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Where I provide my take on the current crop of fitness buzzwords

by John on February 11th, 2015

There are tons of buzzwords heading about the fitness world these days — and, I’ll admit, there are times that I feel overwhelmed by them all — and I’m, admittedly, someone who has things “better in tow” than most. So, I figured I’d take a minute to throw a bunch of the buzzwords that are used, break them down, and share a few thoughts about them.

What is it? In strength training, working your way to five sets of five repetitions at the maximum resistance. When you’ve managed to achieve five sets of five reps, you increase the maximum weight the next time.
Why is it being talked about? Because strength training is important, and this is a very easy and effective method of making yourself stronger, faster.
Do I do it? No. I focus, primarily, on bodyweight exercises, as I have limited access to free weights & barbells. However, when I first started strength training, I did abide by a 5×5 plan.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
What is it? skipping a meal every now & then. There are some who develop complex schedules about when/where you should skip – but, in the end, it boils down to skipping a meal every now & then.
Why is it being talked about? The old theory was that you “maximized your metabolism” if you broke your food intake down into several small meals during the day. Following the adage “never skip breakfast,” and then, essentially, grazing on healthy food, you’d just shed weight. Logically (to me, at least), that approach made sense — the body has to work in order to break down food . . . so if it’s always working to digest, there’s less chance for it to take from food stores to fat stores. However, modern research shows that skipping a meal could, in the end work. I should not that this is NOT a “eat whatever you want for a few hours a day and don’t eat the rest of the day” diet. That shit will fuck you up. If I had carte-blanche to eat whatever I wanted while at work, for example, and then eschew food for the rest of the day? I could do it. But I’d gain weight, very quickly – and most of it wouldn’t be muscle.
Do I do it? I actually do this, though not regularly. The “small meals” concept truly does make sense to me . . . but I’m someone who can graze all day & still feel hungry — so, when I try to employ the “lots of small meals” concept, it ends up blowing up in my face. I do much better about “eating on a plan” if I feel so satiated, at the end of a meal, that I don’t want to snack. I can deal with “being hungry” for a bit (as long as I keep from BEING HANGRY). Generally, I try to ensure that there are 12 hours between the last food I eat for a day and the first food I eat in the morning. I never skip a meal on a day in which strength training is my focus (I want to ensure that the body is building muscle), but on a rest day? Especially a rest day that I’m particularly busy? I might skip breakfast or lunch or dinner.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Couch to 5k (C25k)
What is it? A training program designed to get a someone new to running to running 5k races.
Why is it being talked about? Running is fun, and free, and is growing in popularity. 5k is the most-popular race distance.
Do I do it? I started running by following Couch to 5k . . . while I’ve progressed beyond it, I absolutely followed it.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!2
CrossFit (CF)
What is it? A fitness regimen/workout plan focusing on strength & conditioning. At the core, it’s: lift shit, using complex movements. With a focus on “getting strong” the rest of the body will come along.
Why is it being talked about? Because it works. The “modern gym” focuses on muscle isolation and cardio machines — but, in the real world, you never need just your bicep to get yourself out of a tricky situation. By employing complex movements (pull-ups, squats, etc.), you make the whole body stronger, spending time, overall, in the gym, and as you get stronger, everything kind-of falls into place.
Do I do it? Strictly speaking, no. I do not belong to a CrossFit gym, so, therefore, I do not follow CrossFit. However, my focus, 3-4 days a week, is in doing pull-ups, dips, pistol squats, goblet squats, overhead press, chin-ups, and push-ups, which are all regular items on the CrossFit Workout Of the Day (WOD). The main reason I don’t belong to a CrossFit gym is twofold: I’m just busy enough that juggling an external schedule gives me a headache, and they’re far more expensive than the gym I belong to.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
What is it? A fitness contraption, allowing you to easily re-adjust it and do a plethora of exercises in a relatively small amount of space.
Why is it being talked about? Because, when push comes to shove, any exercise that uses your own bodyweight will make you stronger, quickly. This contraption is something that allows you to do a lot of bodyweight exercises, at varying levels of difficulty (e.g., if you’re not strong enough to do a pull-up, you can adjust the mechanism to allow you to progress to doing a pull-up relatively easily), in a very small amount of space.
Do I do it? No. I’ve attended a TRX class or two at my local Y, but I don’t do well in juggling any more in my schedule than I already do. It was fun, certainly, but it’s not in my regular line-up. And the mechanism is expensive – too expensive for me to justify the cost at home (I do, however, have a set of gymnast rings and a pull-up bar).
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
What is it? A diet plan following the belief that our minds/technology have evolved more quickly than our bodies, and we should be eating more along the ways that our evolutionary ancestors ate.
Why is it being talked about? Every few years, a diet ends up being the “in” diet. Right now, it happens to be the Paleo diet. Like most any diet, it works, as long as it’s followed. However, look through any Paleo message board and you’ll see tons of variations and firmly held beliefs about what is/isn’t paleo.
Do I do it? Kind of. I’ve eschewed most refined flours and sugars. If I can, I make my food . . . that which I can’t make (and, therefore, order from a restaurant), I try to only order those items that I know how they’re made and what ingredients they might contain. But, I fucking love cheese. Heck, I love most any dairy, but I fucking love cheese. I will not live without cheese. And, one of the first things you’re supposed to remove from your diet, when you go paleo, is dairy. So I don’t do paleo, and I won’t claim to do so. But, many of the aspects of the paleo diet, I do abide by.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
Low-Carb/High Fat (LCHF)
What is it? A diet wherein you get a relatively low number of your calories from carbohydrates and relatively high number of calories from lipids.
Why is it being talked about? Because for years, the general consensus has been the precise opposite: eat lots of grains (though limit sugar) as part of a low-fat diet. But, modern research seems to show that, as long as you’re keeping trans-fats out of your diet (and maybe, or maybe not, limit Omega 6 fatty acids while maximizing Omega 3 fats . . . as I said in the intro, this shit is overwhelming), you might be better off flipping the original model on its head.
Do I do it? Yes. I severely limit refined flours and sugars . . . this means I eat very little bread/pasta/rice. When I go to a restaurant and want a burger? I’m that jerk who orders it without the bun (though I’m much more likely to order steak or chicken and salad). When I order Chinese take-out? My kids eat the rice that comes with the meal. I don’t eat pizza, unless I make it myself, and therefore make it with a cauliflower crust. The carbohydrates that I do eat (and yes, I do eat plenty of carbs), are generally incredibly rich in fiber.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
What is it? A cast-iron weight on a handle
Why is it being talked about? These have become quite popular among the CrossFit crowd. Simply, they’re a bit more versatile than dumbbells.
Do I do it? Yes. I have a set of kettlebells in my basement, ranging from 5 to 35 pounds (in 5 pound increments). There is a barbell manufacturing company relatively close to where I live, so ordering directly from the manufacturer allowed me to save a bit of money — but, that said, they’re not overly cheap.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
What is it? An aerobic-dance class
Why is it being talked about? Because dancing is fun. Dancing and burning calories, all the better. Basically, the more you move, the better.
Do I do it? No. I like to say that my rhythm doesn’t extend beyond my musical talents . . . I can’t dance. I’m ok with this fact.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
What is it? A 30 day diet program built around “eating clean.” For 30 days, there’s no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, no legumes, no dairy. Essentially, if you can’t grow it or kill it, don’t eat it.
Why is it being talked about? This seems to be the “fad” new year’s resolution this year — while the program has been around for awhile, a lot of people seemed to kick off the year with a Whole 30 commitment. And, well, those that stuck with it, they experienced great results.
Do I do it? Oh hell no. Remember, I fucking love cheese. Also, I don’t do well with any eating plan that has me focused on an end date. I get “do this for a small time, just so you can see how it makes you feel,” but that end date seems too arbitrary for me — so what’s the point of sticking with whole 30 instead of whole 27? Then whole 24? Then “just give me the damn doughnut already.” I do appreciate the core belief of “don’t look for ingredient substitution methods,” however. There are entire websites built around ingredient substitution (instead of using white sugar, use coconut palm sugar and *viola*, it’s paleo-friendly!), and that’s just a practice that grates on me the wrong way1

Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!
What is it? Gluten is a protein found in many grains, especially wheat. A gluten-free diet is a diet wherein the dieter avoids any ingredients that contain gluten.
Why is it being talked about? There is a very serious condition, known as Celiac disease, where someone is allergic to gluten, and reacts quite poorly whenever they eat anything that happens to have gluten in it. Many, however, have gone “gluten-free” after trying a gluten free diet and . . . well, with less refined flour in their daily lives, they find they feel better.
Do I do it? Not really, no. My grain intake is quite low . . . but that comes from a desire to remove processed foods from my diet, not in removing gluten. Gluten, itself, doesn’t affect me. It’s just that I can eat a slice or a loaf of bread and be no less hungry than I was when I started eating. While I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I have next-to-no gluten in the food that I’m eating (if I ingest any gluten, at all), my intent is not to avoid gluten, and I don’t read ingredients specifically avoiding foods that might have wheat as an ingredient.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!2
Red Wine
What is it? Fermented grape juice, also known as the stuff of heaven.
Why is it being talked about? This article, showing that a glass of red wine may offer the same cardiovascular benefit of an hour of a moderate workout has been making the rounds. Important to note from this article is that the benefits are limited to a single glass – they don’t accumulate as you drink glass after glass (or, in my case, bottle after bottle).
Do I do it? Yes. I commonly enjoy a single glass of red wine with dinner (I, typically, buy a 5L box of wine and then pour from that into a mason jar to ensure that I have a precise amount – allowing me to help hit calorie targets and stay on a budget). But, I don’t drink it for any health benefits. I drink it because I really, really love it. Almost as much as I fucking love cheese. Limiting myself to a single glass is difficult — but, well, I’m a dad first & foremost. In all things.
Should you do it? If you think it might work for you, sure!2

1 That said, I’ll admit that I’ve fallen into this trap with a banana bread recipe. See, I hate throwing away food — and, in my house, bananas are hit or miss. Sometimes, the kids eat whatever we buy, essentially the minute they’re brought home. Other weeks, bananas are ignored, entirely. And when they’ve gone overripe, really, the only options are to bake with them or throw them away. So I found a banana bread recipe that fits within my “no refined flours or sugars” philosophy.
2 But please, for the love of god, unless you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac disease, do not tell food preparers that you have an allergy to gluten (which means that they have to, essentially, sterilize their entire operation to make you food, where, really, you’re just looking to avoid an ingredient or two, but, you know, if they used a knife that once touched a slice of bread, nobody is going to have any ill effect).
  1. I did the small meals throughout the day thing, and the key to it is planning. However, neither my planning abilities nor my meeting schedule lend themselves to this system. It was my default when I was pregnant, though, because I couldn’t eat very much at any one time.

    I’m doing something like a couch-to-5K, except that it’s more of a couch-to-anything, because I have a bad knee and will never be a runner. I do, however, want to be stronger and healthier and, frankly, stay alive. 5×5 might work for me, because it’s easy to remember.

    • Yeah, I think I’d be ok with small meals through the day, if I were able to set them out & plan them all ahead of time, and then stick to the schedule that I laid for myself. As it stands, I know that I’ll find 15-20 minutes between 11am and 1pm to eat at my desk, even if my schedule completely falls apart. But, short of bringing in little snacks to eat through meetings and being that guy who eats during meetings, I wouldn’t be able to stick to the schedule. So things would fall apart when I got hangry and I ended up with access to any food that I didn’t previously set-aside.

  2. Love your answers to “Should I Try This”.

    Cheese and red wine are both pretty damn awesome, and both will remain firmly lodged in my diet indefinitely.

    • Yeah, no way I can ever get rid of cheese & wine . . . but I’m giving some serious thought to making both, myself . . . I’m not sure it would actually be any cheaper, but, if I’m making it myself, I know what’s in it, and therefore can feel a little better about it. Maybe.

      This weekend, I’m going to drain the whey from kefir and salt the solids — I’m hearing the result tastes like a mixture of mozzarella and colby . . . we’ll see.

  3. Christian has been doing 5×5 for a while and swears by it. After years of various workouts, he’s seen the most progress with it. I just started it too to work in some strength training. And if u was on board with intermittent fasting, he would be delighted. Good lord, if I ever got you two together it would be a true bromance.

    • It’s really amazing how effective regular strength training is — and you’re right, it does seem that Christian and I would get along quite well together.

  4. That was great!!I I actually forgot about the TRX. I have one that was given to me but it has never been taken out of the box bc I wasn’t sure if I would use it. Since you said it is good for people who can’t do a full pull up on their own though it sounds like something I should take out of the box. As for intermittent fasting, it works really well for me when I do it. It is one of the only things that has ever worked extremely well for me when trying to break free from constant thoughts of food.

    • Yeah, a TRX is something that I’d use, if one ended up on my lap . . . but I’m not about to pay for one. The workouts at the gym are fun (and to help you do a pull-up, you need to do inverted bodyweight rows: lie on your back, hold onto something with both hands (e.g. a TRX) and pull yourself from the ground to whatever you’re holding on-to — avoid heading to a gym and doing the “assisted pull-ups” when you have a counterweight to keep you from lifting your whole body weight, doing so will keep you from gaining confidence in the motion), it’s just that scheduling regular classes is difficult — and, if I’m not doing something regularly, well, it seems backward.

      And you’ve managed to break free of constant thoughts of food?! I’m working from home today, meaning that I have my kitchen at my disposal . . . I have the lunch that I prepared for myself over the weekend, and I’ll hold myself to that . . . but I have thoughts of eating all of my kids’ cheese, and whatever chips I might find, and then making scrambled eggs & bacon — and the only way I’m keeping myself from going overboard like that is by telling myself that I’ll take myself to the Chinese buffet for dinner tonight, gorging at the salad bar)

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