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.

Tabata Protocol – The Four Minute Exercise You Won't Forget!

It seems as though every time you turn on the TV there’s a new “miracle” workout being advertised. “Burn fat in 10 minutes!” “Shape your rear in 8 minutes!” “Completely transform your body in 5 minutes!” The reason these fads come and go so quickly? They hardly ever work. That is until Izumi Tabata came along. While Tabata doesn’t fit the image most of us imagine when we think of figures from the popular health industry, his protocol works.

Enter Tabata

Izumi Tabata is a very non-intimidating man. He’s of typical Asian stature with wide-brimmed glasses and a completely bald crown of a head, surrounded by a jet black moat of hair. Yet, though he doesn’t look like your typical fitness guru, Professor Tabata has spawned an incredibly effective – and fast – workout regimen. An internet search for “Tabata Protocol” will bring up nearly a quarter of a million hits. This mild mannered professor from Ritsumeikan University in Japan has become a full-fledged fitness rock star.

The Research

Years ago most athletes engaged in steady-state conditioning, which involved running, biking, or performing a particular sport at a moderate intensity for long duration. This type of conditioning was primarily aerobic. In more recent years, research has pointed to the value of high-intensity, short duration workouts for improving both anaerobic and aerobic capacity.  Various forms of interval training have since been hyped by many prominent faces in fitness. 

Professor Tabata began his research in sport conditioning while working with the Japanese speed skating team. His academic career spanned three continents and involved some of the world’s greatest athletes, leading him to develop incredibly effective training methods. He stayed with the new-school method of high-intensity interval training and took it to heights never seen before. The result?  The most efficient four minute athletic training protocol man has ever seen. Yes, you heard right. Four minutes.

The Tabata Protocol

The Tabata Protocol involves bouts of very rigorous exercise for twenty seconds followed by ten seconds of rest. This cycle is completed eight times for a total workout time of four minutes. In order to easily control variables, Professor Tabata originally conducted his studies with subjects using a stationary bike. Those who have experimented using the Tabata Protocol with full-body exercises and sprints have had success as well. In order for for the Tabata Protocol to be effective, the high-intensity intervals used have to be of the highest possible effort. Most people reach exhaustion before completing their first Tabata workout due to the intense effort required.

Results

The Tabata Protocol completely and utterly shocks your system, leaving it confused and unbelievably tired. In Tabata’s published study entitled, “The effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic and VO2max,” Tabata put his protocol up against a typical hour-long steady-state workout. Both groups exercised five days a week for six weeks. The group that engaged in moderate exercise saw slight gains in their aerobic capacity and no gain in their anaerobic capacity. The group that completed the Tabata workout warmed up for ten minutes, and then completed the Japanese professor’s four-minute protocol “from hell.” The Tabata group elevated their aerobic systems higher than the first group and saw significant increases in anaerobic capacity as well.

The amazing thing was, compared to the first group, the group performing the Tabata Protocol exercised 46 minutes less each workout, 230 minutes less per week, and 1,380 minutes less (that’s about 23 hours) over the duration of the study!

People used to believe that you could only train your aerobic or anaerobic systems separately. Tabata shattered that myth with his research on high-intensity interval training.  Aside from being of great benefit to the heart and expanding the lung capacity to titanic proportions, the research shows that the Tabata Protocol causes the body to burn an extra 150 calories even after exercising. If ever there was a miracle workout, this is it.

Precautions

No one should take the Tabata Protocol lightly. This is an extremely difficult program, even for seasoned athletes. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, especially anything of such high-intensity as the Tabata Protocol. Professor Tabata encourages beginners to seek the help of a qualified trainer who can assist them with maintaing proper form and determining appropriate intensity.

References: Ritsumeikan University: Izumi TabataMen’s Health: The Unbelievable 4-Minute Cardio WorkoutMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effects of Moderate-Intensity Endurance and High-Intensity Intermittent Training on Anaerobic Capacity and VO2max

Originally posted 2013-09-30 18:35:25.

Nix the neck adjustments?

Neck pain - nix the neck adjustments?

If you have any experience being treated by a chiropractor, you know their treatment can walk the fine line of physical bliss and sheer terror. I started getting regular chiropractic adjustments when I was 7 years-old. My family believed in alternative medical treatments but not to the point of sounding crazy. I had no idea why I was getting adjusted, I had no idea what a subluxation was, but the wonderful massage after getting twisted up like a pretzel and cracked made it all worth it. Chiropractic may very well be the most controversial branch of medicine. The arguments back and forth seem to be never ending. So let’s get to the bottom of it, are chiropractic adjustments, particularly of the neck, really safe?

Treatment Styles

Many chiropractic treatments consist of very mainstream manual therapy, like that seen with physical therapy. These treatments include massage, joint mobilization and manual stretching. Chiropractic care differs from physical therapy primarily in the emphasis on high velocity joint manipulation. Most chiropractors use a method called “thrusting” where they apply force directly to a vertebra and rapidly take the joint to an end range of motion. This normally results in a “popping” sound and temporary relief in the painful area. Thrusting is said to realign a patient’s subluxation — a displaced vertebra.

Aches and Pains

Many people experience minor pains and headaches following a chiropractic neck adjustment. A body pushed to its limit — in this case an extreme range of motion — will often experience pain later that day or in the days to come. Most of these pains dissipate quickly, leaving the patient feeling much better than before. For some people, however, headaches may follow, and in some cases they can last several days.  In 2007, the scientific journal Spine published a study showing the results of over 50,000 cervical (neck) manipulations; the study found that about 4% of patients experienced light pain and headaches following their adjustment.

Cervical Artery Dissection

Now for the more serious complications that can be caused by cervical manipulations (neck adjustments): Cervical artery dissection (CAD) describes a condition where the carotid or vertebral arteries are stretched to the point where they tear. The vertebral artery is much more likely to suffer injury than other arteries because it wraps around the atlas — the uppermost vertebra. CAD is a common cause of stroke in young people. Car accidents often cause CAD when rapid extension and rotation put the arteries in a compromising position. Unfortunately, when chiropractors adjust a neck, they often use a very similar motion in their efforts to realign subluxations.

The link between chiropractic adjustments and CAD is not a new finding. The first study showing a link between cervical manipulations and CAD was published in 1947. A 2000 study published by the Canadian Medical Association brought this to the mainstream by explaining the link and pointing out that there were two recent deaths attributed to chiropractic neck adjustments. Defenders of chiropractic see things very differently. They will argue that people who have been in car accidents are more likely to see a chiropractor and receive cervical manipulations. Therefore, while it looks like chiropractic care is causing neck injuries, it’s really just that there are a high proportion of people with previous injuries to their cervical arteries getting adjusted. Yet, despite these claims, there is evidence from researchers that spans 60 years indicating the chiropractic has a direct role in causing cervical artery dissection, so I’m reluctant to dismiss all of their work.

The Take Away

I enjoy chiropractic adjustments, but I do not get them often. Chiropractors have been labeled by many to be “quacks” who simply want to take your money. This is true for some, but you will find that to be true even among physical therapists, trainers, nutritionists, and yes, even doctors. Although the risk of suffering a major injury due to cervical manipulation is very low, the risk is still there.  Ask your chiropractor if there are other treatments for your neck besides trusting into extension and rotation. Other options, like traction and soft tissue manipulation, often help patients reach full recovery without the risks of forceful neck adjustments. 

Sources: Canadian Medical Association: Sudden neck movement and cervical artery dissectionChirobase.org: Chiropractic Philosophy and PracticeOpen Neurologic Journal: Cervical Artery Dissection: Emerging Risk FactorsSpine: Safety of chiropractic manipulation of the cervical spine: a prospective national survey

Originally posted 2013-09-12 13:48:45.

The Benefits of Using a Foam Roller

How to Use a Foam RollerLooking for a way to loosen, massage, elongate, and maintain problematic muscle tissue areas? You may want to invest in a foam roller. With a technique that closely imitates massage therapy, a foam roller can substantially benefit your muscle health and performance. And it isn’t a pain to haul around. Designed as a cylindrical foam tool, it is light and portable enough to take on your next exercise excursion.

Alleviating Tension and Elongating Musculature
Muscles that are subjected to frequent bouts of strenuous activity may develop trigger points, or areas of muscle knotting and tautness. These inflexible sites can cause localized pain in a specific anatomical area, or generalized pain throughout an anatomical region. But irritation and muscle discomfort are not the only problems trigger points can cause. Muscle movement is also inhibited, limiting one’s range of motion and ability to move freely. Muscles that are particularly susceptible in the lower body include the Gastrocnemius and Quadriceps muscles.

In looking at the physiology of trigger points, it makes sense that the gentle pressure of a foam roller will loosen the surrounding tissue, increase circulation and blood flow, lessen pain, and relax the problem area. For instance, applying light, pulsing stress to the medial portion of the Gastrocnemius will release some of the pressure and tightness in the trigger point, allowing slackening in the muscle and increased mobility.

Purposes of Foam-Rolling

  • Lessened pain: Foam rolling applies direct pressure to muscle adhesions, allowing them to loosen, heal, and ultimately decrease the amount of tenderness and irritability experienced.
  • Increased circulation: Foam rolling can augment circulation to your muscles, increasing the amount of nutrients and oxygen they receive.
  • Speeded recovery: Muscle scarring is the result of recurring muscle tears, and left alone can eventually lead to injury. In a fashion similar to a massage, foam rolling can break down the scar tissue, bringing healing and growth to muscle tissue.
  • Improved flexibility: Rigid muscles are loosened by this simple technique, bolstering range of motion and muscle maneuverability.

Suggested Methods for Use

  • Self-massage: As its name makes clear, rolling the roller is a popular and effective technique. Moving it back and forth while simultaneously applying pressure to an isolated area is the equivalent of a tissue massage. The rhythmic movement adds to muscle relaxation, and gives the entire body a general feeling of comfort. Lengthier muscle groups in the lower body lend themselves well to this method.  
  • Bodyweight: One’s bodyweight can be used to massage posterior regions that would be difficult to self-massage otherwise. For example, it’s common practice to rest one’s leg on top of a foam roller, using the arms to stabilize the body, while simultaneously rolling back and forth on the roller.  Using bodyweight also allows the application of increased pressure to a tense area.  
  • Pre and post-workout: Using a roller prior to a fitness session can increase the readiness of your muscles, warming and preparing them for the workout. As a post-workout technique, foam rolling can improve nutrient flow to deprived muscle tissue.
  • Consistent and abbreviated use: Adding foam rolling as a component of your daily routine will allow you to realize the results outlined above. Focus on isolating problematic areas on a daily basis, making this practice a consistent part of your exercise session.

Recommended Products:

    

Sources: “Roller-Massage Increases Hamstring Range of Motion,” found on PubMed; “Acute Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function,” found on Pubmed; “An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force,” found in The Journal on Strength and Conditioning Research.

Originally posted 2013-09-04 11:49:01.

Back Pain Part II: The Facts

Side plankTo recap from Back Pain Part I, eight out of ten people suffer from back pain. That’s a lot. Yet, in a world of misinformation, it can seem impossible to find reliable advice when it comes to back pain. The mainstream, the new age, and even science have led us astray time after time. What’s important is helping those in pain find relief by getting down to the facts:

Anatomy
Your spine is a miraculous network of layered soft and dense connective tissue. Each layer has a purpose and needs to be protected. Spinal anatomy from the inside out is as follows:

  • Spinal Cord → relays signals between your brain and the rest of your body
  • Vertebrae → bones from your skull to your tail bone. Each vertebra has a perfectly shaped hole which the spinal cord passes through
  • Intervertebral Discs → Squishy pads between each pair of vertebrae that lubricate your spine and allow ease of movement
  • Ligaments → Connect each vertebra to the bone above and below it. Four ligaments – left, right, front and back – protect and stabilize each segment of your spine
  • Tendons → Attach vertebrae to surrounding muscles, allowing your spine to move
  • Muscles → You have three main layers of muscle that make up your abdominal wall: the transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques. Lesser talked about core muscles include: paraspinals, quadratus lumborum and diaphragm.

Tissue Quality is of the Utmost Importance
The human body is designed to function perfectly, and like most things good and perfect, we imperfect humans find ways to mess it up. We feel back pain when our nerves send pain signals, which occurs when something impededs the perfect synergy throughout the spinal column. The imbalance could be a fractured vertebra, a herniated or ruptured disc, a sprain, a strain… the list goes on. The moral of the spinal anatomy story: be kind to your tissue and it won’t retaliate. Some of the most effective ways to protect your tissue are counterintuitive, but your spine will thank you.

Keep Back Stretching to a Minimum
This is normally the hardest habit to break. When you hurt an area of your body, instinct tells you to stretch. Dr. Stuart McGill, a low back pain rock star from the University of Waterloo, shows in his book “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance” that stretching your back initially causes pain relief because stretch receptors are stimulated, easing the pain signal. Unfortunately, this temporary pain relief can cause long term damage. Once your muscles reach their furthest point of stretching, the stretch will begin to pull on your connective tissue — tendons and ligaments. My old anatomy professor likened stretching muscles to stretching rubber bands – they are pliable and return to their original length easily. On the other hand, tendons and ligaments are more like plastic grocery bags. They will stretch, but once they do, they do not return to their original length easily. Spine stretching is not the devil, but you need to be very careful about how often and how long you stretch your back.

Stability and Endurance Are Key
In the course of my work in physical therapy I’ve come to disdain the word “strength.” Don’t get me wrong, I love strength training, and I think everyone should partake in it.  But in a post-surgical setting, I’ve come to learn that strength training is not an important factor for spinal health. After surgery the body needs to reactivate muscles. Surgery is very traumatizing and the nervous system often does not communicate well with the muscles in the injured area. The principles that apply in a post-surgical situation also apply to reducing back pain in general.  To promote a healthy spine and reduce back pain, consider implementing these steps (with the approval of your doctor):

  • First concentrate on activating lazy muscles. After surgery, the usual advice is to voluntarily tighten the muscles of the injured area. The same goes for core training. You must learn to contract all of your core muscles simultaneously. You can accomplish this by practicing bracing: lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Simply contract your abdominals and all surrounding muscles. Most people have the tendency to flatten their lower back into the floor while do bracing. Do not flatten your back. You want to brace with a normal lumbar curve. This will protect all of the tissue in and around your spine. Hold bracing for ten seconds for five repetitions. Maintain normal belly breathing throughout.
  • Once you are comfortable with bracing, move onto more difficult stabilization exercises like bird dogs and side planks. While executing these exercises maintain normal spinal alignment and brace hard. If you apply bracing to every exercise, you’ll see nearly instant improvements in many lifts.

Strength has little to nothing to do with decreasing back pain. It is a catch phrase to say “strengthen your back!” McGill’s research has demonstrated that strengthening the muscles around your spine have no positive improvement on pain. Stability and endurance training, however, are both shown to have significantly reduce back pain.

A Final Note
I would never say that a Child’s Pose or a crunch will kill your back, but I personally recommend stretching and stabilizing the midsection in different ways. A good alternative to the Child’s Pose is the Cat/Camel. The Cat/Camel will take your spine throughout its full range of motion, but due to the fact that you do not hold the extreme ranges, you will not experience tissue damage.

Also the term “endurance” is often misunderstood in fitness. Most people believe that doing a five minute plank is considered very impressive endurance. It may be impressive, but it’s impossible to maintain good form for that long. When it comes to increasing spinal endurance, McGill recommends doing many sets of shorter repetitions with short breaks. For example, instead of doing a plank for a minute straight, do six sets of ten seconds with a three to five second break in between each set. This will allow you to brace very hard and never lose form. Fear not, the minute-long endurance benefit is still there.

Sources
All of the references in this article are from Stuart McGill’s “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.” It’s an amazing read for anyone who is interested in this subject. If you would like supplemental readings, look up Gray Cook, Mike Boyle, Mel Siff, Craig Leibenson, and Shirley Sahrmann. McGill is a researcher so he looks at everything from a lab setting. These individuals are strength coaches, physical therapists and chiropractors so they have their own very unique ways of applying anatomical principles.

Originally posted 2013-09-02 19:44:58.

The Benefits of Outdoor Exercise

Carioca Flickr 11-18-10Is there a difference between exercising indoors and exercising outside?

The sunshine, the fresh air, the breeze blowing through your hair…does all of this really affect outdoor workouts?

The answer on both accounts is yes! When we’re outside, embracing God’s wonderful creation, the mental and physical health benefits obtained are far greater than what’s achieved by exercising indoors.

Data from a 2008 Scottish Health Survey revealed that heading outdoors for exercise can boost one’s mood about fifty percent more than staying indoors! Sunshine and clean air invigorate us, while nature sounds, like running water, calm us.  Exercising outside provides an escape from  florescent lighting and overcrowded weight/cardio rooms. Moreover, if you suffer from mild depression or anxiety, getting outside every day can improve your mood and outlook on life. I for one can attest to the fact that when working indoors all day, even a few minutes in nature can clear my mind and help me focus.

Getting outside can also provide the body the opportunity to make one of the most important vitamins, vitamin D.  While skin doctors and dietitians debate on whether sunscreen should be worn at all times, it is certain that sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. For now, the recommendation for sun exposure is 10-15 minutes daily which would be a short walk of a mile or so. If you can find a path with both shade and sunlight, you’ll receive the benefits provided by both the sun (vitamin D) and trees (an extra oxygen boost). Personally, I’m  blessed to have such a place close by. You might be surprised by the outdoor opportunities available near you.  It can be easy to take for granted the beauty we have in our own backyards!

Sure, there might be a few drawbacks to exercising outside (for example, if you’re like me, you might encounter a few bugs or dogs on the trail), but the pros easily outweigh the cons. Exercising outdoors is particularly helpful if you are planning to run a race as a motivating fitness goal.  After all, races are usually outdoors, and it’s always best to train on the terrain that you will be racing on. Thanks to wind resistance and varied inclines, running outdoors requires more effort (therefore brining more reward) than running on a treadmill. Also, although treadmills have an incline function, they can’t perfectly simulate the workout provided by running on real terrain.

Your body also needs to adjust to the outdoor weather you’ll experience on race day. If your race is in July, your body will need to be accustomed to sweating and dealing with humidity (depending on the area you live in). If you are running a race where you need to refuel and hydrate, practice is essential. Will you carry your water? Will you use an armband? Will you use a fuel belt? You can’t adequately determine these needs on a treadmill, in a climate-controlled area with your water and food easily resting in front of you.

Perhaps the most promising benefit of exercising outdoors, however, is that you’ll be more likely to keep up with your workout routine!  Research indicates that outdoor exercise tends to be more sustainable and motivational than exercising in a gym.  That alone is reason to get out and experience the natural world.

Evidence suggests that the best exercise environment is one with a lot of grass and trees, so make an effort to find your own oasis in which to move. While there are definitely benefits to having a place to exercise indoors, it is clear that when the weather is right, heading outside for some good, free, invigorating movement in the best option for LIFE!

References: Scottish Health Survey Analysis, Treadmill vs. Overground Running, “Vitalizing Effects of Being Outdoors in Nature”Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review

Originally posted 2013-08-28 09:01:09.

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.

Back Pain Part 1: Fallacies

Cycling Escapes Tour of UtahBack pain is no fun. Period. No one wants to hurt, no one wants to miss work and no one wants to freeze on an ice pack. Most people accept back pain as a part of aging, and have no idea where to start to try and avoid these aches and pains. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eight out of ten Americans will experience at least one bout of back pain during their lives. No wonder people give in! The NCCAM went on to say that back pain costs Americans $100 billion every year in lost wages. If your physical wellbeing and financial prosperity are on the line because of back pain, you need to take action and fix your back—now. Weeding through the jungle of misinformation is your first step to being free from back pain.

Mainstream Fallacies
“Never feel back pain again!” “Six-pack abs in no time!” “The newest thing in function training!” If you take anything away from this article, please take this: do not believe these lies. The human body is an absolute miracle, with literally trillions of cells that make larger structures that work together to create complete and perfect homeostasis – balance throughout your body. Time and time again, science smacks these “fitness gurus” in the face. Unfortunately, they have already bled Americans dry and the poor people still hurt. I have never seen a single piece of exercise equipment on an infomercial that is worth the box it comes in. Invest your money where it counts: high quality food, preventative healthcare, personal training if you need it and fun activities for you and your family.

Scientific Fallacies
The American Medical Association has missed the mark on health and fitness so many times it makes my head spin. Not surprisingly, they have botched the guidelines for back pain sufferers. When someone injures their back on the job, the AMA has created guidelines to determine when that person is fit to go back to work. If you have ever tweaked your back, you know how your entire midsection will seize and limit your spine’s range of motion. The AMA guideline for returning to work states that once you reestablish, or even gain more spinal extension, flexion and lateral flexion range of motion you are fit to go back to work.

These guidelines fail for two reasons: first, researchers at the University of Melbourne found that the measurements taken by different individuals of the same patient – during the same day – can differ up to 18%. That is a huge margin of error and should never be a trusted value in the scientific field. Second, having a large spinal range of motion is possibly the worst predictor of spine health and risk for injury. Dr. Stuart McGill, a biomechanics professor from Waterloo University, has dedicated his life to studying the causes of back pain and how to fix it. McGill has shown numerous times that there is a direct correlation between spine range of motion and risk for injury. His research shows very clearly that the more spinal range of motion you have, the higher your risk for injury. Shame on you, AMA.

New Age Fallacies
I want to give this section a very strong preface. I have absolutely nothing against yoga or Pilates. I practice each from time to time. I believe that they are wonderful methods of exercise and meditation. My problem lies in the “one size fits all” approach by many yoga and Pilates instructors. I have attended yoga classes with wonderful instructors who gave suggestions on how to tailor certain poses if you had difficulty with them. I have attended other classes with instructors who were more like dictators; if you couldn’t do the pose exactly the way it was supposed to be done, they would force you into it. My poor little hamstrings just about cried as the dictator pushed me too far and insisted the “spiritual benefit” would outweigh the physical pain. It didn’t.

The new agers will tell you that performing “100s” are the ultimate way to strengthen your core. The Pilates Reformer will be your best friend to loosen up those pesky tight hip muscles. They will say you must “Child’s Pose” for a prolonged period multiple times a day. This will “open up your spine to extra chi” –whatever that means.  Another common piece of advice is, “Rotate and stretch out your back every morning to ensure the best mobility throughout the day.” While some of these methods are beneficial, many of them can be downright detrimental to your spine health. The school of thought about your spine is changing. The traditional guidelines of strength, endurance, flexibility and power are all evolving as science moves forward. Out with the fallacies, in with the facts.  Stay tuned for part 2…

References: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Spinal Manipulation for Low-Back Pain,
 Spine: Reliability of the American Medical Association Guides’ Model for Measuring Spinal Range of Motion. Its Implication for Whole-Person Impairment RatingUltimate Back Fitness and Performance; Stuart McGill, Ph.D.

Originally posted 2013-08-07 12:15:47.

The Creation-Based Keys to Longevity

Okinawan Elderly WomanOne of my friends recently shared a TED talk video with me that takes a look at the keys to longevity.  The TED talk was given by Dan Buettner, an explorer, educator, and cyclist.  Buettner was commissioned by the National Geographic to find out what the world’s longest lived people have in common.  His findings, as presented in the video, basically summarize and provide scientific evidence for some of the key foundations of CREUS.  I recommend watching the video first, but once you have, read the keys to longevity below and reflect on how these foundations for health and wise living relate to your own life:

The three cultures with the highest amount of 100-year-olds with an excellent quality of life (Okinawans, Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Vista, CA, and Sardinians from the mountain-region of the island) have the following things in common:

Natural Movement – While a few of the people from these cultures intentionally exercise (like the Seventh Day Adventists),  they all move and stay active naturally, in the daily course of life.  Natural movement is essential to living a Creation-Based Lifestyle, it’s part of what we call “play” (like running, golf, swimming, surfing, etc) and “creating,” or doing meaningful work with one’s hands (such as gardening, chopping wood, cooking).  Automobiles, television, and office jobs can put a major damper on natural movement, but there are ways to reverse these trends: walk or ride your bike to destinations whenever possible, turn off the television and enjoy an evening picnic instead, and as an alternative to sitting at a desk, look into using a standing desk or an exercise ball for a chair.

Right Outlook – Each of the cultures with a high rate of longevity put a daily emphasis on  purpose.  They also make time for relaxation.  The Okinawans, for example, can readily recite their “ikigai” or “reason for living.”  Genetics account for only approximately 10% of health; the majority of one’s health is based on lifestyle and outlook.  What are you living for?  Do you feel like you’re part of a larger purpose?  Do you have meaning in your life?  Creation-Based living takes in to account the truth that God created us for a purpose.  Good health is just the beginning.  

Wise Eating – The longest lived people eat diets that are plant and whole-food based.  They tend to drink wine in moderation, and when they eat, they stop eating when they feel about 80% full.  Basically, healthy people eat the foods that God created.  With all the industrially manufactured foods being marketed to us, eating whole foods is often easier said than done, but with the right mindset healthy eating can quickly become a lifestyle!

Community – One of the most important things the healthiest people have in common is community, which I think is closely related to having a purpose.  People who are part of a loving community are healthier!  We are relational beings, created for relationship.  Sadly, many people in our culture are isolated and have very few friends or have an unhealthy family environment.  The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case; healthy relationships are available to anyone willing to make the effort.  The keys to building healthy relationships are: a positive self-identity and self-sacrificing love (with healthy boundaries).  Relationship building also takes intentionality, we can’t spend our time on Facebook or at home watching TV and expect to make friends.  We have to get outside where people are (church, clubs, parks, etc) and be friendly.  From there it’s important to verbally express our commitment and the things we appreciate about our friends!  Expressing commitment reinforces community and emphasizes the value placed on the relationships.

Eat.Play.Rest.Create! 

Originally posted 2013-07-12 01:07:46.