Q and A

Postural Tips for Driving

I was recently asked to write an article on the Best Postural Tips for Driving (a car…not a golf ball). Though I am no postural or ergonomic expert, there are certainly some basic postural rules I see broken all the time that feed the pain cycle. Here is a re-post of that article. Hope it’s helpful…

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We sit too much. It’s just that simple. What’s more?…we sit incorrectly most of the time. The result? Pain, tingling, numbness, loss of muscular function. While our bodies were made with an incredible design and ability to handle mechanical loads and stress, if we load them inappropriately our bodies lose the ability to disseminate stress. Unfortunately, even if we maximize posture and minimize stress, if we load our bodies in the same patterns too often, we still get breakdown (anybody have carpal tunnel syndrome from typing, mousing or texting?).

The goal is to create an environment within the vehicle that will allow the body to maintain the most erect/neutral spine (all 4 curves that should be present are: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral). Here are 5 tips to help create that environment:

1. Invest in a Lumbar Support Pillow: these can often be found at Back Health stores or even Bed, Bath & Beyond or Marshall’s.

Why? Many back health issues occur in the lumbar (lower back) spine. Often the site of posterior disc bulges/herniations/ruptures, our seated posture only feeds the pain and problem. Since many of us sit at desks all day (with poor posture), adding a support to the lumbar spine that will help maintain an erect spine and limit posterior disc pressure while driving can be extremely helpful.

2. Elbow angle should be approximately 90-135˚: Set the steering wheel so that elbows are approximately at 90-135˚ angle with hands resting on steering wheel. While not possible with all steering wheels (may not have the anterior-posterior adjustment), you should do your best to use the height and seat back adjustments to create that angle.

Why? If the steering column is too close it can create an elevated (shrugged) shoulder posture that increase upper back and shoulder tension as well as neck tension. It can also require greater than normal movement patterns into internal and external shoulder rotation while making turns. If the steering wheel is too far away in often creates the common “slouched” or “slumped” forward posture most noted by a rounding of the shoulders. Even though the opposite extreme of the elevated shoulder, many of the repercussions are the same (upper back and neck tensions).

3. Hip angle should be set at 90-110˚: Set the seat bottom and back so that your hip angle is between 90-110˚. Due to different car makes and models as well as your individual hamstring flexibility (less flexible people should increase the hip angle), you will have to try various angles to find maximum comfort.

Why? You are looking for a fairly erect posture and spine (not leaning back excessively) without creating undue tension in your hamstrings or hip flexors. Either one can create more lower back pressure or pain.

4. Set your rearview mirror to encourage neutral spine: After you have set the rest of your seat and steering wheel positions you can adjust your rearview mirror. Sit in your seat with a tall neutral spine (be as tall as you comfortably can, but don’t strain or stretch). Once in this position, adjust your rearview mirror so that you can see appropriately out of it.

Why? This is a great reminder while you are driving…if you start to slouch, you can’t see out of your mirror!

5. Don’t sit still! One of the best postural tips I ever learned in a postural seminar is that the best posture is one that always changes. Makes sense if you think about it. Roll your shoulders, pinch your shoulder blades together, nod your head or slight tilt it from side to side, extend/curl/laterally bend your spine, turn your shoulders side to side, rotate your thighs in and out, etc. Find little ways to create subtle movements to give your body a break, restore blood flow and decompress your body’s tissue.

Why? The long you stay in exactly the same position, the longer the same tissues and structures have to manage all the same stress and loads. Spread the wealth…and the pressure. You’ll hurt a lot less.

Q&A: Body Fat Loss

Question:

Hi Chris,

I came across your sites on the cbn.com website. I’m definitely not a teenager, just an ordinary middle-aged woman. I have a quick question. Can you please tell me at least one exercise for the following 3 areas. I just can’t seem to do what I need to evidently to get the flab off. The triceps, the tummy area (mostly below the belly button) and the inner thighs. I am 5′ 5″ and weigh 127 lbs., but am surprised at the flab on my body. I had my ratio checked once (can’t remember what you call it) and they were surprised I think too. I was too high on the body fat ratio. I’ve never been overweight. Any information you can send would be appreciated.

Thank you.

Answer:

Sounds like you’re doing most of the right stuff already. When people give me this type of info and yet are still seeing no results, there’s usually one of a couple reasons:

1. You’re eating more than you think you are (not a dishonesty issue, just an awareness issue). This doesn’t sound like it’s your dilemma.
2. You’re not working consistently enough for long enough on your exercise program. This is usually a biggie. If you’re not able to stick with something for longer than 3 months…tough to see results. Often I find this is when many people are just beginning to see things happen.
3. You’re not working hard enough. If bodyfat loss is the goal (i.e. to see muscle definition), you’ve got to be in caloric deficit a little bit every day. Thus, you’ve got to expend more calories than you consume. That’s either got to happen through slightly less calorie consumption, more energy expenditure through activity, or even better yet the combination of the two. But, on the exercise end…it just takes consistent hard work.
4. You have a metabolic issue. This is the last thing I default to. Essentially, if you are doing “all the right stuff” and still aren’t getting results, it may simply be that you have a slower metabolism, or, in other words some possible hormonal balance issues. That is something you can get checked with your physician if you have not yet done so.

There are other things you should probably be doing like eating every 2-3 hours (instead of just 3 meals) so you keep your metabolism primed and making sure to drink 1/2 your bodyweight in ounces/day…but that is the gist of it.

One of the things I’ve found with my clients over the years is that if the exercise program is not one you enjoy or will put out good effort/work doing…it simply won’t work (no matter how great the program is). You may try to get into some group training style classes or exercise with friends to see if that helps with accountability and fun.

Lastly take a look at a couple of my nutrition and exercise blogs:
Nutrition
8 Weeks, 8 Habits, 8% Bodyfat
8 Week, 8 Habits, 8% Bodyfat Part 2
8 Week, 8 Habits, 8% Bodyfat Part 3
8 Week, 8 Habits, 8% Bodyfat Part 4
…stay tuned for Parts 5-8

Exercise/Program Design
It’s Simple, Stop resting, Work harder
Program Design
10 Minute Workouts
Mini Circuits for Bodyfat Loss
Example Programs (see www.prevailvideo.com for examples of how to perform exercises)

Recipes

Thanks for the inquiry. Hope this helps. I know this is a common area of concern and battle for so many. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

Q&A: Machines and Variable Resistance

Question:
I’ve been working out at my home club and they got some new machines from Hoist Fitness with “ROX” technology, which basically means your seat moves as you curl or row or whatever. It feels neat and according to the weight stacks, the change in resistance per plate is nonlinear and differs depending on the user’s weight.

From a kinesiological point of view, are there any benefits to this, either in results or just reducing stress on joints or something? The description from their website is here:

Hoist Fitness Roc-It Technology


Answer:
I had not heard of it. It is certainly an interesting design. My assumption is that the nonlinear change it weight is consistently an increased load toward end range of motion. There are certainly some pros to equipment of this nature, but in the end the benefits tend to be joint, muscle, user specific. One con…an person who is overweight may not have a matching strength to body-weight ratios and may find this equipment difficult to use or set up appropriately.

Nautilus was the first on the market with stuff like this (variable resistance) with their cam systems a few decades ago. Claimed it was the miracle machine as load was supposed to perfectly mimic the human muscle strength curve (weaker to stronger to weaker). Problem is that everyone has different limb lengths, tendon attachment points (therefore varying leverages), as well as different muscle and movements do not always follow the weak-strong-weak strength curve (i.e. squatting tends to be a weak to strong movement if measuring from the bottom of the movement up to the standing finish). I can’t tell from the website if this equipment expands/modifies these problems without using it. However, worst case scenario is that it is a nice biomechanical variation for your muscles.

In the end, I have tended to be more and more of a fan of “free-weight” types of movement. Reason being is that I think it is important for everyone to gain control over their bodies moving through space since that is still primarily how we interact with our environment (though more technology and machinery could change that in the years to come). Balance, stability, proprioception, etc. are things that are simply not developed at all–or as well–on machines. There are benefits to machines. But I always encourage machine use to be more of a beginner mode or a mode that is used in the minority with advanced exercisers.

Movement is good…quality movement in free space is better.

Exercise of the Week: The Squat

Here’s a basic exercise that basically everyone performs poorly. I see it in the gym literally everyday. Usually it’s as simple as:
Male use too much weight and can’t stabilize the movment
Females can’t stabilize the movement and therefore can’t use more weight

It’s something that everyone should be able to do (regardless of gender, age, sport, etc.) as long as there are no joint or health limitations. If you can’t do it, it may mean you’ve got some limitations to fix (joint mobility, joint flexibility, strength decrements, muscle imbalance, improper muscle firing patterns).

Hope this helps!

The Best Exercise…

…Doesn’t exist.

I think this is probably the most common question I get (followed by, “How do I lose fat from here [fill in the blank]?”).

If I may simply clarify a thought on this issue. This is a question that is absolutely dependent on a number of factors. The most relevant of those being:
Goals
Exercise History
Exercise Proficiency/Mastery
Health History
What else you are doing/will do in your current exercise program

It is easy to come up with a “great” exercise that really targets a muscle/movement well. But, what if you can’t do it? What if you don’t have the technical proficiency, stability, mobility, ROM, strength, (need I go on) to perform that movement? Answer?…it’s not a good exercise for you.

The second issue…spot reducing STILL doesn’t work. We have understood this concept from the physiology research for many years now. Problem…TV. Infomercials. They are still confusing the issue. 8 minutes a day on that ab-shocker machine deal won’t help you get ripped abs. Neither will the great new Ab Machine (whatever is being currently marketed). You can’t do exercises for muscles and make that fat disappear from that region. It’s a no win situation. Best ab exercise I’ve learned in the last 2 years (if I may borrow a term from Mike Boyle) is the “Table Pushaway” exercise. Yep…push it away, eat less calories and create caloric deficit. That’s what it comes down to. Burn more than you eat and you’ll get the ripped abs. What do you think all those diets and exercise programs are trying to get you to do?

That being said, an exercise for a muscle group/area will help increase muscle density and resting tone so that when you LOSE the bodyfat through caloric deficit you’ll be able to see it…but not until.

In the end, the best exercise is one that will fit well into rounded, complimentary program that is appropriate for your level of fitness, exercise proficiency, goals, and health history. And I’ll tell you that no matter what your goals are, more and more research on program design for general populations (athletes or bodyfat loss seekers) is showing that full or near full body programs that involve multiple joint exercises are offering the most benefit.

If you’re starting your questions with “which exercise is best?” you are probably already on the wrong path. Start by asking questions related to “what type of exercise program is best?” and you’ll be off to a better start.

GI Cleansing Fun: Q&A

featured on CBN.com (click here)

I am in the middle of a 7-day Arbonne detox cleanse and am starting to feel cramped. I have learned that this is normal when the body is cleansing itself (similar to being sore after a massage). I am curious if this rings true with your experience as well. Your opinion is appreciated! 5 days till I can have M&Ms for breakfast!


Amy Eddy

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Amy,

Thanks for you question. I believe the answer to your question is a quite simple one, but allow me this opportunity to share a few thoughts on the issue for those who are not “on track” quite as much as you obviously are.

First, so I’ve covered my bases, I need to reiterate that I am not a nutritionist or registered dietitian. That said, as a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach for over 10 years I have found that one of the greatest hurdles to clients achieving health/wellness/performance goals is nutrition. It’s something who’s value most people drastically underestimate.

One common example, if I may digress for a moment:
Which is the easier method to achieve a daily calorie deficit necessary for weight loss?
A. A 5 second decision not to eat the fast food burger and fries, which contains at least 500 calories (empty at that).
B. A 45-60 minute cardio session to burn 500 calories.

Simple answer, of course. But many who read this will have that knee-jerk reflex answer, “But I LOVE the burger and fries…I can’t give it up.” Whether it’s the emotional response, the comfort food, will power, or simply a habit-changing issue, the point is that many choose against the obvious answer.

As such, I have found myself constantly seeking information from trusted sources in the field of nutrition to help me better work with my clients so I can safely aid in goal achievement on the nutrition end.

The “Cleanse” issue is something that I have found to be more and more common in both popular and scientific literature over the past 5 years. And though it seems a quite separate issue than the example above, I have found that it is not entirely unrelated.

From the nutrition conventions I have attended, I have learned more and more that the U.S. has been a bit behind the curve on this health practice. In fact, Europeans have been keyed in on this practice for several years (if not decades). Quick Sidenote…have you ever had a conversation with individuals from Europe who visit the U.S.? Interesting to hear their take on the American diet. Our practices and quantities tend to be significantly different than theirs (and not for the better).

From what I have seen, there are many forms of “cleanses” available in the marketplace now. Some of them found in pop literature range from simply homemade recipes to liquid fasts of sorts to products purchased containing various pro- and/or prebiotics and fiber. Whichever the method of cleanse used, the oft-cited benefits usually involve some of following:

-Greater clearing/cleaning of the GI tract
-Increased probiotics (good bacteria in intestines aiding in digestion/absorption)
-Decreased constipation and diarrhea
-Decreased effects of Crohn’s Disease, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis
-Decreased yeast infections, Chronic Candidiasis, Canker Sores, Food Allergies, Eczema.
-Increased Immune Function.
Source: Carl Keen, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Nutrition & Internal Medicine

I often site the act and need of cleansing to that of decreasing artery plaque and serum LDL’s. If our body struggles to function when our arteries are clogged due to increased demands on the heart and difficulties getting nutrients in and wastes out, doesn’t it make sense that the same is true for our GI Tract?

The fact of the matter is that in a world (and society) that not only doesn’t consume the most nutrient dense foods (nor do we have them as easily available do to processing and distribution issues), but also doesn’t consistently get in enough fiber (both soluble and insoluble) to keep things moving through our system…we need a little help. Of course beyond the obvious benefit of regularity, fiber has been associated with decreased colon cancer, decreased diverticulitis, decreased CHD and Type II Diabetes.
Source: Robert M. Hackman, Ph.D., Research Nutrition

Now back to my earlier contention—the relationship between Weight Loss and Cleanses. A fact I gained at a convention a year ago was that 50% of the U.S. not regular (defined as 1 gentle daily bowel movement). Now compare that to the overweight numbers in the U.S.: about 66%. Of course many other factors play in, but is there a possibility that even simple digestion/excretion plays in? Many nutritionists I know hold to the mantra, “If it ain’t comin’ out…it ain’t comin off!” I know…good stuff, huh? I even heard it said at a Personal Training conference about 10 years ago that by age 35 or 40, most people are carrying around about 10-15 pounds of waste in their intestines (and they’re wondering why they just can’t seem to lose those last 10 pounds to get down to their high school weight).

Amy, you’ve been patient. With all of that background I believe the simple answer to your question is, “Yes.” Most often, when people do a cleanse for the first time—especially if they are not consistent consumers of nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods—there is usually some intestinal discomfort early on. There may even be some feelings of diarrhea at times as the body is literally purging itself from a bunch of…well…you know. Empirically, I have found that the more regular consumption of nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods along with regular cleansing (approximately every 3 months), this cramping tends to diminish.

Rules of Thumb for achieving the benefits labeled above associated with a health and cleansed GI Tract:

1. Eat several servings of fruits and veggies daily (www.mypyramid.gov).
2. Strive for 25-35 grams of fiber each day.
3. Avoid refined/processed foods as much as possible (eat whole foods, grains, wheats, etc).
4. Cleanse every 3 months as a preventative measure.
For those searching for a good product, this is the product I use and recommend for my clients:

Hope that helps. And by the way, hope the M&Ms were worth the wait.

A Question for the Guru

Over the years I’ve worked out my chest like a mad man. In spite of a lot of hard work I can’t seem to see much development of my upper chest. I see growth in my shoulders, but I want boobs! Specifically, are there any exercises or that really target the Upper/Inner chest?

-Vince

Okay, Vince, you asked for it so strap in because we’re gonna be here for a while. And no, I didn’t edit the question because…well…you needed to be exposed after asking a question like that.

Every man’s dream, big pecs and bis…the beach muscles. I hope you are frequenting the beach with skim board in tow again, otherwise what in the world are we talkin’ about?!

As always, I’ll offer a multifaceted answer since, as hard as I try to believe and follow the KISS principle, it is yet too lofty a goal.

Posture
Since I know and have worked with you on your program design over the years I can tell you that this is one of the simple reasons you (and many men) don’t perceive great pectoralis development, when in reality it’s already there. Slouching increases the kyphotic curvature (upper back) and, in essence, concaves your chest or anterior thoracic cavity. The good news if you find yourself in this situation?…you may be able to get a role as Quasimodo in local theater and pick up a few extra bucks. The bad news?…you look Pec-Less.

Ever watch bodybuilders pose (what am I saying…you own the “Pumping Iron: Special 25 Year Anniversary Edition”)? I’m guessing you’re familiar with Arnold’s infamous side chest pose. Notice the posture: excessively lifted chest, which is brought about by an increased lordotic curvature in the spine (low back arch). Yes they are all genetic freaks that use excessively too much “unnatural” assistance leading to ridiculously overdeveloped musculature. But the point is simple…they pose this way because it does increase the appearance of pectoralis size (see pics below).

Take a look at these Arnold pics. Notice that in an exercise that forces some pectoralis firing, it doesn’t look nearly as big as you’ve probably seen in other pictures. Why? Posture. Also, when he’s standing in what’s considered anatomical position and not excessively lifting his chest like in the picture above, his upper pec does not look nearly as developed.

Take Home Message: Stand up tall, use good posture. Increasing the strength and stability of your upper back (mid/lower traps, rhomboids) and all spinal erector groups will improve the appearance and perception of pec development (not to mention the health of your shoulders).


Genetics
Most people don’t have as significant a number of upper pectoralis muscle fibers (clavicular area of pectoralis) as they do mid and especially lower pectoralis fibers (sternal area of pectoralis). Just the way we’re made. Why? Ask God. If you see the guys in the gym who have amazing upper pec development, first take a look at their posture. Good, right? Second, evaluate how big their upper pecs really are (or is it just posture?). If they have amazing pec development, you have my permission to hate them (I do). Somehow the wires got crossed and they got the pecs you ordered.

Again, take a look at bodybuilder pics. It’s reasonable to say that even they don’t all have amazing upper pecs, they simply have ridiculously low bodyfat and know how to pose; both of which increase appearance. The guy to the left does not have big upper pecs (more lower pec development than anything), but his pecs look big due to low bodyfat and posture.


Not enough variation in exercise/program design

Significant and common limitation. Simply stated, there is no best program…just better plans. Gotta be in it for the long haul, and in doing so it’s a necessity to constantly adapt program variables in order to stimulate muscle growth. I think you’ve made some great improvements in this area integrating Tudor Bompa’s periodization models. Just don’t stop there. Bompa is certainly one of the smartest guys in the business, but I don’t think he addresses exercise and tempo variations to a great degree. Keep in mind that he has primarily worked with athletes (who’s goals are not maximum hypertrophy but are more focused on hypertrophy in order to maximize strength and power; and yes, there is a difference).

Take Home Lesson: program/exercise/tempo changes are necessary for someone like you (more advanced lifter) on a more frequent basis. Small changes should be made weekly (subtle tempo, rep, weight alterations). More significant changes should be made every month to 3 months (exercise choices, exercise order/pairing, rep schemes). Remember, the longer you train, the more frequent variation you need to continue progressing.

Not enough isolated work negating closed chain movements
Isolated (or “biased” to be more correct) muscle work is a necessity for maximum hypertrophy.

Quick Exercise Physiology 101 review:
Isolated movements/exercises are those that are generally single joint or open chained exercises. Examples would include pec flyes and dumbbell chest press, respectively. It’s easiest to explain what an open chained exercise is by explaining what it isn’t. A Barbell Chest Press is a closed chained exercise (arms form a chain link with the barbell). Therefore, the dumbbell chest press is an open chain since it does not form a chain link. This explanation is oversimplified but will usually suffice. Going a bit deeper, in a closed chained exercise, movement at one joint forces movement at another joint.

Open Chained Exercises

Who cares, huh? Open chained exercises allow for more focused/biased muscle fiber work. Closed chain exercises recruit more overall musculature and may therefore not allow the emphasis necessary to bring up “weaker” or smaller muscles.

Sidenote: this is why you can always to more total weight with a barbell bench than a dumbbell bench.

Take Home Lesson: make sure you’ve got plenty of isolated/biased pec (and specifically upper pec) exercises in your program for at least 3-6 months of the year.

Not enough time under tension
Another program design variable. Refers to how long a muscle is working (maintaining tension) during a set. Research tells us that in order to achieve hypertrophy, the time under tension (TUT) for a muscle during a set should be at least 20 seconds and up to 60 seconds. This stimulates a variety of hormonal responses leading to muscle rebuilding and remodeling post muscle breakdown.

For this to happen you must perform either within a general rep range that best allows for this (which is why you usually see ranges of 6-12 or even 15 for hypertrophy) or slow down your tempo when performing less reps (which is why you may see 4-2-2 to 2-1-1 and everything in between).

Sidenote: the tempo delineation is read as follows…
First number is the eccentric (lowering) action of the lift
Second number is the pause between eccentric and concentric

Third number is the concentric (lifting) action of the lift

More exercises focusing on increased ROM
If you want to build more muscle then you’ve got to recruit more muscle fibers. Contrary to popular magazines and muscle head thought, you can’t work your “inner” pec (meaning the middle area near the sternum) by really squeezing the dumbbells together at the end of the pec fly. That’s ridiculous. Anybody who’s read basic muscle physiology knows that muscle fibers don’t contract in sections, they contract completely. It’s call the “All or None Principle.” Either a fiber contracts all the way or not at all.

The point? When you want hypertrophy it’s important to recruit as many of the fibers as possible. How? By pushing the muscle to greater levels of fatigue, allowing incomplete recovery between sets (short rest of 30-60 seconds), and making certain to include exercises that work a muscle through its maximal/safe range of motion.

Take Home Lesson: do exercises that allow the arms to move through full horizontal adduction (hands come all the way together in front of the body)…UNDER TENSION (this is the key). You can accomplish this with machines and cables but usually not with dumbbells. If you bring dumbbells all the way together at the top of the lift (like the tough guys do who like to slam them together each rep so everyone knows how much weight they’re lifting), you will most likely rest the muscle and lose tension on your pec since the arm is essentially in a balanced position (direction of resistance aligns with lever moving the resistance).

Under Tension (not resting)
Not under Tension (resting)

Not receiving enough frequency in program.
If it is a body part that is weak (compared to other musculature development in your body) then it needs priority in your program and must be targeted every 3-4 days. When focusing on “bringing up” a weak body part, it simply takes more time and priority in your program. That means other areas will have to be maintained while you attempt to increase pec size. There isn’t enough time in the week (or recovery ability of most people) to simply add more pec work into an already full workout program.

By the way, I didn’t mention that your exercises should be more of an inclined bench/fly nature in order to target the clavicular head of the pec…but did I really need to?

Hope that helps, Vince. And yes, you’re still my inspiration even though you made me write a lame bodybuilding blog.

Someday I’m sure you’ll look like this recent photo of me (I know I know…my upper pecs are still a little weak). Keep workin’ buddy.

*Pictures from www.bodybuilding.com

10 Minute Workouts

Chris, nice job posting some program design examples.

How bout a 10 minute workout? Can it be done?

Thanks,
Tim MacDonald

P.S. congrats on the M & F gig, well deserved.

Tim,

I see more and more workouts that are published and advertised as such (10 minute workouts or less). I think they all got popular back when the good ol’ “8 Minute Ab” tapes hit the market several years ago.

Truth be told, everyone wants to get great results with minimal time–and perhaps effort (matter of fact, this is one of my client’s Mantras). While we’ve got to be realistic about this deal, the short answer to the question is, ‘yes.’

I am a firm believer in the adage “something is better than nothing.” I heard a trainer several years ago actually coin a “10 Minute Rule” for his client workouts. His point: if your clients can get in at least 10 minutes of activity, have them do it. Usually what happens is once you get in 10 minutes an individual is more likely to get in 5 or 10 more since he/she is already engaged. But even if they don’t, they’ve still burned more calories and gained health benefits they otherwise would not have.

Here are some guidelines for 10 minutes workouts:
1. Use the Tri Set/Mini Circuit Workouts I posted as a start.
2. Get in as much as you can in 10 minutes (don’t stop moving).
3. Get it in at least 4x/week.
4. Be realistic about the results. You will NOT get ripped in 10 days (or even 4 weeks) despite what the commercials hype…but you will get in better shape and maintain your health.
*By the way, if you DO get your nutrition in order, it IS possible to drop some great bodyfat and increase muscle in 1-2 months by implementing these simple workouts.

Thanks for the question, Tim. Hope that helps.

Prevail Conditioning