Why Your Exercise Selection May Be Working Against You: Part 2

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Our current lifestyles are not very conducive to fighting our natural aging process. We sit at work, sit at home, lie around on the couch and, if we’re spunky enough, decide to take random, casual walks when we want to get out of the house.

 

In our previous article, we talked about our pre-historic friend, Katie. Without getting into too much detail, Katie had to be an athlete forever in order to survive. This worked out well because Katie was naturally moving all the time, fighting our bodies tendency to tighten in certain areas (tonic muscles) and weaken in certain areas (phasic muscles) as we age.

 

So since we don’t have to worry about hunting down our food or climbing a tree to escape a predator or building make-shift huts every night to have shelter, we had to develop purposeful exercise to keep ourselves functioning properly. Many of us, though, are helping the aging process with our training instead of fighting the fight. Let me explain.

 

If You Don’t USE IT You LOSE IT!!

 

As you may recall, we have tonic muscles that tighten over time. There are 8 of these muscles including the pec muscles, hamstring and calf muscles, to name a few. We also have phasic muscles that weaken over time. There are 7 of these, which include the rhomboids, obliques and glutes. If you step into a fitness center, you’ll see plenty of bench press (pecs), leg curls (hamstrings) and calf raises and few horizontal rows (rhomboids), proper abdominal work (obliques) or deadlifts (glutes).  You certainly don’t want to try and bench press on Monday….that’s national bench press day at the gym.

 

Implementing a training routine that hits the areas that the aging process is trying to sabotage will not only help you look better, it will help you move better, feel better and perform better in the long-run.

 

With that in mind, it’s important to have a plan of attack when you’re heading to the gym for training. Maximizing the time that you have is something that a lot of people struggle with. Actually, time is often the excuse I hear when people don’t stretch or warm up properly and aren’t putting in regular abdominal training.

 

Alright, get to the point…What Am I Suppose To Do?!?

First we want to start with a proper warm up which will help stretch our tonic muscles and activate our phasic muscles. Activation is important because we want to make sure the circuits running to that particular group are awake so that they perform properly during our training. After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

 

A proper warm up can be done in 5-10 minutes. First, focusing on more low intensity, static stretching and into dynamic stretching and mobility work. Here’s a quick example:

Group A

Group B

 

Notice our first group is low intensity coupled with easy mobility work, while our second group slightly more intense focused on activating our phasic muscles (in this case the glutes, rhomboids, deep abdominals and obliques).

 

During our training routine, we want to focus on developing strength where we need it while continuing to stretch or mobilize the areas that are tight. Again, grouping your exercises together will give the most bang-for-your-buck when it comes to time. Here are 2 groups that would be great for developing strength in the tonic muscles while stretching the phasic muscles:

 

Group A:

 

Group B

  • Offset Split Squat (Strengthen glutes, strengthen obliques, stretch psoas)
  • Inverted Row (Strengthen rhomboids, strengthen mid-back)
  • Suitcase Carry (Strengthen obliques, strengthen glutes, strengthen deep abs, strengthen deltoids…yeah, pretty much everything)

 

Notice that each exercise in our routine is not only helping one area, but multiple areas. Good training doesn’t only make you stronger or bigger or help you look better. Good training should also be preventative and rehabilitative (if you’re recovering from an injury).

 

Do your body a favor. Give it the best chance you can to allow it to function as well as it can for as long as it can. Making some changes to your program here and there to maximize your time and get your best results will be great for the long-run.

How Our Hormones Work Together to Control Our Appetite: Part 2

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What drives appetite? Why does it seem like we have no control over food and its so difficult to lose or maintain weight loss? In last week’s article on hormones, we discussed ghrelin and leptin. To quickly review, ghrelin is the “hunger” hormone and plays a role in stimulating appetite. Leptin is the “satiety” or starvation hormone that plays a role in stopping us when we have eaten enough food. If these two are in balance, we should be able to maintain adequate energy levels and body weight throughout our lives. In today’s article, we will explore what happens when these hormones fall out of balance and what we can do to fix this situation.

 

Ghrelin is just one of many factors that play a role in why we eat. We eat based on a variety of reasons including social cues, our genetic makeup and time of day for example.

 

Researchers are still studying ghrelin and  we know more about leptin currently. Leptin is released by our fat cells and operates in what is called the leptin feedback loop. This feedback loop relays important information to our brains regarding our energy balance. Through this loop system, our brain gathers information about how much energy we have consumed in our food and surprisingly, how much energy we have stored in our fats cells. The higher our body fat the, more leptin we have circulating in our bloodstream.

 

As with anything we are exposed to over time, we can lose the ability to respond appropriately. This loop becomes broken. Much like insulin resistance that occurs in diabetics, we can develop leptin resistance as well. This break fools the brain into thinking that leptin levels and body fat are low and then initiates the following physiological response:

 

  • Increases in appetite and poor satiety after eating.

  • Portion sizes increase significantly in response to appetite

  • Energy levels fall since our body is conserving fuel because our brain falsely thinks we are starving.

  • Metabolism slows down

 

These three responses together leads to more weight gain and low energy levels. Some believe this could play a role in why so many regain weight previously lost. As body fat falls when we lose weight so does our leptin levels.

 

So what can be done to “fix” this broken feedback loop and restore balance?  The first step is to reduce inflammation that is linked to leptin resistance. Start by implementing the following steps:

 

  • Eat whole minimally processed food

  • Eat more fiber daily which helps control appetite

  • Get 7-8 hours of quality sleep at night.

  • Eat protein with each meal. Protein helps to improve leptin sensitivity.

  • Focus on complex carbohydrates and keeping starchy carbs to your post workout meal.

 

Obesity research is still ongoing in the field of how hormones influence body weight. Inflammation in the body is proving to be linked to many health issues resulting in chronic diseases. Reducing inflammation is key. The above steps can help to start reducing inflammation leading to improvements in health, performance and body composition.

How Our Hormones Work Together to Control Our Appetite

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Hormones are chemical messengers secreted by various glands known as the Endocrine System within the body. They are circulated through the bloodstream to various organs and tissues where they play very specific roles. The human body is constantly seeking homeostasis or balance to function optimally. Hormones help the body find and maintain this balance but they can fall out of balance as well. Hormonal imbalances will lead to a variety of illnesses related to their individual function and role they have in the body. Hormones influence our growth and development, metabolism, immune system and reproduction. They start and stop processes, as in when we feel hungry or full, as well as some working continuously to perform a specific job. In today’s post, we will be talking about the two hormones that are well known to influence body weight/fat. They are the hormones Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and Leptin (the satiety hormone).

 

Ghrelin and leptin are the two hormones that are known to significantly influence our energy balance. Ghrelin is secreted by the empty stomach lining and is responsible for the infamous “growling stomach” sound heard when we are hungry. It is a fast acting hormone that once secreted travels to our brain, specifically the hypothalamus, via the bloodstream and triggers us to eat. It is highest before we eat and lowest after. Research shows that your mindset can play a role on ghrelin levels even more so than the nutrients in the food you eat. In the “milkshake” study, participants consumed the same milkshake except one group’s milkshake was labeled as “indulgent” and the other “sensible”. Those who drank the “indulgent” milkshake showed a sharper decline in ghrelin than those who consumed the same shake labeled as “sensible”. This showed that the participants satiety and physical response matched what they had read on the label. It proved the power the mind has over the stomach.

 

Now on to the next hormone involved in energy balance, leptin. Leptin is produced in the fat cells or adipose tissue of the body. It’s released in response to eating, traveling via the bloodstream to the hypothalamus signaling our brain that we can stop eating. Leptin’s negative feedback loop evolved to help us to not eat too much or too little thus ensuring our survival. The fat cells produce leptin based on their size. Leaner individuals who have less body fat have lower leptin levels. These individuals have increased appetites because their satiety hormone is low. Those with higher body fat, in obesity for example, will have increased levels of leptin resulting in higher satiety and a decrease in appetite.

 

So in a perfect world these two chemical messengers would work nicely together allowing us to maintain an adequate energy balance right? When we are hungry, ghrelin is produced and we eat. When we are satisfied, out comes leptin to shut down our eating so we maintain our ideal body weight and everyone lives happily ever after. We shouldn’t have the obesity epidemic we have today and losing weight should be pretty easy. Unfortunately we can develop hormonal imbalances which leads to the inability to lose weight effectively. Today, we have the issue of leptin resistance and the impact it has on the body.  In our next post, we will cover what this is and how you can deal with the issue to get things back in balance and achieve your weight loss goals and improve your health.

Why Your Exercise Selection May Be Working Against You

 

 

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Pre-historic man, let’s call her Katie, was a versatile athlete. Katie could run, jump, skip, hop, climb and crawl at will. And it’s a good thing too. If she wasn’t able to do these things, Katie wouldn’t survive (or his chances of surviving were greatly reduced). This was her exercise.

 

Nowadays, we have different modalities of training that allow us to do the things Katie did in her everyday life. Since our lives mostly consist of sitting, we aren’t able to utilize our body’s the way we did back in the day (Katie didn’t have to stretch and warm up every time it was time to run…her life depended on being prepared at all times!). We are, after all, the same animal we were 20,000 years ago when we were running from lions and tigers and bears (OH MY!).

 

So, knowing that our world consists of sitting, lying and random bouts of walking, we understand that it is important to exercise in order to function properly throughout our lives. Ironically, we usually don’t maximize our training efforts to work on the areas we need to work on. Most of the time, we actually do the opposite. Let me explain.

 

As we age, our body wants to slowly pull itself into the fetal position while simultaneously eating all the muscles off our bones. Muscles take energy to sustain and it also takes energy to stay upright and functioning properly. But a stiff, tight body and weak muscles is also what inhibits us from being able to walk without breaking a hip when we’re 70 years old. So we have to know what muscles to go after when it comes to staying loose and what muscles to go after when it comes to maintaining strength. These muscles are called Tonic and Phasic muscles, respectively.

 

Tonic muscles are muscles that naturally tighten (think “T”…Tonic and Tighten) as we age. There are 8 Tonic muscles:

 

  • Upper Trapezius

  • Pectoralis Major

  • Pectoralis Minor

  • Biceps

  • Psoas

  • Piriformis

  • Hamstrings

  • Calves

 

These are muscles that want to tighten as we age. As it goes, these are muscles that would’ve helped Katie climb a tree and hang on for dear life if running from a predator.

 

Phasic muscles are muscles that naturally weaken (I don’t have a good way remember this, except that weaken doesn’t have a “T”…that’s all I’ve got) as we age. There are 7 Phasic muscles:

 

  • Deltoids11

  • Rhomboids

  • Mid-back

  • Triceps

  • External Obliques

  • Glutes

  • Deep abs

 

Phasic muscles are the muscles that Katie would have used if she were trying to chase down some prey for lunch.

 

When you look at these 2 lists, there is one glaring problem that we see when it comes to most of our training: we continue to tighten then muscles that are naturally tightening and we don’t strengthen the muscles that are naturally weakening.

 

Let me explain a little better:

If you were to walk into the gym and observe the exercises that most people were performing, what would you see? My guess is you’d see a lot of bench press (tightening pecs), curls (tightening biceps), shrugs (tightening upper traps) and calf raises (tightening calves), just to name a few. So we’re basically performing a bunch of exercises that are helping to tighten muscles that are increase-bench_pressalready wanting to tighten. Since these are the “mirror muscles”, these are the muscles we want to get bigger and more defined, therefore we work them to a tightened frenzy.

 

Conversely, what would you say are some of the exercises you wouldn’t see much of? My guess would be squats (strengthen glutes), deadlifts (strengthen glutes), carries (strengthen glutes, strengthen external obliques), rows (strengthen rhomboids) and PROPER core training (strengthen deep abs, strengthen obliques). Since these are the muscles we don’t typically see in the mirror, we don’t care as much to work on them. Also, these exercises take much more effort to do. Try doing 8 bicep curls then doing 8 deadlifts and let me know which one makes you more tired.

 

Now that you understand why it is important to strengthen certain muscles and stretch certain muscles, think about how your program is laid out and evaluate what you can do to help fight the fight. Instead of going for start your 4th biceps exercise, trying doing something to strengthen your triceps. And please, stay away from the leg curl machine and hit the deadlifts, you’ll appreciate the work and results much more.

 

Next time we’ll go over the exercises you need to do to fight the Tonic and Phasic battle and how you can implement them into your workout.

 

How to Eat for the Seasons

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“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose, under heaven” . These are the lyrics from a classic song but maybe the idea applies to food as well. Eating seasonally is just another way to live a healthy lifestyle in harmony with nature’s bounty. This is not a new trend or a gimmicky weight loss scheme. It has been done for centuries and is practiced still today for is array of benefits.

 

Eating by the season is what our ancestors did before mega grocery stores dotted the landscape. Building your diet around what nature provides throughout the year has several advantages. First, produce allowed to fully ripen before being harvested will have improved flavor and increased nutrient density. A locally grown apple that has ripened naturally will be higher in vitamins and antioxidants than one picked prematurely and shipped from New Zealand to your hometown. Due to supply and demand, purchasing seasonal produce saves the consumer money.

 

One way to buy seasonally is to support the local farmer’s market. This also helps the environment by decreasing our carbon footprint and pollution from trucks hauling food from long distances. Food that is grown in the “off season” requires more “human” influence resulting in increased pesticide usage, waxes and chemicals to make them more appealing to us however not as healthy. Finally, nature has a way of supporting our nutritional needs based on what it produces and when. Ever wonder why produce containing more water like watermelons, berries and cucumbers are abundant in the heat of summer? They help us to increase our level of hydration when we need it most. The spring crops of leafy greens and other fibrous vegetables help us to detoxify and decrease weight gain from the long winter months. Apples, in the fall, are a simple transition food source that helps cool us down from the long hot summer.

 

As we head into a new season, consider making the commitment to eat only food that is in season. It will help you move outside your comfort zone and possibly try some new recipes. You will naturally increase your vitamin and antioxidant intake and reap those major health benefits as well. Here is an easy way to help you choose better produce-start by checking the item’s sticker/tag noting the country of origin and avoid those shipped from other countries. By doing a quick search on your computer, you can find listings for local farms and produce that is in season in your region making it easy to know where and what to buy. This is just one more way of implementing a small change that can have a BIG impact on your health and performance. 

How to Focus to Increase Your Productivity

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The average attention spam of adults today is five minutes. Ten years ago it was twelve minutes. What some believe has caused this decline is wrapped up in this quote. “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”  Today, we have a wealth of information at our fingertips every second of the day.

 

Since the development of the Smartphone, we have the ability to answer emails, surf the internet, text and call anytime. Smartphones are a huge distraction in our lives and this is just one example. Multitasking appears to be beneficial on the surface until you look at it deeper. Each time we mentally switch between tasks, we lose time and energy hence it actually drains mental energy. You will make more mistakes and lessen the quality of your work when multitasking. You might do three things at once but none are done exceptionally well. Experts agree that our brain cannot focus on two high level functions at once so today’s short article is about improving focus.

 

In the list of eight traits that successful people have number three is focus. Multibillionaire Warren Buffet moved to Nebraska from New York City because he couldn’t think amid all the distractions. Successful businesses don’t focus on providing five products or services at once but one done extremely well.

 

Focus is defined as the ability to stay concentrated on what you are doing and ignore distractions. Focus is like a muscle in our brain and the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes. So let’s look at what we can do help combat this decline. There are four basic steps and breathing is a good tool to use to start building focus.

 

  1. Focus on your breath

  2. Notice if your mind wanders and acknowledge

  3. Disengage from the thought

  4. Bring your focus back to your breath and hold it there

 

This will not be easy at first, but just start out trying to stay focused on your breath for thirty-seconds. Don’t get discouraged if your mind wanders after five-seconds. It’s all right because every time it wanders and you pull it back in, you are strengthening the focus muscle. Practice this every day and be patient.

 

In summary, improving your focus will spill across all aspects of your life. You will increase your productivity at work and home. Focusing better during training sessions at the gym will help you achieve better results. Being mindful or focusing while eating helps you make better choices and control impulses. Start out slow and work on it daily. Set your phone to silent when working, eating and at the gym but especially when doing your focus exercise. In a future article, we will discuss how focus helps us find Flow and its impact on our lives.