The other side of interval exercise: training your brain

April 1, 2009

It is a Wednesday around 5 am and after three days of waking up before sunrise, my mind is as blank as the surface of the moon. Unfortunately, there are bills to pay, blogs to be written and work outs to be coached.  This shot of 5 hour energy (I refuse to drink coffee) just doesn’t seem to be working as well as it did on Monday and I wonder how I will keep from falling back to sleep.

After careful consideration (or lack there of), I came to the conclusion some time ago that the best way to joly my brain to life was by first moving my body. Based upon feedback from my early morning clients– who would often comment that intense exercises got them thinking in the morning– I began incorperating a single bout of interval training before I began my morning.

Much like jump starting a car, the logic behind this is that by spiking heart rate blood circulation to both the brain and body help to stimulate the body and mind. And lo and behold, my concentration and focus in recent months has noticeable improved.

While numerous studies have shown interval training improves concentration and focus, another benefits of this form of exercise is improved mood and decreased anxiety. One little known fact about anxiety is that it ranks alongside smoking and obesity as a leading cause of heart attack and stroke.

With this in mind, the benefits of interval training extend far beyond fatloss. But how many intervals are neccesary to jump start the brain?

Based upon my experience, the key is to make the intervals as brief and intense as possible. Because my goal is to do as little real work as possible in the morning, I start with 10 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest for sixty seconds.

Generally, I notice a marked improvement in mental acuity within 1-3 minutes once the heart is pounding. Because forward flexion of the back is not recommended within the first hour of waking, some alternatives for exercises include:

  • Jump rope
  • Jumping jacks
  • Medball slams or tosses
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Pacing yourself for Pollen

March 30, 2009

One interesting thing about exercise is that performance improvements seem to come in seasons. While it is not uncommon to notice dramatic improvements in endurance and work capacity when first introduced to interval training for example, even the lightest workout can still steal your wind come spring time.

While these changes can many times be attributed to stress, lack of sleep and general fatigue, one factor we do not often take in to account is Pollen. According to one recent study, individuals suffering from allergy to airborne allergens, such as pollen, exercise may exacerbate their condition due to increased ventilation during exercise.

In English, this means that the heavy breathing you may experience during a job, run or vigorous bout of exercise is not due to decreased performance, but rather an allergic reaction to substances circulating in the air. Due to the record Pollen count this spring, we have noticed a substantial number of clients struggling to recover between sets and exhibiting general fatigue before/after each session.

But because Pollen season can last in to July, this temporary condition seems set to last for some time. But while it is virtually impossible to get away from the effects of allergies, our answer has been to segment more vigorous training—interval training, intense strength circuits, etc—during each workout to allow the body to recover.

For example, performing one set of our interval training circuit at the beginning of the workout, followed by several minutes of prehabilitation or core exercises—and then repeating the second set several minutes later to allow the lungs to purge any lingering allergic reaction.

This same strategy can be applied to any strength or interval routine by splitting up a thirty minute run for example, in to two more intense fifteen minute sessions.

Workout:

  • 30 minute jog
  • 8 am: 15 minute run
  • 8 pm: 15 minute run

A further advantage of this strategy is a more intense overall effort and a better overall training effect. Because I always instruct my clients to “give it their all” during training, this strategy makes perfect sense for any season.

Are you over training your lifestyle?

March 27, 2009

One common issue I get with new clients is the fear that “over training” in the gym will sap energy in over weekly activities.Put simply, over training is an emotional, behavioral and physical condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity

And while it is true we ramp up the intensity during the 30-60 minutes in the gym,  I have yet to see a true case of “over training” from strength training alone– even in the case competitive bodybuilders whose emotional issues stem from other “habits” (cough roids).

What many of us fail to factor in however are the other activities in which we are currently engaged. Take someone that plays a recreational sport (tennis or soccer for example) for several days a week and suddenly incorporate an interval and resistance training program in to equation and you have a significant increase in total stress on the body.

The other factor which cannot be quantified are stress, sickness and/or lack of sleep which all play a role in recovery. Week after week, the affects of these activities/ailments add up to cumulative fatigue which will eventually take it’s toll.

With this in mind, a good recommendation is to include a “back off” week every 4-6 weeks in which total volume of activity is reduced by 60-80%. In the gym, this means lifting lighter weights, reduced intensity and taking more time for restorative stretching.

In place recreational activity, this can also be the opportunity to engage in unstructured cross training– yoga, long walks, spending time with family, etc– which breaks your regular routine and allows the body to recover.

Speaking from experience, strength and performance greatly benefit from this sort of routine while allowing the mind to recover perspective.

With Spring Break just around the corner, the coming weeks are an excellent opportunity time to take advantage of time away from structure. Try this for a week and your body will thank you!

Metabolic Stimulus act

March 23, 2009

In the wake of economic woes and recent reports which suggest obesity can take up to a decade from your lifespan, Leading fast food McDonalds still recorded record profits for the 4th quarter of 2008.

What this tells me as a fitness writer Is that while we still have a long way to go in terms of health in this country, Americans are willing to splurge on what they Put in to their bodies. Be it comfort food or fresh fruits and veggies, the point in times of distress is simply getting enough calories to maintain sanity and Function.

Often when we become overwhelmed or depressed, the first impulse is to drastically reduce what we are eating. But while This may work in the short term for weightloss, a starvation mode metabolism translates to more stress hormones and higher bouts of anxiety. Combine this with long days at the office and little time to unwind and you have the perfect recipe for physical and mental breakdown.

Now, we have all heard the benefits of several small meals per day, but the reality is it can be hard to break away from your routine to eat correctly. With this in mind, the key to effective eating is to plan ahead. Here are a few strategies to assist below:

Fast food: When it comes to fast food, the main source of processed junk is the items which contain a grains or processed carbohydrates. While grilled items are preferred to fried and breaded foods, remove the bun, tortilla chips or shell and you have essentially eliminated the largest source of dietary danger.

Dining out: Whether eating at Applebees or Emerils’ (though I’m not sure this would be considered more upscale), the basic composition of most restaurant menus includes some variety of fish, chicken and steak. With this in mind, a simple salad with a vinaigrette dressing, grilled chicken, steak or any fish fit the bill for low carb. One note on preparation, be sure to ask how the veggies and meat is prepared (whether steamed or sauteed with butter) to save calories during your meal.

Eating on the road: When your meal options are limited on the road, the name of the game becomes preparation. For some, this means preparing foods such in advance for long trips, while others simply rely on what can be found in the nearest grocery store or mini-mart. In either case, listed below are foods we lie with recipes and preparation tips:

Snacks prepared in 15-20 minutes:

• Red/black bean soup- Legumes are an excellent source of fiber and non-starchy carbs. For a listing of several excellent recipes, check out http://www.squidoo.com/healthyvegetarianrecipes

• Flavored chicken/steak cuts- Cooked and cut up chicken, steak or turkey breast. Simply cook for 20 minutes and marinate for 2-3 hours. For a list of marinades, check out http://www.cooks.com/rec/search/0,1-0,steak_marinade,FF.html

Quick hits:

• Deli meats- 6-8 Slices turkey, ham, pork, chicken etc contain around 30 grams of protein and around 150 calories.

• Protein shakes- Two scoops of any protein is around 180-200 calories. For those that use water only, Try a dab of Walden Farms maple syrup for a flavor boost.

• Raw veggies- The beauty of raw veggies is they can be eaten in almost limitless quantity. To give them a little kick, check out waldenfarms.com for a list of CALORIE FREE dressings, sauces and dips which have changed my life (yes, I love them that much)

• Bell peppers- Bell peppers (either cut up or eaten whole) are an excellent source of anti-oxidants without the added sugar of fruit.

Twenty seconds to change

March 20, 2009

My kids are sick, I have no time after work, my lunch break is only twenty minutes. As a personal trainer, these are but a few of the “excuses” I have heard as to why we don’t exercise outside of the gym (or at all).

In many cases, these are perfectly valid reasons that become perceived barriers (or excuses) without a better solution. While the CDC now recommends 60 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week to make significant changes in your body, I say this is overkill.

The main reason many of us do not do aerobic exercise (walking or jogging on a treadmill, )exercise for sixty minutes is simply because it is boring. The other drawback with this sort of long, drawn out, exercise is it lacks the intensity to establish quick bodily changes.

Interestingly, research has also shown that breaking up exercise time (four fifteen minutes sessions versus one single sixty minute workout) has been shown to be more effective in achieving  physical change.

This is mainly because the possible intensity over a fifteen minute session is significantly higher than what can be sustained over sixty minutes.

With this in mind, my challenge to readers is to step back from the notion that you must workout for 30-60 minutes to achieve physical change. In fact, my solution is quite the opposite.

While you may not have even an hour per day to devote to exercise, do you have twenty seconds? If you are tired of spinning your wheels without results in the gym or lack the time and motivation for sustained exercise, the following plan is for you.

Breaking down the problem:

Before breaking down the excuse of why you cannot exercise, it is important to first understand the very real barriers that may be currently blocking your path:

– Lack of time (you work all day with small, infrequent breaks)
– Lack of space (You work or live in an area without space or equipment to move around)
– Lack of motivation (to exercise anyway)

Taking these factors in to account, my solution is to pick simple bodyweight exercises or movements which can be done in any environment and breakdown your workout over the course of a day– rather than an hour.

For example, a workout which calls for two sets of ten push ups and squats would entail performing a set of ten, resting 60-120 seconds and repeating three times. This would typically take between 35-30 minutes. The problem here is that it is difficult to break from work, sweat, hit the shower and return in under 45-60 minutes.

But by breaking this same workout in to a set of five push ups and five squats every two hours, you still achieve the same result with around two minutes expended per hour. While some have questioned whether the muscles are affected in the same way as a thirty minute workout, the only factor that really matters here is volume– which remains exactly the same.

In fact, the quality of work and form improves significantly when given a task which seems more manageable throughout the day.

In this same way, short cardiovascular intervals spaced throughout the day achieve the same cumulative effect as one longer duration session. For the purposes of this article, I have chosen Tabata intervals (twenty seconds of work followed by ten seconds of rest), which have been shown to be most effective in achieveing dramatic physical change.

These intervals can be performed with any exercise which gets the heart beating. Some suggestions include:

– Squat thrusts
– Dumbbell upper cuts
– Jumping jacks
– Switch jumps

These are but a few suggestions, but the key is to pick movements which are short and intense. Listed below is an example of a strength and cardio program for the busy fitness seeker.

Instructions:

–  For strength training perform two squats and two push ups per hour for twelve hours.

– For interval training, perform twenty seconds of jumping jacks three times per hour for twelve hours.

– Perform interval and strength training on different days.

– Repeat each workout twice per week

– Add one rep or interval per hour each week to progress cumulative total.

Weight control supplements that work for a change

March 18, 2009

When it comes to losing fat, one thing which continues to amaze me is the human desire for a quick fix—despite The risk to physical health.

While the side effects of products such as Relacor, Ephedrine and others include high blood preassure, Severe headaches and even weight gain, these products continue to grow in popularity.

In fact, I have been asked several times in recent weeks by clients which of these suppliments I would recommend to suppress Appetite and speed up weightloss. My answer—of course—is that no product is a silver bullet without commitment to a solid Diet and exercise routine, but what may come as a surprise is that the solution you are seeking is already in your cupboard.

Listed below are two of my favorite “super foods” which have been shown to balance blood sugar, surpress appetite and assist in Fatloss the way other products claim—without the harmful side effects.

1. Vinegar

Health Benefits: Small amounts of vinegar (approximately 20 ml or two tablespoons of domestic vinegar) added to food, or taken along with a meal, have been shown by a number of medical trials to reduce the glycemic index of carbohydrate food for people with and without diabetes.

Multiple trials indicate that taking vinegar with food increases satiety (the feeling of fullness) and so, reduces the amount of food consumed. Even a single application of vinegar can lead to reduced food intake for a whole day.

How much to take: Approximately 20 ml or two tablespoons of domestic vinegar once per day.

2. Cinnamon

Health Benefits: Cinnamon may significantly help people with type 2 diabetes improve their ability to respond to insulin, thus normalizing their blood sugar levels. Both test tube and animal studies have shown that compounds in cinnamon not only stimulate insulin receptors, but also inhibit an enzyme that inactivates them, thus significantly increasing cells’ ability to use glucose.

How much to take: Approximately two tablespoons of cinnamon once per day.

Better posture and pain relief for high heel walkers

March 16, 2009

After 18 hours of standing of essentially standing in one place, pain from the back, hips and knees Can overwhelm even the fittest gym goer. Throw on a pair of six inch heels and you effectively reduce

The normally efficient support surface of the feet to 1/8th of it’s original area.

Now, imagine doing this day after day for twenty of thirty years and you have the perfect prescription for pain and mangled posture. While this may appear some monotonous form of torture, this is the reality many professional women face in the job world every day.

With this in mind, part of the process to getting in better shape is doing corrective work to avert this disaster waiting

To happen.

The problem: Tight calves, hips and back muscles cause the back to arch excessively creating excess pressure on the knees, hips and low back.

The solution: Stretch and strengthen the involved muscles using the following sequence to to improve posture and take preassure of

the back, knees, shins and hips.

1. Hip flexor stretch

2. Calf stretch

3. Hamstring stretch

4. Piriformis stretch

* Perform two sets of thirty second holds for each stretch.

Strength:

1. Anterior tibialis press

2. Glute bridge

3. Side lying abduction

4. Reverse crunch

* Perform two sets of ten for each exercise.

Interval training for productivity

February 3, 2009

If I had only one measure to quantify improved fitness, it would be work capacity the ability to do the same amount of work in less time). In essence, working harder– as opposed to checking email, watching facebook and other greviances of which I am frequently guilty– means squeezing as much producitivity out of that vital half hour or hour during your busy day.

As a personal trainer and business owner, this has become all to clear for me as I am frequently forced to multi-task between training clients, marketing, logistics, and these five minute blog entries. With this in mind, I have often wondered if/how a fitness technique such as interval training could be applied to boost natural productivity.

Studies have shown that the attention span of the average adult is around 20 minutes and while this figure is highly subjective, Ive found this has become something of a bench mark for my “20 on 10 off philosophy”

In short, this involves working intensely and then allowing the mind to recovery through either meditation or light recreation for ten minutes. Repeated several times, this technique has vastly improved my own ability to get things done in short order while staying focused.

The trick is not to overload your rest period with reading or extranious info that could quell concentration. In any case, the clock is about to hit 20 minutes, so I am off to zone out. Hope this helps you do the same (after being productive)

New study compares back pain to junk mail (sort of)

January 29, 2009

When it comes to fitness (or lack there of), pain in your back is a bit like receiving junk mail. We don’t really care where it came from, but you want to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

In order to do so however, the only real solution is to take specific steps to achieve a targeted outcome. In this case, one question I am asked all the time is the best (and quickest way) to fight low back pain.

While considerable debate exists over how best to address this issue, a recent study on the occurrence of back pain in female gymnasts pointed to endurance (or lack thereof) in the muscles of the low back as a key indication of whether or not your back will hurt.

Because our sitting muscles (hips, back extensors, hip flexors) are compressed and shortened for hours on end in most day jobs, these muscles are conditioned to fatigue quickly, leading to spasms and damage to the areas of the low back which surround these muscles.

With this in mind, the study found that static holds in three key exercises significantly improved the reports of low back pain in the subjects.

Curl up

  • Perform two sets of 6 reps
  • Hold at the top of each rep for as long as possible.

Side bridge

  • Perform two sets of ten reps
  • Hold each rep for six seconds

Birddog

  • Perform two sets of 6
  • Hold each rep for 10 seconds
  • I threw this one in to train the back extensors

This program above (which took around fifteen minutes and was performed twice per week for a period of ten weeks in study) illustrates that a few simple exercises can make a big difference to your back. So whether you are a high performance athlete or simply getting back in to shape, throw this sequence in to your routine and watch your pain disappear.

“Core” exercises for endurance versus power

January 19, 2009

When it comes to running performance, a new study has confirmed the long held belief that “core” training is an ideal way to improve performance and protect the body from harm.

But ask two trainers or fitness coaches how to train core muscles (or where the core is even located) and you will likely receive completely different replies. In my experience, I have heard the core described as everything from the abs only, to every muscle from the calves to the upper back.

While this remains something of a point of debate, my definition of the core is any muscle which directly influences the position of the pelvis. This includes the muscles of the hips and lower back as well as the abdominals.

As the initiators of all movement, your core muscles dictate how fast and powerfully you will run, jump and sprint. With this in mind, core training for runners would seem especially crucial to success in race performance. As opposed to sprinters—who require quick bursts of force in the hamstrings and glutes—an individual running several miles requires endurance to withstand fatigue.

With this in mind, “core” training for distance runners takes a much different form to that of power athletes who utilize movements such as leg lifts, back extensions and weight situps to build a strong and powerful torso.

For distance runners (especially those who sit excessively), stability exercises and postural holds which engage stabilizer muscles are an ideal means of building endurance in these muscles.

Because improper running places a great deal of strain on the spine, the goal of any core program should be impose as little stress as possible while maximizing tension on targeted areas.

At Peak Fitness, this begins with the “big three” exercises which target the specific movements of the core:

Hip flexionCurlup 2 sets of 6 (5 sec hold)

Lateral flexion- Side bridge 2 sets of 1 ( 25 sec hold)

Hip extensionBirddog back extension 2 sets of 15 (10 sec holds)

Shown to impose the highest tension on the muscles versus the spine, the exercises listed above are a great addition to any torso program for improved running performance along with posture and pain relief.

But whether an performance athlete or simply getting back in to shape, this same strategy of endurance based training might just change the way you strength train for pain prevention. Interestingly, research has shown that low back patients exhibit a higher distribution of fast twitch (power) muscle fibers in the muscles of the hips and low back.

So what does this have to do with back pain? While fast twitch fibers produce greater power output, they are also first to fatigue when placed in prolonged seated or standing postures. This is a bad thing when it comes to protecting your back.

Unfortunately, most gym routines are based upon body building rep schemes (6-8 reps) geared toward muscle strength and growth. But when it comes to the muscles of your back, a focus on higher reps and activities which support the development of endurance means a greater resistance to fatigue in static positions.

Check back on Thursday, for more information on back pain relief through corrective strength training.