The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 1: Spot Reduction

For the 12 days leading up to Christmas, I am releasing a blog debunking and discussing 12 commonly believed myths that are fitness, health, and running related. Day 1 features the topic that gave me the idea, thanks to the behavior of some folks in my gym. So here we go.

Spot reduction. It was a big fad for a long time. Apparently many folks still buy into it. Essentially, many people think you can focus on and target specific body parts for fat loss. While we can certainly target certain muscle groups for strength and muscle gain, fat loss doesn’t work that way. So while a thousand crunches may make your core muscles stronger, you will not specifically lose fat in your core or see those muscles unless you lower your body fat percentage.

When thinking of body fat, picture your body as one big organism. You can lose body fat from your overall body, and in that process see and feel reduction in the spots desired, but you cannot control where you’ll lose your body fat first. If you are looking to drop fat, you need to reassess your nutrition and exercise habits. It’s also a good idea to look at your genetics. We are genetically made differently. If your family members tend to carry their weight in their upper body, the odds are you may too, or that it will be the hardest place for you to lose it. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But it may take a whole lot of discipline in both training and nutrition then say losing fat and seeing definition elsewhere.

If you are looking to drop body fat, a combination of weight training, cardio, and a good nutrition plan will help you achieve your goals. Just try not to focus on your “target area,” or you’ll lose your mind and wind up frustrated. Remember your genetics. For example, I will never have a super tiny waist. Part of that is bone structure, the other part is that I can easily gain weight in the love handle region. But on the flip side, genetically I will probably never have heavy legs. Know your body. Embrace it’s strengths. Acknowledge your weaknesses or imperfections. And stop spending time doing a thousand crunches or buying miracle gimmicks. There are literally a hundred better ways to improve your body in the gym than crunches. If you are interested in some additional reading, here’s a good option.

Debunking Diet Delusions

Today’s blog is about nutrition habits. Many folks looking to hire a trainer or sign up for a marathon are hopeful that with committing to something physical, they will magically be able to eat everything they want and lose weight. It’s a nice thought, but usually not true. In fact, it’s not uncommon for folks to gain weight during their first season of training – because it is really easy to say “hey, I ran today!” and eat everything. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that burning 500 calories on a run doesn’t erase the calories in a burger and fries.

Did you know that many elite athletes are very careful about their caloric intake and nutrition habits? It may sound silly and unnecessary, but it’s quite often true. Folks who may be running 120+ miles per week are careful to not gain any weight. Yes, someone running 120 miles per week can afford to eat a hell of a lot more calories than the folks running 20 mile weeks, but my point is that to be their best, they need to be strong and as light as safely possible. The same is true with you and your goals, if they are based on pace and a time. If your goal is to lose weight, nutrition when training becomes incredibly important.

When I meet with new clients, I am sometimes told they want my physique. They joke to “sign them up” for whatever I am personally doing. I should also say that many friends and family assume I eat anything and everything all the time. I don’t. When I am visiting friends and family, I am often choosing to indulge. We are at a party, a celebration, out at a restaurant, a family get-together, or they simply see me on a day I am indulging because I simply want to. These same family and friends don’t believe me when I say that what they see me consume isn’t the norm. Do I eat bagels, cake or pizza everyday? Nope. Not even close. Do I talk about food, blog about it, dream about it and love it? Yes, guilty as charged. So I wanted this blog to showcase the reality of what it takes for me to be fit, strong, and extremely goal-driven – and perhaps you can apply some of what I do to your own life and goals.

Here are a few facts about me you may not know:

  • I very rarely weigh myself. In fact, in the last year I have only weighed myself to keep track of dehydration levels when training and racing Ultra Marathons (12-24 hour races).
  • I keep track of everything I eat, every day. I use an app. on my phone. I want to know what I am consuming and I find I need to keep myself accountable – be it calories, grams of protein, servings of fruits that day – I track EVERYTHING.
  • I also track my activity. Hours of sleep, time standing, running, weight training. I keep all the data.

To show you what my nutrition usually looks like, I am listing below 2 random days from the past few weeks. One day is an “average” day for me, the other is a “rest day,” – and I tend to eat more calories and junk on rest days. I’ll also make note of my training on the “average” day.

Thursday, May 14th, 2015: an example of an “average” day for Coach Corky.

  • Breakfast: Coffee, 2 TBS. Half/Half, 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal, 1 cup fresh blueberries, 4 tsp. brown sugar
  • Lunch: 1 large sweet potato, 5 tbs. parmesan cheese, 2 links of turkey sausage
  • Dinner: 1 cup Goya black beans, 2 whole wheat tortillas, 1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese
  • Snacks: 1 orange, 1 Gala apple, 1/2 fresh pineapple
  • Total calories consumed: 2084
  • Training: weight trained for 1 hour, ran at a moderate pace for 1 hour
  • Total calories burned: 2837

Saturday, May 9, 2015: an example of an indulgence day

  • Breakfast: Coffee, 2 TBS. Half/Half, 1 large avocado, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup shredded cheese
  • Lunch: 1 Larabar protein bar, 1 pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food FroYo
  • Dinner: Whole wheat pasta
  • Snacks: 1 brownie, 1 orange, 1 Gala apple, 1 banana, 3 bottles of Sierra Nevada beer
  • Total calories consumed: 3902
  • Training: ran for easy coaching miles for 50 minutes
  • Total calories burned: 2513

As you can see, some days I burn more than I eat and other days it’s the opposite. I usually try to focus on consuming fuel that makes me feel good – I want to be strong and healthy for my training. But I am also human, and am a really great stress eater.

A month or two ago, I decided I want to drop a little bit of body fat. Why? Well because if I want to be my fastest and my best out there for goal races, I need to be light. Trying to drop what little excess weight I have is tough. It’s like that last little bit your body is hanging on to and doesn’t want to give up. So I made sure to focus on weight training, running, and eating less than I burned. Did I lose the fat? Probably a little bit. But I am not going to lose sleep over it. I feel stronger, and am lifting more than ever before in my life, and am getting back to some speedy running and so things are going in the right direction.

Your journey and your goals are your own. Just be aware that when you see a coach, athlete or person on the street you don’t know – you have no idea what goes into their training and what genetics, sacrifices and dedication may have been necessary for what you see to be possible. Am I going to torture myself to be the lightest I can be? Nope. It’s not worth it to me. And as long as I feel healthy and capable of achieving what I want, the rest is gravy. Mmmm…gravy. No, I don’t eat gravy frequently. But it is damn delicious.

Answering NYC’s Questions

With teaching group classes, I always welcome questions during and after class. I thought it may be helpful to highlight some questions that have popped up frequently, and answer them as I have in person. After all, if folks I have coached in person have brought up the following questions numerous times, the odds are some of you may also have the same questions. Let’s get cracking!

What are the best kind of running shoes?

Despite what shoe manufacturers will tell you, there is no one shoe that is the perfect shoe for all runners. If a sales person tells you that their brand or style is perfect for you, run for the hills. Your feet, body weight, stride, weekly miles, terrain, experience, injury history – all are factors when finding the right shoe for you and your running career. I would, however, recommend you keep the following brands in mind when shopping: Mizuno, Brooks, and Asics. These brands are popular with mid-long distance runners, and are the brands of choice at most races. That doesn’t mean those brands are right for you. A shoe should feel like an extension of your foot. If it doesn’t, it’s not right. If you are in the right shoe, insoles and orthotics shouldn’t be necessary.

Are there workouts I can do to trim and tone my thighs?

You cannot target one body area for weight loss and body fat. If you want more definition, you need to lose body fat percentage in general. Zoning in, targeting, etc – that’s not how our bodies work. You can tone up by weight training and losing body fat – that combination will give you visual results. However, based on your genetics, you may never have thin or toned thighs – for example. Your thighs may be the last place you’ll lose body fat, and the dedication to lose that final bit may be extremely challenging. Instead, I would highly recommend folks looking to tone up focus of safely losing some body fat, and instead focus on weight training, and a healthy amount of cardio.

I have pain in my shins. What do I do?

Shin splints often occur when an athletes takes on too much too soon – going from little or zero mileage to running every day, running intense workouts too frequently, or running in old shoes. To help ease shin pain, stretch and foam roll your calf muscles, ice, and perhaps take some anti-inflammatory. Cutting back on mileage and intensity and focusing on some rest days will also help. If the pain continues, see a sports doctor or physical therapist. I am not a doctor, FYI.

I have been training really hard. How come I am not seeing an improvement in my speed?

Improvements in fitness sometimes take time, and very rarely can you expect to see or feel huge improvements in a few days or a week. In fact, you should expect to put in hard work for a few weeks or months before improvements appear by leaps and bounds. Remember that rest and recovery is just as important as the hard work, so if you are someone who rarely takes a day off or skimps on sleep, you may be getting in the way of your own success. Adding some additional rest and active recovery days may help your paces improve.

Is there a way to run on the treadmill that targets my butt?

If you are trying to target a muscle group like your glutes, hills can help. However, you also need to make sure you are activating your glutes and hamstrings. Many runners are quad runners, meaning we overuse our quads and don’t take advantage of the power our glutes and hamstrings offer us. If you are trying to gain strength, shape or size, you need to weight train that area. Running alone will not offer glute definition.

How do I know what my goal race paces or efforts should be?

This is sometimes hard to navigate. When setting your goals for the coming year, I encourage you to be ambitious but also realistic. For example, if your current Half Marathon best is 2:00, aiming for a 1:25 in your next Half Marathon is probably too ambitious. However, aiming for a 1:50 or 1:40 may be ambitious but also reasonable with hard work. If you achieve that goal, then work down to the 1:25. If you have taken a lot of time off from training, or are tackling a new distance, go by effort. This is especially true when training in heat or humidity. As you improve, your paces should hopefully drop towards your goal paces – though you may need to curve your expectations as you go further into training.

When trying to improve, should I focus on more miles or quality miles?

If you are just beginning your running journey, focus on slowly increasing your miles and keep the paces easy. Don’t go out and run hard, but instead focus on comfortable, conversational miles. Once you build the quantity up to a good number, you can then focus on quality – speed, hills, long runs, etc. If you are a runner who is already clocking consistent miles, focus on quality instead of quantity while training for a goal. Do the least amount of running necessary to achieve your goals – this may still mean 60 mile weeks while marathon training for your ambitious goal – but you also may be tempted to push to 70 mile weeks because you have heard more miles are better – but more miles means injury risk and chances for burnout increase.

Do you have questions for me? They can be anything running, nutrition, health or fitness related. If so, shoot me a comment, a message on twitter or FB, or in class next time.

Body Image in Athletics

img_6222-editPeople come in all shapes and sizes. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. It’s often an odd transition viewing yourself as an athlete, but I ask all my clients to do so. When you slightly change your perspective of yourself, you’ll view your nutrition choices, sleep, training, priorities, and life differently. I find this shift is extremely important for folks who struggle with nutrition/weight and with time-management and sleep. Instead of viewing food as “good” or “bad,” you start to think about your training, and what choices will properly aid you in pre-run fuel, post-run recovery, or general nutrition. Suddenly you won’t feel “bad” about a food choice, because your perspective of you as a human being will be different. The same is true with sleep – you’ll suddenly be aware of how it’s an important component of training – and that if you want to train harder and improve, you’ll need to get more Zzz’s.

I remember when I personally went through the shift, and how I finally felt settled and had an “identity” as far as food goes. I’ve been pretty open about my relationship with food and body image in the past, and I know I am not the only person who has struggled with it. But running and training for challenging race goals gave my body a purpose, a hunger for achievement, and I became excited and dedicated to doing what it took to morph my body for those goals. I too referred to myself as “not a real runner” for a long time – dismissing my involvement in this sport because I wasn’t professional, fast, or taking it seriously.

Over the last 5 years, my body has changed a lot. There have been years where I was curvier, years where I was rail-thin and friends voiced concerns, and years where I have been muscular with relatively low body fat. My size has swung from 6-0 and everywhere in between, and changes depending on what I am training for, how hard I am training, and honestly how I am feeling. There are some months where all I want to do is eat, and I need to pull myself up off the couch and into the gym or the park. There are other months where I feel so motivated and energized, I forget to eat and am struggling to take in enough calories. As you can imagine, this changes my body. And though I hate to admit it, it changes how I feel about myself.

What’s interesting is how I am perceived – often by strangers, casting directors, acquaintances, and friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I must always look “athletic,” because the topic usually comes up in conversation. I have had casting directors and the like ask if I am a gymnast, yogi, dancer, Pilates instructor, CrossFit activist – the list goes on. Ironically, few guess “runner.” Perhaps, to be fair, this is because runners come in all shapes and sizes. But to hear “Really? You don’t look like a runner -” it somehow feels like a stab in the gut. I usually am quick defend myself, saying I am not a sprinter (so I am not rocking large powerful muscles and very low body fat), and I am also not an elite middle or long distance runner – folks who are often associated with looking unhealthy, waif-like, and gaunt. Here’s the thing: while I am indeed a runner, I am not a professional athlete. Folks expect to see the stereotype on magazines, winning marathons or track events – not the folks who are “better than average” but also are not training full-time.

I assume if I struggle with being judged, and often have to defend my body and my choices, that other folks out there do too. Unfortunately, females are judged based on how they look before they can even open their mouths. And while I shouldn’t assume this is only a female thing, being female myself, I can only speak for the ladies.

To the folks who judge – I say go watch a race. You will see all body types cross that finish line – 5K through Marathon. You will see the elite runners you expect us all to resemble, you will also see body types doing amazing things that will honestly catch you by surprise. Don’t judge, be inspired. After all, they are the ones training and clocking miles while you sit there on your ass and point a finger.

And while some folks are probably not aware that making assumptions or judgements about a person’s body and sport can be hurtful, we should all remember to think before we speak. It’s the same with fat shaming, or assuming someone’s life is easy because they look like our idea of a “model.” You have no idea how hard someone might work for their sport, or to maintain a healthy weight. You also probably don’t know how hard that person has worked to achieve where they are today.

Being an athlete is hard. It’s a huge time commitment, which makes it a big part of your identity – whether you realize it or not. Wear that identity with pride. Train for your sport and your body will reflect your hard work, and hopefully give you the result you want. There is no perfect body or size. What’s perfect for you is what will help you achieve your goals and feel your best. If I was told gaining 10lbs. would make me faster and set crazy PRs, I’d be the first in line to pack on those additional pounds – assuming it wouldn’t hurt my health, of course. Sadly, that’s not true. Your body is your tool in this world, and we are only given one. What we do with it is our choice.

Recently when given the whole “Really? You’re a runner?!” response, I carefully explain that indeed I am – and that runners come in all shapes and sizes, and their bodies will usually be different depending on the distance and pace one runs. I figure if I cannot stop that awkward comment from arising, perhaps I can educate the person asking and they’ll think twice before assuming something about body types in the future. And for the record, I have never taken one yoga, Pilates, CrossFit or gymnastics classes – so all of those guesses are WRONG. Go figure, right? And while I used to be a dancer, it has been a few years since I have been in class. Again, proof that many snap judgements are totally off-base. I am ever going to look like Shalane Flanagan? Nope. Am I ever going to be as fast as Shalane Flanagan? Nope. And that’s OKAY!!!!!

I hope if you are struggling with your own relationship with food, body image, weight, or role in your sport that you are kind to yourself. Don’t let a stranger’s uneducated opinion sway how you feel. And if you are looking to become lighter and leaner, remember that there is no quick fix – it’s a process. You don’t owe anyone anything. But you do owe it to yourself to be happy in your skin.

Resolution Road

img_6959-editI cannot believe how neglected my blog has been the last few months. I am changing that, starting NOW. For some reason it became less of a priority, which isn’t like me. Even when I am super busy, I alway make time for my blog. No excuses. I’m back at it.

It’s the time of the year when everyone is extremely busy with holiday parties, gift shopping and wrapping, baking, end of year work responsibilities, kids home from school for Winter Break, travel to see family – this time of the year is often one filled with love, laughter, and a whole lot of things on the calendar. It’s also the time of year many folks start thinking about the new year, and the new hopes, dreams and goals they see with it. And that’s where I come in.

I am a firm believer that we can all turn over a new leaf, set new goals, and choose to change habits TODAY. We don’t need a fresh month or new year to finally make ourselves do something, but that seems to be the trend. As you probably know, New Years brings with it more fitness, weight loss and physical goals and resolutions than anything else. Sure, there are people who set career goals, finance goals, travel goals, etc – but fitness is the overwhelming winner of resolutions.

It never fails that the first few weeks of the new year my email and my phone will be filled with inquiries from new people with big goals. I love those emails and calls. I am excited to meet new people, hear about their goals, and discuss how I can help them. It’s part of what I love about what I do – helping people achieve something for themselves that betters them and their quality of life. The excitement, motivation and energy each person brings with their call or email is something I wish I could bottle and save for them. It’s infectious. And yes, out of all the messages, calls, meetings and even a few weeks into training, a certain percent of those hopeful, motivated New Years Resolution clients fall of the face of the earth. The motivation and focus slip once they realize how much effort it takes to train or eat the way they need to, or they become impatient when the scale doesn’t show a magical number within the first week, and so on. The excuses start rolling in, and I know it’s a matter of time before they are off the Resolution Ride, and they will move off my roster. Look at the gym on January 1-5 compared to February 1-5 and you’ll see just how few people stuck with their plan for a month. One month. Thirty-one days, people.

I don’t think any less of the people who can’t commit to their training goals than the ones that do. I get it. It’s hard. It’s also really frustrating to continue that cycle of training/dieting and falling off the wagon. I want to hug and shake and give a pep-talk to the people who fall off. I know that progress takes time, and it takes WEEKS to form new habits, and a lot of work, focus and persistence to make the changes often necessary to achieve goals so momentous that they are saved for the New Year.

I know how hard change can be, but the hardest part is starting. I know I can help people who are willing and capable to make their health and goals a priority. I know anyone can make the changes they desire – but it takes a hell of a lot of willpower, support, knowledge and the acceptance that not every day will be easy for feel good. If say you don’t have time, I will call you out. Bull shit. You have no idea what I’ve made myself accomplish with VERY little time. You have no idea how many clients have succeeded with their goals while juggling an incredibly busy, stressful schedule. Yes, change often involves struggle and some setbacks, but again I will call you out. A setback or struggle doesn’t ruin all the progress or make you a weak person or a failure. It makes you human, silly. And if you find a trainer or gym hard to afford, I suggest you check out how much you are spending to eat out, have drinks with friends, and on medical bills. If you cut back on eating and drinking out, that’s money and calories saved. We almost always eat a better diet when preparing our own food. Cocktails with your girlfriends or with the guys at the bar add up pretty quickly. And if you get yourself healthier, in theory you’ll be spending less money on doctors appointments and medications.

So if you are looking to 2015 with fitness-related goals, be prepared to work hard and to also be in it for the long run. Look towards April, and what goals will be accomplished by then, not January 15th. A ton of progress can happen within four months, but very little will show for it the first two weeks. But the only way to get to April and those goals is to stick with the plan every day between January 1st and April 1st. I wish everyone with high hopes and big goals all the success in the world. There is no better gift to yourself than health, self-confidence and strength. And if you need help, there are tons of great trainers, gyms and programs out there in every city. The road to progress can be hard, but it is never impossible.

Fat Facts

img_6105-editLet’s face it, everyone wants to have abs. Just check out people at the gym, and the ab machines are constantly in use. I am also going to bet that most of the folks on the ab machines, or on the floor hammering out crunches will give up sooner or later, no closer to that six-pack than when they started.

Here’s the thing: you will never see that six-pack unless you reduce your overall body fat percentage. Everyone has core muscles. Some are obviously stronger or larger than others. But as long as your body fat level is too high, you won’t see them. Just to be clear: in order to see your abs seriously pop, your body fat has to be very LOW. So saying that your body fat is too high to see abs doesn’t mean you are fat. It just means your body fat level is too high to see your core.

So, while strengthening your core is beneficial for lots of reasons, you will have to drop some fat to see those abs. If you are already in great shape, shedding those few extra pounds can be a struggle – especially for women. Ladies, we simply have bodies programmed to hang on to fat, so we have got to be strong and extremely motivated to shave that fat percent down.

The cool thing: the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. So those ab workouts are indeed beneficial. Just be patient and stick with it. Cutting calories a bit can help too. Just remember to cut those empty calories, not nutrient-dense foods your body needs while training.