What Your Doctor Won’t Be Doing About Your Possible Heart Disease

We are not doctors. Doctors have gone to school for many years and are well educated about many of the pathologies that can impact human beings. Most are very good at their job and although overworked sometimes they are well intentioned with their actions. The problem with doctors is that they are part of a reactive model when it comes to addressing disease; they’ll encourage you to do certain things, but by in large they are more useful when you become sick. Dealing with sick people is their scope of practice.

We, as coaches, take a preventative approach when it comes to disease. We look for visual and behavioral markers that trend towards disease or ill health and set out to engage and enroll others in the possibility of eliminating these behaviors to ensure a higher quality of life. We do not prescribe anything other than exercise and good quality nutrition plan.

Our approach to disease prevention in terms of heart disease is superior to that of a traditional methods because we address no fewer than 10 of the top 20 markers for heart disease:

  1. Endothelial dysfunction (hardening of blood vessels)
  2. Increased oxidative stress and/or lack of oxidative defenses
  3. Dyslipidemia (increase in lipid levels of the blood)
  4. Increased HS-CRP and inflammation
  5. Elevated homocysteine
  6. Hypertension
  7. Age
  8. Genetics
  9. Calcification seen on heart scans
  10. Hormonal deficiencies in men and women
  11. Diabetes mellitus, hyperglycemia and increased insulin levels
  12. Hypothyroidism
  13. Heavy-metal toxicity
  14. Lack of exercise
  15. Lack of sleep
  16. Low levels of vitamins K and D
  17. Left ventricular hypertrophy
  18. Microalbuminuria and/or kidney disease
  19. Obesity
  20. Smoking

Let’s compare the potential actions of your doctor to what we will do to help you avoid heart disease.

Doctors will give you advice, medication or a referral to a specialist. In general, they’ll tell you to stop smoking, eat better quality foods, exercise more and lower you stress. If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or hormonal imbalances, they’ll likely give you medication for these. If you have become sick, they’ll get you to see a specialist who will look after the specifics and likely have a tough conversation with you about death and how your actions are going to end with you in an early grave. Most of what occurs is good and it can be helpful, but very little time will be spend on the uncovering the reasons why you choose actions that aren’t working for you and how you are going to tread into the unfamiliar and start new behaviors.

What we as coaches will give you is advice, coaching, and will refer you to a specialist if that is what is needed. We’ll help you to stop smoking, make better food choices, exercise more to help lower your stress. We won’t give you any medication to lower your cholesterol, high blood pressure or correct hormonal imbalances. And we will have the tough conversation with you about your behavior and how the whole journey ends. All of this is good because you can do everything we recommend without having to involve a doctor, pharmacist and a slew of chemical engineers and researchers. We offer one thing that the doctors don’t, ongoing external accountability and you will see us 2-5 times a week and may have 100’s of interactions with us in a few months.

Something special happens when you enroll other people in your transformation journey, the chances of it being effective increase dramatically because you will actually perform the needed actions over and over and over again. Somehow appropriate eating of healthy food and the participation in planned and spontaneous exercise becomes normalized and when something becomes normal it becomes your habit.

What does this have to do with heart disease and what the doctor may not be telling you?

Well, exercise improves the quality of the blood vessels, it improves insulin sensitivity which can lower lipid levels in the blood. It can help to lower cholesterol, reduce high blood pressure, lower stress, improve sleep and it can make the continuation of smoking challenging.

Improving your nutritional habit will reduce oxidative stress and improve your ability to recover from all types of stress, it will stabilize insulin levels, decrease fatty acid levels in the blood (lower cholesterol), improve vitamin K and D levels, reduce the risk of kidney disease and promote thyroid functioning.

The doctor my tell you to eat better and exercise more, and take some pills. They won’t be there to help you ramp-up the exercise and manage the changes in eating because they have sick patients to see. And the pills they are prescribing treat the symptom of disease and not the underlying issue. In almost all cases, heart disease is a lifestyle disease so it is prevented by good quality food and appropriate exercise. The food and exercise do something the pills cannot, they change the internal environment profoundly such that disease creation becomes almost impossible.

Keep in mind that we are not doctors, we are nutrition and exercise coaches who are dedicated to helping our clients enjoy the full experience of a long life. Our solutions are hard work, fundamental shifts in eating behaviors and ongoing accountability to someone outside of yourself. If you are sick, go and see a doctor, if you want to avoid getting sick, come and see us.

Are You Coachable?

Successful people behave in successful ways. The role of any great coach is to help their clients modify their behavior. When we build upon the assumption that people are born perfect, removing the patterns or behaviors that don’t work is the fastest way to restore a clients life to a state of full potential. For this reason, clients MUST be coachable. Below it a list of 5 characteristics that make someone coachable.

Willingness to accept that they need guidance. People need the help from other people and those who are humble are open to the idea that they can’t do everything on their on. They are clear to the fact that their limitations ARE the reason why they have sat down with a coach. This isn’t the thought “I’m going to hear what they can do for me” it’s the belief “I’m going to find out what isn’t working for me and change it.”

Being open and willing to doing something, and lots of it. Those looking for big changes KNOW that they need to do things. What needs to be done isn’t going to be the same for everyone, but doing new things, and doing them a lot, IS a criteria for change. Those who are committed to unfamiliar or unreasonable actions are coachable because coaches ask people to do things that their clients are not doing. They have to because their clients either don’t know what to do or don’t do what they need to.

Having clear goals in mind. Today is the starting point, call it point “A”. Your goals are the end point, point “B”. The area between A and B represent the work and behaviors that need to occur. Without knowing too much about someone, a coach has a clear understanding of point A. But point B is personal to the client and it is impossible to achieve unless they create it. It is the top of the mountain, the finish line, the destination, and it must be clearly defined by the client to the coach in-order for the coaching partnership to be effective and transformative.

A willingness to let someone else control their behavior. Giving-up control can be scary, but when you are looking to achieve that which is impossible for you to achieve on your own, you NEED to let someone else drive your body / mind. There is a leap of faith involved with this, but if you could have done it yourself you would have done it already. Engage and hire the best people you can afford and do what they tell you to do.

Confidence in yourself that you can start and maintain the behaviors needed to move you towards your goals. If knowledge or wisdom was all that was needed, everyone would have the life they wanted, but these things are just pieces of the puzzle. What is most important is an understanding that your life will only change if you know that it is possible to change. Any belief that things can only be as they are will render the coaching relationship ineffective as it helps keep someone stuck in their current way of being. Knowing that things can and will change when the effort is put in will empower the client and coach and create the transformation in behaviors that are needed to create success.

Good and great coaches are only as good as their clients; it all comes down to the client and their ability to be coachable.

Do You Behave In A Goal Achieving Way?

Goals are, simply put, future ways of being.

In almost every case the only thing you need to do in order to achieve a goal is to put in STRATEGIC, CONSISTENT, SUSTAINED and INTENSE work for a period of time. The truth is, it isn’t that challenging to achieve almost anything you want in life so long as you are willing to be dedicated to the cause.

Of these element of successful goal achieving behavior – strategic, consistent, sustained and intensity – the one that seems to cause most people the biggest challenge is the strategic work. Many people do not do the right things to achieve their goals as quickly as humanly possible. In essence, their behaviors do not match their goals so they are slow in moving towards being all that they can be. Well, lets rephrase that, their actions do not match their stated goals. In all likelihood their actions are making real some aspect of themselves that isn’t entirely known to them, but which plays a major role in determining who they are and what they become.

A previous article mentioned the dissonance between thoughts and goals, and how goals that are created based on a previous way of being tend not to yield results that reflect the possibilities of a new way of being. To build on that phenomenon, another layer of awareness needs to be added to the creation of an optimized you.

Goals that are based on existing behaviors are ineffective at creating life-altering transformations. Someone is less likely to feel a powerful drive when they create them or feel a massive sense of accomplishment when they achieve them. These goals are more likely to be achieved simply because the individual is already behaving in a way that will make them a reality. They reflect the reasonable and the possible; which is fine if you want more of the same, or a slightly improved version of the same.

But when you are looking to achieve the new, the unfamiliar or the seemingly impossible, you CANNOT reference your present behavior because your present behavior is NOT working for you – if it was, you would already be moving towards achieving.

Some of the new strategic work behaviors that are needed to achieve the new body transformation goals include your eating habits – do you eat breakfast everyday and does it contain multiple sources of protein, do you eat an abundance of green leafy vegetables, do you plan your meals and make them ahead of time, do you plan your shopping trips to the grocery store or market, do you schedule your celebration meals to tap into hormonal fluctuations based on caloric and macro-nutrient manipulation, do you participate in any compulsive eating behaviors, do you use targeted supplements? Also critical are new movement habits – do you workout at least 4 times per week, do you perform strength training to help improve lean body mass, do you use effective programs that are repeatable and based on scientific principles, do you get enough relaxation and sleep?

There are very few unknowns when it comes to health, fitness and wellness; it is safe to say that NOTHING is random. The results are predictable. It can be said with certainty that if you behave in a goal achieving way you will be achieving your goals. But first you must clearly define what your goals are so you know EXACTLY how to behave.

You Are Building Adults – Modeling Success For Successful Children

We talk to a lot of parents because we’re curious about the experience of being one. They tell us their hopes and fears, their concerns about the future and the things that bring them optimism. Over the years, their stories have helped us developed an appreciation of what it means to be a parent. One of the striking facts that seems to jump out is related to the observational learning and the normalization that children do when they seeing their parents doing ANYTHING. This is something that we see in our coaching clients everyday – most of them are doing what their parents did when they were growing up.

Things that parents pass along to their children that don’t serve to optimize development:

Teaching ineffective exercise habits. Active parents tend to have active children. When a parent teaches a child that there is joy in moving, we rarely need to work with them in any way other than to help them achieve peak performance. With a well-established baseline, young people tend to continue to move. They may decide to go as far as they can in a sport or simply become a recreational participant, but the activity habit is sticky and most enjoy the lifelong benefits associated with maintaining an active life. We do however work with a lot of individuals who didn’t have the exercise habit modeled when they were younger and there is a host of issue associated with this lack of movement. It is fair to say that teaching an adult how to love moving is one of the bigger challenges primarily because they have already learned how to love NOT moving.

Teaching children poor eating habits. A serving size is a different thing for every family but it tends to be the same size for everyone in the same family. Lean parents tend to raise children who are closer to their ideal body weight and composition than obese parents, who tend to raise children who are heavier. Families who sit down and eat meals together tend to continue to sit down and eat meals together. Parents who help children view food as the source of nutrition, building material and the occasional treat establish a repeatable and reasonable relationship with food. Those who teach their children that food a reward and that every meal should consist of foods that are enjoyable and easy tend to raise children who are lazy when it comes to their attitudes towards food preparation.

Not teaching children how to not win. Learning how to handle defeat or not being the best appropriately will go a long way in giving a child an advantage when it comes to life. Human beings do most of their learning by making mistakes – trial and error is how each of us learned how to walk, talk, move, etc…. However, at some point we are taught to feel shame for being wrong and this causes us to close-up and avoid the experiences that will produce useful lessons. There is a trend towards eliminating failing grades in schools to ensure that no child endures the lesson of accountability and responsibility until they graduate high school. The impact of missing these lessons can be devastating given that failing in school opens a person up to improved coaching / teaching while failing in the work force eliminates their employment. There is an equally damaging trend toward sports tournaments becoming festivals in which everyone participates and is regarded as a winner. The stigmatization of everyone being the same is likely more damaging to motivation than the consequences of not being the best.

Passing long a tendency to give-up before success or goals are achieved – phrased another way, allowing a child to rely too much on talent or innate qualities to garner attention or positive reinforcement vs. reinforcing their effort. Trying is a skill that will last a lifetime. Looks will fade, other people will come along who naturally better at something, talent burn itself out over time as one ages. If a child never learns the value of putting in enormous effort in order to increase the likelihood of success, they will tend to give-up very quickly before achieving anything in terms of transformation, success or problem solving. Those individuals who are taught to work hard regardless of the outcome will be at a distinct advantage when it comes to achieving ANYTHING.

Now each of these things can be taught to a young person through direct intervention and teaching or they can be taught passively through modeling. Teaching is not the same as doing, so when you try to teach a child these skills, you do not reap the benefits associated with BEING those skills. Modeling tenacity will guide a child towards persistence alone with generating greater success for a parent. The same applies to being an active parent who takes a direct role in food choices; not only will their children learn how to eat more effectively and develop a love of movement, but the adult will enjoy an improved quality of life a boost in vitality that can only come from participating in a health choices.

How I Have Not Served My Clients Adequately

Looking back about 3 years on my training, I can now see a few ways that I have not provided my clients with adequate service. Below is a list of 5 things I am now doing differently:

1) Sell small numbers of sessions during the initial few months. Some people will not keep doing this and while it is good for them, getting them to do it actually makes their life worse. It SUCKS to be out of shape and it can be even worse trying to get back into shape. And maybe, just maybe, selling someone a years worth of training when they are feeling excited in January is going to hurt them a lot more than help them. Give them the option to leave early on, and give them plenty of chances. You don’t want to train those who do not want to be trained.

2) Focus on getting them to properly engage their core. Humans need to be able to rotate their upper and lower bodies independently, but they also need to be able to prevent this rotation. If you do not set the ab muscles correctly when you lift, energy is going to be wasted and you will not lift as much weight. Worse still, is that if you ruin your back with relative ease when you lift without properly engaging your core. There has been an enormous increase in the level of satisfaction with most of my female clients now that I stay on them throughout the set to keep their core tight. The initial reduction in load is a small price to pay for the improvement in posture and function that accompanies appropriate core recruitment.

3) Focus on flexibility, joint mobility and function. This is one that annoys me because it was completely selfish. I don’t like stretching much (at all) and while I understood the importance of having adequate flexibility and proper joint range of motion, I didn’t place enough value on this for a long time. Fortunately all of my clients remained injury free so this shortcoming in training didn’t have a major impact on them now that it is being addressed.

4) Focus 70% of the strength training on eccentric phases. The lengthening phase of a working muscle is called the eccentric phase. It’s easiest to build strength and most of the micro trauma that forces muscle recovery occurs during this phase – these mean that if you have a lot to lose by not focusing on eccentric work. At its simplest, when you are lowering a weight you just move at 1/2 to 1/4 the speed that you would when you are lifting the weight. I don’t think you’ll lose fat as quickly if you avoid 4-5 second eccentric phases.

5) Focus on psychology with the people who don’t follow instructions. Athletes listen and do. People who want to change their body composition shut-up and follow the advice that is given. But what do you do when the people say they want something but fail to do what is needed to achieve their objective? You have two choices, the first is to fire them and get a new client, hopefully someone who will follow instructions and work towards their goal. The second choice is to get into their head and try to point out exactly what you are seeing and what it indicates. Doing the second consistently is what separates the good coaches from the great ones – and I’m hoping to be one of the great ones – because you’ll be able to get people to change who could not have achieved it on their own.

I have started to spend more time addressing these areas with my current clients, but I’m sure there will be a new list of shortcomings in the coming months and years, and that’s a good thing! We only improve the process when we admit to that which is not working and seek to change it.

5 Traits For Successful Body Composition Change

Having worked with hundreds of people over the last decade, I have had the opportunity to observe their progress and to get an idea what qualities are needed in order from someone to make a dramatic change to their body composition. Below are the 5 characteristics shared by those who make the most positive changes.

1) They are independently motivated. Being self reliant is more important than anything else when it comes to body composition changes. If you are able to train, cook and shop on your own, you are going to be much more successful in the long run because you are actually creating new and sustainable behavioral patterns. When you lean on another person to be your training partner, chief or to hold you accountable to YOUR goal, you are shifting some of the responsibility onto the other person. This can work, but you run the risk of creating conditional success or dependency.

2) They give-up their notions of what they know and follow instructions. Given their independence, if they knew how to do it they would be doing it. The sooner people shut their mouths, listen and act, the sooner their bodies change. Body composition changes are not complicated 98% of the time but people tend to make them more complicated (possible to ensure their failure). It’s about eating real food, exercising intelligently and doing both consistently for an extended period of time.

3) They see themselves as the cause of their problems and do not blame others for the state of their life. If it’s someone else’s problem get them to fix it. But you control your body so if you are an adult and you don’t like the way it looks that’s your fault. Blame other people if you like, but they aren’t going to make you lean and muscular. If you want to change your body change your body. Crappy or toxic friends are one thing, but you are the one who gives in to their negative influence and makes their problem your problem.

4) They are able to focus their attention onto the experience of change in order to improve their body awareness. Food makes you feel something, so does exercise. Changing your thoughts about food feels like something. Change feels different and it’s important to gain awareness into what that is. You can feel your blood sugar level changing, you can identify the difference between actual hunger and psychological hunger, you can get feel and contract almost every muscle on your body. You can feel all of this once you identify what each thing feels like and then practice feeling.

5) They accept suffering as a part of the change process. If you have body fat to drop there is a very good chance it didn’t get there through exercise and sound eating. Accepting that you now have to pay for the party is critical in embracing the suffering that going without is. It can be hard and that sucks, but being lazy and eating too much was easy, so the pendulum swings.

Possess these qualities and there’s a good chance that you have already taken control of your life and your body. If these characteristics don’t sound like you, start changing the way you act to embody them. You only have your extra body fat to lose!

Industry Sanctioned Laziness

I had a consultation with a 40 something lady yesterday. She was interested in personal training because she has found that her weight loss is very slow since she joined the gym about three months ago in spite of her coming in and working out 4-5 times per week.

I took my normal approach with her – which is to assume she is missing one or two critical pieces of information that are preventing her from being successful – and didn’t try to sell her. This approach is effective for me because a lot of people don’t need or want training, they just need a little wisdom or a slight change in behaviour. This lady was no exception.

The first 45 minutes focused on nutrition. Hers is fairly good. The only real issue is that she is eating a considerable amount of carbs with the mistaken belief that just because they were organic they would help her improve her body composition. I let her know that the body doesn’t know or care where the food comes from – it’s going to treat organic carbs in basically the same way it will treat conventional carbs – as one or two steps away from being sugar.

The final 15 minutes focused on her exercise routine. She is making a number of mistakes here but two that are dramatically impacting her performance. The first is that she doesn’t record the weights she is using and as a consequence has only added about 10 lbs to any of the lifts she is performing. 10 lbs in 3 months is fine if you are dead lifting or squatting 400 lbs but when your numbers are 80 lbs on leg press and you have no injuries, 10 lbs in 3 months doesn’t cut it – particularly for a beginner. So I told her to keep a record of the weights she is using to make sure they are progressing upwards.

The other mistake she is making is a lack of intensity on the cardio movements. When she started, she would work until she was out of breath, sweating and tired. But early on, someone showed her how to use the machines “correctly” for weight loss and she started working in the fat burning zone (I’ve written about this bs before). This basically means you try to keep your heart rate around 60-65% of its max. So, for the last 2 months she has been avoiding working hard because of the mistaken notion that the fat burning zone is the way to go for fat loss. I corrected her on this notion and encouraged her to work as hard as she can or as hard as she did initially and to consider some high intensity intervals. She was pissed off that she had wasted the last few months just coasting along doing effectively nothing because she was more than willing to work hard – in fact, she was working hard until someone showed her the “right” way to do it.

Why this “fat burning zone” stuff continues in the fitness industry doesn’t make any sense. Anyone who spends a few minutes doing some research will quickly learn that what matters is the amount of energy you burn and not where that energy comes from. All things being equal, working harder is better for the fat loss and conditioning than working with a lower intensity. If you can work at 80% you should work at 80%. The fact that fewer of the calories will be coming from fat isn’t all that important as the body will use stored fat to help replace any deficit in energy that results from the high intensity movement.

Intensity Won’t Kill You, a Lack Of It Might

One of my clients has started wearing a heart rate monitor during his workouts recently to make sure he is working as hard as he needs to – his goal is fat loss and to recapture some of the health lost during the last 20 years of smoking. What is more interesting than the information the monitor reveals are the views of the client.

After a particularly grueling super set the monitor revealed a heart rate of 170 BPM. He was gasping for air, pouring sweat and looked extremely tired. Resting before starting the next set, he said “a month ago I thought that I would have died if I ever got my heart rate higher than 150 BPM”. I laughed because I thought he was kidding but he wasn’t. He had never in his life worked with that kind of intensity and really did think that he was an ideal candidate for a heart attack if he pushed himself that hard.

He didn’t die. In fact, 170 is tough for him, but he’s able to work that hard fairly consistently – we’ll get his heart rate up to 170 5 or 6 times during the high intensity intervals we’re doing. His body fat is dropping, his energy is increasing and his posture and muscle mass are improving.

The irony of the entire thing is that his lack of intensity was shortening his life. Because he didn’t get his heart rate up, he had gained a lot of body fat, had very poor cardiovascular health and had basically given up doing anything that was unpleasant. He was well on his way to an early grave and, as a husband and father of two, setting his family up for unnecessary hardships when his life ended prematurely.

If you need to reduce your body fat and get your life back, get medical clearance, go to the gym and work with as much intensity as you can handle, and then push a little further.

Takes Time To Turn On Fat Burning

I’m back to working as a personal trainer in a commercial gym. Most of my clients are interested in fat loss changes vs. strength or pure hypertrophy so one of the questions I get most frequently is “how long with it take to lower my body fat by X percent?” It’s a good question that anyone who is interested in getting a trainers should ask, but the decision to buy training should be influenced by the answer the trainer gives.

In my opinion, the only answer that a trainer or coach should give is “it depends” because if they give a hard time frame they are making a huge leap of faith and assuming that a large number of variables at NEED to be controlled CAN be controlled. Controlling these variables can be extremely difficult; particularly for the individual who is new to training.

For example, burning fat is a skill and if you don’t have the skill you will need to learn it. If comes down to proper nutrition and intense movement and it is fairly safe to assume that if someone has fat to lose they do NOT have these skills (if they did, chances are they would be doing what was required and not asking for help).

Learning proper nutrition is fairly simple because a good trainer or coach will be able to offer sufficient guidance to their clients to allow them to move forward quickly – the truth is that you only need to eat correctly, you do not need to understand why you need eat a particular way.

Learning how to move with the intensity that is required to shift your body away from being a fat storing machine to a fat burning machine is more challenging because it requires a trainee to push themselves harder than they ever have before and for longer durations than what they are comfortable with. Working out for fat loss is TOUGH physically and mentally and the decision to stop early or before the intensity has been reached is too easy. Frankly, if you don’t know how to do it, there is a very good chance you will not learn it on your own because you may think that you are going to die – you will feel pain in your muscles and lungs that is so completely out of the ordinary that you will likely believe that it is an indication of injury or impending death. But, in most cases, if you are healthy, NOT working this hard will lead you to an earlier grave than doing what is needed to shed the fat.

How longs does it take to turn your body into a fat burning machine? Well, in most cases it’s going to be about 2-3 months before you see any significant fat loss that is associated with intense movement vs. nutritional changes. If your trainer says that it is going to happen in a few weeks they may not be telling you the truth or they may be making the assumption that you already know how to do it. If you have never done it before, it’s going to take you a while because fat loss is a skill.

A Calorie Is Not A Calorie

When it comes to weight loss, there seems to be a common belief that if you eat fewer calories than you burn you will lose weight. Part of this notion is that a calorie is a calorie so if you eat 200 calories of fat or 200 calories of carbs, the consequence on the body is the same. Over time I have found this to be false – a calorie of fat will have different consequence on the body than a calorie of carbs or a calorie of protein. Further more, not all carbs are the same – watch the link.

People need to stop saying that changing body composition is about energy in and energy out because it isn’t the case. It is about the amount of specific energy in. For example, low carb, high protein and fat diets are more efficient at reducing body fat when compared to low fat diets even when calories and activity level are the same.

Fat loss is possible but only if you eat the right foods in the right amounts for a sustained period of time. With the exception of high intensity athletes, most people will get better fat loss if they limit their sugar intake (of ALL types of sugar and particularly fructose and man-made sugars like high fructose corn syrup).