Exercise, fitness, health, Nutrition, Opinion, Progress, wellness

Creatures of Habit

Habit (noun): a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

We all have habits in our lives, most commonly known as our “routines.” You know your routine, those steps you take each day, almost without even thinking about it.

• Morning coffee

• Snacks after dinner

• Leaving for work at the same time each morning

• Brushing your teeth

• Washing your face

These habits did not take much to instill into you, and it might even be hard to think back to when they started, as they have always been a habit. Habits can be our greatest strengths or our downfalls, depending on the habits themselves. A habit of hitting the gym on your drive home from work is a great way to ensure you get your activity in, brushing your teeth twice a day is crucial to dental health, and going to bed at the same time each night makes sure you get enough sleep. However, habits such as mindlessly snacking in front of the tv, or having a few beers with friends, and pizza with your beers, can be pretty rough on your overall health. Doing these actions a few times, even once or twice a week, is one thing, but them being habitual can be detrimental to your health.

Maybe you have some goals for healthy habits for your life. Maybe you’d like to hit the gym three times a week, or maybe even just drinking a glass of water right when you wake up (so good for your digestive system, and helps to rehydrate you after sleeping all night. Highly recommend). No matter what the habit is, the way to get there is the same.

Step One: Create a goal using the SMART method of goal setting (found here)

Step Two: perform the action once.

Step Three: repeat the action for at least 21 days

Step Four: keep repeating the action for at least 6 weeks

It takes at the minimum 21 days of consistency for an action to become a habit. The “21 day rule” came into effect Dr. Maltz, a plastic surgeon in the 50s, noticed it took 21 days for his patients to get used to seeing their new looks. He then noticed it took 21 days for him to put a new habit in place. The problem is, after 21 days, it’s not a settled, automatic action yet. Once you’ve hit the 21 day mark, the action is integrated into your routine, which makes you remember to do it more, but, at this point, you still have to consciously make the effort to perform the action.

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and their health coach certification that I hold, it takes at least 6 weeks of performing an action consistently for it to be a settled part of your routine. Once you have been performing this action for 6 weeks, it will be extremely hard to give up, making it a part of your every day life.

Habits can take time to form properly, and can be a tedious process as each habit requires its own process to form. The payoff from creating these healthy habits, in the correct way, can be incredibly important to your long term health success. Pick an action you want to incorporate, and get to habit forming. One day at a time, one step at a time, one habit at a time.

It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop.”

Exercise, fitness, health, Nutrition, Opinion, Progress, wellness

Health and Fitness?

Health: “the condition of being sound in mind, body, and spirit.”

Fitness: “the ability to carry out tasks without undue fatigue.”

Health and fitness are always intertwined everywhere you see, with fitness magazines giving you general health tips and health magazines giving you some fitness tips. This isn’t a super weird concept, considering their are very much related. But where does the line stop? Where does the connection between health and fitness end, and what’s the difference?

Health and fitness are incredibly related topics. Without health, there is no need for fitness. Without needing to have a sound body, one free of ailments or disease, there would be no need for physical fitness. Especially considering the technology we are blessed (or cursed) with today, the ability for your body to carry out difficult and strenuous tasks wouldn’t really be necessary, as I’m sure there’s a machine for that. Physical activity helps to grow and maintain muscle mass needed for overall body stability and strength, reducing the risk of osteoporosis; it helps to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as keeping your brain healthy and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Staying physically fit and active also helps to increase your day to day energy and stamina, providing you with the energy you need to do all the activities you want, keeping your mind happy. In these ways, physical fitness is crucial to health.

Where health and fitness clash is in the media and in the fitness industry. Both of these platforms describe an extreme level of fitness being vital to health. Extreme fitness, with very low body fat percentages, hours in the gym, and fad diets and food restriction, is almost the exact opposite of health. Your body may look great, but remember: health is more than just your physical appearance. When you attain such a low body fat, you sacrifice certain aspects of a normal life. You sacrifice the freedom to go out and eat with friends on the weekend because you’re on a diet, or at the gym. You sacrifice energy to go about your day, as the diet you need to be on for that low of a body fat will be very low calorie. You sacrifice comfort, as body fat helps to insulate your body, as well as help provide you with energy. Glamorizing this level of fitness is not healthy, and does not relate to health, as it actively decreases all areas of health.

Even as someone who works out more days out of the week than not, I am not in the extreme category. I value my mental health and spiritual health, as well as my physical health, so I ensure I have a healthy balance of the three. I work out because it’s what I enjoy doing. It makes me feel strong and confident, helps to keep my heart healthy, and allows me to indulge with my friends without panic of gaining weight or becoming “unhealthy.” I have been on the extreme end of the fitness spectrum, and I was miserable. I assumed getting as “fit” as possible would make me happy and accept myself, but all it did was make my mental health worse.

The unfortunate part, is that the extreme is what the general public associates with the word “fitness.” Fitness is no longer about the ability to do activities without strain, but now it is the ability to be the most muscular and the leanest person in the gym. Fitness is absolutely not an all or nothing type of thing, you can workout out casually and eat relatively healthy most of the time, and still be fit and healthy. It’s not an extreme sport, and it’s not a competition. More is not always better. Taking care of yourself physically is only a benefit as long as it is also benefiting your mental and spiritual health with it. If you are sacrificing your health for the sake of your fitness, it’s time to re-evaluate your goals and actions.

Being fit does not automatically mean that you are healthy.

Being healthy does not automatically mean that you look like a fitness professional.

Find a balance of your physical, mental, and spiritual health to be in your best “shape.”

Exercise, fitness, health, Opinion, Progress, wellness

Gym Anxiety

A huge component of getting your health on track is exercising consistently. This usually requires you to get out of the house, and most likely your comfort zone, and head to a gym or health club.

If only exercise was as easy as walking into a gym.

Once you get there, there are so many options.

Do I start with cardio or weights?

If cardio, do I use the elliptical, treadmill, stair stepper, rower, or bike?

How long should I be doing this for?

Should I still lift weights afterwards?

If weights, how do I do this?

Can I just use machines? Are there directions?

Will the machines be enough?

How many of each do I do?

Do I do cardio after this?

Should I have eaten beforehand? How long before? What should I have eaten?

For me, all of these questions are easy. I’ve spent the past nine years of my life studying the science behind these questions and figuring it out myself. I’m guessing you don’t have that same experience, and that’s totally fine. As a fitness professional, even I get gym anxiety. I don’t like being around so many people, and sometimes, it’s just too much for me to handle. I also feel the eyes of everyone in the gym, and I also feel the pressure to look and perform a certain way, especially given my background. Most days, I’m cool as a cucumber, and the gym is my safe zone. Some days, I full on panic walking in there and seeing all of the other bodies getting their workout in.

The gym is a place for everyone to work on their health. If you feel uncomfortable in a certain gym, there’s nothing wrong in switching to one that is more your type of environment. There are gyms that cater to elite athletes, ones that cater to crossfit, ones that cater to bros who like to scream and slam weights, and ones that cater to those who are not so comfortable in all of those previous scenarios. You just have to find the right one for you.

Not only is the right environment step one to feeling comfortable in the gym, but knowledge is too. Obviously, I’m not suggesting you head out and get your personal training certification in order to feel somewhat comfortable in the gym, but a little research goes a long way. Before you head into the gym, reading some articles on the basics of fitness (may I recommend the foundations of fitness posts I wrote HERE and HERE), can make you feel much more comfortable. Having a concrete plan of what exercises you are doing, what machines you are heading for, and how long to do all of them is huge. This gives you a set program for yourself to follow, taking the guesswork out of this crazy place. There are plenty of free, generic programs out there for you to follow until you feel comfortable enough to put your own spin on it.

Use the resources that the gym provides. Many gyms offer complimentary personal training assessments as part of the membership. Yes, this can be scary to sit down with a professional when you feel less than an amateur, but remember: their job, above all else, is to improve your health. Don’t allow them to sell you on random shenanigans you don’t need, but don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Ask them to show you a machine, ask for a quick form check, ask them how many reps they thing you should do, the worst they can do is say no. Many gyms also offer exercise classes. This can be a great way to learn a thing or two, without drawing too much attention to yourself. Just be careful with new movements, and don’t push yourself too hard until you know you’re doing it right (this is actually great advice for any new exerciser. Don’t be afraid to start light until you get the hang of it)

If all else fails, put on your headphones, hop on a treadmill, and observe. Tune out all the craziness and hubbub of the gym by putting on your music that you like, and hop on the treadmill, even at a walk. Once you’re on the treadmill, look around you. Watch people at the gym and watch the exercises they’re doing. Watch how they do them, watch the personal trainers and the exercises they give clients. It’s a great way to get yourself familiar with some things you maybe have only seen online.

One of my favorite quotes is “don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” It’s totally fine to be scared as hell of the gym, but don’t let that stop you from getting healthy. It is a large, confusing place, full of lots of other people who seem like they know what they’re doing, and you just missed the memo. Everyone was once a beginner. I promise you, most of those people don’t know much more than you do, they just hide it better. There was a time when I was just wandering around the gym, lost and confused. Now, I’m more comfortable there than pretty much anywhere else. Just like anything else, it takes time. Everyone is there for the same reason, you got this.

Exercise, fitness, Progress, wellness

Strength Training For Runners

One of the concepts that I repeat over and over is that resistance training will improve (almost) every aspect of your life. Heavy resistance training will increase your overall strength, body composition, bone density, and metabolic rate. But what if you are an endurance athlete? Even if you are a marathon runner, and nothing else (yet), don’t count my teachings out just yet. Supplementing your distance running, or cycling, with heavy resistance training will do nothing but improve your performance in your sport.

Heavy strength training and endurance training could not be more opposite. They are both physical activity that contribute to your overall activity level, but that’s about it. Endurance training and strength training tax two completely different energy systems and muscle types. Endurance training taxes your aerobic energy system, while strength training taxes the anaerobic energy system, either the creatine phosphate (CP) system or the glycolytic energy system. The aerobic energy system kicks in after you have been exercising consistently for over 90 seconds, and allows you to continuously produce energy to be able to fuel the duration of your workout without rest. Anaerobic systems produce powerful energy in short bursts, up to 15 seconds for CP and 15 seconds up to 90 seconds for glycolytic, and require rest to be able to replenish energy sources. As well, endurance training exercises mainly type I muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are full of mitochondria, meaning they are able to continuously supply energy and oxygen, allowing for longer periods of work without fatigue. Strength training mainly works type II muscle fibers. Type II muscle fibers are those most associated with strength and power, and are beneficial for quick bursts of energy before needing to recover. To be a well rounded athlete, whether you are a distance runner or a strength athlete, both energy sources and muscle types should be trained. Sprinters can absolutely benefit from heavy strength training, as both types of training require heavy use of the anaerobic energy systems and type II muscle fibers.

Specifically for endurance athletes, strength training can have many benefits. Heavy resistance training, specifically for the lower body, can help to improve overall running mechanics, as well as muscular balance and strength. Unilateral training, which means training one limb at a time, is one of the best things that you can incorporate into your routine. Training one leg a time can help to improve any muscular imbalances that you have between legs, which helps to improve proper movement patterns. The better you move in general, the less likely you are to encounter an injury during a run. As well, training single legs will improve tendon and ligament strength. This strength will translate into more stable joints, continuing to improve muscular balance, while also helping to reduce your risk of sprains and strains. As well, heavy strength training incorporating both limbs, such as a barbell back or front squat, will help to build up muscle strength, tendon and ligament strength, and bone density. Your bones build up against resistance, so movements where your body is working against gravity, will help to build up the vertical bone density. This newfound muscular strength and bone density, combined with regular endurance training, will help to improve leg strength and elasticity, which will reduce the energy you expend to take a step. You will also be a much lower risk of multiple injuries, include strains and sprains, and shin splints.

Distance running and strength training are not mutually exclusive. When combined for a distance runner, these two forms of training can keep you running longer with a lower risk of injury. Strength training can also help to decrease muscular imbalances that can be exasperated by running. Running can cause overactive quads and hip flexors, while decreasing activation of hamstrings and glutes. Strength training can actively help to even out these imbalances. Though you’re a distance runner, and probably pretty tied to it, don’t count out strength training. It can help improve your running from good to great.

Sample workout for runners:

-Glute activation 2 sets 10 reps

(Lateral walks, Glute kickbacks, donkey kicks)

-Barbell Back Squat (or heavy goblet squat) 4 sets 6 reps

-Weighted Stationary Lunge 4 sets 6 reps

-Single Leg RDL (DB in opposite hand) 3 sets 8 reps/leg

-Single leg calf raises 3 sets 8 reps/leg

Exercise, fitness, Opinion, Progress, wellness

Ready, Set, Goal

Today is the last day of 2018 (we made it, woo!), and tomorrow is the day. The day that you have decided will be the day that you become the person you want to be, and do the things you want to do. Goodbye you of yesteryear, and hello new and improved 2019 you!

I don’t know about you, but I have some HUGE goals for 2019, most that are too big to work towards right off the bat. Why do I say that? Because I like to feel like I’m accomplishing things, as I’m sure you do too. Only working towards my overall goal, and not accomplishing even close to all of it by the end of the month? That’s pretty discouraging. But it’s not my fault, and not yours either if that happens to you. The fault was in your goal, not in yourself. The first step to success, in any journey, is to make sure that your goals set you up for success. These goals need to be as helpful as possible, and they need to be SMART.

*Specific – Make sure your goal is actually specific. Losing weight is a good goal, but losing 15lbs of body fat is an even better goal. This sets us up for an actual number goal, to ensure we’re making progress towards it, and also includes that we want to lose body fat, not just any mass (including muscle).

*Measurable – We want to make sure we can actually measure our goal. A specific goal is usually one that can be measured and tracked. Seeing the physical evidence of progress towards an overall goal can help with both motivation and adherence to the goal.

*Attainable – Make sure your goal is something that can actually be achieved. A goal to lose 50lbs and 10% body fat is a great goal, it is both specific and measurable. However, if we decide the deadline is four weeks to achieve this goal goal, it now becomes unattainable. (Or if you can attain it, it won’t be sustainable). An unattainable goal sets you up for failure before you even start.

*Realistic – This also can be “results based”. Make sure your goal is realistic. This goes hand in hand with attainable. A goal that gives you no chance to reach from the beginning will not help you reach it. It is much better to make multiple, smaller milestone type goals. This will keep your motivation elevated, as you reach smaller goals more often, on your way to the overall goal.

*Time Sensitive – Give yourself a deadline! This goes along with each of the previous attributes of a successful goal, but give yourself a time table to reach your goal, as long as that deadline is realistic. This will again keep that motivation high, as you strive to hit the goal by your deadline. Again, smaller goals with deadlines that approach more quickly, with deadlines every couple of weeks or months, can help keep that drive. This allows you continuously hit goals, rather than feeling like you might never hit your overall goal.

If you write down your goals, and they don’t hit all of the SMART points, there’s no problem with reworking them a bit. The most common goal mistake I come across is too much too soon. This means that your goal is your overall goal, making it not so attainable. All you have to do is take a step back. Think about what steps you need to accomplish to hit that overall goal. What’s the first step? Boom. There’s your goal. I find it most helpful to take my overall goal and work backwards, in there I find my actual, SMART goals.

Set yourself up for success, make sure your 2019 goals are SMART.

Exercise, fitness, Progress, wellness

Bump It Up

How have your workouts been lately? Are they still really challenging, or have the once challenging lifts become easier? As you continue to perform a workout, exercise, or movement in general, your body and muscles adapt to the movement, becoming stronger, and making the movement easier. In order to grow muscle size, endurance, strength, or stability, the intensity must be increased past the point of adaptation. This is a principle in fitness known as Progressive Overload. There are many ways to easily increase the intensity of your lifts to ensure that you are making sufficient progress from them.

Increase the Weight

The easiest way to increase the intensity of any movement is to increase the weight used. How do you know that it’s time to increase the weight? Let’s talk about the 2 for 2 rule. This rule states that when you feel as though you could do extra reps in each set, from the last two workouts, it’s time to increase the weight. This ensures that you won’t be increasing weight prematurely, or before your body is actually ready. To reduce the risk of injury, you should be sure to gradually increase the weight, with no more than a 2.5-5lb increase on upper body movements, and a 5-10lb increase on lower body movements.

Increase the Volume

Another easy way to increase the intensity of your workouts is to increase the volume of exercise you perform in the workout. Volume refers to the total amount of sets and repetitions of movements in a workout. To increase the intensity, you could increase the amount of sets by one (two to three sets, three to four, etc) or you could also increase the amount of repetitions you perform (12 instead of 10, 6 instead of 4, etc). I would not increase both the sets and repetitions at the same time though, as this may increase the intensity too much too quickly, with little time for adaptation. If you decide to increase the repetitions, be sure that it is still within your intended range, so as not to change the intent of the lift. This means to keep the range within 8-15 for hypertrophy, 1-6 for strength, and 15+ for endurance.

SuperSet for Super Gains

Instead of performing a straight set, of three sets of 10 repetitions of an exercise with a one minute rest in between sets, try to superset two exercises. This means combining two exercises into a single set, by performing all reps of exercise One and then all reps of exercise Two with no rest in-between. You rest after all reps of both exercises are complete. Increasing the amount of work without increasing the amount of rest will increase heart rate, breathing rate, and the amount of stress placed on muscles. You can either combine two similar exercises, such as a squat and a lunge, to really stress your leg muscles, increasing the volume and intensity placed on those muscles, or you can combine two opposing muscles, such as with a row and a bench press, working back and chest. This type of superset allows for more work to be done with less rest in between, as the rest period for one muscle group occurs when you are performing the repetitions for the second muscle group. For pure strength gains, I perform straight sets, with no second exercise, as the rest time for those lifts are two-three minutes. After I have performed my strength lifts, I then superset lifts for an increased intensity, and stress on the muscles to make them grow.

Between these three variables, it is very easy to increase the intensity of your workouts. Remember, without proper intensity, your muscle size and strength won’t increase, as they don’t have the proper stress to stimulate the adaptations. What would be the point of working out if you weren’t actually gaining anything from it? Each workout should be difficult and challenging, giving your body the necessary stress to progress.

Exercise, Nutrition, Opinion, Progress

Health Between the Holidays

We did it! We survived Thanksgiving, and we’re now officially in the holiday season. I already made a post about surviving the holidays (read it here), but here’s a new take on the topic. Before we go any further: one day of overindulgence will not ruin your progress. Your body is smart, and knows how to handle extra calories on a single day (and even a few days of overindulgence won’t ruin your hard work. Just don’t let all of your healthy habits go out the window.) I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed my vacation the past few days, and I do mean enjoyed (pretty sure I had pie for breakfast the past three days), but am I giving up for the rest of the year? Absolutely not.

The four-five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas is incredibly tricky, especially when it comes to health and fitness. It’s in these five weeks that most people get the “all or nothing” mentality, feel like they failed, and throw in the towel on their fitness goals. They think “in just a few weeks, the holidays will be over, it’ll be a new year, and I’ll start then.” Now, really think about just how much time that is.

*It takes three weeks to form a new habit, so, in five weeks, you could be well into integrating your second healthy habit. I’ve talked about how a healthy lifestyle is nothing more than a combination of healthy habits implemented into your daily routine, making a healthy lifestyle. Take the next few weeks to get your water intake up and go for a walk a few days a week to make a huge difference in your health and fitness journey success, especially getting a jumpstart on January.

*Sustainable weight loss is between .5-2lbs per week, depending on your current status and goals. But, in five weeks, you could be 2.5-10lbs closer to your ultimate weight loss goal. I know you have that magic number in your mind, that magic weight (we all have it, no shame). Imagine starting in January, with your goals not so out of reach. And, even if you don’t have a goal weight in mind, implementing healthier habits over the unhealthiest of the holidays helps to offset those indulgences as the season goes on.

Five weeks doesn’t initially seem like a significant amount of time, until you list out what you can really accomplish in that timespan. Now, it becomes just another time period in which we can get closer to our goals.

Putting off your health goals until the “time is right” really sets the tone of those goals as well. Unfortunately, the tone those goals now have is that they aren’t a priority, and can be taken over by anything more pressing. This is why you make the resolution to lose the same ten pounds year after year, that goal isn’t a real priority to you. If it was, you would have hit that goal, and not let other priorities push it out of the way. It’s time to stop the resolution cycle! No more dieting for January, let’s get healthy for life! Believe me, I’m not saying to start a restrictive, regimented plan today. Starting a crazy, restrictive diet, especially during the season of holiday parties, will do nothing but set you up for failure. What I’m saying is now is the time to wake up and prioritize your health. Now is the time to write out your goals (and make sure to make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). Now is the time to pick a few steps, that you are confident that you can implement into your lifestyle, to help reach your goals.

I overindulged in the past week. I feel it today, I feel off. I don’t feel guilt for not following my routine on vacation, and I don’t feel like a failure in my goals. Today, I am back on my usual routine. Today, I am prioritizing eating lighter, with more vegetables at each meal, increasing my water intake to my usual levels, and going back to my usual exercise program. I’m not “making up” for anything, or going overboard in anticipation of Christmas, I’m just going back to my habits. I’m taking care of myself today, for life, not for January. Who’s with me?