The Perpetual Athlete

Bill is constantly keeping up on our toes with new work out plans and healthy tips to stay fit and out of trouble from sore or pulled muscles. Keep reading to learn some new work out rountines and form posture. 

One diet/exercise program does NOT fit all

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 03 March 2014. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

One diet/exercise program does NOT fit all

One diet/exercise program does NOT fit all
I have been doing some reading as of late, mainly diet books to better my understanding of some of the basic principles behind popular diets. Most recently I picked up the Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain and have since finished the book. The basic principle of this diet is to remove processed foods from your diet and adopt eating patterns that mimic those of our ancestors, mainly hunter-gatherers. Based on Dr. Cordain’s research he has determined that we are fit to eat a diet similar to early man based on our genetic make-up. This diet consists of lean protein, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Some items are left out which includes dairy, legumes, grains, and tubers (potatoes).
     There are some compelling arguments as to why the paleo diet is the one diet that all should be eating and Dr. Cordain does a fabulous job of making those arguments. For example, proteins called lectins are found in high amounts in grains and legumes that may have an effect on bowel function. Based on the background research I have done lectins can bind to our intestinal wall and cause increased permeability which can cause unwanted materials to have access to our blood stream. The recommendation by Dr. Cordain is to avoid these foods to improve health.
     Simultaneously I have also been reading a rebuttal of sorts to Dr. Cordain’s book by Marlene Zuk called Paleofantasy. Similar to Dr. Cordain, Marlene Zuk is to a PhD and is well known for her knowledge of evolutionary biology. The basic premise of Dr Zuk’s book is to debunk the paleo craze that has swept the nation by looking at the complex world of evolution. As you might have already determined, the choosing of these two books was not merely a coincidence and has formed the opinion of this latest blog. That opinion is that diets and for that matter exercise programs do NOT fit all.
      The stance taken by Dr Cordain is that based on our genetics we were designed to eat the way as described in The Paleo Diet suggesting that we reached an evolutionary threshold. The stance by Dr. Zuk is that to suggest that we should eat the same as we did thousands of years ago is shortsighted because it ignores the fact that evolution has continually occurred. For example, dairy foods are not permitted in the Paleo diet because it was concluded by Dr. Cordain that our hunter-gather ancestors did not use it. For the most part genetically this can be argued because the vast majority of humans lose the ability to digest lactase as we age. Yet there are people who can drink milk well into adulthood just as easily because of lactase persistence. Dr Zuk explains this point in Paleofantasy noting that in some societies, milk ingestion became a necessity and therefore the ability to genetically produce lactase late into adulthood would have been favored.
     All of this makes a simple point, no single diet is ideal for all humans. The same can be said about exercise in that we are all genetically built differently. Some of us have greater levels of type II muscle fibers often referred to as fast twitch fibers while some of us have greater levels of type I muscle fibers often referred to as slow twitch fibers. For the individual with fast twitch fibers they would be better at strength exercises while those with slow twitch would be better at endurance training. The differences in each individual would dictate that they individualize their diet/training for optimal results.
      My advice to you is that you try out different diets and exercise plans and find one that matches your unique situation. Just because Paleo works for one person does not mean it is the rule for another. If you are unsure of how to go about choosing a proper plan for your unique body, consult with a professional.
     That’s all I have for today, have a happy healthy week!

Getting at the CORE of athletics: Part # 4 – Developing the pectoralis (chest) muscles

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 17 February 2014. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Getting at the CORE of athletics: Part # 4 – Developing the pectoralis (chest) muscles

Getting at the CORE of athletics: Part # 4 – Developing the pectoralis (chest) muscles
     The pectoral muscles can be some of the most difficult to develop in young athletes. Many spend countless hours doing pushups and bench press only to not see quality results. A thick chest is important not only for sport performance but also for appearances. Therefore the following blog will illustrate some helpful tips to developing your pectoralis muscles.
     There are two pectoralis muscles which include the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major is the larger and more superficial of the two muscles and therefore is the most important to develop. The pectoralis minor lies underneath the larger chest muscle and its major function is to hold the scapula in place during upper arm movements. The pectoralis major is a large fan shaped muscle that stretches from the middle chest to the shoulder. The pectoralis major originates on the sternum and inserts on the humerus just below the head of the bone. The major movement performed by the pectoralis major muscle is shoulder adduction in the transverse plane. For the layman, this is a pushing motion. Exercises which typically work the chest muscles are pushups, the bench press, incline bench press, and pectoral fly.
Text Box: Shoulder adduction      For those who have trouble developing the chest one of the key factors is posture. Correct posture is necessary to obtain maximum contraction of the pectoralis muscle. Muscles contract with greater force when the load is properly angled to that of the muscle fibers and those fibers have a sufficient amount of stretch to activate the proprioceptors. This is referred to as the stretch shortening cycle where the greater the stretch to a muscle the greater the force of contraction. The biggest mistake made is when performing a push up or bench press the shoulders roll forward which takes the stretch from the pectoralis muscles and places the weight demand squarely on the deltoid muscle (shoulder).
      Too correctly isolate your pectoralis muscles the proper posture involves adduction or retraction of the scapula (see picture).If you have followed my getting at the CORE blog postings before this is in agreement with the postural cue shoulders back chest out. The goal is to adduct your scapula and hold them together while you perform the chest pressing motion (pushup or bench press). Holding your scapula in adduction allows for greater stretch on the pectoralis muscle and therefore greater force production.
     Any chest routine should include an incline bench press. Because of the fan shape, the pectoralis major muscle can be broken down into an upper portion and a lower portion. When performing a pushup or a standard bench press (flat bench press) the lower portion of the chest receives the greatest amount of resistance. Adding incline to the bench allows for greater resistance to fall on the upper portion of the pectoralis major which helps develop a fuller looking chest. Standard inlcine benches tend to be at 45° angle which is sufficient but tends to place the load to a greater extent on the shoulders. An ideal angle of 30° is best for maximum upper chest development.
      An important aspect of developing a thick chest is volume of exercises. The more exercises performed the greater the hypertrophy. I suggest that you do two workouts a week that consist of 16 to 20 sets of chest exercises for maximum hypertrophy. A sample routine would include:
1.    Incline bench press – 4sets at 8-12 RM
2.    Flat dumb bell press – 4sets at 8-12 RM
3.    Pectoral fly (dumb bell or machine) – 4 sets at 8-12 RM
4.    Pushups to failure – 4 sets
    Well there you have it, some simple tips to develop a full chest. Be sure to practice holding proper posture for each of the exercises you choose to do and to work through the full range of motion. Have a healthy week!

Saturated fats may not be created equal

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 03 February 2014. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Saturated fats may not be created equal

Saturated fats may not be created equal
It’s funny how these blogs come together sometimes. In a moment of personal discloser this particular blog topic was chosen after two random events. Both of these events got me thinking about fats. Dietary fats are of interest because first the varieties that exist and second because of the various effects on physiology each have. So when a friend mentioned that the current thought was that saturated fats were not as bad as once assumed, I immediately took interest. This was followed up by a decision to read The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordain in which a distinction was made with saturated fats. The coincidence of these two events led me to do a little research on the topic of saturated fats to get a better understanding of the topic which now I gladly pass on to you the reader.
     First here are the basics of fats. Fats come in multiple forms with the major types being saturated (SFA), monounsaturated (MUFA), and polyunsaturated (PUFA) classifications. Generally speaking health promoting fats are MUFA and PUFA while those considered disease promoting fats are SFA. The major health implication with fat intake is heart disease especially coronary artery disease (CAD) in which plaques formed with cholesterol accumulates on arterial walls leading to blocked vessels. Fats are also implicated in some cancers and the onset of type II diabetes but for the sake of this blog we will focus on heart disease.
     Fats are further complicated by trans fatty acids which are a byproduct of oil hydrogenation. The process of oil hydrogenation is to make a solid fat out of an otherwise liquid fat for use in baked goods and to produce a product that stands up to heat better. Trans fatty acids are actually unsaturated fats but because of the geometry are not health promoting but disease promoting. Trans fats have been strongly indicated in heart disease because of the effect on blood lipid profiles but also because of its ability to cause systemic inflammation. The combination of increased LDL cholesterol and increased inflammation is what leads to atherosclerosis and eventually CAD.
     With the disease implications associated with trans fats, a concerted effort is being made to remove them from the diet. For this to be accomplished a new solid fat source must be produced that can be used instead of hydrogenated oils. Fat sources that are solids at room temperature are generally high in SFA which brings us back to my initial reason for writing this blog. There are multiple SFA which include Lauric acid, Myristic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid. Each is named based on the number of carbons found in the molecule. These are all long chain fatty acids but may not be created equal. Of interest is stearic acid which may not possess the disease promoting properties associated with the other SFA.
     Stearic acid is the longest of the four SFA mentioned earlier and has been studied for its role in heart disease progression. It has been established that diets high in SFA can lead to an increase in LDL cholesterol and the progression of CAD but stearic acid by itself may not. A review article by Hunter et al in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2010) performed a meta analysis of stearic acid when compared to other SFA and trans fats. In contrast to other SFA and trans fats, stearic acid actually was neutral with both blood lipids and with systemic inflammation. What this means is that while other SFA and trans fats increase LDL cholesterol, decrease HDL cholesterol and increase markers of inflammation in blood, stearic acid does not.
     The findings with stearic acid are fascinating in that like many I was always taught that all SFA were bad and should be reduced. The case of stearic acid as the main SFA taken in via the diet can be made. Foods that are high in stearic acid include beef fat, lard, butter, and cocoa butter among others. Since these sources contain other SFA and cholesterol remember to use in moderation. Currently to replace trans fats, interesterified oils which use stearic acid are being tested to see the efficacy.
     Well that’s all I have on saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are still the best option for health promotion but the next time you sit down to eat a steak you can feel less guilty about it. Have a healthy week!

Alkaline diets: fact or myth?

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 27 January 2014. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Alkaline diets: fact or myth?

Alkaline diets: fact or myth?
     As I was searching the internet for something to write about I came across the concept of eating an alkaline diet. This is not the first time I have heard this concept before but the first time I decided to educate myself on the subject. There were multiple websites which stated that the use of an alkaline diet can greatly reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and osteoporosis. Being the health/fitness nerd that I am I went to the literature to see what science had to say about the efficacy of an alkaline diet.

    First things first let’s described pH balance in the body. The term pH stands for the relative acidity or alkaline nature of a liquid. Low pH (1-7) signifies an acidic medium while a high pH (7-14) signifies a basic or alkaline medium. If a system has a pH of 7 it is considered to be neutral. In the body, pH is tightly regulated based on location for physiological reasons. Any deviation in pH can drastically affect the physiology of the system and can lead to death. For this reason the body has systems which buffer pH to keep it within a normal range. Two ways in which the body adjusts pH is by releasing more carbon dioxide (CO2) via increased ventilation or by excretion of hydrogen ion (H+) from the body via urination. Generally speaking the circulatory system becomes the reserve for pH balance. Therefore blood pH is of much interest. Typical blood pH is between 7.35 and 7.45 which is a slightly basic.

    It has been suggested that changes in blood pH may be responsible for the onset of many chronic diseases. Specifically a shift towards an acidic blood pH has been cited as the main culprit. This is where the concept of an alkaline diet comes into play. It has been suggested that eating acidic foods cause a shift in blood pH towards acidosis. The shift in pH would then cause damage to everything from the blood vessels to the bone. The types of foods that are considered to be acidic are animal food sources and grains while those that are considered basic (alkaline) are fruits and vegetables. The theory of an alkaline diet contends that if you reduce acidic foods and eat more basic foods that the risk of chronic diseases will be reduced.

     So is the alkaline diet a gimmick or is it something that is necessary for health? Based on my understanding of physiology I would say gimmick. First off the blood pH is tightly regulated by the two systems mentioned earlier and it very rarely (usually in response to disease) deviates from the normal range. Second food is subjected to two pH changes as it travels through the digestive tract. Therefore the pH of a given food should not have any effect on blood pH. In fact the pH of food is neutralized by the pancreas upon entering the small intestine.

     I performed a pubmed search online to see what research has been done on alkaline diets and found that very little was available. In fact, the only paper I found was a review that refuted the efficacy of an alkaline diet mainly based on the reports that acidic blood leads to osteoporosis (Schwalfenberg, Journal of environmental and public health 2012). It has been proposed that the blood will draw minerals from the bone to buffer the acids caused by eating acidic foods and therefore will lead to osteoporosis. Urinalysis shows that decreased urine pH is accompanied by increase Ca2+ release and proponents of the alkaline diet point to this. It has been stated that urine pH is not a window into the bodies pH and therefore cannot be looked at as a diagnostic tool. Also, Ca2+ release is increased in urine when diets are high in sodium which is one of the hall marks of the western diet. Based on my search there was little data to suggest that an alkaline diet has any affect on health.

     In finishing I believe that the pH of food has little effect on health. Not to say that the recommendation of the alkaline diet does not have merit in that it suggests that you eat less animal proteins and eat more fruits and vegetables which have many real components that are health promoting. A balanced diet with less processed foods can greatly improve health regardless of pH. Have a health day! 

Building a fast metabolism

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 13 January 2014. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Building a fast metabolism

Building a fast metabolism
    The metabolism of the human body is a complex set of chemical reactions that are designed to generate usable energy. Various factors control metabolism which include both hormones and fuel availability. Too often you hear people state that they have a slow metabolism. That may be true if there are issues with your thyroid gland which is the master control for metabolism speed. If you suspect that you have thyroid problems, have your physician test you so that the proper treatment can be administered. For everyone else a slow metabolism is the byproduct of poor dietary habits and inactivity. There is a way you can speed up your metabolism which will allow you to shed those unwanted pounds.
     First let’s discuss some key players in metabolism. Two hormones that are paramount to metabolism, thyroid hormone and insulin. Thyroid hormone controls the rate of metabolism while insulin signals the body to store energy. If both of these hormones are out of balance a slow metabolism is what occurs.
     There are three forms of thyroid hormone which include T3, T4 and reverse T3. The form T3 is the most biologically active form while T4 is more of a precursor. Reverse T3 is a fascinating form because it does not signal the metabolism to speed up it actually slows metabolism. Because reverse T3 is similar to that of T3, they compete for the same receptors. Too much reverse T3 causes normal T3 production to slow down which in turn slows down your metabolism. Factors which cause thyroid imbalance include chronic stress and chronic low calorie diets. That’s right, chronic dieting can cause you metabolism to slow down.
     Insulin has been studied extensively because of its role in diabetes. Most notably insulin is involved with carbohydrate clearance due to its role in moving sugar from the blood to the system. Insulin however also signals the storage of fuels by the cell which includes carbohydrate, fats, and to some extent proteins. Chronically elevated levels of insulin place the body in a storage mode which if carbohydrates are high than those excess sugars get stored as fat. Insulin is stimulated by carbohydrate itself and therefore high blood sugar levels will cause it to be released by the pancreas. When this is chronic, sensitivity to insulin decreases by the cell which is the major etiology of diabetes.
     When both of these hormones are out of balance, fixing them is of great priority before we can speed up our metabolism. The good news is you already know how to fix this problem. When you chronically under eat, your body produces more reverse T3 to slow down your metabolism. Why, because the body is trying to survive on less calories. Stop being afraid to eat because the truth is you must eat to lose body fat. You can learn what amount of calories is vital for your body by having your basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculated. The BMR is the minimum amount of energy that is required to operate your body.
      With insulin, the trick is to reduce the amount of processed sugars that are used in the diet. Processed sugars enter the blood stream faster than sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits and starchy vegetables. When we ingest a high amount of processed sugars we chronically stimulate insulin. Once insulin is stimulated the body begins to store fuel which includes turning sugar into fat. Cutting processed sugar out of your diet should be the number one goal to achieving a fast metabolism.
     A fast metabolism is easy to achieve if you take the right steps. First determine your BMR and begin to eat enough food to meet your daily need. Second clean your diet up. Reduce the amounts of processed foods which are full of chemicals, salt, and sugar and spend more time in the produce aisle. Sprinkle in some physical activity and before you know it your metabolism will be burning hot.
     I would like at this time to suggest a cleanse program before you begin this new way of eating. So much bad has been built up in the body that a fresh start can make all the difference. A couple days of eating only fresh raw vegetables and fruits can do the trick. You can also consume raw nuts for energy and you must drink a lot of water.
     A fast metabolism is right at your finger tips if you are willing to make changes to your diet to appease both your thyroid hormone and insulin imbalances. Now get out, put your metabolism into high gear, and have a healthy week!

Understanding training principles: resistance exercise

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 06 January 2014. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Understanding training principles: resistance exercise

Understanding training principles: resistance exercise
To get the most out of each workout it is important to have sound principles that link up with what goals are desired. When beginning a resistance training program, sound principles can be the difference between getting results and getting injured. Knowing the principles of resistance training can help one develop a daily workout with specific goals in mind.

     The first step is to define the ways in which muscle develops in response to resistance exercise. When performing a resistance training program muscle can adapt in three categories which include strength, hypertrophy, and endurance. Strength is the ability to generate force against an object, hypertrophy is the generation of new muscle, and endurance is the ability of muscle to resist fatigue. None of these categories adapt in a vacuum in response to resistance training in general but you can manipulate some principles of the training program to focus on each.

     The basic principles of resistance training can be defined as a set of factors which include intensity, duration, and volume. Intensity refers to the amount of resistance being applied to each exercise and is often defined as weight or mass. Duration refers to how long each event lasts. Duration in a resistance training sense is generally defined as repetitions. Volume refers to how many times an event will be repeated. For resistance training this is often measured by number of exercises and number of sets. When taking all three into account manipulating each factor will determine what adaptation of muscle will occur.

      We develop strength by performing a resistance training program that consists of high intensity, short duration, and low volume. It does not take much to develop strength except heavy resistance. The general recommendation is 3-5 reps with heavy weight (can only perform 3-5 reps with that given weight). As for volume, 1-2 exercises per muscle group with 3-6 sets depending on the size of the muscles (bigger muscles get more exercises/sets). The focus of strength training is to remodel our neuromuscular response. Strength is about precise recruitment of large motor units (muscle cell + neuron) to achieve the movement of resistance.

      Development of muscle size or hypertrophy will occur while performing a strength training program but it will not be as much as a program designed to cause hypertrophy. Unlike strength, a hypertrophy program requires moderate to heavy resistance, moderate duration, and high volume. The recommendation for hypertrophy is 8-12 reps (remember to provide enough resistance to limit your reps to only 8-12) with a volume of 6-20 sets per muscle group. Volume is really the key to growth of muscle. Chronically stimulating a muscle from multiple angles will assure that the majority of motor units are activated. The more units that are activated will cause that muscle tissue to remodel due to damage caused by the excessive work load. Another factor underlying volume is that it causes the greatest increase in circulating anabolic (growth stimulating) hormones.

      Muscular endurance requires a very different design when compared to strength and hypertrophy. Endurance is all about duration. So the typical program should consist of low intensity, long duration (remember in a repetition sense), and moderate volume. The key to endurance is taxing the muscle with little rest. 15-20 repetitions are the normal range with 3-12 sets per muscle group. Endurance training will activate the type I muscle fibers which are designed for aerobic metabolism. The focus of muscle endurance training is to adapt the metabolic system to be more efficient and reduce the capacity to fatigue. Because this style of training is catabolic in nature (atrophy stimulating) little to know muscle growth is observed.
     One last factor to take into consideration is rest. Generally this means between sets and exercises. Strength requires long rest periods to allow for the anaerobic energy systems to recover (4-6 minutes) while endurance requires short rest periods to allow for adaptations to the aerobic energy systems to occur (30-45 sec). Moderate rest appears to be sufficient for hypertrophy training (1-3 min) though circulating anabolic hormones may be affected greater at the higher point of the time range.
     Always remember that use of proper exercise form is necessary for any of these resistance training principles to work. Consult a professional to learn proper form and technique to assure results and to prevent injury. Follow the principles outlined by this piece and you will be able to design a program that will get the desired results. Have a happy healthy week!

New Year’s Resolution: Health vs. Weight loss

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 30 December 2013. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

New Year’s Resolution: Health vs. Weight loss

New Year’s Resolution: Health vs. Weight loss
It is that time again, the New Year is right around the corner, and many are formulating their resolution. With so many options to choose from of ways in which we would like to improve ourselves, the number one resolution stated by most is to lose weight. Losing weight is a noble gesture and can certainly be obtained but I propose another approach. Instead of simply stating that you wish to lose weight, focus on health instead.

     The term health encompasses it all including weight loss. Taking your health to the next level will help in your pursuit of weight loss because it is creating the good habits needed to not only drop those unwanted pounds but to maintain those changes as well. Health is an attitude adjustment that ensures long term changes instead of the quick fix promises of many fad diets. Choosing health over weight loss means you are ready to make the necessary lifestyle modifications that are needed to see true body alterations.

     The truth is weight loss is not a quick fix. Weight loss is a journey. When people state that they wish to lose weight we can assume that they wish to lose it permanently. As is most things in life, shortcuts often lead to a less than optimal product and the same can be said about weight loss. Fad diets offer an oasis of hope. In most cases fad diets make false claims about how effective the weight loss can be. Typically an individual on a fad diet will experience some success early but as time goes on those changes slow or cease all together. Also if one veers from the diets principles they experience weight gain which can derail any success. This new year do not fall victim to media driven weight loss solutions, choose health and make progress toward the future.

     When I began my journey in 2010, I had to keep my goals short term and in front of me. I was 260 lbs and badly out of shape. Had I started with the goal of lose weight I might not have made it to the point I am at right now. When I started to change my lifestyle progress was slow at first. I had to really search for tangible results to keep myself motivated. It was my trust in the process that kept me going. I thought that if I continued to live a healthy life that weight loss would eventually come. It did and now I weigh 185 lbs but what I am most proud of is how healthy I have become.

     What does it take to get healthy? The simple answer is effort. Now this might sound daunting but it really is not. The best way to approach these changes is to wake up and ask yourself “what can I do healthy for myself today”. By adopting this approach you make healthy living a daily goal. After a month of simply doing something healthy daily you might be shocked to see changes in you shape. In order to achieve big goals it starts with the little goals.

     Health involves not only diet but also physical activity and overall wellbeing. The best way to begin is to start small. Begin with two days of physical activity a week and slowly incorporate more days as you become fit. Change your eating habits by monitoring your portion sizes than slowly incorporate healthy food choices as you get used to the routine. Feel good about these changes. Give yourself credit for making healthy choices. Positive reinforcement greatly outweighs negative reinforcement. If all you do is give yourself grief over eating a cookie than the experience will always be negative. Healthy living should be a positive experience. Adjusting your attitude towards health will make it positive. Stick with these changes by making them routine. You need to treat health like a job or an appointment. We keep our appointments with the doctor why can’t we keep our appointments with the elliptical machine.

      With the New Year choose health over weight loss and reap the benefits. Your journey begins with a choice. You can continue the status quo and view weight loss as your most pressing desire or you can give yourself a real chance by creating healthy habits. Only through health will one see the weight loss one desires. Have a happy New Year and a healthy 2014!

Pushing past comfort level for results

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 23 December 2013. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Pushing past comfort level for results

Pushing past comfort level for results
Getting results from an exercise program depends largely on the level one begins at. Often times when people start a program from a low fitness level they tend to see immediate results. The issue though is that these quick results are often met with a plateau that can be difficult to push through. Avoiding a plateau is very difficult and requires careful planning and execution. Fitness professionals make their living off of diagnosing a plateau and devising a plan to push through it. There are multiple principles that can be adjusted to overcome a plateau depending on the desired results but the major factor which can trigger a plateau is comfort level. Breaking through our individual comfort level is important to see continued results.

     Why do we reach a comfort level with exercise? Well that is the very nature of an exercise program itself. You begin a physically demanding task with the hope that your body adapts to that task. The adaptation to that task is often what we call results. You begin running and eventually you notice that you have lost weight and can run for longer. The reason, your body has adapted to the task and has adjusted to meet the required effort to complete that task. With running this includes utilizing more fats for energy and increases in cardiovascular efficiency. The same can be applied to resistance training. You lift a heavy object enough; eventually it is not heavy to you anymore. The ultimate goal for the body is to reach homeostasis which is a fancy word for comfort.
      Again, why do reach a comfort level with exercise? Simply put, because in the beginning, it takes very little effort to start initiating adaptation by the body. As we continue to progress however adaptation begins to decrease because the stimulus is no longer strong enough to elicit results. The issue with comfort is rooted in routine. Most often people begin a workout program, develop a routine, and rarely stray from that set series of exercises. So the plateau is caused by the body simply becoming comfortable with the routine.

     Getting out of your comfort level requires discipline and focus. To take your body beyond what is comfortable is difficult without the correct approach. Two principles that can help you take your body further are progressive overload and periodization. Progressive overload states that if you continue to increase the magnitude of the stimulus then continued results will be achieved. In a literal sense progressive overload is simple. If you are currently running one mile the progressive overload approach would be running two miles. In many cases however there is a mental hurdle to overcome for progressive overload. You might not believe you can make it a second mile and therefore get stuck in a comfort zone with only one. This is where pushing through your comfort zone is vital to achieve more. Just like you built up to the mile, build up to two miles and you will again see results.

     Periodization is a subject I have previously covered in another blog entry (Link). It’s basically switching the stimulus completely so that the body never gets comfortable. There are multiple ways to achieve this but the basic principle is cross-training. If you do resistance exercise on a Monday, do cardiovascular exercise on Tuesday. If you did heavy resistance training on a Monday, do low weight high repetition resistance training with shorter rest intervals on a Wednesday. Keep the body guessing and you will always be working just above your comfort level.

     Taking advantage of the body’s amazing capacity to adapt can be difficult if you get to comfortable in your routine. Always be ready to push past your comfort level and you will continue to see the results that you desire. Now get out, get moving, and have  a healthy day!

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 16 December 2013. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Eating healthy on a budget

Eating Healthy on a Budget
In a recent study conducted at Harvard University it was determined that eating healthy costs approximately $1.50 more a day and $550 more a year. The findings in this study would suggest that the old cliché of eating healthy costs more is indeed true. But does it really cost more to eat healthy? I guess it depends on how you go about acquiring the healthy items. You might ask yourself this question: is the perceived cost of healthy eating tied to the item itself or the convenience of that item? I feel too often that the excuse of eating healthy costs more money is actually more about the time and effort needed to prepare healthy meals. Most people turn to unhealthy options not because it costs less but because it is more convenient. What is easier, preparing a salad to bring to work or getting a burger and fries from a drive through? When you factor in convenience it really changes the equation. Therefore the true cost of eating healthy is time and effort.
     Currently I am on a budget which prevents me from choosing the most convenient means of acquiring healthy food so I have come up with a few strategies that can help keep costs low and health high. The first thing is to avoid “healthy” pre-packaged meals. While very convenient these meals come with a hefty price tag and are often less healthy than advertized. In a similar fashion, try to avoid eating out for lunch as well. The quickest way to go off budget is to choose healthy options at restaurants.
     I like to have a plan for each day so that I can stretch my dollar out. When I go grocery shopping I make sure to take care of the essential meals first; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you can easily eat healthy on a budget. My typical breakfast consists of a whole grain cereal with almond milk and a yogurt. Total daily cost of breakfast for me is approximately $1.60 a day and it delivers 450 calories of nutrient dense foods. Compare with a typical McDonalds breakfast that costs $3 - $4 a day and can deliver over 500 calories.
     For lunch and dinner I try to keep it simple and nutrient dense. Sometimes it forces me to redefine what a meal is. For example, a typical meal that I will eat is veggies and hummus. That’s right just veggies and hummus. A container of hummus will give about 500 calories and costs $4 on the average. Hummus also delivers good fats and protein. I typically eat it with raw broccoli which makes for a very nutrient dense meal. Another meal I like to utilize is peanut butter and apple. Four tablespoons of peanut butter (Smart balance which has good fats added from plant sources) with one apple gives about 500 calories and the cost is only $1.40.
     Another strategy I employ for meals are all in one pot dishes. I like to make foods from fresh ingredients then portion them out into individual meals. Some examples of foods that I have made are pot roast with carrots and potato, chicken soup, and chili. Most often you can get the ingredients for one of these meals for about $20 and they can be stretched out for seven days which would give you a daily cost of about $3. The most you spend on this type of meal is time. If you need something quicker hit the deli up and get some lean turkey breast for sandwiches. One pound of deli meat will typically cost $8 and if you portion your sandwiches out correctly you can stretch it out to about five. Add some veggies and a piece of fruit you get a nutritious meal for less than $5.
     The final strategy I like to use is meal replacements. Nothing can stretch your dollar out like a protein shake and it is the ultimate in convenient food. Most meal replacement shakes come in containers that deliver one month of servings depending on how many you use a day. If you do your research you can find a quality product for about $30 dollars which can give you a daily cost of about $1 a day depending on what you mix it with.
     One final piece of advice, don’t be afraid to snack on things like nuts, fruits and veggies throughout the day. These can help fill in calorie needs and keep you from getting too hungry between meals. Hunger is our enemy because it can make us choose poorly when we go in search of food.
     I hope I was able to show that eating healthy does not have to cost a fortune as long as you have a plan. Remember often we pay more for convenience and not the food itself. Be creative and come up with ideas to stretch your health budget out. Now get moving and have a healthy day.

Forearm Strength is a Vital Piece of the Puzzle

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 09 December 2013. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Forearm Strength is a Vital Piece of the Puzzle

Forearm Strength is a Vital Piece of the Puzzle
     One of the most commonly overlooked muscle groups in the body is the forearm muscles. The forearm controls the movements of the hands and wrist and in some cases the elbow. The group of forearm muscles can be categorized as flexors, extensors, and rotators. In many athletic events, strong developed forearms are a great sign of an athlete’s ability. As a former baseball player, the need for strong forearms is vital to generate bat speed. If you look at professional baseball players one thing is evident, they all have big forearms. So why is it that we neglect this muscle group? I have seen people spend hours working on biceps and triceps and never once attempt a forearm developing exercise. The truth is you could be leaving strength gains behind by continuing to ignore the forearms.

     Grip strength can greatly increase one’s ability to perform lifts of near maximum weight. There is term used to describe the benefits of forearm strength described as muscle irradiation. What this term defines is the recruitment of muscle fibers during maximal contraction. When performing heavy lifts, muscle fibers are recruited by the nervous system via motor units to increase the ability to generate force. As more muscles fibers are recruited the greater amount of force generated and therefore the more one can lift. When an individual has strong forearms, the amount of pressure that can be generated by grip can actually increase performance of say a bench press because the recruitment of forearm motor units will assist the recruitment of motor units in other upper extremity muscle systems. Therefore strong forearms are important for performance.

     To develop strong forearms there are a number of exercises that can be performed. The best of which is a forearm developer. The basic design of a forearm developer is a handle with a rope attached to the middle. At the other end of the rope is a weight and essentially you twist the handle. As you twist the handle the rope will wrap around and the weight will move from the ground up toward the handle. This exercise is very effective at developing both the flexors and the extensors of the forearms. If the rope is on the inside of the handle you will work your flexors if it is on the outside of the handle you will work your extensors. Definitely want to make sure you work both.
     Another less common method for forearm development is by the use of fat grip bars and dumbbells. The thicker grips force the forearms to contract at greater force generating the irradiation effect discussed previously. The difficulty with fat grip bars is that most gyms do not carry them therefore you can purchase detachable grips that increase the thickness of the bar. You can purchase a set of grips for $40 and use them with any barbell or dumbbell.

     So next time you head to the gym remember to work your forearms to develop greater strength gains. Get out, get a grip, and have a healthy active day!