Fit for the Holidays

According to some people, the holiday season has already arrived. Although I strongly believe that it’s still too early for Christmas songs to be playing on the radio, I do acknowledge that we’ve officially entered into the cold season, and I understand that adding layers of clothing is now a necessity in order to stay warm. That’s layers of CLOTHES, not layers of fat… And this brings me to the topic of Thanksgiving, and the ensuing long and scandalously tempting holiday season.

I lived in the good ol’ US of A for several years, working every day as a fitness trainer and nutrition consultant. In my experience, there is not a single holiday in the calendar year that gets people talking about food more than this upcoming holiday, Thanksgiving.

When living in Canada, Thanksgiving was 1 dinner, consisting of a roasted turkey or maple infused ham, roasted vegetables and sweet potatoes.

Now, after having lived in America, when I think of Thanksgiving, all I can think of is a small dead animal which has been stuffed inside a slightly larger dead animal, which is then stuffed inside an even larger dead animal. Wait, I feel like something’s missing- this doesn’t seem like enough dead animals…. Oh yeah, this dinner isn’t considered complete until all the aforementioned animals are covered with strips of 1 more dead animal. Now THAT’S a holiday meal! And for this, we give thanks.

Turkey

Well, to be honest, I’m not going to be one of those trainers who pleads for you to control yourself this holiday weekend. I say why resist the pleasure of oven-baked deliciousness and fried delights on this 1day holiday? Health is so much bigger than 24 hours of indulgence. So enjoy yourself, do what you want to do, eat what you want to eat this weekend. Bake a massive tray of Grandma’s famous peanut butter and butter cookies. Then, the next day, simply move on and return to moderation and balance. No harm will be done during this holiday that can’t be undone with a workout or three.

But please don’t be one of the people who turn the entire fall & winter season into an excuse for not staying in shape. I’ve actually heard this before: “Every winter I gain about 15lbs of fat, and it’s because of Christmas and all that baking”

Really? All that baking, eh?

Are you baking cement bricks and eating them? Are those bricks then being digested poorly, causing deathly allergic reactions to fitness centers? Seriously. It’s just not fair for holidays to take the blame for being excessively nutritionally seductive. Ok, I understand that the fall season starts with Halloween, then there’s Thanksgiving, soon after there’s Christmas, and finally, New Years. That can mean a lot of baking. I get it, but let’s not fool ourselves into turning these 4 separate holidays into 4 months of giving up on our healthy nutritional intake. You are in control of the way your body looks and feels. You can’t blame leftover Halloween candy, the Pilgrims, or Santa Claus for your weight gain. You just have to enjoy the feasts and then balance your intake with exercise sometime in between.

I say indulge with gratitude, then activate your dedication mode and leave it at exactly what it was- a cheat meal that you thoroughly enjoyed, but not as much as you thoroughly enjoy looking great naked, so get back in the zone! Using control at times is important, but looking at the bigger picture and maintaining focus and motivation is much more important for us in the overall quest for health and wellness.

senator

Since mentioning nutritionally seductiveness, it reminded me of something that I learned years ago, something that shocked but didn’t surprise me. Now I’d like to take this time to share a little historical nutrition trivia with you, brought to us by former “authorities” of the American health system.

In the mid 1800’s, Reverend Sylvester Graham stated that gluttony was the gateway to lust. He concluded that men and women were experiencing increased sexual desire due to their increasing intake of meat in their diet. Graham thought men should remain virgins until age 30, and then, once married, should only have sex a maximum of once per month- and this act was only to be done in order to increase the village (church) population.

So, to get rid of hunger, both sexual and dietary, Graham prescribed a grain-based diet that included a biscuit he’d created, which is what we know today as the Graham Cracker. Since church authorities and state government officials have always enjoyed a close relationship, this high-carb/low protein/starvation diet was actually endorsed and advertised as ideal by the American government for a long period of time. So, the Graham cracker was nationally advertised as a cure to the epidemic of sexual desire.

It gets better.

I found that the most bewildering work of the pre-1900 health professionals came from enema enthusiast, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg invented Corn Flakes in attempt to reduce sexual appetite and curb the “epidemic” of unwed lust. True story. He actually thought that people would find such satisfaction in easily prepared meals, that desire for intimacy would pale in comparison and would lose its allure. He also prescribed weekly enemas to go along with his cereal diet, for ‘optimal results.’

Dr. K also recommended that all young men, after a hard day’s work, organize sporting type events together which involved as much physical activity as possible. This was probably in attempt to tire them out and leave them too exhausted at the end of the day to do anything but sleep.

kellogg

Moving on….

I need to get to the point here, which this week is more about weight training.

At this point in our online relationship, you’ve been introduced to a killer leg/shoulder workout with the 1 arm overhead squat, and a beastly full-body workout with the Dragon walks. Now it’s time for me to suggest to you a pulling exercise. I’m choosing one of my favorites, and I’m almost certain that nobody reading this article currently does this exact movement. This exercise will build both functional and aesthetically pleasing postural muscles, and will help to reveal leaner superficial muscles for those seeking that ‘toned’ look. There are more than 10 major muscles directly stimulated in this 1 movement, primary targeted are all the major back muscles and biceps, with several more supporting muscles (rotator cuff, erector spinae, obliques and abdominals, and others) kicking in help execute this demanding manoeuvre.

It’s the inverted cable row.

You can check out a good example of it here: 

*This lifter is using more momentum than I recommend. Try this movement with more pause in the contracted position, and use as little of a swinging motion to initiate the movement as possible.

This exercise is a great way for anyone looking for a finishing move on back day, as it allows for a very complete and intense stretch of all the back muscles, and also works the core and postural muscles.

There’s really not too much to say about this exercise that’s any different from the other rowing motions. Picture yourself doing a seated cable row (which we’ve all done before) and replicate that same motion, only instead of being seated in an upright position, you are laying down. The benefit in using this laying position is that it allows us to stretch forward and open up our lat muscles in a very positive way, without our hamstrings or the machine’s unadjustable range-of-motion limiting this stretch.

Think about contracting your shoulder blades, squeezing as hard as you can at the bottom position after you’ve completed a pull. Your biceps will be flexed, your arms tucked tightly to your sides with your elbows flaring outwards slightly.

For attachments, you can use the rope, a straight bar, ez bar, or I recommend the neutral grip (palms face each other) close grip triangle bar.

If you pull high (between the upper and lower chest) you will activate more trap muscle and upper lats, and if you pull low (abdomen area) then you will be targeting the larger lat group and traps as well, but the most important is the shoulder blade squeeze at the end, with a controlled pause, as this is where you will really work your deep rhomboids and lats/traps, building dense muscle for that ‘defined and toned’ look once you are lean enough.

I want you to try this exercise, adding it to the end of your next back training day. Do 3 sets of 12 reps to start, then 4 sets of 10-15 the following week. Vary these reps and sets depending on your goals, but remember that this is a finishing move, and higher reps with manageable weight allows for a better stretch. Save the heavy lifting for your t-bar or bent rows, pullups and deadlifts.

On that note, do you want to know what a perfect option for a back training day looks like? I’m so glad you asked. Here it is:

Pullups: 4 sets of 10 reps

Deadlifts: 5 sets of 8 reps

Bent over Barbell rows: 5 sets of 8 reps

Inverted cable row: 4 sets of 10-15 reps

On that note, there are many options for a perfect back workout. If you want to know about other options, email me anytime.

The key to a perfect program is a combination of exercise selection, intensity, and volume, but most importantly, the deciding factor on your physique results depend on the overall quality of the reps performed during your workout. There is no replacement for a perfectly performed movement- it is essential for results, so make each rep count! Lift consciously and purposefully, and go home and do the same with your nutritional intake.