Feb
21
2011
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Over the weekend a client asked me what causes muscle cramps and how to get rid of or prevent them.

I thought it would some good information to share, so here we go.

Defined:
A muscle cramp very basically defined is when a muscle or group of muscles contracts involuntarily.  If you've ever had one you know they can be extremely painful, and can stop you in your tracks.  Typically after a few minutes however they subside.


Causes:
There has not been any definitive explanation as to what causes muscle cramps.  But what we do know is that muscle cramps can be caused by:

  • Over Use of a muscle

  • Dehydration

  • a muscle strain or

  • holding a certain position for a prolonged period of time

Often times exercising in hot or humid temperatures will increase the likelihood of cramping if you do not stay well hydrated.

Other causes that have been discussed in the literature are:

Inadequate Blood Supply:  Sometimes during exercise the arteries can become narrowed to certain areas of the body and thus produce cramping.  Typically after you stop exercising the cramping will also stop.

Nerve Compression: In certain instances nerves can become compressed while exercising and can thus create cramping.

Mineral Depletion:  If your body is deficient in potassium, magnesium, or calcium you may have a higher chance of experiencing muscle cramps.  If you are taking any medications you may want to check with your doctor to see if depletion of these minerals is a side effect.

Lastly muscle cramps have also been associated with hypoglycemia, anemia, kidney, thyroid or hormone disorders, and nerve conditions.

Treatment:
There is some research suggesting that adding a vitamin B complex to your diet may in fact decrease the occurrence of cramping, but as with all supplements, consult your treating physician first.

When you are experiencing a cramp try massaging the effected area and then gently stretching it. 

You may want to use a cold pack to relax the tense muscle.  Then try a heating pad or warm towel if you have tenderness or pain later.

Prevention:
First and foremost be sure to do your rolling and stretching before and after each workout to be sure you are keeping good blood flow to the muscles, and alleviating any knots (adhesions) that may have occurred during your workout.

And for those of you wondering just how much hydration is enough.  A good rule of thumb is .55 multiplied times your body weight should give you a good approximation of how many ounces of water you should intake. Remember however, how much water you need is also determined by your gender, the weather, the foods you eat, the amount the you sweat as well as your general health and any medications you are taking. 

Simply:

  • Roll and stretch before and after each workout,

  • Avoid salty and processed foods

  • Use .55 multiplied times your body weight as a general guide for ounces of water intake, and

  • Consult your physician regarding a vitamin B complex if you have frequent episodes of cramping.

There you go.  Muscle Cramps 101

Now you know how to keep yourself out of pain and enjoying your life that much more.
Feb
14
2011
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The other day a client asked me why do I think most people work out at all?

Of course it got me thinking, you know me, and I thought, yeah what are the major reasons why?

Well after a little trip down memory lane, I came up with these.  Let me know what you think.

1.)  Vanity:  Plain and simple no matter how you try to dress it up or regardless how you word it.  When you take out all the preservatives, colors, and artificial politically correct sweeteners, it comes down to you want to look good.  Let's be honest.  We live in a world that over emphasizes looks way more than is probably good for any of us, but hey it's the truth.  I remember reading some research many years ago, that talked about a study done on perceived attractiveness.  In it they discussed how even when qualifications were identical, the person perceived more attractive was more often given the job.  Same thing happened when it came to giving traffic tickets, etc.  So if that's what motivates you and keeps your body healthy and vital, keep doing it!


2.)  Endorphins:  No matter how much you enjoy looking good from the results of working out, you can't get around that unbelievable "feeling" you have after a good training session.  We all know the research behind the "runner's high".  All sorts of magazines have discussed the hormones and enzymes that are released into your system after a good "bout of exercise", some even suggesting it's a similar "high" to eating chocolate.  If it keeps you moving and healthy, adding quality years to your life, and is an awesome "high" in the process, why not enjoy it.  It's free and good for you.

3.)  Health:  We all know exercise is healthy for us, that's nothing new.  But let's be honest, if we all took that common sense to heart would we have a population that is approximately 61% overweight?  So no, just knowing exercise is good for you isn't enough to get everyone motivated.  People in this category exercise because they know they have to do so.  In some cases their doctor has told them they have to exercise or else.  This individual, while understanding the benefits of exercise, wasn't moved to action until their life depended on it.  What's interesting is that sometimes people motivated for this reason often end up in the other two after a short bit of time.  Exercise is funny like that. Regardless of how you get there, the truth of the matter is you're making sure you life is one of quality.  Having your health I believe is sometimes one of those things we take for granted.

I bet you don't believe that everyone fits into each of these categories purely as I've written them.  But my experience has found that in fact most people do in fact fit into one of the 3 categories above or are a hybrid of each of them.  Funny thing, no one ever really bothers to ask why you work out when you're at the gym.  Everyone is there just doing their thing for the reasons that move them. 

And when you really think about it, that's really all that matters.
I don't know how many of you had a chance to read the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, but I've taken the liberty of including it below.
 
Not that you actually needed a reason to get on track and stay on track, but I think this article is very eye opening and a good kick in the pants to anyone on the fence about improving their health.

Many Americans' diets are a train wreck — loaded with junk food, fast food, sugary beverages and too few healthful foods. So it's no surprise that the federal government's new dietary guidelines, being released today, recommend people get...  On Fluent News: http://iphone.usatoday.com/article/news/43092924?feedID=230&preferredArticleViewMode=single

I believe much of the problem of the American dietary habits has a great deal to do with great advertising (for unhealthy foods) and too much bad information about what it really takes to change your body.  Heck, there is so much misinformation out there, it's all I can do to keep up slaying all those dragons for you and providing the truth.

  • How much cardio should I do and what type works the best?

  • Should I do cardio in the morning before I eat breakfast -- I heard that I can burn more calories that way?

  • Does lifting weights help in losing weight faster?

  • How should I organize my meals?

  • What about "such and such" diet, my friend got great results on it?

  • How important is sleep really?
__________________________________________________________________________________________

Let's take it one step at a time, keep it real, and live in reality.

1.) Cardio serves two main purposes:
     
     * To improve the functioning of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels
     * Burns calories by stimulating your metabolism

My experience is, if you've been consistently training for at least 6 months, do intervals a minimum of 3x/week. Figure 10-20minutes at a time utilizing the interval method.  And as far as when to do it -- only worry about that after you've been consistently doing your cardio routine for 4-6 weeks AND following your nutrition plan.  Then you can worry about what time of day.  There are no shortcuts.

No matter what anyone tells you --There is no magic cardio machine.  You can do intervals using your favorite cardio machine, or choose different alternatives to the same old grind. (battling ropes, kettlebells, bike riding, stairs, swimming)

2.) Using weights is essential if your goal is to lose body fat quickly while maintaining muscle.  Try doing circuits (4-7 movements in a row before taking a 2 minute break).  Repeat the process 3-4 times.  You'll get quicker results in half the time.

3.) There is no magic diet.  The nutrition program that works is the one that fits your tastes, budget, and time constraints.  It only works if you use it consistently.  Don't skip or eliminate food groups. Every meal should contain a protein, carb (starchy and veggies), and fat (figure 4-5 meals per day; 3 regular meals and a morning and afternoon snack).  Here's a quick and easy reminder when it comes to planning your meals (quick reminder).

4.) Sleep is Important.  Everyone is different.  However it's safe to say you'll need 6-8 hours/night minimum if you're going to transform your body quickly.  Studies have shown a lack of sleep actually sabotages weight loss.

Below I'm including a bonus to get you from OK to OUTSTANDING as quickly as possible.  But of course you'll have to apply the information for it to work (think 1% information--90% application).

The KISS Method for Fast Body Transformation

It doesn't get much easier than that.  Try out and let me know what you think.  Be prepared for some serious physical changes.

Get on Track and Stay on Track!
Since this is the last Monday of the month, these will be my final two research articles to help you finally abandon steady state cardio.

As you'll remember we've already discussed the negatives of steady state cardio:

  • the amount of time it takes each week to get in all those hours

  • the wear and tear toll it takes on your knees, hips and back

  • the fact that it does not burn body fat efficiently and effectively for the time you spend

If that wasn't enough for the month, guess what else I found to help you that will help you get in shape quickly and effectively?

So what else works better than steady state cardio?  Well for one weight lifting circuits. Weight lifting circuits have been found to burn more fat and overall calories effectively.

A study was done on the "Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate".

Now for sure 800 calories is a ridiculously low amount of calories to consume (I would not suggest you try this).  But again it was for the purpose of research.  Surely no plan, no matter how well thought out, could produce any results on such a low amount of intake calories right?

Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate

Wrong

Aerobic group: 4 hours per week
Resistance training group: 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps. 10 exercises, three times per week.

  • VO2 max increased equally in both groups (think better utilization of oxygen)

  • The resistance training group lost significantly more fat and did not lose any lean body mass (LBM), even at only 800 calories per day.

  • The resistance training group actually increased metabolism compared to the aerobic group which decreased metabolism.

Plain and simple.  Even consuming only 800 calories, lifting weights can actually increase your metabolism (think burn more calories just sitting at your desk).  Why is that important?  Because the more muscle you have and maintain, the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off.  Starvation diets deplete your body and cause your metabolism to slow down -- making it harder to lose weight.

One more for the road.

Contribution of anaerobic energy expenditure to whole body thermogenesis

A weight training circuit burned 71% more calories than originally thought using aerobic measures

8 minutes of weight training burned somewhere between 159 and 231 calories (used a 15 repetition scheme)

To put it plainly, you can burn a heck of a lot more calories doing a weight lifting circuit than doing steady state cardio.

So at this point, to be quite blunt and to the point, with so many options to doing steady state cardio, there are really only 4 reasons I can think of as to why you should be doing steady state:

1.)  Your treating physician has advised you to do steady state cardio

2.)  You have recently started exercising (less than 6 months on a consistent exercise routine)

3.)  You have a body fat composition that is below 10%

4.)  You have lots of free time and nothing better to do

So there you have it.  A month's worth of research on the reasons why steady state cardio doesn't work, as well as some options to try. 

Make this year, your year.  No more excuses, only results.

Get on Track and Stay on Track!

Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof. -- Galbraith's Law



You would be amazed at how many people have sent me emails and stopped me at the gym to debate with me on the research I've been sharing with all of you over the past few weeks; that slow steady state cardio does not produce as effective results as interval training. Said another way, if given 30 minutes to do slow steady state cardio or some form of interval training, you can burn more calories doing interval training and create less wear and tear on your joints.  To me that sounds like a win/win.


But it seems no matter what, some people are just committed to staying in a rut no matter how much information they receive.  If you're getting amazing results doing slow steady state cardio, by all means please continue. If however, you're getting less than amazing results and time is an issue when it comes to getting your cardio time in during the week, then I strongly encourage you, with your doctor's permission of course, to try some form of interval training for a minimum of 4-6 weeks and compare the results.

What's that old saying, "proof is in the pudding", or something like that.  Bottom line is, rather than argue the point or just push the evidence aside, try it!  The only thing you have to lose is that body fat that you don't want around anyway.

It's the last week of January, the year is already beginning to roll right by, why not get in shape and out of pain before spring.  Don't be the last one on the "no more steady state cardio" boat, be the first.

Here's a little demo of me performing the Kettlebell Swings.  I assure, it will definitely get your heart rate up and will definitely decrease the overall wear and tear on your hips, knees and lower back.  One word of caution however; Be sure to consult a certified Kettlebell instructor to make sure you are doing them correctly to avoid injury.

Get on Track and Stay on Track!

OK.  So I understand from the emails I've received that some of you out there are still not convinced that steady state (slow) cardio doesn't work.  Please let me be clear.  I'm not saying it doesn't work, I'm giving you legitimate research that proves it does not work as effectively as interval cardio or circuit training for losing body fat efficiently. 

I wouldn't give you inaccurate information, believe me.  It wouldn't be fair.  You rely on me to do the work of investigation and then pass on what I learn so that you can benefit.  I am determined to make sure that you have all the necessary information to get to your body transformation goals as quickly and safely as possible.

Analysis of a 25 year study regarding diet, exercise or diet plus exercise

Plain and simple, what they found was that after having analyzed over 400 studies comparing diet and diet plus aerobic exercise, they concluded that aerobic exercise does not provide a significant advantage over dieting alone.

I still hear some grumbling in the background. So let's take it to the next level.  Let's see what the research says when we put the two concepts (interval training vs steady state training) head to head.

A Comparison of the Effects of Interval Training vs. Continuous Training on Weight Loss and Body Composition

So what did they find.  Here's the quick and dirty:

  • Group one: Interval Training

  • Group two: Steady State Training

  • Both groups trained 3 times per week -- burned 300 cals for 8 weeks

  • The interval training group showed a -4.4% change in body fat whereas the low intensity steady state group exhibited a +1.2% change in body fat (meaning the interval group lost on average 4.4% body fat, while the steady state group gained 1.2%).

So again you ask, what works better.  For one don't forget, with permission from your doctor, intervals is an outstanding way to kick up the intensity of the cardio you're already doing.  To add variety to your cardio check out Kettlebell swings as another alternative.  And lastly as a quick note, if you just can't stand doing cardio, try creating a circuit utilizing weights or bands where you do 4-5 movements in a row before taking a break (little secret, if you alternate upper body with lower body exercises you'll get even more bang for the buck).

I do hope that helps give you even more reason to get off the steady state cardio wagon.  I challenge you to give my suggestions a try for 4 weeks and see the drastic changes that take place.

I'll have two more studies for you next week.  And by the way if you didn't get a chance to check out Battling Ropes on Friday as a great change of pace from your regular cardio routine click here.

Happy New Year!

Hope you had a great new year's celebration.  I trust you had a chance to say goodbye to some old habits, those annoying unproductive relationships, and other unnecessary distractions. Now it's time to start off on the right track.  Time to get clear on your goals for the year, develop a plan, with short and long term goals, and consistently stick with it each day. 

Quite simply, let's get to it.

I don't know if you've been the type of person that hates to write things down or create plans.  I know I was.  I just figured I would keep a tally in my head and that would be sufficient. 

Boy was I wrong. 

First off, no matter how smart you think you are, or how well you plan, there are always things that occur that you didn't plan for.  And if you try to keep all the lists, goals, and daily routines in your head, you'll go bonkers. Or worse yet, start to lose track of the goal, the important deadlines, and daily tasks that need to be completed to get you to your goal.

Remember, if it's important, it's worth writing down and keeping track of it.

Nothing is worse then to come out of one those periods where you've been putting out a crisis fire, you sit back to catch your breath for a moment, and suddenly realize that you are completely off track and behind.  It's not only irritating, but frustrating.  Let's be honest, nothing ever runs as smoothly as we plan on paper, with or without goals, lists and deadlines.  But I assure you, nothing is more frustrating than not having a plan.  It's your guiding compass to keep you on track and to assist you in getting back on track after dealing with distracting or critical issues.

So if you're going to start off right this year, let's start by creating a list each day of the things that need to be completed.  Of course these daily lists serve the purpose of keeping you accountable to a goal you've chosen as important. A goal, that when you achieve it, will remind you you're still alive and kicking.  A goal that will make your life more fulfilling to you.

So to help you create your plan for a new you, here's a list below of the 10 of the Easiest Tricks to help you Lose 20lbs or more in 6 month or less.  Courtesy of Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink -- outstanding book!


Easy Tricks

1.)  Include a Fruit and Vegetable with you lunch and dinner.

2.)  Don't eat white foods at dinner

3.)  Use the half-plate rule (fill half your plate with salad or veggies).

4.)  Have a sweet or salty afternoon snack only if you first eat a piece of fresh fruit.

5.)  Drink one glass of water before every meal or snack.

6).  Use the Restaurant Rule of Two:  Limit yourself to two items other than your entree.

7.)  Never eat in front of the TV.

8.)  Eat a piece of fruit on the way to work every day (as part of complete breakfast).

9.)  Save desserts for the weekends.

10).  Freeze half of what you make, and serve the other half.

These 10 Easy Tricks should provide you with an excellent base to get you started on a new you.  It provides you with guidelines that, when followed, put you in control, and keep you on target to achieve your goal (which is why you set the goal in the first place).

This year is going to be different.  This is the year you make your goals happen, whether they are physical, financial or otherwise; get it done.  No more winging it.