Monday, April 28, 2014

The Genetic Breakdown

   It's that time of year again... bathing suit shopping! So you get the Victoria Secret and Venus catalogs in the mail, or are you peruse all the cute new styles online and tag your favorites ones. You think, this is my year, I've been working really hard and I'm going to rock this bikini! It arrives in the mail... and you don't look like the model in the picture. Before you get discouraged and down on yourself or you really ramp up your training program and diet, take a breather. First, are you 5 foot 9 inches? Is your full time job modeling? Do you have a personal trainer and nutritionist at your beck and call 24/7? Do you have someone to photoshop and airbrush your pictures? ...Probably not. Because you are a real person, not a model who is created to look perfect. Now, be honest with yourself; has your training started to slack or have you fallen off the wagon a little bit with your healthy eating habits? It's ok if you have, everyone does at some point, it's part of life. You just always have to pick yourself up, tell you that you can do it, and get back on track. Another reason you may not look like that model; genetics.

   Genetics play a huge role in body type. I'm not saying that you should use genetics as an excuse, but it does deserve some understanding. Genetics decide where you hold onto fat, how quickly you burn it, if you have long and lean muscles or short and thicker ones, if you are great at running or if you can squat your body weight with ease. Genetics are the one part of your routine you cannot modify, but you can work with what you have and the first step to that is accepting it. You should never bash your body image... if you are unhappy with what you see in the mirror, change it! Genetics is the reason that you may shed excess fat in certain places quickly while other times it might not seem to budge as well as why you may build muscles or be able to run farther and faster than a friend. Don't forget; genetics for the most part decide your bone structure and your muscles attach to the bones, and fat sits on top of muscles. Wide hips bones or shoulders can't be whittled down just as a short person can't pilates their way into being tall. And what I mean by "for the most part"; there are always exceptions such as bone malformations, breaks, sprains, aging, etc.
The different body type breakdowns

   Here are a few examples of how genetics works; I am 5'2 and weigh around 140 pounds. I can't wear some t shirts because the arm holes are too small, and shopping for jeans is a nightmare because I have a small waist, a booty, and thunder thighs (not to mention the short legs!). My mom is a few inches taller, a few pounds heavier but she has very lean legs; she carries her excess weight in her stomach while I tend to carry it in my thigh area. Then there is my cousin... the girl runs miles on end, and I can barely run a 5K without wanting to die but while she can keep up with me in the weight room just fine, my biceps look huge compared to hers. We have distinctly different muscle types so while we have similar training schedules and both eat very healthy, she is more lean and I am more muscular looking. My point is, unless you are identical twins, it is not fair of you to compare yourself to others.

   As much as you may want to be a size 0 model that's tall with lean muscles, if it isn't in your genetic makeup, it isn't going to happen so learn to love what you have! I used to try everything to be able to get back into a size 2-3 jeans, but between my hips (which are bone, and not budging!!) and thick thighs, it just wasn't going to happen and once I came to accept this, I also became much happier with myself. I'm also an awful runner and while I know I may never run a marathon, that doesn't mean I don't set goals for myself to drop my mile time or run farther. I will never have a "thigh gap" but I can squat 3x my body weight and have some nice looking legs that are toned and strong. I will never have a 6 pack due to a scar across my stomach, but I have banging obliques. My point here is that to love your body, you need to focus more on the positive than the negative. You need to create realistic and healthy goals for yourself, and do what is best for you, not necessarily what is best for someone else.
The different body types imagery example

   Strong is the new skinny, and healthy is beautiful. Exercise won't only benefit your looks but your whole body. Never take for granted the results you can't see; exercise will help you sleep better and give you more energy so even if you have reached a point where your body may not change much more, never stop setting realistic and attainable goals for yourself. Exercise benefits your heart, brain, and internal organs as well as helps to flush out toxins and keep your skin glowing. As you can see in the above picture, none are exactly fat, just vary in shape. Each body is unique in the way it functions. Focus on the good, not on the bad.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Super Foods!

   Who hasn't heard the buzz about "super foods"? You might have started thinking, here we go, because following the food pyramid and my plate and counting calories and getting all my fruits, veggies, and protein needs wasn't enough, now I have to work super foods into my diet too that already has to be carefully varied to get the optimum level of nutrition. Well, I'm here to break it all down for you. Luckily, most super foods are fruits and veggies and come in lots of exciting colors so you may now breathe a little easier.

   Super foods are named that because they have a ton of benefits; they combine the most beneficial of vitamins and minerals so that ideally, you shouldn't need vitamins or supplements and still feel great. They build bones, they fight free radicals (which cause you to age faster... skin, hair, nails, etc.), they fight off cancer causing toxins, they flush your body, and they keep your eyesight sharp. They are nutritional powerhouses! There are lots of super foods (another great benefit!); the list goes on so I will only touch on a few and let you free to do your own healthy lifestyle research. One thing I want you to remember: EVERYTHING IN MODERATION! I don't want you to read this and then eat 5 avocados for lunch or oatmeal with every meal. I want you to work these into your diet in a reasonable way.

   *Black Beans: They pack a ton of protein, without the saturated fat or cholesterol in animal source proteins.  Have a cup with dinner or substitute beans for your usual meat source 1-3 times a week.
   *Oats: Full of fiber, they help keep you full longer, and as a complex carbohydrate they supply your body with long lasting and necessary energy to get through the day. Toss with berries and a bit of honey for breakfast on busy days for long lasting energy.
   *Avocados: Healthy fats are the best fats. Every body needs fats (they coat neurons!! Among other things, but that's a separate blog I have already written!) and avocados pack a punch of healthy fats called oleic acid which has been shown to keep you full longer. Avocados also pack protein and fiber into a serving and have a creamy texture; substitute a few slices of this for mayo on a sandwich or just eat half of an avocado plain every few days.
   *Blueberries: Anti-aging, anyone? Blueberries are full of antioxidants, and an entire cup is only around 80 calories, with the benefit of fiber and a sweet flavor for those with a sweet tooth. Toss into some yogurt or eat plain every few days.
   *Broccoli: Anti-carcinogenic properties and fiber... talk about a win win. Cooked or raw, this is a low calorie food you should add to lunch or dinner.
    *Green Tea: Not only will it hydrate you, it is full of anti-oxidants that help fight fat and boost your metabolism. It's also a mild enough taste that you shouldn't have to add sugar or honey. It is also caffeine free so drink a mug before bed to relax and fight fat.

   Are you seeing a trend here? Fruits, veggies, whole grains, and some fish are listed as "superfoods". Again, please take this with an everything in moderation approach. For a perfect example, Red wine can be very beneficial to heart health, IF you have a glass with dinner occasionally. NOT if you drink the entire bottle every night. Can't think of snacks or looking to try a new recipe? Try a super food. The research is still in the works for many super foods, but one thing that's for sure is all of the foods are healthy none the less. They pack a variety of vitamins and minerals needed by the body for optimum happiness.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Importance of Stretching

   I hear it all the time; "I forget to stretch", "I don't like to stretch", or "I don't see the point of stretching". You all are some kind of crazy... stretching is my favorite part of my workout! I get to relax, bring my heart rate back down from the rate similar to a speeding train and it feels great! If I'm really lucky, I can get a good back crack or a hip to pop out of it too. Stretching also though has it's benefits. The biggest one: Injury Prevention. Think of it... you just lifted weights or ran, or both, you went until the burn was too much and you started to cramp. Your muscles did all of those moves by tightening up and tearing. Think of a piece of spring, all coiled tight- that is your muscles after a workout. You need to stretch them so you can regain function! Muscles work by attaching to bones to allow movement and humans are built for force and range of motion, but if your muscles are too tight then you lose range of motion and something usually overcompensates and potentially gets injured. No one needs an injury when they're really starting to see results, let alone because they didn't stretch. And let me tell you, pulling a muscle, ligament, or tendon is not a fun feeling at all.
   Stretching also helps improve a muscles elasticity and your overall flexibility. So, what kind of stretching is best and when? I'm going to break it all down for you! There are four types of stretching:
 1. Ballistic: rapid bouncing where you are using momentum to get the maximum stretch. The muscle contracts to protect itself.
 2. Static: holding a stretch with no bouncing or movement for 30 seconds with gentle tension.
 3. Dynamic: a movement stretch that is slow and controlled.
 4. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facillitation (PNF): targets a specific muscle for the job it does. You use a partner mostly, and resist against the stretch and then relax, allowing for a deeper stretch.
Some common stretches I do for hips, legs, and back!

   Many people also argue over if stretching is appropriate before exercise; the answer is yes, but only if they are dynamic stretches. Ballistic stretching is almost always dangerous so I never recommend it. Static stretching is great as part of an exercise cool down. PNF stretching though is my favorite. It allows for the greatest range of motion. You don't want to stretch too much before exercise because you don't want the muscle fibers overstretched. A warm up such as walking or biking will usually suffice for getting the muscles ready to work.

   Other benefits of stretching include increasing blood flow. Increased blood flow leads to the production of synovial fluids (the fluid that encases your joints and keeps them lubricated- very important!) and the prevention of arteries hardening. You want nice flexible arteries so blood can flow freely and easily through them! Stretching also prevents arthritis (in part by producing synovial fluid) and helps stabilize the body's natural posture. Posture is extremely important and keeping muscles stretched helps reduce tight muscles keeping you almost folded in on yourself. Regular stretching also helps protect your joints and makes you more aware of how they attach and how your joints feel. Not to mention, it feels great! Who doesn't love a good stretch?!
Stretching with a foam roller

You never want to "over stretch" aka as stretching to the point of pain. You should feel slight tension, but it shouldn't be causing you physical pain. Feeling sore from your workout the day before? Stretch!

Don't know how to stretch? Google it. Common stretches are as simple as touching your toes while keeping your knees straight or hugging yourself tight. Stretching can get much more scientific and complicated, but you are always welcome to ask me, or a fitness professional for tips on stretching. I like to pair stretching with foam rolling, which is an active kind of stretch and a whole topic in itself. Here are a few to get you started though!

Friday, April 4, 2014

HIIT vs. Cardio

   I'm sure you've heard that the new buzz word, HIIT, which is High Intensity Interval Training, is better than cardio exercise. This depends on a few things. First, what do you consider cardio? If you are one of  the people who walk at 3.0 mph on a 0% incline (pretty easy, fairly slow) for an hour, then yes, HIIT is much better. If thoughts of running and huffing and puffing come to mind during your cardio session, HIIT won't hurt your workouts.
   The idea behind HIIT being better is that it ramps up your heart rate quickly, keeps it there, and doesn't take as much time to burn the same amount of calories as cardio. Unfortunately, I'm a sucker for research, especially because the fitness and health world are constantly evolving but that doesn't always mean in the right direction. Helping people get healthy is my passion, so I always want to give you the best and most truthful information, as well as make sure you don't get yourselves injured. There are millions of research papers and studies done on the effects of cardiovascular exercise where there are on a only handful of a couple hundred studies done on HIIT. HIIT is still so relatively new that there are many variations on how you can do it, what you can do, etc. while "cardio" is slightly more defined as walking, running, biking, swimming, rowing, or aerobics. HIIT seems to be able to incorporate a little bit of everything and goes with a sort of Tabata set up in style. Tabata is a HIIT variation where you go full out for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and then do the next exercise for 20 seconds and so on for 20 minutes. What I do like about HIIT and tabata is the opportunity to work the entire body and the muscles while traditional cardio offers little to add to strength training... yes you can ramp up the resistance and I suggest you do every now and then, but HIIT and tabata keep you moving so you are also less likely to get bored or distracted. As always, variety is key!
    I have used all styles in my own training and while training others and here's how I feel about them all;

1. Cardio: Get your heart rate up! Yes walking at a comfortable pace is better than sitting on the couch but it's also not providing you all of the benefits it could be. You may go slow for the first 5-10 minutes to warm up, and last 5-10 minutes to cool down but otherwise challenge yourself! Increase your speed or grade and try new things. Swimming is an excellent form of cardio that is easier on your joints, but will still have you huffing and puffing. Bicycling, whether outside or on the stationary bike is a good non weight bearing form if you have restrictions. The elliptical and arc trainers are more similar to a running motion but decrease the impact on your joints. The rower integrates arm and upper body muscles  so that they aren't left out. The stair stepper just kills! Think all cardio is boring, try a class... a step class, Zumba, or a dance class will all get your heart rate up and may be more fun to you than just logging the miles and minutes on a machine.

2. HIIT: This is great if you don't have a lot of time but you still want to torch some calories, and can be done in your own house or even hotel room. So the idea is that you pick x amount of high intensity exercises and do them for a set amount of time before taking a small break and switching.
An example HIIT workout:
    Squat jumps for 1 minute
    Jumping jacks for 30 seconds
    RECOVER 30 seconds
    Split lunges for 1 minute
    High knees for 30 seconds
That is just a very small example, you would usually do around 15-20 different exercises. The great thing about HIIT is you can customize it. I take advantage of this so that my recovery can include something like calf raises, where my heart can calm down but I'm still working. The downside of HIIT is if you are not conditioned or just starting out, you may not know proper form and you may hurt yourself. It is HIGH INTENSITY after all so I don't recommend it for beginners or those who are a little older. You want to have steady balance and coordination before you start jumping all over the place, and some aerobic training definitely wouldn't hurt.

3. Tabata: I love tabata because I can customize it to fit anyone young or old, new or experienced. Like I said before, you do an exercise for 20 seconds, take a 10 second break, and continue in that 20/10 fashion throughout a 20 minute workout. You can do all cardio style tabata or you can incorporate strength training into it too. You can do all body weight exercises or you can have equipment involved. You can create a complete mix also... the possibilities are endless.
An example of a Tabata workout:
    Squats 20 seconds
    10 second rest
    Inchworms 20 seconds
    10 second rest 
    Push ups 20 seconds
    10 second rest 
    Star jumps 20 seconds
    10 second rest 
    Calf raises 20 seconds
    10 second rest
    bicep curls 20 seconds
Don't let it fool you, this becomes hard quickly if you are doing it right. I usually try to group body parts together so that by the time that set is done and the body part is failing, we move onto the next one. This allows you to hit failure and recover while getting a total body workout in a matter of a half hour. Of course you can customize an only upper body or lower body tabata sequence too, it doesn't always have to be full body.

4. The number method. This can be fun, and also a quick way to kill your entire body. Pick a number between 10 and 50, usually in increments of 5. Now for each number, assign an exercise. Do everything, and repeat another set.
An example: 5 exercises
5 squats
4 push ups
3 lunges
2 sit ups
1 minute plank
Now think on a much larger scale than 5... think 20, 30, or even 50. Try to keep recovery breaks in between under 20 seconds so that you keep the heart rate up, and try to vary the workouts. Suck at push ups? Challenge yourself and assign them to a higher number. Creating this workout is harder than it seems but can be fun... keep the lower numbers to easier tasks or in a minute form (like the plank), you are only cheating yourself if you chose to do 50 of something you find easy and 1 of something you find hard. This is also another way to mix it up and customize it; you can do all body weight activities in a confined space with no equipment, or you can integrate things like a jump rope, hand weights, ankle weights, machines, a step, and a medicine ball.

Get creative! Don't be afraid to try new things... some will work, some may not. I also always say give something a few chances before giving up, you may come to like it. Things like Zumba take time to learn all the steps and you may get blisters from rowing at first (get gloves!) but rather than beating yourself up for not doing it well, reward yourself for simply doing it. You may end up enjoying it. Exercise doesn't have to be torture, you can enjoy it and still burn the calories. Find what works for you and don't be afraid to try new things! Now get out there and kill it!!
Love the Burn!