Tag Archive: fitness

The Mind Muscle Connection

“I never ‘feel’ squats in my legs, my back always hurts the next day!”

“I don’t understand triceps push downs, they always hurt my shoulders.”

These are common complaints I hear from people working out. You can replace any exercise and any body system and hear this with almost any move, especially as the weights get heavier. There are a lot of factors contributing to this problem.

1)   Proper Form

First of all, an exercise should never “hurt.” Proper form is essential to a healthy, happy life in the gym. Sacrificing form to move heavier weights often leads to injuries. If you’re performing an exercise for the first time it’s imperative that you research the movement. Start out with almost no weight and attempt the movement multiple times. Once proper form is established, you may have fixed your initial problem and prevented further injury.

Instagram user “Squattingunicorn” demonstrates a full depth squat

2)   The Mind Muscle Connection

This is really the crux of this article. A lot of people go through the motions of a movement without really thinking about the movement as it applies to their training. Are you growing bigger biceps? Are you strengthening your glutes? Is this a carry over exercise to improve your sticking point on the bench? Why are you doing this move?

Once you identify the purpose of your exercise you need to focus on that intention. This is why we use cues like “squeeze on up” and “drive through your heels.” There are areas that should be focused on during a move to make it more effective and powerful.

Tumblr user iron-inside displays the powerlifting method of bench pressing

Next time you’re doing an exercise ask yourself these questions.

“What is the purpose of this exercise? What am I hoping to gain from this?”

“Which muscle(s) am/are I utilizing?”

“At the start of the move, what am I feeling?”

“As I progress through the move, what am I feeling?”

“At the end of the move, what am I feeling?”

These will help you narrow down what you should be focusing on. If you find that certain parts of the movement accentuate your goals, focus on those. Lower your weights and focus on that part of the move. Squeeze, hold, pulse, do whatever you feel will focus this move.

I’ll give you a great example.

I’ve been trying to build my lats for the better part of 6 months. I read that lat pull downs were the best way to do this. I loaded up the machine and repped out 12-15 reps of lat pull downs as heavy as I could. I rarely felt sore (which isn’t necessarily a sign of “doing work” as some would like to think) in my lats, and instead I’d feel it in my shoulders. My lats did not grow, but my shoulders were fatigued and painful. I was flirting with injury.

One day I saw a video of an IFBB pro doing lat pull downs. Not only was she sitting differently, but her elbows were pointed a different way than mine, her head was tilted differently, and her weight was much, much less than mine. But her lats were HUGE! I watched her slowly bring the bar down, hold for half a second, and then slowly raise the bar back up.

Oh. It hit me – I had been going about this whole move the wrong way. By sacrificing form for weight I’d been performing the movement inappropriately and was missing out on all the benefits that came with the movement. Once I lowered the weight and slowed down my movements to really focus on the individual aspects of the move my lats grew the way I wanted. My shoulder pain disappeared, as did some other aches and pains from the poor form.

The mind-muscle connection is an often overlooked part of anyone’s training plan. Identify your goals and focus on your moves and you’ll get more out of your workout.

Fasted Cardio: Myth or Fact?

Fasted cardio is one of the hottest topics amongst dieters, especially those who compete in body building. The idea of doing cardio on an empty stomach first thing in the morning makes sense to some people – with no immediate source of energy, won’t your body burn stored fat for energy? There’s compelling evidence for and against fasted cardio, so I thought I’d break down the main points of various studies for both sides and let you chose.


One study that is often cited (Bonen, A. et al. (2008). Effect of training in the fasted state on metabolic responses during exercise with carbohydrate intake. Journal of Applied Physiology. Apr;104(40):1045-55) showed that training fasted actually increased your muscle glycogen stores, making it a great adjunct to endurance athlete’s training. The idea is that increasing the body’s ability to store glycogen will allow athletes to compete at higher intensity long term.

Another study looked at supplementing your fasted cardio with caffeine and yohimbe and found that this increased catecholamines in the body, which helped to break down fat stores more readily. So fasted cardio, at least in the short term, increases the bodys’ ability to burn fat.

But, that’s pretty much where the science ends. The idea of fasted cardio – that your body would used its reserves instead of readily available food – was greater than the research. Now powerhouses such as Dr. Layne Norton and pretty much all of science have decided the cons far outweigh the pros.


A lot of data for this comes from a study done through The Strength and Conditioning Journal (Volume 33). They found that the thermogenic effect of exercise (that is, your long term calorie burn) is HIGHER if you’ve eaten before exercise. They also found that training fasted decreased your overall energy output, so if you felt sluggish you didn’t put as much effort into a training session as someone who ate before.

What is more alarming than this is the catabolic effect fasted cardio can gave. Muscle catabolism is exactly what everyone wants to avoid – why train fasted if you could possibly lose muscle in the process? Proteolysis (the break down of protein) is higher in fast training and nitrogen losses more than doubled in this state.

So what’s the take home message with these studies? Know your goals. If you’re trying to maintain muscle and lose fat then eating something before doing your cardio (oatmeal, BCAAs, egg whites, pop tarts, etc.) can help you from losing muscle and keep your energy high. If you’re an endurance athlete then fasted cardio can contribute to your glycogen stores. With this information you can make appropriate decisions based on your own goals and levels of fitness.

Is Social Media Destroying Fitness?

This may seem like a funny topic for a fitness blog to cover.

See, without social media I would have never turned down the fitness avenue that I did. Without the influence of Tumblr I never would have known about powerlifting or figure competitions or any of the sports I compete in. I would probably still be that girl that eats 1200 calories a day and tries to run 5 miles through horrible shin splints.

But with great power comes great responsibility. For every social media maven out there that’s changed someone’s life for the better there are 15 that spout absolute bullshit that is harmful and problematic. Think of Tracy Anderson telling women not to lift more than 3 pounds, or the constant recycling of fitness myths that have long since been busted (like eating every 2 hours to “rev your metabolism”) or the shaming of non-able bodied people. Think of fitspo images, which are just poorly disguised thinspo images, with their endless white thin women highly sexualized with horrible slogans over them.

Really, though, is social media destroying fitness?

Social media has helped the average Joe with a great body become internet famous and suddenly a guru. Instagram accounts become collections of fitspo and Twitter rehashes the same 180 word catch phrase every morning.

Social media has also helped bring people together. Future fitness competitors find their coaches, a newbie can have their squat video critiqued by those who know more, and you’re suddenly a click away from your fitness idol.

By the same stroke you have anonymous Internet “experts” telling you that squatting below parallel will destroy your knees and that benching with an arch is cheating. IFBB pros update their accounts with videos of them performing exercises with horrible form or talking about their dangerously low calorie diet like it’s absolutely normal.

Social media is a blessing and a curse and, I think, needs to take responsibility for its actions. If someone on social media is doing something harmful (like stealing pictures off Instagram and Pinteresting them tied to their weight loss site) they should be called out for it. Social media sites should remove things with harmful content – like diet plans with 900 calories or people without any nutritional background selling diet or exercise plans. While it may be common sense for some to not take advice from a fit 18 year old it’s not that way for young, impressionable men and women looking to lose weight and fast. As a fitness community we should be charged with wanting to keep the name clean and doing no harm. Support, encouragement, blocking those who make harmful comments on pictures, and taking an active role in the content we share.

Fitness has changed our lives for the better – why wouldn’t we want the same for everyone else?

Let’s talk about SUPPS baby!


What is a supplement?

A supplement is anything you take in addition to your everyday diet. This can be anything from creatine to a pre-work out to a vitamin to fish oils. A supplement isn’t inherently a bad or good thing, it’s just something that is in addition to whatever you’re currently eating.

Why take supplements?

People with certain food allergies or food preferences often find it hard to get certain micro and macronutrients. Someone who is allergic to dairy may take calcium or vitamin C to make up for a lack of it in his or her diet. Additionally, different metabolic disorders may make it hard for someone to get their daily dose of Vitamin D.

There are less complex reasons for taking supplements. A pre-workout may be utilized for a morning workout, or for someone who feels as if they are too tired to perform without one. Protein powders are ideal for people who travel and don’t have access to a microwave and need something filling and fast. Supplements can also have certain benefits that aid in someone’s everyday life or with their performance in sports or at work.

Who regulates supplements?

This is a very important topic, because supplements fall into a gray area when it comes to regulation. The Food and Drug Administration does not test supplements for efficacy, safety or to see if the claims on the bottle are true. This is why there has been a large turn over of “diet drugs” in the last few years that claim to block fat or decrease appetite. As these products come out they can claim a certain level of efficacy or safety, but as the public becomes aware of the truth they tend to phase out. This is common and is why these supplements can be seen as unsafe.

Because of this lack of regulation it’s important to consult a doctor before starting a new supplement or vitamin. Preexisting conditions and individual intolerances can lead to bad reactions that may be documented online but not through a specific organization. One example is the use of DMAA in pre-workout stimulants and diet pills. This substance has been suspected in the deaths of several people from marathon runners to military personnel. Because the FDA does not regulate the use of this substance you should educate yourself on which products do or do not carry it, and if you’re at risk for having a reaction.

What are some popular supplements?

Protein powder may be the most popular supplement to date, though calling it a “supplement” is controversial to some people. Protein powder comes in many different types – whey, casein, egg, vegan, and plant just to name a few. Each of these types of protein powders have different digestion times, tastes and uses. Vegans, vegetarians and people that don’t enjoy eating meat would benefit from adding a protein shake in their diet regiment. Because of the wide range of flavors available for protein powders (whipped cream, chocolate, peanut butter, etc) they’re also great for cooking for people who are on a strict diet and crave something sweet. Protein powder may also be ideal to the everyday athlete for a quick pre or post workout snack. It’s easily one of the most versatile supplements on the market.

Fish oil is another popular supplement that many athletes take. Fish oil is toted for its anti-inflammatory properties that boast everything from quicker recovery post workout to increased memory. Fish oil pills are high in Omega-3 fatty oils and come in different flavors for people who don’t like the fishy aftertaste some pills have. Recent research has implicated fish oils in an increase in prostate cancer, but like most studies these results are currently being debated.

Creatine is a popular supplement used in the weight lifting community. Creatine is part of skeletal muscle and helps deliver ATP (energy) to the muscle. It’s used for increased muscle gains, decreased soreness post exercise, increased recovery, and for a myriad of other benefits. It’s one of the most tested supplements on the planet and appears to have little to no side effects. Still, there are some hypotheses that exist about its role in kidney or liver damage, or to asthmatics. If you have any of these conditions be sure to see your regular physician before starting creatine.

BCAA’s, or branched chain amino acids, are widely used for their muscle growth and recovery benefits. Branched chain amino acids are important in anabolism (growth of muscle) and helping cells get glucose (energy). They’re often consumed before, during or after a workout to prevent fatigue and help with muscle recovery. Like protein powder these come in a lot of different flavors that make them enjoyable and easy to take. They’re also available in pill form for those who don’t like flavored powders.

Lastly, “Pre Workouts” are supplements usually filled with stimulants to help provide energy before or during a workout. They utilize anything from beta-alanine to caffeine and come in many different flavors, varieties and with many different stimulants in them. Some people simply use a cup of coffee or tea as a pre workout, whereas other people prefer actual pre workout powders. Because there’s such a wide variety of products it’s crucial that you do your own research and experimentation to see how these affect you. Most pre workouts suggest taking ½ a dose and seeing how it affects you before using full dosing, or before workout out while taking them. People with heart problems or who are sensitive to caffeine should consult their physician before starting any of these because of the mixed ingredients.

These are only a few of a plethora of supplements commonly used in the fitness world. If you have any additional questions about supplements you can speak to your doctor or look them up on trusted websites such as examine.com. Avoid going to the website of the product because they’re going to toot their own horn. Also take any review comments with a grain of salt because everyone reacts differently to different products. Experiment, get samples, see what works for you…but most of all BE SAFE! Educate yourself on what you’re taking. Don’t take supplements just because someone told you to use them, look into what you’re taking and make your own decisions.