CategoryFitness and nutrition

Interfering in the way users are used to doing things is a no-no

Gainslog is a simple calorie tracker I made with only a handful of users.

If you ever tracked your macros before, you know reaching your daily protein intake goal is the most difficult to attain from all three macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats). Once you hit your proteins target, the other ones come around easy.

Because protein is the hardest macro to fill, I made it look like a priority throughout the app – making sure that everywhere macros appear they are ordered based on how hard is to get them in one’s diet. So it’s “proteins, carbs, and fats”.

Leaving aside the fact that for some people (with high calorie needs), carbs are harder to get, a new user pointed out that on a regular food label, the macros order is different – it’s fats, carbs, proteins – and that I should correct the site to reflect that.

Gainslog’s “add food” form

It makes sense, at least for the form used to add new food items. When you’re copying stuff from one place to another, it’s easier if the order in which you enter the information is the same. Being a good maintainer and carrying about people’s wishes, I’ve corrected the order everywhere through the site.

As soon as the update hit production, all hell broke loose – all users instantly went “why you changed that?” on me.

What is funny is that they didn’t notice the labels changing everywhere, but only on the daily status area. They, like me, were used to focus on the first number (since protein intake was the hardest to achieve).

Gainslog’s daily status – order was changed to fats, carbs, proteins from proteins, carbs, fats

Long story short, I reverted the order for the daily status and kept the others reflecting the food labels – which made it super easier to enter new items, but of course, few people actually noticed it.

Books told me that “taking a feature away will irritate users”, but I never thought such a small change will be taxed this hard. Nevertheless, I interfered in the way people were used to doing things, and that pissed them off. Lesson learned.

The fact they didn’t notice the order changing in other places concerns me – it means there’s something I can clean up more. If the information is not worth noticing, why keep it?

Video quality and editing over great content

Great content is usually something entirely new or offers a different perspective on things we already know, but… consider fitness videos.

Exercises don’t change over the years. Yes, the social media fitness industry keeps throwing at us different variations of the same exercise to keep us entertained, but the basics stay the same.

Hands outside shoulder width. Chest up, keep shoulders retracted, make a slight arch with your back, keep your butt on the bench and the legs firmly placed on the ground. Push from your nipples towards your upper chest in a slightly arched path.

This is the content for explaining the bench press form. You can’t add a different perspective or something new to it.

What you can do is make the video awesome. High quality and great editing, showing the exact muscles that interact, in the exact order, highlighting the bar path.

Jeremy Ethier has been criticized for not bringing anything new to the table and for being boring. And that’s true. There are a lot of youtubers putting out science-based fitness videos, but few of them have the video quality and editing Jeremy brings to the table.

If you’re an experienced body builder, his videos will bore you to death because you already know most, if not everything he shows, but for beginners those videos are gold – go watch them.

Do you train for the unexpected?

We all have our “I can do one more” moments in the gym. When we’re super confident we have one rep more in us but we fail miserably.

It doesn’t happen every day or every week (if it does, you really need to slow the f**k down), but when it happens, it can lead to serious injuries.

Most of us know a few things about staying safe. Like, if you don’t have a spotter while you’re bench pressing, you leave the clips off so you can dump the weights to the side in case something goes wrong. Or to make sure you adjust the safety bars when you’re squatting so you can drop the weight if you fail to do that last rep.

If you’re into fitness, like me, you most likely spend a good amount of time looking for new ways to maximize your results. How to overhead press more, what workout splits are better, how many reps, how many sets, how low to squat, how high to press?

We search and try all sorts of training methods, exercises and workout splits.

But… when is the last time you trained for the unexpected?

The most common reason people fail to lose weight

… is focusing on and worrying about the wrong things at the wrong time.

When to drink water? Before or after finishing a meal? Or maybe in between.

Should I eat greens today, reds tomorrow, and whites the next day after? Should I combine greens with reds? Won’t mixing vegetables with fruits make me fatter?

Isn’t it better if I eat the rice first and leave the chicken last?

What about smoothies? Those look healthy. Should I mix them with milk? 1.5%, 2%? Regular or almond?

Weight loss pyramid triangle

Stop skipping steps.

When you’re a beginner you should not worry about which “diet” to follow. You should not worry about the order in which you’re eating your foods or when you drink your water.

Don’t make huge changes to your eating habits. If you’re used to eating 3000 calories and you suddenly drop to 1600 calories, you’re gonna have a bad time. Weight will drop fast, too fast, and it will not only be unhealthy but also a lot harder to sustain in the long term. You will fail and bounce back to your old eating habits.

Instead, start tracking what you’re currently eating without making any changes. Once you find out how many calories you consume and what foods make up those calories, it will be a lot easier for you to know what to eat less of.

In a nutshell…

  1. Track current eating habits to single out high calorie foods
  2. Adjust calories. Drop up to 500 calories from your daily budget. If your weight stagnates, drop 150 more. Wait a week, and drop another 150 calories if necessary.
  3. Don’t spend all your time on the treadmill. Exercise. Lift weights.

Everybody likes to cut corners, to find that magic trick that will get them ahead. I’m sorry to break it to you, but there are no magic tricks to perform when it comes to weight loss. It’s just math and willpower.

1kg of fat = ~7000 calories.
1week of -500 calories/day = 3500 calories = 0.5kg down.
1 month = 2kg down.
3 months = 6kg down.

Burn more than you consume. You can either exercise more or eat less. The latter is way more effective.

Start worrying about magic tricks when you’re at 10% body fat or bellow.

Pain while doing skull crushers?

The classic version of the exercise goes like this:

1. Lie on a bench with your arms perpendicular to the floor.
2. Lower your elbows while keeping your arms straight and close to your body.
3. Extend your elbows, lifting the weight back up, and stop just as you reach full extension.

Skull crushers is praised to be one of the best triceps exercises, but for some reason I always felt pain in my elbows when performing it. I tried it with dumbbells, with the EZ bar, straight bar, swiss bar, but no luck.

Pain while doing skull crushers. Much art. Much wow.

Pain while doing skull crushers. Much art. Much wow.

It turns out that a lot of people have problems with this exercise, and the common advice is: make sure to warm up real good, start with lighter weights, keep doing it, and your elbows will strengthen up.

I’m sure this works for some people.

The problem is, even with super light weights I was still experiencing pain. Not as much as before, but enough to make me look for other solutions.

One solution I found, was to move your arms a bit towards your head. This not only lowers the tension on the elbows but also provides a better stretch of the triceps.

This was better, but I was still feeling some pain at the top of the movement. So I decided to try the reverse. Move my arms a bit forward.

Painless skull crushers. Much art. Much wow.

Painless skull crushers. Much art. Much wow.

The pain was gone. Completely gone. I could not believe it.

My first Quora answer

Quora recently announced a massive breach of user data. Thousands of users are canceling their accounts.

But as you know, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so I’ve signed up today and answered the first question that popped on my screen. 🙂

“What is the best way to form and keep a habit going? For example like working out and dieting.”

I’m pretty bad at forming habits myself, but I somehow managed to keep going to the gym for the past 4 years, while also losing or gaining weight. So I’ll throw in my two cents.

Some of the reasons why it stuck with me:

  • worked out 5 days/week – this is considered to be bad advice as beginners should not work out as often as intermediate/advanced lifters. But as long as you don’t overdo it, you’ll be ok. Not taking day offs made it easier for me to turn it into a habit.
  • made it lifetime goal – I made it clear to myself that I won’t be doing it just for one year, or two, or until I reached a certain level. It’s a lifetime goal.
  • lowered my expectations – I don’t know a single person to be completely satisfied with the progress they made. They’re all happy because they look and feel better than 6 months ago, but “it could’ve been a bit better”.
  • for weight loss/gain – nothing worked best for me than starting to track my calories, see where I’m at, and then go up or down based on my goal at the time. Drastic changes to your diet won’t stick. You have to slowly adjust it, eating less/more, replacing one bad food with a healthy one.

As for forming other habits, you should do what most people recommend: force yourself to do it for a long period of time while also finding some kind of satisfaction/pleasure.

Gym newbie? I have some tips

Disclaimer: It’s only been ~4 years since I started going to the gym regularly. While that might seem like a long time, it’s actually not. I still have lots and lots to learn.

Anyhow, I have some free tips to give for those who are just starting out:

  • stay away from isolation movements
    Bicep curls, leg extensions, hamstring curls, tricep pushdowns – exercises that train a specific muscle group.
  • do lots of compound movements
    Barbell bench press, lat pulldowns, overhead barbell shoulder press, squats, lunges – exercises that train several muscle groups at once.
  • avoid dumbbells for a while
    Dumbbells are great, but not for beginners. They rely a lot on your stabilizer muscles and when you are a newbie they’re not developed enough and you risk injuring yourself.
  • machines over free weights
    Free weights are best for muscle development but they also make it easy for you to get injured. Machines are better. You can still get injured, but the chances are significantly lower.
  • high rep sets
    You shouldn’t go to the gym and start doing sets of 3-5 reps. It takes a while to get your form right. Doing high reps allows you to stay injury free while you work on your form.
    Go with anywhere from 8-15 reps for your upper body exercises and 12-25 reps for your lower body exercises. Lower body exercises are more dangerous because they put a lot of stress on the entire body, not just your legs. Use lighter weights, do more reps.
  • short breaks
    1 min between sets
  • training 3 days a week is more than enough

Most of the tips revolve around staying injury-free. Even so, it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or you’ve been lifting for a few years – the likelihood of getting injured is always there. Don’t be reckless. Start slow.

Keeping your calories in check

Some have it easier than others. Some have extraordinary willpower. But with enough planning, anyone can do it.

Those who have it easy are those who rarely have cravings and live a temptation-free environment. It’s harder to keep yourself in check when your roommate is eating fries, burgers, pizza and sweets all day.

If you’re used to eating out, sticking up with any kind of nutrition plan is going to be ten times harder for you. Not impossible, but a lot harder.

You’re going out with your friends. The waiter comes up, people start ordering: burgers, steaks, burritos, tacos, your favorite pizza…all the good stuff. Will you be ordering a salad? Hell no. You’ll jump on the “everybody is ordering something good” excuse in no time.

The solution is to plan ahead and try to reduce the times you eat out. Planning can mean eating fewer calories before dinner. Or making sure the place you’re going out to eat has food that’s delicious and also fit your macros and calories.

Visiting your parents? You know they’ll have all kinds of fats and sugars waiting for you. Ask them to cook something else. Or even better, to not cook at all. You’ll be their chef for the weekend. Maybe they’ll learn a few things – like not to boil your eggs in oil.

Cheat meals. Avoid them. Have a cheat day.

Having a cheat meal won’t completely satisfy your cravings – and it’s also easy to turn it into an excuse to have another cheat meal. Do that a few times and you’ll find the excuse for not following with your nutrition plan at all. You know, get a bit sad and say “I cheated three days now, there’s no point to continue…”

Have a day when you get to eat whatever you want. It will be enough to relax and deal with your cravings and it won’t affect you that much. Be decent, don’t eat like you never saw food before – eat what you want without going too crazy.

When cutting

You find a way to eat fewer calories and you stick with it until you reach your fat loss goal. Restricting calories is painful, sometimes annoying, but not the hardest thing to do.

The hardest thing is watching your strength fade away.

Minimizing muscle loss is part of the goal, and we fight it by lifting heavy; sets of five to seven reps. And because of that, we often get injured. Not the kind of injuries to keep us out of the gym, but painful enough to be noticed.

Those are messages. Messages from your body telling you to take it easier, to lower the weight.

You should listen.

The price we pay

Although dedication and patience are the most valuable currencies when working on transforming your body, this post is not about that cost. It’s about the actual money we spend, in a form or another.

A membership to a decent gym is about $50/month. You want a personal (shared) trainer, add another $70. That gets you to $120/month or $1440/year.

Apart from gloves, clothing, and good footwear, you also need to consider the time invested. An average workout, unless you’re going to group training, is about 1.5-2 hours. Add at least half hour to get to and back from the gym, and then another half hour to get your shower. That totals to about 3 hours.

You go to the gym four days a week, that’s 12 hrs/week or 48 hrs/month.

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