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How To Get The Most Out of Your Training

May 15, 2011 4 comments

Benji Hill @ 1st Primal Power Meet in Hailey, ID, HAF April 2011

I recently read an article from mercola.com that inspired me to post on this subject.  Exercise is always supposed to be beneficial right?  Well in most cases, yes, most of us actually do need more exercise & it’s health benefits are not unlike a wonder drug.  However, it seems that the growing trend these days is marketing high intensity, all out exercise all the time.  As you’ll see as I continue, high intensity exercise is great and it serves its purpose… just not every time you exercise.

More isn’t necessarily better:

Somewhere along the way, we got it in our heads that more is better, and in order to get anywhere we have to go all out, all the time and if the results aren’t instant then we’ve failed.  You’ve heard the sayings… “go big or go home”, “no pain, no gain” or even, the latest I recently heard, “if you aren’t puking or on the verge of it, then you’re not working hard enough”… right, well not if I can help it.  I would like to think that I could actually enjoy the process and get some good results without feeling miserable the whole time or like a failure because I couldn’t quite push it hard enough to do a million plus one reps as fast as the next guy!  This is supposed to be fun right?

Recovery:

Without proper recovery, you won’t get anywhere.  You may notice that you have either experienced this before.  Either you aren’t sleeping, you are too stressed or you are simply overtraining.  You may notice that your body feels worse, you are constantly dealing with injuries and illness, you’re groggy and fatigued all the time and you may even be holding on to that abdominal weight some refer to as “the spare tire” or “muffin top” no matter how many crunches you do.  And… what do you do?  More exercise… to push through it.  And what do you get?  A stubborn extra layer of fat and adrenal fatigue.

Your recovery time is absolutely crucial, it is the period of time where your body reaps all the benefits of your exercise and training regimen.  During exercise, your muscles are strained and stressed and broken down… it’s during your recovery where you are actually maximizing on your muscle growth, fat loss and increases in strength.   Recovery accounts for a number of things, including the actual rest (sleep) you are getting; both quality and quantity, your nutrition as well as your lifestyle and relaxation levels.  Sometimes it’s really “less is more”, but it’s finding the balance that always seems to be tricky.

Total Training Load:

In order to understand how much we individually need to train to create just the right balance of training vs. rest and recovery; it is important to understand Total Training Load (TTL).  This is the amount of training “strain” on the body over time.  The beauty of TTL, is that it can be manipulated to suit your own individual needs from workout to workout & day-to-day.  Here are some of the things you can change within your workout regimen; whether you are running, spinning, swinging kettlebells or strength training with free weights.

  • Number of repetitions
  • The amount of resistance or weight
  • Length of workout sets
  • The speed
  • Length of resting intervals

Depending on what you want out of your workout for that day, you can mix it up with this short list of things and get exactly what you need.  The thing you want to remember is that if you overdo it (and you will overdo it from time to time), then you are essentially going backwards and breaking the body down, taxing the nervous system and will likely feel worse, experience more injuries, illnesses and eventually burnout.

It’s all about listening to and understanding your own body.  For most of us, this may not be as easy as it sounds.  It’s easy to say “listen to your body, and rest when you need it”, but how many of us actually know how to listen to our bodies?  If we did, then I likely wouldn’t have a job.

Cycling Intensity:

In general you should cycle the intensity of your workouts between easy, moderate & hard.  So how do you know what your intensity is and how often do you cycle through each?  How do you know when you are actually participating in an easy workout as opposed to a moderate or hard one?  The answer is relatively easy, how much can you talk during the actual workout.

  • Easy:  According to experts an easy workout is one in which you would be able to have a full conversation, speaking full sentences while working between 50 & 75% of your maximum.  This would fall into the category of low-level aerobic activity below.  In general you should be doing 2 easy workouts per each 1 hard workout.
  • Moderate:  This falls right around the 75% mark.  This is where most people camp out.  You are able to speak words but not engage in a full conversation or speak in full sentences.  Your moderate workouts basically fill in the blanks as far as timing and scheduling workouts go.
  • Hard:  This is where you can no longer talk at all, you’re likely reaching your VO2 max.  These workouts are great to supercharge.  For a good balance and to achieve gains in whatever your goals are, 1-2 hard workouts a week, separated by 2 days (at least) is a good baseline to go off.

Types of training:

There are tons and tons of different training styles out there today… one could never get bored researching them… trust me, I’ve spent hours on the computer getting lost in blogs, YouTube videos and research studies on exercise and training.  Your body is adaptable, it’s one of the things that makes us so resilient.  As you can adapt to different climates, situations and even people, you will adapt to exercise if it’s not varied.   Your body will figure out the most efficient way to preserve energy and nutritional stores, it’s a survival mechanism rooted in our DNA; this is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that we are able to adapt to our surroundings and the curse; your body will hold onto fat like your life depends on it, because at one point, it did.  Hence, the plateau.  I know you’ve all experienced this at some point, you’ve gotten great gains at the beginning (built muscle mass, lost some body fat, gotten stronger and felt better) but then it just stops and no matter what you do… nothing changes and you may even notice you do go backwards.  One of the worst things you could do is continue doing exactly what you’re doing, exactly how you’re doing it.  Mostly people will exercise at about 75% of their max all the time, doing the exact same exercise (a good example is runners).  Switch it up people!  Go harder, go easier… refer to the list above and change-up your workout routine.  What you need is to recharge your system (nervous and cardiovascular) in a different way and shock the body into having to recalibrate and adapt to a new set of criteria.  Otherwise, you may just be stuck on that plateau whether you like it or not.  In addition to the different ways in which you can change-up your intensity and total training load above, the following is just a quick and short list of options to add in to your training regimen.

  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – Just like it sounds, HIIT is a high intensity short burst of exercise.  Much like sprinting, and sometimes referred to as sprint interval training.  In other words if you are feeling pretty confident with your fitness level and try doing some HIIT, prepare to be humbled.  Sprinting would definitely fall into the category of HARD workouts.  HIIT is not limited to sprinting however, you can use this concept with anything else… jumping, bounding, push ups, weights, spinning… you name it.  The key with these, is they are usually short in duration, lasting anywhere from 9-20 minutes for your entire workout.  The original protocol for HIIT training follows a 2:1 ratio; meaning for every 2 (units) of exercise, you recover for 1.  This may sound familiar…
    • Tabata – HIIT that is measured by doing intense bouts of exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest.  This is great for sprinting and we use it a lot at the Gym with Kettlebells, ropes, boxes and other functional training modalities.
  • Neural Charging –  Still following a similar concept but is based on the idea that you can train more frequently without overtraining.  In general, neural charging uses explosive movements for short amounts of time (stopping before you experience any muscle fatigue, a concept many of us are not used to).  An example of this is doing explosive push ups.  Pushing up off the ground or a box as fast and as explosively as you can for 1 – 5 reps (until you feel you may lose power) and taking out the eccentric part of the movement (the slow lowering of your body back to the floor).  For a more in-depth description, check out Christian Thibadeau’s articles on Neural charging here.
  • The benefits of all the above have been shown to increase your body’s ability to burn fat, improve insulin sensitivity, as well as increase your speed, agility and athleticism.
  • Low-Level Aerobic Activity – Basically anything you do where you can talk with a friend at the same time.  For some workouts, you may even count these as a gym workout, there are plenty of times I’ve been taking it easy at the gym, able to have a full conversation with somebody while I’m lightly swinging a kettlebell.  However, more commonly these workouts are walks, hikes, biking into town, other daily activities outdoors or even indoors.  You could probably count vacuuming as a low-level aerobic activity if you wanted.

Stress and your body:

Stress is a huge part of our lives, some experts say it’s the cause of 90% of disease, (though one could argue it may be high fructose corn syrup and stress causes about 99% of disease)!  Your body can’t differentiate between physical stress and all the other mental and emotional stressors that you experience in a day.  When we work out, our physical bodies are stressed in that we are putting strain on the muscles, the cardiovascular system & the nervous system.  When we are emotionally stressed, our bodies are dealing with the windfall of adrenaline and cortisol spikes and valleys elicited by work, family responsibilities, finances, traffic, deadlines, not getting enough sleep etc… the list goes on and on (you are probably feeling a little bit of this stress right now, just after reading that short list).

For the most part, exercise reduces stress, increases the amount of endorphins your body produces, helps you lose weight, increase focus & improves sleep just to name a few.  However, there is always a balance to be found.  It depends on who you are, how you live and what you deem priority in life.  For example, for some people it’s like pulling teeth just to get them to commit to going for a walk 20 minutes a day 3 days a week… then for others it’s more is always better.  Pain is the name of the game right?  “No pain, no gain”… well to some degree this is true, but in general not to the extreme that we American’s are used to.

First and foremost it is important to find your balance and as far as exercise is concerned.  Here are a couple of notes from Dr. Jeff Spencer, named Sports Chiropractor of the Year, author, olympian and recent author of the article “Fail To Do This After a Workout and Your Whole Effort is Wasted” on Mercola.com. 

  • Should have quick and full recovery after each workout – After a workout you should rebound quickly from the effort and feel almost back to normal within 30-minutes. A prolonged rebound is a sign the workout was too difficult and you need to go easy for a couple of days.
  • Ideal to feel better at end of workout than the beginning – Successful workouts will leave you feeling better at the end of your workout than the beginning. This is a sign of well-trained body.
  • Slight soreness on occasion is OK, but regular soreness isn’t – Slight muscle soreness is normal after starting to exercise, when new exercises are implemented into your workouts or when an increase in exercise intensity is done.
  • Should be able to raise heart rate – A cardinal sign of having the right training balance of effort to recovery is when your heart rate moves up and down nicely during a workout. If your heart rate fails to elevate during a workout you’re over-trained from training too hard too often, and you need time off.
    • Also keep an eye on your resting heart rate first thing in the morning.  If your heart rate is elevated while you are still lying in bed, then you are likely not recovery properly &/or overtrained.  Take this as another indicator that you’ve pushed your threshold and just back off.
  • Heart rate should drop immediately when workout completed – Fitness buffs having ideal intensity variety in their workouts have heart rates that drop down to slightly above normal within 5-minutes of finishing a workout then drop back to normal levels shortly thereafter.
  • Perspiration should stop shortly after training complete– As a rule sweating associated with workouts should stop within a few minutes after exercise is stopped when workout intensity and overall fitness is within ideal range.  If sweating continues 20-30 minutes after exercise it is the sign the workout was too hard, and requires a few easy days to recover from.  If you feel sore then put two or more easy day’s into your program to let your body catch up with itself (Spencer, 2011).

As for the rest of your life, it’s up to you to start decreasing the amount of stressors in your life.  There are many ways to do this and that could be a much longer post… so stay tuned we’ll get there.  Diet is going to play a big part in your total stress too, in short you are better off eating as clean as possible, lots of vegetables, fruits and good clean proteins.  But for now, get some acupuncture, do some yoga or meditation and get a massage!

There are a number of nutritional supplements that you can add to your regimen in order to better deal with stress (both physical and mental emotional), many of them are referred to as ‘adaptogens’ and I regularly cycle through them.  A quick and short list includes:  Rhodiola, Ashwaghanda, Maca, & Ginseng.  Add to that B-vitamins (complex), Vitamin C (for tissue repair) and a daily multi-vitamin and you should be well on your way.  (If you are currently on a list of a number of other medications please consult your physician before beginning any new supplements, this article is not intended to diagnose or cure & is for informational purposes only).

As an Acupuncturist & Master of OM, chinese herbal formulas can also do wonders to help with stress management and recovery.  In addition to acupuncture treatments, a trained herbalist can put together a mixture of herbs (including some of those listed above) personalized just for you in order to help your body adapt to stressors and strains.

Overtraining & Cortisol Response:

It’s actually an easy thing to do.  Life stressors are always changing and our ability and strength to stay resilient has its own personal ups and downs.  I still struggle with keeping a good balance of how much is just enough in order to get the benefits without the break down.  So what happens to our bodies when we overdo it?  Your body is running on adrenaline all the time, and much like the insulin de-sensitivity that happens with Type II Diabetics, we become a little less sensitive to the constant influx of adrenaline-like substances coursing through our bodies and literally get sick and tired.

Just like we need to exercise, but not too much, we also need Cortisol… just not too much.  It is a necessary hormone and in moderate amounts will regulate glucose, insulin, blood pressure, the immune system and our inflammatory response.  Aptly referred to as the ‘stress hormone’ it is released as a means to improve mental acuity, kickstart your immune system and shuttle glucose to where it may be needed during acute episodes of stress.  However, our bodies were never meant to experience stress all the time, especially at the levels we are accustomed to today.  The fallout of having elevated levels of cortisol in the bloodstream for prolonged periods of time makes up a very long list of maladies including (and not limited to):

  • a decrease in muscle tissue and bone
  • decreased immunity
  • increased blood pressure and likelihood of experiencing a cardiovascular accident
  • blood sugar imbalances
  • lowered thyroid function and
  • an increase in abdominal fat (that stubborn muffin top that never seems to disappear no matter what you do).

Just like Goldilocks, you’ve got to find the right fit for you in order to achieve the maximal benefits from your exercise whether you are looking to gain size, increase strength and muscle, lose fat or just to reduce your stress level.

So… go on, get out there and enjoy your training regimen, switch it up and cycle your TTL’s & don’t forget how important your recovery time is.  Get the benefits that exercise was meant to give you without the frustrations of never getting it right!  Have fun and I’ll see you in the gym… or at the office.

Till next time ~ be well,

Erin (soon to be LAc., MAOM)

Sources:

High Intensity Interval Training. (2011). Wikipedia. Retrieved May 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_training

Scott, E. (2008, February 5). Cortisol and stress: how to stay healthy. Stress Management, Retrieved from http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/cortisol.htm

Spencer, J. (2011, May 13). Fail to do this after a workout and your whole effort is wasted. Mercola.com, Retrieved from     http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2011/05/13/getting-fit-doesnt-mean-killing-yourself.aspx

Thibadeau, C. (2010, December 16). Neural charge training. T-Nation, Retrieved from http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_neural_charge/neural_charge_training

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Kettlebells & The Skogg System!

March 7, 2011 Leave a comment

on the set...

It’s official! The DVD is complete and it’s shipping out as we speak!  If you are new to my blog and me; I am currently a full-time graduate student at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine as well as a Kettlebell coach at Skogg Gym in downtown Portland.

Now, add to that list; kettlebell fitness ‘talent’ in the new DVD series by Michael Skogg; former Navy Seal and face of Weider PowerBells:

The Skogg System!

This project has been in the works for some time now and is finally complete and ready to buy.  We’ve gotten it out there via the web; either on…

  • Skogg Gym’s website:  SKOGG Gym
  • Amazon
  • Or if you are in the Portland, OR area at our Gym (10th and Everett)!

Check it out and let me know what you think!  It’s been a crazy past 3 years for me with school and work but good things come to those who work hard and I’ve been workin’ hard!  Here’s a little teaser for you…

 

Need more proof?  Burn more calories in less time and get the best workout of your life 🙂 Check out this article by ACE Fitness:  Study Reveals Kettlebells Provide Powerful Workout in Short Amount of Time

Also, keep updated on the Skogg System DVD series, the gym and all things Kettlebell here on Sue Skogg’s (Michael’s other half; co-owner of the Skogg gym, and Executive Producer of the DVD) Blog:  Skogg Sytem: Sue’s Journey

Till next time, keep swingin!

Erin

SKOG

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Coming soon November 2010… a new kind of training system that will give you the body you’ve always wanted, the flexibility, the strength and the confidence you never knew you could have.  I know I sound like one of those cheesy infomercials… & wait for it… that is what I’ll be; however, it really is all it’s cracked up to be and truly something you will want to try out for yourself!  Health is not just about the mental, emotional & spiritual body, but the physical as well.  In training the physical body, we can improve our mood, improve memory & sleep, not to mention it further enhances our ability to maintain a healthy body, mind & spirit.  Many of us know this, but finding a way to exercise that is fun, gets results and is something you can do at home in a short amount of time without a whole bunch of equipment is a whole different thing; and Kettlebell *the SKOG system* defines that. 

As a part-time job while I’m not treating people in the clinic (with Acupuncture, chinese herbs and bodywork), I train people at Spinach Gym in downtown Portland.  We are a Kettlebell gym and coming soon in November 2010 we will be releasing the SKOG Kettlebell System; a set of workout DVD’s, and yes, that is me in the video. 

So ask yourself one thing… Do you want to get in the best shape of your life? 

I can honestly tell you that I have never been as fit as I am right now since starting Kettlebell training. In addition I also feel the best emotionally and mentally than I have since I can remember, and I owe it all to Kettlebell and the Skogg’s *Michael & Sue; the owner’s of SKOG and Spinach Gym*!

I have been an athlete all my life and a member of the US Freestyle Development Ski Team and I have never loved training as much or felt as fit as I do now with Kettlebells.  If you want to lose weight, improve your stamina, increase your performance for any sport, Kettlebell will do that for you.  It truly is all it’s talked up to be! 

If you are in the Portland area, try it for yourself; sign up for a Free Week at Spinach Gym on 11th & Everett, & ask about our new 60 day challenge, or just stop by to say hi.  I’m telling you, you won’t regret it… and if you do, I’ll personally buy you a cupcake from across the street.

For more personal testimony, please check out this blog, written by one of our members; Lisa Collins LMT:  How To Get in the Best Shape of Your Life

Till next time…

~be well~

Erin

Exercise Tolerance, Acupuncture & the Heart

July 31, 2010 1 comment

By, kyuen13 @flickr.com

Part of the purpose of this blog is to share with you all the bits of information I come across during my studies in Acupuncture & Oriental Medical School.  Personally, I love the medicine and have seen and learned its value in treating diseases of all kinds.  One of the most popular (in the news) uses of Acupuncture right now is in the treatment of pain; there are many positive studies coming out currently promoting its success in pain management & bringing to light (to you, the public) the benefits we may receive from Acupuncture treatments.  From my point of view, pain management is just touching the surface… YES, Acupuncture is wonderful for this; but it can do SO many other things especially when used as an adjunctive therapy with other modalities like chiropractic, body work, herbs, changes in lifestyle etc…. Acupuncture is used to treat a plethora of common ailments as well as rare diseases; a short list includes; allergies, asthma,  adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, auto-immune diseases including various forms of arthritis, the common cold, eczema, pain, it’s even been incredibly useful for post-trauma and drug rehab.  In addition, it can shorten post-surgery healing time, improve your immune function, lessen the amount of time you spend with a cold or flu & assist in balancing hormones…  I think I could go on and on all day, but I will get back to my point.   

I was just perusing this website while I’m finishing up work here at the gym (I work at a Kettlebell gym called Spinach, in downtown Portland as a trainer/coach), and looking up news regarding exercise etc… My initial intention was to find something about Exercise and improving our ability to adapt through movement with the help of Acupuncture as an adjunct and possible performance enhancer, which is a topic I will write about sometime soon I promise…     

So, I found this article Exercise Improves Exercise Tolerance in Heart Patients.   They point out an important idea that we can translate into our lives no matter what our condition.  In this particular study, however, the patients had Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), a disease where the heart as a muscle essentially starts to lose its ability to pump blood properly throughout the body.  This leads to a decrease in cardiac output and a general decline in oxygenation to the rest of the body as well as fluid imbalance in the peripheral body (edema), & a back-up of blood in the heart and pulmonary system (pulmonary edema, or hypertension).  Another aspect that plays a large part in the progression of the disease is the nervous system; ultimately, neurotransmitters released by the nervous system regulate the blood pumping effectiveness of the heart and patients with CHF may have an imbalance or miscommunication going on here.     

Participants in the study were broken up into two groups, one group received 10 sessions of Acupuncture and were treated on a individual basis according to a particular TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) diagnosis.  The other group was given ‘placebo acupuncture’.     

They found that participants who received Acupuncture   

“could cover a greater walk distance in the time allowed than the placebo patients. They recovered more quickly and tended to feel subjectively less exhausted” (ScienceDaily, 2010).   

Well, we know that Acupuncture has the ability to release endorphins, regulate inflammatory markers, neurotransmitters & balance hormones; we aren’t sure how, but really… does it matter?  When we achieve the desired effect (or a positive effect that we didn’t know we needed)  do we need to understand the exact biochemical pathway from needle insertion to neurotransmitter/hormone release?  The desired effect here seems to be working for these patients!    

Furthermore, the scientists in this study theorize that Acupuncture had an effect on the skeletal muscle, and not necessarily on the cardiac output of the patient; either way, it seems the body became more effective at utilizes the blood that was pumped from the heart.  So, what does this tell us?  Well, good news,  Acupuncture could definitely be helpful with CHF patients, it could help shorten the length of time spent recovering post-surgery (particularly heart surgery), enabling patients to get more out of their rehab and be able to do the things they want to do more easily and in less time…   

In addition, if you wanted to think of this in terms of an otherwise healthy individual who is getting regular Acupuncture, they may be improving neurotransmitter function, regulating imbalances within the nervous system and possibly improving their ability to oxygenate the tissues (ever heard of blood doping?)… Which brings me to another good point I should make regarding Acupuncture.  As far as blood goes, it has been shown to increase white blood cell counts and therefore improve immune function, so why couldn’t it improve the function of our red blood cells, those cells that deliver oxygen to the tissues?!  Sounds good to me… I wouldn’t mind capitalizing on a few more red blood cells to help me chase my boyfriend around on a mountain bike at altitude!  It’s almost like cheating, but not!  You’re just optimizing your body in its most natural state.    

So, take what you will from this, but, Acupuncture is a wonderful tool for the sick and the healthy, and when used in addition to other modalities could increase the quality of your life exponentially!    

    

Sources:    

University Hospital Heidelberg (2010, July 1). Acupuncture improves exercise tolerance in heart patients, German study finds. ScienceDaily.   

Grossman, S., M.D, M.S., & Brown, D., M.D. (2010). Congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema.  Retrieved from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/757999-overview   

 

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