Sunday, December 18, 2016

Couples workouts: Make it a date

Make a date with your partner to workout together.  You will get fit and fit together better.  You can lift weights together, train for a 5K or if you are adventurous sign up for couples yoga!  Sweating together is a good way to reduce stress, increase your fitness, improve your sex life and build better communication.  When you work out together both partners come away with feelings of synchronicity, cooperative energy, a shared experience and shared passion.  Add the inevitable endorphins that come from a good sweat sessions and you can really boost your relationship. 

Most obviously, working out together will impact your sex life because exercise helps you feel better about yourself and increases your self-esteem.   Exercise frequency leads to enhanced feelings of attractiveness and increased energy levels – both of which can increase sexual desirability and performance.  Additionally, the time you spend in the gym suddenly becomes “us” time.  The more time you spend together the more intimate you will feel towards your partner. 

Your performance in the gym will increase.  By working out as a couple you can face the challenge together through positive reinforcement.  There is the obvious verbal feedback of “push for 1 more rep” or “let’s do another lap” but also you can give observational feedback such as correcting your partner’s form on an exercise or position.  This sense of altruism and camaraderie can continue outside of the gym and seep into your daily routines to strengthen your partnership. 

Many studies have demonstrated the physical and emotional benefits of regular exercise.  When you workout as a couple, these benefits spill over into the relationship.  Exercising together is a good way to work through conflicts.  The benefits of working out such as less stress, better sleep and a sharper brain will all help you navigate the years together.  When you see your partner working as hard as you in the gym, it is easy to trust you can tackle problems outside the gym with the same intensity. 

It is important not to compete one on one, unless you are equally accomplished and both enjoy the activity.  Keep the emphasis on the health and fitness outcomes and not competition.  The most exciting thing you can do in the gym is trying something new for both of you.  Join a “Zumba“ class, hire a personal trainer to show you the ropes, or sign up for hot yoga.   If you are new to the weight room or a group fitness class just having a buddy will change your confidence.  When you feel like you belong, you do!  And when you try something new and different it can bring you closer together. 

Finally, just going to the gym together and doing separate workouts has its benefits.  Get the day and time on the calendar and get your bodies moving together.  The benefits reach beyond the gym doors.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Are You Ready For Winter Sports?

As we ease out of summer into the fall, it’s time to get prepared for your favorite winter sports.  Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, ice hockey and snowboarding are all intense sports that demand a high level of aerobic (think steady state) and anaerobic (think interval) fitness, muscular endurance, and strength.  In addition they require fast-twitch speed, agility, balance and coordination. 

It doesn’t matter what skill level you are, to avoid injuries and prepare for the demands of the terrain, every winter athlete should prepare with 6 – 8 weeks of sport specific training.  A personal trainer can show you specific exercises for your winter activities.  Below is a summary of what you need.

Cardiovascular fitness is necessary as it will increase your stamina and enable you to enjoy a full day of activity.  A combination of both steady state cardio and high intensity cardio is best.  This trains your system to adapt to changing conditions in the terrain with enough “gas in the tank” to last all day.   

Steady-state cardio is simple.  Perform your activity (jogging, swimming, cycling) at a steady, challenging, but manageable pace (60%-70% of maximal capacity) for 20 minutes or more aiming for a heart rate of 120 – 150 beats per minute.  For High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) training turn “on” the intensity by increasing your speed or incline.  Aim for 75% – 90% of maximal capacity for a brief, set time period (less than 2 minutes), then back off for a predetermined rest interval (usually at least twice the “on” time period).  Repeat for up to 20 minutes total.

Most people have much stronger quads (thighs) than their hamstrings (back of thighs). Having this muscle imbalance may cause you to blow out your knee and end your season early.  Early season training should focus on hamstring strength to help prevent such injuries.  Hamstring strengthening exercises include:  hamstring curls either on a stability ball or machine at the gym, deadlifts, and plyometric box jumps.

Ankle and knee stability are important for lower body dominant winter sports.  Squats performed on an unstable surface such as a pad or BOSU will strengthen your ankles and knees and improve your balance.  Additionally, taking stability away from your upper body strength exercises such as bicep curls and shoulder presses will also strengthen the proprioceptive muscles (stabilizing muscles) in your legs.  Try a set of dumbbell curls standing on one-leg. 

Core strength is often overlooked in lower body dominant sporting activities, but a strong stable core is crucial for rotation and balance.  Anti-rotation exercises such as a one-arm dumbbell chest press will engage core muscles to prevent rotating/twisting the body.  Any exercises where you are resisting against a force to rotate your body will create a good winter sport foundation.

Finally maintaining and improving range of motion will lead to freer movement when doing any activity.   Dynamic stretching before and after a workout and your sporting activity will prepare your body.  Move through the stretch at a controlled speed and pain-free range of movement.  Maintain a steady breathing pattern with deep inhales and equal length exhales. 

Take advantage of the changing seasons by preparing for your winter sports.  Enjoy the last of the warm weather with some cardio outside, and also get in the gym to build up specific muscle groups to enhance performance and prevent injuries. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Your Core Pinciples

Core strength and proper core training will improve your performance in all sports and daily activities, and is essential to prevent and reduce lower back pain.  The core basically consists of everything from your knees up to your armpits in a 360 degrees circle around your body.   It includes the lumbar spine, the pelvic girdle, abdomen and the hip joint, much more than just the rectus abdominis (the six pack abs).  The core is where the body’s center of gravity is located and where all movement originates.

Local core stabilizers are the deepest muscles that attach directly to the vertebrae.  These muscles are primarily responsible for spinal stability, which are essential to prevent injury.   Global stabilization muscles are the next layer and are responsible for transferring loads between the upper and lower body.   They provide stability between the pelvis and the spine.   Finally the movement system includes muscles that attach the spine and pelvis to the extremities.  These muscles are responsible for producing force and deceleration during dynamic activities.

The core has two major jobs, to prevent unnecessary movement of the spine and to transfer force between the upper and lower body.  To get with your core principles you have to think “anti”; you need to do anti-extension work, anti-rotation work and anti-lateral flexion work.  All of this should be done with a conscious effort to do deep diaphragmatic breathing (breath into your belly), rather than shallow chest breathing. 

Anti-extension exercises resist the extension of the spine, like arching your lower back.  Examples of these exercises are static planks, dynamic planks, or body saws.
Anti-lateral flexion exercises prevent the body from bending sideways.  Exercises to target these muscles include side planks (on elbow or hand), single arm carries, and any exercise where you are standing tall and hold an offset load to prevent bending sideways.  Anti-rotation exercises resist the rotation at the lumbar spine.  These exercises can easily be combined with other strength moves.  A one-arm dumbbell chest press will engage core muscles to prevent rotating/twisting the body.  Any exercises where you are resisting against a force to rotate your body are good core basics.  Other anti-rotation exercises include renegade rows, half kneeing one arm cable rows and birddogs.

To complete the core picture you also need to activate and engage your largest muscle group, your glutes.  The collective role of the glute muscles is to extend the hip (lifting leg back), abduct the leg (bring your leg away from the middle of your body), and externally and internally rotating the hip.  Clamshells, band walking, squats, hip thrusts and deadlifts with a glute squeeze at the top all focus on full hip extension and glute engagement. 

When performing any strength movements it is important to perform both the drawing-in maneuver and brace.  The drawing-in maneuver is used to recruit the local core stabilizers by drawing the navel in toward the spine.  Bracing occurs when you have contracted the abdominal, lower back and buttock muscles at the same time.  Both maneuvers will help support the role of core training and help in the prevention of lower back pain.

Quality progressive core training should be a part of any training protocol.   For a full description of recommended exercises, number of repetitions and set ranges consult your favorite personal trainer.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lift Weights: Don't Fear the Bulk

If your goal is weight loss, an improved muscle-to-fat ratio, strengthening your bones, and building confidence and self-esteem, then lifting weights (strength training) is for you. 

Building muscle is an effective way to lower your body fat, because muscle is more metabolically active than fat.  It requires significantly more calories of energy to maintain muscle than fat.  Where a pound of muscle burns 10-20 calories a day, a pound of fat burns only 5 calories a day.   Surprisingly, your muscle is working for you, even when you are not working your muscles!

Not only does muscle require more calories just sitting around, effective strength training offers additional calories burned after a training session.  Steady state cardio workouts burn calories at the time of the workout, but strength training keeps burning calories after your gym session. 

With the appropriate weight load, reps, sets, diet and weight progression men have the physiology to gain size and bulk in their muscles.   Women do not because we don’t have the testosterone levels to build big muscles.  So don’t fear the bulk and lift heavy to challenge and change your body for the better. 

A certified personal trainer can help you determine the appropriate weight or if you are experienced in the weight room you can do it yourself.  One way to determine the appropriate weight for building lean muscle is to discover your specific 1 rep max (1rm).  Perform a bicep curl, or chest press (or whatever exercise you are going for) with the heaviest weight you can perform for 1 repetition (use a spotter if necessary).    Work your weights as a percentage of this 100%.   For muscle hypertrophy (muscle definition) you want to work at 75%-85% of this weight.  For strength endurance (reduce body fat and increase lean muscle) you want to work at 60% – 80%.

You can also back into selecting the correct weight for your resistance training using the last 2 rep rule.  The rule states that you will know you have the correct weight when the last 2 reps of your set are very difficult (almost breaking your perfect form).  Experiment with a given weight and check in mid-set.  Is this weight extremely easy or extremely difficult?  Stay away from the extremes and try to find that weight that allows you to struggle for the last 2 reps.

When the weight goes up, you can complete fewer reps.   Focusing on your goals here is important.  The National Academy of Sport Medicine (NASM) recommends for strength endurance complete 8-12 reps with 2-4 sets.  For more muscle definition (hypertrophy) 6-12 reps with 3-5 sets (less reps, more sets).  If you desire to gain maximal strength (think bodybuilder physique) complete 1-5 reps with 4-6 sets.   Keep in mind the last 2-rep rule when selecting your weight.  No matter what your goal, push yourself to do more reps or use a slightly heavier weight to break through training plateaus.  Only increase your weight or rep range by no more than 5-10% at a time. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Steady-State Cardio Vs. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Which is Better for Me?

My clients often ask which type of cardio training is best for them.  My answer, as with most things is that it depends on your goal.  Let’s start with some basic definitions and then we can dive into some pros and cons of each type of training.

Steady-State Cardio
Steady-state cardio workouts are simple.  Perform your activity (jogging, swimming, cycling) at a steady, challenging, but manageable pace (60%-70% of maximal capacity) for 20 minutes or more aiming for a heart rate of 120 – 150 beats per minute. 

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT workouts are slightly more complex.  Turn “on” your activity as hard as you can (75% – 90%) of maximal capacity for a brief, set time period (usually less than 2 minutes) then back off for a predetermined rest interval (usually at least twice the “on” time period), and repeat the cycle 4 times or more. 

Energy Sources
There are 2 ways that muscle can burn glucose (blood sugars):  Aerobic work (with oxygen) and anaerobic work (without oxygen).  Steady-State cardio is generally aerobic.  It requires oxygen and is fueled mostly by stored fat.  60 percent of the calories you burn come from fat stored in your body.  This is the classic “fat burning zone” and is generally measured by the absence of dramatic elevation in your heart rate. 

Interval work is anaerobic and doesn’t rely exclusively on oxygen and is fueled mostly by stored carbohydrates.   When you exercise at a high intensity, your body uses carbohydrates for fuel and only 35% of the calories you burn come from stored fat. 

If my goal is to lose fat, which style of cardio do I choose?

It appears that you would want to be in the “fat burning zone” to lose fat, but actually the math works more in your favor if you add higher intensities.  Yes 60% of the calories you burn come from fat when doing steady state cardio, but you burn far more total calories (thereby more fat calories) overall when you work at higher intensities.  But it is unrealistic to exercise at a high intensity, such as 85% or higher of your maximum capacity for a long duration, such as 30 – 40 minutes.  The best result is combining low and high intensity (aka:  HIIT) in a workout.  This proficient method accelerates fat loss and burns more calories.  Remember, the faster you burn 3,500 calories, the faster you will burn one pound of fat.

How do I increase my cardiovascular strength for long-endurance activities such as cycling, running and hiking?

VO2Max is the body’s upper limit for consuming, distributing and using oxygen for energy production.  Also referred to as the maximal aerobic capacity.  VO2Max is a good predictor of exercise performance.   A recent study measured the VO2Max responses among men and women who participated in an 8 week HIIT program and a continuous cardiovascular training program.  VO2Max increases were higher in the HIIT program (15%) than they were in the continuous training program (9%) (Daussin et al. 2008). 

I have limited time to exercise, which is my best bang for the buck?

One of the benefits of a HIIT program is that you can burn the same number of calories in less time.  In this case, the intensity matters more than the duration.  To get the most benefits from the “interval” component of the program you must get your body over the Anaerobic Threshold (AT) and the Lactate Threshold (LT).  A simple test is that you should not be able to hold a conversation during the “on” phase.  You really do have to push your body so it is uncomfortable, and you can’t sustain it for long.  Then you get the release of the “off – or active recovery” phase to recover. 

With HIIT, you are burning calories at the moment of exertion but you actually change the muscles metabolism.  You get a boost in metabolism because you increase the mitochondria (energy producing units) density of your muscle, so you increase the muscles oxidative capacity and you burn more calories.  With Steady-State cardio you only burn the calories at that precise moment (no boost in metabolism) and over time your body adjusts to low intensity exercise as the new norm. 

Another metabolic benefit of HIIT is Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC).  After a HIIT exercise session, oxygen consumption (and thus caloric expenditure) remains elevated as the working muscle cells restore physiological and metabolic factors in the cell to pre-exercise levels.  This translates into higher and longer calorie burning after exercise has stopped. Studies have shown higher EPOC values with HIIT programs than with steady-state training (LaForgia, Withers and Gore (2006)).  The end result is that you will have more calorie burn during and post exercise.   

I want to lose fat, not muscle.  Which is better?

Steady-state cardio is more catabolic (muscle wasting) than HIIT cardio.  Your metabolism becomes accustomed to the demands of steady state cardio more rapidly.  During long periods of steady state cardio you become glycogen depleted (the stored carbs in muscle) and your body will look for other energy sources in the form of protein in your muscles which leads to the cycle of catabolism (muscle wasting).  Think of the differences in marathon runners bodies compared to a sprinters body.  HIIT actually builds muscle by overloading them (for short periods) stimulating muscle fibers, which in turn means more muscle growth. 

A word of caution abut HIIT

If you are a beginner, start slowly.  You must master steady-state cardio first.  Build up to 30-40 minutes at a stretch 2 times a week, for a period of 2-3 months.  If your resting heart rate is below 60, feel free to experiment with HIIT.  If it is above 65, then stick with the steady-state cardio a little longer. 

The Bottom Line
Both styles are beneficial and useful, but focus on the type of cardio you prefer.  You will be more committed and work harder if you enjoy it.  HIIT takes less time, proves to be more effective for fat loss, creates metabolic changes and helps with muscle retention.  Steady-state gives you more aerobic benefits, still helps with fat loss, good for beginners, less mentally taxing, and sometimes the perfect antidote to a high intensity day.  Choose your cardio workouts to meet your goals and bring enjoyment to your fitness. 

Alicia Guerra, MSPH, CPT, RYT200