Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Salmon Florentine

A local Italian restaurant franchise nearby makes an amazing salmon dish I am in love with.  A heaping serving of omega fatty acids atop a plate of phytonutrients-rich spinach sounds delicious to me.  It takes only a few ingredients and it's super simple to make.  Here's how I recreated the dish:

Salmon Florentine
  • 1/2 lb salmon
  • 1/2 cup white cooking wine
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 2 cups of fresh spinach
  • salt and pepper to taste
Season salmon with salt and pepper.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until it easily flakes apart.  Meanwhile, heat wine in a small saucepan over medium high heat until it reduces.  Add lemon juice and capers.  When just about ready to serve, add spinach to the sauce and lightly wilt.  Remove from heat and serve over salmon.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Experience at Cressey Performance

In the summer and early fall of last year I was following Eric Cressey's Maximum Strength program and saw incredible results.  It was the only program I stuck with from start to finish without wanting to switch gears midway through to whatever else was shiny and new in the fitness world.  I saw incredible gains on my lifts (bench pressed triple digits for the first time ever) and finally saw a little bit of shape to my toothpick arms. 

Unfortunately, at times I wasn't smart and overdid it thinking my spine is perfectly normal like everyone else's.  Spoiler alert: it's not.  My back became very tight and bothered me on a daily basis, something I'm not used to.  To be clear: my back pain is not at all a reflection of the Maximum Strength program and was due to me pushing myself beyond my limits.  Eric Cressey is a sought-after expert in the field and I highly recommend any of his work.  Me on the other hand, you tell me not to touch something because it's hot, and I still need to touch it on my own to find out.

Before continuing training, I contemplated taking a visit to Eric's facility, Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA, for an evaluation.  The very next day Cressey Performance co-founder Tony Gentilcore wrote a blog post about neutral spine that specifically mentioned scoliosis.  Funny how life gives you little hints when you need the most.

So off to my consultation I went in early December.  My hope was to be thoroughly assessed on all my imbalances and to receive general guidelines as to what I should and shouldn't be doing from this point on.  I was described as having a left anterior interior chain and right brachial chain polyarticular pattern.  Characteristics include limited adduction in one or both legs, inability to expand the chest when taking deep breaths, difficulty rotating the spine in one or both directions, one shoulder lower than the other, shifting weight towards one side of the pelvis, among other things. 

Upon hearing the description, I immediately said to myself "yep, that's me".  I was too close to the situation to see the overall picture, like trying to see the entire forest when you're only looking through the trees.  It was nice to have everything spelled out and clarified.  So spelled out that mid-conversation Eric told me to "stop standing like that".  Got it.

I decided to go all in and sign up to train one day a week for the next month at the facility.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat because I gained some major takeaways.

First, their training environment far exceeded my expectations.  They specialize in baseball players from the high school to college to pro ranks.  If you're not serious about putting in hard work, you'd stick out like a sore thumb.  Speaking of which, I was mostly there while the college and pro guys trained which is a far cry from my normal training environment.  But it was so refreshing.  I'd rather be the least experienced and look like a deer in headlights than be irritated in a commercial gym because I'm surrounded by people who just...don't...get...it.

I also received great tips on my form.  I'd like to think it wasn't terrible to begin with, but I had been neglecting the little things.  It's amazing how tucking the chin on a deadlift or squeezing your glutes at the top of a reverse lunge makes your efforts more efficient.  It inspired me to video myself more regularly to make sure I'm not getting sloppy.

Lastly, I received a great program for the four weeks I was there with a mobility warm-up tailored to me and all my crookedness.  I love it, so much so that I sometimes run through it on my off days just because it feels good to do.  I also have a better understanding on what I can and can't do moving forward.  Sorry, barbell squats but our love affair must end.  Deadlifts are still fair game though (so long as I use a trap bar)!

Oh, and did I mention my back pain is gone?  Thanks Cressey Performance!

Friday, January 20, 2012

High Protein Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Bananas

SkinnyTaste.com has a lot of great recipes and Gina's Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Bananas was another homerun.  Earlier in the week I made a batch as directed and I enjoyed the quick re-heat breakfast all week long.  As delicious as it was, I wanted to add some additional protein but unfortunately I was fresh out of vanilla whey powder.  Once my new shipment arrived, I was determined to give it a try which brings me to this morning.

High Protein Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Bananas

No need to rehash the entire recipe, just click the link above.  I added 4 scoops of vanilla whey protein powder to the dry ingredients.  The only other notable differences were I used almond milk instead of regular and pecans instead of walnuts in almost double the amount (don't be scared, healthy fats are good for you!).  The protein powder makes the consistency a bit more cakey than the original but the fruit keeps the entire dish moist.

First trip to the oven

Second trip to the oven

Just before the trip to my belly


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Be Nice to the Newbies

Here comes another confession.  I haven't been to the commercial gym yet this year.  That doesn't mean I've been slacking, far from it actually.  I have my place of employment to use and I've been training at Cressey Performance on Fridays.  But if at all possible, I avoid my local gym like the plague this time of year.

This time of year is super frustrating to us gym-going regulars.  Flocks of new people eagerly commit to health clubs, crowding every square foot of space while looking like deer in headlights.  Put simply, they're annoying as crap. 

Suddenly, you're crammed into your favorite yoga class like a can of sardines.  It's no longer a calming experience when a first-timer is giggling at the funny poses.  You resort to stalking the row of treadmills ready to pounce at the first opening to get some sprints in.  (Newbies love to frequent here first since they can generally master a "Quick Start" button and putting one foot in front of the other.)  An awkward dance emerges to navigate around an amateur staring blankly at the cable column wondering what all the attachments "work" so you can finish your alternating sets of goblet squats and single-arm standing cable rows.

Be nice to the newbies.  They may be on to something.

Yes, it's frustrating because they're impinging on your training session.  But you were a beginner at some point too.  And yes, some of the idiotic things they do make for a good laugh.  But at least they're doing something.

A mediocre plan put into action is better than the most meticulous preparations that never leave the table. 

The newbie looking to lose weight may be spending all their time on the elliptical and ignoring the weights because they don't want to "get too bulky".  They may not yet understand that building lean muscle mass is key to fat loss but at least they're building the habit of regular activity into their lifestyle. 

Gym newbies teach us the concept of failing forward.  Their actions may not always be the most effective method, but at least it's not a step backwards.  Get started if you have 80 percent of the information you need.  Correct the other 20 percent as you go. 

Maybe you want to take your own training to the next level.  Maybe you have a long overdue home improvement project you've been putting off.  Maybe you need to learn a skill to improve your career.  Fail forward and start.  Momentum gradually builds and carries you forward.

Learn a lesson from the newbies.  Be considerate of their learning curve.  Admire their determination.  Smile at them so they stick around into February.  They may get bitten by the bug and have something to teach you some day.

Note:  There is a key difference between failing forward in regards to safety and effectiveness when it comes to exercise.  Ignoring proper form and safety of exercise is a mistake that can result in serious injury.  Always consult a qualified fitness professional for assistance.  A mistake in choosing an ineffective method in relation to your goals just results in a longer path to the end point.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Learn More to Earn More

 "Learn more to earn more" is one of Jack Canfield's, motivational speaker and author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, success principles.  Successful people never stop learning and put constant effort into education.  Not only do you gain a wealth of factual information, it can serve to inspire your own creative ideas and solutions to get you where you want to be.

The wisest people are the ones who admit they don't know it all.  That being said, one of my resolutions for 2012 is to read more.  (Actually, I'd prefer to call it a commitment rather than a resolution.  "Resolution" seems almost synonymous with failure and that's not the category I plan on falling into.) 

I have several books loaded up on my Kindle, three audio books on my iPod to listen to on my commute, and a couple hard copies in queue on my bookshelf in the office.  They include everything from fitness research to positive psychology to increasing wealth to biographies of influential people (see below for the list).  Yeah, I'm going to be busy for awhile.  My purpose is to learn anything and everything that can help me be better at what I love to do: inspire people to improve their health and realize their full potential.

The same principle can apply to you and your health goals.  Whether you want to improve your eating habits, lose 20 pounds of fat, gain 10 lbs of muscle, or complete a half marathon a little education on the subject could go a long way. 

You wouldn't purchase a new car without doing some reading consumer reports.  You also wouldn't interview for a job without researching the company you're interviewing with.  So you probably won't fare well trying to achieve a health goal without any idea what to do. 

Don't approach it blindly.  Learn what methods are effective and safe.  Having this information in your back pocket will boost your confidence significantly.  What's there to lose?  Worst case scenario is you appear smarter than all your friends because you're reading rather killing brain cells watching reality TV.  Best case is you put the information into action and earn more quality years to your life. 

On my Kindle:
On my iPod:
On my bookshelf:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What You Do Everyday Matters More Than What You Do Once In Awhile

I have a confession to make.  I haven't had any words of wisdom for health on my blog the past few weeks because I've been a terrible example.  And I've been pretty down on myself about it. 

My training had been aimless and haphazard while I was in a lull waiting for a new program in my first scheduled session at a high-performance training facility (more on that in an upcoming post).  My first appointment there was delayed because I had three out-of-state trips planned for the holidays.  While I had a blast in Florida, Maine, and Pennsylvania, the travel made what little physical activity I could sneak in even more inconsistent.  All the restaurant meals and holiday indulgences were further insult to injury.  Sigh.  Then, an untimely bout with low back pain snuck in to squash any hopes of exercise as the final nail in the coffin.  Awesome.

I pride myself on having a "Do it now because there will never be a good time to start" attitude.  As much as it pained me, I allowed myself to temporarily adopt the "I will get back on track January 1st" thought process with the rest of the world.  Except I didn't even make it that far because on December 31st a nasty cold had me down and out for pretty much the rest of the week.  Just freaking perfect.

New Year Resolutions for Hollywood's Bad Movies of 2010

Thanks to my new Kindle Touch from my in-laws for Christmas, I did manage to start one goal immediately.  Read more.  The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin was the first thing fired up in my new e-reader.  Thank goodness it was because one of her "Secrets of Adulthood" was exactly what I needed:
What you do EVERYDAY matters more than what you do ONCE IN AWHILE.
It was the wake up call I needed.  I couldn't remember the last time I was in a rut that lasted longer than a week.  Maybe back in the early 2000's?  That probably doesn't even count since it was before I adopted the healthy lifestyle I live today.  I realized this spell is a rare occurrence not reflective of my normal habits.  Stuff happens.  Instead of dwelling in it, let it be and move on.  I may be a week late to the let's-be-healthier-in-2012 party, but hey, I'm showing up dressed to the nines.

This rule of thumb works both ways.  Do you really deserve a pat on the back because you had a grilled chicken salad one night this week while conveniently dismissing the other three nights of assorted take-out dinners?  Is using that shiny new gym membership two out of 31 days this month truly worth a gold star?  Being worthy of accolades is only genuine if you've put forward your absolute best effort.

Use this principle as a reality check and do a fair assessment of your life.  Which shows up more frequently in your days - good habits or bad habits?  If there's an imbalance, it's time to put your nose in the dirt and make the good habit days outweigh the bad.  Achieving a goal doesn't happen in one leap.  It takes consistent steps in the right direction everyday.  Be honest with yourself and make sure your actions are truly reflecting what you want to accomplish.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Defeating Pessimistic Thoughts

Welcome to 2012!  It's estimated that 50 percent of adults make New Year's resolutions, with changes to their health status being one of the most popular issues to tackle.  Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but the likelihood of success in these cases is usually slim to none.  What's the root cause of failure?  It's not the fitness program, the scale, or the diet that didn't work.  It's your own self-limiting beliefs that you can't succeed.

In the beginning of the month, most people feel a surge of energy to conquer their goals.  What goes up must come down so here's a technique to combat those pessimistic thoughts that undoubtedly creep in at the first sign of adversity.

In his book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Dr. Martin Seligman recommends using the ABCDE model to argue any negative thoughts and increase optimism.  After all, optimistic people are more likely to let failures bounce off them on their journey to success.  Here's an example of how to defeat pessimistic beliefs:
  • Adversity
    • I was having a great week - eating well and exercising every day.  But Friday things at work reached their boiling point and really stressed me out.  As soon as I got home that afternoon I grabbed a bag of chips, sat on the couch to watch TV, and vegged out.  Before I knew it, the entire bag was gone.
  • Belief
    • I can't believe I ruined an entire week of exercise and healthy eating in just one sitting.  All my effort was wasted and now I have to start over again next week.
  • Consequences
    • I feel guilty, embarrassed, and depressed.  I'm no longer excited to try that new recipe for grilled fish I planned to make for dinner.  I'd rather order a pizza instead.
  • Disputation
    • You know what?  I went to the gym every day and followed my strength training program perfectly.  I even did some moderate cardio on my rest day just to be active and get blood flowing to my muscles.  I ate plenty of servings of vegetables and protein each day.  Yes, polishing off an entire bag of chips was a sign of weakness, but it was an isolated incident and it does not define my week.
  • Energization
    • I'm not going to dwell in these ridiculous thoughts.  I will continue as planned and make that fish dish for dinner.  Next time I feel stressed and want to self-medicate with mindless eating, I will stop myself and find another way to release my frustration.  I do love to read.  Instead of making a stop in the kitchen before hitting the couch, I will go upstairs, away from food, and get lost in a book for 30 minutes to put myself in a more positive frame of mind.
Now you have a tool to overcome that first, inevitable roadblock.  Work through the ABCDE model one by one to eliminate those pessimistic thoughts and get back on track toward success.  The natural high from your freshly formed resolutions may have you feeling invincible at the moment, but trust me.  No one achieves a goal without considerable challenge.  If you do, then the goal wasn't big enough.