Ask a Trainer (Vol. 12)


CFC will be open on Memorial Day from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM for a holiday workout.

This is a freebie and we’ll be doing “Murph” again this year. Friends and family are welcome to attend.

Afterwards we’ll be doing a cookout at Chris’s house, potluck style!

Welcome to Ask a Trainer, Volume 12.

Can you believe it’s been two months since the last omnibus post?

If you’ve missed some in our running series, head on over to the Ask a Trainer archives and read on!

You got questions? We got answers! Send an email to with all your fitness, health, and wellness queries. You might even end up in the next Ask a Trainer!

Today we’re going to have a little fun, and cover the Top 10 most common questions I get asked as a trainer. Brace yourself, (some) silliness is coming!

1. “I want to lose weight, so I should do a lot of cardio and no lifting, right?”

No, not at all. Normally when people say “cardio” they mean the long term exercises like running, swimming, rowing, and rope skipping. Really, any exercise at all works your cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory system to some extent, even lifting weights. Focusing only on the “classical” cardio exercises will burn calories, sure, but they are inefficient and easy to overtrain. A second issue to exercise choice is defining what you mean by “lose weight”. Most people would agree that having muscle is pretty good/necessary (and if you don’t think that, we need to talk) and that having excess Body Fat is the real problem. So what we need is a plan that maximizes fat burning while maintaining muscle mass.

You need High Intensity Interval Training with additional time spent on Resistance Training. What does this mean? Sprints and lifting weights! Doing shorter term workouts at a faster pace (sprinting 400 meters instead of running 1 mile) will burn calories more quickly, while also improving short-term and long-term cardio- health. Most people aren’t doing it because it’s also harder. At the same time, you also need to include regular weight lifting in your routine, for two reasons. First, lifting weights burns additional calories during the workout as well as after, when your body is repairing the healthy damage you did with the weights. Second, muscle is more metabolically active than fat, meaning it takes more calories to maintain muscle mass than it does to maintain fat mass. Combine these two training pieces, and you get a great recipe for fat burning and muscle building.

2. “Should I stop eating carbs/fat/whatever to get ripped?”

No, but you should probably look at what you eat and make healthy changes. There are three macro-nutrients you get from food: Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins. None of these, on their own, account for weight loss or weight gain. The proportion of what you’re eating – including how many calories you take in per day and how many grams of each macro you consume – will have an affect on your body composition.

You need Protein to help rebuild muscle and other supporting structures in the body, as well as provide essential amino acids that you need to, ya know, live.

You need dietary Fat to help move nutrients around the body and provide support to many bodily systems. And no, dietary fat is not stored as body fat by default. Excess calories lead to more boy fat. The only reason they share a common name is because they share a common structure. Really, we should be calling dietary fat something like “dietary lipids” whereas body fat should be called “adipose tissue”.

You need carbohydrates to help with energy production in the body, BUT this is also the macro that is most likely to be over-eaten. Many, many foods in the modern world are heavy in carbs, so you need to be actively watching how many you take in day to day. Chances are you’re eating a LOT more than you need.

My recommendation is to split your daily calorie needs so that you get 40% from protein, 40% from healthy fat, and 20% from carbs.

3. “Do I need to always go super-heavy on the weights to gain muscle?”

No, not really. As long as you are progressively making your lifting more difficult over time, you will become progressively stronger. Heavy and moderate weights can be used, with various ranges of reps/sets working to get stronger. The important part is to progress steadily in an upward direction with your training.

Heavy Example

  • Plan: 3 sets of 5 reps each workout
  • Start: maximum lift of 200lbs
  • Progression: Week 1 (160 lbs), Week 2 (170 lbs), Week 3 (180 lbs), etc.

Moderate Example

  • Plan: 3 sets of 8 reps each workout
  • Start: maximum lift of 200lbs
  • Progression: Week 1 (100 lbs), Week 2 (106 lbs), Week 3 (111 lbs), etc.

Over the three weeks, both of these plans lead to the same amount of work being completed, but at different set/rep/weight combinations.

4. “I heard doing super-light weights at high reps ‘burns’ cut into your muscles.”

Oh, I hate this one. This is totally false. Just, just no!

Your muscle groups are already divided based on their connections to your bones. There is no way short of invasive surgery to create new spaces between them. The “cut look” you see in very fit people is due to low body fat. The lower your body fat, the less tissue is present to fill the spaces round your muscles, and thus the more lean and cut you will look. The only way to get that look is to have a diet that supports low body fat and to train so that your muscles have some volume to them.

Here’s what 10% body fat looks like on a guy who doesn’t lift weights:

10 percent fat - not fit

And here’s 10% body fat on a guy who does lift weights:

10 percent fat - fit

That’s kind of a big deal.

5. “I don’t squat because they’ll hurt my knees!”

I’ve had bad knees for as long as I can remember; poor joints run in the family. So, if squats are bad for your knees, then there’s no way I could squat my body weight regularly, let alone add hundreds of pounds to my back and squat!

The truth is, my knees only have issues when I don’t squat on a regular basis. Your body knows good form from bad form, and doing anything with bad form is likely to lead to injury. People who have issues from squats are almost always the ones who are squatting with bad form and then blaming the movement, and not the person doing the movement.

Bad movement is bad. Good movement is good. Learn to move well, and you’re good to go!

6. “I’ve heard there’s no such thing as over-training.”

Your muscles need time to recover between workouts, during which the micro-damage you’ve caused can be repaired. It takes 24-48 hours of light to no activity in a muscle group in order to accomplish this task, so you shouldn’t be training the same muscle group two days in a row.

Bottom Line: don’t bench press at 75% of your max two days in a row!

7. “Can I take a whole week off and be okay?”

Maybe, but you’ll probably lose some progress. In order maintain or improve your fitness level, your body needs to be regularly challenged in multiple ways. When you engage in progressively more difficult exercise, you improve. When you do just the bare minimum, you maintain. When you do nothing, you regress. That’s how it works.

If you find yourself in need of a rest week, for whatever reason, it’s a better idea to engage in the same basic exercises you normally do, but using lighter weights or easier movements. So for instance, if you’ve been doing heavy weight squats for the last 7 weeks, in week 8 drop your weight down to about 40-50% of your normal working weight as a recovery week. Using this strategy allows you to maintain while still providing less work as a “rest”.

8. “This infomercial said there’s a pill that…”

Lemme stop ya right there, bub. More than likely whatever the pill is supposed to do, it doesn’t. There are a lot of “magic pills” out there in the world that are supposed to make you lose weight without eating right, gain muscle without lifting, etc.

They’re complete and total crap. Anything that seems too good to be true, probably is. Whether it’s an actual magic pill or another product that acts like one (remember those electric muscle belts?), the truth is that fitness and good health are Simple, but not Easy. Do the work, get the reward. That’s how it works. Anyone telling you otherwise is a snake-oil salesman.

9. “The guy at [Globo Gym] said I need supplements to see results.”

…and he probably also followed by by recommending anywhere from 1-5 products totaling between $30 and $200, that he just happened to have handy, right?

Most people don’t need dietary supplements as long as they are eating a complete, healthy diet of natural meats, veggies, fruits, and some nuts/seeds. Supplements are just that: they supplement your diet. With a good diet, you don’t really need them and that guy is probably making money on your purchase.

Now, that isn’t to say they aren’t a good option when you actually do need a supplement in your diet. If you hardly ever see the sun, you might nee a Vitamin D boost each day, and if you don’t eat meat than a good protein powder is really useful. The same goes for people who have been training for a while and want a specific boost in performance; that’s where things like Creatine or BCAA’s come into play. The average person doesn’t need supplements; but they do have their place if you’re using them with full knowledge of why.

10. “How many sit-ups should I do to get a six pack?”

It doesn’t matter unless you eat right and reduce your body fat. Seriously.

Story time: As of today at 7:00 AM, I’m around 20% body fat. I have a pretty strong core, and most ab work doesn’t tire me out unless I do a lot of reps (100+ range). I’m not bragging; I’m pointing this out because even though I have conditioned abs, I do not have a six pack!

Most men will not see their abs until they get below about 15% body fat, and they won’t see the “holy crap abs!” pop that fitness models usually rock until they get around 8-9% body fat.

For the ladies, you won’t start seeing something until roughly 20% body fat, and you won’t get that Jillian Michaels stomach until you get to 15% body fat or so.

And that’s it for the day!

If you have a burning question, send it in and you could be features in the next article!