Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Characteristics of a healthy diet

The importance of a healthy diet cannot be overstated.  It directly effects both short term performance and long term health.  It is one of the components of lifestyle that is most easily modified and controlled, yet it is the area that holds most people back from achieving their goals.  So today I would like talk about the characteristics that make up a healthy diet.  There are numerous diets that one can choose from and many of them differ greatly, but there are a few common factors that every successful diet has in common. So here is a list of characteristics that make up a healthy diet:

An emphasis on fruits, vegetables, plants, and seeds

No matter which diet you choose to follow there should be a big focus on whole, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, plants, and seeds.  Most of the foods that fall in these categories are highly nutritious, full of vitamins and minerals, and relatively low calorie.  What constitutes a fruit or vegetable should be obvious, but when I say plants and seeds I am referring to things such as roots, corn, potatoes, beans, fruit/vegetable seeds, and nuts.  If you are trying to lose weight then I would moderate your intake of corn, potatoes, and nuts but feel free to indulge in all the vegetables you want.  Just remember that it is always best to eat fresh and whole produce.  This might require more frequent trips to the store(once per week) but it is worth it for the nutrients and the flavor.

Home Cooked Meals

To maintain a healthy diet, and have complete control over what you put in your body, you need to get comfortable in the kitchen.  That doesn't mean that you need to become a certified chef or take cooking classes, but you should know how to do basic things such as sauté vegetables or bake/grill meat.  The reason that cooking at home is so important is because when you eat out there are hidden ingredients and calories in your food.  Stuff you don't know about, probably can't pronounce, and definitely don't want in your body.  One thing that I do every week is go grocery shopping one day on the weekend then I put together my lunches for the week on Sunday.  It takes about 2 hours out of my Sunday but then I am set up for the rest of the week.  I have compete control over the ingredients and cooking methods, and I know exactly what I am going to be eating.  This leads me to the next  item on the list.


Plan out ahead of time what you are going to eat for the week.  Planning out your meals does a number of things.  First, is gets you consciously things about what you are going to eat.  This will lead to making smarter choices related to your food intake because it will be more of a proactive process.  Secondly, it helps you keep track of what you are eating.  Many times people cannot even recall what they ate for lunch a few days ago, but if it is part of your plan then it is a no brainer.  This is beneficial because it allows you to see what is working and what is increasing your waist line, acting sort of like a built-in food log.  Finally, is saves you from making poor decisions on the fly during the week.  If you don't have a plan then you end up eating whatever is cheapest or most convenient, neither of which is a good idea.


Variety is often overlooked when it comes to diet.  Everyone has foods that they like and tend to buy every week.  Now those foods might be healthy but if you are eating the same ones week after week then you are going to have an unbalanced diet eventually.  Not only could this lead to specific vitamin and mineral imbalances but also boredom.  Take a look at the picture above and notice all the different colors.  Shopping by color is a simple way to add variety to your diet.  If you ate a lot of greens and reds last week, then try and get some oranges, yellows, and purples this week.  It doesn't have to be difficult or complicated.  Once a month try a new vegetable that you haven't ever had before or just cook something you know you haven't had in a while.  Just don't get trapped into eating the same handful of meals every week.


This is the last piece of the puzzle.  A truly healthy diet is one that you enjoy and can maintain for the long term.  It doesn't matter how good a diet is, if you don't like it then it is not a good diet for you.  You have to find the diet that allows you to maintain your target weight or goal, provides you with the necessary nutrients for optimal health, and pleases your palate.  It is also OK to have a cheat meal now and then.  Have some beers, eat a pizza, grill some hotdogs, just keep things in moderation.  Food should be shared and enjoyed with family and friends, and can serve to enhance your performance, body, mind, and health.  So don't think you have to just eat steamed broccoli, baked fish, and brown rice all the time...just sometimes.

 Stay Fit,

   Amerson Fitness

Monday, December 16, 2013

Evolution of the "ideal" physique

How a person looks , like it or not, plays a big role in our society.  It is typically the first thing that people notice about someone and it immediately,whether subconsciously or not, evokes certain feeling, attitudes, or notions.  The "ideal" physique is a collection of physical characteristics that usually represents health, vitality, youth, virility/fertility, and physical attractiveness.  In today's blog I would like to share how this "ideal" image has evolved and changed over the years.  I do not even begin to explain why it has changed but instead simply offer the evidence and let you form your own opinion.  So lets start with the classic Greek and Roman idea of the ideal physique.

Although these sculptures were created hundreds of years apart they both represent the classic idea of beauty and physical attractiveness.  The woman is Venus de Milo and the man is the famous statue of David.  Key features of Venus include wide hips and soft feminine contours.  These features relate to child bearing and include a healthy amount of adipose tissue as a very skinny frame would not be as conducive to pregnancy.  Now take a look at David.  He is lean with broad shoulders, has a muscular torso, and is not overly muscle-bound.  He represents strength and physical attractiveness in the male form.  

Now, let's fast forward a couple hundred years to the 1950 & 1960's.  I jump to this era because I feel that prior to this time people were just too preoccupied with war, famine, and poverty to really be worried about what they looked like.  The emphasis was on survival and necessity, and not cosmetic appeal.  But in the 50's and 60's things started to turn around and physical attractiveness became a big part of society(side note: I am not a history or sociology major so don't quote me on the timeline.  Besides, this is my story and I'm tellin' it.)  Two important people in this generation that displayed the "ideal" physique were Marilyn Monroe and Steve Reeves.

Marilyn was an iconic sex symbol of her time.  She was the image of what society viewed as feminine beauty and what men desired in a woman.  Notice how she doesn't look to far off from Venus de Milo.  She still has wide hips, a healthy amount of "meat" on her bones, and soft qualities.  The biggest difference I would argue is the face and hair.  Now take a look at Steve Reeves, a famous bodybuilder and actor of that time.  He played the famous Hercules and was the ultimate symbol of strength and masculinity.  Notice how his proportions are similar to David's, just bigger.  He has broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and strong looking arms and legs. He is still not overly muscle-bound though.  Interesting fact, both Marilyn and Steve were born in 1926.

Lets go forward just 20 or 30 years and see how things really take a turn.  Now we are in the 1980's.  I feel like this was the age of commercialism and a time when society made a significant change in the way that it viewed the "ideal" body.  Here are some very representative figures from this era.

Christie Brinkley was a famous model in the 70's and 80's and was actually featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue three years in a row.  They wouldn't choose her unless they felt like she embodied the ideal characteristics of the female physique.  Notice the pretty drastic change in proportions though.  She is much thinner than previous women in most places except the breasts and hips.  She has very little body fat but still maintains some feminine curves.  I feel like this was the beginning of the age of "skinny is the new pretty".  The two guys need no introduction.  They are some of the biggest actions stars of the 80's and 90's, Sly and Arnold.  Notice how they both sport huge, rippling muscles and have bulging veins.  One thing I notice is the drastic change in chest muscles.  Classically the male physique focused on broad shoulders with a narrow waist, but around this time the chest seem to come out of hiding.  Guys wanted pecs that turn girls necks!  Also there was a lot more emphasis on muscle size with most guys thinking that bigger is better.  This was also the time that steroids started to become popular and the focus was no longer health and vitality, but bigger, stronger, and badder.

Now we arrive at today's "ideal" body.  With the popularization of the internet, smart phones, and social apps we see pictures of people everywhere.  One could argue that we are setting up most people to fail in comparison to today's standards.  Take a look.

Gisele Bundchen is the highest paid super model in the world.  Advertisers use her image because it is what society deems beautiful and ideal.  She is what young girls aspire to look like and what men aspire to have in a mate.  I am not saying that it is right I am just stating that it is the current state of affairs.  Notice how thin she is.  She has almost no body fat, wrinkles, or visible flaws.  Her legs seem to flow seamlessly into her hips and up her torso.  She also looks like a strong breeze might tip her over.  The guy is Greg Plitt and he is one of the most photographed male fitness models in the world.  Notice how his proportions are almost cartoonic.  He has massive, rounded shoulders, a chest bigger than Gisele's, and an eight-pack that has it's own six-pack.  Not only do men today have to be larger than life but they have to be ripped and glistening as well.  Granted, I am sure photoshop had a lot to do with both of these photos but that still doesn't negate the fact these images are portraying what is considered ideal- a practically unattainable (at least for long term heath) physique.

So with this current trend what can we expect in the future?  It seems that the ideal man is getting bigger and more ripped, while the ideal woman is getting smaller with the exception of some body parts.  Can we expect this to be the "ideal" looking couple in the future?

I would like to state that I am not shedding a negative light on any of the people in these photographs.  They all worked really hard(or paid a lot of money) to look the way that they do and they have the right to make their own choices regarding their body.  I am simply identifying a trend that I have noticed and brought it to attention.  Hope that it helps you think and gain perspective.  Until next time.

  Stay Fit,

     Amerson Fitness

Friday, December 13, 2013

Exercises I DON'T recommend

The human body is a versatile machine capable of a multitude of movements and actions.  The bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments all work in unison to create fluid and precise actions that can move through vast ranges of motion.  But along with its mobility comes inherent instability.  Most joints in the body tend to have their "achilles heal" position where they are most unstable and prone to injury.  It is typically exercises that emphasize these positions that are not a good idea.  So today I would like to cover a few common/popular exercises that I DO NOT recommend.  I would like to preface this list, though, by stating that the following exercises will not be troublesome or risky for every person.  Some people can do every exercise the wrong way, with the worst form, and still make injury-free progress.  But for the average person the risk that accompanies these exercises is not really worth the benefit.  So here goes.

Bench Dips

This is an exercise that is typically performed to isolate the triceps, or the back of the upper arm.  And while is does focus on that muscle it puts the shoulder joint into a very compromising position.  The shoulder is most unstable in the front and when you bring your arm behind you, as in this exercise, you emphasize that position of instability.  Then when you load that position with your body weight it just makes things worse.  You stretch out structures that provide stability and encourage forward movement of the "head" of the arm which could result in future dislocation.  Take home point:  There are many safer ways to isolate your triceps while sparing your shoulders.  My personal favorite is the triceps pushdown with a rope.  You can keep your shoulders in neutral alignment, allow proper rotation of the forearms, and really isolate the triceps.  

Full range of motion Sit Ups

One of my general rules of thumb is to always perform an exercise through a full, pain free, range of motion.  Sit ups, however, do not apply to this rule.  Sit ups typically are used to isolate the primary muscle that flexes the spine/torso forward.  And while sit ups do activate that muscle they also put extra stress on the spine.  Without getting into the details, repeated flexion of the spine against resistance (ie. sit ups) puts stress on the intervertebral discs in the spine and can lead to pain or injury.  As we age the spinal discs lose their ability to cushion and protect the spine and performing repetitive flexion movements just exacerbates the issue.  Besides, the primary function of the the abdominals is to stabilize the spine, and resist movement, while in an upright position.  Two of my favorite "core" exercise are the plank and suitcase carry.  Both are completely functional and activate all the core muscles in a safe manner.

Kipping Pull ups*

This is an exercise that has been popularized lately.  It involves using a coordinated swing of the body to initiate momentum and achieve a pull up.  Now I put an asterisks by this exercise because it is not necessarily bad for all people.  If someone has sufficient strength to control their bodyweight and can safely perform the lowering portion of the movement then the chance of injury is significantly lowered.  But most people that learn the kipping pull up do not fall in that category.  They perform the exercise because they don't have the strength to perform a "real/strict" pull up so they need that momentum to execute the movement.  If they don't have the strength to pull up then they most likely do not have the strength to lower them selves down in a safe manner.  This puts tremendous stress on the shoulder joint and invites  numerous injuries.  If you want to get good at pull ups then I suggest inverted rows to build a good base of strength and then move to machine/band assisted pull ups.

Upright Row

Now this exercise has been a staple in bodybuilding for years but just because lots of people do it doesn't mean its good.  Yes, it intensely works the shoulders and upper back but it does so at the expense of the shoulder joint itself.  A very common shoulder injury that occurs is called "impingement".  And one of the ways to test for impingement is by mimicking the same motion of an upright row(abduction and internal rotation).  This narrows the space that the shoulder components have to move and can cause inflammation and pain when those structures get "pinched".  Now many people have done this exercise for years and never had a problem but why risk it when you have many other alternatives to train the shoulders.  Two of my favorite shoulder exercises are dumbbell shoulder presses with a neutral grip and cable face pulls.

And that completes today's list.  There are many other exercises out there that I would certainly not recommend but these are some of the big ones.  The thing to remember is that every person's body and injury history is different and that is going to effect what exercises a person can and cannot do.  I very good rule to use is, "If it hurts, don't do it".  If you have had a nagging injury or pain for a while then look at your routine and see if you have been performing any of the listed exercises.  If so, try omitting them and see what happens.  That is all for today.

 Stay Fit,

 Amerson Fitness