Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Unhealthy Extreme Fitness Mentality

Over the years I've noticed a fitness trend that can be intimidating, unhealthy, and even dangerous. It is the message that you need to go 100% beast mode when it comes to exercise and fitness. I believe there is a time and a place to work on max lifts, beating personal records, and giving it all you've got, but that should not be every time you work out.

One of the places I see many of these unhealthy messages is on Pinterest with brash memes about how you need to push yourself to exhaustion. I created a page of examples of these types of pins you can see if you click on the link. These extreme memes and sayings are geared towards fitness, but they can also spill over into other areas of your life.

There is a time and a place to test your limits, but adopting the extreme mentality is not a healthy choice. I love seeing videos of people bench pressing 600 pounds, deadlifting over 1,000 pounds, setting world records in track and field, and recently seeing the Iron Cowboy complete 50 triathlons in 50 days. I can appreciate pushing the body and mind to their limits, but doing so on a regular basis can be unhealthy and dangerous.

I'd like to briefly address some of the more popular memes I've seen that probably have good intentions to motivate us, but can be dangerous if we don't use common sense:

"Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going"- I agree we should not give up too early or quit when things get uncomfortable but saying we need to push ourselves until we vomit, pass out, or die is not a good idea because eventually you will do one of those 3 things.

"I regret that workout... said no one ever"-  I appreciate the message since many people skip exercise and end up on the couch watching TV instead, but if you have a shoulder injury yet persist in going to the gym and work on your max bench press you will regret that workout. Exercising when injured without modifying your workout is a recipe for compounding your injury. I have regretted many workouts when I didn't use common sense or listen to the feedback my body was giving me. Over training is a real problem for some people.

"Pain is weakness leaving the body"- Or it could be a heart attack, broken bone, nerve damage, a torn muscle, etc. I believe in the principle of the harvest  and that consistent efforts and sacrifice will pay off with results but we need to remember there are different kinds of pain. The good pain is the soreness you feel the day after working out, or the burning in your legs as you finish a set of air squats. Bad pain can be a sharp painful feeling or a nagging injury and if you keep exercising under those conditions it is not weakness leaving the body, but stupidity entering.

"You can sleep when you are dead"- Or you can die 15 years earlier from never allowing your body time to rest and recuperate. I can appreciate that we need to "seize the day" and get things done but not getting quality sleep will increase stress, cause weight gain, hinder recovery, and eventually lead to exhaustion.

"Second place is the first loser"- I am all for competition but I believe that competition should usually be with yourself. If you constantly compare yourself to others with more experience, better genetics, or those using performance enhancing drugs, then you will always be disappointed with your results and find yourself in the loser camp.

As I have aged I have learned the hard way that my body takes longer to recover after intense bouts of exercise and longer to heal when I get injured or sick. If I were to ignore the feedback from my body because I wanted to adopt the beast mode mentality of a meme I would have a very bad experience when it comes to exercise and my health.

I hope this post has not come across as a sour grapes kind of message. I have great respect for those who have difficult and disciplined workouts. I acknowledge the importance of incorporating intensity into your exercise regimen, but that is done by building up over time as your conditioning improves. There is a time and a place to go all out and work towards a personal best record but that is not every time you exercise. Exercise is a very personal activity and you shouldn't feel like you are being labeled a failure or loser just because you actually have a rest day and are not as extreme as others.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Focus on Flexibility

Flexibility is one of the most overlooked components of fitness. Flexibility is defined as the ability of your joints to move freely. When we think of fitness we often focus on strength, endurance, and cardiovascular conditioning, but if a person has impaired mobility and a limited range of motion, their performance will be impacted in a negative way.

There are many things that can cause mobility issues like disease or injury, but  many people today suffer from muscle imbalances due to living sedentary lives and more specifically hunching over a computer day after day. After years of doing this, certain muscles are stretched out and weakened while others or shortened and tighten up. 

The phrase "use it or lose it" certainly comes to mind when we speak about flexibility. Think about someone who has had a limb immobilized in a cast or sling after an injury for an extended period of time and how they lose the mobility in that joint when it ceases to move through a regular range of motion. That same concept comes into play in every day life in a more subtle way as we become less active and more sedentary as we age.

Activities like gymnastics, diving, yoga, dance, and martial arts obviously showcase the importance of flexibility, but any physical activity or sport and all of the everyday activities we do are easier if we are flexible. 

I have always been tall and have not had the best posture. I worked at a desk for 25 years and as a result I have developed a forward slouch like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. Last year I started doing Olympic style weight lifting and it was an eye opener to see how tight some of my joints were. When I attempted an overhead squat I had such limited mobility that I could only squat down a few inches. As a result I have made a commitment to improve my flexibility. I don't feel the need to do the splits or be a contortionist, but I know if I can improve my flexibility then my physical performance will also improve.

Good flexibility can increase your range of motion. It can also reduce risk of injury however in rare cases if  one's joints are too flexible they can also be susceptible to injury. Flexibility can help reduce muscle soreness after workout by stretching your muscles. Stretching is best done after a workout when your muscles are already warmed up. Remember it is safer to do hold a static stretch as opposed to ballistic bouncing movements. 

Over the years there have been conflicting studies done on the benefits of stretching as it relates to athletic performance but I am still an advocate of improving one's flexibility and I really believe the average person will benefit greatly by improving their flexibility. Just ask anyone who has a hard time bending over to pick something up if having greater flexibility would enrich their lives. Remember to make a place for flexibility training in your wellness program. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

St. George Marathon

Back in 2007 I ran my first marathon. I was new to running and had no idea what I was doing and had only trained for two months prior to the event. I did great for the first three miles but then my injured knee got worse and I hobbled the remaining 23 miles. It was one of the most painful and difficult things I have ever done. Since then I have run the St. George Marathon twice and will go at it for a third time next week. I still never feel like I'm totally prepared when I run a long race but at least I know what to expect now and I learn from my prior mistakes.

St. George is a great course and has awesome volunteers. Here is a short video clip about it.

If you have ever considered running a marathon I encourage you to look into it. Take some baby steps and give yourself plenty of time to prepare and you will be amazed at what you can do.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Being In Tune With Your Body

Some people frequently ignore the messages their bodies are trying to tell them, but others who honor their body's requests will benefit from doing so. Being in tune with your body is an important skill to develop. It's like noticing the gauges on your dashboard. Some people have even turned it into an art form.  I once heard of an NFL receiver who was so in tune with his body that he could instinctively tell when his body fat percentage fluctuated by less than 1%.

Listening to your body may include things like taking a break from a workout when your "spidey senses" tell you to do so even though you've had it planned all week. WARNING: Don't use this principle to cop-out when you are just too lazy to exercise. There is a difference between simple laziness and listening to subtle clues that your body is giving you to take it easy or rest.

Nutrition is another area where this principle comes into play. Years ago I heard a woman speak who had struggled with her weight her entire life. She said the moment that really turned things around for her was when she decided to focus on enjoying her food and tried to listen to feedback from her body while she ate. She previously ate large quantities of food and never felt full, but now she sits down and takes time to really enjoy her food. She listens to when her body tells her she's satisfied and that has helped her maintain a healthy weight for years without dieting or having to avoid the traditional culprit foods.

I'm intrigued with the concept of tuning in and listening to the subtle clues your body is trying to tell you. There are times when I feel my body is begging me for a salad or steamed vegetables and it's almost like it's requesting an antidote to some kind of poison I've eaten. Other times you might feel that you are coming down with something so resting and taking undue stress off your body is the best option.

One of the reasons I like yoga, stretching, meditating, and deep breathing is because these activities offer insightful feedback and cause you to listen to your body. This can help you know when it is safe to really push yourself and when you should take things a little easier. I also believe it's beneficial to view your body as an ally rather than an enemy you are always fighting against. When you are no longer at odds with your body, but rather in harmony with it, you will be surprised at the positive changes you can make.

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.