Archive for the ‘Muscle-building’ Category

The Fun Way

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Fat Loss, Muscle-building



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Alejandro Lopez CSCS

If you are just plain tired of the typical set-rep scheme, traveling to and fro between passive machine exercises  and mundane free weight workouts; it may be time to try some plyometrics.

Plyometric exercises involve either ballistic (quick  muscular force production) jumping, skipping,or throwing motions throughout several planes using your own bodyweight to elicit improvements in power production primarily and strength secondarily. But the benefits don’t stop there. If done in circuit fashion, meaning multiple exercises strung together in a row before resting, you can develop a fantastic fat-torching workout that is equipment free and actually fun to do.

One simple plyometric exercise that I like to start my novice clients with is the squat jump or jump and reach. The exercise entails basically doing a normal bodyweight squat but at such a high rate of motion that your feet actually leave the ground. It is simply a controlled jump with proper squat form (back straight and never rounded, chest protruded and a full seated position before ejecting upward. Another is the forward power hop which is jumping with both feet  forward instead of upward like the squat jump with as much force as possible. Think about long-jumping and the athletes who perform the movement. They attempt to jump as far as possible with minimal vertical lift. You do not want to do a little bunny hop and call it a day.

If you really despise having to count reps and clock in rest times then you are in luck, my friends. Plyos are very condusive to Crossfit type training that has you performing several exercises strung together (circuits) for time. So you can try stringing squat jumps, hops (one-legged and two-legged), side jumps, etc and perform as many circuits you can do for 5 or ten minutes. My hope is that you will be tired and you will love the feeling.

Happy Lifting!

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We have a little discrepancy between the sexes that is as old as time. No, it has nothing to do with feelings or libido or television preferences. The issue is this: gentlemen tend to focus almost entirely on upper-body development while the ladies like to hammer their lower halves to carve out a well-defined backside and tighten their thighs. Now, while I am all for working out the largest muscle groups on a regular, rigorous basis; it may be time to focus on what’s above the waist, girls. Females possess roughly 2/3 of the maximal upper body strength that men do while having similar expressions of strength within the lower body (in relation to respective muscle cross-sectional area). Balance is vital in the gym and the strength you gain while consistently working your chest, shoulders, back, and arms will translate exceptionally well to the real world, allowing you to conquer all lifting tasks outside gym walls.

So focus on compound, multi-joint exercises like push-ups, dumbbell bench press, shoulder press, and free-weight (barbell or dumbbell) rows to round out your upper-body development. Soon you will be pounding out reps on the pull-up bar just like the huge, burly gentleman next to you and definitely squatting more than his tiny legs could possibly imagine! Happy lifting, girls!

Weight training in a fitness center

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The following plan is one I concocted for a friend of mine who recently underwent a shoulder cartilage injury (Torn labrum). This is just a sample of what I am capable of now. (Haha, tooting my own horn, I know). But this plan also suits any individual, particularly older individuals and athletes, whose shoulers are of particular concern and desires a full body plan sans heavy shoulder work (As the shoulder joint-ball and socket- possesses such a high range of motion that injury is more likely compared to other joint types such as the knee or wrist). Here it is and any commentary is surely welcome. Thanks for reading!

Sample Plan

Alejandro Lopez, CSCS

1. Needs Analysis:

  • No Sport/General Fitness
  • Recovery from torn labrum (heavy shoulder movement counter indicated until further notice)
  • Rebound after deconditioning

2. Exercise Selection

  • Chest –Cable fly, Light dumbbell fly, Pec Dec, Decline Dumbbell Press & Floor Press (If indicated).

*Stay away from barbell exercises as range of motion is limited and may cause further injury.

*Focus on full range of motion and slow-controlled movement

*Never jerk weight up quickly nor drop weight down quickly

*Do not extend arm behind body, in other words stop weight a few inches above chest

  • Back– Light dumbbell single arm row, Machine cable row (wide grip and narrow grip to hit rhomboid, lats, and entire shoulder girdle), Medium grip lat pulldown (cable)
  • Legs– If squats are off limits for you (which I recommend until you heal and recover strength) focus on these exercises: Leg Press, Hack Squat (the machine where you stand diagonally and you squat to push pads on your shoulders up), Alternating Leg Lunge, and isolation exercises like leg curl for hamstrings and leg extension for quads.

*This is where you should go hard since nothing is off-limits as far as injury is concerned

  • ShouldersDo not perform isolation of shoulders
  • ArmsDo not perform any arm exercises over the head. Focus on alternating
    • Dumbbell curls through full range of motion (ROM) and isolation curls for biceps
    • Tricep pressdown [reverse (supinated, palms facing up) and normal grip (pronated-palms facing down) and Lying tricep dumbbell extension for triceps

3. Exercise Order

  • Always perform big, compound movements before isolation, but remember to keep your shoulder in mind, if big compound movements are causing pain, stop and move on to isolation.
  • Perform bigger muscle group exercises like legs before smaller muscle groups like chest or back.
  • Example: When performing chest exercises, Perform Dumbbell Decline or Floor Presses before Fly exercises
    • The compound workouts elicit greater release of hormones: testosterone, IGF-1, Growth Hormone, etc.

      4. Rep/Load Scheme

  • Typically, perform 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps for each exercise. I would usually recommend going lower reps for higher poundage like 6-12 reps at 67-85% your 1 Rep Max) but you need to rebound from your injury and improve you muscular endurance since you have been out of the game for a while lol.
  1. Frequency
  • I recommend engaging in a full body workout three times per week for the following reasons:

    i.      You should not overload a muscle group too much after a period of detraining and injury, so working it slightly three times a week allows for muscle gain at a slow, steady, sore-free pace.                                                     

  ii.      The more muscle groups you stress at a given workout, the more hormones will be released to promote hypertrophy (muscle gain) and strength gains.

  1. Rest Periods
  • The less you rest between sets the more Growth Hormone is released and the greater calories burned; therefore, until further notice, I recommend utilizing a 30 sec-1 min. rest in between every set and 2-3 min rest between each workout.

   7.  Sample Workout

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Legs:  Leg Press3 sets of 15 repsRest 2 min b/w sets Rest or HIIT cardio 1-2 min high intensity spinning or running and 1-2 min of rest and continue-cycle for 15-20 min  Legs: Hack Squat3 sets of 12 repsRest 2 min b/w sets Rest or HIIT cardio 1-2 min high intensity spinning or running and 1-2 min of rest and continue-cycle for 15-20 min  Legs: Alternating Leg Lunge3 sets of 20 repsRest 1 min b/w sets Rest or HIIT cardio 1-2 min high intensity spinning or running and 1-2 min or rest and continue-cycle for 15-20 min  Full Rest,NoWorkOut
Back: One arm dumbbell row4 sets of 12 repsRest 1 min b/w sets   Back:Lat pulldown superset with cable row3 sets of 10 repsRest 2 min b/w sets   Back: One arm dumbbell row2 sets of 20 repsRest 1 min b/w reps    
Chest: Floor Press4 sets of 12 repsRest 1 min between sets(regular dumbbell chest press but on floor not bench)   Chest: Cable Fly superset with Cable Press3 sets of 10 repsRest 2 min b/w sets   Chest : Light Dumbbell Fly on incline bench2 sets of 20 repsRest 1 min b/w sets    
Biceps: Alternating Bicep curl3 sets of 12 repsRest 30 sec b/w sets   Biceps:Concentration Curl2 sets of 20 repsRest 30 sec b/w reps    Biceps: close grip cable curl3 sets of 10 repsRest 30 sec b/w sets    
Triceps: Tricep Pressdown3 sets of 12 repsRest 30 sec b/w sets   Triceps: Reverse- grip Tricep Pressdown2 sets of 20 repsRest 30 sec b/w reps   Triceps: Touching dumbbell floor press(floor press but make dumbbells touch whole time)3 sets of ten repsRest 30 sec b/w reps    

Cheating is Good.

Posted: August 22, 2012 in Fat Loss, Muscle-building
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With all the fitness talk circling the internet, television, books, magazines, and even this blog (go figure), I desired nothing more today than to sit back and talk about cheating. Cheating is a big part of my life now and helps me reach my goals better and faster than ever before. Cheating is truly a blissful, stress-reliever and should be implemented by everyone.

I am very pleased to present you with Cheat Meal! A round of applause, please, for the illustrious, always-pleasing, spectacularly delectable cheat meal! I apologize for the immeasurable, titanic build-up, but my passion for the cheat meal is beyond measure. I will touch on the reasoning behind the use of the cheat meal briefly, but will focus primarily on what I tend to eat, how much I eat of it, and how I betray my goals sometimes. This one is about me.

The Cheat Meal tends to break up the monotony of any diet allowing the mind to rest so as to get right back on track the next day. It also has the power of ramping up your metabolism back to normal levels, before near starvation was the norm. So, in essence, the cheat meal should be part of anyone’s long-term diet. You need to eat the comfort foods that you love at least weekly so that you maintain a fixed eye on your goals rather than a frozen gaze on that pizza slice.

Well, I am a fallible, flaw-filled human just like the next guy and I tend to overstep the “cheat meal” methodology and fall right into the precipitous pit of the “CHEAT DAY!” But I recognize the guilt, embrace it, and work to have the best, loyal day the next. So it works out. I lose weight at a very reasonable 1-2 lbs per week and maintain just about all of the muscle I worked so hard for. So above all, the purpose of the article is to show you that there is plenty of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s Fried Chicken Bites Box, and you should never despair. Eat what you want for a meal or two and plop right back into your diet plan like it never happened! But I digress…On to the Feast!

This past weekend was a particularly bad one. I loaded up on cake pops, destroyed half a tray of cuban-style “pastelitos,” and then proceeded to indulge in a four course meal of Thai/Japanese delicacy. All of this accomplished before 2 p.m. I was on the fast track to illness but I refrained from the seemingly obligatory barf-session and waited for the next phase of culinary savagery.

I had a wedding retreat scheduled for that night and the edible goodies contained were not lossed upon me. I was ready for another round and the best part was the all-you-can eat price tag(Sad huh, I have a wedding retreat scheduled with my beautiful fiancée and all I can think about is food).  So without further ado, I was presented with an unlimited supply of fried-potato chips, plump turkey and provolone wraps, and chewy, chocolate chip cookies. Not the greatest assortment of foods, but definitely enough to whet my appetite.

So in the end, I consumed somewhere close to 50,000 Calories but I did it with a smile on my face. The next day, this past Saturday, I ate even more but again I did not stress or fret. I faced the next couple of days with a game face and a satisfied stomach, I ate very well (mostly protein, very little carbs, and moderate fats—Carb Cycling!) and am well on my way to completed another two just like this. Until my next feeding frenzy, it will be pretty much chicken breast and fish for me. Until then, I will dream of the cheating to come.

You enter the gym on National Chest Day (Mondays for just about every resistance training male) and you bolt straight for the lone bench, conspicuously left alone by every pec-fiend around you. It is yours now and you have the plan of all plans. You start with a warm up set of flat-bench barbell chest presses then progressively overload for the next few working sets, reaching for a higher max weight for given reps than last week. You proceed to Incline then Decline with the same idea, rounding out the workout with high rep sets (12-15) of pec-deck or flies. This has been your holy grail of logistic training and you wouldn’t change it for the world. The problem is that you chest, tris, and delts are also stubborn to change and you wonder why o’ why is this happening.

Well the reason is not consistency, because you have demonstrated this to a tremendous degree, but stagnation. Basically, you have been doing the same thing for too long and the progressive overload technique(increasing intensity through higher reps for a given weight or higher weight for a given rep as the weeks progress) which is sound and always a favorite has begun to express itself in diminishing returns. So you may be gaining marginal strength every workout or two but the massive gains in strength and size brought about by your favorite aforementioned technique are just not there anymore. You need a change…..badly!

This is where intensity techniques come into play. From supersets, to dropsets, to negative isometrics and everything in between you have a plethora of methods for busting through that plateau that has plagued you for what seems like a milennia. For the purpose of brevity, let’s focus on supersets.

The concept of supersets is simple; correct execution, difficult. Basically, the goal of super-setting is to string one set directly behind another with little to no rest so as to elicit greater adaptation and growth. So if your focus for the day is chest you can follow a solid set of flat-bench with dips. Two for the price of one. You ramp up intensity and you shorten your time in the gym. Your muscles will work harder and remain under tension for longer. Just make sure you maintain proper form throughout.

The reason a well-executed super-set tends to supercharge your goals is simple. When you get to the point in a set where you cannot move the bar or dumbell even a quarter of an inch higher, you can further tax the muscle by engaging in another set of the same muscle group with a lighter weight or just different motor function (Flat bench which targets whole chest then incline which targets upper-chest and deltoids). This ramps ups intensity, sending signals to your brain demanding a need to release more growth-hormone to compensate for the trashing your muscles received.

Super-sets can be accomplished through a few methods: One muscle group suppersetting (see above), antagonistic (opposite muscle groups like chest then back or biceps then triceps, non-relating muscle groups (like quads then biceps) and Big muscle/small muscle super-sets (Chest then triceps or back then biceps).

All are valid and contribute to different results. One muscle group supersets contribute to intensely straining one muscle group; antagonistic supersets reduce time in gym, allow for heftier gym sessions targetting more than one muscle group; non-relating muscle groups supersets allow you to toss in sets of non-relating muscle groups for weak-point training and higher growth-hormone production (the more groups you train, the more growth hormone is released) ;and Big muscle/small muscle super-sets function similarly to the one-group method.

 There is no shortage of techniques to better your physique and these are just a few. Play the field thoroughly and find what works best for you. But remember, consistency did benefit you before and will continue to do so as long as you never, ever stagnate. Change is good but work hard at your new style until you see those diminishing returns.

There is no shortage of items to be eaten on any given day especially if fitness is far from your prime goal. From the sausage-engorged pizza pie to the tiny, sweet delicacy that is a cake pop, everything is at your disposable when you care nothing for how you look and feel. But if you have the slightest interest in looking how you were made to look and exhibiting your best form, then these choices should be reserved for your most liberal “cheat day.” There are certain foods primed for consumption for every different phase of one’s day from morning to night, but for the purposes of brevity and focus, let’s stick with post-workout nutrition for this article.

When one exerts himself/herself sufficiently during a workout, the muscles’ level of sugar, or glycogen, is depleted almost to nothingness. The muscles then would like nothing more than to be filled right up again with anything you could throw at ’em so that their functionality and recovery may be optimized. You could have that delicious slice of pizza or that delectable cake ball with lessened impact on fat gain because you are not adding to sugar-filled muscles but to empty muscles. But recovery would just not be at all the same. And after all, recovery, that rebuilding of broken down muscle, is exactly what you want and what you were working for (Even you ladies! the more muscle you have the more fat you burn throughout the day). But which foods exactly should you shuttle to tired muscle fibers?

Well the answer depends on what you want out of the fit lifestyle: muscle-gain or fat-loss. Let’s focus on fat loss for now. With fat loss you want to limit carbohydrates and much as you can or manipulate them for optimal use and limited adipose tissue storage (fat gain.) Your body needs carbs for overall health and a steady metabolism. Any diets that remove them completely or limit them extremely is destined for failure because your metabolism will not keep up and slow to a crawl. Having said this, there are two times of the day where you should consume your bulk of carbs while dieting–the morning and post-workout. Since we are on the topic of post-workout, let’s stick with that.

With the basic macro-nutrients in mind, you need your protein and carbs after your workout but leave fat as far as possible from the line-up. When considering protein, the faster the better. In other words, you want the form of protein that will reach your muscle fibers the fastest and there really is no faster than tried-and-true whey isolate or hydrolysate. About 1-2 scoops or 25-50g should suffice for most individuals. The protein is vital in supplying those much-needed amino acids to build-up those torn down muscles and should not be skimped on by any means. (Side note-you may not know this but protein is the most “active” of the three macros meaning that the body burns more calories digesting it than any other–which is a great thing!)

Your muscles not only need protein but also carbs to rebuild and refill. The best form of carb to consume so as to benefit muscles the most are your fast-acting carbs or your “white” carbs like potatoes, white rice, and even sugar( But the right sugar). These carbs require that your body produce insulin for proper digestion. Insulin is a very powerful biological force and very anabolic, shooting the protein/carb combo directly into those debilitated muscles. This makes for a very potent post-workout concoction. (You may note that insulin tends to elicit fat gain and you would be half right. Under normal circumstances that insulin would carry sugar not mainly to muscles because they are already filled up but to the liver and that is not good. This would almost certainly lead to more fat gain which is the reason why consuming candy tends to be counter-productive to good health.)

I recommend 25-50 grams of quality whey protein isolate and 35-60 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates to fuel your success. The combo should be consumed within 1 hour of finishing your last set or last minute of jogging, but the sooner the better. For my next article I will discuss what best to take in when you want to bulk up or build muscle.


If you haven’t come across the idea that eating 6-7 smaller meals per day rather than three square meals can ramp up your resting metabolic rate, thus increasing your calorie expenditure, you may be living under a nice, cozy rock. Sounds great right?  You get to eat three more times per day than previously recommended just a bit less per meal and you lose more weight! Wow! Why haven’t we been doing this since the dawn of man? (Well, maybe the fact that food was extremely scarce for the gatherer/hunters of yesteryear).

This quick and easy addition to the fitness arsenal has been around for years and years hiding from that big, cozy rock hovering above many of our heads. But much like the groundbreaking discovery that the earth was no longer flat but round and tilted on an axis, a longstanding idea with fairly credible evidence to back it up may very well crumble under the weight of newfound reason.

This six meal theory arose as a result of several studies based upon “the thermic effect of food.” Basically the tenant dictates that when we consume any form of substance with caloric value the body must “burn” the calories and break it down so as to be utilized efficiently by the body. For the sake of clarity and simplicity let’s say that 10% of the total calories are used for digestion before anything else. This means that if you take in a meal that has a total of 400 calories, 40 of those calories alone will be used just to break it down. Multiply this value by six and you have a deficit of 240 calories just by eating six meals. Wait. Something is wrong.

So if you eat a meal  that is 800 calories, you burn 80 in digestion x 3 for 3 meals and you have 240. Exactly the same. One study published within The British Journal of Nutrition demonstrated just this. The subjects of the trial, men and women, consumed the same number of calories throughout a twenty-four hour period but one group scarfed it down in three meals and the other grazed in six meals. The results depicted a very different picture than what the media touts nowadays. According to The New York Times, “Both groups lost significant and equivalent amounts of weight. There was no difference between them in fat loss, appetite control or measurements of hormones that signal hunger and satiety.”

So there you have it. Note, though, that I am speaking of this only in terms of weight loss and not in overall health. There are some studies that show a different picture in terms of overall health when eating more frequently. But this is a different topic for another day.

So without going too far into the science behind it, the message I would like you to take away with above all else, is to question everything (even this article). Do your research on both sides of the fence and try different things to find what best suits you. Everybody is different and responds differently to varying stimuli. One person responds better to protein while the other soaks up carbs marvelously. Do your homework and reap the benefits.

O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Eat Six Small Meals a Day Instead of Three Big Ones.” The New York Times. March 23, 2010

We are in an ever-changing world, evidenced in the year 2012 more so than any years past. We landed a rover on Mars, and unprecedented feat to say the least, and we are developing a never before seen (well, aside from science fiction games, novels, and movies) aircraft that can speed from Tokyo to France in less than two hours! But nothing is more revolutionary, more life-changing, more ground-breaking than………….Carb Cycling!

Ok, I may have exaggerated for a pronounced effect, but this idea is still cool, though not at all new. Without going too far into the scientificy approach to the dieting system ( as you can find tons of articles on the internet), I will first discuss the basic tenants of the idea, then segue  into how this idea can benefit you new dads, moms, and busy, working youngsters.

As I stated previously, this method is not new nor is it all too revolutionary. It is one method among many to lose those stubborn pounds around your chest and midsection that you just can’t tick away no matter how many damn sets you do. or pack on that quality, lean muscle that has eluded you for all these months or even years! Let’s begin with the basics:

Your days of the week are going to be divided into three different diet patterns all based around the manipulation of your carbohydrate intake. They are High, Low, and Moderate or Medium. Dependant upon your body weight, you will consume a certain amount of carbs within each of the three “cycles.”

Now let’s be real here , no one reading this has the time to nitpick each and every gram to “maximize” your fat loss or muscle gain nor does anyone really want to partake in this form of madness (except you anal people out there!  You know who you are). Therefore I am going to make this easy for you.

The theory behind the practice is that by cycling your carbs, you body’s metabolism will not stall as it tends to do during a long fast from carbs (30 days or more), and your body will be better equipped to maintain the muscle it already has because it is being refueled or “refed” every few days or so on those high carb days. Oh, and the most important part, you get to eat however much you like for 1-2 days during the week so your mind doesn’t explode! Let’s begin!

According to the FDA, a person should arbitrarily consume around 2,000 calories per day regardless of age, sex, frame, or weight (Crazy! I know!) but i digress; 1,200 of these calories should, in theory, be obtained from carb sources such as bread, rice, vegetables, and fruits (your body’s primary source of fuel and greedy desire). That is around 300g of carbs as each gram of carb contains 4 calories. So, basically, the FDA recommends that 60% or our daily sustenance be derived from these nasty, fattening carbs that we hear so much about. That is a whole lot and does not leave enough room for protein (which translates roughly to  “in the lead” or “primary” signaling its great importance to organic life) or dietary fats(secret: some fat actually helps you lose weight!). But the other macronutrients are topics for another day.

The reason I bring up the FDA’s version of proper nutrition is to illustrate the exaggerated need for carbs. Don’t misunderstand me, carbs are fantastic for fueling everything from a cloudy mind to tired muscles and there is no substitute for their brand of power, but the sheer amount of carbs recommended by this agency is astronomical and does not reflect the actual energy expenditure that the average American produces. Basically, we don’t need that many carbs because most of our time is spent either in a desk or in front of the television. There are times throughout the day where carb intake is optimal and where the bulk consumption should be taken. But enough introduction; let’s get into the nitty and the gritty of this concept.

Let’s begin with the low or no carb day. You will consume anywhere from 3-6 meals evenly spaced throughout the day, composed primarily of proteins and dietary fats to make up for the reduction in carb intake. Protein sources should be derived primarily from whole food sources such as chicken, tuna, eggs, turkey, milk among other sources, the rest obtained from protein powders and the like. Your dietary fats should come from sources such as nuts and nut butters, healthy oils, and fatty fish such as salmon. Carb intake should be reserved (if at all consumed these two days) for the very early morning and after a good workout when your glycogen, or carb stores, in your muscles are depleted and should be refilled.  These should be composed of whole grains, brown rice, oatmeal, vegetables and the more fibrous of fruits. Now, as I stated earlier, we have busy lives and counting calories is one hell most of us would like to avoid. So skip that part, eat a lot of protein and don’t overdo the fats and you should be well on your way to fitness!

Now that we have the foundation laid out and we know what to eat, let’s discuss the other two sections: the moderate (medium) days and the high carb days. For the moderate day we must maintain our decorum so as to not undo the previous no/low carb cycle and take the carb intake easy. For breakfast you can have your whole grain bagel and your low-fat cream cheese (throw in an egg or two for good measure) and for lunch you can have your nice, juicy piece of chicken and that small hill of brown rice. But eating more carbs means that you need to workout that day. Carbs are a source of energy for the body and should be burned off accordingly or they tend to be stored as fat. After your hard workout (I know you can break a hefty sweat!) you can consume your “white” carbs without too much consequence because your muscles have no sugar left. These include white bread, white rice, and other sugars. You are well on your way now!

The high carb day is fairly self-explanatory, just eat more carbs and burn them off that same day! On one of those days for one or two of those meals, go splurge. Eat whatever you want because you deserve it and your brain needs it. This ensures your adherence to the diet and is the beauty of this plan. You know that in three or four days you are going to tear up that piece of cake or scarf down that juicy fattening burger and it makes eating that plain ol’ chicken today much easier!

So that’s pretty much it. You can schedule your week in several different ways, for example: Mon-Tues: Low/No carb,  Wed/Thurs/Fri: Moderate, Sat/Sun: High. My tip is to schedule whatever works best for you, just make sure you get in the three cycles. You may have lunch meetings with clients on Tuesdays and Wednesday so you may want to have your High carb days then or you need to take out all of your weekly frustrations out on mountains of food during the weekend so you splurge on Sat/Sun. Don’t worry if you slip up a couple of times, that is what keeps us sane. Just make sure you jump right back onto the fit train come the next day. Good Eatings!