Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do You Need To Detox?

It seems like everyone I know is on some kind of detox plan, from boxed colon-blasting fiber concoctions to milk thistle "liver cleansing" things to enemas to bizarre grapefruit-based diets to who knows what else.  And inevitably, people always seem to ask me what I think about detoxing. 

You know what?  I think everyone needs to detox.  But I don't think that means taking shots of lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper and nibbling on leaves.  What I do think that means is getting rid of all the toxins in our lives and making them as healthy as possible.  Here's my detox plan.  Personally, I think it beats the hell out of anything that comes in a box (or out of a hose).

Um... no thanks!

1)  STOP EATING TOXINS.  Clean up your diet.  If you've been reading my blog, you know how important this is.  Posts like this make it easy:  What it comes down to, basically, is this:
-Stop putting processed crap in your body.  White flour, white rice, cookies, crackers, processed meats, fake "meats," 99.999% of breakfast cereals, sodas, fast food... just stop it.  This stuff is slowly poisoning you, and, if nothing else, it's making you fat, slow, and weak.  So get rid of it.
-Cut out sugar as much as possible.  Reasons:  see above.  More reasons:  it's more addictive than cocaine, says one study:  (and I can speak from experience how horribly addictive sugar can be: ).
-Buy locally-grown, seasonal, and organic/pesticide-free whenever possible.  This food tends to be fresher, more nutritious, often cheaper (especially if purchased at a farmer's market), and doesn't have any mysterious poisons on it.
-Eat lots and lots and lots and looooots of veggies.  Especially green ones.  They are very low in calories, nutrient-dense, high in antioxidants, and some veggies like spinach are even able to "arrest" toxins in the body and prevent them from being absorbed. 
-Don't be afraid of healthy fats.  Healthy dietary fats (think nuts and seeds, avocados, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil) are probably not what is making you fat and giving you heart disease.  Simple sugars/carbohydrates are.  I have touched on this in other entries, but this will be spoken about in more detail in future blog posts.  Promise.  For now, just trust me.  Or do your own research.  Either way, healthy fats are good for you and may even-- gasp-- help you lose weight and improve your heart health.
-Drink lots and lots and lots and loooooots of water.


-Overdoing it.   If you're like me, you tend to burn 300 candles at 800 ends.  And if you're like me, you're eventually going to get burnt out or make yourself ill.  Having just come off a few days recovering from a fairly high fever, I learned this the hard way.   My body forced me to take a break, so now I need to listen.  While I know it's not feasible for me to change or drop anything from my schedule at the moment, I do know I can back off my training a bit (I've been training hard 5 days per week lately; I can and should make this 3 or 4 days) and work on getting longer and higher-quality sleep (I've been going to bed too late for the time I have to wake up).  I am taking steps to make this happen.  One of my favorite quotes (which I didn't come up with, but I don't know who did) is:  "You're never going to look back on your life and wish you'd spent more time at work."  Figure out what you can change in your schedule to prevent burning out, and make good on it.   Make some "you" time, make some time for your loved ones, and get more sleep.  Find a way to destress regularly-- stress is a killer.  You'll be far healthier and happier in the long run.

-Underdoing it.  Are you sedentary for no physical reason?  Have you left your dreams by the wayside because it was too hard to pursue them?  Are you languishing at a job you hate just because it's easier than looking for a new one?  Get up.  Move.  Dream big (no one says you have to make a living doing it-- just find a way to incorporate it into your life.  This is why I sing in a band in my free time).  Start searching for a career that makes you happy (if you're going to spend 8+ hours a day there, you might as well love what you do during those hours).  But never, never settle just because doing something else is "too hard."  Another quote I love is this:  "If you think lifting weights is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous." (Brett Contreras)  Don't be weak.  

-Making excuses for bad habits. 

-Self-sabotaging.  This sort of falls in the same category as making excuses, but still deserves a say.  A self-sabotager often feels that they don't deserve good things, is worried that a good thing won't last, or is worried that a good thing will require too much work to maintain.  A self-sabotager also might simply not be ready for a positive change yet (much like a smoker will not be able to quit unless they are truly ready to quit).  If you're self-sabotaging, you need to figure out why, and nip it in the bud.  This may require some support, either from supportive friends, a therapist, or some other outside source.  But in the end, you are the one who needs to get out of your own way-- no one can do that for you.

-Drugs, smoking, and overindulgence in alcohol.  If you're doing it, you probably already know you're doing it.  If you already know you're doing it, you probably already know why you shouldn't.  You don't need a lecture.  You just need to stop.  Find a way that works for you-- rehab, therapy, hypnosis, quitting cold turkey-- whatever works-- and make it happen.  

-Pharmaceuticals.  I know I may start a bit of controversy in saying this, but I do not believe in taking any pharmaceuticals unless it is absolutely necessary.  This includes things like anti-inflammatories, cough syrup, pain medication, etc.  I have a few reasons for this:

              1)  These things mask symptoms-- they don't cure the problem.  And if you have a symptom it is either telling you not to do something so that you don't make matters worse (i.e. pain), or it is helping your body rid itself of something (i.e. fever, coughing).  Either way, you're better off finding the root of the problem and getting that taken care of, rather than just masking the symptoms.
             2)  These things have side effects.  They can affect your liver, kidneys, heart, alertness, and more, and any of these effects can be far more dangerous and long-lasting than the symptoms you are trying to mask.

So if your symptoms aren't absolutely unbearable, try to deal with them until the root of your problem is cured.  In my opinion, you'll be better off in the long run.

3)  GET RID OF TOXIC PEOPLE.  This one is probably the trickiest.  If you're like me, you tend to see the good in people, especially those you care about most.  But when it comes down to it, everyone knows toxic people.   I know I've had more than my share.  I've spent years in relationships with toxic men, maintained friendships with toxic people, and it wasn't until I was free of them that I realized how much better my life was without them.  If anyone in your life makes you feel poorly about yourself, makes you cry (or want to cry) on a regular basis; if anyone in your life tries to stand in the way of your happiness, tries to prevent you from doing the things you love, tries to tell you who you can and cannot be friends with; if anyone in your life tries to bring you down when you're happiest, is jealous of your successes, seems to revel in your hard times, or never seems to be there when you need them most; if anyone in your life ever harms you physically-- GET THEM OUT OF YOUR LIFE.  I have found that the highs and lows of my life seem to weed out many of the most toxic people I know.   This article was recently posted on and is worth a read, and this article was published earlier this year and is also worth checking out (I was personally involved with someone just like that for a long time, and it took a while before I realized it).

Now, of course, there is much to be said for toxic air and water as well, but these things require political action (although there is plenty you can do personally about living a more environmentally-friendly life as well-- but that would require about 400 blogs in and of itself).  

This having been said, if you manage to do at least a good percentage of the above, you're not going to need to drop half your bank account on lemons and cayenne pepper, and you're not going to need to stick any hoses where hoses should not be stuck.  Your liver, kidneys, and circulatory system will do their job, and your mind will be more at ease.  

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The 5 Movements No Workout Should Be Without (in my humble little opinion)

I plan my training around three simple concepts. 

"You do, Melody?" you ask, hanging on the edge of your seat.  "Do tell, do tell!"

Well, since you're so eager to know, I'll lay it out for you:

-Do movements that get the most "bang for your buck," i.e. multi-joint, big muscle movements.  These tend to burn the most caloric energy, be the most efficient movements for the highest number of muscles and joints, and-- extremely important to me-- save oodles of time.  I don't know many people who want to spend hours working out in the gym.  I certainly don't. 

-Do movements that help you reach goals and/or enhance your lifestyle.  If you're a golfer who throws out your back every time you swing, that may give you a clue as to what you're going to need to train, and how you're going to need to train it.  If you want to enter physique competitions, your training is going to be much different (and your diet is going to be phenomenally strict).  If you just want to be able to lift your Rottweiller's 50lb. bag of dog food without a problem, well, there's plenty of ways to train for that, too.

-Lift heavy.  If you're not trying to get stronger, lose body fat, or obtain better physical functionality, I guess you can disregard that one.

That having been said, there are a few moves that just about everyone should be doing, no matter what your goals or lifestyle.  These are based off basic human movements (hip hinge, squat/lunge, press, pull, abdominal stabilization).  And, since I know you are foaming at the mouth, wondering what these movements are, here you go:

1)  THE DEADLIFT (hip hinge):  The deadlift is, without a doubt, one of the best exercises I know.  It is an amazing abdominal and lower back workout (more about that here: ), builds power in the hips and glutes, strengthens the upper back and grip,  and is just an all-around badass exercise.  There's a reason a lot of foofy gyms have a "No Deadlifting" rule.  It's noisy.  It's intimidating.  It's badass.  Foofy gyms don't tend to condone much badassity.  Moral of that story:  if you belong to a gym that doesn't let you deadlift, find a new gym.

Now, I get a lot of clients who have been taught to deadlift by doing a sort of toe-touch thing-- legs straight, spine bent, trying to hit the ground with light weights.  This is not a deadlift.  Now this, right here, is a deadlift:

OK, so most of us mere mortals aren't going to do this our first time out.  But you get the idea.  This might be a little more doable:

Kettlebell swings go into the deadlift category.  The swing is simply a ballistic deadlift with a different intention (i.e. to ballisticly swing a heavy object out in front of you as opposed to simply lift it off the ground).  I am personally a huge fan of high-volume swings (I try to do a set of at least 1,000 once a week or more).  This has gotten me into phenomenal cardiovascular condition (running, jumping rope, etc, are no longer a challenge to me, and the 14-mile round trip killer hike I did up Mt. Wilson barely got my heart rate up, although my feet were pretty tired by the end of it), and has significantly improved my strength in many areas. 

2)  THE SQUAT/LUNGE (squat/lunge, duh):  Your leg muscles are the largest muscles in your body, so why not work them the way they were designed to work?

In case you were wondering, this is how you were designed to squat.  Not that half-squatting, don't go below 90 degrees, body at a weird angle thing people tend to do.  Do you see this baby complaining about knee pain?  I didn't think so.
The squat and the lunge are two of the most effective ways I know of to work just about the entire lower body.  Your hips, knees, and ankles all have to work hard, and your midsection does a lot of stabilization as well (especially when you add weight-- in front, in back, overhead, unilateral, etc-- and then we get your upper body involved, too!).   If you're not squatting, you're doing your body a huge disservice.  If your body's dysfunctions keep you from squatting properly, fix 'em and get squatting.

3)  OVERHEAD PRESS (push):  The overhead press is an absolute favorite of mine.  Single hand, double hand, straight presses, jerks, push-presses... all of them build great strength and integrity in the shoulder, arm, and core.  I especially like doing this with kettlebells, as the weight placement pulls you backward, which provides a different stabilization challenge for the ole abs and makes them work harder.

This video is of a push-press, as I am still working on a straight press with the 20KG.  But never fear, it's on its way.  :)

4)  PULLUPS (pull):  The pullup rocks my world.  Part of it is likely because I was a fairly weak kid and could never seem to do them at all until relatively recently.  Now I suspect I might be part monkey.  The pullup strengthens the grip, arms, back, abdominals, and ego.  Once you master that pullup, you start feeling mighty good about yourself.

ABDOMINAL STABILIZATION:  Although the deadlift and pullup are phenomenal ab exercises, I do love to add in some extra stuff.  I do heavy full situps with kettlebells on my chest, hanging leg raises, and also spend a lot of time with the ab wheel, doing rollouts from my toes.

The guy going these in this video is 71 years old and pretty tall and lanky.  So no excuses for you.

Of course, you can also do them from your knees, as the same guy does here:


So there you have it:  my must-have 5 that I believe just about everyone can benefit from.  What do you think?  Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!