Snow Lake

Snow Lake
Snow Lake Backpacking Trip

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Benefits of Strength Training As We Age

As we age there is a natural tendency to loose muscle mass and bone density. One exercise type that has been proven to delay this is strength training. When the topic of strength training is brought up, many people envision men with bulging muscles grunting and pushing huge amounts of weights on barbells skyward. While this may be true in some select gyms, these types of people are actually in the minority. Most of us do not have the genetics, time, desire, or youth to become like these elite bodybuilders and powerlifters.

This is not say that strength training cannot have major health benefits for most of us because of the following reasons. Increased muscle strength that assists us in our daily activities. Basically, an individual can do more with less effort. Increased tendon strength (these are the parts that connect muscles to bones so that we can use our muscles to move various body parts). Decreased injuries since muscles and tendons become stronger and less prone to injuries. Increased bone density that can decrease the likelihood of broken bones. Less joint degeneration due to the fact that the muscles and tendons surrounding the joints can now offer a stronger system of support for the joints. Better circulation since most exercise stimulates blood flow throughout the muscles. As we get older strength training can decrease the chance of falling and breaking bones. Stronger muscles allow for better control of our bodies so that we can remain more balanced under all circumstances. If we combine our strength training with stretching it can lead to a fuller range of functional motion within the muscles and joints. A feeling of well being. Having toned up muscles makes most people feel better physically, and knowing that you look better can create a sense of satisfaction.

There are different types of strength training and it is not always necessary to join a gym in order to get a successful workout. You can find programs doing basic calisthenics. These are exercises where you use mainly your body weight as resistance. A typical calisthenics program may include pushups, crunches chin ups, and an assortment of similar type exercises using items from around the house and your bodyweight. There are also programs using bands of rubber to provide the resistance. In these programs you may hook the band around various body parts to act as resistance or temporarily attach the band to table leg or door. Free weights are a popular way to get stronger. This is where you use weights on barbells and dumbells with some other equipment to provide resistance. In the health clubs you may find other strength training machines such as Nautilus equipment and several other brands of equipment. Most of these machines are good ways to strengthen the body once you have been shown the correct usage of them.

Some people will create a program using a combination of the above ways of training. All of the methods listed have been proven to increase strength if done in the right manner over the correct duration of time. The important thing to keep in mind is that to make progress you need to get started and stick with your program consistently. So figure out what type of program works based on your circumstances and get started. The results are definitely worth the effort.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Going With the Flow

Have you ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed? You will probably say, sure, we all have. But what do we mean by this? I suppose we mean, we did not feel quite right, or things did not go smoothly that day. If you exercise or workout for a period of years, there will inevitably be days where you feel a little bit off, or not quite as strong or fast as you normally do. This is when you need to listen to your body and make good choices. I would not necessarily advocate skipping the workout. It would depend on how off you feel, and what you determine might be the cause of it. You can always moderate or adapt your workout to how you feel. Just don’t end up using this feeling as a chronic excuse to not do what you should be doing on a regular basis, which is exercising vigorously.

Feeling off can occur for a number of reasons: lack of sleep, injury, getting over being sick, working out to much the previous day, changing your workout style, a change in your diet, emotional distress over some aspect in your life, lack of adequate hydration, lack of rest, a change in the time of day that you work out, or a host of other reasons. When contending with this feeling there are two assessments to make and follow that are of primary importance. One is to access how you feel as you start to exercise and adapt your workout accordingly. Another is to see if you can figure out what might have been the cause of the feeling.

Assessment one is to prevent injury. You want to exercise in such a manner that it is productive rather than counter-productive. By exercising you are stressing the body moderately so that it will adapt and grow stronger. On a good day you can push the limits a bit more without risk of injury or adverse health effects. On an off day, you need to monitor yourself more carefully and make sure that you don’t push yourself over the line into injury or being counter-productive. Then there is the psychological aspect. It is important to start the workout with a positive mindset and complete the workout in a positive mindset, so that you will look forward to doing what is right for your body again. So on an off day, try to establish a positive mindset and ease into the routine gradually, building the intensity slowly while listening to your body’s feedback. Then tailor the workout to what your body and mind are telling you are acceptable level of intensity for that particular day.

Assessment two, assessing what might have caused you to feel off that day is important also. You want to eliminate this feeling in the future so that you will continue to want to exercise on a regular basis. By figuring out what has put a damper on things you prevent injuries and sickness. So think about the last couple of days before the workout and try to figure out what might have given you that feeling. Then try to eliminate it from your future lifestyle.

I hope that by applying these principles you can decrease your downtime and increase your productive workouts. If you ever have any medical related questions, I would recommend consulting your physician. But we can all learn a lot by listening to what our body is telling us and not pushing blindly ahead regardless of what is going on both inside and externally to ourselves.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Keeping the Faith While Injured

Sometimes it becomes difficult to maintain a fitness-training regimen after being injured. This article will help give you some ideas that will allow you to work around injuries.

Sooner or later all of us will get injured. Your long-term fitness level will not be so much determined on whether you get injured, but how you react to it. What do I mean by this? I’ll give you an example. Many years ago I tore my knee up doing martial arts. At this point I had a choice. I could give up and say my fitness days were over. Or, I could choose to work around the injury.

After the knee injury, I could no longer stand unassisted. But rather than sit idle, the next day I went over to my parents house and rowed their old aluminum row-boat across the lake and back to get exercise. This was less than ideal, but I had found a way to keep active. Later during the healing process, I enrolled in a fitness instructor program and started lifting weights. I learned all about strength training. I used this knowledge towards the end of the knee rehabilitation to help strengthen and complete the healing of the knee. Weight training gave me the benefit of allowing me to work around my injury while it was severe and then later helped me to get the injury back to a healed and strengthened state.

While living in Montreal, I cracked a rib. This made it to painful to run, and there was too much ice and snow on the ground to bike. I took up swimming and weight training to maintain my conditioning. I found that swimming laps did not aggravate the cracked rib much and it was a new way to work most the muscles in my body.

Later when I received multiple injuries, I found that practicing tai chi helped me back from these injuries. Tai chi provided me with an exercise that was gentle enough to allow myself to heal and at the same time kept me in the habit of maintaining a routine.

So the advice here is to keep moving, even if it is not what you originally envisioned as your ideal exercise. Based on my experience, the body seems to heal quicker from injuries if given the appropriate kind of exercise that won’t worsen the injury. Besides, you may discover that you like some new activity that you would not have considered otherwise. And you may develop a level of fitness in an area that was formerly underdeveloped.

The only other advice I have in regards to this topic is to consult your doctor or a sports medicine doctor if you feel uncertain about any aspect of your modified fitness plan. The goal with your routine is to maintain your conditioning and decrease your healing time with the injury. In order to do this, you must train appropriately. It is always a good idea to get expert advice to help ensure your success.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Cross Train?

This article is a counterpoint to my last one. In my last article I talked about, “exercise specificity” and the reason to train in the activity that you want to enhance your ability in. But to every upside, there may be a downside. Doing too much of one type of exercise can have some drawbacks that can be minimized with cross training, especially as we get a bit older.
During my late teens and early twenties I trained for a lot of hours doing karate and running. This was excellent for my endurance and allowed me to develop the skills I desired at the time. But after training like this for seven years, I started to accumulate a lot of injuries. I then had to go through major knee surgery due to an injury related to training.

During the rehabilitation from the injury, I discovered that cross training both reduced injuries and enhanced my overall fitness. By incorporating weight training into my schedule, I gained the strength necessary to avoid some of the injuries. By adding cycling onto my list of training options I cut down on knee injuries by reducing the amount of impact my body was taking each week and strengthening the legs in a different way. By stretching the whole body instead of mainly just the legs, I reduced the amount of back injuries I obtained.

Another advantage that cross training may provide, if done in the correct manner, is an elevated level of fitness. When you train doing one activity, exercise specificity kicks in, and your body becomes acclimated to endure exactly what you have been subjecting it to. For example, if you run three days a week for six miles, your body will adapt. Your legs and heart will develop the ability to sustain you through the run. However, if you go to push a piano up the hill, the running routine probably will not help you be more successful. You have neglected to develop upper body strength and your anaerobic fast twitch muscle fiber strength in your legs. Now if you combined the runs with twice a week of weight training including squats for the legs, you will be in better shape to push the piano and have overall better fitness. You will have the upper body strength to push with and the extra leg strength to release a relatively rapid burst of energy into the piano in order to get it rolling.

It has been proven that to keep elevating your fitness, you should keep moderately stressing the body in different ways (through exercise) to get it to improve. People have successfully tried this in weight training with success, and I believe it is true with cross training also.

One last reason to cross train is in order to keep interest and enthusiasm for maintaining your fitness. One of the top reasons that people may fall off the wagon and quit exercising consistently is boredom. By varying your activity, it helps keep things interesting. If I had to ride an exercise bike all the time, I would have quit a long time ago out of boredom. But by varying my activity with kung fu, tai chi, weight training, biking, and hiking, I keep myself interested and can switch to a different routine when weather or injuries keep me from doing what would normally be my choice. I stay in better shape not only because my body is constantly adapting to different activities, but also because I am more consistent in my training, and can put in more hours of exercise without over stressing a certain body part.

Following are some articles of interest related to the same topic:

The Benefits of Cross Training
Cross Training Improves Fitness and Reduces Injury

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Doing the Turkey Trot Up Tiger Mountain (Exercise Specificity)

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I hiked up Tiger Mountain with some friends before going off to stuff my face with turkey and other assorted great food. The next day I was a bit stiff and felt some mild soreness in my muscles, even though the hike was only a few hours and at a moderate pace, but at a fairly steep incline.

This brings me to my next topic, exercise specificity. Simply stated, exercise specificity is the principle that your body will adapt to whatever you specifically train it in. I used to hike just about every weekend and do hikes three times as long as Tiger Mountain at a much more rapid pace. Lately, I have not been any slug either. I weight train every week and include squats and various other leg exercises in my strengthening routine. I do four or five kung fu classes per week and practice tai chi about six times a week. But all these activities are different from hiking. Your body will adapt to whatever you subject it too. So if you want to be a top notch hiker, you must hike. If you want to gain strength, you must do strength training. Or if you want to be a tennis pro, then you better play lots of tennis.

So, when you are considering what you want your exercise routine to be, figure out what your fitness goals are, and see if the routine will accomplish those goals. Do you want muscular legs with good endurance and to be outside, then hiking might be a good activity for you. Do you want increased flexibility, general toning of your muscles, and do you like to interact with other like-minded people, then a yoga class might fit the bill. Do you want all around endurance and a competitive team sports atmosphere, then joining a soccer league might satisfy your yearning for excitement and get you fit at the same time. Whatever the activity you pick, make sure it fits your lifestyle and your goals, because this will help you stick to it and see the results you want.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Who Can Benefit From Exercise?

Who can benefit from exercise? You can. Overweight or thin, old or young, active or inactive, regardless of physical condition, you can benefit from exercise. My partner is a very thin person who would be classified as an ectomorph by nature. This means she is not inherently muscular. At first when I proposed that she free-weight train with me, she balked at the idea and worried that she would get injured. After several training sessions where she used gradual progression of the weights, she started to see and feel muscular improvement. Ever since then, she has enthusiastically embraced training with me and takes pride in the fact that she can now do chair dips. 

I currently teach an exercise and tai chi class at a retirement home. One of my students is 100 years old and loves coming to my class. Some of my other students have had strokes and are half paralyzed, yet they still come to my class regularly, due to both the physical and psychological benefit they gain. Most of these people are at least 75 years old.

I recently went to a family gathering of my partner's family. Upon talking to my partner's cousin, I found out she had been diagnosed with diabetes. The doctors had prescribed a bunch of drugs to mitigate the effects of the diabetes and control her body weight. This individual decided she did not want to be dependent on the drugs. She started an exercise program and watched her diet. She is now drug free and able to control her diabetes. She also feels great physically and it has been a real psychological boost for her also knowing that she can change her future.

Around 20 years ago, I taught a weight-training class at the YMCA for about three years. I would periodically get women in my class that were at first intimidated by the weight-training room environment, the barbaric looking machines, and some of the gruff characters that hung out there. During the class, I witnessed many of these same women doubling the amount of weight they could lift during the two months that they attended my class. Not only that, but they gained the confidence to train on their own. It was an awesome feeling for me that I could help individuals become  stronger and happier.

Here is one last story. My mom passed away about six years ago. My father found a new girlfriend about 3 years ago. His new girlfriend is in her mid 70s like he is. She was diagnosed with diabetes a number of years ago and the doctor prescribed drugs. She did not want to be dependent on drugs, so she changed her diet and exercised regularly. She has not had to take diabetes drugs for years and controls her diabetes through diet and exercise.     

Provided someone listens to their body, and does not try to go to fast in their progression, exercise can benefit everyone with a minimum risk of injury. The key is to find the right type and amount of exercise for you. But this is a whole separate article that I will have to write in the near future. For now, with thanksgiving and the holiday season upon us, along with all the eating that goes along with it, try to get out and exercise to keep some of those pounds off. You will feel better and be able to eat some of that great food without the guilt that may normally accompany it.