You have to know yourself first

rear view of man on mountain road against sky
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Do you have goals? What are they? Why do you train? Where do you see yourself in 6 months?

I think these are important questions for those of us who train for specific reasons and are looking for positive results and growth. But not everyone falls into this bucket. It depends and knowing what bucket you fall into is very important, in my opinion, on what it is you do.

the what

For a large number of people, training means getting in their steps, burning a specific number of calories a day, doing things such as going for walks, light calisthenics to keep moving, and to maintain the ability to keep moving. For those of us who exercise to maintain a high level of athleticism, to compete, to be a better person physically today than a year ago then it’s very important how we train. And when I say train I’m really encompassing all things we do that impact training.

If you fall into the former group I mentioned above then this post might not be for you. If you fall into the latter then keep reading and hopefully you’ll pick up some tips that will help you grow athletically.

How we train directly impacts the results we get. Throughout time there have been many schools of thought on this. To run marathons you need to train distance, and lots of it is a good example. That’s how marathoners used to train years ago, nothing but long slow runs. But that changed and interval training was introduced and those who added interval training started to win events and set records. How we train with respect to the impact on our cardio health is very important. What energy system you use is very important.

But how do you know what energy system you are using, and how does this impact your results?

the how

I’m going to start off by making a recommendation. It’s one I’ve made before but I’m going to make it again. You need to get a device that at a bare minimum records your heart rate. And with that, I recommend you get one that gets you the most data. Monitoring heart rate is a good start but at the simplest level, it’s just showing you where you are at when you look at it. It doesn’t record your heart rate the whole workout only at that point of time you look at it. This is fine to know where you are at that moment but does not give you the data to understand where you were throughout the workout. A better device will allow you to break down your whole workout post-workout and understand at various points how you were performing. Some devices will let you set a maximum heart rate for that workout and warm you if you exceed it. If you are training your aerobic threshold this is a great feature as it will prevent you from having your heartrate slip into a higher zone. There are also devices that will factor in how rested you are (taking into account amount and quality of sleep, if alcohol has been consumed, etc.) and give you guidance on the type of workout you should be doing or even if you should be working out that day. How well we have recovered from our previous day should be included in the analysis we do when we decide how we are going to work out. If we are consistently overtraining because we aren’t taking this into account you are harming yourself and in actuality, you are moving backward instead of forwards with your athletic performance. Overtraining can also lead to injury, lack of progress, depression, and could also lead to loss of interest in training.

We are living in a time and age that probably has given us the most sophisticated tools we can have to better understand our fitness, health, and ability to perform. Training has evolved from getting up in the morning and doing the same tried and true to using data, feedback from our bodies to determine the workout for that day, and also tools to monitor our performance during the workout. Olympic athletes are constantly using modern tools, data, coaches, doctors to squeeze out as much as they can from their bodies. Technology to analyze and refine technique, and tools to analyze our bodies metrics and determine what is the best workout for that day.

We can’t go hard all the time, especially if you are more of an endurance athlete. It’s a mix of hard and soft, of yin and yang.

So how can you do that? Let me start with the basics, knowing what zone to train in. For this post, I’m going to cover zone 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Zone 2

Zone 2 can be called the fun zone as it’s the zone to use for the long and slow type of exercises, that gentle run where you can carry on a conversation. For this type of activity, you will want your heart rate to be at 60% at the low end to 70% of your max heart rate at the high end. This is the heart rate zone where you can carry out an activity such as running for 2 or more hours. Primarily using fat but also some glucose (sugar) for energy. Typically your muscles will tire before your cardio. This zone helps to build efficiency in our cardiovascular system, build endurance, and increase efficiency in our fat oxidation system. It’s hard to stay in but has a lot of benefits. This zone can easily comprise the majority of your training time amounting from 50% to 60%.

Zone 3

For this zone, you will want your heart rate to be at 70% on the low end and no higher than 80% of heart rate max for the top end. This zone is not a zone to spend a lot of time in (maybe %5 of total training time) as it doesn’t make you faster or stronger, and you don’t reap the benefits of the lower zones. Try to resist the temptation of being in this zone.

Zone 4

High exertion training. Training in this zone will help you get fast. Spend about 15% of your training in this zone. At this pace, I’m hitting about 90% MHR at the top end. Want to get faster and stronger? This zone will help with that. Spend about 15% of total time in this zone.

Zone 5

Raw speed and power is what zone 5 is about. This is high-intensity training. Train in this zone and you will need to ensure you have ample time, optimum nutrition to recover. Ever do a Tabata session? Yep, you are in zone 5. Because this zone is very intense, do not devote more than 10% of your total workout time in this zone.

Those are the zones. They give us different benefits, and also can lead to detriments if we stick to a zone for too long or are in that zone too often.

So let me ask you a question…

what zone were you in your last training session?

If you don’t know then you aren’t training smart, or as smart as you can be. Think how simple it is to have a device tell you if you are training well. You’re putting in the work anyway but now you are putting in smart work. Have you ever woken up tired and dragged your ass to the gym and did your best to put in the work but you couldn’t? And you felt like shit about yourself, putting yourself down, telling yourself you’re useless. We shouldn’t be stuck to a strict schedule if that schedule is wrong. “Tuesday is Tabata, Wed. is 30 min interval training”, etc. That all looks great on paper but we are not machines! We are different from one day to the next due to a number of influences.

Having a device that tells us we are well-rested and recovered and today you can go hard, or it tells us that today is a good day for an easier workout because you didn’t recover well. This is training smart, and if you start to train hard when you can, train easier when you can’t train hard, you won’t be overtraining and you’ll end up spending more time quality training. And you’ll probably see some better results.

finally

A variety of training doesn’t just mean different activities, it also means different intensities. Keep that in mind moving forward and enjoy those training sessions that are the long and slow ones. Those ones can be fun.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Sometimes your best is not always your best

young asian sportswoman having rest after workout in park
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We are not the same every day. There are many things that influence how we perform day to day: recovery time, the foods we eat, quality of sleep, alcholol consumption, etc. But yet we like to see improvements day to day when working out or performing. But that isn’t really realistic, is it? It may serve us well to be in tune to what our body is telling us and to then adapt accordingly.

what

Let me relate a recent experience with you. My current running routine has one slow day a week and the remainder workouts are intervals. When doing my interval days I like to keep the speed of the fast interval at no less than the last workout. I want to see progress and I want to make sure I’m working hard so I realize the progress. But my interval workout didn’t go that way. I didn’t get enough quality sleep the night before. I knew it as I woke up feeling like I really didn’t sleep at all. I could have easily stayed in bed for another hour that morning, but that’s how bad habits start.

I arrived at the gym, jumped on the treadmill and started my warmup/run. I was able to complete my first interval without issue but it wasn’t easy. I had to push a little more than normal. It felt like I hadn’t ran in 2 weeks. Next interval the same. Then, on my 3rd interval I made the decision to dial it back a bit. I feared if I didn’t I would either injure myself as I would be extending myself and that is when form takes a hit and becomes sloppier, or I could injure myself as I could put myself into an over trained state. That can lead to injury or sickness.

3 days later after some nights of better sleep I found myself at the gym again ready for my interval training. I felt rested and good. I did my first interval running at the speed I had worked up to, and I felt great. When I hit the slow part of my interval I listened to my body to get an idea of what my perceived exertion was and it wasn’t as high as some other times. My next interval I decided to add .5 mph to the speed, the fastest I have run in quite a while. Did it and I felt great, still! Next interval my fast speed was now a 1 mph increase. I finished my run completing the fast parts of my interval at the fastest speeds yet, and I also extended my run by 5 minutes. I completed what I wanted to do, experienced growth in my performance even though a few days earlier I performed below what my average was.

Growth does not happen exponentially but more inline with a continuous S curve where we plateau and then grow. And the more we know when we are plateauing, and the more we listen to our body the shorter time we will spend at the plateau or worse, falling off of the plateau.

how

Let’s look at some tools we can use to better understand how we are progressing in our workouts.

  • Journal: I’ve written about this many times. If you don’t know what you have been doing, from the first day to the last workout, then it becomes very hard to see the growth or know if your latest workout was your best. Just like in the world we live today data in power. The more you know about your performance the better you can be for it. And you can log plenty of data: amount of sleep, workout duration, type of workout, foods consumed, current weight. All of these things can come into plan on how you perform. And if you don’t have time to keep a journal, read my next item.
  • Bio Feedback: I’m a fan and a retractor of Fitbits and other fitness bands. Why? They are great in that you can look at your stats for your workout and your day (see items above from journal) and compare to your previous workouts, you can see how well you slept and how long (these are different things) you slept, you have a readout of heart rate including resting heart rate and historical heart rates. These are all metrics that impact performance. Unfortunately  people can end up using these numbers as a way to reward themselves not fully understanding the impact of the reward. Constantly rewarding yourself by increasing your dessert intake or drink intake probably is adding that weight you are trying to lose instead of aiding in the removal of that weight. There are also newer fitness bands that are better at giving you bio feedback and will let you know what type of workout you should focus on that day: high intensity or mid to lower intensity. These type of bands take the guess work out of it. You go into your workout pretty much knowing how you will probably feel during that workout. A great tool to help you from preventing over training which can be just as bad as not training. 
  • Perceived rate of exertion: PRE, or perceived rate of exertion is a scale that allows you to assign a number to how you are feeling while you are working out. As an example, 10 is max effort and comes with the feeling of it being impossible to continue, completely out of breath, and unable to talk. 6-7 on the scale is for vigorous activity where you feel you are on the verge of becoming uncomfortable, short of breath and can speak only a sentence. On the low end, 2-3 is light activity where you feel you can go on for hours and it’s easy to carry on a conversation. Understanding where you fall in the chart when working out should help you understand your goals for that workout. Feeling really good you might be able to live in the 10 zone for 30 seconds if the workout that day is meant to be intense but take that same workout another day you may need to be in the 6-7 zone due to lack of sleep or recovery time

 

finally

The more you listen to your body, the more data presented in the right way to understand your body should result in you staying motivated, seeing the results you are working hard to achieve. Gone should be the days of a cement head attitude of ‘balls to the wall’ or ‘take no prisoners’. Now don’t conflate this with a softening attitude on my part. Do you need to work hard? Absolutely! Just what ‘hard’ is in actual measurable work can change.

Hard work is can vary day to day. It’s no different than if you go for a 2 hour run and 90 minutes in you start to have pain in your knees. You would be stupid and irresponsible to yourself to continue. How is that different than running at 8 mph when your form has gone to sh*t just because your last interval training was at 8 mph. Take down the intensity a bit for that workout. You may be able to increase the intensity next workout or the one after if your body conditions are right. Rested, had a great sleep, ate the right foods and enough of the right foods probably got you there. Your best is not always better than the last time.

Train hard but train smart! You’ll be training longer and you’ll feel better for it.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Contrary to what you might hear

I started this blog back in 2014 to help educate people on fitness, health, and well being hence the name bfitsquared. My point being that it was never to be a blog on getting that beach body but instead on what you can do to live a healthy life. 2014 was also the year I became a certified personal trainer. Although for many years I researched fitness and health I thought it was time to become legit. My blogs at first focused on the physical, the workout side of health. I then thought about what could be my next goal. I decided to legitimize my passion for diet and how it affects us both in fitness and outside of fitness. After a lot of research, it only made sense to enroll in the online Cornell University certificate course on plant based nutrition. I thought it made sense that if I’m going to train people I should also have a solid understanding of how nutrition plays into performance. With over 20 experts (MDs, PhDs, RDs, RNs) and also having on the faculty Dr. T. Colin Campbell the co-author of the book The China Study it made sense to enroll in this course.

What

science
Science, always

So, what is this post going to be about? It’s about how to help you to perform at your best. I want to take some time to talk about how our body performs from the basics of living (breathing, existing) to when we need to perform. How is it that our muscles contract, our breathing increases, and so on. What is it that facilitates these functions among others? Let’s look into the chemistry of fuel. I’m sure if you were to ask any of my students, ‘does Sensei ever say ‘It’s Science” you would get a resounding yes. I say that because it is science. When you break it down to the simplest form that is what it is. There’s this misconception about martial arts that it’s magic powder dust and old chants and when you become a black belt it’s all then magically bestowed upon you. Sorry to disappoint but it’s not. It’s actually science. But I digress. One of my goals here is that when you have finished reading this you will then understand scientifically why diets that restrict carbohydrates are not going to help you perform better. They actually do the opposite.

How

Alright, let’s get into it.

As I eluded to earlier, to do anything requires fuel. No matter how small it is, breathing, sleeping, etc. requires fuel. And ATP is the fuel for anything we do, anything. ATP is the energy currency of the body. Without ADP nothing happens, nothing.

Let’s get into this a little deeper. Our body uses 3 systems to form ATP:

        • ATP-CP
        • Lactic Acid or Glycolytic Energy System
        • Aerobic or Oxidative Energy System

Let’s look at these in greater detail starting with ATP-CP. ATP-CP and glycolytic systems are both anaerobic systems meaning they do not use oxygen. Because of this, these systems are inefficient. These systems operate on a chemical reaction that does not use oxygen. The level of intensity is so high that there is not enough time for oxygen to get to the muscles. This also limits the duration of effort to a very short period when in these zones if you will.

So I’m going to break this down further. Of the two anaerobic systems, we then break it down to ATP-CP Phosphagen system. This provides fuel for up to 10 seconds at maximum intensity. Full out, 110 percent as they used to say. That’s it. A 10 whole seconds. If you have ever worked out with me when I’m running classes you know these 10 seconds well. So what about after 10 seconds? Let’s now look at the glycolytic system. This is the system that provides fuel from 10 seconds up to 2 minutes at maximum intensity. The glycolytic system uses reactions that cause the breakdown of carbohydrates in the form of glycogen stored in the muscle cells or glucose found in the blood (carbs, nothing but carbs). Because there isn’t any oxygen we are good for only up to 2 minutes and, we end up with a byproduct called lactic acid. Ahh, lactic acid, that chemical that causes muscles to feel like they are on fire!

As more glucose is metabolized more lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid gathers in the cells and begins to lower pH becoming more acidic and starts to slow contraction speed and strength. If the level of lactic acid becomes too high it can cause temporary muscle failure and no muscle contractions can occur. This is referred to as lactic acidosis. In other words, when intensity is high you are limited to approx. 2 minutes as you will be forced to stop due to failure. But it’s not all bad news. The muscle cells can be trained to improve this energy pathway resulting in muscle cells producing less lactic acid at the same intensity. That’s awesome news! This means we can exercise longer at the same intensity! This is where hard work pays off. Keep training at a highly intense level and ultimately you will then be able to perform at that high level much longer.

So, what then happens when we reach that threshold be it 2 minutes or a bit longer? We either cease to function or we slow down and that slowing down allows oxygen to come into play. Our intensity diminishes somewhat and we slip onto another process. Let’s now look at the 3rd process.

When sufficient oxygen is available for a given lower intensity of exercise an abundance of ATP is produced. This allows us to keep performing but, at a level lower than when we were in the anaerobic zone. Let’s now look at the 2 categories that fall under the aerobic or oxidative energy system.

The first is the aerobic glycolysis system. This provides fuel for beyond 2 minutes at a reduced effort. Again, glycogen or glucose is broken down for energy and because oxygen is present we don’t get the lactic acid problems like we did when in the anaerobic, or non-oxygen zone. With the continuous supply of oxygen, the muscle cells break down glucose to produce ATP. This chemical process is very efficient and produces large amounts of ATP. Because this process uses oxygen you are only limited in the amount of ATP created by how well your cardio system works. Have awesome cardio then you can produce ATP like nobodies business. Now, onto the next.

This is where fat comes into play. If you are doing something that is low on the intensity level your body will utilize fat as the product of choice to create ATP. Fatty acid oxidation is the process of creating ATP when the intensity level is low and there is enough oxygen for the chemical process to work. Fatty acid oxidation requires a large amount of oxygen but, it produces the most amount of ATP. Running a marathon, or some other event that has an extreme duration than the body will more likely be using fat and oxygen to create ATP.

Also, at rest, gardening, walking at a comfortable pace or any low intense activity will be utilizing fat for ATP. But, because energy demand is low the amount of fat needed is low. Remember, fatty acid oxidation produces the largest amount of ATP so less fat is needed to create the ATP needed when intensity is low. This is why the message of working out in the fat-burning zone a number of years ago didn’t do anyone good. Sure, work out in the fat-burning zone if you have 2 hours to kill every workout. Not many people have that amount of time 3 – 5 times a week.

Speaking of the fat-burning zone, let’s look into one more reason why working out intensely is beneficial to us. It’s called EPOC, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. EPOC is used for ATP replenishment, amongst other things, and resynthesis of a small portion of lactic acid to glycogen. But, most of the glycogen is restored from dietary carbohydrates. Yes, carbs. But what if you don’t eat carbs because you are on that Keto diet? I want you to think about that. Did you see any of the 3 processes our body uses to create energy, ATP, use protein as a fuel source? Did you see how these processes use carbs in the form of glucose and glycogen with respect to moderate and intense exercising? And if you think you’ll use fat for the fuel source then get ready to put aside at least 2 hours each time you work out to burn enough fat to make a difference. The more intense the workout the more time you are in EPOC. The reason there is EPOC is to get the body back to a level state. If your exertion during your workout was moderate to low, your body may only need several minutes to recover. But, if your workout was intense, a tough one, it may take up to 24 hours to get the body back to a steady-state due to a larger oxygen deficit. And during this 24 hour period, your resting metabolic rate is higher burning more calories at rest. It’s important for you to keep this in mind with respect to rest, recovery, and nutrition. The more you are on top of these things the better your body will recover.

Lastly, none of these systems are exclusive, all systems work together. But, the predominance of one system over the other depends on the intensity of the workout.

Why

Why is it we look at carbs as bad? It’s evident our body needs carbs, complex carbs for fuel. To quote someone I know, ‘It’s science!’. You cannot deny the scientific evidence on how our body creates fuel, ATP, to do the simplest things like exist!

Finally

I hope this helps you in your journey in becoming fitter, healthier, and basically enjoying life. Now, the next time someone espouses to you the benefit of the keto diet, refer them to this post. Then let them argue against science if they dare.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

real to real is living rarity

Fade away, radiate

A vacation. Seasonal holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanks giving. Time where you may be busy visiting family or just relaxing not wanting to do much, other than eating and drinking. It can be hard to relax during these times because in the back of your mind you are reminding yourself that you aren’t at the gym working out.

So worry yourself, take all that guilt and feel bad whenever you enjoy a drink, or enjoy a dessert, or enjoy time doing nothing. Or just enjoy it knowing that the other weeks of the year you are an intense, physical human in the gym. The choice is yours.

There is a lot out there that influences how we should feel. Whether it’s a subtle message or an aggressive one we are told how and what we should do. Everyday. We need to look at who is delivering the message and why.

Is the message meant to be delivered to you? Keep in mind that a large majority of people don’t exercise (you are a minority if you like it or not) and some of these messages, or all of them could be aimed at them. Or it could be a way to get you to buy something.

Assess

I think most of us that exercise and are doing a lot of the things I have written about are more the exception and don’t need to be reminded about how good exercising is for us and to make sure that we get enough activity in such as going for a brisk walk.

I also think that we are probably the ones that are hardest on ourselves. We tend to feel anxious when we may miss a workout. We feel guilty when we do and if we happen to miss a few we start to get really concerned about our fitness.

What can we do? We need to have a better understanding of what we are doing with respect to fitness. I know when you go to the gym you are working as hard as you can, you are creating huge sweat puddles under the machines you are using. You are probably someone who has been for a good part of their life. Not someone who shows up at the gym in January and leaves in February.

Have you ever reflected on your workouts? Looked back at exactly what it was you did? Have you done this looking back at the month, six months, and the year? No? Maybe you should.

Machine

Contrary to popular belief you are not a machine. You need fuel, rest, and more rest. Our bodies need to rebuild and rebuild before those same muscle fibers are torn again.

I know this from personal experience. During a time I was training really hard, sometimes two times a day, I got injured. Nothing to do with my training but injured none the less. I could still exercise but not unencumbered due to a cast on my foot. The frequency I was working out dropped significantly. Did I suffer horribly because I had to alter my schedule? No. My body responded by actually gaining muscle and strength. Why? Because it finally had time to rest and rebuild. It got the break it wanted for the last while.

Enjoy

If you always train hard, if you hate it when you can’t train, if the shower curtain rod starts to look like a pull up bar you should enjoy those breaks when they come. Enjoy the break, let your body rebuild. You will be stronger for it.

Feel good about this though. It’s a good thing. You should feel good because you are one of the few that do this. You are one of the few that beat yourself up weekly. You are one of the few that leaves it on the floor.

For everyone else, what are you waiting for?

Yours in health,

Darryl