Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Outdoor Track Sprints

Memorial Day finally brought some welcomed warm weather to New England.  Finally!  Unfortunately it also meant limited holiday hours at my local gym.  That posed a problem for my husband who likes to work out before work Monday mornings.  No, he did not have off for Memorial Day.  I did have a vacation day, yet graciously offered to get up at the 6am hour with him for an alternative.  We headed to the local high school's outdoor track to do some sprints - something I've been mixing in my own training on the rare days it wasn't raining this spring.

The track is about a ten minute walk from our house, which served as a decent warm-up.  Once we got there we did some stretching and mobility exercises to loosen up.  Then we jogged one lap before the fun began.

The workout consisted of six 100 meter sprints.  For each one, we ran like our lives depended on it for the entire distance.  The time it took to walk back and maybe an additional minute at the starting line was our recovery.  We did a total of six sprints and then walked back home.  Done and done.

A couple of quick notes:

  • Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout especially when outdoors.  Even though it was early in the morning and not yet sweltering, it was important for us to stay hydrated.
  • Though I picked the workout, my husband SMOKED me on every single sprint.  No joke.  I found I ran faster than when doing a similar workout solo.  Just another plus to training partners.  They motivate you to push beyond your limits.....and sometimes take a bite of humble pie.
  • Be sure to stretch, foam roll, etc. afterwards.  Running is tough on the body so I make sure to do plenty of the aforementioned or a quick yoga DVD as a peace offering to my joints.
  • The vagueness of the description is due to neither of us bringing a time-telling device.  I couldn't tell you exactly how long our rest periods were or how long it took us to sprint 100m.  We're pretty sure we were about 2-3 seconds off the world record time though. ;-)
  • Six, quick sprints don't seem like much on paper.  Don't forget you are working at your maximal effort for each one.  You should be pretty spent at the end, or at least notice a decrease in speed if you tried to do many more.  On the ten minute walk back to the house, my husband and I barely uttered a word to each other.  That's just a testament to how hard we worked.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Can't Out-Exercise Bad Nutrition

Exercise is something to feel proud of.  Only a small percentage of Americans do it on a regular basis, so pat yourself on the back if you are one of the few. 

I love how after a good training session my legs wobble so much passing a field sobriety test would be challenging.  Or when the "bed head" look is the only option for the day because it just hurts too much to hold up a blowdryer for longer than five seconds. 

I'm sure you can relate.  How awesome do you feel after sweating through an intense hour-long DVD workout?  Or when you feel on top of the world because you sprinted at max speed the last 60 seconds of your usual running route.

Relishing this sense of accomplishment is one of the reasons regular exercisers are consistent.  It gives you the confidence to handle the rest of life with ease.  I do chin-ups and push-ups with my own body weight .  Why yes, I think I will carry all 13 bags of groceries in at once!

However, don't let your exercise accomplishments translate into over-confidence.  More specfically, believing you earned a free pass to eat whatever you want. 

"I worked out for an hour today.  Deep dish pizza for dinner it is!"

"Running that extra half mile will definitely cancel out this ice cream sundae."

"I went to the gym three times this week.  Three times!  Open another bottle of wine."

Yes, exercise burns calories.  It helps contribute to that pesky energy balance equation we have to worry about (calories in = calories out = weight maintenance.....calories in > calories out = weight gain).  Not to mention it boasts a multitude of other benefits such as increased metabolism, stronger bones, lowered risk of chronic diseases, higher engery levels, improved self-esteem, etc.

Giving yourself a free pass for every successful workout isn't moderation.  It's a habit.  As I mentioned before, our daily physical activity is responsible 15-30% of our daily calorie expenditure.  That's less than a third!  In the grand scheme of things, it's not enough to negate consistently poor eating habits.

Keep up the exercise, without a doubt.  Just avoid putting all your eggs in one basket.  You need balance to get the body you dream of.  Equal effort into your eating habits, stress management, and sleep schedule (to name a few) will go a long way.

Trade in your free pass for a different kind of reward.  A massage.  A new pair of shoes.  Download some new music.  Change your mindset and your health will follow.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

10 Minute Killer Cardio

Alwyn Cosgrove included the following metabolic workout in The New Rules of Lifting for Abs book, which I previously raved about

It's perfect when in a time crunch or if you want to add the (no calorie) icing on top of an already awesome sweat session.  Last week I threw it in before I taught a low-impact group exercise class.

At the start of a minute, complete anywhere from six to ten burpees.  The goal is to complete as many as you can within about 20-25 seconds.  Rest for the remainder of the minute (about 35-40 seconds).  Repeat ten times for a total of ten minutes.  Mine looked something like this:

0:00 - 0:25:  8 burpees

0:25 - 1:00:  rest, feeling confident this will be a good workout

1:00 - 1:25:  8 burpees

1:25-2:00:  rest, starting to breathe a little heavier

2:00 - 2:25:  8 burpees

2:25 - 3:00: rest, yep, heart rate's definitely up now

3:00 - 3:25:  8 burpees

3:25 - 4:00:  rest, how many do I have left??

and so forth...

Beginners should start somewhere around four to six minutes, adding one at a time as their fitness improves.  More advanced exercisers can add on a minute each week.  Have fun!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Calorie Burning Basics

Most people know they need to increase calorie expenditure to reach their health and fitness goals.  At the same time, they have no clue how the body goes about doing it.  There are three ways the body burns calories:

1. Resting Metabolic Rate

You might hear resting metabolic rate (RMR) also referred to as basal metabolic rate or simply put, your metabolism.  This is the number of calories your body needs for its most vital functions.  In other words, if you stayed in bed all day not moving a muscle this is the amount it would take to keep your heart beating, lungs breathing, brain functioning, etc. 

RMR accounts for 60-70% of your daily calories.  That's far more than any other mechanism and it's important to note as we'll talk about down the road.

A number of factors determine your RMR:
  • Body composition - lean muscle mass is very active tissue therefore burns more calories
  • Age - metabolism decreases as we age
  • Sex - men typically have higher RMR's than women since they tend to have more muscle mass
  • Hormones - certain hormones, like those released when we are stressed, can have a negative impact
  • Medications - check with your doctor to see if anything you are taking as related side effects 

2. Physical Activity

Any bodily movement burns calories.  This includes planned exercise sessions, occupational and household work, recreational activities, etc.  Even twirling your hair, pacing back and forth, and shifting around in your desk chair counts (those types of movements are called NEAT: non-exercise activity thermogensis).  All movement burns calories so try to incorporate as much as you can in your daily routine.

Physical activity accounts for 15-30% of daily calorie expenditure.  Those who are more active will be closer to 30%.  Those take the elevator up one floor on a regular basis will be closer to the bottom end of the range. 

3. Thermic Effect of Food

It is very minimal but it must be said.  A measley 5-10% of our calories are burned through the process of food digestion.  Yes, it's true.  You can burn calories from eating so to speak.  Most of these foods are plain vegetables and fruits.  Don't bet on regularly eating meals that will result in a negative calorie balance.  And if you do, I bet you'll be hungry again in 30 minutes.

Take a close look at the above chart of an estimated daily calorie expenditure.  In upcoming posts I'll how to use the breakdown to your advantage and why things you may be doing just don't make sense.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Excuses, excuses...

Other than gangsta hamsters riding in a Kia Soul, this is probably my favorite commercial:

I'll admit it.  Once I drove into a crowded gym parking lot only to turn around and go right back home.  My excuse?  "It was too busy there to work out".  I told myself I'd try again tomorrow at a different time and do twice as much (that probably didn't happen).  Lame, I know. 

It takes more energy to come up with the perfect excuse than it would to actually exercise.  Think about it.  You have to come up with something creative.  You're too tired.  Wednesdays are weird.  You missed the cat.  That sounds so much better than "I don't feel like it". 

Next comes the internal struggle to convince yourself it's justified.  At first it's an even battle.  Half your brain thinks it sounds like a valid reason.  The other half knows it's complete B.S.  Slowly but surely the latter half loses and you've persuaded yourself to skip the work out. 

The worst part happens next.  Even though your decision was sound at the time, your B.S. detector just won't shut off.  The guilt sets in.  It's too late to go back and change things but you can't stop thinking about it.  You feel sluggish and miss that sense of accomplishment you get after a good workout.  The next day everything you eat reminds you of those extra calories you would've burned the day before.  You'll work extra hard at the gym today.  However, the additional pressure only makes another excuse look more appealing.

Looking back, the decision to skip that workout weighed on you for over 24 hours.  It took some time to come up with the excuse, to justify it to yourself and others, and to then deal with the amplified guilt.  If you just cut the crap and went to the gym, it would've only consumed an hour of your day.

The hardest part of exercising is making the choice to do it.  No one ever ends a workout in a bad mood wishing they hadn't done it in the first place.  Pick the endorphins over the excuses.  Turn off your mind and let the autopilot setting guide you.