It’s So Easy Eating Green

Pesto ingredientsSnow PeasKale chips Vegetarian Split Pea SoupHeather's Dill PciklesFarro Salad w/ Asparagus, Almonds and Goat CheeseHeather's Dragon Vegetable PlatterZuccanoes (or, Stuffed Zucchini)Garden Ratatouille

Pop quiz. What food did Popeye eat to get super strength to defeat Bluto and save the day? You know the answer . . . spinach. Like many leafy greens, spinach is rich in vitamins like vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K as well as high in minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium. Kale, collards, swiss chard and mustards greens rank among the top most power-packed green leafy veggies. And if you’re wondering about your basic lettuces like Romaine, red leaf and green leaf, they make the list too.

There’s no excuse why we can’t eat our greens all the time. It’s so easy. Every grocery store I shop (Copps, Aldi, Willy Street Co-op and even Target) has fresh green produce on their shelves daily. An easy way to incorporate greens into your diet is with salads. And I don’t mean chopped iceberg lettuce with a few slices of tomato. Thanks to my wife, Heather, our typical salad has numerous ingredients, often including chick peas, sunflower seeds, cherry tomatoes, mint, arugula, black beans, cucumbers, beets, snap peas, artichoke hearts, green and black olives, bell peppers and the occasional dollop of cottage cheese. Plus you can try fun dressings too. Although I’m more of a balsamic vinegar guy.

Another idea is to go to the grocery store with meals and recipes already in mind. Instead of shopping the basics, like milk, bananas, apples, yogurt, cereal, boneless skinless chicken breast, bread, coffee, cheese (look familiar?), how about buying foods specific to a recipe that you are going to prepare that week?

Here are 4 more tips to help you eat green.

1. Try new recipes. Dust off an old cookbook, pick up a new one or go to your favorite website. I guarantee you that there’s a recipe just waiting to be tried.

2. Eat produce that’s in season. Even though you can pick up practically any produce at any time of the year, its always better when it’s in season. Especially when it’s fresh and local.

3. Have a potluck. What a great way to share new foods with friends!

4. Learn how to can and jar. I was new to this until I realized that we had enough tomatoes and bell peppers in our garden for an army. Heather had canned before so I used her trusty formula and made a big batch of salsa. Yum!

Above I have included pics from some vegetable-based recipes I’ve shared with you over the years: Pesto, Snow Peas, Seasoned Kale Chips, Split Pea Soup, Dill Pickles, Farro Salad with Asparagus, Heather’s Dragon Vegetable Platter, Zuccanoes and Garden Ratatouille.

Should You Supplement with a Protein Powder?

A question I often get asked is “Should I be drinking a protein shake or taking some kind of protein/amino acids supplement?” You already know my answer. “It depends.” How many meals and snacks are you eating each day? Do you have a balanced diet? Are you a vegetarian? What are your health and fitness goals? How often, how intense and how long are your workouts? You’ve heard this routine of mine before.

Over the years I have seen all sorts of formulas to help people calculate how much protein they need. Anywhere from 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight to over 1 gram per pound of weight. That’s a huge difference. Often these calculations are purely arbitrary. Having done extensive reading and research over my 22 years of personal training, I’ve learned that the average person doesn’t require nearly as much protein as the elite athlete. Someone who is constantly breaking down muscle tissue and needs to repair, recover, grow, prevent/reduce injury and improve his/her performance. That’s an entirely different thing all together. Just remember, though, that protein is just one part of your dietary equation. That’s why it is key for you to keep a journal of your food intake and workouts. The tendency is to focus on the workouts, specific routines, amounts of weights, etc. When in fact, that should be secondary to a diet that complements your exercise program and will lead you to your health and fitness goal(s).

So why do I have a couple pics of a tub of protein powder? To promote it? Partially. To educate you? Yes, that too. It started when I ran into a former client a couple weeks ago. Rob is a 40-ish year old bodybuilder, who is in incredible shape and trains like an absolute beast. I always appreciate his open mindedness and his eagerness to learn. When we chatted I asked about his supplement routine. Among other things, he said he was enjoying Elevation Protein Powder that he bought from Aldi grocery store. Just $15.99 for a 2-pound container, he felt that it’s an excellent value. Compared to other whey protein powders that have a laundry list of extra ingredients, this is made of a protein blend (whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate), cocoa powder, maltodextrin, flavoring, soy lecithin, cellulose gum, acesulfame potassium and sucralose. It also is a good source of potassium and calcium. Best of all, he said that he had no gastrointestinal issues with it. And let me tell you, that is a total plus. Over the years, I have tried many supplements: protein powders, shakes, pills, meal replacement shakes, pre and post workout powders, etc. Many of them would rip my insides apart. So even if they were helpful, they would make me sleep on the couch if you get my drift.

Later that week I picked up a container of the chocolate protein powder. It mixes about the same as other powders. A little gritty and chunky even if you use a shaker cup. I suggest adding it to a smoothie or blending into a shake. After drinking the shake, did I feel a surge of power like when Popeye eats his spinach? Nope. This is not a pre-workout drink loaded with caffeine and other stimulants. I felt satisfied and knew that I was doing something good for myself. And that goes a long way. At 30 grams of protein per serving, it’s a good value. For me it’s an excellent accountability and motivation tool. . . and I get my chocolate fix. Like buying a new pair of athletic shoes or purchasing personal training sessions or picking up a healthy recipe book, they all encourage you to make healthy choices. Each time you look at your shoes, you’ll think of exercising and doing something good for yourself. When you see your PT appointments in the calendar you’ll be motivated to stay on track between workouts. That healthy cookbook sitting on your kitchen counter is begging you to open it and try a new delicious recipe. I’ll continue to supplement with this protein powder on the days I workout and let you know how everything goes.

Elevation Protein Powder

Elevation Protein Powder nutrition info

Cooking with Red Wine

Cooking with wine

Do you want the secret to making your sauces, marinades, stews and soups out of this world delicious? Do you want your friends to give you that look after the first bite when they know something is special about the meal you made? Do you want to make homemade dishes taste like ones from your favorite restaurant? Just add wine. Wine will make a simple recipe into a rich and luxurious experience. I think I’ve been watching too many shows on the Food Network channel.

Recently I made my typical marinara sauce and also added a 1/2 cup of red wine. Wow! What a difference! The sauce, which I had made many times before was already delicious. It consisted of several Italian herbs, chopped onion, diced garlic, sliced mushrooms, diced bell peppers and minced carrots for a little sweetness. Lastly, I added a pound of grass fed ground beef (browned in olive oil), which has so much flavor in itself. By adding the wine, however, the sauce was bolder, brighter, richer and, if I can use the word, elegant. It gave the sauce a smoother mouthfeel too for all you foodies out there. Even my boys noticed a difference in the sauce. A good difference when they said how delicious dinner was. Or maybe they were just hungry.

The great thing was that the opened bottle of red wine was over a month old. No longer able to enjoy it in a wine glass but not quite at the vinegar stage either. I have added “old” red wine to spaghetti sauces, soups and on hot summer nights, sangria. Older red wine is an excellent substitute to red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar. If you’re worried about red wine getting too old, just remember what my mom told me last week. “Wine doesn’t go bad, Eric. I’ve had a bottle of opened red wine in the pantry for six months.”

Want a healthy and easy-to-prepare red wine recipe? Try my Inside Out Ravioli Casserole.
Want more? Check out these Red Wine Recipes by Bon Appetit.

Eric, you never mentioned the health benefits of red wine. The antioxidants? Flavonoids? Then read this excellent Article by Mayo Clinic.

7 Tips for Staying Injury Free

Are you tired of setbacks from workout injuries? How would you like to reduce or avoid them all together? Then watch my video and learn 7 helpful tips to get you back on track today!

Celebrate Your Freedom

Free yourself from the confines of a diet.
Free yourself from an exercise routine that leads to nowhere.
Free yourself from limitations.
Free yourself from a bad attitude.
Free yourself from laziness.
Free yourself from comparing your body to fitness models who have been professionally lighted and airbrushed.
Free yourself from comparing your fitness level to athletes who are pharmaceutically enhanced.
Free yourself from guilt.
Free yourself from a bathroom scale.
Free yourself from others’ expectations.
Free yourself from stress.
Free yourself from negative emotions.
Free yourself from negative people.
Free yourself from unrealistic goals.
Free yourself from fear.
Free yourself from false thoughts.
Free yourself from anger.
Free yourself from regrets.
Free yourself from emotional eating.
Free yourself from unhappiness.
Free yourself from the idea of a perfect body.

Now it’s time to celebrate your freedom!

Deadlift with a Hex Trap Bar

A couple months ago I shared the benefits of deadlifting. Using proper body mechanics and lifting techniques you can strengthen many body parts, including the back, legs, arms, shoulders and core. So here’s a question for you. Why do so many weightlifters and powerlifters wear belts during this exercise? The reason is that they are lifting several hundred pounds and pushing their bodies to their absolute limits. To see what I mean, you can check out the World Deadlift Championship on July 9th where at least two of my favorite strongman competitors will attempt to lift 500 kg. That’s 1000 pounds! Remember that a weightlifting belt is designed to protect the back by adding abdominal support and helping to stabilize the whole area. When we mortals lift, typically we are not stressing every body part to the point of tearing itself. We’re focusing on strengthening our core, increasing flexibility and improving technique.

Okay, so now back to the topic at hand. Deadlifting can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, stretch cords, rubber tubing, a medicine ball, or just using your bodyweight. One of my clients uses a Hex Trap Bar in the fitness room of his office building. I absolutely love it! It offers three grip choices depending on the size of your hand. The grips are in a neutral position which, for many people, is more comfortable than pronated or supinated. Lastly, the lifter performs a deadlift while standing in the middle of the hexagon-shaped bar. This favors center of gravity, so as you lift, you will not be leaning forward (ouch!), backward (more ouch!) or to the sides (my back hurts just thinking about it . . . ouch!!) That’s an excellent feature.

Just be sure to use weight plate clamps or collars so the weights do not slide off the bar while you’re exercising. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Watch, Bid & Win. Support Wisconsin Public Television’s 41st Annual Auction!

How would you like to support public television and get a great deal on my personal training sessions? Then check out WPT’s 41st Annual Auction on Friday June 3rd from 7pm to 12am. I donated a package of 5 Personal Training Sessions in the Sports & Recreation Category. That’s a value of $375! What do you think it will go for?

You can bid online or over the phone (608)263-9985. The auction begins Wednesday June 1st and concludes on the 5th. To learn more or view other auction items, go to WPT Auction.

* This donation is reserved for new clients only.
WPT Auction

If The Shoe Fits

Sketchers Athletic Shoes

If you’re going to play basketball, wear basketball shoes. If you’re going to play tennis, wear tennis shoes. If you’re going for a run, wear running shoes. So what type of shoes should you wear when you go to the gym to lift, do some cardio and stretch? The answer is a shoe that fits the job. Something that gives support, is lightweight and breathes. It doesn’t need to be a cross trainer unless you plan on doing a lot of ploymetrics and/or running around on artificial grass. If you are doing squats, lunges and leg press, for example, you want a shoe that has lateral support and has a flat sole. NOT A RUNNING SHOE! I can’t tell you how many times I see people exercising in running shoes just because it has a big swoosh on the side. Remember, running shoes are designed to propel you forward. Most of them have built up cushioned heels for when your heel strikes the asphalt. FYI as far as running techniques go, this is mechanically incorrect and very dangerous. In addition, running shoes have zero, zilch, nada lateral support. I cringe when I see people doing lunges in the gym wearing running shoes. Often they have a difficult time keeping their front heel down so that their knee crosses over their toes. That’s a lot of pressure on the knee. Lunging in running shoes also causes the foot to roll out laterally (supinate) towards their pinky toe. This can cause undo stress and pressure on the feet, ankles, knees and hips.

I trained a young woman, who was complaining about pain behind her knee. She had been taking classes at Monkey Bar Gym and said that whenever she did lateral jumps her knee would hurt. She demonstrated for me, and I observed her ankles rolling. Looking down, I pointed at her Mizuno running shoes and asked if those were the shoes she trained in. She said yes. Rhetorically I asked if the MBG instructor told her that running shoes were for running and that she would benefit by wearing cross trainers for their classes. That day she picked up a pair of Under Armour cross trainers. The next time I saw her, she said her knee pain had gone away. Problem solved.

I’m dating myself, but do you remember when ALL the running shoes were promoting their anti-pronation shoes? It was just a good piece of marketing and everybody bought into it. Let me educate you about your feet. When you run, jump and push off your feet, you are primarily suppose to push off the big toe. It has the biggest joint and helps to keep the direction of force in line with your ankle, leg and hip. So if you’re looking to improve your running, jumping and pushing a slight pronation is not a bad thing. As an aside, be careful when you’re buying arch supports or shoe inserts. These can contribute to supination which again is not good.

When was the last time you tried on a pair of athletic shoes? There’s not much to them, and these days they require very little, if any, break in time. Do you remember when you had to wear a pair of shoes for a few weeks to break them in? Now, it’s out of the box, onto your feet and you’re good-to-go on the court, path, track, turf, etc.

How often should you replace your shoes? That depends on how much mileage you put on them, how often you wear them and how hard you are on the shoe. As a rule of thumb, I’d say every six months. Realize that shoes break down over time even if you don’t visibly see wear and tear. Just by standing in shoes, you will compress the material so that over time, they will feel like bedroom slippers. Might feel comfy but not safe or practical for exercise. Replacing my tennis shoes are more obvious since the outer sole wears down much faster than the inside. Because of court tendencies, and you can say this about volleyball, basketball, soccer and many other sports, the right and left shoes don’t wear evenly or in the same place.

So, Eric, what’s with the picture of these Sketchers? These are my second pair and are labeled as athletic sneakers. Not cross training, running, basketball or walking shoes. I had hit a point with my previous shoes where my feet were getting tired and my shins and knees were starting to hurt. That is a telltale sign that it’s time for new shoes for me. I stopped by DSW (they can have excellent deals in the sales racks in the back) and tried on a lot of shoes. Nothing felt good. I finally asked a salesperson for help and told her that I was looking for a comfortable shoe that could handle several hours of standing a day and some exercise. She showed me the Sketchers and indicated there was memory foam inside. I slipped on the shoe and it fit like a glove. The top of the shoe is mesh, so it breathes very well and does not constrict my foot at all. The funny thing about your feet is that you might be experiencing hip, back or even neck pain, and it could be solved with a new pair of shoes. Feel free to contact me when you buy your next pair, and we can see which shoe is the best fit.

How To Make Pesto in 3 Easy Steps

Pesto is one of my favorite sauces! It’s great as a spread in sandwiches, can be tossed into pasta or used as stuffing for pork and chicken. It’s also a key ingredient for my Pesto Minestrone Soup and Chicken and Spinach Soup with Fresh Pesto. Pesto also freezes well if you have extra. For the recipe I used my handy Chef’s Guide To Stocks & Sauces (Quickstudy: Home). It has dozens of recipes and is laminated too, which is great to have in the kitchen. Check it out!

Ingredients
1/2 cup Olive oil
1 1/2 cups Fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
2 medium Garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
2 Tbsp. Pine nuts (almonds or walnuts)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbsp. Cream, heavy or half and half (optional)

Directions
Step 1. Place all ingredients in blender or food processor and process until creamy. We used a handheld immersion blender.
Step 2. For a more opaque and richer pesto, add cream and process 10 seconds more.
Step 3. It’s now ready to serve. Do not cook.

Pesto ingredients

Deadlifts: 5 Reasons to Add this Awesome Exercise into Your Workout Routine

When you picture someone performing a deadlift, what images come to mind? Perhaps that of Brian Shaw, American professional strongman competitor, who won three World’s Strongest Man contests? Or perhaps Annie Thorisdottir, Olympic weightlifter and CrossFit Games champion? Or maybe your uncle, who threw out his back while trying to hoist a 40 pound bag of mulch up onto his shoulder? I’m here to tell you that the deadlift is an excellent exercise. Deadlifting is more than brute strength. It’s about developing proper technique. Building functional strength. Learning how to recruit multiple muscle groups. Protecting and strengthening your back.

“Chest out! Hips forward!” My clients often hear me say this during deadlifts. Deadlifting is not just standing up with a weight in your hands. You literally pull the barbell up and toward your body. In order to do this safely and effectively, you need to keep a flat back throughout the entire movement. Scapular retraction (pinching your shoulder blades together) will help protect your back. (Remember that a rounded or flexed spine is a weak/compromised spine. That’s how you get injured.) One more thing. Be sure to exhale as you lift the weight up. Bearing down (holding your breath) while lifting might cause a stroke. Happy thoughts, right?

“Form is a constant regardless of the weight you lift.” That’s another Eric saying. Whether it’s 20 pounds, 100 pounds or 500 pounds, the technique you employ should always be good. I’m not talking about trying to lift a weight that you can’t even budge. Improper technique, an imbalance in strength and flexibility and inadequately warming up are the culprits for injuries. But that’s a whole other blog article.

So here are your 5 reasons to add deadlifts into your exercise routine:

1. Power. There is something about engaging all the muscles in your body (at least it feels that way sometimes) when you deadlift. And you just can’t get that doing dumbbell biceps curls.

2. Core strength. Hips, low back, abdominals. They all work together when you deadlift.

3. Injury prevention. How would you like to kiss low back problems good bye? Do deadlifts. When I worked in a physical therapy clinic in California, the Physical Therapist said the main cause of low back injuries was picking something up off the ground with a rounded back.

4. Getting in tune with your body. Gym exercise machines don’t teach body awareness. You just sit down and move some handles or bars. They move in a fixed range of motion. Deadlifts teach you to recruit multiple muscle groups at the same time. You will quickly identify your weak point(s) when you deadlift.

5. Adding creativity. Workout programs can get a little boring after a while. How about adding deadlifts? Your mind and body will say “Hey, what’s this new exercise?” It might just be the exercise to give you that kick in the butt.

Want to watch some textbook deadlifting? Check out this great video of professional strongman, Brian Shaw.