How to Gain and Maintain Motivation to Exercise

Joshua Tree Rock Climbing at SunsetWhen it comes to exercise, psychology is immeasurably important. Motivation is the “it” factor in physical fitness. Your level of motivation will determine if, when, how, and why you exercise. Your source of motivation will also influence how hastily you quit, how doggedly you persist, and how you generally view physical activity. Lack of motivation will drag you down, cause inconsistency, and ultimately discourage your athletic pursuits.

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation

Self-determination theory posits that motivation can be subdivided into two categories:  First, there’s intrinsic motivation, the impulse arising from pure enjoyment or pleasure.  Second, there’s extrinsic motivation, which is based on obtaining some specific result. A person can be influenced by both kinds of motivation simultaneously, or can be pulled more by one than the other. Those who are constantly focused on established goals such as getting a chiseled look, a smaller waist, an impressive time, and so on are more extrinsically motivated, and are thus more likely to abandon exercise when the outcome is achieved. Those who derive pleasure from physical activity itself are more intrinsically motivated, and stand a better chance at developing fitness habits that will last a lifetime.

Increasing Your Motivation

To stay motivated, do some introspection and bolster your motivation. Develop dissatisfaction with negative thinking and superficial goal setting. Brainstorm ideas that will further your commitment to and enjoyment of healthy living. Here are some ideas for strengthening your intrinsic desire to exercise!

  • Make Exercise Enjoyable. As was discussed above, much is made over the end result of exercise, but fitness is more than a result. It’s an experience. Exercise will ultimately bring physical change in the future, but it can also be internally therapeutic in the present. So, craft a routine around fitness activities you enjoy. If you despise a particular exercise, replace it with one you like. Don’t spend every morning on the exercise bike if you have an affinity for swimming. If you like free weights, don’t spend your gym session on machines. Overall, incorporate what you love into your daily routine.
  • Love Your Workout Exercise Environment. You will find exercise much more enjoyable in a pleasant environment. If you are stagnating in a dank garage or basement and the sun is shining outside, take your workout outside. If you detest a treadmill, find a local track and walk outside. If you love the indoors, don’t force yourself to stay outside. Consider joining a local gym. Ultimately, find a fresh, airy, cool place to exercise and be open to switching it up periodically.
  • Modify Your Routine. It’s basically axiomatic to say that “variety is the spice of life.” Applied to exercise, this adage can make your routine more interesting and beneficial. Deviate from customary routine, and try something new. If you love the outdoors, take a day hike, try trail-running, train for a 5k, or go mountain biking. If you like resistance training, experiment with supersets, burnouts, and other methods that lend variety to your routine. 

The forced and regimented nature of “staying in shape” causes many of us to cringe at words like “exercise” or “working-out.”  Regain the enjoyment that came from staying active when you were a kid by making exercise a form of play.  If you love it, you’ll keep doing it.   

Sources: Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-08-16 15:06:13.

Is a Warm-Up Important?

Is a warm-up importantIf you routinely jump into workouts without preparing your body with a warm-up, you may want to reformat your routine. While a warm-up may seem like a waste of time, it will actually help you maximize the benefits of your workout.  

The most common problems with many “warm-ups” is that they’re either poorly designed, unchallenging, or mundane. If the prep-work doesn’t feel demanding or beneficial, it makes sense that it would be the first part of an exercise routine to be scratched. Yet, an inadequate warm-up, or no warm-up at all, will leave the body cold and thus in a more vulnerable and unprepared state.

A successful warm-up, one that actually fulfills its function of preparing and priming the body for  intense activity, is supremely important. If some of the prevailing warm-up mistakes have influenced your workout itinerary, read on. 

Reasons a Proper Warm-Up is Indispensable:

  • Increases Body Temperature — A properly performed warm-up will actually increase the temperature of the blood. The warmed blood is then sent to the muscles, increasing their warmth and dilation. Warm muscles are able to perform with higher levels of intensity and efficiency, making them stronger, more flexible, and less prone to injury. Thus, muscle function, performance and strength are enhanced dramatically by a warm-up.
  • Bolsters Mental Engagement and Focus — A warm-up provide the perfect opportunity to prepare your mind for the upcoming workout session. Once you’ve set aside the distractions of the days, you’ll be able to fully engage the present activity and optimize your workout.  
  • Increases Communication Between Nerves — During a warm-up the nervous system is awakened and attuned, syncing your body systems and encouraging muscle movement and strength.
  • Loosens Muscles and Joints — Getting your muscles moving before you exert maximum effort will increase your range of movement and diminishing your chances of injury.

Components of a Good Warm-up

How do you know if a warm-up is getting the job done? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it challenging? Your warm-up should involve a degree of physiological intensity that is not far removed from your actual routine. You effort level will be  lower than during your actual session but enough to get your body moving and working. A good rule of thumb is to check your sweat. If you are perspiring, your body temperature has increased.
  • Is it general? Before delving into a full-fledged session, your overall body system should be ready, and the specific muscles you will be targeting should be prepared. Even if you only plan to engage a smaller muscle group, a warm-up that engages your entire body will help prevent unnecessary strain and injury.
  • Is it individualized? The intensity of a warm-up should be customized to your overall fitness level. If you’ve had a predominantly sedentary lifestyle and are just beginning a fitness routine, your warm-up won’t be as intense as someone who has been exercising for decades.  Don’t compare yourself to others, just do what you need to do to work-up a sweat! 

Suggested Warm-Up Activities: Stationary bike or cycling, elliptical machine or treadmill, body-weight squats, rowing machine

Reference: NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-08-12 11:55:13.

Muscle Adaptation and Plateaus: Why Changing Your Workout is Important

overcoming weight lifting strength building plateaus strategiesIf you find yourself stuck in the same routine, losing interest in exercise, and experiencing mediocre training outcomes, consider changing your workout program. Perhaps you religiously perform the same exercise for the same number of sets on the same day, week in and week out.  Maybe you want to increase your muscle endurance, and so you limit yourself to repetitions above twelve. As a creature of habit, you may be enslaved to the sameness, and believe that even minor changes in your regimen will hinder your progress. Whatever the case, it is crucial to understand that more of the same is not always better, and monotony can keep you from making any progress at all. 

The Body’s Response to Exercise

Exercise induces changes in the human body. When you perform resistance exercise, body systems compensate accordingly by changing structurally and functionally.  For example, if you perform incline bench at 135 pounds for 3 sets and 10 repetitions, your pectoral muscles adapt by creating muscle fibers in your upper chest and repairing those already existing.  

New exercises place very specific demands on muscles, forcing them to adapt and compensate.  Changes accelerate when new movements are performed but slow down as muscles adjust. For instance, a routine of three sets of incline bench every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday may bring impressive changes at first, but months without variation will stunt muscle development and growth. Periodic modifications are necessary for muscles to be exposed to new challenges.

Prolonged periods of sameness in one’s exercise program can lead to overtraining, disinterest, and fatigue. As your body changes to adapt to your workout, modify your workout to keep your body challenged.

Ideas for Varying Your Workout

Change should be a constant in your exercise program. Basic movements such as the bench press and squat should always be pillars of your routine, but your body responds most when it is challenged. Here are some ideas for switching things up:

  • Incorporate new exercises into your routine. Keep the basic movements, such as bench press, squats, and pull-ups, as staples. But if you are limiting yourself to one exercise per muscle group, try adding another exercise to your routine. If you exclusively do barbell flat bench for your chest muscle group, try incline bench, decline bench, flat flys, incline flys, or cable crossovers. If you enjoy working your core with set after set of orthodox sit-ups, consider adding planks, crunches, or twists to your regimen. For legs, incorporate back and front squats, leg extensions, forward lunges, and leg curls. Keep the fundamentals, but add one or two other exercises.
  • Add weight to challenge your muscles. This is typically called the principle of overload.* Increasing the weight you lift augments the intensity of your workout, amplifying the stress placed on the muscle. If you have been doing 3 sets of 8 on the flat bench with 135 pounds, try doing the same number of sets and repetitions with 145 pounds.
  • Try supersets. Alternate sets from two exercises from differing muscle groups, and eliminate the rest period between sets. An example would be to do a set of pushups, immediately followed by pull-ups, followed by pushups, and so on.

*Earle, Roger and Baechle, Thomas. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training. 2004.

Originally posted 2013-08-06 16:47:48.

Advantages of Training to Muscle Failure

DSC_1092Change and challenge should be pillars of your workout routine. One way to challenge your body is to present it with techniques that go beyond your standard level of comfort, forcing you to expend more effort and your muscles to exert more force than they are accustomed to.   Promoting intensity in this way can stimulate change and adaptation in your body, increasing your levels of muscular and cardiovascular endurance and strength.

Training to muscle failure is one technique that, sparingly used, can bring a challenge to your body. If overused, training to failure can lead to overtraining and fatigue, so it should be used cautiously, infrequently, and with the approval of a doctor. With that said, training to failure can be a catalyst for bolstering your fitness program and reaching new levels of athleticism.

What is “Muscle Failure?”
Muscle failure is a point of exhaustion in a body system, so that a muscle can no longer perform an exercise with appropriate form. Perhaps you have performed eight pull-ups, and you feel that a ninth would not be possible. You go for it, and find that you can successfully pull your body up. You then try to muster the strength for another repetition. On this tenth attempt, your muscles succumb to fatigue about halfway up. They are unable to pull anymore. You might be able to get your body up with sloppy technique, but to do this would tempt injury. You have just experienced muscle failure. Its comes after a number of repetitions are performed continuously without predetermined limitations, until the targeted muscle group is taxed and can no longer execute the movement without sacrificing proper form.

Pushing yourself to muscle failure is not easy or pleasant, because it inevitably brings a degree of temporary discomfort and pain. A focused mind and a mentally tough attitude are necessary. However, exposing your muscles to this kind of challenge can be beneficial. Working a muscle group to complete exhaustion stresses that muscle group to its maximum, and thus brings about an optimal level of growth and development. Simply put, subjecting muscles to at least some discomfort is necessary to bring about optimal results.

Suggestions for Using Muscle Failure in Your Routine
There are a number of ways to incorporate muscle failure into your workout. Here are a few examples of what this might look like:

  • Try to go to failure on your last set of a given exercise. For example, it you have performed 3 sets of 25 sit-ups, attempt as many repetitions as you can safely perform on your 4th set.
  • Lessen the amount of weight you use. If you performed 2 sets of 8 Lat pull-downs at 135 pounds, decrease the weight by 20 pounds and go to failure.
  • Choose only one exercise per session to apply this method. If your chest workout consists of flat bench, incline bench, and cable crossovers, use this method on the last set of crossovers.
  • Avoid this method on exercises where you are in a prone position unless you have a spotter. Examples of this would include any type of bench press or squatting exercise.

Related Products: XMark Olympic Weight Bench System, Body Solid Olympic Plates

References: NSCA’s Essentials of Personal TrainingJournal of Exercise Physiology Online 

Originally posted 2013-08-05 12:49:44.

Movements That Build Muscle: The Deadlift

Does the Deadlift Build Muscle?

Exercise enthusiasts may pose the question, “does the deadlift build muscle?” The short answer is yes, and to a noteworthy degree. The deadlift, properly executed, offers a full body workout that is not duplicated by other movements. Muscle fiber recruitment is staggeringly high in this basic lift, as a variety of muscle groups are engaged in the fundamental task of lifting an inert bar off of the ground.  From a biomechanical standpoint, this makes the movement complex, increasing the difficulty of the lift and making the necessity for proper technique especially important. To further understand how the movement builds muscle, consider some facts related to the deadlift.

Augmented Hormone Production

Movements that involve larger muscle groups at high weight and maximal intensity facilitate the secretion of hormones, most notably, testosterone. Increases in testosterone increase neurological efficiency and functionality, thereby increasing muscle size and strength.[1]

Increased Muscle Fiber Recruitment

As a basic, heavy movement, the deadlift requires greater force production from a larger number of muscle groups than most other exercises. As force is created, muscles recruit additional motor units to meet the challenge of extra weight.

Primary Muscles Exerted

  • Back Extensors – The upward and downward portions of the deadlift employ the back extensors. As the bar is lifted from the ground to the knee, the back extensors contract concentrically. The lowering movement (knee to ground) causes the extensors to extend eccentrically.  Studies have conclusively demonstrated that the deadlift engages the extensor muscles to a greater degree than similar exercises intended to work the same muscles.[2]
  • Abdominal and Trunk Stabilizers – Since the deadlift is a free-weight exercise with some imbalance, a number of stabilizer muscles are used to steady the weight. Since the body is in a prone position and must counteract the imbalance, considerable effort must be given to controlling the bar during the motion.[3]

Biomechanics

The deadlift, while tremendously efficacious, can be extremely dangerous with improper form. Great care should be given to spinal posture, foot placement, chest position, and bar path and proximity to the body.

  • Spinal Posture – Flexed trunk muscles galvanize the back to lift the weight. Excessive leaning can place significant strain on the lower back, increasing the potentiality for injury. The torso should not parallel the ground, but should be angled upward to diminish strain on the lower back. The torso’s posture should be inflexible and taut to support the vertebrae.
  • Foot Placement – The feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and pointed slightly outward. This will allow the knees to bend and lengthen throughout the movement without excessive strain.
  • Chest Position – The chest should be pushed out, thus allowing the back to remain in a straightened position.
  • Bar Path and Proximity to the Body – As the bar is lifted, keeping the bar in close proximity to the body allows the torso to remain taut without rounding the lower back.

[1] Hales. Improving the Deadlift: Understanding Biomechanical Constraints and Physiological Adaptations to Resistance Exercise.

[2] Nuzzo; McCaulley; Cormie; Cavill; McBride. Trunk Muscle Activity During Stability Ball And Free Weight Exercises.

[3] Hamlyn; Behm; Young. Trunk Muscle Activation During Dynamic Weight-Training Exercises and Isometric Instability Activities

Originally posted 2014-01-06 17:19:14.

Activities You Should Try: Trail Running

activities-you-should-try-trail-running

If you are weary of the stuffiness and stagnation of indoor running and the inflexible discomfort of hard pavement, you might consider trail running. As a unique and memorable exercise experience, trail running affords you an exhilarating and therapeutic outlet, allowing you to view scenery, inhale fresh air, and reconnect with creation. Consider the following benefits of trail running:

Physical Benefits

Trail running challenges both the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems in unique ways. Trail surfaces are riddled with rocks and depressions, making vigilance and precision a necessity, and enhancing coordination and agility. Muscles rarely utilized must adjust to the trail, working to stabilize the body against rough landings. The body compensates for uneven surfaces by running on the balls of the feet, rather than the heel, protecting the body from unnecessary jarring.

Also of benefit are the continuous ups and downs of the trail, allowing for intermittent phases of exertion and recovery. One’s cardiovascular system is employed to a significant degree on the uphill portions of the trail, with recovery following during the downhill portion. Muscles are worked in different but equally beneficial ways. Downhill gradients work muscles eccentrically, or extend them to anticipate the shock of the landing. This does cause some immediate tearing and muscle damage, but torn muscles will ultimately be stronger upon a full recovery. Uphill portions work the muscles of the legs in a concentric manner, or contract them to create force for movement.

Psychological Benefits

Urbanization and technology have revolutionized our thinking and way of life to a disturbing degree, so why not take the opportunity to “get away from it all.” Mountain trails teem with natural life, and offer a combination of solitude and atmosphere that is noticeably dissimilar to the pressure and hubbub of urban environments. Trail running not only gives the mind the normal benefits associated with running (such as the release of endorphins) but adds to them enjoyment and invigoration gleaned from being in the natural world.

Because competitive and time-obsessed running can make running a chore rather than a desire, trail running can help a runner focus on the experiences of running that are enjoyable rather than mundane. A trail offers a constant change of scenery, various surfaces and obstacles to overcome, and a nonstop challenge. Rocks, trees, and sunshine offer a therapy all their own. With the added enjoyment that comes from being in creation, the distance and duration of the run naturally become secondary considerations, and the experience of running itself will become preeminent.

Considerations:

  • Hydration and Nutrition – Prehydration should be routine preparation for trail running. Make sure you drink plenty of water prior to hitting the trail! Also, make sure you drink plenty of water while on the trail. Depending on the outside temperature, the body may use more water than you think.
  • Equipment – If you have weak ankles, trails can be especially unforgiving. Shoes that provide extra ankle support are a necessity.

Sources:

Douglas J. Casa, PhD, ATC, FNATA, FACSM, Rebecca L. Stearns, MA, ATC, […], and Carl M. Maresh, PhD, FACSM. Influence of hydration on physiological function and performance during trail running in the heat.

Baechle, Thomas, Earle, RogerNSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Photo by GORE-TEX® Products 

 

Originally posted 2013-11-04 06:42:37.

Exercises You Should Try: The Lat Pull-Down

benefits-muscles-lat-pull-downWhether you are canoeing, skiing, swimming, or climbing, your back muscles are catalysts in creating the requisite force necessary for good performance. As the primary force-producing muscle in the back, the strength of your Latissimus Dorsi is a key determinant in your ability to climb a challenging rock face, to propel yourself on the slope, to generate force on your backstroke, and to give more thrust to your canoe paddle. If you haven’t already, you may want to consider making the lat pulldown a staple of your exercise regimen.

Physiology

From a physiological standpoint, the lat pulldown activates the Latissimus Dorsi, Posterior Deltoids, and Rhomboids. Muscles involved to a lesser degree include the Biceps and forearms. The concentric or descending portion of the movement contracts and shortens the Latissimus Dorsi, activating motor units across the upper back. Also important is the eccentric or upward phase, which lengthens muscle fibers, aiding muscle recruitment and strength. In addition to stimulating hypertrophy in muscles, the pulldown also improves communication between neurons, bolstering your coordination and ability to perform pulling movements with greater efficacy.

Biomechanics

Studies have shown that hand positioning can have a significant effect on the effectiveness and value of the lat pulldown. Commonly used variations include wide grip anterior, wide grip posterior, and close grip and supinated grip. Theories abound as to which variation is superior to which. Also common is the assumption that any alternative is as good as the next. It is true that alternative grips can target different muscle to different degrees. However, numerous studies have concluded that the wide grip anterior approach is safer and more successful in targeting the Latissimus Dorsi muscle than any other method.

In using the wide grip anterior variation, an effort should be made to focus on the role of the Latissimus Dorsi muscle in the movement. A common mistake is to pull with the biceps, rather than relying on the back muscles to produce the needed energy. Consequently, the secondary muscles can easily transcend the role of the primary muscles in the movement, which can defeat the purpose of the exercise.

Considerations

  • Avoiding Questionable Variations – The behind the neck variation can place excessive strain on the shoulders. Pulling the bar downward in back of the head is at the very least unnatural and awkward, and at the most potentially dangerous. Any variation you use should include exclusively frontal movements, to reduce tension on the neck and shoulders.
  • Incorporating Alternate Exercises – You don’t have to have a sophisticated machine to reap the benefits of the Lat pulldown. As an excellent and arguably superior exercise, the pull-up is a similar movement that replicates the motion to a significant degree. Granted, the pull-up does require more upper body strength than the lat pulldown. But this strength can be built through a dedicated and deliberate approach to building strength in the upper back through exercises such as the lat pulldown.

Sources:

Signorile, Joseph e; Zink, Attila J.; Szwed, Steven P. A Comparative Electromyographical Investigation of Muscle Utilization Patterns Using Various Hand Positions During the Lat Pull-down

Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Photo by sportsandsocial

Originally posted 2013-11-04 06:27:56.

Exercises You Should Try: The Seated Row with Chest Support

MVC-003S

Reasons to Try the Seated Row with Chest Support: Rowing is a physiologically intuitive motion, bringing natural and rhythmic exertion to the muscles of the upper back. While the movement properly practiced is natural and beneficial, bad habits involving poor technique can place undue stress on the lower back. As an exercise that combines this beneficial motion with a support mechanism to ensure proper form, the seated row with chest support is an exercise you should consider.  By placing very specific demands on the upper region of the human back, this exercise forces activated muscle groups to respond and strengthen, while protecting the lower region of the back against excessive strain and potential injury.  Consider some of the benefits of the chest-supported row:

Enhancing your Back’s Function

Integrating a rowing motion into your routine can improve the functioning of your back. As a rowing motion that activates the Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, Rhomboid, and Posterior Deltoid, and Biceps Bracii, the seated row with chest support galvanizes the major muscle groups of the upper back. This increased workload brings about neurological and muscular changes in the aforementioned muscles, aiding muscle tone, function, size, coordination and strength. Improved function in the upper back is also helpful in the prevention of shoulder and chest injuries.

Aiding your Technique

Rounding your back during a rowing exercise places exorbitant stress on the lower back, leaving you vulnerable and prone to injury. As the name suggests, the seated row with chest support has a padded mechanism to ensure that your back remains flat during the motion. With greater ability to perform this exercise properly, you will be able to better focus on engaging the muscles of your back.

Balancing your Push-Pull Variation

Any good routine will have a balance mixture of pushing and pulling motions. Focusing on one type of movement to the exclusion of the other can result in strength inequity and greater vulnerability to injury.  As a reciprocal movement to the bench press, the seated row with chest support gives you a motion that balances your routine. If you spend a disproportionate amount of time on pushing motions, consider this exercise as a way of complementing and enhancing your exercise sessions.

 Suggestions:

  • Start Light – As with any new exercise, the body needs time to adjust to the movement. Getting the biomechanics down is not automatic, and thus requires a good amount of time and practice. Keep the movement steady and controlled, and avoid rocking. Move deliberately and gradually. Try light weight and high repetitions in your initial sessions, get the technique down, and add weight as you feel more comfortable.
  • Be Consistent – In realizing the benefit of any exercise, it is important to perform it with regularity. Your body needs time to adapt to the motion and benefit from it. If you are wondering why you are not benefitting from the exercise, set up a routine and stay with it!
  • Be Creative – You don’t need a machine or gym membership to incorporate this motion. You can replicate it easily with a slightly inclined bench and some dumbbells.

Reference: Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-10-24 13:16:50.

The Reality of Overtraining

Is there such a thing as too much exercise? When it comes to fitness, we may be tempted to think that no duration is too lengthy, no frequency is too common, and no intensity is too excessive for physical training. But consider the reality of overtraining, a phenomenon in which an individual trains too much, bringing about weakness, decreased functionality, exhaustion, muscular and cardiorespiratory regression, and even psychological malaise.

Categories of Overtraining

It is possible to fall into one or both of the following overtraining categories:

  • Muscle Group Overtraining– Individuals who focus disproportionately on a specific muscle group or anatomical area can put themselves at a higher risk for overtraining. How does this happen? Consider the following scenario. You would like to improve strength and muscle mass in your lower body, so you focus excessively on strength training techniques such as squats, lunges, calf raises and stairs. You believe that training for two hours is better than training for one, training 6 days is better than training 5, and doing 7 sets is better than doing three. In sum, you have bought into the philosophy that more is always better. So you perform lower body exercises on consecutive days, for lengthy gym sessions, at a relatively high intensity.

Of course, the aforementioned exercises (squats, lunges etc.) are beneficial. But

think about how a muscle group responds to a sustained challenge with little to no rest and recovery. We know that bouts of intense activity will leave muscles torn down, depleted of energy stores, and in need of nutrition and rest. After an exercise session, the body begins two distinct phases, healing and growth. Once muscles and connective tissue are taxed in a bout of physical activity, muscles are repaired, connective tissue is strengthened, and the body returns to its pre-workout condition. Body systems then begin a process of compensating for workout trauma by increasing tissue in the targeted area, thus increasing strength and readiness for the next bout of exercise. To engage the recovering area in exercise prior to full recovery is to short-circuit this process of healing and growth, leaving the area unready and vulnerable for the next challenge.

  • Generalized Overtraining– When the entire body is driven to exhaustion, overtraining is a more systemic problem. This kind of overtraining is often a corollary to muscle group overtraining, but often comes as a result of training that is more comprehensive in its approach. Both cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal systems are depleted of energy and given inadequate time for recovery.

Awareness of Overtraining 

Though overtraining is a common syndrome, it is fairly hard to pinpoint and detect. Since it often results in decreased energy and performance, athletes often redouble their training efforts, a choice which in turn which further inhibits their progress and perpetuates this downward, cyclical spiral.

To avoid overtraining, consider incorporating some of the tips below:

  • Take a periodic week-long respite. It may be difficult to convince yourself of the benefit of this, but your body will thank you. I have found that a week off gives me renewed vigor and vitality when I return to exercise.
  • Get enough rest each night. Your body uses this time to rebuild and renew itself. Do not discount the importance of a good night’s sleep.
  • Vary the intensity and duration of your sessions. The body responds well to challenge and variation, so don’t be afraid to change it up.

Sources:

NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-10-08 12:17:54.

Benefits of Ice Baths (Cold Water Immersion Therapy)

As a standard recovery technique used heavily by athletes the world over, the ice bath is regarded as an effective way to get the body ready for its next challenge. If you are like me, you may not be thrilled at the prospect of immersing your body in excruciatingly cold water. Wouldn’t a warm bath and a hot cup of coffee bring just as much benefit? Admittedly, it is easy to be reticent when considering the notion of generalized icing (as opposed to isolated icing – see my previous article on the Benefits of Icing). It certainly is not the most comfortable or convenient option. But the research indicates the body has a very specific response to cold water immersion and that ice baths may be beneficial.

The Body and Cold Water Immersion (CWI)

 An ice bath can help enhance the speed and comprehensiveness of your recovery. Consider the following post-workout benefits:

  • Facilitating Fluid Transport – The immediate effect of Cold Water Immersion on the body is vasoconstriction, or the shunting of blood flow from extremities to interior portions of the body. The fluid transported away from extremities includes left-over waste fluid, which left alone would fester in muscle tissue, slowing recovery and even causing muscle soreness. Immediately following Cold Water Immersion, fresh blood free of waste is circulated throughout the extremities, enhancing recovery and preventing delayed onset muscle soreness.
  • Aiding Nervous System Function – Intense physical activity disturbs the “rest and digest” component of the nervous system, also known at the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This disturbed function continues in the minutes immediately following a workout, creating an overall state of flux in the body’s systems. Studies show that Cold Water Immersion is a boon to to Parasympathetic function, acting as a kick-starter in the minutes following a workout. And since the Parasympathetic Nervous System controls the process of recovery, this speeds the body’s recuperation from intense activity.

Tips for Incorporating Cold Water Immersion (CWI)

Taking an ice bath is not something you would want to do every day, but it can be a great way to boost your readiness if you have two bouts of intense activity planned very close together. Below are some ideas for working an ice bath into your post-exercise routine.

  • Immediacy – For best results, you will want to take the bath while your body is still warm. If your body has already cooled, the benefits of CWI will be lost.
  • Brevity – While it may be uncomfortable to take an ice bath longer than 15 minutes, it can also be dangerous. Extended exposure to frigid water can increase chances of hypothermia and frostbite.

Ice baths can be helpful, depending on your fitness level and goals. It is recommended that you check with your doctor before trying this or other methods for post-workout recovery.

References: “Effect of cold water immersion on postexercise parasympathetic reactivation,” M. Buchheit , J. J. Peiffer , C. R. Abbiss , P. B. Laursen, American Journal of Physiology

Originally posted 2013-10-02 16:38:00.