Monday, December 26, 2016

The Health and Fitness Benefits of Cold Showers

Just talking about a cold shower makes people nervous so why in the world would anyone deliberately subject themselves to one?  As it turns out there are some very real health and fitness benefits to subjecting yourself to the cold in a deliberate process.
One of the biggest benefits is building will power and emotional resilience  When you do something you are resistant to every day you develop mental strength and discipline.    Cold showers can also train you to be more resilient in the face of stress in your life in general.   If you stick with it you will not only learn to tolerate it you will become used to it and be able to relax even with cold water pouring all over you!
Another benefit is that your body actually ramps up its innate production of anti-oxidants!   In this study, , cold water swimming measurably ramped up swimmers production of anti-oxidants as an adaptive response to cold exposure!
Needless to say an early morning cold shower will totally wake you up and increase alertness!
Cold showers also improve skin and hair quality – cold causes increased blood flow to the skin
Cold Showers can accelerate fat loss – all mammals (including humans) have two types of fat – brown fat and white fat.    White fat is what we all hate and too much can cause all sorts of metabolic issues.   Brown fat aka BAT for “Brown Adipose Tissue – is just the opposite.   Brown fat actually burns calories – that’s right!  The reason for brown fat is to generate heat through calorie wasting so it is our best friend when it comes to burning fat at rest.  Cold showers activate brown fat.   In fact, in a Scandinavian Study, researchers found that exposure to chilly temperatures caused a 15-fold increase in the metabolic rate of brown fat in their healthy adult volunteers. They figure that if a way could be found to activate the typical person’s stores of brown fat, it would burn off at least 9 pounds of regular (white) fat a year.
Cold Showers can help naturally increase Testosterone Levels and Boost Fertility – heat on male genitals definitely decreases testosterone production which is why the male genitalia are located outside of the body.  Conversely cold increases testosterone production. A study at USCF showed that men stopped taking regular hot baths showed a sperm count increase of up to 491%.
Cold Showers also improve circulation – by increasing blood flow to your organs to keep them warm.
Cold showers can also improve immunity – studies have shown increased activation of white blood cells from cold exposure.
Cold showers can even potentially help relieve depression – they increase norepinephrine which is an excitatory neurotransmitter and there is even some research on this subject:
But how do you get started with cold showers? It is not as hard as you think!  First you can get the benefits without starting with cold water.    You can start with a warm or hot shower then finish with 2 – 5 minutes of cold.    Start with whatever you can tolerate and gradually build time until you can comfortably stand 5 minutes.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

How much rest time should you take between resistance training sets?

One of the most common questions about weight training aka resistance training is how long should you rest between each exercise set?     If you take a look at the relevant research concerning this topic there are some good answers.

For a long time, researchers believed that shorter rest periods were better for increasing muscle size which was thought to occur because of increased levels of metabolic stress by not allowing complete recovery.    However, research done in 2015 shows that using longer rest periods actually results in better results for both increased muscle size and increased muscle strength.     It is thought that this occurs because longer rest periods allow a higher training volume (more repetitions of each exercise).

Another aspect to consider is whether most of your workout uses compound exercises (compound exercises use multi-joint exercises using more muscle mass such as a chest press vs a pec dec or pull-up vs an Lat Pullover).      In a 2012 study researchers found that with shorter rest periods workout volume decreased for both single-joint and multi-joint compound exercises.       However, the decrease in volume in workouts with short rest periods tended to be significantly greater with multi-joint compound exercises vs single-joint exercise (29% reduction in volume with multi-joint as compared to 15% with single- joint exercise). So for strength routines focused on compound, multi-joint movements increased rest time is probably a good idea.

Another study which looked at the effects of rest interval length on training volume discovered another important item:    reduction in training volume occurs mainly between 1 and 2-minute rest periods.    The percentage difference between 2 and 3-minute rest periods is much smaller, except when doing 5 or more sets of an exercise.     So, for people doing 3 – 4 sets per exercise, 2 minutes is a good rest interval, but if doing 5 or more sets you should probably extend the rest interval to 3 minutes.

Another important piece of information is that recreational lifters who self-determine rest periods tend to rest just under 2 minutes between sets meaning that for most lifters doing 3 to 4 sets of several exercises whose goal is increased muscle size and strength you probably do not need to time your rest intervals and can go just go by feel.

Timing rest intervals becomes more important for advanced resistance training such as Power Lifting and Bodybuilding, but for most of us we can just go by how we feel!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ketogenic Diet Guide

One of the most popular dietary approaches is called the Ketogenic Diet.    Although it seems new the fact is that this approach has been around for many years – initially it was popularized because it was proven to be a highly effective treatment for epilepsy.
Just a warning upfront – the Ketogenic diet is NOT for everyone.    It is VERY different and it will take your body a good 2 weeks to a month to adjust to this major shift in eating patterns.  That being said once you do – you will likely feel phenomenal and notice more energy, better mental focus, and improved exercise endurance.
This approach causes a major metabolic shift forcing your body, including your brain, to use ketones for fuel which are derived from fat.    It quite literally ramps up fat use, but it is a big adjustment for some.
Who should NOT try this approach?
People who cannot eat fats such as people without a gall bladder or with gall bladder disease.
People who really dislike fats and cannot imagine not eating lots of high sugar and starch foods such as pasta, bread, rice, fruit juices et.
People being treated for any disease including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, etc. - unless under the supervision of a physician
Who is this approach good for?
People interested in maximizing fat burning and minimizing appetite
People who want to optimize endurance and minimize bodyfat levels
There are two ways to do it:
Slow adjustment over time – results less quick but less challenging
Or just jump right in
For a great beginners guide to Ketogenic Diet click here:
Best book to really understand the power and health benefits of this approach once your body adjusts to it:     The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living – Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney can buy it Amazon or anywhere and here is their website:
If you want to embrace this approach download the CRON-O-Meter food tracking app. To track your intake of protein, fats, sugars, starches, and fiber along with net carbs (total carb minus fiber).   It is available for android or iphone. 
Keys to Success:
Ideally you really keep your macronutrients tight at 70 – 90% fat, 10 – 20% protein, and 5% carbs – the chronometer app will help you get a handle on this.
You must count EVERY gram of sugar and starch and fiber you eat.  Fiber is non-digestible so has no caloric or metabolic impact.    Higher fiber intake is important, and one of the keys is avoiding sugar and starch while increasing your intake of fiber – see lists of foods to avoid and foods to eat below.
It is VERY important to NOT eat low fat – 70 – 90% of your calories MUST come from fat.   If you try to eat low fat and eat low carb all you eat is protein – you will feel HORRIBLE – not good for you! 
Water intake is very important – try to drink your bodyweight in ounces of water – you will get rid of a lot of water which is all good but you need fluids!!!
VERY important to eat PLENTY of salt – your body will dump salt like crazy so either use salt liberally or consider drink 2 – 3 bouillon cubes per day in hot water.   This can make the difference between feeling good and feeling lousy!
Supplement that can really help make the transition easier:  
Potassium and Magnesium Aspartate – best brand is Twinlab CellsMins – Potassium and Magnesium Advanced Mineral Transport
Organic Psyllium Fiber – mix into a shake
Shake Recipe
Organic Whey Protein (Jay Robb is great stuff)  – one serving/scoop 20  25 grams of protein – Strawberry flavored which comes in single serve packets as does Vanilla and Choclate.
Organic Half and Half – Quarter to half cup – remember you NEED fat on this diet!
OR Organic Cream – quarter cup
Water or Unsweetened Blue Diamond Almond Coconut Milk – want low or no carb.
You must reduce your intake of Sugar/Starch to less than 50 grams per day.   The lower the better and under 30 grams is even better – will help you make the shift FASTER!
Remember ALL starch turns into sugar so it is exactly the same thing metabolically! So this effectively means eliminating all of the following:
All sweets and deserts
Fruit Juices
Most fruits – small quantities of strawberries or blueberries or blackberries but most other fruit has tons of sugar
Potatoes and other root vegetables high in starch
No beer and stick with dry white wines or Vodka with a zero-sugar mixer for           alcohol
No crackers or cereal or pretzels – no grain!
No soda
No Corn
No Milk – can use cream and half and half as per below
No breaded/fried foods
No peas
No lima beans
FATS- are important to eat liberally!
Butter – want to buy and use grass fed organic butter such as Kerry Gold
Cream – organic only
Cream Cheese – full fat organic only
Avocado - organic whenever possible
Half and Half – organic only
Olive Oil - organic is always preferred
Coconut Oil - as above organic whenever possible
Cheeses – just full fat cheeses with no sugar/starch in them!   As above it is always better to choose organic cheeses to avoid contaminents.
VEGETABLES – Also important to eat liberally!
Tomato – raw
Brussel Sprouts
Okra – nothing breaded or fried
Green Beans
Cauliflower (RAW)
PROTEIN – 50 – 100 grams per day – excessive protein intake is not helpful
Meat – preferably grass fed organic and EAT the fat as well – very important you do NOT try to eat low fat on this diet – you need fat because it will become your preferred fuel
Shellfish – all good but nothing breaded and no added carb – fine to use butter!
Chicken – nothing fried or breaded!
Fish – stick with Alaskan Salmon or Salmon that says “Wild Caught Only”
Smoked Oysters
Cod – no breading
Red Snapper
Eggs – organic only – in any way you like them
Full Fat Organic Peanut Butter – but has some sugar/starch so count ALL of it!
Macadamia nuts – THE BEST – pure monounsaturated fat
Brazil Nuts
Mixed nuts
Sample Day’s Meals:
2 Tablespoons of Medium Chain Triglycerides from a product called Brain Octane – a very clean, easy to burn fat – about 130 calories all from fat – no taste whatsoever and immediately absorbed – really boosts energy!
Shake – either EAS Myoplex Ketogenic – OR the shake  described above – these are about 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs and about 400 – 500 calories
Snack – Full Fat Cheese – Cheddar usually and/or walnuts or almonds
Chicken (dark meat for fat) or Salmon (4 – 6 ounces smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese)
Snack – Bacon
Salmon with spinach, broccoli
Atkins Frozen Meals for quick meal in a pinch.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Training on Unstable Surfaces

Training on unstable surfaces owes most of its development to rehabilitation where it originated.   There are many unstable training surfaces including physioballs, foam pads, inflated rubber disks, and Bosu’s .   These surfaces are used on the training floors of most gyms.   The idea behind unstable training is that inconsistent motion stimulates sensory apparatus in the muscles and joints leading to increased sensory input and increased muscle activation.   In addition these movements cause muscles on both sides of the joint to co-contract.    Co-contraction occurs to some extent during virtually all movement.   When we significantly increase co-contraction the result is increased joint stability.

Increased co-contractions from unstable training can be very useful in the treatment of ankle instability and lumbar spine injury.  The fitness industry has adopted the concepts of unstable training from rehabilitation.  However, when we use a concept developed for rehabilitation we need to carefully evaluate how and when to use this approach in a healthy or athletic populations.

For example many trainers have clients perform shoulder presses while sitting on a physioball or standing on Bosu to increase core muscle activation.  However, this does not produce the desired result.  Studies show that doing shoulder presses on an unstable surface do NOT increase core muscle activation versus the same exercise done on a stable bench.

The reason for this result is that balanced vertical forces in alignment with the spine do not increase core muscle activity -- regardless of instability of the surface the exercise is performed on!  However the use of asymmetrical loading, like doing a one sided shoulder press, does increase core activation, but this is not increased further by being on an unstable surface.

Horizontal limb movements also increase core activation, but there is not a lot of evidence that adding an unstable surface increases this benefit.

When it comes to lumbar stabilization, research shows that exercises done on balls in a horizontal position (face up or face down) do increase core muscle activity.  So exercises like crunches, bridges, push-ups and push-ups on an unstable surface will result in increased core activation. 

When it comes to absolute force production performing exercises such as bench press or squats on an unstable surface significantly decreases force production and do not assist in the development of absolute strength.    So when training for increased strength -- performing exercises on stable surfaces is a better choice.   This same thing is true when working on increasing sprinting speed because training on a highly unstable surface increases ground contact time and force production which inhibits acceleration.  However, doing specific drills on a firm surface that provides slight rebound as PART of a sprint program can produce benefits. 

The other consideration when using unstable surfaces like a Bosu is that lifting mechanics are significantly altered, and researchers have suggested that training on highly unstable surfaces can actually increase the risk of knee injuries in certain populations!  This is not to mention the risk of injuries from hopping, jumping, and leaping on and off of unstable surfaces.

So the question is:   What role should unstable training play in developing programming for apparently healthy and athletic populations who are not injured?    Research suggests that a combination of unstable and stable training will provide the best results.     This brings up two more questions:

                Which should come first stable or unstable?

                What level of instability should be used with each particular person?

The answer to the first question is dictated by the rules of proper progression.   The three primary phases of stabilization training include: 
·         “Static” Stabilization (foundational)
·          “Dynamic” Stabilization (strength/endurance)
·          “Ultra-Dynamic” Stabilization (power)

Within each phase:
·         Start with bilateral strength development in stable environments because it is safer and will increase strength more.  
·         Next progress to stable single limb challenges
·         Then progress towards hopping and jumping skills in a stable environment
·         Then apply that new strength and power to tasks involving postural control on unstable surfaces.  

When it comes to how much instability to use with each person the answer will depend on the goal of the exercise and the ability of the individual.    So ideally you will use different levels of instability according to the goal of the exercise and the ability of the individual!