Monthly Archives: August 2012

Avoid Burnout; Right Tools for The Job


One question I hear a lot from folks new to weight training is “How many times a week should I work out?” The answer to that question really depends on the desired return on investment; the “investment” in this case being, of course, time. And then there’s the question of how long each training session should be. I’d like to address both.

How much is “enough,” and what’s “too much”?

We’ve all heard about those big-time body builders who spend hours a day in the gym, or that fitness fanatic at work who hits the pool before work, pumps iron during lunch, and runs 3 – 5 miles each night. Those schedules are demanding, uncommon, and likely unnecessary.

According to an article published in the ACSM Health & Fitness Journal *, spending too much time in the gym will likely lead to “decreased or impaired performance and increased fatigue, both during training and daily life.” Personally, I find the fact that training too much can negatively affect not only one’s gym performance but also his or her living performance to be pretty significant!

The article goes on to suggest that overtraining ultimately reduces overall fitness levels because it often leads to burnout and possibly injury…either of which “prevents one from working out.” If you’re trying to make fitness a part of your lifestyle, being forced out of the gym would be a pretty huge setback.

So how long should a session be, again?

Well it’s not really so much about counting minutes (or hours) in the gym…though that does matter. First you need to decide what it is you want to achieve, because it’s all about how you spend your time in the gym.

I want to lose body fat…

Cool. Good for you for acknowledging a potential health issue and taking positive action! Before you get started on creating “the new you,” there’s something you should know about cardio, weight training, and calorie counting.

If you want to lose weight (fat), cut your calories to create a daily (i.e. sustained) caloric deficit. Be sure to eat enough, though, because you need a certain number of calories (energy) each day to maintain or build lean muscle mass and sustain basic bodily functions. Check out “Feed the Beast!” from May 2012 for some helpful info on calorie planning.

“Drink Me!”

You can lose weight with or without exercise. But whether you simply cut calories or do so in addition to long hours of cardio (walking, running, elliptical, etc.), you probably won’t get the kind of results you really want. As the mysterious “Drink Me!” tonic did for young Alice, cardio and dieting will most likely just affect your size. That’s what Fitness Coach, Simon Rabinovich, suggests anyway.

In a 2011 article posted at Serious Fitness Results (dot com), Rabinovich states that when traditional cardio is the centerpiece of any weight loss effort, “it is completely common for people to lose a lot of weight, becoming a smaller, yet still fat version of their former selves.” Remember that the next time you go to the gym. Compare the physiques of serious runners to those of serious lifters. In the end, though, it’s all about what you want to achieve.

So…how much time should I spend in the gym?

Right. You said you want to lose weight. I assume that means unwanted fat. Try to hit as many body parts as you can during each weightlifting session. If you go that route, be sure to give yourself ample recovery time between sessions (recommend about 48 hrs). Maybe throw in a light cardio session in between weightlifting days. Also…for fat loss, each session should be pretty high intensity.

So to finally answer your question, shoot for a Monday-Wednesday-Friday weightlifting split (45 – 60 min each) with light cardio (20 – 30 min) on Tuesday and Thursday. Saturday should be a “fun day” — a day for active play (think golf, dog park, beach volleyball, pick-up games, etc.). I will offer up some routines in a later post. So stay tuned.

How to gauge intensity…

You can gauge workout intensity in a variety of ways. For example, if you’re not sweating, it’s not intense enough. If after 20 minutes you’re not dripping with sweat, it’s not intense enough. If after 45 minutes you’re not nearly out of breath, it’s probably not intense enough.

I highly recommend investing in a good heart rate monitor (watch and chest strap). HR monitors offer immediate, real-time feedback that will tell you exactly how much effort you’re really putting into a workout (sometimes the mind plays tricks). HR monitors run anywhere from $60 – $500 at your local sporting goods store. I suggest you do some online research first, though. Not all monitors are alike. You probably don’t need an expensive monitor that doubles as a smartphone, but you also probably don’t want a monitor that only calculates HR when you touch a sensor on the device itself.

Challenge yourself!

Don’t make the mistake of buying into the common misconception that low weight, high repetitions will do the trick (15 or more reps per set). It won’t. You’ll be wasting your time and frustrating the guy or gal waiting patiently (or maybe not so patiently) for you to vacate the dumbbell area.

Instead, go heavy as often as possible; shooting for the 8 – 10 rep range. Do no more than 4 sets of any one movement, and stick to 2 – 3 different movements per body part.

For example: a good chest component might be 3 sets of dumbbell presses, followed by 3 sets of incline dumbbell press, followed by 3 sets of angled dumbbell flys. Then you might move on to a series of lower body movements before returning to hit another upper body component like back and biceps. Again…I’ll post some proven workout routines later.

With all that in mind, try not to train to failure. If you’re not completing a third set of 8 reps, you may be going too heavy. Make a note of that and go a little lighter next time.

In closing…

There is so much more to say on this subject, and I’ve only hit on the subtopic of fat loss (aka “cutting”). Before I move on to building (aka “bulking”) and then maintenance, I’ll make good on ponying up some beginner, intermediate, and advanced cutting workouts for you to try out. Until then, read up and check my statements for yourself. Get informed and get fit!

Warmest Regards,

Image courtesy of

* Paige Kinucan and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., ACSM Health & Fitness Journal “Overtraining: Undermining Success?”, Vol. 11, Issue 4, Jul-Aug 2007, 8-12.


Experienced-Based Fitness & Nutrition


Besides just being pretty good workouts, programs like P90X and Insanity (as I’ve stated before) can be really useful in helping seasoned fitness enthusiasts break through fitness plateaus. But unless you really enjoy the workouts, a commercial fitness program can be kind of tough to see through to completion. And when one does complete such a program, there’s always the question of where to go next.

When the song is over…

If you do manage to complete a given program, you might be left wondering what to do with yourself. For those who are relatively new to high intensity training, chances are they’ll either give their completed program another go (stick to what’s familiar — no shame in that), or they’ll just give up on training altogether.

Never make that last mistake, but be careful about becoming too reliant on any given. Just the same, if you aren’t knowledgable enough to design your own program, stick with what works…at least until you know more about fitness.


Live to learn; learn to live…

If you’re serious about fitness (or serious about getting serious), do yourself a favor and start reading about fitness and nutrition immediately. You can continue with your commercial program, but you might as well learn more about why your program is designed the way it is. When you’ve learned enough to graduate from novice to enthusiast, you can start experimenting a little. If done properly (i.e. safely), that can actually be a lot of fun.

May the music never die…

Fitness improvement is not an isolated event — some series of workouts spanning a 90-day period. That’s right. It’s a lifestyle. Nothing you’ve never heard before. Like I suggested last week, find what works for you and make that your staple. Experiment, but know when to stop doing something that’s not delivering desired outcomes and rebound as quickly as possible. The whole affair of living a fitness lifestyle is about discovering more about your body. And since our bodies tend to change over time, that pursuit never gets boring.

Until next time…

Warmest Regards,

Images courtesy of

Cake, Experience, Growing up, and Pie…


Today is a great day. I got up this morning before 5:00 and hit the road for a relaxed 3 mi run (just over a 9 min/mi pace — very relaxed). It felt great, and it reminded me of my daily running schedule while I was serving in Iraq. Total mental reset!

That’s when it hit me. I forgot how much I love to run!

“If you run, you’ll never look like me.”

Heard that before? I’ve read many articles on the subject of weight training and cardio. Specifically, if the goal is to add mass, one should limit cardio events to no more than 20 min per session and to do no more than 2-3 sessions per week. I’ve read that and heard it from numerous other fitness enthusiasts/”experts” — admittedly, that doesn’t make it necessarily true.


Whether that advice is sage matters not in my opinion. I’ve neglected cardio for the past year (limited to 15-20 min/session; 2-3 sessions/week). I have added strength and mass, but as I’ve shared in the past, not all that mass has been good mass. I’m ready to get back to running, and I’m not giving up my weight training!

Have cake; will eat…

What I do know is that I enjoy weight lifting as a means to alter body composition and strength. I also know that I can achieve my desired body composition/strength and still enjoy long, mind-clearing runs.

Experience — The best teacher!

Once you’ve “found” your personal fitness zone, be open to improvement, but hold your zone close (what you’ve found to work).

At some point along your fitness journey, you will invariably run into fitness enthusiasts/experts who will suggest a “better” way of going about your training…and they can be very convincing. Sometimes they’ll be right; sometimes not.

If you change up your routine based on advice from others, you should expect to see desirable results within two weeks. If you don’t see results that appeal to you, knock it off, and go back to what was working before.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Do you want to be a world-class athlete? Perhaps you’ve considered a career in bodybuilding. Are you planning to qualify for the Boston Marathon? If you said “yes” to any of those, hire a trainer or join a training group.

If none of those apply, are you comfortable with your current body composition/weight? If so, then what your currently doing at the gym is probably sufficient. If you’re not seeing desirable results, hire a trainer or join a training group.

Simple as pie…

Yep. It’s that easy. Listen to your body, and be true to your personal fitness goals.

As for me, I’m heading to bed soon. Need to recover from my afternoon weight session and to rest up for another 3 miles tomorrow morning!

Until next time…

Warmest regards,

Image courtesy of

The Spice of Life


At some point during one of the P90X workouts, fitness guru Tony Horton extolls the virtues of avoiding workout boredom with the age-old adage, “variety is the spice of life.” And he speaks the truth.

I recently downloaded the P90X companion application for iPad/iPhone. It allows you to track your nutrition, workouts and overall progress.

The app also lets you follow the workouts without the videos. I like that a lot. With the app on the go, I can modify the workouts a bit. In fact, I’ve found that capability has given my workouts a much-needed boost.

After nearly 2 months of P90X, I’ve seen a lot of improvements; particularly my arm strength (triceps are really growing).

Since taking the workouts to the gym (sans Yoga X and Plyometrics), my results have really impressed me.

This might apply to you as well. Maybe your workouts and progress have plateaued. If you are comfortable with experimenting, don’t be afraid to change things up a bit. Discover what works, and press with that.

If you are new to weight training, running, or whatever, read as much as you can on the subject. Experiment a little, but do it safely!

Until next time…

Warmest Regards,

Image courtesy of

Stuck in a Rut?


Monday’s have a funny way of making us think in terms of fresh starts–a kind of do over to make a clean break from all the poisonous activities and thinking that really derail our efforts at self improvement. Whether it’s post-party blues from a riotous good time on Saturday, or just a renewed determination to stop partaking in the Sunday all-you-can-eat super buffet, for most Americans, Monday signifies a new lease on life. Strange how humans view time, isn’t it?

For me, today is indeed an opportunity for change; as will be tomorrow (God willing). For me, this week’s Monday is about buckling down on my nutrition. More specifically, I started this day swearing off those heavy, complex carbohydrates that have been wreaking havoc on my weight loss goals. Well it’s now the end of the day, and you may be wondering how I’ve faired in that regard.

Yeah. About that. You see…there was this office birthday luncheon, and people brought in dishes. I couldn’t just say “no thanks.” I’m a team player, after all…

Seriously, Aj?

Well, I’m serious about the luncheon, and it’s a fact that I ate two pieces of Popeye’s extra-crispy fried chicken, a side of super-creamy chicken salad, and white rice with deliciously-goopy baked beans. Oye.

What I’m not serious about is the excuse. These things (failures) happen to all of us from time to time. But have you painted yourself into a corner with paint that never dries?

Wow. You lost me with that one…

Right. What I mean is, do you regularly hear yourself say things like, “just this one time, and then tomorrow I’m getting serious,” or “I’ll just work off this triple cheeseburger and fries in the gym,” and so forth?

We all lie to ourselves from time to time. But what if it’s become habitual? Well, you need to do something to break the chain…to dry up that paint.

The hard truth can be tough to swallow.

Yes it can be, but no more difficult than coping with the dissatisfaction one feels after repeatedly failing to achieve desired fitness goals. And this really goes for any aspect of your life. So to break the pattern of self deceit, the first thing you need to do is see the problem for what it is.

What’s your problem?

We can go to friends, family members, fitness coaches, or nutrition experts with that question, and you’ll get a whole range of answers; some helpful, others maybe not so much. The best answer will come from you.

So take a hard look at what’s holding you back from meeting your fitness goals. Maybe it’s late night snacking. Do you finish other peoples’ food at the dinner table? Does your fresh start gym date keep getting pushed to the right for one reason or another? Or maybe you drink too much.

That last one can be a tough nugget to crack. Where is the line between moderate and excessive consumption? There are guidelines out there, but the best criteria is this: if you have to think about it, you probably need to cut back, if not quit drinking altogether. Why the emphasis on this? Because binge drinking has practically become a national pastime. If you’re a player in that league and you have significant health and fitness goals, you’re not being very honest with yourself, and you’re certainly not living up to your potential in the gym, on the track, in the pool, etcetera.

Closing thought…

A quick thing you can do to isolate what’s wrong with your current lifestyle is to keep a daily journal. In most cases, people can pinpoint the major, self-installed barricades to success and start chipping away at them. If you think it’s more than just a few bad choices, maybe you should consider professional counseling or therapy. No shame in that! The important thing is to be honest with yourself, and then take real action to break out of those habits that keep you from being great.

Until next time…

Warmest Regards,

Image courtesy of

On Supplements — The Pre-Workout…


A long, long time ago, I promised to do a few articles on supplements. I never really did, and now seems as good a time as any to make good on that.

I’ll gradually hit on proteins, post-workout supps, and other legal supplements one can put into the body to see various effects. Today’s post, however, focuses on the many and varied pre-workout supplements I’ve tried over the last couple years.

The photo above shows everything I’m currently using, with two exceptions.

Cytomax and Thermonex

Out of curiosity, and after many years of seeing it on the shelf, I broke down and bought a bottle of Cytomax by CytoSport. Huge mistake! I was interested because it lacked caffein (a near perquisite for most pre-w/o supps). Bottom line: It did not make me feel extra hydrated and energized during workouts as promised (quite the opposite), but I did pee a lot the rest of the day.

The second mistake was buying BAS’s Thermonex. At first, I liked them…until I learned they turned me (a laid back kind of guy) into a raging beast a la David Banner’s Mr. Hyde. And that reaction was actually some-timey. Other times I behaved more like Cal Lightman of Lie to Me fame…jittery and curiously intense.

Needless to say, both products are gone from my house.

The Long List of the Short List…

With that, I’ll share my thoughts on pre-w/o supps (pardon the abbreviations) I’ve tried. This short list isn’t all inclusive, but it’s pretty darn close. We’ll hit them one at a time, but first, let me share a few thoughts on pre-w/o supps:

You don’t need them to build a lean, mean, awesome physique.

Okay. With that out of the way, let’s talk about some supplements that can help the casual-come-serious weight lifter take things to “the next level.” This is a rank-ordered list from least favorite to favorite.

Cytomax and Thermonex — Throw them away! Enough said on that.

Xtreme Shock


Xtreme Shock is interesting. It packs a skin-crawling flush that has driven me to my limits on my annual fitness tests (1.5 mi run, pushups, situps). For that purpose, and that purpose alone, I may use again in the future. Thing is, the crash is huge and hits very rapidly. Drinkability is great, but there is no lasting pump with this one. I’ve only seen it pre-bottled, which could really be pricy in bulk. Plus, it’s just not a real pre-w/o.

Black Powder


MRI’s Black Powder was actually my first true pre-workout a couple years ago. I thought it was awesome because it tasted better than the crap I remembered from my high school football days, and made me feel pretty pumped. What I didn’t realize, though, is that there were better supps out there that didn’t make you crash. The name is pretty awesome, though. That counts four something, right?

Hyper FX


BSN’s Hyper Fx is definitely a pre-workout supplement. It does it’s job as it doesn’t let you crash halfway through your workout. Unfortunately, it’s mixability and taste isn’t awesome. Other than that, I like the mental focus without the super amped jitters many other pre-w/o supps give you. Taste is a pretty big deal, though. Oh…and you can’t just shake it up. It needs to be stirred; otherwise it foams and tastes even worse.

N0-Extreme N-Zero


Cellucore’s N0-Extreme N-Zero was my second pre-workout. I liked it enough to buy two bottles. Funny thing is that the first bottle I purchased had been slightly exposed to humidity or something, so it was kind of clumpy. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure Cellucore had an issue with this, because my second purchase brought individual powder packets (think Crystal Light water flavoring packets). Honestly, this product is pretty great, because it has zero carbs and zero creatine. Hard to find in most pre-w/o supps. Taste is pretty good, but you see these weird, shiny floaters that I at first thought were bits of tinfoil that some disgruntled Cellucore employee surreptitiously dropped into the secret sauce. Why is it not my nĂºmero uno? I’m not exactly sure. I think it’s because I just didn’t see the gains I saw after using this next potion for power.

N.O.-Xplode 2.0


BSN doesn’t do everything right, but this one is pretty good. With N.O.-Xplode 2.0, my mental focus was on, inter-set recovery was great, the pump was impressive and lasting, and I always managed to push out that extra rep. Drinkability was good, and it mixed well, too. While it may be a toss up between this product and Cellucore’s N0-Extreme N-Zero, the gains I saw with N.O.-Xplode were pretty impressive. In the 30 days I used this, I saw significant size, strength and muscular endurance gains.

Why do I need a pre-workout supplement?

Answer: You don’t. Simple as that. If you do choose to supplement with them, though, it is very important to limit (or eliminate altogether) other sources of caffein. Also, please follow the directions. Only ingest the recommended daily amount, and take a month or so off of pre-w/o supps after 8-10 weeks of usage. I know people who practically brag about taking 3X the recommended amount for months on end. Remember, the FDA is pretty particular for a reason. Protect your heart, brain, kidneys, and liver. Protect yourself!

What’s next?

Not sure. Whatever I’m inspired to write, I suppose. In the meantime, look forward to another supplement chat regarding post-workout supplements to include the favorite argument: creatine before or after your workout.

I’d love to hear what you think about this topic. What pre-workout supplements do you love or hate? Leave your comments hear. Sound off!

Until next time…

Warmest Regards,

Product photos courtesy of

What’s Your Motivation?


As I pushed my cart down the frozen foods section this weekend, I noticed a gentleman across the aisle from me. He was obviously dressed for the gym, and from the slight ring of sweat around his neck, he’d likely already been there.

What first made me single him out among all the other weekend shoppers was his T-shirt, which advertised the Wounded Warrior Project (TM). I thought it was interesting because I’d just written about that on Friday. And then something else caught my attention. His right leg was made of metal.

Finding your fitness muse…

Today’s post is about searching out, identifying, and putting to use sources of motivation so you can maintain proper focus on your fitness goals. If you look carefully, you may be surprised to learn just how many ready sources of motivation surround you each day.

Your challenge:

1. Find at least 5 people or things over the next 24 hours that inspire you to hit the weights, pound some pavement, limit certain “bad” foods from your diet…whatever it is you want to do better to promote a healthier you.

2. Write them down.

3. Honor them with a plan to utilize that inspiration.

4. Start work on that plan within the following 24-hour period. Don’t think. Just do.

Your move!

So. Will you take my challenge? I can’t wait to see where that takes me, and I’ll start right now!

I’d like to start by recognizing a friend of mine who took time to write and tell me my regular posts here at Aj’s Focus have been missed lately. That prompted me not only to write this post, but to really focus on my exercise and nutrition goals today (I don’t just write about fitness, after all). Thank you!!

Warmest Regards,

Image courtesy of