Tag Archives: fat loss

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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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


Small Adjustments, Big Results


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,

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

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 in 7 — Succeed!


It’s a new week filled with new potential. As I mentioned in my last Friday Wrap-up, I’ve decided to change things up a bit at Aj’s Focus on Fitness. Instead of hitting “Publish” six or seven times a week, I will only be doing that three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Why the change, Aj?

Well, as I explained on Friday, it’s been almost a month since I started this blog. After 23 articles, it dawned on me that I needed more time each week to come up with some higher quality stuff. Those extra days in between posts should help me achieve that goal…among others.

How many goals will you score this week?

No. That’s not what I just asked my soccer-crazy teenager. That question is for all of us. Me too! How many fitness and health goals can I reach in the next seven days? This is the focus of today’s post: goal setting.

Unlike that As Seen on TV product that allows would-be master chefs to just “SET IT AND FORGET IT!”, I’m going to challenge you to set seven realistic and attainable, short-term goals pertaining to improving upon your current fitness and health profile. That’s one goal per day.

Cool! I am going to lose 20 lbs, become a vegan, buy that $4,000 home gym I’ve been wanting for years…

Like I said, these seven short-term goals need to be realistic and attainable. And I’ll add one more requirement: they need to do something to advance your efforts toward those bigger, long-term goals.

I don’t really have any long-term fitness and health goals, but can I still play?

Of course you can! What you may discover along the way is that your long-term goals turn out to be just bigger versions of some of the short-term goals you’ll set this week.

What do you mean by “realistic” and “attainable”? Aren’t they kind of the same thing?

Right you are—mostly. A realistic goal may be to lose 40lbs of body fat. That is also an attainable goal. But that goal is not specific enough to truly be judged as either realistic or attainable. You need to build in some parameters.

“I am going to lose 40lbs of body fat over the next 6 months.”

That is a very realistic and attainable goal.

“I am going to lose 40lbs of body fat over the next 2 months.”

Though it may actually be attainable, it’s not very realistic for most people (especially those interested in healthy fat loss).

So here’s what we’re going to do…

Me: I am going to share seven of my short-term goals this week and then tie them to some specific long-term goals. By the end of the week…full disclosure on both successes and failures.

You: Your challenge is to write down your seven short-term goals, link them to some long-term goals, and then share that list with another person or group of people. It doesn’t really matter who, but I highly recommend you choose an optimistic and generally fitness- and health-oriented personality. By the end of the week…follow up with that person/group to let them know how you did.

If you want to, I encourage you to share them right here on this blog. This blog is a safe place for that kind of thing, because the feedback you need will always be helpful and encouraging. If you’re taking the time to read up on fitness and health topics, I’m a fan!

The following numbered list hits on my short-term goals for this week. The second list correlates to each of the short-term goals as it ties them to long-term objectives.

My Short Seven:

  1. Perform 20 – 30 min of interval cardio on at least 5 of 7 days
  2. Find a new weight training program and stick to it (it’s time for a changeup)
  3. Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night
  4. Do one relaxing, enjoyable thing each day this week
  5. Avoid alcohol and starchy foods
  6. Do a solid 5-10 minute warm up before every weight training session
  7. Find at least one new fitness podcast and one fitness blog to follow

The Bigger Picture:

  1. I want my current 27 min 5K to be an easy 24 min by September
  2. I want my bench, squat and dead lift sets to go up by 20 lbs each in the next 30 days
  3. I want to get back on a regular sleep schedule by the end of the month
  4. I want to reduce stress for the long-term
  5. I want to drop my BMI by at 5% by September
  6. I want to improve my flexibility and reduce potential for injury
  7. I want to be working in the fitness industry full-time within the next 5-10 years

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m excited to discover what you and I can achieve this week. Let’s surprise ourselves! We’ll chat more on Wednesday. Until then…

Warmest Regards,


Monday, Monday…

It’s Monday, and as we hit the scales earlier this morning, many of us thought back on what we did to undo all that hard work we put into the last week (or, should I say, the lost week).

For those reading this and thinking to themselves (or saying aloud), Yep. I did that, rest easy knowing you’re not alone.

What’s this week’s focus again, Aj?

I know…this week is all about pre- and post-workout nutrition, but I really just want to take time to discuss what so many call the “Monday Morning Blues” (or, if you love acronyms as much as I do, the MMBs).

Why are we so prone to suffering the MMBs?

Well, I think a lot of it has to do with how one spent the previous weekend. If Friday through Sunday was spent doing quality activities in a positive, healthy environment fueled by healthy (or at least mostly healthy) foods, my own experience tells me that the following Monday will offer a sense of purpose or mission. But if just one night of the weekend was spent playing College Frat Party Smack Down (Aj ~ Copyright 2012) and subsequent recovery, then guess what…Monday is going to be a real downer. Why? Because the body hasn’t fully recovered.

Yeah? Well, I don’t drink. So you’re not telling me anything I can use.

Think again. It doesn’t just take an alcohol bender on Friday to destroy a Monday. Same goes for what you eat.

Here’s How to Ensure a Cruddy Monday:

Say you watched carefully what you ate from breakfast on Monday until lunch on Friday. After clocking out for the day around five o’clock, you go home for pizza, beer and a movie night with your significant other. Okay. So what? Those things are great not only for recovery, but also for morale. Until…

You flop into bed sometime after midnight and 5 slices of greasy ‘za washed down with a sixer of your favorite craft beer. Oh yeah…and you got “snacky” during your Dexter marathon and grazed on a bag of microwaved popcorn (made with real movie theater butter!).

Your last thought before drifting off for a fitful night of pizza- and Dexter-induced nightmares is, I wonder if I’ll be up to going for that run in the morning. Guess what…you won’t be. And if you force it (which would at least be something), it still won’t undo what you did the night before.

The next morning, as you tie your runners and ponder whether or not you should run with a food and beer hangover, your buddy texts you asking to join him at a pub that evening. You agree, but promise yourself not to drink. You make good on your promise (good for you!), but you compromise by scarfing down the free bar food during happy hour.

Sunday you go to the gym and sweat, sweat again, and sweat one more time. You kill it!

Monday morning you get up, warm up the shower, stand on the scale and realize you’ve gained 5 lbs since Friday morning.

“Not fair,” you cry. But it is fair. You lost the battle, and now you’re headed into work with a defeatist and defensive mindset. Yeah, man…Mondays stink!

Hold on a second. I told you I don’t drink!

Right. Take away the beers from that scenario and replace them with a vanilla shake or a couple of non-diet sodas. Same story, buddy. Sorry.

Why Is Life So Unfair and Difficult?

It’s all about perspective. Think of it this way:

You’ve just spent your Saturday picking the weeds out of your garden. You step back, stretch your aching muscles, and enjoy the pleasant return on your investments of time and energy.

Then you grab a handful of weeds and spread them around your garden a bit. A little here. A few there. A great big ol’ prickly one there… Yes. That ought to do it. What fun that was!

How should you expect your garden to look in the coming days and weeks? Filled with weeds, of course! Maybe even bigger and more numerous than before.

How to Make Mondays Awesome:

I’ve said it before and I say it again — Pay it forward! It’s okay to celebrate a little. Go ahead. Enjoy some pizza. Have a beer (or a shake…whatever). Just keep yourself in check. You didn’t allow those foods at all during the week. Remind yourself of that and take pride in it, and then take pleasure in each bite of pizza you take, knowing that it’s just a small reward for all your hard work. Be sure to do something physical over the weekend, too — Yard work, a day of swimming with the kids, a quick in-and-out visit to the gym. Just stay active, but rest when you can. Sleep in if it’s your turn to be a little selfish one morning. Your body needs it and you’ve earned it!

Walk into the future we all do. Walk into the past no one does.

Finally, don’t waste your time and energy worrying about what you did wrong last weekend or even the week before. Focus instead on what you can do today and tomorrow. Come Friday, picture the coming Monday morning. What do you want it to look like? Fixate on that image for a bit, and then act accordingly throughout the weekend.

Warmest Regards,

P.S. That “walk into the future” bit…all mine, but I did say it in my head with Yoda’s voice.

Tomorrow: Pre-workout nutrition tips. Promise!

I’m Overweight! When Did That Happen?

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and said, “I’m not that overweight,” only to then step on the scale and realize you have hit your highest weight in months or even years? If so, you are not alone. Trust me.

Despite having been a military physical training leader since 2003, it took me seven years to reach my ideal body weight. At about five foot ten (and a half), that is somewhere between 165 and 175lbs depending on how much muscle I happen to be carrying.

All those years I had been maintaining a “healthy” 190lb physique. I participated in a weekly physical fitness program, though I rarely lifted weights and tended to eat and drink whatever I felt like putting into my body. I was also a long-time cigarette smoker (quit after 16 years).

For a military PT leader, that’s not exactly the picture of health.

I needed to lose weight, but like so many overweight Americans, I wanted to lose it fast. I tried “fat burners,” fad diets, trendy workouts…you name it, I tried it. Finally I figured it out. Eat less, eat well, and let out my inner athlete.

Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~ Japanese Proverb

Yes. I had an epiphany, but that didn’t mean I was forever in the clear. Over the past year, my fitness focus shifted from cardio and overall strength conditioning to increasing muscle size and strength. I made an amatuer’s mistake.

Building and sustaining muscle mass requires an increase in caloric intake. Like any smart person would, I satisfied my body’s need for additional calories by eating more food. Unfortunately, the energy sources I sought out were often low-quality foods high in calories, fat and carbohydrates.


In less than 10 months, I went from an optimal 175lbs to a whopping 189lbs. Talk about going full circle–almost. Fortunately, I caught it. I was able to reflect on where I was just a year ago. I have taken immediate action. It won’t be easy (good results rarely come with ease), but I look forward to the challenge and with sharing the experience as part of this blog.

Immediate Gratification: An Inconvenient Truth

I tend to be a very results-oriented individual. I’ve worked on projects that have spanned years, sometimes picking up somewhere in the middle only to hand it off before completion. That takes discipline, patience and vision. Why should losing weight be any different? It isn’t.

It’s very easy to over-indulge in high-calorie foods and beverages, and it’s just as easy to sabotage hard work–I am good example of that. The important thing is to pay attention to what you’re doing (or not doing) and to then do something with that information.

– You scarf down a fast food meal deal because you forgot to go grocery shopping.
– You call in a late-night pizza because the chinese food you ate three hours earlier has left you feeling hungry again.
– You skip a week of working out because you’re just too busy.
– You gulp down a large, sugar-laden cola at the theater. It came with free refills and a large tub of “buttered” popcorn (also refillable for free).
– You skip another week of working out because you’re still too busy.
– You throw back beer after beer while catching up on past episodes of Biggest Loser on Netflix.
– You skip on another month of working out because your gym membership expired and you’re waiting for the weather to warm up/cool down to make an outdoor workout easier to “get into.”

We all know it takes months of healthy eating and exercise to achieve sustainable weight loss. We also know that it takes just one double bacon cheeseburger with large fries and a milkshake to destroy a week’s worth of hard work. We know these truths, yet we continue to largely ignore them. Why?

Because they are inconvenient.

That is why so many of us struggle when it comes to pleasing our senses; particularly when it comes to food, exercise and weight management. One’s desire to lose body fat is usually driven by what we see with our eyes. A fatter version of yourself staring back at you in the mirror. A pair of jeans that used to be your “fat” pants but now serve as your favorite pants (you kept them as a reminder). A scale that must surely be broken, but if it really is right…

No one expects to see immediate, positive results when it comes to fat loss, but everyone wants to.

“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

As it moves across the sky from east to west, the sun’s position relative to the horizon gives us a pretty good idea as to what time it is. That’s because those are changes we can easily and readily observe. But what if it took months just to go from noon to mid-day? It would be really hard to get a gauge on time, right? — And so it is with fat loss.

America is fat and getting fatter each day. It is a very sad reality. What can be done?

With each passing day of habitual inactivity and overeating, the road to recovery gets longer. And rather than being given more time to recover, our lives are being ever shortened by the effects of gravity, cellular breakdown, environmental hazards, and, of course, our lifestyles.

Sadly, more and more overweight parents are raising overweight children. This is one of the most evil realities of immediate gratification. Kids who grow up obese never know what its like to not be obese. This is, pardon the pun, a big problem and probably deserving of its own post.

The point is that our days are not unlimited. If you’re fat (this next part is key) and want to do something about it, you must begin immediately. Do not wait. It can start with your next meal, with abstaining from that high-calorie snack just before bed, with deciding to go out for a walk after dinner, with seeing your physician to get on a healthy living program…with becoming part of the growing community of healthy-living Americans out there.

In Closing…Finally!

This initial post is admittedly quite long. Future posts will surely be shorter and more focused on a particular subject. The purpose here was to establish with everyone how I view fitness and healthy living in general. I am concerned. As a military member, I am especially concerned as more and more young American men and women are being turned away from service due to obesity. I want to be part of the solution, and if you’re still reading this, you probably do, too.

With that, I invite anyone with a positive spirit to participate in this blog. Leave a comment, or share a link to your own blog or other health and wellness website.

Warmest Regards,