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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.

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apex-bar.jpg

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.

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bally-snack-right-bar.jpg

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.

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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.

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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:

seated-calf-raise-yukon-fitness.jpg

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.

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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.

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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.

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    Recently ABC News ran an article on common “dirty tricks” the health club industry employs.

    A brand new Better Business Bureau analysis found that consumer complaints about gyms are up more than 90 percent in the last five years.

    The BBB analysis found that 73 percent of customer complaints involved contract or billing disputes, including people who were upset that they were still being billed after they thought their contract was over.

    I have heard and witnessed a multitude of membership horror stories at the gym where I used to work. Seen countless people leave crying, rumors of forged signatures, and whale noises made at prospective members. This was all in the process of getting a contract signed, let alone the hassle if someone wanted to actually cancel. I thought it best to bring some of my first hand knowledge to help educate you in making a more informed choice.

    Introduction

    First I would like to start with how a majority of people first step foot in a club. You may pass by on your way to work, know others who workout there, or have actually done some research on the web. Regardless of the method, if you haven’t spoken to someone from the club on the phone you are considered a “walk-in” and you may proceed to the next section. If on the other hand you have received a call from a fitness counselor, it was a friend referring you (in which case you may want to revoke their friend status), a genuine cold call, or you signed up somewhere to win a free membership.

    If you fall into the latter category chances are you are going to be told you won something. A common practice used to be calling a prospect, telling them they won, and then indicating after a tour they will receive waived membership dues on the most expensive membership. Oh, other fees and taxes apply. Remember ask to see a full membership chart. As I indicated in my previous post, most clubs have single club access, multiple-club, multiple-level club, and membership/personal training packages. If you decide to sign up, get the one that will benefit you the most, not the one that will put more money in the salesperson’s pocket.

    The Tour

    Everyone who comes into the gym gets a free tour which generally takes one of the following forms. If you are a younger single guy, you will primarily get taken by the free weight area, glossed over on the machines and cardio and shown the locker room. If you are a younger single woman you will likely be shown the machines, particularly the hip adductor and abductor (inner and outer thigh), and the cardio area. If you are more senior or a busy business person you will be shown the machines and whatever circuit training setup the facility offers.

    A few points to consider on the tour are that if you want to improve your overall fitness you should incorporate a little of everything, free weights, machines, cardio, circuit training, etc. Ladies, you will be told the inner and outer thigh machines will help you loose your hips. This is not true, it will tone the muscle, but it will not spot reduce the fat. Those of you who are told the 30 minute circuit will give you all the fitness you need are being lied to. If 30 minutes on 10 machines is all you need, why then are all the other machines and weights in the gym?

    The Sell

    This is where it helps to up your confidence level before entering the sales office. Don’t get me wrong, you will run into some genuinely pleasant fitness counselors, but there are sharks circling out there as well. I have seen plenty of cases that could be labeled borderline abuse take place in sales offices.

    I have known gym sales staffs that have had rebuttal books. The comebacks for any excuse a potential customer could have. Just remember, get what you want out of the transaction. I know it seems like common sense, but if you feel uncomfortable or the salesperson starts calling you names, get up and leave. There are plenty of options out there that you don’t have to put up with a hostile environment.

    The Contract

    As mentioned in the ABC article, most gyms will try to get you to sign up for multiple year deals the most common being 3 years although month-to-month and lifetime deals are available. This is again another personal option that should be based on what you need. If you move around a lot or travel, you may want to stick with a month-to-month contract for multiple clubs (provided there are nationwide gyms). If on the other hand you have lived in an area for a number of years and will likely stay put, you may want to go for a longer term option at a single club, which is generally cheaper.

    With respect to payment options, you will usually be offered an automatic withdrawal from your account. This is popular as it obviously cuts down on the short-term hassle. Cancelling an automatic payment to your club should you cancel your membership can be somewhat cumbersome however. Should you cancel, follow-up, follow-up again, and get your bank involved if necessary.

    If you think cancelling your automatic payment is difficult, try cancelling the actual membership before the end of contract term. If you move, gyms require a minimum distance requirement (20-50 miles); if you are sick, they want doctors approval; if you die, the membership responsibility passes to your next of kin. The final and most important things I can stress are read the contract front and back and do not sign unless you are comfortable with the fine print.

     

    Related Articles:

    Choosing the Right Gym – Part 1

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    It’s that time of year again, resolutions are abound and I have noticed the attendance level at the gym has picked up once again. This can be frustrating as machines are limited, but I know I just have to wait a few weeks until most people give up and wait another year. The reasons for this are many, some people just do not like to exercise, some do not have for time, and for others picking the gym is the issue.

    In the 1970’s the number of gyms was in short supply, mostly catering to bodybuilders, what with the popularity of Pumping Iron and the golden age with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Aside from places like Gold’s Gym Venice and Muscle Beach, most gyms were dark holes in the wall places. Now there are a multitude of options, appealing to the most discerning user.

    1. Location – At one point I lived 30 minutes from the nearest gym and I made the trip. For most however, this is a convenient way to talk themselves out of going. When picking a gym, location should be a primary deciding factor. You should also ask when you are going to work out: before or after work, in the morning, afternoon or evening. You will want to choose a location that is either close to home, work or in between. This will not only cut down on gas consumption, but increase the odds you will maintain a solid routine.

    2. Gym culture – You may be asking yourself, “gym culture?” That’s right, most gyms have their own culture, remember above I was talking about the hole in the wall bodybuilding gym, those still exist. A number of gyms or ‘fitness centers’ attempt to cater to the family environment. Typically Bally’s, 24 Hour Fitness, Lifetime and LA Fitness appeal to this demographic with a gentler environment and childcare centers, although there are exceptions inside these establishments that lean toward bodybuilding as well. There are female specific gyms like Curves, senior gyms, kid’s gyms, personal training studios and the list goes on. The point is to look around at who is working out and that’s a pretty good indication of the type of gym.

    3. Interests – This is based largely on what you like to do. Are you a weightlifter, cardio enthusiast, aerobic guru, or swimmer? By shopping around you will find a gym or health club that meets your needs. If you are not sure what those may be, stick to a general all-purpose location.

    4. Cleanliness & Maintenance It is a good sign when walking through a club that all the equipment is in order and there are not glaring maintenance issues. Typically the parent office (or owner for smaller establishments) is investing in that location. Look for cardio machines that are out of order, broken or missing dumbbells, missing ceiling tiles and clean locker rooms.

    5. Traffic – This is another factor that is based on when you decide to work out. For most of us the options are limited depending on work schedules. When you are taking a tour be sure to ask when the busier times are (as is expected it will generally be between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays). It is not a bad idea to visit a club at this time to get an idea of what you will be dealing with on a daily basis. If you are like me and get frustrated in large crowds at the gym, you may want to consider other options or try to adjust your schedule.

    6. Staff – Whether or not you decide to get a personal trainer, it is one thing you should consider before joining a club. Ask to see the qualifications of the trainers, before and after pictures, and whether or not you can bring your own trainer with you. Also health clubs, as with car salesmen, believe in two things the hard sell and never trust the “be back,” meaning if you don’t sign up when you first walk in you won’t be back after shopping around. If you have seen the movie BoilerRoom you know what I am talking about. This is a direct reflection of the organizations culture and an indication of the customer service you are likely to expect in the future. In Part 2, I will highlight some of the tricks and scams the health and fitness industry use to get your signature and credit card.

    Tips and Tricks:

    One tip I would suggest that I use periodically when choosing a new gym is the guest pass. After taking the tour and listening to the sales spiel, I ask the salesman/fitness counselor for a couple days pass to see how I like the gym. Most places don’t like to do this, but if they feel you will eventually sign up they will relent at least a three day trial. Take this opportunity not only to work out, but ask other patrons how they like the club.

    One other thing about membership sales to keep in mind before you sign a contract. Most likely any club you join will have multiple packages, single-club, all-club, super club premier. This is the time to be rational and not practice Sam’s Club bulk-shopping. Why buy the 10 gallon drum of peanut butter if you are allergic, so don’t get nationwide access if you will only use one club.

    Thanks for reading and look for Part 2: Tricks and Scams to Avoid

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