10 Years in Business, 10 Random Thoughts/Things I’ve Learned

Last week officially marked 10 years that I have been in business (13 years in the fitness industry). So in honor of 10 years, here are 10 random thoughts and things I have learned that I hope most of you find useful! I mean, I have learned a lot more than 10 things as a business owner for 10 years, such as I don’t like paying money just to find out how much money I owe the IRS. Or, if your website isn’t ADA compliant, you can get sued? I learned that is a thing now and I am looking into it (so please don’t sue me, seems like a cheap shot at small business owners). But hopefully these 10 things can apply to all!

  1. Consistency. This is without a doubt the most important ability when it comes to fitness and nutrition. The perfect workout does not exist. There is no special food that is missing from your diet that will make you magazine cover lean. No magic supplement exists that melts fat off of your belly. The only thing that works is what you can do day in, day out.
  2. Foam rolling and warming up are absolutely essential the older you get. I may only be 35 now, but I definitely take more time to warm up now versus when I was 25. When I was 25, I would warm-up by doing squats with less weight, then load up each set after that. Now, I foam roll, stretch, do a few shoulder and hip exercises, do body weight versions of exercises I am about to do, then I feel ready.
  3. Learning to be a decent home cook is really helpful for eating better consistently and getting leaner. When I was 25, I didn’t cook a whole lot. I ate cereal, lunch meat sandwiches, and takeout. I started cooking with hamburger helper and gradually increased my culinary skills over the years. Now I’m slinging the meats on a pellet smoker and the smoked turkey I made last was on par with some of the local BBQ establishments in my opinion :). So learn to be a better cook. Get good at making 5 different meals and you can have a lot of meal prep success.
  4. Build up that home gym. The two years that I have been working from home are the most consistent I have ever been with my workouts, even when I worked at a gym. The fact that I had to bump most of my wardrobe from size Large to XL speaks for itself (I know that isn’t most peoples’ goals, and it wasn’t mine either, it just happened :). So buy those bands, buy the adjustable dumbbells, get a bench (they make ones that fold up to store away). If you’re more advanced, get a trap bar and some plates. If I had to drive to the gym, I know my workout wouldn’t happen sometimes.
  5. Awfulness based coaching doesn’t work. Standing on my soapbox and shaming anyone that strayed away from their diet doesn’t do anyone any good. And it makes me look like a hypocrite since I know I had ice cream yesterday. Focusing on what someone is doing well, works much better. It encourages more of that! Dwelling on what didn’t go well just makes someone feel like a failure. Life happens, and you’re going to have the cake sometimes, just refer back to #1 up at the top of this list.
  6. Get outside as much as possible. It’s good for the soul.  If it’s cold, bundle up. I believe in the saying “there isn’t such a thing as bad weather, just bad gear”, to an extent. You have to draw a line somewhere and it’s about 17℉ for me. Getting outside in nature always makes me feel better and there’s plenty of research out there to back it up. Even if it’s a walk down the block, that’s great! Just do it.
  7. Write down the things you want to get done tomorrow, tonight! Have a plan for the next day when you’re going to do certain things. That way you’re more proactive with your day instead of reactive. I am working at getting better with this one myself, but it helps so much! Tired of that extra workout not happening? Refer to this.
  8. Keep it simple, don’t overthink things. Don’t worry if eating another slice of cantaloupe is going to be too many carbs for the day. It’s not processed food and it’s good for you. Don’t fret over regular potatoes or sweet potatoes. Both have nutritional value and belong in a balanced diet. 
  9. The answer to many questions is often, “it depends.” Saying blanket statements like simple sugars like gummy bears are bad for you depends a lot on the situation. If you’re trying to lose weight and want to curb your cravings, you should not have them often. If you are a cyclist and need simple sugars that digest quickly while on a long ride, they might be perfect for you, and they will fit easily into your pockets and not go bad.
  10. Never stop learning. Whenever I go through a phase of burn out, this is my go-to. Learn something new, take a new course, read a book, watch some webinars. It doesn’t even have to be related to what you do. Just keep using that brain of yours! It helps keep life from getting stale.

So I just want to say that I greatly appreciate everyone who has trusted me with their fitness and nutrition goals in the last 10 years. Some of you I have trained longer than that, some of you I have never met in person. It is has been quite a ride and I don’t plan on doing anything else until retirement calls me!

Upgrade Your Push-Up

Next up for my writing on different types of movement is upper body pushing. It can be done horizontally or vertically, 2 arms, single arm, or alternating arms. There’s lot of variety between body weight, dumbbells, barbells, bands, kettlebells, and the list can keep going. But for today, we will talk about horizontal pushing and the push-up.

The push-up is one of the best exercises you can do at home (or in a gym), and there are many ways to make it easier or harder. It’s pretty versatile. It trains the muscles of the chest, the shoulders, the triceps, and the core. It tends to be effective too!

Let’s talk about the set-up, and we’ll just use a traditional push-up for this. There are wide, narrow, and offset hand positions but let’s keep it simple here. Your hands should be placed slightly wider than your shoulders and in a position that looks like an “arrow” pointing up when looking from a bird’s eye view.

Legs should be stiff, and you should see a straight line from your head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. As you lower your body to the floor, take an inhale through the nose. As you push back up, exhale out the mouth.

Let’s look at the common mistakes I see when people first learn how to do one:

Setting up with your upper body looking like a “T”. This places more tension on the deltoids in your shoulder rather than the pectoral muscles of the chest. You won’t be able to do as many and it’s not a strong position for your shoulder.

Dropping your head as you lower your body. This can often be fixed by being aware of it. When I would train people in person, I would place a dowel across their hips, shoulders and head so they could feel when their head dropped.

Shrugging your shoulder blades upward as you lower. When people tell me they feel their upper traps when they do a push-up, this is likely what is happening.

Dropping the hips / arching the low back. This usually happens as fatigue sets in at the end of a set, or you don’t have enough core strength yet to do that version of a push-up. The body should lower and lift back up as a unit.

Now let’s take a brief look at some examples of regressions and progressions of the push-up and how most people can find a way to do them!

Row All About It!

In the past weeks, we’ve taken a look at two types of lower body exercises, hinges and squats. Let’s change things up and take a look at some upper body exercises. Upper body exercises can be categorized by pushing and pulling. In pulling exercises, we can do horizontal pulls, such as rows, and vertical pulls, such as pull-ups and lat pulldowns. They can be done with two arms, one arm, dumbbells, cables, bands, your body weight, TRX, etc. So for our purposes today, we’re talking about rows!

Rows help strengthen the muscles of the upper and mid back, the back side of the shoulder, and the muscles that flex the elbow. They are really important to help improve posture and provide balance in strength on both sides of the shoulder. Having strong, balanced shoulders will help keep them happy and healthy (and help your shoulder stay in its socket when your Lab/Rottweiler mix darts after a squirrel on a hike 😂).

So first, let’s take a look at how shoulders move during a row. The shoulder blades move from front to back (protraction to retraction) along the ribcage. As you pull your arm back, you shoulder blade moves back. As your arm moves forward, your shoulder blade move with it. Having healthy shoulders starts with how your shoulder blade (scapula) is positioned.

Now let’s take a look at the most common mistakes I see.

Shrugging your shoulder as you pull. I see this more often with people that have a rounded posture and their upper traps tend to takeover on a lot of shoulder movements.

Packing the shoulder blade back before even moving the arm. The shoulder blade should move freely with the movement, don’t pin it back and then pull. It’s a simultaneous movement of the shoulder blade and arm together.

Pulling the elbow too far back. If you pull your elbow so far back, eventually your shoulder blade has to tilt forward and elevate. Do this enough times and you may develop some discomfort on the top/front of your shoulder. When you do a row with correct form, the elbow should just be past the plane of your back.

Lurching your neck forward. This tends to happen with people that might have weaker neck muscles and/or a forward head posture. Often this can be corrected with just telling my clients.

So there you have it, those are some of the most common things I see when teaching someone how to do rows. I hope these visuals help with perfecting your form! In closing, here is a row done with correct form:

Happy Rowing,

Richard Lee

Build a Better Squat

Continuing from last week on how to do hinge exercises better, let’s talk about squats! Squats are another fundamental movement pattern that everyone should be able to do some form of. They look similar to a hinge, but one big difference is that your knee and hip angles at the bottom of the movement should be very similar (a hinge places more angle change at the hip than the knee) so a squat pattern exercise is going to train the quads AND the

Now there are a few anatomical differences you need to know about if you look at a video of someone squatting a crap ton of weight and going deep and then look at yourself and it doesn’t look like that. We’re not all built the same. Femur (thigh bone) length varies between people as well as the ratio of thigh length to lower leg length. These differences will influence how your squat looks. You don’t see many people with long legs that are good at squatting deep. They reach a certain point and due to mechanics, they end up getting deeper by bending more at the hips. This is OK, nothing is wrong with you and nothing is going to fix this much. Possibly elevating the heels on a wedge will clean it up to an extent.

Another anatomical difference is the orientation of your hip socket on your pelvis. Does it sit more forward or posterior (anteverted vs retroverted)? You might not know exactly unless you do some movement assessment or look at an X-Ray, but if your hip sockets are more anteverted, you are good at hip flexion and are likely better at squatting deeper. This socket orientation will also play into the width of your feet and what feels best for YOUR squat. More retroverted, you probably like a wider stance and your feet turned outward more. Anteverted, you might not need as wide of a stance. I encourage you to play around with what feels the best and strongest for you!

Other than of course rounding your back and not maintaining a neutral spine, here are a few common mistakes I often see:

Knees are not in-line with the toes. If you set up too wide, as you squat down, your knees will be inside the width of your feet and move inward placing uneven pressure on the knees.

Not using even weight distribution between the big toe and heel of your foot. The foot has an arch. The arch is a very strong structure, use it! If you squat through just the heels, I often see the toes lift off the floor. When this happens, you’re likely not using your quads as much and relying on the hamstrings and glutes more. Now there is the opposite, having so much forward weight shift that your heels lift off the ground. This can place more pressure on the front of the knee and possibly cause some pain if done all the time with heavy loads.

Not allowing the knees to move forward. There used to be a lot of fear of squatting where your knees move forward past your toes. In fact when I worked in a gym, I would hear group fitness instructors yelling it out to their classes. If you don’t allow your knees to move forward, your shin angle is too vertical and any further movement deeper into a squat is from the hips, making it look like a hinge instead. As long as your foot stays planted and you remember #1 and #2 above, there is no concern.

I hope that helps, mastering any movement takes time and lots of practice. Nobody has a perfect squat on day one!

Richard Lee

Build a Better Hinge

A hinge is a fundamental movement pattern that I believe everyone should learn, it’s easy to see how it easily translates to everyday life. Think about when you’ve heard “lift with your legs, not with you back”, this is what we’re talking about!

Hinge pattern exercises can be done in a two-leg stance, single leg stance, or staggered stance. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, sandbags, bands, etc. Common names are Romanian Deadlift (RDL) or Stiff-Leg Deadlift. I don’t like either because which deadlift is the American one? And stiff-leg implies locking out your knees. So I just call it a RDL. We will use a Kettlebell RDL for the example.

Mistake # 1: 

Improper bracing/not neutral spine. I often see people get ready to do a hinge pattern exercise by sticking their chest and chin up and their butt out. This creates an extended posture where you can see their ribs poke out and more tension in the muscles of the low back. It also isn’t the best position to get 360 degrees of expansion with your core to create optimal intra-abdominal pressure for a good core brace as you inhale.

Instead, think of keeping your ribs connected to your pelvis, which helps cue a neutral spine position. When you take an inhale with your nose, you will feel your core expand in all directions. 

Mistake # 2:

Leaning forward too much. I often see a tendency to lean forward without shifting your weight backwards, which places more tension on the low back. Sometimes I see people rounding their upper back with this, like they are reaching their arms for the floor.

For a hinge, think of keeping your knees slightly bent. This will allow you to sink into a deeper hip angle because your hips will be able to move further behind your feet and your center of gravity will stay right above your feet instead of in front of them. Often this can be fixed by keeping the weight closer to you.

Coaching Cues I like to use:

Tighten your arms to your sides like you’re holding onto pieces of paper.

Reach your hips back like your hands are full and you want to shut your car door.

Push into the floor to stand back up.

Hopefully you learned something new, if you didn’t, I hope you didn’t mind learning it again!

Have a great rest of your week!

Richard Lee

Fats: the Other Macronutrient that Gets a Bad Rap

Since I wrote about protein (twice, click here and then click here if you missed them) and carbohydrates, it’s only natural to finish off the macronutrients and talk about fats. This isn’t meant to be super extensive and tell you everything, but give you basic information and tell you HOW to use it.

Fats got a little bit of an unfair shake back in the 90s. All the so-called health foods were advertising that they were low-fat. Companies even started using fat replacements like olestra… then we found out if you have too much of that it causes “gastrointestinal distress”…. no thanks. Around that time period, if you look at obesity trends in America, they start to take off. Fats were bad and we needed more carbs, hence why they were the base of the outdated food pyramid.

Now we have gone 180 and you see diets that have moderate to high amounts of fat like Keto, and Mediterranean. I want to reiterate that I am “nutritionally agnostic”, what I mean by that is I’m not married to any diet or method. I’m more about what works for each person based on their preferences, lifestyle, and what they have access to.

Fats are made up of fatty acids, which can be broken down into saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids can be broken down further into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. We need all 3. We need a balance.

We need dietary fats for energy production (especially if you are into endurance things like running, biking, and swimming), making and balancing hormones in the body, cell membranes, the brain and the rest of the nervous system. We also need fats to transport fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. We need to consume fats to get omega 3 and 6 fatty acids because our bodies can’t make those on our own (those are important, that’s why you see omega 3 supplements).

So what food sources are good for each type of fatty acid?

For monounsaturated fatty acids, eat:

  • almonds
  • olives
  • cashews
  • avocado
  • peanuts
  • egg yoke

For polyunsaturated fatty acids, eat:

  • chia seeds
  • oily fish
  • pine nuts
  • walnuts
  • flax seed
  • hemp seed

Saturated fats are found mostly in meat, and most people get enough. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you may need to focus on eating more:

  • coconut oil
  • coconut milk
  • shredded coconut
  • whole milk
  • butter

So how do you figure out how much fat you need? A good starting point is 1 thumb-sized serving at each meal for women, 2 thumb-sized servings for men. Don’t go crazy on the fats, most are very calorie dense.

So to sum it up, we need all the macronutrients, using a variety of whole food sources in the right amounts to be healthy and promote good body composition. Don’t demonize one of them, they all provide essential nutrients our bodies need.

Carbs… Friend or Foe?

I’m not a betting man, but I would bet that most people cringe when they think about carbs and that they are to be avoided like the plague if you want to lose fat. The truth is we need carbs. Especially if you exercise, have a physically demanding job, or want to perform your best.

What most people need to focus on is eating more complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs (sometimes I call “smart carbs”) help prevent blood sugar swings, give us long lasting energy, and help us feel fuller for longer.

Smart carbs can be found in foods such as:

  • fruit (fresh or frozen)
  • starchy tubers like sweet potatoes and potatoes
  • squashes
  • whole, minimally processed grains (oats, quinoa, brown or wild rice)
  • beans and legumes (but aren’t those listed as protein from last week??? YES! Not many foods are 100% protein or carbs or fats, they can have all of the above, just wait until I talk about fatty fish next week)

Referring back to my first post about protein with the hand method for portion control infographic, women get 1 cupped handful of carb dense food at each meal and men get 2. That means that giant baked potato at your favorite restaurant you really like is way too many carbs. Think of about 1/2 a medium potato being 1 serving for most people (depending on how big you are and your goals).

Refined carbs are the ones that most people need to limit. They CAN however be our friend. When you need a quick burst of energy that digests quickly while you are exercising, these do the trick. Carbs are the primary energy source for intense exercise, we need them. However most of the time, eating refined carbs just lead to having more cravings, make us hungrier later (so we eat more again), and leave us feeling blah.

Examples of refined carbs would be:

  • pastries
  • cookies and bars (even those protein bars that look like candy bars)
  • candies and chocolate
  • sugary drinks like soda and juice
  • sweetened dried fruits

So next time you think about having a couple donuts before your workout, think again. They might just bonk your energy and any will you had to get in your workout!

So to keep this simple and bring it home, carbs are not the devil. You just need to be eating the right ones in the right amounts. Take a look at the twinkie diet, that professor (from my alma mater) lost weight while getting the majority of his calories from snack cakes. The number one rule of trying to lose weight (fat) is that you need to burn more calories than you consume, you need a deficit. Carbs like bread and pasta get a bad wrap because they are higher in calorie and people generally eat too much of them. If you’re active, carbs are essential. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s an area that is easy to cut back but you do not have to eliminate.

More about Protein

After last week’s blog, I had some more questions about protein. So I figured this week I would build off of that.

Dietary protein provides our bodies with the building blocks we need to grow and repair healthy tissues. Your body is constantly turning over protein by breaking it down and rebuilding tissues. This includes muscle. When you workout, you cause micro trauma to your muscles, this is what leads to soreness and more protein turnover. You need protein to repair/build muscle tissue so that you can recover and do it all over again.

There is some merit to the timing of intake of protein after working out, but that is a more advanced nutrition strategy. For most people, they will do really well if they focus on protein consumption for the day as a whole.

The old recommendations for how much protein to have in your diet is based on the MINIMUM amount you need to not be sick. That recommendation was 0.8g/kg of body mass. That is only 54.4 grams of protein per day for someone that weighs 150 lbs. Research now suggests that if you are training hard, lowering calories to lose fat, have a physically active job, are injured, sick, recovering from a surgery, or in a state of high stress, your protein intake should be much higher. The OPTIMAL intake of protein is more in the range of 1.2 – 1.7g/kg of body weight. That would be 81.6 – 115.6 grams per day for someone that weight 150 lbs. That’s a big difference between the minimum intake and the optimal range of intake.

In the past, there were concerns over taking in too much protein and kidney damage. There simply isn’t any evidence that a higher protein diet will damage healthy kidneys. If you have a preexisting kidney disease, then that is a different story and obviously you should work with your medical doctor and a dietitian that can help treat that. The upper limits to how much protein a healthy person can eat is somewhere between 3.5 – 4.5 g/kg body weight. That would be 238 – 306 grams of protein for someone who weighs 150 lbs. The average sized chicken breast has 54 grams of protein, that would be almost 6 chicken breasts in one day. Good luck chewing all of that! Protein is also something your body isn’t good at storing like fat and carbohydrates, so eating too much doesn’t do you any good.

I figured I should leave you with good sources to eat to get the protein you need daily:

  • lean beef
  • pork
  • lamb
  • wild game
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • duck
  • eggs (2-3 eggs is 1 palm-sized serving)
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • lentils
  • beans
  • cottage cheese
  • plain Greek yogurt
  • protein powders (1 scoop is 1 palm-sized serving)

So referring back to last week’s post, at each meal women need 1 palm-sized portion of protein dense food, men need 2. Following this will help you reach your optimal protein intake for the day instead of doing math and weighing out your food all the time.

Something to keep in mind, anything you eat has some protein in it. If it was alive at some point, it has protein in it. A fist-sized portion of broccoli has 3 grams of protein. So the other things on your plate do help contribute to your overall protein intake. I’d just recommend not trying to get all of your protein for the day from broccoli unless you like to chew from sunup to sundown.

And just so you know I’m not making any of this up, I pulled this info from a text book, “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, 3rd edition” from the Precision Nutrition certification manual.

Protein for Fat Loss

I recently had a reminder of why increasing protein intake helps tremendously in losing fat. With the stay-at-home orders, my wife and I have been trying to limit how much we go to the store, so I have been trying to make our meals go a little further. For example, I normally would eat a whole large chicken breast by myself for lunch or dinner, and make 1/2 of one for Kelly. I started just giving myself the other 1/2 of hers and having that. Now did my muscles suddenly implode and I start to look like 12 year old Richard? No, but I did find myself snacking more, which probably meant I was eating more calories than I needed.

You see, protein takes more time to breakdown, and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Since I wasn’t as satisfied from my meals, I definitely was hitting up the pantry more after lunch and dinner and eating things like chips and pretzels (carb-dense foods that digest quickly, don’t leave you full for long, and are by no means a low calorie food).

Realizing this, I started eating a whole chicken breast again. I noticed that I was satisfied after I finished it, even though it seemed like a lot of food and I had to chew a whole lot more (in addition to the crap load of steam broccoli and 1/2 sweet potato on my plate). My energy level felt really good too after each meal. It wasn’t too much so I didn’t feel sluggish, and it kept me from raiding the pantry for carbohydrate-dense foods that sap my energy after I eat them. This allows me to do my job well and get in great workouts for myself.

Here’s another fun fact about protein: when you are lowering your caloric intake (like when trying to lose weight), increasing the amount of your calories from protein can make sure that your weight loss is from fat and not muscle. This has been clinically studied with whey protein supplements. Look it up on Google, there are many studies in animals and humans that prove this.

So I guess my point is, if you find yourself getting snacky and want to keep the calories down for fat loss, start with eating more protein.

How do you start? For women, 1 palm-sized portion of protein dense food at each meal. For men, 2 palm-sized portions of protein dense food at each meal. Keep in mind, this is just a starting point and you can adjust of your goals and needs. Some people feel full with more protein, some need less. Some need more smart carbs to feel full. Everyone is a little different and it takes some experimenting to see what makes you look and feel your best.

Do You Need to Slow Down?

Most people have a lot on their plate at any given time, and it has us running from one thing to the next constantly. Sometimes, like in this video, being absorbed in what you have to do or where you need to be will make you miss important signs, and it can be a disaster!

This makes me think of one of the habits I help coach my nutrition coaching clients with: eating slowly. If you eat too fast, your body’s hunger and appetite hormones don’t have time to signal to the brain that you are getting full. You have a lesser chance of stopping before you are full or over-full. The result, many of us overeat. If you take time to eat slowly, you will notice that your body gives you signs that you are approaching fullness (the 11 foot 8 bridge), so you end up eating less and being satisfied. Just google it, there are many studies that show people who report eating too fast are way more likely to be overweight than those that eat slowly or even at a moderate pace. It sounds so simple.

As an example with myself, I was really proud of myself the last time I sat down with Ben and Jerry. When I consciously ate the ice cream slower, I didn’t end up wanting to finish all of it! When I eat ice cream fast, I end up eating way more than I should and regret how my body feels afterwards.

So instead of worrying if you should do the Paleo diet or try Keto, most people just need to slow down and chew their food!

Eating slowly is just one of many habits that my nutrition coaching program covers. If you want help getting more in tune with your body, learning and practicing solid habits, this program is for you. You can say goodbye to strict diet rules and depriving yourself. You can even occasionally have ice cream and still reach your goals!