Resistance Training: It’s for Everyone

I will preface this article by my confession, I enjoy lifting weights.  I comprehend the benefits and make time in my training program to challenge myself with resistance training.  But I am not naive enough to believe that everyone shares my sentiment.

This blog post is designed to improve perception of the need for and benefits from lifting weights.  I have included the 3 most common excuses that people offer.  Not only will I debunk them, but I will also provide 3 primary benefits.  I firmly believe that resistance training of some sort is necessary for a proper exercise program.

Excuses

  1. I avoid lifting because I don’t want to bulk and ultimately decrease my range of motion. This is a common misconception related to resistance training programs.  The truth is that adding muscle is very difficult to do.  There are many people who exercise with the distinct goal of adding mass and they soon come to realize that it can take up to 2 months to add even 1 pound of muscle.  I must also state that a properly designed resistance training program will improve range of motion, but an improperly designed program will limit flexibility.  This is analogous to practicing a sport; if you continue to practice incorrectly you will change but for the worse.
  2. I don’t want to hurt myself.  Working at Columbus with an adolescent male population, I must put this rumor to rest.  Weight lifting has less uncertainty than cardio and even recreational sports.  Assuming that you know how to lift the weights correctly, the chances of injury are less than your potential to roll an ankle while running or fall on your shoulder during a basketball game.
  3. I am not interested in lifting weights. This is an opinion and while it is difficult to change the way someone thinks about resistance training, I want you to continue reading about the benefits that it can offer.  I implore you to continue reading this article with an open mind.

 

Benefits

  1. Improve quality of life.  There are many types of stress that people deal with on a daily basis.  Lifting weights helps to safely release some tension or even aggression that has built up.  This helps to decrease the negative health effects of harboring stress and even provides benefits associated with channeling temper and aggression. Resistance training also helps to boost self-esteem.  Confidence in your ability to complete tasks that require lifting or moving an object can go a long way.  Keep in mind that I’m not talking about entering a strongman competition, but strength is a relative term and it’s good to be in the upper percentile.
  2. Improved posture. As a direct rebuttal to limiting range of motion, resistance training can help to equalize muscular imbalances that lead to compromised posture and result in joint pain.  Very commonly, people have tight muscles in the front of their bodies (think chest, hip flexors and abs).  This can directly lead to a hunched posture.  Resistance training that focuses on both increasing range of motion for the tight muscles and increasing strength for the weak muscles (back) will help to keep your body in alignment.
  3. Independence. We all age.  As part of this process, certain things become difficult to do on our own.  When we no longer have the ability to stand, walk, or drive we lose our independence.  Resistance training add years of independent living.

 

In short, the human body is constructed to be able to deal with stress in the form of aerobic exercise but also resistance training.  Looking at our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors, while the males had to haul their hunt back to the village the women also had to carry the baskets full of berries and grains.  Resistance training, in some form, has long been a part of daily life.  It’s best to tackle it head on.

Hit the (cold) Showers

I was talking to a fellow teacher earlier this week and he was complaining that after he exercises it takes him a while to stop sweating.  I assured him that this is a very common problem and I suffer from it as well.  This led me to begin researching the topic.  There is a mountain of research about cold water baths for endurance athletes.  And while that is great, 30 minutes submerged in an ice bath isn’t always feasible.  But can you get some of the benefits if you just took a cold shower after exercise? It seems the answer is yes.

There are a number of advantages to a cold shower but most of them stem from the physiological response to cold water on your body.  We all know that a cold water splash helps to wake us up in the morning.  Basically a cold shower takes that idea and extrapolates it to your whole body.

Most of the benefits stem from the innate response to cold temperatures; your body will respond by trying to keep your organs warm.  This happens via a redirection of blood flow towards your organs, helping to keep them insulated and properly functioning.  This change in hemodynamics is known as vascular compliance.  As your body becomes better able to manage the constriction and dilation of your blood vessels, your circulation improves.  Any improvement here will directly reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension.  The change in blood flow also helps to reduce some of the inflammation that occurs after exercise; thus reducing some of the associated fatigue and soreness.

The cold water will also stimulate metabolic changes. As the cold water hits your body, it can actually aid in weight loss.  Your body will begin to burn fat in order to keep the organs warm.  It may not be significant, but the more effectively your body can use fat for energy the better.

Cold water showers are also good at maintaining healthy skin and hair.  The cold water helps to seal the pores, which reduces the chance of dirt and other substances entering your skin.  The cold water will also help to keep healthy hair as it nourishes the scalp more effectively than warm water.

So next time you hit the showers after exercise, muster up the courage to turn the cold water up.  Your body will be grateful.

Motivation for the New Year

Good afternoon.  Sorry for the LONG overdue post but needless to say I have been absent and I mean to make it up to you. In personal news, I’ve had a great summer break which included me getting married to my beautiful wife in front of friends and family on the coast of Spain.  I want to begin with a post that I feel is a great starting point.

This draft may or may not have been intended for new years resolution, but by “new year” I obviously refer to the scholastic calendar.  (The only one that includes 3 months of vacation).

“Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things will be yours.” -Swedish Proverb

I saw this quote while researching for an online nutrition course that I teach.  I enjoy the simplicity of the message.  These were the literal meanings that I took from the quote:

  • Maintain an optimistic outlook
  • Maintain a proper diet
  • Enjoy the world around you
  • Be efficient in your words and actions
  • Be a positive influence on the people around you.

This doesn’t even brush the surface of the deeper meanings behind each of these contrasting themes.  It’s important in the busy world we live in today with stress at work, home, and even finances to really focus on being efficient with your time and energy.  I encourage all of you to employ the practices mentioned above and you will begin to feel better and live healthier.

Look out for more frequent posts to come.

Great holiday dinner; now what?

In a recent study out of Australia, researchers have found that alternating bouts of standing and sitting will help to increase the glucose response following a meal.  This study is extremely pertinent with the holiday season around the corner.  Today’s post will help to detail both the physiology and significance of this study.

In basic terms, when you eat your body works to break down food into energy.  Since your brain runs on stored glycogen (a carbohydrate derivative) and your body uses glucose (a carbohydrate derivative) for energy, carbohydrates are a vitally important macronutrients to consume.  When you intake carbohydrates, your body senses the increase in blood glucose (sugar levels).  Insulin is then released to help uptake and metabolize the glucose in order to provide energy.

The effectiveness of this sequence of events determines a number of physiological factors: how well you use energy, how effectively you uptake vitamins and minerals, if you are prone to fat storage, and your risk for diabetes among other cardiovascular diseases.

The holiday season (and more immediately Thanksgiving) is a great time for family and rejoicing; it is also common to over consume and then relax on the couch.  Numerous studies already show the strong correlation that sitting has to weight gain in both workplace and home activities.  All research concluded that standing posture is advantageous in preventing weight gain.  In contrast to those findings, this recent study wanted to explore the actual effect that standing has on glucose response.  The results proved that standing after meals helps to digest and use food correctly.

To reiterate, the study proved that introducing at least 30 minutes of standing following consumption will greatly increase your body’s ability to perceive and react to increasing blood sugar levels. This is especially useful in overweight and at risk individuals who may already have diminished glucose response.

Hopefully with this information you will be sure to spend a little time helping to clean the dishes, having conversations with family and maybe even going for a light walk following your holiday feasts.

I hope that everyone has a great and safe Thanksgiving.

Exercise-based apps

In today’s society, technology reigns supreme.  People have an ever-decreasing attention span and are only concerned about what someone has done recently.  Every day, industries all over the world use a variety of technological tools to get the job done.  At the scholastic level, Columbus is among the tops in the nation with regards to incorporating technology in the classroom.  It is no surprise that the exercise arena is following a similar trend.  Videos, youtube channels, web-based training and applications are exploding in the industry; but are they exploiting it?

There has been such recent growth in this industry that it needed to be named.  Mobile health, or “mHealth” for short, regards the use of mobile/wireless devices and applications to improve health outcomes, health care services and health research.  Rough estimates account for over 43,000 mHealth apps.  This is both a gift and a curse in that the opportunities for people to get cheap (possibly free) health advice comes at the cost of potentially unqualified opinions and extreme claims.  In my opinion, the most important thing is to teach people how to critically evaluate mHealth apps in order to guide people towards the effective ones and away from ineffective, poorly designed or otherwise dangerous apps.

There are three things to look out for when evaluating an “mHealth” app:

  1. Who developed the app? Is it a reputable source of clinical information? Are they linked to researchers or a respected institution? Do they refer to studies from ACSM, ACE or the CDC?
  2. How strong is advertising? Does it feel like I’m being coerced into buying something? Is the subliminal message to purchase a product? Is the exercise advice tainted to lead me towards a certain product?
  3. Is the developer making claims about what the app can do? Am I promised changes in specific aspects of health? Are these changes physiologically possible or feasible with a single mode of exercise?

Keeping these three tenets in mind, it is also important to consider health and safety.  Make sure that reading, consulting, and following the app doesn’t come at the cost of your health or safety when considering your surroundings.  Exercise related accidents are common enough without the risk of decreased focus.

Before I conclude this post, I just wanted to direct you towards a few of the better applications.  Each of these can be found for free on the iOS and Android based devices.  These three are some of the most reputable for each of the three categories of mHealth apps. (I even use the Runkeeper app)

Runkeeper: an application for GPS running, walking, cycling.  Also includes a weight tracker.

My Fitness Pal: an application for weight loss.  Includes calorie counter, exercise database and fitness tracking.

Nike Training Club: an application for exercise routines. Includes over 100 full body workouts, instructional videos, and the ability to track progress.

 

I hope that this information was helpful.  At the end of the day, if one of these apps motivates you to exercise than it’s done a good job.

Long time, no post

It has been quite some time since the last post.  I want to begin today with a quote that I read the other day. I think that it is vitally important to not only share, but also spend some time describing how this applies to both Columbus High School and your exercise routine.

“Integrity is the essence of everything successful.” – Buckminster Fuller

The quote comes from a great American architect, designer and author.  Someone as establish as Mr. Fuller must have strong morals and work ethic.  He/she must also be cooperative, open-minded and intelligent.  While each of these personality traits are different, integrity covers them all.  I like to define integrity as the opposite of hypocrisy.  Integrity is personally fulfilling the goals and expectations one has for others. Integrity is when a teacher expects his students to turn in assignments on time and then grades them promptly.  Integrity could also be shown as a health professional who models proper behaviors and lifestyle habits.  Institutions can also have integrity.

Christopher Columbus High School is a Marist school that follows in the moral code of the Marist brothers.  We promote a healthy learning environment for our students and display all of the actions we wish for them to employ.  Faculty and staff are kind and caring; they act in accordance with the policies and procedures of the school.  In this respect, Columbus has high integrity.  Referencing the quote, it is no surprise why Columbus is such a successful institution.

Your exercise routine and lifestyle habits should also have high integrity.  Unless you have a personal trainer or training partner, exercise is usually a solitary battle.  You must practice what you preach and act in accordance with what you believe is correct.  Far too often do people lose motivation and end their exercise routine because no one is holding them accountable.  This is where integrity comes into play.  You should hold yourself accountable and relish in the benefits of the high standards you set.

Once again, I know that I’ve been slacking in the blog posts, but I have been keeping up with other aspects of my professional and social responsibilities.  I am sure that the people reading this are doing the same.  Continue your exercise routine.  Continue living and interacting with others in a benevolent manner. Always remember to act in accordance with your morals and values.

Practice integrity and success is imminent.

Body weight Progressions

With the beginning of the new school year, the Wellness Center sees upwards of 60 students each day.  A number of these young men are experienced at lifting, while others are freshman who may have never been in a gym before.  The idea of a heavy bench press, squat, or overhead press may seem daunting to some, but others hop right in.  The problem is that a number of kids (and adults alike) don’t have the requisite strength and stability of each joint and/or muscle group.  This post will detail how body weight exercises can help to progress someone until they are ready to grab the barbell.

Concerning the bench press, there are a few major problems that I see.  First and most glaring is a lack of strength.  If you don’t have enough force to lift the bar, it won’t go anywhere.  Secondly, the shoulder joint may lack stability.  This is seen as the bar begins to sway forward and backwards during execution of the lift.  These two problems can be address by doing a few simple exercises at home.  The push-up, which mimics the action of the bench press, will provide strength increases.  Complete 15-25 per night and watch the bar become lighter and lighter.  Another thing you can do is challenge the stability of your shoulder by raising one arm or tapping the chest during a plank or straight arm hold.  When doing this, be sure to not shift your weight and swing your hips.  These two things will provide you with the ability to safely and effectively execute a bench press.

Another pinnacle of the exercise world is the squat rack.  Once again, I see far too many students with poor form throw weight on the bar and hop under it.  I simply approach the young man and tell him that he isn’t quite ready for the squat but if he practices certain movements and exercises he can progress quickly.  The first exercise is a floor bridge.  Far too often, the glute muscles are under activated leading to a weakness of hip extension.  The bridge helps to correct this weakness and also improves posture.  Another simple body weight movement is the lunge.  Not only does is help to recruit the same muscular patterns as the squat but you get the added benefit of increased range of motion in the leg that is trailing.

I hope these help to clarify ways that someone can improve if they view the squat rack or flat bench as too advanced.  Everyone has to start from somewhere and the better you develop a foundation of strength and proper movements, the easier your progression will be.

New Year, New Goals

I would like to welcome you back to Explorer Fitness, the fitness and wellness blog for Christopher Columbus High School.  Today is the first day of the 2014-2015 school year.  As such, I want to spend some time today talking about goals.  The obvious correlation would be fitness goals but this article is also meant to entice as well as guide you towards setting all types of goals.

I recently had a conversation with a friend and colleague of mine discussing changes to his workout program.  He decided that he wanted to set a fitness goal.  Not only does this provide a more direct purpose for training, but it also exponentially improves the focus and motivation of training.  The first point of my post is that you should occasionally set goals for yourself.  These can be exercise goals, sports/performance goals, educational, or simply personal goals.

The next concept that I want to highlight is where most people fall off.  This is the concept of proper planning and perseverance necessary for goal attainment.  The analogy you want to think of is that of building a pyramid.  If your pyramid isn’t going to be tall, then you don’t need a wide base.  You can lay a bit of groundwork and then start ascending to the top.  However, if you want your pyramid to be tall, then there is a lot of work to do before you start the climb.  If you have a serious long-term goal (a tall pyramid) then you must put in the hours and effort (foundation) so that you will be able to safely reach that goal.

For example, if you want to run a marathon, you probably won’t be able to just lace up and go.  First, you must ensure that you have the requisite strength and range of motion to put the miles on your body.  Then a good idea would be to begin an incremental running program.  Start with a few miles a day then slowly bump up the distance.  If you increase the distance too quickly, or run with too high a frequency, your pyramid will be unstable and it may topple over (unfortunately you may also).  The same concept could be applied to weight loss.  You will not be able to go out and drop 30 pounds tomorrow, but you can plan accordingly.  A good nutritional program, an exercise routine, and safeguards to help prevent poor dietary choices will all support you in your effort.  These would serve as the base of your pyramid.

In conclusion, I encourage all of you to set a goal this week.  To reiterate, it doesn’t need to be a fitness goal specifically (although you could set more than one goal).  I want you to think about how you are going to reach that goal and start to lay the foundation for your pyramid.  I am wishing the students and faculty of Columbus a great year ahead and all others the best of health and happiness.

What hormone keeps you young?

In a recent scientific breakthrough, scientists have isolated a hormone that is directly related to how exercise both utilizes fat tissue and decreases the risk for major diseases. 

Scientists from the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing in the UK recently published their findings.  The hormone Irisin is capable of reprogramming the body’s fat cells to metabolize (use energy) as opposed to storing it.  The metabolism of both fatty acids and glucose is an important factor in preventing diabetes.  Simply put, the more fat you metabolize, the lower your risk of obesity.

Irisin also plays a role in the chromosomes.  Telomeres, located at the end of each strand of chromosomes, have been well documented for years.  Scientists know that shorter telomere length, (evidence of cell replication) is linked to age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.  This recent study found a significant correlation between elevated levels of Irisin and telomere length.  The understanding that exercise helps one live longer is well known; however this new information is groundbreaking. 

There is now a molecular link between exercise and the aging process.  As you exercise and release Irisin, it is helping you to maintain a younger biological age.  Even as the hours and days pass, your body can function optimally as it did in your youth.  Be sure to hit the gym soon to encourage release and activation of this ever important hormone.  

Where to Look When Lifting

The visual sense is arguably one of the most important of the 5 primary senses that the body has.  We are constantly receiving visual input from our environment.  From a young age, we have been taught to look forward and keep our head high for improved posture.  And some of us may have been taught to always keep your head up during execution of exercises.  These two statements aren’t 100% true.  It is very important that you understand how your head and neck can affect your posture and how they can be problematic if not properly positioned. 

Let’s begin our discussion today with some basic anatomy.  There are 5 major spinal columns: cervical (neck), thoracic (thorax), lumbar (low back), sacrum (back of hip), and coccyx (tailbone).  The spinal cord is arranged in such a way, partially attributed to its natural curves, to allow us to properly recruit muscles and engage in logical movements without pain or risk of injury.  The back should always remain neutral during execution of upper body and/or lower body exercises.  With that said, it is possible to remain neutral while flexing at the hip, shown here.  This is very difficult for most people to do because of range of motion issues (namely the hamstring and low back) as well as muscular weaknesses (the gluteal muscles). 

To reiterate, the cervical spine (neck) is an extension of the spinal column, which we always want to remain neutral.  Let’s look at two very common exercises and see how neck alignment can influence the execution of the exercise and maybe promote problematic movement patterns. 

The first exercise I want to discuss is the squat.  Whether you are performing air squats, weighted squats, front squats, overhead, etc. the foundation of the movement remains the same.  It is important for you to maintain good posture so that you don’t put undue stress on the spinal column nor the low back.  This photo  shows proper posture, with the head slightly tilted up about 15-45⁰ and the eyes gazing up.  This helps to keep your shoulders retracted and your chest big (both vitally important in weight baring exercises).  This position allows you to evenly dissipate the force of the weight throughout your upper and lower body.  Once your head drops you lose posture and this is where problems occur.  It is very easily demonstrated in this diagram  regarding seated psoture.  When you lower your head, your chest begins to cave in and your back rounds.  This is highly problematic when you have resistance either above your shoulders or even at your side.  This is why it is important to keep your chin as well as your eyes directly upwards. 

The second group of exercises I want to talk about are those involving hip flexion (bent row variations, trunk extension, Romanian deadlifts, etc).  As mentioned above, the cervical spine is an extension of the spinal column.  At this point in the article, it should be understood that maintaining a neutral spine is optimal.  For this reason, it is recommended to allow your head and neck to follow the path of your torso.  If we are looking to keep a neutral spine, then why would we extend our neck to look up?  This photo depicts the problem.  Obviously, it puts undue stress on your neck and more than likely promotes further extension of the thoracic spine to compensate. 

I hope that this post shed some light on an important topic that isn’t often discussed nor considered.  I chose these two exercise groups because they can be applied to multiple variations but the concept must be understood.  When executing a squat, keep the chin up to maintain proper posture.  In bend exercises, let your gaze follow your torso to remain neutral in all spinal columns.