Stuck in a Rut?

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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,
~Aj

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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On Supplements — The Pre-Workout…

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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,
~Aj

Product photos courtesy of BodyBuilding.com


What’s Your Motivation?

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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,
~Aj

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Wounded Warriors Project (TM)

I’ve only one thing to share with you today.

My Bootcamp (TM) is a real military Bootcamp-inspired personal training company that not only supports the Wounded Warrior Project (TM), it employs our nation’s heroes as personal trainers; not just for their physical abilities, but for their warrior spirit. That spirit is contagious, and if you’ve ever spent even a few minutes chatting with a wounded warrior, you know exactly what I mean.

So…forget about my blog. Please take a few minutes to learn more about companies like My Bootcamp (TM), and support those returning from harm’s way.

Warmest Regards,
~Aj


On 90-Day “Miracles”…

Hi, everyone. You may (or may not) have noticed that Aj’s Focus lacked a post this past Friday. I didn’t forget. Nope. Instead, I decided to just skip it altogether.

With each new post published, I learn something new about blogging and about my readers. So from now on, unless I’m just particularly inspired to write, Aj’s Focus will not publish on Fridays. Thanks to everyone who has been following!

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Do this; get that. Guaranteed!

Back to the primary subject here. I’d like to take a moment to hit on something most of us have at least heard of if not seen on TV or perhaps even purchased. It’s what I call “Promises of the 90-Day Miracle.”

Many fitness-oriented infomercials today focus on guaranteeing astounding results within three months. We don’t often hear them refer to it as three months, though. Why is that?

For one, a period of days, no matter the length, just seems shorter than months, doesn’t it? Think about it. It’s the same reason car dealerships and banks focus on months rather than years in reference to auto loans.

It’s all about investing, whether it’s money or time…

In fact, some might say the two are nearly interchangeable. Isn’t it true the less time we think we’re putting into something laborious, the more money we may be willing to spend to do it; especially if there is a promise to fast track results.

Examples:

Manual-style lawn mowers:

How many people do you know who still use them?

Hand-mashed potatoes:

The effort is sweet, but are Cuisinart-mashed spuds really all that different?

Plumbing, electricity, audiobooks

Must I go on?

Actual results may vary…

I know a few people who have experienced some amazing results from programs like P90X, Insanity, Tae Bo, TapouT XT, Body by Vi, to name a few.

Unfortunately, I know many more individuals who, after an honorable shotgun start, failed to complete even the first 30 days of a given program. Why is that?

Because real miracles come from real effort. And real effort takes a lot of time. And what is time? Money!

Keepin’ it real…

As you may know from previous posts, I am currently experimenting with P90X. I actually started the program about five weeks ago, but after a week of vacation, I steered a bit from the program. I really wanted to experience the whole deal. So I decided to just start over.

After already experiencing a few weeks of the program, I pretty much knew what to expect. But then I decided to crunch some numbers.

How many seconds does it take to get to the “90” in “P90X”?

I couldn’t find a wise old owl to ask. I did, however, refer to the materials that came with my copy of P90X.

As it turns out, an average week requires about 8 hours of gym time every week. That’s quite a bit of money…I mean time…considering there are 7 days in a week, but only 6 P90X sessions a week.

In this case, the prospect of total days spent doing P90X is pretty palatable when one considers other possible time measurements.

Here’s the math:

At 8 hours a week, I’m looking at spending more than 100 hours with Tony Horton and friends by the end of the program. That’s 6,000 minutes…or 360,000 seconds!

Tony doesn’t even know I exist, yet I know his poker tells after just 2 weeks!

The point to all this?

My point is…anyone can promise sweet results over a particular period of time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things will be easy.

I awoke this morning at 4:15 in order to knock out “Chest & Back” without being late for work. After 40 minutes, I nearly vomited from the effort…literally. Tomorrow, I get to do it again. By Wednesday, I’ll be halfway to earning my next off day for the week.

I’m okay with all that. In fact, I often take slight nausea as a sign of a solid workout. Horton even mentioned feeling a bit queazy during today’s sweat fest!

Question: How far are you willing to push it?

Answer: That depends on the fight within.

If you focus less on the investment of time and more on improved performance from one workout to the next, I believe you’ll be much more likely to achieve the miraculous results you were promised by that TV actress with the impossibly tight midsection. Keep at it!

Thanks again for reading, and feel free to share your own 90-day fitness experiences via the comment box below.

Until next time…

Warmest Regards,
~Aj

FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I’ve Fallen, and I CAN Get Up!

Remember my post on Monday about the things I need to change in order to improve my current fitness profile? One of those changes was to “nix the junk.”

Well, folks, I fell off the wagon last night…

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And now it’s time for a station break…

Guess that’s it. Aj’s Focus on Fitness is finished…

No it’s not, and neither are my fitness plans. To get back on track, I need to own the mistake. Nobody forced me to eat pizza last night. That decision was all mine.

Can you be that honest with yourself?

If so, then you are well ahead of the game in the personal improvement arena. Keep it up!

If not, reflect on this post, because I’m going to explain why taking responsibility is crucial to your fitness journey.

So the thing of it is… Well you see, there I was when…

Right. Skip the excuses and tell it like it is. Here are the events that led to my downfall yesterday:

  • Woke up and had a healthy, freshly-juiced serving of fruit and veggies
  • Completed my morning P90X plyometrics workout
  • Enjoyed a post-workout protein drink
  • Prepared a crockpot vegetable and beef stew for dinner
  • Ran some errands
  • Went on 2.5 mi run
  • Enjoyed an early veggie-beef stew dinner
  • Took my son to a friend’s house for a sleepover
  • Returned to an empty house
  • Watched TV
  • Got bored and a little hungry
  • Ordered a pizza
  • Ate pizza…at 9:30PM
  • 20120725-110948.jpgPhoto courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.com

    But I was doing so well!

    Of course I was. My motivation to stick to my plan had been running high all day. I had already dropped 5 lbs since returning from vacation. Unfortunately, I failed to stay true to my course. I got bored and made a poor choice. That happens, but I flatly refuse to let it keep me from reaching my destination.

    Adjusting course. Fair winds…

    So it is with great pleasure that I report in today with renewed vigor and soaring optimism. After a somewhat fitful night of sleep (thanks, greasy late night pizza), I awoke this morning and pressed a tall glass of fresh vegetable-fruit juice. Feeling better already!

    With this post published, I can proceed with my day as if last night’s debauchery never happened.

    Keep your head high above the clouds and your feet planted firmly on the ground…

    My father issued that admonishment in a letter he sent me back in 1997 as I pressed through the trials and tribulations of basic military training. Such a simple phrase; yet a phrase all too easy to forget.

    Closing comments…

    Take time today to forgive yourself for being human. After doing so, take a moment to be thankful for the awesome resilience human nature offers us. Finally, renew your pledges, and press on toward your personal fitness and health goals without looking back.

    And now it’s time to do a little house cleaning and yard work. Those activities always seem to make the process of renewal more real for me. Find what works for you and do it. No excuses!

    Until next time…

    Warmest Regards,
    ~Aj


    Small Adjustments, Big Results

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    As I’ve said in the past, my fitness routine and associated diet over the past year has delivered some mixed results. On the one hand, my body is much stronger than it was a year go. It is also much larger, and not in all the right ways. Now I find myself at a crossroads.

    Where did I go wrong?

    Wow. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly our bodies can change when we’re not paying attention. I tried on a pair of jeans today that I stopped wearing a year ago because they had started to feel a bit tight.

    That’s right, ladies. Even men worry about stuff like that. But probably more, because it means we may have to go…gulp…clothes shopping.

    Anyway, I’ve struggled with my weight for nearly my whole life. That doesn’t mean I’ve always been fat, but without exercise and proper nutrition, my body is extremely prone to packing away the fat reserves (must be the Norwegian in me). This is especially true now as I approach my forties.

    So what’s the solution? Do I just give up the fight and get ready for winter?

    Last week, I pointed out the importance of making small, calculated adjustments to one’s day-to-day routine in order to effect positive changes in body composition and overall wellness. Before I can do that to address my recent weight gain, I need to reflect on a few things.

    What do I like and not like about my current health picture?

    My lifestyle includes a lot of highly intense, physical activity. I can adjust that a bit, but there is an upper limit to what fitness experts and physicians consider healthy amounts of exercise. So that’s not my problem area. What I’m not happy about, however, is that I’m carrying excess body fat. I’d like to take about 2 inches off my waist measurement.

    When did I first take notice of the negative health trend?

    About a year ago, I started cycling out clothes that, though they had fit comfortably for years, no longer fit quite right. My mistake was in not being proactive right then and there. Lessons learned…

    What changes to my normal routine occurred around that time?

    For one, my weightlifting routine changed from a focus on high-intensity, functional lifts that kept me strong and lean to one more centered around mass-building compound movements like dead lifts, squats, bench press, and power cleans that made me stronger and added a bit of bulk. My cardio sessions also dropped significantly around this time.

    The added mass obviously changed my calorie requirement a bit and was certainly responsible for some of the 15 lbs I’ve gained in the past year (I’ll probably want to amp up my cardio a little). But it doesn’t explain the excess fat storage. For that, I look to culprit no. 2 — smoking cessation.

    I finally kicked the habit after more than 15 years, but like all good things, it came at a price. Somehow, I re-learned to crave certain carb-rich foods. Before I quit smoking cigarettes, I rarely ate heavy carbs at more than one meal a week. Today, carbohydrates are not the exception.

    What am I willing to change regarding my current habits?

    Thankfully, a carbohydrate habit is MUCH easier to break than a nicotine addiction. I’ve renewed my long-standing pledge to restrict my daily carbohydrate intake. But that doesn’t mean I’m starting some kind of zero carb diet fad — just making some minor adjustments.

    Over the past year, I’ve gradually reintroduced certain foods that I long ago eliminated from my diet. To get back to what worked for me before, I need to just nix the junk. I can do that without making drastic changes to my diet.

    I eat vegetables (and juice them), eat moderate servings of fresh fruits (and juice them), avoid sugary snacks almost completely, never drink sugary colas, drink a lot of water, choose lean cuts of beef and skinless chicken, and eat fish (though probably not enough of it). None of that needs to change. It’s the extra stuff that just needs to go away. I can do that without feeling like I’m suffering through some major dietary upheaval.

    How about you?

    Are you dissatisfied with your body composition? Would you like to lose a few inches from your waist? Maybe fat deposits aren’t your concern. Do you want to add some lean mass? What about just getting more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Whatever you want to do, follow the same steps I’ve taken here, and get your routine gradually in tune with your desired end state.

    Remember, small, calculated changes are much more lasting than traumatic changes that turn the world as you know it (the one you’ve grown comfortable with) on its head. Food for thought.

    Until next time…

    Warmest Regards,
    ~Aj

    P.S. Share your thoughts and experiences so others can motivate and be motivated!





    Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net