What Does ‘Fit’ Look Like?

Leave a comment

Why Being Thin Does Not Always Mean You Are Fit!

By Raymond Onyango.

Thin Is Not Always Fit!

It seems there are a lot of preconceived notions about what it really means to be fit. Television, Cinema and Print Media are all dominated almost exclusively by thin people. The Fitness Industry is no better; you will seldom see a gym advert featuring a heavy individual unless it is a ‘before’ picture. All this has helped to foster the widely held perception than thin people are fitter and healthier than their more substantial counterparts!

Jennifer Hudson Before & After Photos

As a fitness professional however, I am hardly ever swayed by physical appearances. It has been my experience from years of conducting Fitness Evaluations, that a thorough physical assessment can reveal a very different  internal picture from the rosy one that a tiny waistline conveys. I have come across a significant number or very slim looking men, who are plagued by elevated cholesterol levels or sky rocketing, blood pressure. This just goes to prove that overweight individuals do not have a monopoly on health complications. A slim individual living a sedentary life, fraught with high stress and poor nutritional habits is just as susceptible to heart disease, and other co-morbid conditions including diabetes, as his overweight counterparts.

In fact being slim can in itself be a major risk factor, because it encourages complacency and leads you to believe that you do not need to exercise in order to enjoy good health. Nothing could be further from the truth – read on and understand why:

How Body Types Influence Physical Appearance.

Male Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

Watch any major athletics championship such as the Olympics and you will be floored by the variety of physiques on display. The 100-meter sprinters are almost always muscled and defined in contrast to the loose limbed, lanky  marathon runners. The Shot Putters generally have huge shoulders and prominent bellies, quite unlike the show stopping elegance of the high jumpers, who are more reminiscent of an Impala gazelle in flight! The only thing they all share in common is the fact they are the best athletes in their respective events, in the whole world and therefore some of the fittest individuals on the planet.

Their physical differences also reflect the 3 major body types, that define the physical shape that each one of us is bequeathed by our genetics at conception. Ectomorphs are like your typical marathon runner, skinny, long boned and narrow in the pelvis. Your average 100-meter sprinter is likely to be a Mesomorph, the natural athletes of this world.  They are the ones blessed with wide shoulders, powerful muscles and bags of athletic capacity. However they remain very likely to gain weight if they stop exercising or start eating poorly. The big guys and girls who throw the Shot Put are most representative of the Endomorphic body type. These guys are not lazy by any means; the Shot Put is one of the most technical disciplines among the field events, demanding a unique combination of intricate, elegant footwork and raw brute strength. Endormorps have big bones and tend to carry a higher percentage of body fat than either the Ectomorph and the Mesomorph even when they are really fit!

Body Weight Vs. Body Fat

Female Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

As a part of my research for this article I posted a question on my face book page, “ Do the words ‘thin’ and ‘fit’ mean the same to you? The first response I got was from one of my regular contributors, Ben Okombo. He says, and I quote “ Ray this is my exactly my story. I am 108.5kg, stand at 6 2’. My BMI reads 31, which means I am obese.  I am not fat however, because I train hard in the gym. So how is this possible?”

It is possible because your weight on the scale does not tell you everything you need to know about your health. For instance it does not tell you what percentage of that weight is fat as opposed to lean muscle. This is another reason why the Body Mass Index Scale BMI is no longer considered the gold standard in terms of determining what our healthy bodyweight should be. A body builder, weighing themselves on the scale and having his BMI calculated, will most likely be classified as obese, despite the fact that body builders typically have very low levels of actual body fat.

Bioelectrical Impedence Machine

In contrast I often use a Bioelectrical Impedance Machine to calculate my clients body fat percentages. I only need to feed your height, weight and sex into the machine, and then have you hold onto the electrodes which send a mild imperceptible electric current though your body. Fat is an insulator and impedes electricity; muscle however conducts electricity readily because all nerve impulses are essentially electric signals. The machine uses this distinction in the physical properties of fat and muscle to calculate your percentage body fat. Men should have an ideal body fat percentage ranging from 10 to 20% while women should maintain a range of 20 to 30%. What is quite telling, is that very slim individuals will often turn out to have very high body fat percentages, especially in the case of women who are naturally slim but have almost no muscle. These sorts of individuals can actually be clinically obese and exposed to all of its potential health challenges and not even be aware of it!

Love Yourself For Who You Are

I personally believe that true fitness is not about being thin, it about being comfortable in your body and doing the best you can to consistently Eat Better and Move More! We must appreciate the fact that the human body comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and we as a society need to pay attention to physical fitness and healthy eating habits much more than physical appearance. As a famous actress once said, ”You are not born second class, you have to learn to be that way”!

Have a first class week will you!

Advertisements

Life Lessons On Fitness

2 Comments

By Raymond Onyango.

I spent my entire afternoon, last Saturday the 3rd of March 2012, attending and participating in a highly inspiring talk session organized by my friend Mercy Mose, a budding and highly talented motivational speaker. The event, dubbed “How to live your dreams” proved to be a highly rousing and exciting opportunity for each and every one of us in attendance, a to re-examine our lives, starting from the way we eat right down to our exercise and nutritional habits.  In fact I was so inspired by the people that I got to meet, connect with and talk to at this event that, that I decided to carry on the conversation on my blog, so this week I am going to share with you some of the most inspiring life lessons I have learned in the course of my career and a fitness leader and activist. It is my sincere hope that you will be similarly inspired and encouraged to keep up the good fight. Living a healthy and consistently active lifestyle does not come easy, even for people like me who do it for a living. It’s a constant struggle to find the time, to keep up the habit and maintain the motivation…I hope these insights help you along your way. Read on,

  • Physical perfection is an illusion no one ever attains. Part of being fit involves loving and learning to understand your body, even as it ages and goes through the transitions of life.  If you are not happy with your body as it is now, you will never be happy with it even if you looked like a supermodel. In the long run it is far more important to have fun and enjoy whatever physical activity you are pursuing, this is the only way you will guarantee lasting results.
  • It is important to have other ways of measuring your progress outside of simply weighing yourself on a scale. Remember that the scale cannot tell the difference between fat and muscle and cannot therefore give you an accurate picture of how much progress you are making. Pay more attention to your body fat percentage and circumferences. As for the scale, you can get onto it every once in a while but do not be obsessed by the numbers. Numbers have their use, but they don’t tell the whole story.
  • If you eat mostly wholesome, unprocessed, natural foods, chances are you will never have to count calories in your life. The human race has fed itself in this exact way for millennia and obesity was never really a problem until the advent of large scale food processing. With the discovery of antibiotics and the enormous improvements in medical care, humanity has brought infectious diseases largely under its control, what is killing us today are lifestyle diseases.
  • The best gift you can ever give your children is to teach them how to cook and eat healthy. Not being able to cook deprives you of the ability to control your food choices and regulate what goes into your own body. Cooking is an essential life skill, one that your kids should not miss out on.
  • Understanding your body type and how it responds to food and exercise is ultimately more important that following any type of complicated fitness routine. I workout most days of
    the week, running, cycling, weight training, yoga and Pilates and provided I keep this up, I have the liberty to eat just about anything I want to. But that is not universal formula that works for everyone.  What works for me might not work for you. In fact the bigger part of getting fit and staying that way, depends on your capacity to make accurate observations of your own body and respond by modifying your lifestyle choices, rather than blindly following some ‘great’ fitness program.
  • Most of the ‘revolutionary fitness gadgets’ being advertised in the mainstream media are nothing but a complete waste of time, deigned to fool you into spending money. Study after study has shown that most individuals who invest in expensive gym gear hardly use it much after less than six months. You don’t need gadgets you need knowledge! The ability to use your own body as prop. Push ups, Pull ups, Lunges, Squats, and abdominal crunches among others are still the most effective exercises you can count on to get you into shape and keep you that way for a lifetime. If you have to buy something, buy a good fitness book that really teaches you the fundamental principles of safe and effective exercise.
  • Spot reduction is a myth. Unless you are a professional body builder, you
    really have no business doing 10 different exercises for your biceps, legs or abdomen. If you are still obsessed with the idea that you can influence individual parts of your body without reference to others…forget it! It never happens! You cannot transform one part of your body to the exclusion of all others. Do yourself a favor and stick with huge compound exercises which involve movement of at least two joints or more and which require some aspect of coordination and balance. These are the real bread and butter of a successful workout plan.
  • There is no such thing as a short cut to weight loss or muscle toning. If you are looking to loose it fast, especially though extreme practices like radical dieting, I can assure you, you will eventually gain it all back with much more on top or otherwise you will suffer malnutrition and all of its consequences. The plain truth is that all diets fail in the long run, only intentional lifestyle changes make a lasting difference. The secret to permanent weight loss is to do it at a sustainable rate. I recommend that you loose no more than 2 kg every month. It might take you a year to do it, but at least you won’t be left with bags of sagging skin, a common consequence of radical food restriction diets.
  •  Prevention is better than cure. Work out to keep healthy and try to prevent lifestyle diseases before you become afflicted by them. Once you develop high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis…there is simply no turning back. You are mortgaged to a lifetime of pills, lab tests, doctor’s visits and restricted diets. So it is wise to do everything in your power to keep from getting there in the first place – it’s only sensible!
  •  It is never too late to start working out; even in your 50’s you can still build muscle, burn fat and look like a million buck if you do the right things. All you need to do is stop making excuses and start acting in some capacity, however small.
  • It is physically impossible to gain 1 or 2 kilograms of fat over a weekend, even a generous one at that. You don’t need to rush to the gym and horde the treadmill for an hour just to assuage your guilt. That extra weight on the scale is probably water retention. Fluctuations in bodyweight are common especially among women, before and after their monthly cycles. Relax its probably nothing to worry about. The only time you should really be concerned is when you start having trouble fitting into your clothes. Don’t buy a size larger, work out!
  •  Healthy active individuals can enjoy their vices in moderation. There really are no bad or good foods it is a question of habits more than anything. A beer here, a slice of chocolate cake there and such other indulgences are perfectly acceptable – in moderation. Life is simply too short to deny yourself the little pleasures. Balance and moderation are what count.
  • Sugar and alcohol and tobacco are three of the greatest dangers to our health in the modern world. Quit smoking, watch your sugar intake and control you alcohol consumption and you might live to see your great grand children. If you don’t, you are almost certain to pick up a lifestyle disease or two along the way. Diabetes and blood pressure used to be called the diseases of the ‘rich’. But today patients suffering from these two conditions and their related ailments occupy more bed space in hospitals here in Kenya than diseases like malaria.
  • Unless by recommendation from a medical doctor, don’t waste your money on supplements. Many of them are unnecessary and some of them are potential
    dangerous as was evidenced about a some years ago when the substance ephedrine was banned form the United States after increasing alarm following widespread adverse side effects and potential deaths resulting form of health supplements containing ephedrine which often promised rapid weight loss. Virtually everything your body needs to function can be derived from eating a simple, wholesome, balanced diet and that is where you should focus your efforts.
  • In the fitness world, the only time frame that makes any sense is a lifetime. Face it today, that you are going to be doing this for the rest of your life. That is why I always insist that fitness must never be a struggle. Don’t force yourself to jog if you are not a runner, try soccer or cycling. Whatever the case look for an activity that brings you joy and encourages you to move just for the sheer joy of movement. Short-term success is only worthwhile if it can be maintained in the long run …other wise it is just a wasted effort and a waste of life. Have an inspired week, will you!

Can Muscle Turn To Fat?

2 Comments

A good look at this age-old question.

By Raymond Onyango.

In my line of work, I get to hear all kinds of myths, half-truths and old wives tales associated with fitness. By far the most common of these, is that muscle can somehow turn into fat. I have had clients who were literary petrified about resistance training in the erroneous belief that all their muscles would turn into fat if they ever paused long enough to take a trip out of town. I’ve met scores of rotund men who tell tall tales about how they used to be so muscular until they ‘stopped training’ and then they grew fat!

The question is; ‘Is this really scientifically possible, can muscle just suddenly turn into fat?’

As a fitness professional, I know from my training that muscle and fat are two totally different types of tissue, as different as apples are from oranges. It is highly unlikely that muscle could ever turn into fat, and here is why! Fat is also known as adipose tissue and basically serves a dual purpose in the human body.  First, it provides insulation immediately below the skin to help our bodies retain warmth and maintain a consistent body temperature of about 37 degrees Celsius; a fact, which is integral to our survival as mammals. Second, it acts as an excellent reservoir of energy, which the body can call upon in lean times as a lifeline. It is not by accident that your body stores its energy in the form of fat. It is an extremely efficient way to store energy, especially when you consider that a single pound of fat (0.43 kg) contains a whooping 3500 calories of energy in it.

To put this into perspective, you need to consider that fitness experts largely agree that a very active adult human being needs to consume an average of 2200 to 2500 calories every day, in order to maintain his or her body weight. This means that a single kilogram of excess body fat, could presumably keep you going for almost an entire week in the absence of food.  I googled this fact and from  the results i got, the longest hunger strike I could find on record was credited to one Barry Horne, a British animal rights activist who spent a remarkable 68 days on hunger strike, without a single meal. That is more than 2 months without a meal and it shows you just how efficient body fat was at keeping the human species alive in the unpredictable world of our ancestors, where success at the hunt was never a guarantee and long periods of famine were commonplace. In the highly predictable we live in today however, the closest most of us will ever get to the excitement of a hunt, is to drive down the highway to the supermarket, and so excess body fat can be a problem rather than an asset. As a human species we are running like computers fitted with outdated software; our bodies are configured for scarcity, whereas the world today is engineered for plenty and predictability. Unless there is a disaster on the scale of the Asian Tsunami or the earthquake in Haiti, the majority of individuals reading this article are unlikely to face imminent starvation anytime soon!

Muscle on the other hand is composed of fiber, and as opposed to Fat, (which is a store of energy) muscle consumes energy! Look at it this way; every single muscle in your body is there to facilitate one thing and one thing only. That thing is movement. All this movement requires energy, and your body responds to this demand by increasing the pace at which it breaks down fat tissue (also known as your metabolism). In fact it takes energy to sustain your muscles even when you are at rest, and this is why fitness experts advocate for strength training, and more specifically a higher muscle to body fat ratio, as one of the most effective means of weight control. The catch here is that muscle is something that you must use; otherwise you will surely loose it. Our muscles have the capacity to ‘hyper atrophy’ or grow in response to regular exercise or else ‘atrophy’ or shrink with disuse.

One thing that is clear at this point is that muscle can clearly never turn into fat; you can dismiss that as a myth! But the fact is that all of us have the tendency to gain weight whenever we stop exercising, especially as we get older. The question is why? The answer lies in two symbiotic areas of our lives i.e. lifestyle and physiology.
Remember what we said earlier on about a very active adult having a daily energy requirement of about 2200 to 2500 calories a day? Ask yourself, what happens when you reduce you level of physical activity (and therefore calorie expenditure), but maintain a high level of calorie consumption. You are not eating any more than usual, but you are now moving less, and as a result your body has the opportunity to store all these excess calories you’re consuming as adipose tissue (or body fat) – insurance for a rainy day.  In my own career as a fitness leader I have come to see that most of my clients experience the most profound changes in their bodies, around the decade of their thirties! This happens to be the time when most of us have new and heavy commitments in our lives, from young families to fledgling careers – and often finding the time to exercise is a challenge. The culprit is lifestyle change!

On a physiological level, our bodies are constantly changing, both in response to our environment and also in response to the inevitable process of age. When we have fewer opportunities for movement either due to career pressure or family demands, our muscles no longer get the stimulation they need to keep them strong and toned. Gradually they begin to atrophy or shrink with far reaching effects on our metabolism. As a direct result of this the rate at which our bodies burn calories (also called our basal metabolic rate) will begin to slow down and we will inevitably gain weight. It also helps to bear in mind that our bodies are more or less maintenance free in our teens and twenties. Into our thirties, lifestyle choices make the difference between good health and a middle age riddled with lifestyle related conditions.

We can get away with murder in our twenties, coasting along on nothing but good genes and glow of youth, but by our thirties our everyday habits begin to catch up with us. Unmitigated Stress and lack of activity have been identified by fitness experts as two of the leading causes of uncontrolled weight gain. Scientific studies have confirmed the connection between increased levels of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ in test subjects and weight gain especially in the midsection. Which is the worst kind of weight gain not for aesthetic reasons but rather for its direct correlation to the prevalence several co morbid conditions including diabetes, cancer and hypertension. 3 major killer diseases, just to name a few.

It is not that muscle turns into fat! Its just that as we grow older, we tend to move less and eat more especially at a the time period where our bodies are far less forgiving of this sort of neglect and indulgence. It presses home the need to incorporate some form of physical movement into our everyday lives, especially, when urban symbols of affluence such as private cars help to promote a more sedentary existence among a global population that is rapidly getting urbanized, and even more rapidly overweight, with all of its attendant health implications.

Have an active week will you!

What Does ‘Fit’ Look Like?

3 Comments

Why Being Thin Does Not Always Mean You Are Fit!

By Raymond Onyango.

Thin Is Not Always Fit!

It seems there are a lot of preconceived notions about what it really means to be fit. Television, Cinema and Print Media are all dominated almost exclusively by thin people. The Fitness Industry is no better; you will seldom see a gym advert featuring a heavy individual unless it is a ‘before’ picture. All this has helped to foster the widely held perception than thin people are fitter and healthier than their more substantial counterparts!

Jennifer Hudson Before & After Photos

As a fitness professional however, I am hardly ever swayed by physical appearances. It has been my experience from years of conducting Fitness Evaluations, that a thorough physical assessment can reveal a very different  internal picture from the rosy one that a tiny waistline conveys. I have come across a significant number or very slim looking men, who are plagued by elevated cholesterol levels or sky rocketing, blood pressure. This just goes to prove that overweight individuals do not have a monopoly on health complications. A slim individual living a sedentary life, fraught with high stress and poor nutritional habits is just as susceptible to heart disease, and other co-morbid conditions including diabetes, as his overweight counterparts.

In fact being slim can in itself be a major risk factor, because it encourages complacency and leads you to believe that you do not need to exercise in order to enjoy good health. Nothing could be further from the truth – read on and understand why:

How Body Types Influence Physical Appearance.

Male Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

Watch any major athletics championship such as the Olympics and you will be floored by the variety of physiques on display. The 100-meter sprinters are almost always muscled and defined in contrast to the loose limbed, lanky  marathon runners. The Shot Putters generally have huge shoulders and prominent bellies, quite unlike the show stopping elegance of the high jumpers, who are more reminiscent of an Impala gazelle in flight! The only thing they all share in common is the fact they are the best athletes in their respective events, in the whole world and therefore some of the fittest individuals on the planet.

Their physical differences also reflect the 3 major body types, that define the physical shape that each one of us is bequeathed by our genetics at conception. Ectomorphs are like your typical marathon runner, skinny, long boned and narrow in the pelvis. Your average 100-meter sprinter is likely to be a Mesomorph, the natural athletes of this world.  They are the ones blessed with wide shoulders, powerful muscles and bags of athletic capacity. However they remain very likely to gain weight if they stop exercising or start eating poorly. The big guys and girls who throw the Shot Put are most representative of the Endomorphic body type. These guys are not lazy by any means; the Shot Put is one of the most technical disciplines among the field events, demanding a unique combination of intricate, elegant footwork and raw brute strength. Endormorps have big bones and tend to carry a higher percentage of body fat than either the Ectomorph and the Mesomorph even when they are really fit!

Body Weight Vs. Body Fat

Female Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

As a part of my research for this article I posted a question on my face book page, “ Do the words ‘thin’ and ‘fit’ mean the same to you? The first response I got was from one of my regular contributors, Ben Okombo. He says, and I quote “ Ray this is my exactly my story. I am 108.5kg, stand at 6 2’. My BMI reads 31, which means I am obese.  I am not fat however, because I train hard in the gym. So how is this possible?”

It is possible because your weight on the scale does not tell you everything you need to know about your health. For instance it does not tell you what percentage of that weight is fat as opposed to lean muscle. This is another reason why the Body Mass Index Scale BMI is no longer considered the gold standard in terms of determining what our healthy bodyweight should be. A body builder, weighing themselves on the scale and having his BMI calculated, will most likely be classified as obese, despite the fact that body builders typically have very low levels of actual body fat.

Bioelectrical Impedence Machine

In contrast I often use a Bioelectrical Impedance Machine to calculate my clients body fat percentages. I only need to feed your height, weight and sex into the machine, and then have you hold onto the electrodes which send a mild imperceptible electric current though your body. Fat is an insulator and impedes electricity; muscle however conducts electricity readily because all nerve impulses are essentially electric signals. The machine uses this distinction in the physical properties of fat and muscle to calculate your percentage body fat. Men should have an ideal body fat percentage ranging from 10 to 20% while women should maintain a range of 20 to 30%. What is quite telling, is that very slim individuals will often turn out to have very high body fat percentages, especially in the case of women who are naturally slim but have almost no muscle. These sorts of individuals can actually be clinically obese and exposed to all of its potential health challenges and not even be aware of it!

Love Yourself For Who You Are

I personally believe that true fitness is not about being thin, it about being comfortable in your body and doing the best you can to consistently Eat Better and Move More! We must appreciate the fact that the human body comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and we as a society need to pay attention to physical fitness and healthy eating habits much more than physical appearance. As a famous actress once said, ”You are not born second class, you have to learn to be that way”!

Have a first class week will you!