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

Mobility your way to less pain

Think of mobility as the movement of our limbs; arms, legs using our joints through the full range of motion.
Mobility in our day to day life is very important. Lose mobility, or restrict mobility due to an injury, or incorrect training can limit our activities, or drastically impact our ability to move, causing us to alter our plans and sometimes having to totally remove ourselves from any activity.

Mobility can be compromised by our daily activity. If you are a typical North American, sitting at a desk for a good part of your day, or sitting on a couch for extended periods of time, you have developed certain muscles that are causing imbalances, which can impact mobility.
A runner is another example. Constant running will generally cause shortening of the hamstring, and other muscles, resulting in compromised movement in other exercises, such as squats. It can also develop in injuries that will limit your ability to run.

What can be done?

Firstly, it is important to understand how to train safely to prevent injuries. If you are unsure of an exercise, I recommend you consult with an expert. When resistance training, try to use the full range of motion. Let’s look at pushups. Pushups can be a very challenging exercise when executed properly. How many people are keeping their core tight, straight through the whole range of motion? How many people are lowering themselves to the ground until they have a 90 degree bend in their elbows? Exactly. If you have ever watched a number of people doing pushups, you would think it’s a timed event, because they are going fast, and the range of motion gets cut short. Take your time! Use the 2-1-4-0 cadence to slow things down.

Ensure you are using full range of motion. Your muscles will become stronger at those positions where most people don’t go. Those stronger muscles can better support the joints through full range of motion. Same thing with body weight squats. Lower yourself to the point you have a 90 degree bend in your legs. I see too many people who stop at about 50 – 60 degrees. Then, when they are participating in activities outside of exercise, and have to bend their legs past that point, they are weaker, and more susceptible to injury.

What’s next

Back to my early point regarding our daily habits impacting our muscular imbalances. If you can, talk to a personal trainer about getting a postural assessment done. This will identify muscular imbalances, and a personal trainer can create a program to address the imbalances.

Lastly, don’t worry! You’re here reading this, so you must be interested in improving your health, your fitness! That’s fantastic! We all have imbalances, mobility issues because we are slaves to our lives. We all have to work, and let’s face it, work places have been slow to adopt to modern thinking about how to improve the workplace for individuals. Most companies are only interested in hard costs when dealing with return on investments. Savings due to changes to the work place environment that increase efficiencies, and prevent time off due to injuries, like more ergonomic chairs, and ergonomic workstations cannot be quantified into hard dollars so they are disregarded.

The one thing you can do is remember to get up every so often and move. Carry out some dynamic stretching activities if you can. Think about the impact to your body if you are sitting in the same position, your arms out in front on the keyboard for 2 – 3 hours straight before a break, times 2 to 3 times a day. Now, think about that for a period of 10 to 30 years! You might as well call it a repetitive strain injury.

Lastly, try to use full range of motion when resistance training. It will be harder. Right, it will be harder. But that’s the point! Exercise is supposed to be hard! That’s when you benefit. That’s when you grow. That’s when you win!

Yours in health,

Darryl

Motivation, or that damn brain

Motivation

You’ve decided to take the first step to start up an activity to be more active, to gain fitness, to improve your health. It’s an exciting time! You are excited to head to the gym, to head to the pool, to head to the spin/palates/etc. class. Usually the first couple of weeks are the easiest to find the motivation.

If your lifestyle was one of low activity, you most likely will experience positive gains in weight loss, clothes fitting better, feeling better overall, and having more energy. Your body is going through a lot of changes, and it is responding by raising it’s resting metabolic rate, by muscle growth. Your cardio-vascular system is becoming more efficient. These changes are awesome! It’s what you have been hoping for.

6 weeks later

It’s getting tougher to get yourself out to your activity. Gains,improvements aren’t coming as quick as they were. Or the days are getting shorter (impossible to happen, but we still use that saying to indicate less sunlight during the day) and colder, and for some people this can have an impact on their motivation due to low level depression, or what we know as SAD (Seasonal affective disorder). The routine isn’t new or exciting anymore. For a lot of people, this is the start of the end of the change to their new lifestyle. It’s too bad, because there are things that can be done to get that motivation back, and to keep physical activity as part of your lifestyle.

The beginning

Let’s go back to the beginning. What activity did you choose? Why did you choose it? Is it something a friend suggested? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? I believe people will have more sucesses in sticking to an activity if it is something they enjoy. Who is going to do something long term if they don’t like it? Would you? I wouldn’t! Whatever it is that you want to do to increase physical activity, choose something you like. And it’s ok to end one activity and move on to a new one, especially if you no longer enjoy it. The mind is powerful and if the mind is asking you why are you doing this, and you can’t come up with a good answer, it’s probably going to win.

Set Goals

Having a goal is a great way of keeping motivated, as long as it’s realistic. Let’s look at Karate. For most people, the goal is to earn their black belt (Shodan). That can be a very lofty goal, for some people this can be a 7 – 10 year process. How do you stay motivated for that length of time! No kidding! If you look at the history of Karate, which originates from Okinawa, Japan, the belt system as we know it today was derived from Judo, when Karate was introduced to Japan in the 1920’s. Then look at the westernization of Karate. They took the belt system and added stripes to it. To earn your next belt, typically you would learn a kata, and when successfully tested on that kata, you had a stripe (a piece of tape the colour of your next belt) wrapped around on end of your belt. Three stripes and you are ready to test for your next belt. This is a way to keep students motivated as the student can focus on the goal of a stripe, belt, instead of thinking I have 6 more years to go to get that black belt.

So set small, realistic sub goals. If your goal is to successfully complete a 10km run, realistically you would not attempt that your first week of running. You probably would start running 2km’s for a while, then increase to 4km’s, and so on. Your goal of running 10km’s may need a realistic date of achievement 16 weeks out. Break this down into biweekly segments to track your progress. And when you achieve these goals, let yourself feel good about it! Because you should!

Plateauing

The body is very adaptable. What was challenging 4 to 6 weeks ago is getting much easier. You bet! Your body has adapted! It will do that. It’s a good thing, and a bad thing. It means we can now do the activities without much effort or strain on our body that 6 weeks ago was so hard. Plateauing can be a great motivation killer. Be aware of it, and know that it can be addressed. I’ll be writing more about plateauing and what to do about it later.

Substitution

We all get busy. You show up to work and realize that with the work load for the day, you aren’t going to be able to make your class tonight. Or maybe that’s the way it will be for the whole week. That sucks! I know. I have been there myself. Or, you get injured. I kind of know someone who broke their foot and had to wear a cast for 6 weeks. Boy, were they upset! But they realized they could do other activities. You would not believe how strenuous an activity like sitting in a chair and kicking your legs back and forth like a swimming stoke is. Or actually go swimming.
You need to be flexible and substitute. Don’t have an hour for your workout? You don’t need it. One Tabata session is 4 minutes long, and the benefits are huge if done properly! A warm up, Tabata workout, cool down, and stretching can be done in under 20 minutes if needed.

The key is you!

Be flexible, be adaptable, be realistic, change things up and set goals. The key is you. Educate yourself, and don’t be hard on yourself, take it easy. If you hit a road block, think of what you can do to go around that road block. Don’t let it defeat you. Don’t give up!

By being these things, hopefully fitness in whatever form will be part of your lifestyle, instead of something you have to do. I believe if it does, you won’t have to look for motivation anymore, you will actually start to miss your activity when things come up.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Importance of Hydration – Drinking Water

Hydration

Water, the giver of life. The essence of life. We are mainly made up of water. Water is vital to everyday life for us, for all life. We can go days without food, but not water. Globally, water is the new oil (watch the movie watermark if you get a chance). Yet I still see people exercising and not drinking water. Why? Are they holding onto that old school mentality that water is for sissies? I don’t know. I asked one person why they don’t drink water when working out, and I never really got a reason. I guess they don’t even know.

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Why intake of water is important

Our body uses water for many things, transporting nutrients in, waste products out of our cells. It helps with the circulatory system, and also helps maintain body temperature. I would say those are pretty important functions!

When we exercise, our body is doing many things to facilitate the process of exercising. One of those things is the chemical process of creating energy. Our body uses ATP – Adenosine Triphosphate for energy. Think of ATP as the energy currency of the body. If you want to perform any activity, you pay for it in ATP. I’ll be discussing ATP in much greater detail in a post later on. When we are exercising, and this chemical process is occurring to provide energy, we have byproducts, or waste. One of the byproducts is, you guessed it, H20. Also, let’s look at the obvious. If you are working hard, you are sweating out all that beautiful water.

When to drink water

Make sure you are properly hydrated before you work out. If you feel thirsty, you are already lacking water. When working out, have a mouthful of water after about 10 minutes in, and repeat every 10 minutes. Then following your workout, be sure to replenish the water you have lost.

Of course if you are participating in an endurance activity be sure that you are also replenishing your electrolytes. This article does not touch on the electrolyte needs for endurance activity, so I recommend you get educated in this area.

Don’t be hard headed

As I mentioned earlier, there seems to be the old school mentality still out there, people who look at taking water breaks as being weak. Don’t be one of those people. I would hate to be one of those people and find out years down the road that I did damage to my body that is now evident, and can’t be undone.

Be nice to yourself, train hard, and train smart! You deserve it.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Muscular Imbalances suck

We all have muscular imbalances. No one is perfectly symmetric. We probably aren’t aware of our imbalances because most of us have never had a posture evaluation. It wasn’t until I was on my personal trainer course that I realized I have the classic ‘chicken wings’ imbalance due to my serratus anterior muscles. Muscular imbalances can be the cause of day to day physical problems, manifesting themselves in discomfort, or the worst case, injury. And it sucks! We don’t realize it but we develop these imbalances because of the things we love doing, not knowing any better. But there is hope! Trust me, I know! I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

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I think most of us that are physically active prefer one activity be it running, walking, cycling, etc. But, if we only do these activities, we are prime candidates for developing muscular imbalances. I include myself in this category. Years ago when I took up running, I didn’t do anything else. I was like Forrest Gump, run Darryl, run! That’s all I did. Did I develop IT band issues? You bet. Why? Because all I did was run! I didn’t bother developing, building the other muscles in my legs that were being neglected. I paid the price in having to deal with discomfort and injury because of this.

Another example is some of us have shoulders that are anteriorly rotated due to day to day activities that develop our anterior deltoid muscles, and neglect our posterior deltoid muscles. Things such as carrying heavy bags (groceries, etc.), working with our hands out in front of us, such as keyboard use. A good way to develop this imbalance is doing a lot of pushups (great for developing pectoral muscles and anterior deltoid muscles) and neglecting exercises that develop the posterior or lateral deltoids. Sound familiar? How many of us are engaged in activities that are strong on pushups, but not any activity that work the neglected muscles. Yeah, I hear you.

What can be done?

Ahh, so you are interested in knowing what can be done to address the imbalances. Good! That’s the first step! Good for you!
What you can do is see your personal trainer, and have an assessment done. Your personal trainer should be able to identify the imbalances, and recommend activities that can be done to address these imbalances. With a proper program to work on these imbalances, it will just be a matter of time and work to neutralize the imbalances. It can be done! I know, I have been there! Trust me.

So don’t worry. The beautiful thing if you are reading this is that you are ready to address your imbalances! Like I said at the beginning, we all have imbalances. The important thing is being ready to identify them, and work to fix them. Once you do this, you are on your way to minimizing imbalances, and minimizing injury, discomfort due to these imbalances.

Yours in good health,

Darryl

Cooling Down – Do it!

Even though most of us who exercise don’t warm up before we start, we are aware of what warming up is. But, how many of us know about cooling down? Just like the importance of warming up (read my post here), cooling down is a very important part of your workout. Your decision regarding cooling down will directly impact how you feel after your workout, be it immediately, or days later.

Why cool down?

Think of your body as your car, it allows you to move from here to there. Your driving along at 110 km/h. Would you stop your car suddenly, applying maximum pressure to your brakes, or do you gradually slow down, gently applying the brakes? Have you ever had to apply your brakes really hard, either to avoid a collision, or for another reason? Do your brakes work the same afterwards? I know myself when I have had to stop suddenly, the brakes ended heating up, and warping the brake rotors. After that, my brakes pulsed whenever applied. The same goes for your body. Working really hard then stopping suddenly puts unneeded strain on your body. This may cause problems immediately, or, years later.
The main benefits of cooling down are to prevent blood pooling, and to gently bring your heart rate back down to a reasonable level. Think about it, you have just completed an intense Tabata session, your heart rate as high as 90 -95% of your max. The Tabata session was comprised of movements that primarily involved your leg muscles, exercises such as lunges, burpees. A lot of blood needed to go to those muscles to bring oxygen to them, and to take away waste product, lactic acid as an example. If you suddenly stop, your blood pressure will also suddenly drop, and you could get very dizzy. Not something you want to happen.

Why don’t we cool down?

After an intense workout like this, the body, or mind, doesn’t want to do anything, so the impulse is to lie down and catch your breath, or just not do anything. It was a tough workout! I’m just going to lie here for a few minutes! Don’t do it! Resist the urge to stop and do nothing. Instead, walk around, keep your limbs moving and let your heart rate return back to a normal rate slowly, and allow the blood to flow from your muscles, taking away that waste.

Cooling down will help reduce muscle soreness after a workout. By not letting the blood pool in your muscles, cooling down allows the blood to continue to flow, taking away the waste material, such as lactic acid, and also to supply nutrients to those muscles, assisting in growth and repair.

How to cool down

Move! Walk around moving your arms more than you normally would when walking. This helps the blood circulating to remove waste, and to provide the nutrients needed to repair the muscles you just trained. Do this for 3 to 5 minutes. Do this before you finish off your workout with your stretching routine.

So do me a favour, and cool down at the end of your workout. You’ll thank me later for it I’m sure.

Darryl

Warming up – Nobody Does it

Most people are very busy today, and it’s hard enough to get a workout in when you would like. Things always seem to take priority over the workout. This also happens when the time is found for that workout. Yesterday, while running my training partners through the post workout stretch at the dojo, I did a quick survey of who warms up before a workout. One person responded that she does. That is one out of 8 people. Not very good numbers! Just like we don’t always have time for working out, it seems we don’t always have time to warm up, or people just don’t understand the benefits of warming up.
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The body is a complex machine. Fast twitch muscle fibers, slow twitch muscle fibers, the cardio-vascular system, the skeletal system all working together to keep us doing the things we want to do. But what happens when we get injured? Our day to day life is impacted as our range of motion is impacted negatively. We can no longer do the things we want to do easily, the things we take for granted. Worse than that is we may have to miss our workouts due to the level of discomfort. That can really be an annoyance for those whom working out is part of their lifestyle. I know. I have had my fair share of injuries over the last few years, and I am very stubborn to miss a workout.

But what can we do to prevent injuries? Warming up for 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of your workout can go a long way to prevent injuries, be it muscular, joint, or connective tissue injuries. Warming up allows the heart rate to increase gradually, the circulatory system to speed up the flow of blood throughout your body. It also increases the amount of synovial fluid to your joints, lubricating the joints. And of course, it also warms up your body (muscles, blood). This increase in temperature increases the efficiency of oxygen getting to your muscles, and your muscles love oxygen! Makes a lot of sense to warm up, doesn’t it.

Warming Up

You can warm up on any piece of cardio equipment; exercise bike, treadmill, elipical machine. Or if you don’t have cardio equipment, a light jog on the spot or even jumping jacks. The goal is to get your body moving, and to keep your heart rate at 100 to 120 beats/minute, for 5 to 10 minutes. This is a warm up, not a workout. Remind yourself that, as you go through your warm up. How do you know if your heart rate is within the target range? You can check your pulse using two fingers and your carotid artery, or your radial artery. I will be posting an article soon on checking pulse. Of course, use your heart rate monitor if you have one.

So do yourself a favour, warm up at the beginning of every workout, even if it means cutting the resistance training, or cardio aspect short. You owe it to yourself to keep injury free, and this is one way to do that.

Darryl

Welcome to bFITsquared

Throughout my life I have always been active, and have had an interest in nutrition and healthy eating. I decided to take that interest and formalize it. Last year I registered for the Canfitpro Personal Trainer Specialist course that was offered at the University of Guelph. It’s a 3 day intensive course that covers everything from anatomy to the marketing aspect of a personal trainer. I wrote my theory exam in January and did fantastic. My life became very busy for the next few months, and wasn’t able to complete my practical test until just last week. Fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to run groups of people through the exercise portion of the class where I train in Shorin-Ryu Karate. This helped to give me the confidence in working with people, and also the opportunity to pass on my knowledge to my friends and training partners. I believe this helped me to prepare for my test and it help me achieve a great mark and become a certified personal trainer.

My goal for this blog is to continue to pass on my knowledge to those looking to learn more about fitness, about nutrition, about getting the most out of the time you spend training. The body is an amazing thing and there is so much you can do with it. Most times it is knowing what to do and how to do it. A lot of people get discouraged because they don’t get the results they want to achieve. Sometimes that’s because they think they are training properly to get the results, but unbeknownst to them, they are not.

Putting in the effort is one part of it. Putting in the effort using the correct techniques and training methods is another. The former may get you the results, but the latter will. Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

I am not a writer, and I don’t know if I will ever be one. I hope you can look past that, and find this blog to be valuable in the context of health and wellness. I hope you enjoy bFITsquared.

Darryl