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Chicken Tortilla Soup

I got this recipe from one of Kevin’s aunts and it’s quickly become a regular in our dinner rotation. I’ve added a few spices to the original recipe to kick it up a bit but you could totally get away without them too. Tasty, healthy, and great for a busy work week.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast (raw, whole)
  • 2 15oz cans of black beans (undrained)
  • 2 15oz cans Rotel tomatoes w/ chiles (undrained)
    • regular diced or stewed tomatoes work too, but add a 4oz can of chiles
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 15oz can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • optional ingredients:
    • rice
    • tortilla chips
    • 16oz bag of frozen corn
    • shredded cheddar

INSTRUCTIONS

  • combine all ingredients minus (rice, cheese, or chips) in a slow cooker or InstantPot.
  • If using a slow cooker: cook 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.
  • If using an InstantPot: make sure lid is locked and valve on lid is closed. Select soup setting which should be 30 minutes at high pressure. Make sure to read the instructions about manual release vs regular before opening the lid. Safety first 🙂
  • Remove chicken breasts when finished and chop or shred with forks into bite size pieces. Then stir back into the soup.
  • Ladle over cooked rice or tortilla chips and top with sprinkle of shredded cheddar to make it a heartier meal.
  • Enjoy!

Game Changers Review

The Game Changers has stirred up a lot of talk and has quickly become Netflix’s latest popular documentary. It makes a compelling argument for plant based diets but I personally wasn’t happy about how the info was delivered. Let me preface this post with this, I have absolutely nothing against vegan or plant based diets. In fact, because of my love of animals, I tried several times to be vegetarian. Even with a well planned diet, I felt terrible and it didn’t work for me. Having food allergies definitely makes that style of eating more challenging. I personally thrive on a mixed diet of plant and animal products. I have a good friend who thrives on a more carnivorous diet and others who are vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian. All very different ways of eating and yet it works for all of us. Some switched from a mixed diet to a vegan diet and have never felt better. I’ve also seen the opposite where once vegetarians added meat back into their diet, they felt better and their blood work improved. I’m a firm believer in doing what works for you which is a huge part of the approach I take when coaching clients. So no, it’s definitely not the plant based diet that I have a problem with. At all. I do have a huge problem with people resorting to absolutes while fear mongering and presenting misleading data along with it. I’m not here to discuss animal cruelty or the environment, those are deserving of their own discussion. This is purely from a nutrition standpoint. In this documentary, what is portrayed is: eat a plant based diet because that’s what humans are designed to eat and animal products will eventually kill you. Not all sides of the story were given in the case of some of the studies and anecdotal evidence isn’t a reliable source in the science world. I invite you to take a look at another side to the story.

Athlete’s Blood Tests

The documentary shows three NFL players getting their blood drawn 2 hours after consuming burritos with either chicken, beef, or beans and guacamole in them. Then the next day they all have burritos with beans and guacamole in them and blood is drawn again 2 hours after eating. The blood is then separated enabling you to see packed cells and blood products at the bottom of the test tube and blood plasma above it. Chicken and beef yielded a cloudy plasma showing fat in the blood stream and beans yielded a clear plasma showing no circulating fat. Admittedly, the visual is rather alarming.

But here is where I take issue with this. Did the bean burrito have less fat in it? It did have avocado in it for some fat, but we don’t know the fat content since that info wasn’t shared. We also don’t know what else they ate that day or how long ago their last meal was before they ate the burritos. Regardless, the whole cloudy blood plasma after eating fat is a completely normal physiological response whether it comes from animals or plants. Fat mixes with bile in the small intestine to form smaller droplet like structures. This allows fat to be transported through your bloodstream to other areas of your body to be used or stored. That is what you were seeing in the blood plasma. If you’re drawing blood only a few hours after eating, you’re catching this in the process so yes, there will absolutely be fat in your blood. A study from back in the 90’s showed this same thing but with soybean oil, which is very much a plant based fat. This is why if your healthcare provider orders a lipid panel they want at least 12 hours fasting before drawing your blood work. It will give them a more accurate read of what your cholesterol is and heart disease risk without interference from your body transporting the lipids you recently ate.

Plants help endothelial (blood vessel) function.

Yes, 100%. Plant based foods are very good for you, including your blood vessels. In fact, because beets are a natural vasodilator (increase the size of your blood vessels) it is used in some preworkout supplements to increase performance. More blood flow and oxygen to hard working muscles? No brainer! Plants are chock full of antioxidants and positively affect our circulation, no doubt about that. The studies used to illustrate that in the film, however, only talked about how the plants themselves affected people. There was no recommendation in those studies that meat also had to be given up to reap those benefits.

Professional athletes who have adopted a plant based diet.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is anecdotal. Yes, athletes can thrive on plant based diets but there are many who eat mixed diets. This again illustrates what I said in the very beginning of this: do what works for you. If someone tells you the best way to kill it in the gym is with a plant based diet, question them. On the flip side, if someone tells you that including meat and dairy in your diet is the best way to kill it in the gym, you need to question them too! There was also no discussion of what these athletes were eating prior to going plant based. What quality of food did they eat besides plants and animals? Fast food? Whole unprocessed foods? Not enough carbs? We’re not given that info to make a fair comparison.

I also want to bring up the UFC 196 fight that was referenced. Diaz was about 15 pounds heavier than McGregor. McGregor also jumped up 2 weight classes for that fight and still weighed a decent amount less than Diaz. This wasn’t mentioned at all in the documentary. Did Diaz beat McGregor in round 2 due to size or because of dietary differences? Yes, apparently McGregor eats a lot of steak and maybe not enough carbs? We don’t know what else he eats. You definitely need carbohydrates to power you through workouts and sporting events. They are the body and brain’s preferred source of energy. Also, Nate Diaz has said publicly that he mainly follows a raw, vegan diet but will occasionally eat fish and eggs too.

A peanut butter sandwich contains the same amount of protein as a 3oz piece of steak. 

I mean, yeah, you can make that comparison and can get that amount of protein, but serving sizes and calories wouldn’t be comparable. A standard serving size of a peanut butter sandwich would be 2 slices of whole grain bread and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter at about 14g of protein for about 350-400 calories. 3 oz of lean, cooked sirloin steak gives you 22g of protein for about 160-170 calories. You would need another tablespoon of peanut butter on that sandwich for about another 100 calories to get the same amount of protein in 3oz of cooked sirloin. Not that more calories isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on the person, but plant sources of protein, especially this example, can come in higher calorie and carb packages. That can be helpful for endurance athletes like some who were featured in the film, but does that mean that it’s right for everyone across the board?

Antioxidant Content

Plants are packed with them, no doubt about it, but you can still eat a mixed diet and reap the benefits. Doesn’t have to be either or. The statement in the movie that iceberg lettuce has more antioxidants than salmon is an irrelevant comparison. Plants have more antioxidants than animal products, but animal products also contain vitamins, minerals, and other substances that are actually really easy for our body to utilize, aka are highly bioavailable. I would argue more so than some plant based choices. They fail to mention that salmon is a good source of complete protein, vitamin D, and is an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids in a form that is easier for our body to use as opposed to plant based sources of omega 3s. I’ll explain that a little more later. The funny thing is, the film then argues that the antioxidants in plants fight inflammation, which they do. What do the omega-3 fats that are in salmon do? Also fight inflammation.

Human teeth don’t look like carnivore teeth

The film states that humans have smaller canines and flatter molars than typical carnivore teeth. Also, gorillas have canines and they don’t eat meat. So going off of biology and evolution, having canine teeth doesn’t mean you were made to eat meat.

Agreed, sort of. Compared to carnivores we do have smaller canines and flatter molars. What’s also correct that isn’t discussed is that our teeth don’t look like some herbivore’s teeth either. Horses and rabbits for example have teeth that are flat for grinding down vegetation and sharp incisors in the front to bite off that food. They don’t have canines because they don’t need them and only eat plants.

Let’s look at gorillas. Gorillas eat mainly plants but also will eat insects when available. They have large canines both on the top and bottom like we do, yet do not consume meat, but even that may be up for debate now as researchers have found mammalian DNA in gorilla feces. They’re not sure if it’s come from gorillas eating other mammals directly or if they’re eating insects that were eating dead mammals. Jury still may be out on that one. It is commonly accepted that their canines are for show and protection, not for eating meat. We share 98% of our DNA with them which makes a decent argument. We also share 99% of our DNA with chimps who have relatively large canines. Chimps eat mainly plants but also insects and other animals when available. I would also argue that we have sturdier teeth than some other primates due to the fact that our teeth contain more enamel. One other thing that may or may not be worth mentioning if we’re comparing diets of ours to our close relatives…chimpanzees and gorillas also eat their own feces. We do not.

Considering that we have strong incisors, canines, and flat molars like some other omnivores, I argue that variety of teeth enables us to eat a mixed diet of both plants and animals. It may not be the entire picture, I do think there is more evidence out there to support that like the digestive system.

teethHuman digestive tracts don’t look like carnivore digestive tracts

Carnivores have shorter intestines compared to humans because they only eat meat. This means that humans are not meant to eat meat.

Again, correct but sort of. Yes, carnivores have shorter intestines than us because they don’t need as much of that space to digest plant material like we do. But again, they don’t give a comparison of what herbivore’s digestive tracts look like either which are also different from us.

Herbivore’s GI tracts have long small intestines, large cecum, and some like horses, cows and sheep, have multi-chambered stomachs. Our small intestines are shorter in comparison, we don’t have multi-chambered stomachs, and we have a very small cecum. The cecum is where the small and large intestines connect. In humans it’s a site where we absorb fluids, electrolytes, and partially digested food mixes with mucus before traveling into the rest of the large intestine. It tends to be larger in herbivores with the presence of bacteria specialized to help break down plant matter. This is the same reason why some herbivores have multi-chambered stomachs. Food is regurgitated from one chamber to be chewed, then swallowed to go to another chamber and that process is repeated until it is digested enough to go to the small intestine. Some may argue that because we can’t digest that plant material, namely cellulose, we shouldn’t be eating plants. Herbivores have bacteria or enzymes that we do not have to break it down. But others, myself included, would say that it’s a dietary fiber and still should be a part of our diet.

Since we are somewhere in between these two different digestive systems, we are omnivores.

Mammalian+Digestive+Systems

All protein originates from plants so why not cut out the middleman, animals, in our diets?

You can eat plants in order to have a complete protein source as long as you eat a variety of them. There are very few plant sources that are considered a complete protein. Humans need essential and non essential amino acids. Our bodies can make the non essential, but we need all of the essential amino acids present in our diet. A complete protein contains all the essential amino acids that we need. An incomplete protein contains some, but combos of them can make a complete protein which can totally be done on a plant based diet. And the school of thought on that has changed as well. It used to be that you would only reap the benefits of that complete protein if you ate it at that meal. Some examples: whole grain bread with nut butter or rice and beans. Now it seems to be that if you eat incomplete proteins throughout the day but the amino acids profiles compliment each other regardless of when you eat them, you’re good to go. So yes, you can get your protein from plant sources.

On the other hand, all animal sources of protein are complete proteins that our bodies can breakdown and use very easily which I don’t think is a bad thing. And depending on what type you choose, it can come in smaller amounts of calories if choosing leaner sources. Go back to the example of the peanut butter sandwich vs sirloin steak comparison.

As I mentioned about the salmon vs lettuce comparison, that animal protein source is also rich in nutrients that are either higher in or more bioavailable in some nutrients. Here are the ones that are commonly lower in plant based diets:

  • Vitamin B12: Nutritional yeast, fortified cereals and certain types of seaweed and mushrooms contain plant based forms of vitamin B12 compared to fish, pork, chicken, beef, eggs, and dairy that also contain it in higher amounts. It can also be supplemented. May be worth mentioning that plant based diets are high in folic acid which is a good thing! But it can mask symptoms of a B12 deficiency.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds, brussels sprouts – all contain omega-3, however it is in a form that the body needs to convert to actually use and unfortunately the conversion rate of ALA to EPA & DHA (the forms our bodies use) is low. We’re talking like 1-10% of the ALA you consume converts to useable EPA & DHA. Algal oil is a vegan option to supplement a plant based diet. Seafood and pasture raised animals like grass fed beef and free range eggs are good sources of EPA and DHA, the useable forms of omega-3. This is actually a really good example against cutting out the middleman. The animals are able to convert that ALA form of omega-3 to the EPA and DHA forms that we need. We are able to get that EPA and DHA that we need more easily from animal sources.
  • Vitamin D: from animal sources like fatty fish, eggs, and fortified juices and dairy. Our bodies can also manufacture its own Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. If you’re not getting much sun and/or are plant based, you would need to supplement.

Animal products cause inflammation leading to cancer and chronic disease.

The documentary states that animal products contain or form TMAO, HCA, heme iron, Neu5Gc, AGEs, and endotoxins which are detrimental to our health. Let’s break these down.

  • TMAO: A marker of inflammation that increases with the intake of eggs, seafood, and red meat. But it has been shown that even when in increase in TMAO was found in the bloodstream, there was decreased blood vessel injury and markers of damage. TMAO is made by certain types of gut bacteria which makes this tough to pin down as different people can have very different gut bacteria populations. TMAO’s role in disease development is inconclusive at this time.
  • HCA: Chemicals formed when animal protein is cooked at high heat – think of the grill marks on steak. HCAs can cause genetic changes and increase the risk of cancer. What wasn’t discussed is that you can decrease or almost eliminate your exposure by using indirect heat to cook meat like poaching, stewing, braising or steaming; eating more plants as they tend to fight the effects of these compounds; and using marinades on your meat before cooking. Jerk seasoning or marinade for example, was shown to dramatically decrease HCAs.
  • Heme iron: There has been a correlation with heme iron, which comes from animal sources, and an increased risk of cancer. Non heme iron comes from plants. Iron is a mineral that the body needs, but too much heme iron seems to be the issue. While this is an interesting finding, more research needs to be done. A correlation or association of two items does not necessarily mean that one caused the other. It’s a good starting point indicating that it needs to be further investigated. Some may also argue that Food Frequency Questionnaires used in many studies have a high error rate from participants either purposely or inadvertently recording incorrect data. One of those people, Walter Willett from Harvard’s Nutrition Department, discusses the limitations of the Food Frequency Questionnaire that he created. However, other reputable sources like the National Cancer Institute, state that FFQs can be useful when bias is taken into account in the study.
  • Neu5Gc: Most mammals, besides us and a few others contain the sugar Neu5Gc. We have a similar one called Neu5Ac, so similar that Neu5Gc can work its way into our cells, but since it’s slightly different, it can trigger an immune response resulting in inflammation. There are a couple studies both human and animal, that show Neu5Gc in tumor cells. This tends to be the case for mammal meat like beef and pork, but doesn’t seem to be shown in poultry and seafood. Should we give up those types of meat? Some cancer researchers don’t think so and that more research needs to be done when it comes to this and cancer risk.
  • AGEs: similar to HCA in that there is a reaction with the food when exposed to high heat, but this can be any food with sugar, fat, and protein – meaning it’s true for plant and animal foods. In fact, broiled tofu contains a higher amount of AGEs than a fried egg. One study actually found higher levels of AGEs in vegetarians compared to omnivores. Avoiding processed foods and following the same rules for HCAs will help reduce your exposure.
  • Endotoxins: these may sound scary, especially if I tell you that they can illicit a strong immune response. If inhaled, they can lead to allergies, asthma and chronic bronchitis. If consumed, and depending on what kind, they can lead to GI distress and diarrhea. Endotoxins are the byproducts of certain types of bacteria, gram negative bacteria, which can cause things like UTI, pneumonia, and gonorrhea. Humans house gram negative bacteria and their endotoxins in our mouths and nasal cavities. We do also house E. coli, a gram negative bacteria, in our GI tracts. Most strains of it are harmless, but some can make us sick. Gram negative bacteria and their endotoxins can also be found in/on other animals, plants, and soil. They are not exclusively found in animal meat but many other places in our environment.

The takeaway: There is some evidence that needs to be further investigated as far as the increased risk of colon and rectal cancers due to meat intake. While most discussed in the film can actually be mediated to drastically reduce potentially harmful compounds, further research is needed on others. To offer another counter argument, some cultures like the Maasai for example, consume red meat and dairy with some vegetables and are free from chronic inflammatory diseases. Does this mean there is a genetic reason for why they’re not affected? Is it that maybe animal protein isn’t as bad some say it is? We don’t really know enough yet to make blanket statements.

Firefighters changed their diet to a plant based diet and reduced their blood pressure and cholesterol. 

In the film, they replaced not just animal products, but their ENTIRE diet with groceries that they bought for them. It very well could be that switching from high calorie, but low nutrient dense, processed foods to a lower calorie, high nutrient dense diet favorably impacted their health. There’s a big difference between a fast food bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a soda for a meal and a piece of salmon or grass fed sirloin with a baked potato and green veggies. This really should have been addressed for a more fair comparison. This also didn’t take into consideration stress levels and alcohol consumption which can also negatively impact one’s risk factors for heart disease. I would imagine being a first responder and high stress levels would go hand in hand.

Studies showing that animal products like eggs and red meat are good for you are funded by the meat, egg, and dairy associations.

True, you always have to look at not just your sources, but also how those studies were funded. Studies that are funded by a third party can be hard to find at times because from a business standpoint, why would they spend money on that if they don’t have any skin in the game? Of course it looks a little shady to see that the egg board put out a study saying that eggs are good for you! You know what else looks a little shady? James and Suzy Cameron, the executive producers of this documentary, investing $140 million dollars to grow in the vegan protein market. Remember the NFL player’s blood tests? One of the studies used to back up that “experiment” was funded by Hass Avocados with a very small sample size of 11 people making that study look very questionable. Look, you do you, but don’t call someone out on something when you’re essentially doing the same thing.

Sorry. I got sassy for a second there. ANYWAY. Dig into the study itself, not just the abstract of the paper! What was the sample size? Did they have a control group? How was data collected? How was data interpreted? Were there any adjustments made for possible errors? If there was any comparison of data, was it actually significant? You might not be able to get away from studies with suspicious funding depending on the subject, but sometimes sifting through the study can help you determine if it’s legit or if they screwed around with statistics to prove the point that they wanted to prove anyway. Reading scientific studies isn’t exactly light reading and if it’s overwhelming, there are other places to look that can compile information in a non-biased way that people can understand. I am a big fan of Precision Nutrition and Examine.com for those reasons. They are both great non-biased resources when it comes to nutrition.

Nutrition seems to be like religion these days. If you don’t eat how a group of people tells you to, you’re wrong. Sometimes that comes from a place of emotion, not necessarily facts. I bring this up because I understand if people aren’t happy about my stance on this. If you are emotionally invested in something, it’s going to get you fired up. If I’m truly honest with myself and you, that’s probably where my motivation came from to look into all of this too. I whole heartedly care deeply about my clients and anyone that consumes the info that I put out there. I like coaching and teaching in order for others to make the most informed decisions for their health. If that means taking heat from people that disagree with me, then so be it. I don’t like one sided information and I really hate fear mongering with the intent to push an agenda when there are multiple sides to the story. If something interests you, read up on it – both what you agree with and what you don’t agree with. We’re all guilty at one time or another of doing research in the name of trying to confirm our beliefs, also known as confirmation bias. I urge you to question things when it comes to your health because that’s the only way that you will be able to advocate for yourself. I mean that whether it’s info I put out there or from another source. No one’s perfect. We’re all still learning and have different views, but that’s what keeps it interesting.

 

References:
Herbivore GI tracts: www.webpages.uidaho.edu

Chimp vs human teeth: https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/side_0_0/bigteeth_01

Gorilla diet: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/3/100305-first-proof-gorillas-eat-monkeys-mammals-feces-dna/

Animal vs Plant proteinhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905294/

Egg intake and TMAO: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315879/

HCA & AGEs: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-cooking-carcinogens  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s394-001-8356-3

Neu5Gc: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24600589  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25548184   https://www.cancerresearch.org/immunotherapy/stories/scientists/oliver-m-pearce-phd

Iron: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/    https://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/4/2/177

Endotoxins: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078037/

Limitations of FFQs: https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/154/12/1100/64255

National Cancer Institute on FFQshttps://dietassessmentprimer.cancer.gov/approach/principles.html

Sources of B12: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042564/ https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/

Vitamin D: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

Omega 3s: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

 

Breaking Down the Deadlift

 

Deadlifts aren’t always the easiest movement to learn. If you go to pick something up, most people bend over at the waist/back and pick it up. You don’t think about keeping your back straight, hinging your hips back and then picking the object up. It’s just a different movement pattern that sometimes we need to relearn. So the very first thing I want to address is that you need to have patience when learning this if you’re not getting it the first time you try. It takes time for your brain and your muscles to sync up and create the right movement pattern sometimes. Practicing it correctly will grease that groove and you’ll eventually get it.

 

There are so many benefits to deadlifting!

  1. They carry over into real life big time. Get a deadlift down and you can safely and efficiently lift 50lbs of dog food out of your car. Or kitty litter if you’re a cat person. Or a big case of water if  you don’t have any fur children.
  2. Strengthens the posterior chain, which is something most of us need to work on! This is a fancy way of saying the back of your body. Because most of us have a more sedentary lifestyle this can lead to weaker hips, hamstrings, and glutes. Basically, this means if you were to compare the front of your hips and thighs to the back of them, the front is stronger in comparison. This isn’t always the case, but is more likely to occur with inactivity. Weaker hips and glutes can lead to an increased risk of low back, hip and knee pain. Again, not always the case, but it can happen. And this isn’t to fear monger, just to drive home the importance of not neglecting your backside.
  3. It can also strengthen your core and your lats, a large sheet of muscles in your back. 
  4. It makes your butt look nice. That’s it. I don’t have an explanation for that one other than it’s an added bonus.

 

Progressions to Get You Deadlifting    

  • Perfect your hip hinge. Using a PVC pipe or broom stick on your back is one of the best drills I’ve found in teaching this movement. It should be in contact with the space between your shoulder blades and the top of your butt. Ideally, it should also touch the back of your head if your shoulders and posture allow you to do so while maintaining a neutral spine.
    • From here, soften your knees and push your butt back while keeping your back straight. Using the PVC pipe gives you instant tactile feedback. If you’re not maintaining a nice straight back, you’ll lose contact with one of those 2-3 spots on the PVC pipe. Practice this movement until you feel comfortable. Even if you have this down, this is great to throw in your warm up if you are going to be deadlifting or swinging.
    • After you master that movement, try it without the PVC pipe.  Get a friend, trainer, or shoot a quick video to check your form. It should look the same with and without the PVC. You could even do jazz hands on your torso to help keep yourself in the right position.
    • For a video demo of this click here -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0FfJ3W1XE0
  • Add a kettlebell
    • After you get that down, grab a kettlebell because you’re ready to add weight now! Situate your bell between your feet. You’ll do that same exact hinge motion while keeping your shoulders back to pick up the kettlebell. Squeeze your butt on the way up and stand tall, locking out your hips and knees. Think of that top position like you’re holding a plank, where you’re creating tension throughout your body. Then put the weight back down just like if you had the PVC pipe still on your back. You should feel this in the backs of your thighs, your butt, hips and possibly abs too. This motion shouldn’t feel like you are lifting with your lower back. I usually recommend going a little light with these to start out because safety first. Master the movement, then add weight.
    • When you put the weight down, pause and lift again. Avoid habits like bouncing the weight off the ground, not touching the ground at all, or dropping the weight on the way down without controlling the movement.
    • I like teaching this with kettlebells first because they sit up higher off the ground than a dumbbell and you can find them lighter than a barbell. Not to say you couldn’t prop up dumbbells on steps in front of you. I’ve lifted the barbell itself up on steps or plate too for clients so they can get that feeling with the 45 lbs of the bar itself.
    • For demo with the kettlebell click here -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObikaCprV2Q
  • Add weight
    • Progress to bigger kettlebells. If you’re getting to 12 reps with good form and without much struggle, it’s time to bump your weight up.
    • Once you’re in that 50lb range, try a barbell or trap (aka hex) bar! You can load more weight on this way as you progress.
    • If using a barbell, you’ll have it in front of you with the bar positioned over your feet where your shoelaces are. Feet are hip to shoulder width. Hinge back, back flat, shoulders back and grab the bar overhand. Then pull and lift straight up like you would with a kettlebell then hinge back and put it down.
    • If using a hex/trap bar, same idea with the hinge and stance while standing inside the bar. Set it up so the handles are lined up with your legs. Then it’s the same movement at a kettlebell or barbell deadlift.
    • For a deadlift demo with a hex bar, click here -> https://youtu.be/a6vk8jStcUI
    • For a deadlift demo with a barbell, click -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyRiw2b8yI4

 

Tips and Tricks

  • Still feeling it in your back when you add weight?
    • Lower the weight or ditch it all together. Go back to practicing the hip hinge. Set up your phone and record what it looks like when you hinge with and without weight. If you don’t have anyone to coach your movement and it’s too hard to look in a mirror, a video you can use for visual feedback can be a HUGE help.
  • Lower back is rounding a lot when at the bottom of the lift resulting in you feeling it in your back.
    • Everyone’s hips are set up a little different. Not everyone has the mobility for one reason or another to hinge and get that low. Unless you are planning on competing in a powerlifting competition, there’s no reason why you can’t bring the weight up a little higher so it’s easier to reach. Take a weight plate or two and put them stacked on top of one another on floor, then put the kettlebell or the barbell on top of the stacked plates. Then deadlift from the plates instead of the floor. Sometimes just that little bit of lift is really beneficial to correcting your form. You can see these variations in the deadlift demos mentioned above. 
  • Knees straightening out too fast and then pulling the weight up the rest of the way with your back.
    • Imagine there is a string tied to the top of your head pulling you straight up. Your hips and knees should straighten at about the same time when move from the hinge to the standing position. This might feel a little funny with a barbell. I’ve had clients say “I feel like I’m going to hit my knees with the bar.” Valid feeling. You do want to keep the weight close to your legs. That barbell should be situated over your shoe laces when you set up for the lift. The further away from you it is, the more likely you will feel the lift in your lower back. Even if you pick it straight up, your knees will clear the bar, it may not feel like it and feel like you need to straighten them first to get out of the way of the bar, but you don’t. You may graze your shins or knees, but for the most part it won’t be much of an issue. And if it is and you don’t want to end up with cut up shins, there’s always workout leggings or knee high socks you can wear on barbell deadlift day 🙂
  • Squatting instead of hinging. Videos are helpful for this like I mentioned before. Go back to basics and practice that hinge. I tend to see more of a mix up with this one when clients are doing a sumo variation. Sometimes it’s easy to mix up a sumo squat and a sumo deadlift.
    • Squats – your upper body is a little more upright for the most part and you shins will come forward slightly. However, there’s always an exception. Some people’s squats can look a little more hingey and that’s just how they move. That’s why it’s helpful to have an experienced coach by your side, but anyway. I digress! GENERALLY speaking, your upper body is more upright and you feel like you are sitting back into a chair. If you’re holding any sort of weight doesn’t have to touch the floor. 
    • Hinge – upper body comes forward more and hips flex more than knees in a squat. Think of how a barbie doll or GI Joe bends at their hips (minus the straight knees!). Weight touches the ground with each rep, unless you’re doing a stiff leg variation. 

 

Other variations to check out when you get down the basic deadlift:

 

Other Resources for Deadlift Tips & Training in General

All of these below have blogs and social media accounts CHOCK FULL of valuable info when it comes to training. I highly recommend all of them for strength training info, positive vibes, and promoting realistic expectations. 

  • The Girls Gone Strong
  • Jen Sinkler
  • Dean Somerset
  • Jen Hosler
  • Achieve Fitness Boston

Banana Blueberry Muffins

I love these for an afternoon snack or with my scrambled eggs with veggies for breakfast. They freeze well, which is good, because I can’t eat that many muffins in 3-4 days before they go bad! The original recipe, which you can find {here} from shelikesfood.com says it makes 12, but I’ve always gotten 14 out of the batter. I’ve also adjusted some of the ingredients for my own version, but if you don’t want the little extra sugar from the honey or want to make them vegan, check out her recipe. Mine is below and my picky husband likes them too, so if you have kids, they’ll probably enjoy them! 😂

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Banana blueberry muffin. Blueberries. Hard boiled egg w/ a drizzle of sriracha.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium bananas, mashed (you can get away with 3 if they’re XL)
  • 6 oz fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c melted coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 c milk of your choice (dairy or non-dairy works)
  • 1/3 c honey
  • 2 c white whole wheat flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 1/8 t salt

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325. Mash bananas in a large bowl with a fork. Add egg, oil, milk, vanilla, and honey, then whisk together.
  • Add dry ingredients and mix until batter is formed.
  • Fold in blueberries with a spatula until distributed through the batter.
  • Scoop into a greased muffin tin or you can use cupcake liners. Fill them just below the top of the muffin cup.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes and let cool for a few minutes before you put them on a cooling rack. You can always use the toothpick trick and stick in in the middle of one of the muffins. If it comes out clean you’re good to go!

You can store them in an airtight container for 3-4 days. After that, I would pop them in the freezer so they’ll keep longer.

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Because muffins are delicious and I love dogs. Also, chihuahuas look like blueberry muffins.

Breaking Down the Kettlebell Swing

Given the choice, I’m probably going for the kettlebells when it comes to equipment. I’m also a big fan of TRX too. I love the versatility of both pieces of equipment when it comes to workouts – you can do SO much with just those two things. But that’s not to say I don’t have love for other modalities. I use dumbbells, barbells, sliders, bands, bodyweight etc. too. But kettlebells? I will probably always gravitate towards them. I hadn’t worked at Fusion Fitness Center for maybe just a couple months when we went to a kettlebell conference. I instantly fell in love with them and also was thinking as a brand new baby trainer “what in the world did I get myself into here?” One of my favorite movements quickly became the kettlebell swing. They have many benefits, aside from feeling like a badass swinging heavy weight around.

Benefits to incorporating KB swings into your workout

  •      Build strength, power, and aerobic capacity all at the same time
    • Not only do swings strengthen your posterior chain (back of your body), because it’s an explosive movement, you’re going to increase your power as well. Again, because it’s an explosive movement and you are working bigger muscle groups in a repetitive motion, you’re also getting some cardio benefits from swings too. That’s a lot of bang for your buck when you can get strength and conditioning out of the same exercise.
  •      Strengthens the posterior chain
    • Something most of us need to work on! Because most of us have a more sedentary lifestyle and are sitting for a big part of the day, this can lead to quad dominance and weaker hips, hamstrings, and glutes. Basically, this means if you were to compare the front of your hips and thighs to the back of them, the front is stronger in comparison. This isn’t always the case, but is more likely to occur with inactivity. Weaker hips and glutes can lead to an increased risk of low back, hip and knee pain. Again, not always the case, but it can happen. And this isn’t to fear monger, just to drive home the importance of not neglecting your backside.
  •      Strengthens your core
    • You will create tension through your entire body at the top of the swing that actually feels similar to a plank on the ground. More on that explanation later in this post.
  •      Peaches for daysssss
    • Because honestly, who doesn’t want their butt to look nice?

 

American vs Russian Swings

If you go consult google or have ever seen KB swings on TV, you may have found that there are two different variations. The American Swing and the Russian Swing.

The American Swing tends to look squattier than the Russian Swing and also involves lifting the kettlebell overhead while the Russian swing doesn’t go above shoulder height. The thought is that there is more power and range of motion in the American Swing, but to me and based on what I know, the risks greatly outweigh the benefits.

With lifting the bell overhead, it can increase the risk of injury due to the extension of the lumbar spine under a load. In my experience, there’s also a lot of people out there that don’t have the shoulder mobility to lift straight overheard leading to extending into the lower back to compensate. Definitely wouldn’t have them doing this type of swing.

The other thing that skeeves me out is that having both hands on the kettlebell and lifting it up overhead like that greatly increases the risk of shoulder injury. We’re all put together slightly differently, but most of us can’t get away with that motion for too long without it leading to injury from the upper part of your arm (your humerus) smashing into the front of your shoulder girdle. You’ve got all kinds of connective tissue and muscles in there that can get smashed over time in the process. For these reasons, I do and teach Russian Swings only, which is what you’ll see below. It’s just not worth it to me when you can get the same benefits with less risk of injury.

 

Get that hip hinge down first

        It is absolutely imperative that you get a good hip hinge going. This will allow you to swing efficiently, get the most out of the movement, and protect your back in the process. Using a PVC pipe on your back is one of the best drills I’ve found in teaching this movement. It should be in contact with the space between your shoulder blades and the top of your butt. Ideally, it should also touch the back of your head if your shoulders and posture allow you to do so while maintaining a neutral spine.

        From here, soften your knees and push your butt back while keeping your back straight. Using the PVC pipe gives you instant tactile feedback. If you’re not maintaining a nice straight back, you’ll lose contact with the PVC pipe. Practice this movement until you feel comfortable. Even if you have this down, this is great to throw in your warm up if you are going to be deadlifting or swinging.

You can access a demo of a PVC Hinge here

        After you master that movement, try it without the PVC pipe.  Get a friend, trainer, or shoot a quick video to check your form. It should look the same with and without the PVC.

        After you get that down, grab a kettlebell because you’re ready to add weight now! Situate your bell between the arches of your feet, feet about hip width apart. You’ll do that same exact hinge motion while keeping your shoulders back to pick up the kettlebell. Squeeze your butt on the way up and stand tall, locking out your hips and knees. Think of that top position like you’re holding a plank, where you’re creating tension throughout your body. Then put the weight back down just like if you had the PVC pipe still on your back. You should feel this in the backs of your thighs, your butt, hips and possibly abs too. This motion shouldn’t feel like you are lifting with your lower back. I usually recommend going a little light with these to start out because safety first. Master the movement, then add weight. If you are still having issues feeling like you are lifting with your back, stay tuned, because I’ve got a deadlift post coming at you soon!

 

Progressions to get you swinging

        The following are some drills to help you work up to a full blown swing. I highly advise that you get each step down pat before going to the next. I know, I know that you just want get swinging because it looks awesome, but be patient. This will only set you up for success.

  • KB Lat Drag
    • Set your KB at least 6 inches in front of you.
    • Get into a nice low hinge & grab the horn on the KB (the handle) with both hands, tilting it on its side.
    • Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Concentrate on pulling them together and pulling them down your back at the same time
    • This movement helps engage your Latissimus dorsi aka your lats – a big sheet of muscle that runs down either side of your back and attaches at your tailbone
    •  Practicing this movement preps you to keep your lats engaged during a swing which is helpful when keeping your shoulders back and pulling the KB back down to a hinge from the top of the swing.
    • That last part will make more sense later once you get swinging.
    • KB Lat Drag Demo Here
  • KB Hike
    • Stay low, hike the KB back towards your butt FAST. Think of snapping it back QUICK just like hiking a football. Then let it swing back and land right where you started.
    • Getting this movement down helps you work on snapping the kb back quick which is what you need to start off your swing. It needs to be quick in order for you to use the momentum to your advantage. It should also be near your butt when you hike it back. If it’s too low, it won’t set you up well for an actual swing.
    • KB Hike demo here
  • KB single swing
    • Repeat the movement for the hike except now, instead of letting it go back to the ground, you’re going to SNAP up to a standing position.
    • At this top position, hips and knees should be locked out. You should have tension in your abs, butt, front and backs of your thighs. If you think about holding a plank on the floor with all of those areas contracted, it’s the same at the top of the swing.
    • It’s also super helpful to exhale when you pop your hips. This helps you brace your core as well into that locked out position.
    • From the top locked out position, you’ll go back into your hinge and then let the bell swing down to the floor just like you did at the end of practicing the KB hikes.
    • KB Single Swing demo here
  • KB continuous swings
    • Repeat the steps of the single swing, except letting it come back down to the floor after 1 swing.
    • You will hike it back; snap up to standing, popping your hips at the top to lockout; hinge back with the kb close to your butt and snap up to standing again. Repeat this pattern for your desired number of reps.
    • When finished, you will end like the single swing. Let it swing back towards your butt, and land in front of you on the floor. This should look very similar if not exactly the same as your set up to begin swinging. The set up and ending are just as important as the hip hinge.
    • KB Swing demo here

 

Tips & tricks

        Sometimes quirky things happen even though your form my look ok or maybe you’re just not “getting it.” This is usually a tricky thing to teach because the movement is so technical in order to get the most out of the movement in the safest way possible. You should feel this in your hips, butt, thighs, and abs. You may also feel it the backs of your shoulders especially as you move up to heavier weights. If you’re feeling it in your back or your form is off, this is where troubleshooting comes in.

  • Swing looks more like a squat than a hinge
    • Review and practice how the hinge feels with the PVC pipe on your back.
    • Review and practice KB deadlift form.
    • A hinge makes your hips bend more than your knees. Squats typically make your knees bend more than your hips.
    • When you hinge back, the kb should be near your butt
  • Think thumbs in your bum
    • There’s no nice way to say this, but I heard it at a kb conference and it works, so just humor me ok?
    • When you hinge back, you should be hiking that kb back towards your butt.
  • Feeling like you’re lifting the kb with your arms
    • The kb is just an extension of your arms. It’s like a swinging pendulum. You’re not actually using your arm muscles to lift the kb. It’s all based off of the momentum generated from your hips snapping up to standing. You’re just holding onto it at this point so it doesn’t go flying out of your hands.
    • Make sure your hinge form is down pat.
    • Make sure you’re popping your hips at the top and squeezing your cheeks together…no, not the cheeks on your face
    • The kb should feel like it’s floating for a second at the top of the swing. Just like that pirate ship carnival ride? You know the one that swings back and forth and you feel that moment where your butt just starts to leave the seat before you swing back the other direction? That’s what’s going on with the kb.
  • When it is time for you to hinge back and the kb swings back, it can help if you actually pull the kb down and back towards your butt. Don’t just let it fall back into that trajectory. Pull it down and back into that trajectory.
  • Feet are rocking back and forth on the floor and aren’t planted.
    • Think about gripping the floor w/ your feet.
    • Sometimes traditional cross training, running and walking shoes have more heel cushioning in them. Good for other activities! But not as practical for deadlifts, swings or squats (sometimes).
    • Wear a flat pair of shoes like a minimalist shoe or Converse.
      • Those of you who know me know that I love my Converse, all 5 pairs of them! So yeah, maybe this sounds biased, but that have like zero heel drop and that’s what you need! Plus you can get them in just about any color your want. Just sayin’.
    • If all else fails and your facility allows it, pop your shoes off and swing sans shoes. This will really help give you that tactile feedback through your feet about gripping the floor and keeping them planted. Some facilities encourage barefoot training classes for this reason. There’s SO MUCH feedback you give your body by going barefoot.
      • Of course, if you have painful foot issues like heel spurs, plantar faciitis, Achilles tendonitis, etc. you need the arch support and heel cushioning of a good training shoe. You may be able to get away with popping the shoes off for swings, but probably should wear them the rest of the workout.

 

Best of luck swinging! I hope this was helpful if you’ve found this great exercise a little tricky. Bonus points if you enjoyed the hip hop music in the video demos too 😉 Be patient and always, always, always, try your best with proper form.