December 29, 2010

More high risk exercises

Even riskier than a forward bend is the windmill (reaching a hand towards the opposite foot with the other arm straight in the air).  

 These take the risky unsupported spinal flexion and add a twist, which further compromises the spine.  There is really no safe way to do these, and I am not sure what the purpose is.  If you are trying to warm up there are much better ways (see post from Sept. 15), they are ineffective if your goal is to work your waist (try a side plank instead; post from Nov. 20).  Since they are virtually useless and there is no safe modification omit windmills from your workout.

December 18, 2010

NEAT to lose weight.

Here are some more tips to help you prevent those dreaded holiday pounds:
Make your workouts more intense: You can make up for working out less by working out harder for a shorter period of time.
Take the batteries out of your remote control.
Save yourself the aggravation of circling for a close parking spot, choose one far away.
Take the stairs.
Hold a walking meeting.
Wash dishes by hand.
Walk around while you are on the phone.
Chew gum.
Stand instead of sitting.
Pace while waiting at an airport or bus terminal.
Perform squats while you wash your hands or brush your teeth.

Most of these tips take advantage of Non-Exercise Thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the amount of calories you burn while NOT exercising.  For most of us, the calories we burn by actual exercise are negligible.  It is the calories we burn while not exercising that can make a long-term difference in weight.  Obese people may burn 350 fewer calories a day because they move less.  Therefore, while it may seem trivial, little extra movements all day really do add up.  I do not want to minimize the importance of exercise, but in the weight battle (especially during the holidays), every little bit helps.  Start fidgeting, and increase your NEAT.

December 12, 2010

High risk exercises

We used to call them “contraindicated exercises”, but the fitness industry has gone politically correct, and we now call them “high risk” exercises.  Whatever the name, these are exercises most people should avoid.  The one I see most often is the unsupported forward bend, also known as toe touches. 
This position places a great deal of stress on the spine, including compression and shear loads, which will eventually cause injury.  I believe this exercise remains popular because it feels good temporarily, but if done repetitively, you will end up with an injured back.
As you can see from the picture above this person is leaning forward with a very rounded back, so he is mostly hanging from his ligaments. 

You can perform forward bends in a much safer manner (as in Yoga or Pilates), by bending your knees, keeping a neutral spine and executing a hip hinge. This means you are going forward but keeping the normal arch of your back, the bend is in the hips, not the spine.  You can also limit the range of motion by placing a block or low table in front of you.  Notice how the woman in the first picture below has her hands on a yoga block; this is great for those who have less than flexible hamstrings.  In the second picture, she has her hands on the floor, but she is flexible enough to do so without overly rounding her back.

Another option in the picture below is to stand with one leg bent, bring the other forward slightly and straighten it.  Keep your spine neutral (maintain the normal arch of your back), and hinge forward from the hip, placing your hands on the bent leg for support.

If your goal is to stretch your hamstrings, the safest stretch is on your back with one leg straight in the air.  The other can be bent or straight on the ground, hold the straight leg with both hands, and pull it close until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg.  And of course, make sure the stretches are done after your workout (post from September 15)!

December 5, 2010

A Better Crunch

For those of you who simply cannot give up your ab crunches (see post from Nov. 7), here is a safer version that avoids compression of the spine:

Start on your back with one leg straight and the other bent on the ground.  Place your hands under your middle/lower back.  This is to help you maintain a neutral spine.  Notice how much your back presses into your hands; as you do the exercise the pressure should stay the same, the back should not press into the hands OR come away from them.  Perform an abdominal brace (activate the abdominal muscles by bracing for a punch, but do not allow the back to move), then simply raise the head and shoulders off the ground.  The movement is in the thoracic spine only, NOT in your neck or lower back region.  Try to keep the abdominal brace and hold for 5 or 6 seconds.  Do not hold your breath.   Once you can do two sets of 12 in perfect form you can make it more challenging by lifting your elbows off the ground. 

The pictures below are examples to avoid:

The picture above shows rounding of the cervical spine (the neck area) that you should avoid.  Her chin is almost on her chest.  For correct form imagine holding an orange under your chin; do not let it roll out, and do not make orange juice.

This picture shows the opposite incorrect neck position; his chin is pointed at the ceiling.

 This picture shows the rounding of the lumbar spine (the lower back) that you should also avoid.

December 2, 2010

Save your ears

What part of the body are you most likely to injure with aerobic exercise?  If you guessed hearing, you have probably taken a Spin or Zumba class recently.  Listening to loud music through ear buds or headphones can be equally damaging.  Loud noise, especially when prolonged, damages the delicate hair cells in the ear.  Once damaged, they cannot be repaired.  For some reason aerobic exercise seems to intensify the harm.
Hearing loss is insidious; you do not realize it until it is too late.  It may seem inconsequential now, but if you continually expose yourself to loud noise, you can look forward to a hearing aid or saying “what?” quite often in your future.
How can you tell if the music is too loud?  If you need to raise your voice, it is too loud.  If your ears hurt or ring it is too loud. If you are wearing ear buds and a friend can hear your music, it is too loud.  If you need to turn your car stereo louder after a class, it was too loud.
OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has set 85 decibels (about as loud as a lawn mower) as the level requiring hearing protection for factory workers.  The NIH (National Institute of Health) has estimated that the average overall noise level for an aerobics class is 87.1 decibels, with peaks ranging from 90.5-99.7!  So how can you protect your hearing and continue with your favorite class?
Try to talk to your instructor privately, though I must admit many are very defensive about volume levels.  You will probably hear that their students want the music loud, though in my twenty plus years of teaching I have never had a student ask me to turn the volume up!  You can try pointing out the risk of voice as well as hearing damage to the instructor, but if that does not work, speak to management.  Most states have laws regarding decibel levels in commercial facilities, so you certainly bring that up.  If you really want to get specific, you can download an app for your phone to prove that the music is at damaging volumes.
If you get no response from the instructor or management and really love the class, you can purchase cheap foam cylinder earplugs at most drugstores.  They can reduce the sound by up to 30 decibels.  It is sad that you can ruin your hearing while doing something healthy, but speaking up, or wearing earplugs can protect your ears while you strengthen the rest of your body.

November 28, 2010

Dead bugs are great

The dead bug has my favorite name for an exercise; it also is a favorite for how it tones the abs while strengthening the back.  This picture of the advanced version explains the name:

Start with the basic version first: Lie on your back with your legs bent in the air, your arms are straight up; palms face each other. 

Notice how your back feels on the floor; it may be slightly arched or flat against the floor.  Keep this feeling in your back the same, brace your abdominals as if someone is going to punch you, and reach one arm towards the floor above your head.  Alternate arms.  

Once you can do this easily, touch a bent foot to the floor.  As with all ab exercises your form is more important than the movement.  

After you can maintain perfect form with this, try to lower the right leg and the left arm together.  Make sure you keep the pressure on your back the same the whole time (do not let your back arch up or press into the ground).  Then repeat with the left leg and right arm.  
 Once you can do 12 of the above easily (and with perfect form), you can move on to the straight leg version:
 I am happy to report that I found no web images with horrible form, though it is a little better on your shoulders to keep your palms facing each other.

Once you can do these well you should notice tighter abs and decreased back pain.

November 23, 2010

Easy tips to avoid holiday weight gain

As we approach the holidays, here are some tips to help you avoid putting on those extra pounds:
Beware liquid calories:  Those drinks go down easy (with and without alcohol), but the calories still count.  One trick to try; use a tall skinny glass.  The height fools the brain; you will  pour less in and therefore drink less.
Opt for smaller plates:  This fools the brain into thinking there is more food, and you will take and eat less.
Do not serve food family style:  Dish out the portions (on smaller plates!) away from the table so you need to get up for seconds.
Socialize more: You wouldn’t talk with your mouth full right?
Move more: Moderate exercise after a large meal can actually help prevent some of the short-term damage you have done to your arteries.  Gather the tribe and opt for a walk instead of watching another bowl game.
Enjoy!  Do not deprive yourself.  If you try to avoid all fattening foods, you may up binging instead.  Moderation works much better in the end.

                   Have a happy Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2010

A Healthier Back and Tighter Abs

Thanks to your feedback I will try to keep my posts shorter, but will update more often.  I appreciate all the e-mails and kind words; feel free to post comments in the box below my updates so all can share.

The next ab exercise, the side plank, will help your back.  It is also a great toner for the abs and hips.  Start on your side with your elbow placed below your shoulder, forearm on floor, and your knees bent.  Draw your abs tight, but do not allow your back to change alignment.  Lift your hips off the ground and hold your body in a straight line for 10 seconds.  Lower and repeat.  Make sure to keep your neck relaxed, but avoid dropping your head; the space between your ear and shoulder should remain the same.

Once you can do 12 reps of the above with PERFECT form, you can advance to the straight leg plank, do the same move with straight legs:

There are hundreds of variations you can do to advance, but remember you must do each in perfect form.

This photo is a shot with bad form: notice how his head is hanging down.  My neck hurts looking at it.  

Add the side plank to the previous ab exercises and your midsection will start feeling and looking better.

November 14, 2010

Tone Your Abs AND Strengthen Your Back

Now that you know which exercises to avoid, we can turn to the exercises that will strengthen your back AND tone your abs:

1. Put Down the Fork.  Sorry, but for most people the best way to benefit your back is to lose weight.  Excess weight; especially in the stomach area is the number one cause of back pain.  I know it is not easy, but studies show that losing even 5 pounds can reduce stress on the back.
2. Aerobics: Researchers are not sure why, but any form of aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease back pain.  It can be walking, running, spinning, dancing etc. If even walking hurts, try swimming or a recumbent bike; most people can do these without pain.
3. Bird Dog: Start on hands and knees, hands right under the shoulders, knees under the hips.  Pull your shoulder blades down your back, and find neutral spine; this means you will maintain the normal arch of YOUR back.  Place a real or imaginary stick across your back and brace your abdominals and lower back by doing a slight contraction, but do not let the stick move.  Stay balanced and reach a straight arm forward until the arm is parallel to the ground.  The thumb is pointed up.   Keep the contraction in the abs and lower back, and hold for 10 seconds, then switch arms.  Recenter and straighten one leg, keeping it in line with the hip, then lift the leg until it is parallel to the ground. 

 This may sound easy, but doing it with perfect form is actually very challenging.  Most people will lose the stick. This trains the abs and back to work together, and will give you greater core stability (and tighter abs).  Once you can do this with PERFECT form, progress to lifting the opposite arm and leg at the same time.
Do not try to progress too soon; doing these exercises incorrectly will only solidify imbalances.  Gradually increase the repetitions until you can do 12 on each side.

4. Plank: This is one of the most effective abdominal exercises, and it is also great for your lower back.  Start on your knees with your forearms on the ground and your elbows directly below your shoulders.  Walk your knees back bringing your hips closer to the ground until you feel the abdominals start to work.  Keep your spine in neutral, neck relaxed and in line with the spine, and your forehead pointed at the floor.  Hold for 10 seconds.

 Once you can maintain this in perfect form, you can advance to straight legs with your toes on the ground.  Work up to 12 repetitions.

I have added this as a demo of what NOT to do:  Notice how his head is dropped and his back is arched.

These exercises may look easy, but doing them with perfect form is actually very difficult.  I will add progressions in future posts, but it is essential not to increase the difficulty until you can perform the exercise flawlessly.
 Next post; three more essential ab exercises.

November 10, 2010

More on back sabotage by exercise

If you have trouble reading this in e-mail, click on the highlighted title above, and it will bring you right to the blog where it is easy to read..

Thanks to all on your feedback and questions on my previous post.  It would be great to start a dialog on this; so please feel free to use the comment button below the post, that way we can all discuss your questions.

As for your comments and questions:
1. Can I do sit ups? 

    Sit ups are as bad as curl ups, and in fact are worse; once you lift more than your shoulder blades off the floor you rely on your hip flexors more than the abdominals.
2. What about crunches on the ball?
    If you must do crunches, then performing them on the stability ball is a slightly better option.  You need only do a few to really work the abs. In addition, if you limit the range of motion to only lifting the shoulder blades, you can minimize the amount of spinal flexion.

3. What is hollowing out? 
    Hollowing out, pressing your back into the ground, imprinting, scooping, sucking in the abs, are all terms fitness and Pilates instructors have used to try to get participants to activate the transverse abdominus muscle.  This is a deep abdominal muscle that works when you exhale.  It was once believed that activating this muscle separately was necessary for spinal stabilization.  Research does not support this, and as Dr. McGill states pressing the spine into the floor actually causes compression of the spine.
4. My back is better since I've done Pilates (or crunches or curl ups etc).
    Great, but most back pain is caused by cumulative trauma.  Over time high amounts of flexion will cause a bulge in the disc.  Of course, every individual will tolerate this differently; it may take decades for problems to show up.  You should also be aware of the "magical" effect of exercise.  Put a sedentary person on ANY sort of exercise program (Yoga, Pilates, Spinning, walking etc) and he or she will feel better and have more energy.  Even if the program is dangerous enough to cause long term trauma, in the short term you will almost always feel better.
5. So how do I safely work my abs and help my back?
     Stay tuned for the next post.

November 7, 2010

Can the crunch and save your back

The best way to protect your back is to strengthen your abdominals, therefore performing crunches and “hollowing out” your abs will keep your back healthy; right? Well, no.  Years ago, fitness experts advised pressing your back to the ground and performing abdominal crunches or curls to build a healthy back, but no longer. In fact, Dr. Stuart McGill, ( a leading authority on back pain, believes the crunch (or spinal flexion) is among the worst exercises you can do for your back.  His research shows that if you do enough spinal flexion (curl ups, sit-ups, imprinting, scooping out the back etc.) then you will eventually hurt your back.  He is far from alone; the trend in the rehab and fitness industries is to focus on stabilization training.  This means training the abdominals to work as a unit to support the back. 
While not all back experts are ready to totally ban the crunch there is a consensus on minimizing spinal flexion.  Since rolling like a ball, rounding and C curves are cornerstones of some Pilates practices I can hear the Pilates adherents howling. McGill is not dissing all of Pilates; he emphasizes the importance of training the core, but he insists that the worst cue is to press the spine into the floor as this causes compression, and eventually a bulge in the disc. Many Pilates organizations are now backing away from spinal flexion, and are de-emphasizing the “C curve”.  If you take Pilates, it would be a good idea to speak to your instructor about this, especially if you have back problems.  There is no evidence that activating the transverse abdominus (or hollowing out the back) will protect your back or enhance performance.
Be aware that we are talking about training the abdominals to function better, not to look better.  If your goal is solely aesthetic, then keep crunching, but be prepared for back problems somewhere down the road.  The best way to protect and strengthen your back is to train the entire abdominal wall. Train the body as a unit, not as individual muscles.  You can do that through “bracing”. Bracing is an activation of all the layers of the abdominal wall.  The easiest way to learn to brace is to pretend you are about to be punched in the stomach; you will feel the abdominals contract, (as well as your lower back and buttocks) but there will be no discernible movement.  Once you have learned to brace you can apply it to a variety of exercises that will help protect and strengthen your back, and oh, will also help you get that six-pack.  More on those next time.

November 1, 2010

Sabotage by Personal Trainer

I now take up the painful topic of how a personal trainer can sabotage your workout.  While I am loathe to speak badly of my profession, the truth is there are a few dangerous trainers out there.   Ever heard of rhabdomyolysis?  This is a relatively rare condition where your skeletal muscles breakdown due to severe injury.  The byproducts can lead to kidney failure and even death.  Highest risk are individuals who take statins such as Lipitor, but supplements such as Hydroxycut have also been implicated. There have been legal actions against trainers (and some group fitness instructors) alleging the workout was intense enough to cause rhabdomyolysis.  Another trainer was sued for causing the death of woman after he recommended supplements that conflicted with her high blood pressure medication.
In reality, these are extremes; most trainers are excellent, at worst, you may waste your time or money,   But how do you find a good trainer?  First off, make sure he or she is certified by a reputable organization.  There are currently no laws requiring a personal trainer to be certified or licensed.  While I believe you do not need certification to be a good trainer, it denotes at least a minimum of knowledge.  In addition, every highly regarded organization requires continuing education; this will ensure your trainer stays up to date.  Unfortunately, not all certifications are equal.  It is entirely possible to get a meaningless online certificate.  There are scores of certification programs out there, many are excellent, but the most prestigious are from ACSM, ACE, NASM, and NSCA. 
Of course, certification does not make someone a great trainer.  If you belong to a gym watch the training sessions.  Does the trainer focus on the client; is he looking in the mirror, schmoozing with other members or on the cell phone?  Does the trainer do the same workout with every client?  Look for some of the warning flags from my previous posts: does she stretch the client before the workout, does he supervise women as they do countless reps with baby weights, does she allow her clients to lift weights with bad form? I see these more often than I would like. You can also try word of mouth, but the trainer your friend loves may not be a good match for you.
Find out what to expect when you interview trainers. Every trainer should be asking your goals.  Your workout will be very different depending on whether you want to run a marathon, lose weight, lower your blood pressure or just feel better, so it is a red flag if a trainer does not ask.  You should be asked about your medical and exercise history. Many trainers will do a physical assessment to determine strengths, weaknesses and imbalances.  The beauty of personal training is having a workout designed just for you.  If a trainer shakes your hand and directs you to a machine without getting to know your needs, you should say no thank you and find someone else.
The most important aspect of finding a trainer right for you is that intangible of chemistry.  You may have to try several different trainers until you find one you are comfortable with. A great trainer will help you look and feel better, but more importantly, will actually make you enjoy and look forward to exercise.  That will keep you going, and guarantee results.

October 27, 2010

More workout sabotage

At the other end of the weight lifting spectrum of futile endeavors is lifting too much weight. This can be worse than not lifting enough;  not only are you wasting your time, but there is a good chance that you are hurting yourself.  How can it be too much weight if you are able to complete the reps?  There are a variety of ways to “cheat” and lift more weight than your muscles can handle.  The most common is the “body rock”. If you are doing isolation training (as compared to integrated strength training-more on that in another post), then you want only the body part you are working to be moving.  For example; when doing biceps curls your knees should not straighten and bend, and your torso should not be swinging back and forth. Speaking of swinging; unless you are specifically doing explosive training you need to lift the weights in a slow and controlled motion.  Try lifting the weight two (slow) counts up, and four counts down.  If you can only lift the weight by rocking your body or flinging it up and down, then you are using momentum, not your muscles.  Another self-check you can do is to ask yourself where you feel the exercise; shoulder pain during a biceps curl should give you a clue that something is wrong.  Does your back hurt during chest presses?  Then there is a good chance the weight is so heavy that your back is coming off the bench   You may be able to bench press 300 pounds, but if it is because you rely your back and shoulders, say hello to advil and physical therapy.   If you are not getting the results you want, try to slow it down, lower the weights and keep your body still.  Your muscles will actually work harder, and your back, knees and shoulders will thank you.

October 23, 2010

No more workout sabotage

There are countless ways people sabotage themselves while strength training, but the most common (at least for women) is not lifting enough weight.  Despite research to the contrary it seems women are still worried about bulking up.  How about helping let this myth die?  In truth, few women posses the genetics or testosterone to build huge muscles.  Bodybuilders train in a very intense, specific way, and even then, many resort to steroids. 
To reap the benefits (and there are many) of strength training you need to challenge your muscles. 
How much should you lift?  It all depends on your fitness level and your goals. If your goal is to firm up, gain muscle tone and improve your strength and health, you need to lift enough weight so that by the time you get to 10 or 12 repetitions it should feel like you could do very few more. If you are cranking out 20 reps or more you are probably not getting the results you want. Beginners can stick to one set, but if you have been lifting for a while or are trying to lose weight, aim for two.  Research is iffy as to the need for more than two sets. If you are training the whole body at once, two times a week should be enough.  You do not have to lift to failure; but if you lift heavy enough you will see results much faster, and you will no longer be wasting your time.

October 12, 2010

Lift to lose!

Trying to lose weight?  Make sure you lift weights.  Aerobic exercise is great, but if you want to slim down, you need to press some iron as well.  Lifting weights builds muscle, which helps you burn calories when you are not exercising. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn.  If you try to lose weight through diet and aerobic exercise alone you will lose muscle mass with the fat.  This will slow your metabolism down and impede your weight loss.  It’s common to hear people say, “I want to lose weight”, but it is fat you want to lose not muscle, so make it easier on yourself by picking up the dumbbells.

October 6, 2010

Lean on me not!

So what is the most common error that I see at the gym?  That’s easy; not going.  However, for those who do go, there are numerous ways people sabotage their own workouts.   Probably the easiest problem to fix is to avoid leaning on the cardio equipment.  Take a look at the stair climbers, ellipticals, treadmills and bikes at your gym.  I can almost guarantee at least one person will be hunched over, leaning his or her elbows on the handles.  Not only is this bad for your back (and it looks painful), but you are burning fewer calories.  Your upper body is taking some of the workload from your largest muscle groups, which will reduce the calories you burn. For best results try to avoid the handles: If you must use them for balance, stand straight and hold on lightly.  You may have to reduce the speed or resistance, but you will get a better workout, and your back will thank you.

October 4, 2010

E-mail updates now working

I have finally fixed the e-mail update link.  Please click on it to get blog updates e-mailed to you.  You can still try to sign up as followers, but that gadget has not been forwarding the updates, and several of you have told me you are not showing up (sorry).  When you click on the get e-mail updates link you will be directed to type in some nonsense letters; this is a spam detector.  If you can't make out the letters try again, you will get a new set in a different font.  You will be sent an e-mail to confirm the address;  check your spam box; it may end up there; it will be from feedburneremail.  Thanks for subscribing!

September 30, 2010

Shorter workouts=Better results

The best way to burn calories, increase your metabolism and fitness level, and keep your workout interesting is interval training.  Interval training means alternating short periods of high intensity exercise with recovery periods of low intensity. There are a variety of ways to do this, and not really a right or wrong way, so you can experiment and find what works best for you. 
Once a physician has cleared you to exercise you can pick any type of aerobics; running, walking, biking, swimming. (You can do this incorporating weights, but right now let’s focus on aerobics.)  I recommend you go by the “perceived exertion scale.” 
  • Level 1: I'm lying in bed, almost asleep.
  • Level 2: I could do this all day.
  • Level 3: Still easy, but not all day.
  • Level 4: I’m getting warm, but I can talk with ease.
  • Level 5: I'm starting to sweat, but can carry on a conversation.
  • Level 6: Sweating more, I can talk but not as easily.
  • Level 7: I can talk, but not for long.  Yes, I am sweating.
  • Level 8: I can barely grunt, can’t keep on much longer.
  • Level 9: Help, I think I may die.
  • Level 10: Am I dead?
So after your warm-up (and no stretching right?), you increase your heart rate until your perceived exertion is about level 5.  Do this for a couple of minutes, then ramp the intensity up to level 7 or 8.  At first aim for 30 seconds, then drop back to level 3 or 4 for a couple of minutes.  And repeat. Try to do this for 8 cycles, then cool down.  The beauty of interval training is you don’t have to exercise for as long. As your body gets stronger try to increase the time of the hard intervals, and decrease the time of the short intervals.  This helps increase your metabolism for hours after your workout, and you will also find in increase in your fitness level.  Aim for at least two interval days a week, you can do your slower steady state training the rest of the week.  Interval training is great, but too much can lead to overtraining or injuries.  Try it, it’s hard work, but the results are well worth it.

Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women

Jason L. Talanian,1 Stuart D. R. Galloway,2 George J. F. Heigenhauser,3 Arend Bonen,1 and Lawrence L. Spriet1
1Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 2Department of Sport Studies, University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland; and 3Department of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

September 26, 2010

Beware the Fat Burning Zone!

  So you’re all warmed up and motivated to burn some fat.  You punch in the “fat burning” button on the treadmill or elliptical, ready to get results.  Well guess what?  If your goal is to lose weight, you are sabotaging yourself. It’s a mystery in the fitness industry why equipment makers label their machines like this; the fat burning zone is basically a myth, and will not help you lose weight.
 There is a tiny bit of science behind the fb zone; but if you are trying to lose weight, the numbers do not add up.  It is true that when you exercise at a lower intensity (the purported fat burning zone) that you use a higher percentage of fat for fuel than at a higher intensity.  However, you are burning fewer calories, and therefore will burn fewer fat calories unless you exercise for a longer time.  For example, say you work out in the fb zone for 30 minutes; depending on your weight and metabolism you may burn about 200 calories.  Assume half the calories come from fat, so you’ve burned 100 fat calories.* Now ramp the intensity up (to a level where you can still talk, but probably can’t sing) and you may burn up to 300 calories.  Now 40% of that fuel may be from fat, so you will have burned 120 fat calories, and 100 more total calories.  Which do you think will help you lose weight?
Now I am not saying it is bad to workout in this zone.  If you are new to exercise or have limitations, this level of intensity may be all you can handle.  However, if you are physically fit and trying to lose weight, you are doing yourself a disservice.  So what is the “right” way?  More on that next time.

*Numbers are examples, but you can find the exact fuel percentages here:
Thompson, D.L., et al. 1998. Substrate use during and following moderate- and low-intensity exercise: Implications for weight control. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 78 (1), 43-49.

September 24, 2010


OK, maybe stretching AFTER you exercise isn't such a great idea either!

September 15, 2010

Warming Up All Wrong

You think you are doing the right thing; stretching before you workout, but guess again. You are actually making the muscle you stretch weaker (albeit temporarily). A stretched muscle is a lengthened muscle, and will not be quite as strong.   True, there are a few individuals with a specific imbalance who may need corrective stretching. Those who practice a sport such as gymnastics may need the extra flexibility. However, for the rest of us, do you really want to play with weaker muscles? Moreover, think about it; does stretching get you warm?
I am not quite sure why this has not gotten out to the general public, but research has made it quite clear that you should stretch AFTER exercise: A good warm-up elevates the body temperature, this helps your muscles contract with more force, and increases the signals from your brain to body so you can react more quickly.
So what is the best way to warm-up?  Try some common sense.  Think of the workout or sport you are about to do, and GRADUALLY warm your body up by doing easier versions of the same moves Walking slowly then briskly is a good way to start almost any activity. If you are going for a run, just walk first. Lifting weights?  Try to mimic the exercises with either no or a very light weight.  You can also try some dynamic stretches. Once your body is warm, try some heel raises, knee lifts, butt kicks, arm circles and cariocas (moving laterally cross one leg in front, then behind).  Try warming up correctly, and you will be able to jump higher, run faster, lift heavier, and save me a lot of aggravation.