The Art of Stretching

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

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

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

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

Why Stretch

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

Benefits (not all of them):

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

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

Static and Dynamic Stretching

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

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

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

Some Guidelines

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

Changing attitudes

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

Slow and Steady Wins…

Slow and steady wins the race, right?

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

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

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

Resistance Training

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

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

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

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

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

Slow down

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

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

Cardio Training

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

When speed is ok

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

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

Be slow, be smart

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

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

Fuel for our Workout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

Plateauing and what to do about it

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

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

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

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

Getting the most out of your time

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

So, will you do it?

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

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

Yours in health,

Darryl

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