Tag Archives: cardio

Sifting Through the Fitness Bull#@*%

I’ve been a fitness professional for over 25 years. During that time, I think I’ve seen and heard it all before. But then, something else will come down the line leaving me scratching my head. What I’m talking about is all the lies and deceit that fitness marketing pushes on you, the consumer. Allow me to explain.

The Great Ab Deceit

Abs, short for abdominals, continue to be one of the top reasons someone will start to workout or continue to workout. It’s assumed that if one trains their abdominals hard  and excessively, they will attain the coveted 6 pack. That will never happen. All of the ab programs, DVDs, classes, etc. are nothing more than a pipe dream that will never see the light of day. But they’re sold and presented in such a way that the buyer thinks that this time will be different. This time it will work. Again, that’s a big no. First of all, being able to see the abdominals divided into 6 separate parts has so much more to do with diet than any exercise. Period. Second, it’s a conscientious, consistent, and difficult dietary journey that many people don’t even possess the genetics to make happen. It should never be one’s ultimate goal, just something that potentially, and I mean potentially can occur. And the marketers will continue to lead you otherwise.

The Great Cardio Myth

Cardio, short for cardiovascular, is great exercise. Don’t get me wrong. Cardiovascular exercise works the cardiovascular system, plain and simple. But where that ends is when people are led to believe that it’s the only way to lose unwanted pounds. You see it in the gyms and health clubs where 2/3 of the equipment in there is cardiovascular exercise equipment. In January, they are occupied to the fullest, complete with sign up lists in some places. Again, cardio is good and yes it does burn calories, but no where near the amount that most of those machines are programmed to report. Why do they do that? To keep you engaged and working towards a misguided number. It’s easy to use numbers as a guide, but in the end they rarely correlate with effort..

The High Intensity Faux Pas

If cardio is not effective enough, then higher intensity, HITT for short, must be the way. Not necessarily. HITT is a great side car to an already strong exercise base. Meaning it’s not a great place for a beginner to start. Exercise is a stress and if you are not adapted to the stress of exercise to begin with, HITT can severely hurt you. These HITT programs are sold and marketed as the next best thing and what you’ve been missing. They are good when applied appropriately, not thrown at you as the best way to exercise.

The Spot “Toning”, Spot “Reduction” Fallacy

Toys and gadgets are sold on the promise of delivering quick results to a certain location on the body. Good news: you can spot “target “ a specific muscle or body part. However, that doesn’t mean miraculously the fat layer on top of said muscle disappears. That’s the result of a systemic loss in body fat. When someone says they want to tone, what they’re really saying is that they want the muscle to show and that won’t happen without fat loss occurring systemically. Consequently, you can not work a specific area exclusively and hope to decrease the body fat that is present. It all takes place as an overall effect, not a specific one.

The Nutritional Fiction

I am a fitness professional, not a dietitian, but I would be remiss to not discuss nutrition. The topic of nutrition is probably the biggest source of deceit when it come to exercise success because they are closely associated. Without getting into the semantics of carbs and protein and fats (the macronutrients), I can 100% assure that there are no cleanses, magical foods, detoxes, or super supplements that will answer or correct a poor or even so-so eating pattern. You will continue to be duped and reeled in because that is how the machine works. Sell, sell, sell, and sell more.

The True State of Fitness

It’s all of the outside distractions that take away from something that’s inherently very basic. It’s an annual battle that continues and unfortunately will continue leading more and more into a state of confusion and craving the next best thing. The message has never changed – you need to exercise in whatever form you enjoy. You just need to do it. You need to be mindful of not only what you eat but how much you eat. If it’s off, it’s easy to blame it on something out of your control. The thing is, you always have control. You just need to find what works best for you, not others. Nothing, and I mean nothing will ever replace hard work done honestly and consistently. If you’re capable of those two things, you can never be disappointed.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

How Fast Does Fitness Dissipate?

We are currently living in some very challenging, different times. You can’t go to visit family or friends. You can’t travel and going to the store is a task within itself. Most can’t go to work either because the business had to shut down or their work was considered to be “ non-essential”. All of this from a vicious virus that has spread not only continentally, but globally. And if fitness is a part of who you are, that too has been stripped from you. Gyms, fitness centers, studios, and whatever else fitness gatherings that we have taken for granted are closed. What is one to do? More on that in just a bit. A bigger concern is what happens to the fitness we have all worked so hard to build and/or maintain if all of the sudden it stops!

The News is Not So Bad

First, it’s important to remember that taking time off now and again is a good thing. Any good workout program includes a heck of a lot of rest days, especially if the exercise is very intense. And there are benefits to both “active recovery” and complete rest. Exercise inflicts a degree of stress on your body. Generally speaking, if you’ve been working out several times a week for more than a year, your muscle memory is solid. When it comes to fitness, we’ve all heard the saying “Use It or Lose It”. While it’s true that when you stop exercising you lose fitness, how quickly you lose it depends on several factors, including how fit you are, how long you have been exercising and how long you stop. Losing fitness when you stop working out, also called detraining or deconditioning, is one of the key principles of conditioning. The principle of use/disuse simply means that when we stop exercising, we generally begin to decondition and lose both strength and aerobic fitness. Most of us need to stop exercising on occasion for any number of reasons. Illness, injury, holidays, work, travel, and social commitments often interfere with training routines. When this happens, we will often see a decline in our level of conditioning. That being said, the better in shape you are, the minimal that is lost. A few weeks, ok; a month, a little bit more; a month or two more and you’ll see and feel a drop in both muscular strength and cardio fitness. Here are some of the general guidelines to how we lose fitness.

Strength Loss

  • For most people, strength loss occurs after two to three weeks of inactivity, but that can vary.  A 2017 study showed that men who did resistance training held on to muscle strength after a two-week break. But a 2013  study showed that athletes will start to lose muscle strength after three weeks without a workout. 
  • The more muscle you have, the more you stand to lose. A 2015 study found that active young adults lost one-third of their leg strength after just two weeks of inactivity.

Cardio Loss

  • Sadly, we lose this kind of conditioning a little more quickly than we lose strength.
  • An older, but a landmark 1984 study showed that after 12 days of inactivity, VO2 max dropped by 7 percent and enzymes in the blood associated with endurance performance decreased by 50 percent. 
  • A 1993 study of endurance cyclists found that four weeks of inactivity resulted in a 20 percent decrease of their VO2 max, which measures a person’s maximum capacity to take in, transport, and use oxygen during exercise.
  • The really good news is that while your cardio conditioning does fall faster than your strength, it’s easier to regain.

Other Factors

Consistency is key for building new habits, and it’s as true for the body as it is for the mind: If your body hasn’t been enjoying exercise for long, it can be easier to lose the progress you’ve made. While your fitness level is key to how quickly you get back to your fitness baseline, a few other variables also come into play.

  • A 2000 study found that age plays a role in bounce-back time. Among 41 study participants who were either 20 to 30 years old or 65 to 75 years old, the older people lost strength almost twice as fast as the younger people during a six-month “detraining” period.
  • Children have a serious advantage. A 2018 study found that 10- to 13-year-olds were able to hang on to fitness gains after four weeks of detraining. 

How to Make the Most of Your Time in Quarantine

1. Go for a walk. Indeed, training a little will do a much better job of maintaining your gains than totally stopping, especially if you’re able to squeeze in the odd cardio session that’ll train you at the upper end of your intensity level.

2. Incorporate some resistance training. If you have some equipment, great, but it’s not necessary. Do some body weight training exercises like push ups or squats. For the really inclined, do a four-minute Tabata session (or two) that will make a huge difference in maintaining your strength.

3. Hire a coach. No one thinks they need a coach until they need one. Technology today, especially in today’s era of “social distancing”, makes it easier to reach people in every corner of the world right from where you are currently.

3. Eat well. Exercise helps control junk food cravings, so you may need to try harder to avoid less-healthy foods while you’re not working out. Get lots of protein, healthy fats, and low-GI carbs, and your body will thank you. Eating well will help you avoid any weight gain, which would make restarting fitness all the more challenging.

When this is all over, and believe me, it will end, the gym will be right there waiting for you when you’re ready for it, but for now, do what you can and do what makes you happy. Until then, stay safe and stay well.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

12 Days of Fitness: Day 4 – 10 Fitness Myths That Need to Die

(This is part 4 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

A New Year means more people come to the party and with them they carry on believing in old views about fitness and weight loss. Science gets ignored and myths prevail. Good results sometimes require debunking bad ideas. Far too many enter the New Year with old ideas. They still believe fitness myths that were probably debunked years ago. The following are 10 myths that live on because their friends, coworkers, family members, and popular media continue to endorse them.

  1. Lifting weights makes you bulky. To be fair, my industry has come a long way in dispelling this one. But you’ll still get people, particularly women, who believe three-pound weights will build a lean, toned physique while anything heavier will likely lead to tighter pants. There are literally mountains of science-backed benefits linked to resistance training, like improvements in strength, mood, anti-aging effects and metabolism. Look it up. I’m not lying.
  2. The key to results: Eat a lot less and exercise a lot more. This one is so widespread. It’s convincing because it’s only partly true. You do need to be mindful of what you’re eating and for many that simply means eating a lot less. And most likely you need to exercise more frequently. The trick is not to tackle both at the same time, especially not at full speed.
  3. Keto is the best diet for weight loss. Another year, another diet. Just in the low-carb category, we’ve gone from Atkins to South Beach to Paleo and now to Keto. We could create separate timelines for everything from low-fat to vegetarian to fasts and cleanses. Do you see the ridiculousness? With each new fad, we learn yet again that no single diet is right for everyone, while some aren’t a good idea for anyone. When it comes to a lot of these popular diets, most people don’t completely understand the challenges of a particular diet. Stop following blind faith and believe in good ol hard work!
  4. A good workout burns a ton of calories. As someone in my industry who I admire, Gray Cook says, “First move well, then move often.” Burning calories is a byproduct of your physical activity. It will happen. But labeling any workout good or bad by the number of calories burned and you’re not getting the idea. You generally don’t burn a ton of calories in a workout. In fact, unless you are monitored with gas exchange equipment, it’s a best guess.
  5. Cardio is the only way to lose weight. Visit any gym on any day in January and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an open treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or stairclimber. It’s a sure sign that the general public still believes cardiovascular exercise is the premier way to drop pounds. After all, a cardio machine keeps a running count of the calories you’ve burned, like exercise is a video game and the goal is to get the highest score. Of course cardio exercise can burn a lot of calories. But there’s a catch: You have to do a lot of it.
  6. Stretching will loosen tight muscles. Humans evolved to move, not spend long hours sitting. We sit at our desks at work, on our couches at home, and in cars. The problem with traditional stretching is that it only pulls on a given muscle, with no consideration for the mobility or stability of the joints surrounding it. A more practical approach: improve range of motion and joint function.
  7. Big muscles are built with big weights. Bigger muscles are typically stronger, and stronger muscles are typically bigger. But the science of muscular hypertrophy is actually more nuanced. Load is just one of the major drivers of hypertrophy. You also need time under tension, which is achieved with moderate to high rep ranges and controlled movements, and volume. The more total sets and reps, the greater the training effect.
  8. Every workout needs to be all-out. Never judge the quality of a workout by how fast your heart is racing or how much you are sweating. What’s even more dangerous is going full throttle when you struggle with less than 50%. Learn to progressively increase workout loads and how beneficial it is to cycle your workouts.
  9. Deadlifting hurts your back, and squatting is bad for your knees. The only people who believe this are those who have never done either exercise properly. The squat and hip hinge movement patterns are vital for health and performance. The best training programs include multiple examples of both. You will receive greater benefit from either or both exercises, than skipping them altogether.
  10. Hiring a personal trainer will fix everything. For so many, contracting a personal trainer is a get-out-of-jail-free card. It means you can cheat on your diets, skip workouts, do whatever you want, etc. After all, you hired a trainer, and that should be enough, right? Don’t you wish. Having an experienced trainer, not some glorified cheerleader, for you will be the one stop solution to getting everything and more out of your fitness journey.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 5 of the 12 Days of Fitness!

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #16 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain
Day #2 – Cholesterol Myths You Need to Stop Believing
Day #3 – Festively Fit: Staying Fit Over the Holidays

 

 

 

What to Really Expect When You Exercise

Outside of death and taxes, there are so few guarantees in life. The optimist will want to counter that reality while the pessimist, well, it is their reality. But as they say, truth is in the eye of the beholder – you believe what you want. When it comes to exercise, many place it as the “Holy Grail” of sorts to answering all of their woes. It’s the one thing they must do to make everything right in their lives. While I can’t argue with the positive effects regular exercise will have on one’s life, there’s much more to be said about the expectations versus reality that exercise will provide for them. Let’s take a closer look at the realities of exercise and see if they are in line with your expectations.

  • Starting an exercise program can be exciting despite any reservations. It’s something that truly is good for you and that can be liberating. Within the first 4-6 weeks there will be noticeable changes. The body has adapted to the “stress” of the exercise(s) and it feels good. May be even pumps up your excitement about working our. Until….
  • After the initial 4-6 weeks and the body has adapted, it stops adapting. Translation: results diminish at this time. One of the major reasons perhaps for the post New Year’s drop off from exercise. Unless you change something about your routine (length of time, intensity, reps, weight, etc.) the physical adaptations will slowly diminish. Not too long after, the mental shift will also drop off. Whether the exercise was liked or not, there’s a really good chance it will lose its luster.
  • Muscle soreness is expected; muscle pain is not. It’s imperative you understand the difference. When a new physical stress is introduced to the body, the muscles will react and perhaps even become a little stiff/sore. In time, that will diminish and will most likely only reappear when a new motion or weight is introduced. However, it is important to note that muscle soreness is not a badge of honor one should strive for when working out. If muscle soreness is a constant, this could be a sign of a bigger issue. Pain is a signal not be ignored.
  • Just exercising isn’t enough. If the exercise you chose doesn’t match the goal, it can be very frustrating. And if you don’t think that’s important, exercise will never deliver what you expect. So many do copious amounts of “cardio” with the thought that they’ll lose the most weight. The reality is cardio is a terrible fat loss solution by itself.
  • Rest is important. The body gets pushed when it’s asked to exercise properly so planned rest is imperative. When the amount of rest exceeds the amount of exercise however, it will not work for you the way you expect. On the contrary, there’s no benefit to exercising excessively which ultimately leads to physical and mental burnout, or worse injury.

Not to be dismissed, exercise in all or any of its forms is a very good thing. With so many options to chose from, the most important thing is to find what you love and what you can see yourself consistently doing. The exercise in and of it self is only the method. What you get out of it is what you put into it.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

12 Days of Fitness 2017: Day 10 – 10 Weight Room Mistakes

(This is part 10 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

The weight room doesn’t have to be your nemesis. A well-structured strength and conditioning plan can help anyone, male or female, build strength, power, endurance and durability that will pay massive dividends. But a handful of costly weight room mistakes can sabotage your efforts. Here’s a list of 10 common mistakes I see many people make while training.

  1. Skipping a Warm-Up

One of the most costly mistakes often happens as soon as you walk into the gym. If you skip your warm-up, you miss out on an opportunity to improve mobility and flexibility, and you increase your chance of injury. A proper warm-up should:

  • Raise the body’s core temperature
  • Mobilize and stabilize joints such the hips, shoulders and ankles
  • Preview movement patterns you will use in your workout (e.g., Squats, Lunges, etc.)

Don’t be the guy or gal who does a few arm swings and toe touches and thinks you’re ready to go. Do yourself a favor and take 3 to 5 minutes to perform a thorough warm-up. That means foam rolling, mobility drills and a few light sets of your first strength exercise to get your body ready.

  1. Performing Too Many Isolation Exercises

Life requires fluid, full-body movements. So why on earth would you spend time in the gym working one body part at a time? Instead, pick multi-joint strength movements like Squats, Deadlifts and Push-ups, along with powerful exercises like Jumps, Sprints and Throws. In fact, put them together to build unparalleled explosiveness with post-activation potentiation.

  1. Never Deloading

Many “meat heads” pride themselves on pushing to the brink of exhaustion, but always teetering on that line can halt your progress. Every once in awhile, you need to take a step back to take two steps forward. Deloading is a planned training period during which you don’t work quite as hard, thus allowing your body and mind to recover so you can keep getting stronger. If you’re training hard at least four days per week, you should take a week-long deload every four to eight weeks to recharge your batteries.

  1. Training to Failure Too Often

Your workouts should build you up, not break you down. There’s no faster way to leave yourself feeling broken down than training to failure too often. Luckily, you don’t have to train to failure at all to get bigger and stronger. As a general guideline, always leave one or two good reps in the tank at the end of each set. You’ll recover faster and still make progress. A surefire way to avoid training to failure is to pick the right number of sets and reps for each exercise. Big, heavy exercises like Squats and Deadlifts lend themselves to fewer reps and more sets, while lighter exercises like Push-Ups and Pull-Ups work best with more reps and fewer sets.

  1. Wearing Improper Footwear

Did you know that what you wear on your feet can have a huge impact on how you move? Your workout footwear can greatly enhance—or reduce—the effectiveness of your exercises. For example, wearing running shoes to Squat or Deadlift is a common mistake. The soles of running shoes are cushioned to reduce impact while jogging. But when you’re lifting a heavy barbell, you want a solid heel so you can produce force into the ground. The squishy soles of a running shoe reduce stability and limit how well your legs produce force. Instead, opt for a flat-soled shoe or a heel-elevated shoe with a hard sole.

  1. Sacrificing Form for Weight on the Bar

As fun as it is to throw around heavy weight, you need to remember that it nots how much you lift, but how you lift it. Lifting heavy weight is one of the fastest and most effective ways to become stronger, but never at the expense of proper form. If you get hurt in the gym, all your efforts were for nothing. Be sure to take the time to master the technique before loading  exercises with heavy weight. Train under the guidance of a certified coach or trainer whenever possible, and use spotters when appropriate.

  1. Doing Too Much Cardio

Cardiovascular endurance is certainly important but doing a whole bunch of cardio just to do cardio isn’t going to cut it. Always know and understand the “why’s” to your workouts, not the blind allegiance to a particular method.

  1. Not Doing Enough Cardio

On the other hand, doing no cardio at all is a bad idea. Even though most of us need strength and power more than we need endurance, it’s a costly mistake to ignore aerobic conditioning entirely. That’s because all recovery is aerobic in nature. Your oxidative energy system is responsible for regenerating ATP, the body’s main energy source. Intense exercise requires lots of ATP, and if your oxidative system is poorly developed, you’ll take a long time to recover.

  1. Neglecting Unilateral Exercises

Big lifts like the squat and bench press are fantastic strength movements, but make sure you follow them up with unilateral exercises like lunges and rows to reflect the one-sided nature of life.

  1. Not Putting Your Phone Away

A lack of focus will derail anyone’s workout, and nothing does that faster than a smartphone. When you walk through the gym doors, your only priority for the next 60 to 90 minutes should be about getting better. Nothing on Facebook or Instagram will help you lift more weight or get more explosive. To avoid distractions, use a notebook instead of your phone to track your workouts. If you use your phone to listen to music, arrange a playlist ahead of time so you’re not fidgeting with your phone mid-workout to find a song you like.

See you tomorrow for Day 11 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – Top 10 Reasons Why People Don’t Exercise
Day #2 – The Dangers of Dieting
Day #3 – The New Rules to Strength Training
Day #4 – How to Stay in Shape When You’re Busy
Day #5 – How Natural is “Natural Flavoring”?
Day #6 – Understanding Food and Nutrition Labels
Day #7 –  Minimalist Fitness
Day #8 – 7 Common Myths About Fat Loss
Day #9 – The Food Pyramid: The Demise of the American Diet

 

 

12 Days of Fitness 2016: Day 3 – 10 Fitness Fibs You Tell Yourself

(This is Part 3 of a 12 part series to provide you with some useful health and fitness info over the holiday season)

The world is rife with bad and misleading information, none of which is more evident than when it comes to health and fitness, particularly exercise. “Experts” spew this bad information and the internet makes it painfully easy to become a believer in all this nonsense. The result is a legion of exercisers who regurgitate this bad information to the point where they believe it to be gospel. It’s time to stop some of this madness.

  1. “I know how hard I’m working by how much I sweat.” Sweat is a natural body function to cooling the body from rising body temperatures. This can be caused by exercising; it can also be caused by sitting in a heated room; a state of nervousness, etc. People differ in their ability to sweat but it has no correlation with the effectiveness or intensity of the exercise.
  2. “The more I work out, the faster I’ll see results.” You can exercise all you want, but if you fail to pay attention or give as much credit to nutrition as you do exercise, it’s an endless battle. You can’t out exercise a so-so approach to nutrition and simply working harder, longer, or faster can have some serious negative consequences.
  3. “I’ll only do cardio because I need to lose a lot of weight.” It shouldn’t be a shock that the leanest (not thinnest) bodies in the gym are found in the weight room but for too many people it’s still a hard pill to swallow. Cardio is not the best way to leanness (dropping body fat); resistance training and nutritional control is.
  4. “I’ll start working out as soon as I lose this weight.” Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? While weight loss should never be the primary reason you start working out, no time is better than the present to start making better, smarter choices, one that should include regular exercise.
  5. “I can eat whatever I want because I work out.” Exercise is not a permit to eat more food. Yes, depending on your goal (i.e. bodybuilding, endurance event, etc.) you may need to “beef up” your caloric intake to compliment your training but chances are as a recreational exerciser you don’t burn nearly enough calories working out to create a necessity for more fuel.
  6. “If I’m not sore the day after my workout, I didn’t train hard enough.” Muscle soreness is not dependent on the success of a workout session. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the result of either one or more of the following: new muscles movement/group used; new muscle fiber type used; increased resistance/load pattern; poor nutrition recovery habits; sickness. If soreness is how you base your workout success, you need to rethink your methods.
  7. “Even though I’m still hurting, I’ll work through the pain.” There’s smarts and then there’s common sense. Pain is never a good thing. It’s the body’s mechanism for warning you that: 1) something’s not right and 2) a natural healing process has begun. Listen to your body. Working through pain only prolongs recovery time or worse, leads to bigger issues.
  8. “I’m doing “X” crunches a day to flatten my abs.” The only reason this one still exists is because like dieting, a whole industry is built on misleading you for continued profit. Here again is all you need to know – everyone has a six pack; everyone’s abdominal muscles are flat; the two reasons people will see or obtain a “flat” stomach are genetics and the layer of body fat between the skin and the muscle wall. And sit ups no matter how many numbers you do will change that.
  9. “I like to jump right back into my work out after taking time off.” The biggest mistake many people will make come January is an absurd assumption that they can pick up from where they left off with their exercises program. Whether it’s a few weeks, months, or years, you have got to give your body time to acclimate from going from nothing to increased physical activity.
  10. “I stick with weight machines because they are safer.” There is a risk of injury no matter what you do when it comes to exercise. If you chose an option because you like it, that’s one thing. Do not let fear of the unknown dictate your exercise selection. You may be selling yourself short.

See you tomorrow for Day 4 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better

 

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day 1 – Why Not Eating Enough Won’t Help You Lose Weight
Day 2 – 5 Ways You’re Self-Sabotaging Your Workouts

What You Thought You Knew About Fitness is Wrong

Confused Woman Scratching Her Head
Confused Woman Scratching Her Head

In today’s day and age of social media, it seems everyone becomes an expert: political, financial, spiritual, technical, nutritional, and of course, physical. Behind the shroud of computers, tablets, and smart phones, the “experts” offer and voice their views and opinions on everything and anything and sadly have many believing in what they’re saying (selling) without little proof of their claims. Furthermore, what’s reported in the media is usually more attention grabbing than evidence worthy. Through my years as a fitness professional, I’ve seen thousands of gurus and media morsels leaving bits of useless wisdom that many have taken as gospel becoming fitness “experts” themselves. Every time I head to the gym to work out I often struggle and bite my tongue as I witness the result of what sheep following sheep looks like. After a recent visit to the gym, I was inspired to write about what so many are doing or saying wrong, most likely unbeknownst to them in the hopes that it helps you.

Cardio is a very inefficient method of burning fat. Aerobic (cardio) exercise is a great and critical component of fitness. It strengthens and improves the cardiovascular system responsible for delivering oxygenated blood to all working organs and muscles in addition to lowering blood pressure and hundreds more of key physiological processes. Doesn’t sound too exciting, huh? I would guess most people doing “cardio” are of the mindset that they’re working off the pounds (fat) more than the other benefits. The reality is you burn little to no fat at low to medium intensities (most of what I witness people doing); the longer you go doesn’t equate to more fat being burned; the amount of calories burned while exercising equals energy spent during the activity, not the amount of fat burned. To efficiently burn fat requires you to “torch” it – work at higher intensities for shorter bursts of time, a level most have to work up to over time.

You don’t have to lift iron to build muscle. You cannot ignore enough the value of adding strength training to your routine. It’s the only “anti-gravity” exercise we can do. The result: strengthening of muscles and skeletal structures; the ONLY way to change the shape of the body; a much more efficient fat burner as it increases the body’s energy requirements during AND after the work out. The good news is if the weight room still “scares” you, you don’t have to lift iron to build muscle. Balls, bands, bodyweight, etc. are some of the many other tools available to build muscle. The most important concept to understand is that in order to build muscle you need these three components: mechanical tension on the muscle (resistance), muscle damage (stress at the cellular level that spurns new growth), and metabolic stress (intensity).

Stretching before a workout is unnecessary and could be counterproductive. Perhaps that school gym teacher from back in the day left his/her mark with you but we’ve come a long way since then. Number one, stretching a cold, tight muscle could create a bigger problem. Number two, stretching a muscle creates more joint laxity that may not be beneficial to movement. Your best bet? Warm up the muscles and the body with light activity or soft tissue manipulation (i.e. self-myofascial release) in tight spots. Still like to stretch? Be my guest but there’s a better, more effective way.

It’s not necessary to train like a bodybuilder. No disrespect to those who train to be a bodybuilder or figure competitor. It’s very hard, dedicated work that involves more than just the weight room. But for many more than not, bodybuilding is not something they’re training for and no amount of weight training is going to make them look like a body builder without all of the other components. Train for your goal, not your aspiration.

It’s physically impossible to lengthen and/or tone muscles. Two of the biggest buzz words in fitness that I’m sure sell tons of programs and magazines. Here’s a sobering anatomical fact: your muscles are the length they’re always going to be without of course cutting muscle origin and insertion points or lengthening bones! Muscles always have “tone” (tonality) otherwise they wouldn’t work. Muscles can get leaner (translation: stronger, tighter, shapelier) and more defined (translation: less body fat between them and the skin).

There’s no magic to your exercise order. Variety is key with your workouts, particularly when it comes to what and when you do it. Most stick to a pattern that they’ve mirrored for years and wonder why they’re not getting anywhere when it may have worked for them initially. Change it up – the order of the exercises, the type, the sets, the reps, etc. Don’t be married to what you think is the perfect program. The perfect program is one that evolves and progresses over time.

You don’t need to use EVERY piece of exercise equipment in the gym. One of the few advantages I see to belonging to a gym or health club aside from the social aspect is the variety of options. But to the novice or pseudo-expert, that really doesn’t make a difference. It can be overwhelming and intimidating but most of the stuff is duplicates or multiple versions of achieving the same goal. It’s like knowing the difference between two high-end sports cars – if you don’t know the difference in their engine and driving capabilities, your decision might be influenced only by the color of the car.

Sweat/post exercise soreness is not good indicators of workout success. It’s a known physiological fact: some people just sweat more than others. It’s not a badge of honor – it’s a very efficient cooling mechanism that some have. For those that don’t sweat much, it’s not always indicative of workout intensity but a less than efficient cooling mechanism. Regardless, it’s not a score card to even be concerned with. As far as muscle soreness goes, it sometimes happens when a new exercise/muscle pattern is learned, or more mechanical stress/tension was introduced. Some get sore 24-48 hours after a workout, some longer. Again, it depends on the amount and type of stress that was introduced to the body and how YOUR body responds. But comparing it to others is like comparing apples to oranges.

The longer the workout, the less efficient it becomes. More is not necessarily better; it’s just more. Those who claim to be at the gym for an hour or two are physically in the building for that time but I would challenge just how much real work is done during that time. Intensities dwindle; fuel supplies diminish at the muscles, anabolic hormones decrease, etc. as time moves on. Time is never an excuse to get in a quality workout. Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to fitness.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

12 Days of Fitness 2014: Day 9 – 10 Fitness Lies You Tell Yourself

(This is Part 9 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

mariahdolan_image_mariah01Some people like to think that they can talk themselves out of corner when in reality most times they talk themselves right into a corner. It happens in numerous scenarios in life but none could be a greater an example of when it comes to health and fitness. There are those who think they know it all or better than everyone else and then there are those that no matter what the laws of physics or thermodynamics say they are exempt. Here is my list of the top 10 fitness lies people tell themselves that either make them feel good about what they’re doing or keep them from ever reaching their goals.

  1. I know how hard I’m working by how much I sweat. Sweat will never be a valid indicator of exercise intensity. Sweat is a healthy and normal response to physical activity as it’s the body’s way of keeping cooled off from rising body temperatures. But everyone has different sweat rates and while no sweat is bad, more isn’t necessarily better.
  2. The more I work out, the faster I’ll see results. Exercise quality will always trump exercise quantity. The notion of “if little is good, more must be better” regarding exercise often gets more people injured, burned out, and blaming exercise for their lack of results rather than accepting that consistent and gradual progress will win out in the end.
  3. I’ll start working out as soon as I lose this weight. Huh? It should be seen the other way around – ‘I’ll start losing some of this weight once I start working out.” While weight loss shouldn’t always be the goal of exercise, it is a very nice side effect. Exercise (physical movement) has a seemingly endless benefit to us in so many ways that there’s really no reason to not do it.
  4. I can eat whatever I want because I exercise. You might have a need for more fuel depending on the intensity of your workouts, but just because you exercise is never a license to eat whatever you want. It’s a destructive mentality that in the long run will bite back.
  5. If I’m not sore the day after my workout, I didn’t train hard enough. Muscle soreness isn’t and should never be the goal of any exercise program. Day after or second day soreness is usually the result of a new exercise, new movement pattern, new muscle fiber type recruitment, heavier resistance, new mechanical stress, etc. that manifests itself as micro-tears in the muscle at the cellular level. Healthy? Yes, and quite normal. But success of a previous day’s workout should never be based upon it.
  6. Even though I’m still hurting from yesterday’s workout, I’ll work through the pain. Pain is the body’s way of letting you know that something’s not quite right. It might be miniscule; it might be a bigger deal, but never think you’re weak or gutless because you need to skip a day. It’s important to know the difference between pain and muscle soreness/tenderness.
  7. I’m going to work my abs incessantly to flatten my abs. Abdominal work is great and just one of many muscle groups to develop but training them will never, NEVER, flatten your stomach until you change the diet that deposits the fat on top of them. It is very possible to have very strong abs but a flabby belly. Work on your diet incessantly.
  8. I am going to pick up right where I left off with my workout. Missing a day or two is one thing. Missing a few weeks, months, or even years is a recipe for disaster. Put your ego and high school athlete mentality away and gradually work yourself back into a routine.
  9. I stick with machines to avoid injury. Injury is an assumed risk with every exercise and just because it’s a machine doesn’t make it exempt from injury potential. In fact, machine use could have a more detrimental effect on muscular coordination and development simply because most work in isolatory movements whereas the body works in multi-planar movements, but that’s a discussion for another day.
  10. I only need to do cardio because I want to burn fat. True, you can burn some serious calories doing cardio correctly but it is not the most optimal way to do it. As previously discussed, fat loss is a wonderful side effect from doing regular, consistent exercise. But cardio has benefits beyond that trump fat loss. True fat loss success come from overall systemic body fat loss through some regular, moderate to high intensity cardio exercise, resistance training, and nutritious diet.

See you tomorrow for Day 10 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better

Why Am I Still Fat After All the Cardio I Do?

2113Cardio (short for cardiovascular exercise) has been a staple in the fitness vernacular since Dr. Kenneth Cooper popularized the idea of “aerobic” exercise back in the late ‘60s. Cardio can be more specifically described as any sustained physical activity such as running, walking, cycling swimming, etc. that can be used to primarily improve the cardiovascular system, but is often used by exercisers as a means of shedding unwanted pounds. While that certainly can be attained, there are thousands of exercisers, both the avid and the not so avid, that spend the majority of their exercise time doing cardio for what seems to be endless with little to no success. And then there are those who go the opposite direction and actually gain weight despite all of the cardio that they do. How can that be? Isn’t any physical activity better than nothing and more must be better than little? Or is it as simple as that they’re still not paying attention to their diet?

She Blinded Me With Science

Somewhere, somehow, someway, popular thought ignores the simple fact that there are some basic biologic principles that govern the human body:  how it works, how it moves, and how it does what it needs to do. I get it. Science can be boring to some and it’s just easier to choose the path that gives you the solution that you’re hoping for. And in most cases, you will find the answer that you want, even if it is wrong which brings me to my first point. Turning a blind eye to the science of kinesiology (the study of human physiology as it relates to exercise) and what we know and understand better every day is like running on the hamster wheel – you’re going to do a lot of work with no forward progress. Without getting too professorial here, there is a simple concept you must understand before we move to the next point. I’ve heard on more than numerous occasions that someone is doing a lot of cardio so that they get “toned”. Everyone is “toned”. All muscles have tonality or they wouldn’t work. By “toned” they mean lean, defined muscles which unfortunately they’re not going to get from cardio only. Can you decrease bodyfat through the burning of calories? Sure, but “tone” muscle you cannot accomplish with cardio alone. This misinformed line of thinking often leads to what we call “skinny fat” – individuals who appear skinny only to have muscle and fat hanging on their bodies with very little to no shape. But what about the lack of weight loss or weight gain associated with doing cardio? As Thomas Dolby says in his song, “It’s poetry in motion.”

The F.I.T.T. Principle

Back in my early kinesiology days at Penn State we were taught the F.I.T.T. Principle, which was a basic way to prescribe exercise programs no matter what it was. The “F” is for frequency, or how often; “I” is for the intensity, or how hard to go; ‘T” is for type, or what specific exercise is being prescribed; “T” is for time, or how long.  Funny thing is, nothing has changed yet so many blindly go about their exercise routines like they would do a daily chore, such as washing clothes or brushing their teeth. Why is that an important concept to understand? Because it is not the exercise that is failing you; it’s you who has ignored or refused to believe how to make it work for you.

Choices, Choices

When it comes to doing cardio exercise you essentially have two choices. You can either do long-distance, steady-state cardio (most popular), like walking or jogging; or you can do high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT, or intervals means going fast and slow for intermittent bursts, such as sprints. This is important to consider, because too much long-distance cardio actually changes your muscle fibers. They go from fast-twitch fibers (which are stronger and bigger), to slow-twitch fibers (which are designed for endurance). This conversion makes the body a lot more efficient when you run long distances; however, your muscles are smaller and weaker, which is a bad thing if you want more muscle “tone”. On the other hand, if you are doing HIIT training, you are working at a higher percentage of your max heart rate for shorter durations before you bring your heart rate down and recover. Here’s where it might make more sense.

First, because of the higher intensities, your muscles are forced to burn carbohydrates and high energy phosphates to accomplish your quick bursts. Only Type 2 fast twitch fibers typically rely on these energy sources. Second, because your fuel source is different than steady-state running and you are forced to activate more muscles due to the explosive nature of HIIT training. HIIT will also put you in “oxygen deficit”, a phenomenon known as excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC). Basically, during the workout your body uses more oxygen than it takes in, and you burn a large amount of carbohydrates to fuel your maximal efforts. When the workout concludes, your body has to re-oxygenate, refuel and recover. This takes energy from calories. Specifically, fat calories are burned after an HIIT workout as you recover. HIIT has proven to be a superior method for maximizing fat loss compared with moderate intensity steady-state training. Despite lower fat burn rates during exercise, fat loss is nevertheless greater over time in those who engage in HIIT versus training in the “fat burning zone”—providing further evidence that 24-hour energy balance is the most important determinant in reducing body fat.

What’ll You Have?

What equipment are you using to do your cardio? Running, walking outside, treadmill, elliptical, bike, recumbent bike, stair stepper? The mode of cardio makes a huge difference in terms of muscle recruitment and subsequent caloric burn. Exercises in which you are weight bearing (legs are supporting the weight of the body) such as walking, running, elliptical, or stair climbing, are going to elicit a greater response with minimal effort. However, while body position can have an effect on the total amount of work being done, the intensity of the activity will certainly be the true determining factor in the effectiveness of the exercise. Take the bike for example. Yes, you are seated but how uncomfortably do you ride the bike? Meaning, how hard do you ride it. The boardwalk stroll versus the fast paced outdoor ride are like comparing the hare and the tortoise – sure the tortoise will eventually get there but the hare has already begun day two.

Enough Is Enough

How much cardio are you doing and how often are you doing it? If you’re reading this because of the title, I assume you’re doing quite a bit of cardio, i.e., more than five times a week for 30-plus minutes. There’s a fine line to walk here, and multiple factors need to be considered, such as: how often are you doing cardio and what type are you doing? As previously stated, too much steady-state cardio changes your muscles. They become smaller and more efficient. Over time, this efficiency leaves you burning fewer calories both during and after your workout, because your overall muscle mass has gone down and your metabolism is slower because of it. More muscle equals higher calorie burn and higher metabolism. On the other hand, if you are doing too much HIIT cardio, your body may become over-trained. If this happens, you will find it very difficult to recover and continue holding onto muscle mass while burning fat. When are you doing your cardio? One of the big mistakes people make in the gym is doing cardio before resistance training. The problem is that they are working against their bodies’ primary order of energy systems, which work more efficiently for a reason. This means you should do cardio after resistance training. Your body uses up its stored energy during the resistance training and is then primed to burn oxygen and fat for fuel during the cardio session. If you follow this sequence, you can make the most gains and get more “bang for your buck.”

Put The Fork Down and Pick The Weights Up

How much are you eating? Obviously, this can make or break your progress as exercise no matter what level is NOT a license to eat whatever you want. Eat too little and your metabolism slows, you lose muscle and you get closer to overtraining. Eat too much, and your caloric deficit won’t be great enough to see visually. Finally, how often are you lifting weights?  This is all over the place nowadays but it’s a serious question. Lifting is just as important as cardio training for getting toned and lean. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, the more toned you can become. Keeping and building muscle should be your primary concern when you’re trying to get lean and  lose weight, not just endless hours of sweat producing, and no return cardio.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Is Cardio Necessary to Lose Weight? 2013 – 12 Days of Fitness: Day 7

(This is Part 7 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Pre-Workout-MistakesIt stands without question that the most popular piece of equipment at the gym (or in home gym purchase) is the treadmill. Is it because everyone enjoys walking or running so much that on a beautiful day they’d still prefer to walk the human hamster wheel inside? Or is it that it just doesn’t get more convenient than pushing a button and starting the workout without any knowledge of proper exercise technique? Could be any one of those things and not to pick on just the treadmill but cardiovascular (cardio for short) exercise seems to take precedence when someone heads to the gym to workout. Why? Because of the belief that cardio is the best way to lose weight. But is that necessarily true?

The Requirement for Weight Loss

In order to lose weight, it comes down to one simple equation – you need to eat fewer calories than you burn – plain and simple. All the minutia doesn‘t matter if you aren’t creating a calorie deficit. You could be lifting weights 5 times a week, doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) cardio on your non-weight training days, eating whole, clean foods, and managing your stress levels, but none of that matters if you aren’t creating a calorie deficit. You can still lose fat while maintaining your weight or even increasing it. Weight and fat are not always one in the same. However, if you want to get lighter, the calories (energy) that you are storing on your body need to be burned off.

Creating a Calorie Deficit

There are a few different ways for you to create a calorie deficit. They will all give you very different results in body composition. For example, you could create it through:

a)    Through Diet Alone – You will also lose quite a bit of muscle in the process. However, by simply eating fewer calories than you burn, you can lose weight.

b)    Through Exercise Alone – Let’s say that without any exercise, you can eat 2,000 calories a day and maintain your weight. To lose weight, you could keep your calories at 2,000/day and create a calorie deficit through exercise.

c)    Through Diet and Exercise – You can also create a calorie deficit through a combination of diet and exercise. For example, you could reduce your 2,000 calorie diet by 500 calories through diet, and then another 500 calories through exercise.

While these 3 methods for creating a calorie deficit will all help you lose weight, only the ones that include exercise will provide a stimulus to your muscles to keep them from wasting away while dieting. Your ratio of fat loss to muscle loss will be much greater if you include exercise. Muscle boosts your metabolism and helps keep fat loss humming right along.

Does Cardio By Itself Do The Trick?

Plain and simple, resistance exercise is going to give you the biggest return on your investment. Cardio is nice, but if you are strength training a few times a week at a high intensity, then dedicated cardio sessions aren’t even necessary to lose weight. Cardiovascular training is great, and you should do it for other reasons, but separating cardio and strength training, or even prioritizing cardio sessions as your primary means to weight loss can be a waste of time. Is cardio necessary to lose weight? Based on the above facts – no, it is not necessary to lose weight. Will it help you lose weight? Yes it can if you’re using it to create a calorie deficit. However, if you’re doing cardio without a calorie deficit, you can obviously forget about any kind of weight loss. Of all the methods for creating a calorie deficit, it’s through a combination of diet and exercise that will yield the greatest result. These methods will allow you to eat the most food, get in the most nutrients, while at the same time building and maintaining the most muscle – all while dropping a high percentage of body fat.

Keep your diet spot on 90% of the time, create a calorie deficit through high-intensity strength training, and you will begin to notice that you don’t have to labor day in and day out on the treadmill to get results. Be smart about your food choices and how much you eat, and push yourself in the gym when you do go, be active, and you will begin to see great improvements in your body composition.

See you tomorrow for Day 8 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.