Sunday, July 29, 2018

How to Use Stress to Improve Health and Fitness

Yes - you heard that right - stress is actually critical to health and fitness!    The body is specifically designed to be responsive and adjust to stressors both short and long term - the key is understanding this process so you can use stress to help you reach your goals.

You are constantly being exposed to stressors all the time such as changes in temperature, having to increase activity level when going from sitting to standing or laying down to sitting up, etc.   Each of these stressors creates a demand on your body which the body must respond to in the short-term.    Stress is anything that creates a demand and there are many situations which demand a response from the body.

The body must maintain tight control of many factors including temperature, pH, and energy production in order to survive.  This process is known as homeostasis which is a fancy way of saying auto--regulation to maintain the internal environment in a stable state.

The body responds to short-term stressors like those listed above by making short-term adjustments such as shivering in response to cold and increasing cellular energy production when going from a lower energy state to a higher energy state.     

In the case of long term stress exposure the body will try to adapt to the more constant stressor by adapting itself to be better able to handle the stress.   This is what exercise is all about - exercise is a stressor that creates significant demands on the body.    The key to getting good results from exercise (or any other stressor!) is exactly how the stress is applied in terms of frequency, intensity and duration of the stressor.     

Frequency is how often you are exposed to a stressor.    Intensity is how strong the stressor is such as light exercise versus heavy exercise.   Duration is how long you are exposed to the stressor such as how long you exercise.   By adjusting one or more of these factors over time you can optimize the body's adaptation to stressors. 

This does not just apply to exercise - it applies to many stressors including temperature and even mental stressor such as taking tests.    For example if you gradually start spending time in colder environments (such as ending your showers with a short period of colder water) and gradually increase the frequency, intensity, duration of exposure your body will adapt to cold water exposure by making longer term physiological changes to the point that you can handle colder water for longer periods of time more frequently without falling apart.     In fact we know that this type of exposure can dramatically boost brown fat levels with a corresponding big increase in calorie burning!

There are many other examples of positive adaptation to stress including tolerance to toxins such as alcohol - we all know that if you regularly drink alcoholic beverages you tend to develop a tolerance to them as the body ramps up the production of enzymes for the breakdown of alcohol.   In fact it applies to ALL stressors to some extent.

At the same time to much stress to soon and/or too often and the body cannot adapt and grow stronger and you go in the wrong direction.       This is often referred to as "hormesis" which refers to the fact that the response to a stressor tends to follow a biphasic curve - low doses result in stimulating an adaptive response while high doses/exposure can cause weakening of the system.

This is also true of many beneficial plant compounds which are in fact poisons that plants make to prevent being eaten.    In the relatively small doses we encounter when eating these plants these chemicals produce a hormetic effect and actually strengthen the body.    An example is horseradish and broccoli which both contain a class of plant chemicals that would be toxic in really large doses but in smaller doses actually stimulate the body to ramp up detoxification which results in many benefits including cancer prevention.

So when you think of stress - don't think good or bad - think how much, how often, and for how long.  Great coaches learn how to use appropriate stressors (both mental and physical) to help their clients adapt and become mentally and physically stronger and more resilient!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

How Much is Too Much HIIT Training?

High Intensity Interval Training is clearly highly effective for conditioning and fat loss.    However, like all exercise stimulus overdoing it can make people more prone to injury and overtraining.
A new study presented by Penn State Associate Professor Jinger Gottschall at the recent ACSM conference provides some specific clues as to how much HIIT is too much.    The research presented showed that the best results are obtained by spending 30 – 40 minutes of total time per week with the heart rate above 90% of maximum heart.      More time at this intensity makes participants more prone to injury.
All exercise acts as a stressor and as with all stressors to much stress to soon does not allow the body to recover and adapt from the stress and will always result in injury or illness.
Advanced exercisers may be able to tolerate short periods where they can use more time at 90% of their maximum heart rate, but for the majority of exercisers it would be wise to stay under 40 Total Minutes of HIIT Training with heart rate above 90% of Maximum.
This highlights the potential advantages of Coaches encouraging the use of chest strap heart rate monitors with one on one PT clients.      These monitors can be purchased from many sources.    To understand the three different methods of managing a client's work/rest ratio using a heart rate monitor read this previouis blogpost: 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Many Benefits of Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea has been around for a long time – and was used as a medicinal herb in Ancient Egypt and Rome.     Chamomile is the common name for several daisy plants like German Chamomile, and English Chamomile.   

In addition to being a natural, safe sedative, chamomile contains potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, in addition to antibacterial, antifungal, anticspasmodic, andtiulcer, and antiviral properties.    Perhaps most significantly consumption of chamomile tea has been shown to protect from thyroid disease including thyroid cancer!

Sleep Inducer
Chamomile has a long and successful history of treating insomnia and is well-known for its ability to calm and relax.    The sedative effects of chamomile are probably due to a particular flavonoid apigenin which binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.    Unlike benzodiazepines chamomile does NOT lead to any dependence of addiction!

Helps Gum Inflammation, Mouth Sores and Tooth Abscesses
Chamomile is also effective for reducing gum inflammation, mouth sores and abscesses, and has a long history of use for tooth pain that can assist while waiting to see a dentist.

Reduces Menstrual Cramps
Several studies have shown that chamomile tea helps reduce the severity of menstrual cramps in a safe way along with assisting in reducing the accompanying psychological symptoms.

Relief of Gastrointestinal Complaints
Chamomile is renowned for its ability to assist with just about any gastrointestinal symptom from gas, heartburn, cramps to ulcers.

Reduces the Risk of Thyroid Cancer
The more chamomile tea consumed the lower the risk of thyroid cancer.   In a 2015 study those who drank chamomile tea two to six times per week had a 70 percent lower risk of developing thyroid abnormalities and for those who drank it for 30 years there was an 80% reduction in risk.

Potential Side Effects
Chamomile is usually well tolerated, BUT if you have an allergy to ragweed of any other member of the daisy family avoid it.    Also avoid chamomile during pregnancy, and be careful if you are taking blood thinners like Warfarin, Coumadin, or other medications like this as chamomile has a slight blood thinning effect which can create problems when mixed with these prescription medications.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Highly Efficient Form of Resistance Band Training

Used properly resistance training bands can provide a unique overload that maximizes muscle fiber recruitment, muscle fatigue and thereby rapidly increases muscle strength and hypertrophy.    Flat, circular resistance bands provide increasing resistance the more they are stretched, and this protocol takes advantage of this fact.

Key movements for maximum strength and muscle size include:

                Squats with band

                Deadlift with band

                Overhead Press with band

                Chest Presses with band

                Upright Rows with band

                Bent Over Row with band

                Bicep Curl with band

                Tricep Pushdown with band

The key to this protocol is how you perform each set.   Since the resistance increases as the band stretches you start out by performing full range of motion exercise (short of lockout for squat, overhead press and deadlift) and perform smooth repetitions under control until you reach a level of fatigue where you cannot complete the full range. When you cannot complete the full range of motion immediately continue to perform repetitions to the farthest point possible (say 50 – 75% of the full range of motion) without any break.   Keep going until you cannot reach that point and are performing reps to 25 – 35% of the possible range of motion.   

The key is that you chose a level of resistance band that will challenge you to complete full range of motion repetitions after 4 – 6 reps due to fatigue.   What you are doing is maximizing force output and muscle fiber recruitment and fatigue at portion of the range of motion.

Done properly this is an incredible stimulus for increasing muscular strength and size.

Here is how you do each exercises.   

Squats with bands - there are several ways to hold the band:

You can step into the band with feet shoulder width apart and band looped over the top of your arms.   Bend both arms at the elbow with forearms crossed and hands on shoulder with band held over the top of both arms near the chest with elbows held high so that upper arms are parallel with the ground/foor.  Here is a great video demonstration:

Using two bands looped over shoulders – see video here:

Using bands with a bar and squat rack -

Using band with bar and weight -

Deadlift with bands:

Stand on band and put hands through both loops and peform a deadlift - - you can also use the handles that come with the resistance band training kit that comes with MX4 Equipment to enable you to use higher resistance bands without having undue pressure on your hands.

Using Bar and squat rack -

Overhead Press with bands:

                Standing on band -

   You can also attach the handles to both ends of the band standing in the center of the band        and press overhead using handles.

Chest Press with bands:

                Multiple variations with bar or handles -

High Pulls with bands:

                Standing on bands:       

Bicep Curls with bands:

Stand on flat, circular band and put both hands through the two loops on end and perform curls or attach band handles and perform

Overhead Tricep Press with bands:
                With flat circular band:

Start by practicing each exercise and set-up and organizing the bands you will need for each exercise in the sequence of exercises.    Once you are ready perform each set to failure at multiple points within the range of motion without stepping between each range for one giant set:

                Full Range of Motion to fatigue

                75% of Full Range of Motion to fatigue

                40 – 50% of Full Range of Motion to fatigue

                25 – 35% of Full Range of Motion to fatigue

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Five Reasons Most People Can Benefit from Sprint Exercise

Sprints are mentally challenging because of the high effort required, but it is well worth it!  There are 5 key benefits that Sprint Training provides:

Faster Fat Loss

Research shows that regular sprint training produces significant fat loss in a very short period of time.   In a 1994 study, participants either did 20 weeks of steady aerobic training or 15 weeks of Sprints.   The interval group lost nine times more body at and 12 percent more visceral fat than the aerobic group!

Building Muscle and Targeting Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers

Sprint training helps build muscle and increases the size and strength of fast-twitch muscle fibers.   Fast-twitch muscle fibers are exactly what you tend to lose as you age and the more you have the better! Loss of fast-twitch muscle fibers is linked to increased fall risk, and increased fast-twitch fibers give you the ability to move more rapidly and powerfully.

Sprint training also improves hormone profile during aging by increasing testosterone and growth hormone without increasing cortisol!

Increased Endurance and Work Capacity

Sprint training is more effective than steady aerobic training for improving endurance capacity, maximal oxygen consumption, and time to fatigue.  

Improved Heart Health

Sprint training is more effective at improving cardiovascular health and increasing stroke volume than steady aerobic training.   Stroke volume is the amount of blood your heart pumps with each beat so increased stroke volume means lower heart rates since the heart does not have to pump as often to provide blood and oxygen to tissues.   Sprint training can also be very effective for reducing blood pressure.

Improved Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin sensitivity is a big deal and loss of insulin sensitivity is the cause of adult onset diabetes and makes weight loss extremely challenging!     All exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity but Sprints do it much faster and with much less exercise time required.

Sprints can be done by almost anyone and can be done at any fitness level.   For deconditioned people a quick walk interval is a sprint, and sprints can be done with treadmills, rowers, stationary bicycles, while swimming, running, and using an elliptical machine.