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Exercise As Punishment

I’m annoyed.

Sometimes it is such an uphill battle fighting all the nonsense in the fitness/nutrition world that I just want to wave my white gym towel and say ‘Ok biggest loser…you win’. Obviously, I won’t ever do that, but the things people put on the internet – and worse, what people follow and share – is just mind boggling.

Take this little gem, for example.

Really?

Now, to be fair, this truly looks harmless enough. It gives a realistic look at what the calories in these items are comparable to, and sometimes that is necessary when deciding if something is really “worth it”. AND, frankly, the items listed are definitely treats that shouldn’t be consumed 24/7. But that’s as far as the compliments go.

First of all, whether we realize it or not, this attitude and behavior is the beginning of a very slippery slope to food restriction and over-exercising. If you literally think in terms of how many minutes you need on the stairclimber per piece of pizza, do you really think it will stop there? Every time you see a calorie label, your brain is automatically going to convert it into some ridiculous exercise plan that is going to have you going above and beyond the necessary (and safe) recommendations. Not to be offensive, but it is SO easy to rationalize poor decisions and putting junk in your body if you use exercise as your “morning after” pill.

Further, we are humans – not animals. And, contrary to popular belief with all this Paleo nonsense, I’m willing to bet most of us aren’t struggling to survive between meals. This adds an important component in regards to diet and exercise. You have control over what you eat, how much you eat, and why you’re eating it. You’re also in control of what you like to do for activity and what makes you happy. Using exercise as a “guilt trip” makes you resent food, and view working out as a punishment instead of something that can make you empowered and all around awesome. As well meaning as these charts might be, this really promotes the wrong kind of thinking. Dogs use the reward/punishment system. A brain as sophisticated as a human’s should be beyond that.

Lastly, just because you DO indulge occasionally, does not mean you have ruined all your efforts in the gym. This is a journey, and it doesn’t get ruined by a few cookies. It is so easy to get sucked into such negative thinking (ahem- refer to the above chart) when really you should be feeling proud of your efforts each and every time you eat something healthy, or spend time getting active. If you really made an effort to count your triumphs instead of your failures, by the end of the month, you’d actually see progress. This progress might inspire more progress, and then before you know it, you’re setting higher goals.

I’m just a big fan of everything in moderation. I also can’t stress enough that no matter what they look like on tv or on the competition stage, compensating social activity and occasional indulges for strict caloric intake and aesthetics is not healthy either. There are a lot of extremes out there, and too often we fall for them and then punish ourselves when we can’t keep up with ridiculous standards. Instead, take a step back, and start appreciating your body and yourself. Find people that motivate you, but don’t tear you down. And PLEASE don’t eat cookies and then do jumping jacks, because nobody wants to clean up after you.

#TeamNoDaysOff

Nothing screams NEW YEAR like crowded gyms, over zealous facebook statuses and stale Christmas cookies. With that, I figured, what better way to return to the blogosphere than to comment, in usual sarcastic fashion, about goals/resolutions and why your over-the-top approach is already a failure.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.52.31 AM

With everyone aggressively dieting and exercising, I just want to shed some light on the chaos that will be taking over social media for the next 3-4 weeks. This phenomenon of ‘all or nothing’, intense, fast-paced, DON’T QUIT attitude is admirable, to a certain extent, but downright dangerous when abused. It’s what causes me to take a step back from posting articles on facebook at this time of year.  In fact, I tend to remain tight lipped about fitness & conditioning in general unless it is really necessary for me to intervene. Otherwise I have the same conversation with everyone I meet– “No, I haven’t tried p90x” “No, I don’t know what muscle confusion is.” “I don’t take supplements”. etc.

I belong to pretty much every social media site out there – instagram, pinterest, twitter – you name it, I’m creeping. But one thing seems to be constant — people using these sites to fuel their fitness fire (and, subsequently, their addiction) and motivate themselves with catch phrases like ‘NO DAYS OFF’ and ‘2-A-DAYS!’. Unless you’re a HS athlete training during preseason (aka a 3 week period), 2 a days are a poor decision 99% of the time. Don’t just take my word for it, your central nervous system will give you all the proof you need.

Coming off a significant lifting/blogging hiatus, I can tell you for a fact that sometimes, you just need to SIT. THE. HELL. DOWN. I can admire people with weight loss goals, and those that have had success from working hard, but I assure you that the “no days off” approach will only get you so far before an injury, or, perhaps even worse, a total burn out occurs. Sure, you’ll see results at first – and probably some significant ones, because guess what? Everything works….until it doesn’t. So when the plateau hits, the golden rule to remember is that more is NOT better.

Whether you’re coming off an injury, you’re finally making a health conscious effort, or you’re just trying to get back up after falling off the wagon during the holidays – I applaud the initiative. But do yourself a favor, and steer clear from the social media frenzy that starts as motivation and can seriously deter your progress. Creating new habits and making significant lifestyle changes takes time, and your body needs a chance to adapt and recover. Nothing worth having ever comes easy (or fast), so patience is key. If you want these changes to last, you have to build a foundation.

 

The main resolution for 2013: Have more patience. 

The fitness shortcut

I usually keep my blog posts pretty upbeat (albeit sprinkled with sarcasm) but today I feel the need to vent. This is directed at mainstream media for perpetuating the idea that sustainable weight loss can happen overnight and that SKINNY = healthy. Particularly now, with the end of the Olympics and everyone suddenly convinced they can be Greek gods in 2 weeks, I feel this is a great time to be blunt. So read on & consider this some “realistic motivation”.

First & foremost, shout out to Erika for posting this on facebook a few days ago – this is an article on “extreme conditioning” (like INSANITY, P90x, etc.) – it warrants a read for anyone looking to break into these types of programs, and provides a word of caution for the TOO MUCH TOO FAST mentality.

Along the same lines, people constantly ask me for advice on training or nutrition, and for good reason. Normally, if someone approaches me with a question, I’ll dedicate the time and effort to help them make sense of some of the really confusing concepts out there. I get that the fitness industry has become so muddled lately with the arrival of various forms of Crossfit, the ‘GET THIN QUICK’ schemes, and the Tracy Anderson’s of the world preaching their “women shouldn’t lift weights greater than 3lb” shenanigans. It is constantly evolving, sometimes for the good, mostly for the not-so-good, and it can be a very hard and daunting task to embark on a fitness/weight loss journey for the first time (or any time). What I don’t understand, however, is the reaction I get when people come to me for advice and leave utterly disappointed with what I have to say.

Fact

I get it. You think fitness professionals with our various certifications and degrees in college make us some kind of guru with a magic spell that can provide results. Trust me, if I had the secret to easy, fast and cheap weight loss, I wouldn’t be living in my aunt’s basement and applying for jobs every minute of every day. But whenever I’m asked “Hey, how can I lose some extra pounds?” or “Hey, what’s a super food I should eat every day that will make me leaner?” or “What’s the ONE exercise I should be doing to tone up (insert problem area here)?” everyone looks absolutely flabbergasted and downright disgusted when I tell them the truth. You want to lose some weight? You have to work at it hard and consistently. You want a “super” food? There is no such thing. Too much of a good thing is a tragedy. You want ONE exercise? Why limit yourself?

*End conversation & Insert awkward “this girl doesn’t know what she’s talking about face”*

For those of us that really make it a habit and a priority, and our results are obvious, don’t be shocked when I tell you the truth. Why am I stronger than I look? Because I lift heavy weights. Why am I able to sprint on a surgically repaired knee? Because I rehabbed hard and I sprint consistently. Why am I not overweight anymore? Because I stop eating when I’m full. There isn’t anything ground breaking here. There also isn’t anything glamorous. I have tough work outs when no one is looking. I spend more time doubled over trying to breathe than reading magazines at the gym. I try my best. People don’t see that part though. They only know I studied strength & conditioning and therefore probably achieved my goals by default. Let me tell you – it’d be pretty awesome if I got fit just by studying. But there’s a practical application side that needs to be recognized here.

Honestly – we all start somewhere. We all fail and start OVER somewhere. Myself included. Everyone always thinks “yeah, but this is your life’s ambition and you know what you’re doing so how hard can it really be for you?” and “YOU MUST HAVE A SECRET!!!”. Just because I know HOW to program doesn’t mean I always WANT to follow my own ambitious guidelines. Granted, I try to be a living example of what I constantly preach – but I could easily expend my energy searching for an ‘easy out’.  I’ve just decided that it’s not my style – and it shouldn’t be yours either. I have had MULTIPLE set backs where I gained weight and had injuries. I’ve had days where my workouts thoroughly kick my butt, and I have days where I don’t feel like getting off the couch so I don’t. I even have days where I eat McDonalds TWICE in one day. My weight randomly fluctuates because I’m a female and that’s just how we roll. So really, I’m no different from anyone else trying to achieve consistency in their health. But mentally, I know it takes much more than mediocrity.

So, sorry to disappoint you, but if you want to results, you have to be willing to take the time to earn them. I am almost insulted by people that think they can take a shortcut to look like an Olympic athlete. Does that really make any sense? You know how hard they train and the type of motivation they have. If you were so genetically gifted and could look like them in half the time, don’t you think you’d be a medalist by now?

So the moral of the story: it took more than a day to put it on, it is going to take more than a day to come off. Simple as that.

The Dynamic Warm Up

Static stretching annoys me.  Its like a traffic jam.  You sit there forever, thinking of all the things you could be doing, glaring around at everyone while you creep toward your eventual destination.  In this age of ADD and “I needed that done yesterday”, just getting to the gym is an accomplishment….so why waste precious time sitting in place?

"By all means, move at a glacial pace, you know how that thrills me" - Devil Wears Prada

The fact is, if your training program is sound, static stretching is rendered almost completely useless.  I say “almost” because there is always the exception: sometimes it can be used as a good recovery/cool down technique, and in certain situations (like physical therapy) it can help when there is a lack of functional mobility.  But if you’re using it prior to engaging in activity, think again.

Here are a few reasons people turn to static stretching (the traditional type of stretching you’ve seen everywhere: sit, reach, cry, repeat) before they train:

  1. It is what every one says to do….and why question “every one”? Good, you’re a robot, congrats
  2. It decreases your risk of injury, right? Actually, wrong, there hasn’t been any concrete evidence to confirm or refute this fact. If you have too much laxity in your joints, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
  3. Its fun! No. I absolutely don’t believe you.
  4. It feels good because I have very tight hamstrings/back/calves/etc and sometimes have pain when I do certain exercises.  This is an acceptable answer & probably true, HOWEVER that tightness is more likely caused by a muscle imbalance that requires strengthening of the opposite muscle at the same time as stretching.  So, while the static stretching feels good, it is really only a partial solution.

Great, so what’s the alternative?

If you’ve ever been to an athletic event, you’ve probably seen the athletes running through some movements prior to the game taking place.  Lunges, skipping, shuffling, back pedaling, etc.  Even high school coaches are finally jumping on the bandwagon and creating dynamic warm ups (whether they understand why or not is a completely separate issue – but whatever).  These movements, when planned correctly, are mobility drills designed to increase range of motion around typically tight areas (hamstrings, lats, calves etc) while also adding stabilization to joints like hips, knees, ankles, shoulders.  It will also increase body temperature (hence “warm up”), and prepare the central nervous system for activity.

via Google Image

Now, while these are great for athletes before they start practice or a game, the same concept should be applied before a gym training session.  This is especially important before any kind of resistance training (which, if you haven’t started doing, then please re-read every single post I’ve ever written before continuing on. Thank you).

I already know what you’re thinking.  “Lifting weights is going to completely ruin any chance I have at being flexible.”  You’re absolutely correct – if you have sloppy training.  Everyone is used to seeing those diesel guys in the gym that walk around like they’re permanently holding two suitcases and can’t seem to move without flexing.  That didn’t happen solely because of lifting weights – that happened because of poor programming.  When you bench press all day, every day and do nothing else, that’s what happens.  But excluding yoga experts and ballet dancers, some of the most flexible people on the planet are actually Olympic weightlifters.

Olympic Weightlifting Champion Pyrros Dimas (via google image)

That movement is crazy hard to achieve.  And I guarantee this guy didn’t sit around stretching his hamstrings for hours to achieve that kind of dynamic flexibility.

Enter: the dynamic warm up.  These are exercises that target common problem areas while simultaneously preparing the body for the activity of the training session.

For example, before a session that includes some serious squatting, it is in your best interest to do a warm up that targets hip, knee, ankle, and t-spine mobility.  Body weight lunge variations, straight leg kicks, kneeling hip flexor mobility drills..these are just some examples. For a session that might include circuit-style resistance training, where every muscle is going to be worked and there isn’t a particular focus, the dynamic warm up might include more general movements: body weight squats, plank variations, various reaching (overhead, lateral) and maybe some rotation.

Ok.  Static stretching is out.  But what if I use a general aerobic warm up?

You’re still annoying me.  Just kidding – the general aerobic warm up (on a treadmill, bike, etc) isn’t all that bad.  It accomplishes the task of getting your heart rate up and increasing core temperature so the rest of the session is less shocking to the system.  But…to me its like this:  You have a complex problem [muscle imbalances, weaknesses, flexibility issues, a need to increase core temperature and heart rate, and the necessity to prep the nervous system] *AKA- you’re a mess… and now you have a few solutions to choose from.  Solution 1 is static stretching, and it covers probably 1/5 of the problem.  Solution 2 is the aerobic warm up, which might get you 2/5 of a solution if you’re lucky.  Solution 3 is the dynamic warm up which incorporates the benefits of solution 1 & 2 at the same time and also covers the rest of the issues WHILE DECREASING TIME IN THE GYM.  Game, set, match.

Duh

The other cool thing about the dynamic warm up is that it is appropriate for all levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite.  For beginners, the warm up circuit might be the bulk of their training at first – it helps them get used to training and using their body as a unit (dynamic stability!) before adding weight to it.  For the more advanced lifters or athletes that place a lot of stress on their joints, it can always be revisited and tweaked to accommodate new goals.

P.S. I never said you can’t combine methods – old habits die hard.  So if you’re mentally attached to your aerobic warm up, keep it (maybe shorten it), create a dynamic circuit, and move your stretching to the end.  I guarantee you’ll notice a huge difference in your training.

In my follow up post, I will share my my current dynamic warm up (hopefully on video!), and a formula for creating your own for any training session. For those of you that already use a dynamic warm up, please share it in the comments! Thanks!