No Pain No Gain, is this Really True?

NO pain, NO gain


If you’ve been lifting weights for any length of time, certainly you have heard this statement. It is true that you have to work hard to get results. However, this pain gain axiom can be carried to the extreme and is not true in all cases all the time.

As an example, I am going to track a typical beginning weightlifter going through the first 4 years of training. We all know that when you first start working out with weights you can, for example increase your bench press by 5 pounds a week. After the second or third month of training for some reason to increase your bench press now by 5 pounds it takes two or three weeks. After the fourth or fifth month of training no matter what you do or how you train that same increase takes 4 to 5 weeks.

Can you see the pattern here? We all would like to increase 5 pounds per week, but we can’t. Let’s track it now. On the first day of working out you can bench press 150 pounds and for the next 52 weeks  you increased by 5 pounds per week. Doing some simple math 5×52 is a 260 pound increase in the first year. Now, your best bench is  260+150 or 410 pounds. Continuing for another year you would add another 260 pounds for a best bench of 670 pounds. If you add one more year to your tenure you would bench press 740 pounds. And finally, by the end of your 4th you would be able to bench press 1000 pounds. Of course no one can do that. The question is, why? Lots of people train way more than four years in a lifetime.

The answer lies in the fact that our bodies respond to resistance training a lot at first. We are designed to respond quickly to any given physical challenge as a survival mechanism.

So how does the no pain no gain statement come into play? The answer is sort of complicated, but here goes. Let’s say you’re in your fourth month of weight training. Your bench press has not increased in three weeks. What’s the first thing you do? You train harder, right? This is because you have been told to get bigger and stronger you need to work harder. This is where this axiom becomes less valid.

Working to failure and gains in strength and size go together. Yes, that’s true, but it changes as you go through years of training. The more time you put into training in terms of months or years the less often you should work out to the level of failure. This is a very hard concept to understand. It is, however, absolutely true.

The way to continue to increase  strength and size over time is to work to failure less often relative to number of years of training. If you don’t do this you will quickly see that you’re not getting stronger and bigger because you are overtraining. This is often the key determinant of longevity. Most weight trainers get to this point, and can’t process the logic here. Therefore, their gains cease, they give up and stop training.

depressed, fat and old

There are several reasons for the fact that we have to watch our diet more as we age. First of all, as we age we tend to move less. Every movement we make burns calories, therefore if you move less you burn less calories. Secondly, as we get older our systems become more inefficient. Thirdly, we lose muscle tissue as the years go by.

Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat. So if you’ve got less muscle tissue, you’re burning less calories.

We don’t naturally eat less as we get older because the reasons we eat are still present. We still go out on the weekends and eat generally large meals. We still have birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays and we still enjoy the taste of food as much as we did when we were younger. All these societal temptations are still there too. We tend to exercise less because we don’t have time, or at least that’s what we say.

As we age into the workforce we also tend to have jobs that require less physical activity, and finally, to make matters worse, we tend to not be as active at night because either we’re married and settled down or just don’t feel like going out (You could easily burn 600 cal dancing on any given evening).

We probably also consume more calories at night because that’s the time of day that were relaxed, watching TV or just sitting around eating the types of foods that are calorie dense (sweets, chips, cookies, soft drinks, etc.).

What is Junk Food?

bucket o' junk food

Let’s first divide junk food into categories or ingredients. The categories will be; bread, sugar and fats.

Bread–Let’s starts out with wheat grains in a field somewhere. If you take a kernel of wheat and remove the fiber, germ, bran and the vitamins and minerals, what you have left is nothing but the carbohydrates or energy. This is done by the process of milling. Milling is done to improve the shelf life of bread. The bran which has oil in it, is removed because it putrefies rather quickly. White bread is called junk food because it is devoid of nutrients that were stripped during processing. But hold on a minute. White bread does have some redeeming characteristics. In the early 1940’s the U.S. government mandated the fortification of all white bread and cereals to include some of the stripped nutrients. These include B vitamins and folic acid.

Sugar–Sugar starts out generally the same way, as a naturally occurring plant. Most of our sugar comes from the cane plant or corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup or sugar beets. Processing sugar starts with pressing the cane or beets to extract the naturally sweet liquid inside, then allowing that liquid to dry into a loose crumble. The crumble is washed and dried to extract impurities and to pull out the molasses, resulting in the white crystalline structure we recognize as sugar. Molasses can be added back in to make light and dark brown sugar, or the sugar can be sold in the pure white form. The impurities from the crystallising process in both cases are a dark syrup called molasses. Processing cane or beets generally does the same thing as processing a stalk of wheat. You take away all the materials that don’t naturally remain intact for long periods of time and what you have left is a white crystalline substance we know as table sugar. This crystalline sugar is called junk food because it, like white bread is devoid of many of its naturally occurring nutrients.

Fats-Fats are different. There are certain fatty acids (contained in food fats) the body cannot make. Therefore, you must get them from food. There are many functions in the human body that require these fatty acids. The fats to watch out for,  “bad fats” are, saturated fats found in meats, butter, cream, or ice cream, and other foods with animal fat and trans fat, (a man-made fat found in some margarines or packaged baked). Good fats come from fish, nuts, seeds and other plants.  Dietary fat is categorized as saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) should be the dominant type of fat in a balanced diet, because they reduce the risk of clogged arteries. Processed foods that are high in fat contain the “bad fats”. The bad fats are used because they are more stable and have a longer shelf life. Foods that contain a large amount of these kinds of fat are generally called junk foods.

Why am I not losing weight?

I am continually amazed by the human body’s intricate and efficient design. When it comes to nutrition the body has the amazing ability to store energy.  This energy is stored as fat and is actually a good thing. Let me explain. If we lived in a primitive society, it would be to our advantage to have some storage energy. You never know when a crop might fail, or there could be a drought or some otherwise extended period of time when food would not be available. Unfortunately, in today’s culture with our diets including fast and engineered foods we seem to be storing a lot  more than we need to last one season of drought or famine.

The body also is designed to protect body fat and use it as a last resort in time. There are two lines of defense; blood sugar and stored sugar in the muscles and liver. In order to get to your stored body fat you must burn through these primary and secondary defenses. This is typically why it takes about 5 to 7 days to begin to lose body fat (low-carb diets notwithstanding-rapid water loss). Once you begin to use your body’s fat stores for energy, you can process or burn about 2 pounds of fat per week. If you try to do it any faster you will lose muscle mass.

Now to answer your question. When you burn body fat the end products of the burning are carbon dioxide and water. Sometimes the  water released will be retained in your system for up to several days. This can cause you to not lose pounds on the scale even though you have less fat. After these several days pass you will typically lose 2 to 3 pounds in one day when the water is finally released. This is the primary reason you can go as long as seven days or so without losing anything and all of a sudden you lose three pounds.

Also, remember that water is the random element that can change your body weight, moment to moment. If you drink 16 ounces of water. You just drank on 1 pound of weight and until you either breathe it out, it is eliminated through waste products or sweated off, it’s inside you.

Here’s the best method for eliminating water as a variable factor. Take your body weight in the morning right after you wake. Go to the bathroom first and be sure to weigh with no clothes on. Pick a day, like Monday, weigh seven days in a row and then divide your total weight for the week by 7. This way you get a weekly average, which will almost always surely drop week to week in a predictable and consistent fashion.

Why am I Hungry all the Time?


 Let’s start with a definition of two terms, hunger and appetite. Hunger is physiological meaning your body senses that you’re not eating enough,and tells you this by signaling your brain to cause you to eat. Appetite, on the other hand is a learned lifestyle or habit. There is a huge difference.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re sitting around the house with nothing to do so you make a decision to eat something. This is an example of appetite. You don’t need to eat, you decide to eat. Another example of appetite relates to set meal times. We generally develop the habit of eating at a certain regular times whether we really need to or not e.g. “It’s lunchtime, it’s time to eat”.  

 The trick is to learn to tell the difference between appetite and real hunger and then act on your new knowledge. In most cases when you say you like to eat all the time it’s psychological (appetite) rather than physical (hunger).

Here’s another example of appetie, not hunger. Ever wonder why desserts are always especially sweet or fatty and contain lots of calories? By the end of a typical large meal your body recognizes that you are full and turns off the hunger switch and activates the fullness feeling. Basically, there are four ways it can do this. Your stomach wall has stretch receptors that detect when it is full  or distended and these signal your brain which in turn turns tells you you’re full. The time you spend eating a meal is a factor also. Usually about 20 minutes into a meal your body signals your brain that you’re full. Your body monitors blood sugar level as well and when it reach a level of saturation, it sends a signal your brain to tell you to stop eating. Lastly your brain monitors nutrient levels and unless something is missing in your diet your brain will not direct you to consume more food.

Let’s go back to our examples. Now that your body has turned off the hunger switch, because of one of the four previous reasons tyou will eat more on;ly because you think something will taste good. We know from one of my earlier blog that small amounts of sweet fatty desserts are very dense in calories and therefore taste really good plus they contain lots of calories in small portions.

Try this sometime. Eat a full meal and then decide to eat vegetables or fruit for dessert. It’s not the same.

I have a couple of suggestions that will help you work your way through this. The Number one suggestion is to stay busy. This could be a hobby a job or something you particularly like doing. This will keep your mind off eating, plus activity will burn more calories. Staying busy also will give you a sense of accomplishment and therefore a better sense of self worth. If you have a good self-image you will also have a greater resolve to watch and limit what you eat making it easier to reach your goal.

The Number two suggestion is to start exercising. This not only burns extra calories but puts you in a mindset that strengthens your resolve to control your eating  As a side benefit exercise also creates a sense of well-being beyond anything else you can do physically.

Our bodies are equipped to tell us when were hungry and tell us when were full. When the system works we don’t add extra weight. So listen to your body. Eat slowly, and be aware of your body’s signals. You’ll find that this way you’ll be happier and healthier.

Saturday pig-out

You may have seen diets that include a “free day” once a week. What this means is that you eat cleanly for six days and then one day a week you can eat whatever you want to eat.

Actually this is a method that works quite well and there are a number of reasons for this. First of all from a physiological point of view if you eat well six days of the week and on the seventh day you pig out, it’s okay.

Secondly from a psychological point of view this also really works well. Let’s say you chosen your free day to be Saturday. On Tuesday or Wednesday you can begin to look forward to your free day which just also happens to be the weekend which you look forward to anyway.  Let’s say you chosen to eat pizza Saturday night. Again, you’ve been eating really clean all week. After the first few bites you may feel sort of sick. This is really a good thing because what happens is as a result of feeling sort of sick, you’ll end up not really eating way too much.

The reason for this is that your system has become accustomed to clean fibrous healthy choices that aren’t laden with grease, salt or other chemicals for six days straight and now you’re flooding your digestive system with unhealthy choices and your body will rebel by making you feel sort of sick.

Now it’s Sunday and you feel really bad about pigging out Saturday. This illustrates the other psychological factor. Since you feel so bad about Saturday night it’s easy to muster the resolve to start again Monday.

This  really does work and is a very powerful method for long-term success. Try it sometime. Actually, many hard-core bodybuilders use this method year-round. It tends to keep them on course and not let them get way out of shape.

This is a question that has plagued us for years and years. Here’s how this one works. The only reason that you would ever need a rest day in between workout days is because you need to recuperate and rest  enough to be ready for the next workout.

This is where the distinction comes into play. Let’s say you’re a beginner workout person. The first 30 days you are what I call walking around strong or at a  normal strength level. You can’t use enough weight or resistance to cause enough damage or fatigue to require a days rest. Let’s say you can bench press 100 pounds 10 times on day one. Doing 100 pounds 10 times at this point does not require a warm-up because your best shot at your highest weight for 10 repetitions is on your first set. This is your normal walking around strength level.

Now let’s look one year later. At this point you can bench press 300 pounds 10 times. This is an abnormal or unnatural amount of weight to do. At this level of resistance repair requires more resources and the load does more damage to cells, bones, joints and connective tissue than any normal daily physical activity would do. As a result this damage is deep enough to require a day or two or 3 to totally recover and repair. In addition you would never try to do 300 pounds for 10 repetitions without two or three warm-up sets.

The very fact that you have to do warm-up sets indicates that it is not normal for your body to be bench pressing 300 pounds.

There is another more scheduling related reason that alternate days are prescribed. It’s really for convenience. It just seems easier to work out alternate days. That way you have days in between free to follow other pursuits.

There are many exercise activities not resistance related that you can do every day. Some cardio exercise can be done every day as well as any other light conditioning exercises. The key is the resistance amount you’re working with.

As a rule of thumb if you’re training to increase strength and using weights that limit your repetitions to 10 or under and you are somewhat seasoned then probably you would need to rest between workouts a day or more. If you’re doing exercises that involve 15 or more repetitions (what I like to call conditioning) and you move quickly through your workout (1 min. or less between sets) then you probably can do these days in a row.

This is a great question. Let’s look at exercise machines in general f


irst. Any machine whether it be a treadmill (or some version of a treadmill), an ab machine, a leg machine, a total body exerciser or any kind of device that promises to get you in shape or lose body fat is designed to do two things: burn calories and produce some level or type of strengthening or toning. To a great degree every machine I’ve seen advertised can accomplish these two goals.

The problem arises when they promise you a certain amount of loss or changes in a predetermined length of time, for example they may say “just by using this machine you can lose two dress sizes in 10 days” or “lose 10 pounds the first 10 days”. I’m sure you have seen these.

It is a fact that the average person in an exercise session where they’re working at 70 to 80% of their maximum heart rate for 30 to 40 min. will burn somewhere between 300 and 500 extra cal.

From one of my earlier blogs you will remember that in order to lose 1 pound of fat you must accumulate 3500 cal under your calorie maintenance level over some period of time.

In our earlier exaggerated claims example of losing 10 pounds in 10 days, in order to accomplish this you would have to burn 35,000 extra calories in those 10 days in order to lose 10 pounds of fat. If you’re only burning, say 400 a day exercising that would be a total of only 4000 extra calories burned in 10 days. According to my calculations you would have to exercise between eight and 10 hours per day nonstop to burn enough calories to lose 10 pounds in 10 days

So what does all this mean? I’ve made it sort of a study of mine to watch these TV infomercials on a regular basis and to analyze them.. I’ve stayed up many nights way way late to see some of these because as you know they usually show up late-night.

Here’s the reality of the situation. If you listen closely almost every single one of these devices they are trying to sell you comes with some sort of eating plan. They may call it a special bonus, an extra, or just a special added value. If you order one of these machines and you look at the diet plan included it will prescribe to you a low calorie diet of some sort. The diet is what creates the weight loss not the machine.

Don’t get me wrong, the machines do burn calories and can dramatically increase your fitness level. But you don’t lose the fat solely because you use the machine, you lose the fat because you follow the prescribed low calorie diet and burn some extra calories on the machine.

As a side note you ever wonder why the first day you see these ads they’ve already got testimonials of clients that lost tremendous amounts of weight. The question arises, if this machine or program just came on the market today, how do they already have these dramatic testimonials.

Here’s how that works. Usually the developers will take a number of clients for weeks or months before the product release date and help them in such a way as to guarantee weight loss. Many times they are sequestered, their eating habits and choices are monitored every day and their lifestyle is totally controlled by the developers so as to guarantee weight loss. This is not real life. Real life is a busy lifestyle fraught with  the societal temptations we are all faced with. In the real world it’s not that easy.

get moving, get active

junping rope is fun

We hear all these stories about our metabolism: I’ve got a slow metabolism, I’ve got a fast metabolism, my metabolism is completely stopped or be sure to eat breakfast to get your metabolism started.

Hopefully I can straighten all this out for you.  Let’s start with a basic definition of what metabolism is. It is the sum total of energy required to maintain the basic processes of the human body at rest. Included here are processes like breathing, brain function and heartbeat. In short, BMR or basal metabolic rate is represented by the calories you would burn lying flat on your back, awake and not moving for 24 hours.

Now let’s assume you are an average female and your calorie maintenance level (body weight divided by 2.2 x .9 x 24) is 1800 cal a day. Your BMR is usually about 30% less than your maintenance level or about 1260 calories in this example.

 Let’s look at this from this fictitious female’s  perspective in a day to day life scenario. Tomorrow she wakes up and doesn’t move, yes just lies in her bed, awake of course for 24 hours. She will burn about 1260 cal.(BMR). Now, the next day she does exactly the same thing except she gets up one time to go to the bathroom then it”s back to bed. This particular day she would burn 1260 cal plus about 30 more to get up and go to the  bathroom for a total of 1290 cal. The next day she does the same thing except that she gets up twice to go to the bathroom, burning 60 extra calories for a total of 1350 cal for the day. That’s how works.

You start with your BMR (30% less than your maintenance level) and every movement you make layers on this BMR number.

I’ve always used UPS drivers as an example of a vocation that burns a lot of calories. The typical driver steps in and out of the truck over 100 times per day. That’s four steps up and down 100 times per day. The driver will burn an extra 800 to 1000 cal per day and it wasn’t even intentional, just part of the job and the equivalent of about two hours of hard exercise in the gym.

Now, there are many physical benefits this person would not receive burning 900 cal in this way that they would receive in a compact 1 to 2 hour well-designed exercise session but nevertheless the caloric burn is as stated.

This is why experts urge you to just get moving in some way because every movement you make, you’re burning more calories and your caloric need for the day is higher. The higher your caloric need today the harder it is to eat more than your need which is the pattern that adds body fat. It’s certainly easier and more fun to eat 2000 cal than it is to eat 1500 cal. We all know that..

Ideally your diet should consist of a mix of all three. Most nutritionists agree on about 65% carbohydrates, about 23% proteins and approximately 12% fat.

There are situations or life stages where these numbers can vary. Pregnancy, periods of metabolic growth and athletes who are weight training should obviously increase the protein percent.

Let’s look at the way all three of these macronutrients are digested and absorbed. Carbohydrates are used exclusively for energy. Fats are used mostly for energy but are also important for some other processes in the body. Protein is the really important nutrient. Not only is it used for muscle support, maintenance and growth but also for a myriad of other purposes such as hormonal structure, transport of other nutrients, hair and fingernail formation etc.

I have come up with a great way to explain this in layman form. Look at your mouth as if it were a hole in your body in which you put food , kinda like stuffing peanuts into a bag. Once any food (protein, fat or carbohydrates) gets inside your body through this hole it can only do one of three things: Become part of your body like skin, bones, muscle, cells, teeth, hair etc., be available for energy and actually used or stored, or pass out the other end. Now, to be more precise, protein is the nutrient that generally becomes some body part, fat and carbohydrates either are burned as energy or are stored for later use as body fat. There are however a couple of other structural uses for fat. It’s as simple as that.

It is true that carbohydrates are structured in such a way as to provide a quicker energy source whereas fat functions as a longer term energy source.

So the question still remains, in a weight loss program what should I cut out of my diet? This gets a little bit tougher. As we discussed in an earlier blog calorie intake is what matters. The proper way to reduce your caloric intake is to reduce your consumption of fats and carbohydrates, more specifically bad fat and processed carbohydrates. My next blog will address the issue of bad versus good fat and carbohydrates. See you then.

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