Nursing students get a lesson in practical fitness

August 11, 2012

Last week I was invited to speak to a group of nursing students at Delaware Technical Community College to help share information about the practical side of fitness. They plan to specialize in clinical medicine. It was a great experience, and I received many letters with sensible questions after my visit. Here is just a sample of some of the topics discussed, as I think they are valuable to anyone interested in getting in shape.

Q: How would you advise me, as a future healthcare employee, on the best way to approach patients about incorporating exercise into their life without putting them on the defensive?

A: I personally believe the best way to influence your patients to exercise and eat healthy is to lead by example. Nothing you can say or do will make a greater impact on people than being a fitness role model. After all, if we are to work in the health industry, doesn’t it make sense to present ourselves in a healthy manner? Nothing is worse than telling others to do things that we don’t do ourselves. If you take the time to work out, eat a proper diet and take care of yourself, you will influence people without even saying a word, and when you discuss the benefits of exercise with patients, they will be much more likely to follow your instructions.

Q: Why should weightlifting be done before a cardio workout? I would think that by the time you were done weightlifting, your muscles would be so tired that cardio would be more difficult.

A: The most effective scientifically proven way to burn fat and get in shape is to lift weights. This is primarily due to the fact that weight training helps improve your body composition by increasing lean muscle mass, and the more muscle you have on your frame, the more fat you will burn. It’s also because weight training causes your body to go through several physical changes to recover from workouts. These changes force your body to burn more calories and elevate your metabolism even on days you don’t work out. Cardio is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, but it makes more sense to do weight training first because it gives you better results.

Q: I have read a number of articles on cooking with vegetable oil (though much lower in fat) being a poor decision. If I want to cook some pan-simmered chicken or some homemade sweet potato fries what is the best oil that I can use without killing my budget (see almond oil)?

A: Over the years, the American public has become very confused about the pros and cons of ingesting fat. Food manufacturers and crash diet advocates would have you believe that all fat is bad for you, and it should be eliminated from your diet. What they fail to explain is that there is good fat that is essential to the health and proper function of the body. Good examples of cooking oils that fall into this category are olive oil, almond oil and canola oil. All of these oils are rich in monounsaturated fat that helps boost healthy cholesterol - HDL and reduce unhealthy cholesterol - LDL. Recent research suggests that the best healthy oils available today are extra-virgin olive oils because they contain no chemicals and are loaded with antioxidants.

Q: How should a person who has 2-3 herniated disks in his lower back go about exercising? As a professional, and having had back injuries yourself, what would you recommend?

A: All back injuries should be diagnosed by a doctor, who may send the patient to a physical therapist, but after that it’s important to hit the gym and continue to keep the affected area strong and mobile. For me, it was a matter of changing my workout philosophy to a more balanced approach. I stopped powerlifting; I dropped a lot of excess weight, reduced my body fat and began strengthening all parts of my body with a special emphasis on my core muscles - abdominals, spinal erectors and hips. Too many young guys spend the majority of their time working the mirror muscles - chest, biceps and shoulders - and will be future candidates for back and shoulder surgeries because they become so unbalanced they end up getting hurt. It makes much more sense to train correctly and work all parts of the body to ensure balance and prevent injuries.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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