Wedding Weight Loss Tips

How I've Prevented More Lower Back Pain in the Last 12 Years (After 2 Bulging Disks)

Ill never forget the time it took me 30 minutes to stand from a seated position. The spasms debilitated my body over and over as it sent me back to the floor each time in excruciating pain. After 4 nights in the hospital for 2 bulging disks (L4/L5, L5/S1), I quickly changed my approach to fitness and my overall health. The following tips have nearly eliminated my back pain since, and they will help you too (with the help of Kelly Starrett's book Becoming a Supple Leopard)!

The Neutral Spinal Position

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Poor spinal mechanics can lead to a host of biomechanical compromises and increase the potential for injury. Organizing your spine in a braced neutral position means that your ears are aligned over your shoulders, your ribcage is balanced over your pelvis, and you're engaging the musculature of your trunk to stabilize (brace your position). (Starrett)

Keep the natural curves of the lower back and neck! When you maintain this position, the pressure on your disks (the green) is minimized. On the other hand, the flexion spinal fault (rounding your shoulders forward) and overextension spinal fault (tilting your hips forward and downward) seen in Image 2 will increase the pressure on the disks. Translation: Rounding or arching your back can produce a destructive effect on your disks...possibly leading to a bulge or herniation (among other physical problems and imbalances).

Any time a fitness professional asks you to "flatten your back" always adjust your alignment to reflect the neutral position instead. If you literally flatten your back, you are not only using force on your spine to achieve this instructed effect but you are also adding pressure to your disks and compromising the principles of the Neutral Spinal Position. Every time you bend your spine out of this line you risk injuring yourself (even if you're just sitting or standing in a stationary position).

 Image 1: Neutral Spinal Position

Image 1: Neutral Spinal Position

 Image 2: Flexion and Overextension Spinal Faults

Image 2: Flexion and Overextension Spinal Faults

Perfect your Posture: How to Organize Your Spine

Personal Trainer Wisdom: The bracing sequence is the blueprint for organizing your spine in a braced neutral position. You should run through the bracing sequence every time you set up to perform a movement, get ready to sit down, or need to reset your posture (until it becomes automatic/autopilot). Here's the step-by-step setup in a nutshell:

1. Stand with your feet straight and your posture upright. Squeeze your butt and externally rotate from your hips to set your pelvis in a neutral position. 

2. Align your ribcage over your pelvis.

3. Engage your abdomen to lock in the position.

4. Pull your shoulders back into a stable position and align your ears over your shoulders, hips, and ankles. (Starrett)

 Image 3 The Bracing Sequence Step by Step

Image 3 The Bracing Sequence Step by Step

 Image 4 The Bracing Sequence Step by Step Step 3 to Finish

Image 4 The Bracing Sequence Step by Step Step 3 to Finish

Braced Neutral Sitting and Texting Positions

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Sitting and standing are skills that take practice. Use the bracing sequence to set your posture and maintain a neutral position while sitting and standing (even if you are leaning forward or back). Refer to Image 5 for an example.  (Starrett)

 Image 5: Braced Neutral Sitting and Texting Positions

Image 5: Braced Neutral Sitting and Texting Positions

Pelvic Rotation While Sitting

Personal Trainer Wisdom:  I know...all this talk about a neutral spine position makes you want to curl up into a ball. I will assure you that most of your injuries and discomfort are, in one way or another, a result of how you have been compromising your spine. You may want to think twice about curling up. In fact, you may want to think twice about sitting. Not only does this position keep your hips flexed (causing an imbalance), you are likely to lose your neutral spine over the course of your stressful day. Take a look at Image 6. Every time you fall out of the neutral spine position by rounding or arching your back, you are compromising your spine (specifically the disks). Although it doesn't seem like enough force or pressure on the spine, the compression will certainly add up over time. Just ask the 1 in 3 people around you who experience chronic back pain.

 Image 6: Pelvic Rotation While Sitting

Image 6: Pelvic Rotation While Sitting

Standing Up Out of the Bottom (Seated) Position

Personal Trainer Wisdom: While Image 4 demonstrates the proper way to squat or sit with a neutral spine, Image 5 shows you how to stand up out of the bottom (or seated) position. Please keep in mind that Starrett is referring to a neutral spine whenever he mentions a flat back.

1. Sitting is just a squat with a long pause in the bottom position. Even if you remain seated for an extended period, your back stays neutral, shins vertical, and knees out. 

2. When you stand up, reclaim tension by loading your hips and hamstrings by hinging forward at the hips. 

3. Keeping your back in a neutral position, shove your knees out and stand up, just as you would when performing a squat.

 Image 7: Standing Up Out of the Bottom Seated Position

Image 7: Standing Up Out of the Bottom Seated Position

My Specific List of Lower Back Rules

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Here is my specific list of lower back rules:

-          Sleep on my back in a neutral postion. Sleeping on your stomach will put you in extension (arching your back) and sleeping on your sides (rounding your back and internally rotating your precious shoulders) will put you in flexion. No bien for sustained periods of time.

-          Only sit in chairs or stools where my knees fall just below my hips. Most booths and chairs compromise my neutral spine by forcing a posterior pelvic rotation (rounding my back).

-          Use a self-inflating back pillow for the natural curve of my lower back on flights. I adjust the inflation based on whatever is a natural fit for my lumbar curve and allows me to sit comfortably in a neutral spine position.

-          Carry my work gear and computer in a backpack (using both straps over my shoulders). Slinging any bag on a single side will create an imbalance. That includes a purse of any weight and size, my female friends.

-          Don’t run. I train many marathon runners and certainly encourage you to continue if you don’t feel discomfort. If you do, though, accept that running (or jumping) can be quite a bit of compression on your spine. Remove the unnecessary stress and walk on the beloved Stairmaster instead (less impact on the joints).

Photo Credit:
sqactive .com–No matter the cause of your back pain, all of us should take the same preventive approach.


4 Quotes That Steer My Approach to Life Right Now

Although I haven’t attended school in years, Labor Day Weekend still prompts me into a different mindset. The fall is usually the time I review systems, habits, needs, and wants, and these are the inspirational quotes that are steering my approach this year!

”Be the change you want to see in the world.” - Gandhi

Personal Trainer Wisdom: This quote is always at the top of my list. If you want something different in the world, you certainly should be the example of it first. With the current streams of consciousness, it seems like society needs to be more selfless. It needs to think beyond its selfish needs and become more empathic and sympathetic. And so do I. I too succumb to my basic needs of survival and often think of myself first.

Now, though, I ask myself: How will my action affect others? Is it for a greater good? Who will suffer from this decision? How can others benefit from this decision?

From this introspection, I recently have taken more strategic action like starting a neighborhood watch group with my wife, Sammy, to build a community and curb criminal activity. Meanwhile, I continue to guide my personal training clients in their transformation process. All little efforts close to home that, hopefully, spark a fire for greater change.

”Ignore the unfairness – there is no fair. Play the hand that you’re dealt to the best of your ability. People are highly consistent, so you will eventually get what you deserve and so will they. In the end, everyone gets the same judgment: death.” – Naval Ravikant

Personal Trainer Wisdom: I typically don’t look at challenging situations as unfair. Instead, I see them as games with most of the pieces out of my control (and I accept this). While I’m not the gamemaster, I certainly hold a pawn that can produce results, too. There will be times when I will have the advantage and then times when others will. Either way, I put my best foot forward and hope that it’s returned to me over time. And so this is life, and everyone has the same judgment at the end (at least in the physical sense).

”We accept the voice that talks to us in our head all the time as the source of all truth. But all of it is malleable, every day is new, and memory and identity are burdens from the past that prevent us from living freely in the present.” – Naval Ravikant

Personal Trainer Wisdom: I like the thought of the voice in our head as malleable. It insinuates that I have some level of control over who I am and what I choose to do. While my memory and identity are certainly the foundation of who I am, I fully recognize how they can be burdens from my past that affect my present awareness (e.g., fears, insecurities, etc.). I think we should recognize how the chains of our past (whether good or bad) ultimately filter the world in front of us and assess their value in the moment. It might help us make more fruitful decisions that will lead to a more satisfying life.

”Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” - Naval Ravikant

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Desire is a sexy and dangerous word. While it infers a lustful, passionate stream of feeling towards something, it does teeter on obsession and wishful thinking without a strategic effort to achieve a purpose or want. A person might end up fixated and unmoving instead of productively pursuing this goal. Since he or she is leaving this attainment to chance, he or she may consistently feel dissatisfaction, frustration, and/or deprivation instead. Why lust over that “something” when it simply leaves you in an emotional cloud unattached to a specific path? There are trips, products, and experiences that I want but I quickly jump to the question “What do I need to do to obtain or achieve it?” instead of sitting in place wishing passionately for such things.


19 Hacks to Solve the Biggest Problems in Your Life

Helping my personal training clients with weight loss is the easy part! How do you get out of a submerged car? Where is the best sound in a movie theater? How do you stop a runny nose….with your finger? How do you instantly stop someone from towing your truck? These are the real questions in life….and Keith Bradford’s book “Life Hacks” gives the answers to these life problems and more! Test them and see for yourself!

1. Use leftover coffee from the morning to make coffee ice cubes (which will cool down your coffee without diluting it).

2. When making hard-boiled eggs, throw one teaspoon of baking soda into the water. The shell will come off without a problem once the egg is cooked.

3. Any citrus fruit like an orange, clementine, or grapefruit becomes easier to peel when you gently press and roll it on the table before peeling.

4. Take pictures of friends holding items you’ve lent them with your phone, so you remember down the road who borrowed what.

5. If your car is about to get towed, get in it. Tow trucks are forced to stop to avoid kidnapping charges.

6. If you’re with Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint, you can now text the police (911) in case of emergency.

7. If you ever get trapped underwater in your car, use your car seat’s headrest to break the window.

8. If you ever get kidnapped, and they tie your hands together and put tape over your mouth, lick the tape. It will eventually fall off, and you’ll be able to yell for help.

9. When you call 911, the first thing you should always say is your location. They immediately send police when they have an address.

10. When you get a call from a telemarketer, don’t say anything and press “9” on your phone. This will automatically add your number to their “don’t call” list.

11. For the best sound in a movie theater, sit two-thirds of the way back and as close to the middle as possible. This is where audio engineers sit when they mix sound for movies.

12. When you feel like you’re about to yawn, touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue to prevent it.

13. Clogged drain? Unclog it with 1 cup of baking soda mixed with 1 cup of white vinegar.

14. The most effective cough syrup that exists is honey.

15. Believe it or not, rubbing a walnut on damaged wooden furniture can cover up a lot of dings and scratches.

16. Place a rubber band over any stripped screw to easily unscrew it.

17. Nothing kills weeds and keeps them dead for longer than white vinegar straight from the bottle.

18. Placing an envelope in the fridge for an hour will unseal it. Good tip to know if you forget to include something in a package.

19. Runny or stuffy nose? Push your tongue against the top of your mouth and push a finger between your eyebrows. Hold it for about twenty seconds. Your nose should clear.

Photo Credit:
Splendidtable .org - Can honey stop your cough?


My Clients (and Friends) Share the Lifestyle Changes that Positively Affected Their Life the Most Over the Last Year

Recently I asked my personal training clients and friends "Which lifestyle changes in the last year positively affected your life the most?" and here are their answers (they may give you an idea for a change you can make today)!!!

* Diet! I have made this change recently, but I can already read my body so much better based on what I eat. - R.K.

* Adopting a more plant-based diet as well as (trying to) reducing alcohol consumption! The second one is more of a work in - A.S.

* Two things coming to mind: Weight training twice a week and cutting out any sweetener/flavor syrups from coffee drinks! - J.K.

* I have definitely become more veggie-centric in my life, as opposed to my former cheese-centric existence. That, tracking my meals without becoming obsessed about every little thing I'm doing, and generally looking at my overall health and fitness goals in the macro, not the micro have affected me most positively. I know I have a long way to go and have had some setbacks, but I also know I am on the right path and that has made all the difference! - C.M.

* Beyond Sausages. - W.W.

* Starting each morning with light workout. Stopped purchasing and eating breads and pasta during the week. - D.P.

* Removing negative people. - S.R.

* Seriously, hitting the gym, even if only 30 minutes a day. I don't look drastically different, but feel much better! - B.L.

* Cut out (simple) carbs, down 30lbs. - A.H.

* Starting out each day fresh and putting yesterday behind you! - A.R.

* Sleep. - A.Z.

* Doing more things for myself. - K.H.

* I’ll give you two. I started calling my mom nearly daily after my dad passed. Also, it sounds bad for someone my age, but I cut time spent playing video games, which led to less time on devices, which led to being more engaged with my family. - G.S.

* Eliminating caffeine, gluten, dairy & soy for almost 6 months now. Total Game Changer! - S.M.

* It’s very simple. I decided to be more active. Get up and move. Stand. Walk. Go outside. Stretch. Practice breathing. Continue to be more active than the previous day. I use steps on Fitbit as one form of measurement. - R.L.

* Going to church every week. - J.L.

* Picking what is worth fighting for and what will not matter 5 minutes from now. - J.O.

* Moving home from San Francisco. I now have time to exercise again!! - L.V.

* Moving to VA. That and eliminating dairy. - M.C.

* Working it, everything, from the TOP DOWN. Going after the big things relentlessly, instead of wasting effort on building small step by steps. - R.J.

* Listening to others rather than just hearing...and being more patient (it's automatically increased if you have a toddler at home :-) ). - C.C.

* Letting go of unhealthy/ toxic people in my life. Learning to lower my expectations in a lot of situations so I will not be disappointed as often. - M.D.

* Reading God’s word and praying daily. Brings light into darkness and peace over despair. - B.H.

* The lifestyle change that affected me the most was the consistency of doing workouts and other activities like sleeping at the same time. This helped me in being able to work out efficiently as well as feeling more rested in my life. Overall feel like the most healthy person I can be! - B.C.

* Getting help from others. Eating better (not as much sugar and salt). - S.S.

Photo Credit:
The Independent. Co. com–What are you running towards in 2018?


A List of my Personal Training Clients’ Worst Habits from the Last 13 Years (and Why it Affected their Weight Loss and Fitness Efforts)

After nearly 17,500 hours of one-on-one personal training sessions, here is a list of my client’s worst habits that have quietly affected their weight loss and fitness goals. Are you a prisoner of these habits too?

They eat the same amount as their spouses

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Your weight loss or fitness success will always depend on how well you understand your body, determine your needs, and set appropriate boundaries. It’s safe to assume that your partner in crime will have a very different combination (and need) from you. It’s as simple as this: You determine how much fuel you need….no one else. If you eat exactly the same amount as your partner, chances are that you may be eating too much or little.

They eat snacks

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Please keep in mind that “snacks” are really filler foods or indulgences that rarely meet your entire nutritional need at a given time (such a tease!). You’re probably seeking food because you’re hungry, and a small meal is most ideal (even if it’s only 100-300 calories). Since you now eat with intent, you want to choose a nutrient balance of vitamins, fiber, protein, fat, and more.

They depend on exercise for weight loss

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Never forget that usually, the one thing you're avoiding to do is probably the one you need to do the most. You can exercise 2 hours per day 7 days per week, but it will still be avoiding the dietary change you probably need to make. Eventually, you should figure out what you can get away with (drinking beer, restaurant dinners, etc.). Right now, though, you should figure out how you should really eat. And if you read Dr. Fuhrman’s book End of Dieting and begin disqualifying the claims, you should consider where those opinions stem from. Are they threatening your current habits? Would you rather believe a theory closer to your wants?

They eat too many simple carbs (and the good carbs at times too)

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Is more than 25% of each of your meals fruit, whole grains, and simple carbs? Ever wonder why vegans and vegetarians struggle with weight loss? It's most likely a result of their fruit sugar, whole grain, and simple carb (delicious Girl Scout cookies, ALL breads, rice, crackers, chips, candy, ice cream, and everything else devilish that you crave) consumption. Anything above 15 grams of fruit sugar per meal will spike your blood sugar levels...not ideal for losing weight and maintaining stable insulin levels (refined sugars have a worse, quicker acting effect). Simple carbs, as well as whole grains, can do the same. Disclaimer: The fiber in the whole grains will offset this effect in smaller amounts. What is the refined and fruit sugar breakdown of your favorite meals? Are there more nutrient dense alternatives than your typical fruit sugar, grain, and simple carb choices that will provide the fiber you need?

They drink more alcohol than their body can handle

Personal Trainer Wisdom: How many calories do you think you consume in a single week from alcohol? If you live in the Midwest, eating and drinking is most likely part of your culture (not your fault :) ). Since alcohol is basically a liquid grain packed with a lot of sugar (of course, there are exceptions), it will also spike your blood sugar levels. If drinking alcohol is part of your diet, what are you willing to exchange in return? In other words…when you order alcohol, what other simple carbs or sugars are you exchanging (i.e., 1 beer instead of 2 scoops of rice)? What low calorie, low sugar alcohol options are you willing to consider to achieve your weight loss goals?

They don’t develop an eating routine

Personal Trainer Wisdom: I’m sure you can imagine that a life on the edge of a cliff could be destined for trouble with a big enough wind. That’s exactly what’s happening when you don’t develop a healthy eating routine as a foundation. While most of us would like to think we shouldn’t have to think about food constantly, I have bad news: We’re human…and this is what we need to survive. Lucky for you, a solid, consistent routine with the right system in place will help you operate on autopilot (which means that you don’t have to consciously obsess over food). If you choose to do otherwise, any big event or binge will certainly send you into the weight gain abyss.

They believe that injury prevention begins inside the gym

Personal Trainer Wisdom: No matter what any personal trainer tells you, the greatest indicator of your success isn't what you do inside the gym-it's what you repeat daily. Your body is an amazing adaptive system that loves to learn quickly. Although you don't realize it, you've been training your body to handle a vast variety of movements and postures in auto-pilot over a lifetime (after all, your body doesn't have 10 minutes to fully assess your movement as you sit in a chair every time). How wonderful! Now you can think about the million other things you need to do instead!

While this ability is a great strength, it most likely has led to the weakness, discomfort, pain, or injury that you have experienced. Your body wants to work efficiently, and it also can be easily convinced. If you always drive your knee forward while lunging to pick an object off the ground, your body will most likely (automatically) guide you the same way the next time you do it without thinking (even though the movement overuses your quads and imposes additional force and stress onto your knees). Call it the "Fight or Flight System." It wants to learn quickly so that it can react quickly (when demand is placed on it).

"Fair enough, Michael...I appreciate your lecture. Can we just workout now?" Well, maybe. I could simply throw you into a circus act of a fitness program (a crazy Cross Fit, ballet, Cirque de Soliel, bodybuilding, marathon extravaganza), but do you really know your body well enough, though, to confidently say that it can handle this demand on the body? Have you ever studied the way you move? Have you identified all of your imbalances and weaknesses? Most likely, your answer is no. If you are like my 20-year-old self, you probably haven't stopped and listened to your body. Instead, you jumped into the hottest new program that Joey the Trainer (not real) is selling and ended up hurt 1-3 months later.

Nothing against Joey, but you don't need a personal trainer to achieve a lifetime of injury and imbalance. You can simply choose a new workout on Men's Health, Youtube, or anywhere and blindly attempt it. If you truly want to minimize ALL pain and tightness and achieve peak fitness, now is the time to NOT take a haphazard approach. It is the time to rewire your system. Understand you so that you can efficiently and effectively adapt ANY program to fit your needs. Look at the way you sit, stand, run, walk, sleep, etc. Become a human scientist and identify your tendency to move out of a neutral position. Your observations might shed the true narrative on your physical self and what you need to change.

Photo Credit:
Matt Armendariz (2015) and Whats Gaby Cooking .com–Are granola bars really healthy?