April 30, 2012 | Filed Under Stretching, Workout Tips | No Comments
It’s no secret that heavy lifting and the drop-down method build muscle mass, and that increased muscle mass can interfere with flexibility and range of motion. Muscle mass also doesn’t always equate to strength. As professional body-builders know, increased mass results from hypertrophy, or the microscopic tearing and scarring of overtaxed muscle fibers, and hypertrophy may have little to do with increases in strength and conditioning.
So how can we round out a lifting regimen with moves that will build real strength, increase our flexibility, improve blood flow, and elevate the focus and concentration that contribute to athletic performance? Yoga is a great place to start.
Yoga and Athletic Performance
Yoga uses basic principles of stretching combined with additional elements that support breathing and circulation. And most yoga poses also help us build and strengthen the “rails”, the minuscule muscle interactions that are often unconscious and contribute to subtle elements of performance like balance and coordination.
But since adding yoga to your workout routine comes with very little cost and no risk, the best way to examine its benefits is to simply start doing it. Find an excellent yoga instructor in your area, or attend the classes that may be offered at your gym. If you can’t find a yoga resource near you, search the internet for descriptions of basic poses and stretches. The quality of yoga instruction matters—an excellent teacher can help you obtain the benefits of a yoga habit faster. But it’s perfectly okay to strike out on your own.
Recognize that yoga requires discipline, and that it should be done along with, not in place of, your regular training routine. But after a few sessions, you’ll recognize how great your body feels after 30 minutes to an hour of yoga instruction. And it won’t be long before you see the effect of these sessions on your performance.
April 27, 2012 | Filed Under Nutrition | No Comments
Workout experts once viewed caffeine with a degree of skepticism, possibly because coffee and soda are known to make some people nervous and jittery, and nervous jitters are not usually associated with calm, focused performance during high-intensity sporting events. Caffeine also seems to speed up the resting heart rate, which doesn’t always benefit athletes during training or on the field. But many of these concerns have been dismissed, both by careful research and by anecdotal evidence of the positive impact of caffeine on athletic performance.
Caffeine and Endurance
It seems that caffeine doesn’t improve oxygen capacity directly, but it does allow athletes to train longer and with greater power output. Caffeine can increase speed, endurance and resistance to fatigue during extended cardio activities like races, and its effects are strongly felt at levels far below accepted standards for permissible ergogenic aids (performance enhancing substances). The benefits of caffeine typically last anywhere from 1 minute to 2 hours.
There also don’t seem to be many negatives associated with caffeine use, though its effects on strength training are less clearly documented and there’s still a lot to be learned about this mysterious substance and its impact on our overall health.
Caffeine, Exercise and Skin Cancer
Most of us have heard that exercise can contribute to disease prevention and may ward off several different types of cancer. But new studies show an interesting twist involving caffeine. It seems that exposure to both caffeine and regular exercise can help prevent harmful melanomas better than either influence can on its own. Mice exposed to both caffeine and exercise seem to fair better and show greater skin cancer resistance then mice exposed only to one or the other. Researchers are still not entirely certain why this connection exists, but in the meantime, it seems like there’s no need to pass up that pre-workout cup of coffee.
April 24, 2012 | Filed Under Motivation | No Comments
For generations, humans have noticed that music often changes the experience of physical exertion. If you’ve ever used teamwork to haul a heavy fishnet or raise a sail (which most of us probably haven’t), you may have witnessed the effects of singing on the collective strength of many pairs of arms. In a more modern world, scientific fascination with music and exercise first started to appear in the 1970s when aerobics classes set to music were becoming popular.
When researchers began investigating the impact of music on motivation and fatigue, they divided their findings into five interesting categories. It seems that music keeps us moving by supporting dissociation, arousal regulation, flow, synchronization, and the acquisition of motor skills.
These are specific terms related to brain function, but in summary, music helps us block out sensations associated with fatigue. It also gives our minds something to focus on that channels our attention away from our bodies. Higher beats per minute, or BPM, in the music we choose also seems to boost our performance, primarily during cardio exercises. High BPM has a reduced effect on stretching and resistance training.
Choosing Music: Considerations
To make the most of your music-exercise pairing, try to choose songs with a tone and tempo that match your chosen activity. Since many of the benefits of music happen as endorphins are released by our listening brains, it’s a good idea to choose music that feels happy.
If you’re leading a class or exercising in a public setting, make sure your music choice is inclusive and appealing to everyone who will be subjected to it. If you’ll be listening to your choices alone, make sure earbuds are permitted during your activity (they’re forbidden in some race and marathon settings). And keep the volume low—don’t isolate yourself from what’s happening around you.
April 21, 2012 | Filed Under Workout Tips | No Comments
No matter what your overall workout goals may be (improved sports performance, better bone strength, etc.) it’s a good idea to focus your resistance training now and then on specific areas of the body that might otherwise be neglected, especially if your workout is heavy on cardio or if you’ve fallen into a steady routine and you tend to do the same moves every day.
This week, try spending at least one 30 minute session on moves that target your arms and back. Why? Here are a few quick benefits to toning and these areas:
- The back is vulnerable to injury, especially if we engage in high intensity cardio moves or high impact sports. A strong back means well-protected tendons and vertebrae in the event of a sudden or unnatural motion.
- The core, or the muscles of the back and torso, are involved in almost every move we make, including every sport and every daily activity. So the stronger they become, the more efficient and effective our training will be in other areas.
- The upper body, arms and back are often overlooked by those who engage in extreme cardio or endurance related activities. But this can compromise training and even lead to health problems. So actively target the arms and back to keep your muscles balanced and your workout goals on track.
Moves that Target the Arms and Back
Planks: Using a suspension band secured from an anchor point above your head, grip the handles and lean into the bands, push-up style. The steeper your lean, the more intense your workout.
Flies and Reverse Flies: Now bend your elbows until your forearms are nearly parallel to the floor. Then straighten your arms out again. You should feel strong resistance in your arms and back. Try this move with your arms close together in front of you, then try spreading them to the sides.
Body weight exercises: Push-ups, modified pushups and dips are all great ways to strengthen your core, back and arms. Find a spot on the floor or a sturdy set of parallel bars and get started.
April 18, 2012 | Filed Under Nutrition | No Comments
When we push ourselves physically, we sweat and respire more vigorously, and the moisture we lose through these outlets must be replaced at a rate that keeps place with our activity level. Thirst is a simple indicator that we need moisture, but thirst doesn’t tell us everything about what we’ve lost, and sometimes thirst doesn’t activate at an intensity level that truly reflects our body’s needs. We’ve all had coaches, trainers, and summer camp counselors remind us that “just because you don’t feel thirsty doesn’t mean you’re hydrated”. By the same token, just because you’re drinking doesn’t mean your body is getting the hydration and replenishment it needs. So how much hydration is enough? And should that hydration come in the form of sports drinks, or is plain water enough?
Water or Sports Drinks?
A sedentary lifestyle requires between 6 and 8 glasses of water per day. This goes up as you begin to exercise and your sweat and respiration become more intense.
During moderate exercise lasting one hour or less, your muscles burn primarily fat as fuel. Fat converts to glucose which allows muscles to stay active. After a while, muscles start drawing glucose from other sources, and fat burning gives way to carbohydrate burning. At this point, your body doesn’t just need moisture to stay active, it also needs to replenish lost carbohydrates and electrolytes (mostly potassium and sodium).
So if your workout lasts for less than an hour, water is a free, clean, healthy, and perfectly adequate form of hydration. It’s unprocessed, it’s safe, and it contains no calories.
If your workout exceeds an hour and is especially intense, your performance will benefit from a few extra carbohydrates to replace the ones you’ve lost. So you’ll want to choose a drink with a little bit of extra sugar and salt. Commercial sports drinks are fine, but check the label, since some of these contain high fructose corn syrup, which is not what you need. You can also add a little splash of lemon juice and a pinch of sugar and salt to pure water to gain all the benefits of most sports drinks.
April 15, 2012 | Filed Under Workout Tips | No Comments
We’ve all been exposed to tips about how to stay healthy and limit the spread of viruses and germs during cold and flu season. Make sure you sneeze and cough into the crook of your arm, not into the room. Make sure you wash your hands before handling food. Limit your contact with contaminated surfaces. And of course, don’t come into work when you’re clearly ill. Nobody appreciates those kinds of heroics. But there are a few tips that specifically apply to the gym environment, tips that can help you stay healthy and keep others safe from the spread of harmful germs.
Keep these in mind and stay healthy during the coming spring:
- There’s no need for paranoia, but one of the fastest ways to spread germs is by touching surfaces that have been touched by many other people. And the gym is full of these. Every barbell, handle, and piece of equipment has certainly come in contact with multiple strains of cold and flu virus by the time you arrive on the scene. So protect your hands. Wear your Gripads instead of handling equipment directly.
- Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your gym bag and make use of it now and then as you move from one piece of equipment to the next. It only takes a few seconds to apply, and most sanitizers are alcohol based, so they kill both viruses and bacteria.
- Wipe down your equipment to clear away your sweat after you use it. This goes without saying.
- Sharing a bottle of water is as friendly and supportive as it is germy, but you don’t have to do it if everybody thinks ahead and nobody runs out.
- Don’t let fear of colds keep you out of the gym. Exercise is a vital part of strong immunity. So to stay healthy, eat a balanced diet with plenty of vitamin c, get adequate sleep, and don’t be afraid of a few germs at the gym. Pack your Gripads, keep your hands clean, and get in there.
April 12, 2012 | Filed Under Weightlifting, Workouts | No Comments
Body weight workouts are built around exercises that use our own body weight to create resistance. These include any exercise that challenges our muscles and our sense of balance against conflicting muscle groups, stationary objects, and constants like gravity. We’re engaging in body weight exercises every time we complete a simple move like a sit-up, push-up, or dip.
Advantages of Body Weight Workouts
Using your own body weight as your gym equipment can be convenient and fun. Body weight workouts are simple, portable and cheap, and they can be done anywhere, from a backyard to an office to a hotel room while traveling.
Floors are all around us, walls are everywhere, and gravity is free. But before you start relying exclusively on body weight exercises, remember that all workout routines should be just one component of a healthy lifestyle. Don’t just trust the floor and your own body to keep you fit—you’ll also need plenty of sleep, adequate stress management, and a healthy diet. You should also bear some of the following considerations in mind.
Body Weight Workout Considerations
Body weight exercises offer plenty of resistance as long as your strength-to-body weight ratio stays low. But as you become stronger, pound for pound, you’ll need to find ways to increase leverage and place your muscles at a greater mechanical disadvantage to get more out of your body weight workout. This is especially true for strong, lighter weight athletes like gymnasts.
Clothing and gear can play an important role in a good body weight workout. Since many of these moves involve parallel bars and floor work, hand protection will be key. In general, clothing for a body weight workout should be loose enough to allow a full range of motion but tight enough not to get in your way.
Also, you’ll need to pay attention to safety. Body weight exercises tend to be unstructured, so monitor your moves and stop doing something if you feel off balance or experience pain in your back, neck or joints.
April 9, 2012 | Filed Under Workout Tips | No Comments
When we talk about muscles of the chest, we’re usually referring to the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, the muscles located between the shoulders and just below the collarbone. But a big chest means more than just defined pecs; it also means a strong upper torso, and strong lats, shoulders, and deltoids. All of these muscle groups contribute to volume and definition in the chest area, and a strong chest works like a strong core in that it supports training, agility and performance in almost every other area of the body.
A Few Notes On Your Chest Workout
Before you begin blasting the chest with dips, pushups, and bench presses, remember that building a strong chest takes patience. Many of the best chest exercises also rely heavily on body weight, so if you have a heavier body, you’ll get more resistance and sometimes faster results. Those with smaller bodies will need to do more reps or find other ways to add tension.
Pushups and Modified Pushups
For a standard pushup, lie face down on the floor and place your body weight on your palms. Push yourself up away from the floor with your weight on your palms and your toes. Keep your body straight like a plank. This exercise can help strengthen you pecs, but it can also place resistance on your arms and shoulders. So to keep focus on the chest area, try modifying the move as follows:
When you’re at the lowest point of the pushup, glide your body forward past your planted hands. Walk your toes forward by just a few steps. As you push yourself up from the ground, cheat on the pushup a bit by raising your hips toward the ceiling.
Dips and Bench Presses
To do a dip, center your weight on your arms above two parallel bars. Lower yourself until your elbows almost reach the bars. Then push yourself back up.
To complete a bench press, you’ll need a weight bench, a barbell and a spotter. Lying on your back, grip the bar and push it away from you toward the ceiling. Make sure your Gripads are in place so you can maintain a firm non-slip grip on the bar.
April 5, 2012 | Filed Under Nutrition | No Comments
In 2005, Loren Cordain and Joel Friel published a book called “The Paleo Diet for Athletes”, a sports-specific version of an earlier book by Cordain called “The Paleo Diet”.
These books have generated some buzz in the workout community and gathered a broad following of supporters, critics, and curious athletes willing to investigate any reasonable theory that might help them improve their overall health or their performance on the field.
What is The Paleo Diet?
Cordain and Friel suggest that the human digestive system hasn’t changed or evolved much over the last 2.5 million years, but by comparison, our standard diets have changed considerably. Most of these dietary changes have happened over the past 200 years, and most the “new” foods we now eat have arisen due to convenience and availability, not nutritional value.
During the paleolithic era (the stone age), our bodies evolved to digest unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. We weren’t exposed and aren’t adapted to grains like wheat, corn and rice or the foods derived from them like bread and noodles. At this point, we eat so many of these processed grains that they’re edging out the vital phytonutrients that we would otherwise be deriving from vegetables and fruits.
Recommendations of the Paleo Diet
According to Friel and Cordain, we’re better off shifting our eating habits back to fruits, vegetables and lean meats like poultry and fish. Meanwhile, we should steer clear of fatty red meats and anything that we didn’t have access to during paleolithic times, including processed, grain-based carbohydrates and dairy products.
Does the Paleo diet have merit? Most of the evidence in either direction seems to be anecdotal, but there have been very few reported health problems or harm associated with these recommendations. So if you’re curious, go ahead and adopt this plan while monitoring your health and performance carefully for results. If the Paleo diet causes problems or interferes with your lifestyle, by all means stop. But in the meantime, feel free to keep an open mind.
April 3, 2012 | Filed Under Workout Tips | No Comments
Regular workout devotees sometimes wake up feeling under the weather and wonder if it might be a good idea to skip the exercise plans they had scheduled for the day. Popular wisdom and most of the internet offer the same generic answer to this question: Let your body be your guide. If you feel like you should work out, do so. If not, don’t.
But this isn’t really an answer. Especially since most people who are stumped by this question are athletes and workout regulars who embrace a philosophy that encourages pushing through pain. When is it time to push through pain and when is it time to scale back? We wouldn’t ask if we already knew the answer. Sometimes our bodies can’t tell us and we need some real advice.
So try these guidelines the next time you’re wondering if it’s a good idea to get out of bed and head for the gym when you’re sick.
Working Out While Sick: Considerations
- Do you have a fever or just a cold? If you have a cold, your symptoms will usually be localized above your neck. You’ll have a runny nose, itchy eyes, and maybe some head congestion. If your symptoms are all in your head, so to speak, a run or a round of resistance training may actually be a good idea, since it might break up some of your congestion for a while and make breathing a little easier. Scale back your workout slightly, but don’t skip it altogether.
- If you have a fever, skip the workout. The gym will be waiting for you when you recover.
- If you don’t have a fever, but you’re experiencing symptoms below the neck, like a stomachache, nausea, or body aches, make a plan to get back to the gym on the following day. One day of missed training won’t undermine your workout goals, and if your attempt to “power through” results in a miserable experience, you may be incrementally demotivating yourself. Keep your workout process fun…Don’t let it turn into a grind.
April 2, 2012 | Filed Under Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle | No Comments
Plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to support the claim that exercise can help reduce anxiety and some forms of depression. Those of us who have been working out for years don’t need to be told that exercise feels great, and most of us have seen how a good workout can put the challenges of a difficult day into perspective.
But careful scientific studies (like this one: http://www.fitness.gov/mentalhealth.htm) provide more proof of what we already know about exercise and mental health. Here are a few key take-home messages:
- All forms of exercise offer a great way to reduce feelings of anxiety and gloom. The reasons are partly physical, since a workout stimulates blood flow and oxygen delivery to cells. But they’re also emotional, since working out offers a change of perspective, a chance to step out of our regular routine, and a healthy distraction as we shift gears from one set of challenges (mental or emotional) to another (physical).
- Weight training is great for mood and mental health, but aerobic activity may offer even more pronounced benefits. To get the most out your workout, make sure you blend cardio exercises with weight training and resistance moves.
- Exercise may have bigger mood boosting effects for those who face bigger challenges. In other words, the positive benefits increase among those with higher anxiety at the starting point.
- Sleep, exercise and mental health go hand in hand. You can get the benefits of any two, but you won’t fully get where you need to be without the third. To make the most of your workout, get plenty of sleep. To boost your mental health and feelings of well-being, get plenty of sleep and plenty of workout time. Don’t cut corners. Take care of yourself in all three of these areas so you can keep your life on track and take care of those who depend on you.