…Breathe in the Air

Breathe, breathe in the air.

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

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

We don’t think about it

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

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

First step

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

On to Cardio

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

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

The technique

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

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

Stretch it out

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

Tying it together

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

I Understand your Pain

Pain is temporary and time is forever unforgiving.

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

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

What is it exactly?

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

Know where you are

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can it be lessened?

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

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

 

Why it matters

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

Getting More for Less

Everyone loves getting more for less.

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

Too much

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

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

Choices

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

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

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

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

This process is known as supersets.

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

Biceps / Triceps

Quadriceps / Hamstrings

Chest / Upper back

Abdominal / Back

These are only a few examples.

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

Gains

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

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

Make your choice

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

it’s the intensity

Working out should be intense

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

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

Priorities

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

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

It does matter

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

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

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

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

Will it Change

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

and battling the couch

Sometimes the couch wins.

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

Unmotivated

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

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

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

Blame the brain

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

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

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

No easy answers

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

Things to try

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big picture

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

The Runners World

I just want to run.

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

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

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

Why we are great runners

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

Our body changed

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

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

Then what changed

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

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

What causes the imbalance

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

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

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

Attacking the problem with resistance

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

The Quadriceps

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

The Adductors

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

Abdominal

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

Back

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

Attack the problem with stretching

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

Glutes

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

Hamstrings

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

Hip Flexors

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

Calf Muscles

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

Moving forward with training

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

Dealing with Disruptions

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

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

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

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

What we can do

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

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

Breaking it down

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

Exercises:

Burpees

Mountain Climbers

Jackknife crunches

Explosive push-ups

 

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

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

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

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

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

More options

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

No going back

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

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