Tuesday, December 24, 2013

He is the Real Deal!

Patrick Teutsch is the 2013 German champion of the lightheavy-weight-class in natural bodybuilding. I got to know Patrick through my friend, who has been going out with him for a couple of years. Patrick is like a book on legs when it comes to questions of exercising and nutrition. This holiday season I was lucky enough to ask him a couple of questions and share this mini-interview with you guys. And here he is (drums playing):

I hope his motivational tips and tricks will get you through the holiday season, as I am certainly struggling to stay away (...or better: not eat all) the cookies and sweets my mum keep at home for Christmas. If you would like to ask Patrick more questions regarding fitness, please leave a comment either here, or visit his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PatrickTeutschGNBF . Also, like his page and show your support for a clean and healthy way to get fit. He also posts great tips regarding meals, workouts and general fitness advice. A big thank you to Patrick, for taking the time and let us pick his brain. Enjoy people, and go have a christmas cookie now, I know you want it, and after reading this, you earned it :)

How long have you been involved in Bodybuilding?

When I started working out I wasn’t involved in bodybuilding straight away. The first time I went to the gym was in December 2008 when I was 19 years old. You see, I wasn’t very young when my interest in fitness was sparked. A lot of guys start earlier in their life. As time went on, I took more and more steps into the bodybuilding scene, and finally, I would say after maybe one year, I acted like a proper natural bodybuilder. Natural bodybuilding means that no Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) are allowed under any circumstances. Natural Bodybuilding is an idealistic way to sculpture the human body - you are creating the perfect physic with only your own abilities in a healthy way. That means no toxins, drugs or medicines. Natural Bodybuilding is purely based on hard training and a balanced diet.

How did you get into Bodybuilding?

At the beginning I just wanted to get stronger and improve y physique for aesthetic reasons. I think that’s the main goal of most people. I fell in love with the sport straight away. It is really quite simple: it’s just you against yourself. It is more of a mental war than a physical effort. If you don’t have the mental power, you don’t grow in the long run.  It’s all about pushing your limits. People often say “I can’t do this” or “It’s impossible”. I think that’s just excuses. If you want something, go and get it. Just decide to work for it! With this attitude and my love for the sport, I am made for bodybuilding.

What do you think is the best way to lose fat?

Losing fat is not as difficult as the most people make it to be. There are thousands of diets and nutritional programs out there in magazines and on the web, but to be honest - most of them are total crap. If you want to lose fat, you have reach an energy deficit. That means your caloric output has to higher than your caloric input. So, if your body uses more energy than you are absorbing through food intake, you are burning fat. I fond that the easiest way is a timed low carb diet. With this diet you only eat carbohydrates before and after training in combination with proteins. The rest of the time your nutrients mainly come from fats, proteins and lots of vegetables. Fats? Yes, if you want to lose fat you have to eat good fats. If you keep carb intake low, your body is able to constantly burn fat at a high level.

What do you think is the best way to gain muscle?

The best way to gain muscle is to workout intensively and eat a balanced diets including a lot of vegetables, good fats, a lot of proteins and enough carbohydrates. If you don’t eat more calories than you are burning, you won’t grow bigger in the long run. Believe me, many people actually don’t eat enough, even if they think they do. Another advice is: Don’t keep your workout monotonous - change it up. If you do what you always did, you'll get what you always got.

What is your favorite workout? What is your favorite meal?

Well, I don’t really have a favorite workout; I enjoy chest, back and leg exercises. If I had to pick: deadlifts are my favorite move, as it engages pretty much all your muscles in your body.
My favorite meal is chicken with rice and curry sauce. I can eat it all day every day.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement is definitely becoming the German champion of natural bodybuilding in 2011 and 2013. 2011 I took part in my first competition in the light-weight-class, and 2013 I successfully entered the lightheavy-weight-class.

What has been your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge is balancing my life and the sport. At times it is hard to keep focusing on my ultimate goals. The greatest difficulty is usually to stay within the boundaries of my clean diet.

How do you stay motivated/What motivates you?

I have an ideal of what I want to look like and what I want to achieve. If you are willing and ready to sacrifice a lot, you will reap the fruits of your effort in the end. I gained incredible discipline through the sport, and greatly strengthened my iron will and self-control. My motivation is unbreakable, I devoted myself to my goal of the perfect physique.

How do you push through a ‘bad’ day? How do you fight cravings during your cutting phase?

The easiest way to fight cravings is to eat vegetables. It is fine to eat a lot of vegetables. However, the most important part is to remember your goals. Realize why you are doing this and where you want to get. Realize how amazing it is, if you get stronger in every way and finally reach what you desire.

What would be your number one advice for a person who wants to get fit?

One of the ten economic principles is that people respond to incentives. In our case, this would be our ideal of the perfect body, a certain way what we would like to look like. The most efficient way to get fit is to clearly know what you want to reach. Challenge yourself, keep track of your achievements and your aim and dedicate yourself. Sooner or later you will reach it. It is ok to trat yourself from time to time, but try to stay on track most of the time.

Keep going people, stay healthy, be happy, and always keep smiling:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

So on this Day You rest from all Your Work.

Once you have stuck to your exercise plan for a week or two, exercising can turn into a serious addiction (a good one, if you ask me). You start to feel restless if you don't exercise for a day, and your mind wonders off thinking about what exercises you will perform at your next gym session (yes, I daydream about the gym...). If you are seriously committed to your fitness goals, you are willing to give 110% and more. However,you need to be cautious not to overwork your body.

When I first started working out and saw maximum results in a short period of time, I was so motivated that I went to the gym every day, and constantly pushed my body to exhaustion without breaks. I would do squats and deadlifts every day, and even if I could barely crawl up the stairs on all fours to my apartment, I would not miss a gym session. On the contrary, I would feel guilty if I skipped a day. That is not healthy. Your body needs rest and relaxation every now and then, and it cannot function properly if you don't treat it well. There came a point where I was too tired to get out of bed, I couldn't concentrate on my uni work, and I was constantly grumpy and anti-social. Furthermore, I couldn't see or feel any real changes anymore, which increased my frustration. I then decided to take a whole week off, where I would not exercise even once. After that week, my body re-booted and I felt more energetic than ever. I learnt the hard way that you need to give yourself time to recover, even if you think a day without squats is a wasted day.

Rest days are important for reasons of recovery, injury prevention and psychological well-being. After straining your muscles and breaking them during your workout, you need the right nutrition, plenty of sleep, and a day of rest to rebuild that muscle and its surrounding tissue. Furthermore, if you are constantly breaking down a muscle and overwork your joints, you are at great risk to hurt yourself (and imagine how many days you would have to take off then!). Psychologically speaking, it is just nice to not go to the gym for a day, and just do something totally relaxing and stationary (Netflix is becoming my best friend on those days). I don't think there is a general guideline on how many rest days to have per week, your should just listen to your body and follow your gut feeling. I personally work out 4 times a week, and always have a day off in between. That way I can concentrate on getting the rest of my life in shape, and ensure that I do not overwork myself. However, I have friends who only have one or two rest days per week, and it works for them. As with all the other aspects of health and fitness, there is no general formula; you have to find out for yourself what works.

Rest days don't only have to be applied to exercise. I recently converted to the 'cheat-day-lovers'. Well, not really, I think it's silly to eat healthy all week and then destroy all your efforts by consuming 5 doughnuts and 3 pizzas on your cheat day. But having something not-so-healthy every now provides a nice reward for your hard work, and keeps you motivated to stay healthy for the rest of the time. You can even try to keep your treats healthy by swapping to home baking and replacing sugar with honey, oil with applesauce, and white flour with wholewheat or almond flour. One of my favourite recipes for a treat is actually really, really simple:

Mash 1-2 ripe bananas, add 1/2-3/4 cup of oats, add some apple sauce, add some dark chocolate chips, shape into cookies and put it in the oven at 200° (400 Fahrenheit) for 20-30 minutes, depending on how squishy you like your cookies. Easy-Peasy!

Rest days will help you reach your fitness goals while keeping you sane. Don't overwork yourself. And if you don't want to listen to me, at least take advice from Him himself: 

"By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Do Cardio Swinger-Club-Style!

There is no formula for easy weight loss (life is tough). The only way to be healthy is through hard work in the gym and self-control in the kitchen. I am sure many of you have seen the memes and photos stating that a healthy lifestyle is “30% Exercise and 70% nutrition”, or that “Abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen”. Unfortunately for all us cake and cookie lovers, these statements are mostly true. You can exercise as much as you want – if you go home and gorge yourself in pizza, fries and a burger (I’d be impressed if anyone of you could physically eat that) – you will see no changes. However, today I don’t want to talk about food (as much as I love it), but I want to concentrate on the exercise part.
This Monday I will change up my workout plan for the first time this semester. Why? Because after a couple of weeks of the same routine, your body will get used to the movements, and your muscles won’t rip and get sore as much, and the fat-burning process will slow down. If you don’t change your exercise plan regularly, it is very likely that you will reach a plateau. Therefore, every 4-6 weeks I swap around my exercises and change it up a little – that way it also doesn’t get boring!
My last plan focused on a full body workout every second day of the week, including strength training and cardio. From Monday onwards, I will have split days, meaning that I focus on a certain muscle group for my strength training, and still do cardio 4 days a week. The new workout plan was especially created and customized for me by ProFitnessPlans.com, and I will definitely keep you updated on my progress (yay)! If you would like to take advantage of their awesome as well, Register for free at ProFitnessPlans.com 
Both, cardio and strength training are necessary for healthy and sustained weight loss. Working with weights will build the muscles that you then use to burn fat during cardio. Cardio and Strength training come in a package deal, and you should try and concentrate on both. If you only do weights, your abs of steel will forever be hold prisoners by your persisting stomach fat. If you only do cardio, then you will first off take longer to lose excess weight, and secondly you will be what I like to call ‘skinny fat’, which means that you are skinny, but not toned. And let’s be honest, we all want an ass and a bit of definition.
For me, cardio has always been the worst part. I get super board spending half an hour of my valuable time on a cross trainer, or a bike, or even the treadmill. Going at the same speed for 30 minutes, listening to my workout playlist for the 674th time and counting down the minutes until I can finally concentrate on increasing the weights on my squats is really not that appealing. I can imagine that many people feel the same, and let’s just put it out there – CARDIO IS BORING! But - surprise, surprise - it doesn’t have to be. I put together my top 3 ways of making cardio more enjoyable.

Advise #1: Mix up your cardio and include some interval training.
Let’s say you are like me and do cardio 4 times a week. This is the perfect way to take advantage of all the machines in the gym. You can swap it up, using the bike, elliptical, treadmill, rowing machine (to be fair – no one wants to do 30 minutes on a rowing machine) and stepper (honestly – I don’t use this thing, it scares me. I am talking about this machine which is kind of like a mixture between an elliptical and treadmill, where you can either be running with long strides, or you are stepping with short, quick movements. My friend told me it is awesome, and great for the glutes, so I definitely wanted to try it out. I’m not sure if I am just a little retarded – but I couldn’t get it working! I could not start this silly machine! In the end I just looked like an idiot and went on the elliptical instead. Awkward times.) Anyway, you get the gist, there are many machines you can use to keep it interesting and stimulate all your muscles throughout the week. Now, the best thing to do on these machines is interval training, It ensures that you keep your heart rate in the fat burning zone whilst surprising your body with switching intervals of moderate and high intensity. Here is my favourite workout which you can do on any of those machines:
  1. Minute: 15 sec as fast as you can – 45 sec moderate effort
  2. Minute: 30 sec as fast as you can – 30 sec moderate effort
  3. Minute: 45 sec as fast as you can – 15 sec moderate effort
  4. Minute: 60 sec as fast as you can
2 minutes breathing break going at low-moderate effort
  1. Minute: 60 sec as fast as you can
  2. Minute: 45 sec as fast as you can – 15 sec moderate effort
  3. Minute: 30 sec as fast as you can – 30 sec moderate effort
  4. Minute: 15 sec as fast as you can – 45 sec moderate effort
2 minutes breathing break going at low-moderate effort
Repeat this process, and you have done 20 minutes of high quality, sweat producing, fat reducing cardio. I promise it will leave it’s marks on your gym clothing!

Advice #2: Set yourself a ‘compulsory’ goal.
I hate running. Always have, always will. I am just not made for running. However, in the beginning of this year, I spontaneously decided to sign up for the Edinburgh Rock’n Roll Half Marathon. I just wanted to see if I can do it, and I was looking for a challenge. I started training for the race, running every second day of the week and doing my Long-Run every Sunday. Funnily enough, I started to really enjoy running, and never skipped a day. Having a goal and knowing what I am training for really helped me focus and keep on track. Sign up for a race or a challenge, and you will feel more inclined to get your cardio in, and will have more fun doing so. Here is some proof that I actually did it (if you know me, you probably wouldn't believe me otherwise...?

Advice#3: Try Crossfit.
I have to admit that I am a crossfit-lover. I started doing ‘proper’ crossfit last semester in a group and with a trainer, and it was awesome fun. However, as I am a poor student, I wasn’t able to afford the class for long. So I looked up some of the workouts online and started doing them in the gym together with my flatmate (her boyfriend calls us 'The Two Assassins' because of that). I think that crossfit is a great way to combine cardio and strength training, and seeing that all the workouts are different and usually never longer than 30 minutes, it is something that fits into every workout plan. The workouts are also adjustable according to fitness and skill level. If you are more experienced, you can add weights to movements like squats and lunges, and if you are just starting you can use your own bodyweight (I still can’t do proper pull-ups, so if you see a crazy girl jumping up and down on a pull-up bar it is most likely me). Once you know all the basic moves, you can even come up with your own WODs (workout of the days). You see, it is a great way to mix up your cardio and never get bored. You also feel super cool and strong whilst doing a crossfit workout, so it is great for confidence as well.

Here is an example, the workout is called Barbara:
20 Pull-ups
30 Push-ups
40 Sit-ups
50 Squats
5 rounds for time, 3 minutes rest between rounds.
Do this workout and record your time. Do it again in a month time, and compare your times. It is a great way to see progress and improvement!

This little list should give you some sparkling ideas of how to make cardio more fun and prevent boredom. I was thinking of a punch line earlier (I always like to finish off on a high-note), and here is the best I could come up with:

Cardio is like love-making when you're old - don't skip it, swing it! (...if you know what I mean...)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Deadly Deadlifts and going Green!

I think its time to show you another one of my favourite exercises: Deadlifts. This is, like Squats and Bench Press, a compound movement - and a form of Olympic Lifting. Deadlifts work similar muscles as a Squat, but focus more on your hamstrings, glutes and lower back. At the same time you are also working out your core, lower back and various additional leg muscles. So its a great move to get in shape and get strong.

Overall, I am a great fan of deadlifts, however, a warning is necessary. Deadlifts, if performed poorly, live up to their name: they are deadly. What do I mean by that? The likeliness that you will injure yourself doing Deadlifts is incredibly high. I experienced it myself. My boyfriend was the first one to introduce me to this compound movement, and he showed me numerous times how to perform it properly. However, I had difficulties getting my form right, and it took me days of practicing until I finally found out what I was doing wrong. A week later, he was wondering off, doing his own workout, and I proceeded to do Deadlifts by myself. I don't know what I did - but after I finished all my sets I felt a piercing pain in my lower back, which then traveled along to my legs, and persisted at the joints where my legs are connected to my torso. I could not walk properly! The pain was almost unbearable, and in my panic I actually thought I injured my spine and won't be able to walk ever again - total freak out! Obviously I exaggerated and it wasn't that bad, however, it took a couple of days until the pain went away and I was reaching my full potential again. This experience was really scary, and since then I am incredibly careful when doing Deadlifts.

So basically, I don't want you to do Deadlifts if there is noone around who can show you exactly how to do them. If you MUST try them by yourself, please please please start with very low weight, until you got your form right, and then slowly move up. You don't want to cripple yourself. Furthermore, I will show you an alternative exercise which has almost the same effects, and is a lot safer (and also good fun).

Performing a Proper Deadlift

1. Stand behind the bar. Legs a little more than shoulder-width apart. Squat down. Your legs should form a 90° angle (or less). Transfer your weight onto your heels. Your knees should be alingned with your toes. Grab the bar with both hands. Push your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. ALWAYS keep your back straight. You can chose the grip you like the most. Many people say that a mixed grip (one hand forward, the other one backward) provides you with the maximum strength in your hands and forearms, but to me it feels kinda weird. I just have to practice it a bit more.


2. Slowly push your heels into the ground, squeeze your glutes together, and push through your legs. Lift the weight off the ground. This exercise is mainly targeting the legs, so you should work your arms and back as little as possible. You want to lift the weight by straightening your legs. Move the bar along the outline of your body. ALWAYS keep your back straight. Otherwise, I promise you, you will hurt yourself!

Now, the first picture is the way I DO NOT want you to perform a Deadlift. It is a recipe for disaster and injury, so please DO NOT do this. Even though the Deadlift is somewhat of a two part movement (straightening your legs, straightening your hips), you want to perform those movements almost at the same time, it should be a flowing movement. This is what I had trouble with when I started doing Deadlifts. I would first straighten up my legs, and then lift the weight with my upper body. That puts enormous pressure on your lower back, and sets you up for injury. So if you look like me in the picture below, you are doing it WRONG!

If you would start lifting up the weight now, you will not use your legs. Instead, keep your bottom below your shoulders, and lift the weight through pressing your legs into the ground and straightening up WHILST keeping your back and torso the way it originally was.

Whilst pushing through your legs, squeeze your glutes and move the bar closely along your body. 

3. The final stage involves a push through your hips. Straighten up your body by pushing your hips forward and drive them through the bar. You have successfully completed a Deadlift!

In this position, your body should be straight, your hips pushed slightly forward, and your shoulders pushed back by squeezing your shoulder blades together. You can now return to the starting position and perform more reps. Depending on the weight, I usually do 3 sets, 8-12 reps. 

As I mentioned before, poorly performed Deadlifts can be DANGEROUS. If you just started to train with weights and are not 100% comfortable with Olympic lifting, and if you have no experienced gym buddy who can help you with your form, you might want to stay away from Deadlifts. Instead, you could perform Kettle Bell Swings. This exercise works the same muscles, but puts less pressure on your spine and lower back. 

Performing Kettle Bell Swings

I have seen many people doing Kettle Bell Swings. And Oh Dear Lord, most of them have no idea what they are doing. This exercise, like Deadlifts, is targeted at your legs and glutes, not your arms or back muscles. The starting position is similar to a deadlift. Squat down, form a 90° angle, keep your back straight and push your shoulders back. Shift your weight onto your heels.

Driving through your hips, straighten your legs and in a swinging motion, lift up the Kettle Bell. Again, the driving force are your legs and glutes (squeeze that butt of yours), and not your arms! Remember to keep your back straight (by now you must be so annoyed by me saying this over and over again, but at least you won't forget it).

You can now choose between two variations. Either you bring your Kettle Bell up in front our your body (90° angle) or your push it further until it reaches the point just before it is straight above your head. Either way, you want to end up with a straight body, and really drive your hips forward, squeezing your glutes together in the end.

(Yes, the light coming through the window is sunshine. Sunshine in Edinburgh! What a rare occurrence.)

Finally, you let the Kettle Bell drop in a controlled motion, and it will swing back between your knees. And here is where most people get it wrong. Do not lean forward and let your chest drop to the same level as your knees. Remember, you want to sit upright, with your back straight, and your shoulders pushed back. This is what you should look like in the final (and first) stage of your Kettle Bell Swing:

Right, you now have some material to perform a proper Deadlift, even though I would not recommend to do it as a beginner and without professional help. Instead, have fun with those Kettle Bell Swings.

There is another story I wanted to share.  It is not THAT exciting, so I don't think it deserves its own post, but I thought it might be somewhat helpful. I spend a lot of time on Pinterest the last couple of days, because it entertains me to look at food and fit people (I get a weird kick out of it). I found some good looking green smoothies on there, and thought I should try it out. So I went to the Health Food store this morning and got all the missing ingredients. I mixed two recipes, and here is what I ended up with: 

Suspicious Green Smoothie:

- 1 cup Spinach
- 1 cup Kale
- 1/2 cup Cucumber
- 1 Tbsp Chia Seeds
- 1/2 Tbsp Raw Cocoa Powder
- 1 tsp Stevia
- 1 cup Coconut water

I blended it all together, and lets say - the result was interesting. This is what it looked like:

You could say it looks somewhat delicious. It definitely looks healthy. And that is what it tastes and feels like, too. The first half was pretty good - the cucumber makes the smoothie nice and fresh, and the chia seeds give it some texture. However, half way through I just started feeling like cow must feel like day in and day out. It was like chewing on a mouthful of grass, and I did not find it overly enjoyable. It gave me a weird feeling of satisfaction though. Obviously I finished my drink, its the best way to get all your greens, but I think some experimentation is needed. Tomorrow I will try out different ingredients and combinations, until I end up with a green smoothie that actually doesn't make you feel like you face-planted in the meadows. If you have any recipes that work, please save me from my misery and comment below - I would really appreciate it.

If you are looking for more advice on getting git, customized exercise plans (that are also safe and not even slightly deadly) and personalized nutrition plans (with yummy smoothies), visit us at ProFitnessPlans.com and Register for free at ProFitnessPlans.com 

That's it from me. Advice of the day:  Stay green, don't die. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Do Numbers matter?

Numbers are making us crazy. Nowadays, numbers make the world go round. How much did GDP grow this year? Did my real income increase? Should I save more? Is it clever to invest at a low interest rate? Numbers are in fashion, and we keep trying to express everything around us through mathematical models.

There is a lot of math involved in weight loss. How many calories do you eat? How many calories are you burning? What about carbs? How much do you weight? What is your body fat percentage? What about your BMI? The list goes on and on and on...

Today I want to filter out which numbers matter, and which measures you should forget about. I will look at the three most common measures of weight loss and fitness. I will talk about calories, weight, and body fat percentage. At some point I will look at low carb diets separately, and I believe that it is almost common knowledge that BMI is a very general and imprecise measure, so I won't really bother with it (unless you would like me to). Let's get started!

Calorie Balance

This is the most basic formula for weight loss: eat less calories than you are burning. My dad (a neurologist and psychiatrist--I blame him for everything that's wrong with me) used to tell me that only people with an eating disorder count calories, but I believe that's wrong. Keeping an eye on your energy intake and exertion can really help you to jump start weight loss. And don't just guess. At first, it is tedious to look up the nutritional information for all the food you are eating, but soon you will get the hang of it, and THEN you can start guessing. Try to make your meals no more than 600 calories (on average, the body can't take in more than that), and I found that 400-500 calories per meal is perfect. You don't feel too heavy, and you aren't starving. The easiest way to find out your energy/calorie needs is online, and you can Register for free at ProFitnessPlans.com to help you assess your nutritional needs and come up with customized nutrition and exercise plans. Let's see: I can do the basics with you. First, it is interesting to know what your Basal Metabolic Rate is. This is the amount of calories you burn just to survive--breathing, digesting, basic movements, brain functions (if you're lucky...). 

Based on my information, the calculator tells me that in a somewhat sedentary state, I would burn 1,415 calories a day. Now let's see what happens when I put in my daily exercise level:

Now that you know what you can eat, start tracking your daily intake, and make sure that you don't eat more than you are burning. Generally, if you want to lose weight, you should cut your calories by around 500. Do NOT cut out more calories than that, as you would not reach your metabolic needs, and your body functions would suffer. I know this seems pretty basic, but this is what really helped me in the beginning, and it is what most people struggle with the most. Just changing my eating habits and really being conscious of what I am eating has already made a huge difference even without working out every day. Once again, just to remind you: Calories In < Calories Out


For us women, there are two taboos: nobody who wants to get out alive should start talking about 1) age and 2) weight. We don't like revealing how old we are, and how much we weigh (even I am starting to do that--and I am only 21...my best years are gone!). Personally, I don't believe in weight. If you are overweight to the point that you are at risk of serious health issues, you definitely need to take into account how much you weigh, and it is a good tool to track your progress. But that is only for the beginning. The closer you get to your ideal body shape, the less important it is to weigh yourself. I went to the gym with a friend of mine today, and she was really upset about the number she saw on the scale. I know it is hard to ignore it, but I usually just do not weigh myself. If, however, you are OCD and you want to keep exact records of all possible measurements, keep this in mind: weight fluctuates. There are many factors that influence your weight: how much water have you drank throughout your day, when was the last time you ate, did you exercise before, are you on your period, what time of the day is it, etc. So if you want to get a good idea about the changes in your weight, make sure you control for all these possible factors. I recommend, however, that you should rather go by how you feel and look. I believe that the importance of weight decreases with your progress.

Body Fat Percentage

Now this is an interesting one. When I started working with Michael here at ProFitnessPlans.com, he gave me access to an account, and I took all the necessary measurements to calculate my BodyFat%. The program told me I am a proud 15%, which I am more than happy with. However, when I started Uni back in Edinburgh, I went to the gym and took two different tests, both of them telling me that I have a BodyFat% of 25. How could I have put on 10% Body Fat in 2 months? At first I was shocked and upset, because I thought all my hard work and effort somehow didn't pay off. I did some research online, and the results were even more confusing. Let's look at some of the evidence.

This time, if I believe the gym, I would look like the girl in the red bikini in the center left picture. It is not that far away from the truth, however, I think the 20-22% range would be more accurate. My 15% measurement this time doesn't give accurate results, however, at least it is rather flattering.

There are so many different formulas for calculating BodyFat% out there, that you will never get a definite answer. You should treat BodyFat% similar to your weight--it is a rough measure that you can use as a tracking tool for progress, but most of the time you might be better off just ignoring it unless you use professional guidance to track your weight loss journey, as online examples not offered by professional fitness services are dangerously unreliable. 

So how can you keep track of progress?

If you have read my last post (and I hope you all did), you will know the answer to this question. Take a before picture, and then take a picture of yourself every 2-4 weeks. That way you are able to actually see your progress. You will also be able to feel the difference, as your jeans are getting bigger and you aren't struggling to get up to your first floor flat anymore. Another good way of keeping track of your achievements is measuring the diameters of your problem zones. Take the measurements of your arms, waist, hips and upper thigh every time you take a selfie, and if you have been good with your diet and exercise, I promise these numbers will fall.

Where does this leave us? Use 'fitness measurements' as rough guidelines, and don't get too hung up about them. The only thing you should care about in the beginning is the amount of food you are eating (and don't forget those drinks!) relative to your exercise routine. In the end, numbers don't really matter; the most important part is seeing the change, feeling healthy, and being happy. I mean, Who likes math anyway?!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Is that really ME?!

I have been sticking to a healthy lifestyle for just over a year now: this includes making conscious food choices and committing to regular exercises (cardio and strength training). The changes to my body (inside and out) have been great--however, as I (sometimes shockingly) see myself in the mirror every day, I don't realise how great my transformation was, and still is. Because you are always more critical with yourself, it seems that you see yourself in a different light than other people would. This can be good and bad.

If you feel like you have stagnated, and there haven't been any positive changes, you might be more motivated to stick to your healthy diet and exercise plan even more than before. You might feel like the gym session is more worth going to. And when you realise that you  have reached a plateau, you can make appropriate changes.

However, if you are being too critical and hard on yourself, you can enter a vicious cycle of desperation. What do I mean by that? Well, if you are too focused on what is wrong with you and your body, these negative thoughts can actually hold you back. They make you more vulnerable to your weaknesses. For example, I used to be VERY particular about what I ate, because I wanted to cut out sugar and wheat completely. Because I was so focused on what not to do, I failed to reward myself completely, which made me unhappy. When I was unhappy, I wanted cake (natural reaction, right?). But I wasn't allowed to have cake, which made me want it even more. At some point in this chain of reactions, I would just go 'Bloody Hell, this is stupid--let's have a cake-fest!' This did not end with me having ONE piece of cake, but the WHOLE cake (yes, it was carrot cake, and yes my stomach is very stretchy). After that I would feel terrible, and again start the cycle of restricting myself completely.

Something similar can happen when you don't see progress anymore. The closer you get towards your dream body, the slower the changes will appear. If you feel like nothing is happening anymore, you either give up because all this effort isn't paying off, or you think you have to get even stricter to achieve what you want. And that is where the problem lies.

Tracking, measuring and viewing your progress is extremely important not only for your motivation, but for your overall sanity. The easiest way to do that is to take before and after pictures. When you start your journey towards a healthy and fit life, take a photo of yourself in underwear. Do not try to make it any better by sucking in your stomach or flexing your biceps. That defeats the purpose. From then on, regularly look at yourself in the mirror, assess your body, become more familiar with it, and take a photo. If you love taking pictures of yourself, you can do it once a day (I feel like lots of people on facebook do that...). I think once every two to four weeks would work best because I feel that for most body types, that seems to be a good interval to perceive changes. Keep the pictures in a folder on your laptop, and everytime you doubt yourself, or you are unhappy with the way you look, or you feel like you are stuck, go back to that folder and see how far you have come!

Unfortunately, I have not kept track of my progress regularly, and I really regret that. I have now reached a stage where progress is almost invisible--however, when I look back at pictures of me from a year ago, I am quite proud of myself! I would love to see, however, if there has been any change in the last 4 - 3- 2- 1 months though. Learn from my mistakes and track your progress.

At the moment, I can only offer to you some old travel pictures, which unfortunately is not the same as taking proper fitness before and after pictures. However, I think you can definitely get the idea!

Yes, you can see the difference. And please don't get me wrong, I am very proud of what I have achieved. However, now I find it difficult to see if my hard work and efforts are paying off now--which sometimes negatively impacts my motivation. So, take a photo of yourself right now, no matter what level of fitness you are at! Get into the habit of taking photos of yourself regularly: don't be critical, be constructive.

If you would like to have access to more tracking tools, advice and motivation, Register free at ProFitnessPlans.com. .

In the end, it is great to go back to those 'Before' pictures and wonder "IS THAT REALLY ME?!"

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thank You Anna!

Wanted to send a huge thank you to Anna for doing such an amazing job and helping out while I've been putting all my efforts towards working on re-designing / programming the site.  Can't thank you enough!

Love the posts and sincerely appreciate your help!

Mike Davis  CSCS, NASM-CPT & GFS
[email protected]

Monday, October 14, 2013

Oh, you sweet, sweet Cravings.

I would argue that 90% of the world population nowadays is addicted to sugar. Everything in the supermarket is injected with it, even the meat. This makes it incredibly hard to stay healthy and cut out sugar and the corresponding carbs.

When I decided to change my lifestyle and diet, I wanted to cut out sugar completely. Now I know that this idea was silly, seeing that your brain needs a little glucose to function properly. However, I do try to only include natural sugar from fruit and maybe a bit of milk or dairy. (If you have a lot of weight to lose, you might want to limit your fruit intake to 1 or 2 servings per day, because even though they are natural, they do spike up your blood sugar. Try to get the rest of your 5 a day from vegetables.)

Cutting out sugar actually has been one of the biggest challenges in my fitness journey so far. We are surrounded by sugary, unhealthy things, and ironically enough - they are the once that taste good, too. I think that I am addicted to sugar - and as it is with every addiction, staying away from the drug isn't easy. Cravings get worse when I am bored, or when I'm emotional. I still haven't perfected my tactics of dealing with cravings, but I thought I should share them with you anyways, and I would appreciate it if you could share your strategy and tactics as well.

1. Are you hungry, or are you just craving food?

When you feel like you HAVE to eat something, take a step back and analyze your hunger. (Very) generally speaking, there are two types of hunger: Physical Hunger and Emotional Hunger.

1a) Physical Hunger
Physical Hunger is a natural process that occurs when your body is running low on energy. It comes gradually and can be postponed. When you are properly hungry, you don't really mind what food you are eating (obviously you have favourites), but what this means is that any food can satisfy your hunger. In this instance, you know when you're full. You can stop anytime when your body has had enough energy intake, and you rarely overeat. After eating you feel satisfied.

1b) Emotional Hunger
This is not really hunger - more of a craving. You feel like you are going to die if you don't have a specific food (pizza, chocolate, carrot cake - oh my god I love carrot cake, ice cream etc.). Even though you know these foods are bad for you, and they will hinder your weight loss and fitness goals - they are all you can think about. Cravings creep up on you. They peek around the corner and jump at you. It is a sudden feeling of wanting to put tasty food into your mouth. Because cravings are so sudden and feel so urgent, you are very likely to overeat or at least eat more than you normally would. After you gorge on those tasty foods you are left feeling guilty and you regret your decision of opening that ice cream tub.

You can see, there is a clear difference between hunger and cravings. Before you do anything, you need to identify which of those two phenomena you are falling victim to.

2. How to deal with Hunger

This one is a no-brainer. Make some delicious food. If you are on the edge of starvation, go for veggies and dip whilst you cook your meal. If you have time, prepare something you like and that is healthy. For example, my go-to, quick dish is chicken seasoned with spices (curry, paprika, chili and olive oil), cooked in the oven for 30 minutes. With the chicken I have salad that is made of sour cream (+Italian Seasoning), romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber, mozzarella and avocado.

3. How to deal with Cravings

Now this one is tough. I have developed some strategies to take my mind off unhealthy food when I crave it, but I have to admit that they don't work all the time. I also asked other people how they deal with cravings, and here is a list of the 6 best strategies that we found have worked best:

  • Talk to a friend. This one has multiple benefits, and is my personal favorite. If you are feeling alone, or you have relationship trouble, talking to a friend about your issues is not only the healthier choice, but also the more helpful one. It never happened to me that my love life got sorted by eating a whole box of cookies (unfortunately). Furthermore, if you tell your friend, family member or flatmate that you have a craving and that you do NOT want to give in to it, they can motivate you to stick to your promise. They can help you take your mind of things. It would also be really embarrassing if you give this long speech about how you really want some cake, but that you will be strong and not give in to your urges - and the next second your friend sees you stuffing your face with chocolate brownies. 
  • Reward yourself from time to time. Personally, I don't necessarily believe in cheat days. I think if I had a cheat day, I would end up in hospital due to an overdose of carrot cake. With me it literally works like this: Once the gate is open, the flood is coming in. I have no self-control once I start cheating. However, a lot of my friends swear by small treats. Some people have one 'nice' thing a day (sugary muesli in the morning, a cereal bar, a couple of pieces of chocolate) and it keeps them going. Other people have one cheat meal per week, which satisfies them and motivates them to stick to a healthy diet until next Sunday.
  • Make a list of all the bad things that happen when you binge and overeat. I made that list last time I ate too much crunchy cereal, and felt so full that I didn't want to leave the house. Don't let cravings control your life. I pinned the list on my pinnboard in my room, and every time I feel a craving coming along, I just have to look at the sheet of paper to be reminded of the stomach cramps the binging gave me. (I will attach a photo of my list at the end of this).
  • Try to take your mind off food. Call a friend. Go for a walk. Paint your nails. Take a shower. Shave your legs. Reorganise something. Drink water or tea. I am sure the list can go on and on. This strategy is especially effective when you only want to eat because you are bored.
  • Buy expensive treats. Now, seeing that I am a student, this seems counter-intuitive. Coming from Germany, the high food prices in the UK make my heart bleed. However, I have discovered a Health Food store near my house, and I purchased some awesome Raw Food crunchy snacks, that also go well with my nutrition plan. Seeing that I have to pay 4 pounds ($6.50) for less than 100g, I am incredibly cautious of how much I am eating. I also start to think twice about if I really need this snack right now. At this stage it is also good to mention to opt for healthy alternatives. When you are watching a movie or TV show and you want to munch on something (I always want to snack when I watch something), maybe make carrots, cucumber, pepper and some hummus or sour cream and chives. I also found raw chocolate that is sugar free, gluten free and dairy free - it actually tastes pretty good, too. I know it is not the same, but often it helps. 
  • If worst comes to worst and you can't resist, make sure you control your portions. The other day my flatmate said: "I only eat what fits in my hand." I think that is a great way to go about it, seeing that your stomach is only a little bit bigger than your fist. This way you can satisfy your craving whilst not regretting your decision afterwards.

(Once again, please excuse the terrible quality. At some point in the nearer future I will invest into a better phone.)

I hope these tips and tricks are of some value to you. I know that none of them are 100% successful, but maybe you can try a combination. If, however, you do give in to a binge-attack, try to get back on track as soon as possible. Don't punish yourself by restricting your calories or swearing to put in an extra 3 hours at the gym the day after. It doesn't work like that. Something similar happened to me last semester. I gave in to my cravings almost every second day, and would overeat on cereal, chocolate, gummy bears, cookies, ice cream and all these things. Afterwards I would feel terrible and guilty, and swear to myself that from the next day on, I would stick to healthy eating and work out even harder. However, the next day the craving would hit me even harder, BECAUSE I would put so much pressure on myself. In the end you are trapped in a vicious cycle. Learn from your mistakes, and then move on. If you Register free at ProFitnessPlans.com. we can help you to generate a nutrition plan that satisfies you whilst being healthy, and also provide moral support throughout your journey.

Craving is a bitch. You have to learn to treat it like one.

Anna Buchmann
[email protected]

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Yeah, She Benches!

I’m not sure how many of you have seen this Facebook Page: Yeah, She Benches. It shows you pictures of half naked Fitness Models and wants to animate women to start going to the gym to get nice, round boobies. For the curious of you, here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/YeahSheBenches?hc_location=stream

However, everyone who has eyes in their head and uses their brain more than just for breathing will be able to see that those boobies are not exactly real. Most Fitness Models (and please correct me if I’m wrong) get implants, because their body fat percentage has dropped so low that their boobs turn into packs. I think in that situation it is actually fair enough to get surgery, because otherwise you don’t really look like a woman anymore. What I do not agree with, however, is the image pages like this put into girls’ heads. Your boobs will not look like that, even if you do Bench press every day of the week. They will not grow and they will not perk up with a 90° angle. Please don’t be fooled and don’t be disappointed if your natural, soft, bouncy, comfortable boobies do not look like this.

Nevertheless, Bench press is a worthwhile exercise that you should definitely include into your training plan. Like squats, it is a compound movement, which works out your arms (bicep and a bit of triceps), shoulders, chest, upper back, a bit core. Doing this exercise has many benefits, and I do think that my boobs look perkier after I started working out my chest (unfortunately they have NOT grown). So I decided to walk you through the exercise and help you get it right without injury.

When you do Bench press, try to have someone around that can spot you. Either bring a friend, or make a friend at the gym (this is a GREAT conversation starter at the gym: “Hi, I’m Anna. I was wondering if you could help me with Bench press. I need someone to spot me.”) It happened to me before that I got trapped. My arms didn’t have enough power left to complete the last set, and I was lying under this 35 kg (don’t laugh) heavy bar and I could barely move. Fortunately, the bar is light enough to role it down my body without getting hurt, and there was also a guy lifting it off me. However, if you start benching more weight, this could get quite painful. So get a helping hand.

 1.  Position yourself on the bench.

Make sure your body is straight and exactly in the middle of the bar. That way you are able to better balance the bar. Grab the bar with your hands. Make sure they are both the same distance away from the middle. Usually, there are marks or stripes on the bar which can help you to align your fingers. You can chose between a close and a wide grip. The wider the grip, the more you use your back muscles. A closer grip uses more of your biceps and triceps muscle to move the bar. I usually try to position my hands somewhere in the middle (yes, I’m a fence-sitter) so make sure I work out arms, chest and back. When you are ready, lift the bar from its stand and with straight arms hold it on top of your chest. (I know, it looks like there is a huge jungle growing under my arms - I promise it is just a shadow...)

2. Performing the Exercise

Keeping your arms on the same height, slowly lower the bar towards your chest. Try not to stick out your elbows. Make sure the bar stays on top of your chest; do not lift it above your face. When the bar touches your chest, lift it up again, always putting in the same effort with both arms in order to keep the bar straight. Repeat these movements and voila (!) – you are benching!

 3.  Positioning

The next two pictures show the movement from the side. Tuck your feet in a little. That enables you to use your lower body to also push a little if your upper body fails to complete the movement. Pay attention to where the bar is – always above your chest (you want to get those boobies working).

 4. Alternative Positioning

The other day, a staff at the gym (her name was Anna, too – it must have been fate) showed me a different way of doing Bench press, and I think I actually prefer it. In this method, you put your feet up the bench, and stick your knees up in the air. Slightly lift your ass and lower back up to create some space between you and the bench (you don’t have to lift it as high as I did in the photo – I exaggerated a little). Perform the exercise as described before. If you do the movement now, you have a wider range with your back muscles, which makes it easier to move the bar. This way you work out your back a little more, and you are more likely to be able to lift the weight. However, I would first try Benchpress with your whole body on the bench, because you first have to find your balance etc. If your body is lifted off the bench, balancing becomes more of a challenge.

I usually do 3 sets, 8 reps of benchpress. I am convinced that these kind of exercises are harder for women than for men, because our chest muscles have a different structure (same with pull-ups and push-ups). But maybe that is just an excuse. At the moment I can bench between 30-35 kg, depending on the day and my mood. I have seen girls who can do a lot more, but please be careful with the weight, there is always the possibility that you accidently drop it on your face.

Now you are one step closer to perky boobs! If you feel uncomfortable with the bar, try Dumbbell Benchpress first. It works the same way, but you don’t have to balance the weight as much, and you can train up your arms to be able to lift more weight. Ease yourself into the exercise. For professional help and advise, Register free at ProFitnessPlans.com.

I hope these posts really help you getting more comfortable with more complex and scary looking exercises. Once you get started with weights, it’s like an addiction – you can’t stop. You also feel super cool, because in the gym you are now playing with the big boys. The other day I was walking through the Meadows (a really nice park in the beautiful city of Edinburgh), and a PR person from another gym approached me, handing me a flyer with their deals and opening times. He also added that they have really good Zumba and Dancing Classes. I looked at him, smiling, thinking “Yeah, I lift. Yeah, I bench.”