Does weight training make you bulky?

As a fitness pro with over 20 years in the business, I have noticed more women wanting to get “strong,” as opposed to strictly having a weight-loss goal.  I think there’s been increased visibility of muscular women in popular culture–people frequently cited Michelle Obama’s “guns” as attractive.  There’s also an increased awareness that being muscular is healthy, and that adding muscle won’t cause you to “bulk up” unless you follow very specific (and potentially unhealthy) nutritional and exercise plans.  Rather than bulky, most people who build muscle through resistance exercise become more “toned” looking.
The best way to put on more muscle is to use resistance exercise.  I tend to favor body weight exercises such as TRX bands, push ups, pull ups, etc.  The best way to make sure you get the results you want is to work with a pro who can monitor your form and technique and push you a little farther out of your comfort zone while making sure that you don’t hurt yourself.
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Should you take supplements?

Dr. Linus Pauling, the two-time Nobel Prize winner, once said “You can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”   If you know me at all, you know that I am a big proponent of nutrition and supplements. So should you take supplements? In my opinion, yes! But you should make sure you know what is really in your supplements before taking them.

As an herbalist and nutritionist for 20 years, I’ve worked in health food stores and I’ve been to supplement manufacturer’s businesses, and I can tell you for certain that some supplements are better than others.  All supplement manufacturers have to follow the USP–the United State Pharmacopoeia law. That law says if you can produce something in a laboratory that looks like nature, you can call it natural, no matter what it’s made of–including petroleum, sawdust, or coal.  With that in mind, you can buy supplements from Wal Mart, Family Dollar, Drugstores, and convenience stores. I would say 99% of those supplements will be ineffective or could be toxic, even if they are USP-compliant. What I recommend when you take a supplement is to make sure it’s an organic, food-based supplement with veggie caps or tablets.  Other capsules are made from gelatin, which is a byproduct from factory-farmed animals that can no longer be used for food.

Our body needs 17 vitamins, 106 minerals and Omega acids 3, 6, and 9.  In order for mineral supplements to be effective, the mineral can’t be in the supplement in isolation.  For example, you might see just calcium on the label, but a good food-based supplement will contain some whole-food ingredients or herbs that also contain minerals that aid in the absorption of the main ingredient, whereas lower-quality supplements may just contain an isolated mineral compound plus tablet fillers.

If you’re interested in high-quality supplements, some brands that I use and recommend are Mega Food, Garden of Life, Dr. Christopher, Dr. Mercola, and Dr. Richard Schultz.  If you need any kind of advice about supplements or nutrition, feel free to reach out! If you found this information helpful, please share it!


Jeff Miller is a fitness trainer and corrective exercise specialist with 20 years of experience in health and fitness as an herbalist and coach. He is owner Function Fitness ( and provides in home service.  He can be reached at 518-281-3772.


How to treat and prevent shin splints


I was recently asked about the best ways to prevent and treat shin splints.  Here are some of my top tips for shin splints:

  • Shin splints is a muscle imbalance. When you walk forward, you’re pushing off with your calf muscle.  The other side is where you get shin splints. So, to prevent shin splints, you should walk backwards, sideways, do ankle circles and hip circles.
  • Some stretches to relieve shin splints are: walk on a tennis ball to stretch the bottom of your foot.
  • You can also do a traditional calf stretch: Put both hands on the wall, feet together, then step back 2-3 feet with one leg, keeping both heels down.  Another calf stretch you can do is this: Bring the same foot you used to step back toward the wall by one foot and bend that leg at the knee, keeping heels down.  Repeat on both sides.
  • Treatments to reduce pain include: epsom salt baths, foam roller, peppermint oil, inversion table, infrared heat, cold laser.
  • Preventative treatments: walk backwards and sideways
  • Apply externally: arnica
  • Internally: turmeric


Shin splints are a pain, literally.  Hopefully these tips will help you treat and prevent them.

Top 20 Fitness Trends 2019

2018 is coming to a close, and 2019 is almost here.  With that in mind, I’ve been doing some forward-looking research on how to bring the latest fitness trends to my clients.  

For a lot of people, “trend” is a dirty word.  I think those people associate that word with “fads.”  I think there’s a difference between a trend and a fad, but I think it takes some research to figure out which is which.  A fad is a flash in the pan–in one day and out the next–whereas a trend is a guidepost on the way to the next evolution of a style, business, or science.

A group of researchers with the American College of Sports Medicine came up with a list of the top 20 fitness trends for 2019.  This is one of the best analyses out there of the direction that fitness is moving. Here is the list:

  1. Wearable technology
  2. Group training
  3. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  4. Fitness programs for older adults.
  5. Bodyweight training
  6. Employing certified fitness professionals
  7. Yoga
  8. Personal training
  9. Functional fitness training
  10. Exercise is medicine
  11. Health and wellness Coaching
  12. Exercise for weight loss
  13. Mobile exercise apps
  14. Mobility/Myofascial devices
  15. Worksite health promotion and workplace well-being programs
  16. Outcome measurements
  17. Outdoor activities
  18. Licensure for fitness professionals
  19. Small group personal training
  20. Post-rehabilitation classes


I would add my own number 21 to this list: Pre-habilitation training.  What’s that? It’s exercise designed to minimize the negative impact of a traumatic procedure like surgery.  Elite athletes have access to this type of training in order to reduce recovery times, but it should be available to all, since it can improve outcomes for many procedures.

I hope you enjoy your new year!  I think it’s going to be my best yet.


Jeff Miller is a fitness trainer and corrective exercise specialist with 20 years of experience in health and fitness as an herbalist and coach. He is owner Function Fitness ( and provides in home service.  He can be reached at 518-281-3772.


Learning about healthy aging

Many of you know that I am passionate about keeping current with my training in health and fitness. Last Monday I attended a course that focused on working with older people to improve their strength and mobility. We learned that while we age, our bodies become more limited than they were before, but we can work within these limits to retain a greater degree of vitality, health, and happiness than we thought possible before. If you are of an age where you can feel your body’s new limits, you should take some comfort in the knowledge that fitness and healthcare professionals know more than ever about how to retain as much vitality as possible for as long as possible.
I attended this workshop with 30 to 40 other health and fitness pros, and we learned a lot about the normal process of aging, but we also took some deep dives into conditions and diseases common to older adults, like Parkinson’s, Osteoporosis, and COPD. One thing all of these disorders have in common? Exercise is one of the best treatments. We adapt what exercise looks like based on the abilities and conditions of the individual–using resistance bands instead of weights, taking precautions to prevent falls, etc.
Everyone knows that the life of the mind is important to happiness and meaning in life, but many people forget–until they face physical limitations–that the life of the body is just as important. That’s why it’s critical to move our bodies and keep them strong and healthy–it expands our limits and keeps us living our “life of the body” as long as we can.

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Natural Treatments for Pain and Inflammation

I was recently asked about my favorite equipment to reduce pain and inflammation naturally. There are a lot of ways to treat and prevent these common causes of poor health, so here’s a brief rundown of the newest holistic technologies.

Some of my favorites are cold laser, infrared sauna, and PEMF, or Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy.

PEMF is a technique that creates resonating electromagnetic force fields that can act on the body’s cells to promote healing and pain relief. They’ve been shown to help fuse broken bones back together, and to reduce pain, swelling and fluid buildup for post-surgery damage.
They work by increasing the production of nitric oxide in the affected area. This increases blood flow and reduces inflammation. These effect combine to promote healing much faster than the body can do on its own.
PEMF is not known to have any side effects at all. Your doctor may not know about PEMF, since it’s not a required part of medical school curriculums. Doctors are often skeptical of “magnetic medicine” because it’s often associated with quackery, but several PEMF devices are FDA approved to treat post-operative pain and help heal broken bones. PEMF may also help with day-to-day pain like arthritis, low back pain, and chronic joint pain. In Canada, there is an over the counter device approved to treat exactly those issues.
Cold Laser is another directed-energy treatment that stimulates blood flow in pain hotspots. The lasers used have some wavelengths in them that actually penetrate the skin and create heat and stimulation in muscles and joints that have pain issues.
Infrared saunas are a heat treatment like regular saunas, but they use directed infrared light to help promote healing and detoxification.
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How to breathe

Many people don’t know that deep breathing from the diaphragm is important to their overall health and stress reduction.

Babies breathe from their diaphragm, and one way that we can restore strength and balance is to perform actions that bring us back to our developmental roots. Infants integrate their bodies with the environment through basic motions that can help us understand our nervous system.

Most adults have adopted an unhealthy way of breathing mostly by expanding their rib cages. This method of breathing is actually your body’s “emergency” breathing system. Because rib cage breathing is related to the fight-or-flight response, doing it can actually activate your body’s stress response system, which is very unhealthy in the long run. Why do people breathe this way? One reason is that it allows you to suck in your stomach in order to appear more in shape than you really are.

By re-training yourself to breathe from your diaphragm–to breathe more from your belly than your chest–you can reduce the stress response associated with chest breathing and help rekindle the core connection with breathing and coordination that you developed as a baby.

A simple and effective starting point for training would be to lay on the floor with your knees bent, elbows at a right angle, hands beside your head on the floor. Exhale through your mouth while sliding your hands overhead, then inhale and slide your hands back down to their starting point. Repeat 5 times.

To make sure you’re breathing through your diaphragm, try putting a small weight (like a beanbag or paperweight) on your stomach, and feel your stomach expand when you inhale and shrink when you exhale. The weight should provide you with good feedback by making you more aware of your stomach. A variation on the first exercise would be: either standing or laying on your back, knees bent–breathe through your nose, rest your right hand in your lap or over your head on the floor, and hold on to the balloon with your left hand. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to blow up the balloon.

These easy exercises will help re-train your body to breathe from its center, the diaphragm.
We take up to 21,000 breaths a day, or about 8 million over the course of a year. When you do something that often, you want to get good at it.

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Should you take a calcium supplement?

I was recently asked about whether calcium and vitamin D supplements are helpful for bone health. What I like to say about supplements in general is this: They’re called supplements, not substitutes. Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet. More calcium will not necessarily help if you’re not getting the other nutrients necessary to make use of it. It will also not help very much if you’re consuming other things in your diet that actually hurt bone health.
I’ll give you an example of why, in my opinion, calcium is not as important for bone health as most people imagine. Americans eat much more calcium-rich dairy food like cheese and milk than most other countries, but we also have some of the highest incidence of bone disease in the world. People in Singapore, on the other hand, don’t eat very much dairy at all and eat a mostly plant-based diet, but they have a very low incidence of bone disease. How can that be?
One reason is that plants have plenty of minerals like calcium, so if you eat enough vegetables, you don’t necessarily need lots of dairy or calcium supplementation. Another reason is that in the U.S., we often eat an acidic diet. Our body likes to be at a neutral pH of 7, but when we consume something like a soda with a pH of 4, our digestive system needs to draw minerals out of our bodies to neutralize that acidity. Our bones are a “low-priority tissue” as far as our body is concerned, and they contain lots of minerals, so the body will leach those minerals from the bones to buffer the acid we’ve consumed.
So if calcium supplementation isn’t a magic bullet for bone health, what do you do? The best stuff for your bones is dark green vegetables, like kale and broccoli. These veggies have lots of calcium, and unlike supplements, they are whole foods, which means that they have everything your body needs to absorb and use the natural calcium in them.
If you take supplements, I recommend whole-food supplements like Spirulina. Drink plenty of water to help your body maintain its natural pH and replenish minerals–remember your bones are mostly water, too!
Another great way to strengthen your bones? Go for a walk! Any weight-bearing exercise is great for your bone strength.
So, should you take supplements? Maybe. But you should definitely eat plenty of green leafy veggies, and cut back or eliminate the soda!
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Rake in the benefits of physical exercise!

Summer is truly over, and fall has begun! A lot of people like to get in their outdoor activity to the times of year when it’s very warm and sunny outside, but I like to take lots of walks as the leaves fall and the air becomes crisp. There’s something that feels especially good about getting your muscles warm when there’s a little chill in the air.
One good (and unavoidable for many) way that many people get exercise in the fall is by raking leaves. For those of you lucky enough to have a yard full of trees, it’s a nice way to accomplish something while experiencing the season and getting some physical activity.
If you want to maximize the fitness benefits of raking for your body, make sure that you stretch the muscles in your body that are tight before and after raking. Also, people tend to rake while facing only one direction, depending upon the dominant side of their body. If you can, make sure that you swap sides from time to time while raking. Muscle imbalances can cause injury in the long run.
If you work a muscle on one side of a joint, but allow the muscle on the opposite side of that joint to weaken, the stronger muscle will pull the joint into a dysfunctional position, and the weaker muscle will allow it to be pulled. Take the time to prevent that by raking with both sides of your body.
Another unexpected way to prevent injury in day to day activities is to get plenty of sleep. Basic fatigue can cause you to alter your movement patterns in ways that promote injury.
Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water even if it’s a little chilly out. You still need it, and physical activity still increases the amount you need. Eat high quality food, and skip the Halloween candy!
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Sugar is the new fat!

I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to be healthier. It’s my job and my passion. I’m constantly looking for the latest research on health and nutrition. Lately, I’ve had something sweet on my mind: sugar!
We’ve spent so much time thinking about fat for the past few decades that research on sugar has only recently caught up. Let me tell you, the results are not good. It turns out that added sugar can be toxic to your liver like alcohol, and it contributes to a set of symptoms called “metabolic syndrome”, which can damage your organs, ruin your mood, contribute to diabetes, and even cause weight gain without consuming extra calories.
It’s a commonly held belief, even among scientists and doctors, that a calorie is a calorie and in terms of weight loss, calories in minus calories out equals gaining or losing weight. However, In a recent documentary called “That Sugar Film”, Damon Garneau was able to gain weight without changing his calorie intake or activity level, because the excess sugar he was consuming caused changes in his body that led to more fat storage.
Over time, consuming too much sugar can damage the liver and pancreas. These organs both help regulate blood sugar, and if they are overwhelmed, they trigger your body to store blood sugar as fat, usually around the waist.
The good news is that sugar in its natural state–in fruits and vegetables–comes packaged with fiber, which slows down our body’s absorption of sugars and reduces their impact on the pancreas and liver, which are the organs most affected by over-consuming sugar. This does not apply to other natural sources of sugar, like honey, maple syrup, and fruit juice. These concentrated forms of sugar, even though they are natural, act on the body more like processed sugar, since they are not incorporated in whole foods with fiber and other nutrients.
Just because sugar is bad, doesn’t mean you should jump on the “sugar free” bandwagon either. Most products that advertise this use artificial sweeteners instead. There is some evidence that specific artificial sweeteners have toxic effects or are carcinogenic. In general, there is also evidence that eating artificial sweetener causes your body to crave sugar and make up for lost calories elsewhere. Be careful with the Splenda.
Fat has a lot of calories in it, so it’s gotten a bad rap over the years. But now we know that WHERE you get your calories matters, and the worst place to get calories is concentrated sugar. It hides in all kinds of food, and companies use over 61 different names for it on ingredient labels: high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, sucrose, glucose, dextrose–the list goes on and on. It’s a lot to pay attention to, but your health is worth it.

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