Jacked: Changing Your Relationship With Food

relationship with foodDo you know what I noticed about food prep and our health? It seems like eating has become so complicated and the more complex and complicated preparing food has become, the more of an issue people have with their weight and health. Instead of actually preparing meals we’re more prone to eat out or look for quick meals in the form of frozen foods packed with sauces and loaded with salt and other chemicals. Have you taken a look around lately? Noticed that it seems more common to see the hefty, out of shape, unfit people than it is to see the fit? It’s a situation we all should be concerned about because the main issue isn’t so much a lack of exercise than it is what we’re putting into our bodies. Yes, food is the problem and our relationship with food is what’s keeping many from being healthy and fit.

You see, it boils down to this simple statement: You are what you eat.

Your relationship with food needs to change. People put about as much effort and care into their nutrition and food selections as they do with choosing who to get romantically involved with or figuring out who is truly a friend or not. A simple change can make a huge difference. Sure, exercise and staying active is necessary but all is moot if what you’re fueling your body with is complete junk.

Think about how complicated we’ve made things today in terms of staying fit: exercising is suddenly all about going to the gym and using machines that require a tutorial course or you run the risk of bodily harm; the “food” we buy in stores is full of complex and complicated chemicals that are hard to pronounce; we think in order to have ripped abs and lean bodies that it’s going to take hours of exercise each day. Think to the past. Think back to the days before technology, before the Internet, before all of these health gurus and products promising you results in 60 days or less – back in the day, people worked with a lot less than what we have today yet they were fit! They were skinnier! What changed?

Food changed. How we prepare food changed. When you go to cook a vegetable, ask yourself if it really needs to be cooked. I’m not advocating a “raw” diet per se (though eating fresh, clean vegetables raw will of course have more nutrients and less fat) but what I am advocating is that we stop complicating food. Vegetables are good for you. Frying them and stripping them of everything that makes them healthy isn’t good for you. Covering them with white flour or manufactured seasonings and heavy sauces that are packed with chemicals you can’t pronounce aren’t that good for you either.

If you want to lose weight, make food and preparing food as simple as possible. First, you should be eating natural and whole food and produce. Fresh vegetables or dry beans will always carry more of a nutritional punch than what’s found on the inner aisles at the grocery store. Next, stop feeling that you need to fry everything. There are other cooking alternatives that will give your vegetables different flavors and tastes that you should try. I prefer grilling – with an indoor grill, you can grill indoors all year-round. That slightly charred taste will definitely bring out the flavor in most vegetables and you can grill just about anything – corn, okra, beans and even fruit! Other cooking methods to consider: broiling and baking and of course simply raw veggies.

Losing weight or keeping the weight you’ve lost off isn’t really as difficult as you think. You need to change what you’re eating if you want to change your body. It’s really that simple. You can’t expect to drop tons of weight if you’re still consuming tons of fatty oils and fats from your food.

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Jacked: Get Naked – How Shedding Distractions Can Improve Your Running

Running NakedOne of my favorite exercise routines is running. It can be done anywhere, it’s not a very expensive sport (at least not if you’re not spending a ton on entering marathons and buying expensive gear) and let’s be honest … you can get a lot done in a 30 minute run and burn through a lot of calories compared to most exercises you can do in the gym. Still, people find it a chore to run. Why? Because still we insist on making running more complicated than it needs to be.

Think about it: what does it take for you to run? For many, it’s a long process. You have to think about when you’re going to run, then motivate yourself to run. Then you have to get changed into your workout gear: the well-beaten sneakers or running shoes, t-shirt or snazzy running top, shorts or running pants (in winter), so on and so forth. Then you pack your water bottle. Then you can’t live without your phone so you grab that and either carry it while you run or slip it into your pocket. Can’t forget the iPod or mp3 player! Oh, while you’re at it, grab that pedometer or expensive mile tracker. Now you’re finally ready to run and you look like you’re also ready for war as you’re now adorned in tons of gear and distractions. By the time you get to your actual run, you’re tired, you’re distracted and lugging around all of this gear puts a damper on the run. Back home you go to repeat the process again and again each week, each month, every year if you manage to stay motivated enough to keep with the routine.

It doesn’t have to be so complicated. It doesn’t need to be so complicated. Start running naked. Naked runs are not a new concept among seasoned runners; it’s also not what it sounds like. Running naked means you’re running with as little as possible. A lot of these things that people think they need in order to run are unnecessary burdens. I honestly don’t think the ordinary casual runner should be subject his or herself to long, enduring, grueling runs. I’ve read in Runner’s World magazine and in other places that anything beyond 30 minutes actually works against you rather than for you. Why’s that? Because after 30 minutes, your form gets worse, you’re more fatigued, you’re more prone to injury and your body’s ripped through burning bad calories and fat and starts eating away at good muscle. This is a key idea: run shorter sessions, therefore, cut down on things that you’d need for longer runs!

It’s fine to run more than 30 minutes a day. In my experience from clueless “running isn’t a sport” guy to someone who’s read and learned a lot more about it over the past three years, I’ve come across some really interesting information. First, split your sessions into smaller chunks. I used to subject myself to running an hour everyday. It got old quick, I felt stuck in fatigued mode and honestly, while it did help me maintain a lean frame, I couldn’t see any other benefits. Then I read about running an hour each day but 30 minute sessions: you can run before work, then after; run 20 minutes at breakfast, lunch, dinner. The combinations are many and by separating your runs, you’ll feel like you’re running more each day and you may find that you’ll even increase the distance you can cover in just 30 minutes.

Now, if you’re running 30 minutes or shorter, what do you really need to get through it? The answer is very little. Leave the cell phone in the car or at home: I suspect the world can do without you for that long if not longer without self destructing. I think that’s the biggest distraction and first thing runners should try to ‘shed’ in their quest to run naked. Phones are a big distraction: imagine running at your best and hitting a nice pace and stride, only to have to stop because someone at work called or your kid or spouse MUST ask you a question that can’t wait. Imagine running but stopping or slowing down because your friend has called you. Suddenly your run has gone from a vigorous exercise to leisurely walk that won’t even torch the calories from your morning coffee. Phones are big distractions, not to mention a bit dangerous if you’re running.

Second, ditch all of those hand-held gadgets that you think you need. I’m all for tracking miles: I do it just as a personal bench mark and little pat on the back to myself for putting in the work each week to my fitness. But, unless running is your career or you’re training for a marathon … stop and get back to running for the sake of running. When I first began to run, I didn’t track anything really. I noted how much time I spent running and how many times I passed a certain tree or fixture where ever I ran. Running was a bit more enjoyable before I began tracking miles. The moment I started tracking the miles each day, if I didn’t see at the end of the week that I’d run 20 or 30 miles, I felt like I’d failed a bit. It’s stupid really because you can’t fail at fitness, in my opinion. These little gadgets that track your progress are really unnecessary for most runners. Learn to run for the sake of fun and getting fit, not for winning some invisible/unknown race.

Your iPod and mp3 player probably seems harmless. Yes, studies have shown that when people worked out while listening to upbeat, fast-paced tracks by artists like Madonna and rock music, they worked out harder and burned through more calories. Yet, a British study also suggested that for runners, if you’re continually running while listening to music, your performance will suffer. The key advice? Try running without listening to music at least half the week. So if you’re doing my suggested 2 or 3 runs a day (at 20 minutes or 30 minutes each) then choose one run each day to run ‘naked’ without listening to music. Many listen to music to drown out their surroundings or to distract their minds from their own problems and situations. Well, there’s also a Buddhist approach to running where you run without music and instead focus on your breathing and the nature around you. It’s a form of meditation that’ll make you more aware and will help soothe and calm you just as much as running with loud music blaring through your head will.

Last, stop carrying these ridiculously huge water bottles. Even if you’re not into the whole naked running phenomena, carrying around water bottles as you run is unwise. If you’re holding it as you run, you’ve just compromised your form. You’re going to lean at a slight angle, not move the arm that’s holding the bottle, you’re going to set yourself up for a bad run and possible injury. Run shorter sessions and down your water when you get back in. You should also try to down 16 oz. or so of water before you run because you’ll end up sweating part of it out. If you’re keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day then you can go 30 minutes or so without that water bottle.

Naked running is all about shedding distractions: you’re running with yourself, not against others or problems. It’s all about running with a lighter load. Try it and get used to running with as little as possible. Not only will it improve your runs and make them more enjoyable but they’ll turn your runs into times for reflection and enjoyment.

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Jacked: Trash Your Diet – A Twist to Going Green

Trash your dietOften when someone is told to ‘go green’ we think of the usual: hybrid cars, bicycling to work, clothing made of hemp, eating organic food. Here’s a new idea – go green with your trash! If you want to lose weight and get healthy, a great place for you to start isn’t necessarily with what’s in your cabinets or fridge but what’s in your trash can.

There’s that old adage of “you are what you eat.” Yet, often we’re afraid to look at what we’re eating. When we toss something away, we’re done with it. It’s out of our hands, no longer of interest to us, has no value anymore. Ah, but so you think! What ends up in our trash cans is a direct reflection of who we are and what we’re consuming. What would someone find if they went through your kitchen trash can today? Perhaps leftovers over the course of the week; discarded cereal boxes or candy wrappers; spoiled fruit. If you’re trying to lose weight but feel overwhelmed and confused about where to start, head to your trash can and take a look at what’s inside.

Your trash is often a reflection of your diet and your living lifestyle. Is your trash nothing but frozen food boxes, potato chip packages, candy wrappers? Then obviously the question is where is all the natural, living, healthy food? If your trash is full of spoiled food and leftovers you never consumed, then the question should be why did that much food go to waste? Was it a bad recipe, was it that your eyes were bigger than your belly, the knowledge that what you were eating was too much for you or that you didn’t even want it to begin with? Your trash is far more valuable than you realize in terms of getting healthy. To figure out where you need to go with your weight loss and nutrition plan, first you must honestly acknowledge where you are today.

Trash is disgusting and often times nasty. That’s why we often turn our noses to it, look away and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s also very intimate and revealing, a part of our self and our lives we wouldn’t dare want a stranger to waddle through. I’ve found that people hate reading nutrition labels not so much because it’s a chore but because it reveals the truth: we KNOW we don’t need 800 mg of sodium or that high fructose corn syrup is what’s giving us that bulge and cottage cheese thighs. Trash is the same way. If you examine what’s in your trash bins, you’ll find it reveals that you want to think that you’re healthy but your ‘diet’ consists of frozen foods pumped full of chemicals, fattening agents, calories and salt; it reveals that you’d like people to think of you as a health nut but the ratio of organic produce to canned veggies drenched in salt and syrups; that basic everyday products you use aren’t all that natural because they’re formed and created in a dark lab somewhere and contain chemicals you can’t pronounce let alone reveal what they are doing to your body.

So, step away from the computer and spend some time sorting through your trash. I actually did an experiment for a week where I kept two trash bags in the kitchen area: one for anything food or produce, another for everything else. During that first week, the bag for produce and vegetables was heavy: it contained cantaloupe rinds, asparagus stalks, some pasta that had gone bad due to a bad recipe that made it a bit disgusting to eat. The ‘other’ bag had some coco puffs cereal boxes, plastic produce bags from the grocery store, junk mail. The bag full of discarded produce and food was heavy but it wasn’t really wasted food – it was stalks of vegetables, rinds of fruit, apple cores.

If the food in your trash can is actual food and meals, ask yourself why that meal was wasted. This is how you modify your diet to fit your weight loss needs. Was it just too much for you? Often, due to a lack of portion control, we fix more than is needed. We waste food and ingredients due to a lack of planning. If you’re single, why are you carrying out a recipe fit for 2 or 3 servings? Why aren’t you automatically making your own frozen food meal by dividing the portions and freezing what you aren’t eating? You should take one day (an hour or two) figuring out what sort of meals you’d like for the week. Get the ingredients together, cook your meals, package/freeze them so that everything is ready for you to eat for the week rather than you having to come in and cook each day after work. This would probably transform your trash can: no longer would it be full of frozen food cartons or fast food trash – it’d be full of healthier food.

If your trash is lacking in vegetables and fruit, change it. Don’t rely on juices to get your daily quota of fruit of vegetables – check the trash for a juice container and check the label. Does that label say you’re drinking 100% juice? In most cases, it doesn’t, and the first ingredient is usually water or something from concentrate.  Make this a game or mission – it’s extreme Garbage Makeover! You’ve got two bags, just 7 days, and the bag designated for food/produce trash must be more than the bag for all other trash. You want to reduce the amount of fast food trash, soda bottles, frozen dinner cartons in your trash. You want heft to your garbage, but not waste – you want vegetable stalks and skins, fruit peels and cores, evidence that not only did your week involve eating fruit but you actually ATE it and didn’t waste it.

If you really want to give this trash diet plan a green twist, see how much you can reduce your trash and how much your ‘trash’ becomes organic waste. Then take that organic waste and turn it into compost. What would you do with compost? You’d construct a small raised bed behind your home and grow your own vegetables there! So your trash would therefore bring you more ‘green’ because you could reduce how much money you’re spending in the grocery store! See, there’s value in what you’re used to throwing away.

Stop being ignorant when it comes to having no idea what you’re eating. Your trash is a good place to start when trying to get healthy. You want more organic waste in your trash and less paper and packages – why? Because most processed, bad food, comes in packages with the exception of frozen vegetables. You don’t even want a lot of cleaning bottles, aerosol cans, products with long lists of hard-to-understand chemicals in your trash. Why? Because these are items you use throughout your living space and the more chemicals you use, the more toxins and chemicals you’re exposed to. Being exposed to too many toxins and chemicals leads to ill feelings, insomnia, nausea, head aches and even weight gains. Reduce the products you use and opt for more organic, ‘green’ options that will reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals. Your body and wallet (in terms of the money you spend on health and wellness each year and doctor visits) will thank you.

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Jacked: Why You DON’T Need Supplements

Supplements Supplements. Just the mentioning of supplements probably conjures up pictures of muscled men chugging down glass-fulls of special powders, magical pills that will produced rippled abs in days, a daily cocktail of pills and powders that you really have no idea what they do or what’s in them but you know you need them to get fit. Or do you?

People who’ve come to this blog have commented on how they like the information presented and that it’s all clear and stripped down. There has also been comments on how there’s a lack of information on supplements. Yes, we’re in an age where getting “jacked” and fit is somehow synonymous with what pills and powders you need in order to get the perfectly sculpted body. So, let me start off by saying the following spill on supplements is MY opinion so read and take it as you wish but, as Britney would say, don’t hold it against me. Do you need supplements? No. Why do you take them? It’s more about clever marketing than it is about real results.

I approach supplements like anything else – it all starts off with the question of “why?” Why do you need to take a supplement? People seem to have forgotten that when it comes to supplements, you would take them not because you need them but because your regular diet is deficient in certain areas. Supplements have turned into a crutch for many. Instead of eating a diet full of whole foods and ditching the unnecessary, fat and flab producing processed bad foods, people think that by taking “supplements” you can work out, eat bad foods and you’ll get this awesomely skinny, toned, muscular body. It doesn’t work like that. Sure, studies and research have proven that certain supplements such as whey protein or casein are good for you. I don’t dispute that as I keep whey protein around. It’s when we get into these crazy powders, pills and drinks that are pushed on us and that we’re told we absolutely MUST take or no amount or exercise or cardio will do us any good that irk me.

Instead of taking supplements, I think we should instead go back to looking for the essentials and what’s missing in our diet. Do you eat a lot of vegetables? Is your diet very brown or processed? Then you need to supplement it with some natural, healthy alternatives. Here’s what I’d recommend everyone look into adding to their daily supplements:

A good multivitamin: Yes, the first thing on my list of supplements is actually the classic multivitamin. These are the powerhouse of health and nutrition since they contain a certain percentage of your recommended daily value needs of vitamins and other crucial needs. When I say a “good” multivitamin I mean getting the most out of this little pill. The multivitamin you choose should cover high percentages of the main vitamins; it should contain your B vitamins; have some calcium; added things like Gingko Biloba, echinacea, Zinc, copper and Lycopene will give you more bang for your buck.

Also, consider looking for a liquid form of a multivitamin. Why? Because you’ll absorb it quicker and it’ll go farther for you. The problem with many pills is that you can never be sure if it’s dissolving as it should be and if you’re getting all of its contents or if you’re pooping the pills and vitamins out. Also, how “whole” is your multivitamin? Is it plant based or is it as processed as a slab of meat? You probably have never asked this question but it’s something to consider. There are “vegan” supplements and then there are other supplements. That should alarm you. What sort of animal product or meats are involved in the making of your multivitamin? Really, it shouldn’t be any in my opinion. I personally like Bluebonnet’s Liquid Super Earth Multinutrient Formula. I purchase it at Whole Foods and it’s a whole food based multivitamin & multimineral with Vidamin D3, Goji, Acai extracts and a slew of other vitamins, minerals and nutrients all blended together in a liquid you can take like a shot of tequila! This honestly takes care of most of my supplemental needs each day. I know, seems really simple and uncomplicated but that’s what supplement-taking should be.

Calcium. Ok, how many people reading this are lactose intolerant? How many are vegans? How many simply find drinking a thick white liquid … and we’re talking about milk you perverts, is just nasty? you probably fall into one of these groups which means you aren’t getting all the calcium you need. Do I need to list all of the benefits of calcium? No, because you know what you’ve been told in school and are well aware that for strong bones and good teeth, you need your calcium. The lie you’ve been told is that the only source of calcium in the world comes from cows. Aaank, wrong. There are dozens of plants and nuts (again, nuts like almonds and not like the ones in your undies. Perverts!) that will give you some calcium. Problem is that you still won’t get enough, more than likely. This is when a supplement is actually good for you. If you’re trying to build muscle, calcium is crucial for you. Oh, you probably haven’t heard that one, have you? No one is telling you to chug calcium but they’re probably telling you that you need that big tub of special powder that costs 30 or more dollars.

Gingko Bilboa and St. Johns Wort: Are you having a hard time concentrating? Dealing with depression? You likely fall into one of these groups and may be one of the many people being prescribed anti-depressants or a pill help you focus. Guess what. Those pills that help one situation are likely causing weight gain and other adverse side effects. Do you know what you need to do? Consider natural alternatives. Again, I’m no doctor, but I’ve dealt with depression. I did the pills – they didn’t work for me. Exercise and taking St. Johns Wort keeps my depression in check. Gingko Bilboa helps keeps my mind focused and whenever I take it I feel mentally healthier and am able to tackle work without having my mind wander. These may not work for you but I tried them and have added them to my list of supplements worth taking.

Green Tea: Whether it be in pill form or the better liquid tea bag British manner, green tea is a supplement and dietary food you should be having every day. People complain about its taste but does whey protein or casein taste good? Not in my opinion, so the fact that this doesn’t either shouldn’t sway you from not taking it. Green tea, in my opinion, is best taken straight up meaning not saturated with sugar or honey to make it super sweet. Take it and drink it plain and drink 1-2 cups each day. Green tea, unlike all of these expensive powders and pills you’ll find in GNC or other supplement stores, will actually help boost your metabolism, help you lose weight and give you a dose of antioxidants that will make you look younger and feel energized. Drink the caffeinated version of green tea – decaf versions have proven not to give you the same benefits.

CoQ10 and L-Carnitine: For those who lift weights, do cardio and exercise – and hopefully that’s everyone who’s reading this and is interested in staying fit and healthy – you should consider taking these two supplements. They are a little pricey compared to the others I’ve recommended but both will give you the necessary boost of energy you need to get through your workout and exceed your usual standards. If you’re feeling sluggish and tired, CoQ10 will help. Our bodies naturally makes this but the older we get, the less of it that gets produced. This is, again, where a supplement can actually help you because you’ll simply be adding to your body’s natural stock of it. L-Carnitine helps with fat metabolism, heart health and helps keep your body’s supplied with the energy needed to last through a tough workout.

Vitamins C and D: These two vitamins are often considered the binding forces that will help you build muscle. Look back over muscle building in the past. Did they have these fancy tubs of powders or billions of pills? No. Guys built muscle simply be exercising and eating right. Vitamin C is needed for weight loss and to boost your immunity. You’ve probably been duped into thinking the only place to get it from is orange juice. Again, like calcium with milk, not the case. Vitamin C can be found in a variety of vegetables and fruits and taking it in a pill form wont hurt you. Vitamin D is another of those essential vitamins. The best “supplement” form of vitamin D you can get is actually from natural sunshine. Just 3o minutes of direct sunshine on your skin will fulfill your needs. You can basically get that by running outside, running or just getting a little sunshine period. Beware – 30 minutes should be your limit. Beyond that, wear sunscreen, spf 30 or higher.

The big “BUT …” All of this being said, don’t rely solely on supplements to take care of your health and dietary needs. We’ve become lazy as a society and are in constant search of the quick fix. Supplements aren’t magic. Most supplements are only popular because of clever marketing. Flip through a fitness magazine and you’ll see dozens of “before” and “after” shots showing someone go from looking like a mess to looking screwable in no time. And let’s be honest – do you really check out the ingredients or do your research on some of these so-called powerhouse supplements or are you going off the usual muscle, fit model hawking the product? If you’re taking different medications, you shouldn’t start taking a supplement without talking to your doctor. If you’re interested in taking a supplement, you should do your research and choose wisely.

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Jacked: Avoiding Weight Loss Plateaus

Plateaus It’s happened to many. You start a fitness routine, you workout more and to your shock and disbelief, you start seeing results. Then, weeks or months into your established routine, you see less and less change. Despite all the work you’ve put working out and staying in shape, you just aren’t seeing the results you want. What gives? You get upset and conclude that you’ve gone as far as you’re going to go … and that’s likely not the case at all. What you need is a little resistance.

Let’s talk about resistance; it’s a push against your pull, it’s the grunt of discomfort, the taunt pull you feel when you lift a weight that’s a tad bit heavy. Resistance is actually something that’s not working against you but for you. What a lot of people fail to realize is that the key to weight loss, toning, gaining muscle is how much resistance your body is facing. Think about it; let’s say you hate exercising and all of a sudden you decide you’re going to start doing it. You’re going to lift weights, you’re going to run on a treadmill, do some pushups; better yet you’re going to lace up your tennis shoes and run! Your body isn’t accustomed to this new burst of activity. It’s going to really hate you at the start for pushing it out of it’s comfort zone. You’re going to be defying gravity at times as you push weights and muscles in directions you hadn’t before, as you propel your body forward while you run, as you do ANYTHING that’s the least bit more challenging that sitting in front of a computer or on the couch watching television. What does all this describe? It’s resistance that you’re working through to see changes in your body’s composition.

Now, after 2 or 3 months, your body’s grown accustomed to its new regimen. Over the months, you’ve lost some weight, you’re finding exercises like jumping jacks or pushups that once made you sweat and cry no longer have that affect over you. That’s great! That means you’ve pushed yourself to a new level of fitness and you’re better off than you were before. Now, here’s the bad news; your body’s no longer being challenged. If you’ve been lifting weights and you notice your biceps beginning to bulge a little, you stop noticing the growth; if doing pushups really used to make you looked ripped days afterwards, you stop seeing the subtle changes. What’s going on? You’ve hit the dreaded plateau. Everyone does this and it’s not just you. Not everyone though pushes through and so not everyone overcomes the period of no change.

Resistance is key. It’s crucial that you’re continuously changing your routine and adding new levels of resistance. If at the start of your program you’re lifting only 6 lbs, don’t sweat it – but 2-3 months later you need to gradually increase your load to 10 lbs, then 15 lbs, then  20 lbs and so on. Why? Because this is like resetting the clock. You’re working those muscles and still offering your them and body a new challenge and more weight. The more weight you handle, the more pounds you’re going to drop. Also, consider this: the reason you’re losing weight so quickly at the start of any fitness/exercise routine is because your body is your weight! If you’re 210 lbs doing a pushup, even 2-3 pushups is hardwork and a lot of resistance. But then if you were 210 lbs and you wonderfully shed some weight and slip down to just 180, doing 2-3 pushups isn’t as much of a challenge for you. So don’t sweat it, do more reps (the number of pushups in one set) or do variations like setting your hands different widths apart to hit different muscles. If you run, same thing; yes, running burns tons of calories but as you lose weight, running the same distance over time isn’t going to lead to a dramatic weight loss as it once did. So you gradually add more miles, or you do intervals, or you run more hills to add resistance.

The key takeaway points: no matter how long you’ve been working out, no matter what exercises you do, keep adding to them and make them progressively more challenging. If you lift weights, go heavier as you build your strength. If you run or swim, increase your miles or laps so that your body is given a proper workout. Whatever your choice of cardio is, if you stop sweating or aren’t left feeling you’ve really been worked out and put through the strainer, go longer and go harder so that you’re sweating a bit. The idea behind resistance is that you’re being challenged more and your muscles are being pushed a bit harder to perform a particular exercise or set of exercises. If you want muscle or abs, you have to work your muscles and body to the point of fatigue. When you can’t perform an exercise with proper form and safely anymore, that’s fine, stop! Be safe, don’t sweat the small reps or fewer sets. As long as your muscles are fatigued, you’re building muscle, burning fat and are on your way to building a better and more impressive body.

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Jacked: The Deadlift – The One Lift You Must Do

Ok, so you don’t have a lot of time to workout and you’re wondering what’s the one thing you should do in the gym. What’s the answer you may hear? Some may point to a certain machine, some may point you in the direction of the free weights while others may tell you just to run because you’ll burn a lot of calories. What if there was one move that encompassed several exercises and could help you not only build muscle but increase your strength at the same time? If you truly want to get “jacked” then you should be doing the deadlift.

A lot of guys are turned off by this move. It looks far too simple and is a bit too slow to give you that same rush as working out at a machine, doing the treadmill or something more active. They’re wrong and, simply put, fools for not doing the deadlift and including it in their fitness regimen. Serious lifters do the deadlift for two reasons: to increase their strength and to bulk up and increase their mass. Yes, standing in place and lifting (at times) hundreds of pounds worth of weight from the floor can make you more athletic and give you that ripped/cut look we all strive for. The deadlift is a total body move meaning you aren’t going to be working just one muscle group as you would by doing isolated moves like bicep curls. Oh no, the deadlift is a compound move that utilizes several muscle groups including (but not limited to) your abs, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, lats, obliques, spinal erectors, calves and upper/middle trapezius. What other one move could work all of those muscles at one time? I’ll answer it for you – none. In other words, if you’re short on time, need a total-body workout, why not do the deadlift?

For us guys, the deadlift is also a move that will help our bodies to naturally produce testosterone and trigger the release of  growth hormones that will give us increased muscle mass. The deadlift will also increase your grip strength, can improve your posture, increase your body’s stability control and can serve as cardio because the move places some stress on your cardiovascular system.

As with many exercises, there are a couple variations of this classic move that you should try the next time you’re lifting:

1) Clean Pull: Shockingly, only 61% of powerlifters say they use this move in their training routine (Source: The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research) so why not be part of this elite group and make it a part of your regular routine? With your feet shoulder-width apart, roll the loaded barbell against your shins. Bend at the hips and knees and grasp the bar using a shoulder-width overhand grip. Thrust your hips forward as you straighten your legs; rise to the balls of your feet and shrug your shoulders. Lower the bar to the floor and repeat. You should be sure to keep your arms straight and a natural arch in your back as you perform this move. Benefits: Due to the explosiveness of the move, you work your knees, hips and ankles. This will mimic jumping or sprinting and is a great move for those who play basketball, volleyball or those who like to toss around the Frisbee.

2) Sumo Deadlift: Roll the barbell against your shins and grab the bar using an overhand grip (keep your hands about 12 inches apart). Stand with your feet about twice shoulder-width apart, toes pointing outward. Bend at your hips and knees and pull your torso up (do not allow your back to round). Thrust your hips forward, stand tall with the barbell. Now lower it to the floor, keeping it as close to your body as possible. Benefits: This variation allows for a greater range of motion and enables you to lift heavier weights. Those playing rugby, football or wrestlers will benefit most from this particular lift.

3) Single-arm Deadlift: Place a dumbbell on the floor next to your left ankle. Bend at your hips and knees and grab the weight with your left hand. Stand up with the dumbbell as you thrust your hips forward slightly (do not allow your back to round). Lower the weight to the floor and repeat on the right. Benefits: This move’s imbalance helps to build up more stabilized core muscles necessary for rotational or overhead sports moves like those in skiing, tennis or throwing events.

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Jacked: Sleep Your Way to A Better Body

Did you know your fitness and health routine starts in your bed? And no, I’m not talking about sex (though I know you guys probably considerate it your favorite form of cardio). I’m talking about sleep and the value of the the sleep you’re getting. Sleeping is one of those under-valued acts. If you don’t get good sleep, a ton of adverse things could happen to you including (but not limited to) weight gain, memory issues, poor performance and depression. Sleeping is one of those things things we overlook when it comes to our health and that tends to be a big mistake. You can work out for hours, eat healthy and keep yourself fit but still be unhealthy by not getting enough sleep.

We’ve become an impatient society, one that doesn’t want to take the time to truly identify problems and define them fully. We’ve neatly summed up poor health to meaning either a lack of exercise or poor diet. Those are the big factors but in the spectrum of wellness, there’s a lot of area in between that shouldn’t be overlooked, sleep being one of those.

I’ll confess, I’ve had sleep issues for years. At first it was chalked up to youth: I could easily stay up all night and get up early in the morning for school. In high school and college, I could function off of just a few hours of sleep. Even when I started working, I didn’t snap into any good sleeping patterns. I was, for a good portion of my life thus far, one of those people who’d go off little sleep during the weekdays and then sleep for hours on end during the weekend. My high school French teacher once told me upon hearing of my sleeping habits that you can’t make-up sleep. It’s taken my young adult years to really understand what she meant: try as you must, the hours of sleep you lose aren’t made-up. You’ve lost them for good and it takes its toll on your body.

When I started dealing with my depression, it was clear that depression and sleep went hand-in-hand; the hours spent awake and the few hours spent sleeping lead to a good amount of those negative, depressed feelings. Many people, especially in America, suffer from poor sleep. We put in hours for work, hours dealing with home and family matters, hours watching television or chatting online, hours partying in clubs but don’t put in hours of sleep. As usual, our own needs and well-being are put last in the queue of priorities. People … you need sleep. If you want to get a handle on your mental health, on your endurance and fitness, on losing weight, it starts with the hours you devote to sleeping.

There’s always that spill about how everyone needs 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Actually, I’ve read that younger people at times require less sleep than adults. Yet the older you get, the less sleep you seem to get! Then there’s the problem of simply not being able to sleep which leads to us relying on prescriptions to help us do so. Funny, some of these medications meant to make us sleep better and thus make us healthier come with a list of side effects, including weight gain, depression and other unwanted things. There are some really easy things you can do to get a better night’s rest:

1. Reorganize your bedroom. I’m not talking extreme home makeover but instead making your bedroom more of a designated area for sleep. Our bedrooms are often packed with distractions: televisions, dvd/blu-ray players, laptops, computers, game consoles, etc. A bedroom should not be an entertainment room: It should be relaxing and probably a bit boring and dull. It’s the area you retire to after a stimulating day and after all the excitement. Remove the distractions and your mind and body will adjust. You’ll start seeing your bedroom as the place where you go to sleep, not as the place where you go to talk on the phone, watch television and all of these other stimulating activities that require you to stay awake and alert.

2. Buy an air purifier for your bedroom. One of the best things I did to makeover my bedroom was to improve the air quality in it. Even after removing all of the distractions and being able to fall asleep pretty quickly, I was not getting sound sleep. I’d get 7 or more hours and would wake up feeling groggy, sluggish and as if I hadn’t slept at all. The problem was the air I was consuming and it’s something we often overlook. The air in your home or apartment is full of stuff: chemicals, toxins, pollen, allergies, dust, smoke from the kitchen, things tracked in from outdoors, air ‘fresheners’ full of harmful byproducts. The reason you aren’t getting a restorative sleep is often because even as you sleep you’re being bombarded by toxins, pollutants and chemicals that are invading your body and robbing you of sleep. Trust me: an air purifier can do wonders for your room. You’ll be able to sleep more soundly and hit that deep sleep area easier and quickly.

3. Remove clocks from your view (or from the room, period).
When we sleep we easily become obsessed with either how many hours we’ve gotten or how many we’ve got left. Seeing the time can ruin your sleep! I say that you either place your alarm clock far away from your bed and out of view or at least cover it up so that you aren’t spending the entire night watching the minutes tick away.

4. Be mindful of what you eat or drink before bed. Be smart – if you’re heading to bed, don’t down a cup of coffee or tea or any other drink full of caffeine. Caffeine, being a stimulate, will undoubtedly keep you awake. You should aim to drink only water or decaf drinks 2 or 3 hours before getting to bed. Also, it’s not a bad thing to eat before you get to bed! Some foods, like popcorn, almonds or yogurt topped with nuts, could actually help relax your body and ease you into sleep. However, candy, sugar, ice cream and things that you KNOW are bad will keep your up for hours.

5. Create a sleeping ritual. Counting sheep doesn’t work for a lot of people. You need a ritual that lets your body know you’re preparing to shut down for the night. Perhaps it’s that you change into your pajamas and brush your teeth 30 minutes before you get into bed. Maybe once you’re in bed, you read (an actual book, not your E-mail, Blackberry, or iPad) for 20-30 minutes. Reading an actual book is proven to require more energy and thus will help tire you out and prepare you for bed. Also have a plan for waking up: don’t hit the snooze button but actually get up the moment you wake up or your alarm goes off. You actually hurt yourself by hitting the snooze button because though you may go back to sleep for a few minutes, your body never gets back to deep sleep and so it’s the same as starting your car and letting it warm-up but then turning the engine off and letting it sit idle for hours. Have a wake-up ritual: open the blinds, get dressed for an early morning run or yoga session; eat breakfast; make coffee; read or watch the news. Having a set plan for going to sleep and getting up will get your body to know your sleeping habits.

If you want to get healthy, get your sleep in order! Bad sleep can ruin a good diet, fitness plan and leave you feeling drained and lagging for days if not years. Just another one of those areas of your life most fitness gurus and health professionals fail to really define and talk about.

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Jacked: Get a Grip – An Easy Way To Build Muscle

When you lift weights or do pullups and chinups, what’s your grip like? It’s something many guys hardly give a thought to and if your aim is to get the most out of your lifting and pumping of iron, you should definitely start paying attention to hand positions and how light or tightly your grabbing the bar as you lift. A lot of men lift weights thinking that in a matter of days, weeks or month they’ll go from bean-pole wimpy status to having a ripped body like that of Taylor Lautner. For the most part, your right!

Lifting weights should be part of everyone’s workout routine. Your body will continue to burn through calories hours and days later after a good weight training session. The more muscle you put onto your body, the more fat you’ll burn – even when you’re doing nothing but sitting around and reading a helpful and entertaining blog like this one. There’s three major lifts that can lead to big results: deadlift, squat and bench press. If you can master those three power moves, you’ll easily transform your body. You should also be doing body weight exercises like pushups, chinups and pullups. Think about your weight – yeah, not pretty, perhaps. Now think of the great workout you’re doing if you’re lifting yourself into the air. Yes, you’re lifting 110, 120, 130 or more pounds! You’ll be building muscle and increasing your strength in record time.

Now that you know the benefits of lifting weight, consider your grip. Oh, it’s something most weight lifters overlook. We are all pressed for time so we need to get the most out of each exercise session. Do you want to build muscle? Then you need to work the muscles when you’re lifting. The next time you’re doing a bench press, don’t just hoist the bar into the air – get a firm, tight grip on the bar as if you’re trying to crush and bend it. Why? Doesn’t that compromise your form? Not really. By gripping a bar or dumbbell tightly, you’ll be using more muscle and working out more muscle with the same few moves. Just try flexing and see and feel the muscles that are activated – hold out your hand, spread your fingers wide. Now curl your fingers into a fist. That’s about the pressure and force you use regularly when lifting. You probably aren’t feeling many muscles at work and are feeling little tension. Now, keep your hand in a fist but squeeze that fist as if you’re trying to crush a coke can into your fist. Your arm starts to tremble, you’ve activated the muscles in your forearm, biceps, triceps, even your chest. You’re probably even bracing yourself, meaning you’re squeezing your ab and core muscles. That’s the pressure and force you need to exert when lifting if you want to build muscle quickly and safely.

The same goes for moves like the pushup or chinup. When you’re pulling yourself upward, really grip the bar hard. In a way, it may mean you tire out quicker and do fewer moves. That’s fine because even with fewer reps, you’ve worked out your muscles more. Also, get creative with your grips during these exercises. Do you think there’s one way to lift a barbell or one way to place your hands to carry out a proper pushup or pullup? Wrong! Try placing your hands farther apart; closer together; fingers over the bar/dumbbell, fingers underneath; thumbs tucked in, thumbs spread out; one hand under while one hand is over. Why should you change and try all of these different combination of grips of positions? Because each one works different muscles, meaning they present different challenges and the more you challenge your body to do something it’s not used to, the more you’re going to work it and more you’ll see in terms of results.

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Jacked: Why You Should Go Organic

Recently I read Dr. Walter Crinnion’s book, Clean, Green & Lean where he proposed something curious: what if your environment was to blame for your weight issues? We all hear tons of excuses from when it comes to why a guy is unhealthy or overweight: he can’t afford organic food, he’s are big boned, it’s genetics, he hates vegetables. Have you ever heard a guy blame his weight issues on his environment? I hardly hear anyone exclaiming that it’s the air that’s making them fat; or it’s the soap they’re using, the toothpaste they brush with each morning, the cologne or body spray they’re using. Why should you look at things other than food for the cause of your health and weight issues?

When we hear the term organic, we immediately think of food. We think of EXPENSIVE food. We think of a ploy for grocery stores to charge you seemingly outrageous prices for produce. Why would anyone want to go to Whole Foods and pay $1.99 per pound for organic navel oranges when you can go to Wal-Mart or some other grocery seller and buy them for 44 cents per orange? No one really takes the time to explain the benefits of organic living beyond ‘it’s better for you’. Organic doesn’t just apply to food; it can apply to the everyday products you use as well. Here’s a short spill to convince you to consider going more organic within your lifestyle and how going organic can improve your health.

Guys want to be skinny. It’s just one of those basic human desires. We want to be thin, we want to be slim, we don’t want to be that guy on the beach or in the club completely covered up head-to-toe just because we have excess fat or a little more jiggle than anyone else. We’re encouraged to be skinny and fit and we’re told all it takes is tons of exercise and to ‘eat right’. Okay, that sounds simple enough. People go forth and exercise: hours and hours are spent in the gym or running because we know to burn fat and lose weight takes exercise and calorie burning. We ‘eat right’ which is a term that carries different meaning based on who you ask: some think it means no red meat, for others it’s no pork, for some it’s all salmon and fish; then there are the vegetarians who swear by nothing but vegetables and absolutely positively no meat; then there are the vegans, who go by no meat, no dairy, just ‘whole’ foods. Enter in all of the niche groups- those that are intolerant to gluten, those who don’t eat anything white (pasta, bread), those who actually can’t tolerate wheat. So, what exactly does it mean to ‘eat right’ when you’re trying to lose weight and be healthy?

Enter in people like Dr. Walter Crinnion and his book. Organic is a term that’s probably been commercialized too much. It’s lost a lot of it’s meaning and is more synonymous with excessive prices than eating right. Organic is a term that actually goes beyond just food. When you go organic, it means you’re embracing a lifestyle that’s all about natural foods and products. When I discuss weight loss, I always say the main problem people have with healthy eating is all about the nutritional label.  Reading labels is scary because it reveals that we really don’t have a clue what we’re eating! Monowhatever, blahblahsucralose … half of the things in labels aren’t food or things you’d find in real food, they’re chemicals and compounds created in a lab. What do they do? Add nutritional value to the food? Make what you’re eating healthier? No, they usually are no better than embalming fluid for foods: they make the foods have longer shelf lifes, suck the nutrients and minerals from the food, give foods unnatural hues and colors, make them more sweet and addictive. Now, that doesn’t seem very appealing, does it? Now, that’s what you’re eating … and it’s far from ‘whole’ or natural.

Now, organic is the opposite. In terms of fruit and produce, organic fruit doesn’t have all of the chemicals and pesticides used by farmers to either make their crops more bountiful and plenty or plump things up to monstrous sizes; instead they use natural treatments to grow their foods so that when you eat an organic apple or strawberry, you’re getting more nutrients, vitamins and minerals from it because it’s been less tampered with than the cheaper non-organic version. Meat can be organic, too. Grass-fed beef is said to be tastier and healthier than regular and even dairy can be organic. These are all good things: you want to know that if you’re drinking milk, you’re drinking the stuff from a cow, not the stuff from a lab or chemistry experiment. Organic means you’re eating the healthiest, most natural, less tampered with version of the food as you can.

Now, what you don’t consider: our lives and what we consume goes beyond just food! So imagine if you’re doing your best to eat organic but you aren’t living an organic life beyond that. What all are you consuming and putting into your body each day? Think about it for a moment – in the morning you brush your teeth, you use mouthwash, you shave, your spray stuff onto your hair, you moisturize, you use colognes and perfumes and body sprays … all of these things may be actions you do to yourself and they are also things your body is taking in and being exposed to! So read the label of these products: do these things naturally occur in nature? A lot of these products have odd chemicals that can’t be pronounced and are nothing more than science experiments than they are things to keep you healthy. Those fragrances you use are allowing toxins and chemicals to enter your bloodstream; the little toothpaste you swallow allows strange compounds to travel through your body. A lot of these things can end up making you feel sick and sluggish than healthy and spry.

If you really want to get healthy, go organic. Consider the definition of organic to be “anything that is as close to natural or ‘whole’, as found in nature, as possible.” Another consideration: the fewer the chemicals and ingredients, the better. It shouldn’t take 45 strange chemical reactions and compounds to make something like soap. You shouldn’t ‘clean’ with a cleaner that’s going to spread harmful chemicals around your home. What happens when you aren’t using ‘organic’ cleaners, products or food? Well, all of those pesticides, chemicals and harmful products seep into the air and you consume it: you sniff them, smell them, inhale them, eat them (unintentionally), bathe in them, brush with them and overall, you poison yourself with them. So do you exercise 3 or more times a week, eat right but the weight is still there and you don’t feel energized or healthy? How organic is your life? If you suffer from insomnia, depression, headaches, nausea, allergies, sluggishness, severe mood swings … again, look at what you’re eating and what you’re exposed to. How organic is your life? On the flip side, how chemically packed and influenced is your life?

Being non-organic has more side effects than saving a little more in the grocery store. If you’re not following an organic lifestyle, chances are you’re suffering from toxic overload in some way. The toxins you eat or inhale end up in your body and in turn make you feel sick and make you unhealthy. If you exercise and still have weight issues, it’s probably due to using something(s) not organic. Insomnia problems may be caused by toxins in the air; lingering fat or weight after tons of exercise and healthy eating can be due to pesticides and toxins in your food. At this point, you’re probably wondering what you can do or should do to turn your life around. You’re thinking that going organic is going to break the bank and that you can’t afford it. You can! Going organic is actually easy and in some ways fun. Consider these easy tips:

1. Buy more organic fruits and vegetables. Certain fruits and vegetables tend to have more pesticides than others. Ideally, you’d want to buy all of your fruits and vegetables organic but let’s face it, who has the money? Start off by buying the following organic: leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, collards); strawberries & raspberries; apples; peaches & nectarines; celery; potatoes; imported grapes; bell peppers. These foods tend to contain the most chemicals and pesticides. Produce like asparagus, onions, papaya, bananas and broccoli tend to have fewer chemicals (even the non-organic versions).

2. Rid your body of toxins. You need to flush out your body and get healthy before you can really enjoy the benefits of organic food. If you’ve been eating a lot of processed or non-organic foods, your body is probably a vessel for chemicals and toxins that have made you weaker, more fatigued and sicker than ever. You need to detox and start over. No, you don’t need to run out and buy a special cleanse or starve yourself for days – all you need to do is increase your fiber intake. Eat more beans, bran, oatmeal and vegetable in general and you’ll help clear things naturally through your digestive system. Basically, the more you poop, the better you’re going to feel.

3. Cut down on the canned foods you buy. The problem with canned foods? A) they’re full of salt B) the cans are lined with plastics (BPA) which leak into the foods, tainting them and you’re consuming who knows what! When you buy vegetables, again, the more natural they appear, the better. Can you go out and pick a can of pineapples in a field? Or do pinto beans grow by the can out in fields waiting for harvesting? No. Yes, dry beans take more time to wash, sort and cook but they’re a much better buy in many cases and far more healthier for you.

4. Rid your home of toxins and chemicals. It’s time for you to go au naturale at home, folks. You don’t want chemicals where you sleep, breathe and especially not where you eat. Go to your kitchen and remove aerosol cans – box them up and put them in a closet far-far away from where you usually are. Do you have any scented plug-ins or use scented sprays! Unplug them or stop using them! Those fragrances used to make your house smell like fresh linen or a field of lilacs are poisoning you and making you sick. Think of how many chemicals it takes to create that ‘natural’ smell. What’s the best way to clean house and rid the air of bad chemicals and toxins? An air purifier! These are underutilized and not valued enough. If you live in a stuffy house or apartment, you should have one of these air purifiers that clean allergens, charcoal and pollutants from the air. The HEPA-type are the best and you can get a decent one at Target or Holmes. I was skeptical of this move at first. After one day of buying a purifier for my small apartment, I got the best sleep I’ve had since moving in. I woke up feeling more energized and rested than I have in months! Think of all the weird smells and chemicals that are probably trapped in your home, work office or living space. You literally need to clear the air if you want to truly be organic. Otherwise, all is moot because you’re continually exposed to the bad stuff. So, go out and purchase an air purifier or at least crack open a window and let some air circulate.

5. Find natural remedies and recipes for everyday usage. This is the part that’s a bit of work but also a bit fun. Think of all of the things you do each day. Now, how can you do those things naturally or organically? Why do you need toothpaste when brushing with baking soda may bring better results … without all of the chemicals? Why spend a ton on cleaning products when you can make your own out of vinegar and baking soda or from using a cheap vodka? Using organic products such as cleansers, soaps and deodorants will keep your lifestyle clean and clear of pollutants that are making you sick. The best part – your body will start to change. You’ll feel healthier, little lingering symptoms like nausea, allergies or constant coughing will lessen without the need of medications. Also, the less toxins in your body, the more ‘organic’ your entire body becomes which means your body will release fats and the bad stuff more easily and you could lose weight without having to actually work out!

6. Supplement your life. A lot of us don’t get the daily dosages of this or that vitamin, mineral or nutrient. If you’re a meat eater and hate vegetables, you probably are lacking in all of the healthy stuff that comes from chlorophyll in plants. If you’re a vegan, you undoubtedly have a time getting calcium as you would from dairy or some of the B vitamins that are from meats. What are you to do? Supplements like multivitamins can help. There are some who advocate taking 30 or more supplements a day. You can do that if you want and you’re an expert or are working with your doctor to make sure you’re doing the right thing. Or you can stick to some essentials such as a multivitamin that has all of the essentials, a fish oil pill for the Omega-3 and a vitamin C supplement. There are tons of others that you could take and the key is to research them and make sure they aren’t going to work against other conditions or medications you may take.

Organic living is definitely not just a ploy to get you to spend more money or a fad. It’s a lot like fast food: fast food is cheap, it’s addictive but the cheap price and good taste doesn’t make it good for you. Organic food works in a similar fashion: it’s expensive, sometimes it doesn’t taste as good as the food pumped with hormones and chemicals, but it’s ten times better for you. After allowing your taste buds and body time to adjust to the new food, you’ll feel better! You’ll sleep better, you’ll react better, you’ll think more clearer and you’ll lose weight easier too.

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Jacked: An Easy, Quick Chest Workout

Get ready to pull a Salt-N-Pepa: we’re gonna push it real good to get the body we want. Men and women alike strive for similar goals or end results when it comes to fitness: both want lean body frames, both wouldn’t mind some visible resemblance of abs and both would like toned arms that don’t include that little flap of flab. Well, if you’re a member of a gym or workout with a group, you probably see a lot of people flocking to miracle machines that they load up with weights and grunt and sweat as they struggle to lift it. For some, yes, they do have V-shaped bodies as a result with rippling muscles. For others, it seems as if they’ve done nothing. I’m not a fan of gyms – if you’ve read my other posts on fitness, you’ll know why. They’re just a waste of money in my opinion and not to mention packed full of germs and annoying people. What if I told you that you could have abs, toned arms and slash through body fat … without a gym membership? Sound intriguing? What if I added that you didn’t need any special exercise machines or products. Now, are you even more curious? What if I teased you further that it really only takes one move and you could touch on all of your fitness goals? Okay, now you’re interested, I’m sure.

I’m talking about the ancient move known as the push-up. The more our society seems to evolve, the more we seem to venture away from these classic moves that got results for those who came before us. We think moves and exercises like the push-up are out dated, old, ineffective and that we must use machines, heavy weights, barbells and do one hundred repetitions of an exercise to get one little ab or muscle to pop out. People, give it a rest. What makes the push-up the ultimate move is that it’s far more versatile than you’d ever imagine. When I first started working out and getting more into fitness, I thought to get abs you had to do crunches, to get lean you had to run for hours or do tons of yoga. Then I read about the push-up in Men’s Health magazine and Men’s Fitness. Turns out the push-up is more complex than we thought.

The push-up is a full-body move. It works your chest as you lower your body and the muscles in your pecs constrict and move. It works your arms just as if you were lifting a barbell or dumbbells except you’re using your body as the weight; it burns through fat and calories because you’re mixing in resistance to your training and challenging your muscles to take on different obstacles and tasks. If you’re not doing the push-up, you’re really missing out on the ultimate workout. Think of just the position alone: it resembles plank, an exercise known for toning your midsection. It also resembles the judo pushup or moves in yoga, toning your arms and stretching out your body. Combine all of that into one move and you’re working your entire body.

Most people think there’s only one way to do a pushup. Again, that’s wrong. Here are some ways you can vary up the push-up:

1. Standard: Lie down on your stomach on the floor or a mat. Place your hands flat on the floor and push your torso up (hands should be underneath your shoulders). Get up on your tip-toes (you’re now in plank position). Fingers should be kept spread apart as you lower your body. Push yourself back up.

2. Diamond Push-up: Get in standard push-up position. Place your fingers together underneath your chest on the floor; place thumbs together and fingers next to thumb to form a diamond shape. Lower yourself and push-up. This move not only works your chest but puts more emphasis on your arms.

3. Wide Push-up: Get in standard push-up position but rather than placing your hands underneath your shoulders, place them slightly outwards so that they’re somewhat out at your sides. Perform a push-up. This works your chest more.

4. Walking Push-up: Get in standard push-up position. Keep feet planted on the floor/mat but move or set your right hand out to the right. Follow by moving your left hand slightly to the left. Your body is now at an angle. Perform a push-up and walk hands back to the middle. Repeat on the left side. This move helps work your arms, burns more calories and works your torso more.

5. Elevated Push-up: Place your hands on the floor in standard push-up position. Have a box or stool behind you and prop/set your feet up on it. Do a push-up. With your body angled downward, you’ll work your shoulders and chest more. **Bonus: Reverse this move. Place your hands on a box or elevated surface, feet kept on the floor.

6. Swiss-Ball Push-Up: Similar to an elevated push-up but place your feet on an exercise ball (sometimes called a Swiss ball).

7. Medicine-Ball Push-Up: Place your hands firmly on a medicine ball. Set feet out on the floor in push-up position. Perform a push-up while your hands are on the ball. This takes a bit of stability or balance but the unsteady surface works your muscles more and calls for better stability, meaning it’s a great core exercise that’ll help develop the abs and trim fat around the mid-section.

8. Staggered Push-Up: Get in standard push-up position. Place one hand straight outward on the floor as if you’re climbing or reaching for something. Place the other hand slightly inward. Your hands should now have some distance between them. Perform a push-up. The move stretches your torso muscles and calls for them to work harder, meaning you’ll see more definition with continuing moves.

9. Dumbbell or Barbbell Push-up: Do any variation of the push-up but instead of having your hands flat on the floor, grip dumbbells or a barbbell loaded with weights. A firm grip recruits more muscle meaning you’ll add another level of difficulty to any push-up.

10. Push-up with a Row: Get in push-up position, gripping dumbbells in each hand. Lower yourself to the ground, push back up and pull one dumbbell toward the ceiling, keeping your elbow tucked in at your side. This move burns more calories, works the chest and shoulder muscles.

11. Plyo Pushup: This is an explosive move. Place a weight plate underneath you. If you don’t have one, don’t worry, the floor is fine. Place your hands on the plate or floor. Lower yourself and as you rise back up, forcefully push your torso up into the air. Your hands should leave the floor. For a challenge, try to clap in the air before you return your hands to the floor. This is a great strength-increasing exercise and will help speed your metabolism, burn through calories and build muscle quickly. **Bonus Move: I call this ‘hit the books’. Instead of using a weight plate, get a thick textbook or phone book and place it under you. Perform a plyo pushup from this elevated surface.

So you see, there’s a lot more to the push-up than you probably imagined. By changing the position of your hands, your grip, or elevation and angle of your body, you can indeed work your entire body with this one simple move. Best yet, it doesn’t call for any special equipment, gym membership and can be done anytime, any place. Now you have no excuse not to squeeze in a workout and show off your toned and ripped upper body this spring.

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