Simple Workouts – Stop Overthinking It

Personally, I tend to overthink just about everything; I like things to be meticulously planned and thoroughly organized. And, in the fitness world, I’m not alone in this. Athletes and exercise enthusiasts, regardless of their level of fitness, routinely spend hours researching, questioning and planning their workouts. This is especially true of strength training, where new techniques are always popping up and, frankly, complicating things. You would think that a pastime that famously involves picking things up and putting them down would have a limited potential for getting complex, but the approaches seem to be ever-increasing. Could it be, though, that we’re going overboard? Is it possible that, in our effort to constantly improve our workouts, we’ve missed the mark?


Experts Weigh In

For years now, compound exercises have been lauded as the simply solution to strength training. These large, multi-joint lifts (think squats and bench press) work several muscle groups at once and essentially make the best use of your time at the gym. Focusing on large muscle groups, like your legs and chest, has also been shown to improve your metabolism in the long-run by activating huge amounts of muscle fibers and making favorable changes to your hormone levels.

But that’s not good enough, apparently.

The major complaint that many people voiced regarding compound-based training was the lack of isolation lifts. Perhaps out of years of habit, many gym-goers felt guilty skipping the classic singe-muscle exercise like bicep curls. And so the idea of Pre-Exhaustion Training started gaining popularity. This theory states you should use an isolation exercise to “pre-exhaust” a stronger muscle group before involving it in a compound lift. Logically, this makes sense since every muscle used in a compound lift doesn’t share an equal amount of the load.

Does this technique hold up under scientific scrutiny, though? Nope. In a recent study, published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, researchers tested this approach in untrained individuals. At the end of the 12-week program, no extra benefits in strength or body composition resulted from pre-exhaustion training.


Making Application

So what, though? What does pre-exhaustion training have to do with overall workout complexity? Well, buried in their findings, the researchers also reported one interesting little fact. According to lead author James Fisher, “Our results suggest that exercise order and rest interval make no difference to chronic strength increases following 12 weeks of training, but rather should be chosen based on personal preference.”

That is the key: Personal Preference. Since no extra strength benefits were linked with specific exercise order or rest interval, you should design your workouts based on what you can and will actually do. Fisher went on to explain that significant gains in strength can be made from as little as two, 23-minute workouts per week with sufficient effort.

Again, it comes back to this simple fact: The most effective workout is the one that do. Ultimately, if you do them regularly, it doesn’t matter if you favor simple workouts over more complex options.






Breakfast for Runners

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

When you arise each morning, your body has starved for 9-12 hours–your glycogen and blood-glucose levels dropped and you need to replenish your body to revitalize it for the day. But for morning runners, what can you eat? You don’t want a large breakfast to cause gastrointestinal problems but you need some calories to get you through a workout.

I conducted some research to find out options. As we all know, what may work for some, may not work for another. But eating breakfast will prime your body for a good run, provided you choose wisely with a proper mix of good carbohydrates and protein. Here are a few to test out that do not overload you with calories:

Carbohydrate Lovers
Steel cut oats provide healthy carbs and make you feel fuller longer. You should test this out on a smaller run (i.e., less than three miles) to make sure your body can handle something as substantial as oats. Try adding berries to the top and a drizzle of honey for flavor. Also, the honey can provide a sugar spike to get you running longer–with the same effect as a gel.

Protein Fanatics
A small package of trail mix is easier on your stomach than heavy eggs and sausage or bacon. You can even make your own by adding in oats, nuts and a little chocolate if you can take sugar in the morning.

Sensitive Stomachs
A meal replacement drink would work best if you can’t handle heavy breakfasts before you run. My coaches always recommended the product Ensure, but others such as Slim Fast would work–depends on your taste preferences.

Sweet Tooths
If you like your muffins/pastries in the morning, try a protein bar in a sweeter flavor. You’ll get your sugar fix plus some added protein.



What Is The Truth About Triclosan?

In recent weeks, a previously unknown substance called triclosan has been dominating the headlines thanks to ever-growing assertions that the additive is remarkably dangerous. Even amid all that negative press, though, triclosan still has it’s defenders – including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the organization, “Triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans” and we do “not have sufficient safety evidence to recommend changing consumer use of products that contain triclosan at this time.” Still, people are worried and many other groups are pushing to the have the substance banned altogether. So, what is triclosan and should you ban it from your home?


It’s Everywhere… For No Reason

Simply put, triclosan is an antibacterial additive that has been tossed into an enormous and surprising array of consumer products. No only is it used in soaps, toothpastes and bodywashes but you can even find this chemical in cooking tools, children’s toys, footwear and furniture.

In all of its applications, the expressed purpose of triclosan is to stop the spread of bacteria. You may have even seen that your running shoes have been treated with Microban or Biofresh, codenames for triclosan.

And, while triclosan definitely is very effective at killing all those little bugs, it isn’t strictly necessary. For example, the FDA states that there is no added benefit in having triclosan included in soaps or bodywashes and that products that do contain the chemical aren’t any more effective than those that do not.


Why All The Worry?

If triclosan has been packed i to so many products that we use daily for almost 30 years now, why is everyone suddenly so concerned?

As it turns out, research has found that triclosan could bring with it some very serious side effects. Frighteningly, one of those studies was even redacted by the FDA and kept secret until just this year when a lawsuit dragged them into the light. The hidden findings linked triclosan with birth defects in rats and mice that the researchers later theorized were caused by disruptions to the animals’ hormone systems.

More recent studies have definitively shown that triclosan – even in low levels – does cause problems with the production of several hormones, including thyroid hormone, estrogen and testosterone. Because of this connection, some experts warn that there could be an increased risk of breast cancer when using triclosan.

As triclosan’s defenders have been quick to point out, though, these findings have yet to be replicated in humans. Still, if this stuff creates this sort of havoc in the bodies of mice, rats and frogs, we have to wonder what it’s doing to us.

Other studies have shown that triclosan can accumulate in your system after years of exposure, regardless of the source. This means that whether you ingest small amounts of the chemical from your toothpaste of rub it on your skin as lotion, it’s getting in to your blood stream.

If, after reviewing the information, you’d rather limit your exposure to triclosan, here is a list of common products that contain the chemical (courtesy of Keep in mind that this list is not, by any means comprehensive. If you really want to get this stuff out of your life, start checking labels.

Soap: Dial® Liquid handsoap and bodywash; Tea Tree Therapy™ Liquid Soap; Clearasil® Daily Face Wash; Dermalogica® Skin Purifying Wipes; DermaKleen™ Antibacterial Lotion Soap; CVS Antibacterial Soap, Ajax Antibacterial Dishsoap, Ultra Concentrated Dawn Antibacterial Dishsoap, Kimcare Antibacterial Clear Soap, Bath and Body Works Antibacterial Hand Soaps, Gels and Foaming Sanitizers.

Dental Care: Colgate Total®; Breeze™ Daily Mouthwash; Reach® Antibacterial Toothbrush

Cosmetics: Garden Botanika® Powder Foundation; Mavala Lip Base; Movate® Skin Litening Cream HQ; Paul Mitchell Detangler Comb, Revlon ColorStay LipSHINE Lipcolor Plus Gloss, Babor Volume Mascara, Phytomer Perfect Visage Gentle Cleansing Milk, Phytomer Hydracontinue Instant Moisture Cream, Bath and Body Works Antibacterial Moisturizing Lotions.

Deodorant: Arm and Hammer® Essentials Natural Deodorant; Queen Helene® Tea Trea Oil Deodorant and Aloe Deodorant; DeCleor Deodorant Stick; Epoch® Deodorant with Citrisomes.

First Aid: SyDERMA® Skin Protectant plus First Aid Antiseptic; Healwell Plantar Fasciitis Night Splint; Solarcaine® First Aid Medicated Spray; Nexcare™ First Aid, Skin Crack Care; : Universal Cervical Collar with Microban.

Kitchenware: Farberware® Microban Cutting Boards; Franklin Machine Products FMP Ice Cream Scoop SZ 20 Microban; Hobart Semi-Automatic Slicer; Chix® Food Service Wipes with Microban; Compact Web Foot® Wet Mop Heads.

Other Personal Care Products: Murad Acne Complex® Kit, ®; Diabet-x™ Cream; Scunci Microban Comb, Sportslick Pocket Slick.

Clothes: Biofresh® socks, undergarments, tops and bottoms.

Office and School Products: Ticonderoga® Pencils with Microban Protection, Avery® Touchgaurd View Binders, C-line® products, Clauss® cutting instruments, Costco® products, Sharp® printing calculators. Westcott® scissors

Other: Bionare® Cool Mist Humidifier; Deciguard AB® Antimicrobial Ear Plugs; Bauer® Re-Akt hockey helmet and 7500 hockey helment; Miller Paint Acro Pure Interior Paint; Holmes Foot Buddy™ HMH120U Antimicrobial Foot Buddy Foot Warmer, Blue Mountain Wall Coverings, California Paints®, Davis Paint® Perfection, Hirschfield’s Paint®,O’Leary Paint®, EHC AMRail Escalator Handrails, Dupont™ Air Filters, Winix Dehumidifiers, J Cloth® towels, select Quickie cleaning products, Kimberly Clark® WYPALL X80 Towels, Canopy® kitchen towels, ALUF Plastics®, BioEars earplugs, Petmate® LeBistro feeders and waterers, Infantino cart covers and baby carriers, Oreck XL®, Bissell Healthy Home Vacuum™, NuTone® Central Vacuum systems, Rival® Seal-A-Meal® Vacuum Food Sealer, CleenFreek SportsHygiene Yoga Mat, Resilite Sports Products, Rubbermaid® Coolers, Stufitts sports gear, Venture Products® fitness mats, Custom Building Products, DAP®Kwik Seal Plus®, Laticrete, Niasa Biquichamp® mortar grout and sealant, ProAdvanced Products.






Do You Need Vitamin D?

Goodshoot 1We all know the importance of receiving a proper supply of essential vitamins and minerals. But do runners already get enough Vitamin D? Spending time outdoors in the sun will generate a good supply of Vitamin D, as the sun’s rays automatically provide it–and most runners soak in extra time outside, especially long-distance ones.

But the answer is yes.

According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, “Research suggests vitamin D’s active role in immune function, protein synthesis, muscle function, inflammatory response, cellular growth and regulation of skeletal muscle… It is apparent that the athlete is at an equal risk for vitamin D insufficiency.”  A lack of Vitamin D can cause muscle weakness and influence an athlete’s performance.

The summer months help, as there is prolonged daylight. But especially as shorter days approach, it is important to be cognizant of how much sunlight your body receives. Think of your body as a plant–you need sun to survive.

Who is at risk of a lack of Vitamin D?

If you spend your time running early in the morning, late at night or always indoors, you need to supplement your diet with Vitamin D (over-the-counter vitamins work well). As winter approaches, it is a good idea to make it a habit of taking Vitamin D already. Also, if you are darker skinned, your body will not absorb the sun’s rays as well.

How much is enough?

An ideal level of Vitamin D is greater than 50 ng/ml for optimal performance in runners. Be sure to stay above 40 ng/ml because if you dip below this level, your body will move all of your Vitamin D to metabolic needs.

See Your Doctor

Have your doctor test for your Vitamin D levels and also talk to him or her if you take any medications. They may play a part in how much Vitamin D your body is able to digest.

With the proper amounts, you’ll see a marked improvement in your running abilities.



Slow Easy Runs Can Lengthen Your Life

I’m probably not going to blow any minds out there when I say that running is good for you. Heaps of studies have previously demonstrated what runners have anecdotally known for a long time: running improves your cardiovascular health and can add years to your life. In fact, this knowledge doesn’t just exist in the running culture and people in general tend to look to running as the go-to exercise.

But, perhaps because of this easy popularity, people might be overdoing it on the track. In general, the fitness industry is struggling with a culture of overexertion. People have taken that old – even outdated – proverb “No pain, no gain,” to the extreme. Not only has this lead to a rapid rise in the frequency of injury among exercisers, there has also be a sharp decline in follow-thru. Thanks to the modern thought that workouts have to be extreme to be effective, exercise can be terrifying.

When it comes to running, people often conclude that they just don’t have the time or ability to do it right. So, why bother?

Thankfully, an ever-growing body of research is taking this false fitness doctrine apart brick-by-brick. We now know that you can get the same benefits from short bursts of activity as you can from longer workouts. Brief workouts have been shown to bring with them a whole host of benefits, even some that haven’t been associated with longer workouts.

If your goal is simply to improve your cardiovascular health and avoid heart disease down the road, a new study could bring you relief from epic, time-consuming workouts.


Short and Sweet

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, followed the health and habits of 55,137 adults for 15 years. Specifically, the researchers were looking at the cardiovascular health of the subjects compared with their activity levels. Not surprisingly, runners had a significantly lower risk of heart disease and longer life expectancy when compared with non-runners.

What was surprising, though, was the fact that the duration, frequency and speed of the runs had very little effect on the benefits that the runners could expect. Even when the runners ran less than 51 minutes, fewer than 6 miles, slower than 6 miles per hour, or only one to two times per week they saw benefits in the long-term.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was that runners who clocked in more than 3 hours per week had no more benefits than those who ran for less than an hour per week.


Putting It In Perspective

That doesn’t mean that you can starting chopping all your runs down to size, though. It all depends on your goals. If you’re training for a race, or otherwise actively looking for big gains in speed and/or endurance, you are going to need to push yourself.

On the other hand, if the entire purpose of your run is just to keep your heart healthy, a modest program can be exactly what you need. We often say that the best workout is the one that you actually do, so if keeping your runs short will keep you motivated you go right ahead.





Strength Training for Runners

41PHHBV09oL__SL500_I once interviewed a successful endurance athlete who said strength training was more important than cardio. She’d give up an hour run for 30 minutes of weight training; it was the most essential workout of her week. I found this quite surprising as we all follow our running schedule in a regimented fashion and most runners I know will skip weights to get in more mileage. She says do the opposite.

Every week she did what she called the “Dirty Thirty,” 30 minutes of hard core lifting. Because we’re runners and don’t want to spend hours weight lifting at the gym, it’s best to maximize your time. The best way to do this is to work out multiple muscle groups at once.

Here is a workout to try incorporating into your running schedule. Once a week is good and maybe bump it up to twice a week if you have time.

Dirty Thirty
5 minutes warm-up on treadmill, increase pace every minute.

Do not sit on a flat surface the entire lifting session. Rather, stand or sit on a resistance ball to engage your core.

15 lunges while carrying barbells and as you step forward, curl. As you bring your legs together, lift your arms over your head. Repeat.

What it works: Legs, glutes, biceps, back.

15 squats with barbells at your sides. As you stand up, lift the barbells over your head and bring them back to your sides.

What it works: Glutes, biceps, back.

Do a set of 15 upright rows. No stopping.

What it works: Shoulders.

Stop and do 20 scissor kicks to work your core and rest your arms.

15 lunges and this time hold one barbel with both hands over your head. Bend your elbows so the barbel falls behind your head. Each time you bring your feet together, lift the barbel over your head.

What it works: Legs, glutes and triceps.

15 squats ballet style (standing with feet apart like a duck, considered second position in ballet) and hold a barbell in between your legs with both hands.

What it works: Calves, glutes.

Do 15 upright rows.

What it works: Shoulders.

25 crunches with your legs in the air for extra work.

Keep repeating this until 30 minutes is over.


Confusion Over Muscle Confusion

The health and fitness industry is largely powered by buzzwords. We’ve gone through our antioxidant phase, our HIIT phase and are currently in our gluten phase. One concept that has managed to endure for a surprisingly long time, though, is that of muscle confusion. First coined in the 1960s by fitness legend Joe Weider, the idea sort of faded into the background for a few years until it was recently resurrected by P90X and other similar programs.

So, I think you know where this post is going: Does muscle confusion work? Well, in researching the topic, it became apparent that there is a significant amount of confusion over exactly what muscle confusion is. To really answer any questions about effectiveness, then, we need to first define what in the world we’re talking about here.


What It Is And Isn’t

The basic truth that gave rise to the muscle confusion concept is that your muscles adapt to any stimulus. Not only is this an undeniable fact, it’s the entire reason that we work out in the first place. Those adaptations – like increased strength and endurance – are exactly what we’re looking for when we devote hours to exercise each week.

It is also true that if you continue to do the exact same workout for extended periods you will stop seeing benefits and even risk injury. This is why periodization – the practice of making scheduled changes to your routine – has found its way into the repertoire of so many fitness professionals and athletes. Simply put, it works.

In some cases, this is what people have in mind when they talk about muscle confusion and this form of it is solidly proven. But when you look at these periodization techniques, the details differ considerably from modern muscle confusion programs.


Nuts and Bolts

For one thing, when most people talk about “mixing things up” and “shocking your muscles” they have in mind very rapid changes that take place from week-to-week or even day-to-day. While muscles do adapt, it simply doesn’t happen that quickly. The exact time-frame will depend on your fitness level and can range from a few months for beginners to two weeks for more experienced athletes. But it doesn’t happen after just a day or two.

Another issue in the common concept of muscle confusion deals with what the variables are. Generally speaking, the first thing people change is the actual exercise. This can be problematic, though. It takes time for you to learn exactly how to do an exercise with proper form and, if you jump around too quickly, you could be risking injury by not giving yourself a chance to master a movement before leaving it behind for another.

What proponents of the modern version of muscle confusion forget is that traditional training programs – when they’re designed properly – do change. The key difference is that the manipulations are much smaller. Instead of going to a totally different workout from week to week, periodization makes tweaks to the rep, sets, rest and weight structure of the routine. And this makes complete sense when you think about it. Adding more weight to your squat than you previously did will shock your muscles and force adaptations.

And, remember, we want our muscle to adapt. The trick is to keep making those changes happen. Fortunately, this doesn’t require you to totally change your workout day after day.

Okay, so to review: It is true that your muscles adapt and, left unchecked, this can make you plateau. Unfortunately, this fact has been misinterpreted in recent years. Instead of worrying about throwing in totally different exercises workout after workout, a series of small changes will get the job done without risking injury or wasting time figuring out exactly how to do these new moves.




Add More Veggies to Your Diet

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

I once interviewed a well-known vegan endurance athlete who swore a plant-based diet helped him win triathlons. He was lighter, well nourished and could easily drop pounds with eating vegetables and nuts. It really got me thinking about following a vegetarian diet despite my love of chicken. Now I try to add in several non-meat meals a week, including a “Meatless Mondays.” I now find myself looking for the vegetarian option on menus and find meat rather heavy, generally.

Although I don’t think you need to go to the extreme of removing meat from your diet if you love it, you can add in more vegetarian meals chock full of vegetables that offer plenty of protein.

Try these options:

For breakfast try adding in a green smoothie a few times as week. The smoothies can help remove metals in the body and cleanse you out, allowing your organs to absorb more healthy nutrients. Here are a couple of recipes. The first one is simple for those non-cooks.

2 cups water
2 cups spinach or kale
2 cups any type of fruit (watermelon and banana work well)

Pour in water into a blender, add in fruit one cup at a time and blend. Add in spinach one cup at a time and blend. Enjoy.

Blending the water and fruit first make it easier for the blender not to get the food stuck.

Real Simple’s recipe:

2 tablespoons lime juice
2 cups spinach
1 1/2 cups frozen mango
1 cup green grapes

Combine the lime juice, ½ cup water, the collard greens, mango, and grapes in a blender and puree until smooth, about 1 minute, adding more water to reach the desired consistency.


Carry a plastic pouch of nuts, seeds, and edamame for protein. It will also help you feel full faster.


Cook a meal of colorful vegetables, such as kale and peppers of several colors. According to Jennifer Iserlof, known as the Skinny Chef, “To get the most out of your veggies, don’t overcook them: 15 minutes or less on high heat (400°F in the oven or in a hot skillet) or under 25 minutes in a 350°F oven.”

You can also cook them over high heat for one minute, add a pinch of salt and then reduce and cook for an additional two minutes. Iserlof doesn’t recommend steaming as it takes the texture of the vegetable out.


Sleep In A Cold Room for Weight Loss

Over the past few years, many startling scientific discoveries have changed the way that we look at – and care for – our own bodies. It seems like the more that we learn, the more we realize that we have no idea what is going on under our skin.

For example, fat has always been seen as the enemy. We work out and diet in hopes of destroying those amorphous, stubborn deposits that viciously cling to our bodies. As it turns out, though, that’s just one type of fat. The stuff that we war against that slows us down and does absolutely nothing – metabolically speaking – is called white fat. Surprisingly, there’s also something called brown fat which turns out to be pretty useful.

Brown fat is metabolically active, meaning that it burns calories. Specifically, brown fat acts like a furnace that absorbs sugar from the blood stream and burns it in order to maintain a proper core temperature. Unfortunately, human adults have very little in the way of brown fat – a pretty frustrating discovery, really.

Fueled by the sheer excitement of finding a type of fat that can effectively help you lose weight, though, the search has been on in full earnest for a way to increase our deposits of brown fat. One of the most promising studies comes to us from the National Institutes of Health by means of the June issue of Diabetes.


 The Study

Considering brown fat’s link to body temperature, the study had a fairly logical design: The researchers found 5 healthy young men who were willing to sleep in a lab for 4 months. During that time, their diet would be controlled – as would the temperature of their bedrooms.

For the first month, the bedrooms were kept at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This did nothing, which was the expected result. In the second month, however, the room temperature was dropped to 66 degrees. This is when things got exciting; Brown fat activity ramped up.

Most notably, the volume of brown fat in the subjects nearly doubled. Their insulin sensitivity also increased. While the subjects did burn a few more calories during the day, it just wasn’t enough to result in weight loss over the course of the four weeks.

Perhaps most interestingly, the subjects metabolisms and insulin responses returned to normal after the temperature in the room was cranked back up – first to 75 degrees, then to 81.


What It Means And Doesn’t Mean

First of all, this study suggests something incredible: That you can increase your levels of brown fat. Since we are just beginning to understand how this magical stuff works, this is a very important fact to know.

Of course, this study also shows us that these changes can be done and undone fairly quickly – over the course of just a month.

Now for the bad news, though. These findings do not mean that sleeping in a cold room is a magic bullet for weight loss. This is simply a preliminary study that used a very small sample size – only five men – and needs to be repeated on a larger scale with other groups before we can really put our confidence in it.

Remember, too, that the increases in caloric expenditure were not enough to cause noticeable weight loss over a month’s time, which means that they weren’t very large at all. The primary benefits from the increases in brown fat were related to insulin responses and blood sugar levels, not immediate weight loss. While regulating your insulin and glucose levels can be a big help in controlling your weight, many other factors are involved.

With all those cold, hard disclaimers out of the way it remains true that this study shows some real promise. Sleeping in a chilly room might be just what you need to keep your insulin response in check.





Is Running in Heat Bad for You?

race-day-720x288I can’t count how many times people have said to me, “Isn’t running bad for you?” I state that living a sedentary lifestyle is worse (as I generally find the majority of people asking this question are in fact, non-exercisers). However, taking this sport to the extreme can cause harm.

In a recent study out in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers provide evidence that runners should feel more concerned with heat stroke than running long distances–this is especially of interest as we move into the hottest weeks of the year.

What is heat stroke? It occurs when your core body temperature rises 104 or 105 degrees above the normal, and is associated with dysfunctioning organs.

In this article, researchers studied 137,000 runners participating in endurance races in Tel Aviv–(a great locale for a heat study). They found only two serious cardiac cases: a heart attack and arrhythmia. Heat stroke occurred in 21 runners (two cases ended up fatal, 12 life threatening).

According to the Israeli researchers, “The diagnosis of heat stroke can be missed and mistaken for a cardiac disorder unless the core temperature– which can only be reliably obtained with a rectal measurement– is taken immediately.”

Additionally, “The risk of heat stroke is not limited to endurance races… [it's] an important cause of death among high school and college football players, who train and compete wearing heavy protective equipment.”

Although it sounds like 21 out of 137,000 is slim, it’s still a cause for concern. The best combatant to heat stroke is hydration. According to exercise physiologist Jaime Roberts, “The body cools off by sweating, and as long as you remain hydrated, the body is able to cool itself off.”

Roberts recommends the following:

20 ounces of water two hours before exercise

At least 8 ounces of water shortly before outdoor workouts

A gulp every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.

Happy running!