August 27, 2011

The Best Time to Exercise

Those who have the luxury of choosing the time of day to exercise often wonder if there is an optimal time.  There are pros and cons to different times of day.
Early morning workouts may speed your recovery; hormones that help reduce inflammation are at their peak. Many people feel that exercising first thing in the morning helps them feel energized and ready for the day.  Studies have shown that those who exercise before work or school are much more likely to continue with a fitness program. 
However, most heart attacks occur in the morning, and those with chronic back pain suffer the most early in the day.  You can still exercise in the morning if you have a heart or back condition, but you will need an extra long warm-up.
For those looking to optimize athletic performance an afternoon workout is best.  Your body temperature is at its warmest, and your muscles are the strongest and most flexible.
If the evening is your only option, or works best for you, try to exercise well before you go to bed.  Exercise too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep.
Of course, when it comes to fitting in fitness, convenience is the key to sticking with it. Experiment with different times of day to see what works best for you. In the end, exercise anytime is better than none.

August 19, 2011

No Pain No Gain?

Many people seem to think of muscle soreness as a sign of a good workout, but that is not necessarily true.  DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness, the pain that sets in 24-48 hours after a workout) is thought to be the result of tiny tears in the muscle fibers.  An old theory blamed it on a buildup of lactic acid, but that premise has been debunked.  DOMS can be caused by any type of movement you are not used to, but eccentric contractions (movements that cause the muscle to contract by lengthening) are the most frequent cause.  Running down hills, going down stairs and the lowering portion of weight lifting are all eccentric movements.  If you do many negative or very slow movements, you are more likely to be sore.  Any extreme change to your workout routine can cause a large amount of soreness.  It does not mean you have gotten a great workout.
There is no real treatment for DOMS. Despite conventional wisdom, studies have shown stretching to be ineffective.  Active recovery (gentle movement) and ice are more likely to help you feel better.  The best thing to do is to prevent it from occurring.  You can do this by gradually easing into any new activity or program.  Warm up thoroughly before your activity (and not by stretching; see the post from Sept. 15, 2010).   Allow adequate time to recover.  If you are always sore you are not allowing your muscles to rebuild.  Rest is as important as your workout, especially if you have built intensity into your program.  However, if you never experience any type of soreness it is possible you need to work a bit harder, or to switch up your program.

August 7, 2011

Working the Lower Abdominals

Do not waste your time and money on products or programs that promise to sculpt your lower abdominals.  It is impossible to work just the lower portion of your abs. The abdominals are made up of four muscle groups; the rectus abdominus, transverse, and internal and external obliques.  Muscles fire on an “all or none” principle, you cannot work just part of a muscle, nor can you target fat loss in one area.  Products that promise to target the lower part of your abs are selling you a false premise; it is physiologically impossible to work just the lower portion.
Visible toned abs are only available to those with a low percentage of body fat (we all have those muscles, but they are usually obscured by fat).  You too can have a six-pack; all you need to do lose the fat hiding them.  That of course means controlling your eating and performing both cardiovascular and muscle strengthening exercises.  There is no easy way or magic product that will give you a six-pack.  But you already knew that, didn’t you?