Saturday, January 31, 2009

Prosciutto Chicken

One of the problems that people face when they are trying to eat healthy is that the chicken breast, one of the greatest sources of lean protein, can get awfully boring and bland if you don't mix it up once in a while.  Give this recipe a try.  I made it up on the fly last night for the family.  It has all the right mix for making it part of your regular menu:  simple, only a few ingredients, and takes less than 15 minutes of actual work time to prepare dinner for 4.


Boning knife (that's the one that's a little longer than a steak knife)


Large frying pan

9 x 12 baking pan, layered with aluminum foil


2 tablespoons of olive oil


4 large chicken breasts

4 slices of proscuitto ham (You can get this at the deli counter.  It's expensive, but you only need 4 slices.  DO NOT BUY A WHOLE POUND UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO WITH THE OTHER 90 OR SO SLICES!)

4 ounces fresh parmesan cheese, shredded

Fresh salsa  (This is nothing more than a mixture of fresh chopped onions, tomatoes and peppers.  You can find it in your local grocery store.  Stop & Shop keeps theirs at the back of the produce section near the hummus.)


Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.

Pre-heat pan on stove top, over medium heat, with 2 TBS of olive oil and a pinch of salt.

Using a boning knife, cut a pocket in the chicken breasts along the long slide, leaving 3 sides closed.

Stuff the pocket with 1 slice of ham, 1 ounce of cheese and round out with salsa.

Place breasts 2 at a time in pan on stove.  Turn after 3 minutes.  This will give the chicken a nice crispy, golden look.

Remove from pan after 3 more minutes and place in baking dish.

Repeat process with the other 2 breasts.

Bake in oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, pour remaining salsa over the top of chicken and return to oven for 15 more minutes.

Serve this up on a bed of spinach for a complete meal.

Including one serving of raw baby spinach, here's the macronutrient breakdown on this meal, according to Fitday:

Calories:  398

Fat:  20 grams (44% of total cal.)

Carbohydrates:  8 grams (8%)

Protein:  46 (48%)

Train Smart, Eat Right

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Great Content...This Time It's Men's Health

So this month, Men's Fitness gave us the box squat to help improve our squat by teaching us to activate our glutes and hamstrings.  Men's Health fires back by highlighting a single leg movement called the Wide Grip Overhead Split Squat.  The information for the article was provided by Alwyn Cosgrove.  This guy knows his stuff.  He is a top performance coach and is highly sought after as a speaker in the fitness industry.  He has also had articles published in just about every major fitness related magazine out there.  (As well as, oddly enough Soap Opera Digest.  What's with that?)

This is a fantastic movement.  For years, in the bodybuilding magazines, single leg lifts were relegated to the ladies side of the gym.  Big mistake, guys!  Exercises like the lunge and squat are a great way to develop the posterior chain, preventing many common sports injuries, including the infamous pulled hammy.  They essentially force you not to cheat, and make you include your glutes and hamstrings in the movement.

When you try this one, just make sure to secure the barbell in a position above the back of your head.  A cue I commonly use with people to make sure they have it in the right position is to tell them that if I am standing directly to their side, looking straight down the barbell, I should be able to see their ears in front of their arms.  The arms should not be obscuring the ears (unless you have 23" arms) and they should definitely NOT be in front of the ears.

By putting the bar overhead, you are also putting a strong emphasis on just about every muscle in the body.  Alwyn gets extra points for making sure to include the tip to perform the movement on both sides of the body.

Also this month in Men's Health, check out the bodyweight circuit included in the pull out section toward the back.  When you do a circuit like this with the rest periods (or lack thereof) prescribed, you'll be amazed at how effective your bodyweight can be as a conditioning tool.  The author, Jeff Csatari a contributing editor at the magazine, did a great job of describing each exercise in a clear, easy-to-understand manner.

Give the Wide Grip Overhead Split Squat a try and let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear you feedback.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great Content from Men's Fitness

So the February issue of Men's Fitness has a couple of exercises in it that you might want to give a try.  The first is a T-Push-up.  to perform the exercise, you do a regular push-up, but at the top of the movement, you raise one arm off the floor, rotate the body and perform a side or "T" plank.  In the article, they demonstrate it with one hand on a medicine ball, and both feet firmly on the floor.  Alternatively, you can do these without the medicine ball, and, as you transition into the plank, roll one foot up onto the other in a stacked position to place greater emphasis on the core muscles.

If you do choose to use the medicine ball as shown in the article, be sure to remember these three points that they do not mention:

  1. For greater stability, use a ball that is not full of air and rolling all over the place underneath you.  (Unless you really want to spend 6 weeks with your favorite physical therapist repairing your rotator cuff.)
  2. Rotate your body at the hips and in the thoracic (upper) spine, not in the lumbar (lower) spine.  The lumbar spine was not designed for rotation rotation under tension, and should be exercised from a stability standpoint, not a rotational one.  (For further reading on this, check out Stuart McGill's Low Back Disorders or Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.)
  3. Perform the same number of repetitions on each side of the body!!  I know this may seem obvious, but I thought they should have at least mentioned it in the article.

The second exercise that they recommend is a squat assistance exercise called the Box Squat that has been used by powerlifters for years to help them increase their squats.  One of the objectives behind it is to train the oft under utilized glutes and hamstrings to fire during the regular squat.

Because most of us in our culture are quad dominant when it comes to our motor patterns, the glutes and hamstrings often need "encouragement" to fire at the right times.  The idea is that by sitting down onto a box at the bottom of the squat, you momentarily deactivate the quads (as well as other front side assisting muscles), when you then go to push back up, your glutes and hamstrings will jump in to do their fair share.

The key point that was not mentioned in the article is that, when you go to stand back up, be sure to keep your weight back and through your heels.  Do not lean forward, placing the weight on the balls of your feet, as this will counteract the benefit of the sit-down, throwing the pressure right back on your quads.

The author of this second article was Jason Ferruggia.  Jason does a lot of writing for Elite FTS, as well as creating his own information products.  He also writes a great blog, full of quality, well-researched information.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Men's Exercise Magazines

When I was in high school, the only magazines around that addressed exercise were the bodybuilding ones. So my friends and I would read them and copy the routines of the latest "presumably" (apparently it's politically correct to always say presumably before making this wild and crazy allegation) steroid induced Mr. Olympia contender. The results we got were reasonable, because an untrained physique will respond to almost any stimulus. They were not however, ideal for the lifestyles we were trying to live (athletes who also wanted to look good on the beach in the summer.) We were constantly over-trained and, as a result, our gains in both size and strength were limited.

During the 20 years since, much has changed in the world of fitness publishing. Currently, every bookstore in the nation has copies of over a dozen health and fitness magazines aimed at the general population that is looking to get or stay fit, while improving performance. "Performance" is a key criteria I use when looking at all types of fitness products. If a product (or exercise) will improve my performance then it has some value. If not, then its value decreases drastically, in my opinion. You might be surprised at how much of the exercise equipment out there is actually detrimental to your performance. (We'll be coming back to this theme many times in the future.)

For a while, much of the information in these magazines was repetitive, boring and run-of-the-mill. If you had a subscription for one year, you had read everything they had to say, and the value of a second year was significantly reduced. That is changing.

Men's Health, Men's Fitness and Men's Journal seem to be getting it right, by and large. They each have some fantastic contributor's each month. They are bringing forward some great techniques and cutting edge research, which are available for free on some of the author's blogs, but would take years to trickle down to your local gym population without them. Yes, you'll still see people doing dumb things, like single legged romanian deadlifts on a bosu ball with 5 lb. dumbbells, or using the smith machine for anything other than a place to hang their coat (more on both of those later,) but the trend is toward more athletic, performance based movements.

Over the next few posts, I'll share with you some of my favorite tips from this month's issues of these magazines, as well as links to some of the blogs put out by the outstanding author's of them.

Train smart; eat right.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Delicious Low Sugar (Not Low Carb) Granola

Here is a recipe for some great low sugar granola. For sweeteners, you can use either agave nectar (available at your local health food store) or honey. The nutrition information, provided by Fitday, is for the agave nectar and multi-grain cereal, but substituting honey and/or oats will only change the information marginally.


8 cups Multi-grain cereal or oats

.5 cups (42g) Pecans

.5 cups (60g) Walnuts

.5 cups (60g) Slivered almonds

.5 cups (66g) Sunflower seeds

.5 cups (53g) Flax seed meal

.5 cups (56g) Pepitas

.5 cups (53g) Wheat germ

3 TBS Canola oil

.5 cups Agave nectar

2 TBS Cinnamon

.5 cups Applesauce

.5 cups Unsweetened dried blueberries

.5 cups Dried cranberries

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix wet ingredients together in a small bowl.

Mix dry ingredients (except for the blueberries and cranberries, they will burn if you cook them) in a large bowl.

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients.

Spread mixture onto cookie sheets (preferably with sides) in a thin layer.

Bake in oven for 20 minutes, taking it out to stir every 7 minutes. Let cool on pans for 20-30 minutes; add berries; store in a large zip-loc bag.

Calorie and macronutrient breakdown per half cup serving:

Calories: 195

Calories from fat: 90

% of calories from fat: 46%

Fat: 10g

Saturated fat: 1g

Poly-unsaturated fat: 5g

Mono-unsaturated fat: 4g

Carbohydrate: 21

Protein: 5

While this may seem like a lot of fat to some of you, 9 of the 10 grams of fat are what are now being termed "healthy fats," and when combined with a good protein source, they will give you a great start to your day. For instance, I like to pair this with a cup of non-fat Greek yogurt, which brings my totals to: 315 calories, 10g of fat, 28g of carbohydrate and 27g of protein. This is a 41%carbohydrate,19% protein, 40% fat ratio. A fantastic ratio for my first meal of the day. I'll have to boost protein intake later in the day to bring this ratio into line for my daily intake, but I always want my breakfast to be my highest carb meal of the day.

Let me know if you like it!

Train smart; eat right!

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This One's for John G. - Part II

In Part I, I laid out the concept of the Tabata Protocol and how it relates to cardiovascular health. Here in Part II, I will explain how these principles can be applied to strength workouts. The information laid out here is not related to Dr. Tabata's work, but is the result of experimentation done by many Strength and Conditioning coaches around the world.

There are a couple of key concepts regarding high-intensity strength training that must be understood before moving forward. The first is known as EPOC, or Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption. This is the technical term for the amount of energy that the body burns AFTER you are done working out. This # is significantly higher with high intensity exercise (heavy lifting with little rest or cardio exercise similar to what was laid out in Part I) then with low intensity exercise. As a matter of fact, when it comes to fat burning (one of three major reasons we exercise) in a study done at Laval University in 1994, they showed that for every minute of exercise, high intensity work beat out low intensity work by 900%!!! Sound too good to be true? Click the link and read it yourself, then go to the sidebar on that page and read similar studies with similar results.

That's two (cardiovascular health and fat burning) of the three major reasons (the third being skeletal muscle strength) we exercise where we've seen shorter bouts of high intensity blow away longer bouts of low intensity exercise. There is mounting evidence that when training for strength endurance (as opposed to maximal strength), performing a high volume of work over a short period of time, with minimal rest may be an ideal way to train for the general population, as well as for those involved in high endurance/high strength vocations and/or sports (fire and law enforcement pros, fighters, special forces.) This is the way that many of the best fighters in the UFC train; it is also part of a growing movement among the general public through the efforts of Greg Glassman of Crossfit. Many of the cast members of 300, the movie about ancient Sparta trained this way as well.

A sample workout might look something like this:

Using just your bodyweight for resistance, perform 3 - 5 circuits of the following exercises for 12 repetitions each. Rest 1 minute in between circuits.

  1. Push-ups
  2. Squats
  3. Plank to side plank (6/side)
  4. Reverse lunge (6/side)

Depending on your fitness level and how many circuits you did, this workout could take any where from 6.5 to 18 minutes. In it you worked most major muscles in your body. The ones you didn't work, you would be sure to hit in your next workout.

Another example might use the timing of the Tabata Protocol for each round. It might look like this:

With a 20 second work to 10 second rest ratio, perform the following movements in circuit fashion, completing each movement for 2 20 second sets in a four minute round. Repeat for 1, 2 or 3 rounds, resting 1 minute between rounds.

  1. Chin-ups
  2. Lunge walks
  3. Side planks
  4. Bear crawls

Now, I am not advocating that this should be the only type of workout you ever do. However, if a client came to me and wanted me to write them a program, but said that they only had time for one full length workout per week, and that the rest of the week they could give me 10 minutes a day on average, I would be very excited about the goals they could achieve in this seemingly limited amount of time. (Yes, I am the king of the run-on sentence!)

Lastly, it can be very helpful to have a timer that beeps for you when performing any type of interval training. Otherwise, you are constantly trying to look at the clock or count in your head while you are doing this. If you always work out close to your computer, try this one for free. It was written by a crossfitter. Unfortunately, it is only set up for the Tabata Protocol, and is not customizable, but still a good tool (and hey, it's free!) My favorite timer can be had for the low, low price of $19.95. It's called the Gymboss Interval Timer, and is completely customizable for continuous work and rest periods from :01 all the way up to 59:59. This thing is awesome! It has a beep low, beep high, vibrate, beep low/vibrate, and beep high/vibrate modes. I love the beephigh/vibrate mode. If I'm in a loud environment, I put it in a small plastic bucket, and it makes all kinds of noise when it goes off. It also has a little clip to clip it to your shorts or shirt as you're exercising. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

Train Smart, Eat Right

P.S. I'm editing this post, because I just found a great new online timer. The timer includes the following features:

  • Standard timer
  • Countdown timer
  • Setup and execute intervals
  • Audio notifications of interval and countdown events
  • Pause timer by any key press
  • Simple, intuitive interface

The designer stated in his blog that this is only the beta version, and that he is looking to make it available as a download to be used offline in the near future as well.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Are you getting enough?

Protein. There is much debate in the media, as well as the nutrition, health and fitness industries over the amount of protein we should be taking in. The USDA recommends the ridiculously low 70 grams per day, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. That would be 14% of your total caloric intake. In her book, Winning by Losing, Jillian Michaels of NBC's The Biggest Loser recommends up to 50% of your calories coming from protein during an intense weight loss cycle. That would be 250 grams per day for someone on a 2,000 calorie per day diet (almost 4 times the USDA recommendation.) The body building community has been recommending 2 grams per pound of bodyweight for several years now. Many nutritionists on the strength and conditioning side of the fitness industry are currently recommending 1 - 1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight daily for individuals interested in building lean body mass and reducing body fat. This is the number I've been using for the last several months, and I am getting great results from it (along with lowering my carbs and increasing my fats, but that's another post.)

Suffice it to say, that if you don't know how much you're getting each day, you're probably not getting enough. While whole foods are considered best for many reasons, for the sake of convenience, you may want to try a protein powder. I highly recommend for their custom made powders. I use their Milk Protein Isolate, which is 80% casein and 20% whey, but you can create whatever blend you want under their custom solutions tab(they even have a beef amino acid formula for you Paleo/Primal guys & gals) in whatever flavor and with whatever sweetener (they have natural and chemical available) you want. The beauty of this is that if you don't want chemical sweeteners in your protein powder, you can just leave it out. This is not an option with most powders on the market today. If you choose to go with, enter my promotion discount code at checkout (PJJ303) to receive a 5% discount. And save that code, you can use it every time!

Train smart, eat right.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

This one's for John G. - Part I

So after I sent out an e-mail to all my friends and family the other day letting them know this blog was up and running, I got a call from my good friend John. The voice-mail he left me went something like this:

Hey Pete, John here. I was wondering if you could put a program together for me that I could do during the 1/2 hour that I have around the dinner table every night with my wife and kids?

I think John's point was something like this: "Man, I'd really love to work out, but, Holy Cats, I just don't have the time for it." (Yes, John really says "Holy Cats" all the time.) I can understand John's point. He's a very busy guy between work, 3 children under the age of 7 and 1 on the way, researching a new business and managing a few properties he owns. So my first thought was to suggest that he saw the legs off his dinner table. That way while the rest of the family ate dinner, he could participate in the conversation, while lying underneath the table and using his arms and legs to press it. A full body workout, while the family eats! Exactly what he asked for. Who says I don't deliver what the people want???

My second thought was much better. Here it is: In 1996, Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese researcher showed that greater respiratory/cardiovascular benefit could be achieved from a 4 minute high intensity interval workout than from a traditional "steady state" 60 minute cardio workout. Basically, he compared 2 groups of athletes. The first group trained in the traditional manner, that is, long and slow. The second group trained for 3-4 minutes. During that 3-4 minutes, they completed 6-8 all out sprints, 20 seconds in duration, with 10 seconds of rest in between each sprint. The group that preformed the long and slow workout increased their aerobic capacity by 10% over a 6 week period and their anaerobic capacity (sprint power) not at all. The interval group increased their aerobic capacity by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by a statistically gargantuan 28%.

The Lesson

Work volume is not the key to improving our fitness. INTENSITY is the name of the game. And trust me 4 minutes will be plenty if you really go all out. When I do these on my rower, at the end, I unstrap my feet and roll of the rower onto the floor in exhaustion. If you're up for a challenge, give them a try. I do recommend a 10 minute warm-up first. You can do them on any piece of cardio equipment like a bike, rower or treadmill, or you can do burpees or kettlebell swings.

In Part II, we'll look at how we can apply this method to resistance training.

P.S. John, you can post your results (that is what %age of your breakfast actually landed in the receptacle upon completion of your 1st set of Tabata intervals) to the comment section at the bottom of the page.

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