Sometimes your best is not always your best

young asian sportswoman having rest after workout in park
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We are not the same every day. There are many things that influence how we perform day to day: recovery time, the foods we eat, quality of sleep, alcholol consumption, etc. But yet we like to see improvements day to day when working out or performing. But that isn’t really realistic, is it? It may serve us well to be in tune to what our body is telling us and to then adapt accordingly.

what

Let me relate a recent experience with you. My current running routine has one slow day a week and the remainder workouts are intervals. When doing my interval days I like to keep the speed of the fast interval at no less than the last workout. I want to see progress and I want to make sure I’m working hard so I realize the progress. But my interval workout didn’t go that way. I didn’t get enough quality sleep the night before. I knew it as I woke up feeling like I really didn’t sleep at all. I could have easily stayed in bed for another hour that morning, but that’s how bad habits start.

I arrived at the gym, jumped on the treadmill and started my warmup/run. I was able to complete my first interval without issue but it wasn’t easy. I had to push a little more than normal. It felt like I hadn’t ran in 2 weeks. Next interval the same. Then, on my 3rd interval I made the decision to dial it back a bit. I feared if I didn’t I would either injure myself as I would be extending myself and that is when form takes a hit and becomes sloppier, or I could injure myself as I could put myself into an over trained state. That can lead to injury or sickness.

3 days later after some nights of better sleep I found myself at the gym again ready for my interval training. I felt rested and good. I did my first interval running at the speed I had worked up to, and I felt great. When I hit the slow part of my interval I listened to my body to get an idea of what my perceived exertion was and it wasn’t as high as some other times. My next interval I decided to add .5 mph to the speed, the fastest I have run in quite a while. Did it and I felt great, still! Next interval my fast speed was now a 1 mph increase. I finished my run completing the fast parts of my interval at the fastest speeds yet, and I also extended my run by 5 minutes. I completed what I wanted to do, experienced growth in my performance even though a few days earlier I performed below what my average was.

Growth does not happen exponentially but more inline with a continuous S curve where we plateau and then grow. And the more we know when we are plateauing, and the more we listen to our body the shorter time we will spend at the plateau or worse, falling off of the plateau.

how

Let’s look at some tools we can use to better understand how we are progressing in our workouts.

  • Journal: I’ve written about this many times. If you don’t know what you have been doing, from the first day to the last workout, then it becomes very hard to see the growth or know if your latest workout was your best. Just like in the world we live today data in power. The more you know about your performance the better you can be for it. And you can log plenty of data: amount of sleep, workout duration, type of workout, foods consumed, current weight. All of these things can come into plan on how you perform. And if you don’t have time to keep a journal, read my next item.
  • Bio Feedback: I’m a fan and a retractor of Fitbits and other fitness bands. Why? They are great in that you can look at your stats for your workout and your day (see items above from journal) and compare to your previous workouts, you can see how well you slept and how long (these are different things) you slept, you have a readout of heart rate including resting heart rate and historical heart rates. These are all metrics that impact performance. Unfortunately  people can end up using these numbers as a way to reward themselves not fully understanding the impact of the reward. Constantly rewarding yourself by increasing your dessert intake or drink intake probably is adding that weight you are trying to lose instead of aiding in the removal of that weight. There are also newer fitness bands that are better at giving you bio feedback and will let you know what type of workout you should focus on that day: high intensity or mid to lower intensity. These type of bands take the guess work out of it. You go into your workout pretty much knowing how you will probably feel during that workout. A great tool to help you from preventing over training which can be just as bad as not training. 
  • Perceived rate of exertion: PRE, or perceived rate of exertion is a scale that allows you to assign a number to how you are feeling while you are working out. As an example, 10 is max effort and comes with the feeling of it being impossible to continue, completely out of breath, and unable to talk. 6-7 on the scale is for vigorous activity where you feel you are on the verge of becoming uncomfortable, short of breath and can speak only a sentence. On the low end, 2-3 is light activity where you feel you can go on for hours and it’s easy to carry on a conversation. Understanding where you fall in the chart when working out should help you understand your goals for that workout. Feeling really good you might be able to live in the 10 zone for 30 seconds if the workout that day is meant to be intense but take that same workout another day you may need to be in the 6-7 zone due to lack of sleep or recovery time

 

finally

The more you listen to your body, the more data presented in the right way to understand your body should result in you staying motivated, seeing the results you are working hard to achieve. Gone should be the days of a cement head attitude of ‘balls to the wall’ or ‘take no prisoners’. Now don’t conflate this with a softening attitude on my part. Do you need to work hard? Absolutely! Just what ‘hard’ is in actual measurable work can change.

Hard work is can vary day to day. It’s no different than if you go for a 2 hour run and 90 minutes in you start to have pain in your knees. You would be stupid and irresponsible to yourself to continue. How is that different than running at 8 mph when your form has gone to sh*t just because your last interval training was at 8 mph. Take down the intensity a bit for that workout. You may be able to increase the intensity next workout or the one after if your body conditions are right. Rested, had a great sleep, ate the right foods and enough of the right foods probably got you there. Your best is not always better than the last time.

Train hard but train smart! You’ll be training longer and you’ll feel better for it.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Engaging Your Core for a Stronger Core

stack of gray stones
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It may not always seem like it but our core, the part of our body from our neck to our knees, is always working for us regardless of what it is we are doing. Typically we do notice this when we incur soreness in our back. That is when we realize how much our core is involved in day to day activity.

In today’s post I want to talk about what we can do to strengthen the core even when we are not focusing primarily on the core. Let’s get into it.

what

To perform even the simplest of movements we need our core to engage. And if you want to perform those things well, you will want a strong core. We probably don’t realize it when we are climbing stairs, running, punching, kicking but the core plays a vital role in those activities. And there is really no better way to develop strength when we do those things then to let the core engage.

Here’s an example. When I jump onto a treadmill at my gym often I’m waiting for the incline setting to reset back to zero. Sometimes I’m waiting almost 20 seconds as it seems like it’s set to its max (not sure what that is, maybe 10 degrees?). And I’m fine with that if the person who was using the treadmill with it at that setting was actually walking or running WITHOUT having their hands on the equipment while exercising.

disengaging the core

It’s not uncommon to see people using the treadmill while having their arms out front holding onto the machine due to the level of incline and the inability for their core to support them while executing this motion. Now, it could be said that maybe they are doing this to increase the resistance on their leg muscles. Ok, maybe. But the problem with this is that they have released their core from the responsibility of supporting their body while doing this. What you are actually doing is training your body to not be there for you when you have now put your body into that position of having a higher load on your legs. This increase of load can happen when climbing the stairs, walking outside and you face an incline, playing with your kids or grandkids, or many things where the core needs to power up and engage.

It may be a fair statement that we all have faced back pain sometime in our life, or we still do. It is usually very debilitating, painful and most times happens when doing something simple such as picking up a light box, standing, or reaching for something. And when that happens it most times has a big impact on our lives.

When we exercise and exercise with intensity, we want our core to also be firing away getting stronger. If we exclude our core from these activities by disengaging it, it won’t be there when we need it the most. If you have your hands on the treadmill when walking due to the incline you have it set at, ask yourself a question: Why is that? Is it because the incline is increased to add more resistance to your leg muscles and you are holding on for stability? If so, stop. Really, I mean it, stop and reset. Reset the incline to 1 (1 is pretty much the equivalent to walking outside and dealing with the grades of the roads) and start over. Then, raise it by 1 degree to the point that you are able to support yourself.

Let your core muscles do the supporting, not your hands. This is how the core will get stronger. You may not like the fact that you can’t have the incline as high as you want but you will get there, over time. And you will have a much stronger core because you are now giving your core the opportunity to engage and support your body throughout this exercise.

And you will get better over time. The incline will increase gradually without having to hold on and while this happens your core will strengthen. And here’s another bonus: While working out your legs you are also now engaging more muscles due to working the core which means the energy needs are greater! That means you are burning more calories, working more muscles which should also raise your resting metabolism rate. Don’t you love bonuses!

WHY

I’m a strong proponent of full body exercising. Strengthening the whole body through a full range of motion. The end result is a body that is strong when executing movements from the beginning to the end throughout the motion.

Remember that when you are tired. Remember that when you are tired and have a few more burpees to do and you figure you’ll squat down only half way. Then remind yourself why full body exercise will make you stronger no matter what position your body is in. You won’t do as many burpees but that’s not the point of exercising, to do as many reps as you can. The focus should be to do as many reps as you can while maintaining proper technique.

finally

If you aren’t sure on how to use equipment, if you are new to the fitness game, if you need some refreshing on certain movements or just need someone to motivate you don’t hesitate to engage a personal trainer. It doesn’t have to be a long term engagement, it could be as many sessions as you need to fix these things.

You will not regret it. You’ll have a better understanding of what you are doing and I bet you’ll end up enjoying your time exercising much more.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Omega-3 and Cutting Out the Middle Man, or Fish

brown and green moss on body of water
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I’m writing this blog in hopes of educating people on Omega-3 essential fatty acid, especially with the recent celebrity news.

I am a vegan which means I morally object to the inhumane treatment of animals (veganism is a moral principle whereas following a whole foods plant based diet is not necessarily) so I get excited when celebrities such as Miley Cyrus become vegan and the positive influence that can have on a lot of people. But then I become disappointed when that celebrity goes onto arguably the worlds most listened to podcast and announces she is no longer vegan due having to get Omega-3’s from fish because ‘my brain wasn’t functioning properly‘. Shortly after she also states: ‘…and I think that I was at one point pretty malnutrition [sic]’. On the podcast Miley talks about suffering severe head trauma at the age of 2 and consuming large amounts of cannabis and mushrooms at a very young age. These are 2 important things to keep in mind. We are learning more and more about the long term effects severe head trauma can have and we also know the brain does not stop developing until approx. 25 years of age. Severe head trauma and consuming drugs at a young age can have a profound impact on how the brain develops and functions throughout the rest of your life.

This isn’t a post about Miley’s time on Joe’s podcast but I wanted to highlight some key points before I get into Omega-3’s for perspective. To me, the interesting points are that Miley talks about being malnourished, suffering severe head trauma, and consuming drugs at a young age. All things that can greatly impact brain function and health. One more thing before I move on: with all the money and resources Miley has at her disposal, there wasn’t any other option available to her? Blood work, health professionals for a diagnosis of any deficiency, Omega-3 supplements, high-end vegan dieticians, other health experts and lastly, the foods we eat. Let’s get into that.

what

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. Marine algae and phytoplankton are primary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Common sources of plant oils are walnuts, edible seeds, flax seed, hemp hearts, and certain algae.

There are 3 main types of Omega-3 fatty acids:

  • ALA: alpha-linolenic acid. ALA is an essential fatty acid in that the body cannot make it. Your body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA.
  • EPA: eicosapentaenoic acid. Associated with cardiovascular benefits
  • DHA: docosahexaenoic acid. Long chain Omega-3 fatty acid that aids in healthy brain maintenance

So if we look at DHA we can see it has a role on how our brain works. With respect to veganism, the controversy starts with the belief that you would need to eat very large amounts of plant based ALA (as mentioned above, the body can convert ALA to DHA) to get enough DHA. Let’s look at the following. A FDA serving of salmon has roughly about 450mg of DHA. A 3oz serving of Tuna has about 200mg of DHA. A tablespoon of flax oil has 8 grams of ALA and when using the conversion rate of 3.5% (here’s a Pubmed study that puts it at a 3.8% conversion rate) you get 300 mg of DHA right in there with the average serving of fish. If you don’t want to eat flax oil, 3 oz of Walnuts will provide the same amount of ALA -> DHA. Also, the requirement from the WHO is from 150 mg to 300 mg a day.

Some of the benefits of having Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet are: helps to reduce the development of plaque in the arteries, mental clarity, helps in fighting depression and anxiety, can fight inflammation, good for your skin and other benefits.

where

Just like how people eat animals for protein, people will eat fish for their Omega-3 needs. But there isn’t any need for this. And again, just like instead of going to the source for protein (plants) and eating animals, people aren’t going to the source (algae and phytoplankton) for Omega-3 and are eating fish instead, the fish that consumed the algae and phytoplankton.

Also, our waters have been heavily contaminated over the years. Just this week the EPA is easing restrictions on lead, mercury, and other toxic discharges from coal plants into waterways. Guess where these chemicals go: into the fat of the fish in those bodies of water.

Cut out the middle man if you will. If you’d rather get your Omega-3 from other sources than from the water, you have choices such as walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and hearts, and Brussels sprouts. Let’s look at the Omega-3 fatty acid content of some of these:

Want to supplement? Here’s some vegan options: Freshfields with over 240 mg of DHA from mercury-free algae and a 2 months supply for just $30 CDN. Here’s another from Whole Earth and Sea made from algae that gives you over 320 mg of DHA! Again, without the mercury or PCP’s found in fish oil, yech.

finally

Do I think Miley is doing what she thinks is best for herself and to take care of herself? Absolutely. I can’t fault her for that. It’s just unfortunate that a lot of her fans will listen to her talk about that she had to do this and she feels better for it when really there is so much more going on here than possibly being deficient in DHA (at one point on the podcast she talked about eating nothing but celery). And a lot of her fans will go back from being vegan or start adding fish to their diet contributing to the 2 trillion fish killed annually.

I hope this article helps you to understand how you can get Omega-3 fatty acid without consuming fish, and without increasing your risk of disease.

Yours in health,

Darryl