Exercising Precaution

Because this COVID-19 situation isn't gonna work itself out.

/peers around. Anybody still there?
So. A lot has happened since we last spoke. Currently, there’s this whole global pandemic situation that has a lot of us cooped up indoors, gyms shut, we’re socially distancing and (hopefully) flattening curves.
But some curves we don’t want to flatten is ALL DEM BOOTIES we’ve grown! But is there a way to make do without gym access?

Well, kinda! A lot of this obviously depends on how much you’ve been training, the type of training you’re used to, and how STRONK you already are, but even for someone like myself who is generally happiest in a gym picking up a bunch of heavy stuff, there are definitely ways to challenge yourself from the confines of a yoga mat-sized space in your living room, and with a small amount of equipment.

As I’ve discussed previously, the main issue with bodyweight workouts is hitting your ‘pull’ muscles (back and biceps), where it’ll be really helpful for you to have a pull-up bar, some resistance bands, or even just a tote bag of some wine bottles or bags of flour which I know all of you have been hoarding like the good disaster preppers that you are.

There are just 3 workouts in this programme, and they each last about 45 minutes. They are meant to be repeated twice a week (so you’d do Workout 1 on Mondays and Thursdays, Workout 2 on Tuesdays and Fridays, and Workout 3 on Wednesdays and Saturdays), with Sunday as your rest day.

Workout 1: Push (Mon/Thu)

  1. Inchworms 3 x 10 (rest 30s between sets)

  2. Pushups 4 x 10 (1 min rest between sets)

  3. Pike Pushups 3 x 8 (1 min rest between sets)

  4. Russian Twist 3 x 20 (45s rest between sets)

  5. Bench Dips 3 x 10 (1 min rest between sets)

  6. Side Delt Raises 3 x 15/side (45s rest between sets)

  7. Burpees 5 x 10 (30s rest between sets)

Workout 2: Pull (Tue/Fri)

  1. Scapular Dips 3 x 15 (30s rest between sets)

  2. Scapular Pushups 3 x 10 (30s rest between sets)

  3. Pull-ups/Negative Pull-ups/Assisted Pull-ups 5 / 4 / 3 (2 min rest between sets)

  4. Tripod Row 3 x 15 (1 min rest between sets)

  5. Banded Facepulls 3 x 15 (1 min rest between sets)

  6. Mountain Climbers 3 x 50/side (45s rest between sets)

  7. Plank 3 x 30s (45s rest between sets)

Workout 3: Legs (Wed/Sat)

  1. Spiderman Walks 3 x 3/side (30s rest between sets)

  2. Goblet Squats 3 x 12 (2 min rest between sets)

  3. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift 4 x 8/side (1 min rest between sets)

  4. Bulgarian Split Squats 3 x 8 (1 min rest between sets)

  5. V-Up Roll-Ups 3 x 10 (45s rest between sets)

  6. Side Plank Raises 3 x 10/side (45s rest between sets)

  7. Reverse Crunch 3 x 15 (45s rest between sets)

Even though this was designed as a 6-day ‘split’, don’t take this to mean that you HAVE to train 6 days a week if you’re doing bodyweight stuff, it’s just how my friend wanted her days scheduled. If you like these workouts or need help with variations based on what equipment you have access to, or if you’d like some other variations, hit me up and let me know what you need and I’ll see if I can come up with a few more options. :)
— Rachel


Hey kids! I know it’s been a while, but 2019 has been kicking my butt, and I’m not quite treading water (let alone able to bang out awesome gif-tastic content for you lot). I’m mildly optimistic that things will be a little calmer next month (fingers crossed, knock on wood, no jinx), so thanks for your patience in light of my recent radio silence (especially for the new subscribers, I know I’m not making a great first impression).

The Weigh You Make Me Feel

Scale weight: when it's a useful metric and how to use it

By now, you’ve almost certainly heard someone, somewhere, tell you that the scale is a liar. Is it? Is scale weight ever useful as a metric to chart progress? Who benefits from knowing their scale weight? Let’s get…gravitational.
I’m gonna start with a disclaimer ‘cos new year, same old me (wait is that not how it goes?), and your girl here loves her disclaimers. Some people shouldn’t ever get on a scale. These people include (but are not limited to) persons with body image issues, eating disorders, who are unable to separate their weight from their self worth, and/or those who don’t have access to a scale. FWIW, IMO, a person’s worth has absolutely nothing to do with their scale weight (or anything to do with their body composition, size, mass, health, or any of these other metrics), and this is not a dig at a person’s inability to separate their scale weight from their self worth. All I’m saying is that if this is you, this newsletter isn’t for you. Zero judgement, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Cool? Cool.

Let’s be clear: I don’t think a scale is a perfect tool. (I’ve yet to find a “perfect” tool, so it’s definitely not the scale.) It is, in fact, extremely limited in its reach — after all, the only thing it tells you is your body’s total mass. I don’t even think it’s a necessary tool. Unless you’re a competitive athlete (e.g. a weightlifter or a physique competitor) and have a weight class to qualify for in order to compete, there are a bunch of other metrics you can use to gauge your progress. If you’re embarking on this fitness journey because you’d like to shed some excess fat to look and feel better, progress photos, body circumference measurements, or the fit of specific articles of clothing would probably be a better idea! Or, if you’d like to get stronger and fitter, measuring your performance will be a better yardstick against which you can gauge your success.

However, if you’ve got a significant change you want to effect on your body’s mass (whether that’s an increase or decrease in mass), the scale can be pretty helpful. A scale won’t tell you exactly how much of the weight you’ve gained or lost was fat or muscle tissue, but — over time — it’s gonna be a helpful indicator of whether your total body mass is trending in the right direction. For example, if you’re trying to “bulk”, but your body weight hasn’t budged at all? That’s a pretty clear sign that you need to increase your calories. Similarly, if you’re trying to “cut”, but your scale weight keeps increasing, in spite of how “clean”, or how few carbs, you’re eating, you’re probably eating too much food for your body’s energy requirements.

The single most important thing to remember when using a scale for tracking progress is this: the scale doesn’t tell you the whole story. (I don’t personally like to think of it as a liar, since giving an inanimate object malicious intent is a peculiar thing to do.) Some things that can and will affect your scale weight (without any change in the amount of fat- or lean-mass your body contains) include:

  • dehydration (e.g. from excess alcohol consumption, hot weather, changes in water consumption patterns)

  • water retention (e.g. from excess sodium consumption, increased carbohydrate consumption, hormonal changes, medications)

  • changes in glycogen stores (e.g. from workouts, changes in carbohydrate consumption)

  • digestive matter in your gastrointestinal tract (e.g. from marked changes in fibre or total food consumption, gastrointestinal distress)

  • cosmic curveballs (e.g. because I’m also convinced — even with zero scientific backing — that if the gravitational force of the moon can change tides, a full moon can and probably will also fuck with your scale weight)

But this doesn’t mean that the scale is a tool without any use to us at all: it simply means we’ve got to be aware of these limitations. Most smart scales today (such as those made by Withings or Fitbit) come with nifty apps that will plot your scale weight out, which allows us to see a visual representation of the direction in which that’s trending over time. If you kick it old school, plotting that out on a spreadsheet manually, or using an independent app like Happy Scale achieves the same effect. Having access to the bigger picture can help you chart your progress and focus on how, for example, you’ve successfully liberated 10kg over the last 3 months, even if you’re PMS-ing hard this week and have gained 1.8kg in the past 72 hours.

On the topic of menstrual cycles — I’ve made mention in the past that changes to your scale weight should be monitored over a 2–4 week period. For individuals who experience a menstrual cycle, I would recommend hovering around the 4-week mark, ideally tracking weight between similar stages in your menstrual cycle. (For example, the 7th day after the start of your period.) Anecdotally, and exclusive of I’ve-just-inhaled-all-the-chocolate-in-a-10-mile-radius type PMS episodes, I’ve gained anywhere up to 3kg in the week leading up to the start of my period. If you’re someone whose hormonal fluctuations rarely manifest as changes in your scale weight (or, if the fluctuations are predictable to the point that you’re comfortable factoring them into your adjustments), feel free to use shorter intervals when adjusting your nutritional targets.

It is also usually a good idea to reduce as many variables that can affect your scale weight as possible. You may not have full control over how (de)hydrated you are the day before your weigh in, but variables like how clothed you are, whether you’ve eaten anything etc can easily be kept constant. To illustrate this, my standard operating weighing procedure is:

  • daily (this isn’t necessary, but multiple data points reduce my sensitivity towards fluctuations and provide more information to chart trends — weighing once a week or once a month is also a legitimate strategy)

  • no more than once a day (some people like doing 3 weigh-ins and taking the average, but I have a smart scale that sends the readings straight to an app, so I don’t do average this out manually. Limiting myself to one weigh-in also helps to keep obsessive-type behaviours at bay.)

  • after I use the bathroom, brush my teeth & remove my retainers

  • before I eat or drink anything

  • wearing only underwear, activity tracker + a couple of wrist accessories (I don’t take these off to sleep), and the same pair of glasses

Charting your scale weight can be a really useful tool — if you’ve set your intake based on some algorithm you found online, monitoring any changes in your scale weight is an easy way to assess if your actions are aligned with your goals, and will often be more objective than questions like “how loose do these clothes feel”. Changes in our body composition can often feel painfully slow, and as humans, we tend to be our own harshest critics: zeroing in on flaws instead of objectively comparing progress photos, especially when things move slowly.

If you decide to use the scale as one of the tools in your arsenal, couple it with some other metric(s). I’m a fan of progress photos (so you have something to eventually look back on to see how far you’ve come) and body circumference measurements. If you can afford them and/or have access to them, a couple of DXA scans per year can also provide a much deeper analysis into your body compositional changes. No single method is infallible, but in concert they’re probably gonna give you a pretty good gauge of how things are going.

HELLO FRANDS, AND HAPPY 2019! Took a little longer of a break there than planned ‘cos…content creation is hard work and also the festive season kinda whupped my butt on the people-ing front. But we back!
I am, however, dropping the frequency of these newsletters down a notch. My current plan is to try out twice a month, i.e. the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month (1700h, +8 GMT is usually when they are scheduled for), at least for the first quarter, and see how that works out.
As always, if you have any feedback (on this newsletter, thoughts on my new email schedule, or anything else), you’re always welcome to hit reply and let me know. Hope the new year has been going well so far.
Did you make any resolutions? How are they going? Are you struggling to get back into your routine? Is there any thing I can help you out with? Hit me up: rbssjofans@gmail.com :)
— Rachel

Percentages Don't Mean Jack

Why calculating your macros by percentages doesn't make much sense

One of the first few questions someone will ask me when they’re trying to figure out how to get stuck into “this macro thing” is what ratio of macronutrients to aim for. I don’t really believe in ratios as a way to set your intake targets beyond a very vague guide, and this is why. (Also, now I have a link that I can just send to people when I next get asked this question, yay!)
PS quick note: we’ve got a potentially NSFW image (depending on how long you linger I suppose) in this newsletter — I mean, ’tis the season for giving, amirite? ;)

What’s wrong with ratios?

Nothing, really. But let’s go back to my original FAQ series on macros, and, in particular, how to set up your calorie and macro targets.

To recap (because I do have access to click-rate data and I know a lot of you won’t bother clicking into the links that I SO PAINSTAKINGLY INCLUDE):

  1. Set your calorie intake according to your estimated TDEE and your goals

  2. Set your protein target according to your total body mass and your goals

  3. Take note of your minimum fat intake

  4. Set your carbohydrate and fat balance according to any specific physiological needs, personal preference, and performance goals (where applicable)

Now, for an average person with no preexisting medical conditions and who isn’t seeking to effect a change in their body mass and/or composition, a ratio of let’s say 30/40/30, or 35/35/30 will probably be a perfectly serviceable breakdown of where to get their calories from. For example, if we assume that someone weighs 80kg and that they’re eating 2500 cal/day to gradually “recomp” (or maintain their weight whilst slowly improving their body composition), 30–35% of those calories from protein would give them 185–220g of protein per day. That’s well clear of the protein guidelines for muscle gain, and their fat levels are easily going to be in an optimal range for good health and hormone function as well.

So that means we’ve found the golden ratio…right?

Butt! (Hurhur.) Let’s take a look at some cases where it doesn’t quite work as well:

Fat-loss case study: Denise

Denise’s goal is fat loss, she has no known insulin resistance issues, and she really likes carbs. She’s currently eating 1600 calories per day, which comprises 130P/180C/40F. After some months of dieting down, she’s assessed that her progress has stalled and decides to bring her calories down to 1450/day. Now, if we were to assume that her previous macro ratio of 32.5% protein, 45% carb, and 22.5% fat was “ideal”, she’d be dropping her targets in tandem to 118P/163C/36F, when it’s probably going to make a lot more sense to just take those “excess” calories out of her (fairly high) carb intake, and leave her protein and fat where they are, and drop her targets instead to 130P/140C/40F.

Wait, but why?

Firstly, protein has the highest thermic effect of food (TEF) out of all the macronutrients. As such, if Denise’s goal is to create a larger deficit, reducing any of the components of her TDEE (here: TEF) really doesn’t make sense. TEF aside, protein (along with fibre and hydration) usually contributes to feelings of satiety, so Denise is likely to feel the full effects that 10% reduction in calories has on her hunger levels. Also, going aggressive on protein will raise her chances of retaining as much muscle mass as possible, especially late into her cut. Finally, while that 4g fat may not seem like a whole lot, reducing fat intake by 10% when it’s already at a fairly low level could impact Denise’s health, and, even if it doesn’t, it’s almost certainly going to further restrict her already limited food choices, which will likely impact adherence.

Muscle-gain case study: Andrew

Andrew’s goal is to get thicc. He’s super active and has a fair amount of lean mass already, so he’s currently eating 4500 cal/day. If we use a fairly commonly bandied-about ratio of 30/40/30, he’d be eating a whopping 337.5g of protein a day, which — even if he really likes eating protein — is a LOT. Both in terms of volume and satiety (when you’re bulking, it’s usually a good idea to eat more calorically dense foods so you don’t constantly feel like you’re stuffing yourself way beyond capacity), but also just far beyond what is necessary or even shown to be helpful for muscle protein synthesis (even if there’s no existing literature that implies it may be harmful for the body to consume that much protein). It’s also going to cost more (than filling in those calories with cheaper sources of carbs and fats), especially if every effort is made to purchase high-quality and sustainable sources of protein. Instead, by calculating his protein goals according to his body weight, he’d probably be consuming somewhere around 200g/day, so ~40% less than a ratio-calculated breakdown would have given him.

Insulin-resistant case study: Martin

Martin is morbidly obese, showing signs of insulin resistance, and probably pre-diabetic. Regardless of the manner in which Martin effects a calorie deficit in his diet, it’s probably going to do him well to keep dietary carbohydrates pretty low (and to keep those that he does eat on the high-fibre, complex-carbohydrate end of the spectrum). Those ratios above? Also unlikely to work well for him, since he’s likely to still be eating in the region of 1500 to 2000 calories per day, and I’m pretty sure 130–175g of carbohydrates doesn’t fall under anyone’s definition of a “low-carb” diet.

Oh so many words…

And just in case you’d rather look at an aesthetically pleasing human being tell you more or less the same information, but in his words, I dug up an old video by my coach, Mike Vacanti. There are a couple of slight differences in the way we approach the topic, but he explains things really clearly (and I’d highly recommend you deep-dive on his existing content, especially anything with respect to macros).

Secret’s out — one of the biggest reasons I started this newsletter was because I got tired of repeating myself whenever the same few questions got asked over and over. #sorrynotsorry! Anyway, I get it. It’s a lot simpler to just pick a general ratio than to do a whole bunch of math, and, you know what? If you’ve been calculating your targets based off a ratio and it’s been working for you, far be it from me to fix what ain’t broke! However, if you’ve been fiddling with your macro targets via ratios and struggling, for whatever reason, might be worth it to try a different approach.
As always, hit me up if I can help you with anything, and quick reminder once again that this is the last newsletter I’ll be sending out for this year! Wishing all of you who celebrate Christmas a merry Christmas, and to the rest of you: happy holidays and have an amazing new year. See you kids in 2019!
— Rachel

Pump It Up

Is creatine worth supplementing with?

Creatine is one of the most well-researched and effective supplements that exists (at least within the health and fitness industry). There’s also this slight misconception that it’s only something the most hardcore of gymbros use, and a massive misconception that it’s on the same realm as taking steroids, or that you should only be taking creatine when you’re trying to get jacked AF. So let’s do a quick FAQ on creatine.
(Altho…lezbihonest now — when are my newsletters ever “quick”? lul)

What is creatine, and what does it do?

Creatine is an organic compound that the body produces — it facilitates recycling of ATP (a cell’s fuel stores) and “releases energy to aid cellular function during stress”. The main benefit to supplementing with creatine is that it increases exercise performance by 5 to 15% (via increasing muscle stores of phosphocreatine, which increases the cell’s ability to re-synthesise ATP, and allows for a rapid release of energy during activity).

Thus far, all available science shows that if you are in good health and don’t have any preexisting medical conditions, creatine supplementation is perfectly safe. And yes, that isn’t just for men — regardless of where you fall on (or off of!) the gender spectrum, creatine supplementation is totes cool and as likely to be effective for you.

What is creatine not, and what does creatine not do?

Creatine is not a steroid. Creatine isn’t going to turn you into the Hulk, destroy your kidneys (assuming your kidneys are currently in a healthy state), or cause cancer (in fact, this study shows that creatine supplementation can protect DNA from oxidative damage), and creatine also isn’t a magical fat-loss supplement. In fact, if you start supplementing creatine, it’s pretty common to notice somewhere in the region of 2kg/5lb of weight gain (note: not fat gain). Most of this is water retention (creatine binds with water in your muscle tissue, where it is stored), so it’s technically considered part of your lean mass, but it’s not actually causing you to gain fat or lean tissue.

Are there any other effects of supplementing with creatine?

Creatine supplementation results in increased intracellular water storage. Aside from potentially reducing risk of heat-related illness in athletes who engage in intensive exercise, especially in hot and humid environments, this can also lead to the visual appearance of ‘fuller’ muscles, aka #pump.

However, because of the ‘water loading’ effect that creatine supplementation can have, it’s also generally advised to make a concerted effort to increase water intake (at least for the first 4 weeks, or — if you so choose — while you ‘load’ creatine), as stomach cramping may occur otherwise.

There is also some preliminary research that suggests that creatine may improve cognitive function in healthy individuals, and it has been postulated that there may be benefits to fetal growth, health, and development if creatine supplementation occurs during pregnancy (but for the love of all that is good in this world please talk to your doctor before supplementing with anything, especially if you’re pregnant).

What’s the best way to supplement with creatine? Do I need to run a “loading” phase?

No, loading isn’t necessary. It’s not really harmful either, although some do experience nausea and/or diarrhoea, if too much creatine is supplemented at once (plus you’d really have to slam a bunch of water). Even without loading, most people will be “fully loaded” within about 4 weeks of taking 5g creatine monohydrate per day, so I’d generally recommend against loading to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal discomfort. For the average adult (read: people who don’t have an extraordinarily high amount of muscle mass), 3–5g of creatine monohydrate per day is sufficient. It doesn’t really matter what time of the day you consume it, and it can be taken on both workout and rest days. Use the most economical and easily available form (usually creatine monohydrate) — no specific type of creatine has been shown to be superior.

Do I need to cycle on and off creatine?

There’s no evidence to suggest that long-term usage or supplementation of creatine is harmful, so you’re fine to keep taking it continuously.

Is it better to take creatine when I’m bulking or cutting?

Either, neither, or both. Creatine benefits performance, which can then facilitate muscle protein synthesis, which is beneficial whether you’re trying to gain size or shed excess fat. Supplementing creatine isn’t necessary for either goal though, but it sure as heck won’t hurt.

What happens if/when I decide to stop taking creatine?

Nothing! In this study, there were no reductions in strength, lean mass, or endurance in a population of older men who ceased to supplement with creatine.

Do YOU take creatine?

Not at present. I did for a couple of years (I started when I was actively trying to gain some lean mass), but the brand and flavour of creatine which I enjoy sold out, I switched to a different brand that I hated, and I didn’t notice my performance or physique suffering when I kept “forgetting” to take the gross flavour I had, so I eventually just gave up entirely. I may start again if I decide to do a bulk or make some sort of massive push for strength gains in the future, but I don’t currently see a need to.

Just a quick reminder that there will not be an issue of this li’l ol’ newsletter next week — I’ll be back to yell at you in your inboxes on the 19th of December, which will be the last issue of this year. (SHRIEK, 2018 IS ALMOST OVER. BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES.) As always, if you’ve got more questions (unless it’s a question that I’ve literally just answered in this newsletter, in which case pls ftlog just scroll back up!), or if you have something you’d like to yell in my direction about, you know where to find me.
— Rachel

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