April 28, 2011

Try what is hard:

Most people tend to stick with what is easiest in fitness as well as life. For example, if you are flexible there is a good chance you enjoy yoga, though you may need it less than someone who is stiff.  On the other hand, you may find endurance type activities such as running or biking way easier than lifting weights or sprinting.  However, if you stick with what is comfortable, you will eventually find yourself in a rut, making results very hard to come by.
Our muscles are made of a mix of “fast twitch” and “slow twitch” fibers.  Slow twitch fibers can contract below their maximal strength for long periods, whereas fast twitch fibers will contract at maximum intensity for a short period.   We are born with either a predominance of high twitch or slow twitch fibers.  If you have more high twitch, you may enjoy weight lifting or sprinting more than aerobic or endurance type activities.  Marathon runners probably have a high percentage of slow twitch fibers.
This does not mean someone with a high percentage of slow twitch fibers must stick with endurance activates.  You cannot change your muscle fiber percentage, but that does not mean you are doomed to only one type of activity.  Practice and repetition will help your body adapt, and if you stick with it, you can be successful going against your genes.
In a similar way, if you consider yourself uncoordinated you might shy away from group aerobic classes and choose to spin or plod away on the treadmill.  Most gyms and studios have a “klutz friendly” class where no one will notice your two left feet, (or at least pretend not to notice).  Zumba classes are known for being easy to follow, and many fitness instructors are skilled at helping everyone feel comfortable in any class.  Try something new:  Our minds and bodies crave variety, and the best way to shake up your routine is to try something different.  I am not saying to give up what you love, or to slave away at an activity you hate, but if you push out of your comfort zone, you may see your body respond in a positive way.   Who knows, if you stay with it long enough for your body to adapt, you may find you enjoy the new activity as much as the old.

April 16, 2011

Cleansing Diets: Help or Hurt?

One of the most disturbing trends I saw at the fitness conference was the implicit sanction of cleansing diets.  Two competing companies ran booths at the trade show, giving implied endorsement for fitness professionals to promote detox diets.
Such diets may use a fruit or vegetable drink (and may or may not include a colonic irrigation) to "purify" the body and get rid of toxins.  You have probably heard at least one celebrity (usually female) discuss how it keeps her healthy, slim and full of energy.  Detox diets have been around centuries, most involve fasting and/or limiting major food groups, and some include a religious aspect.  The main commonality is ridding the body of impurities.  However, the human body is designed to purify toxins from food naturally: The liver, kidneys, lungs and even the skin do this work.  There is no valid clinical research (and please do not confuse cleanse product press releases with research) that such diets work.
You certainly can lose weight (at least temporarily) with a detox diet; they are essentially a starvation plan.  But as with all diets, if you do not change your lifestyle and daily eating habits the weight will come back on.  As for the claims of “increased energy and better mental focus ”, most experts attribute that to either the placebo effect, or to the fact the body is in a state of ketosis.  This happens when you deprive your liver of glycogen and therefore rely on ketones for energy.  This causes a change in the brain, which some interpret as a high.  It is also the process diabetics go through when their blood sugar is uncontrolled, not something I would want to induce on purpose.  The negative effects of a detox diet also include fatigue, irritability and headaches. 
If you are in good health and need a psychological boost to jumpstart a diet, then a cleansing diet may help and will probably not hurt.  However, children, adolescents, pregnant or nursing women, or those with any type of chronic health issue or compromised immune system are at high risk for serious problems.  I am sorry to see anyone in the fitness industry promote these products.  There really is no quick fix or easy avenue to a healthy lifestyle.  The standard boring advice of regular exercise and a balanced nutritious diet is still the only thing that works. 

April 8, 2011

TRX suspension training

Suspension Training (a bodyweight fitness system that uses ropes and webbing) is a growing trend in the fitness industry.  You have probably seen people at the gym doing all sorts of strange looking exercises including pushups and knee tucks with the feet suspended in the air.  TRX is the most well known brand, but other manufacturers are rolling out their own versions.  It has the advantage of being lightweight and portable, so it is a great piece of equipment for those who travel.
This type of training can improve strength as well as balance and flexibility. It is getting a lot of publicity as the latest thing in core training; to do it right you must use your core to stabilize.  Suspension workouts consist of either hanging the legs in the straps, or leaning back while gripping the straps and then performing a variety of moves.  The workouts fit right in with the current trend of functional fitness, as the muscles are trained as a group, rather than individually.
However, despite the hype, this type of workout is not for everyone.  If you do not have adequate core strength, it is easy to go out of alignment and risk injury.  Those with high blood pressure or those on beta-blockers may need to avoid the inverted postures.  The instability of the straps can also cause problems for those with joint or back issues, and the pushup position required for many of the exercises can put stress on the wrist.
If you are in good shape (or at least have a qualified safe instructor), suspension training is a versatile effective addition to your training.

April 1, 2011

More trends from the fitness conference:

Balance training remains a top trend in the fitness industry.  According to The Centers for Disease Control over 18,000 older adults died from unintentional falls in 2007, and the rate has risen over the past decade.  Balance is a critical area for older adults, but it is also a crucial component of athletic performance, and can help everyone improve core strength and joint stability. Balance training has been shown to reduce the rate of falls in all age groups, and it also helps to improve your coordination and posture. 

 Most instructors and trainers now include some aspect of balance training in each workout.  Adding balance work can help you burn more calories and forces you to activate your core.  There are a variety of “toys” you can employ to train for balance (several are pictured),  but you do not need equipment to improve.  Try to stand on one foot while talking on the phone, lifting weights or brushing your teeth.  If that is too difficult place your feet very close together, or put one foot right in front of the other.  Once you can master standing on one foot try to do it with your eyes closed.  Practice for just a few minutes each day and you will be amazed at how quickly your balance improves.