Category Archives: Fitness

Get exercise & health tips to incorporate into your own exercise routine & life

2 Important Principles of Training You Should Know

women lift heavy

If you’re working hard in the gym & continue to see results week after week, month after month, I congratulate you.  You obviously are doing things right.  On the other hand, if you feel like you’re working hard in the gym but continue to look the same, this could be why (diet aside)…

Let’s take a look at these 2 very important principles of training: 

  • Principle of Accommodation: this principle states that the body reaches homeostasis in response to a repeated response 

homeostasis: a stable, constant condition

We want to avoid our bodies reaching this stable constant condition, also known as a plateau.  Here, no changes will be occurring within the body as it is simply just meeting the demands that are being put forth.  However, make some changes within your program and that plateau can take a hike!  

  • Overload Principle: this principle states that a greater stress or load on the body (than it is normally accustomed to handling) needs to occur in order to continue to see results 

When we learn a new skill for the first time, most likely it will be challenging.  Repeat it over & over & over again… it eventually becomes effortless.  The exact same weights & the exact same exercises are not going to do you any good long term.  Changes will occur at the start, but in order to keep those changes happening long term, (as this principle states) you will need to provide the body with a greater stress or load.  

Don’t be afraid to increase the weight (yes, ladies…do it!).  

If you’re not ready to increase the weight yet, at least do something to stimulate your neuromuscular system in a way it’s not used to.  For example, change your base of support or challenge your stability using an Airex pad.  However, please don’t turn your workouts into a circus act by doing a reverse lunge on the bosu with a medicine ball rotation and overhead press.  That’s just silly. : )

Gray Cook has this concept known as the “edge of ability concept” which meshes perfectly with this principle.  When performing an exercise or movement, you should be at your edge of ability.   If you’re talking or not having to think about the movement while doing it, you’re probably under that ability.  If you aren’t able to perform the task, you’re past that edge & need to resort back.  Simply put, if an exercise is too easy, you won’t learn (or change).  If it’s too hard you won’t learn (or change… & possibly increase your risk of injury).

Remember, something is always better than nothing.  However, if you want to take your training to the next level, these principles should be applied in your program so that you can reach your fitness goals & them some. : )

Improving Recovery Between Workouts

Regardless of the type of training you are doing, the rate at which you recover is crucial to making progress within your training.  Say you have a great workout session but fail to take care of yourself in the minutes, hours, days (well hopefully you’re not waiting days in between workouts) after, you’re simply setting yourself up for disaster.  Just exactly how big of a disaster we’re talking about though will depends on your goals and the type/intensity of training you are doing.

For example, if your goal is weight loss and you do not take proper care of yourself during your recovery periods, chances are you will not see the results you’re wanting.  Remember, during a training session you are not making gains.  Instead,  your body is basically being broken down (as broken down as microscopic tears in your muscles). This is why it is what you do during your recovery period that determines the gains you actually will achieve from your workouts.

Let’s switch from your average person wanting to lose weight to your seasoned endurance athlete.  If recovery is not taken seriously here, this could end up being extremely detrimental to the athletes’ health as well as performance.  If you’re putting in 13 hours a week, you’re obviously going to need to be sure you are extra strict with your recovery time so that you are able to continue on at the level optimal for competition.

So how can you help to improve your recovery between workouts? Follow this checklist.

Recovery Checklist

  1. Proper Nutrition:  following a workout, you have a 45 minute (tops) time frame to properly replenish glycogen stores & promote protein synthesis.  What you want: most studies show that a carbohydrate/protein combination is superior in stimulating both glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis to either a carbohydrate or protein supplement alone.  Proper re-hydration would be included here as well.  Not only drinking lots of water, but making sure you are getting electrolytes will be crucial for recovery. Note* amount of food & water would be dependent on goals and intensity of workouts.
  2. Get Adequate Rest: 7-8 hours of sleep is ideal.  A lack of sleep adds extra stress to the body, creating a release of the hormone cortisol.  Cortisol is a catabolic hormone (meaning it breaks things down).  Cortisol is also released during exercise (how much released is dependent on exercise intensity). Higher levels of cortisol are associated with some protein degradation (or breakdown) in the body and we do NOT want to break down protein.  Therefore it is important that cortisol levels are controlled.
  3. Foam rolling: This will help promote blood flow as well as aid in reducing restricted movement due to tight/constricted  fascia.
  4. Massage: Find a massage therapist that you trust & if possible try to make seeing him/her part of your normal routine.  Every week is certainly ideal, but if that’s not an option at least opt for once a month.  Your body will thank you!  
  5. Compression sleves/tights: If you’re an avid endurance athlete, chances are you’ve heard of compression gear, and/or probably (well hopefully) own some.  Compression sleves/tights are used to help promote venous blood return.  This helps legs recovery faster from say a long run/bike.  Partially due to gravity, blood tends to pool in the lower extremities.  Our soleus (or calve muscle) is often referred to as the body’s second heart as it acts as a pump to facilitate blood from our lower extremities back up to the heart.  Therefore compression around this area, will promote even more venous blood return, allowing for wastes & by-products to be eliminated at quicker rates.

Hope this helps! : )

Create a Balance Between Water & Electrolyte Levels to Avoid Dehydration

With it being summer in Chicago, it’s hard not to want to spend every waking moment outside.  The beaches are full of Chicagoans trying to soak up as much vitamin D as possible, many spending hours in the sand playing volleyball, as well as many just lounging in the parks.  Regardless of the time of day, the bike paths are always full of riders, runners, and walkers.  While this weather may be giving you that extra incentive to get outside and get active, just make sure you are staying properly hydrated as dehydration is very likely to occur when the weather gets this hot.

dehydration: the loss of fluid from the body

In this case, the concentration of the body’s electrolytes are extremely affected resulting in major fluid imbalances.  Sodium & potassium are the electrolytes in our bodies that are most commonly talked about.  When we exercise, we sweat, resulting in a loss of sodium & potassium.  A muscle contraction needs calcium, sodium & potassium to be present.  If these levels are low as a result of dehydration, muscle contractions will be weakened. In order to maintain normal electrolyte balance, these electrolytes need to be replenished.  Fresh fruits & veggies are typically great sources of electrolytes as well as electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks.

Good sources of potassium include

  • bananas
  • apricots
  • grapes
  • cantaloupe
  • berries
  • avocado

Good sources of sodium include

  • bell peppers
  • celery
  • sweet potatoes
  • pineapple
  • cantaloupe

If you are dehydrated or have some type of fluid/electrolyte imbalance & are aware of your body you may feel some or all of the following symptoms…

  • dry mouth, lips
  • dizziness, fatigue
  • increased core body temperature
  • increased heart rate
  • decreased urine output
  • darkened urine

Drinking water is very important, but it’s also very important to realize that too much water with too few electrolytes can also impair body function & performance.

When choosing food/drinks to aid in replenishing electrolytes, be smart.  By this, I mean don’t rush to the store & buy as much gatorade as you can possibly stock up on.  For most people, I would suggest replenishing the body with more fresh fruits & vegetables (some of the ones mentioned above would be a great start) and lower calorie electrolyte enhanced drinks.

For example, gatorade is high in calories, as well as sugar… if weight loss is your goal & you are watching calories, I would suggest you opt for a calorie free electrolyte enhancer such as Nuun. These are light flavored tablets that you can toss in your water, let dissolve & drink.  What I love most about them is that they contain no sugars or carbs & taste amazing.

In addition, if you can tolerate the taste (I’ll be honest, I can’t), coconut water would also work as a great substitute to your higher calorie higher sugar content electrolyte drink.  Coconut water has a high potassium & mineral content, as well as no fat & low amounts of carbohydrates & calories.

There are tons of ways to replenish your electrolytes & create a better fluid balance in your body…eating fresh fruits, veggies & consuming electrolyte enhanced drinks are just a few examples. 

Now get outside, get active, but be sure to stay hydrated! : )

Mile Repeats

I’m a HUGE believer in goal-setting.  With anything and everything you do, have some type of goal in mind.  If you run just because, that’s great.  Kudos to you for getting out and doing it, but why not challenge yourself and see if you can better your pace.

If the majority of your  training program consists of long steady-state runs, it’s time to start incorporating some type of interval in order to promote some change & get some results.  Sure steady-state cardio is great for burning fat, but doesn’t do much for you following your workout.  Shoot for a little more intense workout so you can get the EPOC effect, boosting your metabolism for hours after your workout.  Already do tempo runs, fartlek runs, and sprints?  How about giving mile repeats a try.

For long distance runners, mile repeats can make all the difference in your finish time.  Not only do mile repeats help to increase lactate threshold and V02Max,  but they are EXTREMELY challenging, both mentally and physically (NOTE: for more info on lactate threshold & interval training, see previous post “4 Benefits of Interval Training”).

If you’re not following me on what a mile repeat is, it’s simply running 1 mile either all out or 10-15s faster than your race pace, followed by a set recovery time before you start your next mile.

Example for a “first-time” mile repeater:

1 mile run; 5 minute walking recovery x 4 

For starters, I’d suggest 2-4 repeats with a 5 minute walking recovery.  As you progress, work your way up to 6-8 repeats (obviously depending on upcoming race distance).  Once you’ve mastered that, try taking the recovery time down to 3 minutes.  Just be sure that when you start your next mile, your heartrate has dropped and you’re breathing is back to normal.

Be sure to consume lots of water both during & after the run!

Integrated Over Isolated Movements

One of the biggest mistakes I see people in the gym making are performing exercises with the intention of  isolating one muscle group.  If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, an example of this would be the woman who wants her arms to look skinnier, so she persists on spending 15 minutes doing bicep curls and tricep extensions.  This could also be the guy at the gym who is doing every form of a bicep curl and shoulder press imaginable (using dumbells, cables, resistance bands etc.).  Though maybe his arms and shoulders do look good, is he even able to lift his arm straight over his head?   I hate to say it ladies but…you’re wasting your time, & guys, you have some major muscle imbalances going on.

Guys, let’s take a look at something you could do for this imbalance…

1. Angels on a Foam Roller (P.S. you’re probably going to need to do a lot)

Ladies, let’s take a look at something you could do in order to incorporate more muscles, but still work the arms at the same time…

1. Walking Lunge w/ Curl

Here, you’re getting more muscles involved (not to mention much larger muscles) so you’re going to be basically killing 2 birds with one stone (if you planned on doing lunges later) as well as getting your heart rate up a little more since we have more muscles working at the same time.

This is just one example of an integrated movement.  Well, what exactly does that mean?

An integrated movement is a movement performed that uses multiple muscle groups at the same time to complete a movement correctly.  You may have also heard it referred to as functional training (althougth this is a term that is tossed around a lot).  Functional training is meant to mimic activites that occur in our everyday life.  In most of our daily activities we use more than one muscle group, right? CORRECT.

Think about it, in order to do seemingly simple tasks such as bending over to lift a heavy box off the floor, muscle integration occurs. Legs should be involved (quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings) as well as core (in order to protect your lower back), and obviously the arms as you lift.  Not executing the movement properly can/will result in injury.  This is one example why deadlifts are SO important to incorporate into your training program.  We bend over to pick things up (whether they be heavy or light) everyday, therefore we should know how to engage the proper muscles so that injury doesn’t occur while performing this movement.

In addition, when you’re swinging a golf club, throwing a baseball, kicking a soccer ball, there are NUMEROUS muscles working together in unison to make that particular movement occur.  Although most of us aren’t professional athletes, swinging clubs or throwing baseballs like the pros do, these are all movements that we mimic in our lives.  Therefore, we need to train our bodies to prepare for movements like this. As Gray Cook* says, “use it the way you want to use it, & move it the way you want to move it.”

My point is that no one can give a good reason as to why they are performing isolated movements at the gym…except for bodybuilders.  Bodybuilders are a different case though.  I like how Gray Cook* puts it,  “if you’re going to isolate, we call that bodybuilding and you bodybuild to become a statue.  Body builders aren’t really known for their movement or athletic prowess, they’re known for the way they look standing still.”  In this case, isolated movements are needed in order to get the desired results.  But bodybuilders have to function in their everyday life still, right?  Let’s just assume that a bodybuilder probably wouldn’t have the best golf swing.

Bottom line, WEIGHTLIFTING SHOULD NOT BE SEGMENTALIZED.  Not every single exercise you do has to be multi-joint, but the foundation of movements in your training program should incorporate integrated movement patterns.  According to Gray Cook*, some of the best integrated exercises that you can perform are the following:

1. Half Kneeling Chop & Lifts

2. Turkish Get-Up

3. Two-arm Single Leg Deadlift

4. Cross-body One-arm Single Leg Deadlift

These 4 exercises are 4 of the best corrective exercises that most people can incorporate into their training program.  These exercises will certainly point out  left-right imbalances that are occuring in your body as well as challenge you in a way you probably haven’t challenged yourself.  You can look up videos for the movements online…I’d suggest looking at Gray Cook’s demonstrations on YouTube.  I plan to shoot some videos of these exercises & post them in the near future as well so you can check those out too!

*Gray Cook is possibly the world’s most sought-after injury prevention specialist, having a history of working with many NFL, MLB, NHL & NBA teams. In 2007, both the Chicago Bears & Indianapolis Colts used him in order to keep athletes strong & injury free, and both teams ended up at Super Bowl XLI.  He’s not only limited to the major leagues, he also works with the special forces, keeping them strong & injury free as well.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/sports/football/falcons-have-winning-fitness-strategy.html?_r=2&src=tp&smid=fb-share

Work Long or Work Hard?

 

According to Martin Gibala of McMaster University, “six minutes of pure, hard exercise three times a week could be just as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity.” 

In a study he conducted, he found that changes that were thought to require hours per week were achieved with just 4 to 7, 30 s bursts of all-out (250%VO2max) stationary biking with 4 minutes of recovery time in between bursts.  In his study, this was performed 3 times a week for just 2 weeks, therefore total on bike time for the two weeks being a mere 15 mintues.  For the “sprint” group (those doing the 30s bursts), endurance capacity almost doubled, from 26 to 51 minutes.  In addition, test subjects leg muscles showed a significant 38% increase of citrate synthase (CS), a desirable endurance enzyme.  Meanwhile, the control group, which was active (jogging, cycling, or aerobics) showed no changes. 

Almost seems too good to be true, right?

So the study was repeated. This time, Gibala used an 18.6 mile cycling test for evaluation both before and after the 2 week period.  For the duration of the 2 weeks, the sprint group followed the same 30s burst protocol, while the control group performed more traditional moderate-intensity cycling for 60-90 minutes at 60% VO2max.  Again, both groups worked out 3 times a week…

Results:  Improvements were almost identical, as were the increases in muscle oxidative capacity (the ability of your muscles to use oxygen).

I found the results of this research to be very fasicating, as I’m sure you probably do as well.  To hear that 6 minutes of pure, hard exercise three times a week could be just as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity sounds very applealing.  Now I’m not sitting here and suggesting that you just go to the gym, workout as hard as you can for 6 minutes then head out and call it a day.  

1.  It’s not too easy pushing yourself at 250% your VO2max, nor would most people be able to measure this.

2. Everyone has some type of muscular imbalances going on, & time and focus should be paid attention to corrective exercises as well in a training program so that you don’t end up injuring yourself while you go for an “all out” sprint.  6 minutes doesn’t really give you enough time for this.

 Rather, I would just like for you to recognize that working long in the gym (those that hang out there for an hour and a half or 2 hours) may not get you exactly where you want to be, goal wise (goal dependant as well).  You would be better off cutting your workouts much shorter and up-ing the intensity (obviously not the best idea for someone brand new to exercise or someone considered high-risk). 

Even your top marathoners and ultra marathoners have programs geared towards VERY MINIMAL long runs and more high intensity runs (whether it be repeated 400m, 800m, 1600m runs) to help increase endurance capacity…

So the choice is yours, work long or work hard? I think I’ll chose to work hard.

 

*Study found in The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss