Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Inspiration and Motivation

Decided I needed a little change of pace so I hit the road for a day trip to attend  the East Coast Natural Body Building, Figure and Bikini Championships. I had never been to this type of event before and I must say it was a great experience. Inspiring to see the beauty of the human form that can be achieved, but only with high levels of commitment and dedication that was required by each and every competitor to get to that stage. So many different physiques, some more impressive than others but I am sure each had their own story and motivations that set them out to achieve the goal of competing on stage.
The energy in the room was incredibly positive with the small audience of fans supporting all competitors as they walked across the stage to showcase their dedication and commitment to hard work. Some of the competitors gave me more positive affirmation that I was headed in the right direction and that maybe my goals are achievable, other competitors further inspired me to reassess my commitment to fitness and find the leaks that are contributing to my current  physical (and mental) plateau. I have renewed my passion for learning more and committing to making more forward progress towards my health and fitness goals. Thanks to all that were part of the show!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Importance of Strength Training

To all you cardio addicts out there...lets take a look at strength training...All too often I hear comments in the "judgement free zone" that are hard to ignore regarding cardio, most recently overheard someone telling her training partner that she "forced" herself to do an hour and a half of cardio on her off question... why? If you are pushing hard enough for the benefit of the workout how can you continue at that pace for more than an hour? If you have the time to do that on your "off" day why don't you reassess your program and add in some more strength training to sculpt the muscle you are trying so hard to reveal by burning calories?  On another occasion a client shared that she was told by "her trainer" to only do cardio if she had limited time (her limited time was 2 hours/day 2-3 times per week!), certainly can think of a few beneficial activities to fill that time with instead of another hour of spinning. Her frustration..after a month she saw no results! No scale weight or visible change, at least if she added some weight training she would see some change in shape if the scale weight didn't drop.  (Of course, I think diet probably was partially to blame as well.)
Too often people looking to lose weight and slim down immediately look to lots of cardio to get more caloric burn. Is it because the cardio machines flash numbers at us telling us how many as we race to burn calories? Truth is we may burn more at the time but cardio certainly doesn't effect our resting metabolic rate (RMR) like strength training can. Or consider doing weight training circuits for some benefits from both.  True, cardio may burn more calories during the workout but strength training builds more metabolically active tissue to increase your calorie burn after the workout and increase your overall metabolic rate!
The benefits from strength training are many. There is no other way to sculpt a beautiful body without resistance training.  Lots of cardio and a caloric deficit will only reveal a skinnier version of yourself and generally at the cost of also losing muscle.  "Skinny fat," love that term!  Skinnier is certainly a good thing but the real beauty comes from firming and sculpting the muscles that were hiding beneath the insulation.  And ladies...don't worry about bulking up, without hormonal assistance you will not get huge!
Through weight training you will build more lean muscle tissue thus raising your resting metabolic rate with resulting increased caloric burn at rest! Increasing your lean body mass (LBM) improves your body fat percentage/body composition and THIS should be the goal of healthy lifestyle makeovers!
Need to lose the scale and focus on fat loss, not weight loss. Initially scale weight may not decrease and may actually increase as you add resistance training to your program. Fear not, just adopt a different method of tracking your progress, consider an honest look in the mirror, a tape measure or skin fold calipers. And of course consider the fact that your clothes will start to fit differently.

Strength training provides so many benefits to both physical and mental health:
  • improved strength and function, stronger bones
  • improved body composition (increased LBM/decreased body fat %)
  • improved physique
  • increased resting metabolic rate (increased calorie burn at rest!)
  • stress relief
So venture out of your comfort zone, look the muscle heads in the eye, pick up a dumbbell and start sculpting a better/healthier body!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"An Apple a Day..."

Apple picking season is in full swing in upstate NY! Now be honest..nothing better than a crisp red delicious apple at the peak of the season! Why not have a family weekend activity revolved around a healthy snack, some fresh air and some physical activity instead of sitting in from of the TV with greasy chips and soda. Head out to the orchards and get picking!
Apples are a great portable healthy snack offering a great number of nutrients including Vitamins A, C, E, folate, potassium, magnesium and calcium to name a few. Also full of antioxidants (everybody knows we all need more of these), phytonutrients and flavanoids that aid in preventing and reducing inflammation.  Apples are known to aid in eye health ad well as playing a role in cancer prevention and benefit maintaining strength of bone. Apples as well as many other fruits provide a good source of fiber, helping maintain a healthy digestive tract and work to lower cholesterol/LDLs.
 Apples and fruit in general play an important role in weight loss programs as they are nutrient dense providing essential nutrients for health but pack relatively few calories, a medium apple containing only 80 calories. Combine an apple with a 1/2 cup fat free cottage cheese for protein and you have a great snack combination.  Also consider dipping apple slices in natural peanut butter for some healthy fats and protein (but watch your serving here as PB has a high calorie content).
So head out this weekend and get some apples but try to avoid the cider donuts!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Importance of Posture

The anatomical structure, alignment and movement of the human figure is of incredible design, I hope you use it to its full potential and protect it as it needs to last you your whole life! With perfect postural alignment there is minimal stress to ligaments and tendons. Ideal upright posturing includes the line of gravity falling through the axis of joints such that forces are equally distributed and upright position requires little effort/strain on muscle to maintain. Unfortunately in the general population we rarely see ideal posture, with contributing factors relating to attitude, laziness, poorly conditioned/weak, being "well nourished" or other structural  reasons. Whatever the reasons are we should all strive to achieve our most ideal posture to  prevent/minimize injury as many "unexplained" aches and pains can be related to postures.
Take  a look around you, at the office, in the stores and around the neighborhood- how many people actually sit/stand with their head on top of their bodies? Most often our heads and shoulders reach our destination first. This forward head/shoulders position causes strain and abnormal structural stresses throughout the neck, upper back and shoulders which in time can lead to pain and injury.
Life generally occurs in front of us, compounding our ever forward positioning, with posture continuing to deteriorate with the day and with passing years. You must make good posture habit just as bad posture became habit...pull up your chair, sit your butt in the back of the seat where it belongs, shoulders back and stay that way! Change your attitude, change your habits, change your work station and change your program in the gym to work towards improving your posture!
Your postural solution:

  • awareness and changing habits is most important as even with improvements in flexibility and strength if your don't change your habits your posture will not change....the stretching and strengthening will provide you with the the tools to improve your posture but you must commit your mind to improve your postural habits.

  • stretch the chest wall/anterior structures with a corner or doorway pectoral stretch

  • strengthen the scapular retractors and stabilizers to help you maintain an upright posture

  • core strengthening is also important in  protecting the lower back (can dedicate a whole other article to that!)
In addition to the physical benefits of improved posture, consider how your posture reflects to the world your attitude, consider how much more confident people appear with a straighter posture. Also consider how much nicer your figure looks with your head up and shoulders back revealing even more of your hard work at the gym. Never seen anyone look worse while standing taller!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Importance of Eating

I know, sounds silly, but I think we all need a reminder of the importance of eating as society has made it either the center of every social event (generally with poor food choices and lots of them) or something we do on the fly grabbing the easiest, usually not the healthiest, option. With a little information maybe general attitudes towards food can be changed and maybe then we will change our priorities and work to improve our health.
It's really just about physiology and metabolism...First we need to begin to see food as fuel for our bodies not just something to fill our bellies when we are hungry or reach to it for comfort.  The building blocks for health come from the food we eat. Think about finding the foods that will provide the best support for your body systems in their daily function.  Keep your metabolism burning high by eating more healthy foods more frequently.
All the excuses start now....don't have time to prepare or sit down for a meal, I'll grab something on the way; it's expensive to buy healthy food....Well, consider this what you do now to save yourself time only takes away from quality and quantity of life in the long run. Granted some diseases, illnesses etc are out of our control but eating right and living a healthy lifestyle certainly tips the scale in your favor to avoid or certainly improve your chances in successfully fighting illness/disease.  I will certainly choose to take the control of what I can.

Important components of establishing a healthy eating lifestyle:

  • Food choices: whenever considering a food think about what it provides for your body, is it good fuel? Is it calorie dense or nutrient dense? Consider that with more nutrient dense foods you can eat a much larger volume allowing you to fill up without overloading on calories. You can eat more and maintain a healthy weight with the right foods! Learn to read labels, watch for fat content, avoiding trans fats and saturated fats (sure I don't need to elaborate on the need to avoid those). Avoid quick energy foods including simple carbs and sugary snacks...they may provide quick relief from an energy slump but sends you quickly back to a low.  
  • Like any other machine, your body runs most effieciently with a consistant fuel supply. Small frequent meals keeps metabolism running high, helps control blood sugar levels to avoid insulin spikes and energy crashes. Consistant fueling provides a thermogenic effect increasing metabolism as well as encouraging efficient use of nutrients. Low calorie diets result in low energy levels, decreased activity and a resulting slowed metabolism. Maintain consistant levels to control snacking and find less cravings for sweets and sugars as giving in to these cravings only perpetuates the cycle of energy crashes.
  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast, your tank is empty, cruising on fumes only works for so long and you body starts to take from body stores for required energy and not the good places like that fat around the middle you are trying to get rid of. As the day progresses you reach for quick and generally simple carbs are the snack of choice for quick energy starting off the energy peaks and crashes. The frequent blood sugar spikes increase insulin release which then encourages fat storage...aha..the belly fat stays!
  • Combine lean protein and complex carbs at every meal: this combination results in a slower digestion due to the fact that protein are harder to digest (more caloric expenditure!) and therefore results in a slow, steady release of sugar and no insulin spikes. 
  • Basic math always applies: calories in must be less than caolries burned for a caloric deficit if your goal is weight loss. The calories in healthy food still count with some adding up portion distortion with nuts and peanut butter as well as the healthy fats...great benefits but still pack on pounds if eaten in abundance.
  • Be prepared: plan meals ahead and start preparation before you are too hungry and tempted to snack on something quick or "sample" as your are preparing..these calories count too!  Carry some healthy snacks with you to avoid giving in to eating out or vending machines when you are out.  Consider small portion sized snack containers in your cabinets to allow you to quickly grab when hungry to avoid portion distortion. The key is to have the healthy options easily within reach!

Of course it is easier to toss around the excuses...but with some planning and commitment you will soon see the benefits of eating in the way the human machine was meant to be fed.  Plan for hunger by having healthy snacks handy (pack them to go!) and watch portion sizes always. Make the committment for 1 month and then admit to yourself that your energy levels are higher and more level and your pants button a little easier!

References: For more information please consider reading The Eat-Clean Diet by Tosca Reno for information that will help you easily incorporate healthy choices into your healthy eating lifestyle. If you are interested in more detail regarding the science behind it all and more of the 'nitty-gritty' consider the e-book Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Presciption for Health and Fitness

Too often the medical community is filling people's medicine cabinets with prescriptions/medications for illnesss and to manage consequences of poor lifestyle choices. How about writing 'prescriptions' for healthy food choices and daily exercise; these 'medications' only have beneficial side effects...
  • increased energy
  • improved self esteem
  • improved health
  • fat loss
  • decreased medical costs
  • general improved ability to live life!

1. Choose clean healthy foods for everything you put on your plate! The less ingredients on the label the better. If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it! Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains!  Be consistant with fueling your body, eat small meals every 3-4 hours to keep the metabolism burning and keep cravings to a minimum. Avoid sugary snacks and avoid energy crashes!

2. Exercise Daily: exercise can take many forms...just move! An exercise program should have variety to keep challenging muscles. Include cardiovascular training as well as strength training. Cardio burns calories and strengthens your heart and lungs, while strength training scuplts your body and increases lean muscle mass that in turn increases your resting metabolic rate. Muscle is a metabolically active more to burn more calories! What ever you choose, make it fun, enjoy it or you will never stick with it and that is the key!

3. Hydrate:  Pure, clean water is essential to keep all systems going, flushing out waste products of normal cell metabolism, assist with good oxygen transport to cells and reduce water retention. Check out this great post for even more benefits of good clean water. Even the slightest amount of dehydration can contribute to decreased enery levels. Thirst is not a good indicator for maintaining good hydration levels as thirst generally indicates an already slightly dehydrated state. Drinking water throughout the day keeps good hydration levels and may help keep you from snacking, drinking water prior to meals may result in eating less at meals.

4. Most importantly-critical to your success: change your attitude and priorities: view new healthy habits as a change in lifestyle to change your body and improve your health. Healthy food should be viewed as fuel and exercise needs to be a part of your life and identity not just one more thing on your to-do list. Think of time spent now on improving your lifestyle an investment in quality and quantity of years ahead.