Poor Form Fix: Pulldowns

Before I get started, I thought I’d give you a brief update as to how my goals for the end of July are coming along.  As of this morning, I’ve got 4 more pounds of fat to lose and 2 more pull ups to get.  Getting pretty close.  I have to say that the “Alpo Diet” has me pretty focused and might be one of the most motivating tools I’ve ever used to keep myself on track.

Working in a gym, it’s not uncommon to see people butchering just about every exercise known to man.  Poor form is all over the place.  And, sometimes it’s pretty hard to watch.

One exercise I see butchered pretty frequently is the pull down.  While pull downs are a far cry from pull ups as far as difficulty and stability necessary to perform, they can be a great precursor to the pull up, especially a for teaching the scapulae to retract and depress.

Unfortunately, what I see most often when people do pull downs is something along the lines of this:

Here’s what they should look like:

There are a host of things wrong with the form demonstrated in the first video, but I’m going to focus on three key points that I often see missed in the gym.

First is the issue of the “angle of pull”.  In the first video, the dude is leaning back so far that he is performing more a row movement then he is a pull down.  A pull down should be an almost vertical line of pull, where as in the video, there are moments where the line of pull is much closer to horizontal to his body.

The Fix: Keep your body almost vertical.  If you have to lean back to get the weight down, you’re not strong enough to use that weight.  Drop it.

Second is the issue of range of motion.  If you notice in the first video, in the first few reps, the bar is barely getting to his chin and by the end it’s closer to his nose.  While pulling through a shorter range of motion allows someone to pull more weight and make them feel awesome, it makes them just look like an idiot to anyone in the know.

The Fix: Pull the bar to your collar bone.  You shouldn’t be barely clearing the bar with you chin but rather pulling clear to the top of your chest.

Lastly is the issue of scapular stability.  Comparing the two videos above, you’ll notice there’s a big difference in what happening in the traps. In the first video, there is zero scapular stability.  You can tell this by the “shrugging” that happens at the top of each rep.  His traps come clear up by his ears.  If you watch my video, you’ll notice that my traps stay downand there is no “shrugging” happening.

The Fix: Keep your shoulder blades “tucked in you back pockets”.  This is a cue I use for a ton of exercises, including the pull down.  What this cue does is, it helps people’s shoulder blades from sliding all over the place and keeps them fixed-tucked in and down-where they should be.

Making these few changes can have a profound impact on the efficacy of your pull downs.  These changes also make the exercise a whole different animal.

Give them a shot.  You may have to drop some weight at first, but the benefits will be worth it in the long run.

Here’s to lifting smart!


How Can The Boy Scouts Help You Get Lean?

It happened this morning.  Two and a half weeks into this dieting thing I’ve been doing, and I was ready to throw in the towel.  Something was calling my name.  It was big and greasy and full of nasty deliciousness.  No, it wasn’t Spaceballs Pizza The Hut.

It was this:

An Extreme Sausage Sandwich from Jack In The Box.  I’ll admit, I love these things.  They’re terrible for you, but I love them anyway.

I could almost taste one this morning.  I had a half an hour between sessions, enough time to drive to JITB, order, eat, feel guilty and get back for my next session.

Fortunately, this didn’t become my reality.  I had a card to play that saved me from diving face first into a bun filled with sausage and cheesy goodness.

I had taken a page out of the Boy Scouts play book:

Be prepared.

This simple two word motto carries  a lot of responsibility, unlike the Boy Scouts female counterparts motto, which is “Our Cookies Are Better Than Anything You Could Ever Make And That’s Why You’re Going To Buy 10 Boxes.”*

Be prepared. 

That means you have to plan ahead. It means you have to do a little thinking ahead.  If you’re going to be prepared, you don’t get to wing it and hope the best happens.  You take responsibility for what happens in the future by taking action in the present.  (You should read that sentence again as I think it’s one of the more profound things I’ve ever said.  Plus, it’s underlined so it must be important right?)

So what does this have to do with my almost collapse into a fast food coma?

What prevented me from going there was this simple fact: I was prepared.

I knew that in my refrigerator at work, I had a great, healthy breakfast ready ready for me to eat.  I had spent time the night before getting it ready.  It was full of healthy proteins, fats and carbs and would be a meal that would move me closer to my goals rather than away from them.

Trust me, I had to repeat the above sentences to myself two or three times before I decided that going with my already made breakfast was the best option.

But what if I hadn’t prepared anything?  I can guarantee that my belly would be full of the aforementioned gut-bomb.

Be honest, you’ve been there too.  You’re trying to eat well, it’s clicking along nicely, then out of nowhere, you’re craving horrible nasty, greasy food.  And you cave.  Then you’re kicking yourself for it, sometimes as you’re still shoving it your face.

We’ve all been there.

That’s why being prepared is so important.  It doesn’t take away those moments where you want to cave, but it means when those moments come, you have an alternative to eat.  And that can make the difference between a diet that pays off and one that leaves you frustrated.

Plan ahead.

Be prepared.

Make meals the day before.

Make sure you have all the groceries to make the meals you’re planning on making.  (You’d be surprised at how often people overlook this piece.)

These simple steps can have a profound impact on the outcome of your efforts when trying to get lean.  Time and time again this proves to be true: The clients I have that will do the work to plan ahead are the ones who drop the body fat that they’re wanting to.  Those that don’t wind up stuffing chesseburgers down their throats.

Now, who do you think is happier with their results?

*This statement is completely untrue, and in no way implicates the authors true feelings towards the Girl Scouts.  But seriously, why do your cookies have to be so good that I want to eat an entire box in one sitting?!?!

(As I said I would, here is a friendly reminder to pass this blog along to friends or share on Facebook if you’ve felt it worthwhile.  Thanks for the support!)

The Resulsts Are In!

As many of you know, last week I put up some polls and asked you all to take a moment and give me some feedback on who you are, what you like about the blog, etc.  This was all in an effort to give me a clear picture of who exactly is reading my blog, what you, as readers, want to read more of  as well as how to gear the blog more towards your interests.  All of the feedback was nothing less than very helpful and I want to say thanks to everyone who participated!

Also, a few of you took the opportunity to give me some additional feedback through my contact page on how much you enjoy the blog and how helpful it has been to you in your fitness efforts.  Let me just say that unsolicited comments like that are incredibly nice to get and always appreciated!

I thought you might be interested  in a breakdown of the results.  So, after 395 votes cast, here they are in a fun list-y format:

-Almost 70% of readers are female, whic leaves a 30ish% of you to be male.

-As far as age goes, 47% are between the ages of 30-39, 28% between 20-29, and 22% between 40-49.

-84% of readers read either daily or 2-3 times a week.  (I now realize this questions wasn’t worded well considering I usually post 3-4 times a week, there could definitely be some overlap in these two answers.)

-Most readers visit the site for both educational and entertainment purposes.  One of you has a “crush” on me and another thinks I’m “hot”.  I have my suspicions as to who these two pranksters are……

-Most readers (44%) get to the site through Facebook, while 40% get to it via email subscription (which you can do at the top right of the page).

-As far as for what types of posts you all like the most (this one was probably the most interesting to me), in first place were ones that revolved around food/dietary focused content.  In second place were my little fits that I throw (rants) and in third place there was a tie for video demonstrations and the clients of Gray Fitness getting highlighted.

I will make an effort to gear more posts around those topics.

-75%of you will read a post even if it’s longer than usual.  I’m really happy about this one.  I try really hard to keep posts from being too long, but the truth is sometimes is just too difficult.  The posts that are longer are usually the ones that have the most beneficial content to you and your fitness pursuits and I’m just not willing to water it down.  So thanks for hanging with me when I’m long winded!

As for the 25% who don’t read a post if it’s a bit lengthy, they probably didn’t get this far.

-Again, 75% of you have recommended the site to a friend.  And again, thanks!

-Here’s another one that was pretty interesting.  In response to what would make readers more likely to share the site through Facebook of email, the majority vote (37%) said you don’t like to share links on Facebook of forward things to your friends.

I was surprised this was the top answer, but I get it.  However, I will say this, I don’t think people mind getting a forwarded email that contains good information for them, especially on health related matters.  What they hate getting forwarded to them is requests from the president of Kenya asking for money, or ones that say “If you don’t forward this to at least 10 of your friends you’re not an American!”

29% percent said that reminders to share would be helpful, so I will try to remember to put those in a little more frequently.

Also, a few of you commented that you alredy do share it.  You rock!  And one of you would share it if I “took my shirt off”……

-Most importantly “turkey sub” beat out “yes” by a whopping 10%.  I knew turkey sub could do it.

That’s it folks.  Again, thank you sooooo much for taking the time to give me feedback as well as for being a faithful reader on the site.  It means a ton to know that people enjoy reading what I have to say.



5 Reasons To Lose Body Fat

Thanks to everyone who took part in the survey yesterday.  (If you haven’t taken part, please take a couple minutes to do so here.  I would greatly appreciate it!)  I’ve already got some great feedback as to what people like and dislike about the blog as well as ways I can clean things up a bit.  After a few more days, I’ll put up some of the results, as I think they might be of some interest to you, but for now, here’s a quick teaser: “yes” and “turkey sub” are neck and neck.

If that sentence makes no sense to you, then you need to go here.

I’ve been a little focused on body fat lately for a couple reasons.  First, a high majority of my clients right now are focused on dropping body fat.  Second, I’m in  a bit of a leaning out phase myself.  Between writing fat loss programs constantly, reviewing food journals for clients who are dropping body fat, keeping my own training and diet in check to lose body fat…it’s something I’m thinking about quite a bit these days.

I think it’s safe to say that there are a ton of good reasons to lose body fat, but here are my top 5:

1. Feel comfortable in your own skin

Probably the biggest reason that people want to lose body fat is that they don’t like the way they feel in their own skin, the way they look in the mirror or how they feel when they are walking/standing/sitting.  Feeling like that is no fun for anyone.  Every movement can be a reminder that you are unhappy with your body and wishing things ere different.

Dropping excess weight let’s you feel completely different throughout your day to day activities.  I’ve had clients get excited about seemingly small things like “when I sit at my desk, my belly doesn’t hang over anymore” or, “when I’m standing up, I can look down and see my shoes!” 

Things like that make a huge difference in how someone sees themselves.

2. Bigger wardrobe

The hard truth is that as people gain body fat, their clothes get tighter and tighter.  All of a sudden they wake up one morning to find that half of their clothes don’t fit anymore.  Decreasing your body fat allows you to wear more things without going out and buying bigger sizes. 

I have a client who told me recently, “There is nothing in my closet that doesn’t fit…comfortably.”  And she said it with a big smile on her face.

3.Guys look bigger, women look smaller

It’s an interesting phenomenon, but somehow it’s true; as guys lose body fat, they not only look leaner, but they also look like they’ve got more muscle on them.  Women, however, tend to look more curvy and thinner as they drop body fat.

Considering the fact that most guys want to look a little bigger and have more impressive definition, and most women wouldn’t mind looking a bit thinner and having more curves-dropping body fat seems like a good idea all around.

4. Feel “cleaner”

I’ve noticed that every time I lean out (which is usually in the summer) not only do I look better, but my body feels cleaner.  It’s a hard thing to describe if you haven’t experienced it, but you literally feel like your guts are working better, you feel less bloated and your skin is tighter.  All of these things give a feeling of being “clean”.  Like everything is in proper working order.

Having "the pipes" in working order is a good feeling.

If you’ve ever felt like your body is toxic, like your guts aren’t working properly or like you’re bloated all the time, dropping body fat is a nice change of pace to those feelings.

5. Increased confidence

This one sort of sums up all the rest, but I think it’s important to mention it on its own.  The reality is that when clothes fit better, when you like what you see in the mirror, when you can wear everything you own and when your body feels clean and like it’s functioning properly, your confidence increases…a ton.  And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t mind walking around feeling more confident?

Those are my top 5 reasons.  How about you?  What are some of your favorite reasons to lose body fat?

Your Vote Is Needed!

Things have been up and running here at michaelgrayfitness.com since last August.  I’d like to think that content, quality and entertainment value have all improved since then, and that the huge increase of subscriptions and views since then are indicative of that.

However, I guess that might not be the case.

In an effort to continue to provide good content as well as content that you actually care about, and to help me improve the site and make it more reader friendly, I’ve come up with a few (9.5 to be exact) questions to help me make the site even better.

It will take literally less than two minutes of your time and would be a huge help to me in making the site better, stronger and even more of a voice in the fitness community.

A couple things you need to know: most of the questions allow for multiple answers as well as “other” answers, so feel free to take advantage of those.  Also, if you get this in your email, I believe that you will have to visit the site to vote.  You can do so here.

As an avid reader, I take your thoughts and input seriously and sincerely appreciate you taking the time to help me out!

Thanks and answer away!

Is Organic Really Better?

It’s a highly debated topic.

“Should I eat organic? If so, how much?  Just fruit and vegetables, or everything?”

As it is so often, the answer is somewhere in the neighborhood of “it depends”.

What it depends on is what someone means when they say “better”. 

I’ve been asked this question several times, and I always dig a little deeper into what the person asking the question is really asking.

Usually, it’s one of two things.  Either they want to know if organic foods are better for you than non-organic, or they want to know if organic foods are healthy.

Again, the answer is “it depends.” 

I know, I know.  I haven’t been exactly helpful so far, but hang with me.

In regards to the first question, whether or not organic foods are better than non-organic I would say this:

If someone is talking about fruits and vegetables, then yes..absolutely they are better for you.  They don’t have less calories or more nutrients, but organic fruits and vegetables are free of pesticides and chemicals that you ingest when you eat them.  These chemicals have been suggested to lead to all kinds of undesirable effects…you know, things like cancers.

However, even if these chemicals didn’t have negative side effects, you would still be ingesting chemicals used to kill and ward off insects.  Do you really want to eat that?

On the other hand, if someone is talking about organic Pop-Tarts (yes they exist) then I would say this; any fruit and grains used in the Pop-Tart should be free of pesticides, which is a plus, but it is still a highly processed, refined food that has been manufactured in a factory somewhere.

Which brings us to the second question, “Are organic foods healthy?”

Using the above example of an organic Pop-Tart, I would say no, not all organic foods are healthy.  However, often times processed organic foods have a much shorter ingredient list, are less manufactured and a bit closer to something resembling food then their non-organic counterparts.  Often, but not always.

For example, if my wife and I ever eat mac and cheese, we get a brand called Annie’s. 

We like it for several reasons, like the wheat is not enriched, bleached or pesticide laden, but rather organic, durum wheat.  It also tastes a ton better then the plastic-y, processed alternative,the cheese tastes like cheese and it has an ingredient list that’s half as long as other brands.

We don’t eat it because we think it’s a healthy option, but we eat it because we like it better and it’s not as bad for you.

Again, let me be very clear in saying that just because something says organic doesn’t mean that it is a healthy option, but it could be a better option then the alternative.  It’s something you’ll have to do a little research on and decide for yourself, and something that will certainly differ from product to product.

To recap, organic fruits and veggies are always a good choice.  Other organic foods can be a better, but not necessarily, option then non-organic foods.  This, however, does not make them a healthy choice.

There you have it, my incredibly clear and concise thoughts on the organic conundrum.  I know I wasn’t completely black and white, but as is the case with anything health related…it rarely is.

The Best Way To Lose Body Fat

I had the pleasure of getting to celebrate my first Father’s Day this weekend.  Let me tell you it was pretty cool, and very surreal, to be doing so.  While I don’t ever forget that I’m a father, I’m still getting used to the idea that I actually am one.

On Saturday, Kat, Lila and I headed to Boise to the Farmer’s Market and had a great time, despite the rain.  Saturday was a designated cheat day for me, and let me tell you, after the last week of being insanely strict on my diet….it was glorious.

That’s right……glorious.

Let’s be honest, the most common reason people come to me is to lose body fat.  Yes, I’ve worked with athletes and dudes that want to get bigger, but a vast majority of people come to me (to be blunt) to look better naked.  I’ve had great results with a ton of my clients and been fortunate to be a part of some amazing body transformations.

However, I’ve also had people that have made less than optimal progress and have been disappointed with their results.

So what gives?

Did I give those who had great success some insider tips and tricks that I help back from the others?

Did I not put my best foot forward with them?

The answer to both of those is a resounding “no”.

The common denominator between those who have had great success is that they did everything I asked of them.  They followed my programs exactly and gave them 100% of their efforts.  They also followed my nutritional plan for them, to a “T”. 

Those who were somewhat disappointed also have a common denominator-they regularly fudged, cheated, slacked off, and flat out didn’t follow the plan.

They come in with excuses like, “It was a birthday party, so I had to have cake”, or “The cookies were small, so even though I had five it was like one normal cookie”, or even “but the pizza was thin crust.”

They weren’t following the plan.

Yes, it can be challenging.  Yes, it can suck at times.  I completely understand all of that.

This last Friday my family got together to celebrate Father’s Day.  For dessert, there were homemade chocolate chip cookies-something I love.

Even though my mouth watered at the sight of them and I was surrounded by people who were enjoying cookie after cookie, I didn’t have a single bite.  IT wasn’t fun or enjoyable to do that, so why did I?

Because it wasn’t part of the plan.

The next day was my designated cheat day, and it would have been easy to tell myself  “what’s the difference? I can eat whatever I want tomorrow, so why not start a little early and have a few cookies.”

While there is probably a lot of good logic to this thought, and having a few cookies on the eve of my designated cheat day would have probably done minimal damage, it wasn’t part of the plan.  And if it’s not part of the plan, you shouldn’t do it.

Here’s why: Yes there is a calorie factor to all of this.  If someone is eating too much junk or sweets on a fat loss program, they’re going to have unsatisfactory results.  But there is also a psychological element that comes in to play that I would argue is just as important to keep in check.

Sticking to a fat loss dietary plan can be challenging on its own, but when someone starts to justify minor deviations from the plan, their mindset shifts to be more tolerant of more deviations.  Pretty soon, the norm looks very different from the original plan.  In fact, often times the norm looks like what the individual used to eat before they came to see me.

It doesn’t make much sense does it?

So to finally get to the point of this post, here is the best way to lose body fat:

Have a good plan and stick to it.

No excuses.  No “but it was only’s”.  Actually stick to it.

Be honest with yourself, how many times have you set out to lose weight, only to find yourself back where you started in a few weeks?  What if you had actually followed the plan, and made no deviations?  Where would you be now?