Thursday, November 15, 2012

What Causes Sore Muscles?

There are two types of exercise-related muscle soreness. Immediate muscle soreness quickly dissipates and is the pain you feel during, or immediately after, exercise.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) signals a natural adaptive process that the body initiates following intense exercise. It manifests 24 to 48 hours after the exercise session and spontaneously decreases after 72 hours.
Numerous studies have been conducted to determine the cause of DOMS, and the theories have been many and controversial. The most available research attributes it to microscopic tears in the connective tissue surrounding muscle following eccentric exercise.
Those who experience DOMS include conditioned individuals who increase the intensity, frequency or duration of their workouts, or participate in an activity with which they are unfamiliar. In addition, beginning exercisers, or those who have undergone a significant lapse in training, frequently experience soreness when starting a new exercise program.
Studies on the best methods to alleviate DOMS are almost as abundant as the number of studies conducted to determine its cause.
Cryotherapy (the topical application of ice), massage, stretching and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), among other less conventional approaches, have been tested to determine if they can prevent DOMS or are effective treatments. To date, no therapy that hastens the decrease of DOMS has been found. However, some of the therapies previously mentioned may have a minor impact if initiated immediately after intense or unusual exercise.

The Upside

Once you induce DOMS at a specific exercise intensity, you shouldn't experience that sensation again until the intensity is increased.
This is because DOMS has been shown to produce a rapid adaptation response, which means that the muscles adapt to an exercise intensity. Until it is changed, soreness won’t occur.
This is the basis for the most widely recommended approach to preventing DOMS: gradual progression and conservative increases in intensity, frequency or duration. Preliminary light exercise may prevent the onset of soreness following a heavy eccentric exercise workout.
Beginners should exercise with light weights, two to three times per week for one or two months, then gradually build. Already conditioned exercisers who want to try a new workout or sport also should begin gradually, taking care not to be overzealous.
A muscle contracts eccentrically when it lengthens under tension during exercise. For example, during a biceps curl, the biceps muscle shortens during the concentric lifting phase and lengthens during the eccentric lowering phase.
Eccentric contractions also can occur during aerobic activity, such as downhill running, in which the quadriceps muscle repeatedly lengthens against gravity to lower the center of mass and aid in shock absorption.
To minimize DOMS, reduce activities that produce high-intensity or high-frequency eccentric contractions (such as heavy resistance training and downhill running, respectively) at the beginning of an exercise program. Then, gradually introduce these activities after several weeks of training and progress slowly so the body has time to adapt to the different challenges of these types of exercises.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

5 Common Fitness Saboteurs and How to Defeat Them

Ever have those days when you feel like the universe is conspiring to keep you from reaching your fitness goals? Even the most committed fitness enthusiasts face challenges to staying active. Sometimes we sabotage ourselves. Other times, life interferes with our exercise plans.
Check out this list of common fitness saboteurs and learn how to combat them with practical strategies that really work:
1. Stress

When you’re up against a work deadline or the kids are sick, you may feel you can’t handle one more thing, including exercise. But taking time out to go for a brisk walk or workout is one of the best things you can do during times of intense stress. Exercise helps alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression and helps boost your mood, enabling you to cope with whatever you’re facing. Even a short workout is better than nothing.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

Novice exercisers get frustrated when they expect big results too soon after starting a fitness program. Because they haven’t lost a huge amount of weight or developed six-pack abs after only a week or two of exercise, they throw in the towel. To avoid this mistake, set realistic goals and practice extreme patience. You can’t undo 10 years of a sedentary lifestyle in a week of walking. If you stick with a regimen, your body will respond to exercise. It takes at least six weeks of regular exercise and sometimes more for physiological changes to kick in.
It’s called the training effect. You’ll know it’s happening when your workouts start feeling easier; when you can tolerate longer, harder exercise sessions; and when you can do housework, yardwork, or climb stairs with less effort.
3. Overtraining

Demanding daily workouts without scheduled rest won’t help you reach your goals faster. Instead, it’ll undermine your progress. Overtraining occurs when the exercise load is excessive related to the amount of time allowed for recovery. Overtaxing the body’s systems leads to decreased performance. A day or two off from vigorous exercise each week is recommended for rest and recovery. This can be done through a combination of scheduling rest days into your fitness plan and alternating hard and easy workouts. For example, cross-training, swapping out a few runs for swimming or bicycling, is another effective way to avoid overtraining, but scheduled recovery days are still recommended.
4. The Unexpected

You were going to walk after work, but now you’ve been asked to work late. Or perhaps you planned to swim, but then you find out that the pool is closed for maintenance. Life happens, and you can either throw up your hands and say, “forget it,” or accept it and roll with it. Resilience is your ability to bounce back quickly from life’s surprises and setbacks. This can be improved with practice. Strategies include practicing good self-care, such as eating right, sleeping well, and exercising regularly, along with cultivating good relationships, practicing optimism, taking decisive action, etc. As you become more resilient, you’re less likely to ditch your workout when something comes up. Instead, you’ll be able to quickly modify your plans and move forward.
5. Negative Self-Talk

“I’m so lazy, I’ll never be fit;” “I didn’t even exercise once this week;” “I’m such a loser.” Would you talk to a friend or loved one this way? Listening to negative self-talk isn’t motivating, so what’s the point? Negative self-talk only destroys your confidence and motivation to the point where you can’t visualize success. But you don’t have to put up with it. The next time you recognize a critical thought, stop it and replace it with a positive thought, like this: “I’m so proud of myself for walking at lunch time today. It took a lot of effort, but I did it.” Behavior change is hard. Give yourself some credit for every step you take toward your fitness goals. Practice intentionally giving yourself positive feedback and watch your motivation soar.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

9 Things to Look For in a Quality Weight Loss Program

Consumers spend billions of dollars each year on weight loss programs and products, and yet obesity rates continue to increase. With the huge variety of weight loss programs available, how can you choose the right one that will help you lose weight safely and keep it off for good? Here are 9 key items to keep in mind:

1. Safety. A sound weight-loss program will encourage you to check with your healthcare provider before you get started. This visit allows your provider a chance to offer any special precautions or guidelines based on your health status and should include a screening to assess your readiness for exercise.
2. Credibility. For best results, the program should have credentialed providers such as registered dietitians, certified fitness professionals, certified wellness coaches, behavioral health specialists (licensed psychologists or counselors) and such licensed medical professionals as physicians and registered nurses. Use caution with peer-led programs. That is people who claim they have lost weight successfully. These programs can offer support and guide you through the program functions, but often don’t have a staff with an educational background in exercise, nutrition, or behavior change to offer professional advice.
3. Flexibility.Programs that demand adherence to a rigid diet or exercise plan set you up for failure. Look instead for programs that integrate your food and physical activity preferences. For long-term success, you‘ll need to adopt lifestyle changes you can live with.
4. Realistic outcomes. “Lose 20 pounds in 1 week” may catch your eye, but the truth is that permanent weight loss happens slowly. Most experts recommend a weight loss rate of ½ pound up to a maximum 2 pounds per week for lasting results. Ask to see program outcomes data regarding average amount of weight lost and long-term follow-up results. If no data is available, or they won’t share it, consider it a red flag.
5. Self-monitoring. One study found that people who kept a daily food log lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. Writing down what you’re eating keeps you accountable and makes you think twice about going back for seconds. Keeping an exercise record can be extremely motivating as you review your progress and see how far you’ve come. And regular weighing, whether daily or weekly, has been linked to greater amounts of moderate weight loss and less weight regain. Self-monitoring offers an objective look at how you’re doing in relation to your goals and that’s extremely helpful, especially when you hit a plateau and need to adjust your approach.
6. Sensible nutrition. Avoid programs that eliminate entire food categories, such as fruit, grains, or fats. According to the American Dietetic Association, all foods fit in a healthy diet. Plans that advocate special combinations of foods, certain foods in unlimited quantities, or are too restrictive, don’t work. Eat a variety of whole grains, colorful vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products and lean sources of protein and you’re on your path to a healthier diet.
7. Regular exercise. Getting active and staying active is the cornerstone to maintaining a healthy body weight. Exercise optimizes conditions in the brain for enhanced learning and decision-making. That’s extra brainpower to help you adopt healthier habits and to keep you on track. It’s also a great mood-elevator, boosts metabolism and can help counteract emotional eating. A weight loss program should encourage you to find ways to make physical activity a part of your everyday life.
8. Cognitive changes. Learning to think in new ways is essential for long-term success. A reputable program will help you replace faulty thinking patterns with positive, productive ways of thinking that support your health goals. Example: Replace “I’ll never lose weight” with “I’m learning how to better manage obstacles to healthy eating, and I’m making better choices every day.”
9. Believable claims and no pressure. Walk away from any program that pressures you to buy special foods, supplements, pills, or gadgets or promises a quick fix. There are no magic pills to “melt your fat away.” Sustainable weight loss requires a significant effort and a sensible approach, and with the right support, expertise, and guidance, you can make it happen.

Cold Weather is Just Around the Corner!

In beautiful Saratoga, we rarely experience outdoor temperatures that are considered dangerously low for exercising. Lucky for us, we can usually get away with just a track suit on even the chilliest mornings. But if you plan to travel this winter, or if you're especially sensitive to cooler temperatures, read on to learn how to protect yourself...

Exercising in the Cold
The biggest concern for exercising in the cold is hypothermia, or too much heat loss. When you exercise in a cold environment you must consider one primary factor: How much heat will your body lose during exercise?
Heat loss is controlled in two ways:
  • Insulation, consisting of body fat plus clothing
  • Environmental factors, including temperature, wind and whether you’re exercising in the air or in the water. Each of these factors plays a role in the body’s ability to maintain a comfortable temperature during exercise.


Although many people aspire to have a lean figure, people with a little more body fat are better insulated and will lose less heat. Clothing adds to the insulation barrier and is clearly the most important element in performance and comfort while exercising in the cold. Generally, heat loss from the head alone is about 50% at the freezing mark, and by simply wearing a helmet or hat, a person can stay outside indefinitely.
Clothing is generally a good insulator because it has the ability to trap air, a poor conductor of heat. If the air trapped by the clothing cannot conduct the heat away from the body, temperature will be maintained. Unlike air, however, water is a rapid conductor of heat and people will sweat and risk significant heat loss even in the coldest of temperatures. With this in mind, you want to choose clothing that can trap air but allow sweat to pass through, away from the body.
By wearing clothing in layers, you have the ability to change the amount of insulation that is needed. While many new products can provide such a layered barrier, it is important to avoid heavy cotton sweats or tightly woven material that will absorb and retain water. Because these materials cannot provide a layer of dry air near the skin, they can increase the amount of heat your body loses as you exercise.
Keeping the hands and feet warm is a common concern when exercising in the cold. Lower temperatures cause blood to be shunted away from the hands and feet to the center of the body to keep the internal organs warm and protected. Superficial warming of the hands will return blood flow to prevent tissue damage. Blood flow will not return to the feet unless the temperature of the torso is normal or slightly higher [0.5 to 1.0 degree Fahrenheit (F) above normal]. So, to keep your feet warm you must also keep the rest of your body warm at all times.

Check With the Weatherman

Always check the air temperature and wind chill factor before exercising in the cold. Data from the National Safety Council suggest little danger to individuals with properly clothed skin exposed at 20° F, even with a 30 mph wind. A danger does exist for individuals with exposed skin when the wind-chill factor (a combined effect of temperature and wind) falls below –20° F.
That can be achieved by any combination of temperatures below 20° F with a wind of 40 mph and temperatures below –20° F with no wind. If you are exercising near the danger zone for skin exposure, it also is advisable to warm the air being inhaled by wearing a scarf or mask over your nose and mouth.

Guidelines for Exercising in the Cold

  • Check the temperature and wind conditions before you go out and do not exercise if conditions are dangerous.
  • Keep your head, hands and feet warm.
  • Dress in layers that can provide a trapped layer of dry air near the skin (avoid cotton sweats and other similar materials).
  • Warm the air you are breathing if temperatures are below your comfort level (usually around 0° F).