Sunday, February 28, 2010

Healthy Role Models

Role models are important in all aspects of life. Physical fitness is no exception. There have been many fitness gurus over the years who have gathered many followers while promoting better health (and often their products) to the public. I was recently wondering who the best health and fitness role models for most Americans might be.

Some of the prominent names that came to mind were Jack Lalanne, Richard Simmons, Arnold Schwarzennegar, Jane Fonda, Bill Phillips, Joe Weider, Deepak Chopra, Denise Austin, Jillian Michaels, Gilad, and Andrew Weil. Each of these "experts" focus on different aspects of health, but exercise is typically the biggest emphasis for most of them.

I appreciate the contributions these people have made over the years (even Richard Simmons), but I think I have seen more people motivated to get in shape by Bill Phillips than anyone else. He made physique transformations something that the average person could do, as opposed to just professional body builders. I know none of these celebrities are perfect and all of them have been criticized for a variety of things, but I think they get people moving in the right direction as they promote better health. My hat is off to anyone who can motivate the public to make healthy lifestyle changes.

I'd like to know who you think the most influential fitness personality is, or at least who has been the most motivating person to you over the years. Please leave me a comment about someone who has motivated you or who you feel you have benefited from by following.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Overcoming Homeostasis

The human body is always attempting to maintain a stable and constant environment. This is also known as homeostasis. It is good that we don't have to worry about controlling our heart rate, body temperature, or digestion, but when it comes to getting into shape, we have to overcome homeostasis because our bodies attempt to stay where they are and they don't like it when we rock the boat.

There are 4 variables involved in the overload principle when developing a conditioning program. They are frequency, mode, duration, and intensity. The proper use of these components can help you overload your body and overcome homeostasis.

Frequency- This is the first component and obviously refers to how often one engages in a particular exercise or activity. The minimum frequency should be 3 times a week if you want to get results and improve. Many people work out 4-6 times a week depending on their time commitments, goals, and the exercise they participate in, which leads to the next variable, which is mode.

Mode- Is the type of activity you choose to participate in and could include things like running, swimming, yoga, weight lifting, etc. Your body will require more time to recover from more intense activities, but easier activities like walking can be done daily without any problem.

Duration- This is the length of time that one spends performing an exercise. Any amount of cardio or aerobic activity is good, but if someone really wants to start burning fat as a fuel source, it is ideal if they exercise for over 40 minutes. Resistance training is a different story. I think a person can get a great workout in half an hour or less, and they don't need to spend all day in the gym. One thing that will determine how long you exercise is the last variable of intensity.

Intensity- Of all the variables, this one is often said to be the most important. The intensity is the amount of energy you expend while exercising and is what really determines your results. You can walk at a snails pace on a treadmill for hours without accomplishing much. If you don't exert yourself to the point of sweating or increasing your heart rate, then your intensity is too low. Intensity can be determined by measuring your heart rate. Obviously, if someone is a beginner or getting back into shape, they will want to ease into it and gradually build up their intensity to avoid injury. When you work out, make sure you are not just doing the exact same thing each session. If your body has adapted to your usual routine, then you may want to bump up the intensity to get better results.

When you design an exercise program, make sure and choose activities that you enjoy so you will stick with them, but you will also want to take into account the above principles in order to get the most of your workout.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Unrealistic Expectations?

When I was in Jr. High I started keeping track of my height, weight, and measurements as I started growing. I'm a detail person, so I've kept a record of these stats annually for over 25 years. It has not been fun to see the numbers slump as I get older, but I still do it. I used to wonder what my ideal proportions or measurements should be. Obviously there are many variables to consider, such as height, frame size, age, and genetics. People are not as simple as diamonds, which can be cut to ideal proportions.

When people hear the words "Grecian Formula", they usually think of hair oil, but there is another Grecian formula or ideal; a set of proportions for the "ideal physique." Body builders try to achieve the perfect balance of size and symmetry. Some of them calculate this by using their wrist circumference, which in turn determines what their other measurements should be. For a person who is 6' 2" like myself with 7 inch wrists, the software says my ideal measurements should be a 46" chest, 17" biceps, 32" waist, 24 " thighs, and 16" calves. Apparently my body measurements are not ideal. The Greek sculptors would be ashamed of me, but I don't think I'm alone. The average man in the US is 5 ft. 9 and weighs 190 lbs. and doesn't fit that ideal either.

The average American woman is 5' 4" and weighs 150 lbs. Compare that with the average female model who is 5 ft. 10, weighs between 110-120 lbs. and has measurements of 34-24-34. If you think those are tough measurements to live up to, check out the Barbie doll. If she were life size, her measurements would be 39-18-33. Don't feel picked on if you are a girl. These impossible expectations carry over to boys too. The average action figure is apparently on steroids with proportions that would make Mr. Olympia jealous. Is it any wonder so many people have eating disorders and body image issues?

My point is that not everyone can look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or (insert celebrity). Maybe you are big boned and will never have a frame like Angelina Jolie. You shouldn't stress out about this because, odds are, your husband doesn't look like Brad Pitt either. Don't fall for the hype. Measure your success against yourself not a model or celebrity who's body represents less than 1% of the population. If they are famous for their physique, then staying in amazing shape is probably their full time job. Remember that the model in the picture you may want to look like has genetics, extensive photo shoots, cosmetic surgery, and airbrushing on their side.

Please don't think this is a sour grapes post, or that I'm implying it's not important to get into shape. I'm not trying to talk anyone out of reaching for their fitness goals or getting into the shape they have always dreamed of. I'm just saying to be realistic about it. I believe that everyone can improve their own physique and make progress from where ever they currently are. If a picture of someone motivates you to get in better shape, then that's fine, but don't let society tell you what you should look like. As you adopt a healthy lifestyle, you can get into great shape, and if you work hard enough, you can eventually reach your personal physical potential.