I am not usually one for “Top” lists. We have all seen a Top 5 or 10 list of items telling you what you should (n’t) eat, best moves for a flatter stomach, etc. etc. They are generally cobbled together from search engine trends, or sometimes just out of thin air. Occasionally there are nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned from them, I mean even from a broken clock is right twice a day standpoint.
Not willing to be one to let a good thing go to waste, I have decided to for once put my feet on the well-trodden path used by many others. With a twist……….it is intended to be (and actually is) completely subjective. Maybe you will see something here and think “hmmmm, that may be a good idea” or “yup, tried that and thought it was total crap”. Either way is okay by me. This is my list of stuff that I have used heavily in the last year and have been effective in helping me progress.
This is also my disclaimer: I do not sell or represent any of the products or companies I happen to mention below….they do not give me any money. Not that I would stop them if they tried…..
So without further ado (((((loud trumpeting fanfare)))))))), here is my TOP 5 FITNESS TOOLS I CURRENTLY USE:
#1 MyFitness Pal App.
I love this thing. If there is one thing that has helped keep me focused and help my track my progress, it’s this app. I kept seeing people talking about using it in videos, I had read about it in a few articles, but I had never really used it until a few months ago.
It was a free download at the Google Play store. I have since passed on the premium upgrade, as none of the features the upgrade has are ones I need right now. Here are the key items I use it for:
• Managing daily caloric intake and macros • Weight tracking • Meal planning (calorie and macro breakdown) • Viewing progress (weight/waist measurement)
I can’t say enough good things about it. The app’s food database is huge and I haven’t found more than 1 or 2 foods that I can’t use the bar code scanner on. As an additional time saver, when I prep lunches for the week, I can just enter them as a recipe by putting in the ingredients, which saves me time each day by allowing me to just enter the recipe for lunch instead of one ingredient at a time. They also have a website.
#2 Microsoft Excel
If you are a mathlete and not an athlete, you will appreciate this one. My workout planning and tracking is now done in Microsoft Excel. It’s better than using a standard chart in word, and I like keeping it as a living document, not just in a notebook somewhere. I can also graph data if I wanted to for a better eyeball on progress. I don’t have any plans to do this, but hey, you never know.
My current hypertrophy lifting program is laid out in Excel, now I just enter the data as I go. Simple, easy, and because it’s electronic, I can save it forever and copy it if I wanted to start a similar program. It’s also easy to share the data/program with others.
#3 Intermittent Fasting
I had heard of this concept previously, but discounted it without really doing any research. Then I saw a video by Gregory O’ Gallagher on YouTube where he talked at length about why and how he uses it. It seemed a bit fad-ish at first, so I started doing my homework. Turns out many people swear by this. I was still skeptical, I mean we are conditioned our entire life to eat breakfast (as all the breakfast food manufacturers would like us to do). And many people swear by eating all these tiny meals throughout the day (which I have done in the past).
So I decided to try it and it sucked. I dived right into fasting for 16 hours out of every 24. Not consecutive, but total. I stopped eating at 8:30 PM, and I didn’t eat again until 11:30-12:30 the next day. The first two days were very hard. My body didn’t know what was going on.
After that, I seemed to adapt very quickly. Sure, I still occasionally get pretty hungry around the 15th hour or so. But keeping busy and drinking some sparkling water or even just plain water keeps hunger at bay. Now I basically eat a decent lunch, some type of snack after that around mid-afternoon, maybe something small and protein-centric after weight training but before dinner. Dinner ends up being somewhere between 1000-1400 calories depending on how hungry I am. And If I have room in my calories, which I almost always do, some type of dessert.
I have basically compressed my daily caloric intake down to an 8-hour period. I keep my 500 calorie daily deficit and try my best to stay as close to my 30-40-30 (carb/protein/fat) macro ratios as possible. And outside of whatever I eat for desert, I still eat fairly clean. Minimal processed foods.
My body is now running off fat all morning long until I feed it something else. At least that is the plan, and there is science to back it up. It’s not for everyone. And I have yet to experience all the negative symptoms that others claimed they had. That may have been unique to some physiological issue they have, or maybe their diet was just pretty bad and their body was just rebelling. Who knows, we are all different.
#4 Optimum Nutrition (ON) AMIN.O. Energy
Previously, the very thought of this stuff in general made me nervous. It’s not that well regulated, and god only knows what some of this stuff does to you at high long-term dosage. I thought this was the stuff of true animals. Also I always thought that if you needed something to “pump” you up to work out, then something was wrong with you. Maybe you need some internal motivation, not some magic powder.
But while I was still doing Crossfit, I took the plunge. I needed an edge. I was tired of getting my ass consistently kicked by the same pack of twenty-something ex-college athlete alphas every day. And I wanted something to help with recovery. I was looking for a multi-purpose product. In the end I went with ON, because they are a reputable company in the industry, and their products are not that expensive.
Product-wise, it has everything that I wanted. A sizable energy kick, urine, branched chain amino acids, and beta-aniline. The caffeine (all 100mg per serving of it) comes from Green tea and green coffee extract. It took me some time to get the timing right, but now I take it about 25-30 minutes prior to working out and bang, if I am paying attention, I can actually feel it start to kick in. I get that slightly prickly feeling from the beta-aniline followed by a slight increase in body temperature (I will sweat much more and sooner when I use it). I am not a complete spastic animal when I use it, and it doesn’t mask injury. It just helps fight off fatigue.
It mixes well, easily and completely. You don’t have to stand there and shake it for 10 minutes; it’s rapidly soluble in plain cold water. I rotate flavors, but so far the orange is my favorite. As an added bonus, one scoop in 12-16 ounces of water makes a pretty tasty energy drink if you don’t have or want coffee but want the boost.
The downside: it will flavor-taint the inside of your mixer bottle, so you shouldn’t make it ahead of time, or let it sit too long without rinsing it out.
#5 Trigger Point Grid Foam Roller
This is another take-away from Crossfit. While rolling out is not the be-all-end-al universal answer for recovery/mobility, it sure does help. A LOT. I roll out key muscles as part of my warm-up at the gym. They have foam rollers galore there. But I got one as a Christmas gift last year. And I absolutely love it.
We all have those mornings where we can feel what we did the day (or two days) before. Those are roller days. I could do yoga or static stretching, or some combination of both. But there is nothing like really squashing your quads the day after heavy squats. Or the simple joy of rolling out your back post-deadlift to really loosen up the fascial muscle tissue.
I am post-40. So if you are you know mobility takes a downhill run, just like everything else. My foam roller certainly helps with that. I like the Trigger Point, because it has a hard PVC inner tube that really gives it some firmness. The gym rollers are basic foam, and that is okay, but sometimes you have to show your muscle who’s the boss. And they can be stubborn. So far, mine are no match for the Trigger Point.
Well, that’s it. And since it was back-squats, followed by hamstrings today, I am off to my roller before I seize up.