The health and fitness industry is a funny one, there’s so many different aspects to it, so many different opinions, conflicting scientific research, and even contradicting views from the people who are supposed to be the experts – personal trainers. Not only that, but people get really extreme about their views on things ranging from the type of diet to follow, the best exercise to do, or which supplements they swear by, and people can get very passionate about completely different views at opposing ends of the extreme – who the hell are you supposed to listen to and believe?
I get asked so many questions on a daily basis about training, nutrition, anatomy, muscular aches & pains. In reality, I think most things in the realm of health, fitness etc can be answered with the response ‘it depends’.
Some things work for some people and not others, and most of the time it depends on the situation and other factors that need to be taken into account. People like to jump on bandwagons and get super passionate about something they like (myself included), and this can be at the expense of logical, rational thinking.
Here are some common questions I get alot, where the answer isn’t a universal clear cut case of something being good or bad, it really just depends…
Can I drink milk?
It depends, have you thought about the possibility that you’re intolerant to milk or dairy? This is one of the most common ‘allergy’ foods (along with wheat). If you feel tired, lethargic, bloated, constipated or experience regular diarrhoea, have skin conditions, or struggle to lose body fat then I would experiment with eliminating milk (and wheat for that matter) and see how you feel. If you do feel better, and then re-introduce milk and start to experience the same symptoms, then you have an intolerance to milk and should not drink it.
In a nutshell it won’t do you any favours and won’t add to your health or weight loss endeavours, so if you can do without it quite easily then great. Milk may be tolerable for you just fine but it’s worth taking the steps to determine this. If your body doesn’t have a bad reaction to milk and you’re just having a bit in your coffee everyday you’re probably fine, but again, take the time to know for sure if you’re interested in optimizing your health and/or you have fat to lose. You could also try getting your hands on some raw milk, which doesn’t pose as many problems from an allergy or digestive point of view, and is full of beneficial live enzymes and bacteria. (legal disclaimer: I am not telling you to go drink raw milk, if you’re interested, do your own research, make sure you understand the risks and make up your own mind)
What are the best stretches to help with lower back pain?
It depends, most back pain boils down to some combination of muscle tightness, and muscle weakness. If person A has tight hamstrings and weak hip flexors, this can cause back pain as it tilts your pelvis backwards and creates tension and stress. If person B is the opposite and has tight hip flexors and weak hamstrings this can cause back pain by pulling your pelvis forward and creating tension and stress. If these two people followed the same hamstring stretching routine to help their back one of them would be helping the issue and the other would actually be exasperating the issue and making it worse.
Your back pain is most often the result of your specific issues in regards to some muscles being weak, and some being tight, creating uneven levels of tension on your body’s structures, OR a structural issue causing muscle tightness. There’s many other ways back pain can eventuate and all involve different approaches to fix it, and often it’s beyond the scope of what personal trainers can do to help.
Isn’t coconut oil fattening?
It depends, when taken into account as part of your whole day’s caloric intake, yes it’s possible coconut oil could contribute to weight gain, it is fat (even though it’s good fat) and gram for gram it is high in calories. If you need to eat 1700kcal to lose weight, you’re currently eating 1600kcal and you add a substantial amount of coconut oil to your diet then yes, adding coconut oil might make you put on weight or hinder weight loss, although you could use any food as the example. I’d guess there would be some other less-healthy foods you could remove from your diet to displace the coconut oil to get back down to the 1600kcal mark though. There is nothing inherently ‘fattening’ about coconut oil, it is fat, but it doesn’t make you fat, in fact if anything the health benefits would only help aid your weight loss.
What’s the best type of cardio to do?
It depends, what are you doing ‘cardio’ for? If you want to get better at running, then run, and if you want to get better at swimming, then swim. Appropriate strength training will also help from a performance and injury resistance standpoint.
If you just want to lose body fat, then it doesn’t so much matter as to the type of cardio or activity you do as long as you can do it with adequate intesity, you’re doing it as a means to elicit a physiological response or affect, it’s a means to an end.
Essentially, ‘cardio’ is a way to get your heart rate up and challenge your muscles and cardiovascular system in order to get a metabolic affect, and burn calories due to greater energy expenditure. The best cardio for this purpose is something that you’re not extremely efficient at, the less efficient you are the harder you’ll work, the more calories you’ll burn and the greater metabolic affect you’ll receive.
If you can run for a long time and stay more or less in your comfort zone, you’d be better off doing something like swimming and feeling like it’s a struggle, or running faster (higher intensity) for shorter periods, strictly from a fat loss perspective. This might be hard to hear for some, but to really change your body composition, all the good things happen when you step outside of your comfort zone, so the best cardio for fat loss is whatever gets you out of your comfort zone the most!
How do I lose weight?
This one’s a doozy, I get this a lot when I’m at social engagements and people find out I’m a personal trainer. I try really hard not to get into conversations like this because most people are looking for me to give them the magic, silver bullet that they have been missing, and it’s rarely that simple.
It depends, What do you currently eat? Do you exercise? Do you exercise hard enough? Consistently enough? Do you eat too much? Not enough? Do you have any hormone or vitamin deficiencies?
In a nutshell, eat only enough food to provide energy and nutrients to go about your daily activities and nothing more, eat good quality lean meats, poultry and seafood, veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, water and not much else. Stay away from man made processed foods. Exercise frequently and with intensity, get out of your comfort zone as much as possible, challenging your muscles and cardiovascular system. Be consistent with it all.
That’s not bad little ‘sum up’ if I do say so myself, I might type that up on to a small card and just hand that out whenever I get asked that question…
What’s the best way to get stronger at ‘x’?
It depends, what is the your limiting factor in getting stronger at ‘x’. If we use squats as an example, do you have inactive glutes?, are you lacking core strength? do you have poor technique? Hip mobility / flexibility issues? Do you train squats enough? Etc, etc.
Assuming we can work out the limiting factors, or there is none and it just comes down to getting stronger….
Do ‘x’ at whatever level you’re able to now, as best you can and with good technique, at least 3 days per week. When that becomes easier and you’re able do more, progress it by adding a little bit more resistance till that new weight becomes easier. Repeat. Also try adding ‘assistance’ exercises which help to strengthen the same muscle groups as needed to perform ‘x’.
Do protein shakes make you put on weight?
See question about coconut oil, same applies.
If you are drinking a good quality protein shake, it can certainly help you to lose fat by aiding in muscle recocvery allowing you to train harder and more frequently, and it will help to grow new muscle tissue to ‘tone’ up, along with increasing your metabolism which will help burn fat.
Having said that, the type and quality of protein powders varies greatly, and alot of powders do more harm than good for your health with the stuff they put in there. The more ‘unhealthy’ you are the harder you will find it to lose body fat, so I think they can indirectly contribute to weight gain.
How many protein shakes can I have per day?
If you have more than 2 protein shakes per day, the world will explode!
No, in reality there is no ‘best’ number per day and it does depend. Have a shake whenever necessary to assist you in sticking to the lifestyle and ‘rules of eating’ you’ve committed to, in order to reach your goals. Apart from directly after a training session, I think you’re always better off eating whole foods for protein though. So, have one straight after a strength training session to kick-start recovery and the re-building of muscle tissue, and have one whenever you can’t find a whole food protein source. It’s essentially a tool for convenience, a back up protein source. Some days I might have 2-3 if I’ve trained, am quite busy and the day pans out that way, some days I’ll have none because I’ve been able to eat enough protein with my meals, . Again, it depends…
Will Pilates / Yoga be good for my back pain?
See question about back pain…
I think it’s a bit ‘hit or miss’ with this stuff and it depends what you need and if that coincides with what you’re doing. If you just happen to be focusing on the specific stretching and strengthening exercises you need for your issue then yes it will help, although there’s a chance that certain stretches or poses could be making things worse too. It depends…
Are sit ups / crunches any good for my stomach?
It depends what you mean by ‘any good’ and why you want to do them. Sit ups won’t help you lose belly fat, you’re much better off spending that 5-10 minutes of sit-ups, doing some extra higher intensity training, or thinkng about how you can improve your diet if losing belly fat is the number one goal.
In terms of improving ‘functional core strength’, performance and injury prevention, sit ups don’t offer a great deal when compared to core stability exercises like plank variations, anti rotations, farmers walks, and just general bodyweight and ‘free weight’ training etc.
Everything you incorporate into your exercise program has a cost to benefit ratio which has to be weighed up, most people who sit at a desk all day with their spines in a forward flexed position (many with back pain as a result), aren’t going to benefit a great deal by going to the gym and exasperating the same posture and strengthening the same muscles in a manner which will promote this problematic posture. (see above pic)
If you look at the training done with high performance athletes, trained by coaches much smarter than me, it’s pretty evident that your core should be trained with stabilisation / anti rotation in mind and your lumbar spine (lower back) isn’t designed for a lot of movement.
Studies done using real spines in a lab have shown that flexing your lumbar spine (lower back) forwards and backwards repeatedly, places your spine under extreme pressure and is the exact same mechanism which causes disc herniations. Think of getting a wire coat hanger and bending it back and forth repeatedly, eventually it will break.
Now sit ups may or may not give you back problems, but given the debatable benefits you’ll receive it’s my opinion that the cost to benefit ratio doesn’t stack up in its favour, especially in a group training setting.
Having said that, if you already have low levels of body fat to the point where you can already see some abdominal definition, then sit ups may help you to more fully define your ‘abs’, so if you’re in that boat, and you decide the cost to benefit ratio is worth it for you, and you don’t experience back pain, then its ok to incorporate some sit up or crunch variations into your training. There’s definitely variations that are less likely to cause injury. This might be something we include into our Fit Stop programming for certain people if appropriate.