How to Train Harder and Stay Injury-Free

Training is good. Training hard is better. But training consistently is the key to drastic, lasting change to your health, performance and body composition. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can (potentially) disrupt that consistency. Work, family, commutes and social gatherings can all upend your schedule — often suddenly — leaving you a day late and a workout short in the gym. But the most sinister impediment to an undisturbed workout schedule is injury.

When we say “injury,” we’re not referring to the joint aches and muscle soreness that are part and parcel of an intense love affair with the iron. We are referring to soft-tissue injuries to muscles, tendons and ligaments — both acute and chronic — that require ample rest to heal. But while those tissues convalesce, the rest of your physique suffers: Muscle is lost, fat is stored and lungs return to stasis. And the worse the injury is, the longer the recovery time (read: the doughier you stand to become).

The good news is that you can fortify your muscles and joints against these types of injuries by simply taking a few pre-habilitative steps before and after workouts. Some of these tactics can even drastically (and immediately) improve performance and enhance recovery. Put another way, you’ll be able to train harder more often with less chance of injury.

1. Stop stretching before workouts
Stretching is still cool. Just not in the way that it’s been taught by generations of short-sighted PE teachers. In fact, the long-held practice of static stretching has been found to decrease performance while offering no greater protection against injury.

Studies have shown that static stretching before training can negatively impact strength. A better bet is dynamic stretching, which calls for you to perform several range-of-motion exercises that increase your body’s core temperature, excite your nervous system and generally prepare your joints and muscles for the work ahead.

Dynamic stretching routines vary greatly, but the goal should be to spend three to five minutes working your way up through a series of activities of increasing intensity. Before squats, for example, you may follow a progression like this, doing each activity for 15 to 20 seconds: jogging in place, jumping jacks, high-knee running in place, partial body-weight squats, full body-weight squats and squat jumps.

If you’ve done it right, your heart rate should be elevated and you should have a light sweat going. Researchers have found that this type of warm-up improves strength and flexibility — virtues that help reduce injury risk.

2. Do a specific warm-up
When you’re done with your dynamic warm-up, it’s time to get specific. Using the squat example again, this means getting under the bar and performing a few light sets, generally in a higher-rep range. This helps to increase blood flow to the muscles and joints that you’ll be working, but, more importantly, it helps to engrain proper movement patterns ahead of your heavier work.

This brain training ahead of your working sets helps you work out more efficiently, limiting the small deviations in form that can send you to the trainer’s table. Take advantage of these sets by focusing on every part of the movement, and do as many sets as you think are necessary before piling on the plates.

3. Stretch it out
Like we said, stretching is still cool, but timing is everything. After your workout is the time to sit and hold some static stretches with the muscle groups you’ve trained. Warm muscles are more limber than cold ones, meaning that you’ll get a truer stretch with less risk of injury at this time.

You should hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and up to 90, the top end of which has been shown to improve flexibility. Breathe slowly and deeply on each stretch, getting a little “deeper” into each stretch upon exhaling. Static stretching post-workout also can help speed recovery and has been shown to reduce (not eliminate) next-day muscle soreness.

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Should I Feel a Burn After Weightlifting Workouts?

Weightlifting is an activity that builds up your muscles as you resist an opposing force or weight. If you use enough weight to increase your muscle size, you will typically feel a “burn” as your muscles reach their working capacity. You can also experience soreness when your muscles break down and repair themselves in the period following your workout.

Muscle “Burn”

When you lift heavy weights, your body gets the energy to support your activity by breaking down a substance called glucose. When glucose breaks down, it forms another substance called pyruvate. As you continue working your muscles, pyruvate turns into another substance called lactate, or lactic acid, which lets you keep lifting for a little longer. However, lactic acid also builds up rapidly in your muscles and triggers the “burn” commonly associated with weightlifting. This sensation acts a signal from your muscles to stop working and rest your body.

Building Muscle Tissue

Weightlifting triggers small-scale damage in the tissues of your affected muscles, according to Young sub Kwan and Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico in the article “How Do Muscles Grow?” In turn, damage to your muscle fibers triggers activity in nearby cells called satellite cells. These satellite cells fuse to each other, as well as to your injured tissue. The cells that fuse to your tissues rejuvenate your existing muscle by filling in for damaged cellular structures. The cells that fuse to each other form new protein structures called myofibrils, which in turn add extra muscle tissue and muscle mass.

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March, National Nutrition Month

Celebrate National Nutrition Month by making small changes that will lead to big improvements.

Unlike “National Pancake Month” or “National Whipped Cream Month,” National Nutrition Month is a yearly occasion that you can and should celebrate for 30 days straight. In fact, why stop at the end of March? I hope that, once you try the following tips, you’ll want to continue practicing them all year through.

Here’s how it works: Try one tip each day, starting today. (You can change the order, but be sure you try each one.) Then, repeat.

1. Cut portions.

If you think leaving just a little something on your plate won’t matter, think again. It will. Small amounts of uneaten food add up to calories that stay on the plate – not on you.

2. Sip while you sit. 

Bring a cup or bottle of water with you whenever you sit (at your desk, in the car or in front of the TV, for example). Although moving is better than sitting, at least you’ll be performing a healthy habit when at rest.

3. Make a move.

Take the stairs, park a few blocks away or otherwise become inefficient and take extra steps to get where you need to go.

4. Have a vegetable at breakfast. 

Most people save their veggies for dinner, but it’s healthful to think outside the cereal bowl and veg out at breakfast. For example, add a sliced tomato to your cheese sandwich or some mushrooms to your eggs.

5. Find fiber. 

Whether it’s a bran cereal, nuts, oatmeal or an array of other fiber-filled foods, added fiber can make you feel fuller longer and provide a, well, moving experience.

6. Flip the package over.

Read nutrition labels to see what’s really in your food. Don’t be fooled by a flashy front-of-package claim.

7. Don’t fear fat – but don’t go overboard.

Fat has more calories than other nutrients, but it has multiple benefits. If you watch your portions, you can enjoy its decadence.

8. Don’t have guilt as a side dish.

If you overindulge at a meal, move on.

9. Be mindful.

Unless you’re driving, close your eyes when you eat. Notice the food’s texture, temperature and flavor.

10. Pick plants.

Protein derived from plant sources such as seeds, nuts, tofu and tempeh, as well as from grains, can help lower cholesterol, improve your heart health and add a satiating blend of flavors to extend Meatless Monday to the rest of the week.

11. Tap into your dark side.

Dark chocolate has been shown to have heart-healthy benefits and it can certainly boost your mood. Be mindful of portions, though, to help keep yourself feeling happy.

12. Eat something fishy. 

Enjoy fish as a dish at least three times a week. It’s heart-healthy, low in fat and contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

13. Take time for tea.

Tea contains polyphenols, it’s good for your bones and it provides a soothing cup of comfort in any season.

14. Cook with your kids.

Don’t think of this interaction as cooking lessons. Rather, realize that teaching your kids to put together a meal is a lesson they can use for the rest of their lives.

15. Shake the salting habit.

Replace salt with lemon, herbs and spices.

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Cardio

Why is it that cardio is always the hot topic of fitness discussion and seems to be the fix all solution to burning fat?

As we have all learned and I have written about in the past that cardio is not the fix all solution when it comes to body compositional changes anymore. New times have rolled in and we have tons of research studies proving that weight lifting is far more superior for fat loss and body compositional changes. But, even though we have these new findings, people still don’t get it and people still want to sit on the bikes reading magazines about Kim Kardashian’s divorce for hours and hours. Do as you please, but I know I’m one of those types of people that want to get the most bang for their buck when it comes to training. This leads me to write about what is the right type of cardio for you?
I will be doing a comparison on HIIT cardio vs LISS cardio, since these two forms of cardio are used the most. By the end of this article you will have a really good idea of what kind of cardio is right for you and how to effectively use it.

What in the world do these crazy acronyms HIIT and LISS mean?

HIIT stands for High intensity interval training, which consists of short sprint intervals coupled with low-moderate intensity work. An example of this would be a 30 second sprint followed by a 4 minute steady pace walk to cool down and bring your heart rate back to normal and then repeating it. LISS stands for Low intensity steady state cardio, which consists of purely low-moderate intensity work. An example of this would be walking on the treadmill or riding the bike and being able to hold a conversation (we tend to see a lot of this at gyms).
Now that you have a basic understanding of the two forms, let’s dive into some more detailed stuff.

LT & AD

Why testing the lactate threshold (LT) and anaerobic threshold (AT) is a good idea? The AT and LT are extremely powerful predictors of performance in aerobic exercise (cardio). There are 2 ways that muscle can burn glucose (blood sugars) and that is through aerobic work (with air) and anaerobic work (without air). For example, long bouts of LISS cardio is considered aerobic work and weight training or HIIT cardio can be classified as anaerobic work. The AT and LT are a great test for HIIT and LIIS cardio because it gives a great predictor of which type of work produces ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is a quick burst of energy that we get in our muscles when we contract them (Ex: every time you do a bicep curl, you are getting a quick burst of ATP). HIIT produces better changes in exercise capacity as opposed to LISS cardio. High intensity training will hit the AT and LT, that’s what causes the body to make metabolic changes. When you are doing LISS, you are considered below the AT and LT.

A simple test is being able to hold a conversation while doing cardio. When doing HIIT you are above the AT and LT and when you are above the AT and LT you push for greater improvement in metabolism which thus leads to better fat loss over time.

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Weight Training

Everyone knows that weight training makes you stronger; however, certain types of weight training can produce dramatically different results. Some types of weight training will increase your maximal strength, whereas others will improve endurance. There are even methods of weightlifting that will do little for you in the way of strength and endurance even though they produce significant superficial results. By know some of the different types of weight training, you can pick the one that best suits your needs.

Bodybuilding

Bodybuilders train in a specific manner to achieve a specific goal — making their muscles bigger. They tend to lift in the eight- to 12-rep range and only train one muscle group per day, per week. This type of training is the best for making your muscles larger but not necessarily stronger. That’s not to say bodybuilders aren’t strong, but they just aren’t as strong as some other athletes because their goal is aesthetics, not athleticism.

Power Lifting

Power lifting is the best type of training for maximal strength — what many people would consider “brute” strength. A power lifter’s goal isn’t appearance, it’s strength. Power lifters focus on lifting an extremely heavy amount of weight for only a few repetitions.

Circuit Training

Circuit training is when you do a number of exercises in quick succession, usually lifting a light amount of weight for a high number of repetitions. For example, doing 20 bench presses, 20 squats and shoulder presses with little or no rest in between. This type of training is ideal for burning fat, increasing endurance and making some gains in strength. Circuit training is popular among fighters because it simulates what your body goes through in a wrestling, boxing or mixed-martial arts match.

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Body Type Eating

Body type — whether ecto, meso, or endomorph — can determine what sports suit you best, as well as what you should be eating to fuel your activities. Yes, it’s true — those darn ectos can get away with a little extra pasta!

What is eating for your body type?

Many people think that “body type” just describes the way someone looks. In fact, your body type can also provide information about how you respond to food intake and about your hormonal and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) characteristics.

Physique characteristics can thus be linked to metabolic differences between individuals. Once someone establishes their body type, they can then adjust nutrient intake to maximize body composition and health related goals.

There are three general categories of body types (somatotypes): ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.

Very few people fall perfectly into one of the three categories. People are often a mix of characteristics. Additionally, years of training and good nutrition can change the outward appearance of one’s body.

For instance, a bodybuilder might be mistaken for a “natural” mesomorph when in fact, s/he is really an endomorph who’s trained and dieted hard; or an ectomorph who’s spent years guzzling protein shakes and doing the power lifts.

An ectomorph who’s gained a little weight around the middle from a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition might assume they’re more endomorphic.

However, most folks can find their general tendencies in one of the three groups.

 

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