Monday, August 22, 2016

Intensity- The Magical Ingredient

With any exercise program there are 4 variables: 1) Mode or type of exercise, 2) Frequency or how often you exercise, 3) Duration  or how long each exercise bout lasts, 4) and Intensity which is how hard the body is actually working.

If you don't feel like you are getting results from your workout, then increasing the intensity of your exercise might be the missing piece of the puzzle. I frequently see people hanging out for hours in the gym. If you are one of the people who are at at risk for getting a loitering ticket while you are at the gym, then it's probably time to turn up your intensity.

How to Measure Intensity

1. Monitor your heart rate. This is best done with a heart rate monitor. Remember your maximum heart rate is your age subtracted from 220. Unless you are a beginner, you should shoot to work at 70% of your MHR or higher.
2. The talk test. If you can easily carry on a conversation with a friend while working out, you may be taking it too easy. However, during the last marathon I ran, I noticed two women in front of me gabbing away for several miles while I was dying trying to keep up with them. I guess there's always an exception.
3. The perceived exertion scale. This is a very simplified way to determine intensity. There are many variations of the scale and it's not as objective as measuring your heart rate, but I kind of like the simplicity of using the 0-10 scale of 0 being totally relaxed and at ease and 10 being I am going to die!

Here are some ideas that can help you increase your intensity.

1. Time yourself. Working against the clock can do wonders to giving you a tougher workout. Just remember not to compromise safe form.
2. Work out with or in front of others. You are less likely to take 3 minute breaks between sets and loaf around during exercise if others are watching you work out.
3. Choose more intense activities and exercises. Rather than just walking or jogging, you may want to try sprinting. This is a very intense activity that will use all of your muscles. You may also want to try plyometrics or full court basketball instead of half court games or swimming laps instead of water aerobics.
4. Keep track of your personal best records. Know your personal best as it relates to push ups, pull ups, crunches,1 mile run, 1 rep max, etc. Having a prior record to occasionally work towards beating can be very motivating.

One of the benefits of the CrossFit movement is that it really increases intensity by incorporating several of these concepts. High Intensity training has several advantages over steady state exercise. I still think activities like jogging and walking are beneficial, but if you are looking to take things to the next level then you may want to re-evaluate the intensity level of your workout.

One word of warning. Exercising with intense ballistic movements is more likely to cause injury, so make sure that you have prepared your body for intense activities by slowly building up a foundation of strength training over time and make sure that you are sufficiently warmed up before you engage in intense exercise. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cooking With Fewer Calories

I'm not the kind of person who obsesses over calories, but if you want to reduce the number calories you consume, then it's wise to look for easy opportunities to do so. Consider making the following substitutions the next time you are cooking or baking in order to help you reduce the caloric content of your food.

1 cup of white sugar (774 calories) vs. sugar substitute (0 calories)

3 whole eggs (231 calories) vs. one whole egg and 3 egg whites (130 calories)

1 tablespoon of butter (150) vs. cooking spray (6)

1/2 cup butter (814) vs. 1/2 cup of applesauce (50)

1 cup of sour cream (492) vs. 1 cup fat-free sour cream (233)

8 oz. cream cheese (793) vs. 8 oz. fat free cream cheese (255)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (229) vs. 1/4 cup fat free mayonnaise (45)

Another great way to decrease calories when it comes to carbohydrates is to eat more vegetables as opposed to breads, pastas, cereals, etc. You can eat a ton of vegetables without running up your calorie count as long as you aren't smothering them in high fat dressings.

As you can see, making simple substitutions can make a big difference in the overall number of calories you consume over time. Many foods still taste good if the high calorie ingredients are slightly decreased from what the recipe calls for.  I substituted applesauce for syrup years ago and can't bring myself to eat syrup any more since it's just too sweet.

Calorie content is still only one part of the overall food equation. There are also factors of taste, texture, smell, flavor, satiety, and overall nutrition which may change for better or for worse when you switch high calorie ingredients with lower calorie substitutes.

Keep in mind that there are also some low calorie foods that just may not have the same nutritional value and may actually be less healthy than their higher calorie options so you don't want to put too much emphasis on just calories, but if you need to lose weight and you have an out of balance energy equation (more calories being eaten than you burn each day), then it is wise to look for easy ways to decrease your calorie consumption.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Crossfit Games

The annual Crossfit Games will be held July 19-24th and I am pretty excited. I have really only dabbled in Crossfit as a participant. I worked out at a local box last year for nearly 6 months and quickly learned how bad I am at Olympic lifts and gymnastics skills but I still loved the workouts and the conditioning results I got.

Even though I'm not much of a Crossfit athlete, I am pretty well versed as a spectator since I have followed the games closely over the last several years. I love basketball, football, UFC, and many other sports, but I would much rather watch the Crossfit games than any other sporting event. I know there are many Crossfit and Dave Castro haters out there and I will be the first to admit there are aspects of the sport that I don't care for but I still think the games are so entertaining.

The open and regional games are over now and the top 40 qualifying men and women from around the world will be competing for the "fittest on earth" title in Carson, CA this month. I have decided to make my predictions for the upcoming contest. Here's who I think the top 10 finishers will be for the men and women participants.

1. Matt Fraser
2. Josh Bridges
3. Ben Smith
4. Dan Bailey
5. Noah Ohlsen
6. Bjorgvin Gudmondsen
7. Scott Panchik
8. Roy Gamboa
9. Jacob Heppner
10. Jonne Koski

1. Sara Sigmunsdottir
2. Kara Webb
3. Sam Briggs *
4. Katrin Davidsdottir
5. Annie Thorisdottir
6. Emily Bridgers
7. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet
8. Lauren Fisher
9. Tia Toomey
10. Alethea Boone

*Briggs has a visa issue and may not be able to come over from England before it is resolved.

I really like the format of having several events spread out over just a few days. The already insanely conditioned athletes are really put through a lot since they have very little down time to recuperate and heal between events. I love the variety of activities as well as the sheer number of participants. There are so many variables when you look at the athlete's different personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and experience they bring to the games. Here is a brief video recap of last year's contest.

I can't wait!

Monday, May 9, 2016

2016 Montana Spartan Beast Recap

Over the weekend I participated in the Spartan Beast race at Flathead Lake Montana. The terrain around Kalispell, MT and the lake was beautiful. The temperature was perfect in the mid 70's. This was my first Montana Spartan race so even though I knew to expect running up and down mountains and doing burpees, I was unsure of any other details that this particular course offered.

I got checked in, checked my bag, and found the porta-potties with just a few minutes before my heat started. I'd recommend showing up early when you do a Spartan race. The race started with a short run up a hill then was followed by the first obstacle which was the monkey bar challenge. I lost my grip and did 30 burpees right off the bat to start the race. The next most memorable challenge was a sand bag carry that went straight up a very long, straight, and steep path and then back down again. I was shocked how long it took and my calves were on fire by the time I finished.

There were several wall jumps throughout the course which I enjoyed. I didn't have a problem with the rope climb and I loved the sand bag rope pulley. There were several log carries, tire flips, sled pull, atlas balls, an upside down latter traverse, cargo nets, etc.

My next setback came at the spear throw. I hit the target but it did not stick so I got 30 more burpees. This year there was a new challenge when you got to the station you'd look up the last two digits of your bib number on a board and had to memorize a code. Mine was Mike 210-3411. About 40 minutes later you got to a station where you had to recite it back correctly or do burpees. I was surprised how many people had forgotten their code. It offered some variety to have them throw in a mental challenge during the course to see how well your mind does while under intense physical stress.

The biggest surprise this year was how dry the course was. We didn't really get into any mud until about half way through the race and even then it was only knee high mud levels. I am not complaining since I've run some very muddy courses that keep you bogged down the whole time so this was nice. The course also offered quite a bit of shade and many of the trails had been softened up from dead pine needles and rain from the prior days.

When I finally passed mile 12 I was expecting a quick finish since I could hear the music below coming from the finish line, but the barb wire crawl was very long and dry this year and it was strung extremely low. My clothes got caught on barbs many times as did many other runners. That was followed by crawling under a bridge and then being fully submerged in muddy water to pass under a wall. I was running hard and passing people for what I thought was the last half mile but then I got to the gravel bucket carry which went up and down a steep hill and I was really tired. I had to rest a few tines with the bucket before finishing. There was one last small mud area followed by a bar swing and ring traverse but my upper body strength and grip could not take it and I fell and did my last set of burpees which took me forever right before jumping over the fire to the finish line.

I was a little disappointed with my time of 4 hours 57 minutes. My times for my Beast races have gradually taken longer each year even though I am moving up higher in my age bracket. I think it is hard to compare two separate courses since there are so many differences. Even the mileage can be off by a couple miles between two Beast races.

My only gripe was seeing many people failing the obstacles and trying over and over or being assisted by others and not doing burpees. I know the race is a personal challenge and there are people at varying skill and conditioning levels and my hat is off to all the participants, but it would be nice to know my time and ranking is not being compared to people who were helped and carried across many of the obstacles by friends without being penalized throughout the race.

The race was fun (as fun as running around in the mountains for nearly 5 hours can be) and I was glad to finish with only a slightly sprained ankle and sore hamstring but no serious injuries. I am going to earn the trifecta this year so I was glad to get the hardest race out of the way first. The course terrain is beautiful as is the surrounding areas around Kalispell. It was a 10 hour drive but was worth it. I recommend the Montana Spartan for anyone looking for a challenging race.

Monday, April 18, 2016

May Exercise Variety Challenge

With Spring upon us and weather improving each day, it's time for a new challenge for the month of May. If you are like me, you may find yourself in a fitness rut always doing the same kind of exercises or workouts over and over again. In an effort to get people to try something new I am offering the May Exercise Variety Challenge

During the month of May I'd like to challenge people to see how many of the following exercises or activities they can do. In order to count, you just need to participate in any of the activities listed below one time for a total of 20-30 minutes. See how many new activities you can try between May 1st through May 31st.

If you haven't played tennis since junior high, now you have an excuse to go out and make a fool of yourself. Never been to an aerobics, zumba, or yoga class? Now you have a reason to check it out. You may not be interested in some of these activities but you never know until you try. Don't try and use the green eggs and ham excuse until you have actually given it a shot.

See how many of the following activities you can do during the month of May.

1.  Running/Jogging
2.  Weight Lifting
3.  Biking/Spinning
4.  Swimming
5.  Walking
6.  Yoga
7.  Hiking
8.  Basketball
9.  Volleyball
10. Tennis
11. Ultimate Frisbee
12. Soccer
13. Rollerblading
14. Wall or Rock Climbing
15. Eliptical Machine
16. Aerobics class
17. Racquetball
18. Dancing
19. Crossfit
20. Pickle Ball
21. Tai Chi
22. Pilates
23. Martial Arts
24. Zumba
25. Stair Climber
26. Golf
27. Jump rope
28. Horseback Riding
29. Baseball/Softball
30. Rowing Machine

Join the Facebook group of participants at the highlighted link.

See how many of these 30 activities you can do during the month of May. The winner will get recognition and a prize. Remember to get a physician's approval before starting any exercise program.