Exercise Order for The Best Results

There are all sorts of different theories out there about how you should structure your workouts, in regards to the order you do things. Specifically, the discussion usually revolves around whether cardio or strength training should be the first thing on your list when you hit the gym. And there are various reasons – some a little more mythical than others – used on either side of the debate.

To confuse the issue even further, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) encourages a workout framework that is a little more complicated than just cardio and strength training. According to the ACSM guidelines, your weekly workouts should include:

  • 3–5 days of cardiorespiratory exercise, depending on intensity
  • 2–3 days of resistance training
  • 2–3 days of flexibility training
  • 2–3 days of neuromotor training

In an effort to clear all this up and provide a definitive answer regarding which form of exercise should come first, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recently sponsored a study on the matter.


Proper Priorities

The study began by selecting 24 healthy, active men and women who were familiar with each form of exercise. Each subject than underwent baseline testing and was given a chance to practice the exercises that would be used in the study proper.

Since there are 24 possible ways to order and reorder the four exercise modes, that’s how many workouts each participant performed. Every workout was directly supervised by a member of the research team and the subjects were given 48 hours of rest between workouts to make sure that one workout didn’t affect performance on the next.

Once all of the data from the study was collected, the researchers found that placing the cardio section first kept the subjects’ heart rate significantly lower than if it was done after strength training. The order of flexibility and neuromotor training made no difference, as along as it came after the strength portion.

Based on their findings, the researchers recommend doing cardio first to keep your heart rate in the “moderate intensity” range. However, they also state that this depends on you and the goal of your workout.


Personal Application

The above-mentioned recommendation is made with the goal of keeping people safe and not pushing the average exerciser to hard. Keeping your exercise intensity at “moderate” is a safe way for you to see endurance benefits while not putting your heart at risk. That being said, these recommendations don’t work for everyone.

The most obvious reason that one might ignore these recommendations is because they want to get their heart rate into the realm of “vigorous intensity.” For sprinters or those who are more focused on building power than endurance, this is an important difference. This study, then, provides important insight into how you can restructure your workouts to be most effective for your goals.

It’s also important to remember that every workout does not need to include all four of these exercise modes. If you need to focus specifically on strength, then, there’s no reason why certain days cannot be strength-only. Similarly, if you want to have greater endurance gains, you should design days around that goal.





A Time for Thanksgiving and Running

Photo courtesy New Jersey 101.5

Photo courtesy New Jersey 101.5

As Thanksgiving nears this year, I wanted to take an opportunity to give thanks for the extraordinary happenings in the running world today. Here are a few I wish to highlight:

Volunteers. I know it’s cold and races are almost always very early in the morning. I am extremely grateful for the volunteers who show up with smiles, positive energy and pass out water. They always end up getting water and sports drinks thrown on them; racers accidentally spit on them (I’ve seen this happen), yet they are there making sure we all make it to the finish line. I am most thankful for you.

Fancy shoes. Running shoes are found in every color, style and type. Suffering from major plantar fasciitis, I must choose my shoes wisely; otherwise I suffer tremendous pain. Thankfully, shoe manufacturers understand that feet come in different widths and arches, and some of us pronate a little too far. Luckily, companies produce shoes for all these types of feet issues. I would not be able to run a marathon if shoes were all the same; I am thankful for shoes produced for high arches and neutral feet (because mine are built this way.)

All-terrain clothes. Because of my love of traveling, I need running apparel for all different types of terrain and weather. From the deserts of Arizona to the tundra of Antarctica, I’ve used running clothes for every landscape. I am thankful for companies producing long-sleeved, dry-fit shirts, long running pants, arm warmers, head warmers and jackets with pockets for my gels.

Rise in alternative races. From mud races to Spartan games to running for chocolate, I’ve picked a number of new races to complete. This year I am thankful for completing my first mud run, in which I scaled walls, fell head first into mud pits, sunk into knee-deep mud pits and soaked my body in fresh water at the finish. I also ran for chocolate in which a famous chocolatier provided liquid chocolate to dip an array of treats and hot chocolate to wash it all down. Other events include the Spartan race running over fire pits and getting sprayed with paint.

Women’s running. As recently as three years ago, women shifted the demographic of the running world. Now a greater percentage of half marathon participants are women–with that distance averaging approximately 56 percent. I’ve found women’s running groups full of supportive, amazing women raising a family and balancing careers with training for the sport. It’s inspiring to see these busy women cross the finish line of countless races. I am thankful to be a woman and surround myself with such positivity from other female runners.


Home Cooking: A Key To Healthy Eating

Those warm, traditional, home cooked meals that have been romanticized by the media are – unfortunately – a dying art. Scenes of the entire family gathered around a warm meal, made from fresh ingredients have largely been relegated to the realm of fiction. In large part, people just don’t have time to cook anymore. For many, time is also a powerful barrier to home cooking.

But the value of these meals goes much further than nostalgia – they could have a large influence on the health of you and your family. The full impact of home cooking – and it’s increasing rarity – was highlighted by a new paper, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.


The Value of Home Cooking

For the paper, entitled “Is Cooking At Home Associated With Better Diet Quality or Weight-loss Intention?” three years worth of dietary data from 9,000 people was processed. The survey asked questions about what the participants ate, their fast-food intake and their use of frozen or prepared meals. Based on this information, the subjects’ caloric intake was estimated, including their macronutrient profiles.

On average, the group of subjects that rarely cooked at home – once or less per week – ate more total calories than those that cooked more often. The “home cooking” group also ate less sugar and fat than their counterparts.

It’s also interesting to note that the subjects who cooked more often were more likely to make better choices in the ingredients they used, relying more on fresh foods. This group also tended to make better decisions on the rare occasions that they did eat out.


The Take-Away

Of course, the obvious lesson from this study is this: Home cooking is healthier than eating out. This likely isn’t a revelation for most people.

What is fairly surprising, though, is the way that home cooking can change your overall dietary habits. In essence, you can train both yourself and your family to eat better even when you are not in a situation to eat a homemade meal.

There’s also the factor of additives that was not included in the study, but still worth mentioning. Prepared foods, whether they are packaged or purchased at a restaurant, often have preservatives, sweeteners and other artificial ingredients that you may want to avoid. Many of those additives are still fairly controversial so it will be up to you to decide what you want to try to avoid or exclude.


What If You Can’t

But, honestly, it may just be unrealistic for you to try to cook as much as six nights a weeks. So, what can you do?

Learn how to read nutrition labels and understand what goes into the foods you get at restaurants that you frequent. This type of education will at least help you, and your family, to be well-educated when faced with a confusing assortment of food choices.

Some people who work busy schedules even dedicate an entire night to preparing all of their food for the week. While this technique does involved a fairly large investment of time, it will save you time and money throughout the week – while providing you will healthier food options.








Disneyland Races

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This weekend I participated in another runDisney race and always enjoy the ability to mingle with the Disney characters. This weekend’s festivities included a super heroes theme and I found plenty of men and women dressed in Avengers’ costumes and volunteers also decorated in a mix of colorful Thor and Captain America memorabilia.

Although the winds were a bit strong in this race (up to 65 mph headwinds and blowing over aid stations), I generally adore running through California Adventure Park and Disneyland Resort. Here are a few reasons to consider adding a runDisney race to your 2015 schedule…be sure to add it into your budget, however. They come with a nice hefty registration price (but I think it’s worth it, at least once in your life).

1. Early morning start. Yes, they have to start early to get you out of the park before it opens to the public…However, this means you can be back at your hotel, showered and ready to explore one of the resorts early as well. Plus, you have the race done and over before most people even open their eyes for the day.

2. Plenty of “set-up” camera opportunities. Throughout the park, Disney officials bring in loads of costumed characters complete with race photographers and another Disney employee standing there ready to take a photo with your own camera. If you don’t want to spend the money on photos, it’s easy to take your own. Although photographers dot the course and take much higher-quality photos perfect for keepsakes (and Disney races offer the best keepsake photos).

3. The memorabilia available, from princess tiaras to wear while you run to the best medals in the running biz, you’ll bring home plenty of racing loot.

Upcoming Disney races:

Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend September 3-6, 2015 │ Disneyland Resort

On Sale: Feb. 10, 2015

Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon WeekendNov. 6-7, 2015 │ Walt Disney World Resort

On Sale: March 17, 2015

Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon WeekendNov. 12-15, 2015 │ Disneyland Resort

On Sale: April 7, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Jan. 6-10, 2016 │ Walt Disney World Resort

On Sale: April 28, 2015

Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Jan. 14-17, 2016 │ Disneyland Resort

On Sale: June 16, 2015

Disney Princess Half Marathon WeekendFeb. 18-21, 2016 │ Walt Disney World Resort

On Sale: July 14, 2015

Tinker Bell Half Marathon WeekendMay 5-8, 2016 │ Disneyland Resort

On Sale: Aug. 11, 2015


Diet and Exercise for Lasting Health Benefits

Whether you’re an athlete or a fitness enthusiast, you work hard for any improvements you see in your body – from losing weight to cutting time off of your mile. And, just like anything that takes a large investment of time and energy, you are likely concerned with maintaining any and all of those improvements. In fact, guilt after missing some gym-time or cheating on your diet is generally considered part of the price we pay for caring about our fitness.

In the past, however, we’ve talk a lot about the various benefits of the somewhat nebulous “Mediterranean diet” – focusing on fish, fresh vegetables, olive oil and nuts with very little red meat intake. A recent study shows that a combination of both exercise and the Mediterranean diet could have long-lasting health benefits.


The Secret Combination

Of course, we know that the Mediterranean diet and exercise are both very good for you. That much is extremely well-documented and fairly widely accepted. In this study, however, the subjects were split into two groups: one that ate a Mediterranean diet and exercised and one that only exercised.

It’s worth pausing to emphasize the fact that the control group was not made up of people who did not exercise at all, as would be common to this sort of study. Instead, the control group only exercised.

Essentially, then, the study was designed to see whether or not a Mediterranean diet added anything to the already well-known health benefits of exercise.

Both groups followed their routines for 8-weeks and then were simply monitored for another year. Of course, over the course of the study, both groups saw various improvements in their overall health. Of particular note to this study, however, was the oft overlooked factor of endothelial health. These endothelial cells line the inside of everything single blood vessel in your body and keeping them healthy translates to health benefits for your entire cardiovascular system.

A full year after stopping their 8-week long programs, the groups had their endothelial function checked. While both groups saw improvements at the end of the 8 weeks, only the group that followed the Mediterranean diet and exercised maintained those improvements.


Comments and Concerns

While this study does point out some interesting benefits of a health diet and exercise combination, it also raises some concerns. For one, isn’t it possible that these benefits could be seen from any health way of eating combined with regular exercise? More research is needed to answer that question properly.

Also, some might criticize this study since the long-lasting benefits were on a fairly small scale. After all, most people have never even heard of endothelial cells unless they have had related issues in the past. However, endothelial function has a large baring on blood flow which is a factor in just about everything you do. Blood is, you might remember, very important. Despite it’s somewhat modest reputation, the endothelial lining can effect everything from your risk of developing heart disease to your athletic performance.





Running When the Temperature Drops

greenland 12We’ve all seen the news: an Arctic chill blasted Canada and Alaska and the bitter cold swiftly made its way into the continental U.S. Although it remains comfortably in the fall season on my calendar, the outdoor temperatures make it feel like the middle of winter. I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude and look forward to running in wintertime. Here are a few reasons why:

I burn more calories. While running causes a calorie deficit, running while freezing really burns off those Thanksgiving pies. The body works harder when it’s cold, which in turn, makes a six-mile run burn an extra Christmas cookie.

The gym is less crowded. Until New Year’s, when everyone joins a gym to reach their resolution goals, the gyms stay relatively empty. This means open treadmills. When it is just too cold to run outside, I will take to the treadmill to rack up a little mileage. While it’s not ideal for me, I much prefer outdoor running, in the wintertime I don’t have to wait in the dreaded line for a machine. I can work out in hot, sweaty gym and still get in a run and not have to stand around hoping one opens.

Cute apparel. I’m used to sports bras and running shorts; they get plenty of use. In the winter, I dig out my nice running jackets, matching hat and gloves, and long running pants. It’s the fashionista in me that loves this whole new wardrobe that comes with the seasonal change. Just as I love reaching into the back of my closet to pull out my purple winter coat with the silver lining, I love wearing my pink running jacket and black cap. No one notices but me, but hey, I feel good and that’s all that matters.

Christmas lights. While Thanksgiving has come to a close and the turkey leftovers are in the pit of my stomach, houses all around decorate for the holidays. I love taking my run off my normal six-mile path and discovering new streets lined with tinsel and glowing lights. Some homes even play loud music from speakers wired to the outside. This gives me a little more pep to my step. The lights give me something new to enjoy from the darkness of the neighborhoods.

What do you love about cold-weather running?  Whatever the reason, happy running!

Is Resveratrol Good For Exercise?

Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the skins of grapes, has enjoyed a lot of popularity over the past few years. Not only did research into the so-called “French Paradox” suggest that resveratrol is responsible for protecting cardiovascular health even when people routinely indulge in fatty foods, studies also hinted to the idea that the substance could enhance the benefits of exercise. In fact, these metabolic and cardiovascular benefits of resveratrol were though to be so potent that the supplement has been marketed as an “exercise mimic.”

The problem is, though, that most of these claims have been debunked through more thorough human studies. In a past post, we’d discussed some of the new information we have regarding resveratrol and cardiovascular health.

New Findings

While that older study dealt with the effects of 250mg of resveratrol on men over 65 years old, this newer research broadened the scope by using active men aged about 22. It’s also important to note that this study used a dose of 150mg – much lower than that used in the past.

For four weeks, the subjects were asked to perform three HIIT-based workouts each week while taking either resveratrol or a placebo. Before and after the training program, all of the subjects were given a muscle biopsy, peak oxygen uptake test, Wingate test, and submaximal exercise test. Essentially, this battery of tests gave the researchers a baseline regarding the subjects muscle composition, oxygen use, power and endurance.

What’s really surprising is that at the end of the study, the placebo group saw a significant increase in power while the resveratrol group actually lost some power. In fact, the group taking the real supplement experienced a significant decrease in each measure that the researchers were watching.

This study stands in stark contrast to the fairly large body of evidence that led to resveratrol’s reputation as “exercise in a bottle.” The truth is, though, that many of the early studies that stirred up all that excitement were animal or test tube trials – which can produce very different results from experiments conducted within the human body. Large reviews of the previous research also suggests that the claims regarding resveratrol’s benefits were greatly exaggerated.


What About Wine?

This begs the question: Is wine bad for your exercise goals, then?

Well, let’s look at the numbers. Remember that the negative effects shown in the above-noted studies were observed in connection with fairly large doses of the antioxidant – 250mg and 150mg. To put that into perspective, an especially dark resveratrol-packed glass of wine could max out at about 2mg. So, with moderate drinking, you aren’t likely to reach the levels of resveratrol needed to really do some damage. These effects are only possible with supplementation.






Running in November

indexMy favorite season is autumn and we are well into with Halloween passing us by. Now onto the holidays!

I love the fall foliage and the spectacular colors Mother Nature offers this time of year.  The chill in the air is the perfect complement to a tough cardio workout. I feel that I run well in the fall when my body doesn’t work so hard to stay cool.

I flew to Denver for trip and ran where I could see the leaves turn and actually enjoyed the time change when it forced me to get out earlier. I didn’t go out for a speed workout, but instead loved the simpleness of the crisp air and shorter amount of daylight.

I simply partook in the magnificent fall colors and the crunching of the leaves under my feet. Here are a few things I tried during my trip to make my running more memorable:

I frolicked. I twirled. Instead of running in a straight line and charging ahead with my mileage, I decided to dance (kind of) through the leaves. I felt like a child again as I twirled my body in a circle as the leaves floated to the ground and I jumped into heaps of leaf piles. I haven’t done that since elementary school; I highly recommend it.

I stopped. Usually if I stop it’s because my shoe came untied or a side stitch makes it impossible to carry on; this time I stopped for no reason pertaining to injury. I stopped because I wanted to partake of the views. I watched the leaves float through the wind and hit the ground silently. The woodsy areas felt calm and peaceful as the leaves just fluttered around me.

I left my iPod in the hotel room. I am a full-on fan of music when I run. I completely understand that this makes me not a “purist” runner. I’ve heard numerous runners tell me at races that they can’t run with music; it makes it not nearly as valiant an effort. But I love my hip-hop and a banging beat when I run. This time I decided to join the ranks of the purists and ran with my own thoughts and silence of nature. It was a nice change of pace, I admit. (Though I am fully back with my iPod and Pandora.) I think I will do that sometimes now—run with complete solitude.

I made friends. Because I run with music, I usually just wave when a runner passes by, but this time I ran up to someone and carried on a conversation. I asked about good running routes, what races are like in Minneapolis, how to run in the cold winters and about the runners themselves. I appreciated the company and learned about running in a new city straight from runners and not from Internet searches.

I suggest trying out a fall run with a new perspective.