Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Free-Tip Tuesday Archive (Vol. I-XXV)

I've archived the first 25 volumes of Free-Tip Tuesday from the Pittsburgh Kettlebells Facebook page found here for reference purposes. Enjoy.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume I: Get Some Shut Eye(7/17/12)

Get at least 7 hours of 'good' sleep each night. NO, you don't function better on less sleep, it just hasn't caught up to you yet. Sleep deprivation is linked to increased appetite and fat storage, compromised immune system function, as well as increased risk of diabetes and heart disease - which both make the top 5 leading causes of death list. Stay tuned throughout the week for strategies to help make sure you are getting enough shut eye......

Sleep Tip #1: Consistency. Make a habit of going to bed and waking up around the same time each day. Your body operates by an internal clock referred to as it's circadian rhythm, which is linked strongly to the light/dark cycle. Typical recommendations begin with going to bed between 9-11p and rising between 5-7p. It'll be ok if you don't stay up late to catch those Golden Girls re-runs...honest.

Sleep Tip #2: Un-plug. As mentioned in Tip #1 circadian rhythms are heavily influenced by the light/dark cycle, and as such can be distorted by the blue light emitted from television and computer screens. Make it a point to 'un-plug' from t...hese (de)vices an hour or so before going to sleep. Use the time to read a book by candlelight or prepare food for the following day/week. The time you swear you don't have to exercise or cook healthy meals will magically appear once you realize you don't actually miss those 2 extra hours of playing Farmville.....

For more on this topic visit the following link:

Sleep Tip #3: Turn Your Bedroom Into The Batcave. Today's tip honors the release of the Dark Knight Rises and also once again touches on the subject of the light/dark cycle - starting to think that might just be important? Aim to have the room where you sleep as dark as possible, pitch black even. This means black out shades, no night lights, strategic placement of alarm clocks, and yes even removal of computers and TV's from your bedroom. Notice that also helps with Tip #2. Leave the bedroom for what it's meant for, sleep and that other word that begins with "s"......
Sleep Tip #4: Treat Your Bed As Your Throne. Do you wake up with a sore back or neck? If your pillows are more than 2 years old - replace them. If your mattress is older than 5 years - it may be time to replace that as well. While there are a lot of benefits to be had from adopting a lifestyle our ancestors practiced - especially when it comes to quality, un-processed food - recreating sleeping on rocks and other hard surfaces is not one of them.
Free-Tip Tuesday Volume II: Sit Less/Move More(7/24/12)
A recent Australian study determined every hour of sitting in front of a TV or computer screen subtracts 22 minutes from your lifespan. Why? Increased risk for heath disease and diabetes for starters. It's also a significant cause of lower back pain ever so present these days. And sorry, exercising for an hour everyday has little to no effect. Why? The other 23 hours of course. Considering we need to allocate a significant chunk of that 23 hours to sleep as discussed last week, it's imperative to make sure we are moving as much as possible during our waking hours - your back and your wallet will thank you.
Free-Tip Tuesday Volume III:(7/31/12) When grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter of the store. This is were you will find the most nutrient dense and least processed foods. Fresh produce, meats, and for those that tolerate it well - dairy. No need to stress over food labels and reading ingredients as most items found here don't have one. Funny how real food doesn't need a paragraph or spelling bee champ to list the ingredients.......

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume IV: The Myth Edition(8/7/12)

This months tips will cover common myths in the world of exercise, health, and nutrition.

Myth #1: Eat 5-6 small, frequent meals throughout the day to increase metabolism, stabilize blood, reduce cravings, and save unicorns.

Sounds good - but unfortunately it isn't supported by any of the scientific literature. In fact, in my personal experience this method created just the opposite - severe blood sugar spikes and uncontrollable hunger/cravings which just resulted in additional insulin injections. Not fun.

As the links posted below will suggest however, health benefits from DECREASING meal frequency IS actually supported by science. Two populations frequent meals might prove useful for are bodybuilders and athletes with more than one competition in a 24 hour period, but this is not the majority of the population.

And what do these two populations have in common? They are both trying to gain, or at minimum, retain their current weight. Seems counterintutive to follow a method primarily used to gain or maintain weight when trying to lose weight no?

Each extra meal also provides and extra opportunity to OVEREAT, a recipe for disaster with a population that struggles with portion sizes. That being said, if eating small, frequent meals works for YOU - be smart and continue. One thing you can't argue with is results.


Free-Tip Tuesday Volume V: The Myth Edition(8/14/12)

Myth #2: Artificial sweeteners are a healthy alternative when looking to reduce calories or sugar consumption.

No sugar. No calories. No problem?

As the saying goes when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. In this case not only is this not a healthy alternative, but as the link at the bottom suggests, it may very well be even WORSE!!

If one looks up the definition of artificial in Webster's dictionary, you'll find words like contrived, imitation, and sham. Sound good to you?!?!

Would you be interested in artificial limbs? Artificial joints? Artificial flowers?

Then why do you want artificial 'food'?!?!

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume VI: The Myth Edition(8/21/12)

Myth #3: Saturated fat is unhealthy.

They say saturated fat clogs your arteries and causes heart disease...but I ask - "Who is they?"

... Is it the same 'they' that decades ago told us to begin replacing the saturated fat in things like butter and lard with 'new and improved' food products like industrial seed oils (corn,soy,canola) and margarine?

Fast forward to present day and the science is clear on the dangers of partially hydrogenated oils (aka transfats) to the point where certain states like New York have banned restaurants from using it.

The primary ingredient in this 'new and improved' margarine?!

The margarine that was touted as a healthy and superior alternative to that evil butter?!

Partially hydrogentated vegetable oil.


Perhaps best not to listen to everything 'they' say.

The truth is saturated fat is required for a number of essential functions in the body such as immune function and calcium absorption. This makes drinking fat-free milk to get your calcium an exercise in futility. For more on this, check the following link:

The fear of saturated fat all started with Ancel Keys and his 7 Countries Study showing a clear link between saturated fat intake and heart diease. The problem? Mr. Keys collected data on 22 countries. I guess when your data doesn't fit your pre-concieved hypothesis one route is to cherry pick and omit data until it does - science ladies and gentleman! For more on this begin with the following link:

And for further evidence of media and marketing bastardizing your food supply check out:


Now don't confuse my defense of saturated fat as a misguided promotion of a super-food (a la whole grains) that you can go all Atkins on me and eat carte blanche. Even too much of a good thing can become bad just the same. Simply realize no clear link between saturated fat and heart disease has ever existed and there is no good reason to go out of your way to avoid it - especially so considering your 'new and improved' options.

Search for the purest and cleanest sources of beef, pork, and dairy (should you tolerate it well) your budget allows and enjoy.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume VII: The Myth Edition(8/28/12)

Myth #4: A healthy diet must contain whole grains.

I'm not quite ready to say whole grains are so inherently evil and unhealthy that they should be avoided entirely, though the following lin...ks may begin to suggest just that......


But the incessant parading of them as some sort of super food absolutely necessary for health and vitality is just as bad in the opposite direction. The next time you are in the grocery store, check out a box of Cookie Crisp if you doubt just how far this madness has gone.

While some differences exist between whole grains vs. non-whole grains and brown vs. white rice, when taken into the context of a full meal and not in a vacuum where these percieved differences are measured - the differences are negligible. In short, you really aren't doing yourself any great favor by choosing one over the other. There are much better places to focus your time and energy. For further reading on this subject, check the following link:

Additionally, the fact of the matter is most people's lifestyles are entirely too sedentary to properly handle a energy source of this type and would be better served substituting vegetables in place of grains.

Again, nothing against whole grains. Not saying they are unhealthy. I just feel there are much better, more nutrient dense choices available. I tend to use the logic that if something needs to be enriched and fortified so much (due to all the nutrients being stripped out during processing), then it probably isn't the greatest choice to begin with.

If you want to enjoy whole grains from time to time, go right ahead. Just don't be disillusioned into thinking that it's some sort of super food or panacea of good health.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume VIII: The BMI is bogus - ignore it. (9/4/12)

Need a reason why? Here are ten:

... For a much more sobering and accurate measure of your risk for things like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure - rely on your waist circumference instead. Men are considered high-risk with a measurement greater than 40 inches, and women a measurement greater than 35.

Using a tape measure, start at the top of the hip bone and wrap around your waist level at the navel to see where you rate.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume IX: Don't go cuckoo over cholesterol. (9/11/12)

Cholesterol is often portrayed in a negative light and as a substance responsible for increased heart disease risk. The truth however, is that cholesterol is essential for human... life and that you would die without it.

It is so essential that your body even has a mechanism for producing cholesterol on it's own by way of your liver. Cholesterol is responsible for a host of important functions in the body such as assisting in the production of Vitamin D, bile acids to digest fat, and production of all of the sex hormones to name a few.

Additionally, your total cholesterol number is about the LEAST important biomarker when predicting heart disease. In fact, over half of first-time heart attack sufferers have 'normal' cholesterol levels. This hasn't stopped Lipitor, a statin drug aimed at lowering cholesterol, to amass of value of $125 BILLION dollars however.

The very same statins that cause chronic muscle pain and increase your risk for diabetes. For more reasons to avoid statins, check the following links:

To better assess your heart disease risk, you would be much better served to look at your levels of triglycerides and C-reative proteins. The only really useful cholesterol values we are currently aware of are the following two ratios:

Total Cholesterol/HDL - less than 3

Triglycerides/HDL - less than 2

Finally, for more cholesterol myths, check out the following links:

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume X: Sweat Your Sugar (9/18/12)
After educating you on a few biomarkers that aren't quite as informative or valuable as you were led to believe, let's shift gears this week to one that isn't talked about nearly as often but is... about as important as they come - your A1C level.

Your A1C levels are a measurement of your average blood glucose(sugar) levels over the previous 2-3 months. This test, along with the far less reliable fasting glucose and glucose tolerance tests, can diagnose or predict your risk of developing diabetes.

Over 24M people have diabetes, and alarmingly over 25% of those people don't even know it. Awareness is key and there is no better way than having your A1C level checked.

So what should your results be? Current guidelines suggest for someone without diabetes, normal A1C values can range from 4.5-6 percent. However, this correlates to a fasting glucose reading as high as 120mg/dl. For someone with diabetes, most doctors are content with an A1C under 7 percent, correlating to a fasting glucose reading of 150mg/dl. Be aware than anything over 140mg/dl have been proven to cause damage to the body.

Therefore, in my opinion, these ranges are far too high and too lax. A little tough love is in order. Diabetes is a serious condition that is a top 3 or top 5 cause of death depending on the source and should be treated accordingly. I prefer a 'nip it in the bud' approach and suggest taking a serious look at your lifestyle and nutrition choices should your A1C be higher than 5.5, or your fasting glucose higher than 80-85mg/dl.

Symptoms of diabetes include frequent thirst and urination.

For tips on controlling diabetes and blood sugar levels, check this old blog post of mine:

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XI: Soak Up The Sun (9/25/12)

North Americans are more deficient in vitamin D than any other vitamin except for B-12. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to diabetes, over 30 types of cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid, and much more. Needless to say, it's kind of a big deal.

So why are we so deficient? Once you understand that your body produces upwards of 80% of it's vit
amin D from exposure to sunshine, you can certainly understand how those of us in the Northeast are especially prone to deficiency. Additionally, populations with darker pigmented skin tone are especially vulnerable due to the unique aspects between dark skin and sun exposure.

But even those in sunny climates like Florida, Texas, and California also find themselves deficient in large numbers. How could this be? For starters, the overreation to sun exposure as it relates to skin cancer has resulted in everyone bathing themselves in sunscreen if even the slightest hint of sunshine. Many folks in these geographical locations also spend more and more time indoors, in part as a by-product of a sedentary lifestyle, rendering the climate they live in far less beneficial.

Another reason many people find themselves deficient stems from the dietary sources of vitamin D: fatty fish, butter, eggs, etc. If these sound like familiar names of foods 'experts' have been telling you do avoid due to their misguided belief that they cause heart disease then you would be correct.

While many dairy products are enriched with vitamin D, the popular trend and advice of buying fat-free dairy products makes this point moot seeing as vitamin D is a fat soluable vitamin and therefore requires fat to be absorbed. As the saying goes..North Americans have some of the most expensive urine in the world.

So how do you know whether you are deficient?

Your doctor can order a simple blood test that can be done alongside your usual blood drawn for your lipid profile and other bio-markers at your yearly physical.

What should my level be?

Levels above 60 ng/ml (yes, milliliter) appear to be most protective. Though some authorities on the subject recommend levels closer to 75 ng/ml and higher.

What do I do if I am deficient?

- move to California. As an added bonus you will now have access to In N Out Burger, just be sure to enjoy your double-double outside!

- spend more time in the sun, I promise you won't melt. Just be smart and stay out of the sun during it's peak hours of 10-2, and keep exposure to reasonable amounts at other times.

- consume more dietary sources of vitamin D mentioned above if not already doing so.

- discuss the possibility of supplementing with vitamin D-3 with your doctor. Dosages should be based on the individual.

For further reading on this subject, visit:

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XII : Eat As Many One Ingredient Foods As Possible = Nutrition Labels Made Simple (10/2/12)

Chicken = Chicken, Broccoli = Broccoli, Strawberries = Strawberries.

See the trending theme?

Contrast that with the label on your average container of peanut butter - which should list nothing more than peanuts as it's ingredient - and you'll see a laundry list of 'things' illustrating ...why
most peanut butter ceased being peanut butter long ago.

As we mentioned before, the majority of items that fit this criteria can be found on the perimeter of the store, frozen vegetables being the one glaring exception. Fresh produce, Fresh meat, etc.

Stick to the one ingredient rule of thumb and eliminate all of the un-necessary confusion and frustration over whether something you are about to buy is worthwhile or not.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XIII: Hierarchy of Fat Loss(10/9/12)

In order of importance and effectiveness:

1. Sound Nutrition
2. See #1
3. Resistance/Strength Training
4. High Intensity Aerobic or Interval Training
5. Steady State and Low Intensity Aerobic Training

But where do most people spend their time and effort?

Number 5.

It should be no wonder then why most people become frustrated with their progress and results - they are using the least effective method available to them.

Lack of time is often a reason cited for lack of adherence to an exercise program. If you are short on time (2-3 hrs/wk), get the most bang for your buck and focus on #3. If you find yourself with an extra hour or 2 on a particular week feel free to add in #4. THEN you can think about adding in #5 if your schedule permits.

Of course, according the hierarchy, doing any of this without sound nutrition will prove fruitless.

Action Plan: Seek out an HKC or RKC certified trainer in your area to get instruction on and confidence in the movement patterns part of any successful resistance/strength training program. These professionals can answer the questions of which exercises, how many, how often, etc. - allowing for a more efficent use of your time. Most importantly, they are particularly skilled in being able to modify these movements to any level of ability.

Time is the most valuable currency you have, spend it wisely.

Stay tuned for more information on the movement patterns discussed above as well as further details on each step of the hierarchy.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XIV: Strength Training Made Simple (10/16/12)

Any well programmed strength training regimen should contain the following four basic human movements:

1. Hip-Hinge
2. Squat
3. Upper Body Pull
4. Upper Body Push

That's it. As the saying goes, less is more. Consult a professional to learn how to perform a version of these four movements correctly, and you'll be well on your way to achi...eving your goals and making efficient use of your time.

The trick of it all is determining the amount of reps, sets, frequency, and version of each movement. Professionals do this by taking into account various individual considerations such as:

- past injury history
- orthopedic restrictions
- mobility/flexibility considerations
- goals
- training age
- equipment availability

This takes all of the guesswork and wasted time out of the equation and further increases the efficiency of your workouts.

1. Hip-Hinge
2. Squat
3. Upper Body Pull
4. Upper Body Push


Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XV: Stop Thinking 'Cardio' Only Means Ellipticals & Treadmills (10/23/12) 

 In fact, these may be the two LEAST enjoyable, effective, and expensive means of 'cardio' there are. I could never understand why people insist on putting in their rounds on the 'hamster wheel' as I refer to it. If I felt that was the only way to do 'cardio' I'd hate working out too.

'Cardio' is anything that... sufficiently elevates your heart rate. As such, there a number of more effective and enjoyable means of doing just that. These include:

- hill sprints
- battling ropes
- kettlebell swings
- sledgehammer training
- resistance training w/ short rest periods( less than 30 seconds)
- sports

These all provide a far more effective outlet for stress and aggression due to the effort and engagement required. Anyone here without stress? Didn't think so. That effort also means the same (or better) results in a fraction of the time, rendering that "I don't have time to work out" excuse pretty useless. If you are doing cardio for an hour - you aren't doing it right.

Bottom Line: Treadmills Are For Gerbils.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XVI: Hamster Wheel Edition (10/30/12)

While we would much prefer you to choose one of the many more effective and enjoyable methods of cardiovascular work mentioned last week, the fact remains many people will still choose to go the hamster wheel route. Therefore this week's tip is aimed at ensuring that if you do choose to go that route you get the most out of it.

Inspired by Jef...f Foxworthy, you may be wasting your time doing cardio if you are :

- holding onto the railings (or anything else) for dear life
- watching TV
- reading newspapers and/or magazines
- consistently using a steady pace
- able to have a conversation with the person next to you

Any or all of these common practices reduce the effectiveness in terms of caloric expenditure by as much as 30%.
The following tips and other related content can be found here at the Pittsburgh Kettlebells Facebook page. I've placed volumes 1-25 here as a convenient reference.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XVII: Pareto's Principle (11/6/12)

Paraphrasing as it relates to to heath & fitness, Pareto's Principle essentially states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. That 20% is what we aim to arm you with so you can simplify things and remove a lot of confusion and guesswork.

The take home lesson here is don't sweat all the minute details and stick to the basics:

- push, pull, hip-hinge, squat
- eat real food
- sit less/move more
- enjoy life

We have enough stress in our lives about way more important things than whether it's 'better' to do 8 reps or 12.


Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XVIII: Exercise Machines (11/13/12)

Guest post by Pittsburgh Kettlebells owner
Kerry Swick.

People who have not participated in classes or training sessions at Pgh KB often ask me how we can possibly offer useful workouts without the use of machines, or why we would even do such a thing.

1. Machines make you good at one thing, and that is doing machines.

2. The human body is a dynamic group of parts functioning as a whole. Your exercise routine should reinforce this. Do you have a machine supporting you in everything you do in life? Do you specifically move only one body part at a time as you would on a machine?

3. Machines are dangerous. Yes, I said it. The next time you approach a weight machine, consider this: seated pushing and pulling exercises (such as rowing and chest presses) create MORE SPINAL INTRA-DISC PRESSURE than bending over to lift something incorrectly. However, rows and chest presses are terrific exercises, but not when performed seated on a machine.

In addition, machines force you to move with them. They do not move with you. Have you ever climbed onto a weight machine and found that no matter how you adjusted the seat and other settings, it just didn't feel right? That's because it wasn't. Human joints do not move the same way as the axis on the machine. Forcing your joints to move in an unnatural way (especially with added weight!) will take its toll on you over time.

4. Most weight machines require you to sit or recline. Since we keep mentioning how unhealthy it is to spend too much time sitting, why on earth would you go to the gym to SIT DOWN??

5. Bonus Tip: A 'trainer' who simply takes their client through a machine circuit (a la Curves) is what we in the fitness industry affectionately refer to as a 'clipboard jockey.' Looks for tips on how to spot a 'clipboard jockey' in the near future.
Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XVIV: Tips for Trainers Edition (11/20/12)

Hey, we trainers need tips too!
Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XX: Surviving The Holiday Eating Season Part 1 (11/27/12)

Eat This, Not That. Most Fattening Thanksgiving Foods. Both headlines from this past week. To this I say.......

Who cares?!?

Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners account for a whopping 2 meals out of the ~1100 the average person will eat in a year(365x3). Do you think those 2 meals really matter or make much of a difference as compared to the other 1098?

Worry about what you are eating the rest of the year on a day to day basis and enjoy these meals and times with your loved ones the way they are meant to be. Seems like a more enjoyable and realistic way to go about life to me.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XXI: Surviving The Holiday Eating Season Part 2 (12/4/12)

Last week we encouraged you to simply let loose and enjoy the holidays as they are meant to be because success from nutrition comes from what you do the MAJORITY of the time, not ALL of the time. But let's face it, everyone doesn't quite have that part down just yet or they wouldn't be seeking out advice in the first place ri...ght?

SO without further ado, this week's tip: Create a Caloric Buffer.

Just as many Americans struggle with simple checks and balances when it comes to their finances, it comes as no surprise they also struggle with this same simple concept when it comes to nutrition. When Thanksgiving and Christmas meal times come around, you KNOW you are going to indulge. Take advantage of this advanced notice and plan accordingly. Eat light, or even not at all, during the day leading up to your planned feast. Most people find it easier to cut calories and make better choices during the day if they know they will be able to feast later in the day.

Life is full of surprises....indulging during the holidays is not one of them. Use it to your advantage and plan ahead.
Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XXII: Surviving The Holiday Eating Season Part 3 : Put a Priority on Protein (12/11/12)
Protein is rated significantly higher than both carbohydrates and fat in terms of hunger suppression/satiety, as well as Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF). The latter just a fancy way of saying your body has to work much harder to digest it and store excess as fat. By focusing on whole protein choices first and then adding fat and carbohydrates to taste, you’ll feel fuller and more satisfied by the time those ‘evil’ foods make their rounds around the table.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XXIII: Turn Off The News Edition

I interrupt our regularly scheduled Holiday Eating Season Survival Guide in light of the tragedy in Connecticut. This weeks tip:

Stop Watching The News and Other National Media Sensationalize It For The Sake of Ratings.

The constant bombardment of negative messages and images can substantionally increase your own risk for depression and ...lead to a negative outlook on things overall - the exact opposite of what the holiday season is about. If you've heard one 'experts' take on the cause and solution to these events you've heard them all - no one is adding anything new or useful to the story despite all the extra hours of 'coverage'.

Watch long enough to be informed and then move on to a much more worthwhile activity: appreciating and thoroughly enjoying spending time with your own family and loved ones in the victims' honor.

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XXIV: Make It Count (12/25/12)

Let’s face it, there are countless opportunities to ‘cheat’ and make poor choices this time of year. And make no mistake, we are going to do just that. So let's be practical......

The more choices we are given, the more we will likely overeat. The trick here is to limit choices, not quantities. Instead of going all Gangnam Style on the buffet of chris...tmas cookies and other goodies, pick your absolute favorite 1 or 2 indulgences and have at it. You'll feel satisfied earlier and won't go overboard quite as much implementing this simple strategy. It's simply not worth falling off the wagon for crappy chips and store bought candy littered throughout the office when you could be having cannoli and home-made peppermint brownies like this lucky guy was fortunate enough to thoroughly enjoy......

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Free-Tip Tuesday Volume XXV: The Anti-Resolution (1/1/13)

Ah January 1st. Like so many years before, the birthplace of the well intentioned New Years Resolution of finally 'getting in shape'.

Characterized by throngs of people flocking to over-crowded gyms with their like-minded brethren haphazardly wandering around with no guidance or plan; only to result in frustration, burn-out, or even worse - injury.... Regardless, by the start of February these poor souls are no where to be found.

So what to do? The OPPOSITE of the aforementioned majority of course -


The Anti-Resolution.

By becoming students at Pittsburgh Kettlebells you have avoided the pitfall of training too long and too often, while also beginning to learn the difference between 'working out', and 'training'. For this you deserve a pat on the back - and a few days off!

Bottom Line: Enjoy a little R & R every so often and return to your training re-freshed and with with re-newed vigor and purpose.

You have a life to live afterall......

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