The Man Behind the Curtain

Tone, Tan, fit and ready.

What is the true definition of fitness, and what is the perceived idea of fitness. These definitions, or ideas bleed into what ‘we’ believe we need to look like. Thin, toned, tanned, the true Barbie girl.

Where do these ideas of how we need to look come from? Unfortunately they are coming from a strong source that is very persuasive in our lives, the media. Be it music, TV, internet – which really is today’s source of the previous two. I think we can also include our peers. Even news is no longer immune to it. News has become over the years infotainment, sometimes the lead story being about the latest popular celebrity and how they are either overweight and look terrible, or they are thin and look fantastic! More and more messages about how important it is that we fit into this mold that largely has been created by companies and industries selling their wares to make money off of this fantasy and unrealistic ideal.

Let’s look at where this fits into our world of fitness. More and more I’m seeing the sexualization of fitness. Barely dressed fitness models, their abs lighted in a way to highlight that their body fat is probably around the 4% – 8% range, advertising the product to give you this body. The ripped abs that everyone wants! Of course you want those abs, that’s what we are told, right? You can notice it in the gyms too. People who won’t workout hard because it will cause them to sweat, and that just isn’t right, they don’t want anyone to see them sweat. How many ‘fitness’ classes do we see advertised again focusing on only looks instead of focusing on being healthy. Get that beach body in 6 weeks! Booty bootcamp! I’ll stop there because I really don’t think I need to list more.

It makes sense, really, from a marketing point of view. If this is what people want to buy, or are led to believe they want to buy, this is what we will sell them. Why is it PBS needs to have fundraisers to stay on air? Because the reality is there aren’t enough people interested in watching shows covering world events, science, technology, etc. to have companies advertise on this channel. They’d sooner spend their money advertising on reality tv shows, tabloid talk shows, and most of the other shows out there that spend their time dancing on the surface of quality, and meaningfulness. But, if the majority of people switch to watching PBS, would companies start spending their marketing dollars on advertising on PBS? Absolutely! It would mean an increase in their sales, and that’s all that really matters.

Let’s take another example, vegetarianism, or veganism. It was much more difficult years ago to live a life of plant based eating due to the low number of people who chose to live or eat this way. Today, it’s much easier as more mainstream businesses have seen the increase in the number of people who chose to live this way and because of this are now carrying vegan products. I’m a firm believer in the phrase ‘we vote with our wallet’. Change has happened, albeit slowly, because more and more people are voting with their wallets every time they make a purchase at the grocery store, or they don’t make a purchase at their grocery store because the store didn’t carry the product they wanted, and they made that purchase somewhere else.

Don’t be fooled, most companies don’t care about their customers, they care about their customers money. Don’t rely on companies to do the right thing, rely on them to do the thing that will increase their sales. So you have to get pass the BS and dig a little deeper, and understand the motivation behind these things. But, once you have done this, it sets in motion the change needed to either offer better shows on TV, or healthier, planet friendly products in our stores.

That was a lot

What does this mean with respect to fitness and health, and the media’s obsession on how we should look? I think it means that if less people subscribed to these models that the media have created, less people signed up for booty fitness or beach body extreme, the less we would see of these classes and the more we would see of classes focused on the health of the individual, and the fitness of that individual. You vote with your wallet.

The reality

The definition of fitness, or being fit changes all the time, and changes based on who is asked. I’m sure a body builder would define being fit as having a low percentage of body fat and being able to bench press more than their body weight. Over sized, cut muscles. A runner may define being fit as the ability to run a marathon in under 4 hours. My point is usually the answers are biased based on the activities of the person answering. We all want to think that our favourite activity is the one that best for our fitness, and best for your fitness! If I’m doing it, you should do it too.

As a society we have the belief that being thin is the result of being healthy and fit, and conversely, being larger is the indicator of being unhealthy, and unfit. This isn’t the case! A lot of people that fall into both the thin and larger categories are in great shape, just as I know people that are unfit that fall into both categories. How we look is not the sole indicator if we are healthy or fit. Let me say that again, how we look is not the sole indicator if we are healthy or fit.

Most everyone will think the thinner person is the healthy person. Dr. Jimmy Bell at University College, London, coined the term TOFI, T-O-F-I. Thin on the outside, fat on the inside. TOFI is used to describe lean individuals who have a disproportionate amount of fat stored within their abdomen. People who are TOFI’s will have a much higher risk of developing type II diabetes. That doesn’t sound too healthy does it. But they are thin, shouldn’t they be healthy by the media’s definition of what healthy is? Once again we cannot believe what we are being told and sold either directly or indirectly.

We need to educate ourselves to get a better understanding what it is to be fit. We need to spend the time to do this because the reality is it directly impacts us. What we eat, what we do every day has a direct impact to our health and wellbeing. We sometimes notice this right away such as consuming too much sugar and feeling the effects of the sugar rush and then the insulin dump that follows. Sometimes we may not notice the effects until years down the road manifesting itself in a stroke, cardiac arrest, or Osteoporosis as some examples.

That is what’s really concerning to me. Choices being made today that will have long term affects, and most people not realizing this. This is damage to our bodies and in some cases cannot be reversed! You don’t hear about this when you being advertised to, to get the best body you can have by losing that 10 lbs by drinking this wonderful shake.

What is fit

In my opinion, fitness is a combination of things. Having healthy indicators such as  a low resting heart rate, healthy blood work, healthy cholesterol levels, a healthy body fat percentage, all things your doctor can evaluate for you. I’m going to include a caveat here that if your body fat is naturally low, not low from purposely working on getting it low, than you are more than likely fine. The same can be said for a higher than normal body fat percentage. Have this validated by your doctor to be sure you are not at risk of developing health issues. Just like your doctor can give you an idea on the health of your body with respect to blood work, etc., you can have a fitness evaluation done to get an idea of your personal level of fitness. This should give you an understanding of where your health and fitness is with regards to overall strength, endurance, and cardio-vascular health.

The more you know

We all want to look good, and that’s great. I believe though that we have to change our definition of what good means. Looking good should always be inclusive of feeling good.

It mostly comes down to you. The more you educate yourself with respect to health and fitness; nutrition, exercise the more power you have. You’ll be able to see what’s behind the curtain, who is driving the message behind the latest fad, diet, commercial, image. Think of fitness and health as a life style, not something you do for 6 weeks, or something you do solely to alter one body part, if you know what I mean.

It really is beneficial to you to do this, to sort through the BS, and make the right choices. It’s not easy. I’m not going to kid you. But the payoffs are huge, for you, for everyone.

The more people who do this, the more people who understand what a healthy body is, and that we can be healthy in a variety of body types, the more muted the message from companies that don’t have our best interest in mind will become. Companies will then eventually have to market to us, the ones who are informed and understand, and just like how the negative messages have influenced the masses, the positive messages will do the same.

Imagine…, it’s easy if you try.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Why we do these things

Why we do these things we do.

Why do we exercise? There are a lot of reasons. For each of us, they may not be the same. Exercising may by the result of an activity you participate in. If you train in a martial art in a group setting, you are probably going through an exercise routine at the beginning of the class. Also, doing pretty much any martial art is a workout in itself. Try doing any kata combatively, and you will see what I mean. Exercise can be a way to maintain your weight at a reasonable point. Perhaps you want to be able to carry out the normal every day activities without feeling tired, and out of breath.

Hopefully the reason most of you exercise is because it has become a part of your life, something that if you don’t do it, you feel like your day isn’t complete, you get somewhat moody. If you fall into this bucket, you should feel good about it. It means you have found something you love doing, and you have done it often enough that it is no less part of your day as eating, sleeping, reading is. It’s tough to get to this point, but when you do, it feels really good.

Whatever the reason, what I want to do is look at benefits exercising gives us, specifically cardio respiratory training.

What is it

What is cardio respiratory training? Let’s look at the definition. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, is any activity that increases heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically.

It’s common that most people think of cardio training being running, biking, elliptical machine exercise (not sure what the verb for using an elliptical machine), or using any machine in the cardio section in the gym. Cardio training can be done so many ways. As I mentioned earlier above, when I do my kata, my heart rate and respiration increases substantially, and I’m using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically. The activity you do in resistance training can also act as your cardio training. Going through a body weight exercise program will definitely train your cardio system. Try doing a set of Burpees and not be breathing heavy.

This should open up the boundaries on what you think cardio training is, and provide you with more options to train your cardio system.

The cardio respiratory system brings oxygen into our body, and takes away the carbon dioxide, the waste from our body. The cardiovascular system, comprised of the heart, veins and arteries carry blood throughout our body, bringing nutrients to our muscles and tissue, and taking away waste products. Also, the circulatory system is involved in maintaining the core temperature of the body, transporting heat away from the core to the skin.

The respiratory system is made up of our lungs, and the air passageways. The respiratory system handles the exchange of gases between the blood and environment. This exchange is how oxygen is added to the blood, and the waste, carbon dioxide, is removed from the blood.

How we benefit

We know the benefits on how cardio training impact us day to day. But lets look at what exactly is going on, and why we get these benefits.

We can determine the benefits of training our cardio system using math. The average heart beats at 72 beats per minute when resting. When the heart beats, it forces blood into the arteries. This force of blood is what you feel when you are checking your pulse. As your activity increases, and the demand for oxygen increases, the heart must beat faster to meet this demand, providing more oxygen.

So we know the heart beating faster will provide more oxygen, but what else can influence this, providing the same level of oxygen, but at a lower heart rate.

This can be achieved by increasing the stroke volume. Stroke volume is the amount of blood the left ventricle pumps out in one beat. As you become fitter, the size of the ventricles increase, allowing them to hold more blood, and contract with a greater force. The result of this is an increase in your stroke volume. Therefore instead of one stroke pumping 70 milliliters of blood, due to your increase in fitness, your ventricles are now pumping 100 milliliters per stroke.

This is important to understand as it shows a huge benefit of exercising! Your heart is a muscle, constantly working, pumping blood day in and day out. If your heart is able to pump more blood per beat, it can pump at a lower rate and still provide the same amount of blood needed to meet the demands of our body. Here’s a simple example:

Rest:

Untrained:

5,000 milliliters = 70 bpm x 71.4 milliliters (stroke volume)

Trained:

5,000 milliliters = 50 bpm x 100 milliliters (stroke volume)

Notice the lower heart rate is delivering the same amount of blood (5,000 ml).

Exercise:

Untrained:

20,000 milliliters = 195 bpm x 102.6 milliliters (stroke volume)

Trained:

35,000 milliliters = 195 bpm x 179.5 milliliters (stroke volume)

 

Do you see the second benefit? It may throw you off as the heart rate is the same for both people in the exercise example. That’s because both people are training at the same level of intensity. But, notice that the trained person is moving more blood, 35,000 milliliters instead of 20,000 milliliters. That’s 75% more! That’s huge!

What does it mean? It means the trained person is delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. In simple terms, at the intensity level where your heart rate is at 195 bpm, and you are running a sprint, you should be able to run it faster than if you were untrained. It makes sense, your muscles are receiving more oxygen, more nutrients and thus can perform better.

What else

Of course there are other benefits. I covered the benefit of having a lower resting heart rate. You will also benefit from a normalization of your resting blood pressure. I talked about why some of us exercise, to be able to carry out day to day tasks easier. This is another benefit.

To me, the last benefit is a big one, as it’s a great motivator. Being able to climb the stairs at work to get to the second or third floor and not be out of breath, where a month ago you would be breathing heavy is a great feeling. It’s a tangible result, and it makes us feel great.

What now

Having a better knowledge of our cardio respiratory system allows us to train smarter, and realize benefits from our training sooner. It should also help you understand what you can do to perform better at the activities you choose to do. Use this information to empower yourself, to become stronger, faster. Be the one who reaps the benefits, and a whole new set of goals will be yours to achieve.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Change is good

Change is a good thing.

Some of us will find an activity we love, and stick to it. Probably for years and years. I love to run. I have a bike in my garage and rarely is it out of the garage. I know someone who loves to run too. She has been running a long time, and loves it so much that when she runs, most times she is smiling when she is running. People that have an activity that they love with passion usually are also people who will always be active whether it be doing the activity they love, or another activity.

As of the date of writing this article, I am approaching 7 years of training in Karate. Karate is one of my passions, a very strong passion. The joke at the dojo the odd time I missed training was to call the hospitals because I must have been injured if I wasn’t in class training, I was there that often.

I think it’s unusual to find that passion in a physical activity, sport, or exercise. So what can be done if the passion isn’t quite there? If it isn’t, that’s OK. You don’t have to have that passion to be active and to reap the benefits of exercise. It can help, but it’s not a necessity.

So many choices

If you find that you are starting to get somewhat stagnate, and that excitement is no longer there when you are heading to wherever it is you train, you may want to look at options to bring back that excitement. If your training consists of group training, try switching to another class that offers a different type of activity. ‘Try going to a class that has a different fitness instructor. Sometimes that may bring back that excitement.

But what if you are someone who trains on your own, at your home gym. Let look at what we can do to change things up when training on our own

Change can be easy

Did you know that there are probably at least 20 different ways of doing pushups? I won’t list all of them, but here are some examples; hands positioned wide, hands positioned narrow, hands positioned aligned with chest instead of shoulders, one hand at 2 o’clock, the other hand at 8 o’clock, decline pushups (feet up off the ground), spider man pushups, etc. Now that’s just pushups. You can do the same with other exercises. Using squats as an example, you can change your foot position to target other muscles. Generally a wider stance is a great way of working those neglected adductor muscles. Or you can do hindu squats to change things up. Same thing with our abdominal muscles. We can do crunches, ab bikes, jackknife crunches, etc. The options we have, the more choices we have.

Understanding what this does

When we change things up like in the examples above, we need to understand that sometimes this change will target different muscles. With our pushups, if we go from a standard pushup, where our hands are under our shoulders, to a pushup where we have a narrow grip, our hands close together, different muscles are worked. In a standard pushup, we are primarily working our chest muscles, and the shoulder muscles (front of shoulder). When switching to a narrow hand position, we are now changing the load to a place where our triceps are more engaged in the exercise.

But that’s a good thing because more than likely those muscles have been neglected and need to be worked. If we are always doing the same exercises, we run the risk of putting our body into, or further into a state of imbalance, or worse, injuring ourselves.  This can help on preventing this from happening.

Other ways

There are other things we can do, along with switching exercises up. We can use a countdown approach to the exercise we are doing. Start with doing 10 of an exercise. Then, subtract one from the count for the next step and do nine. Do this all the way to one, then, starting at one add 1 and work back to ten. This approach is a great way to address any plateauing issues you may be having. Something I like to do is to do the exercise slowly and add in a pause. Hopefully you are already using a slow cadence when exercising. Again, let’s look at pushups and how we can apply this method. Start with a standard pushup, but instead of going all the way to the bottom, go down about halfway, and pause for 3 to 5 seconds, then go to the bottom and pause for 3 to 5 seconds. Do the same when coming back up, pausing twice. It’s a whole new way of doing pushups.

Why we do this

It’s important that when we exercise we get the most out of the effort we have put in. You are working hard, and you should see and feel the benefits! Right? Otherwise, why are you investing all this time? Train smart and listen to your body. If you aren’t experiencing muscle soreness after a workout, such as the next day, then you haven’t stressed your muscles enough for them to become stronger. That’s basically it. If this is you, it’s time to look at what you are doing, and do something different. Variety is a great way to address this, and start shocking the muscles. If this seems like too much, and you are stuck in that rut and aren’t sure what to do, get yourself a personal trainer and they should be able to change it up. If not, get another personal trainer.

You’re working hard for this. You owe it to yourself to get the results.

Yours in health,

Darryl

…Breathe in the Air

Breathe, breathe in the air.

How we breathe can help us out when we exercise and when we stretch. Actually, how we breathe can affect everything we do, from being in situations that make us anxious, nervous, or excited.

Breathing is what brings oxygen into are body to feed our muscles, and what expels the carbon dioxide. How we breathe affects how this process works.

We don’t think about it

Most of don’t pay much attention to how we breathe. Why would we, it’s a bodily reflex and there isn’t the need to think about it like we would think about eating, or running. Even those activities are prone to being done automatically because we have done them so many times, our muscle memory takes over. I know there are times when I run and I get into a zone where I’m not even thinking about what I’m doing, I’m just running.

Knowing that our body can handle breathing on its own, we know that our needs are met for getting oxygen, and getting rid of the waste. So why think about it.

First step

One reason we want to be aware of our breathing is to prevent injury when resistance training. A general rule is when you are exerting yourself on a movement such as coming back up from a barbell squat is to breathe out. Breathing out prevents us from holding our breath which would result in a rise in our blood pressure and increase the risk of losing consciousness and injuring ourselves from the weights landing on us, or banging our head, etc. Holding your breath during weight lifting is actually referred to as the Valsalva maneuver. As mentioned this can cause a drastic rise in your blood pressure, but can also cause lead to hernias, and compromised areas of the vascular system. A rule you can use to know how to breathe when lifting weights is to exhale when lifting the weight and inhale when lowering. Now, this doesn’t always apply based on certain resistance training exercises. An example is if you are doing tricep cable pushdowns, the exertion phase is as you push down. Of course the weight attached to the cable is lifting, but we may not see it that way. I like to use the rule that you exhale during the exertion part of the exercise, and inhale during the lighter part of the exercise.

On to Cardio

How do we apply proper breathing to our cardio workout? When working at a high level of intensity, our instinct, or our body’s reflex, is to breath quick, shallow breathes. The problem with this is it can lead to hyperventilating, and we are not bringing in as much oxygen as we could, which lowers our level of performance. If we are goal oriented, as most of us are, and you are looking to make positive gains when you train, you could become discourage due to not performing at the level you feel you should.

When doing cardio training, we want to bring in as much air as we can, and forcefully exhale. The forceful exhale allows us to expel as much carbon dioxide possibly from our lungs. Now what I mean by forceful exhale is to not put yourself in a state where you are depriving your body of air because you are trying to get that last cubic inch of air out. By forceful exhale, you want to think of pushing the air out until you feel you need to breathe in. It should never be a process where you are impeding yourself from breathing in.

The technique

First off, we need to maintain proper posture. Try to stay tall, shoulders back and not slouched over. When breathing in, we want to bring in the air through our nose for all cardio workouts except ones that are very intense. When working out at a high level of intensity, you just cannot bring in enough air through your nose. Now let the lungs fill, and let your abdomen expand. Most of us have to think about that as we have lost the process of stomach breathing to becoming more lung breathers. I know that sounds strange, of course we use our lungs to breathe, but we no longer allow the diaphragm to lower itself all the way, pushing the stomach out. Stomach breathing will allow us to bring in more air during that breath. Again, when exhaling, try to actively force the air out. This will expel as much carbon dioxide as possible.

If you can, practice this breathing when you are relaxed and comfortable, and not exercising. Don’t wait until you are working out to start trying it. This type of breathing can be used for anything. Try it when you are nervous, or anxious, and see if it calms you down. Most times it will as it will give you something to focus on, and it will also calm your mind as deep breathing can be a very relaxing thing.

Stretch it out

How does breathing apply when stretching? Static stretching should be a relaxing process, at the end of our workout. Taking deep relaxing breathes is a great way to help us meet our goals when we stretch. Just like our breathing when resistance training, or cardio training, we don’t want to hold our breath. Take in air through our nose, deep into our lungs, letting our abdomen expand. Exhale the air slowly, getting rid of the carbon dioxide. Keep that pattern of breathing in deep, and exhaling deep. You will find that your stretching is a much more enjoyable, relaxing process.

Tying it together

So practice your breathing, work on the abdomen moving in and out with your breath. Breathe out during the heavy part of your ‘lift’. And don’t hold your breath. Over time this will become your new way of breathing and it you won’t have to think about it anymore, it will just happen. It’s like most things we do. We learn how to do it, we refine it, and through this process of doing it 100, 1,000, or 10,000 times it becomes a part of us as our muscles have memorized the process, and thinking is no longer required.

Give proper breathing the respect it deserves, and you will get the performance you are striving to achieve.

Yours in health,

Darryl

I Understand your Pain

Pain is temporary and time is forever unforgiving.

I think a lot of us have done an activity where the next day we wake up, full of muscle soreness. We get the call from our friend, or family member, the call asking you to help them move. You’re not an overly active person, and when that day comes, you know it’s going to involve a lot of lifting of heavy objects, while your body is moved into awkward angles, trying to get around that corner without damaging the walls, or damaging the furniture you are moving. Maybe it’s that extra fridge that’s in the basement for holding the beer, or that 15 year old large screen TV before LED TV’s were invented, you know the one, it weighs about 500lbs (at least it feels like it does).

It may not end up being that bad, the muscle soreness, but being put into those awkward angles usually means you’ll be using muscles you may have not used in quite a while, and those muscles are sure going to let you know about that the next day, and the day after that, and…

What is it exactly?

DOM, or delayed onset muscle soreness, is the result of overloading the muscles resulting in microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. Through rest and proper nutrition, these tears are repaired, and the muscles become stronger. Believe it or not, muscle soreness is something you want to have after a workout. This is an indicator that you have worked the muscles significantly that they will respond to the workout and become stronger. Typically muscle soreness will and should last from 24 to 48 hours. Anything after 48 hours is an indicator that you trained the muscle too hard and can actually cause long term damage to the muscle tissue and also to the nerves. Don’t confuse muscle soreness after a workout with muscle soreness during a workout. If you experience muscle pain during a workout, you should stop that activity immediately.

Know where you are

I know I say it often but DOM is another reason why we need to train smart.

By training smart I’m referring to you understanding your body, what it’s telling you and understanding the level of training you have been engaged in. Let me give you an example. About 3 weeks ago I was having a conversation with a colleague at work and he was talking about a time where his friend invited him to the gym for a workout. His friend had been working out for a while, but my colleague hadn’t been to the gym in quite a while. So what happened?  Ego happened. Even though he hadn’t been to the gym in a while, he wasn’t going to let that show, and did his best to make sure he was lifting the same amount of weight, tearing off the same amount of reps.

As he told me the story I knew how it was going to end. Four days of not being able to walk comfortably, 4 days of excruciating pain just brushing his teeth.

On the opposite end of the scale, it’s quite common that people who have been working out for a while do not experiencing any muscle pain the following days. Why is this? Their body has adapted to the load, and the pattern of the workout. As mentioned in a previous article, the body is amazing and will adapt to increased work or loads. This is commonly referred to as plateauing.

You might here the phrase ‘shock the body’ when referring to changing a workout, or talking about how to increase strength. Shocking the body means to change something up and break out of the routine that has become stagnate and ‘shock’ the muscles into growing and getting stronger. If you struggle with ideas on how to do this, a personal trainer is a great resource and can provide the programs to address plateauing.

So it’s important to know where we are as to our own level of physical fitness. If you are just getting started with some type of physical activity, ease into it. Don’t expect to perform at the same level as someone who has been doing this activity for a while and is seasoned at it. Then during the following days you can assess your level of discomfort, your level of DOM and use that as feedback to prepare for your next workout. If you don’t experience any muscle soreness you then know you can increase the intensity on the next workout. The opposite applies if you have pain after 48 hours. Take the time to let that pain subside, then alter your next workout to lower the level of intensity. Take it gradually, don’t be in a rush to get somewhere that should take you 6 months to get there.

Can it be lessened?

There are things you can do to speed up the recovery time after a workout and lessen the duration of muscle soreness. Try the following:

  • Keep hydrated. Being dehydrated can actually cause muscle soreness. Don’t let your soreness be from not getting enough water.
  • Sleep. Think about it. With resistance training, you are causing microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. Your body needs sleep to repair these tears.
  • Get a massage. Some studies have found that massages will speed up recovery time from your workouts.
  • Active Recovery. Performing easy low impact aerobic activity will increase blood flow to those worked muscles and help speed up recovery.
  • Warm up. Be sure to include a warm up period when you work out. This can help in reducing the amount of soreness you feel.
  • Hire a personal trainer. Your personal trainer will perform the assessments, and ask all the questions needed to understand your level of fitness, and create a proper program that will take into account all these things.
  • Eat for your recovery. There are some studies that have found ingesting protein after a workout aids in repairing the damage done to the muscle fibers, thus reducing recovery time.

 

Why it matters

If you have read some of the other articles here, you probably notice I talk about intensity, training smart, listening to your body. Most of us have goals we are trying to achieve when we train. All these things I talk about impact how and when we reach our goals. DOM matters because if you are not experiencing DOM, you are delaying the achievement of that goal. It would be equivalent to you having two banks you can deposit your saving into. One bank offers you a 20% return on your investment, while the other offers only 2%, both having the same amount of risk.

Now we all know which bank you are going to choose. Why should it be any different with our fitness goals? Do it – take the 20%.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Getting More for Less

Everyone loves getting more for less.

You have limited time to get your workout in every day. 45, 60 maybe 90 minutes. You want to utilize this time as best as you can. For every minute you are in the gym, or at home working out (home workouts rock!) you feel that you need to be doing something other than standing around. You have your goal, you want to work on those muscle imbalances, strengthening the muscles that have been neglected over the years but you also want to get in a cardio workout, and there isn’t enough time to get all of these thing done.

Too much

You probably are correct if we look at how we traditionally workout. I think the way most people work out is to do an exercise such as a bench press for one set.  That may take about a minute. Then there is the minute or two of sitting on the bench, resting, waiting to do the next set. We do the next set, then rest again. If you are doing 3 sets, that’s close to 10 minutes just doing bench presses. Now if we are planning to do 6 exercises, that’s almost an hour used up just doing resistance training and you still need 30 minutes to get a run in, 5 minutes to cool down, and then 10 minutes to stretch.

I think this might be one reason why people get discouraged and stop working out. This can be totally overwhelming, thinking you need to spend almost 2 hours in the gym every time you go. Unless you are in your teens, or early adulthood, not man people have that time, or really want to spend that much time on working out. After work and other responsibilities, it leaves very little time to do other things.

Choices

Fortunately there are options, options that will decrease your time working out and also benefit you and help you reach your goals. What if you could do one exercise and instead of taking a break you worked another muscle instead? You can! The idea of taking a break between sets is to give the muscle a rest after working it to failure. The rest is needed so the muscle can recover so it is ready to perform the next set. As long as the muscle you just put under load is now able to rest, you can train another muscle. This can be done a couple of ways.

A typical way is to train the upper body and the lower body together. For the upper body exercise you could choose to do bent over dumbbell raises to build the posterior deltoids, then switch to the lower body and do wide stance squats to build help strengthen the adductor muscles instead of taking the break you normally would. Then when you are done your set of wide stance squats you switch back to bent over dumbbell raises again with no break. If your workout schedule requires three sets, you would carry this change up between upper and lower body for the three sets. Let’s look at another option. Chin ups could be done to help strengthen your back and shoulders, and instead of taking the break between sets, you could do a set of abdominal crunches to strengthen the abs.

Pretty straight forward, but let me point out something that may get missed. If you noticed, the two exercises I have chosen do not overlap in the muscles that are being engaged. In the first example I have chosen an upper body exercise and a lower body exercise to highlight that we are working muscles during each exercise that are very separate from each other. The second example all the muscles being worked are on the upper body, but still separate from each other during both exercises.

Another example we can use is muscles that are used together, but oppose each other, the agonist and the antagonist. Let’s look at the chest and back muscles as an example. During a bench press, the pectoral, or chest muscles are the agonist, they are the working muscles contracting to execute the lift (along with other muscles such as the triceps, biceps and deltoids). During the bench press, the back muscles are relaxed as they do not want to interfere with the muscles doing the work. The same can be said for when working the back doing seated cable rows. The chest muscles are the antagonists, and the back muscles are the agonists.

This process is known as supersets.

Let’s look at common muscle pairs that can be trained using supersets:

Biceps / Triceps

Quadriceps / Hamstrings

Chest / Upper back

Abdominal / Back

These are only a few examples.

The third option I would like to look at is doing supersets but focusing on the same muscle group. I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you are a beginner. This is a great way of exhausting the muscles that are being worked in less time than a non-superset workout. An example would be to do one set of tricep dips, followed by a set of tricep pushdown, with no rest between sets. This will also reduce the amount of time required for your workout, and will also exhaust the muscles. Another example would be hamstring curls, followed by barbell squats. Be prepared for total muscle exhaustion if you choose to do this.

Gains

As explained, this is a way to reduce the time we spend training. But other benefits come with this. Intensity during our workout is increased as we are not taking that break between exercise sets. Using supersets is also a great way to address plateauing. The changeup that this offers to your workout should be enough to shock your muscles into growing and getting stronger. Lastly, with the added intensity comes a higher resting metabolism rate, resulting in more calories burned while resting. An added bonus.

There are a lot of options when choosing to add supersets to your workouts. If you are not sure as to how to do this, ask your personal trainer. They can help you.

Make your choice

It’s up to you. You can continue to do the same workout not making many gains or you can try super sets as a way to change things up, reduce the amount of time needed for your workout, and make some gains. It’s a tougher way of exercising since you no longer have the rest, but you benefit from it, you benefit in many ways. Give it a try and see what you think. What do you have to lose? Oh yeah, time spent in the gym.

Yours in health,

Darryl

it’s the intensity

Working out should be intense

What you are is directly impacted by what you put into the things you do. Be it something you do for relaxation, for fun or for fitness. If all you dedicate to these activities is less than 100%, then you are selling yourself short.

Too many times I have been to the gym, training on the exercise bike or some other piece of equipment and I end up with someone on either side of me, peddling away at about 40 rpm, or generally not really working that hard. Most times that person is on their iPhone, or reading a magazine. I don’t get it. Personally, I have never been able to read a screen or piece of paper while training. My focus is on the training at hand, working to achieve my goal, not catching up on news, or whatever.

Priorities

I think this is somewhat common in various gyms. For some people, going to the gym in itself is good enough to fulfill the requirement of ‘working out’. Not much focus is put into the actual workout, and ensuring that the actual act of showing up at a gym has not been a wasted effort, lost in the art of pretending to do something strenuous. I don’t intend to sound mean, or shallow, but if you are actually going to put on workout clothing, you should really put in a workout, something worthy of the clothes you put on needing to be laundered. I do get it, I guess. The gym has become a place, or already was a place where people go to potentially hook up, or just be social. I guess that’s why I have always been a fan of the hardcore gyms, the ones with tractor tires waiting to be pushed over and over, the places you go where if you don’t sweat you get called out. The places where if your knuckles are bleeding at the end of the workout, you are given a high five.

Maybe I’m biased because these are the places I train, and the people I train with, I wouldn’t want to train with anyone else. Why? Because the other ones are just spinning their wheels, not really moving anywhere.

It does matter

The intensity you bring to a workout does matter. It does! Whether you are doing resistance training, cardio training, what you do during that workout directly impact the results you are going to achieve. Now, I know we all have our bad days where it’s hard to get the intensity going. Hopefully those are few and far between. Outside of that, we owe it to ourselves to bring the intensity every time. Believe me, you will thank me for it. You will be the one benefiting from it, becoming stronger and faster as your workouts progress.

I won’t lie, it can be tough! If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and everyone would be in great shape. If you are having a hard time getting motivated, set yourself some achievable goals, and know that you are working towards those goals every workout, and if you slack off, you are just pushing the achievement of those goals further out.

But let’s not fool ourselves. To achieve the results most of us are looking for requires hard work. It is that simple. It really is. I see it often. I see people who put in the hard work, the ones who are training to failure, the sweat dripping off of their brow, the ones who will not quit. Are they seeing the results? Without a doubt. I see the results they have achieved every time I teach them.

On the other hand, people who don’t put in the effort, people who take a break 10 seconds in on a 20 second Tabata routine even though they only have 10 seconds before the break, I don’t see any results with them. They have plateaued and will stay at that level until they change how they workout. Has their body composition changed for the better? Has their strength increased? Has their endurance increased? NO. Will it? No, unless they change their approach and start pushing themselves to that point where the feeling is a feeling of uncomfortableness.

Will it Change

You can only answer this question. Will it change is up to you. You are the one who decides how hard you will work. No one can push you to work harder. Does it feel uncomfortable to push yourself that hard? Absolutely. Will you get positive results? Absolutely. Will you win? Absolutely!

You have the power to change how you feel. With great power comes great responsibility. Be responsible!

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

and battling the couch

Sometimes the couch wins.

I once heard that anything done for 21 days then becomes a habit. I don’t know if this is true, maybe for some things, but I don’t think it can be applied when it comes to ‘working out’. If it were applicable, the gyms, fitness clubs etc. would be much busier than they are. Gyms would have to change their business models as equipment would be wearing out sooner, floor space and the number of equipment that was once adequate is now very much inadequate. They would lose money as the number of people paying monthly but not showing up diminished.

Unmotivated

So why is that? Is the 21 day rule wrong? It very well could be. Either way, the reality is we all have our days were it is tough to get off of that couch and head off for some physical activity. There’s a number of reasons why this happens. For one, working out can be looked at as work, an unpleasant activity. I think that’s why it’s important that whatever it is you choose to keep active, it’s something you enjoy. The weather can also play a factor. I can find it difficult on dark, cold winter days to get motivated and get out the door.

Pretty much all of us have been there, sitting/lying on the couch contemplating between getting a workout in, or watching another Breaking Bad episode while you continue your binge watching. We all know how much better you will feel after the workout. Your endorphin production will increase giving you that euphoria, the high after the workout. The high feels so good and can last a while too.

Even knowing this, it can be tough to find that motivation to win that battle with the couch, and get out the door.

Blame the brain

The mind is a powerful thing. Another saying I am fond of is ‘90% of success is showing up’. I have changed this to ‘90% of your workout is getting out the door’. If you never get out the door you don’t even have a workout. I’m sure there have been times you’ve told yourself after the workout – ‘I’m so glad I showed up and worked out, I feel fantastic!’.

The body can take a lot, a lot! As a society we have gone from running marathons (26.2 miles), to competing in ultra marathons – which can be anywhere from 50 to 100 miles! People would compete in triathlons until that was not challenging enough so the Ironman triathlon was created. We constantly are looking at ways of challenging our bodies, pushing ourselves to the limits.

But it is usually the brain that lets us down. The brain will most like always quit before the body will. We’ve all experienced it, and most of us have probably witnessed it too.

No easy answers

I wish there was an easy answer but we all know there isn’t. That’s why the motivation business is a multibillion dollar business. From motivational speakers be it successful business people to successful athletes. Motivational DVD’s, books, seminars, etc. People want that easy answer, and they are willing to pay for it, pay a lot for it. In my opinion, there isn’t an easy solution, or answer. If there were, there wouldn’t be a need for anymore books, or DVD’s or you name it.

Things to try

What can we do then if there isn’t an easy answer? There are a number of things you can do. First, don’t be tough on yourself. Beating yourself up over it isn’t the answer. This will only hurt you in the long run with respect to your own self-image. You want to motivate yourself, not tear yourself down.

Ask yourself if you need the break and look back at the last seven days and determine if you have been very active and your week has been busy or tiring. If determined you need the break, it’s alright to take the day off. As long as you can justify it, and you feel ok about it, then stay on that couch. If you can’t honestly justify it, you will probably end up feeling guilty the whole time you are on that couch and feel like you wasted your day.

Try your best to remember the last workout that you got that endorphin rush, that runner’s high. Use that as your motivator knowing you will feel better afterward than you do now. It can be tough to do since you won’t be able to remember that feeling with the intensity as you felt it right after the workout.

Set and track short term goals. Choose a goal that you can realistically achieve in a month or two. Print off a calendar for the period of time you have chosen. Let’s use an example of you want to shave 5 minutes off of your 10km run time. This is a two month goal. Put the calendar you have printed off on the fridge, bathroom mirror, somewhere you will frequently see it. Every day that goes by where you have stuck to your activities to reach this goal, put a big X on that day. One week goes by and you look at the calendar and you see the seven X’s. Then another week, and seven more X’s. It looks awesome! You can visually see the progress you are making. You would hate to have a day go by and not have an X but a white space breaking up that nice chain of X’s. As you near the end of your time frame, you will feel so great knowing you stuck to your goal, you are achieving it, you are doing it! Then when you get to the end, take that day off, relax, you did it! You can then hold onto that calendar and use it to help motivate yourself another time.

Use peer pressure if you need to. If your friends are jerks, you may not want to do this as it may actually end up doing more harm than good. You are the best judge of this. I see every so often from some of the people I know on facebook a status update of a run they did, or a hike. Basically these updates are created by software that will do this automatically for you. Do you want all your facebook friends seeing that you missed a run? It’s up to you. You can also set a goal and let your friends know about it. When you are deciding back and forth between staying on the couch or heading for your workout, you will be aware that the next time you see your friends they will be asking you how you are making out and you would love to give them good news.

Change things up. Sometimes we find it hard to get out the door because our workout has become stagnant. Try adopting a new workout, or change up your exercises. Use that day to go to the pool if you don’t frequently swim. Knowing this is a new activity can add some excitement and that may be enough to get out of that funk.

Get a personal trainer. Your personal trainer should be able to motivate you to a degree. If you find they are not that motivational, get a new trainer. Also, you have a monetary commitment. Money can be a great motivator.

The big picture

There is no easy answer. Ultimately it’s up to you to stay on the couch, or to get your *#s out the door! Just like the brain can be powerful in its way to justify staying on that couch, it can also be used to get you out the door. Do your best to stay positive either way. Remember, if you choose to stay on that couch, watching the next 10 episodes of Breaking Bad, how enjoyable it will be as that voice keeps reminding you that you have something else to do? Don’t let the couch win.

Yours in health,

Darryl

The Runners World

I just want to run.

It was probably about 10 years ago that I really started to get into running. I started with relatively small runs, about 3km’s. After a short while I was up to 5km’s, and then 10km’s. I loved running, and still do. My runs got longer, and my runs got faster. Eventually, I worked my runs up to 36km’s. Some weeks I was putting in about 60km’s. I would run inside on a treadmill when at work, and outside of work my running was on the road.

What’s wrong with this? Nothing really, if I did more physically than run. But I didn’t want to. Couldn’t care to use any other piece of equipment for my cardio workout. That may not have been that bad either if I was also including resistance training, but I wasn’t. Did I get injured? Yes. Did I have muscular imbalances? Absolutely! Did I learn the hard way what muscular imbalances can do to your health and training? I absolutely did. I had runner’s knee cause by tight I.T. bands, back pain that could sometimes be so bad I would have to take upwards of 5 days off from running.

I want to use running as an example to describe what muscular imbalances can develop if you are not careful to use complimentary training methods.

Why we are great runners

There was a time, millions of years ago that our ancestors lived in trees. As they came down from the trees, they had to adapt, and learn to run primarily to survive. The moment we became bipeds, we became vulnerable. We had to eat. As we descended from the trees, we also became carnivores. But how could that be? At this time we didn’t even have tools. The tools that would be needed to hunt and kill prey were not created until about 300,000 years ago. But we were hunting and eating large animals. How? By running them down. We could easily run at a pace that would cause the prey to go to a gallop to avoid being killed. Another reason is that when we run, we are able to keep cool by sweating. Animals on the other hand have to pant to keep cool. But when galloping, due to the animal’s physiology, they are unable to pant and must either switch to a trot, or stop to cool down. This tracking and running could go on for quite a while, sometimes days, until the animal was utterly exhausted, it’s body temperature too high from not being able to cool down adequately.

Our body changed

Thousands and thousands of years of doing this evolved humans into excellent runners. Our body changed and adapted to address the rigors of running on our body. Certain muscles became larger, tendons in our feet and legs adapted to enable us to run.

When we run, our feet and legs are part of an amazing energy return system. Because of our arched feet, and the massive Achilles tendon that runs up our legs to our calf muscles, as much as 35% of the energy from when our feet strike the ground is returned to us. Another change is our gluteus maximus which helps to propel us forward and stabilize the torso as we run became much larger. In comparison, a chimpanzee’s bum is quite small being that they are quadrupeds and not bipedal runners. A large ligament, the nuchal ligament, runs up the back of the head to help stabilize the skull against the forces of running. All these changes are the direct result from running. None of this would have happened if instead we walked.

Then what changed

We no longer have to run down animals to eat and survive. Progress happened.

A lot of our progress over millions of years that made us great runners has diminished as we adapted sedentary lifestyles, spending a fair amount of sitting. Shoes that alter our foot movement when we run and over cushion our foot causing us to change from a forefoot or midfoot strike to a heal strike. This might account for the rising number of repetitive stress injuries among runners today. Shoes are so well cushioned that most runners do not even notice that they are landing heal first, all the force driving up through the heel, up the bones and joints of the legs and hips. Without a feedback mechanism to alert us of the trauma we are experiencing by landing on our heels, such as when we touch something hot, our body gets abused gradually and gradually until we are injured.

What causes the imbalance

When we run, and only run, certain muscles become stronger and larger, and most times tighter. These are the agonist muscles, the primary movers. And when these muscles become stronger in relation to the muscles that are opposite the ones getting stronger, the antagonist muscles, we end up with imbalances. A good example are the hamstring and quadriceps muscles. The hamstrings are the primary movers, the agonist muscles whereas the quadriceps are the antagonist muscles.  The quads are used, just not as primarily as the hamstrings.

Another common overworked part of our legs from running is the Iliotibial band, or IT band. Although not a muscle, the IT band is a layer of connective tissue extending from the iliac crest to the tibia. This injury you might of heard being referred to ‘runner’s knee’. With the IT band being the agonist in this case, the adductor muscles would be the antagonist. Strengthening the adductor muscles is a great way to stabilize the knee, and prevent runner’s knee.

Although I have compared muscles used during running, any exercise we do over and over and over will result in imbalances that can prevent us from enjoying these activities due to injury or discomfort.

Attacking the problem with resistance

Now that we know what muscles are being overworked, let’s look at muscles that we can strengthen to help prevent injury. As always, see your personal trainer so they can help you with these exercises and stretches.

The Quadriceps

A group of four muscles that are at the front of our legs, above the knee. A great exercise to strengthen these muscles are machine leg extensions, barbell or bodyweight squats, and lunges.

The Adductors

These muscles are used to bring our legs towards the middle of our body. They tend to be weak as they are usually over looked when training. Cable hip adduction, tube hip adduction, and lying on side adduction are great exercises for these muscles.

Abdominal

Having strong abdominal muscles will help with balancing your muscles out, and will also help you when you run as it will improve your core strength, providing stability when running and help prevent secondary muscles from being used due to a weak core. Exercises such as jackknife crunches, planking, side planking, and regular crunches will get you there.

Back

Having a strong back will also help as they are stabilizer muscles when we run. Exercises such as seated cable rows, lying back extension will help strengthen this area.

Attack the problem with stretching

For those muscles that are overly strong, and with this comes tightness, let’s look at stretches that can be done to loosen up those muscles.

Glutes

Figure 4 stretch. Lying on your back, bring one knee up towards your chest, bending at the knee so the leg has a 90 degree bend, and then place the ankle from the opposite leg on front of the leg above the knee. Grasping the back of the bent leg, gently pull the leg towards your chest.

Hamstrings

Seated hip hinge: Sit on the floor with one leg straight out, the other bent and the knee with the heel touching the inside of the opposite thigh. Be sure the keep the knee of the straight leg close to the ground, not bending it. Exhaling, lower your upper torso onto your thigh. Switch and do the other leg.

Hip Flexors

Kneeling lunge: Kneel on one leg. Step out with the front foot and gently press the hips forward. Gently move the foot of the other leg back. Place your hands on the front thigh for support.

Calf Muscles

Heel Drop: Place the balls of the feet on the edge of a step for curb. Let the heels drop down, keeping the knee straight. Hold onto something for balance.

Moving forward with training

I think we all have certain activities we love. I love running because I can be in my own world when running, and the times I run and feel strong and I could keep running for hours. If we want to keep doing these things we love, we need to do complimentary activities and proper stretching. Take my advice, don’t be like me and wait until your injured, not knowing why and then continue to do the same thing, wondering why you are injured again, and again.

What’s the saying? ‘Insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results’. Do yourself a favour, don’t be insane.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Dealing with Disruptions

Disruptions and roadblocks are getting in the way of my fitness.

Monday morning, I’m heading into the office early to start the week. I already have my day planned out; a couple of meetings, some program changes to make, my work out at noon and then get caught up on other tasks at work for the remainder of the afternoon. As what sometimes happens, my day didn’t quite follow the script I had made up on my way in.

About an hour into my day, the administrator for the system that captures all hours worked, vacation, sick time, etc. for all our distribution and manufacturing employees informs me that she cannot close of the pay period due to an error. What does this mean? It means no one in the whole company will get paid unless this is fixed. That’s about 2,000 people. That would be one angry mob! And of course, this is the first day of the week my colleague is on vacation, so it’s only me to try to resolve this issue.

Fortunately I was able to resolve the issue. It took a fair amount of time, rescheduling meetings I already had booked, and working through my lunch. So I missed my work out that I had planned for the day. A year ago or so this would have thrown me off for the rest of the day. Like a lot of people, having your schedule upset can impact what you do for the rest of the day, moving things around, missing workouts. Once in a while isn’t that bad, but when it becomes a frequent pattern, it can really have an impact on all the hard work you have put in over the last month, year, etc. It can be really depressing too and can kill your motivation if this starts to happen repeatedly.

What we can do

Don’t let it get you down. There are options! The more flexible we become, the more options we will have at our disposal. Can you take your fitness class at a later time that day, can you take another class that will fulfill your needs, go for a swim to get an activity in, can you get your workout in at home. Take the time to get to know your fitness options in the area you live. This way, when this happens, you have already done your research, and you now have your plan ‘B’ to fall back on.

Let’s look at another option that you can do whether you’re at home, the hotel, or anywhere where you have as much space as a prison cell, which is about 6 feet by 10 feet, I think. The prison workout. It is amazing the workout you can have with limited resources such as space and equipment. Your body is a tool that you can use in this workout by doing body weight exercises such as burpees, push-ups, etc. And if time is a constraint, you can complete the workout, including warming up, cooling down, and stretching in under 25 minutes if needed or take longer, it’s up to you.

Breaking it down

Let’s take a look at a typical prison workout:

Exercises:

Burpees

Mountain Climbers

Jackknife crunches

Explosive push-ups

 

In the above example we are working the muscles in our legs, chest, shoulders, back, arms, abdominals, and glutes. That’s a pretty wide range of muscles being worked, and if done without much rest, we are also getting a fantastic cardio workout.

You could do each exercise for 3 sets, each set being done until muscle fatigue sets in. Based on your fitness level, you may want to decrease or increase the amount of sets. This is just a general guideline. Listen to your body and train smart.

Another option is to take these 4 exercises and incorporate them into a Tabata routine. Let me briefly explain what Tabata is. I’ll save the details for another post. Tabata was discovered by Dr. Izumi Tabata, of Tokyo, Japan. It consists of 8 20 second exercise periods with a 10 second break between each exercise period. This works out to approx. 4 minutes to complete. Dr. Tabata realized through control groups that following this training method, the aerobic system (cardio) and the anaerobic (muscular) system both increased in performance, whereas traditional training only increased the aerobic system.

Using the exercises above, each exercise would be done for two 20 second sets with the 10 second breaks between. You could of course choose 8 exercises and do each one once. This gives you some flexibility do address your training needs.

Caution: Tabata training done properly is very intense! Do not attempt this if your fitness level cannot handle it, or if you are uncomfortable with this type of training. Another option would be to talk to your personal trainer about Tabata training.

More options

The above exercises are just an example of what you can do using body weight. There are many more exercises you can do. Use a chair or bench for tricep dips, or use it for incline pushups. Pushups themselves can be done so many ways; hands wider/narrower than shoulders, one hand forward, one back, one leg up while doing pushups. Planking, side planking, supermans, body weight squats, etc.

No going back

A lot of options to look at. It’s up to you to choose which one, or ones work best for you. Try these different exercises ahead of time and write down which ones you like and work for you and create a program with them. Find out the schedule of your local pool, or check out the classes your gym offers through the week. Download a Tabata timer for your smart phone, or whatever device you will have at home when you are training.

In my opinion it’s not so much what it is you choose to do, but more so being prepared for when it happens. Then, when the day comes, and it will, you won’t be spending time deciding what exercises you are going to do, or is the pool open. You will be ready to implement plan ‘B’.

Yours in health,

Darryl