Friday, February 28, 2014

Warm Weather Workouts

   Warmer weather is coming! ...Eventually. This has been a pretty brutal winter; cold, windy, lots of snow, rain, and ice. But spring will prevail, I promise! So get those walking shoes ready. Exercising outdoors has a lot of benefits; you get natural Vitamin D, it has been proven to boost your mood, and it's cardio! Let's be honest, the gym can become boring and stuffy. Spring is the perfect time to revamp your workout and add some outdoor hours to your weekly routine.
   Things to do outside: walk, jog, run, hike, hit the playground, go exploring. All of it is free, and all of it is good for you. Nothing says you have to stay in your neighborhood or hit the closest track; go to a local park or beach, hit the trails, or even go downtown. I love warmer weather, because I can walk a mile before I start my day to boost my mood, torch some calories, and it doesn't take a long time but kickstarts my metabolism. Last spring I downloaded the Nike + running app and made a plan. I took a before picture, curious if walking was actually an effective way to lose weight; it definitely was! Not only did I love the app and wanted to push myself harder, I could see my progress not only in my physique but on the app as well. I could set goals such as walk 10 miles in 1 week, drop my mile time by a minute, etc.
   See for yourself that walking and jogging can make a difference... I lost around 5 pounds and 10 inches, everything tightened up and I felt great. I'm generally a healthy eater, but during this particular semester I was barely making it into the gym due to my school and work schedule. I suck at running, but I really enjoy interval training that switches between a fast walk and a jog. My average mile time for just walking is around 13 minutes.
Before and After picture: Just one month of walking!

   I'm a walk-jog fiend; I'll go for a walk first thing in the morning to warm up all my muscles and my metabolism and really get a wake up the way I like to (with fresh air and a sunrise and a few moments to myself) and usually again after dinner. I don't recommend jogging or running after dinner because then you're asking for a cramp, but a leisurely stroll is actually good for you and your digestion. Plus, an after dinner walk will help ward off that sluggish feeling you get after a large meal and give you a small energy boost to finish the dishes with! It'll also help you sleep better that night. I still usually couple this with a gym routine, but instead of spending a boring 30 minutes on the treadmill, I can just do a quick warm up and get right to strength training. On cardio only days, I'll usually go for a longer than average walk-jog or I'll try and explore a new place; different environments have different benefits.
    Walking on the beach (I prefer barefoot) works different muscles than walking on the road, or hiking in the woods. Switching up the scenery will also keep it fun and force yourself to push yourself farther. If you're going to be out while it's dark be sure to wear clothes that early morning commuters can see! Always have your cell phone but keep music low so you can hear what's going on around you. Stick to places you know are safe, and always let someone know where you are if you're going out alone. The great thing about exercising outdoors though is your whole family can join you... and I highly recommend that! If you have younger children, utilize the park and it's a win win. You can do sit to stands on benches, use those shoulders and do the monkey bars, but also hop on the swings and remember what it was like to be carefree. Mental health is an important as physical health. Afraid you will look ridiculous? Who cares!Get out there and do what's best for you!

Love the Burn!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Common "Healthy" Misconceptions

   When the urge hits to get healthy, by all means, follow it! But please, don't fall into these "health" traps or let these wrong ideas wiggle into your mind! Being healthy is a science and it's not always easy to understand, but have no fear, I am here! I hear everything in my profession, and here are some of the most common misconceptions I hear, and want to clear up. Anytime you decide to start a new routine, talk to a health professional for at least some guidance if you want to be the most successful.

1. Fitness magazines can't steer me wrong.
WRONG! Please, don't go to the magazine aisle and stock up on every fitness magazine you can get your hands on. While we are in that aisle, stay away from all the diet books too, especially if you are new to the health scene.The problem with fitness and health magazines is that they are rarely authored or edited or even fact checked by people who are in the health industry with PhD's and Masters degrees. These magazines are written by journalists who may or may not have any more expertise than those who write for Cosmo and Vogue. Every now and then they are an easy read, but don't believe everything you read unless it is from a peer reviewed health journal (which doesn't have pictures of models). Just today I was skimming one waiting to check out at the grocery store and I come across a page that tells people in order to speed up their workout and burn more calories that they can skip the 5-10 minutes for a cool down and stretching. This magazine then went on to claim that a thorough cool down and stretching doesn't really prevent injuries or reduce sore muscles so why do it? In my major (Exercise Science) we do a lot of research, and a lot of research has shown that a cool down DOES prevent injuries to a high enough extent that ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine-- the gold standard as far as information in the fitness world goes) recommends a cool down and stretch. Are you wasting those 5-10 minutes to cool down when you could be burning calories? I suppose, but tell me how easy it is to go for a run or do push ups when you injure yourself.
   If you want to flip through for some motivation or maybe a new recipe to try, go for it, but don't take everything they say as true. You're probably reading this blog, and thinking "why should I believe you then?" Well, not only have I been working in the fitness industry for over 3 years but I have my associates degree in Health, Wellness, and Exercise Studies and am currently working on my bachelors in Exercise Science... I have access to countless peer reviewed research articles, textbooks, and teachers at my disposal. If I'm not sure of something, I always do my fact checking before I write and post it!

2. Carbs are bad.
Carbs are NOT the enemy. Carbohydrates are a major macronutrient, and one your body needs more of than fats and protein. The brain will ONLY use glucose (which is a carb) to function, so no carbs= no glucose = no brain power. Carbs also give the rest of the body energy. All macronutrients are important, and none should be considered bad or ever be too restricted. You want to shoot for around 40- 50% of your total calories to come from carbs. If you need more information about this, you can read my blog Personalized Macronutrient Needs!

3. Low fat and 0 calorie foods are the best.
Again, nope. These foods are pumped full of chemicals so that they still have flavor, but no calories or fat. Fat is a necessary part of the diet. 0 calorie foods and drinks (diet soda) are the devil. Have you ever wondered how it's 0 calories? Well, your body cannot digest the chemicals so they can't be broken down and absorbed so you don't get any calories from the product. Nothing about that is good for your body! Want something high in fat or calories... everything in moderation! I would prefer you to drink a glass of soda than drink an entire diet soda if you're dead set on having soda. Stop putting chemicals your body can't recognize into your body; many of these are proven carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) and contain free radicals.

4. It's too expensive to be healthy.
I understand your grocery bill might increase when you start buying more produce and healthier foods, but in the long run it's cheaper. The cost of diabetes medication is sky rocketing, health insurance is getting more costly, and doctors are pushing drugs for everything; drugs cost money. A trip through the drive through might be cheaper at first glance, but what about when you're hungry again two hours later? Eating a healthy, balanced diet helps keep you full and satisfied, and keeps your body working the way it's meant to. Check out the local farmers markets and start clipping coupons. Make sure you have a weekly meal plan to cut down on wasted food and try new recipes... I didn't want to throw away a bunch of bananas but they had become overly ripened so I found a recipe for banana oat muffins where the bananas were a substitute for the sugar- healthy and delicious!
   No one says you have to join the top gym, or even any gym, to get healthy. You can walk around your neighborhood or at a track or park close by. You can use hand weights and do body weight exercises in your own house. You can often join a gym for fairly cheap though and if you use it, it'll be worth the money you spend. Many insurance companies will reimburse your gym membership also, it's worth looking into! 

5. I don't need to strength train.
Everyone needs to strength train. Women, men, young, old. By young, I mean adolescents... don't try and make your 9 year old start lifting weights. Younger children need to be active, but in a way that only uses their own body weight; you don't want to stress the growth plates and growing bones. Women, you will not bulk... if you don't believe me, read Toning vs. Bulking for all the background research and information. Strength training just twice a week will help keep your muscles and bones healthy.

6. Fat becomes muscle and muscle can become fat.
These are two completely different things. They are made of different components, and cannot morph into one another. Fat cells can be made smaller or larger, and muscle cells can atrophy or dystrophy (grow or shrink). Fat cells though cannot morph into muscle cells and vice versa. You have a set number of muscle cells that can increase or decrease in diameter. Fat cells can be created and can grow or shrink. It's still pretty controversial whether you can actually destroy fat cells or not without surgery.

I hope this helped to clear up any misconceptions you may have had. Being healthy is a lifestyle, not a fad and while it takes work, I promise you it is worth it!
Love the Burn!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Toning Vs. Bulking

   I hear it all the time; I don't want to get big or muscular, I just want to tone. Toning is building muscle! The definition of being tone is to lose weight; shed the fat that sits on top of your muscles, and build a little bit of the muscle attached to your bone so that you can see it. As a woman, you will not hulk out. I PROMISE. Your body does NOT produce enough testosterone so unless you take steroids, which I highly recommend you don't do, your muscles will only get so big. Some people like to put on the muscle, and have the strength behind it and there is a training style to make everyone happy.
   Toning: You want to use low weights and complete high reps and medium sets. For example; when doing a bicep curl you would want to do a low weight, say 5 pounds, and then do 20 of them and complete 3 sets of that exercise. Or you can do a lot of body weight exercises too; this will ensure you have the strength to at least carry yourself around for the whole day with little to no problems. As for losing the fat on top of the muscle, CARDIO! And a healthy diet. Especially in the case of abs. Abdominal muscles are made in the kitchen and toned on the treadmill. That's not to say sit ups are useless, but until you have a fairly flat stomach, you want to focus on shredding the fat first.
   Bulking: This is not a negative thing! Some people, including myself, enjoy being muscular and stronger than they would be without weight lifting. Do I look like the hulk? Nope. Do I have bicep muscles? Yes. If this is what you are going for, you want to lift heavier weights, do a lower number of reps, and do a medium to higher number of sets. For example for bicep curls again; you'll want to do 10 pounds, 8 reps, and repeat that 5 times. You'll also want to figure out your one rep max so that you can gauge how your strength is building. You will take lots of pride in seeing how much your strength begins to increase. Not to mention, muscle burns more calories at rest and any muscle will ALWAYS look better than fat.
   One rep max is the highest weight you can lift one time. If you can do three of something, add 5 pounds or so. Also, once an exercise becomes easier, increase the weight. There's also nothing to say you can't switch up between the two styles of weight lifting either... find a happy medium. Every body type is different, and is determined by genetics so don't get frustrated if results aren't immediate or what you want. Embrace who you are and what your body can do. I'll never be a size zero or a marathon runner, but I can squat 300 pounds and have some killer muscles to show for it. As always, diet is a huge factor in your journey to health! You cannot outrun or outlift a bad diet.
   Strong is the New Sexy. Be healthy, be happy.
   Love the Burn!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Got Intervals?!

   Interval training is great, for anyone and everyone. Whether you are just starting out or have been a gym rat for decades, everyone can benefit from interval training. What is interval training you ask? It's when you switch up your workout routine from low to high intensity. The possibilities are endless! Interval training has also been shown by research that it can effectively increase your lactate threshold; so it will take longer to feel the burn and you will ultimately be able to do more reps before hitting failure.
   Benefits of Interval Training:
1. Burns more calories. When you walk or jog at a steady pace, your heart rate isn't fluctuating all that much. When you go from a walk to a run or a run to a sprint, you are spiking up that heart rate for a few moments or minutes. It takes time for your heart rate to come back down, at which point you are probably launching into the next interval and elevating it again. The higher your heart rate, the more calories you burn (Remember talking about THR zone?!).
2. Adds variety. Exercise routines can become boring if you don't change it up often enough. Unless you really enjoy cardio, most people find it redundant. Not only can you burn more calories in less time, but it makes you focus more on the next high intensity burst than how boring it may be. Once you start to push yourself and break your fastest mile time or see your speed increase, you might even get excited to break your next personal best!
3. Increases speed. Doing a jog-sprint interval is ideal for increasing your speed and decreasing your mile time. The science behind this is extremely hard to explain, let alone understand. So just take my word for it. Try it and you can see for yourself! That's not to say though that doing a walk-jog-run interval won't increase your speed, it most definitely will.
4. Increases lactate threshold. You're running, or your lifting weights, or your doing anything that requires anaerobic metabolism. You start to feel the burn, the burn gets so bad you have to stop. This is called failure and many people use their failure point as a marker of their gains. The longer it takes to get to failure, the stronger you are getting. Doing interval training can increase that lactate threshold, meaning it takes longer for the burn to set in. Boom, cardio just helped you lift weights more efficiently!
5. Increase Cardio endurance. So maybe you enjoy running, but can't seem to run for very longer. Maybe you aspire to run a half marathon or take part in an iron man but just don't have the long lasting endurance to last? Interval training is the answer! Cardio helps your body become more oxygen efficient, your mitochondria can begin to use the oxygen more efficiently to run for longer. The same way it increases your speed, it increases your endurance... do it and you will see!

   If that didn't convince you to try interval training, nothing will. Just like all cardio, you can do it inside or outside and at your own pace. I highly recommend downloading an app that records your runs so that you can watch your mile times get faster and that you use a heart rate monitor to see the caloric burn and increased heart rate!
   Love the Burn... less :)