This article is not meant to demean supplements in anyway. In fact there are numerous advantages to using such products to balance your nutrition and improve performance. Just like every food product, however, there are some to avoid and the more educated you are when making a purchase the better off you will be. Typically when you sign up at a healthclub, both the salesperson and personal trainers will take you by the “pro-shop” and tout the advantages of nutritional supplements. Since there is generally a commission involved they will of course push you toward the gyms own product line or brand with an arranged marketing agreement.

I and a few others were rare in that regard; we generally looked at the label and told our client’s to head for the nearest supplement shop*. I remember we had the head of the corporate offices’ nutrition products division conducting a meeting on the importance of selling Bally’s product line tell me one of our supplements mixed differently because of a “filler” when on the label it stated no fillers were used. It made me wonder how many other “healthy” products are being pushed on unsuspecting consumers.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples: the Apex bar available at 24 Hour Fitness and the Bally Snack Right bar. I have highlighted some of the ingredients in question below.



Nutrition Facts: Serving Size: 1 Bar (55g), Amount Per Serving: Calories 220, Fat Calories 50, Total Fat 6g (9% DV), Saturated Fat 3.5g (18% DV), Cholesterol less than 5mg (1% DV), Sodium 160mg (7% DV), Potassium 50mg (1% DV), Total Carbohydrate 28g (9% DV), Dietary Fiber less than 1g (3% DV), Sugars 20g, Protein 13g (26% DV), Vitamin A (10% DV), Vitamin C (10% DV), Calcium (15% DV), Iron (20% DV), Vitamin E (10% DV), Thiamin (10% DV), Riboflavin (10% DV), Niacin (10% DV), Vitamin B6 (10% DV), Folate (10% DV), Vitamin B12 (10% DV), Biotin (10% DV), Pantothenic Acid (10% DV), Phosphorus (10% DV), Iodine (10% DV), Zinc (10% DV). Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

INGREDIENTS: Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, calcium caseinate, sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, almonds, whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate, nonfat milk, lactose, cocoa (processed with alkali) high oleic sunflower oil with tocopherols added to protect flavor, natural and artificial flavor, cellulose gel, salt, dextrose, vegetable oil (coconut and/or palm), soy lecithin, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean), calcium phosphate, butter (cream, salt), guar gum, sodium ascorbate, ferric orthophosphate, alpha-tocopherol acetate, niacinamide, zinc oxide, calcium pantothenate, coffee, vitamin A palmitate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, thiamin mononitrate, folic acid, biotin, potassium iodide, vitamin B12. Manufactured in a plant that processes peanut, tree nuts, soy, milk and egg products.



Nutrition Facts: 160 cals, 4.5 fat, 23 g carbs, 7 g protein

Ingredients: Corn Syrup, Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), Natural Flavor, Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Barley Malt Extract, Rice Bran, Calcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Milk Mineral Concentrate, Dextrose, Honey, Calcium Caseinate, Guar Gum, Milk Protein Isolate, Salt, Ascorbic Acid, Ferric Orthophosphate, Maltodextrin, Alphatocopherol Acetate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Copper Gluconate, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Potassium Iodate, Vitamin B12.


If you were to compare these products, the Bally bar comes out ahead of the Apex for a few reasons. First, both contain corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which can contribute to obesity, but when it comes to the Apex bar it is one of the first two ingredients. In addition to HFCS, the Apex bar also contains partially hydrogenated oils that can possibly lead to a slower metabolism (not something you want if you are trying to get in shape). These problems are not unique to these two bars alone as there are several on the market with similar ingredients. In some cases you would be better off grabbing a Snickers instead. Just remember when looking for a decent snack the first ingredients on the label should not be sugar based.

* When choosing a supplement shop keep in mind that there are several options. The most popular is GNC/Livewell largely due to the fact they were one of the first to the market and invested heavily in advertising. In general they are the most expensive even on Super Tuesday, GNC’s first-Tuesday of the month sale. My advice would be to find a local shop which generally locate near larger gyms. Smoothie Factory, Smoothie King, and Fitness Essentials are all good examples. Their prices are almost always lower than GNC’s Super Tuesday sale all month long.


Here is a helpful training tip when you are dealing with machines that require vertical plate loading. For those unsure what I am referring to, please see the picture of a seated-calf raise machine below:


Photo courtesy of Yukon Fitness

When stacking weights, stagger a heavier plate with a lighter plate. For example, if you are using two 45’s, sandwich a 5lb. or 10lb. weight between them. This will make the plates easier to remove and you will be less likely to pinch your fingers when re-racking your weights.

Future Formatting

Starting next week Strength Systems will take on the following format:

Monday – Training Tips (to start the week off right)

Tuesday – Practical Training and Nutrition Advice

Wednesday – Random Related Posts

Thursday – Nutrition/Recipes (to prepare your weekend grocery list)

New categories will be added as we continue to grow and add additional contributors. Thanks for reading.

If you seek out the services of a personal trainer you will want to conduct a thorough search as you are not just hiring a temporary service provider, but entering into a relationship with someone who will help direct you toward a healthier lifestyle and hopefully a longer life. I remember reading in the late 90’s that the personal trainer would become the hair dresser of the 21st century as people share problems, family moments, and seek personal advice beyond that of fitness.

How you find a personal trainer depends on your initial vantage point. Are you currently a member of a gym or are you looking for both a gym and a trainer? Which category you fall into, will dictate the order of the following you should take into account and consider before deciding on a trainer.

Consider Your Goals – Before you begin looking for a personal trainer, consider the goals you wish to accomplish. Do you want to loose weight, tone up, or gain size? Is there an event you are trying to get ready for, such as a wedding, vacation, or reunion? You shouldn’t hire a trainer to tell you what your goals should be, although they will help you refine them over time.

Personal Observation – This applies if you are already a member of a gym. Take the time to watch a trainer with their clients. Do they work with a particular type of client (female, male, senior, special needs, etc.)? Do their client’s show progress over time? You also need to ask yourself what type of person motivates you. Though rare, I had a couple of potential clients tell me they needed someone to get in their face and bark orders at them. Whereas I can do this with workout partners, it was not a position I liked to work from in a trainer/client perspective and I referred them to another trainer.

Certifications – There is no surprise that this is the most important recommendation made by certifying organizations. Unfortunately certifications have become like degrees and ordained minsters, 15 minutes online and you too can be certified. Whereas a certification does show a sign of commitment made on the part of the trainer, keep in mind that experience and ability cannot be measured entirely by the letters after someone’s name. If you are to look for certifications, focus on those that require not only written tests (ACE), but also practical exams conducted by other experts in the field (ACSM, NASM, RTS-2, etc.).

Experience – I remember one of the first free assessments I gave as a personal trainer. I had just concluded a training workshop and was preparing for my ACE and RTS tests. Despite having over 10 years of personal workout experience training myself and a few others, I was told “I don’t think you should be able to tell me what to do after a three-week course.” As with many situations in life, you should get a complete picture of the situation and find out as much as possible about your potential trainer’s background experience. I for one had grown up with juvenile arthritis and had the challenge of developing personal special needs programs since I started lifting weights. Did I have a certification in developing programs for joint related problems? No. Did I have experience relevant to the situation? Yes. Which is more important?

Word of Mouth – If there is a good trainer in your area or the gym they will hopefully have marketed themselves relatively well. Generally a personal trainer recommended by the sales staff at the gym is qualified since the club is interested in keeping you happy long enough for the contract to become legal. Another avenue to check is local supplement shops.

Above all, remember that just with every relationship in life, if your trainer is not motivating you or meeting your needs, find a replacement.

Last year LifeHack’s Kyle Pott tracked his 50 pound weight loss in his post, 10 Unconventional Diet Tips. Among his many suggestions is the following,

Make your diet public

Tell people you’re on a diet. There’s no reason to be ashamed to be on a diet. I found that trying to keep my diet a secret was harder than just telling people. In fact, telling your coworkers, girlfriend, family, etc. will increase your accountability. It motivated me knowing that my coworkers and family knew that I was dieting because I did not want to fail. I also chose a typical “fat picture” and put it on my fridge, in my cubicle, and on my wall. I wanted to have a continual reminder to lose the weight. I know it’s a cliche, but it was important for me to remind myself of my ultimate goal.

I feel I should also note that although I was 50 pounds over weight, when I told people I was on a diet they often said “you don’t need to diet.” I found this surprising because I was obviously overweight. Beware that you will likely hear similar comments. I found it easier to just accept the “compliment” than to try to justify my diet to them. Remember that you are on a diet for you, and that you do not need to justify yourself.

Making your diet public is a good idea if you have a stable support group around you. This means more than just having family and friends, but individuals who will actually support your weight loss. One significant barrier to losing weight and keeping off the pounds is the lifestyle we choose to lead, part of that lifestyle being the acquaintances we keep. If the people you surround yourself with are generally negative about your attempt, the likelihood you will fail increases. It has also been discovered that the influence of obese friends may increase your likelihood to become overweight.

I was the fat kid in school and when I finally decided to go on a diet and lost a few pounds, my parents were the first to become critical. At first it was innocent, “well don’t go loosing too much weight now” to “you need to stop loosing weight, you won’t have any meat left if you get sick.”

When I took up amateur bodybuilding I was faced with the same issue only this time people tempting me with food. “Oh come on, you can have a piece of cake” or “you need to eat, it’s rude not to.” I finally had to make the hard decision and limit my contact with some individuals to help reach my goals. It seems that when it comes to weight loss, the old adage is sometimes true, misery does in fact love company.

If a positive environment with which to loose weight does exist, you should be one step closer to achieving your goals. Great work Kyle and good luck to everyone else in their weight loss endeavors.

Top 10 Gym Rules

People always want to know the secret, the magic pill, or the perfect workout & diet that are going to give them instant results. What almost everyone knows but doesn’t want to admit, there is no magic bullet. In lieu of a single answer, here are some helpful tips to help you maintain your health and sanity in the gym. These are not necessarily absolutes, nor is it an exhaustive list, but these are some of the rules I adhere to in the gym in no particular order.

1. The Reps Don’t Go Down Unless the Weight Goes Up – This is a mental rule I use to keep driving through a set. If you don’t increase your weight on a successive set, the number of repetitions you do can’t go down.

2. Never Sit – You’ll have plenty of time to sit around on your couch at home. Unless you are performing an exercise that requires you sit, or you are stretching, never sit and relax.

3. Never “Max Out” – I’m constantly asked by family, friends, people at the store, etc. “how much do you lift?” This is a hard question since I have not lifted for a one-rep max (max out) in almost 8 years. The reason being, the stress it places on the joints. If you are a strength athlete or powerlifter, this rule doesn’t apply to you, if you are, on the other hand, a general exerciser or just getting started, don’t fall into this trap.

4. No Brain, No Gain – A majority of newcomers to the gym are quick to give up. In fact, many healthclubs like Bally’s and 24 Hour Fitness base their business on people who sign up and then never come in after the first few weeks (if they did the club would be over capacity). One major reason for this is the awkward feeling people get when they first start lifting weights, just like shooting a basketball for the first time or throwing a ball after several years. You need to give both your muscles and your brain time to adjust to the new activity. The reason for this has to do with the efficiency of our bodies, it tends to eliminate both muscle fibers and neurons that are not used nor needed. You need to give yourself at least 3 months to allow your body and mind to adjust.

5. Feel the Good Pain – Good pain is almost a contradiction of terms. Who would possibly enjoy pain? You are going to be sore after your first few workouts. You will be sore when changing your workout program after you’ve worked out for a while. What you don’t want to do is mistake muscle strain and joint damage for general soreness. If you have sharp shooting pains you’ve probably gone too far.

6. No Cell Phones – Just like driving, a cell phone is an added distraction to your workout. During an afternoon workout, I witnessed a man walk into the gym talking on his cell. He started his first set and got another call; 5 minutes later he got through two sets and got another 10 minute call. How effective do you think his workout was? Don’t let cardio be an excuse to talk also. I’ve witnessed people on cardio equipment, that just like in a car; their speed is all over the place. You have to focus.

7. Don’t Go to the Gym Pretty, Go to the Gym to Look Pretty After You’ve Been – I always found it fascinating when I was at Purdue during the beginning of each school year, the gym was always full of scantily clad freshmen girls, full make-up and perfume, come on girls. I still see the model wannabes in their $100 matching spandex suits. If your job is to pick someone up, by all means continue what you are doing, but if you want to work out, forget the makeover and lift some weight. Let’s face it, you’re going to sweat, you’re going to be disgusting by the end of the workout (if you are doing it right), so why dress up?

8. Nix the Chatter – There are two people who violate this rule, those who come to the gym to have a conversation and those that scream. It’s time to channel that energy into some weight lifting.

9. Balance – Once again there are two kinds of people: those who get energized by their workouts and those who are completely drained (see Rule 10). You should balance your workout with your lifestyle, if you are the energetic type, you probably don’t want to schedule your workout in the late evening. Conversely if you are seriously fatigued following your workout you shouldn’t train before work (unless work performance is not a concern then you probably want to read some of my other posts at A Higher Bar).

10. Leave it on the floor – If you are one of those who are drained by your workouts, or are not faced with having to go to work, leave it all at the gym. Don’t walk out having only done half a workout, crawl out.

    parkay-spray1.jpgThe topic of this article is the growing popularity of spray butter substitutes. There are several on the market, Parkay and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter being the two most popular.


    For some time I have been looking for the nutrition information related to the calorie content of Parkay Fat Free Butter Spray to change. When this product first hit the market I, as I am sure many other people, thought it should be in consideration for product of the year. A product that tastes like butter, no cholesterol, zero trans fat, in fact zero fat period (or at least that is what the bottle claimed). Then I looked at the ingredients:


    Water, Soybean Oil, Buttermilk, Salt, Soy Lecithin And Polyglycerol Esters Of Fatty Acids (Emulsifiers), Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate And Sodium Benzoate (To Preserve Freshness), Lactic Acid (Acidulant), Artificial Flavor, Colored With Beta Carotene (Source Of Vitamin A), Vitamin A Palmitate.


    Now, let’s ignore the long list of preservatives (some of which are potential carcinogens) and emulsifiers and focus on the second and third, soybean oil and buttermilk. Now it doesn’t take a food scientist to realize there is fat in both of those ingredients. After a quick search I have run across several websites that tout these products as a great substitute to real butter and definitely margarine, which is typically made up of hydrogenated oils (more on the negative health benefit of those here). Most of these sites use the nutrition label that is directly from the bottle.


    With all the confusion around and attempt to educate the public on food labels and serving sizes over the past few years, it seems a label with nothing but zeros on it would be simple to understand. Just use a couple sprays, but with information like 0 calories it would be like telling someone to eat just one potato chip. I decided to contact ConAgra (owner of the Parkay brand) regarding the contents and here is what they confirmed.

    March 24, 2005

    Thank you for contacting us. The Parkay Spray was developed to give you the buttery taste of real butter without the fat calories. There are .8 calories in 1 spray and 4.0 calories in 5 sprays. Fat content is .085grams in 1 spray, .4grams in 5 sprays. We appreciate your interest in Parkay.

    ConAgra Foods Consumer Affairs


    That means that in the entire bottle there are 813 total calories from 90 grams of fat. Now you may be wondering why it is they can list it as 0 calories. Phil Kaplan, who runs PhilKaplan.com, has the answer.


    The FDA labeling law says that if there’s less than 1/2 gram of fat in a serving, a food can be labeled “Fat-Free.” The catch is, nobody regulates what the food companies refer to as a serving size.


    I guess the ideal situation for the food and beverage industry would be to set the serving size on every product so small it could be considered ‘fat-free.’ Fortunately this tactic has been receiving increased scrutiny over the past couple of years most often with soft drinks and snack foods.


    I do agree that this is a good product, in fact I have two bottles in my refrigerator. The problem with this labeling occurs when a person does not realize there are ‘hidden’ calories and decides to use it in a manner inconsistent with a ‘few sprays,’ such as with baking. What is thought of as a 0 calorie replacement for butter in your dishes is simply substituting one fat for the other.


    I hope you have found this article educational and should you choose to try or continue using one of these products, you can do so a little smarter. For a decent list of products you can choose from in this category I recommend the following page: Better than Butter.