you may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

Do you want an exercise that works two large muscles and numerous smaller muscles and is considered one of the best overall exercises for your body? You do, don’t you. It’s a tough one to do and I think that may be why some people avoid it. No one likes doing an exercise that is defeating. Another great thing is you can do this exercise at home with just a small piece of equipment.

The pull up is an exercise that will work the large lat muscles that give you that V shape, most of the other back muscles, the rear of your shoulders, the biceps and the forearms. It’s tough to do because you are using your body weight as the resistance unless you have access to a pull up machine that has a counterweight to reduce the resistance.

But not all of us have access to such a machine. So what can we do if we can only do one pull up, or not even one pull up? You might as well not even try, right? Wrong! In this post I’m going to show you a way you can increase the amount of pull ups you can do and reap the benefits of this great exercise.

The method

If you read my previous post you will know that we are stronger in a movement when we are lengthening the muscle, or in the eccentric contraction phase. And we also know that we can use a higher amount of resistance when in the eccentric phase.

Knowing this, let’s apply this principle to our pull ups. The hardest part of the pull up is the pull up itself. Getting up to the bar is tough, tougher than lowering yourself. That’s because our muscles are stronger on the way down. So if we could get ourselves up to the bar easier we could then at least get in some reps by lowering ourselves. The benefit with this is we are strengthening those muscles even though we are only working them on the way down. Eventually you will no longer need assistance for the upward movement.

But how do we get ourselves up to the bar? A chair. By using a chair, preferably one you are fine putting your feet on, you will be able to use your legs to raise your body. You can do this by either bending at the knees while holding onto the pull up bar and having the top of your feet on the chair. With the tops of your feet on the chair, start to straighten your legs and this motion should push you up towards the bar.

You could also stand on the chair while holding onto the pull up bar and in the top position and then bending at the knees remove your feet from the chair.

It may sound complicated but the goal is to make it easier to get your body to the top of the bar and then remove that aid so you can lower yourself. Repeat, repeat, repeat…

Good luck

All I’m doing here is taking an exercise that has so many benefits and helping you remove an obstacle from doing it. And in doing that you are also strengthening the muscles quicker by applying the ‘negative’ method of overloading the muscle when it’s in its strongest movement.

That’s it. Give it a try. Eventually you will be doing pull ups without any assistance, and maybe even adding some 45lb plates around your waist for added resistance.

Yours in health,

Darryl

risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you

There is magic in fighting battles beyond endurance.

It’s straight forward and simple. When our body runs out of fuel, it can no longer perform at the output we desire. Whether it’s 20 minutes into your workout, or 3 hours the body will slow down due to lack of fuel. You can’t control this, it will just happen. I know we have all been there. It’s defeating when it happens because you know you can do better, you did better your last workout.

How do we prevent this? In a previous post I covered fueling before your workout. If you haven’t read it, you might want to. It will help you in performing as best as you can for workouts that will last up to 60 minutes, or on the edge of 90 minutes. There are more workouts, events lasting longer than 60 minutes. It used to be that most long lasting workouts were marathons. But now we have boot camps, cross training classes, tuff mudders endurance events that are anywhere from 90 minutes to hours in duration.

You need to refuel during these events, with the right fuel to continue.

The science of it

ATP. Three letters that represent a chemical compound that is responsible for everything we do. Anything your body does is fueled by ATP.

For simplicity we can think of three different sources for our body to create ATP: Creatine Phosphate, carbohydrates, and fat. I’m not going to get into Creatine Phosphate since generally you won’t be in the intensity zone needed to use that as a source. And fat? Not going to talk about fat that much either. Carbohydrates is what this post is going to focus on.

Carbohydrates, or sugar, is what the body processes into glycogen and glucose. Glucose is what is in our blood to be used with oxygen to create ATP so we can function. Think of glycogen as the unused glucose. Glycogen gets stored in our liver and in our muscles. When the body needs glucose the glycogen is then converted to glucose. Our body can store only so much glycogen. If you have ever heard of someone ‘carbo loading’ the night before an event such as a marathon, that person was trying to fill up the glycogen fuel tank so they are heading into the event with a full fuel tank. Studies have shown that this carbo loading may not be all that effective or necessary. Your body can hold only so much glycogen, about 500 grams or 2000 calories worth. If you eat more food than needed, that extra amount of carbs gets turned into fat. Studies have also shown that a meal high in carbs a couple of hours before the event should satisfy the amount of carbs needed to top out your glycogen stores as long as you are not already overly depleted.

This 500 gram supply of glycogen can last for as much as 90 minutes when exercising at a low intensity level or up to 30 minutes when training at a high intensity level.

Is it starting to make sense why what we eat and when we eat is very important to how we perform? And there’s still more to cover!

We hit the 90 minute mark and have depleted our glycogen stores. Bone dry. Our body comes to a crashing halt, unable to move anymore without fuel. Well, not really. But things do happen that we really don’t want happening. Our body will be forced to slow down into a lower intensity level where we can use fat as a fuel. But we cannot use only fat as a fuel. Our body still craves glucose and will do anything to get it. You’re not going to like this part. It’s somewhat disconcerting and demoralizing. Your body will turn on you and metabolize muscle. Muscle that you have been working your butt off to build. Your body has turned against you and your gains that you made are starting to diminish. The body does what the body needs to do. The longer the event the more muscle lost to being converted to fuel.

There’s hope

Don’t worry, there’s hope. There are steps we can take to prevent this from happening and to be strong at the beginning, middle and end of the event.

You have probably already figured it out, what it is we need to do. We need to eat! We need to get carbs back into our system. So reach into your backpack and pull out a couple of donuts you have in there for this purpose. Might as well enjoy it, right? Alright, not really. There are better ways to get carbs into our system.

When do we do this? Do we do this after our glycogen stores are depleted? No. Let’s not get to that point. Let’s get those carbs back into our system before our performance is impacted. Ideally to not get impacted you will want to take a form of carbohydrates about every 30 minutes during exercise. And you will want to do this in a way that is easy. Forget the donut and lets use something easier and better.

Gels, sport drinks, fruit. These are some options. If you have a bit of a break during your event you might want to consume an orange, or banana, or maybe some dates. If you don’t have a break, or you want something easy to digest try a sports gel or a sports drink. Easy to take and easy to process. Remember, we are all different. The amount you need is probably different that the amount I would need. This comes under training smart. Try using varying amounts as you train and find the best combination. Maybe a gel pack to start then a couple of mouthfuls of a sports drink later. Or maybe a gel pack and a couple of mouthfuls of a sports drink to wash it down. You have to play with it. But at least you are taking something! That alone should help you. One warning though. Once you have found what works for you, the brand of sports gel, amount, etc. don’t go messing with that combination on the day of the event. It could be the worst thing you do. Just like a marathoner wouldn’t run the event in a brand new, never worn pair of shoes you never want to introduce anything new. You never know how your body, or digestive system will react. It very well could react negatively ending your event prematurely.

Finished, time to rest

You have finished your event, your workout. What you do know is important to how you will feel that day or the following day. Our glycogen stores are still depleted and we need to fill them back up. Don’t go for the protein shake yet. You will need some protein but that’s later. If you were to eat protein instead of carbs you may not have enough glucose and glycogen to create the energy to digest the food and once again your body will be eating itself. Try to refuel with a combination of 4 carbs to 1 protein. If your event was exceptionally long, you will want to continue to reload carbs up to 24 hours after the event.

Be the best

I probably sound redundant but I believe a good message deserves to be heard over and over. Train smart. I’ll give you an example. Years ago people would train and compete in events without drinking water and sometimes in extreme heat. You were a wimp if you drank water. You were told to ‘suck it up’. So what happened that you hardly ever see anyone training without water. Even the military, the bastion of this type of thinking is taking hydration seriously. What happened? People died! And people started to find out that people were dying due to dehydration.

You probably won’t die due to depleted glycogen stores but you could be causing short and long term damage. And you performance will suffer, and you will feel like crap. Really. Running out of glycogen is called ‘hitting the wall’, not ‘laying down in a nice soft bed’. That should tell you something.

I have another reason for you to do this. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to yourself to be as strong as you can and have an awesome experience doing it instead of it being disappointing. At least, I think you do.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

The old ways are dead…they can’t help you anymore

Everything you’ve heard is true.

The quest to add muscle size and strength. It can be a lofty quest depending what your goal is or it can be very achievable. But what can you do to add muscle size and strength in as short amount time as possible. There are probably some things we already know we need to do: eat the proper amount of protein, get the proper amount of rest, and use the proper training techniques.

I want to use this post to describe and talk about what else can be done. It can be another tool for the toolbox to get you there quicker.

Be negative

When weight training, or resistance training, it’s common that we place a lot of effort into the movement that contracts the muscle and less into the opposite movement. Let’s take the bench press as an example. The weight is lowered to the chest and then the struggle usually starts to raise the bar back up when you are near exhaustion. The same with bicep curls. The struggle is on the upward movement as we bend our arm and then the weight is lowered quickly, or quicker that the upward movement, back to the starting point.

Why is this? First let me explain that we have more than 1 muscle contraction. We have three but I’m only going to cover two at this point. We probably are familiar with the concentric contraction. That is the one I explained above that is having trouble doing the work. The other one I want to go into more detail about is the eccentric contraction. This is when we straighten the muscle back to the starting point. We probably weren’t aware that the straightening movement is also a contraction. But it has to be because the muscle is still under load.

The reason why we are able to bring the barbell down to our chest easier than raising it is we have more strength in the eccentric contraction of the muscle. So what does this mean to you? Don’t we add strength and muscle by only doing low amount of reps and gradually increase the load over time? Sure. That will work but if you want to increase strength and the amount of muscle sooner, you will want to pay attention to the eccentric contraction.

What

We call them negatives, or eccentric contraction. You can think of the reason it’s referred to as negatives because it is the opposite of traditional concentric contraction, or positive training. It’s somewhat ironic because the benefits out way the traditional positive training. As mentioned earlier, negatives is the contraction that happens when the muscle lengthens.

How

I didn’t spend too much time on what negatives are because they are what they are. As long you understand it is the contraction when we lengthen, or straighten the muscle.

Because we are much stronger in the negative part of the movement, it allows us to use more weight in that exercise. The muscles can be up to 30% stronger during the negative phase compared to the concentric phase. That’s huge! If you are bench pressing 200lbs you could theoretically increase the weight to 260lbs for the negative movement.

Here comes the difficult part. If you are able to use more weight for the negative than the positive, how do you do that? It’s the problem that will leave you on the bench with a barbell across your chest unable to lift it off. Most people who train using negatives will train with someone who will spot them on the concentric contraction phase. This allows them to increase the amount of weight for the negative and then get the assistance for the concentric phase. That’s the tough part. Not everyone can have someone readily available to help with this.

But don’t you worry! There is another way that we can train and reap the benefits of negatives. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that most people tend to do movements too quickly. I talked about slowing things down, and pausing. You can do the same with negatives. Let’s use squats as an example. Take your time moving to the squat position. Once there hold it for 2 seconds then return to the upward position quickly. Be sure to do this in a controlled manner to avoid injury. Same thing with pushups. Lower yourself to the floor slowly, hold for 2 seconds then return to the upright position quickly. You’re getting the idea, I can tell.

The win

Because you can load the muscle with more weight and also stress eccentric contraction the muscles will respond to address the micro-trauma that has occurred. This in turn kicks off processes in your body to build muscle. That’s why it’s important that you are consuming enough protein and getting enough rest, so your body can do these things. Let your body rebuild itself.

Our tendons also benefit from negative training, making them stronger and more resilient. This helps prevent potential injury. Bone mass is also affected by weight training. Due to the high strain on muscles when eccentric training you are less likely to lose bone mass.

Stronger, increased muscle mass, stronger bones, less chance of injury. Sign me up.

Be inventive

Understand what it is you want stronger. Understand how those muscles work and you should be able to figure out the eccentric movement, the movement that lengthens the muscle. Then think of ways you can increase the load to that eccentric movement. Increasing the load doesn’t only mean adding more weight. If you have done any exercise 3x slower you know how hard that is.

But be safe. If doing negatives for the first time be prepared for delayed onset muscle soreness. That’s alright if it’s no more than 48 hours. Do things in a controlled manner to avoid injury.

I think you will find doing negatives will be a positive for you. I know, lame.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Are you ready?

Neither too late nor too early.

In a sense this post is a continuation of my last post. In my last post I discussed that the only way to know if something will work for you is to try it. That’s because we are not the same, everyone is different. What might work for you may not work for me. In this post I’m going to cover what we can eat before our workout so we have energy and can perform as best as we can.

The foods

I’m going to discuss two things here; the meal you should eat 2 – 3 hours before, and the snack you should eat closer to the workout. They are different because the first meal will come into play much later into your workout and the snack will play a role immediately into your workout.

The first

If you are eating healthy already, a balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates than you probably are already eating correctly. Eating this balanced meal will help you if your workout is an endurance type or any type of workout exceeding 90 minutes. It’s important that you have fats in this meal as your body will be looking for fat to metabolize for energy. If fat isn’t available it’s more than likely your body will end up metabolizing protein for energy which it will get from your muscles. Probably something you don’t want to happen.

Some foods you can eat for this meal are peanut butter, almond butter, oatmeal (try to not load on the sugar), beans and lentils, dark greens and other vibrant coloured vegetables, toast with honey or pure jam.

The last

The last food you eat before working out should be a snack high in carbohydrates. You will want to avoid fat and protein as it will take longer to digest, and you don’t want that blood going to your stomach aiding digestion while working out. We need that blood feeding our muscles oxygen during our workout.

But we do need to eat. Maybe that is why some people, or maybe most people don’t eat before working out because they tried this and ate the wrong foods and the results were negative.

Some people may argue that they are still working out, pushing themselves so they are still growing as far as fitness and health goes. Not necessarily true. If your body doesn’t have the fuel to aid your workout, your body is forced to slow down. It cannot perform at that level without getting the fuel it needs. If you have read my posts on high intensity workouts, you know that you get the most benefits working out in this zone. If you have to leave the high intense zone because you run out of fuel and have to drop down to the medium or low intense zone you are no longer getting the benefits. Secondly if you don’t have fuel your body will metabolize what it needs to, muscle. That’s 2 big negatives to not eating a snack before your workout. I’ll even add a third to try to convince you. You’ll feel like crap when you run out of fuel. We have all been there. Working out and dragging our ass through the workout. Afterwards all we want to do is nap. Not a great feeling. Wouldn’t it feel great if you could go through the whole workout feeling pumped, full of energy, and ready to push yourself further? No kidding! Those are the workouts we remember and feel great about.

So what can we eat 30 minutes before training. Carbs. Foods like dates, bananas, oranges, raisins, apples, pears.

Remember that this is a snack and not a meal. If you eat too much your stomach will be busy digesting the food during the workout and you want to avoid that. You will probably have to experiment with what to eat and how much to get the right balance.

Now is the time

Try it.  I think you may find this to be one of the most beneficial things to try for your training. What do you have to lose? Nothing really if you think about it. Lets start getting away from the thinking that we eat 3 meals a day, don’t drink water during a workout, and other myths. A lot of these myths do harm to our body. Ultimately it’s you who will benefit. And everyone else will be looking at you in awe, wondering how you have so much energy!

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

 

I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art

Sift through it until you find it. Then do it.

There is a lot of information out there with regards to what things to do, how to do them, and when to do them. It’s gets confusing and can also be overwhelming. Most times we give up and just continue doing what we normally do. But what if there is something that will help you and you happened to miss it because you either dismissed it or couldn’t be bothered with it.

So what do we do? One thing I recommend is try to find a valuable source for your information, like this blog as an example. I know, cheap self promotion. I can equate it to a movie critic. You have movie critics that will praise a film, and other critics that will condemn the same film. Most people will stick with the critics that generally like the same films they do. It probably makes sense to do the same with your health and fitness needs. Once you find a source that has provided information that works for you, you will probably go back to that source because of the success.

Is that it?

Is there anything else we can do? Absolutely. It requires investment of your time and there are no guarantees. You are the other thing. Experimenting, testing new things. Ultimately not everything works for everybody, most people, but not always for everybody. How will you know it works for you? You have to dive in and commit yourself to trying it.

No guarantees

Whatever it is, it won’t always work. And you may not always no if there was something else responsible for your positive, or negative results. I hear people saying ‘I took Echinacea this winter and didn’t get a cold’. Would that person have gotten a cold if they didn’t take Echinacea? We don’t know for sure. When trying things yourself there is no control like a lab experiment, unless you have a clone. The clone can be the control. So we never know for sure if what we are trying is successful, in some cases. This doesn’t pertain to everything. The things we try that are easily quantifiable are easier to measure if they are successful or not. An example is if you have been training for 6 months, or a year and you are not seeing gains, then you try a new method or technique and you start to realize gains, then that would probably be looked at as a success. But even with these things we need to be aware if anything else has changed. That’s why it’s usually a good idea to introduce only one thing new. If you add more than one change it will be harder to understand what change was accountable for the success.

Complicated, isn’t it. It can be but it can also be very rewarding.

What are the things

What are the things we can do to understand if it was a success? Keeping track. You need to keep track of the things that can impact performance. Sleep, rest, diet, schedule, stress. All these things can have an impact on your performance. Other things too like when you are taking your supplements, if you take any. If you normally take them in the evening, then switch to the morning and notice a change in performance, this may be why. Keep all other things the same if you can. Remember, don’t introduce more than one change. If you do what change was responsible for the success? It will be hard for you to know for sure.

It may seem like a lot of work but the rewards can be great, and they feel great. How do I know this? I was waiting for you to ask me.

I have been there

Over the last few months I have been researching how to improve performance when training, working out, etc. What foods to eat, when to eat them, amount of sleep needed and a couple other things. Sleep. That’s a tough one. It’s not always in our control. My full time job requires me to be on call every so often. Sometimes I get woken up when sleeping. Other times the mind is just too busy, occupied to shut down and let sleep come.

What we can eat is more controllable. It should be since we buy our food and prepare it. It usually comes down to what foods to eat, or eat at all. I know some people that don’t eat before training, sometimes hours. Have you ever driven your car when there isn’t any fuel in it? Right. The body is just like your car. It needs fuel.

This leaves me with when. When to eat. Sometimes we can control this and sometimes we can’t. Depending when it is you train it may not be possible to get fuel into your body when you should. And when is that? When should you eat before training? An hour, two, half? I think I have the answer. I know I have the answer when it comes to myself.

Normally I have been eating about anywhere from 60 minutes to 120 minutes before training. Seemed to work as far as I could tell. Because I didn’t try anything else I really didn’t have a comparison. It was time to fuel up 30 minutes before training. I was somewhat hesitant to do this because I usually start my training with a run. I was worried that running so close to eating would leave me with an upset stomach and hurting my performance instead of improving it. But I went ahead anyway.

I knew my routine would be pretty much the same routine I have every week. So I decided to do it. This is a good time to change up when I eat. Keeping everything normal as far as the other foods I eat and when I eat them, I picked my food to eat. The banana. A great source of carbohydrates to fuel me for my run and easily digestible. So I ate the banana, and waited…anxiously. At about 30 minutes I started my run. Today was a day where I would normally start the run at a medium intensity and build up the intensity as the run progressed. Everything was going great. I felt good, lots of energy. It was a very successful run. My resistance training afterwards felt good too. I still had energy whereas sometimes I may not have as much after my run.

Success! But I told myself that this is only one test. Could it be the placebo affect? I need to move on to day two, Tabata day. Same thing day 2. Consume a banana, wait 30 minutes than train. Just so you know if you decide to do a Tabata workout on a treadmill, it can be tricky. You need to master grabbing the rails and quickly moving your feet to the side. Success again! I have never completed a Tabata workout on the treadmill at the speed I did this time. Awesome! 2 successful days. I won’t go into the subsequent workouts but workouts 3, 4 and 5 were all successful as far as having more energy both during my cardio and resistance training.

I felt good and I felt bad. I felt good that I think I have found what I need to do before I train as far as eating. I felt bad that it took so long to find this out. But I didn’t feel bad that long. I remembered a Chinese proverb: ‘The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now’.

Choose it then do it

Are changes always this successful? Not always. But that’s ok because we usually forget the ones that fail, the ones that didn’t work. But when we find that one that works it can make all the difference. It makes us feel good. We look forward instead of looking back.

Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. Take that leap of faith. It might be scary, but the results can be so satisfying.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Tensioning the spring, preparing to unleash

Earths round each sun with quick explosions burst.

Well, it’s getting to be that time of year. We’ll be spending more time indoors than outdoors. Personally, I don’t like it. I like being able to have the windows open, being able to go outside in shorts and a t shirt. But here we are, less sunshine, colder, and snow.

So what can we do about it? Move? I guess that’s one option, moving somewhere south. Other than moving we can use the time indoors to work our body even harder. We need to substitute for not being able to do the things we would normally do outside such as running, or biking. So what exercises can we do? Circuit training is one option. A circuit comprised of different exercises. Circuits can be made up to be engaging and also challenging.

Talking about challenging, that leads me to the topic of my post, Plyometrics. Have you heard this word before? Plyometrics have been around for a while and you probably are already doing some plyometric exercises. Plyometrics is a great way to build strength, explosiveness, and stamina.

Plyometrics increase the elasticity of your muscles. This allows you to handle intense workloads more efficiently. Research is also showing that plyometrics can help in increasing bone strength by stressing your bones with explosive movements.

Why

So why does plyometrics give us these benefits? Our muscles have 2 types of contractions. The concentric, think of the upward, or lifting motion when doing a bicep curl, and the eccentric, this would be the lowering of the weight in a bicep curl. When our muscle contracts in the eccentric phase, the muscle is lengthened. This contraction is actually stronger. Have you noticed that when you lower the weight when doing bicep curls that you are stronger? Exactly!

By starting with the eccentric contraction followed by the concentric contraction plymetrics improve the responsiveness of the neuromuscular system allowing greater force production in the concentric phase.

What plyometrics does is it lengthens the muscle before the concentric contraction, or the explosive phase. Let’s look at leap frogs. What’s the first thing we do? We lower our butt to our heels, lengthening the muscles. We then explode to a forward vertical jump. Another way to look at this is think of stretch, contract. Our first movement stretches the muscle, the second is the contraction.

How

It’s common when looking for plyometric exercises that you will see a lot of leg work. Jump squats, Burpees, jumping side lunges. There are even boxes you can buy called Plyo boxes which are used to jump up onto. But if we look at what a plyo is, stretch – contract, it can be applied to muscle where that contraction motion is explosive.

With pushups, our chest muscles contract as we lower ourselves, and lengthen or stretch as we raise our body. We would then want to start in the down position, explode up and then lower ourselves.

If you are looking to add plyometrics to your workout, talk to your personal trainer to find out what exercises there are, or good ole Youtube is there for you too.

What’s old is new again

Plyometrics have been around for quite a while. We probably already do a lot of these exercises already not knowing they are plyometrics. If you aren’t doing them you should. Because of the movements involved they are very intense and provide a great benefit to your cardio system.

Use these exercises as a way to add variety to your workout and keep you engaged. Fight off the workout boredom. Then when spring does roll around, you will be happy to walk outside in that t shirt, because of all the hard work you put in, and because of those awesome shoulders and legs.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

Repeat it enough and it becomes the truth

Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies

Over the last 30 years or so, oil, or fat (actually they both are lipids, oil is when a lipid is in liquid state and fat is when a lipid is in a solid state) has been portrayed as the worst thing for our health that we could consume. People were being informed by the government, American Heart Association and others to stop eating fat because it leads to obesity and heart disease. Even today I think it’s fair to say most people are purchasing food marketed as being low fat, fat free. Evidence of this is the food manufactures are still making these products. Cookware is marketed as being able to reduce the amount of fat consumed in your meal.

With the reduction in consumption of fat, did weight gain subside and rates of heart disease decrease? Not really. Over the last 35 years, obesity rates in the U.S. have more than doubled. Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death in the U.S. The government’s recommendation to reduce fat consumption to address obesity and heart disease was wrong. For further evidence we can look at what is called the French paradox. The French have relatively low rate of incidence of coronary heart disease while having a diet high in fat.

When fat was removed from foods something had to be done to make the food palatable so sales would not suffer. What happened was the amount of sugar and sweeteners added to the products (high fructose corn syrup) were increased. Research is now showing that it’s sugar, not fat that causes heart disease. And sugar is in pretty much everything we eat from sauces, breads, salad dressings and even baby formula.

Basically fat has been demonized. And it shouldn’t have been. Another example of how governments are not doing what’s best for people. Our bodies need fat to function. Fats are used for energy, our cells and hormones need fat to function. Fats slow down the metabolism of our food so we feel full longer. Fats are needed for the processing of minerals and vitamins. It’s essential to our well being.

I didn’t intend to write that much about the history of why we live in a low or no fat age. So I’ll stop. What I do want to get into is an oil we should all be consuming because of many benefits. I thought it would be good to provide a back story regarding oil/fat. If one person has a better understanding regarding why everything is low or no fat, then it was worth it.

The oil

Having said that I am now backtracking a bit in that I need to tell you that coconut oil was also demonized back in the 90’s for being a saturated fat. Long story short, that was a long time ago, and it is no longer the case.

So what is coconut oil. Yes, it’s a saturated fat, but different. Coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) fat whereas most saturated fats are long change triglycerides.  So what does that mean? It means that MCT fats are metabolized by the liver unlike the long chain. This enables the fat to be used as a quick source of energy rather than being stored.

So lets get into some of the benefits of coconut oil:

  1. Can kill bacteria, fungi and viruses – Coconut oil contains Lauric acid. When coconut oil is digested, it also forms monolaurin. Both Lauric acid and monolaurin can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi.
  2. Stave off hunger – Consuming fats as part of a meal will slow down the digestive process, and give that feeling of fullness, killing off hunger. This is even more so with coconut oil because of the fatty acids it contains.
  3. May lower risk of heart disease – Contrary to what we have been told and are being told, coconut oil, a saturated fat, improves heart disease risk factors like LDL and HDL cholesterol. Studies in both rats and humans have shown this.
  4. Bones – Coconut oil improves the absorption of important minerals such as calcium and magnesium which are important in maintaining healthy bones. Especially important for women who are at risk for osteoporosis.
  5. Slow down aging – With it’s antioxidant properties, coconut oil can help in preventing premature aging due to damage to cells.
  6. Obesity – Due to the fatty acids coconut oil contains and the effect that has on staving off hunger, coconut oil should help prevent obesity. Also because coconut oil is an MCT oil, it can increase energy expenditure compared to long chain fats which can potentially lead to weight loss over a longer period of time.

Pretty impressive for a fat isn’t it. Who would have thought that a fat is good for you? Walk through the grocery store and read most of the labels and you would think fat is bad for you. OK, that was a bit of a generalization. Fats such as hydrogenated fats, palm oil are not beneficial to your health and should be avoided. I also believe that this helps substantiate the position of all calories not being equal. We need to stop thinking that all calories are equal because it can cause more harm than good. If you have read some of my previous posts you might have read about the dangers of sugar. Comparing the damage calories from sugar can do to your health and the benefits calories from certain fats can do for your health, how could they be equal?

How to enjoy

There are a lot of ways you can enjoy coconut oil. The simplest way is to grab a spoon, dig out a chunk from the container and consume. Really. It tastes pretty good. If this is not for you, here are a some other ways:

  1. Add a couple tablespoons to your smoothie. It’s not even noticeable.
  2. Cook with it. Replace oils you would normally use with coconut oil.
  3. Popcorn. If you are into the old school way of making pop corn, a big pot,oil and kernels, use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. If you are not a big fan of the taste of coconut oil, don’t worry, it’s pretty subtle.
  4. Add it to your coffee or other hot drinks. This may sound weird, but add it to your drink and then mix using a blender. It will make it more creamier instead of oily.

Coconut oil can also be used in your hair and on your scalp, on your skin, and even to brush your teeth (it kills bacteria).

And more

If you decide to start using coconut oil try to stay away from coconut oil that has been bleached and or deodorized. To realize the benefits from coconut oil try to purchase a brand that is organic and raw, unrefined. The 6 benefits I listed are from eating coconut oil. There are also benefits we can realize from using coconut oil externally, on our scalp and hair, on our skin. You could probably replace any skin cream with coconut oil.

If you haven’t tried coconut oil, give it a try. Use it in your cooking, or eat it raw! Why not, it tastes great! And even though we hear the same message over and over on TV, at the stores, don’t believe it, it’s not the truth. Fat is not the enemy.

Yours in health,

Darryl

We ourselves must walk the path

Alone I am one voice, but together we are a tidal wave of sound.

The world of fitness has changed over the years, and will continue to change. The one thing that is constant in life is change. I think that’s a good thing. Most times change is the result of new information that provides a better way of achieving one’s goal or goals.

Let’s look at resistance training from back in the 70’s and upwards. The goal of resistance training, or body building was to get huge. Put on as much muscle as possible. No one did any cardio training because that might consume valuable calories that could go to building muscle. The gyms were dominated by men probably to a point of most gym’s having a customer base of 100% men. I think that’s why the perception today is if you do any training that involves weights you are going to get huge. Because that’s what was happening in the gyms. Were these guys strong? Yes. Were they functionally fit? No. Get them to do an activity that relied on various groups of muscle working together in a strenuous way and they would be gassed in a short time. This is generally why they aren’t on the court shooting hoops.

Fortunately over time fitness evolved into something geared more towards the ‘average’ person. TV shows like 20 minute workout, Body Break. People like Rachel Cosgrove, Susan Powter, Billy Blanks. The focus seemed to shift from working out being something that had to involve weights to being something were working out could be for everyone.  Gyms started opening that were women only gyms providing a place for women to work out with weights and feel comfortable. Fitness also started to evolve into a form that moved away from the focus being to gain as much muscle as possible to fitness becoming what I refer to as functional fitness.

Kettlebells, full body training, body weight only training, plyometric. All things that don’t require machines or movements that focus on a single muscle. Working out started to resemble normal every day movements, to a point. These movements are exaggerated for the purpose of fitness, muscle growth and increase in strength but if you were to slow down the movements you could see how they resembled things we do every day in life. If you were an avid sports player you could incorporate these exercises to gain performance in your sport and become a better, more efficient athlete.

What it’s about

Functional fitness in a sense is what it sounds like. Fitness that incorporates functional movements, i.e. movements that have a specific function that you can relate to an activity. For example if you play basketball either leisurely or as a sport, you would benefit from an increase in your vertical leap. If you take the movement of a vertical leap, bending the knees and coiling up that energy then releasing that energy as you leap, it very much resembles a burpee. The movement also resembles a squat up to the point of the explosion of energy that takes your feet off of the ground. Both exercises are great and you need both but they work the body in different ways.

We know the main difference between the squat and the burpee is during the squat our feet stay planted, and the hands are stationary. That’s obvious. The difference I would like to point out is one uses a static path of travel whereas the other is very dynamic. With the squat, we are focused on keeping our weight on our heels, head up, butt sticking out so our hips stay aligned. With a burpee as you spring up and leap off of the floor your trajectory probably isn’t going to be perfectly vertical. It may, but more than likely it is going to follow the path of how your body functions. Your leap instead of being on a 90 degree trajectory may be on an 80, or 85 degree trajectory. It may not seem to be that much of a difference but if that is the way your body travels, it may make sense to train the body on that path. With a burpee we are also incorporating our hands reaching up as high as we can. This movement will recruit muscles such as your back, shoulder, chest muscles whereas the squat doesn’t. Another point is you are working these muscles together when they are fresh but also when they are tired. They are getting used to working in all conditions and responding to these conditions.

Now we aren’t necessarily going to build strength in all these muscles when doing a burpee. But what we are doing is recruiting those muscles that we use in these activities into our workout mimicking the activity. This is the functional part. If all we do is train our muscles in isolation, how will they know how to work together? Or how will they work together well?

Another example I’ll use is the cable hip abduction. A great exercise to build our abductor muscles, muscles we use when moving laterally. But once again an exercise that isolates a muscle group. So what can we do to strengthen these muscles and supporting muscles and have it relate to a function? If you do something that requires strong lateral movement such as skating, skiing, martial arts, then you would benefit from a functional exercise. Some great exercises that are functional are lateral skaters and lateral jumps. Doing these exercises you are incorporating muscles that are used when doing the actual activity and having these muscles work together as a team.

Options

Find what it is that you feel will benefit from functional fitness. I used the example of Burpees for the basketball player but this could be applied to other things like getting out of a chair, getting things done around the house. Yeah, that’s kind of why I used a sport as an activity, much more interesting.

But you get the idea. Once you know what it is you want to strengthen, talk to a personal trainer to get ideas on functional exercises you can do to work on this area.

Another great benefit that I’ll mention is the increase in coordination. You are now forcing muscles to work together over and over, getting better each time. Look at someone who is just starting out doing Burpees and observe someone who has done 100 or 500 of them. Big difference in efficiencies between the two.

Some thoughts

If I could use an analogy I would use the following. Working muscles in isolation is like each instrument in an orchestra playing their part of the piece, but without a conductor. They are playing their respective piece beautifully, each of them. But it sounds horrible, disjointed. Now bring in the conductor and have them start over. They are playing the same piece but everyone is working together and it sounds beautiful. The same can be applied to the body. We need to train the muscles in different ways, sometimes isolating to strengthen, but we also need to train them together, to work as a team. The results will be beautiful.

Yours in health,

Darryl

We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them

What doesn’t kill you doesn’t always make you stronger.

It can be your friend or your enemy. And it can do you good and it can do you harm. It is one of the hormones that is produced when we feel we may be in danger and have to make that fight or flight decision.

Cortisol, a steroid hormone also known as the stress hormone. Like a lot of things, we need Cortisol at appropriate times as it does benefit us. But, like a lot of things, too much of it, and also produced at the wrong times can do us harm.

I want to use this post to talk about both the good and the bad of Cortisol. I think it’s important to understand how this hormone is used by our body and how we can reduce the negative impact of Cortisol.

The Good

As mentioned earlier, it is one of the hormones (the other 2 are Adrenaline and Norepinephrine) released during the classic fight for flight syndrome. We have all been there at some point in our life. Feeling physically threatened, or you are called into your boss’s office and you know it’s not for a good reason. And it isn’t always a negative situation. It can be right before an event such as an exam, or grading. Or something competitive like a race, or sparring.

It’s like there’s a lion on the loose in the room. Our heart rate jumps significantly, our senses become acute, we get that taste of copper in our mouth. Our muscles are ready to react quickly if needed. You are breathing faster and you might even be sweating. You are focused on the situation and ready to react.

Specifically Cortisol is responsible for:

  • allocating available glucose for the brain
  • creating energy from reserves
  • diverting energy from lower-priority activities (such as the immune system)
  • Blood pressure management

All this is done by Cortisol in order to survive immediate threats or prepare for exertion. Something that should happen over a short duration, not an extended period of time.

The Bad

As mentioned earlier, too much Cortisol, or producing Cortisol for a prolonged period can be detrimental to our health.

Cortisol is produced when we have a stressful situation, and most times we deal with that situation in a short time and get on with things. The body returns to a normal, balanced state. The problems start happening when we bring on situations that cause stress and that stress remains for a long period of time. Our bodies Cortisol levels are now elevated longer than they should be. Our body is now out of balance.

Cortisol has an immunosuppressive effect meaning if you constantly have high levels of Cortisol you are more susceptible to illness or infection. Cuts could end up taking much longer to heal. Cortisol also reduces the calcium absorption in our intestines making our bones weaker. Other effects of too much Cortisol are increased blood pressure and obesity.

Attack it

I wish I could provide an easy answer to deal with stress but there really isn’t one. There are things we can do to lessen the amount of Cortisol our body produces due to stress and I will go over each one:

  • Exercise – You are probably already doing this because you are aware of the many benefits of exercise. The more intensely we work out the better. When exercising we increase the amount of Cortisol our body makes. Remember, Cortisol is produced when we are stressed. Exercise is a form of stress. Highly intense training compared to endurance training produces less Cortisol and also produces Human Growth Hormone which has many benefits. Let’s quickly compare high intensity interval training to endurance training. We know Cortisol is produced during both types of exercise. But right off we know that HIIT training is much less in duration then endurance. So if your body produces Cortisol for anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes for HIIT training, that is much less than the 1,2,3,4 or more hours with endurance training. Also, during endurance training, Cortisol is produced the whole time because our body is responding to a perceived threat. It’s our fight or flight syndrome and we are flying! In a sense your body is reacting as if it’s being hunted, and it wants to survive! When endurance training and you run out of glucose to fuel your activity, your body releases Cortisol which then will metabolize muscle tissue for the energy needed. Ideally if properly fueled through the foods you eat and when you eat them, your body will also use fat for fuel. But it will always use some muscle. This is generally why endurance athletes tend to have lower amount of muscle and will also appear older than they are.

On the HIIT side of things, if we look at Tabata as an example, we are in the intense range for 20 seconds than we are back to a 10 second rest. During that 10 second rest your       body reacts in a way that there no longer a threat, and stops producing Cortisol. If eating properly and at the correct times, you should have an adequate supply of glycogen to fuel your activity and prevent your body from metabolizing muscle for energy.

Resistance training will also result in less Cortisol being produced. It will also increase the amount of Testosterone your body produces. All things that aid in the creation and maintenance of muscle.

 

  • Food – Another way to reduce the amount of Cortisol is by choosing the correct foods to eat.
    • Spinach – The magnesium in spinach will help balance the amount of Cortisol your body produces.
    • Beans – Contains Phosphatidylserine which may counteract the effects of Cortisol.
    • Citrus fruits – Try replacing carb rich snacks with citrus fruits. Vitamin C rich foods help slow the production of Cortisol.
    • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Along with reducing inflammation, they also help reduce levels of Cortisol. You can supplement, or you can eat foods such as flaxseeds or walnuts. If you are vegan and looking for an Omega-3 supplement you can by an Omega-3 DHA that is made from algae instead of fish oil.
    • Avocado – Great source of B vitamins and also reduces inflammation.
    • Cashews – Provides you with a great source of fat and protein and Zinc. Studies have shown low levels of Zinc attribute to anxiety and depression.
    • Garlic – So many benefits come with eating garlic. Neutralizing free radicals (free radicals damage our cells) and strengthening our immune system. And really, who doesn’t agree that garlic is awesome!
    • Oatmeal – A great source of complex carbs (try not to load it up with simple carbs such as sugar) oatmeal will cause your brain to produce serotonin. Serotonin has antioxidant properties but also helps create a soothing feeling that can help overcome stress.

 

  • Meditating – Meditating is a great way to deal with the stress in your life. It’s also a great way to relax, improve concentration, and slow aging. There are other benefits to meditation which you can find in this post.

Acceptance

There’s a lot in this post to consider. Should you stop endurance training because of the effects of Cortisol? That’s up to you. If you are going to be a miserable SOB because you didn’t get in your long run then maybe not. If you find your fitness needs are met by switching to interval type training, and resistance training (everyone should be doing resistance training, even endurance athletes) than I would recommend doing that.

I think it’s good for us to be aware and educated on the things we do, from eating to working out. Is stress bad for us? Yes and no. We now have a better understanding why. Use this information and try to see where you fit. Then decide.

Something else I want to say. There are things in our life that we cannot control. Absolutely cannot. I am going through this at my place of work right now. A major takeover that could impact me. Can I control this? Absolutely not. So I tell myself that this is something that I cannot control so don’t waste any time on it. Are there things I can do to prepare for these changes if they happen? Yes, and those are the things I focus on, put my energy into. In a sense, that helps to mitigate the stress.

It sounds easy when written down but it isn’t always easy. Eat well, sleep well, exercise and if you can, meditate. Those are four things you can do that will help tremendously.

Yours in health,

Darryl

paying the price and pain is my currency

I have dug down deep and have fought every inch of the way

It’s another intense workout, although this time it’s even more intense due to some previous workouts being missed. You’re working really hard, your lungs are working really hard, so hard in fact that they hurt. You don’t recall eating metal, yet you definitely have a copper like taste in your mouth. What the hell is going on? Why do your lungs hurt and why is there a metal like taste in your mouth?

Not uncommon

Don’t worry, it’s probably OK. It’s the body reacting to the hard work and reacting to your breathing. With the intense exercise comes the fact that your lungs have to work harder to get the oxygen required to fuel the work. Generally this should only last a few minutes. If it lasts longer, or if it happens after every workout, you are probably breathing incorrectly, or could have exercise induced asthma or another underlying medical condition that requires immediate medical attention.

When you exercise intensely and are breathing through your mouth, your brain thinks carbon dioxide is being lost at in excess. Your body reacts by creating additional mucus which has the effect of slowing your breathing and constricts your blood vessels. This can make catching your breath more difficult resulting in the pain and burning sensation. This usually is temporary and goes away as you gain more experience working out at this intensity.

Having a metallic taste in your mouth following intense exercise is not uncommon. Dry air, asthma, or sinus issues can result in this. It can also be caused when blood is forced through membranous tissue in the lungs, or up into the bronchial tree. This is because you are pushing yourself to the threshold of the anaerobic state. Although not harmful, if you have concerns you should limit the frequency of your intense workouts. You may also want to see your doctor to ensure everything is fine.

It’s intense

Working out at that intense level can be hard on our body, and our body reacts. Be sure to give yourself adequate rest between workouts to prevent over training. If you are a mouth breather, I’m not being offensive, try to start breathing in through your nose to slow down your breathing so the lungs have time to process the oxygen. It’s tough, but practicing will get you there eventually. Lastly, if any of these things concern you, please see your doctor.

Yours in health,

Darryl