7 Lessons Learned As a Trainer

I like to think I know it all when it comes to training. After all, I’ve been a workout fanatic for 25 years and was certified as a trainer (NSCA-CPT) in 2004. My clients depend on me to know what the best program is for them and what their results will be. But the truth is, my recommendations have evolved over time, as I’ve experimented with my own workout routines and noticed certain things in the field (and in the gyms).

I can’t guarantee my advice won’t keep evolving, but for right now, these are the seven most significant lessons I’ve learned over the years. Incorporating them into my own workouts has made a world of difference. I hope they can do the same for you.

1. Abandon the straight set.
Life is too short to do a set of exercises, rest for 30 seconds to a minute, repeat the set, rest, repeat. You’re much better off coupling that exercise with one or two more exercises for different muscle groups. This allows you to: 1) use your time more efficiently; 2) burn more calories; 3) stimulate more muscle fibers in the body; and 4) have a more interesting workout.

This is the favored approach of NBA athletes because it keeps their muscles in top gear during the season and saves time. A “combination set” might involve using a squat rack to do 10 pull-ups, then 10 squats, then 10 chest presses, then 10 stiff-leg deadlifts, with nary any rest in between -- then resting 30 seconds before repeating two to three times.

2. Lose the old-school training routine.
In related news, the standard old “chest/shoulder/triceps” and “back/biceps” workouts should be dead and buried. Both your shoulders and triceps are already too pre-exhausted from blasting your chest to get an effective workout. The same goes for the “back/biceps” routine. Instead, go with a routine that works your agonist and antagonist muscles -- for example, chest/back on Day 1, quads/hams on Day 2 and biceps/triceps and shoulders on Day 3.

3. Cheap dumbbells beat any machine.
If you value your wrist, elbow and shoulder joints, and want to access the deepest fibers in your muscles, use dumbbells instead of machines. The average exercise machine locks your joints into a prescribed motion pattern that might not be natural for your body. It also removes the requirement to balance the weight and thus takes away one of the beneficial aspects of weightlifting.

For even more total body benefit, switch out that bench for a Swiss ball -- for DB bench presses, for example, and even the DB back row.

4. Do abs early and often.
Abs used to get worked like all other muscles, two or three times a week. The problem is that they’re not like other muscles: They’re mostly fast-twitch and thus, recover very quickly, so you can work them practically every day. And if you’re like most men and it’s the muscle group you care about most, you should do them at the beginning of your workout to make sure you train them effectively.

5. Stop isolating your abs.
If you’re still doing crunches and sit-ups for your abs, it’s time for an upgrade. First, start calling it your “core” routine and invite other muscles into the mix. Your goal now is to: 1) develop the entire midsection, including all parts of your abs as well as the lower back; and 2) create the powerhouse that will both improve performance in any sport and keep you from injury.

Do moves like burpees, mountain climbers and supermans that hit a lot of muscles, with the core at the center of it all.

6. More is not better.
We’re still in the age of “no pain, no gain,” but as this recent compressed NBA season demonstrated, too much exertion too often can result in injury. Plenty of guys still think they have to live in the gym for two hours a day and do an insane number of sets and reps in order to grow muscle. Those kinds of workouts are really only appropriate for steroid users, to be honest. For strength training, your workout should never go beyond 45 minutes to an hour.

7. Bodyweight moves can be enough -- for more muscle and less fat.

Common wisdom used to be that weights were essential to build a muscular physique. That has changed big time. The guys in the popular exercise DVD series “Insanity” prove that bodyweight moves can be all you need to both build muscle and get lean. In other words, gym memberships that give you access to all that expensive equipment aren’t necessary for muscle, and intensive cardio isn’t crucial for fat-burning. A workout composed of pull-ups, push-ups, jumping exercises, core moves, speed maneuvers and a big mixture of all that can give you a seriously athletic body.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/P_Wei

The Healthy Man’s Guide to Food Shopping

You get home from work, open the fridge, close it and proceed to order a pizza. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself you don’t know how to cook. The real problem? You don’t know how to shop.

Even a master chef can’t make anything of his time in the kitchen if it’s not properly equipped. Below, food experts tell you what groceries to buy -- and give you a few easy recipes -- so that no matter what time you get home or how tired you are, you’ll always be able to whip up a quick, healthy and delicious dinner.

For Your Cupboard
The following items should always be tucked away in your pantry:

  • High-quality olive oil
  • A few vinegars (maybe an aged balsamic and a red wine vinegar)
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • An assortment of dried pastas
  • Rice

Matt Moore, chef and author of Have Her Over for Dinner: A Gentleman’s Guide to Classic, Simple Meals, suggests trying microwaveable whole-grain rice bags, which are ready in 90 seconds, as opposed to the 50 minutes of boiling that some types of rice need. “You pay a bit more than if you buy in bulk, but the convenience factor is undeniable.”

For Your Freezer

  • Your favorite veggies: They can keep for eight months to a year and make a vitamin-packed side dish in an instant. And they’re no less healthy than fresh ones. “Frozen veggies are sometimes even more nutritious,” says Ilyse Schapiro, dietitian, nutritionist and owner of Ilyse Schapiro Nutrition in Scarsdale, N.Y. “They’re picked and frozen right at the peak of ripeness, when they contain the most nutrients.” By contrast, fresh veggies are often picked before they’re completely ripe, and then they have to survive harsh travel conditions.
  • Frozen shrimp: Keeps up to four months. According to Moore, there’s no need to defrost shrimp for up to 48 hours in the fridge as you should with frozen chicken breast, pork chops or steak. Simply run them under water for six to eight minutes, and if they’re pre-peeled, toss them straight into a hot pan with some garlic. Saute quickly and add to pasta or rice. With a veggie as a side, you’ve got a complete balanced meal in fewer than 15 minutes.

For Your Fridge

  • Salad basics: For a simple, no-utensils-needed salad, Shapiro recommends buying bags of prewashed lettuce, precut veggies and cherry tomatoes. Mix them with balsamic vinegar, oil and salt from your cupboard, and throw in an easy, inexpensive protein like sliced turkey or a hard-boiled egg.
  • Flavorful toppings: Antioxidant-packed minced garlic (in a little glass jar so you don’t have to do the work), a lemon and refrigerated pesto. The fridge is where you can store flavorful ingredients that’ll give bang to your cooking. Also, instead of spending $6.99 on a jar of dried herbs that you’ll probably never finish, purchase fresh root-based herbs like thyme and rosemary, which last for more than a month. “They’re versatile,” says Moore. “You can use rosemary with lamb, beef, chicken or potatoes, and thyme with its lemony essence blends great with fish, chicken or shrimp.”

When your kitchen is well-stocked, says Moore, you can cook from what he calls a “European standpoint” (i.e., focus on “simple and clean flavors” and shop daily). It sounds daunting, but it’s actually quite simple. “I know I have the essentials stocked at home,” says Moore, “so instead of meal-planning, I just run into the store to pick up a fresh protein or vegetable based on what looks good or what I’m in the mood for.”

Moore’s Easy One-skillet Chicken Recipe
Moore’s go-to quick meal is prepared entirely in one skillet. Saute chicken tenderloins -- which are small and cook quickly -- in salt, pepper and olive oil until they’re brown. Dump in a small can of San Marzano tomatoes and some green beans. Top it off with cheese. “You have lean protein, bite from the tomato, color from the veggies, and some kind of indulgence from the cheese,” says Moore. “It’s great for guys working out who are looking for hearty low-carb meals.”

Finally, say our experts, you shouldn’t look at food shopping as a chore; rather, think of it as a reward for yourself after a long, hard day. Whereas processed foods often leave you hungry, a home-cooked meal provides long-lasting fuel -- and a level of satisfaction you just can’t get from picking up the phone and dialing Domino’s.

12 Minutes to Explosive Strength

“What’s the most important athletic trait in nearly every sport? The ability to explode.”

So says trainer Rob McClanaghan -- and he should know. He trains NBA 2011 MVP Derrick Rose as well as NBA All-Star Russell Westbrook -- both among the fittest athletes in any sport. McClanaghan goes on to explain that stamina, strength and general speed are all very important, but sheer explosiveness is often what separates the great players from the good ones.

There’s also a sweet side benefit to working on this trait. The explosive muscles are what make your physique look truly impressive -- and it works both ways, for you can only become explosive once your body becomes lean and muscular. The explosive muscles are essentially your type II muscle fibers (which give your body its shape), as opposed to the type I fibers (which are produced by endurance activities like running or cycling). Type II muscle fibers are the reason sprinters, wide receivers, volleyball players and basketball players all look so chiseled.

According to McClanaghan, basketball requires a lot of physique-enhancing (i.e., type II–developing) movements. “Going forward, laterally and backward, as well as jumping in different directions -- that’s basketball. And that’s why these guys are so fit: because their muscles are being developed from every angle, with explosive movements.” Don’t play basketball? Not to worry, says McClanaghan. “You can get all the same benefits in your own workout.”

12 Minutes to Explosive Takeoff
McClanaghan recommends doing the following 12-minute speed workout three or four times a week, after a warm-up but before your strength-training workout, or even before your standard cardio. Move from one exercise to the next, pausing only to catch your breath. The ideal place for this workout is a grass field or a basketball court, though it can be modified for a smaller place. Do each move for approximately 20-30 seconds.

  1. High Knee: Stand upright and sprint by bringing your knees up high toward your chest as quickly as possible, combining with an alternating arm action.
  2. Butt Kick: Same as above, yet the heels of your feet should hit your butt on each stride. Legs should move quickly, but you shouldn’t move over too much distance.
  3. Carioca: Move laterally, shoulders square and facing forward while feet cross over each other quickly.
  4. Skip, Touch Inside Heel: Produce high skips and touch the inside heel of the front skipping leg with the opposite hand on each stride.
  5. Forward Skip With Arm Circles: Skip while doing forward arm circles and then backward arm circles.
  6. Frankenstein: March forward with each leg swinging straight up while opposite straight arm hits the toe.
  7. Spiderman: Bang out some push-ups, but bring one knee to your elbow after each rep. Switch legs after each push-up.
  8. Inch Worm: Keep your legs straight, bend over at the waist, and touch the floor so your body forms a V. With your toes still, inch your hands forward until your body is stretched out, then inch your feet forward until your body is back at the V. Repeat.
  9. Bear Crawl: Walk 15-20 feet forward and then backward like a bear, with back parallel to the ground, legs bent and arms partly bent.
  10. Ski Jump: Stand on one leg, do a quarter squat and explode in the air toward the other leg. Land on the other leg, load in the same way and then spring back. Go back and forth.
  11. Backpedal: Run backward fast, with the balls of your feet touching the ground as often as possible.
  12. Backward stride sprint: Sprint backward, with each leg taking full strides (so the heel of each leg nearly hits your butt) and staying on the balls of your feet.
  13. Single Leg Jump: Jump forward on one leg for 20 feet, then switch legs.
  14. Every Two Steps, Cut: Run forward, then plant the outside foot and cut in the opposite direction every two strides.
  15. Line Jump: Jump laterally over a line as fast as possible, back and forth, on both feet. Try to minimize the amount of time your feet are on the ground.
  16. Gallop: Gallop forward with one leg taking the lead for 20 feet, then switch to the other leg.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/isitsharp

Is Your Skin Spot Cancerous? The Skinny on Moles

The importance of wearing sunscreen to prevent skin cancer has been drilled into your head since the day you were born. But you’re way too young to start inspecting yourself for iffy moles, right? Actually, say dermatologists, you’re not. Dr. Jessica Krant, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and founder of Art of Dermatology in New York City, says the time to start is now. “If you get used to how your moles and skin look when nothing is wrong, you’ll be ready to notice changes over time,” she explains, adding that, though rare, “skin cancer does occur in teens and even in children, so there really is no age too young to start knowing your skin.” But how can you “know” your skin? When is a mole just a mole, and when is it a sign of something worse? To answer these questions and more, here are three healthy habits you should be using to keep tabs on your body’s largest organ.

No. 1: Get an annual checkup.
Make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist for a complete head-to-toe skin cancer screening. For most people, this will become an annual event, but depending on your skin type and coloring, sun exposure, and family skin cancer history, you may need to go more often. “Everyone is truly different, so your dermatologist should work with you to figure out the schedule that works best for your situation,” says Krant.

No. 2: Check yourself using the ABCDE’s.
In between dermatological visits, you need to inspect your own skin. In order to get to know what’s normal for you, Krant suggests looking at easy-to-see spots once a month. Less visible areas can be looked at every four to six months. Although cancers are more likely to develop in parts of the body that are more exposed to the sun, they can still form in areas the sun doesn’t see. That means a complete skin exam includes the bottoms of your feet, in between your toes, your scalp and your underwear area. “Use a mirror to look at hard-to-see areas,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research for the Department of Dermatology of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “Ask your wife or girlfriend to check out your back.”

What you’re looking for, says Zeichner, is the ABCDE’s of moles.

A = Asymmetry, when one side of the mole does not look like the other side
B = Border, when the border of the mole is irregular and not round
C = Color, when there are various shades of brown, black, blue, or white in the mole
D = Diameter changing (according to Krant, dermatologists used to warn against moles that are larger than a pencil eraser, but doctors now know that melanomas can be smaller)
E = Evolution, when the mole changes over time

Another general guideline, says Krant, is to search for anything that looks different from when you last saw it or that doesn’t look like most of the other marks on you. “There are three main types of skin cancer,” she explains. “Each is formed when a different skin cell type goes bad.” When a brown mole turns malignant, it forms melanoma, the least common but deadliest skin cancer. But there is also a type of melanoma that has no brown pigment; it can look pink or red and is easily overlooked. “Basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, can appear as a clear ‘pearly’ bump, a flat white scar-like patch, or a pimple-like sore that may bleed and heal and then bleed again,” says Krant. Squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a flaky, scaly red bump, or a small patch that looks like a rash but won’t heal.

No. 3: When in doubt, call a professional.
With all the different places on your body to check and all the different types of spots to look out for, it can feel overwhelming. Just do the best you can to keep track of your skin, and head to your specialist if you spy something that makes you uneasy. At the very least, he or she will reassure you that it’s benign. And if it isn’t, rest assured you did the right thing: All three types of skin cancers are potentially deadly, but they’re also curable if caught early.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/zuzusaturn

The Workplace Workout

Experts agree the best time to exercise is midmorning or midday, when testosterone and general energy levels peak. But if you’re like most of us, that’s smack in the middle of your workday. So, do you relegate your workouts to sub-peak hours? Quit your job and go freelance so you can control your schedule? Not necessary, says Tom Seabourne, tae kwon do champion, TV host and author of 16 books. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Quick Total Body Workouts, is based on an appealing premise: You can work out every part of your body right at your desk.

“Everyone can find a few minutes a few times a day to get a quick full-body workout,” argues Seabourne. “You’ve got to get your blood pumping and get out of your seat.” By focusing on fast-twitch, Type IIB muscle fibers, Seabourne’s program will “increase your anaerobic and aerobic power, get your blood flowing, burn additional calories and help to energize your day,” he says. That’s not a bad set of outcomes, but perhaps an even more compelling argument for workplace workouts is the slate of recent studies showing that sitting for long periods of time can wreak havoc on your health -- even if you exercise regularly before or after work.

Below are 12 exercises that together will give you a total body workout, whether you have your own office or sit in a cubicle. Admittedly, a few of them may raise some eyebrows, depending on your office culture, but many can be done without anyone being the wiser. And even if your co-workers snicker at first, when they see the results -- both on your body and in your level of productivity -- they’ll be lining up at your desk for tips.

1. Swap out your core-killing office chair for a Swiss ball. Even better, if you have the means and your boss is laid back about such things, attach your computer to an exercise bike.

2. Pace back and forth while on the phone. If you have your own office, get a long cord and use the extent of it. If you’re in a cube and pacing would bother your co-workers, then march in place.

3. Do 45-degree planks on your desk while reading. First, bend your arms at a 90-degree angle and place your forearms on your desk. Then step backwards to form a plank from your shoulders to your ankles. Contract your core and hold for 30 seconds.

4. Drop a pencil and do some push-ups -- a couple of max sets (go to fatigue, generally 10 to 25 reps) a day, two to three times a week. Notice how quickly you’re able to increase your reps.

5. Do some dips in your chair before sitting down. With your heels on the ground, hands on the chair arms, and both legs straight and pointed away from you, lower yourself to the chair by bending your arms until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle. Then push back up for five to 15 reps. (If you’ve already swapped your chair for a Swiss ball, sit on the edge of your desk with a straight back, curl your hands around that same edge and place your calves on the ball, legs straight. Slide your butt away from the desk so your hips can descend toward the ground. That’s your starting position for the dip.)

6. Do squats while on a conference call. Keep doing them until you begin to lose your form or the call ends. Or until you start to talk funny.

7. Press your heels into the floor while typing. This easy and discreet move trains your quads, glutes and hams isometrically.

8. Pump your arms as fast as you can, like you’re sprinting. Go for 15 seconds, adding two seconds a week until you can do a full-minute arm-sprint.

9. Place a ball between your knees and squeeze. Do three sets of 10, and hold for three seconds per rep.

10. Do heel raises at the water cooler/fountain. Fifteen reps twice a day will work your calf muscles.

11. Do two-arm biceps curls while staring at your computer screen. Leave two (cheap) dumbbells at work and do two sets of 10 reps every other day. Bring heavier weights to the office as you get stronger.

12. Similarly, do dumbbell shoulder presses in front of your computer. Start with two sets of 10 reps and increase the weight as you get stronger.