Water Intake: You (and your clients) don’t need as much as you think

Have you ever wondered how your dog has never become dehydrated? I mean, without a lululemon water bottle that has perfectly measured markings so they know *exactly* how much water they’re getting everyday, how can you be sure your dog hasn’t been on the brink of death this whole time?

I’m going to tell you why and it’s not, despite your claims to the contrary, because your dog is smarter than your neighbor’s child.



I had noted that I would do a post like this a few weeks ago when a colleague of mine chided me to get it done because his clients wouldn’t listen to him about fluid intake. Namely, he’s a high-intensity guy who trains clients in a controlled environment (~65* F, humidity controlled), but his clients are probably wearing tennis skirts and drinking water like they’re crossing the Sahara. So let’s start there.

Water Recommendations

Have you ever wondered why 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water per day has been recommended? Well, the truth is that there’s not good evidence for this claim as a concept, as evidenced by a research review published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Researchers concluded “There is no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water.” The notion of consuming 64oz of water per day dates back to the 1945, where what is now the Institute of Medicine recommended drinking once milliliter of water per calorie of food consumed. Based on average consumption estimations at the time, this worked out to almost 64oz of water per day. The problem was that they didn’t account for the fact that food gives you tons of water and counts toward your water intake. Take a look:

Water Balance

You’ll notice in the diagram above that water intake from food accounts for nearly as much water as water from fluid intake. So if you’re getting adequate nutrition, you’re getting a lot of water. How do you make up the water differences in your daily life? You get thirsty and, despite what you’ve heard, thirst does not mean you’re already dehydrated. On the contrary, thirst begins when the concentration of blood (an accurate indicator of our state of hydration, because remember blood is filled with other things) has risen by less than two percent, whereas most experts would define dehydration as beginning when that concentration has risen by at least five percent.

This is why your dog isn’t dead in the backyard after trying to get that squirrel obsessively and why you, despite years of never paying attention to your hydration status before you started exercising, are reading this. Drink when you’re thirsty and you’re covered.

Fluid during exercise

Exercise is a slightly different animal. Take a look at the diagram above and you’ll see significant increases in fluid output in the form of sweat. This is because sweating is our main mechanism of cooling, as evaporation of the sweat is wickedly efficient at keeping us from dying. This is important because the human organism handles drops is body temperature far better than it handles increases in body temperature. So not only are you sweating like a pig, but you’re breathing more heavily, which forces more water out of you as vapor, further cooling your body.

Under these circumstances, more water is necessary, but not as much as you think. In fact, too much water with all of that sweating leads to a condition called hyponatremia, which is where the blood is diluted to the point where electrolyte concentration falls to the point where the normal osmotic balance at the brain is altered. As a result the brain swells and you could end up with fun outcomes like death. Another name for this? “Water Intoxication.” It’s basically why “oral rehydration” products like Gatorade were invented.

But this is if you’re sweating like a pig in an environment that is hot and humid…basically worst case scenario stuff. What if you’re training in one of our studios? If you’re in my studio, you might not sweat at all as I keep fans blowing and the temperature at 67* F. If you train at Rosedale, it’s likely to be higher but not hot room yoga levels. So if we account for water loss through vapor, which is about 3-4 mL per minute given our example, then you’d exhale 90 to 120 mL of water during a half our session that needs replacing. That’s 3 to 4 ounces, folks. Paltry stuff. If you doubled that 8 ounces, you’d likely account for most of the sweat lost during that time given controlled conditions. Drink to thirst the rest of the day; your body is smarter than you.


  1. Your body is smarter than you and thirst is an accurate indicator of water demands.
  2. During strenuous activity in the heat where intense sweating is occuring, a fluid intake of up to 250mL (~8 ounces) every 15 minutes is recommended, but not more than 1000mL. At that point, an oral rehydration supplement would be appropriate.
  3. If you’re training at Efficient Exercise, or in any other climate controlled environment, much less water, to the tune of 8 ounces per 30 minutes, is appropriate.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.



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Grand Unified Training Spectrum

[Note: this post was originally developed for my personal blog. However the more I wrote it the more I felt that I had received enough questions over the years regarding different training modalities besides Efficient Exercise and how they all fit together. I hope this helps some of you]

I’ve been thinking a lot about movement lately. Rather, I’ve been doing a lot of movement, with emphasis on handstand work and other bodyweight-focused modalities. Coming from a HIT and academic background, this left a nagging feeling of “going off the reservation.” That is, I am confident in what it takes from a training perspective to stave off physical and cognitive decline as one ages. I’ll snow you with a mountain of data and studies to support my position and then smugly point to the letters after my name if you need further proof.

That last bit is sarcastic, as you’d likely only laugh at how much I paid for said letters.

But, being a from the West, there tends to creep in bits of “either/or” thinking that contributes to having a hard time with this. That and I’m very visual so an amorphous blob of mind maps was hard to parse.

However, there was a clue as to how I could make it all work mentally hidden in an interview I listened to from Dr. Carlos Berio of Spark Physiotherapy. He holds both a graduate degree in exercise physiology and a doctoral degree in physical therapy. He noted how PT school is only equipped to teach you to take a person from dysfunction to normal function. That is, there is a point where a person with a knowledge base grounded in working with “functioning” individuals would be better equipped to progress the person further. That’s not to say that at PT couldn’t learn quickly, they do have the most education after all, but that their education as taught is not enough to take a person to wellness or supreme performance (or injury resistance, or what have you). He talks about the need for both to bridge the gap between rehab and high level performance.

So that got me thinking about how to put these pieces together: those who are well and high performing as dismissive of PT because on its face it’s “easy” and seems to be silly doing these small specific exercises. It occurred to me that many of those in “movement” disciplines are equally dismissive of general strength training and, to some degree, strength and conditioning because the movements seem contrived. Erwan Le Corre is fond of saying that nobody ever screamed “BICEP CURL FOR YOUR LIFE!!!” He has a point: from a motor learning perspective elbow flexion is a component movement. Running, jumping, throwing, kicking, and catching are phylogenetic, that is behaviors that are common to all humans that do not have to be taught. So if most movements and behaviors that have their roots in those base patterns, something like a biceps curl seems totally arbitrary. But the human body is supremely adaptable and we’re really good about working around weak links. So if your pulling is somehow being hindered by biceps strength, they have value and can no longer be considered arbitrary. See how this can get confusing fast?

I believe everyone had a valid viewpoint. To quote Ken Wilber: “Nobody is smart enough to be wrong 100% of the time.” So I came up with a visual that puts everything together in an easy to digest manner. If you can understand where you are (or your clients, or your goals) are along this spectrum, you can plan for your training and hopefully avoid injuries. The big problem is the name…first take a look:

Grand Unified Training Spectrum

I call it the “Grand Unified Training Spectrum.” Excuse the grandiosity, but I don’t know what else to call it. So what we see here is the delineation between where a person is along their frame of performance and where their goals are along a “specific/general” separation. I understand some goals could be classified as both. Remember: the map is not the territory and this is just a helpful guide.

Let’s take a look at some examples. First up is how a progression might go for someone who is an athlete recovering from an injury:

Grand Unified Training Spectrum Athlete

So what’s happening here is that an athlete suffers some sort of injury and receives specific sport physical therapy. From there they’re going to move relatively quickly through “general” strength training to bridge the gap to the strength and conditioning work they specifically need to do for their event. In this case think Olympic lifters or track athletes. This is the space where specialists live, and they’re really constantly on the verge of dysfunction. As my business partner Keith is fond of saying: Athletes aren’t healthy, they just look it. It should also be noted that people who start their kids off doing only 1 sport for all of their life have effectively widened the dysfunction condition. That is they aren’t generally prepared from youth; they don’t see a wide variety of stressors and stimuli that would better prepare a growing body for something more specific later on.

Here’s an example of how a person doing a “pure” HIT program and nothing else who happens to work a desk job might function:

Grand Unified Training Spectrum General Population

Over my years of training I’ve seen this happen: you’re using biomechanically congruent exercises that exposes the joint to as little strain as is possible from strength training. The person has a job that parks them in front of a desk and they do nothing else with their life. I’ve made them muscle stronger, muscle healthier BUT if you take that too far you can develop problems. Play and physical activity away from training serve a variety of things but for your average bear it serves to maintain robust boundary conditions (hat tip to my client Paula). If you can’t get into a position because you’re too inflexible, you’re going to get injured, even if the muscle is very strong. If you train in a congruent range of motion under load but seek to maintain a wider range of flexibility unloaded, you avoid the dysfunction space. It should also be noted that distance runners live in this space:  phylogenetic behavior that, if too concentrated leads to injury. The least flexible runners tend to have the best running economy (a proxy for performance) but have also been shown to be the most likely to be injured.

It should be noted that one can live in the “general” rehab space for a period of time. I see a lot of clients like this, where I’m fixing their gait or posture. They don’t have any acute injuries, but they’re in a position to very quickly get injured if they don’t fix these general movement patterns.

Finally, let’s look at someone who may have been injured at one point, moved into general strength training, and finally decided they wanted to do some sort of movement modality. Here’s their curve:

Grand Unified Training Spectrum General to Specific

In this case a person may have had a specific injury requiring specific care. After that they moved into a solid, biomechanically grounded resistance training protocol before getting excited about attempting to tackle some specific bodyweight movement modality. For the sake of illustration let’s say a one arm handstand. There is a point where “strong enough is strong enough” and the person must start working the skill to develop the specific strength (note: it’s not different than general strength, but coordinating all of the factors that are required to pull off such a feat requires far more than just strong deltoids). Of course, such specific goals can push a person to be injured in a way that is more likely to occur performing said skill.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about. For me, this was something that let me parse where certain training modalities live, where they relate to one another, and how one person’s training can be different than another person’s without one being an idiot and the other being a heretic. 😉

Efficient Exercise clients tend to live in the “general” space: they’re either people just looking to stay strong and health OR they’re endurance athlete weekend-warrior types who tend to run. Because we live in Austin. You don’t run? What’s the matter with you? Where’s your 26.2 sticker?

…Anyway. They live in this space and that’s why we tend to pick big reward exercises with a little extra to keep the boundary condition flexible. It’s also why we do our fair share of corrective exercise and mobilization. Just because you’re not injured now doesn’t mean your junk gait isn’t just waiting to blow your hip apart. That’s why you foam roll, compression floss, and PNF stretch when you’re with me, because I know you’re not going to do that parked in front of your computer earning a living. That’s why we do what we do and I hope the above article gives you more insight into what I’m thinking when talking about training fitting together.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.


Injuries and Healing

We’re in Austin, which means we have a lot of clients who like to play hard. Whether biking, running, or enjoying the miles of greenbelts throughout our fair city, people like to be outside. This means we see our share of injuries at Efficient Exercise. What follows is NOT a guide as to how to be recover or repair an injury; rather, this is a discussion of the physiological and structural events at play following on an injury. With this information, I hope you’ll be better equipped to do just ONE thing: not reinjure yourself before you’re actually healed. You’ll see what I mean in a few minutes.

Injury Defined

So when we’re talking about injury, we’re talking about trauma, specifically macrotrauma. This is defined as a sudden episode of tissue overload, far exceeding the integrity of the tissue structure. Depending on the tissue, this manifests as things like dislocation (complete displacement of joint surfaces), subluxation (partial displacement of joint surfaces),  sprain (tearing of ligaments), or strains (tearing of muscle tissue). Now it’s important to make the distinction between macrotrauma and microtrauma, which is actually the stimulation that results in overcompensation and stronger tissues from training. This is an important point, so I’m going to internet yell at you about it: TRAINING IS NOT LIKE BUILDING A BRICK WALL! MORE IS NOT BETTER! IT IS LIKE A FLU SHOT: THE BODY GROWS STRONGER IN RESPONSE TO EXPOSURE. TRAIN TOO OFTEN AND YOU’LL TURN MICROTRAUMA INTO MACROTRAUMA, JUST LIKE GETTING TOO MANY FLU SHOTS RESULTS IN THE FLU!

… Whew, maybe I should wait for my coffee to kick in so I’m less grouchy. 😉

So if you should be in the unfortunate position of injury, there is a pattern that the body will go through with all tissues. Take a look:

Tissue healing guide

Collagen is, despite what the women at the mall have told you, not just the stuff of plump lips and cellulite. These Collagen Type-I fibers are the major protein of bone, tendon, and ligament. Let’s expand just a bit on the phases above.

  • Inflammation: So in addition to what you’re reading above about inflammation, it’s important to note that there is actually a mechanical reason for the swelling. That is if the tissue is swollen, the muscles,tendons, ligaments and joints all suffer a significant mechanical disadvantage, discouraging active use of the area. And that’s what you should be doing: no active use of the area during this phase. This phase lasts two or three days, generally. Longer and you should get it checked out by a PT.
  • Repair: In an attempt to improve tissue integrity, new tissue is generated and scar tissue is formed. In addition, new capillaries are formed to help bring in more of the needed components of tissue repair. Also at this point collagen fibers are being laid down in a haphazard fashion, like a poor latticework patch. These fibers need time to align themselves.  At this point heat, balance work of the affected limb, and even manual gentle massage of the area, are prudent owing to the nature of tissue: blood brings the building blocks of tissue repair in but the nasty junky garbage from the repair leaves in the lymph. There is no central pump for the lymph; your muscular contractions ARE that pump. This phase can last up to 2 months.
  • Remodeling phase: By now your tissue is in the slow process of reorganizing the fibers in the appropriate direction to maximize strength. This is also where pain is basically gone, meaning this is actually the most dangerous time for a trainee: you’re weak and you don’t know it because you don’t feel it. In addition this phase can last 2 to 4 months(!) depending on the injury.

Here’s a graph of the general timeline for the visual learners out there:

Tissue Timeline

Notice that at about the halfway point, the pain is basically gone but the tissue is still super weak. This is the critical point where we as trainers have to keep riding clients to NOT go back to the same level of effort as they’ll likely re-injure themselves. They can’t feel anything wrong, so who are we to say they should do X activity? Here’s my first response if I get push back:

NDT science

My second response after a good laugh is to remind them how far they’ve come and how frustrating it would be to be injured again. Tempering people who really want to be active is hard: we’ve mostly the opposite problem in America. But as a trainer we’ve been hired to bring perspective to the situation. I hope this can help you if you’re a trainer and, if you’re just an athlete, help you to pause when things are feeling good and NOT go run that ultramarathon (or whatever) just yet.

Finally, you can see this in action to some degree. The next time you get a decent cut, pay attention to it. You’ll see the inflammation response around the wound bed, and then after a few days you can see the rough latticework around the wound site as new collagen is being laid down. After a couple months all of the fibers leading to the scar are aligned in the same direction. I was going to post a photo of a wound on my leg to demonstrate this but it’s already Monday morning and I didn’t want it to be anymore traumatizing than it already is.

You’re welcome.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

On Alcohol And Longevity

111 year old woman beer

Ethanol, aka “alcohol”, is likely the most widely consumed drug on Earth. With the exception of its effects on heart disease, which I’ll address in a moment, few people would claim it is good for you. But, because of its legality, omnipresence, and just the fact that it is so much fun, most think very little of having a few beers or even bottles of wine. Yes, bottles.This includes EE clients.

It is far from being a harmless vice. Even if you’re not a functioning alcoholic, ethanol affects numerous neurotransmitters, metabolic processes, and hormones — and many of these effects go beyond the time period of intoxication. To keep this part from being a semester of biochemistry, let’s make it simple: excessive ethanol screws with these processes, increasing body fat storage and reducing health. Full stop. Do not pass go, do not collect your red wine because it’s “high in antioxidants.”

Dose-response relationship

But what about that woman in the photo above? She’s having a cold one on her 111th(!) birthday. Yes, a cold one. Uno, singular, one.

If you search the internet for terms like “centenarian + whiskey” you’ll find all sorts of claims from people living over the age of 100 that part of their success was due to alcohol. Upon further examination these people aren’t drinking much, a drink or so per day.

When you look at the studies that have been done on alcohol and health, the studies typically follow a J-curve; that is, there is an initial steep drop for your first “dose” of alcohol and a small reduction in benefits for each dose after that until you eventually are harming yourself with consumption.

In perhaps the most widely cited study on the subject, the authors fitted nonlinear functions to the data; that is instead of trying to find a perfectly straight line that you see in some studies, they were able to find the J-curves I discussed above. Due to this being a meta-analysis, there are a variety of curves based on the data and the statistical analysis used in each study.  As a result, you get a wide variety of “maximum” drinks per day before health benefits are lost. Take a look:


However, what doesn’t vary amongst the studies are that the J-curves botttom out, that is the health benefits are maximized, at roughly 5-7 grams of alcohol per day. That’s about half of a drink per day! No, you can’t save it up for a night of partying and get the same benefits. Nice try!

So the benefits of alcohol are seen in regular, tiny doses. Alcohol, like exercise, is a hormetic agent. It irritates the body that adapts in ways that correlate with reduced mortality risk. Too much irritation leads to problems.

Antioxidant Nonsense

But what about the antioxidants that we “need” that wine gives us? If we’re going to drink, shouldn’t we drink more wine instead of random other booze? First of all, the notion that you’re not getting enough antioxidants from your food and would then hope to make up the difference with wine consumption really means you need to fix your damn diet! Besides, if you’re drinking coffee, you’re already getting a ton of antioxidants. But if you’re really concerned, just drink grape juice. Seriously.

Or maybe you’ll use the resveratrol argument, that this compound found in wine is the secret to longevity…why restrict that? Well, here’s the thing: in order to get the benefits of resveratrol in a dose that makes any sort of benefit, you’d need to drink eight liters of wine per day! Good luck ever getting out of bed after that dose!


Small regular doses

Go back to the health habits I’ve spoken about before; one of the habits was “reduce intake of alcohol.” There is benefit from a little bit of alcohol regularly, in this case that sweet spot happens to be about one half of a drink per day. For the sake of measurement, and since the curve doesn’t really drift that far, one drink per day is a good choice. What does that look like? A 5 ounce glass of wine, a 12 ounce beer, or a shot of liquor. Yes, that’s it.

I’m not suggesting you drink if you don’t already; I’m saying that it’s time to get real about the health benefits and how little it actually takes to manifest these benefits. The answer is: not as much as you think, but only when regularly consumed.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.


Coffee: The Blackest Magic Known To Man

Ahh, coffee, how we love thee. Or rather how we should love thee. If you poke around on the internet, you’ll see people noting everything from coffee being a favorite beverage of supercentenarians (people who live over 100) or that coffee will turn your blood acidic, dehydrate you, damage your kidneys, and is a gateway drug to harder beverages. Alright, I made that last one up but let’s take a look at some of the evidence for what we can genuinely say coffee can and cannot do and correct a few folks, shall we?


Dehydration and Kidneys

Let’s start with the big one here, or at least the zeitgeist-y concern amongst clients over the years. Not unlike how people burp up the “21 day” answer to the question of “How long does it take to form a habit?“, people will burp up the “dehydration” concern when it comes to coffee. From the perspective of someone who has been in the fitness industry for over 15 years, I find the concern amongst clients toward dehydration funny because they ALWAYS have a water bottle. If anything, I’d suggest that many of our clients are OVER hydrated (it is such a thing; another post for another day).

Regardless, there’s a grain of truth in the concern, that is because caffeine IS a diuretic agent. However, when you drink coffee, you’re drinking very little caffeine. In fact, you’re drinking very little coffee in your cup of coffee. A “good” cup of coffee, as measured by how much coffee is extracted from the ground beans and suspended in hot water, is 1.15 -1.35% dissolved solids. Meaning that over 98% of your coffee in the morning is water.

The research is clear on this as well. Recently, British researchers demonstrated that moderate coffee consumption, in this case 3 to 6 cups per day, did not alter total body water status nor did it demonstrate an increase in water excretion by urine measure. Now, the only guy I know drinking the upper limit of that number is Keith, so the 1 – 2 cup per day clients have nothing to be concerned about when it comes to coffee dehydrating them.

What about those with kidney issues. I’m no doctor, but I can tell you that people often make the mistake of confusing the consumption of a food or beverage that’s problematic for a person with a certain disease or health problem as causing the problem in health individuals. This is where we get the “coffee is hard on the kidneys” argument.

You know who is a doctor though? Leslie Spry at the National Kidney Foundation. What does he say? To quote: “Overall, there is no reason to restrict moderate consumption of caffeine-containing beverages (for individuals with chronic kidney disease).” So if you have kidney disease and you enjoy coffee, keep it to a couple cups a day after checking with your doctor. Otherwise healthy folks? You need not worry.


As noted, coffee has health benefits far beyond just perking you up in the morning. Specifically, coffee is a bit of a “superfood” (note: I hate that word) in that it provides the highest amount of antioxidants in the Western diet. Way ahead of fruits and vegetables in the study I cited. As noted above, there is very little “coffee” in your coffee but what you’re getting is a relatively large amount of a variety of compounds that contribute to antioxidant status.  The short version of why this is important is that, owing to a small amount of free radicals produced by our on metabolic processes, antioxidants scavenge or chemically eradicate these radicals before they can damage things like DNA and our cell membranes. Antioxidants are often the excuse for excessive wine consumptions (another post for another day).

From a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that those who drank the most coffee had the lowest risk of death from all causes. The sweet spot seems to be 4-5 cups per day, as shown below:

Important to note is that a “cup” of coffee is actually 6 ounces and since this study was performed via questionnaire and survey followup for medical conditions over the 13 year follow period, it’s highly likely that each person was drinking slightly more coffee than they reported…all the better. Remember, this study was observational and cannot prove the coffee resulted in the reduced risk reduction. However, it also shows that if coffee is killing you it’s doing a very bad job of it.

Drink It Black

So why might people say that coffee is the responsible for health problems or at the very least just a cheap thrill? I would suggest that it’s what a person puts in the coffee and how it is prepared that makes up the difference. If you’re drinking 4 to 5 cups of black coffee each day, that’s a very different animal than if you’re drinking 4 to 5 grande lattes from Starbucks every day. We’re talking 800+ extra calories per day in liquid form, which provides zero satiation. If my informal observation is correct, it’s not the coffee that’s to blame, but all the damn milk and sugar people load their drinks up with to enjoy the stuff. So my first suggestion is that, if you only like coffee when filled with dairy and sugar, maybe you should switch to tea. That’s great for you as well, assuming you don’t fill that with cream and sugar.

But if you like black coffee, how should you prepare it to get the most out of it? Based on the data, all of the good stuff is in the oily compounds that can only be kept if you prepare unfiltered coffee, including press, espresso, cowboy, and Turkish coffee.

These compounds, diterpenes known as kahweol and cafestol, seem to be associated with reductions in cancer in humans. Another compound, chlorogenic acid, and the actual coffee solids that aren’t totally removed from unfiltered coffee, have been correlated with reductions in colorectal cancer.


So let sum it up for you, if you like drinking coffee, here’s my suggestion: drink enough and drink it black, and you may very well be drinking it for a long lifetime!

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.


Habit Formation: The 21 Day Folklore

How long does it take to form a new habit? If you’re like most people, the answer you will say without thinking is “21 days.” This time frame is built into the zeitgeist of our culture, though I’m not sure where it comes from insofar as experimental evidence. Let’s explore this a bit and see where the science takes us.

Willpower is rocket fuel

Changing habits does require some amount of willpower, especially early in the process. In attempting to change habits, many of my clients lament their “lack of willpower” if they are unable to adopt a new habit in 3 or 4 minutes…that’s sarcasm folks, but it’s basically an extension of what I covered in this blog post about giving yourself time to adopt a new habit. However, there is a grain of truth in that so much of our daily habits are on autopilot, totally free of rational inputs beyond process initiation. While some of you will be set to argue this with me, imagine you had to rationally work out every step of the process to get out of bed, get showered, and get yourself to work every morning. The fact that you’re both A) still gainfully employed and B) not mentally exhausted by 8:30am tells me that the vast majority of this process was free of serious deliberation of the alternatives…once in motion you stayed in motion. This is because there things are your habits and, like Newton said, objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Yes he was talking physics but it’s not too far off the mark regarding how we work with habits.

So changing a habit requires new processes, which requires deviations from autopilot, which requires willpower. The thing about willpower is that it is a finite resource: you can very easily use it up. There’s even a cool name for it: ego depletion. Further, there aren’t different silos that have X amount of willpower for different types of tasks. There’s one big pool that you fish out of and then when it’s all gone for the day, you’re more likely to throw caution to the wind with any tempting thing that crosses your path. Hence willpower is great for getting things started, rocket fuel, but it is not to be relied upon for maintenance of long term habits.

Twenty-one Days is a Myth

So if we’re going to gain a new habit, willpower will be used early on until the habit becomes a more integrated part of our routine, where less and less willpower are required to put things in motion, which at that point can be considered a habit. So how long does a habit take to form? As noted above, there is a cultural idea that a habit takes 21 days to form with daily practice. However, the research available doesn’t support that conclusion as absolute. Rather, the complexity of the habit desired determines the length of time to integrate said habit into your daily routine. From a recent study on habits, we have some clues as to what defines complex habits and their integration. The study had 96 individuals take on various habits and log their progress into an internet tracking site. They also tracked out automatic the behavior felt, known as “automaticity.”

So how long did it take? On average, across the participants who provided enough data, it took 66 days until a habit was formed. The complexity (or perceived complexity) determined how long a habit would take to be acquired. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. And relevant to you, dear readers, the exercise habit proved very tricky. The study provided a “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” habit, which still was not a habit after 84 days for one participant. However, something simpler like “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast”  turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant. I’d suggest this is because we are built to walk as human beings, but doing situps is not a requirement for daily living.

Break the Habit Down

So you can see, depending on the complexity of the habit, it can be 12 weeks or more before the habit has stuck. So how do we go from where we are to where we want to be? Like eating a 30 ounce porterhouse, we do this one bite at a time:

  1. Determine the outcome you’d like to achieve and the main habit you’d need to achieve said outcome.
  2. Break the habit down into parts. There parts need to be specific.
  3. Focus on the simplest part of the habit until you have achieved automaticity before moving onto the next part.

So instead of one big habit, you have many small habits. So while the overall habit might take a long time, the feedback of integrating smaller habits creates a foundation to build on toward larger habits. An example would be instead of “I’m going to stop eating all junkfood and eat more vegetables” as a habit, you’d break that down into a few separate habits that are specific and actionable like “I’m going to eat 3 servings of leafy greens each day,” or, “I’m going to limit myself to one snack per day at 3pm in the afternoon.” From there, determine which seems least difficult to accomplish and do only that habit until automaticity sets in. That way, each part might only take 20 days and the success of completion will further move you as the complexity increases. You gain self-efficacy, which means you’re more likely to keep up your efforts and succeed.

So 21 days isn’t set in stone, but if you break a habit down, you might only need to spend that much time on every component, and that’s the secret to habit integration over time.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

Small Health Habits Make A Big Difference

We as a society have (mostly) moved passed the point where the large scale killers are communicable diseases. As a result, what we as a society is dealing with as our health crisis comes from chronic diseases, oftentimes referred to as “diseases of affluence.” Take a look at the top 10 causes of death by disease in the United States (according to the CDC):

  • Heart disease: 597,689
  • Cancer: 574,743
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 138,080
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 129,476
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 120,859
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 83,494
  • Diabetes: 69,071
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,476
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 50,097
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 38,364

If we remove accidents (because blunt force trauma isn’t a disease) then we have to get all the way down to influenza and pneumonia to reach the point where a communicable disease is the cause of death and it’s not even 1/10th the killer of heart disease. So when the discussion regarding health care costs skyrocketing turns to “preventing chronic illness,” this is to what they are referring.

Researchers have searched for the “fountain of youth,” either by polypill or technology. However, public health researchers have always looked toward the environment and daily habits as a means for attempting to tease out a de facto longevity formula. This is in part because:

  1. You have to live life anyway, so you might as well make some tweaks to set yourself up to win.
  2. Even if we had a fountain of youth in a pill, a full 50% wouldn’t take it anyway.

Daily Habits

Before Oprah gave everyone cars, she outlined places around the world where people were living longer stronger. These “Blue Zones” are the topic of another blog post but understand that researchers have been trying to crack this nut for much longer than the last decade.




If you back the longevity train up a bit further, you’ll find a researcher by the name of Lester Breslow. In 1965, Breslow started a study in Alameda country, California that examined the health habits of 6,928 people, with an eye toward 7 health habits he deemed most important (which is why the study is referred to as the “Alameda 7”). Their behavior was examined over intervals of up to 20 years and the data was parsed with quantitative analysis (which at the time didn’t happen with longevity studies). As a result, Breslow found that a 45 year old who followed at least 6 of the 7 habits had a life expectancy 11 years longer than that of a person who followed 3 or fewer. And these were good, strong, functional years free of major disease or complication, because what does it matter that you live longer if you can’t do anything with it?

What were the habits? Here’s his original list of the Alameda 7:

  1. Avoiding Smoking
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Maintaining a healthy bodyweight
  4. Sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night
  5. Limiting consumption of alcoholic drinks
  6. Eating Breakfast
  7. Avoiding snacking between meals.

…That’s it. You were expecting some sort of lifestyle calculus? Something only the “chosen few” could accomplish? There’s nothing sexy here and that’s the point: what is done consistently, albeit imperfectly, is what makes changes in the long term. Interventions require rigidity and high effort; lifestyles do not.

Don’t believe that this one study was enough? The good news is that the research has been followed and examined many times over the years. More recently, Dr. Jeff Housman (one of my graduate school professors) and colleague put together a review of the data that came from the study and subsequent reviews. Check this tidbit:

 The linear model supported previous findings, indicating regular exercise, limited alcohol consumption, abstinence from smoking, sleeping 7–8 hours a night, and maintenance of a healthy weight play an important role in promoting longevity and delaying illness and death.

So really the “Alameda 7” is the “Alameda 5,” meaning that 1-5 on my list above are the big lifestyle “tricks” you need to attempt to do in order to set yourself up for a longer, stronger life.

So what happened to Lester Breslow? He died quietly in his home in 2012…at the age of 97. Maybe there’s something to this stuff after all?

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

Resistance Training Isn’t Magic

RT Fat Burning

Resistance training does a lot of things, but fat burning isn’t one of them.

By: Skyler Tanner

Look out, kids, there is science ahead!

As I mentioned in our last post, this time of year tends to come with some…unrealistic expectations of both what you as a free living human being can do with your docket of responsibilities, and of what your body is capable of doing given the time frame that you have (often arbitrarily) given yourself. Whether your goal is gaining muscle, losing fat, or being more active, there is only so much that resistance training can accomplish. It is a LOT, but it’s not magic. Here is study example that I think illustrates this point nicely.

It is common in coaching and training circles to see a young athlete (note: if you’re not a young athlete, an athlete, or are simply “old,” bear with me) take to weight training with gusto and make significant body composition changes in short order, specifically while making a big increase in muscle mass. What is often lost or not discussed as much in these situations is that there is often a concurrent recommendation to “eat more” and if the athlete isn’t gaining they need to “eat more…more.”

So in this study researchers wanted to examine the effects of a low-volume, high-intensity strength training program (that must sound familiar) on a previously sedentary population without prescribing dietary changes. The 6 month study consisted of 19 sedentary, overweight college-aged men, who were first assessed of their body composition via DXA scan (the gold standard that we recommend), and of their strength through 1 repetition maximum testing (1RM) on 9 machine-based exercises. The men were then split into a resistance training group (RT) and a control group (CON). The resistance training group trained 3 non-consecutive days per week performing 1 set of 3-6 repetitions to momentary muscular fatigue (aka “failure”) on 9 machine-based exercises. Body composition was tracked at the 3 and 6 month mark. Dietary intake was assessed monthly via a 24-hour dietary recall, which used neutral probing questions in an interview process with the men about their dietary intake.

At the conclusion of the study, the trained group experienced an increase in total weight lifted per workout from baseline of 2812kg to 6411kg, on average. This measure is simply the number of repetitions performed multiplied by the weight lifted. When comparing the 1RMs, the RT group saw a strength increase of 49.2% on average for the upper body and 49.8% on average for the lower body. The control group saw no strength improvements. When body composition was assessed, there was a negligible 1kg increase in fat free mass (muscle, water, or bone) over the 6 month study. Also note that the RT group gained body fat over the course of the 6 month trial, but only gained 1/3rd of the amount of fat gained by the sedentary CON group. The authors concluded that strength increases can occur in the absence of hypertrophy and that such strength increases might influence previously sedentary individuals to spontaneously increases daily activity, which may help weight management over the long term.

So college-aged men perform low volume strength training, get stronger but not more muscular, and gain fat at the same time, but not as much as if they had done nothing at all. Why does this matter to you, fair EE client?


  1. Due to the hormonal milieu that college-aged men have, they are in a position to gain muscle more easily than average but make no mistake: muscle gain is long, hard work. Those of you concerned with “bulking up” training with us, especially you ladies out there, should be aware that you’re not in a position to “accidentally” put on muscle mass.
  2. Having said that, you can get a LOT stronger with a little bit of hard work, which makes everything you do a lot easier, which means you feel better about doing it, which means you do more of it, which means you keep training. This spontaneous increase in activity is often referred to as the “active phenotype.” The name is not important but what IS important is that you’ll start moving more without having to force yourself to perform more exercise in the name of your fitness goals.
  3. That said, this also shows that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Far too often we get a client who comes in with the bizarre notion that they can exercise their way out of a crappy diet. If hyper-responsive 20-something men still gained fat (albeit less) over 6 months of training without regard for their diet, what makes you think you’ll lose fat just because you’re working hard twice per week? Exercise helps reinforce good habits that reduce the likelihood of fat gain in the future (see 2 above) or help to maintain fat loss after the fact, but the only way fat is loss is through changing one’s nutrition habits over the long term (This is something we at EE are currently working on…stay tuned!)


So if you’re new to EE, keep training with the confidence that you’ll not turn into a giant muscle monster, all while being able to do what you love better. If you’ve been with us a while, you already know this…keep being awesome!

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

It Is Human To Stumble – Give Yourself Permission!


Only in fantasy worlds do we not stumble.

By: Skyler Tanner


Remember when you started your career? Fresh out of school, you showed up on your first day full of expectations, likely a combination of nerves and vigor. Do you remember how you did your first day? How about your first month? Probably not so great, especially compared to how competent you were after a few years on the job. Did you ever consider quitting because you had a bad day? Probably, but realized you’d go through the same learning curve at any job. Even now I’m sure you good days and bad days but strive to do the best you can given the circumstances. You went in expecting ups and downs, to participate in a process of getting better. Can you imagine how hard it would have been to be perfect from day one? Impossible, right?

So why does nearly everybody who starts a diet or exercise program expected relentless, unrelenting perfection?

It’s true: people rarely start a New Year’s with a resolution like “I am going to try to incorporate 1 hour more exercise per week into my schedule during the work week. My goal is to make this a habit by March 31st.” That’s flexible, allows for ups and downs of getting used to a new habit, allows room for the weeks where things aren’t perfect…basically accounts for the learning curve. Instead, people tend toward goals stated thusly: “I WILL perform 3 hours of exercise per week IN ADDITION TO completing my graduate degree WHILE ALSO raising 2 children OR I AM A FAILURE!!!”

If I talked to myself like that, I’d not like me very much, but it’s basically de rigueur come January 1st.

Give yourself permission to fail

We’re perfectly human, warts and all. That means we’re not perfect: we have ups and downs, periods of waning interest and ability, depending on circumstances, be it rational, emotional, or environmental. You will fall down sometimes; if you give yourself permission to fail, you’re more likely to get back up, stick to the process, and succeed in the long term.

A great example of this is from a study that aimed to look at how much weight a group of dieters would gain back when instructed to take a diet break. That is, they had lost some amount of weight on a prescribed diet and were instructed to stop their diet, with the explicit goal of causing a relapse. The thing is that since the break was prescribed (e.g. The dieters had permission to not diet), the result was that there was very little weight gain and that when the dieters went back to the assigned diet, they lost even more weight. They didn’t go crazy, they didn’t eat 3 pints of ice cream in 1 sitting, and they didn’t take on the emotional baggage of being a “failure.” In this sense, the researchers failed in their effort to see how quickly the “wheels come off” when a diet is broken. However, what they did show is that, if given permission, dieters don’t go crazy, they get back on their diet quickly, and lose as much as they would have had they not taken the break.

The takeaway is that you don’t need a team of researchers to give you permission to “fail” as a means to stick to your diet. Understand that, like your first months at your career, the learning curve is steep and you will make mistakes. Give yourself permission to make the mistakes, stick to the process, and marvel at yourself when, at some point down the line, you’ve achieved your goal by allowing yourself to be human…warts and all!

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science.  He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.

Paleo Movement: Efficient Exercise Week 14

As we continue with the Transformation Tuesday theme, we continue to feature a guest post by Rachael Maresh.  Rachael is an Austin attorney that recently experienced how Efficient Exercise coupled with proper nutrition can be an effective and powerful solution.  She will continue to provide guest posts here on the EE blog to keep us updated on her progress and offer up a real-world client’s perspective on her EE Experience.  Rachael writes on her own blog,The Paleo Review, so be sure to check out tasty Paleo-friendly recipes and other features too.

Paleo Movement: Efficient Exercise Week 14

One on One Workout Limits?
If I thought last week was hard, this workout equalled it.
The first mini-circuit was innocent enough.  We started on the 360 and moved on to the X-Ccentric Bench Press.  I think I did 4 reps.  The first time through we focused on the negative and the second the positive.

Next up T-Bar rows.  Matthew put a little more weight than I usually do, 30 pounds rather than 25.  We used the wide grip each round he had me do 2 sets of 8.  The second time around he added another 5 pounds which only stayed on for 1 set of 8.

Next up:  Air Squats.  This is the squat where you jump into the air when you come out of the squat. He had me do 25 of these and made sure I squatted nice and low. He wanted me to not pause at all between reps.  By number 15 or so, that became pretty hard to do.
Next up, the ARx Pulldown.  I never look at the numbers while I’m doing the exercise.  To be honest, my head is usually at an angle where I my glasses don’t let me see.  I had a new max on this one.
Another quick change to an upright barbell row.  He had me do 15 reps of this one.  I was just lifting the bar, but it felt plenty heavy enough.   I was having a little discomfort/pain at the top of the movement.  I pushed through it.

And then things got serious.  This reminded me of the goblet squat moment the week before. He pointed to a set of 20 pound dumbbells and demonstrated a push-pull.  It’s really the top part of a thruster.  You do a little jump/bounce with your lower body to give some momentum to the weights that are resting at your shoulders so you can push them above your head.

I had trouble lifting the weights.  The rest of the workout had fatigued my arms.  Once I got the weights into the starting position, the movement was hard from the get go.  I did 15 reps and the last few really pushed me beyond any limit I’ve ever thought I had.
And then I did that second circuit all over again.  I have to say I struggled.  I struggled physically.  I struggled mentally.  During the air squats, I got to the last 10 and wondered how I would finish.  Then the last 5…2…1.  I pulled as hard as I could on the pull down and strangely I was happy for this exercise.
When I got to the second set of rows, we switched to a lighter curl bar.  The discomfort I had on the first round was gone.

And then Matthew put a 25 pound set of weights next to the 20s.  More weight?  More?  I had incredible difficulty just getting the weights up.  I made it through 3 reps before my arms gave out.
While setting up my last exercise of the day, Matthew explained that the push pull was an exercise about learning proper technique.  He says its often easier to teach using a heavier weight.  Your body has to learn to use the legs and get under the weight.  I guess I need more practice.
And what was the last exercise?  The glutimator.  I did 3 sets of 15, 12 and 10 reps.  My hips were crazy tight.  I was glad to be done.  I think I gave Matthew a few serious looks during this workout.  I hope he doesn’t take that personally.  I need to work hard and I’m struggling with myself.

Its clear to me after these past two workouts that I need to find a way to better govern the pain during my workouts.  I need to find a way to get past limits that are likely more mental than anything else.  I worked hard and gave my all and I didn’t quit, but there’s the type A part of me that feels like I could have done better.  I have never been asked to workout so hard.  Matthew obviously thinks that I’m stronger than I believe I am.  I trust him.  Does anyone have any suggestions for me in getting past this mental barrier?  How do you focus?

On the Road:  Hotel Body Weight Workout

This week, sadly, I had to miss the group workout.  Even though I was missing to go to the awesome Save Your Bacon Weekend at Polyface Farms, I don’t want to slow any of my progress.  I asked Matthew if he would be so kind as to come up with a body weight workout but technical difficulties kept me from receiving it.  On Saturday morning, before heading to the farm, I got up and devised a workout just thinking about the exercises Matthew has had me do.  I used the stopwatch on my phone to time myself.
Here’s what I did:
10 Burpees
:30 rest
10 Burpees
:30 rest
2 x 1:00 Push ups
1 x 1:00 Crunches
1 x 1:00 Bicycle Crunches
2 x 1:00 Squats
2 x 1:00 Walking Lunges with my Arms up
Was this a long workout?  No, but it did get my heart rate up and I felt a little fatigue.  When I returned Matthew was surprised that I included burpees in a workout voluntarily.
A little haphazard, but I did something.  Do you have a favorite hotel/road workout?

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