Monday, June 27, 2016

The Dumbbell Snatch - Your Key to Power

The Barbell Snatch is unquestionably one of the most amazing exercises you can do to develop power – the ability to produce lots of force quickly! Power is king in athletic performance and it helps us mere mortals in many situations as well. There are several popular power exercises, but the barbell snatch is thought by many professional conditioning coaches to be the best way to develop total body power. Unfortunately it is not an easy exercise to learn, and it can take months of work with an experienced Olympic Lifting Coach to master the movement. More importantly, if you do not do it correctly or if you have issues with shoulder, hip, or ankle mobility; you can hurt yourself trying to do this lift. Enter the dumbbell snatch!  

Start with feet apart and feet rotated out slightly from your hips. Feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width. Hold a dumbbell with one hand in front of your thighs with your knuckles facing forward. Squat down keeping torso upright and maintaining a slight arch in your lower back. Arm holding dumbbell is kept straight with dumbbell between the legs with knuckles still facing forward.   Do not let the shoulder slouch forward or down! The movement is initiated by driving up quickly by extending the knees and hips. Picture yourself jumping up in the air holding a dumbbell. As you come up shrug your shoulders and pull the dumbbell upward, allowing your elbow to pull up and to the side of your head. Keep the elbow over the dumbbell as long as possible. Then pull your body under the dumbbell, catching it at arm’s length while moving into the squat position. Once you catch the dumbbell over your head, stand up with dumbbell overhead. Lower dumbbell to your shoulder then down to the original position in front of your thigh and repeat.

Simply put think: jump, shrug, drive elbow, and catch the dumbbell overhead!

Here is a great video of the dumbbell snatch from Michael Boyle: and another view here:

Start with a relatively light weight – 20 – 25lbs men – 15 – 20lbs woman. However, once you get a little feel for the movement, you need to go up in weight – you want to use enough load that you have to use the power of your legs and hips to generate the power to throw the weight up – your upper body just guides the dumbbell – it does not do the heavy lifting!

After a dynamic warm-up do sets of 3 – 5 reps on each side starting with 2 – 3 sets each side to 5 sets each side with sufficient recovery between sets so that you can focus on doing each repetition with good form!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Is Fish Really a Healthy Food?

For years we have been told that fish is a healthy food, but that is not always the case!   Unfortunately, both freshwater and saltwater fish are increasingly loaded with toxic chemicals making a very healthy food very unhealthy.    The good news is that you can find fish that is not toxic and provides all the many health benefits of fish without the toxins.      The key is knowing how to ask the right questions to know what you are eating.

First it is important to understand that predator fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tuna can be very high in toxins such as mercury.   Also fish that live for extremely long periods of time accumulate more mercury like Tilefish.  Mercury is not something to play with – it is one of the most if not the most potent neurotoxin on the planet.   The larger one of these predator fish is the more mercury it contains.  For these reasons it is best to completely avoid shark, swordfish, Pike, and tilefish because they always have large levels of mercury because of their size or longer lifespan.  Smaller and younger line caught tuna is much lower in mercury, and there are brands available that line catch tuna and insure that they have lower levels of mercury including “Wild Planet” and “Safe Catch” Tuna.    

The Dangers of Farm-Raised Fish

Farm raised fish (which is most of the fish in the super market) is the most toxic food on the planet!   This includes most catfish, salmon, and tilapia you see in super markets and restaurants!    Farmed raised fish are fed a concoction of pesticides, antibiotics and other drugs and chemicals.     According to researcher Jerome Ruzzin Ph.D., from Norway, farmed salmon is one of the most toxic foods in the world and contains over 5 times more toxins than any other food product tested!  Most of the toxins in farmed fish are from the food used to feed these fish.  The pellets they are fed contain dioxins and PCB’s to name a few of the worst toxins.    Bottom line:  avoid all farm-raised fish like the plague!

What about Freshwater Fish?

Unfortunately many freshwater rivers, lakes, and streams are highly polluted and fish from these waterways are chock full of toxins like their farm-raised brothers.    Most large rivers in the US are highly polluted including the following top 10 most polluted waterways in the US:  the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, the New River, the Savannah River, the Delaware River, the Muskingum River, the Missouri River, the Shonka Ditch, Tricountal Canal, and the Rock River.   Lakes are often no better including all the Great Lakes which are highly polluted.    So unless you know for sure where a freshwater fish was caught and know the body of water is clean you are best to avoid freshwater fish.  

What fish should you eat?

Despite the challenges in finding healthy fish it can be done and it is definitely worth the effort.     Healthy varieties of fish include Alaskan Salmon often referred to as “Wild Alaskan Salmon”.     Alaska watches how companies throw their name around so if it says “Alaskan Salmon” it is indeed from Alaska and it is some of the healthiest fish there is and none of it is farm-raised.    Alaskan Salmon is high in omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients such as astaxanthin (a potent antioxidant in salmon that helps give them their red color).   Canned Alaskan Salmon is easy to find and allows you to obtain the benefits of eating this healthy fish when fresh caught is not available.    Best products include BPA free cans like “Wild Planet” or “Vital Choice” brands.  For the record "Atlantic Salmon" is a code word for farm raised salmon so avoid it and only eat "Alaskan Salmon".

Smaller tuna is also a great choice and there are brands that only use smaller line caught tuna including “Wild Planet” and “Safe Catch” brands.   Both use BPA free cans as well.     Like Salmon tuna is chock full of protein and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Smaller fish such as sardines and anchovies are also fantastic – loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, protein and very low in toxins because of their small size and very short lifespan!   They are also very easy to find and brands with BPA free cans include “Wild Planet”, “Crown Prince”, “Ocean Prince”, and “King Oscar”.    

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Infamous Tabata Protocol!

Of all the many protocols available for High Intensity Interval Training by far the most famous is the Tabata protocol.  Izumi Tabata (a Japanese Researcher at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports) tested a protocol that had been developed and used for several years by the Japanese Speed Skating Team.
Tabata tested two groups of male college students who were majoring in physical education who were fit at the beginning of the study.     Before starting each subject in each group was tested on a bicycle ergometer to determine their maximum oxygen consumption and workload at that level.     Then one group trained 5 days each week for 6 weeks at 70% of their individual maximum oxygen consumption for 60 minutes.    The other group trained using a unique high intensity interval protocol on the bike.   This group exercised at 170% of their maximum oxygen consumption (this is an all-out sprint!) for 20 seconds followed by a 10 second recovery period for a total of 8 times done 4 days per week for 6 weeks along with one day per week of moderate intensity cycling for 30 minutes.
The results this unique interval training protocol produced – which is clearly a major anaerobic exercise stimulus – were quite amazing!   The interval training group had a 28% improvement in anaerobic capacity along with a 7% improvement in maximum oxygen consumption compared to no improvement in anaerobic capacity and a 5% increase in maximum oxygen consumption for the group training at 70% of maximal oxygen consumption for an hour!   So the group doing the “Tabata Protocol” (as it is now known) trained for a total of 16 minutes of interval training and 30 minutes of steady training for a total of 46 minutes of training per week compared to 5 hours of training per week for the lower intensity training group yet had superior results!
The key is that the Tabata Intervals were truly all out — 170% of maximum oxygen consumption means they had to truly pedal as hard and fast as they could so this protocol is not for the faint of heart.  But the results speak for themselves and particularly amazing considering the subjects were fit BEFORE they started the study so you can expect even better results with less fit individuals!
If you want to give the Tabata Protocol a shot choose an exercise modality that allows you to quickly ramp up intensity at the start of each work interval and also quickly decrease intensity at the end of each work interval.    So fan based rowers and bikes are a great choice as are self-powered treadmills and running in place or on a track.    Powered treadmills are NOT a good choice because it takes too much time for the treadmill belt to speed up and slow down and this can cause falls!
Use a timer and there are many free interval timers for cell phones including “Tabata” timers.    Warm-up thoroughly for 10 minutes on the modality you will be using – you should break a sweat but not push to the point of difficulty breathing.  
Once warmed up set your timer for 8 intervals of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off.    Hit start and go as hard as you can for the next 20 seconds!   Then ease up immediately at the end and go slowly (you will need every second of recovery you can get!).    Repeat 7 more times.    If you are doing this correctly, you will be wondering how you can possibly finish all eight intervals by the end of the third or fourth interval – those 10 second recovery periods feel like nothing!   Hang in there and finish!

When you are done the final work interval continue moving slowly until you are fully recovered – do not stand and stop because blood can pool in your extremities and make you feel faint if you do.   This protocol should not be done more than 3 times per week on a longer term basis – you will not fully recover if you do and overtraining is not a good thing!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Importance of Sleep in Successful Weight Loss

Everyone knows that sleep is important to look and feel your best, but what many people do not realize is that lack of sleep directly and significantly reduces your ability to lose weight and keep it off!  In fact a recent study suggests that missing out on just 30 minutes of sleep per day can increase your risk of obesity and diabetes.

There are several reasons for this phenomenon, but on one level it is pretty easy to understand.    If you do not get enough sleep you will not have energy to live a healthy, active lifestyle, and when you are tired it is very easy to skip workouts and spontaneously reduce overall activity.

Sleep: Your Body’s Best Friend
Sleep is important for just about all the systems in your body, and lack of sleep reduces cognitive function including reduced reaction time, impaired decision making and memory.  Sleep is also essential for the repair and recovery of the body.
Even if you think you get enough shut-eye you may still be suffering from the symptoms of sleep deprivation.   Unfortunately just a little sleep deprivation can have a significant effect on weight gain.
How Lack of Sleep Causes Weight Gain
Lack of sleep increases the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite significantly.  Sleep deprivation also saps willpower and decision making ability so not only are you hungrier – you are more likely to make poor food choices.     Sleep deprivation is a stressor and when you feel stressed you tend to choose high carb foods which boost serotonin.
At the same time the body’s ability to handle carbs properly is reduced.    Your cells become less sensitive to the effects of insulin called insulin insensitivity which is what type 2 diabetes is all about.   If lack of sleep is a chronic condition you quite literally can make yourself gain weight and become diabetic!
In addition when you are really tired, a hormone called Ghrelin is boosted while Leptin levels drop.   This is quite literally a double whammy because Ghrelin increases hungers and Leptin tells you when you are full and satisfied.   So you are hungrier and yet you do not feel as satisfied when you do eat so you eat more!
In fact, studies have shown increased calorie intake of over 300 extra calories per day in sleep-deprived people.
How To Improve the quality and time you spend sleeping
There are simple steps to keep lack of sleep from sabotaging your weight loss efforts.  The first step is to figure out your bedtime based on when you need to get up in the morning.    Count back a full 8 hours and set that as your bedtime.   You also want to wake up at the same time all the time because having a consistent bed-time and waking time helps set your body clock.
It is also important to avoid all sources of caffeine except for first thing in the morning.     Caffeine is not a horrible thing, but too much too late can really have a big negative impact on your sleep.     Also avoid alcohol because drinking reduces the quality of your sleep as well.    Just cutting down or cutting out alcohol and caffeine often makes a dramatic difference in sleep quality within a week to 10 days.

The other key is making sleep a priority.  Sleep is directly linked to higher quality of life and resistance to illness and disease.    Sleep is as or more important than diet and exercise so make getting a good night’s rest a priority.