and drastic results.

I have no problem if someone decides to include pharmacology to prepare for a movie role or if they just want to change their personal appearance. It's not like they are an Olympic athlete and have rules against doing so. What I do have a problem with is when they claim it's all natural and that everyone can accomplish what they did if they eat 6 chicken breasts a day and just work hard. Over the years I 've seen so many people promoting celebrity workout programs or diets so you can look just like them. I find it equally disappointing when athletes promote supplements and credit them as the reason for their success or amazing physique.

Last week I saw the video below by Josh Brett. He's created some great Youtube videos about the fitness industry and does such an excellent job sharing insights about this Hollywood makeover process. I have been saying so many of the things mentioned in this video for years, but his presentation is much more professional than anything I could produce on the subject. I highly recommend you watch this eye-opening short video.

By the way, I'm a fan of every single actor that is featured in this video so I am not hating on them. I really can't say I blame any of them if they do use PEDs to prepare for a movie role, but I don't appreciate when certain media sources attempt to make the results you see on the big screen appear to be the result of just hard work, especially when they are trying to sell you something to get the same results but they ignore a very large part of the equation to their getting such drastic results so fast.

I'm a big fan of goal setting, hard work, and competition, but I'm also a fan of the truth. Many of today's youth are deceived and have unrealistic physical and beauty standards to live up to thanks to social media, filters, photoshop, and performance enhancing drugs. That is why I tell clients to measure their health and fitness progress against themselves as opposed to the stars they see on the big screen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Bodybuilding Insights

Last week Big Ramy was crowned the 16th man to win Mr. Olympia since the contest started back in 1965. The first time I remember seeing a bodybuilder was as a little kid in the late 70's. I was watching The Streets of San Francisco and a particular episode featured Arnold Schwarzenneger as one of the characters. Later in the 80's I'd watch Lou Ferigno as The Incredible Hulk each week. Muscles eventually got more mainstream over time thanks to Hulk Hogan, Sylvester Stalone and many others in sports, entertainment, and Hollywood.

Around 1999 while waiting for a prescription to be filled, I sheepishly picked up a body building magazine for the first time from the magazine rack. It was Muscle Media, which was Bill Phillips magazine. It fell open to a page featuring dozens of before and after pictures of people and I was blown away when I realized that the amazing transformations took place over a short period of 12 weeks. I was equally impressed by the fact that most of them were regular people, not professional bodybuilders. It motivated me enough to actually do the challenge myself. It went pretty well. I lost fat, gained muscle, and got much stronger. Completing the challenge and seeing my own improvements was one of the things that motivated me to go into personal training over 20 years ago.

My Body for life results

Since that time I have followed bodybuilding kind of like I follow MMA. I find it very entertaining and I appreciate the athletes hard work but at the same time I've never aspired to be in an octagon or posing on a stage. I enjoy lifting weights for conditioning and for the health benefits, but I have never been strong when it comes to muscular strength. I was always the tall skinny guy who was good at sports but could hardly do a pullup. My passion was playing basketball and later running and those activities don't usually produce swole physiques. 

Since I moved to Ghana over 3 years ago I have really struggled with exercising. I love basketball but have had a hard time finding decent facilities or people who even want to or know how to play. It's always so hot and humid so running is a miserable, sweaty experience here that can only be done during certain hours of the day.

Last month I decided to check out Agyefam gym which is about a mile away from my house. It can't hold a candle to most facilities back home since the equipment is very old and not working so well but the environment makes all the difference for giving me the motivation to work out. I'm not a fan of the. limited hours, crowded rooms, or the loud music they play, but it's easier for me to have an intense workout among other people as opposed to being alone at home and just going through the motions.

This gym has all kinds of patrons. There are some big, strong experienced lifters, as well as rail thin novices, but it provides an energetic environment to help people workout. So, for the next several months I am going to focus on bodybuilding since I don't have a lot of other exercise options. We will see what kind of progress a 52 year old man can make over a couple months.

Even though I have never considered myself a bodybuilder, I still appreciate the sport and the many athletes I've followed over the years. Some of my favorite bodybuilders include:

Guys from the 70's and 80's- This obviously includes Arnold Schwarzenneger, Frank Zane, Franco Columbo, Tom Platz, and Lee Haney. I really liked the proportions and appearances that were common during this era.

Athletes from the 90's were incredibly competitive- Kevin Levrone, Lee Priest, Flex Wheeler, and Shawn Ray had great physiques. This was also when Dorian Yates started ushering in the mass monster stage. Guys went from being huge, to massive, to freakish.

The 2000's and beyond.  Even though I can't relate to the insane figures of many of these athletes, I have a lot of  respect for the repeat champions like Dorian, Yates, Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Phil Heath, and others. Recently I've been enjoying all kinds of entertaining interviews from these guys. It's so interesting to hear stories of their training philosophies, competitive natures, and different personalities. 

Professional Bodybuilding may have a dark side with performance enhancing drugs, body image issues, and focusing strictly on aesthetics, but even so, I admire the athlete's accomplishments. Even with the aid of steroids and other PEDs, and even though many of them already have incredible genetics, it still requires so much discipline and hard work to do what they do. The camaraderie and sportsmanship I've seen from those competing in the sport is also commendable.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Quarantine Concerns

If you are like most people you have probably had your world turned upside down over the last two months. Fear of the Coronavirus and the safety measures taken to combat it have crippled the economy and sidelined most people to their homes. While the intention of doing so is to save lives, there are also many unintended consequences happening as a result. It is the perfect storm for people to gradually gain weight and get out of shape. Here's why:

Stress and anxiety- People are experiencing stress due to fear for their physical well-being. There is also anxiety from constantly watching news stories and updates that frequently feature running death tolls and conflicting advice on the best ways to stay safe. Then there is the financial stress of potential loss of income or employment. There has been plenty of uncertainty for the future and stress is not good for your immune system.

Isolation- While some may feel like they have spent too much time with their immediate family, others are missing social interaction with friends, extended family, and peers. Phone calls and Zoom meetings are beneficial for staying in touch, but they are not the same as face-to-face human interaction and physical contact. We've also been told to not only social distance but to avoid physical touch with others. This lack of social contact has been especially difficult for some personality types.

Limited  Medical Services - The public has not had the usual access to doctors and hospitals unless it is deemed an emergency. Elective procedures and less critical visits to the doctor have been postponed. I've heard many complaints from people who have not been able to get to the dentist, dermatologist, optometrist, chiropractor, or massage therapist, like they used to.

Staying Indoors- Staying inside all day keeps some people from getting out and stretching their legs, getting healthy amounts of sunlight for vitamin D, and breathing fresh air.

Sedentary lifestyle- Lots of people have decreased their activity levels while they are staying home. The closure of gyms and parks has made it less convenient to exercise. The only marathons people have been doing lately are binge watching Netflix.

Unhealthy Eating- It is common for people stress eat when they are anxious or bored. Unhealthy snacking also increases as TV watching and computer screen time increases. Convenience eating and limiting your food choices to restaurants that have a drive through window can also be detrimental to healthy nutrition.


So what can you do to be healthier while you are social distancing and hunkering down? What can we all do a better job of?

* Take time to exercise each day (even if it's only 10-20 minutes.)
* Make healthier food choices and watch your portion sizes.
* Find healthy ways to manage your stress.
* Get some sunshine and fresh air as often as possible.
* Socialize the best you can under the circumstances.

The tragic loss of life and the threat for those in high-risk categories is a real concern, but it has also been frustrating to see all the collateral damage happening to our economy and physical health as a result of this battle. I 'm hoping that as a country, and worldwide, we will be turning a corner soon. We may not ever go back to the same "normal" after this, but we certainly need to get back to more productive and functional lives soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Exercise for Kids

My favorite subject in elementary school (since lunch doesn't technically count) would have to be recess. I loved playing outside on the playground or in the gym as a little kid. It has been interesting to see how physical education has changed over the years. Many schools have reduced or even done away with PE classes for a variety of reasons.

One of those reasons was safety. I remember our old playgrounds featured tall metal structures suspended high above hard asphalt surfaces. Some of the old school equipment, like spinning merry-go-rounds were the cause of many injuries as we tried to see just how many kids could get on and how fast we could make it go.  I found the picture below of some scary playground equipment from the early 1900's that would strike fear into any parent today.


Aside from the safety and liability issues, I think some educational administrators have forgotten how beneficial exercise and activity can be since it doesn't appear to fit in with their academic subjects they are emphasizing at school. Today there are many kids who can't concentrate in class. They are often simply labeled and medicated to fit in, but I'm sure many of them would perform much better if they had regular breaks to blow off some steam and switch gears every so often.

This week I was visiting Kenya. While we were driving to our lodging, we passed a large school. Our host offered to let us get a closer look since her kids attended there. As we drove up, we saw a couple hundred students outside on a huge dirt field doing their PE activities. They were so excited to be playing games, and you could feel their energy. There were a few home-made balls being thrown around but, aside from that, they had no equipment to speak of. The lack of equipment and facilities did not deter their play. They were playing tag, chasing, and participating in other group games.

I was shocked when I realized I could not see one kid who was even borderline chubby. I jokingly asked my host where they keep the fat kids and she said they have none. I understand there are many more factors influencing the body shape of a child aside from physical activity. Genetics, nutrition, socioeconomic factors, and culture all attribute to their thin builds. Most of them walk or run several miles to school every day. As we drove back home we saw many kids training for races running along the side of the road for miles. Several of them were barefoot and didn't seem to mind.


Contrast this type of activity to kids in the US who are very sedentary, spend a ton of time on social media and playing video games, and eat an abundance of surplus calories. It is no mystery why so many young kids today struggle with obesity. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 5 kids is obese in the United States and about 1 in 3 is overweight.

There are many things that contribute to a young person being in a healthy weight range, and physical activity is definitely one of them. Some of the ways we can help kids be more active include:

* Setting limits for how much time they spend watching TV or the computer.
* Encouraging them to participate in youth sports programs.
* Letting them walk or ride a bike instead of always driving them to nearby places.
* Setting a positive example for them by being an active parent. Actions speak louder than words.
* Spending more time outside with your kids, hiking, camping, at the park, etc.
* Encouraging them to try different physical activities until they find something they are passionate about. Once they find an activity they love, it is no longer a chore for them to be active.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Healthy Fridge Tips

Your fridge can be a helpful tool for healthy eating or a tempting distraction that can sabotage your efforts. It all depends on what you put in in. A little planning makes all the difference. Make your fridge your ally by implementing the following tips:

1. Clean your fridge out regularly. Don't just wipe it down, but take EVERYTHING out while you clean it. Then inspect each item before putting it back. Get rid of rotten or expired foods. You may be surprised how quickly unwanted food can accumulate.

2. Don't pack your fridge so tight with groceries that you can't see what's in the back. Ideally you should be able to easily see all the contents of your fridge when you open the door. Remember it also works better when there is space for cold air to circulate around the food.

3. Use glass or plastic containers or zip lock bags to store your food. It is so much easier to eat well if you can see the food you actually have. This also reduces your chance of discovering spoiled food covered in mold down the road. I'm sure you've experienced this in the past  when you pulled the tin foil off of that bowl or can that had been sitting there for 2 weeks.

4. Stock up on fruits and vegetables. Wash them as soon as you get home and then cut them up into convenient ready to eat serving sizes. This way you can snack on healthy food without having to invest any food prep time. If you feel like snacking, you can eat all the raw vegetables you want without worrying about calories.

5. Keep the healthy foods you are trying to eat more of at eye level in your fridge. This is the same principle marketers use and why companies pay a premium to stock more expensive foods on those shelves in grocery stores.

6. Prepare meals in advance and freeze them. If you have to sit down and start from scratch each time you want to eat you will be very frustrated (like Homer in the picture above.) Planning ahead simplifies your food preparation and makes it easier for you to eat healthier. Healthy eating almost never happens by accident.

7. Store meat in the lower fridge shelves in case it leaks juice onto the food shelves below. The last thing anyone wants on their food is raw chicken juice. Doing so can help prevent food borne illness.

8. Put smelly foods like onions, garlic, and tuna fish in airtight containers when you have left overs or everything in your fridge will smell like them.

9. Stock up on pre-made bagged salads. You can buy these in the produce section and they are a very convenient way to throw together a salad if you are in a hurry. These are available in a variety of styles and flavors.

10. Use less ketchup, mayo, sour cream, and high calorie salad dressings. Instead look for lower calorie dressings, lemon juice, salsa, or hummus.

11. Keep some good protein sources handy so you can easily add them to meals or snacks. These might include cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, shredded chicken, boiled eggs, or peanut butter. These foods also satisfy your hunger better than just snacking on carbs.

12. One easy way to increase your vegetable intake is to keep a variety of frozen vegetables in your freezer so you can easily add a serving of vegetables to your meals. You can quickly microwave, boil or steam them in a matter of minutes.

13. Keep plenty of filtered water in your fridge. Cold, clean water is much more appealing than tap water and will make it easier for you stay hydrated.

These are just a few simple things you can do to keep your food safe, more appealing, and healthier.