One of the biggest reasons behind the “obesity pandemic” in the US is the lack of a traditional food culture.
See, America is the forerunner of new foods and styles of eating that we don’t have traditional rules for. Big sodas aren’t an old-school food, and being handed a meal via your car window isn’t a way of eating that can be guided by passed-on wisdom. It’s all so new that our bodies and minds are thrown into a tizzy and we don’t have any traditions to guide us through.
The lack of a food culture first came to my awareness a few years ago when I read Michael Pollan’s excellent book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Pollan’s premise is that culture has a lot to teach us about how to choose, prepare and eat food.
Instead of deferring to science and industry for recommendations – where you can never be sure of the accuracy of the information or the motivation behind it – learning traditional ethnic eating habits can guide you with wisdom gathered over generations that has been proven time and again.
It’s only since losing these traditions that our health has spiraled downward and our weight has rocketed upward.
The French Paradox
The French Paradox is the observation that traditional French cuisine is deliciously rich, yet the French have lower risks for heart disease, diabetes, strokes…. and they’re much thinner, too.
And we can’t claim it’s somehow genetic, French people in larger cities that eat more like Americans have the same weight and disease problems Americans have.
So, there’s something valuable we can learn from traditional French food culture.
Below are some great resources that compile the cultural rules of French eating. They are a must-add to your healthy eating library.
I held off on reading this book for a long time. I figured it was just another gimmicky fad diet with some magic secret like “drink a glass of red wine before dinner each night.” Bleh.
Instead, it turned out to be a marvelous collection of the French food rules. Literally a handbook of French food culture. What a find!
There is a strategic weight loss strategy in this book that a few of my clients have tried. Nothing gimmicky about it. You just kick off your journey into traditional eating with a weekend (or even just a day) where you eat nothing but leek soup.
This is actually a great strategy for many people, the soup is very filling for being so low-calorie, and it will help rid you of water weight in the first few days so you’ll be starting your new food journey off with a great big win. Plus, it serves as a “Reset” button on your current eating plan (or lack of a plan) so it breaks bad habits quickly and effortlessly, instead of small changes that take forever to make a difference.
The book continues to give French guidelines for meals and snacks and cooking and drinking and exercise and social events and and and pretty much everything else. For a hardcore nutritional science guy like me to be so blown away by a “popular” book is quite rare, and I constantly recommend it to all of my health and fitness colleagues.
The Dukan Diet is a phenomenal plan by Dr. Pierre Dukan. It’s sensible, simple, and most of all… it works!
One of the best features of the Dukan Diet is that it focuses on what to do after you’ve lost the weight. So many diet plans are effective in the short term, then totally drop the ball on the follow-through – which leads to rapid rebound weight gain.
Not so with Dr. Dukan’s plan. There are four distinct stages: Attack, Cruise, Consolidation, and Stabilization.
In the Attack phase, it’s a high protein, low fat, and low carb blast that lasts for a few days and can create a shocking amount of weight loss. I’ve detailed it here: Scale Shocker Program
(Important Aside: The main criticism of this phase seems to be that a lot of the weight lost is only “water weight.” That’s great! If your body is holding on to excess water it leads to higher blood pressure, swollen joints (ankle edema afflict anyone here?), disturbed metabolic function, and bloating. When something in your body is going wrong, it holds on to as much water as it can. Make thing go right for a change, and your body will gladly release the burden of all the extra water weight.)
The Cruise phase consists of alternating protein days with protein plus vegetable days. You just go back and forth between the two until your reach your goal weight. Dr. Dukan makes some great points about what a sensible goal weight should be and let’s you know that the weight loss will not be instant, figure on at least three days for each pound you want to lose: 20 pounds to go? Figure on 60 days for the Cruise phase.
The protein plus vegetable days are a perfect time to eat some of the delicious leek soup detailed in French Women Don’t Get Fat
Consolidation is the phase that makes the Dukan Diet really stand out. Your body has a tendency to rapidly regain weight but this phase allows your metabolic functions to normalize at the new weight. It also keeps you at your new weight while your mind adjusts to the new you – this is as important as the metabolic restructuring if you want to keep the weight off.
Plus, the Consolidation phase has a definite timeline: 5 days for every pound lost. If you’re now 20 pounds lighter, stick in Consolidation for 100 days.
During this phase, you slowly reintroduce previously “forbidden foods.” This slow reintroduction allows you to gauge how you feel with each addition, and to see how your body responds. As an example, a client decided to re-try almond butter for the first time in months, and she literally put on 4 pounds from just two servings in one day. The calorie math doesn’t add up, it was her body bloating up very quickly from the stress of a food she reacted badly to.
You also get two “celebration” meals each week. Not to go hog wild, but to celebrate everything you’ve achieved. The final piece of the Consolidation phase is that you have one pure protein day each week.
Finally, the Stabilization phase. You’ve re-trained your body and mind on what’s good for you and what isn’t, plus you know what a satisfying portion will be. You can eat most foods following YOUR personal guidelines, and you take one pure protein day each week.
In short, the structure of the Dukan Diet makes it very effective and simple. It can be adapted to paleo incredibly well too. (If that’s your thing)
And guess what? Despite being very tall and cooking (and EATING!) rich French foods all day, every day; Julia didn’t put on any weight! She cooked delicious foods from fresh ingredients and practiced self control. That’s the kind of plan outlined in French Women Don’t Get Fat, remember?
Reading Julia’s biography has stirred me to experiment and enjoy myself more in the kitchen, I hope it will do the same for you.
I find that if I just taste everything and eat small portions I maintain my weight. – Julia Child
This is the story of Julie Powell, who spent a year cooking all 524 recipes in Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. This one definitely isn’t a diet or health book, it’s just a fast fun read of kitchen adventures.
Books, magazines, and weight loss courses have all been spreading a bit of misinformation about eating fats and your body’s insulin response.
After vilifying insulin response to foods, “experts” are recommending adding healthy fats to carbohydrates to reduce insulin in your blood after meals. Here are just 3 examples I’ve seen today:
Adding peanut butter to your whole grain english muffin
Adding butter to your baked potato
Adding sesame oil to your steamed rice
The idea is that the fats will slow/level out the rise in blood sugar in prevent a big insulin release after eating.
Fat doesn’t cause an immediate insulin response, it’s true. But when added to a protein or carbohydrate, fat either has no effect on insulin response or else it slightly increases insulin response.
Sorry, but it doesn’t slow insulin down.
But there’s good news! When fat REPLACES an equal caloric amount of carbohydrates, the insulin response is reduced.
To really make it clear, let’s use one of the examples above. If you add butter to your baked potato, your insulin response will be the same or a little greater than if you ate the baked potato alone. But if you eat half a potato with butter (even if you replace, calorie for calorie the butter for half a potato) your insulin response will be much lower than if you ate the whole potato plain.
So the key to using fats to lower insulin response isn’t in adding them to the meal, as if they were an anchor being dragged to slow your food. The key is to exchange carbohydrates for fat to produce lower insulin levels.
Most of the confusion comes from people’s failure to recognize the difference between adding fat versus substituting fat.
See, adding fat to a meal does (in fact) slow down the rise in blood sugar that follows eating carbohydrates. Since your insulin response is usually – in healthy people – aligned with the rise in blood sugar, it makes total sense to assume that adding fat to a meal would reduce the insulin response to that meal.
It makes sense, but that isn’t what actually happens!
As I said before, it turns out that insulin is either not affected or it rises with the addition of fat to carbohydrates.
(This is probably related to gastric inhibitory polypeptide, which is a hormone secreted from the pancreas in response to eating fat and which can heighten insulin reaction)
What about the insulin effects of protein? Everything so far has focused on carbohydrates. Well, first off, protein doesn’t raise insulin levels as much as carbohydrate… not by a long shot.
But it does affect insulin levels a little (about 30% as much as carbohydrate). There are three main factors that determine your insulin response to protein:
1. Fat Content. The more fat versus protein, the lower your insulin response.
2. Amino Acid Profile. Sources that are higher in lysine (example: beef) bring on more insulin than other protein sources
3. Processing. The more processed your protein is, the more it will raise your insulin. Ground beef doesn’t require as much digestion as steak, so it enters your bloodstream more rapidly. (Ground meat actually ends up giving you more calories as well, because you don’t use up as much energy during the digestion process. For a fascinating look at how cooking and grinding food shaped human evolution, I recommend reading Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human)
Fortunately, protein stimulates glucagon release as well, so you don’t need to worry as much about the insulinogenic properties of protein as you do about carbohydrates. (If you don’t know much about glucagon, think of it as the opposite of insulin).
What does all this mean from a practical standpoint? How then can you control the insulin response to bread, protatoes, rice – to go with the examples from earlier in this post?
In fact, why worry about the insulin response to carbohydrates at all?
Well, to control the insulin response from carbs… stop eating so many carbs! Use the insulin response with strategically timed meals, after a workout or as part of a carb cyling plan, for example.
And you should be concerned about bumping insulin when you’re eating fat because when fat is consumed while your body is in fat-storage mode (high insulin), it is more likely to end up as bodyfat.
When your insulin levels are high, everything you eat is more liable to end up in your fat stores. Fat especially heads straight for your fat cells when your insulin is high, especially because insulin causes fat burning to stop.
Translation: Fat is fattening IF you are in a fat storing mode (high insulin).
Your solution is to not eat fat when your insulin levels are high, and keeping carbs low the rest of the time. You want to keep fat and insulin producing carbs apart from each other.
One situation would be to have protein and fat at every meal except for one or two meals right after your workout. Here’s a sample schedule:
7 am: Protein + Fat
11 am: Protein + Fat
2 pm: Protein + Fat
4 pm: Workout
5 pm: Protein + Carbs
7 pm: Protein + Carbs
Or if you workout in the morning:
6 am: Workout
7 am: Protein + Carbs
10 am: Protein + Carbs
1 pm: Protein + Fat
4 pm: Protein + Fat
7 pm: Protein + Fat
Another option is to have higher carb “refeeds” every few days. This is a good strategy when you’re looking to gain muscle and lose fat.
Day One: Several moderate protein, moderate fat meals
Day Two: Same as Day One
Day Three: Moderate protein, low fat meals during the day, 3 hour high carb, low protein, minimal fat refeed after your workout
Day Four: Same as Day One
Day Five: Same as Day One
Day Six: Same as Day One
Day Seven: Moderate protein, low fat meals during the day, 3 hour high carb, low protein, minimal fat refeed after your workout
What a plan like this does is keep you in fat burning mode most of the time, but still bump insulin to keep you anabolic and allow you to build muscle. If you have more fat to lose, you’d want to go longer between refeeds. If you’re already lean and looking to build muscle, you can have your refeeds closer together.
So to loop back to the original point of this post, adding fat to carbs doesn’t benefit you from a hormonal standpoint, in fact, it makes it more likely you’re going to store that meal as fat.
EDIT: I was asked why, if adding fat to meals doesn’t help with insulin, does adding fat make you feel fuller longer?
When I was in college I was friends with an insanely strong football player. He could jump out of the gym, lift more weight than anyone, and outrun the track stars…. Plus he was good-looking (the jerk).
And all he ate was buffalo meat, berries, and mountains of green vegetables. A naturopath had told him that was the perfect diet for his blood type. It definitely worked in his case.
In fact, over the years I’ve seen people have lots of success by following blood type based diets. I figure it’s because people believe in them and thus stick to them – and sticking to your chosen diet is the key to making it work
A quick search on Amazon.com showed 895 results for “blood type diet”, but the best known book is Eat Right 4 Your Type by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, and it’s where to start if you want more info on matching your food choices to your blood type.
Now, what does it mean in the title of this post when it says “What NOT To Eat”?
I think that blood type/food matching isn’t the first thing you should worry about. Food quality, quantity, and timing are more important for weight loss and athletic performance.
And yet and yet and yet… This can be a big tipping point for losing stubborn fat and getting rid of nagging health issues.
Your blood type is actually better at informing you which foods you should avoid (yes, even some healthy foods) than telling you what you should eat.
The main reason for this is the lectins found in foods.
Lectins are scary little proteins that work (or force!) their way undigested into your bloodstream where your body recognizes them as invaders and goes into defense mode. Certain lectins bind to the surfaces of certain blood cells.
Besides causing an autoimmune response in your body, lectins also clump up and then destroy your blood cells. You know…. those things that keep you alive.
interfere with digestion
interfere with absorption
cause nutrient deficiencies
lead to food allergies
can cause inflammatory bowel disease
give you general achiness
give you diarrhea
can make you irritable
can give you anemia
contribute to diabetic problems
are definitely linked to rheumatoid arthritis
are definitely linked to psoriasis
can give you painful gas
can lead to immune deficiencies
Many of the effects of different lectins are blood type specific. So you can avoid a lot of the problems with lectins by avoiding eating foods that contain the lectins that react with your blood type.
If you’re suffering from any of the problems listed above, or if you want an extra nutritional edge to help you lose fat faster, stay away from the foods that react with your blood type. Here’s how to do it – it’s only two steps.
Step One: Find out your blood type.
If you already know your blood type, go ahead to step two. If you don’t, you can donate blood and they’ll tell you. You can ask your doctor. Or you can get a home blood test type kit from the pharmacy or order one from Amazon (here’s a link: Eldoncard Blood Type Kit).
Step Two: Don’t eat the foods that react most strongly to your blood type.
Special Note: GMO foods usually have increased lectin levels, avoid all GMO foods. The most common genetically modified foods in the US are: Corn, soy, cotton (the oil is used in foods), papaya, rice, tomatoes, rapeseed, dairy, potatoes, and peas. Wheat is often heavily modified too.
What Not To Eat: Blood Type A
snow white mushrooms
What Not To Eat: Blood Type B
What Not To Eat: Blood Type AB
What Not To Eat: Blood Type O
Avoiding GMO foods and the foods that react with your blood type will help your body get back into it’s naturally healthy state and help ease the system stress that is causing you to hold onto stubborn pounds.
Plus, it’s really easy – just don’t eat the foods on your list!
How often have you heard this advice? Lots of times, I’ll bet.
But it’s only kinda sorta true.
Stretching is traditionally recommended pre-exercise as a way to reduce injuries. Unfortunately, research and real life doesn’t support the stretching-reduces-injuries theory.
The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) dug through all the research on stretching and injuries and concluded that people who stretch are no less likely to suffer injuries than those who don’t and that stretching does nothing to prevent injuries.
And even worse, several studies have found that stretching before exercise actually makes you more likely to get injured.
Stretching before a workout doesn’t make you more flexible either. There’s a limit to how far a muscle can be stretched…
Picture a steak. You can grab the ends and pull hard, and it will stretch a bit. Keep pulling and pulling and it won’t stretch, it will rip. Your muscles are like that steak. There’s a limit to how far you can stretch before you start ripping.
Stretching beyond your limits weakens your tendons and ligaments. (Loose joints might give you a bigger range of motion though, at the high cost of greatly increased chance of injury)
The British Journal Of Sports Medicine stated that test subjects’s “flexibility index decreased significantly after stretching training.”
The warm-up aspect of stretching is also overrated. Stretching doesn’t contract your muscles (muscles are designed to do only one thing: contract). Contraction is what pulls blood into the muscle and bumps your metabolism to produce heat as a byproduct of effort. No muscular contraction, no warm up.
Stretching before you are warm is another good way to injure yourself, incidentally. Pulling the ends of a cold rubber band make it more likely to snap. Cold taffy doesn’t stretch out, it breaks. Your muscles do this too – a cold muscle getting stretched out will tear.
Stretching a muscle makes it weaker. You have these little things called Golgi Tendon Organs in your tendons that are stretch sensors. When they feel a stretch they try to contract your muscles to protect your muscles and joints from injury. if you hold a stretch long enough (and without going too far), the golgi tendon organs “turn off” and allow your muscle to stretch a bit more.
The problem with relaxed golgi tendon organs is that they are designed to help your muscles contract. Turn them off, and you’ve instantly become weaker. This not only affects your strength, speed, power, and endurance; your muscles are what support your joints – and if you turn off your support system, you’re left with no protection from moving your joints beyond their range of motion. Moving your joint outside of its range of motion = injury.
Weakened muscles from stretching also limit how effective your workout will be (while also making you more likely to get injured). If you’re training to lose fat and re-shape your body, being stronger means you can exercise with more weights, go longer, do the exercises better, burn more calories, and raise your metabolism higher.
The American College Of Sports Medicine published a study that checked out the effect that stretching has on strength. They tested hamstring strength and then the next session had subjects stretch their hamstrings before being tested. Strength declined every time after stretching, even if the stretch was only held for 30 seconds.
So really, stretching doesn’t do anything that common knowledge holds it does. Stretching doesn’t warm you up, make you more flexible, make you stronger, or protect you from injury.
Stretching a muscle weakens it.
Stretching your working muscles before practice (in athletes) or a workout is like going in overtrained and tired. You’ll perform on an inferior level and be more likely to get injured.
That’s why you don’t want to stretch your prime mover muscles before exertion. Weakened hamstrings, quads, and shoulders lead to injury and impaired performance. Of course, what are the most often stretched muscles? Hamstrings, quads, and shoulders…
Now, when is stretching a good thing?
You can slightly increase a muscle’s range of motion with stretching if it’s not done too vigorously. And stretching is ideally done an hour or so after your workout, when the muscles are still warm but not firing lots of electrical signals that cause contraction.
As your strength and mobility improves, your workouts themselves become active “stretches.” Sitting into a deep squat is a real world exercise that ensures you keep a big range of motion. (Doing real-world movements like squatting, pulling, pushing, and lunging means you’ll move freely, without even a risk of becoming “muscle bound”)
It’s time for the big idea: Sometimes making a muscle weaker is a good thing!
Really. After all the slams on stretching so far, sometimes you really do want to make a muscle weaker.
When a muscle is in a contracted position all day, it shortens and becomes very tight. This can pull your body out of alignment and really mess you up when you try to move.
So you can stretch that muscle to weaken it and let your joints get back into alignment.
Time for a few examples of when stretching a muscle to weaken it is what you should do…
Calves – Wearing shoes with a heel all day keeps your calf muscles shortened and they tighten up. Then when you go to exercise you can’t keep your feet flat on the floor, your knees shoot forward, and your back goes wonky.
So stretching your calves to weaken them allows you to keep your heels down when you exercise so your body is aligned and you have less risk of injuring other joints.
One caveat with stretching your calves: you don’t want to stretch them so much they’re weakened before doing power jumping exercises. In this case it’s better to warm them up with little hops and active squat stretches (like toe grab squats) instead of stretching.
Chest – Sitting hunched over in front of a computer (or on any chair, really) draws your shoulders forward and shortens your chest muscles. This in turn weakens the muscles of your back and raises your shoulder blades which weakens your shoulders and makes them more likely to get get injured. A tight chest is no bueno.
Opening and loosening your chest will let you activate your back muscles and keep your shoulders in place.
Again, you don’t want to weaken your chest muscles if you’re going to be doing aggressive chest exercises, but anything involving your back or lower body – go for it.
Hip Flexors And Piriformis – This is a big one. In fact, the most popular post on this website is all about just stretching your hip flexors (Here it is: One Exercise To End Lower Belly Pooch).
Sitting shortens these muscles and tips your hips out of alignment, which throws all of your exercise onto your lower back and prevents you from engaging your abs and glute muscles.
When your hip flexors are tight, your low back is going to hurt. And you see all the benefits from your core and butt exercises.
And a tight piriformis can cause shooting pain (and a shortened range of motion) through your low back and the back of your legs.
Weakening these two muscle groups with stretching is one of the best things you can do for yourself. We sit so much that it affects everything, and these are two great weapons you can use to counterattack.
There’s no caveat here, do the hip flexor stretch and the piriformis stretch as often as possible. I start every one of my workouts and the workouts of my clients with these two. Plus, stretch again throughout the day.
What doesn’t work about stretching:
Doesn’t Warm You Up
Doesn’t Decrease Injuries
Doesn’t Increase Strength
Doesn’t Increase Flexibility
Doesn’t Improve Power Output
What stretching does:
Slightly Increase Muscle Length
Turn Off Contraction System
When stretching is a good thing:
To Deliberately Weaken A Muscle To Improve Alignment
One of my very favorite cartoons is Thundercats. I loved watching it as a kid and I still enjoy it now.
And gotta admit it: I kinda had a crush on Cheetara.
Who wouldn’t? Bright orange leotard, sweet bo staff skills, and the ability to run over 120 miles per hour.
She’s based off the idea of a cheetah; Cheetara’s main attribute is her wicked fast speed. The thing is, it takes a lot of training and nutrition to run like a cheetah.
So here’s some food for thought if you want to be a Thundercat, it’s the meal plan of the cheetah sprinters at the San Diego Zoo…
It goes on a 3 day cycle:
Day 1 – Sprint DemonstrationDay
1-2 x 100m @ full effort – simulates hunting in natural habitat
Fed 1/2 of 3 day caloric intake after running to simulate a successful hunt
Day 2 – Recovery Day
Easy long slow walk in the park
Fed 1/3 of 3 day caloric intake
Day 3 – Rest/Light Activity Day
Fed 1/6 of 3 day caloric intake
Pretty cool! It mimics a hunt, then an easy day with some food left over, then a very easy day, and the next day the cycle starts over with another hunt.
This plan keeps the cheetahs lean and mean.
An interesting thought experiment with this is to think about how you could apply some of the same principles to your personal training and nutrition plan.
Doesn’t the cheetah plan above look a little like how a hunter might have eaten and lived during the paleolithic period?
Hard sprint, hard effort to take down some big meat, then a feast with your friends and family.
The next day, since there’s still food left you hang out and play around camp, not eating as much.
Day three you scout around gathering fruits and veggies and check out where the game animals are browsing.
Day four you go for the hunt and it all starts again…
Life was probably a lot like this for hunter/gatherers. And it’s doubtless why intermittent fasting, carb backloading, and other calorie cycling plans work so well for fitness and fat loss – it’s how our genes want us to eat.
Now, I’m not saying the cheetah plan above will turn you into Cheetara – you’d have to be a noble cleric from the planet Thundera for that.
But what can you take from this? What about the plan would work for you?
Here’s a very simple adaptation for someone wanting to get fit (who also loves the Thundercats):
Day 1: Power And Sprint Day
This is the day you get to hunt and feast. Rigorous effort followed with a delicious prize to follow.
Weightlifting session focusing on big exercises – Snatch, squat, deadlift, bench press, clean and jerk, and other BIG movements.
Follow this with some anaerobic sprints – Sled pulls, hill sprints, bike intervals, and other locomotive movements that will push your system to the max.
And then eating time. You brought down the wild boar with all your hard work. Now you get to enjoy it!
Assuming a 2500 Calorie/day diet, half of your three day average would be 3,750 Calories. You could make this one lots of meat and organs, the best parts of your prey. Smaller eating window, since butchering and cooking the meat would take time.
Day 2: Play And Build Day
There’s still some meat left over after yesterday’s hunt, so you stay close to home. You play with the kids and spend some time making camp more comfortable.
“Bodybuilding” Movements – Curls, triceps extensions, chest flyes, calf raises, and other smaller movements; nothing too strenuous (this is the building and moving stuff around your camp)
Play! – Tag, slacklining, frisbee, wrestling, ping pong, or anything else fun that you would do hanging out with fit healthy people you enjoy being around.
For food, you’d still have some meat, and some easy to pick fruits and veggies that you could gather without venturing too far. So add in some produce and have some of the leaner meat (not as prized).
At that 2,000 Calorie/day average, one third of your three day average would be… 2000 Calories.
Day 3: Light Scouting Day
Time to do some more gathering and plan your next hunt. You don’t want to wear yourself out too much, in case you end up with an angry auroch charging you tomorrow.
Looking around to check out the areas where game feeds and gathering more hard-to-find plants since you’re already out and about.
Walking or hiking, lots and lots.
And something to help relax you and get you ready for the hunt, like some yoga or tai chi.
You’re about out of big game meat, so you have some smaller, leaner animals for protein and fat. But you gathered a big assortment of greens and herbs so you have a small amount of protein and some huge salads. Based on the 2000 Calorie/day number, one sixth of your three day average would be… 1000 Calories. Not a lot, be enough to ensure you’ll be motivated to hunt tomorrow.
Conclusion: Sight Beyond Sight
Again, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive plan for you to follow. Just a little food for thought.
Too often we get caught up in a certain daily rhythm, and our sight stops extending much beyond that. The thing is, if you want to keep your body changing, you can’t lock into a set routine. You’ll make progress for a while, then your body will plateau with whatever you’re doing, and then finally start making negative changes.
If you want to keep progressing, you have to keep changing your stimulus. Calorie and activity cycling plans like the cheetah-inspired one above are two ways. I’ll write about some more in the future…
The important thing is to keep things new and fresh, so you don’t get bored and your body doesn’t stop adapting.
I’m researching natural testosterone boosters for a blog post – finding proven ways to raise your testosterone without steroids.
Thought this study was particularly relevant (because it’s Super Bowl Sunday):
Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans at sporting events.
The researchers took saliva samples before games and after games.
Fans of the losing teams had lowered testosterone levels.
Fans of the winning teams had elevated testosterone levels.
So if you want a testosterone boost, root for winners.
Here’s the reference:
Physiol Behav. 1998 Aug;65(1):59-62.
Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans at sporting events.
Bernhardt PC, Dabbs JM Jr, Fielden JA, Lutter CD. University of Utah, Department of Educational Psychology
It forms antibodies to protect you when viruses and bacteria wanna play dirty
It forms enzymes to help you digest your food
It builds your body, from muscles and bones to organs and connective tissue
It carries oxygen through your blood and delivers it to your organs and muscles
It forms hormones to tell your body when to burn food for energy and when to store it as fat
Protein is like the all-star kid from high school that letters in every sport, gets straight As, plays in the band, leads the debate team, and still has time to organize a blood drive and parade. In short, it’s a versatile superstar.
You should make getting quality protein the number one foundation of your diet because it does so much for you. Plus…
Protein burns more calories. Your body has to break down foods to get at the nutrients and energy in the food. Protein takes about twice as much energy to break down as carbohydrate. So getting at the energy in the food costs more energy and you use a lot more calories to do it. When you eat more protein (in place of carbs and fats) you burn more calories all day.
Protein is delicious. Lobster. Steak. Chicken. Salmon. Shrimp. Oooh yeah. When your diet is built around super-tasty food it’s a lot easier to stick to.
Protein attacks belly fat. Well, not directly… But a high-protein diet helps you body control cortisol, a “stress hormone” that leads to fat storage on your abs and upper back. Less cortisol = less body fat.
Protein satisfies. You feel full faster when you eat a high protein meal. I can eat a plate full of cookies in nothing flat. Eating a can of salmon though? It’s tough! The fullness will help keep you from overeating. Plus, high-protein meals keep you satisfied longer, so you’re not starving again an hour later (like you would be after the cookie binge).
Protein helps you firm up. The lean, toned muscle you build from working out? Yeah, it’s made from protein. When you exercise, you create tiny little tears in your muscles. To repair these tears, your body needs protein. So if you wanna tone up, you need protein. Lots of protein. (And when your body is rebuilding proteins, it’s totally in fat burning mode too. Win win situation.)
That’s five good reasons to make protein the cornerstone of your diet. Combine them and you can see how focusing on protein will get you burning fat and toning up.
A few tips to help you get the most from protein:
ALL plant proteins are incomplete protein sources (yes, even soy). Get complete protein from animal foods.
Choose the wildest meat you can find.
Most protein drinks are loaded with fillers and other junky chemicals. If you supplement with protein powders, read the labels carefully.
Your minimum protein intake should be one gram of protein for every pound you weigh. Ex: If you weigh 150 pounds, get at least 150 grams of protein.
Protein is a mild diuretic, so drink lots of water when on a high-protein diet.
If you have gout or are diabetic, work with a doctor or nutritionist to plan your diet.
Make your protein as delicious as possible. Try new foods, use lots of spices, keep things interesting
My favorite gentle diuretic is a salad made from Dandelion Leaves, they’re bitter but they work great (Check your organic produce section, eat them raw)
Walking is the final key to this strategy, don’t skip it!
Now remember, this isn’t the long term final solution… It is a tool to get your weight loss moving again. Follow the 4 day prescription to the letter and then get back on your normal weight loss diet.
EDIT: Someone asked if this would work to use right before a big event where you want to look your best. Well… yes, but that’s not what it’s designed for. If you do use this as a get-ready-for-a-big-event plan, promise me that it’s a one-time deal and you’ll do your best to get in shape so that you’re always ready for a big event, ok?
Handstand pushups are a phenomenal exercise. Unfortunately, most people don’t make a serious effort to improve their handstand due to the challenge.
Maybe you don’t like being upside down, maybe you’re worried about looking silly, or maybe you’re worried about hurting yourself.
But if you persevere, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best exercises you can do.
Now, what do I mean by the title of this post? What’s a “true” handstand pushup?
Well, most gym-goers (heck, most trainers and coaches) confuse the headstand pushup with the handstand pushup.
The exercises are the same except for the range of motion.
A headstand pushup involves your head touching the floor, when your hands are in line with the top of your head:
A handstand pushup requires your hands to lower all the way to your shoulders, a full range of motion. This means you’ll need to use something to put your hands on: rings, parallettes, parallel bars, chairs, stacked weight plates, aerobic steps, and benches all work as ways to increase your range.
Also, all of your handstand/headstand training work should be done with your hands shoulder width apart, as this will let you transition into freestanding movements later on. That said, most people find headstand pushups are easier with a wider hand position. Only go wide when you’re competing with a friend for the most reps
Now, a note of warning: IF you’re scared of falling, work with a coach and spotter to get you over your fear. Hesitation in an exercise will lead to form breakdown and possible injury. Get totally comfortable with kicking up into a handstand, wall walks, and pike pushups before working on headstand pushups.
And if you’re not yet able to do regular pushups with good form, master those first before moving on to handstands.
First step to a handstand is to get your shoulders warmed up right. I start every handstand workout with at least 20 reps each of the YTWLI Shoulder Fixer series, foam rolling for the back/chest, and a few regular pushups.
How To Use The Exercises Below
I’ve been to gymnastics for adults seminars, I’ve got books/courses/DVD spilling off my shelves, and I read training info all the time. And guess what? No one has agreed on the perfect method of teaching the handstand/headstand to everyone.
So what I’m going to do is share a list of exercises in a rough progression from easiest to hardest, and tips for each.
Find what works best for YOU. Just be consistent and diligent in your training and you’ll be surprised how fast you will make progress.
The exercises are grouped into three sections. First is headstand pushup progressions, then handstand pushup progressions, and finally a mix of moving handstand variations.
Headstand Exercise 1: Pike Pushup With Feet On Box
When you do these correctly, you will develop shoulder, core, and arm strength without being crushed by your full bodyweight.
Put your feet on a box (ideal height for the box: feet are horizontal with the hips when your hips are piked 90 degrees and arms are straight). Make sure that your hips are in line with your shoulders. Now just bend your arms and touch the top of your head to the ground between your hands, then return to starting.
Common mistakes are letting your shoulders get out of line with your hands, letting your hips fall out of line (then the exercise becomes more of an “incline press” than a “shoulder press”), and not keeping your head between your arms.
Variations/progressions for this exercise: shortening the range of motion by bringing head to mats between hands (instead of all the way to the floor), having only one leg supported by the box, placing feet on large swiss ball, using one foot on swiss ball.
Headstand Exercise 2: Kicking Into Bent Leg Handstand Against Wall
This exercise will help you get over your fear of being upside down, and will help you build the body awareness you need to progress in your handstand training. After you have done a few sessions with this exercise the upside down position will be nothing to fear and you’ll be able to concentrate on the strength and form of your handstands.
Start in a modified sprinter position with your hands about 2 feet away from the wall and shoulder width apart. Have one leg bent and the other almost straight behind you. Now, just kick up into the bent leg handstand by pushing with your bent leg and swing over your straight leg. Kick hard enough to swing you all of the way over until your feet touch the wall.
Put a lot of force into your kick-over. Most handstand newbies won’t put enough umph into their efforts. Use enough to swing you over (just don’t smash a hole into the wall). As you gain more body awareness, you’ll be able to kick over perfectly and just lightly touch your foot on the wall.
VERY IMPORTANT: Keep your arms locked the whole time you’re kicking over. It’s tempting to bend your elbows and roll into a ball instead of pushing yourself into the strange new world of being upside down. Locked, strong arms will help protect you from injury. Bent arms collapse more easily… which can lead to a bump on the head.
Use a spotter if you can find one. Have them stand just to the side of you while you’re in your “sprinter start” pre-kickover stance. They can put one arm under your hips and gently guide your feet back to the ground if you don’t kick had enough or your arms start to get tired.
Practice this until kicking up is second nature, when you have no fear of going upside down. I like to switch which foot I kick with each practice set.
You can progress by adding more reps (more times kicking over), by holding the position longer, or by straightening out one leg.
Headstand Exercise 3: Kicking Into Straight Handstand (Hands Away From Wall)
Since you can now easily kick over into a handstand against the wall, your next step is to work on your form. This next variation is more difficult because you’ll put more weight on your arms, core, back, and shoulders and less into the wall.
First, kick up with your legs bent and then straighten them both out against the wall. Now try to straighten your body out as much as possible.
Next, kick up and straighten both legs as you go around, keeping them straight as your feet land against the wall. Keep working at it until you can keep your body straight from hands to heels (this is difficult because your hands are away from the wall).
Progress by doing more reps, and spending more time in the handstand.
Headstand Exercise 4: Kicking Into Straight Handstand (Hands Close To Wall)
This is a lot like exercise #3, except that you’ll start with your hands closer to the wall.
The reason this is more difficult is that you’ll be supporting a higher percentage of your bodyweight and have to develop more balance and body awareness.
As you get comfortable, progressively move your hands closer to the wall until your fingertips are touching it. Make sure that your back is as flat as possible and you aren’t bent at the waist.
Again, add more reps and more time in the handstand position to progress.
Headstand Exercise 5: Wall Walks
Wall walks are different for two reasons: you won’t be kicking over and instead of your back to the wall, you’ll have your chest to the wall.
Start in pushup position with your feet against the wall. Now walk up the wall with your feet and walk your hands back towards the wall. Keep your body tight and walk up as far as possible.
If you need to bail out, just bend your arms and somersault forward.
This is a great training tool because you’ll be developing more strength in your arms, shoulders, and core as you move.
Practice until you can touch your chest and your nose to the wall, then you can progress by adding more reps and spending more time in the handstand on each rep.
Headstand Exercise 6: Negative Headstand Pushup
This is THE exercise for building strength in the headstand. Simple and effective.
From a wall handstand (with your back to the wall), simply slowly lower the top of your head to the ground. The slower you go, the more strength you’ll build.
When your head touches the ground come down off the wall, straighten your arms, kick up, and do it again.
You can progress by adding more reps and going more slowly.
Headstand Exercise 7: Sideways Wall Walk
Adding some movement to the the handstand will make it harder to keep your balance. On this exercise, the closer your hands are to the wall, the more difficult it will be.
Kick up into a handstand against the wall. Now walk yourself sideways along the wall using only your hands and arms. Spread your legs for balance if you need to. And remember to travel the same distance in both directions to avoid imbalances.
Progress in this exercise by adding more distance to each walk. A fun way to do these (especially if you have a short wall), is to go back and forth for time. In this case, add time to the set as you improve.
This is a good exercise to mix in with exercise 6. (The reason these are here instead of in section 3, is because they really help body awareness and are a great way to accumulate time in the handstand)
Headstand Exercise 8: Quarter Pushup
Kick up into a handstand against the wall. Now do the top 1/4 of a handstand, just a few inches in the range of motion.
A good starting point is 4 sets of 5 reps. Add both sets and reps until you can get a total of 30 reps each training session.
Once you can do 3 sets of ten reps you can move on to the next exercise.
(While training these partial variations, it is helpful to keep practicing the negative pushup from headstand exercise #6)
Headstand Exercise 9: Half Pushup
Like exercise #8, except you’ll bend your arms halfway.
Progress by aiming for 40 total reps of the half pushup. (ex: 4 sets of 10 reps)
Headstand Exercise 10: Headstand Pushup
You’re finally there! A headstand pushup!
This is the full headstand pushup, where you kick up into a handstand, lower the top of your head to the floor, and press yourself back up.
Make sure that you keep your torso tight, as it’s easy to lose your balance on the way back up.
Handstand Pushup Exercises
Now that you’ve gone as far down as possible with the headstand pushup, it’s time to extend the movement. In order to increase the range, you need to start elevating your hands.
Aerobics steps with risers are the perfect tool for this, as you can incrementally increase the depth of your handstand pushups.
Stools, benches, or high parallettes work as well, though it’s more difficult to grade yourself on depth.
If you’re using parallettes or steps, use panel mats or a stack of books between them to act as a substitute “floor.” As you get stronger, remove a book and go deeper.
In order to increase your strength over the full range of motion, you’ll want to take small jumps instead of big ones, since only a few inches deeper will make the exercise substantially more difficult.
A good basic guideline is to try and increase by one inch each month – this will allow you to completely master the movement.
Handstand Pushup Exercise 1: Small Elevation Pushup
Place you hands on a low steps shoulder width apart, kick up into a handstand, and perform slightly larger range of motion handstand pushups.
You can progress these by adding reps or adding depth.
Handstand Pushup Exercise 2: Full Range Negative Pushup
Use higher blocks or two benches shoulder width apart. Place your hands on them, kick up into a handstand, and slowly lower the top of your head to the ground. Come down, straighten your arms, then kick up into another handstand for your next rep.
These are good to mix in with handstand exercise number 1. While you work on increasing the range for your full movement, build full-range strength with the negatives.
Progress the negative full range pushup by going more slowly and by adding reps.
Handstand Pushup Exercise 3: Full Range Cloth Biting Pushup
Place a cloth on the ground between your handstand boxes. Now, when you do a handstand pushup, pause long enough to bite the cloth and push yourself back up all the way.
This is a brutal exercise because you lose any muscular rebound while you pause in the bottom position.
Progress on these by adding more total reps (not by using a heavier cloth!).
Handstand Pushup Exercise 4: Straight Bar Handstand Pushup
Instead of using parallel bars (or steps, or boxes) for this exercise, use a straight bar. You can use a parallette turned sideways in front of the wall, a parallel dip bar with a spotter, or – if you’re really hardcore – on a high pull-up bar like this guy:
Progress by adding reps.
Handstand Pushup Exercise 5: Underhand Straight Bar Handstand Pushup
Perform just like handstand exercise #5 above, but use an underhand (supinated) grip.
This will help you build the strength you need for doing handstands on the rings later.
Progress by adding reps.
Handstand Pushup Exercise 6: Bulgarian Pushup On Parallel Bars
Using gymnastics parallel bars or parallettes, kick up into a handstand with your hands about 45 degrees offset from each other.
Descend into the handstand pushup and let your elbows flare out to your sides. Return to handstand to finish the rep.
Progress by adding reps.
Handstand Pushup Exercise 7: Ring Pushup Using Straps
Set your gymnastic rings close to the ground, this will make it easier to bail out than if you are six feet up in the air.
Place your hands on the rings, set your arms, and kick up into your handstand with your legs straddled slightly in order to catch the straps. Lightly wrap your feet around the straps and perform your full range handstand pushup.
A spotter is recommended at first
Initially, the added difficulty of being on the rings will make it unlikely for you to perform a full range pushup from the position. Go as deep as you can and use negatives (like exercises 1 and 2 in this section) until you can do a full range handstand pushup with your feet on the straps.
Progress by adding reps (and working on perfect form!).
Handstand Pushup Exercise 8: Bulgarian Ring Handstand Pushup
Kick up into a regular ring handstand. Now as you lower yourself down, let your arms go out wide. On the way back up pull the rings back into starting position.
Progress by adding reps.
Handstand Pushup Exercise 9: Freestanding Ring Pushup
This is like exercise 7 above, except your feet aren’t sliding up and down the straps, you’re freestanding on the rings.
The intensity of this exercise is incredible, as the rings are unstable as hell.
Kick up into a handstand on the rings. Now remove your legs from the straps and turn your hands outward (this is why you mastered the underhand grip handstand pushup in exercise 5). Keep the straps clear of your forearms. Lower yourself into the bottom position under control, allowing the rings to turn inward as necessary. Pause, then press back up into the handstand. At no time should your legs or feet touch the straps.
Progress by adding reps and perfecting form.
A fun way to train handstands is to add movement. Handstand walking is just the beginning. Stairs, hopping, and obstacle courses can all be done.
These aren’t really progressions, just a variety of exercises you can add into your training. Movement adds a lot of balance and coordination to your handstands.
Moving Handstand Exercise 1: Walking With Partner Holding Feet
This one is simple. Kick up into a handstand and have a partner catch your feet. Now just walk forwards and backwards with your spotter just helping you balance, not taking your weight.
Progress by adding more time walking forwards and backwards.
Moving Handstand Exercise 2: Unsupported Handstand Walk
Just like exercise #1 above, except this time you’re on your own. Kick up into a handstand and walk around.
Progress by adding time/distance.
Moving Handstand Exercise 3: Partner Handstand Hop Walks
Just like exercise #1 above, except you move by doing a partial pushup and “hopping” yourself forwards and backwards.
Variation: Keep elbows locked and hop with just the shoulders. You won’t go as far, but it develops great shoulder strength.
Progress by adding time/distance.
Moving Handstand Exercise 4: Unsupported Handstand Hop Walks.
Same as exercise #3, except you don’t have a partner helping you balance.
Progress by adding time/distance.
Moving Handstand Exercise 5: Step Ups Onto A Platform
As you get more advanced, you can do these unsupported, but for now do them against a wall or with a spotter.
Kick up into a handstand in front of a low platform. Now, raise your right hand and place it on the platform. Now push hard through your right hand and bring your left hand up to the platform. Finish pressing up if you haven’t already. Now reverse the motion to come down.
You might find that one side is significantly easier than the other. Train the harder side more often! Maybe an extra rep or two each set – this won’t make you unbalanced, rather, it will bring you back into balance and improve all of your other handstand exercises.
Progress by adding reps or by stepping up to a higher platform.
Moving Handstand Exercise 6: Head Taps
This one is fun! It’s the handstand version of the chest tap pushup.
These can be done against the wall, with a partner spotting your feet, or freestanding/unsupported.
Kick up into your handstand. Now shift your weight over your left hand and touch the top of your head with your right hand. Repeat other side.
As you get better at these you will minimize side to side movement waste and be closer to performing a one-handed handstand.
Progress by adding reps and removing balance support.
Moving Handstand Exercise 7: Handstand Walk On Stairs
These are handstand step ups taken to the next level. Start with a spotter and progress to doing them unsupported.
It’s easier to go down the stairs, so start with that to build comfort. After that, see how many stairs you can climb in your handstand.
You can either lead with one hand for the whole set and switch next set, or you can alternate hands at each step.
Progress by finding higher stairs
Moving Handstand Exercise 8: Build An Obstacle Course
Use your imagination…
Headstand pushups, handstand pushups, and moving handstand will transform your upper body.
You’ll gain strength, endurance, balance, coordination, and confidence.