How well I know with what burning intensity you live

Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.

High intense interval training is a specific method of training. Do it properly and you will realize the benefits of this type of training. Do it wrong, and you’ll wonder what all the hype is about. And there is a lot of hype regarding HIIT training. High intense interval training topped the list for fitness trends of 2015. I find this somewhat funny because this type of training has been around for a long time. I’m willing to say it’s been around for hundreds of years. I look at when I do kata training for Karate. 30 to 45 seconds of intense movement followed by 20 seconds of rest. Do this over and over. Sounds like interval training to me. I think why it is looked at the number 1 trend is because people are starting to realize that they don’t have to spend an hour in the gym to realize health and fitness gains. Also people find it easier to set aside 15 minutes instead of that hour. Maybe it’s the number one trend because it’s what people want.

Having said that, let’s look at specific things we should be doing to get the most out of our HIITs.

The how matters

To realize the benefits of HIIT training you need to train properly. Makes sense, right? You can apply that basically to any type of training. The following are things you can do to keep you on track:

  • Intensity: As the name says, it’s high intense interval training. If you are doing Tabata for your interval training, the 20 seconds of work needs to be at no less than 100% intensity, or output. If you don’t feel totally drained after a Tabata session, you didn’t work out intensely enough. If your HIIT training isn’t Tabata, but a 1 to 2 ratio of work to rest, you still need to be hitting an intensity level of about 90% output.

If you are able to talk why you are in the work phase of your interval training than you aren’t training at the right intensity level. You won’t realize the benefit of training for less time if you don’t hit the proper intensity level. It can be tough, it will make you feel uncomfortable but it’s worth it.

  • Resistance: Add resistance training to your interval training program. This will give you the benefit of interval training along with the benefit of resistance training, a double win. Try adding explosive pushups, or jump squats into your workout. They are tough but worth it. I highly recommend doing this because if you stick to cardio exclusively you are more likely to develop muscular imbalances especially if you are doing the same type of exercise you do all the time such as running, or biking. Adding things such as jump squats, or speed lunges allow you to develop muscular strength in the muscles that aren’t necessarily engaged when running.
  • Duration: HIIT training is tough! Exhausting. If you are new to it, keep it to the lower end of duration, and don’t do it more than twice a week. As an example, if you are doing Tabata for your HIIT training, stick to a 4 minute duration. If you are an advanced athlete, you can extend the 4 minutes to 8 minutes, and you can use a Tabata routine 3 times a week if you want. If doing a type of interval training that uses a 2 to 1 rest to work ratio, keep in no longer than 30 minutes of duration.
  • Keeping it cool: Be sure to include time to cool down your body. This should be some type of movement that is moderate to low intensity and no less than 2 minutes. This allows the body to bring itself back to a lower heart rate and will also prevent blood pooling at the muscles that were doing the work. The worst thing you can do is to just stop at the end of your training. Cooling down can prevent things such as dizziness or a cardiac episode.

Congratulations

I’m congratulating you because you are doing interval training. Not many people do this, but the ones that do really benefit. Trust me, I know. I have been working with a group of people for about a year now interval training and the results I have seen are phenomenal. I have to constantly raise the bar because their bodies are becoming more efficient each time.

If you aren’t interval training, start. You will be glad you did.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

all things will manifest given time

Pain is meant to wake us up.

Lying in bed sleeping, peacefully. Suddenly your cat digs it’s claws into you calf muscle and the pain is excruciating. At least that’s what it feels like. You have just been woken up by a muscle cramp that feels like your calf muscle has just had a knife inserted into it, or a pair of claws.

Muscle cramps will feel that way. It makes sense because the muscle is experiencing an involuntary contraction. If you have ever had a muscle cramp, or spasm, in your calf  muscle and felt it, your calf muscle probably felt like a baseball, round and hard. It makes sense that they hurt so much.

Why

So what causes muscle cramps? Turns out it can be a number of things. I’ll explain them and see if one or many of these reasons could be why you are experiencing muscle cramps:

  • Dehydration: Our body needs water to function and lack of water can cause muscle cramps. Be sure you are consuming enough water. If you are drinking water when you get that thirsty feeling than you have waited too long. By that time you are already dehydrated.
  • Lack of electrolytes: Sodium, potassium, magnesium impact muscle function. Your muscle cramps could be due to not having enough of these minerals in your body. Also, drinking too much water will dilute these minerals causing a deficiency.
  • Stress: Another cause can be stress on the muscle. Standing too long, or walking on a hard surface for extended periods of time can cause muscle cramps.
  • Lack of stretching: Lack of stretching after exercising can also cause cramps. Be sure to reserve enough time after your workout for stretching. Of course you’ll do this right? No one neglects stretching
  • Other: Other things can be the cause of your muscle cramps. Things such as kidney disease, medication, or malfunctioning nerves. If you are concerned about the muscle cramps you have been having, consult your doctor.

What

So what can you do to prevent muscle cramps? Of course address the issues above, such as increasing your intake of water, minerals. If you suffer leg cramps while sleeping, try consuming a drink heavy in electrolytes such as Gatorade before bed. Try taking baths with Epsom salts to help replenish magnesium.

If you are someone who exercises intensely, and tends to sweat a lot, you really need to make sure you are taking in enough electrolytes. When you sweat you are sweating away water, but also your electrolytes.

When you do get that cramp in your calf, try straightening out your foot by pushing down on your toes. Then lightly massage the calf muscle. This should help alleviate the intense pain.

Next

It’s a balancing act. Drink enough water, consume enough electrolytes, and stretch enough. Do these things and your cramps may go away. Be thankful that this is the way your body lets you know you need to address these things. It could be worse, your muscle instead of cramping could just implode. Now that would hurt!

Yours in health,

Darryl

it is what’s behind us

Don’t neglect what we don’t see.

We use it a lot. Every day, all day. And when it’s injured we realize the limitations we have without it.

I want to use this post to talk about muscles of the back and also to give you a picture of how these muscles work so you can have a better understanding and maybe that will help you the next time you work your back.

The main one

We have back muscles that start at the lower spine and run up, right up to the base of the skull. This group of muscles is called the Erector spinae. You can imagine them as large ropes running side by side in parallel with the spine, more or less. As they travel up the back they connect to the ribs and upper vertebrae. They are responsible for spinal extension (moving your back backwards like a big stretch), lateral flexion (moving the back to either side). These muscles help make up our core and if they are strong will add to performance increases and provide stability for the spine when needed.

Knowing that the erector spinae starts at the bottom of our spine and all the way up to the base of the skull we need various exercises to work the whole length of the muscles. Let’s look at what exercises we can do:

Spidermans: This exercise will place focus on the lower part of the back. Lying on the ground on your stomach, hands under your chin, raise your shoulders about 2 inches off of the ground. Focus on the lower back when doing this and try to feel the contraction. It’s a simple exercise but difficult to do only hitting the back muscles.  I would recommend that you have someone knowledgeable show you and work with you on this exercise.

Bird dog: This works more the length of the erector spinae since the muscle is used to stabilize you while carrying out the exercise. Get down on all fours hands at shoulder width and knees in line with yoru hands. Raise your right hand extending your right arm straight out in front of you.  Then slowly raise your left leg out behind you. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and repeat on other side. Be sure to actively engage your core when doing this.

Stability ball back crunches: Start by lying on the stability ball with your stomach and chest. Your legs should be fully straight out behind you on the floor. Having your hands behind your head, contract your core and glutes. Slowly raise your upper body upwards for a movement of 2 – 3 inches. Hold at the top for 3 – 5 seconds holding onto that contraction. Lower yourself down until your chest touches the ball. Repeat about 8 to 12 times.

Close grip cable rows/ band pulls: Having your hands close together targets the centre of your back and being seated it also targets the middle area of the back. Think about half way between your waist and the bottom of your skull. I’m going to explain this one using the bands. Sitting on the floor legs straight out in front of you, having one end of the band against the bottom of your feet, with arms straight out holding onto the band, pull back until hands are close to your stomach. Hold for a second or two then straighten out your arms. Try to do this for 8 to 10 repetitions.

Now the next muscle I’m going to cover is technically a muscle of the shoulder girdle but I think we all look at it as a muscle of the back. This is the muscle that when developed gives you the highly sought after V look. Pop a couple of big shoulders on top of this V and you’ll be turning sideways just to get through the door. You got it, the latissimus dorsi. It starts at vertebrae T6 – S5 (around the centre of your spine) and inserts at our humerus bone. Makes sense right? If pull ups builds this muscle, the movement of the arms when we do pull ups is how the muscle contracts. The lats aid in pulling and lifting type movements and provide support to the shoulders.

What can we do to build the lats, keeping them strong? Good question.

Pull Ups: An awesome exercise over all since it’s a body weight exercise and also works more than just the lats. You can use a wide grip or a narrow grip target different areas of the muscles of our back. I think we all know what a pull up is so instead of explaining, I’m going to give some tips. If you cannot do a pull up because you can’t yet pull up your body weight, don’t worry. If you work out at a gym you are probably lucky enough that they have a machine where you can rest your knees and adjust how much weight is removed from your body when doing the pull up. Yeah that sounds strange doesn’t it. In a sense instead of adding weight we are removing weight so if you weight 200lbs, you can adjust the machine so the weight you are moving is 140lbs as an example.

A way to do this if you aren’t working out at a gym is to use a chair or something else to put your feet on (the tops of your feet will be on the chair, not the bottom). This allows you to push with your legs when doing the pull up. Please be careful if you do your pull ups this way! Be safe!

Pull Downs: The inverse of pull ups. You will need a machine for this but if you have one, use it. The nice thing about pull downs is you can adjust the weight. When doing this try not to sway your torso. Keep strict form.

Reclined Pull Over: Lying on the floor on your back, legs bent and feet on the floor, straighten your arms so they are stretched over your head like you are giving two high fives. Using a barbell or a dumbbell in each hand engage your core as you raise the weight up until your arms are perpendicular to the floor. As you raise the weights, keep a small bend in the arms. Hold at the top for a few seconds then slowly lower. Do this for 8 to12 repetitions.

The rest

There are other muscles that benefit from these exercises such as our trapezius, teres minor/major, posterior deltoid muscles, etc. I’ll probably get to some of these muscles in another post more specifically to do with their respective area such as the shoulder or rotator cuff.

Try these exercises out if you haven’t already. Build a solid back and rock that V like it’s no one business. Your back will thank you for it.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

There is peace even in the storm

I hear the sound of a gentle word

You try to move your head, arm, leg but there is a pain so strong you can’t move it with the mobility, range of motion you normally do. You can feel it too. A spot on your muscle that is knotted up. Sometimes it feels like it’s the size of a golf ball, sometimes maybe smaller. How did it get there? What did I do? What can I do to relieve the pain, get back my range of motion, and get rid of this knot?

MTP

What is a knot? Before I get into what a knot actually is, let me explain how the process of muscle contraction works. Muscle contraction works in a way that it’s either on, or off. There isn’t a contraction that is 50%, or 60%, etc. The muscle fibre contracts or it doesn’t. What does change is what nerves are recruited for the contraction based on the contraction required. Each muscle has several nerve fibres that lie within the body of the muscle. The amount of muscle fibres the nerve activates varies from a few to hundreds. Putting the nerves and fibres together we have what’s called a motor unit. When the nerve is stimulated all of the associated muscle fibres will contract (all or nothing). Motor units consisting of many muscle fibres produce strong contractions and motor units with a few muscle fibres result in a weaker contraction. So in a sense, when more motor units are involved in a contraction, and the motor units are bigger in size, and the rate at which the motor units are fired is faster, the ‘stronger’ we are in a sense.

Ok, I hope that makes sense and isn’t too convoluted. But we need to understand how muscle contraction works to better understand what is going on when we get that muscle knot.

MTP, myofascial trigger points. Knowing  now that a muscle contraction starts with our nerves, for that contraction to work we need calcium. When that nerve fires and recruits motor units, calcium is released into the muscle. Bam! The muscle contracted! When we no longer require the muscle to contract, the work is done let’s say, the nerve stops sending the contraction message to the muscle.

But, we have been giving it more than 100% lately, or didn’t warm up, or during our last workout something happened, and we have damaged our muscle. Our nerve stops sending the message to contact but because of the damage the calcium stays in the muscle instead of leaving the muscle. So if calcium is needed for contraction, what is the impact of that calcium not leaving the muscle? That’s right, you got it. The part of the muscle where the calcium remains will continue to contract, but on a much smaller scale.

But, even though it is on a smaller scale it can still be very strong. This contraction pulls on either side of the muscle fibre and guess what, yeah, you now have a knot! Science! It makes sense now doesn’t it?

Undoing the knot

Now that we know what it is, what can we do to get rid of this knot and bring some comfort to the area.

Heat: Apply some heat with a heating pad, hot water bottle, etc. The heat will bring blood to the area, providing oxygen and nutrients, and removing waste.

Pressure: If the knot is reachable, use your hand to apply pressure. If not, use a tennis ball on the wall or floor to apply pressure. Do this for about 10 minutes to help release the knot.

Stretching: Stretching will help lengthen those contracted fibres helping with circulation.

Water: This is more preventative but dehydration can lead to knots. Be sure to keep yourself hydrated. If you start to hydrate when you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated. Drink water throughout the day to keep hydrated.

All in a day

If you are active, someone who pushes themselves, yeah, you are probably going to get a knot from time to time. But now you know why, and you hopefully know how to treat them.

Warm up, try not to kill yourself when you work out. And when you get that knot, treat it as soon as you can. You’ll be back to your normal self quickly, killing it like you do!

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

only I know what I am

I will not be my enemy

It’s been a while since I have written about project 5lbs in 4 weeks. That is my fault. I have been negligent in writing a follow up, or check up, on this project. So lets get to it.

The premise

If you haven’t read my post on what this project is, let me provide a summary. The goal is through training, eating and a few other things to add five pounds of muscle in four weeks time. A goal that is realistic and achievable as long as it’s done properly.

First Check

My last post regarding this project was a couple weeks in to see where everyone was. I was hoping that by posting a check in article that it would keep your enthusiasm and interest in achieving this goal. Sometimes having that bit of influence can help you stay on target and keep focused on what you are trying to do. So lets see where we are.

The End

It’s been more than four weeks, probably around 7 weeks. How did it go? Are you five pounds heavier? Are your shoulders wider, so wide that you are finding shirts fitting a little tighter? So wide that you are having trouble fitting through doorways? I hope so! If you were able to achieve the goal I think you will find things do fit a little different. You might also find yourself being stronger. Be sure to congratulate yourself and reward yourself. You worked damn hard to get this done and don’t forget that.

What if you weren’t able to stick with the plan? Don’t worry about it. Guess what, there is another four weeks starting today, or tomorrow. Analyze what road blocks were there that impacted you achieving your goal. See what you can do to mitigate these road blocks so they aren’t a factor next time.

What I don’t want you to do is beat yourself up over it. Things happen, stuff gets in the way and some of these things we cannot control. Don’t quit. Do it again. It’s not how many times we fall, it’s how many times we get back up that defines us.

Did you make a calendar, a schedule? Try this if you didn’t. It’s a great way to carve out that slice of time you need each day, and to stick with it.

Forward

Move forward, not backwards. Being overly critical of ourselves is not productive in us reaching our goals. Look at the things you did well instead of the things you didn’t. I’m not saying to totally ignore where you went wrong, what I’m saying I guess is don’t be hard on yourself about it. Look at what you can do differently and plan to do it. You will get there. I know you will.

Guess what, there is always another 4 weeks waiting for you.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

the view can be different from here

…and I like the view

Ninety, one hundred and eighty. Degrees of angles. Degrees of angles we normally train in. Squats, bench presses, pushups. Most times when we do these exercises we do them at a square angle to the ground. We do our exercises this way because we need gravity to provide the needed resistance. So what’s the issue? Doing the same thing over and over, the same way. Repetition.

Resistance

Over time our bodies will adapt to a load being applied at the same angle relative to the muscles that are being worked. As our muscles adapt the less they respond to the load and the lessening of the benefits  we get from working out are realized.

Another benefit of incorporating angles into our workouts is it can target different areas of the muscles being worked. Also, it can help to maintain strict form when working out, preventing us from cheating an exercise.

How to

Lets look at the bench press or the pushup. Most times when doing this exercise our body is mostly parallel to the ground albeit on a bench when doing bench presses or the slight angle we realize when doing pushups. What if we raised our feet when doing pushups, or elevated the back part of the bench that supports our upper body when doing bench presses? This now changes the load from being distributed to the middle of our chest to more of the upper area of our chest. This also changes up what our muscles have been used to. I guarantee if you have been doing either of these exercises in the traditional sense and change it to incorporating this angle you will feel the difference. Now do the same but use a decline. With respect to bench presses, you will need a decline bench. For pushups, you can do your pushups by having your hands on a bench, couch, or anything that is about 12 to 16 inches above the ground, keeping your toes on the ground. Be sure that whatever you are using that it is stable and safe.

The same principle can be applied when carrying out dumbbell chest flies. Doing this exercise on an incline or decline angle will put the load onto the upper and lower chest area respectively.

Using an incline bench you can apply the same principle to when you do dumbbell bicep curls. With your back against the inclined bench, let your arms hang down, holding the dumbbells. Having your body at this angle, no longer parallel with your arms will make it almost impossible to cheat when doing dumbbell curls. If you try this, you will notice that the amount of weight you use will probably be less than when doing dumbbell curls the traditional way.

The traditional lat pull down, pulling down the horizontal bar directly from above you can also be modified to incorporate a new angle. If you pull down having your upper body on an 80 degree angle you will still be hitting the lats but you will also target more of upper/middle back area, similar to a seated cable row. Be careful doing this one that you don’t end up swinging the body because of the load being too high. This is not what you want to do, and could lead to injury.

Not everything

Not all exercises can be done this way, especially when exercising safely. These are just a few options to help you keep realizing the benefits from resistance training, another way to ‘shock’ the muscles.

It’s beneficial to you to incorporate different things in your workout routine. Altimately you are the one that benefits, the one that grows.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

all the blood that I would bleed

It’s about embracing the pain

You’re tired of sucking wind either when working out or doing anything mildly strenuous. You want to be able to make it through a workout, push yourself hard, and make a quick, or quicker than normal recovery.

You need to work out your cardio respiratory system. Time to build the heart and lungs. It can be tough but the payoff is tremendous.

Benefits

Stated earlier, the benefits can be realized when doing normal day to day activities such as going up a couple flights of stairs, having to walk a longer than normal distance, or something unexpected such as having to push your vehicle out of the deep snow (hopefully you haven’t had to do this).

The benefit of having a strong cardio respiratory system will lead to quicker recovery when working out. What I mean is it will take less time for your heart rate to return to normal. So you can push yourself doing interval training and have your heart rate lower quicker as you get ready for your next intense interval. So instead of being out of breath, heart racing when you are getting ready for the next interval, you will feel stronger and ready to go. That’s a nice feeling.

Another benefit is an increase in performance. Why? I’ll explain what the cardio respiratory system does and I think you understand how performance will benefit.

The what

The cardiovascular and respiratory systems work together to deliver oxygen and nutrients to body tissue, such as muscle. It is also responsible for removing waste. Our respiratory system takes in oxygen providing it to our blood, and it removes carbon dioxide, the waste product. Our cardiovascular system is what moves the oxygenated blood to our tissues, delivering oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.

More oxygen will be delivered and more carbon dioxide will be removed as efficiency increases. One large influence on this is what is called stroke volume. Stroke volume is the amount of blood that can be pumped in one beat of our heart (specifically the left ventricle). The typical amount of blood that is pumped in one beat is 70 milliliters. As we become fitter the ventricle becomes larger and stronger, able to move more blood and contract with more force. When resting, our body required a specific amount of blood to be circulated. For someone who is fit, and has a larger than normal stroke volume, the heart does not have to work as hard to deliver the amount of blood needed.

When we are training the effect of having a larger stroke volume means more blood is pumped to our tissue than someone with a smaller stroke volume. I’ll try to explain it this way. You have two people filling a balloon with air, one with a pump that with each stroke delivered 1 litre of air, and the other person, the fit person, had a pump that delivered 2 litres of air with each stroke. The balloons are the same size, requiring 100 litres of air to fill it. The amount of strokes per minute are the same for both people, 20 strokes (think of heart rate, each person’s heart rate being 185 bpm’s when working out). The average person, who can only pump 1 litre per stroke requires 5 minutes to fill the balloon (20 strokes/minute x 1 litre = 20 litres per minute).  The healthy person requires only 2.5 minutes to fill the balloon. The healthier person can move more air per stroke requiring less work overall. Apply this to the heart and it makes sense why someone with a larger stroke volume, a healthier cardio vascular system, can accomplish more work at the same heart rate than the person with the smaller stroke volume. Does that make sense? Maybe? If it doesn’t, or it seems convoluted, let me know.

The what

So what do we do to improve our cardio respiratory system? Cardio training. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that you have to start running. Cardio training does not have to include running, or biking, or elliptical machines. Now you like me, right? I’m going to change that. With what I tell you next, you may end up hating me. I’m ok with that because I know you will benefit from what I’m going to tell you, and that is my goal. I’m doing this for you, not me.

If you follow my blog, have read some or most of the articles you probably know I’m a fan of intense workouts. Slow and easy is not for me. I’m not going to get into why because I have done that in other posts. What I’m going to do is layout some options you can use to help you become better, stronger.

Intervals: Interval training can be a number of things. Tabata is a good example of interval training. 20 seconds of full out work followed by 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes total (or longer if you love pain). 60 seconds of 90% intensity followed by 30 seconds of 60% intensity work. Another example could be 90 seconds of 90% work followed by 30 seconds of 60% work. There are so many benefits to interval training. Better utilization of glucose (provides energy to our body), higher resting metabolism, growth in our stroke volume (yeah!), etc.

Intervals can vary quite a bit. From the 20 second work 10 second rest of tabata to 3 minutes work, 1 minute rest of another interval method. The work you do can be anything as long as you hit the targets. Jump squats, burpees, sprints, mountain climbers, clean and press, etc. If you want to run on a treadmill, go for it. It’s up to you.

Other options

Are there benefits to activities such as going for bike rides, quick walking, jogging or none interval activities? Sure. Different benefits but they are there. We can’t do interval training all the time because it is taxing to our body, and our body needs time to recover from these hard workouts. Throwing in a non-interval training activity is a great way to add variety to our workouts and there may also be other benefits realized. Some people when they run can turn their mind to a place that brings them peace and relaxation, and happiness. There’s a lot to be said about benefits of this. Peace of mind is a beautiful thing. Exercising should not be totally exclusive to one activity. That’s how we end up with imbalances and sometimes boredom.

It makes sense.

Add interval training to your workout. Start off easy, one session per week. Get out of your comfort zone and push yourself. Do this for a month and I know you will be pleased with the results. Kill it. Have no mercy when you train and you will ultimately be triumphant.

It may not feel that way, but trust me. You are awesome and you will kill it. You always do.

Yours in health,

Darryl