The Secret to Building Lean Muscle Mass

7.27 get fit this summerIt is time to slim down for Summer and a good strength program is key to maintaining your metabolic efficiency.

Are you getting the most out of your strength-training workout? If you don’t know about Time Under Tension, or TUT, then probably not.

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The Snow Shoveling Workout


We’ve been slammed by snowstorms lately here in the Northeast. Since we made it through most of January without significant snowfall, many thought we’d be spared this winter. But I grew up here in Boston, so I had a feeling that our luck would eventually run out. And did it ever:  20-30 inches fell across Massachusetts during last week’s blizzard, with more coming down today.

A major challenge in dealing with all this snow? Removing it. Which means lots of shoveling. It’s a time when, no matter what each of us does for a living, we all become manual laborers if we want to leave our homes.

One of my favorite things about fitness is finding the real life applications of the strength and endurance created in the gym. I love hearing stories from members whose consistent Koko workouts have allowed them to hike to a taller peak, move heavy furniture or hoist that suitcase up into the overhead baggage compartment of a plane with ease. So when one of my Koko FitClub members suggested that we develop a Snow Shoveler’s workout, I loved the idea of a program designed to aid such a practical application of strength and endurance as snow shoveling.

Of course, since such a program would only appeal to Koko members living in snowy climates, it may not be a top choice for our Smartrainer program development team. Fear not, my frosty friends: if you are Smartraining consistently, you already have what it takes to attack that snow with a vengeance. Your Koko strength and cardio training has prepared you for this labor-intensive endeavor of shoveling snow. Let’s learn how.

Snow shoveling really is a total body workout, involving all the major muscle groups and movements:

  • As you scrape that shovel through the snow along the ground, preparing to scoop up a load, you’re activating your “Push Muscles”. Think Pectorals and Triceps, like you’d use in a Chest Press.
  • As you lift the snow, all kinds of forces are at work inside your musculoskeletal system. You’re hip-hinging, as in a Romanian Deadlift, and engaging the posterior chain.
  • With the heavy stuff you may need to squat a bit — as in, well, a Squat.
  • As you lift that snow and throw it, you’re using “Pull Muscles” like the Lats, Rhomboids and Biceps.
  • All that heavy lifting and throwing also requires cardiovascular strength and endurance, which comes from a strong, healthy heart through cardio training.

And of course, throughout all of this, is the necessity of a strong core. Shoveling snow can be back-breaking work, but a strong core can allow you to shovel for hours, and then hop out of bed the next day and do it again (which is actually becoming a little too common around here). The next time you’re grinding through a tough set of trunk rotations or even just bracing during a heavy biceps curl, think about how important the exercise is to keeping your core strong and your body ready for the physical challenges that are inevitable throughout life.

In college, one of my part-time jobs was riding around in a snowplow, shoveling walks, sometimes for 12 hours or more. I can’t say I never felt an ache in my back, but I always felt like I could get up and do it again the next day. Almost 20 years later, I am incredibly thankful that I’ve kept fitness as an integral part of my life. Here’s why: Even during last week’s blizzard, when it felt like I had been shoveling all day, I had no pain in my back. My balanced workouts at Koko have kept my muscles strong and kept them working together in unison to maintain proper form for what can be for many, a “back-breaking” endeavor.

A serious shoveling concern worth mentioning is the very real risk of heart attack from lifting heavy, wet snow over and over. So, for some people, it is well worth paying the kid down the street $20 to shovel for you. Doctors generally advise anyone who may be at risk of heart attack against shoveling, yet each year we hear sad stories of people suffering cardiac problems and heart attacks while shoveling. Shoveling is hard work, and it’s never a good idea to jump right into an activity that is beyond your current fitness or intensity level. It’s the same reason why we start every new Koko member with a Strength Assessment. This allows us to customize the program to individual ability and progress the program gradually, never pushing too hard, too fast.

Although any well-designed exercise program could help get your body ready for the white stuff, I’m partial to the way we build programs here at Koko. A well-rounded, total body strength workout that changes over time will keep your bones, joints and muscles strong, and ready for that labor-intensive task of clearing snow. And consistent cardio training, especially of the HIIT variety (High Intensity Interval Training) has been proven to strengthen the heart, helping you feel strong inside and out, and confident that you can take on whatever challenges life (or the weather) throws your way.

For those of you battling winter storms, be safe and enjoy your own shoveling workout. And for those of you in warm climates where snow removal is a non-issue? We’d like to invite ourselves to your house for a vacation, please!

Paul Romeo
Certified Personal Trainer, Master FitCoach


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The Value of Just One Workout

Recently a member of my club confessed to me that he’d stopped coming to Koko regularly. Don owns a small retail business, and he explained to me that he had lost the manager of his store and had been covering all the duties himself. There was no way he could get into the gym three times per week, as we generally prescribe, so he figured there was no point. Right?

WRONG! I’ve heard this lament from too many people over the years, and it’s time to set the record straight.

When I was in my twenties, I worked in television production, an industry that can be just as demanding as small business ownership. My work days were long and the job was at times physically demanding. Staying fit helped me keep my edge.

At one point, we were shooting 6 days per week down in Long Beach. Rush hour starts early in L.A., so even if I left my home in Santa Monica by 6AM, I’d just make it for the 7AM start. Some nights we didn’t wrap until 10PM, or even later. Fitting the gym into a day like that was not an option, and really would not have been beneficial. But I did have one day off per week, and I made sure that I spent a good chunk of that day at the gym. Unfortunately it did not have a Koko Smartrainer, which would have helped me keep my workouts efficient. But using dumbbells and barbells, along with a few old school strength machines, I’d manage to get a decent full-body workout in, along with some cardio, in about two hours.

I certainly didn’t increase my strength during that time, but that one day a week helped me to maintain what I already had. If had not stuck to that once-a-week schedule, I certainly would have seen my strength decline. Of equal importance to maintaining my strength was that I maintained the habit of exercise. I never had to “get back on the wagon” cause I never really got off.

My story is anecdotal, but scientists have been confirming the many positive effects of just one workout:

  • Mental Pick-Me-Up. When I got Don working out again, the most visible immediate effect was how much his mood improved. He came into the gym looking tired and stressed out. After just about 30 minutes of strength training and 15 of cardio, he walked out smiling and looking like a new man. Why? “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong,” writes Dr. Michael Otto, PhD, professor of psychology at Boston University, and author of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety.  “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”
  • Get Better Sleep. Experience tells us that exercise improves sleep quality, but it was documented for the first time in a randomized controlled trial published in the Sleep Journal in 1997. Exercise helped study participants get higher quality sleep than those in a control group. Even those who were classified as “poor” sleepers experienced improvements in the quality of sleep.  And since sleep is very good for you, all the more reason to squeeze it in when you can.
  • Increase Energy & Focus. I always feel better when I start my day with a workout. I have more energy and am more focused and productive at work. A 2012 research review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows why. The researchers found that physical exercise enhances mental function, even in an exercise bout as short as 10 minutes. Try a 15-minute Koko Cardio session with Michael Wood and see how much sharper you feel when you’re done.

When you make exercise a habit, it becomes part of your regular routine so you don’t have to think about it any more. As you build a habit, “the brain starts working less and less,” writes Charles Duhigg, author of the NY Times bestseller, The Power of Habit. In fact, habit-making behaviors are processed in a part of the brain known as the basal ganglia. Decisions are processed in the prefrontal cortex. When you maintain the exercise habit, you aren’t forced to access that sector of the brain to make a decision about it. It just happens. However, once the habit is broken, you will be forced to make a decision to start it up again.

Of course maintaining a habit of exercising 3 or 4 days a week is better than just one day a week. But the important thing is that the habit still exists in some form. In my example above, it was pretty easy for me to increase the frequency of my gym habit once life settled down a bit. I know it would have been more difficult to start over from scratch. “We are what we repeatedly do,” said Aristotle. “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

We all go through crazy-busy, stressful periods of life when it can be hard to fit in the workouts. I’m no exception. There are times when I don’t workout as frequently, or as intensely as I’d like. But it’s always a good idea to squeeze in a single workout before too much time has passed since the last one. It may not be the best workout, but the point is, it’s a workout.

Johnny Kelley ran the Boston Marathon over 50 times in his life. At age 70 he was still running around 50 miles per week and participating in 15 races per year. When someone asked why he did it, his answer was simple. “I’m afraid to stop running, “ Kelley said. “I feel too good. I want to stay alive.” He ran his final Boston Marathon at age 84.

The same approach can work for you. Even if your habit is only one day per week, or even once every two weeks, it’s well worth doing. With exercise, something is always better than nothing.

Paul Romeo
Fitness Life Correspondent