My thoughts and perspectives on health, science, and logic… Keep an open mind!

Posts tagged ‘exercise’

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A Quick Chat — Flexibility and the Muscular System!


A quick little rant about flexibility and the muscular system, leading into my upcoming “PART II” blog entry on Flexibility

What’s in a Name???


So upon my return to the blogosphere, I had a few topics in mind to kick-start things.  I’ve experienced a lot in the past year or so, and it’s given me a great deal of “fuel” for discussion.  The subject I’d like to go with today is one of supreme importance to anyone — and ESPECIALLY to fitness professionals!

More specifically, I’m talking about names.  Titles.  Labels.  As time goes by, it seems that more and more of the bickering I see online and in my day-to-day life concerns which one to use for which thing.  People are missing the bigger issues, and this bothers me.  It should bother you as well.

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I find this quite troubling…

To get things into less abstract terms, let’s think of a specific exercise:

-THE SQUAT-

^^^ I almost feel bad for “picking” on this exercise for so many of my examples, but it really is a wonderful teaching tool to get people to open their minds about what exercise really is and isn’t.  Now when you first read those bold words, you probably had a certain image in mind.  Something resembling a person bending at the knees and hips, perhaps as though he/she were attempting to sit in an invisible chair?  There’s probably a great deal of common ground between most exercisers in terms of some of the general criteria that an exercise must meet in order to be deemed “a squat.”  All well and good.

But what about the specifics?

Here’s what I mean — if you think hard enough, you’ve probably encountered AT LEAST one person who didn’t think of the exact same thing when that exercise was mentioned.  If you’ve been in the industry for a decent length of time, then you’ve almost assuredly come across as many different versions of this thing we call a “squat” as there are guys named “Fred.”  They’re countless.  Some are labeled with specific names and attempt to dictate specific variations (“sumo” squats, siff squats, goblet squats, etc.).  Others simply attach qualifiers (“good” or “bad” form squats and “deep” squats come to mind).  But regardless, it seems that everyone has come up with SOME variation of this exercise and how they like to define it.  This isn’t even touching on “splits” and “pistols” and the like.  The same idea of variation holds true for countless other exercises that you think are pretty self-explanatory.

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Everyone has their own opinion of how a squat SHOULD be done
(Taken from blog – “Cody’s Ultimate Guide to Squats”)

Now given that there are so many variations, how do you choose, and how do you make sure someone else knows what you’re talking about?  Can you really assume that the person you’re talking to means the same thing when you name an exercise?  In my mind, probably not.  And this brings us to a rather obvious conclusion — YOU’VE GOTTA BE SPECIFIC!!!  At the end of the day, you’re going to have to define the exercise you’re doing anyway.  After all, exercise and training have to apply specific loads to your body in the way that is most appropriate.  As such, we need to account for every position and force involved in the challenge we’re trying to accomplish.  How deep do we go?  How wide or narrow is the stance?  How about hip rotation?  Where does the knee go versus the hip?  How much should we “fold” up or lean forward as we descend?  These are just a FEW of the numerous questions you have to be able to answer with authority before you can claim to know what you’re doing.  And each of these questions will be answered based on the specific characteristics and capabilities of the individual performing the movement (or preventing it)!

Sounds a bit daunting, I’m sure, but that’s what it takes if you REALLY want to be doing a proper job!

 

So how do we make sense of it all?

After a lot of thought and observation — as well as a good deal of personal experimentation in the gym and at home — I’ve come to the conclusion that there will never be a perfectly agreeable way to attach a name to something and assume that everyone knows what you’re talking about.  That doesn’t mean we can’t use these words.  On the contrary, they often allow us to communicate more efficiently and get a basic idea across.  But when it comes time to design the workout itself, I would caution you all to make sure you’ve got a good idea of what it is you actually MEAN to do, before you do it.

*** NOTE TO TRAINERS — This is ESPECIALLY applicable to every one of us!  There is no room for poor communication and ambiguity when someone’s health and safety are on the line! ***

So I guess, if there’s a take-home message to this rant for the weekenders out there reading, it’s this — It’s okay to be confused by a lot of the stuff you hear out there.  And more importantly, NO — you DON’T have to use a certain special name for something just because some bro in the gym told you so.  Call the exercise whatever you want.  But just know that communication can always break down, and you have to be mindful that what you mean and what someone else means by a name could be completely different.  Names, after all, are just words.  It’s what we do as a result of those words that counts.  More on this topic later.

Thanks for reading 🙂

To Run or NOT to Run…


Over the years, you may have tried a number of different methods to get the fitness results you want.  From walking to jogging to sprinting, from body-weight calisthenics to near-maximal free weight training (and everything in between), there are all sorts of methodologies touted as “the best way” to pack on lean muscle and/or drop pounds of fat.  With all of my friends indulging in Labor Day feasts, I feel it’s appropriate to share a few thoughts on the most often touted method of reducing body fat: CARDIO. – Now before I go any further, let me say this:  I am not a “fan” of any particular type of exercise.  While I have my personal preferences, I don’t let those get in the way of being objective about what is and is not effective.  So try to keep that in mind 🙂 – If you go into any globo-gym or 24/hour fitness center across our great nation (and in most developed countries, I’d imagine), you’ll undoubtedly see a number of people occupying that gym’s cardio area.  Whether we’re talking about the overly stressed mother of three, the “weekend warrior” trying to shed a few pounds and look like he did in his football glory days, or a serious athlete looking to cut weight for a competition, the image is often the same.  People are pounding out the miles on the treadmills and ellipticals trying to get just a little bit sexier.  But why?

This look familiar?
(Courtesy of Fitnessandpower.com)

For decades, we’ve heard about “fat-torching” cardio workouts and how you’ve gotta do it, or you’ll never see results!  We’re shown images of people running their way to a flatter stomach and firmer buns, and we put two and two together.  Simple, right?

Maybe not…

You see, the notion that cardiovascular exercise will shred fat is based on our understanding of how our body catabolizes (breaks down) nutrients for energy during exercise.  Studies have shown that prolonged, steady-state exercise tends to utilize a higher proportion of fat stores than carbohydrates when compared to shorter-duration, higher-intensity workouts.  So basically, a greater percentage of your fuel comes from fat during longer-duration cardio than intense workouts like sprinting and high-intensity weight training.  So, all things being equal, we WILL burn more fat for a given amount of exercise in this “cardio zone” than in other areas.

Unfortunately, all things are usually not equal.  You see, carbohydrates are more readily burned for energy than fat is.  In terms of time taken to produce energy, carbs are WAY more efficient.  This means that you can burn many more TOTAL calories in a specific amount of time by doing something more intense and metabolizing these carbohydrates alongside fat.  So with this in mind, it’s suddenly not so clear.

– Thanks for nothing, Geoff… now I’m even MORE confused!!! –

We’ve all been in this predicament…
(Image shamelessly stolen from precisionnutrition.com)

Just take a breath, and RELAX!  The good news is that no matter what you do, you’ll be burning SOME fat.  It’s just a question of how much you use up during your workouts.  If you demand more guidance than that, however, I can give you a few pointers and tidbits:

   1.) Pick an exercise that you LIKE!  Whether it’s running on a treadmill, jogging outside, hitting an elliptical, or doing a kickboxing class, the workout is useless if you’re not actually motivated to DO IT!

   2.) Choose an activity that doesn’t aggravate any preexisting injuries or medical conditions.  This should be obvious, but don’t do an activity just because someone else does.  Do it because it works for you!

   3.) Mentally prepare yourself — Know how intense you want the exercise to be, and have a realistic impression of how long you can keep up that intensity.  I will elaborate on this more in the future.

   4.) If you’re going to do an extended cardio session on the same day as a strength/weight training workout, try to do it after you’re done with the weights.  There’s a physiological reason behind this that I’ll get into in the future, but rest assured that it will probably help you to burn a little more fat than you would otherwise.

   5.) Aside from fat burning, there are many other benefits of cardiovascular exercise that should not be ignored!  These can include better hormone balance, more restful sleep, better mood, more energy, improved capacity to recover from injury, and reduced risk of a number of preventable diseases. (More to come on this as well!)

If you want to, then by all means, RUN LIKE THE WIND!
(Image from askmen.com)

So feel free to run on into the sunset if you feel compelled to do so!  Just make sure you’re not causing injury to yourself or overtraining in the process.  While there are all sorts of ways to tweak and modify your exercise plans, the most important thing to start with is that you find something you can see doing in the long-term (and that’s usually something that’s fun and rewarding in the short-term!)

I’ll continue to expand on these ideas and give a little more scientific depth in future content (much of which will likely go on my permanent pages).  So if you’re curious about something specific, feel free to let me know!

Cheers!

– Geoff