How to lift without “Getting Bulky”

paulromasco-com

 

My personal goals involve increasing muscle mass, reducing body fat, and performing heavy barbell lifts.

However, the majority of my clients do not share these goals. Most of my clients want to lose weight, regain function, improve posture, and reverse disease.

In fact, one of the most frequent concerns I hear from those trying to get in shape is that they “don’t want to get big muscles”.

For that reason, I’m going to discuss what causes muscle growth, and how you can avoid getting bulky muscles while still leaning out and improving performance.

The technical term for developing muscle size is “muscular hypertrophy”. Hypertrophy is merely the process of tissues increasing in volume. And the form of muscular hypertrophy that results in the largest muscular gains is “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”.

Strictly speaking, 8 to 12 repetitions with a moderate weight is the protocol for hypertrophy training. However, intensity and volume are the real deciding factors.

Intensity is accomplished by working until the muscles can no longer perform the exercise properly, known as “failure”, and moving quickly between sets.

Volume is an equation of sets, reps, and weight. This means that 2 sets of 20 repetitions

Olympics_2012_Women's_75kg_Weightlifting.jpg

Female Olympian in the 165 lb. weight class. Does SHE look bulky?

with 5 pounds will result in more growth stimulus than 3 sets of 1 repetition with 50 pounds.

I personally perform an exercise for 4 sets of 15 repetitions if I am trying to increase muscle size. Almost any load can cause significant growth when performed for 15 slow and focused repetitions.

I bring up the topic of intensity to address those that avoid lifting heavy weights because they don’t want to bulk up. The classic bodybuilder approach of 8 to 12 repetitions means that “heavy weights” (relative to the individuals strength) cannot be used.

BulkyThe weights that bodybuilders handle may look heavy but this is merely because they are very strong and have been lifting, with regular improvement, for a long time. It may look like a bench press with two 75-pound dumbbells looks heavy, but if the individual is doing it for 8 or more reps, they could handle over 100-pound dumbbells for fewer reps.

Contrarily, lifting a massively heavy weight for fewer than 5 repetitions will actually train the mind more than the muscles. Yes, the body is getting a great workout, but lifting a maximum load for 1, 2, or 3 repetitions results in more neurological adaptations than muscular growth.

So, if any rep range can stimulate muscle growth, and 8 to 12 reps with a moderately-heavy weight is the most promising to grow muscles, what can you do to avoid “bulking up”?

  • Always feel like you could do 2 to 5 more repetitions with perfect form. The moment you go to failure, and technique breaks down, you are causing muscular damage that will result in the muscle growing larger during recovery.
  • Also, take the time you need to rest between sets. Many bodybuilder programs recommend timed recoveries under 60 seconds, sometimes as low as 15 seconds. Starting your next set before the muscles are ready is a surefire way to stimulate muscle growth.
  • Finally, don’t consume excess calories! One of the main goals of exercising is to increase lean body mass, but, if you don’t want your muscles to grow considerably larger, eat at, or even below, maintenance so your body replaces fat with lean mass.

One last point worth making is regarding “toning”. The same people that say they don’t want to “grow muscles” say that they “only want to tone”. Believe it or not, tone means muscle! There is no way to make fat or skin look “toned”. The definition or tone visible on a fit persons arms, legs, or torso, is actually their muscle.

This doesn’t mean that you have to train like a bodybuilder and put on 50 pounds of muscle to looked toned… but replacing body fat with lean body mass (also known as muscle) is necessary to achieve a fit physique.

The world of fitness, nutrition, and health is filled with mixed messages, preconceived notions, and bogus ideas. But please don’t give any mind to the false claims that lifting weights and increasing strength will make you bulky!

If you work within your limits, have a program structured to your goals, and don’t eat to excess, you will achieve a healthy and proportionate figure.

And as always, if you would like professional guidance, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at paulromasco@hotmail.com !

 

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One Size Fits All

In exercise and fitness training, a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being a personal trainer and health coach.

Every single day, I encounter something new. Whether it’s a client’s specific goal, preference, injury, or condition, everyone has different wants and needs. This requires alterations, to say nothing of completely different programming.

My oldest client is 91. My youngest is 13. I have middle-aged clients trying to lose weight. I have young men playing soccer at division 1 colleges. I have new mothers that want to return to their favorite sports. I have seniors reversing rheumatoid arthritis and regaining balance and energy. Some of my clients want to get off a long list of medications. Others just want a fun and challenging workout a few days a week.

These differences between individuals contribute to my hesitation to recommend routines based entirely around weight machines.

Machines allow you to adjust the height of the seat, and sometimes make an adjustment for leg length, but beyond that, you’re pushing or pulling in a pre-determined range of motion. Different people will need to move differently based on their build and body mechanics. And, just as importantly, these types of actions won’t transfer as effectively to real life.

When you pick something up, push a heavy object, or take a very high step up, there is nothing guiding your body through space. Your muscles and joints will be working on their own, free of outside influence.

Machines are useful to isolate a muscle group, and help an individual develop a mind-body connection with that muscle, but they should not be where you spend the majority of your time.

I start most my clients with a series of assessments, performing different movements that are common in everyday life. Their ability to execute these actions, along with the goals they have stated, will specify exactly what we must do together.

These assessments usually consist of a gait analysis, squatting down into a chair and back up, bringing the arms overhead, and holding a plank or pushup position. But, as previously mentioned, I may omit some of these, use alternatives, or do something completely different based on the client.

The same mistake of using a “one-size fits all” approach is apparent in our nations nutritional recommendations. The USDA recommends that everyone consume 45-65% of their calories from carbs, 10 to 30% from protein, and 25 to 35% from fat.

This is akin to recommending that 15% of all calories come from dairy…or that 5% of calories come from peanuts. What if an individual is lactose intolerant or allergic to peanuts?

As evidenced by our current diabetes and obesity rates, most Americans cannot tolerate upwards of 50% of their calories coming from carbs. Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that if I average more than 40% carbs, more than 4 days a week, I start to gain fat, even in a calorie deficit.

Remember, carbs are fuel for high intensity activity, while dietary fat is truly essential for optimal health. After a lifetime of consuming more carbs than the body can safely store and burn, it loses its “insulin sensitivity”. This means that the sugars last too long in the blood (causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease) and are eventually forced into fat storage.

I work with my clients to find the most sustainable and healthy nutritional path for them. I base my nutritional recommendations not only on their dietary restrictions, activity level, and current conditions, but also their preferences and lifestyle.

I personally cook a few big meals on weekends so I have leftovers available on weekdays. However, I may have to suggest a different approach for clients that don’t have the time to, or interest in, trying this. Some of my clients are vegans or vegetarians that require more vitamin supplementation and creative protein options. If a client has sugar or chocolate cravings, we’ll work to find the healthiest options and optimal timing for indulgences.

Some foods are healthier than others, but I’ve never insisted that a client consume a certain food or avoid another. I merely work within their parameters, to find out what will guarantee them success in the long term.

These examples show the importance of individual personalization. Personal trainers, and health professionals of all kinds, must be able to tailor the theories learned through education, to best serve each client.

No two people are the same, so why should their exercise and diet be the same?

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Salmon on Asparagus

I received such positive responses from the steamed mussels’ recipe that I decided to post another recipe – this time for smoked salmon!

The best thing about salmon is that it has the highest Omega 3 content of almost any food in the world…however, make sure you buy wild-caught!

Food producers feed corn to farm-raised salmon, thus increasing the omega 6 content while decreasing omega 3 content. This is to say nothing of other negative outcomes from feeding a species a food they can’t properly digest.

I am aware that high-quality wild-caught salmon can be quite expensive, sometimes over $20/pound. For this reason, I would again urge everyone to check the pre-packaged, frozen seafood section. I know the store near me has frozen, wild- and sustainably-caught salmon for $5/pound…this is after a buy-one-get-one or half-price sale that seems to be permanent.

I like to cook my salmon on a bed of asparagus but honestly, the asparagus can end up being as expensive as the salmon so feel free to substitute another vegetable!

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Salmon in Parchment Paper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cut two sheets of parchment paper about 1 foot by 1 foot

Fold both in half and cut the edges to form a half circle

After unfolding each, you should have 2 circles, equal in size

Line asparagus in middle of one sheet and place salmon on top

Add olive tapenade or coconut oil on salmon

Place the second circle over everything so the edges of parchment papers line up

Going around the outside of the circles, fold the edges over, sealing the sheets

Place on an oven tray and cook for 12 minutes

Remove from oven, cut open parchment, and allow to cool

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One important detail of this recipe is the use of parchment paper. This will protect the salmon from direct heat, resulting in a steaming affect, protecting the omega 3’s and other nutrients from oxidization.

Chopped olives or coconut goes well with this, but avocado or sweet potato would work too. Basically, you want to make sure you pair an energy source, a carb if you’re active or a fat if you’re sedentary, with this complete protein.

Like last time, I have to indulge my nerdy side and list the impressive nutritional profile of salmon:

Just 3 ounces contains the following:

22 grams of complete protein

2200mg Omega 3 and only 190mg Omega 6

40-60% daily needs of Selenium, Vitamin B12 & B6, and Niacin

20-25% of Riboflavin and Phosphorus

10-15% of Thiamin, Pantothenic Acid, Potassium, and Copper

It also contains trace amounts of activated Vitamin A (retinol), Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Sodium, Zinc, and Manganese.

While on the subject of salmon’s nutrient content, it is worth discussing the value of salmons’ high selenium content.

Our oceans have very high levels of mercury which could be quite dangerous, particularly for smaller people and pregnant women. Some sources even recommend limiting fish intake for this reason. While this may be a good idea for larger fish that don’t have as many minerals and nutrients, such as tuna, limiting consumption of salmon would be a terrible idea.

Chemically, selenium binds with mercury, thereby removing it from the body and eliminating any danger. The one downside of this process however, is that much of the selenium content of fish is not absorbed. For this reason, you may want to make sure you are getting enough selenium from other sources (just one or two Brazil nuts will give you all you need for the day).

And with that, you now have two amazingly beneficial, and hopefully tasty, recipes. Both should amount to about $5 per serving or less and provide a great deal of your nutrient needs for the day.  Also, considering both are seafood dishes, they would be perfect additions to a vegetarian diet.

Enjoy!

Protein

Today’s post will be much more straight-forward than the one last week about fats. The science and function of protein within the body is just as complex but protein can easily be summed up as the “building blocks” of life.

Protein is the second most abundant molecule in the body after water. Protein is necessary for the growth and maintenance of every cell in the human body.

As an energy source, protein has 4 calories per gram, the same as carbs but less than half that of fat. However, protein is only used as fuel in the absence of carbs. There are certain parts of the brain that require glucose (a carbohydrate) to function. A diet devoid of carbs for long enough will cause the body to convert protein to carbs via gluconeogenesis (an inefficient process compared to eating a piece of fruit or baking a sweet potato).

Protein is an interesting macronutrient because the body can survive with very little of it.  Of course, a diet too low in protein causes malnutrition and other serious conditions, slowly leading to death. This is seen in many developing nations that lack access to enough wild-game or fish.

Protein is made up of amino acids. Some amino acids are essential, some are non-essential, and some are conditionally essential (meaning they are only needed during illnesses or times of stress). A “complete protein”, such as meat, will have the necessary amount of all essential amino acids for the body to function.

Amino acids are building blocks for all bodily structures, but they also affect hormone levels and neurotransmitters. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is necessary for serotonin and dopamine production, affecting mental well-being.

So, protein is necessary for life, but how much should we consume?

Goals and activity levels will dictate what is ideal but I think a great place to start is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. No need to count every gram; merely build a meal around a protein source that you can fit in one hand. For women, this may end up being about 4-6 ounces of meat or 2-4 eggs. For a large man, this may be more like 6-12 ounces of meat or 3-6 eggs.

Protein is very satiating. A lean cut of meat with a side of vegetables, cooked in grass-fed butter or coconut oil, will be far more filling than pizza or rice pilaf. This may be quite useful for those trying to lose weight.

Another thing to consider is your health history. If you have severe kidney issues, you may want to dial back to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. For a 150lb individual, this would be about 100 to 140 grams of protein (assuming 10-30% bodyfat).  Perhaps you’ve heard claims that protein stresses the kidneys. Studies suggesting this were conducted on people that already suffer from renal impairment.

While on the topic of studies that are misinterpreted, or flawed to begin with, maybe you’ve also seen reports that meat consumption is unhealthy. Studies include pepperoni pizza or fast-food burgers (with refined flour buns) as meat products. In terms of meat causing cancer and other diseases – when meat is charred, the blackened portion contains cancer-promoting carcinogens…so avoid overcooking!

Also, studies do not control every aspect of diet or lifestyle. There has never been a study that only included naturally-raised meat, such as pasture-raised cows eating only grass or chickens with the freedom to peck in the dirt for seeds and bugs. No study has required participants to avoid refined carbs or engage in load-bearing activity while increasing meat consumption.

These flaws are the reason I will be using this blog to address studies as they appear in the news.

The best sources of protein are wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, free roaming chickens and pigs that forage for food, eggs from such chickens, and other wild game.

Optimal vegetarian sources of protein include eggs; dairy (local, raw, and grass-fed); tempeh (fermented soy); avocados (predominately fat but still a complete protein); and quinoa (rather heavy in starchy carbs but also a complete protein).

One common vegetarian food that is absent from this list is tofu. Fermented soy, and the miso bean that soy comes from, are fine sources of protein but soy products, such as tofu, are processed and contain elements that are detrimental to the body. Three of these elements would be phytoestrogens (aid in the growth of cancerous tumors), isoflavones (disrupt healthy thyroid function), and phytic acid (prevent absorption of minerals).

Clearly, I am a proponent of healthy intake levels of high-quality protein but, ultimately, you’ll have to experiment and find out what optimizes your health and performance. Try varying your intake every few weeks while keeping everything else the same. Most people notice improved recovery and lower body fat when they find the optimal level of protein consumption for their body.

I personally love eggs and beef, am trying to gain muscle, and have access to humanely-raised meat, so I consume more like 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. This is by no means necessary but, with my goals, and based on my health markers, consuming a moderately high amount of protein works best for me.

Well, that should do it for now! As I mentioned, whenever news reports come out claiming the dangers of meat, I’ll try to respond to them with a post.

Hope to see you all next week when we discuss carbohydrates, the third and final macronutrient group.

My Paleo Diet

Welcome back all! In today’s post I’ll summarize what I mean when I say I eat a paleo diet. Then, I’ll discuss the issue of strict adherence to any specific diet.

Eating paleo, I focus on food quality. I maximize my intake of “nutrient dense” foods. I minimize my intake of foods with an unfavorable nutrient profile or foods that cause negative reactions in the body.

Nutrient dense foods contain a substantial amount of essential fats, amino acids (proteins), vitamins, and minerals. “Essential” means the body cannot produce them on its own.

Unfavorable foods would be refined flour or pasteurized, homogenized skim milk. These foods are “enriched” or “fortified” because they are nutrient-deficient naturally, or undergo processing that destroys their nutrient content. Companies add vitamins and minerals to bring more value to these products.

A food that causes a negative reaction in the body would be corn oil because it contains a high amount of polyunsaturated fats that can harden the arteries and raise triglycerides causing atherosclerosis. Also, certain foods contain anti-nutrients that bind with other nutrients inhibiting proper absorption. Finally, some foods, such as grains, contain elements that can cause inflammation.

To simplify, here is a list of foods I focus on: meat, vegetables, and eggs from local, reliable farms; wild-caught seafood; fruits; tubers; healthy fats; and dairy. These foods tend to be most nutritious (and flavorful!) when compared to things like grains or processed foods.

The premise of the “Paleolithic Diet” was that humans haven’t evolved since the invention of agriculture (about 10,000 years ago) resulting in modern day health issues and food sensitivities. Although there is legitimate science supporting this claim, I think it’s too rigid to say that every food grown since the advent of farming is problematic for everyone.

For example, many people produce the lactase enzyme throughout their entire life, allowing them to digest dairy. People with autoimmune conditions may suffer from the inflammatory effects of certain nightshades (tubers, peppers, etc) while other people have no issue consuming these foods regularly.

I do, however, always recommend the paleo diet as a starting point. After a month or two of eating the most nutritious foods possible, that contain the least amount of problematic elements, reintroduce foods as desired.

Try consuming dairy for a week then remove it again. Try introducing oatmeal and pull it back out. Track all changes in health and performance. To give a personal example, I tolerate dairy from a digestive standpoint, but my complexion is only completely clear when I am not consuming it.

At the end of the day, the pros and cons of everything have to be weighed. If you consume whole foods, as they grow in nature, you are already prolonging and improving your life. And if not, it’s never too late to start!

The problem with adhering to any strict “diet” is the development of extremism. People become entrenched in beliefs, which are tied to emotions, and lose sight of the fact that science is progressing every moment.

Look at the news – one week eggs are as dangerous as cigarettes and the next, it is recommended you eat 2-4 egg yolks a day!

I love when I learn something new even if it negates a “fact” I knew before. If I discover something I’m eating is doing more harm than good, I’ll eliminate it and, conversely, if I find out a particular food I’m not consuming can improve my life, I’ll start including it in my diet.

I think this issue of strict adherence is most prevalent within the paleo and vegan community. However, I am hopeful. We’ve seen the emergence of pescatarians that consume seafood but avoid animal flesh and ovo-lacto vegetarians that eat dairy and eggs. Even within the last couple years we’ve seen an evolution (ironic based on the founding argument) within the paleo-sphere that now allows more personal choice through the reintroduction method I mentioned earlier.

As a final note, I think it’s important to base your food intake on your goals and activity level.

When the body is at rest, fat is the primary fuel source and, as intensity increases, the body shifts to burning carbohydrates. Thus, on my recovery days, when the most I do is walk, I focus on healthy fats, meats, and veggies. But, on the days I’m lifting heavy and trying to promote muscle-growth, I add a liberal amount of carbs, in the form of potatoes and fruits, to every meal.

Find an approach that works for you.

Maybe start strict to eliminate soda and candy cravings and reach a satisfying level of health and performance, but then tinker. Try reducing carbs and increasing fats or vice versa. Try a bit more or a bit less protein. No two people are the same so there will always be a need for experimentation.

I’m thinking for the next few posts I’ll discuss the 3 macro-nutrient groups – proteins, carbs, and fats. I touched upon these here but would like to explain the importance of each so you can decide what intake ratios make the most sense for you.

I’ll close with a relevant quote by Sosan I just stumbled upon:

“If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything.”

My Nutritional Journey

Continuing the thread I started last time, this post will summarize my various experimentation and resulting experiences…this time regarding nutrition.

Growing up, I ate the Standard American Diet (SAD) – cereal and skim milk for breakfast, cold cuts or peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and a home-cooked meal (cheeseburgers, chicken and veggies, pasta, etc.) for dinner. When I got home from school I’d have two microwaveable pizzas, an entire box of cookies, or another less-than-optimal snack. On weekends we’d order pizza or go out for dinner and, on more nights than not, my dad and I would make ice cream sundaes. It was enjoyable…but I was chubby, suffered from severe acne, and wasn’t particularly active.  

I continued this way of eating until I discovered the world of bodybuilding in college. I learned about “clean” eating according to the governmental standards of our country. This meant I ate tons of carbs (over 50% of my daily calories), a moderate amount of protein, and low fat. I was still new to the health-world and impressionable so, every time I read a news article about risks of fat, cholesterol, salt, or meat, I’d cut back even further on these. Finally, by senior year of college I was a vegetarian – eating egg whites and oatmeal in the morning, then meals comprised of rice, quinoa, potatoes, vegetables, fruits, soy, dairy, or legumes for the rest of the day. I was miserable. I was bloated, had indigestion, suffered migraines, and experienced mood swings if I went more than 3 hours without eating. It got to a point where I was soaking my beans to remove excess salt from them and choosing medium-grain brown rice instead of long-grain because it had 1 more gram of (incomplete) protein per cup!

Two years ago, my mentor (who had been a “high-carb, low-fat” advocate) admitted he had been eating a “Paleolithic Diet” for over a year and was healthier than ever. His blood markers improved, his performance increased, and the aches-and-pains that were considered a side-effect of aging all but disappeared. I purchased The Paleo Solution, by Robb Wolf, to learn some of the science and rationale behind this alternative approach to nutrition. Robb is a strength and athletics coach with a degree in bio-molecular chemistry. I started consuming as much information from as many sources as possible and the science seemed to check out. I learned: eating cholesterol does not necessarily raise bad cholesterol levels in the blood; naturally occurring saturated fats do not “saturate” the blood resulting in blocked arteries and death; properly raised meat does not cause cancer.

 I decided to have my blood work done before making any changes, and then have it done after 30 days eating “paleo”. It’s possible to cherry-pick studies to make an argument for or against anything but a blood lipid-panel would show what’s truly happening in the body. After years of eating a doctor-recommended diet of high carb, low protein, fat, cholesterol and sodium, my LDL and triglycerides were “borderline high” and my HDL was “poor”. I’ll talk more about these terms and specific numbers another time but clearly, an American Heart Association (AHA) recommended diet was not working for me. After merely 30 days of eating paleo, my LDL and triglycerides lowered to “optimal” and my HDL went up to “best”. Not only had these markers improved but my digestion was perfect, my energy levels were stable, and my body composition was better. I’ve been eating paleo for over 2 years now. I check my blood regularly and my HDL is still on the rise and my triglycerides are still dropping – both very good signs of cardiovascular health.

I don’t want to turn these posts into short stories all about me so I’m going wrap up here. In my next post I’ll talk a little bit more about optimal eating habits and the pros and cons of different nutritional approaches. I’ve certainly experienced success using the paleo diet as a starting point, but, my goal on this blog will never be to push anything onto my readers. My only intentions are to provide a combination of personal experience and science so people can have an idea of what may improve their health and well-being.

Thanks for your patience over these past two posts! I wanted you all to have an opportunity to get to know me and my history in this world of physical health. Keep in mind, health is a lifelong process and I have many years to learn and experience even more. I hope you all take the journey with me and can find some value on this site.

See you soon!