Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Atrophy: Use it or Lose it

Hypertrophy is a term that refers to increasing the size of a muscle. This is achieved by utilizing the overload principle and this is what body builders are constantly tyring to accomplish. The opposite of hypertrophy is atrophy, which refers to cells decreasing in size or wasting away. The biggest cause of atrophy is misuse or inactivity, but it can also be caused by poor circulation, poor nutrition, or disease.

When astronauts go into space and live in an environment without gravity for an extended time, they lose muscle mass. For this reason, they usually bulk up before a mission and participate in resistance training while in orbit to reduce the loss of muscle mass.

I recently had surgery on my elbow and had my right arm immobilized in a cast/sling for nearly three weeks. Once it came off, I was shocked and depressed to see how much muscle I had lost during such a short amount of time. (And I thought it was impossible for my arms to get any skinnier.) It reminded me of the movie "Lady in the Water" which features a quirky character who only works out the right side of his body and as a result he is skinny on one side.

Unfortunately, it always takes longer to get into shape than it does to fall back out of shape. If you take 7-14 days off and completely stop exercising, you can lose what took you months to achieve. That is why regular exercise is so important to help you maintain your fitness level. In a worst case scenario, just working out once or twice a week can still help you maintain your fitness level and keep you from going backwards, although that it obviously not an ideal workout schedule.

The advice "use it or lose it" is not only true for physical conditioning, but also with languages, music, and other skills you may have developed. The good news is that the human body is very forgiving and resilient and you can get back into shape if you are currently deconditioned.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The 10 Worst Excuses

I'm a nice guy and hate to make waves, but as a trainer, I only do my clients a disservice when I accept their excuses. Here are some of the most common excuses I have heard (and sometimes even used myself) when it comes to fitness. Remember you can either have excuses or results, but not both. 

10. I don't like to exercise. Then find some form of physical activity that you do enjoy. Try gardening, hiking, biking, or playing a sport. You'd be surprised how addicting exercise can be once you get the endorphins flowing. 

9. I'm not in good enough shape to go to the gym- That's like saying you will go to Church once you are perfect. There may be some intimidating physiques at the gym, but don't compare yourself to them. You are only in competition with yourself. By the way, guess how those fit people got that way? They went to the gym when they didn't feel like it.

8.  I don't want to bulk up and get big like the guys- Ladies, unless you are injecting steroids, eating 5,000 calories a day, and lifting hard several hours ever day, you will never bulk up like a man. That's like me saying I don't want to get a manicure because I'm scared it will make me look like Miss America.

7. I don't have anything to wear/ Don't want to get sweaty- (I'm done picking on the women after this.) That excuse would be valid if we were talking about going to a photo shoot, but we are talking about exercise. Unless you are wearing a clown suit or some totally immodest outfit, nobody will even notice what you are wearing.

6. I don't know what exercises to do- Sometimes all the equipment and machines in the gym can be overwhelming and confusing, but you can learn the exercises quickly. Don't be afraid to ask someone how a specific machine works. There are also tons of good exercise sources and tutorials online. Just doing anything is still better than inactivity. It's hard to steer a parked car.

5. Exercising is boring- Then make it more fun. Listen to music or workout with a friend. Try something new! Run a 5 K if you haven't before. Add some purpose to your workout by seeing how many calories you can burn or how far you can run in a certain amount of time. Keep track of your results and try to break your own records. Having a goal to work towards is more exciting than just walking on a treadmill for half an hour like a robot.

4. I have a slow metabolism or a thyroid problem- This may be a legitimate concern for some people, but too many people like to play the victim with this excuse as a way to justify not getting results. Don't blame a gland if you are overeating and not exercising. 

3. I just can't get motivated- Some people claim to be too lazy or say they don't have enough will power to work out or eat right. Share your goals with a spouse or friend so you have some accountability. Use some appropriate rewards to motivate you. Lack of motivation is one of the reasons people use a trainer. If all else fails and you still can't get motivated, stand in front of the mirror naked and open your eyes!

2. I can't afford it- First of all, you don't need a gym membership to workout. There are tons of free activities that you can do. On the other hand, people will blow all kinds of money on clothing, recreation, and entertainment, but they often penny pinch when it comes to something really important like their health. The long term consequences of neglecting your health are much more expensive than any preventative measures you may take today.

1. I don't have enough time- Everyone has 24 hours in their day. Working out does not have to take a lot of time to be effective. Choosing to take care of your body is a great way to make sure it will be working for you for years down the road. Making fitness a priority also gives you a higher quality of life today. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Vacation Danger

Summer time is known for warm enjoyable weather and vacations. Whenever I am training a client and they mention that they are going on vacation or out of town for a while, I always get concerned. They almost always come back with excuses of how crazy things were and that they couldn't work out and ate too much and the wrong kinds of foods. Healthy living can be a challenge when you are traveling and being hosted by friends or family who wine and dine you.

It's a similar problem that people experience over weekends. When you are not in your usual weekly routine, it's easy to let your guard down. That is one of the reasons Monday is the busiest day at the gym. I think many people are trying to burn off what they ate over the weekend or make restitution or penance for their weekend indiscretions. It's kind of like going to confession.

If you have been training hard and consistently for several months, then taking a whole week off could actually be a beneficial thing to keep you from over training, but I think few people are in that situation. Most are still trying to stick with a fitness program and get going. So how can you avoid the dangers of getting out of your routine and losing momentum while you are on vacation? Maybe you can't, but there are some things you can do to have a healthy vacation and minimize the damage done.

1) Drive safely and wear seat belts. Plan breaks to stretch and walk so you don't arrive feeling crippled once you get to your destination.

2) Drink plenty of water and watch how many calories you drink while on vacation.

3) If you are going to eat out, choose healthier entrees or share them to cut down on the serving sizes.

4) Plan ahead to see if your hotel or host has access to a gym. Pack some resistance bands if you won't have access to a gym.

5) Buy healthy groceries at the store and take them in a cooler so you are not dependent on fast food while you are traveling.

6) Find a new version of physical activity to do while you are on vacation. Enjoy the outdoors by walking, swimming, biking, or hiking.

I think vacations are a great way to rejuvenate and "sharpen your saw", but you don't want to lose the progress you have made or lose the good habits you have developed while you are on vacation or out of town. You might even persuade those you are vacationing with to adopt a healthier lifestyle because of your good example.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Variety in Your Diet

When you are trying to eat right, some concepts to keep in mind are balance, variety, moderation, and common sense. I'd like to focus on variety today. Variety is a beautiful thing. If you are trying to eat healthy foods, but all you eat is tuna fish, carrots, and apples every day you will soon burn out and tire of the same thing. Having options and several choices keeps eating exciting and helps you avoid the monotony.

I frequently give my clients a sheet with a variety of foods and actually give them an assignment to see how many of those foods they can eat over the next few weeks. They are all healthy choices and this exercise helps them to avoid feeling like they are on a restricted diet or like they are depriving themselves. Another way to address the variety issue is to try to see how many different colored vegetables you can eat during the week. Aside from color, different flavors and textures also contribute to variety.

Although it is a good thing to cut back or eliminate unhealthy foods, diets that try to eliminate entire food groups or basic macronutirents are not wise. I think people are more likely to achieve a healthy diet when they are educated and encouraged to expand their food choices and try new foods.

As much as I promote variety, it does have a down side. It is proven that the more kinds of food a person has available to them, the more likely they are to overeat. That makes sense. If you were at an all you can eat Macaroni and Cheese bar you might have a couple servings, but if you go to Chuck a Rama or Golden Coral, you could easily eat 4 or 5 plates of food since they serve so many different kinds of food that you may want to sample.

If you are getting tired of eating the same thing then it's probably time to spice up your diet with some variety. When was the last time you had kiwi, lamb, plums, raspberries, artichokes, sweet potatoes, split peas, figs, sprouts, grapefruit, cracked wheat, or shrimp?  As you attempt to add more variety to your diet, just make sure that you choose healthy foods and that you watch your serving sizes.