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

 

Combating the Chair

A lot of people spend a good part of their day sitting, be it sitting at a desk, or sitting while at home working on a laptop, watching TV, or just relaxing. How we sit will have a direct impact to our posture even when we aren’t sitting. Why is this? While we are sitting, we are using muscles to keep us in that position. These muscles over time become stronger than the opposing muscles, causing imbalances.

Let me explain in more detail looking at the hip flexor muscles. When sitting, the hip flexor muscles are in the flexed position, or the position when contracted. Because of being in this position over a long period of time, the hip flexor muscles will shorten, and tighten. The problem with this is when you are no longer in the sitting position, the hip flexor muscle now has to leave the flexed position, and go to the extended position. But because the hip flexors have been in a shortened position for so long, it doesn’t want to be in this position, the muscles want to go back to the position it was in. And how it does this is by tightening up, and pulling on the pelvis. This pulling on the pelvis now causes the pelvis to be anteriorly tilted (tilted towards your toes), affecting our posture badly, and causing other muscles to engage to try to compensate.

Our abdominal muscles are also impacted as they are not used in this position, and over time become weaker and weaker. With weaker abdominal muscles we are now weaker in the core and more susceptible to back issues.

Another common muscle imbalance from sitting is we over develop the muscles that keep our hands out in front of us. Muscles such as our shoulders (front deltoid muscle specifically), our chest muscles. These imbalances become evident when we stand. Our hands instead of resting along our side now rest more to the front of our legs. Our shoulders turn more inward.

As we can see these imbalances cause our body to become misaligned resulting in things from back pain, hip pain, shoulder pain to injuries that prevent us from being active or enjoy a certain quality of life.

The good thing is these imbalances can be addressed. A good place to start is to get a posture assessment. This will identify the imbalances and also provide the information to address them.

Let’s look at the tight hip flexors which is causing the anterior tilt of the pelvis. Because these muscles are tight they need to be stretched. The kneeling lunge is an excellent stretch to help lengthen the muscles. Strengthening the abdominal muscles will also help bring the pelvis back to where it needs to be. This can be done by performing planks or crunches as an example. If you are not sure how to perform these exercises, consult with a personal trainer.

With our tight shoulders that are causing our arms and shoulder girdle to be misaligned, we want to look at stretches that loosen our chest muscles, and the front of our shoulders. The chest expansion is a great stretch for this, or the chest reach back and turn. These two stretches are also excellent for stretching the front of the shoulders. Exercises to help strengthen the muscles to bring back alignment to the shoulders are the bent over dumbbell shoulder raise, upper back cable pulls, cable shoulder pull. Again, consult with your personal trainer on how to do these exercises if you are not sure.

 

We all have imbalances because we all have activities that we do where we are in one position for great length of time. Through proper stretching and resistance training, they can be addressed and our imbalances will slowly reduce. Stretch the tight muscles, strengthen the loose ones. If you spend a lot of time sitting and you have these imbalances, try these exercises and stretches and see if it helps. Good luck!

 

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

Garbage in Garbage out – How understanding nutrition can help us

You are what you eat.

First off, I want to be clear that I am not certified in any manner to dispense nutritional information. The following is my personal opinion, nothing more. This post will be talking about food, supplements and in general about nutrition. I have gone back and forth about whether I should do a post on this topic, but in the end I feel it is something worth talking about. The more reading, listening I do on nutrition, the more I realize how important it is, not just with respect to exercise, but also our day to day living. And, this blog is about fitness and health. So why am I posting this? I guess because of my passion to see people healthy and enjoying every day to the most they can. I know how it can be myself, how discouraging it can be to not perform well even though you feel you should. Also, there is a ton of misinformation floating around out there, on TV, on the food we by, from our doctor’s, our governments.

Hopefully this will add to the good information out there and if one person read’s this post, and because of that they have a positive experience, then my job is done.

I’m going to first describe what the components of nutrition are, then I think I’ll save the somewhat controversial stuff for the end.

What is it?

Nutrition is the study of food and how the body uses it. Nutrients are chemical components of foods that are essential for energy, growth, cellular repair, and regulation of metabolic functions.

That’s some serious stuff. Essential for energy, growth, cellular repair and regulation of metabolic functions. Basically we are what we eat. I’m not great at analogies, but I’ll use the car one again. You are the owner of a real nice sports car, let’s say it’s a Porsche 911.  You’re out for a drive, and you need to fill up the gas tank. You are at the only gas station around for 100 km’s, and they are out of premium fuel. You have no choice but to fill up using regular grade fuel. You know the impact of that. Your Porsche is just not going to run well. It will have less power and performance. You push the accelerator to where you normally do to accelerate, but it’s not responding like it usually does. If you continued to do this over a longer period of time, there could be permanent damage to the car, and I believe you may even void your warranty.

Our bodies are not really any different. When we eat, we are fueling our bodies, carrying out the processes defined above for nutrition. We are taking in food to allow our body to repair itself, to function, to build energy stores for our next workout, whatever it may be. When we push on our on accelerator, we want the body to respond well, not sluggishly.

Breaking down nutrition

I think most of us understand the common breakdown of nutrition, or essential nutrients. Here they are in no particular order:

Carbohydrate, fat, protein. These are energy nutrients because they provide energy for the body. You can also refer to these as macronutrients.

Vitamins, minerals, and water. These do not provide energy but play a critical role in our health. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients as they are needed in small amounts to support normal health and body functions.

Carbs

Potatoes, rice, pasta, bread. I think most of us understand what foods we eat are Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be broken down into two groups; simple and complex. Unfortunately, most of us will consume a disproportionate level of simple carbs to complex carbs. We need carbs because it is an important energy source for working out, for the brain and nervous tissue. Carbohydrates break down in glucose which is used in production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for energy.

Two types of carbs

Complex carbs, or the good carbs, are things like fruits, vegetables, pasta. These provide us with the natural sugars and along with that, they provide us with the fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Complex carbs are the carbohydrates you want to have in your daily food intake.

Sugar, honey, syrup, high fructose corn syrup (stay away from this if you can), I’ll talk more about high fructose corn syrup later, are simple carbs. These are found in their raw form, or like high fructose corn syrup are found in processed foods, things like fruit drinks, soft drinks.

Fat

Fat is one form of lipids. Fat is when a lipid is in solid form at room temp., and oil is when the lipid is in a liquid form at room temp. Contrary to popular belief we need fats! Fat is essential for a healthy diet. Fat is one of our sources of fuel for the production of ATP. Also, fat is used for production of hormones, healthy skin, feeling of fullness from meals, and for the transportation of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).

We also want to consume fat as part of our diet as we need to consume essential fatty acids. These are our Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids you hear about. They are essential because our body cannot make them. Typically, omega 3 fatty acids are found in foods such as fish, leafy green vegetables, flaxseed, canola oil. Omega 3 fatty acids will tend to reduce inflammatory responses and also help reduce risk of heart attack. Sources of omega 6 fatty acids are foods such as safflower oil, peanut oil, vegetable oil, and corn oil.  A great source of both fatty acids is hemp oil, hemp hearts and hemp seeds.

Types of lipids

Saturated: This fat is mainly found in animal products; beef, chicken, butter, milk. Generally it is wise to keep saturated fat intake low. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but if you choose a high quality brand, one that hasn’t been over processed, it is a beneficial fat to have in your diet.

Monounsaturated: Mainly found in olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil. Can improve blood cholesterol levels, helping to reduce heart disease.

Polyunsaturated: Can be found in canola oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Also improves blood cholesterol levels.

Fat is bad, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, fat got a really bad rap back in the 80’s. Without going deeply into details, studies were done in the U.S. to determine the raise in heart disease. Due to flawed studies, the reason was determined to be due to high fat diets. This was the beginning of the fat free, low fat labeling on processed foods. Here is another reason to eat small amounts of processed food. So people who were eating these processed foods were getting less fat which may have been ok since most of the fat in processed foods are saturated, or worse, hydrogenated fat. But, sugar, or more specifically, high fructose corn syrup was used to replace the fat to keep the flavor level where it needed to be.

The good news is I think more and more people are starting to understand the difference in fats, and that they need to consume fat to be healthy. I’m hoping this trend will continue.

Proteins

The major role of protein is to build and repair body tissues, such as tendons, muscles, and ligaments. It is not a primary source of energy, except when your body does not have enough carbohydrates or fat due to starving, dieting, or over training. So let’s think about that. How can a diet high in protein be good for me? Well, it really isn’t. Once you understand how the body chemically creates energy, you realize that protein does not play a part in that roll. So if you have drastically lowered your carb intake and replaced it with protein, you are going to have a real hard time exercising and performing, and in my opinion, it’s not a healthy thing to do.

Sources of protein

Plant protein, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains are excellent sources of protein. Also, if you are someone who is consciously trying to make an effort to lessen your carbon footprint (farming meat has a huge negative impact to our environment) or you are not comfortable eating animals or animal products for your source of protein, these are your sources. When eliminating meat and animal products from your diet, remember that you need to be aware that you need to mix and blend these products to get the full complete branch chain of amino acids, the building blocks of protein you need. Hemp products such as hemp seed, hemp hearts although a plant does have the complete branch chain amino acid profile. Yay for hemp!

Animal protein (meat, eggs, fish, dairy) all have the complete branch chain amino acid profile.

How much to consume of each?

Generally, from a 2002 recommendation by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine finds the acceptable macronutrient distribution range, or AMDR, for each category is as follows:

Carbohydrates: from 45% to 65%

Fats: 20% to 35%

Proteins: 10% to 35%

For myself, I have the following breakdown:

Carbohydrates: 60%

Fats: 20%

Proteins: 20%

These are recommendations. You need to understand you activity level whether that is working out, or day to day activeness. Listen to your body. How long does it take to recover? Do you have the energy you need? Does your hair and skin look healthy? These are all indicators of how your diet is made up.

Remember! Educate yourself! Too much of anything is not good. As an example, too much protein can cause kidney problems long term.

The remainder

Now let’s take the time to go over our micronutrients; water, vitamins, and minerals.

Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary for good health. The body cannot make vitamins, and therefore are supplied through your diet and through supplementation. Vitamins are necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat. Vitamins also play an important role in our body’s day to day functions, and if not adequately supplied, can have a long term negative impact. Also, if you are not taking in adequate levels of vitamins, you may exhibit signs that may get you to the doctors and diagnosed as something totally different. An example is a B12 deficiency may manifest itself in signs of lack of energy, weakness, easy bruising, possibly being misdiagnosed, and mistreated.

Minerals

Minerals are important nutrients that serve a variety of functions. Sodium and potassium assist with levels of body fluid, calcium and phosphorus are needed for bone health, and iron is important for the transport of oxygen. If you are someone who is very active, you will lose minerals due to sweating which in extreme cases can be dangerous.

Water

About 70% of your body is made up of water. Water is used in pretty much all functions of our body, from aiding in digestion, cooling our body, assisting with chemical reactions, carrying oxygen through blood, lubricating joints, etc.

Because of this, we not only lose water when we sweat, we lose it through water being used to aid in these body functions. A good indicator of your body water level is your urine. Ideally, the colour of your urine should be pale yellow, or clear. Keep in mind if you have taken a vitamin supplement, it may alter the colour (B vitamins will create a yellow urine).

Water consumption is very important, especially when you are working out. Since exercising increases body temperature, and also the process to create energy consumes water, we start to use more water than when we are at rest. A good practice is to consume about a mouthful of water 10 minutes in, then every 10 minutes. Remember, if you are already feeling thirsty, you are already running a water deficit.

And if you are one of these people who don’t drink water when exercising, you run the risk of long term damage to your body, and the short term risk is having a cardio event. When you do not have the proper amount of water in your body, your blood thickens. Now, your heart has to work harder to supply the blood needed, increasing the load on the heart. Not a good idea. It still baffles me why someone won’t drink water when working out. I just don’t get it.

Now for some controversy

I have covered quite a bit so far, and have tried to steer clear of controversial issues when talking about these things. But now is the time, and I would feel like I have done you a disservice if I didn’t talk about these things. So let’s start with processed food, including soda’s and fruit drinks.

Today there seems to be more and more processed foods, and I think more and more people are eating these foods, instead of creating the dishes with the raw ingredients. We all know why, it’s easy, fast, and convenient. I also think there is this notion that if it’s being sold to us, it must be ok because the companies that make the food, and the government’s that allow it to be sold has our best interest at heart (take a look at this article about privatization of water). Remember, a corporation’s main objective is to increase share value each quarter, not necessarily to provide the healthiest product.

So with the drive for cheaper production costs of food, sugar was replace with high fructose corn syrup, a product that is sweeter than sugar on the sweet scale, yet instead of less being used because it is sweeter, more is used. Why, because the amount of salt can be increase, thus making the food even more addictive. Generally, a diet high in sugar will potentially manifest itself in diabetes, disrupt your hormones, lead to overeating and other harmful effects. I’m not going to go into great detail about the impact of sugar, and high fructose corn syrup to your body, but if you would like to learn more, watch this talk by Dr. Lustig.

Lastly, I would like to cover supplements. Understandably, supplements are controversial due to lack of regulation, due to incomplete studies on benefits, and yes, due to corporate lobbying. But, if you take a deep look at our food, even raw food that is grown thousands of miles away, grown with increased amounts of fertilizers, basically the corporatization of farming, it’s not what it used to be nutrient wise. Food we buy in the grocery store just isn’t as nutrient dense as produce from a conventional, local farm. Because of this, personally, I believe supplementation is needed. As to how you supplement, I leave that up to you to decide.

One option is to get your blood checked for your levels of various vitamins and minerals. This should be a good indicator of what you may need to supplement. If buying supplements, try to purchase a quality brand, not a well-known brand if you know what I mean. The big companies from what I have researched use fillers in their products that may be dangerous. Go to your local health food store, and consult with them. That’s why they are there, to help inform you.

That was a lot

Did I cover everything I wanted to? No. I could go on longer, but I would probably lose your attention if I haven’t already. It’s a close topic to me, and I get very passionate about it. My goal is that you walk away from reading this, not with all the answers, but a peaked curiosity about what you are eating, and about vitamins, minerals. I’d be happy if even the most you got from this article was the dangers of sugar to our bodies, and how eating smarter will benefit you.

I want to end on a positive note. More and more people are making better choices when it comes to food, nutrition. Local grocery stores are now including natural sections where you can get alternatives to dairy and meat, hemp products, organic products, healthy oils such as coconut oil. Maybe this is the pendulum swinging back the other way. Let’s hope so.

Every time we make a purchase we are voting. We are voting on what we want to buy as food. Companies will adapt to how the people vote. As an example, if more people bought organic products, there would be more organic options, and it would be cheaper. It’s not easy, we all have budgets we need to work within. Be sure to include your health and welfare when you are putting that budget together.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

Keeping Your Finger on the Pulse

Keeping your finger on the pulse of your workout.

In a previous article about warming up, I briefly talked about pulse rate. I would like to now expand on that, and describe a couple of ways to monitor your heart rate without a heart rate monitor, and also how to measure, and understand how hard you are working. Keeping track of our heart rate when we are working out is one way to help us understand how hard we are working, but there is more to it than just heart rate.

Of course, the easiest way to monitor our heart rate is using a heart rate monitor, which typically includes a watch along with the sensor and strap that wraps around your chest. Most of these devices will also interface to cardio equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines, etc. The downside is they can be expensive, and if you happen to lose the sensor, you now have nothing more than a watch unless you buy a new sensor. There are also other devices that measure at the wrist, but personally, I don’t think they are that reliable.

You already have the tools

Let’s look at how we can measure our heart rate with the tools we already have, our fingers, and one of two spots on our body, either our carotid artery, or our radial artery. The carotid artery is located between our wind pipe, and the large muscle in the neck. The radial artery is located at the wrist, just below where the wrist bends, on the thumb side of the tendons.

Radial Pulse

Using your first two fingers, press firmly on the radial artery on your left arm, positioning the thumb on the opposite side, almost like you are pinching the wrist. The left arm is preferred since it is closer to your heart, and the pulse should be stronger. You may need to move the two fingers around until you find the pulse. Also try varying the pressure. When I first attempted this, I didn’t use nearly enough pressure, and couldn’t feel the pulse. It wasn’t until I pressed harder that I felt the pulse. It was really cool when that happened. I’m sure I had a huge grin on my face. Do you feel it? Do you have a huge grin?

Carotid Pulse

Again, using the first two fingers, locate the outside of the windpipe, and move away from the windpipe towards the larger neck muscle, locating the hollow between the windpipe, and the larger neck muscle. Press lightly, and you should feel a pulse. I find that you don’t need as much pressure to find the carotid pulse, unlike the radial pulse. Feel it? Good!

Which one to use?

You can use either the radial, or carotid artery to check your pulse. If checking someone else’s pulse, you may want to use the radial artery as it is somewhat easier to do, especially when they are exercising on a treadmill or bike. When checking my pulse, I will use the carotid pulse. I just find it easier.

Now what do I do

Now that you know where to check, lets talk about how you can calculate your heart rate using your pulse. Based on your math skills, you can decide on what formula to use. I often use the 6 second check. With your fingers on the artery, you should feel the heart beating. Feels neat, doesn’t it. Now, when counting your pulse, the first beat is always zero. Now for the math. Count the number of beats for 6 seconds, then multiply by 10 (remember, the first beat is zero). This is your current heart rate. Or, count for 15 seconds, then multiply by 4. Basically the way this works is instead of counting for 60 seconds to find the beats per minute of your heart, you are taking a shorter time period, then multiplying that interval by a factor that it will equal 1 minute. If you think about it, based on the level of activity, your heart rate could drop somewhat at the latter part of the minute. That’s why I prefer the 6 second count. To me, it’s somewhat more reflective of your heart rate based on the activity you were doing. For people in excellent cardio shape, your heart rate could drop off a fair percentage during that last 30 seconds.

How hard am I working

I mentioned earlier in this article that heart rate is not the only indicator of how hard you are working. Oxygen consumption is the other factor that impacts the level of your performance. When training, your body is using oxygen to aid in the creation of fuel, and to feed your muscles. This process doesn’t get captured by monitoring heart rate, but how efficient your body is in using oxygen does contribute to the level of exertion you are training at. If your body is inefficient in consuming oxygen, your level of exertion will be higher with the same work load than if your body was more efficient.  This is called rating of perceived exertion, or RPE.

To measure this level of exertion, a scale was developed (the Borg Scale). The scale starts at 0 being the exertion is nothing at all, and ends at 11 which is absolute exertion.  The idea is to understand your level of exertion along with your heart rate. Not every workout is going to be the same. One workout you may be training at 80% of your max heart rate and feel great, having an RPE of 7 (very strong). Another day, maybe you didn’t get enough sleep or already have had a busy day, you are also training at 80% max heart rate, but you are feeling tired, and your RPE is a 10 (extremely strong). This is normal, our bodies do not perform the same every time. There are too many factors that influence this. The benefit of understanding our RPE is that you will start to train smarter realizing that it’s not just heart rate, it’s other processes happening in our body that impacts how hard we are working. Here is a breakdown of the modified Borg scale of RPE:

0 – Nothing at all

1 – Very week

2 – Week

3 – Moderate

5 – Strong

7 – Very Strong

10 – Extremely Strong

11 – Absolute Maximum

There are a number of RPE scales, but this is the most common one.

Putting it all together

Now that you can measure your heart rate, what does it mean? Not a whole lot if you don’t know what your max heart rate is. The standard formula to determine your max heart rate is as follows: 220 – Age.

Example for a 40 year old: 220 – 40 = 180. So someone 40 years of age has a max heart rate of 180 beats per minute. Taking that number I can now calculate what my heart rate will be at a certain percentage. Let’s use 80%: (220 – Age) x Percentage: (220 – 40) x .80 = 144. Therefore, someone who is 40 years of age who is working at 80% of their max heart rate will be targeting 144 bpm (beats per minute).

This is a simple formula that has been around a long time. There are other formulas available that take into factor the level of fitness by including the resting heart rate into the formula. One of them is the Heart Rate Reserve. Here is the formula: {[(220 – Age) – Resting Heart Rate] x Percentage} + Resting Heart Rate.

Let’s use the 40 year old again, who wants to work at 80% max heart rate:

{[(220 – 40) – 70] x .8} + 70 =

[(180 – 70) x .8] + 70 =

(110 x .8) + 70 =

88 + 70 = 158

As you can see this is somewhat higher that the first calculation of 144 bpm. Why is that? It is taking into consideration that someone with a resting heart rate of 70 bpm is healthier than someone with a resting heart rate of 85.

Of course, these are general formulas and do not take into consideration other aspects that impact cardio performance. There are much more exacting tests to measure max heart rate, oxygen consumption (Vo2Max), etc. available through clinics or universities.

Now what?

Now that you can take your pulse, calculate max heart rate, calculate a percentage of max heart rate, and understand rated perceived exertion, you have given yourself more tools to train smarter. Train smarter, feel better, less down time, and reaching your goals. All great things and I wish you the best of luck in achieving them!

Yours in health,

Darryl

The Art of Stretching

I’m naming this post the art of stretching because through the years watching people stretch, I have come to the conclusion that it must be an art. What is art? Art can partially be defined as the application of human creativity and expression. I have seen a lot of people stretch using many methods, applying their creativity, and very much expressing themselves.

You have the bounce stretch, common when stretching the hamstring where the person will bounce back and forth using their upper body. Very dangerous and most likely to cause an injury. I have seen people literally beating their leg muscles with their fists while stretching. This must be part of the ‘aggressive expressionist art’ movement. When I saw this, I was so surprised/shocked? I didn’t know what to say. Another common one is the stretch which really isn’t. An example is the cross shoulder stretch to stretch the posterior deltoid where the arm is kind of hanging there, not really parallel with the ground, and really no tension on the muscle.

I’m not poking fun here at all, believe me. These are things I see. Like most times when people use incorrect technique, they have been shown how to stretch, but they have never been shown how to stretch properly. The have the best intentions, mostly, but lack the knowledge.

This article isn’t going to talk about how to do each stretch, that would take too long, and that is why there are personal trainers. What I want to do is focus on the benefits of stretching, and how to execute a stretch, regardless of what muscle you are stretching.

Why Stretch

Exactly, why should we take the time to stretch, and it does take time, hopefully ten minutes at the end of your workout. Like the cool down or the warm up, stretching seems to be one of those things that does not get the attention it deserves. So maybe after reading this post, you will see the benefits of stretching, and give it the respect it deserves.

Benefits (not all of them):

• with stretching comes a wider range in motion, which then reduces risk of injury
• Releases tension developed during the workout
• Improves posture
• Reduces risk of injury due to muscles being more pliable
• Improves performance of everyday activity as well as performance in exercise and sports
• Helps you carry out day to day activities with less discomfort
• Improved quality of life

Ok. I want you to read the benefits again. Reduces risk of injury. Improves performance. Improves performance. Reduces risk of injuries.
Maybe I’m being a bit of a jerk by repeating, and repeating, but these 2 benefits are huge! Think of these benefits when next time you are contemplating passing on your stretching routine.

Static and Dynamic Stretching

Most of us are probably familiar with static stretching. This is where we hold the stretch, not moving any limbs or bending at any joints. An example would be sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, bending forward at the hip, trying to reach your toes (a common hamstring stretch). The purpose of static stretching is to improve flexibility, increase range of motion by lengthening the muscles. Static stretching should be done at the end of your workout, when the muscles are warm, and tight. When static stretching, it is very important to hold the stretch for at least 20 – 30 seconds, so you can overcome the stretch reflex (the automatic tightening of a muscle when stretched). Ease into the stretch, and hold the stretch gently, feeling tension on the muscle, but no pain. If you can hold the stretch for 60 seconds, even better! Do this 2 to 3 times for each muscle group being stretched.

Dynamic stretching is using motion such as swinging your arms or legs, working within the full range of motion of a joint, but not exceeding it. An example would be to swing your arms back and forth across your chest, like you are hugging yourself. When performed correctly, dynamic stretching warms up the joints, maintains your current level of flexibility, and reduces muscle tension. With each motion, start slowly, and gradually increase speed and intensity. Unlike static stretching, it is recommended to perform dynamic stretching before exercise or activity that is movement based. Dynamic stretching is very beneficial for people involved in sport like activities that require a wide range of motion, and speed. Combining static and dynamic stretching can prepare the joints for explosive movements more than either one alone.

When dynamic stretching, it is very important that you understand the movement that you are doing. Have a personal trainer work with you on dynamic stretching. You may experience small trauma over time in the joints or connective tissue (tendons, ligaments) if you go through a range of motion that is too extreme, or executing movements that are too fast. Train smart!

Some Guidelines

• Work within your limits. Just like my previous article that talks about not getting caught up in numbers, you are your competition, not the person next to you.
• Breathe comfortably. Exhale as the muscle lengthens
• Ease into the stretch. Don’t compromise your posture. Let the muscle gently stretch.
• Don’t bounce
• Work with warm muscles as they lengthen easier, and are less prone to injury. A good time is right after your cardio training
• Listen to and know your body. Abandon a stretch if you can’t execute it properly due to limitation such as hips, back, etc. Look for another stretch that will focus on that muscle group.
• Be relaxed and calm when stretching. If you can, do your stretching in an area that is conducive to relaxation, not right next to the studio that is running the spin class, cranked up 160 beats per minute music playing.
• Stretch each muscle group for complete body improvement
• Unlike resistance training, where the muscles need time to repair, stretching can be done 7 days a week.

Changing attitudes

When I was working out today, I was working through my mind, trying to get a better understanding of why we don’t take the time to stretch. Is it because we don’t get that feeling that we are doing something that benefits our fitness and health? Maybe it’s because it can be a passive process, unlike resistance training, or cardio training. I think sometimes when holding a stretch, we get anxious, ready to move to the next part of our day. After all, stretching is the last part of our workout, the part before we head out of the gym, back to the rest of our day. Maybe if stretching was at the beginning of our workout, more people would do it. I once heard of an idea for a gym that you only pay when you don’t go, an interesting idea on how to incentivize people into working out.

Maybe that’s it! Every time you leave your workout without stretching, you pay a somewhat substantial penalty, $20 – $30. You know, not that it’s like we end up paying the penalty anyway, what was one of those benefits to stretching again? Oh yeah, reduce risk of injury. Either way you’re going to pay. It’s just a matter of what currency you end up using.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Slow and Steady Wins…

Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Ok, I admit, this is probably not a title you would expect for a post on a blog having to do with fitness and health. Especially today. We live in a society that has a go go go mentality. Fast food, fast internet, texting. We live in a society where we want results now! People get impatient when a web page takes more than a couple of seconds to load, or someone will send a text and wonder why they haven’t had a reply, you know, it’s already been a minute!

Along with all this comes our expectations with fitness, and health to a lesser degree. A lot of people want fast results. Although it took them 1, 2, 5 years or longer to get to where they are today, they expect to be back to perfect health, or have that killer body within a few weeks. It just isn’t reasonable to think these things, especially if you are looking for results that will stay with you a year, 2, or 3 or a lifetime from now. In fact it can be dangerous. If you are looking for fast results, that can lead to people making dangerous decisions, such as drastic calorie reduction changes to their diet that can have long term negative impact. People will get hooked on the latest exercise regimen; Palates, Zumba, px90, etc. By no means am I disparaging these programs. If they work for you, then great! My point is people will look to these programs to get fast results, not always realizing that they are made up of techniques, methods that have been around a long time. Yes, there are methods to exercising that can increase positive results sooner, but you still need to put in the time, and work. I am a strong proponent of exercising smartly, and along with that comes putting in the hard work.

That’s one point I wanted to make about how ‘fast’ is not always the best approach to your health and fitness. The other point is how speed plays a role in our actual workout. I want to talk about how this applies to resistance training, and cardio training.

Resistance Training

Lets look at common goals and benefits of resistance training; increased strength, increased muscle size, improved coordination, increased bone strength, increased resting metabolic rate. There are more, but lets stick with these ones. Excellent goals. So in the spirit of this post, how do we get there sooner? Let’s start by not getting caught up in numbers. Getting stuck on numbers when resistance training will impede us reaching our goals, and can also be dangerous. By getting stuck on numbers I am referring to how much can I bench press/squat/etc? How many pushups can I do? Why is my friend using more weight that I am? Why am I always the last in my class to finish the pushup challenge?

Why do we do this? Because we are human! By nature we are competitive. No one wants to be last. We all grew up being told not to be last whether in sports, class, etc. Let’s look at a quote from a famous football coach:

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

To me, this quote means something different than how it has been used over the years to motivate people, teams. I’ll tell you what it mean to me at the end of this post. But, back to the whole speed thing.

Why is getting caught up in numbers bad? Because most times it means we sacrifice technique, because to get those numbers we end up rushing through our pushups, not using full technique, we add more weight to the bar, speeding up and sometimes swinging the bar to pull in other muscle groups to help with the lift (this is the dangerous part). Ultimately we end up increasing the time it will take to reach our goals. Unbelievable isn’t it, we end up sabotaging ourselves, not even realizing it.

Slow down

Instead of worrying about numbers, let’s slow down and use proper technique. If you aren’t sure or have questions about technique for any exercise, talk to a personal trainer. A great way of slowing down is to adopt a cadence when doing your exercise. I recommend the following cadence: 2:1:4:0. I’ll explain this using pushups. Let’s start our pushups with our body on the ground. Now slowly raise your body using the first number of our cadence 2, for the count to reach the top of the movement. This is the concentric movement of the exercise. Hold for one second (2nd number), then lower for 4 seconds (the third number) being sure to lower until your arms are bent at 90 degrees. This is the eccentric movement of the push up. Now, do not rest, that’s why the last number is 0. Right back into your next push up.

A lot tougher isn’t it! I have no doubt that you will find your pushups much harder to do, and you will not be able to do as many. But that’s awesome! That’s why you do resistance training. You are training smart, and enabling yourself to get to your goal sooner! The slower pace is working your muscles harder, and it is much easier to execute proper technique, and not get injured. Try this with other exercise such as squats, lat pull downs. Remember the formula though, and which number is for the concentric and eccentric part of the exercise. If you aren’t sure which is the concentric movement, and which is the eccentric, consult with a personal trainer, and they can help you.

Cardio Training

The same principle can be applied to cardio training, such as running, cycling, etc. As I mentioned in another article, you don’t want to train cardio at the same pace, all the time. You need to mix it up. HIITS, slow long runs, tempo runs, hills, etc. But, keeping in mind that speed can be bad, when doing faster runs as an example, do not sacrifice technique for speed! You may get injured immediately, or even worse is ending up with an injury down the road due to repetitive strain because of improper technique. When you are not able to perform the proper technique, other muscles will be recruited to meet the demand, muscles that typically are not used for this purpose, thus risking injury. Posture will get compromised, excessive loads can be placed on your joints. All bad things.

When speed is ok

I love talking about training smart. The more we understand about training, the better we become, and we win! Less injuries, obtaining our goals, feeling better. Let me use my own experience as an example on when speed is ok. If you have read my bio, you know I spend time studying and practicing Karate. One of the kicks we work on is called a round house kick. A very common kick, but like anything, it can take a long time to get it to work well. A technical kick that a lot of things have to work together to perform it well. So we spend a lot of time focusing on the technique of the kick. Breaking it down into individual elements. When practicing this kick for technique, it’s a slower kick.

In my Saturday combat fitness class, we will take that kick and speed it up and get probably 3 to 4 times as many kicks on the heavy bag than when I practice this kick as a Karate student. Why? In this example from my Saturday’s class, it’s more a cardio drill than a technique drill. The purpose is to exhaust you, to get you to that point that you are so tired you may only be able to get in one more kick. So as a student in both classes, I have to understand the purpose of the drill, or exercise. This is training smart. It’s understanding the goal of the exercise.

Be slow, be smart

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I said earlier that I would explain what this means to me. To me, winning isn’t how I do compared to others, it’s how I do compared to the Darryl from the last workout. Did I do the best I can do? It doesn’t mean I had to perform more pushups, or do more superman squats, or more round house kicks. It’s did I do the best I can do.

You can’t expect to always do better number wise (remember, don’t get hung up on numbers) because your body just doesn’t work that way. You may not have enough energy stores in your body for this workout, you may be having a stressful day, and you may not have had adequate sleep. But what you can do is do your best, everytime!

I think that’s a fair thing to ask of yourself, don’t you? You know why? Because you owe it to yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you different!

Yours in health,

Darryl

Fuel for our Workout

We know that we have to put fuel in our vehicles for them to run. Why is it then we don’t always put the fuel in our bodies that it needs before we work out? It could be for a number of reasons; we are on our way to our workout straight from work, and you don’t have any fuel, our workout is early in the morning, and we want to get as much sleep as possible (sleep is very important for the recovery process, but not at the expense of fueling our body), or we just don’t know any better.

Let describe at a high level how our body provides fuel for our workouts. This is very high level, and I plan to write a blog dealing more in depth on this topic. ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate is the energy currency of the body. You want to do something, anything, you pay for it in ATP. When food is broken down, the released energy is captured into the ATP compound to power all cellular needs.

When exercising, the body requires a specific amount of ATP to carry out these tasks. It’s very much like for you to drive your vehicle from point A to B, you require a specific amount of fuel. Same thing. Depending on the intensity of the exercise, ATP is created using either ATP-CP (Creatine Phosphate) for short duration, very intense exercising, blood glucose, muscle glycogen for mid to high intense exercise, or fatty acids in the bloodstream for low intensity. I’m not going to go into ATP-CP, that will be another time, and I think most of us exercise with the intensity that our bodies are mainly using glucose and glycogen.

So what happens if there isn’t enough glycogen, or glucose to replenish our ATP reserves when we are exercising? Does are body just stop working, like our car would? No, We fatigue. Keeping in mind that glycogen and glucose are used when we work with mid to high intensity, and if the stores are depleted, we fatigue because our body will now have to switch to fatty acid oxidation for its fuel, which is used for low intensity exercise. So your body fatigues, and you are put into the low intensity zone. Is this bad, and if so, why? Have you ever heard the saying ‘you want to work out in the fat burning zone’? I have. And, I’ll explain why it’s not a zone you want to be in. One unit of fatty acid is used to create 100 ATP. One unit of glycogen and glucose will create 38 ATP. Are you seeing it? If my exercise routine requires 500 ATP, I’m only using 5 units of fatty acid. And, you are working out in the low intensity zone, which means your body will recover so much faster, thus not getting the increase in your resting metabolic rate after exercising to bring your body back to homeostasis (balanced) state.

So the reality is, if you are looking for the fat reduction benefit of exercise, you really want to stay out of the ‘fat burning zone’. That’s why exercises such as HIITS and Tabata are excellent methods to increase performance, and also for reduction in body fat. Using Tabata as an example, it can take upwards of 24 hours for our body to return to homeostasis state, or a balanced stated. During that time our resting metabolism rate is increased, consuming more calories (fatty acid) to bring us back to the balanced state. This will deliver the fat reduction, while increasing your performance level.

But, back to why we need to eat before a workout. Consuming foods high in complex carbohydrates such as fruits, about half to an hour before will help provide the glycogen and glucose our bodies will need. The reality is we should be consuming these foods throughout the day to keep these stores topped up. It should be part of your eating routine. And think about this, now that you know a little about how the body uses fuel, does it make any sense to drastically reduce calorie intake, or to ‘starve’ yourself? Think about it.

Lastly, that’s why I’m not a fan of high protein, low carb diets. Our body is not made to convert protein to ATP efficiently. It will if it has to, when there isn’t any other fuel, typically when in starvation mode. Not somewhere I want to be. We need complex carbs to fuel our body, let the protein be there to repair, and help build the body.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Plateauing and what to do about it

Plateau: a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.

As I mentioned in a previous article, the body is a fantastic thing! It’s amazing what our body does, and what it can do. My brother’s first job out of school was as a mail deliverer. This is when mail was delivered door to door, by the mail deliver walking door to do. No super mail boxes. The first week killed my brother. Totally exhausted, legs so sore it was a major effort to get up each day to do his mail route. Over the first month or two, he lost some weight, and his legs became much stronger as his activity level was higher, and, very demanding. Then, about the third or fourth month in, the weight came back on, slowly. The body was no longer sore after each day of delivering the mail. He plateaued. The body finally adapted to the increase in activity, the increase in load to the legs. This activity level, or load on the body became the norm.

Just like the body will adapt to the level of inactivity (muscle atrophy), the body will also adapt to the increased level of activity. It has to. That’s what it does. Basically, the stimulus that impacted my brother’s body that he lost weight, gained strength was no longer sufficient to continue doing these things.

When working out, if the stimulus is not sufficient, or there is too much recovery time between workouts, there will not be any noticeable change because the body will not have to compensate. Too much stimulus or not enough recovery time between training sessions, a decrease in performance can occur. If stimulus is sufficient, and recovery time between workouts is the correct amount, your body will have to adapt, and you will see improvements in performance.

Getting the most out of your time

Let’s take running as an example. You’re training for a half marathon. Most people will think that the training should be comprised of running at a low intensity over a long time as this is an endurance event, building up distance gradually of course. Sure, you will run that half marathon, probably finish, but you could of performed better, and felt better that day you ran the race. Just because you are running an endurance event does not mean you train at only endurance levels. Your training sessions should be made up of HIITS (High Intense Interval Training), running at a mid to high level intensity, Tabata intervals. This type of training will help prevent the body from adapting. Think of it as shocking the body, in a good way! Your aerobic, anaerobic thresholds will increase, and your body will grow stronger, sooner because it had to adapt.

So, will you do it?

Nobody wants to plateau but it happens. Being aware of your performance when you work out, and keeping track of your progress are great ways to prevent plateauing. Keep a journal and write down the details of your workout. The exercise, the weight you used, the number of sets and reps.
Educating yourself about fitness and training, or getting a personal trainer are also ways to prevent plateauing. Personal trainers are trained to deal with this issue, and have the tools to help you. Changing your program frequently will also help prevent the body from adapting to a program and leveling off.

It’s up to you. It can become easy to do the same workout every time you go to the gym, or wherever. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable. I am fortunate enough that every Saturday morning, I get to train with a few likeminded people for 90 minutes of intense cardio, striking, bag work, and grappling. I say a few because there seems to be only a few of us who will put up with being pushed to the limits every Saturday. We are human. Doing things outside of our comfort zone can be tough. And training to your limits you need to go outside of your comfort zone. But, the payoff is huge.
Just like my brother’s body that adapted and ceased to make any performance gains, if you don’t change things up every so often, if you don’t push yourself and challenge yourself, you most likely will plateau, and this usually is the start of the end for some people. Train hard, train smart.

Yours in health,

Darryl