Speed Up Your Metabolism

runWith summer here and swimsuit season underway, you may look to cut out a few pounds as quickly as possible before the rest of the season fads away. Here are a few ways to speed up your metabolism to shed weight:

1. Lift weights. Tomorrow the calendars turn to July, usually the hottest month of the year; you may decide to avoid the heat and head indoors. This is the perfect opportunity to lift more. Did you know a pound of muscle burns six calories and a pound of fat only two? Try whole body lifting workouts done in a rapid pace for 30 minutes. You’ll boost your metabolism and lifting weights is just as important as a long run.

2. Try HIITs. This type of training was voted as the number one new trend in workouts. HITTS stands for High Intensity Interval Training, meaning you’ll do short, quick bouts of training. Try the following workout on the treadmill:

5 minute warm up
2 minutes tempo
2 minutes interval
2 minutes cool down
Repeat 4 times, each tempo and interval run going faster than the last time. Make your fourth time as fast as possible
5 minute cool down. It’s okay to walk the cool down.

3. Keep water with you at all times. Whether you are driving in your car, heading to work meeting or watching television, keep a water bottle with you and always be filling up on H20, as the heat will hydrate you so you can make it through tough workouts. If water doesn’t excited you, try adding fruit or powder for flavor.

4. Add in some green tea, especially if you get a little bored with water. Why green tea? According to research, drinking two to four cups of green tea may push the body to burn 17% more calories during moderately intense exercise. It’s cheap, too.

Try a few of these to slim down for the rest of summer.



Isometric Exercises for Runners

Your muscles are a lot more complicated than most people give them credit for. In fact, just about every movement you make is comprised of three distinct phases which are characterized by a different type of contraction. If we think of a classic bicep curl, these movements become extremely clear. First, there is the concentric movement wherein your muscles shorten to move the weight closer to your body. Then there is the eccentric contraction that sees your muscle increase in length to move the weight down or away from you.

Somewhere in the middle, though, there is an isometric contraction. This is the phase during which your muscles are contracting and working but do not change in length. To emphasize what an isometric contraction really is, imagine if you paused in the middle of that bicep curl so that you held the weight with your elbow at a 90 degree angle for a few seconds.

Isometric exercises, though, focus on this specific part of the contraction but holding it for an extended period of time. What are the benefits of this type of exercise? Is there a reason that runners specifically should use them?


General Benefits

Before we get specific, though, what are some of the overall benefits of using isometric exercises?

While you aren’t likely to see huge improvements in strength by strictly using isometrics, they will help to improve your balance – which is a somewhat ignored form of strength. I don’t care how many sit-ups you can do, if you’ve never done it before you will get floored by a plank workout.

Because of their stable nature, isometrics also have a very low risk of injury. There are no impacts putting pressure on your joints or repetitive movements irritating them. Just strike a pose and hold it.

But the benefits go beyond athletic pursuits. In fact, a recent review published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings looked at the effects that isometric training can have on high blood pressure or hypertension. After comparing a number of studies on the subject, the researchers concluded that regular isometric training for as little as 4 weeks can improve all measures of hypertension.


Just For Runners

Running is clearly a dynamic sport, but balance and stability are just as important on the track as they are in any other sport. By using isometric exercises, runners can strengthen very specific parts of their regular movements.

In principle, this applies to virtually any sport. Regardless of your activity, you can dissect your movements down to their various phases and use isometrics to build the muscles needed in each. For example, football quaterbacks sometimes practice their throws by using band-resisted isometric exercises that mimic the various portions of their throw.

Runners can do the same.


Exercise Ideas

Once you have this basic principle in mind, get creative.

Wall sits are a classic isometric exercise that can build strength and endurance in your thighs and glutes. Simply sit with your back against the wall so that your thighs are parallel to the ground and hold this position for as long as you can. Gradually build on your time.

Using a resistance band wrapped around your waist and anchored firmly behind you, you can perform deep lunges to target your hips and thighs. Hold the lunge position for at least 20 seconds on each leg and make sure that the band is short enough to provide resistance. This can also be done without the band.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a discussion of isometrics without at least mentioning the plank. But, instead of the classic form use the one-leg versions. Both the plank and the side plank can be adapted to provide a special challenge for runners. By lifting one leg, you put a greater strain on your balance and also engage you hips in the movement.

What isometric exercises have you used in your workout? Please share them in the comments.



Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2014;89 [3], 327-34

Workout Intensities Defined

You know that you are supposed to exercise and, as an athlete you’re probably pretty good about it. Changes are actually pretty high that you might even have the official recommendations regarding physical activity memorized. Just as a refresher, though, here’s what the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) have to say on the subject: Adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. Of course, there should also be two days of strength training in there. But, for now, we just want to focus on all this talk of intensity levels. Why? Well, because it seems like there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the concept.


Sort Of A Mess

But this confusion is more than just an issue of syntax. These recommendations were created to act as guidelines to ensure that you are able to reap all of the health benefits that are available through proper exercise. But, it’s possible that if you are not working out to the given intensity, you could be missing out.

And, according to a new study, this practice is fairly common. In fact, the researchers found that on average the subjects involved in their study greatly overestimated just how hard they were really working out. The findings led one of the researchers involved in the study to comment that “This is worrisome both for personal and public health and well-being.”

So, what are the proper intensities that you should be aiming for?


Workout Intensities Explained

While the exact recommendations differ slightly based on what country you live in and which government agency you talk to, they are all based around the practice of using heart rate to measure exercise intensity.

According to the CDC, you enter the realm of moderate activity when your heart rate is between 50 and 70 percent of its maximum. Vigorous activity exists between 70 and 85 percent maximum heart rate. It should be noted, however, that in Canada – where the above noted study was conducted – the standards are set much higher. The Canadian take on moderate intensity is 64 to 76 percent. Vigorous is defined as 77 to 83 percent.


Getting It Right

Obviously, measuring your heart rate is the best way to make sure that you are working out to the proper intensity. Of course, heart rate monitors are the easiest way to do this accurately. If you are working out inside using an type of cardio equipment, most modern machines have built in heart monitors. There are also many wearable models available for purchase.

If you do not want to invest in a heart rate monitor, though, you can still do it the old-school way: Take your pulse. Depending on your activity, this may prove problematic since you will probably have to stop what you are doing to find your pulse and count it for a few seconds. Plus, if you’re like me, it might take you a few seconds to do the math. But, this method works nonetheless.

You may also chose to use a rating of perceived exertion. A simple scale of 1 to 10 can be used to judge your exercise intensity, where 1 is laughably easy and 10 is impossibly hard. One this scale, 5 or 6 would be moderate and 8 or 9 would be vigorous.

While it is important not to push yourself too hard during your workouts to avoid injury, you should still make sure that you are challenging your body so that you can see positive changes in your health.

What techniques have you used for measuring your workout intensity? Please share them in the comments.







Short Intense Workouts: Their Source of Power

We love short, intense workouts. Perhaps the trend really picked up speed with the whole High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) movement, but several programs have since followed suit including the ever-popular “7-minute workout.” Based on scientific findings, this workout promises a variety of fitness improvements in just a brief workout and has spawned apps, videos and articles to coach you through it.

And it’s really not surprising that we so quickly latched on to this concept. The thought of only having to devote a few minutes to a workout that will nonetheless improve your health is, among other things, liberating. While many of these workouts are guilty of a certain degree of sensationalism (the 7-minute workout, for example, actually takes 21 minutes to complete according to the original article), they are a powerful tool with proven usefulness.

But why? What exactly makes them so great? A new study may help us to understand the full mechanism at work in the short, intense workouts.


The Findings

Researchers working at the Scripps Research Institute have successfully pinpointed the one factor that makes these workouts so very effective. As it turns out, the thing that makes all that difference is the activation of a single molecule. The substance in question is a protein called CRCT2 that is switched into action after short, intense bouts of exercise.

These types of workouts essentially drive your body in to a “fight-or-flight” response that sends adrenaline surging through your system to make sure that you can keep up with the challenges you’re face with. The CRCT2 protein works along with both the adrenaline and calcium pathways to cause adaptations in your muscles. But here’s the really fascinating aspect of this protein: It works only on the contracting muscle group.

There’s another kicker, though. In the study, the researchers genetically engineered mice to express the effects of CRCT2 and, observing these mice, found that the protein can cause the benefits of exercise without actually exercising. These mice enjoyed a 15 percent increase in muscle size and a massive increase in available fuel stores.

Of course, these benefits were only increased when the genetically modified mice were put through an intense workout. There is still no replacement for a solid workout. But, these findings help us to understand exact what is happening in our bodies when we exercise.

These findings also suggest that the adaptations that our bodies undergo when we exercise run deeper than we previously realized. Not only do your muscles become stronger and faster, but they also become better prepared to respond to future workouts.


So What?

While this is all very interesting, does it actually serve a purpose?

Not yet. Remember, this study was conducted on mice so the findings would need to be recreated in the human body. Nonetheless, it does open up a new field of researcher surrounding the activation of this protein. In we can manipulate how our bodies express CRCT2, we could greatly increase the benefits of our workouts.





Should You Eat Breakfast?

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve all heard the exclamation, “Eat breakfast!” throughout our lives. Your mother toted breakfast as the “the most important meal of the day” and nutritionists and health enthusiasts alike stressed the importance of breakfast because you are literally “breaking the fast” after sleeping and not feeding your body. It gives you energy and helps you lose weight, as all evidence suggests. But is it as importance as once thought?

Maybe not.

A recently published study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that researchers who studied dieters skipping breakfast lost just as much weight as dieters who ate breakfast regularly. The researchers do not deny that breakfast offers several health benefits. However, weight loss may not be one of them.

This is all counter-intuitive to everything we’ve heard about dieting.

How was the study conducted?

Researchers split 309 adults who wanted to lose weight into three groups:

1. The control group. This group received a USDA pamphlet titled “Let’s Eat for the Health of It” describing good nutritional habits, but never mentions breakfast.

2. The test group–eating breakfast. This group received the same pamphlet, but researchers instructed them to eat breakfast before 10 a.m. every day, not ever skipping it.

3. The test group–don’t eat breakfast. This group received the pamphlet, but was told to avoid consuming anything but water until 11 a.m. each day.

This test lasted for 16 weeks and researchers monitored weight loss of each subject.

What were the results?

A total of 283 completed the study. All three groups lost the same amount of weight on average.

“This should be a wake-up call for all of us to always ask for evidence about the recommendations we hear so widely offered,” David Allison, director of the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center, said in a statement.

What does this mean to you?

As runners, you need to be cognizant of what works for you. If you run in the morning, you may need to eat breakfast for the energy to get through your workout. It also provides a routine for your body–it knows when food is coming and will get hungry anticipating it. Bodies crave routine.

This study proves somethings don’t work for everyone. Everyone is an individual so you need to know your body.



Our Obsession With Intense Exercise

“No pain, no gain.”

“If you aren’t hurting, you aren’t working out!”

Slogans like this are plastered all over the internet in the form of forum posts, blogs and those “fitspo” posters that have all-too-quickly gone viral. But, of course, this is nothing new. And this type of motivation isn’t limited to the internet. Trainers, class instructors and coaches have been spouting these phrases for decades. Most recently – and most notably – entire training styles, like Crossfit, have been built on this philosophy. While many people have latched on to this thinking, and have made undeniable progress because of the determination it instills, many experts worry that there is a darker side to approaching your workouts in this way.

What are some of the potential concerns? Is there a better way to go about your training?


Discouragement, Plateaus and Burnout

Admittedly not as frightening as some of the other issues that we’ll cover later, pushing yourself too hard can simply sap your mental energy. This could even happen in the first couple of workouts, when you discover that your body just isn’t yet capable of what you’re asking it to do. But, your workout routine requires you to lift this specified weight. So, what are you supposed to do if you can’t?

Hitting this wall, especially early on, has the potential to make you feel like a failure and leave you totally discouraged.

Consistently working out at extremely high-intensities without proper fuel and rest will also make your progress stall. Remember, your body does not change during your workout; Improvements happen during rest. If you deny yourself the opportunity to recover, you won’t progress past your initial progress. In fact, if you continue to workout at the same intensity after you stop making improvements, you will probably even notice a lack of energy and strength.

That’s right, if you push yourself too hard, you could work against your goals.

In part, this is because of the hormone cortisol. Generally vilified as the “stress hormone” cortisol is released when your body is under intense stress and feels like you are in danger for one reason or another. Included in the list of things that your body perceives as “stressful” is intense exercise. Studies have found that cortisol levels spike after just 30 minutes of exercise performed at 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. Levels of the hormone steadily increase based on the intensity of your workout. Of course, a few spikes of cortisol are normal and your body can handle them in a healthy way. Consistently working out at a high intensity, though, can chronically elevate your cortisol levels.

Among the variety of not-so-desirable effects of chronically high cortisol you will experience increased body fat, decreased lean mass, increased appetite depression and lack of energy.


Overtraining Injuries

The effects of pushing yourself too hard can also be much more visible, though. Often, people who take this approach to exercise will push through the pain. Which is a very bad decision. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong; it’s a warning signal. Just like ignoring the lights on the dashboard of your car will eventually lead to problems, it’s better to stop and check on why you are in pain.

Not only could you experience muscle or joint damage by ignoring the pain you get during a workout, but more serious complications could arise. Particularly in the Crossfit community, there’s the fear of rhabdomyolysis or Uncle Rhabdo. This condition, which can be caused by over-exertion, is marked by a rapid breakdown of muscle tissue and resultant kidney damage.

Staying Balanced

But you have to push yourself to make improvements, right? So how do you know when you’ve found the right intensity?

First of all, do not go by sweat. The amount that you sweat has very little to do with how hard you’re working out and much more to do with the environment.

You also need to consider your goals. If you’re working to increase your endurance, you will understandably find yourself more winded than someone who is trying to gain strength or muscle mass.

If you are working for gains in strength, use your lift numbers to tell you how you’re performing. Similarly, you times can tell you how effective your runs have been.

Other useful tools include your heart rate or even a perceived exertion scale. Depending on your goals, you will want to keep your intensity within a certain window on either of these measures.


How have you found the balance in your workouts? Please share your tips in the comments.








Add Something Extra to Your Workouts

I want to love running again

I want to love running again

It’s now June and hard to believe the year has almost reached the halfway point. How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? Now is the time I like to do a self-check and figure out where I stand in terms of my goals and what I need to accomplish in the back half of the year. Are you close to a PR? Did you cross the finish line to a marathon already? If you still have far to go, here are a few 2014 fitness trends to try and get you to checking off those resolutions:

HIIT–This acronym stands for High Intensity Interval Training and can be used for runners wanting to achieve faster speeds. Adding in videos such as P90X, joining a CrossFit gym, or just heading to the track and shaking up your workout with plyometrics and speed work will help you achieve a quicker cadence in your 1600 meters or perhaps a fall 5K. This can be dangerous, so always be cautious of this type of exercise.

Group training–With the high cost of personal trainers and professional coaches, you can join a running group often at a nominal fee. Try meetup.com or a local running store to find one. You will also meet like-minded people and not have to be out training on your own or with someone your paying top-dollar for at the gym. Even if you’re on a school running team, outside camaraderie could be welcomed and give you a refreshing outlook on your sport.

Functional fitness-If you’ve been injured this year, the best way to recover is to train your muscles to do what you need them to do in daily life. If you have children, for instance, it’s best to train your body to be able to pick up your children–doing strength training that mirror this movement. It’s about creating strength for how you live daily.

If you’ve already reached your 2014 goals, it’s now time to raise the bar, so to speak. Set new goals and now you have a new six months to get training.