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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chocolate flavored Sunday

One of my (ex)trainers and one of our clients/friends are looking at starting a super cool project. They want to make their own homemade chocolate and chocolate cakes. They want to only use natural ingredients, no sugar, artificial sweeteners or taste enhancers. The winner ingredients are nuts, butter, cream, honey and molasses and organic cocoa.
They asked a few of us to taste a batch of test products that we would taste and name and also brainstorm for a name for the website. It was a very filling and warm experience.
We tested some muffins, chocolate, a cake and a cream I can't really describe that looked like butter with chocolate mixed in.
It was tasty and energizing.

The great thing about their chocolate is:

1. You can't eat much, it's very chocolaty. The taste fills you quickly and overwhelms your receptors.

2. It doesn't have too many calories, I think a piece of cake comes up to 100.

3. You can have it more often than regular chocolate and it's not addictive like regular store-bought stuff.

4. You can be a good girl and a bad girl all in one, and that alone is worth it!

If you're living in Bulgaria, email them at and get your chocolates today :)

Mobile technology for your upper back

As trainers we often talk about motivation - motivation to eat well, to train hard and to rest smart. It's interesting how humans have undergone a critical shift in priorities and not exactly in the right direction.




Here's my suggestion, shift some of that care you show your things to the care you could show your body.

Start with how mobile you can be. After you charge your mobile phone, charge your upper back with more mobility. You can do it at night, or you can do it before your workout.

1. Use a foam roller for about 1 minute to mobilize your upper back.

2. Do the following exercises:

- quadruped thoracic rotation for 10 reps each side
- cat-camel for 10 reps
- 4 point rock for 10 reps
- reach, roll and lift for 10 reps each side

3. Use a foam roller again for about 1 minute and move on to a workout or a more mobile day.

Want more mobility? Pick up a copy of the Inside-Out. It's the most comprehensive tool you'll ever need to improve your performance and the way your upper body feels while sitting, standing, walking and working out!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


When I first became interested in how people train I got my fair share of Muscle&Fitness radiation. Back in those days I knew little about training aids, how the body works or what was possible. To me, bodybuilders just did "more" of what other people did. I admired them for the discipline, the time it took to get where they are and the courage to stay at the top. Eating, training and sleeping were all rolled up into one devoted end result - to compete, win and ultimately, be satisfied with who you are. Back in those days I knew who Arnold was, I could recognize Franco Columbu from any shot and I knew who won the Olympia. That was a long time ago, seems like ages separate me from the awe and respect I had for those guys.

Enter the year 2007. I am an NSCA certified personal trainer, more knowledgeable than ever before and climbing a steep and steady learning curve. I don't train like a bodybuilder, and I could describe my current goal as "corrective fat loss". I train weight loss clients, deconditioned housewives, lazy teenagers and promising young career people. I don't train bodybuilders and I probably never will, since I am on the health and happiness side of the business. I will gladly share the iron and brass tools of the trade with the guys from the covers of magazines, but I will not play. It's just not who I am.

Enter last night.
My husband calls me and says: "Hey, do you know who Flex Wheeler is? " and I'm like "Yeah, do you know who Arnold is, c'mon?". Then he says: "Do you want to go out with him, he's in Sofia". So we do. The guy is super nice, friendly and giving. We talk about life, training and happiness. I was really excited to meet him. The hard work someone at his level has put in has layered his personality with extra energy and true charisma.

Here is what got me! I was quite surprised at how much joy and inspiration I felt. The last 5 years I have been so far from the bodybuilding world that all the emotion I had was built on what I once felt for it. The same way a bad emotional memory can come up to the surface, I had a happy emotional memory spring up from my past. Flex's partner asked if I wanted to train with them in the morning, and I said yes, you can't miss such an opportunity, sore trap or no sore trap!

Sunday. I meet them at a large bodybuilding gym, where I find out I will be working out with Flex and all the other people that are gathered around the protein bar are just there to meet him, but will be waiting till we get done.
We move on to work out and there's this large crowd just standing there. There were competitors in skimpy tops, excited girlfriends, and very important people I didn't know. He says: are you ready to go? And we go. I don't know why, but I didn't expect it would be just us two.

He starts and I follow. Bicep/tricep day.
My functionally trained body rebels. I am here to learn, so I have this mixed feeling of...dang I will be sore for my strength workout and my trap is not healed and then the waves of excitement drown all my concerns.

We start of with hammer curls, move on to tricep pushdowns, follow it with one arm bicep curls on machine, then overhead extensions then scott curls, ahhhh. 4x10, 4x15, 4x20. I would rather squat till I fall any day. At one point we were doing machine curls and I said, man...I am not doing another set, this machine sucks. I don't see how the benefits can outweigh the discomfort. So he says, you know what, you're right, let's move on.

What impressed me about the way he trains:

- He looked proud with what he does. It looked like he completely enjoyed and took pride in his training.

- He did what feels good to him. Now that he doesn't compete, I guess he just does what he loves most

- He had rhythm. I tried to talk to him about tempo. He said he just feels it. Wanted me to get a nice music going there for me.

- Focus: Flex was focused and I mean focused. None of what we did was super heavy or scary looking, but he was all into it, thinking and connecting.

He used supersets, short rests, tons of reps and could really push past the point of tired. It might have looked like he was only going to get 8 reps and then he got 20.

Flex was very generous with his time, counting every rep I did with the calm of a partner, didn't push me in a way to make me feel small or incapable. He was attentive, very particular about form and truly supportive. It felt like having a workout buddy, an older brother, just one that really feels comfortable with his game.

I never do any of the isolation work we did or if I play with a curl or extension it's for a very short time. The volume we did was crushing to me.

We were done in a bit over an hour and we decided to see a football game together that same night. Signed photos were in order and then we parted.

I had trouble using my arms for the rest of the day and two days later my arms are still recovering. My soul still rejoices because I encountered a long buried joy with training. I rediscovered a feeling, not exactly the approach to how we built our bodies. I've been very strong in my workouts this week, partly because of that rekindled spirit. It's the same feeling you get when you fall in love, only now you already play the game and you enjoy it more.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shiny nails!

I was looking at my nails a few days ago and thought they have a strong glossy shine, they never used to before. I have switched to a GNC brand of concentrated fish oil, and also added CLA (Tonalin or Abs+ depending on the week). I have always been super skeptical of nail and hair vitamins, miracle beauty from the inside supplements and quick promises to get healthy nails in a pill. This time I'm impressed!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Unilateral Times

If you are squatting, deadlifting and performing olympic lifts you are ahead of 99% of the training population. You can proudly stand on both feet! The only thing more important is that you can proudly stand and perform on one foot!

A lot of beginners will shy away from single leg movements, because they look difficult, but they should do their best to get good instruction and master them. Advanced trainees forget them, because the weight on the bar isn't as impressive as they wish. Busy people think they take too much training time. These are just some of the excuses that people have. And I ignore them all.

Why I love unilateral work:

* It helps to even out imbalances. Just imagine squatting a 5RM with just one of your glutes firing on time

* It allows you to load your lower body without overloading your lower back. Just compare a 100 lb lunge to a 220 lb squat!

* It helps you work your core without performing extra work for your core muscles

* It's metabolically expensive. It takes more calories to perform a longs set of lunges than a shorter set of squats and it will surely stir metabolic havoc for hours after you are done training

* It has immense carryover to work on both feet. Next time your deadlift stalls, include a one leg dealift variety for a month and then go back to conventional deadlifting

* It translates to a stronger and more injury free YOU every time you sit in your car, climb upstairs, go downstairs, step and lift something off the floor, get in and out of bed and run to catch a taxi

Here are my top 5 favorite unilateral exercises along with some tips:

It's the beauty queen of lower body single leg work. Start holding on to a partner, a high pulley set to enough resistance to pull you back up,or a thick resistance band. Work your way to negatives and full pistol squats. Adding weight to the exercise is tricky, using a plate to hold in front of your chest is the best you can do. Kettlebells are also an option. If you lack flexibility, you can do airborne lunges instead.


You can keep your rear leg on a bench or just bent behind you. Make sure your pelvis stays straight and does not rotate during the movement.


I like front reverse lunges, but back loading will do, too. Make sure you lunge straight up before you take your step forward.


The pride and joy of all Bulgarian gyms. Just kidding, no one's even heard of it. Place your barbell in front of a bench and prop the rear leg behind, as in a Bulgarian squat.


It will break you if you do it right. Take a step to the side and sit back. Make sure you use your glutes to squat and push back out to starting position.

Try to include at least two of them each time you plan a new workout cycle! It's worked wonderfully with most of my clients and females love the aesthetic results!
It only comes to show better performance precedes better looks!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The cost of fresh fish

Oh, fish, how I love thee!
It helps being an English major when I lack the words to describe my favorite source of protein. Fish has the taste, texture and smell that both excites and fills me up. Given the miserable amount of calories it offers, the abundance of healthy fats and the variety of fish I can choose from, it practically never gets old eating fish.
I usually buy ready to cook trout or salmon, bass, carp and mackerel. Sofia is not exactly the fish capital of the world, and having lived in the Caribbean I am not exactly low maintenance when it comes to my fish.
Back to my fish story. Today was a high calorie day and I strolled aimlessly down the fish aisle, knowing there was beef for dinner and knowing I have some salmon in the fridge for tomorrow's low day. I passed some beautiful shiny long fish that go by the name Zargan here. I got excited about cooking something new, plus this fish is so abundant in phosphorus I though my brain could use some of it in place of the salmon.
So I proudly took my fishies home and unpacked them at the sink. To my surprise the fish was not cleaned, and as whole as they come. Let me tell you what I know about cleaning fish: nothing, zero, nada.
One long phone conversation later, here are the DIY tips for cleaning a long skinny fish:

1. Wash fish and grab a sharp knife.
2. Cut a slit along the belly
3. Using a plastic bag and trying not to look hook your fingers and pull all the insides into the bag
4. Wash fish entirely and make sure there is nothing left on the inside
5. Make sure you lock the cat away since it's almost impossible to be gutting the fish and not kill the cat with the knife

I hated every minute of cleaning that fish with the proud knowledge that nutrition comes first and being grossed out comes second. The fish ended up baked with some fresh lime juice, salt and pepper and the green bones were hell to remove, but it was an effort all worth it!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

No fitness vacation for you, some back in 3 days

Every spring, in May, me and Milko Georgiev take a group of people on a Fitness Vacation. This year, we planned to do another one in September, which didn't happen for a number of reasons. I promised two of the girls that I was going to accompany them on a three day trip to the mountains, work out, eat well and make up for not going on a one week fitness vacation trip. Bulgaria is famous for using national holidays to take days off work, so we left for Unification Day, which was the beginning of a long weekend. It was nice, given that September can be pretty cold. We had some awesome food, slept well, hiked, did bodyweight workouts, sprinted and talked a lot about dieting, working out, publishing, and men-related issues. At times I felt like they were filming The Biggest Loser behind my back and then at others I felt like a star in a new episode of Sex and the City. I came back happy and refreshed, although forgetting my foam roller at the hotel marred my mood for the afternoon.

I love picture stories, so here is one:

The shiniest cows I have ever seen, the type I hope milk comes from

The place where we stayed, after the rain

The cute baby doe that lives on site, only 1.5 months old

The whole deer family

Batak Lake as I saw it for the first time

Batak Lake, near the wall

The greatest thing about sharing activity, healthy food and relaxing time with long time clients is that I get to learn more about the complexity of characters that I work with every day. There is magic in the trainer-client relationship that goes beyond instruction, where appreciation and sharing positive results speak louder than results themselves.
It's only when we can detach ourselves from results for results' sake that we can truly achieve transformations, whether in body or soul.

The bodyweight a.m. workouts from the 3 day trip coming soon!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

To Fitday or Not to Fitday

I've been using Fitday for as long as I can remember to track my calorie intake and macro breakdown, as well as to calculate the value of recipes, client intakes, etc. I use the free online version.
Why I love it:

* It's online, so I can access it from home and work
* I can share my daily log for people to see when I want to discuss it
* I can customize foods
* I can look at my food log in detail and have a reliable place to keep track of what I did in the past and how it affected me

Why I don't:

* It overestimates expenditure from activity (huh, I wish it didn't because then I could eat a boatload)
* It doesn't chart changes over long periods of time (one month might sound like enough, but sometimes I need to look at a longer period)

I have been keeping a detailed food and training log for the last 13 months, during which I have been very active in experimenting with different macro set-ups, caloric intakes and refeed schemes. I couldn't have done it without a reliable software to track my intentions and monitor my actions.

I spent the last three days without any internet access, right at the foot of a great mountain, surrounded with wonderful people, great tasting healthy food and enjoying plenty of time for activity and relaxation. The whole time I took notes on my phone, so that when I returned I could enter the foods in my log and calculate my intake. I am currently calorie cycling, but since those 3 days were very active, I chose to eat around maintenance and let my body choose how much my intake would be. I came back and entered my foods and to no surprise I averaged 1650 calories, the same amount I average between low and high calorie days during cycling and while calculating with Fitday. One reason is that subconsciously I make choices similar to the choices during my planned days, another is that my body is already used to an intake that it chases based on expenditure. The truly interesting thing is that I usually have 6 meals a day, while when on vacation they were brought down to 3 a day and yet I still averaged the same.

I am often asked " to count or not to count", "to Fitday or not to Fitday"?
My answer is yes for people that need to estimate their intake so they can make changes in it, yes for all of us that are manipulating calories on a daily basis and yes for all the beginners that have no idea what they are eating and need to learn how much they consume, so that they can learn to eyeball and manage portion sizes.
My answer is NO to all people who haven't learned to plan their intake around high quality foods, people who are on diet break, those who are good at judging their intake, and who already well manage food according to their goals.

To simplify:

Are you achieving your body composition goals without counting calories?


Are you eating high quality protein, vegetables and fats (or unprocessed carbohydrate)?

YES and I am acieving my body composition goals->DON'T COUNT
YES and I am not acieving my body composition goals->COUNT
NO->DON'T COUNT, focus on food quality

On a different note, keeping track of calories is only one way to track intake, but I find it very uniform, always simple, and very reliable. It also "translates" easy. It's always easier to explain that you easily add lean body mass when you eat 150 grams of protein and 1800 calories, rather than trying to add up 6 servings of protein, 5 servings of fat, 3 servings of carbohydrate and 10 servings of fruits and vegetables.

Calories are the money of the diet world where the market allows exciting exchanges.
Would I rather have a cup of fat free yogurt with some casein or trade that for a tablespoon of peanut butter and some cottage cheese before bed? Should I keep that peach for the morning or have it now? SeŠµ, nutrient timing makes the whole thing as crazy and unpredictable as the black market. Calories get devalued, prices skyrocket and new investments become risky. I am thinking of investing in a cup of tea right now due to some unwise purchases I made earlier this evening!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Need energy?

It's a peaceful Sunday morning, here in humid and cool Sofia. We had some rain last night, so both me and my husband got a good night's sleep. I had been very busy this week and hadn't spent much time with him so we decided to have a nice Sunday breakfast and plan a few important events for the week. Breakfast is a sacred meal for me. I need my protein, veggies or fruit and fresh coffee. My husband either skips breakfast or has a protein shake on his way to work.

This morning he looks at me and says: " I haven't had American pancakes in a year" and then smiles like I think children do when they know they will do something naughty and their mom can't prevent it. So I give in and break out a box of pancake mix from the secret stash of I'm-homesick-foods. Funny how my secret stash of American food has a couple of boxes of tea and his is a pantry-full of Jello, lifesavers, pancake mix and mac and cheese.

I start making two breakfasts at the same time:) When they are ready we have two different worlds that share a table! On one side:

My breakfast:

a large flax and oatmeal patty
covered with cream cheese and dried tomatoes
a large cup of coffee
a large cup of water
my wake up supps:
green tea
fish oil

...and then his breakfast

6 large pancakes
heavily smothered with margarine
pine syrup
cherry jam
1 liter of milk

I eyeball it and think man, his must be like 400 grams of carbs right there.

Truth be told, he only eats like that once or twice a year but when he does, it makes a great impression on me.

Half an hour later, at 11 a.m. I sat down to answer my emails and he went back to bed. He said he was feeling a tad tired, don't know why.