Read These: I Became Obsessed & the 7 Pillars of Running

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Two recent articles are worth reading. If you have time then definitely have a glance.

Has extreme fitness gone too far?

‘It’s intoxicating – I became obsessed': has fitness gone too far? comes from the Guardian. It discusses some negative consequences for novice trainees caught up in extreme fitness fads. These hopeful gym-goers are lured into inappropriately brutal workout routines by attractive online fitness celebrities who may have no idea what they’re doing. In this world, boring concepts like patients, persistence, and gradual progress is replaced by more-is-better high-intensity punishment. Bad idea. I like this statement:

It is a sentiment echoed by one health and beauty magazine editor, who asks to remain anonymous because her views don’t tally with that of her employer. “These days, a strong Instagram following, good gene pool and even better spray tan can make you a fitness star, regardless of what qualifications you have. Not only do many of these ‘fitness stars’ know little about what constitutes safe exercise (the truth is that no amount of likes come in handy when you need to solve a gym-induced injury), they also create a false sense of what fit and healthy looks like – and it doesn’t always look 21 and great in a bikini. Add to that the fact that these social media stars get paid to shift fitness gadgets, gimmicks and protein shakes, and you’ve a whole load of dangerously misguided followers.”

So many of of these and similar workouts cater to the desperate hopes of people who want to be in cover-model shape right now!  Unfortunately, that isn’t the best mindset for gaining true health and fitness. The enduring fitness facts are there is no magic, there are no miracles, there is nothing new under the sun. The only path to long-term fitness and health is through persistent hard work, patience and (this is highly undervalued) self-acceptance. Read the entire article to gain all the insights.

Running wisdom from a wise man

In contrast to fitness extremism, we have the sober, reasonable, and frequently skeptical voice of Alex Hutchinson who writes the Sweat Science column for Runner’s World. His latest, and sadly, his final piece is titled The Seven Pillars of Running Wisdom.

I always appreciate his writing in that he discusses the science behind many of the latest running and fitness trends, strategies, and equipment. We are often told with certainty that some latest-and-greatest tech will revolutionize our running or that some extreme type of diet will cure all of our ills. Hutchinson discusses the actual science behind many of these claims The truth is typically far less exciting than the sales pitches we hear from the snake oil sales force. Big surprise here: most of the magic silver bullets are some familiar ideals: persistent hard work (sometimes very hard work), generally healthy diet, lots of patience. These are the best routes take for peak performance and lifelong health. The seven pillars are:

  1. Running is good for you “in moderation,” which is defined as “a lot more than you’re doing.”
  2. If it comes in a bottle, it’s probably not going to make you faster or healthier.
  3. The best technology for tracking and guiding your runs is the device between your ears.
  4. You probably got injured from doing too much, too soon.
  5. The magic workout, shoe, or superfood is whichever one you’ve been ignoring lately or have never tried.
  6. You can probably run better; start by running more.
  7. You’re capable of more than you think, but it will take time to get there.

Read the whole shebangabang to learn much and more!

Smart Coaches Use Coaches

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When it comes to lifting weights and being athletic, I think most men feel like we can do it on our own.

“My high school coach taught me how to lift. I don’t need help.”

(In looking back at what my coaches taught me about lifting… My god… They knew little to none about the subject. And when I look around the gym and see men “lifting,” I think they must’ve had the same quality of coaching I had.)

If we ask for help then we run the risk of looking weak. The ego won’t allow it! Meanwhile, all pro athletes use coaches. If it’s good enough for them then just maybe it’s good enough for you and me.

Hell, I’m a certified trainer and a running coach. Shouldn’t I be able to do it all myself? Apparently not.

Two concepts come to mind:

  1. The more I learn, the less I know. (I think that should be modified a little to “The more I learn, the less certain I am.) And,
  2. Much like the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, the athlete who does his own coaching might have a pretty dumb athlete on his hands.

There’s also this:

Regarding my knowledge:

  • There are things I know,
  • Things I don’t know,
  • Things I know I don’t know,
  • Things I don’t know that I don’t know, AND…
  • Things I think I know but about which I’m wrong!

If you total all that up, then you see that the chances of my being in possession of knowledge is very slim! I have lots of room to screw up. Hence a coach.

I could’ve continued to bumble forward on my own, trying and probably failing to cook up a great running plan. Maybe I could’ve cobbled together a very good performance but I doubt it. More likely I would’ve wasted a bunch of time trying to coach myself. Fortunately, I received wisdom from who-knows-where and I enlisted help.

I hired a running coach and I am very happy with the decision. Her name is Mary-Katherine (MK) Flemming and she’s helping me run smarter, not just harder.

Every time I talk with MK I say to myself, “I didn’t know that!” or “I hadn’t thought about that.” So that’s very good. I feel like MK is coaching me based on sound principles and a throughly thought-out plan. That’s better than me guessing and hoping I’m doing things the right way. It also saves me time to do other things I’d rather do, like write this blog post.

Further, we all like to do what we like to do. None of us are very proficient at doing what we don’t want to do. For example, I want to lift more. It’s easy for me to convince myself that I feel okay, that I’m not too fatigued and that “just a little lifting” will be fine. But my version of “just a little” turns into quite a bit. The cost of lifting more while running is that my muscles ache more, I’m fatigued more often, and my nervous system will fry. Overtraining looms…

(I thought I might be able to simultaneously get stronger in the weight room and become a better runner. I’m not sure how feasible that is. Waaahh…)

MK provides accountability. So important! She treats me like an adult and tells me I can lift if I want to and there will be consequences. My running workouts will suffer and I won’t get the most out of my investment. I hate hearing that!… But it’s true and she’s right.

In short, the benefits and the value of having a coach:

  • She’s an running expert and specialist.  I benefit from her knowledge.
  • I don’t have to struggle and agonize over a plan.
  • My plan is individualized.
  • She’s provides objective eyes and accountability. That is, she tells me what I need to know, not just what I want to hear.

Do you think you know it all? You don’t. If you’re serious about your athletic performance and you’re a fitness expert/coach/trainer/whatever, you would do very well to enlist the services of a coach. Get an expert to help.

Z-Health for Toe Pain

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This will be brief.  I’m enormously excited over the results I’ve been getting from my Z-Health work.  My back pain, Achilles pain and shoulder pain have all improved quite dramatically over the past few weeks.  (I also added 70 lbs. to my deadlift in one fell swoop!)  Yesterday it was my wife’s chance to be surprised by Z-Health.

My wife is a triathlete who’s had intermittent big toe pain in her left foot over the past several months.  It comes and goes and it never had a clear-cut cause.  Yesterday, after visiting with Jason Wood in Lakewood, CO I went home and had my wife go through some Z-Health R-Phase drills.  One of the Z-Health concepts deals with opposing joints.  That means since my wife’s toe pain was in her left foot, I had her go through drills with her right hand and thumb.    The result?  No toe pain whatsoever!  As she gaped in bewilderment, she drove her foot into the ground and wiggled her foot all over and she could not replicate the pain.  The toe pain returned this morning during a dog walk, she went through the drills again for a few moments and again the pain was gone.  (As an aside, the toe pain comes on most notably in a pair of hiking boots.  Perhaps the shoe is interfering with the natural function of her foot, as I’ve discussed here.)  Pretty cool stuff this Z-Health.

I’ll be taking the R-Phase certification in March and April of this year and I’m extremely excited.  I’ve just barely begun to scratch the surface with this exercise protocol and I expect to see more and more dramatic results.  If you’re a fellow personal trainer, a chiropractor, physical therapist or anyone else involved in the health & fitness  business, I highly suggest you look into Z-Health for everything from injury treatment to increasing sports performance.  If you’re an athlete or just an everyday fitness fan who’s either in pain or not performing as well as you’d like, you would do well to seek out a Z-Health trainer for help and advice.

Vitamin Supplementation: Good? Bad? Or Ugly?

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As a personal trainer, I’m often asked about dietary supplements and vitamins.  My position has long been that most dietary supplements are not needed by most people.  Rather, I advise clients to eat a common sense healthy diet full of real food: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and some lean animal products if they like.  Still, I’ve figured that a multi-vitamin probably doesn’t do any harm and may do some good.  On this topic, I may be wrong.

Tasty...

Tasty...

Vita Myth: Do supplements really do any good?, an article from Slate, offers several references to research suggesting that A) there is almost no link between multi-vitamin consumption and decreased mortality, and B) consumption of individual antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E; beta carotene, selenium, and folate may actually increase mortality risk by speeding the growth of cancers.

“But not only do antioxidant supplements fail to protect against heart disease, stroke, and cancer; they actually increase the risk of death, according to a 2007 analysis of research on more than 232,000 people, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as well as other studies.”

These antioxidants are often taken in order to cleanse our bodies of free-radicals, substances which are implicated in a range of ailments including cancer.   Researchers have found that “certain kinds of antioxidant pills can feed latent cancers growing in the body, for instance, and reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy.”  Apparently these good-for-us substances in some cases are also good for replication of cancer cells.  Researchers also suggest that perhaps free-radicals are actually necessary to our good health, and that among other functions they may help kill cancer cells.

Who knew!?

The article explains among other things, the placebo effect of taking vitamins to cure colds, and why we ever took vitamins in the first place (nutritional deficiencies which resulted in diseases such as scurvy).  There also seems to be some evidence that some consumption of vitamin supplements by some populations–folate for pregnant women for example–seems prudent.  The overall message though is that these various vitamins which are found in food simply aren’t all that beneficial once they’re extracted and put into a pill.

Beyond this article, there are a few other factors regarding vitamin consumption worth discussing.  Let’s consider Total cereal which famously tells us that one bowl has 100% of various vitamins and minerals.  Sounds great right?  Sounds convenient.  One bowl of this stuff and we’re set for the day!  Not so fast.  Our bodies can only use or absorb so much of a particular vitamin or mineral at a time.  That one bowl may indeed have all the vitamins you need for that day but your body will only use what it needs at that time.  The rest is digested and excreted.

fruits-and-vegetables

Hey now!!!

Further, we’ve learned that in many cases, in order for vitamins to work the way we want them to, they must be consumed in the presence of any number of other substances.  Food is remarkably complex.  There are literally thousands of molecules in any individual food.  The vitamins in the food need the rest of the food to do their work.  The big picture is very clear: Vitamins in isolation won’t do the trick.  Food is required.

Should we be surprised by any of this?  Once again the American quest for convenience has led us away from good health.  Again, science has tried to out think Mother Nature, and again the results are of questionable use.  Common sense often turns out to be an amazingly accurate guide.  To anyone seeking weight loss, better health and a longer life, I offer this advice: Eat right most of the time.  Work hard often.

The Dangers of Sitting; NEAT and the Benefits of Hunger: Part I

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The longer you spend sitting each day, the more likely you are to die an early death — no matter how fit you are.

Right around Thanksgiving I discussed some of the science behind obesity and eating.  Now, the tremors of holiday gorging have started, and an eruption of Christmas binging is close at hand.  It’s cold outside and here in Colorado we’ve got several inches of snow on the ground.  This seems the ideal backdrop to look at obesity again, this time with an eye toward energy expenditure.

Two articles present slightly different information on the same general issue, that is the relationship between movement and obesity.  I’ll discuss the first article here and the second in part II of this post.  Your Body’s big enemy?  You’re sitting on it comes from MSNBC.com.  The article has two main topics.  First, we’re told of the consequences of our modern, mostly seated lifestyle.  We sit at our jobs.  We sit getting to our jobs.  We sit for entertainment.  And our many electronic tools allow us to live our lives while expending very little energy, especially when compared to the bulk of human history which featured far more physical labor than we currently experience.  Specifically we’re told about the biochemistry of too much sitting:

“When you sit for an extended period of time, your body starts to shut down at the metabolic level, says Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. When muscles — especially the big ones meant for movement, like those in your legs — are immobile, your circulation slows and you burn fewer calories. Key flab-burning enzymes responsible for breaking down triglycerides (a type of fat) simply start switching off. Sit for a full day and those fat burners plummet by 50 percent, Levine says.”

Sitting increases our risk of diabetes and heart disease and it may even increase our risk for depression.  It’s also none too good for our spinal health and posture.  A bottom-line assessment of sitting was observed by Canadian researchers: The longer you spend sitting each day, the more likely you are to die an early death — no matter how fit you are.  (The article stated this finding but I’m not sure exactly where or by whom this research was done.)

The second topic is NEAT, or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.  (Read more on NEAT from the Mayo Clinic.)  Examples of NEAT include tapping our toes, gesturing with our hands while talking, doing house work or yard work, standing while working or any sort of fidgeting–even chewing gum.  According to Mayo Clinic research, NEAT has a big impact.  A study found that after 10 days, lean participants moved an average of 150 minutes more per day than overweight participants  That translates to 350 calories, or about one cheeseburger.  Take that out to one month and that’s 10, 500 calories (3 lbs. of fat).  In one year NEAT may burn up to 127, 750 calories or almost 37 lbs. of fat!

What can we do with this information?  Well it goes to a discussion I’ve had with many of my personal training clients who are trying to lose weight.  Find a way to move around somehow.  An hour or a half-hour a day in a gym doesn’t add up to much by the end of the week.  We’ve got to find ways to move around a lot more than that.  Your body needs to move throughout the day.  Here are some ideas:

  • Stand up while talking on the phone.
  • Set the meeting timer on your Microsoft Outlook (or similar e-mail system) for every half-hour with this message: GET UP.  WALK AROUND.
  • Use the stairs.  Avoid elevators and escalators.
  • Wash dishes by hand.
  • Quit looking for the parking space closest to the mall or grocery store entrance.  Park way back in the back and walk to the entrance.

The bottom line is this: Sitting is death by a thousand keystrokes.  Moving yourself about the planet under your own power has tremendous health benefits.  Your body doesn’t care if you do it in a gym or whether or not you call it “exercise.”

Alright, you’re done reading.  GET ON YOUR FEET AND GO DO SOMETHING!

Holiday Reading: Obesity, Wacko Cookie Diet, Strength Training, Running Research, Ice vs. Heat for Injuries

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Artwork: St. Petersburg Times, FL

Artwork: St. Petersburg Times, FL

A day of severe gluttony is headed our way like a runaway chuck wagon.  Therefore, how about a discussion of two articles on obesity?   For the Overweight, Bad Advice by the Spoonful was published back in August of this year in the New York Times Health Guide. The other, Energy Gap Useful Tool for Successful Weight Loss Strategy is from early November in Science Daily.  The two articles present very daunting insights into our fight against obesity.  The Times piece tells us the following:

  • Weight control is not simply a matter of willpower. Genes help determine the body’s “set point,” which is defended by the brain.
  • Dieting alone is rarely successful, and relapse rates are high.
  • Moderate exercise, too, rarely results in substantive long-term weight loss, which requires intensive exercise.

The article further states:

“…the notion that Americans ever ate well is suspect. In 1966, when Americans were still comparatively thin, more than two billion hamburgers already had been sold in McDonald’s restaurants, noted Dr. Barry Glassner, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California. The recent rise in obesity may have more to do with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles than with the quality of our diets.”

Our bodies are remarkably stubborn in their ability to keep us at our current weight (discussed further here).  We eat smart and healthy one day, a little less so the next.  In contrast to the Times article, from everything I read and understand, the food component of weight loss is far more powerful than the exercise component (suggested here, and here).  In fact the issue is poor eating plus a sedentary lifestyle that’s gotten our nation so heavy.  Things like this are never isolated to one cause.  (By the way, body weight isn’t the only measure of health.  Look here for more on the issue of fit vs. fat.)

There are two things not mentioned in the Times article that we should consider.  First regarding the way we ate decades ago vs. how we eat now is the presence of processed foods.  I don’t have statistics but I think it’s safe to assume that in the 1960s we were eating more fresh, unprocessed food. We now eat gobs of food every day that is packed with calories but contains very little actual nutrition.  For a sober, practical, in-depth look at our nation’s obsession with “nutritionism” you must read what Michael Pollan says in Unhappy Meals.  Another comment on Pollan’s work is found at Disease Proof.  (For truly fascinating insights into the American food system, you must read Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and/or In Defense of Food.)

The second component of our eating we must consider is portion size.  Portion size is a tremendous component of obesity.  In recent decades past, our overall calorie intake was lower than it is now, thus there was far less obesity.  The article notes the billions of McDonald’s hamburgers that were sold but do you know what those hamburgers looked like?  You can still buy it today.  If you look at a McDonald’s menu they actually have something simply called a hamburger; not a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Titanic Monster Burger, or whatever.  It’s a small thing with one meat patty, pickles, onions and ketchup.  A customer in the ’60s may have gotten fries and a soft drink, but the fries came in a small paper envelope, not a cardboard crate, and the soft drink was an eight ounce cup rather than an industrial drum.

For more on portion sizes and our consumption habits, the Centers for Disease Control provide a report called Do Increased Portion sizes Affect How Much We Eat? It’s amazing to see how we can unconsciously eat a lot more than we need to if it’s sitting there in front of us.

The Science Daily article tells us that once one is obese, the body fights extra hard to stay there.  In contrast, one who never becomes obese seems far less likely to become obese.  The article discusses the Energy Gap, a term used by the American Dietetic Association to estimate the change in energy balance (intake and expenditure) behaviors required to achieve and sustain reduced body weight outcomes in individuals and populations.  We’re told that the energy gap to prevent weight gain is about 100 calories.  That is, someone can prevent weight gain with a combination of reduced energy intake and increased physical activity that amounts to 100 calories.   The news isn’t so good for those trying to lose significant amounts of weight.  The energy gap may be 200-300 calories for someone looking to lose 10%-15% of their body weight.  That means serious eating modification and quite a bit of time exercising.

According to James O. Hill, PhD,

“This analysis indicates that to create and maintain substantial weight loss (ie, obesity treatment), large behavioral changes are needed. This is in stark contrast to primary obesity prevention in which small behavioral changes can eliminate the small energy imbalance that occurs before the body has gained substantial weight. Because the body has not previously stored this ‘new’ excess energy, it does not defend against the behavioral strategies as happens when the body loses weight.”

What does all of this mean?  First, obesity is much like any other disease in that preventing it is much easier than treating it once you’ve got it.  (This makes the topic extremely relevant to the current health care debate.  Preventing obesity will result in prevention of obesity related illnesses, and we’ll all spend less on health care.)  Second, there’s much evidence to suggest that losing weight is a complex battle that is more than simply making a decision.  We have a very tenacious system wired into us (likely rooted in some prehistoric survival strategy) that makes dropping pounds extremely difficult.  It’s akin to telling the drug addict to just stop.

Just stopping–a conscious decision to change a behavior in other words–is still the heart of the issue.  Weight loss still comes down to willful decisions to make changes.  There’s no way around it.  I learned a little bit about human psychology and behavior in graduate school.  It seems that most of us adhere to changes if they’re made in small, gradual steps.  Just one healthy decision made today is one more than was made yesterday.  That’s a step toward whatever healthy goal we have in mind.  Keep making healthier daily decisions and over the course of a year, two years, 10 years and you’ll have made a lot of them.  Guess what’s around the corner though: the New Year’s Resolution.

We’re getting close to the time of year when many people will make the big decision to lose weight this year.  Gyms will be packed with people exercising like they’ve never done before–at least not since the beginning of the previous year.  They’ll make attempts to banish their favorite foods from their plates and replace it with food they’ve never much liked.  Most of these noble attempts will be abandoned by the end of February.  This is the perfect example of people making drastic lifestyle changes which cannot be maintained.  As a personal trainer, I see this happen every year.

Speaking from personal experience, I look back to childhood, high school and college and see what I ate and/or drank–and in what amounts–and I’m amazed at the amounts of junk I once consumed.  I’ve spent over a decade making changes here and there and I’ve found that it hasn’t been too terribly painful at all.  Of course I can’t extrapolate my experience out to everyone else, but it seems to me a strategy of small changes in both eating and exercise made over time, plus the decision to stick with these changes is still the best strategy to lose weight and get healthy.  If there’s a better strategy, please let me know.

Beyond that, here’s more to read on a variety of topics:

  • Are we Insane? Part II: the Cookie Diet.  Does this even need any explanation?  Cookies and dieting….  I think I’ll try breathing underwater later today, or maybe flapping my arms and flying.  (Ever notice how everyone who was on a diet… WAS on a diet?  No one stays on any of these things.)
  • To thrive longer, get stronger.  The Washington Post discusses Consumer Reports’ findings on various clinical trials of strength training.  Turns out picking up heavy objects is good for you in many ways.
  • Runners: Train less and be faster.  OK, this will be controversial to some and I’m not saying this is true for everyone all the time.  However the findings here help support some of the arguments made at Power Running that running fewer miles (low volume) while running faster (high intensity) may increase race performance.  Science Daily profiles a report in the Journal of Applied Physiology on the topic of running less but running faster.  Again, do not assume this is the be-all-end-all for everyone, but it might be exactly the strategy that will work for you.
  • Ice or Heat?  The topic of icing or heating an injury is often debated.  Like many issues of sports conditioning and rehabilitation, the jury is still out.  The following is a reprint of a comment by the late Dr. Mell Siff from the Supertraining forum:
    ICE OR HEAT?
    by Dr. Mel C SiffThe use of ice treatment may not be universally superior to the use of heat
    in enhancing recovery or rehabilitation.

    THE PROBLEM

    The use of localised or more extensive ice or cold treatment has been well
    authenticated over the years and there is little doubt that, in many cases,
    it is a highly effective and cheap method of restoration and rehabilitation.

    However, any literature searches for definitive studies that compare the
    effectiveness of ice cold versus very hot treatment of the same sort of injury are not as common as one would believe.

    It seems as if we have all accepted that heat is contraindicated largely on
    the basis of theoretical considerations or extrapolations form cases where
    bleeding is apparent. We know that heat causes blood vessels dilatation,
    temporary increase in inflammation and the decrease in blood viscosity, but
    does this necessarily imply that it will be detrimental to the course of
    restoration or rehabilitation of all sore, bruised and fatigued soft tissues?

    Why I am saying this is because I have been experimenting, much against my
    education and scientific traditions, with the use of very hot water as a
    restorative means with myself and several other athletes, some of whom are
    top pro footballers and basketballers.

    Surprisingly, this seems to diminish muscle soreness and speeded up recovery
    in many cases, especially if we use alternate hot and cold bathing. I have an
    8 ft deep jacuzzi and long lap swimming pool and have my athletes alternate
    between hot and cold immersion. Interestingly, I have found that the water
    has to be almost unbearably hot (about 108 deg F or 41C) to be optimally
    effective. Movement under these conditions also seems to be valuable
    (‘cryokinetics’ for ice old immersion and ‘thermodynamics’ for hot
    immersion).

    Certainly my comments on this controversial topic merely constitute anecdotal
    evidence at this stage, but I am curious to hear if anyone else has had
    similar experiences or come across scientific research which legitimately
    shows that dedicated ice treatment is significantly better than very hot
    treatment or ice-heat contrast methods. Failing that, is there any evidence
    that the use of heat is a general contraindication for musculoskeletal
    recovery and rehabilitation, other than cases where there is obvious bleeding
    or serious pathology?

    Are we promoting ice therapy far too liberally to the exclusion of heat
    therapy, when the latter may well also play a very helpful role in
    musculoskeletal rehabilitation? Are we unfairly proclaiming that heat is
    potentially harmful for treating any soft tissue repair? Does this attitude
    go against our recent attestations to the value of ‘holistic’ treatment?

    There have been a huge number of studies on the effect of stretching,
    jogging, supplements, heat, cold, drugs, you name it …. and virtually
    nothing has yet been found that appears to make some significant and
    consistent difference to the dissipation of DOMS. Do a Medline search
    and you will see what I mean. Many higher level weightlifters and
    ppwerlifters rarely if ever suffer from DOMS even after very heavy
    workouts, which afflicts mainly newcomers to a given exercise or
    routine – or certain more susceptible individuals. For general recovery,
    I have found it difficult to beat sensible program (or periodisation) design and
    hot-cold contrast bathing, as I have written in previous letters. Your
    recommendation to do some mild post-exercise activity probably is
    a sound idea for general relaxation and recovery, but it has not been
    shown to have any real effect on DOMS.

The Benefits of Supervised Strength Training

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Supervised Strength Training is More Effective, Swedish Study Finds, is an article from  Science Daily.  What does it tell us?   It turns out that supervision and personalization is an important component of an injury-prevention (prehabilition) workout–at least when it’s performed by Swedish volleyball players.  This information probably isn’t a huge shock but the implications are worth considering not only for injury-related issues but also for any fitness or sports performance goals.

The study surveyed 158 elite-level volleyball players by way of a questionnaire.  The answers indicated that almost all the players performed some kind of injury-prevention program yet almost half of the players had been injured.  Most of the players exercised without supervision.  Further, two groups of players were given exercise programs.  One group was given a personalized program and was supervised by a physiotherapist.  The other group was given a non-personalized program and they were not supervised during workouts.  The supervised group both improved their performance more than and had a lower injury rate than the unsupervised group.

Now, from the description of the study, there are several weak points that we could discuss: small sample size, physiological differences in the groups that might predispose or protect the players from injury, effect of the supervision vs. the effect of the personalized workout in the results, validity of the questionnaire.  What’s more important though is that even elite-level athletes might benefit from a personalized, supervised conditioning program.

“I have a feeling that more athletes really stick to the program and focus on the task if there is a coach present. Many players may feel that the strength and conditioning training is the boring part of their sport, which makes it tempting to ‘cheat’ when nobody is watching,” says Sofia Augustsson, author of the study.

These are people for whom their sport is a major focus of their lives to the point that they may be earning a living from volleyball, so we might expect very strict adherence to any exercise program given to them.  However, the behavior of these athletes and the results of their exercise programs confirms something I learned in graduate school: personalized programs and close interaction with individuals has impact.  The more a fitness instructor or coach can work with one person or a small group the more likely that person or group will adhere to a program and succeed.

Does this sound like an argument for hiring a personal trainer?  Well, yes, absolutely it does!  Obviously I’m biased here but at the same time, there seems to be just a little bit of science to back up the idea.

To take it a little further, what I often see in the gym are people exercising but putting forth little effort.  They’re often doing the same workout over and over.  They may be neglecting their needs in favor of their “wants.”  (“I want bigger pecs,” or  “I want washboard abs” for example but what he or she may need is more hip or spine mobility, better shoulder stability or better nutrition.)  So often these folks are putting in the time but they’re not getting the most value for their time–but at least they’re doing something in the way of exercise.   Many more gym goers will give up altogether.  They’ll spend some time exercising but never knowing the important whys and hows of getting to their goal.  They’d stand as good a chance of getting a college degree without a degree plan.  (BTW, here are some interesting stats on Americans’ exercise habits…  Had to throw that in somewhere.)

It’s entirely likely that some time (and yes money) spent with a trainer could improve things dramatically.  Just about anyone will benefit from a different set of eyes to look over their goals and their methods to achieving those goals.  Even the most dedicated gym rat works harder when someone else is pushing him or her.  Getting in shape and staying healthy is more than just reading an article or doing the workout you did in high school.  So if you want to get the very most out of your time in the gym, or on the road, or on the track, the pool, the basketball court–wherever it is you exercise, seek out professional advice and you may achieve more than you ever imagined.

Why do you exercise?

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Do you have physique goals?  Is sporting performance important to you?  Do you exercise for the purpose of disease prevention?  Maybe it’s all or some of the above.

For whatever reason, some of us simply enjoy picking up heavy steel objects and running/biking/climbing/jumping around to the point of exhaustion.  We derive pleasure from discomfort: burning, aching muscles; lungs on fire; sweat in the eyes…  What we do isn’t always fun like a birthday party but deeply fulfilling.

The fascinating thing to me about exercise is that it is clearly very simple in most regards.  Pick up something heavy several times.  Move fast enough and/or long enough to sweat and pant.  That’s exercise for the most part.  It ain’t Greek philosophy, trigonometry or neurosurgery.  Yet look at how many smart, highly accomplished people simply cannot find a way to do something so simple—even though we recognize how vital exercise is to a long, healthy life.  Think of a time when you’ve pushed yourself—or have been pushed—to extreme physical exertion.  It doesn’t take complex mental skills but we all know these kinds of efforts take tremendous mental fortitude.