No “easy button” for life

There have been several days in the last week where I sincerely wished life had an “easy button.” I want a giant red button I can hit and skip over all the challenges coming my way, but then I ask myself what an easy button would really accomplish for me? If I use a quick fix my immediate problems disappear, but what’s to stop the same thing from happening again? The idea of an easy button is good in theory, but bad for living. Your life is composed of all the problems you face, as well as your responses to them, and to put it simply, no good can come from a quick fix solution.

I shared a while back that I am on a focused, goal-oriented regimen to bring my weight, BMI, and overall healthy feeling back to where I am comfortable. Too many people see weight loss and health issues as short terms goals that an 8 week diet and bootcamp can fix. I’m here to remind you that this process should be a lifestyle change, and anything that tells you different (or promises you immediate “unbelievable” results) is trying to be your life’s “easy button.” You don’t want easy, you want long-lasting results and a healthier you. I’ve put together some dos and don’ts from my experience that can hopefully help you…

 

DO drink water. I still have a post coming about this, but in general, water is a crucial component to weight loss. Ever notice how most “miracle pills” suggest you take them before eating with 1 8oz glass of water? Yeah, because after you drink a whole cup of water your tummy is just a little more full, and in turn leads to you eating smaller portions. Staying hydrated also helps with overall energy. If you have a headache or are feeling drowsy-drink a cold one (water), and I promise you’ll perk up!

DON’T fall for the fad diets. A whole post needs to be dedicated to the shortcomings of all of these, but the main takeaway is that they just aren’t sustainable–or at least not enjoyably sustainable. You tell yourself you’ll do it for 3 months to get down to your ideal weight, but as soon as you revert back to your old eating patterns, the pounds race back. In the end, there really isn’t such a thing as long-term dieting. It’s called a “lifestyle” change.

DO find ways to monitor your progress. If you have no way to gauge your success, chances are you will lose interest and motivation at an alarmingly fast rate. So find something and monitor it–weight, fitness testing (preferred), inches, size, etc.

DON’T obsess over this monitoring. I am an exercise physiologist and despite having a masters level understanding of human physiology, I still found myself stepping on my scale every day, and sometimes to my horror, TWICE a day. A week in I caught myself in this pattern and realized my mood of the moment was entirely dependent on what number that little plastic machine spat out. This is NOT the way to live. If you are getting healthier the right way–you shouldn’t see daily changes. Let me repeat, if you are making healthy changes, you should not see daily fluctuations. Now that you know this simple physiological fact, join me in taking the power back from that scale. Sure, monitor your progress (maybe weekly), but do not obsess.

DO change your routine. While nutrition plays a huge component in trying to be a healthier you, so does what you do everyday. If your nutrition changes but activity stays the same, your results not be quite what you’d expect them to be. Take a few extra steps each day. I’ve found myself wanting something from the store for dinner and rather than hopping in my car, I walked the 3/4s of a mile. I use a fitbit (a fancy step counter) and this extra bit of walking significantly increased my step count, and by proxy, my calorie expenditure.

DON’T quit. This is a lifestyle change. By definition you can’t quit–how would one even quit their “lifestyle? Results don’t ever come as quickly as we want them, but you have to stick with the changes in order to ever see them. Find a plan you can stick with (2000 extra steps a day, one less 10pm snack a day, etc), and make it part of your life. If the change becomes habit, you don’t have to worry about yo-yoing back to where you were.

Do enjoy the process. If you hate every minute of your small changes, you need to find new ones. Remember, the changes you make are for life, and who wants to live their life grumpy and hungry. Find changes that work and make you feel good about them.

So there are my tips, and trust me when I say they are “tried and true” (some by me, but all by many). Remember the most important thing is to view this as a lifestyle. There is no quick fix, no miracle pill and no easy button. There is just you and how you live. So live like you want to live the rest of your life (literally).

 

 

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Running Pains

A lot of beginner runners become turned off from the sport due to the soreness, tightness and overall pain experienced after just a week or two of short runs. While I will never encourage you to push yourself to the point of injury, I will say that there are things you can do to ease the pain without throwing in the towel. Ice and a foam roller should become your best friends. Foam rollers have a multitude of uses and can stretch out just about any muscle on your body (save for the ones you need your tennis ball creation for). For this post I’ll narrow down my advice to two of the most common running pains: shin splints and knee pain.

Shin splints-  These were something I knew of but never personally experienced until I began college basketball. All of a sudden I was putting in 3 hours of pounding the court a day and my legs just couldn’t adjust quickly enough. Shin splints are highly common in runners and typically appear after a sharp increase in intensity or duration. The runner will experience  a sort of throbbing pain in the front of their leg from the ankle joint sometimes all the way up to the knee. For me, it felt like a thousand little needles had all dipped themselves in lava and attacked my shin. The bad news is, there is no quick fix for these, but there are some steps you can take…

  1. Ice. Ice will be your best friend if you are experiencing shin splints, but when I say ice, I don’t mean throw some cubes in a bag and plop it on your leg for 5 minutes. Icing should be done 2-3 times in 20 minute increments (with breaks inbetween). You get shin splints because your muscles become inflamed and start rubbing up against bone, tendon and other parts of the leg they shouldn’t be hitting. The point of ice is to help decrease inflammation, but it only works if you truly let the cold sink in. It will burn (yes the cold will burn), and if you are like me you will whine about it for the first 10 minutes, but after that the lovely numbing sensation will wash over you, the inflammation will go down and the pain will subside. So ice, ice baby.
  2. New shoes. When is the last time you got a new pair of shoes? If you are just starting running again, chances are it’s been a while. Or maybe you just bought a new pair, but they don’t have the support you need. Either way, go out to a place like fleet feet where you pay a little more than that amazon prime deal, but you get a shoe that fits YOU. I dealt with many a shin splint episodes when I first started toward my half marathon goal, and believe you me, my trip to the shoe store made ALL the difference.
  3. Rest. No, I don’t mean sit on your bum all your bum Netflix binging for a week. I mean work in a few rest days if you are starting to experience shin splint symptoms. The pain is a signal from your body to slow down. It’s a GOOD thing because it’s forcing you to taper down before something serious happens. So take a day off and maybe re-work your training plan to include a few more off/easy days.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (knee pain)– Knee pain can mean a lot of different things, but if it’s pain on the outside of your knee, a good bet is it has to do with your IT band.  This type of injury is a very common overuse injury in runners (especially new runners), and it can’t be extremely painful. Your IT band is a ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh and attaches to the outside of the knee to help stabilize the joint. It is very easy for this ligament to be overworked and under-stretched, leading to increased inflammation and pain. This type of injury can be severe enough to sideline you for weeks, so it’s best to stop it before it happens. But how?? Glad you asked

  1. Stretch! It’s extremely important to stretch out your muscles after workouts, but it is especially important to get those legs loosened up after a run. While most people know typical hamstring and quadriceps stretches, the IT band is often left out entirely. Big mistake. Before you stretch anything else, stretch that IT band (here’s how: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoHBDim_fzk).  If you start to feel pain on the outside of your knee, slow down your workouts, or take a few days off and REALLY focus on stretching (especially that IT band). If you don’t have a foam roller, a wonderful trick is to freeze a water bottle and do the same exercise with it. All the roller is really doing is using your body weight plus a roller to smooth our your muscle much the same way a rolling pin would smooth out some cookie dough. So you can even recreate this action by holding the water bottle in your hands  (or hey, a rolling pin) and rolling it directly over the muscle. I’m not going to lie, this hurts beyond any imaginable pain. You will want to stop and never do it again. However, if you are feeling pain, it is because your muscle is way too tight and you should be reassured you need this stretch more than ever.
  2. Ice. For all the same reasons listed above. Ice your knee, but then also ice down your leg because that IT band runs down your whole leg. It’s only manifesting itself in your knee. Even if you aren’t feeling any pain, just ice your leg. It helps.
  3. Check your programming. Then check again. Make sure the training plan you have in place is at your level of progression and has plenty of built in rest days. If you DO get pain, take a couple extra days off and focus on the stretching and icing.

 

I have personally experienced both of these injuries, and I promise you, neither one is something to ignore or take lightly. The best treatment is prevention, and the best prevention is to listen to your body. Pain is not a precept for panic. Pain is your body’s warning sign. So pay attention.

Stay tuned for a post about the most important thing you can ever consume—water. It’s the miracle for everything (weightloss, exercise, dehydration, etc), and you likely aren’t drinking enough of it.

 (P.S. if you have no idea what or where a foam roller is: http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=the+foam+roller&tag=googhydr-20&index=aps&hvadid=33847003555&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=512234692207917423&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_12ptjw42bo_b

White is less dense (meaning it will feel softer) and black is the most dense. I suggest black because you can always take some pressure off it is too much. You can find these at any sporting stores as well as walmart and target if you aren’t an amazon fiend like me. )

Mushy Middle Workouts

Our bodies function on the principle of working towards maximal efficiency. We are constantly adapting to the environmental stressors in our lives and our bodies are no different. Knowing this helps us to design optimal workouts that maximize our physiological improvements, and avoid those mushy middle workouts.

Mushy middle…what’s that?

Do you find yourself ending a workout breathless, but not exhausted? Glistening but not dripping with sweat? Tired, but could go for another 20 minutes? Starting the workout the next day fatigued and drained? Congratulations, you are a mush middle workout fiend. While the fat burning zone isn’t your friend for weight loss, a chronic mushy middle workout plan isn’t your friend for ANY goal.

Let’s jump back to some light physiology. The main component of exercise (aerobic is my focus for this for now, but some principles apply to anaerobic) is oxygen consumption and utilization. At rest, you breathe in, oxygenate blood, pump it to throughout the body, and breathe out the leftover CO2. During high intensity exercise, you push your body to a point where it can no longer take in enough oxygen to deliver enough oxygenated blood to the working muscles. With decreased oxygen, there’s an increase in acidic metabolites, which ultimately lead to your inability to continue exercising- there are a myriad of factors, but let’s just keep it at you can’t take in enough oxygen to feed the oxygen-starved muscles.

Last post I touched on fuel sources for exercise and how exercising at higher intensities leads to an increase in carb usage and working at lower intensities pulls more from fat stores. If your goal is to run faster, your body needs to be able to process the increase in oxygen demand that accompanies a faster pace. If your goal is to run longer, your body needs to become more efficient at utilizing fat as a fuel source.

So how does this look in a training program?

If you are just starting out the best way to train is at high intensities. You want to challenge your body by doing workouts that place a large demand for oxygen. These will be shorter workouts (20-30 mins), but they will be intense and exhausting and when you finish you should FEEL finished. If you complete the workout and think “I could do another ten minutes,” then you were not working out hard enough. An easy way to get a high-intensity workout is to do the HIIT training I’ve mentioned before. By doing 1 minute on, 1 minute off intervals, you are keeping your heart rate high throughout, but giving your body enough rest to be able to complete the workout. . This type of training pushes your oxygen consumption limits and forces your body to improve its efficiency (resulting in a higher VO2). Due to the high intensity of the workouts, to start out try and do this 2-3 days a week and have light/easy days for the others.

That last part is crucial. Make the days when you aren’t purposefully going high intensity light. These should be recovery days, and they are just as important as your intense days. Too many people make the mistake of going halfsies on their workouts and doing moderate intensity everyday of the week. Now, some exercise is better than NO exercise, but if you are working toward set goals, believe me when I tell you having a greater differentiation between your workouts is a MUST.

These easy days should be a low intensity and longer duration. Remember, their purpose is to keep you “working” while also getting you used to longer duration exercise. If you are training for a 5k, these “long trainings” aren’t as crucial because overall you are talking about an event that even if you walk you will finish in under an hour. So if a 5k is your goal, make the easy days the days that you go out and run a nice easy mile (continuous, but slow). If you are training for races of longer duration though, these “long easy” runs become crucial. The high intensity days should remain short and fast while the long slow days should be a decrease in pace with an increasing mileage (or distance).

I knocked the slow fat burning zone in my last post, but that was when our focus was weight loss. The bottom line is that the most important component of your workout is intensity. Your intensity should be aligned with your goals, and these mush middle moderate intensity workouts are one of the biggest obstacles for reaching performance and weight loss goals. So if you, like the vast majority of people, have fallen victim to the “mushy middle” workout, refocus on making your hard days truly HARD and your easy days really easy. The distinction of intensities for training may be just the boost you need to reach your next goal.

 

Ignore the Fat Burning Zone on Machines

Have you ever seen those low intensity “fat burning” zone settings on the workout machines at the gym? Well let me explain why you should AVOID them entirely.

Our bodies are constantly burning calories, and within that calorie burn, we are working off both carbs and fat in a set ratio depending on the intensity of activity. If we are sitting around or doing light exercise, our bodies are burning more fat than carbs. Conversely, if we are working out at high intensities, our bodies burn primarily carbohydrates.  To keep this basic, just understand that the processes by which we breakdown and utilize fats is a slow one, whereas carbs breakdown relatively easily. So during rest, it makes sense for our bodies to use fat stores because there isn’t a high demand for energy. During exercise, we need constant fuel and the breakdown of carbs is fast enough to maintain the energy supply.

So let’s go back to this fat burning zone. On the treadmill or elliptical, one of the options for preset workouts is a fat burning one where you workout for about 30 minutes at a relatively low intensity. In theory, the machine isn’t lying to you. You are indeed burning “more” fat at this low intensity- you are burning a higher percentage of “fat” because there is not a high energy demand- however you are burning less calories overall. So let’s say this is some kind of miracle machine where you are burning  90% fat at this fat burning setting. BUT you are going very slowly so you are only burning 4 calories a minute. After a half hour, you have burned (30 minutes x 4cals a minute) 108 calories. That seems not bad…Now 90% of those calories were fat (150 x .90), so you just burned 97 fat calories. Yay!

But wait, let’s say now you decide to go at your own intensity, a much harder intensity where you are burning 10 calories a minute and you go for the same 30 minutes (30 *10= 300 cals). You were going faster so you are burning more carbs and less fat, maybe only 40% fat (300*.40), but wait, even at only 40%, you’ve burned 120 “fat” calories. You burned more fat calories than in the “fat burning” zone.

See, my friends, it might sound nice to burn all those fat calories away, but at the end of the day it comes down to total calories. Going at a higher intensity burns MORE total calories, and therefore more fat calories than the low intensity. So if you really want a good workout, go for high intensity.

Moreover, studies have shown high intensity interval training (HIIT) to be the best type of exercise for weight loss. This type of exercise is composed of interval style workouts where you do 1 minute of high intensity work and 1 minute of low (or rest). I did a study at UNC  where we saw significant changes in weight and fat mass after only 3 weeks of 3 days a week, 20 minutes of 1min high/1min rest cycle exercise. That’s 60 minutes a week!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to only go to the gym for an hour a week. I AM saying that if you are in a time crunch and have 30 minutes to get your calorie burn on, turn up that resistance and do some intervals.

This post has focused mainly on calories and efficiency, but there is plenty of research available showing how the physiological and health benefits of high intensity workouts far outweigh those of low intensity workouts. Placing that kind of workload on your heart and lungs causes physiological improvements to occur. Your body will adapt to become more efficient at the workloads you are imposing on it. If you ask more, it will rise to the occasion. If you ask nothing, well, don’t expect much.

There is a place and a time for some long distance, long duration workouts depending on your goals, but if your goal is weight loss, high intensity interval training has been shown time and time again to be the most time efficient weight-loss exercise regimen.  So swap out that slow motion, kindle watching treadmill time for some kick your butt intervals, and see what happens. It will revolutionize your workouts and your results.