Thursday, June 28, 2007

Whistle while you work. Working out at home.

There are a myriad of excuses for why an individual doesn't workout. Generally, the excuse most often given is a lack of time. As a society, we're working long hours, taking the kids to soccer practice, running errands; anything but working out. We're just far too busy. Well, where there's a will, there's a way.

You can workout anywhere, with practically anything. You most certainly don't need a gym membership to get in shape. You don't even need a complete weight set, heavy cardio equipment or an exercise room taking over the guest bedroom in your house. The best way to maximize your time is to multi-task. Turn everyday experiences into workout opportunities!

Grocery Shopping
We all know that by parking at the farthest end of the parking lot, you're going to get a little more exercise. This is an easy one. But did you know that grocery shopping can be a great way to get in a little strength training too? Using the hand baskets rather than the shopping cart will work your biceps and shoulders, giving you a great burn. Getting a half gallon of milk? When you get home to unload the goods, turn that milk carton into a triceps exercise. This works great for weighted squats and shoulder presses too.

Yard Work
This is a very labor intensive chore. If you have a lawn service, save yourself some cash and get out there to do it yourself. Pushing the lawn mower is a complete body workout. Pulling weeds can turn into an isolated squat, or even a lunge. Trimming the hedge will be a comparable substitute for a few shoulder exercises. You'll start looking as great as your yard in no time.

House Work
If you have enough time to clean your house, you have enough time to workout. Vacuuming the carpet is just like moving the lawn with a whole lot more emphasis on your core muscles, especially your obliques. You can do push-up's and crunches in any room that your cleaning, even the edge of the bathtub makes for a great push-up bench. Picking up the laundry basket can turn into bent over rows and deadlifts. Scrubbing the shower tiles? Wiping the windows and mirrors? Those make for some great upper body movements that produce noticeable results.

Watching TV
This is a prime opportunity for fitness. TV programming is inundated with commercials. As far as I know, nobody's paying attention to them. Maximize this break from your favorite sitcom by doing something active. Again, it's a great time for crunches and push-ups. It's an even better time to get a few minutes of cardio. Try jump roping, calisthenics, or even running in place for the entire commercial break. With as much TV as Americans watch, if everyone did this we would make great strides in overcoming the obesity epidemic.

There really are no excuses. Fitness and exercise opportunities present themselves many times throughout the day. Even brushing your teeth can turn into a balance and stabilization exercise. You just have to do it. Time is something that all of want (or need) more of, but you just have to work with what you've got.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Constantly moving. Maximizing cardio in a time crunch

Many people today have the same fitness excuse. "I don't have time". For some people, this is just an excuse, where they could easily make improvements with their time management. For others, this is a valid excuse, but still. It's an excuse. If you plan your day accordingly, most individuals can find an hour in their day for a workout. It may just be an hour and that's fine. We can work with that!

If you have plenty of time to devote to an integrated training program, it typically takes two hours to complete. This is including time for a warm-up, flexibility, core, strength and cardio routine. By modifying the routine to a specific circuit, you can cut that time in half. You still have all of the components of the program, but you are maximizing your time and effort making for some serious time management skills.

The trick to this circuit is to be constantly moving. You will have to take a break every now and then just to catch your breath and let your heart rate drop some, but the goal is not to take a 30 second (or longer) break in between lifting sets. With this "break" time, your muscles are recovering from the lift, but your body is still working by either doing a set of crunches or cardio.

Not only is this a great plan for those who have little time for a workout, but it's an incredible way to achieve a quick weight loss goal. If you're in a predicament where you need an "emergency" workout plan to fit into a swimsuit for your upcoming vacation, this is the plan for you too.

So, if your excuse for not working out is that you don't have time, try this circuit. I'll bet you can fit it in and see results in just a few weeks.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Back in the Game! And what personal training means to me

After a short blogging hiatus, I'm back in full force. This break was nice in the way that it was recharging, giving me some great topics for future posts. And there's no better way to get going again than to explain what personal training means to me.

This was a question that was asked of me last week. "...What are your feelings on personal training, what makes you happy and excited about it, the feelings that you have when you are exercising, the feelings that you want others to have while exercising, what you want your clients to get from you..."

While this question was asked for business purposes, it was exciting to reflect on the feelings I have for one of my biggest life passions. It was extremely motivating for me and it was a wonderful reminder of why helping to motivate others to change their lives is so rewarding for me.

I want to be able to help people help themselves, to feel empowered, be excited about fitness and successful in reaching their goals.

To me, personal training is a life changing experience. Many times when someone starts personal training, they have a horrible self image. They are usually depressed, desperate and confused because they just don't know where to start. When I sit down with someone in an initial consultation, they are often brought to tears because they are so frustrated with themselves and the false fitness information that they come across. I'm usually their last resort.

Personal training brings them hope and confidence. It brings back the spark that's been missing in their lives. They feel happier about themselves and the life they are leading. They have more energy, they feel stronger. They feel a sense of accomplishment and they are excited about the new "you" they see in the mirror. My training program has even saved a marriage.

My primary goal as a personal trainer is to educate. I want my clients to learn everything they need to know to become dependent on themselves, not me, to lead a healthy lifestyle. It's so important to me that people are empowered and capable because this is how lives are changed, with long lasting results. Not only are the individual lives changed, but this education on healthy living is passed down to their children.

Hope, excitement, optimism, physical/mental strength, accomplishment, self confidence, exhilaration from the adrenaline rush, education, motivation, a life changing experience...these are all of the feelings and results that I want people to get from my programs while exercising.

For me personally, the fitness hook is the adrenaline rush. While I'm doing cardio, pumping away to whatever music I have on my iPod, pushing my physical and mental limits...the rush is amazing. The goose bumps, the energy that flows through my blood and my entire body...I feel it from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. I get the same feeling after completing a particularly difficult exercise. I love it. I walk out of the gym tired, but it's a good tired. I feel great. I get that rewarding sense of accomplishment.

It's difficult to limit my feelings to a few short paragraphs, but it's why I love doing what I do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bigger & Better Things

Most of you may be wondering, "What is going on with this blog? There hasn't been a post in days, even weeks!" Well folks, just a little reassurance, I'm not jumping ship & abandoning the blog. No, it's actually quite the opposite. With the help from one of my cyber-clients, Robin, we're working on a new and improved online training program! I've received some great feed back on ways the program could be more user friendly. Robin is restructuring all of the documents for me and even creating more. I am so excited about this! I feel like the program is going to be unlike any other online training program (not like there's a whole lot of them anyway).

Please bare with me during this hiatus. I should be back to posting tips and information regularly, starting next week. I'll try and sneak a post in before then, but I can't promise anything just yet.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Sometimes less is more. The ramifications of over training.

The saying "too much of a good thing" is true, even in the world of fitness. There are times when a person can exercise too much. This move into over training can cause many health problems and stop the breaks to achieving your fitness goals.

Among chronic exercisers, there is always the potential of doing more but receiving less. This is a common mistake in the weight room. What many exercisers do not realize is that additional workouts can sometimes lead to the law of diminishing returns, where anticipated results do not occur. It has been well established that in order to receive a training effect (weight loss, hypertrophy, speed, power), the exerciser must experience some fatigue. This fatigue will in turn induce a need for recovery, which leads to a period of overcompensation or the training effect. However, if there is little or no recovery, combined with additional intense activity, the overcompensation or training effects do not occur, and over training symptoms can result. The term over training has been used interchangeably with staleness, burnout, chronic fatigue, stagnation, overwork or run down. Researchers have reported no less than 31 features of over training extending to 84. The most prominent features of over training include heavy legs, sore muscles, high resting heart rate, poor motivation, sleep disturbances, low libido, frequent sickness or infection, weight loss, depression and increased rating of perceived exertion.

Over training occurs when an athlete has been exposed to prolonged high intensity, high volume training, which manifests itself in an accumulated fatigue state. It has been reported under over reaching, burnout, staleness etc. Athletes generally experience a deep and prolonged fatigue, poor performances and at times an inability to train and compete at the highest level.

The prevalence of over training appears to be specific to certain sports and exercise activities. Elite distance runners tend to demonstrate higher levels of over training, as do female athletes.

The three major causes of over training reported are inadequate recovery between sessions, excessive amounts of high intensity training and sudden increases in training load. General exercise prescription for overloading has recommended increases of no more than five to 10 percent. Other factors reported include too much intense strength training, too many competitions and travel and no breaks between training seasons. It is unusual to see over training symptoms in exercisers who maintain high volumes of low intensity training or moderate long term training.

An athlete’s lifestyle and the stress associated with it can contribute to over training. These may include poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, psychological conflict and an inability to achieve set goals.

The physical symptoms of over training include: poor performances, unable to maintain training load, chronic fatigue, elevated resting heart rate, hormonal changes, high blood pressure, continual muscle soreness, sudden weight loss, headaches, frequent sicknesses and menstrual irregularities. Emotional symptoms are: depression, poor self confidence, mood changes, apathy, lethargy, low motivation, poor sleep habits, irritability, boredom, poor appetite, inability to relax and anger.

It is of some concern that when these symptoms are recognized, it is often too late for adequate recovery before competition. Over training symptoms appear to be very much an individual response, and many times, an individual will exhibit a combination of symptoms. As a rule of thumb, one of the best indicators is still prolonged fatigue lasting one week.

Over training often requires extensive recovery. Elite athletes are always pushing the limit and as such train very close to the over trained state. In this case, it is much more effective to prevent the over trained state rather than treat it. Over training can be prevented by individualizing training programs, monitoring fatigue levels, increasing training load gradually, encouraging variety in workouts, scheduling rest days, providing breaks between seasons, encouraging good nutrition and including regenerative techniques such massage, flexibility, relaxation and hydrotherapy into the training program.

Remember, resting and off days are not a bad thing. These are very important components to a well balanced and successful fitness program. Over training can lead to injury, where you'll be forced to sit on the bench and slow your progress.

Monday, June 4, 2007

For the love of....Chocolate. The health benefits and detriments of chocolate

One food that has derailed more diets than any other is probably chocolate. Whether it's birthday cake or that tempting chocolate bar at the grocery check-out, chocolate is always hard to resist. As a trainers and nutritionist, I often include it as a cheat food. "Only in moderation," I will tell my clients. Lately, there has been a lot of attention on chocolate. Should we believe the media hype surrounding the potential health benefits of this sinful food? Here’s the scoop on everything you ever needed to know about chocolate.

The idea that the sweetness of fruit is going to satisfy a chocolate craving is sometimes hard to believe. When the urge hits, there is very little that can be done to stop it until the only thing left of that Hersey's bar is the package. So why do we need it so bad?

There appear to be many reasons why chocolate seems to be so addictive. For example, the sugar in chocolate can increase the levels of the mood-boosting neurotransmitters: serotonin and endorphins. Chocolate also contains an amphetamine-like compound called phenylethylamine (PEA), which is generated in relatively high amounts in the brain when happy events occur (i.e., falling in love). Chocolate also contains caffeine (although not very much), which provides an energy boost and small amounts of a substance called anandamide that mimics the pleasurable effects of marijuana by binding to the same receptor sites on brain cells as the active ingredient in the plant. Even the aroma of chocolate may affect brain chemistry.

However, the addiction some people claim they have to chocolate is not nearly as strong as the urge for nicotine or other highly addictive substances. The sweetness, aroma and the melt-in-your mouth quality of chocolate makes it very appealing. Despite this, there is a real difference between being addicted to something (e.g. cigarettes, heroin) and just liking something a lot. Liking chocolate has both its positives and negatives.

Cocoa and chocolate products have been delicacies for centuries, but only recently have they been recognized as significant sources of phytochemicals with healthful effects. Chocolate and cocoa powders are derived from beans that contain hefty amounts of phytochemicals called flavonoids that are also found in fruits, vegetables, tea and wine. Flavonoid compounds are found almost exclusively in the plant kingdom, and it’s estimated that there are more than 4,000 of them. Various epidemiological studies have shown that populations consuming a diet rich in flavonoids (including foods such as wine, tea and certain fruits and vegetables) have lower rates of heart disease and stroke.

The specific flavonoids in chocolate receiving the most interest are the procyanidins, which are also present in apples and grapes. Both tea and red wine contain flavonoids called catechins. These catechins can bind together to make larger molecules called procyanidins that are present in the cocoa bean.

Some of the ways that chocolate’s flavonoids can be heart-healthy include:

Antioxidant Protection
Antioxidants fight free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments like cancer. Flavonoids present in cocoa and chocolate may protect the heart by inhibiting the oxidation of the “bad cholesterol” called LDL (oxidized LDL is much more likely to result in the formation of plaque on the artery wall). Studies have shown that as the amount of chocolate flavonoids in the blood increases, there is a corresponding decrease in the markers associated with oxidation damage. In addition, the antioxidants in cocoa and chocolate may help spare other antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, which allows them to act longer to fight off foreign invaders.

Reduced Platelet Activity
Some studies indicate that after consuming flavonoids in chocolate, there is a decrease in markers associated with platelet aggregation and adhesion (stickiness of the blood/blood clotting). Both platelet aggregation and adhesion are associated with a higher risk of plaque formation on the artery wall. As plaque formation increases, so does the risk of a heart attack by blocking flow of blood to the heart. Thus, chocolate can almost have an aspirin-like effect.

Relaxation of Blood Vessel Wall
Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids may protect the heart by increasing concentrations of a substance called nitric oxide that relaxes the inner surface of blood vessel walls. This has the effect of increasing dilation of the arteries, which improves blood flow and heart functioning. This function of cocoa and chocolate may help those who have high blood pressure. In fact, a small study found that dark chocolate lowered blood pressure in those with hypertension.

Researchers found that 15 days of dark chocolate intake improved insulin sensitivity (increased glucose uptake). Nitric oxide bioavailability deeply influences insulin-stimulated glucose uptake, and flavonoids present in dark chocolate and cocoa increase nitric oxide bioavailability. This same study saw a reduction in blood pressure among dark chocolate participants.

Reduced Inflammation
Research reported found that procyanidins (flavonoid found in the cocoa bean) can reduce blood levels of leukotrienes, which are a pro-inflammatory substance. This has positive effects on the immune system. In addition, this benefit could help protect the heart as inflammation in the lining of the artery walls is believed to be part of the damaging process that leads to cardiovascular disease.

The well publicized healthy properties of chocolate have lead many to believe they can enjoy chocolate in all its many forms. Not so! While the exact amount of cocoa or chocolate needed daily to exert health benefits is still yet to be determined, some studies have needed up to four ounces of antioxidant rich chocolate per day to elicit positive outcomes. Considering that an ounce of chocolate has roughly 145 calories and eight to ten grams of fat, if most people simply added this much chocolate to their existing diets, it would be detrimental to achieving their fitness goals. Individuals should be encouraged to substitute good-quality chocolate for other less healthy treats such as donuts, muffins and candy.

Also, all the studies showing promising health benefits from chocolate have used dark (“bittersweet”) chocolate and not the overly processed milk chocolates full of sugar that most people are consuming. Many find the taste of dark chocolate to be too overpowering and thus opt for the higher sugar forms with a lot less flavonoids.

To know which forms of chocolate are best as a treat or satisfy those cravings, here is a simple guide you can use:

1. Cocoa
Pure cocoa is the best type of chocolate substance to consume since it’s the richest source of flavonoids and contains none of the added sugar and fat present in processed chocolate. Cocoa is made when chocolate liquor (the ground up center of the cocoa bean) is pressed to remove much of the cocoa butter. It is virtually calorie free. Cocoa powder can be added to smoothies, oatmeal and plain yogurt.

When purchasing a cocoa powder, make sure the only ingredient is cocoa powder (unsweetened cocoa). To preserve the flavonoids, it’s wise to look for a brand that uses non-alkaline processing. Alkalized cocoa is also known as “dutch” cocoa. This process, which increases the pH of the product, has a negative impact on flavonoid levels.

Carob powder comes from the dried pods of the carob tree. Although research has found that carob does contain relatively high amounts of antioxidants, its impact on heart health has yet to be studied to any great length.

2. Dark Chocolate Over Milk Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains up to twice as much antioxidants as milk chocolate. Milk chocolate, which is made when dry milk is added to sweetened chocolate, contains more milk and less chocolate liquor than dark chocolate. In fact, the major problem with milk chocolate is that the first two ingredients are often sugar and milk, leaving less pure chocolate and therefore less flavonoids.

In addition, research has found that the addition of milk to dark chocolate may cause chemical bonds to form between milk proteins and antioxidants in chocolate, thereby inhibiting the absorption of antioxidants into the body. However, this is a finding that has yet to be fully proven.

If cocoa, cocoa solids or chocolate liquor (the ground up center of the cocoa bean) is the first ingredient, then you know you are getting a lot of chocolate and less sugar. Chocolate bars with at least 70 percent cocoa can be considered “dark chocolate” and will have more flavonoids and less sugar. A bar that lists sugar as the first ingredient will contain less than 50 percent cocoa.

So there you have it folks. The skinny (and fat) on chocolate. It has it's pro's and it's con's. Just like pretty much everything in life, "Only in moderation" is still the motto to follow. Don't deny yourself the indulgences of chocolate, but don't over do it either. Otherwise, you'll have a lot of working out to do to make up for it.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Spreading like wildfire. Get a button for your blog!

Writing tips and helping people with fitness information has been a lot a fun for me and it's been a great challenge thinking of different topics to post on a regular basis (or at least I try...) I'm proud that this blog is unlike any other fitness blog out there, providing factual and scientific information to help people achieve their fitness goals.

Some people out there in the blogging world have buttons on their sidebars to help spread the word about Virtual Fitness and my cyber-training programs. I greatly appreciate their support. The readership continues to grow with new visitors and I thought I would get the button codes up for those who have this blog bookmarked as a favorite, linked to their blog rolls or anyone who wants to help get the word out. Just copy the HTML code in the box and you're set!

Thank You for your continued support!!!