Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Healthy Food Choices


If you feel like you have overdosed on junk food, then eating fresh whole food is a great way to feel better.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Making Your Home Gym

There are definitely pros and cons to working out at a large gym vs. working out at home. Some people prefer the gym atmosphere while others like their privacy and opt for working out in their home. Below I have listed some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Large gym advantages
-There is usually plenty of equipment to use which provides greater variety to your workout.
-You are more likely to give a better effort with others watching you and probably won't rest 3 minutes between sets like you might be tempted to if working out in seclusion.
-It can be motivating to be in an atmosphere with other active people who have common goals.

Disadvantages to big gyms
-Depending on the time of day, it can get busy and there may be people using your preferred equipment.
-It can be intimidating for some. If there are professional bodybuilders and fitness models wearing next to nothing, it can feel more like a meat market than a gym.
-Monthly fees can add up and they still come out of your account even if you don't go to the gym.
-It requires travel time to get to the gym so if your gym is not conveniently located, it may take much longer to get your workout in.

Advantage of home gym
-Nearby and convenient. It doesn't matter if there is a storm or icy roads outside.
-They don't require membership fees and usually have a one time low cost to set up.
-They offer greater privacy and for the person who prefers to workout alone.

Disadvantage to home gym
-It's easy to skip workouts or take it too easy during workouts if no one is watching.
-We can become too familiar when working out at home. People end up hanging clothes on their equipment -There is a greater probability of getting bored while exercising in a confined space with limited equipment.

I recently decided to set up a home gym at my house. I've had miscellaneous equipment in my garage and in various room for years, but thought it would be beneficial to dedicate a room specifically to working out. My only options was a small unfinished storage room in the basement with no windows so it was less than ideal, but I still decided to make the best of it.















I first had to clean out old clothes, camping gear, holiday decorations, and miscellaneous junk from the room. Once the room was empty, I applied primer to the walls and painted the walls and ceiling. I then purchased padded flooring which I pieced together. Then I built some shelves for weights and got a couple mirrors and moved my equipment in.

















My gym is not ideal since it is in a small space, has  no windows,  a low ceiling, and it echos like you are in a cave, but it is still a big improvement to have an area in your home dedicated exclusively to exercise.

If you are considering making your own home gym, the most basic essentials include the following:

A bench or stability ball
A good mat
Free weights or kettlebells
Aerobic exercise equipment like a treadmill or bike

I still prefer working out in a large gym, but I also really like my home gym. Even a small home gym that is less than ideal will still get you better results than a state of the art facility that is only used infrequently. Regardless of where and how you work out, getting results really boils down to consistency.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sodium Intake

When my sister was in high school, one of her friends said she'd give her a new watch if she drank a cup of soy sauce. She went ahead with the dare and got a new watch, but she also got quite sick as a result. Too much sodium can affect your electrolyte balance and make you ill. Aside from the immediate and obvious reactions to having too much salt in your diet, some long-term effects associated with excessive salt intake include high blood pressure, stroke, stomach cancer, and kidney problems.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,  90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet. The U.S. dietary guidelines for sodium recommend 2,300 mg of sodium each day, but most Americans eat an average of 3,300 mg. Before we start bad-mouthing salt, it is important to remember that sodium is a necessary nutrient, but the problem is most people consume too much.

According to N.A.S.M., processed foods account for 75% of our sodium intake, naturally occurring sodium in food accounts for 10%, and 15% comes from adding table salt to our meals. With this knowledge, it is even more important to cut back on processed foods than it is to worry about how many shakes of salt one adds to their food.

If you are concerned about your sodium intake, beware of the following high-sodium foods:
potato chips, popcorn, pretzels, hot dogs, cheese, soups, pizza, lunch meats, white bread, soy sauce, etc. Some foods like ketchup also have a high sodium content even though we may not associate with being "salty" foods.

You can cut back on your sodium intake by going easy on the salt shaker, but you will make make a bigger difference if you simply eat fewer processed foods, eat out less and, instead, eat more whole foods.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Choosing the Right Yoga Regimen

I used to dismiss yoga as a touchy feely excuse for exercise...until I tried it and was embarrassed by my lack of flexibility and isometric strength. I have since gained respect for this discipline. Yoga can range from easy relaxing, stretching, and breating to extremely difficult feats of strength and bending your body like a pretzel. Since there are so many different forms of yoga, I am pleased that Kennith Campbell was willing to do the following guest post and shed some more light on the many different forms of yoga.
Depending on how different people define the various yoga regimens out there, there are upwards of twenty styles you can try. If the thought of choosing a yoga regimen from all of those variations seems too intimidating, bring those hands to heart center, take a deep breath, and read on.  Our guide will make things as simple as possible.
Hatha. If you've never done yoga before, this is probably the style you want. Hatha is gentle and slow, concentrating on the most basic poses and meditation techniques.
Iyengar. This style has you moving slowly and holding poses for longer, all while allowing you to utilize props like blankets, straps, and blocks to make them easier. Iyengar can be used by anyone, but is especially good for people who aren't as flexible because they're just starting out, recovering from injury, or older.
Ashtanga. A demanding style that requires you to synchronize your breathing while cycling through a continuous set of poses. Ashtanga will make you sweat - and that's the point. Because of its athletic nature, this style is not well-suited for beginners.
Bikram. Also known as "hot" yoga, this is a comprehensive workout designed to improve endurance, flexibility, and strength by practicing in temperatures between 95 and 105 degrees. This heat can be both good and bad for people not used to it, because it helps with detoxification and flexibility, as well as preventing injuries, but has also been known to make people dehydrate faster, feel faint, or even actually pass out.
Vinyasa. Much like Ashtanga, this style teaches you to match your breath to your movements, but Vinyasa's adherence to basic poses and moderate speed makes it acceptable for beginners and more advanced students alike.
Ananda. If you're into the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga, give this one a try. The postures are designed to be gentle so that your energy will move up to your brain and help with meditation.
Anusara. Another form of yoga that delves into the spiritual, Anusara is also more physical than Ananda because the postures can be quite challenging at times.
ISHTA. An acronym that stands for Integral Science of Hatha and Tantric Arts, this style combines postures with meditation and visualizations to help open energy channels in your body.
Jivamukti. For those who truly believe in the scriptural teachings of yoga, this style is a variation of Asana that calls for meditation, non-violence, vegetarianism, chanting, and devotion to God.
Integral. A traditional form that combines physical and spiritual aspects of yoga, such as breathing exercises, prayer, meditation, postures, selflessness, chanting, and self-inquiry.
Kali Ray TriYoga. This is where yoga meets dance, with all postures flowing into each other while you engage in breathing and meditation exercises.
Kundalini. Typically, classes involve meditation, chanting, breathing exercises, and awakening spinal energy and drawing it up.
Restorative. If you see yoga more as a way to relieve stress than anything else, you might love this style. In typical classes you'll spend lots of time just lying around on props like blocks and blankets and allowing your muscles to relax.
Power. An Americanized version of Ashtanga that focuses on calisthenics-like poses and increases the pace of the exercises to make them intensely aerobic, helping to build muscle.
Kripalu. Very focused on the mental and spiritual, with only a minimum amount of attention paid to the physical aspect of the poses. The goal is to reach a point where you're barely aware of the pose that you're doing because you're so engaged in your inner world.
White Lotus. This modified Ashtanga combines meditation and breathwork.
Viniyoga. A style often practiced by people recovering from injuries. Viniyoga instructors tailor the exercises to each person's abilities and change them as the person recovers.
Svaroopa. Another great type of yoga for newbies, Svaroopa helps with transformation and healing by beginning with comfortable chair poses.
Sivananda. Similar to Integral yoga, with meditation, scriptural study, chanting, dietary restrictions, breathing, and postures all playing a role in the style.
About the Author: Kennith Campbell enjoys writing about hockey conditioning. When he’s not busy writing he enjoys watching hockey with his two daughters and working out.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Keeping Fitness Simple

It's easy to get overwhelmed when you're trying to live a healthy life and make the right decisions, but fitness doesn't have to be complicated. I think most people will have greater success with their goals if they keep it simple. Here are 4 basic guidelines to keep in mind as you are trying to live a healthier life.

1) Don't stress out over the latest studies you hear about on the news. In the past I would get confused and frustrated with all the conflicting information out there. It seemed that even the "experts" couldn't agree with each other on many health and fitness topics. I try not to have a knee-jerk reaction anymore when I hear about the most recent findings from the latest scientific study. Remember the guy on the twinkie diet last year who lost weight? The media loves reporting stuff like that, even though it is not beneficial to anyone. Some people will change their plans each time they hear about a new finding. Instead of always trying to adapt to the most recent news or trends, just use some common sense and be consistent with your efforts.

2) There is no single exercise program or diet that is the best for everyone. There are many disciplines and philosophies when it comes to exercise and nutrition. Even though many of us might love something and believe that it is the "one supreme program to rule them all", this may not be the case. Each of these unique systems have helped people get results and they all have their poster child who swears by it. When your life has been changed by a particular eating philosophy or workout routine it's hard not to be excited and want to tell everyone else that is what they need to be doing, but what works for one person may not work for someone else. This means you really need to customize your program according to YOUR goals, preferences, and abilities if you are going to stick with it and be successful.

3) Eat more whole foods in their natural state. Avoid highly processed foods that are high in sugar, salt, preservatives, and calories. I'm not a vegetarian, but I am moving closer in that direction with time. I believe the masses would be much healthier if they just ate more whole foods in their natural state and consumed less processed foods. A quick way to tell if you are eating processed foods is by looking at the ingredients. A food is highly processed if 1) there are more than 10 ingredients, 2) you can't pronounce half of them, 3) it sounds like you are reading a chemistry book rather than reading a food label.

When it comes to nutrition, I love reminding people of the simple concepts: balance, variety, and moderation. Applying these principles not only to your diet but also in your life can help you avoid extremes and keep you grounded.

4) Increase your physical activity. Exercise provides so many benefits and helps you feel great, but many people are missing out on this, since we live in such a sedentary society. Look for ways to use your body and keep it active. Exercise should be fun, not a punishment. Find something you love doing in order to stay active.

These four guidelines might sound vague or too simple, but little things can make a big difference over time and simplifying things can also keep you from feeling overwhelmed. Take a look at your lifestyle and identify a couple simple things that you could do to improve the quality of your life.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Your Fitness Quest Videos

I recently started making some short videos where I address topics related to exercise, fitness, and nutrition. I should have started this process years ago but I've put it off since I feel uncomfortable in front of a camera, and also because my witness relocation advisor said it could blow my cover but I care more about the health of the masses than I value my own life!

So I finally bit the bullet and started making some short health and fitness videos. They are currently just low budget video blogs shot with a hand held camera, but I thought I'd give people the option to watch or listen to a post about fitness than always read them.

You can get to my new YouTube channel at the link below:

Your Fitness Quest Channel

Feel free to check it out. It has already gone viral and I now have 4 subscribers! If you can't get enough of my boring written updates, then you will probably love my videos where I speak in a monotone voice with all the excitement of a mashed potato sandwich. These first videos are fairly primitive and it is an uncomfortable process, but the quality and content of my videos will get better with each one.

I'd love to get any feedback and get any suggestions you may have for future topics to cover. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Health Insights from a Medical Transcriptionist

My wife is a medical transcriptionist and types doctor's reports all day long. As someone who is constantly listening in on the medical profession and the state of people's health, I thought I'd ask her what she has learned while documenting thousands of cases. She is obviously required to keep patient's identities confidential, but she said there were many similarities in most reports she types. I thought I'd pass along some information which I found to be interesting.

Disclaimer: These are only insights and observations. We are not suggesting you act contrary to a physicians recommendations. We are not offering medical advice, but we have some strong feelings about the state of people's health and think the information below is quite telling.

1) Her first observation is that some people verge on being hypochondriacs and jump at the chance of going to the doctor for the smallest of ailments before they try to do anything about their health on their own. Rather than research their problem, or make lifestyle changes, many people go straight to a doctor. Perhaps they do this in hopes that their doctor can make everything better without any accountability on their part.

2) Many doctors have a knee jerk reaction to prescribe medications to deal with symptoms and ailments. She has been shocked to hear how many medications some people are on. Many of these medications are prescribed to offset the side effects of other ones they take. She said it's not uncommon to hear of patients being on as many as 10-15 different prescriptions. It makes you wonder if people weigh the benefits of taking certain prescriptions versus the side affects, especially if they are taking so many.

3) The most common health problems people have are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. These typically go hand in hand. Many of the health conditions people suffer from are made worse because they are obese or if they smoke. Fortunately, lifestyle factors can play a big role in treating and preventing these diseases.

4) She seldom documents cases of chronic diseases for people who are active and exercise regularly. They may still go to the doctor, but it's typically for things like kidney stones, skin conditions, or allergies as opposed to life-threatening conditions. Sedentary individuals usually have more serious health problems.

I know these observations are broad generalizations, and I'm not trying to present them as scientific data, but there is definitely a pattern in the reports she does. The typical profile of the average person seeking medical attention for chronic disease that she does reports for, is someone who is aging, sedentary, overweight, and either suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.

I understand that there is no guarantee to good health. An avid marathoner could fall over and die form a heart attack at any moment, and people who pride themselves on taking good care of themselves are still susceptible to cancer and other diseases, but there are certainly things you can do to stack the odds in your favor. Immortality is not the goal, rather longevity and quality of life. That's why it's important that we take care of our bodies today.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Hormones play a big role in regulating many body functions. As we age, some people find their bodies aren't able to do what they used to do, and part of this can be a result of lower hormone levels. This post is going to address decreased levels of testosterone in men.

For some men, lower energy levels, decreased libido, weight gain, decreased strength, and depression become more common in their 30's and 40's as testosterone levels decline. This has been referred to as andropause or "man-o-pause".

For those who suspect they are suffering from low levels of testosterone, they can go to a physician for a blood test which can test for this. Some men end up having hormone replacement therapy, and their doctor prescribes injections, patches, or creams, but it may be possible to increase your testosterone levels naturally without having to pay for prescription therapy or having the side effects associated with hormone replacement therapy by doing the following:

1. Exercise-being active can boost your testosterone. It is especially helpful if you lift heavy weights- Lifting weights that you can only lift for 4-6 repetitions is one way to increase the intensity of your workout and boost testosterone production.

2. Get Enough rest. Everyone has different sleep needs, but most people do best with at least 8 hours per night. You have to give your body time to rest and recuperate in order for it to function properly, so a sleep deprived body will have a harder time producing hormones.

3. Improve your diet. Reduce your refined sugar consumption and cut back on highly processed foods. Eating whole foods and eliminating junk food can make a big difference in your body's ability to function properly.

4. Reduce Stress- Excessive stress will eventually overwork your adrenal glands and can throw your hormones out of balance.

5. Eat more healthy fats. We need to remember that fats are essential to good health. Reduce saturated and trans fats and replace them with healthy fats like almonds, fish oils, olive oil, avocados, etc.  It is also wise to make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet.

6. Watch your vitamins and minerals. Make sure you are getting sufficient micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) in your diet. It can make it more difficult for your body to produce testosterone if your diet is deficient in zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B or D.

My final suggestion and the cheapest and easiest way I have found to boost your testosterone is to just watch The Expendables 2 trailer each morning when you start your day.



The aging process can slowly sneak up on us, and there is no simple fountain of youth. Hormone replacement therapy may be an option for some people, and your physician can help you determine this but, before you go that route, you should make sure you are doing your part by following the six simple steps listed above.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Avoiding Extremes

I've noticed that some people tend to take things to extremes when it comes to certain aspects of their life. This mentality can spill over into health and fitness if a person obsesses over their appearance too much.

If a little of something is good, then alot must be better, right? Not necessarily. That mentality can back fire on you when it comes to supplements, nutrition, weight loss, exercise, and body image.

Water and sunlight are essential to our health, but people can get extreme and even get too much of these necessities too. I've seen some sun worshipers who's damaged skin makes them look much older than they really and in some cases they look more like a baseball mitt than a person.

Some people are extreme when it comes to nutrition and make blanket statements that completely vilify entire food groups. For years society tried to avoid "fat" in their diet since it was labeled as being so bad. You've probably seen others do the same thing with carbohydrates too. 

Other people say you should NEVER eat refined sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup, or even cooked food. They may have valid points with some these statements, but that might be a little too stringent for most people and nobody likes being told what to do by the food police.

Some promote certain foods as being perfect and would bestow sainthood on them if it were their choice. Broccoli, blueberries, almonds, quinoa, etc. are amazing foods and very healthy, but they are not the end all of nutrition. No one single food is going to be the answer to your problems, but rather one of many pieces to the puzzle.

It's obvious that exercise is good for you, but some fitness enthusiasts take it too far and turn it into an obsession. Exercise addiction can be a real problem for some people.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so people will all have different opinions when it comes to what is too fat, too muscular, too skinny, or too tan,  Everyone should have their own personalized fitness goals and ideals, but if you find that 99% of the population can't relate to your health habits and that you are coming off as a little extreme, then it might be a good idea to re-evaluate things. Balance, variety, moderation and common sense should apply to all aspects of your life, not just your nutrition.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I Have a Favor to Ask...

I want you... to spread the word.
I have a favor to ask. If you feel you have ever benefited from the information at Your Fitness Quest, then I ask that you don't keep it a secret. I am very passionate about the topics I have been sharing here for nearly four years and feel this site has the potential to help people improve their lives as opposed to just entertaining them.

Advertising can be expensive and a waste of time if it's not done right. I believe that word of mouth is still the best form of advertising despite all our advances in technology. That being said, feel free to tell your friends and family about Your Fitness Quest. I will be adding some fun features and enhancements to the site soon.

If you ever have suggestions or ideas of what you'd like to see more or less of, let me know. I love comments and interaction and always appreciate feedback. Feel free to e-mail me at tom@yourfitnessquest.com. If you'd like to see new features or a particular topic addressed, just let me know. Your Fitness Quest will only get better with time. Keep checking back. Thanks!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Tale of Two Yogurts

I really like yogurt. I can understand why it is the official food of Burn Notice. Greek yogurt has been a popular food choice for people who are trying to eat healthy. My wife usually has me pick up a couple packs of plain Greek yogurt at Costco whenever I go shopping. I recently bought a flavored Greek yogurt for her at a different store. I expected it to have more sugar and calories, but I was shocked when I got home and compared it to our usual brand.


Check out the comparisons below for a 1 cup serving.

                      The Greek Gods          Kirkland                   

Calories                 310                           140
Protein                   8 g                            24 g
Sugar                     34 g                           7 g
Fat                         15 g                           0 g
Carbs                     35 g                          10 g
Total Ingredients     6                               2

Most people would think that yogurt is a healthy food, but the first brand has twice as many calories as vanilla ice cream. I'm not trying to bash The Greek Gods yogurt. It actually tastes much better than the plain Kirkland brand, which shouldn't be a surprise after seeing the ingredients. I just want to point out the importance of comparing labels and not making assumptions when you are shopping.

Many people only focus on price when they buy their food. Deceptive food labels and consumer apathy can make selecting the healthiest foods a challenge. Learning to read food labels can be a very informative process and is the only way to really know what you are getting.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sugar and Sugar Substitutes

My family recently hosted two teenage exchange students from China for a couple weeks and I was surprised that they did not care for sugar like most American teens. They turned down all the desserts and sugary foods they were offered and would say "too sweet". It made me realize how much sugar most Americans consume in their diet.

I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy sweet foods and sugar is my Achilles heel when it comes to nutrition. Many people say sugar is bad for you. I would say that excess sugar is not good for you, but I don't like to label entire foods as good or bad. Your body actually breaks your food down to glucose (sugar) in order to function on a cellular level.

There are many different names and types of sugar such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, etc. so you have to watch for all of it's aliases when you are reading labels. The type of sugar that most of us should be more aware of is refined table sugar. Today the most prevalent form of sugar in our diet comes from high fructose corn syrup. It's in just about everything. In an attempt to eat less sugar and fewer calories, people have looked to sugar substitutes.

In the 70's, Saccharine was the main substitute and is still around today (Sweet N' Low). Aspartame (Splenda and NutraSweet) is very popular today as well as Sucralose (Splenda). These sweeteners have fewer calories, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are healthier. Some other sugar substitutes include: honey, agave, xylitol, or stevia. There are advocates and critics to each of the sweeteners listed above so it may be worth your time to do a little homework on each one. 

Some of the dangers of having too much refined sugar in your diet include: dental cavities, an increase in calorie consumption (weight gain), insulin resistance, it can mess with your cholesterol levels, there are correlations between excess sugar consumption and heart disease, and one that I have noticed first hand is inflammation.

The bottom line: It's safe to say that Americans consume way more sugar than they used to and much more than they need to. I'm not on the war path against sugar, but I have learned from personal experience that my body is much healthier when I limit the amount of sugar I eat. I challenge you to cut back your refined sugar consumption for a while and see what difference it makes for your health.

This topic reminded me of one this Saturday Night Live clip about high fructose corn syrup.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Vaccination Controversy

With the recent increase in whooping cough cases, the topic of vaccinations is back in the news again. I never imagined that vaccinations could be such a controversial subject. I have friends who are both for and against immunizations and they've all expressed valid concerns about the subject. When I try to research the topic, I find that there are "experts" on both sides of the issue who also disagree with each other.

Immunizations are credited with the decrease of diseases like Polio, Malaria, Small Pox, and Diphtheria but, over the years, some have claimed that vaccines may be responsible for the rise in autism or cancer in children. I don't believe this theory has been proven, but it has caused some people to think twice before immunizing their kids.

The Risks- There are risks associated with almost everything we do. Even eating certain foods can be fatal to those with allergies so, obviously, there is going to be an occasional risk of having an adverse reaction after introducing harmful substances into the body of a child.  Likewise, there is also a risk that those who choose not to immunize against infectious diseases  many later become infected with and have a more serious bout of illness with those diseases.

Our immune systems do an amazing job of protecting us from disease, but I sometimes wonder if it is better to allow your body to do so naturally, rather than inject a syringe full of potential threats in an attempt to avoid future infections. I've also wondered why some of these vaccines are given to a newborn so quickly after birth. An infant's body is so vulnerable and under so much stress, and I have wondered if that is really the ideal time to do so.

This is a heated debate. Some people who are against vaccinations claim that immunizations are simply a big pharma operation to profit those who produce immunizations and claim you need to follow the money. On the other hand, I've seen physicians or medical experts who expresses concerns about infant immunization schedules or question some of the current practices, and they are thrown under the bus in an attempt to discredit them and make them look like they want to see kids die.


After reading the ingredients contained in vaccines, I have wondered if some ingredients like mercury, phenoxyethanol, or aluminum, are really necessary. I'm no doctor, but it seems like some of the ingredients vaccines contain are things the FDA would shut down a business for if they found them in their food products. I don't think immunizations are bad, but I question 1) the sudden rise in having so many recommended new ones, 2) the early age at which they are recommended, and 3) how they frequently combine many of them together at the same time.

The concept behind immunizing the masses requires community participation, and that can be frustrating for immunization advocates when a parent decides not to immunize their kids due to religious reasons or out of concern for their child's health. I've heard those who don't want to immunize question why they are a threat to those who are already immunized. 


I'm no science expert. I'm more of a "go with your gut and common sense" kind of guy, but I want to learn more about this topic. I think it is important for people (including myself) to research and get more facts, rather than rely on horror stories, scare tactics, theories, or peer pressure from either side. I find it ironic that those who debate both sides of this topic actually do it for the same reason: to protect their children. The challenge with this topic is the same challenge we have with many other aspects of life: How to determine the truth.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this subject, but please refrain from the usual name calling, broad generalizations, and disrespectful attitude that frequently accompanies this debate. That kind of stuff gives off bad vibes and is not good for you, and this is a health and fitness site, so we don't want any of that here. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Your First Triathlon

One of the most impressive endurance sports I know of is the Iron Man Triathlon. The participants swim for 2.4 miles, bike for 112 miles, then top it all off by running a 26.2 mile marathon. I'd like to thank the athletes who do this for making those of us who have run marathons feel like slackers.

I know this event is pretty extreme for most people, so I am glad that there are shortened versions called sprint triathlons that consist of a 300 meter swim, 10 mile bike, and a 5K run. I've been invited to participate in these mini triathlons over the years, but since I get along in water about as well as the wicked witch of the west, and since I haven't had a decent bike since I was a teenager, I have always declined.

This last week I got an invitation from a relative to join them for their 4th annual family triathlon. It's called the Boyce Ator Triathlon and commemorates my cousin's husband who was an avid triathlete who passed away in 1994 from cancer. I was excited to learn that this mini triathlon is not the kind of intense competitive event where hundreds of guys in wet suits sprint from the start line and literally climb over each other while trying to swim the first leg. I was assured it is less of a competition and more of a recreational event due to the small number of participants and the emphasis they put on having fun.

This is what has always scared me away from trying a triathlon.
If you have ever considered participating in a triathlon but felt intimidated by it, then this would be the ideal event to give it a try. If you will be in the Provo/Orem area this Labor Day, then I invite you to join us September 3 at 7:00 a.m.. Not only is this a great excuse to get in shape, but it is also for a good cause, since any profits earned from the event will be donated to cancer research. The registration fee is a bargain, and you can get more details and register at Boyce Ator Triathlon

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why You Should Lift Weights

I've been focusing on running over the past several months so you've probably noticed more posts than usual on that subject. As important as cardio conditioning is, and as glad as I am with some running progress I have made this year, I feel I have let another component of my physical fitness slip. I'm talking about weight lifting.

When it comes to resistance training, people have different preferences. Some prefer free weights, others choose Olympic style lifts, kettlebells, machines, or even using their own body weight as resistance. One thing all of these activities have in common is that they strengthen your muscles and improve your health.

I've said this before and don't want to sound like a broken record, but one of my pet peeves is when I tell women about the benefits of lifting weights and they express concern that they are going to "bulk up." That is kind of like me being afraid of getting a manicure because it will make me look like Miss America. Ladies, you are not going to look like a man unless you start taking steroids! I admit that some extreme women bodybuilders scare other women away from weights, but they are tying to look freakish on purpose and are doing some very unnatural things to achieve that look.

Muscle is a beautiful thing and building muscle does not compromise a woman's femininity. When I refer to lifting weights, I don't mean doing 35 repetitions with a cute 6 ounce neoprene dumbbell. You need to lift heavier weights for your body to adapt.

Regardless of how much muscle you think looks best on the human body, everyone should do some form of resistance training not just for the improved looks, but because it is good for you. Aside from developing a better body, strength training can also do the following:

* Help alleviate depression
* It will help you burn calories
* Improve athletic ability
* Help with injury prevention
* Reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes
* Build stronger bones and offset osteoporosis
* It increases your energy level
* Help with stress relief
* Reduce the risk of injuries

If you have not consistently been involved with resistance exercises, then I encourage you to join me by making a renewed commitment to do so.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Danger of Over Hydration

This post does not refer to water intoxication, but rather the stupidity of just drinking too much before a race. It's kind of a TMI post, so I apologize, but I have tried to keep it tame.

This morning I ran the annual 5K Freedom RunIn an attempt to hydrate, I drank quite a bit of water early this morning and just before the race. I was going to use the bathroom before heading out but decided against it, since I knew they would have porta-potties set up at the starting location. Big mistake.

This is not my photo, but it looked exactly like this.
I arrived at the starting line 6 minutes prior to the start and there were at least 12 Honey Buckets set up to accommodate the crowd. The problem was I had forgotten how popular this race is and that over 5,500 people were running it. There was a line of well over 20 people in front of each Honey Bucket. I'm no math expert, but I could tell there was no way I'd have time to use it before the race started.

After seriously weighing the risk of getting a ticket for urinating in public, I decided to just run the race with a full bladder that was stretched to capacity. It was not fun but, surprisingly, I still got my best 5 K time in 10 years. Maybe the motivation to run fast so I could use the bathroom was the secret. I would have enjoyed the race much more and probably would have done even better if I had used my head.

Remember hydration is important, but you also need to plan ahead. Hopefully, you can benefit from my stupidity.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ragnar vs. Marathons

Last week I ran the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay with some friends and family. It was fun and I gained some good insights after completing it. The Ragnar is a 12 person relay that covers 197 miles. Our team only had one elite runner on it and the rest were just "normal" people so it took us 31 hours to complete the course and we ended up in 227th place out of 1,092 teams. The winning team was from B.Y.U. and they crushed the course in 19 hours!



Both running a relay and running marathons have many things in common, but there are several distinct differences. Here are the pros and cons to each event.

Marathon Running is an individual sport. It's up to you to finish. Marathoners don't have a van of crazy friends cheering them on the entire race and there is plenty of time to be alone with your thoughts as you plug along. It is obviously much longer and requires more endurance since all 26.2 miles are run at the same time by the same person.

The Ragnar lets you split up the 197 miles over 36 legs so you may run between 4-10 miles each turn depending on the leg. As a result, there is time to rest, stretch, eat and sleep between each run. Some of these legs are much more difficult due to the extreme increase in elevation. The last few legs were so steep that the participants looked more like they were climbing stair steppers than running.


Even though less individual distance is required for the relay, I was surprised how mentally draining it can be since it is drawn out over a day and a half as opposed to several hours. Your body will get more physically exhausted running a marathon, but relays can also be mentally debilitating as the race runs on and you are sleep deprived, experiencing GI problems, stressed, and tired.

In Summary:

Ragnar- This team event is more fun since it's more of a social event. It's a real party for most participants. It's easier than a marathon, yet still very uncomfortable and draining since it's spread out for so long. If you haven't trained much and your buddies are trying to get you to run with them, you can probably still pull it off.

Marathon- The longer distances require better conditioning and preparation, but at least you can get it over with quicker. Marathons requires more training and mental toughness and are more taxing on your body. You can probably BS your way through a relay race, but there is no fooling a marathon if you haven't trained sufficiently.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Longevity

The other day I saw a Tweet that essentially said "Congratulations tall people. I'm glad you can reach stuff off the top shelf and are good at basketball, but I never see old tall people so you aren't going to be around for long." Their comment was not very nice or scientific, but it got me thinking about longevity. I always enjoy learning about correlations and factors that affect life expectancy. I have listed the main ones below.


Gender- The average life expectancy for women in the United States is 80 years, but it is only 75 for men, so if you were born the fairer sex, this is just one more reason to be thankful you are not a guy.

Nationality- Where one lives in the world also makes a difference. North America, Australia, and Western Europe have higher life expectancies than most of the third world countries in Africa by nearly 25 years.

Lifestyle choices-  Lifestyle has a big influence on how long one may live. If you've ever applied for life insurance you know they charge more if you smoke, use illegal drugs, take certain medications, have excessive speeding tickets, or if your occupation is considered a dangerous line of work. I think the Real Age website is interesting because taking their assessment can help estimate your chronological age and compare it to your "real age" which is largely determined by your lifestyle choices.

Genetics- Some people were just meant to live longer regardless of how they live. Occasionally people with healthy habits die at an early age while people like George Burns can chain smoke cigars and live to be 100! Genetics are never fair. Some people have a history of heart disease and cancer in their families and may be predisposed to certain diseases and a shorter life.

Income- People with higher incomes generally live longer as a result of better medical care and resources. I recently heard on the news that Presidents of the United States live longer than the average American man despite being under constant stress. I'm sure top notch medical care and checkups help, and it can't hurt that they have the Secret Service working so hard to keep them alive.

Education- this is closely correlated to income, but the more education someone receives, the longer they tend to live. There are several possible reasons for this and one is that educated people have a better standard of living and are more likely to avoid harmful substances and take better care of themselves than their non-educated peers.

The factors previously mentioned are frequently inter-related. I believe other factors like giving service, taking care of others, and having a good attitude may also improve longevity, but they are harder to quantify and measure in scientific studies than the items listed above.

As appealing as a long life may sound, longevity alone is not the answer. Living to an old age is not as enjoyable if you are chronically ill or plagued by health problems. Improving the quality of one's life is equally important, and there is much you can do to affect quality of life with your daily choices and habits. That's just one more reason why it's so important to eat well and exercise.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How's Your Running Form?

I remember the first 5K race I ran nearly 20 years ago. As I was lumbering along trying to keep pace with the pack, I noticed that some runners just seemed to glide effortlessly as they ran and didn't appear to be using nearly as much energy. Sometimes I see people running with such labored and exaggerated movements that it hurts to watch. It hurts even more if they happen to be passing me.

I've always been interested in the concept of bio-mechanics and exercise efficiency. I am fascinated with the subject, so I recently went to a class on running form that was taught at Runner's Corner. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is that I didn't learn about proper running technique a long time ago.

About 6 years ago, I read Hal Higdon's book Marathon, the Ultimate Training Guide and learned several techniques about running form, but the hands-on class at Runner's Corner was very informative and covered the four main areas listed below.



1) The posture of leaning forward at the ankles without bending at the waist. Imagine yourself falling forward using gravity to your advantage. The chest should be tall and open with your shoulders back and relaxed. Keep your head up and look forward.

2) Keep a minimal arm swing, and don't allow arms to cross the chest, since lateral movement will compromise efficiency. Relax your hands (visualize you are holding a potato chip between your fingers and thumbs).

3) The feet should strike mid to forefoot and you should land on your feet when they are directly under your hips rather than out in front of you. Landing on your heel (heel strike) causes unnecessary impact and slows you down with each step.

4) Keep your cadence at 180 steps per minute regardless of how fast you are running. This concept really surprised me since I always assumed faster runners take bigger steps.

Combining these four basic areas can reduce the amount of energy you expend, help protect you from fatigue and injury, and improve your running speed. The only drawback is that it requires more awareness, practice, and discipline to run with correct form.

If you want to improve your running technique, then I highly recommend the running class at Runner's Corner. At $7.00 it's a great bargain and even includes a brief video analysis of your running form.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

10 Tips to Run a Faster 5K

Last week I ran a 5K and got a new personal best for that particular course and ran my fastest 5K in 10 years. That got me thinking about some of the little things I have learned and fine tuned over the years. I admire serious runners, but I don't pretend to be one. I'm just a recreational runner and the advice I'm about to give is aimed to that same group, so if you run a 5K in under 18 minutes, you don't need to keep reading.

1-Train well in advance- The most obvious way to improve your time for any running event is it to prepare and train before hand. There is no substitution for preparation, so the most important thing you can do to run faster is it to train well in advance to improve your conditioning.

2-Get quality rest- This not only applies to getting enough sleep the night before the race, but letting your body rest and recuperate before a race rather than put it through a hard workout prior to the event.

3-Don't forget the little things- Tie your shoes well, wear appropriate gear, and keep your toenails trimmed! I know this sound like "no duh" advice, but it's a shame to overlook such simple little things and have them negatively impact your performance.

4-Fuel your body- If you are running a long distance event, you may want to carb load, just don't do a Michael Scott by wolfing down your Olive Garden take out while you are standing at the starting line. Learn what eating routine works best for you so you don't have to take chances experimenting before a race.

5-Get hydrated- You should be hydrated long before you start running and stay hydrated along the way. When you become dehydrated, you can only function at a fraction of your peak performance.

6-Use Music- I know many serious runners frown on music, but if you like to run to music, listen to something that will keep your pace and cadence where it should be. I have a couple songs I like to run to because I know if I stick to the beat, I will run a mile in exactly 7 minutes, so it keeps my pace consistent. Songs in the 180 beats per minute category are ideal. Keeping you cadence up can be hard to do if you are listening to Kenny G.

7-Warm up before the race- I used to wonder why some people were wasting their energy sprinting and jogging around before the race began. I now understand the value of getting your muscles and joints warm and loose to allow a better range of motion and to prevent injury.

8-Pace yourself- I usually have a pretty fast first mile and feel good about myself until I start getting passed on the last mile by all the disciplined runners who were smart enough to pace themselves. It's no fun to run out of gas because you started too fast.

9-Kick to the finish line- As you near the end of the race, you'll see a big finish sign, a cheering crowd, and your adrenaline will be pumping. Take advantage of these factors and push hard to the finish line.

10-Mentally prepare- Envision yourself running the course successfully. Know what to expect can be a huge psychological boost. I really like running a race course on my own a couple days before the event so I know what to expect and can visualize what it will be like.

As you apply these ten tips, they can add up and make a big difference and help you run a faster 5K.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Dose of Inspiration

I always enjoy seeing motivational transformations. I came across this video a couple weeks ago and found it to be very inspiring for several reasons. It's one thing to be overweight and then get back into shape, but when injuries are involved and medical professionals tell a person that they will never be able to walk unassisted, it would be very easy to accept their expert prognosis and give up.

Arthur believed he could change and exercised the will power and patience to do so. Since he lacked mobility, he was not able to do traditional exercise, so he did low impact isometric exercises. I think it is very interesting that he was able to make such an amazing transformation by practicing yoga.



It's amazing what people can do when they believe they can change and are willing to put in the required work to accomplish their goals. What do you want to change in your life?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Biggest Loser Insights

I was recently watching some old episodes of The Biggest Loser and found it to be very entertaining and motivational, but there were several things about the show that concerned me. Below I list 5 areas of concern that I keep noticing whenever I watch the show.

1) The contest is geared towards super heavy contestants. It's always more dramatic to see someone drop 120 pounds than it is to see someone lose 40. It makes for exciting television to see someone lose 25 pounds in a week, but it really bothers me when I see contestants or viewers feel like a failure because they were only able to lose 2-3 pounds during the week. It sets some unrealistic expectations for the average person. I know people who have wanted to audition for the show, but they knew they don't have a chance unless they were extremely overweight so they tried to gain more weight in order to help their odds of being a candidate.

2) There is too much focus on the weight scale. I'd like to see more emphasis on body composition and measurements. I know these other parameters are tracked and calculated, but the show focuses so much on that giant obnoxiously suspenseful scale.

3) The competitive nature can get ugly. The concept of voting someone off and forming alliances should be saved for shows like Survivor and Fear Factor, not for people who are working to improve their health. I'm all for competition and think it can be healthy, but I don't like the way they pit contestants against each other in certain scenarios.

4) The training is often too extreme. Pushing out of shape people to the point of exhaustion and yelling at them until they are in tears might appeal to some people, but I think it's a recipe for injury. One of the episodes I watched featured 4 contestants with injuries that were a result of over training. Gradual progression and reasonable workouts are safer, but not nearly as exciting to watch.

5) It's not realistic. The participants live full time at a secluded ranch with teammates in similar circumstances. Their meals are prepared for them and they have personal trainers to work them out. As appealing as this may sound, do you know anyone in the real world that lives under such circumstances? If you wanted to make it real, have them do the challenge while taking care of their family or while working a full time job and dealing with the stresses of everyday life while trying to get back in shape.

I hope this post doesn't come across that I'm trying to bash The Biggest Loser. Overall, I think the show is very motivating and entertaining and I love seeing people make positive changes to their body and adopt healthier lifestyles, but there are some subtle messages the show gives (perhaps inadvertently) that I don't care for because I don't believe those messages are healthy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A False Sense of Healthy

I get a kick out of the subtle marketing efforts that attempt to make certain foods appear healthier than they really are. Food manufacturers are not the only ones guilty of doing this. Many of us use the same techniques to try and justify that it's not such a bad thing to eat certain foods. I've written previous posts about the topic of kidding yourself.

Little things are often said or emphasized to make us think a food is more natural or healthy than it really is. I'm not saying the foods listed below should never be eaten, but it makes me laugh when I hear people emphasize certain ingredients in order to justify that a food is healthy. Here are some foods I've heard people promote in the past as being "healthy".

Carrot Cake- it's made of vegetables, it must be good for you.
Fries with skins on and seasoned with sea salt -extra fiber!
Vegetarian pizza-It's almost like a salad without the meat.
Apple Crisp- it's made of oats and brown sugar, not highly refined ingredients.
Ice cream with real fruit chunks- no syrup or or sugary toppings.
Candy Bars- chocolate is an antioxidant!
Blueberry muffins- blueberries are good for your eyes.
Low calorie potato chips- they have half the calories of other brands.

Some advertisers also like to tell us their products contain no MSG, no cholesterol, low sodium, sugar free, no trans fats, etc. on the labels of some products that would never have had these ingredients in the first place in an attempt to make a food look even more healthy.

If you are going to eat a food that you probably shouldn't, then I will admit that the lesser of two evils mentality can be helpful. I'm not knocking lower calorie foods or healthier choices, I'm just saying don't go bragging about how healthy or how clean you have been eating when your conscience knows better.

When I find myself sounding like a politician, trying to justify that my food choices weren't so bad, I now just laugh about it. We have a family joke when we are guilty of stretching the truth and we now just say "Oh that's healthy".

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why Good Form Is Important

Sometimes at the gym I see people performing exercises with picture perfect form and it's a thing of beauty, but it's more common to see people with horrible lifting form. Sometimes my back hurts just from watching them.

I've been guilty of poor form myself. There are times when I'm trying to beat a record or get a new personal best, so I cut corners and get sloppy. If I lift weights that are too heavy too soon, I will sometimes notice I am swaying and wiggling and look more like I'm trying to break dance than lift weights.

Here are some reasons why it is important to lift weights and perform exercises with correct form.

    1.You are more likely to injure yourself if you use poor form.
    2.You will not target the intended muscles as well if you have bad form.
    3. You are a setting a bad example for all of the new people who are watching you.

Here are some suggestions to keep in mind that can help you improve your lifting form:

* Don't let your ego get the best of you. Stop trying to impress or compete against others. Young guys are usually the most guilty of this.

* Warm up before exercising and adjust the increase to your work load gradually.

* Observe your form in the mirror (no, the mirrors at the gym are not just there for the narcissists).

* Remember to breathe while lifting.

* Keep constant tension on the muscle (avoid locking out between reps).

* Focus on the muscle you are working and squeeze the muscle for peak contraction.

* Lift slower. You are more likely to get injured with fast ballistic motions than you are with slow and controlled movements. You've probably seen the guy at the gym bouncing the bar off his chest with each rep when bench pressing.

* Workout with a friend. Not only can they spot you, but they can help watch your form.

I'm sure there are experts out there that may disagree with some of this advice, but I believe you will get a safer and more effective workout when you follow the above guidelines.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Which Body Fat Testing Method is Best?

Knowing how much you weigh can be beneficial, but knowing your body fat percentage is even more enlightening. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a tool developed for large populations to determine levels of obesity, but only frame size and weight were factored into the equation. As a result a bodybuilder with 7% body fat may show up on the BMI index as being obese.

Knowing your body composition is important for anyone who is trying to maintain a healthy weight. Body fat can be measured in a variety of ways. Some are more affordable than others, some are more convenient, and other methods offer greater accuracy. Here's a summary of your options.

Skin calipers-Calipers are used to measure the thickness of various fat locations on the body and then these measurements are plugged into an equation to determine your body fat percentage. It is relatively accurate but there is great possibility of human error if the technician taking the measurements is unskilled or inconsistent. Some people don't like to have their fat manually pulled out and measured with a gauge either.

Bio-electrical Impedance-These are common in gyms or on body fat scales. Your body fat percentage is estimated by how long it takes a very small electrical charge to pass through your body. The electrical impulse travels faster through muscle than it does through fat. These are quick and convenient, but usually not as accurate since the charge may just arc through the upper or lower body and as a result may not give you a complete picture of your overall fat. Hydration levels can also skew the results.

Hydrostatic Weighing-This is an older method that uses Archimedes principles of water displacement. You will probably only find these at a University since they are so large and expensive. You sit in a dunking chair and blow all the air out of your lungs as you are slowly lowered into a small pool of water. You then have to hold still as long as you can. The water displacement is measured to help determine your body fat. It is a difficult process and uncomfortable for the test subject, but very accurate.

Bod Pod machine
 The Bod Pod-The Bod Pod looks like Mork's egg spaceship. It is a small chamber that uses the same displacement principles previously discussed, but instead of water it uses air. You just hold still once inside for about a minute while it calculates your body fat. It is very accurate, comfortable, and easy to use. The disadvantage is that you may not like it if you are claustrophobic and they are not very common at gyms since the machine is quite pricey.

Dexa Scanning (Dual Energy X-Ray Absortiometry)-This tool was originally developed to analyze bone density. It is basically a bed you lie on as an X-ray slowly scans your body. It is slow but very accurate. It is also extremely expensive. Not only does it tell you what your body fat % is but it's detailed analysis breaks down exactly how much fat is located throughout the body and can break it down by torso, arms, legs, etc.

I prefer bio-electrical impedance devices since they are so quick and easy and can still give you a decent idea of your body fat, but when I want to get a more accurate measurement, I will splurge and spend the $15 bucks to have the calculations made with a bod pod.

Focusing on one's body fat percentage is more telling than just worrying about what the scale says. Remember fat is not necessarily bad, your body needs a certain amount to be healthy. Unfortunately most Americans have exceeded the healthy level and have put themselves at a greater health risk for a variety of diseases.