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Don't Exercise, Play

Posted on March 23rd, 2009 by Matt Schoeneberger

Here’s a little something I wrote a while back.  More musing than anything….

Exercise is boring. Exercise is a waste of time.  Exercise is dying.  Exercise is dead.

Living a healthy lifestyle requires motivation.  It’s easy to slip into a cycle of laziness and gluttony, to let your health take a back seat to any number of other things.  With schedules full of responsibilities, full of chores and tasks, it can become daunting to add exercise to the list.  After all, we know we feel better when we exercise, but that fact alone is rarely enough to get us in the gym after a stressful, tiresome day.

The Common Cure for Motivation

What if there was a cure for this motivation problem?  What if we could simultaneously add joy, fitness and long-term health to our lives all while making it easier to find the motivation for gym-going?  Well the truth is we can, it just takes an adjustment in the way we approach exercise.

Exercise is a replacement for levels of activity our distant ancestors achieved through survival activities.  We used to need to hunt and gather, to build shelter, protect our families, and to travel long distances by foot.  Modern life has made these activities largely unnecessary, so we have invented ‘exercise’.  Our distant ancestors, however, partook in one form of activity that exists today, and has existed in many different species for many years; play.  We adapted play to our modern lifestyle and sport was born.  Sport, or play, is the key to our new motivation.


We all need heroes or role models to look up to.  As children, we often look to athletes as role models, as someone to model ourselves after, to make us work harder and excel in sports as well as other areas of our lives.  When we grow into adulthood, we often continue to admire sports figures.  We devote chunks of our time and energy into our fanaticism, all while letting our own athleticism slip away.  This is our mistake, our wrong turn on the path to health and happiness.  We stop playing.

The excitement we feel when watching one of our favorite sports teams or athletes compete is little compared to the feeling of our own involvement in competition.  The ‘butterflies’ prior to competition, the level of unparalleled focus during competition and the feeling of satisfaction after playing your hardest and knowing you performed to the best of your ability are rarely felt by many of us after childhood.  These feelings of accomplishment and involvement are important for health and happiness.  The athlete inside of us demands increased performance each time we compete and this is our new motivation, our source of drive.

Exercise is Dead

Exercise is an activity for regular people.  Exercise is regular people’s modern day replacement for survival activities of the past.  Exercise is their means to an end they know they need, but have no real desire to achieve.  Health alone is rarely a motivator.  We, as athletes, do not exercise.  Athletes train.

The difference may be undetectable to some, but training is worlds apart from exercising.  Training involves a focus, a drive, a desire that is fueled by the need for performance, for victory.  Training allows you to achieve feats you never thought possible and acquire confidence that carries over to all other aspects of your life.  Our natural competitiveness makes getting to the gym after a stressful, tiresome day a no-brainer, a non-decision.  We’re already there.  We’re athletes.  We train.

Becoming an Athlete

We, as adults, sit and remember the games we played as children and file these memories away, not realizing we could capture that excitement all over again.  There are recreational leagues for many sports and many age groups.  If we feel we’re not in shape to begin playing in a local league, our time in the gym should be focused on regaining the athleticism needed to compete at the most basic level, while adding sport-specific practice (i.e. shooting baskets for basketball) as part of our routine.  Once able to join the games, our training focus shifts to increasing performance for our sport and position.  Training continues as long as we improve, and for as long as we continue to play at any level.

Remember, we’re athletes.  We train.  Get to it.

New recreational sports league:

Phoenix Dodgeball

For more about training:

Online Personal Training

Low Carb Eating – A Quick Overview

Posted on March 17th, 2009 by Matt Schoeneberger

By Jeff Thiboutot

Low carbohydrate (CHO) food plans/diets have been around for a long time. For instance, William Banting, in 1864, wrote a book on low CHO eating called Letter on Corpulence (Bowden). Additionally, there have been a number of populations, such as the Eskimos (Inuit) of Alaska and Masai tribe in Africa, that have been eating a low CHO diet for thousands of years and have been exceptionally healthy. Ever since then there have been surges of popularity in this type of eating (i.e., Atkins, South Beach, etc.). The question is; is this type of eating healthy and does it help with weight loss? The simple answer is an overwhelming yes!

Eating a low-CHO diet, often considered to be 10-40% of caloric intake as carbohydrates, has been extensively researched over the past three decades. However, there has been some published research on low CHO eating as early as 1926. The 1926 article, titled “The effects of an exclusive long-continued meat diet”, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The results of this long study showed no harmful effects from eating a very low CHO, med protein, and high fat diet (Lieb et al). Another early study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1953, demonstrated positive effects on weight loss and no negative health effects were noted (Bowden).

Back to today. There have been dozens of studies on low CHO diets. The collective result from all these studies is the fact that this type of eating, relative to higher CHO, low protein, low fat diets, has much better effects on appetite control, fat loss, and blood markers of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, such as HDL, triglycerides, insulin, and blood sugar (Volek et al, 2005; Volek et al, 2004; Volek et al, 2002; Meckling et al, 2007; Foster et al, 2003; Golay et al, 1996; Accurso et al, 2008). Most recently, July 17, 2008, a paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The paper was the result of a 2 year study on the effects of three different diets; low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, and low-fat diet. The results from this study demonstrated that the low CHO diet had the best results regarding weight loss and metabolic markers of CVD risk. All the diets induced weight loss, and some improvement in CVD markers, but the low CHO diet induced the best changes (Shai et al, 2008).

To continue to state that a low CHO diet is ineffective and harmful is a red flag of ignorance on the subject (Manninen). This does not mean that everyone needs to eat this way to improve their weight and health. However, from the currently available evidence, it certainly seems that it typically is the most efficient and effective method. Also, eating a low CHO diet may not have to be followed forever. When a goal weight and other health markers are achieved some people can start to increase their CHO intake. However, others may need, for weight and health issues, to eat in a similar fashion continually. The amount of CHO that can be increased will depend on the person, but eating a diet that is up to 50% CHO is certainly possible and not unhealthy. As CHO increases, fat intakes will need to decrease proportionally and protein intake may decrease a little also.

One last point on a low CHO diet, it is not really a high protein diet, but is actually a high fat diet. The typical ranges for macronutrient ratios, based on the percentage of calories, are; 10-40% carbohydrates, 20-30% protein, and 40-60% fat. For a 1,500 calories diet this would equate to 38 – 150 grams of carbohydrates, 75 – 115 grams of protein, and 66-100 grams of fat. Typically, the intake of these macronutrients should be spread out over 3 or 4 meals a day. There are times when more or less frequent meals should be utilized but that is outside the scope of this article and will be dealt with on another occasion.

This article is meant to give a brief overview of low CHO diets regarding weight loss and overall health. For more detailed information on low CHO diets I would recommend the Nutrition and Metabolism Society ( and any of the references used for this article. Also, there is a low carb food pyramid handout that is a good compliment to this article. It is available at L.E.A.N. U.


Accurso, A. et al (2008). Dietary carbohydrate restriction in type 2 diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome: time for a critical appraisal. Nutrition and Metabolism. 5:9

Bowden, J. (2005). Living the low carb life. New York. Sterling.

Foster, GD. et al (2003). A randomized trial of a low carbohydrate diet for obesity. NEJM. 348: 2082-2090.

Golay, A. et al (1996). Weight loss with low or high carbohydrate diet? Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 20: 1067-1072.

Lieb, C. et al (1926). The effects of an exclusive long continued meat diet. JAMA. 87(1): 25-26.

Manninen, A. (2004). Metabolic effects of the very low carbohydrate diets: Misunderstood “villains” of human metabolism. J Inter Society Sports Nutr. 1(2): 7-11.

Mechling, KA. & Sherfey, R. (2007). A randomized trial of a hypocaloric high-protein diet, with or without exercise, on weight loss, fitness, and markers of the Metabolic Syndrome in overweight and obese women. Appl Physiol NutrMetab. 32(4): 743-752.

Shai, I. Et al (2008). Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. NEJM. 359(3): 229-241.

Volek, J. et al (2002). Very low carbohydrate weight loss diets revisited. Cleveland Clinic J Medicine. 69 (11): 849-862.

Volek, J. et al (2004). Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women. Nutrition and Metabolism. 1:13.

Volek, J. et al (2005). Corbohydrate restriction improves the features of Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome may be defined by the response to carbohydrate restriction. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2(31).

The nutritional information in this material is for educational purposes only. The information is not offered to treat, mitigate or cure disease, and should not be used as a substitute for sound medical advice. This information is designed to be used in conjunction with the services of a trained licensed healthcare practitioner.

Muscle Metabolism Myth

Posted on March 14th, 2009 by Matt Schoeneberger

A common thought in the health and fitness industry is “gain muscle and increase your metabolism”. This is technically true, but the effect is minimal.

It has been estimated that 1 POUND of muscle will have a DAILY energy expenditure (BMR) of about 5 CALORIES (Wolfe, R. 2006). Therefore, even if someone was to gain 10 pounds of muscle they would only increase their BMR by 50 calories. However, it is not common for most people to gain this amount of muscle. For people who are trying to lose weight, it doesn’t really work out this way. The reason that it will not actually increase their metabolism is because they will also be losing fat. Their fat loss will decrease their metabolic rate because fat has a metabolic rate of about 2 CALORIES per POUND (Wang, Z. et al). For example, if someone was to lose 20 lbs (a common goal) then their metabolic rate would drop by 40 cal/day and if they gained 5 lbs of muscle (a significant gain for most people on a weight loss program), resulting in an increase in metabolism of 25 cal/day, the end results would still be a net LOSS of BMR of 15/cal per day.

I think this demonstrates that the common assumption of building muscle and revving up one’s metabolism, for most people, is not true. The true benefit of doing resistance training seems to be its ability to maintain the amount of muscle mass a person has and to promote the preferential breakdown/utilization of adipose tissue during a weight loss (calorie restricted) program (Bryner, et al). Resistance training also has many other potential benefits (Pollack, et al), but that is for another day.


Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, Yeater R. (1999). Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. J Am Coll Nutr. 18(2):115-21.

Pollack, M. & Vincent, K. (1999). Resistance training for health and disease. Med & Sci in Sports & Exer. Vol 31 (1): 10-45.

Wang, Z., Heshka, S., Ahang, K. Boozer, C.N., & Heymsfield, S.B. (2001). Resting energy expenditure: systematic organization and critique of prediction methods. Obesity Research, 9: 331-336.

Wolfe, R. (2006). The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. Am J Clin Nutr, 84: 475-482

Workouts on The Road

Posted on March 13th, 2009 by Matt Schoeneberger

As a personal trainer, I have to find solutions to a lot of problems. One obstacle that appears for many of my clients is work-related travel.

“My hotel didn’t have a gym.”

“My hotel had a gym, but I didn’t know how to use any of the equipment.”

“My hotel had a great gym, but it was a hassle to get there from my room.”

Travel and the lack of hotel gym equipment are no excuse to miss workouts. Many of the exercises I do with my clients in my gym are bodyweight only exercises, or can be modified to be so. After covering the material in this article, we’ll never have a good excuse to miss a workout in any city.

Bodyweight exercises are some of the most challenging and also the most modifiable exercise choices available. Some coaches even recommend that a certain level of performance be achieved on bodyweight exercises before weights are used in any situation. If we plan correctly, we can easily develop enough total body workouts to get you into shape without a single dumbbell.

Before we get to the workout, a few notes about modifying bodyweight exercises and knowing how many reps of each exercise to do. The first rule of bodyweight exercises is that we want to be able to perform repetitions with good form, as with any exercise. If the exercise is so hard that our form is atrocious, we modify. The second rule is that when we modify an exercise, depending on the situation, the modification may make it almost too easy. This is better than too hard, since we can always do more repetitions and sets to make up for the level of difficulty. The third rule is, no matter what exercise we’re using or what set and repetition parameters we decide on, each set should nearly fatigue the muscles we’re working. In other words, we don’t want to take each set to complete failure, but maybe just one or two reps shy of complete failure. For timed exercises, stop when you feel yourself start to lose form or feel pain in an area that is unexpected.

Bodyweight Workout:

Bodyweight Squats – stand with feet between hip and shoulder width apart. Push hips back and down like you were going to sit in a chair. Once you reach average chair height, return to standing. Feel free to raise your arms out in front of you for balance as you complete the movement.

Modified Push-ups – to modify a push-up, lean on a raised surface so that your shoulders are above your hips, but your body is still in a straight line. The higher the surface, the easier the push-ups will be. Look for tables, chairs, countertops, etc. for modifications.

Planks – Lie face down to start. Then lift your body up so that your weight is supported on your forearms and your toes, with your body as straight as possible. Brace your abdominals (hold them tight like if someone was going to hit you in the stomach) and squeeze your glutes (butt muscles). Do not let your lower back arch excessively. This should look like upper push-up position only with your arms bent and your forearms on the floor. Hold for time.

Squat Thrusts – stand with feet hips width apart. Squat down and reach your hands to the floor in front of you. Let your weight rest on your hands and kick your legs back so you end up in a push-up position. Jump your legs back to your hands and stand up.

Leg Lift Holds – Lie on your back and lift your legs up to a 90 degree angle at the hip. Lower your legs, keeping your abdominal muscles tight, until you start to feel your lower back come off the floor. Stop here, press your back onto the floor, and hold for time.

That’s it. Now we never have a reason to miss a workout while traveling. This is a great workout and it can be completed anywhere. Now get to work!

Do Work

Posted on March 10th, 2009 by Matt Schoeneberger

I just met with one of my health coaching clients. He meets with me about once a month and is seeing great results. He’s lost about 10 pounds (he doesn’t have much to lose) and he’s getting stronger in just about all areas.

This client is a single dad with three kids, works full-time, etc. Our sessions are quick 15 minute meetings where I throw as many recommendations as I can at him. I can’t check his food journal often and he doesn’t have a trainer. This guy is doing it on his own. This guy does work!

This post obviously isn’t about the scientific literature and it’s not about any specific technique. It’s about the fact that like my client, you can decide to make the simple changes that will take you to a new body composition.  You can put aside your excuses (work, kids, time) and get done what you need to. You can ‘Do Work.’

Metabolic Decline with Age.

Posted on March 5th, 2009 by Matt Schoeneberger

A review of energy metabolism by Roberts and Rosenberg estimates that the decline in metabolic rate that humans experience with aging is equal to about 1-2% per decade. This means that from the age of 20 to 70, we can expect a decline in metabolic rate of 400 calories per day. That’s nothing. Stop blaming your slowing metabolism for your expanding waistline.

Change your behaviors!

Roberts SB, Rosenberg I. Nutrition and Aging: Changes in the Regulation of Energy Metabolism With Aging. Physiol Rev 2006. 86: 651–667