From strength training to metabolism, Chris Hasfal, General Manager of The Manhattan Athletic Club/Brooklyn and all-around fitness extraordinaire knows all the moves when it comes to physical fitness. Upon meeting him and hearing him articulate and inspire, picking his brain on physical training and healthy habits seemed like our obvious move.
“Strength training, period, is the answer – whether using bars, small dumbbells or body weight.” -Chris Hasfal
BN: For people who may do too much of one activity – like time at the computer, running, yoga – what training would you suggest they add to their week?
CH: Hands down, progressive resistance training is the lynchpin of a more well-rounded exercise program for any of these people. Strength training, period, is the answer – whether using bars, small dumbbells or body weight. For example, squat with a medicine ball, and over time increase the weight from 5 to 20 pounds. Or do walking lunges, increasing hand weights from 4 to 10 pounds as the exercise gets easier.
As for someone who only does, for example, yoga or Pilates – while they can become very good at those activities, they may have a problem when it becomes evident their muscles and bones are strongest for yoga or Pilates practices, because they can go on to experience injury during different physical activity. Bone health can also be undermined with yoga- and Pilates-only practitioners.
You should always supplement your main sport with something different. For example, if you only practice yoga, you might add biking or swimming.
Anaerobic (strength-based) training is good for your heart. Without a healthy heart – a most important muscle and as vital as our brain – you are nowhere.
“We work your core and all major muscles of the body. It’s true manual labor. Your body learns by doing.” -Chris Hasfal
BN: What top two muscle groups would you suggest someone train first?
CH.: Legs (including the glutes) and the back are the largest muscle groups of the body, and the two I’d start with.
And generally speaking, large-muscle groups should be worked on before small ones. The order matters – if you fatigue a small-muscle group early in your workout, larger muscles can’t sustain as much work afterwards.
“Anaerobic (strength-based) training is good for your heart. Without a healthy heart you are nowhere.” -Chris Hasfal
BN: What is the worst way to lose weight?
CH: I’ve seen several harmful examples of weight-loss choices, from pills and starvation diets to excessive endurance training
One of the worst ways I’ve seen people try to lose weight is when they start taking diet pills – diet pills can cause a myriad of issues, like increased heart rate or blood pressure, insomnia, lightheadedness, excessive thirst, headache, or liver damage.
Another harmful behavior I see is in people not eating. Paring their meals down to one or two a day. This is a disaster. Your body will sense abuse, and your metabolism will be destroyed. If your body thinks it’s starving, it will cannibalize muscle for its energy needs and hold onto fat. In severe caloric restriction, your body loses water weight and muscle, so you start to lose energy and feel worse and worse. Your metabolism and bone health suffers. And if your starvation diet includes low-protein intake, muscle loss happens even faster.
The safest way to diet to lose weight is periodically, and to limit any caloric restriction by no more than 20% in order not to lose muscle: you should eat about 80% the daily energy you burn; eating 70% or less will send your metabolism into a tailspin.
Sometimes I see people come in and focus only on long-and-hard cardio-aerobic work to lose weight. Excessive cardio can quickly lead to overtraining, which will cause you to lose more muscle than body fat. When you lose muscle, your metabolism slows down.
I have found that one of the best and fastest ways to lose weight is through doing shorter higher intensity interval training (HIIT) – about 20 to 40 minutes of a sport, or walking on stairs, or treadmill, combined with periods of rest. This type of training improves the heart’s performance, can enhance muscle mass, improves bone density and influences endorphin release so you feel better during – and long after your last exercise. With periods of rest, your body is allowed to recover.
BN: Why is a healthy metabolism so valuable?
CH: Metabolism is your body’s way of balancing its reaction to foods. In the process, four essential nutrients are garnered from the foods we eat – proteins, carbs, fats and nucleic acids (the stuff of DNA) – build up (anabolism – repair) and break down (catabolism – usually for energy needs).
Our metabolism kicks off by breaking these nutrients into their component parts – the smaller structures that make the bigger ones. The result of this first digestive step is: amino acids, fatty acids, glucose, and nucleotides.
The requirements of life boil down to your body’s ability to use the four essential nutrients (or, as biochemists call them, macromolecules).
Some of Hasfal’s top superfoods: honey, blueberries, kale, and wild salmon.
BN: What are your top superfoods and healthy-choice grocery picks?
CH: While I’m not a nutritionist, I know basic nutrition. There are around 50 or more superfoods. My top superfoods are honey for natural sugars and anti-inflammatory effects, blueberries for antioxidant properties and dietary fiber, kale which is also rich in fiber along with Vitamins A, C and K, and wild salmon, one of the best sources of Omega-3 oils, and a great protein source.
BN: Aside from cost, what are some differences and benefits of working with a personal trainer, training in groups, and boot camps?
CH: All three have their benefits with time and cost incentives. Personal training involves one-on-one detailed workouts. Great trainers are excellent at the art and the science of physical training. Your trainer should have a three-month plan, ideally working out with you three times per week.
Here at MAC Gym Brooklyn, all group fitness classes will challenge your core, and all major muscles groups of the body. We have about six people per group. Workouts are also detailed, but a little more generic for the group, and you pay less for it. The great part is you have peers to motivate you.
“I will have you run a mile, do sled pushing, battling ropes and total body drills.” -Chris Hasfal
ChrisFiT BootCamp class is “endurance challenge” circuit training at its finest, with exercise groupings that include sled pushing, half-mile runs, kettlebell swings, battling ropes, monkey bar challenges, and the dreaded Burpees.
We work your core and all major muscles of the body. It’s true manual labor. Your body learns by doing.
BN: Any parting thoughts about posture?
CH: You need at least 30 minutes of corrective exercise to counter one hour of bad posture. After sitting poorly for more than two hours, add another 15 minutes to combat tight hips, and 10 minutes for mobility training. It will take a while – it depends your effort – six months or even longer with those time parameters being adhered to.
Good posture determines your good mood and energy.
“You need at least 30 minutes of corrective exercise to counter one hour of bad posture.” -Chris Hasfal
Chris Hasfal is Director, General Manager, and Head Strength Conditioning Coach of MAC/Brooklyn where you can Just Bring Yourself (no gym bag required), and is certified in strength and conditioning, exercise, Olympic lifting, and CPR. When not wearing his operations hat, you will find him reading the New England Journal of Medicine, training for a race, or leading his Monday and Wednesday 6:00 AM ChrisFiT BootCamp.
“It’s important to know your limits . . . but moderation keeps you moderate. You have to go the extra mile to get to excellence.” -Chris Hasfal, Director, General Manager, and Head Strength Conditioning Coach of MAC/Brooklyn.
Disclaimer: It may seem as though you are getting stronger just by talking to Chris, but you still have to put in the work.