Sunday, March 25, 2012

High Intensity Interval Training - explained

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a great method for reshaping your body.  It taps into your metabolism and burns fat for hours afterward. I spent many years doing “cardio” with very scant results. I learned and believed that if I kept my heart rate in the ‘fat burning zone’ for 45 minutes that that would be the best use of my time and energy. But I couldn’t drop those last few pounds around my middle.

Then I discovered and practiced HIIT and I could literally see results on my body within weeks.  I’m going to explain the basic premise of the technique that I’ve been using to keep myself lean. This article is not for people who still need to be convinced that HIIT is the way to go.  For that, I will refer you to this article:

What I’m doing here, is explaining how you can start to reap the benefits of this powerful technique. It will require a timer and an activity; that’s all. Running, swimming, jumping rope, burpees, climbing a tree.... anything that you can do with the proper intensity will work. As you learn the technique you can better determine what sort of activity you’d like to apply to it.
I like to use a convoluted form of calisthenics because of the way it also simultaneously develops strength and flexibility in my body as I'm increasing my metabolism. The more I can accomplish as once, the more I like it.

Here are the rules: We want to perform the activity with as much intensity as we can for a very short amount of time (as in “sprints”) and then rest for a short amount of time. I can’t tell you how to achieve the intensity.  Frankly, that will be different from person to person and from day to day with each person as the situation changes. But you can gauge your intensity using a scale of 1-10. 1 = resting and 10 = maximum intensity. You want to get as close to a 10 as possible without sacrificing proper form and without causing undue discomfort.

In a sample HIIT workout, you’d warm up for about five minutes.  This is easy movement that mimicks the type of movements you’ll be using in your intensity intervals. You want to initiate a warming response.  You’ll literally feel an increase in the temperature of your body and you’ll feel an increase in the free movement of your joints.

For this sample, I’ll use running as my activity, but as I said, you can use this technique with many different types of activities.  After you’ve warmed up, you’ll follow the timer.  You’ll run as fast as you can for 20 seconds and then walk slowly for 10 seconds. Then you’ll run again AS FAST AS YOU CAN for 20 seconds and then walk slowly for 10 seconds. Repeat this 8 times and then rest for a full minute. The whole set takes four minutes and then you’ll rest for another minute, for a five minute total set. Repeat that four to six times, perhaps doing a different activity for each five minute set, and you’ve got a complete workout.  The whole thing, including a five minute warm up and a five minute cool down shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes.

I was trying to teach this technique to a client who insisted that she couldn’t maintain the intensity because of her weight. But she only said that because she didn’t understand what I meant by intensity. If she feels like she has to run at a certain speed to achieve the intensity, then she’s correct; she can’t do that. But that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking her to run as fast as SHE can. It may not be very fast at all, but as long as she perceives it as very intense, and she’s not causing herself undue harm or discomfort then she’s doing it right.  As long as the work portion of the workout is hard enough that she is out of breath, she’s probably doing it hard enough.

And then she would report back to me that she did her intervals, but she increased her work section to 3 minutes because she felt she couldn’t achieve the intensity she needed in only 20 seconds. This, however, is exactly the opposite of what I’m asking. If she can do it for 3 minutes then she’s not using near enough intensity. In fact, even those 20 seconds should be challenging. By the time the timer is reading “18, 19, 20!” you should be really feeling that you’re on your edge.

It is important to remember that you adjust your intensity based on your bodies ability. So as you get more and more fit, you will be running faster during the 20 second WORK period.

As far as the 10 seconds of rest goes, it shouldn’t quite feel like enough.  As you get more and more fit, you will recover more and more quickly. In the beginning, you may even want to rest for 15 or 20 seconds, but don’t allow yourself to recover fully before the next work session begins. This is supposed to be quick and taxing. 

The great thing about this technique is that it works really well.  If you do it correctly, you’ll be feeling the burn all day. Your metabolism will literally be higher for hours and hours afterward.  Doing this type of exercise for half an hour three times per week will change your body.

Please ask me questions if you’re unclear about anything.  And if you’ve tried this technique and have any questions or comments about it, please share them with me.  I’d love to hear about your experiences.

The Realistic Truth about Health and Fitness

The industry of health and fitness is young and research is still being conducted daily with new findings being published continually.  If you don’t stay diligent and keep up with it, you’re likely to be practicing techniques based on outmoded and disproved data.

For example, in the seventies, everyone thought whole wheat was healthy.  Today we not only know that whole grains are harmful, but that wheat, in particular is a dangerous choice because of the almost 100% chance that commercially grown wheat is from a genetically modified crop which can cause immune system dis-function, birth defects and other unpleasant things.

In the 80’s, everyone jumped on the Low Fat bandwagon. But the incidents of heart disease still skyrocketed seemingly mysteriously. The latest research is showing that low fat diets increase inflammation in our bodies and that inflammation is the biggest contributor to not only heart disease but practically every disease known to man.

Another misstep in the 80’s was the Aerobics craze. The common thinking was that low-intensity, long term exercise was the best for burning fat.  But then, after two decades of experience and further research, the consensus in the industry is that long, slow cardio sessions at best, don’t do much to change your body and, at worst, can actually cause damage to the heart muscle among other things. 

Since I’ve been in the industry long enough, i am starting to see some of these health and fitness fads recycle themselves. An example of that is a craze that hit around the turn of the millennium; this was the high protein-low carb kick.  Although I wasn’t around for it, I am aware that this was a resurgence of a similar craze that had surfaced way back in the 1950’s. Sixty years ago, and again today, this is not a good way to live. Carbs are a crucial nutrient and your brain cannot function without them. Totally eliminating them from your diet is dangerous and unnatural.

So what can we do?

Well there are a few pieces of advice that have stood the test of time and keep coming back again and again as an answer to all of the problems and repair to all of the damage caused by following these ‘fads.’  I have said something to this effect many times to people with whom I’ve discussed the topic of artificial sweeteners: If we had this conversation 15 years ago, you’d be touting the benefits of saccharin to me.  Wouldn’t you be embarrassed now that we know it’s carcinogenic?  And eight years ago, you would have told me how great Aspartame was.  But since we now both know that Aspartame is referred to as “the most dangerous substance in the world” today your argument would have shifted to extolling the virtues of Xylitol.  While I would hold fast to the same stance and beliefs that I’ve held since the beginning, still you won’t listen to me, thinking I’m a kook or that I’m missing the boat on this secret substance that allows you to buck the laws of nature. I would also suspect that at some point in the future, once Xylitol has fallen from grace and been proven to cause whatever side effects it will eventually be proven to cause, you will have switched your loyalties to the latest chemical food substitute, blindly and ignorantly believing the label and the ads - despite the poor luck you’ve had with artificial sweeteners. While my argument will have remained unchanged because I stick to the basics. I took a conservative approach and only considered those things that nature has provided for us as things appropriate for our nutrition.

And science is slowly but surely catching up to me.  Oh sure, there is still a large faction of science that isn’t concerned with the real truth, because unless you’re a farmer, there isn’t much money in the truth.  If you’re selling cholesterol lowering drugs, why would you want the public to know that simply eating greens and avoiding processed food will work even better?

So what are the basics?

Eat your vegetables.  Organic vegetables. Especially the green ones.   Eat six to nine cups daily.

Eat meat, but eat it sparingly and from a source that you’d approve of your children seeing. If your meat comes from a torture and murder factory that would give a five year old nightmares, then you will not glean health from it. If your child sees a cow in a beef factory, she would probably refuse to eat any meat after that. This is another example of how children can be so intuitive before they become indoctrinated into our societal ills. Your child expects cows to be on pastures. So do I.  I personally will not eat meat that wasn’t raised on a farm in a way consistent with the norms of the species.

Drink plain water. There is no reason to consume any other type of beverage.  Any other beverage you drink is taking away from your optimum health. Beverages are probably the biggest, sneakiest villain in the drama of our health and fitness. The second step I usually take with any new client is an examination of their beverages.  I get more immediate results from addressing that than I do from addressing the solid food diet.

Exercise enough, but not too much. I don’t know why, but it seems like most people either skip it altogether, or do way too much exercise. Both parties in question would benefit from a regular, moderate bout of exercise every day.  Nothing crazy, but just enough to stimulate and relax you mentally, emotionally and physically. We say we just want to be ‘in shape’ but we go around thinking and acting as if we need to do enough exercise to compete in elite sporting events.

I’m sorry that what I have to say isn’t more exciting. I know that being on the ‘cutting edge’ is what really interests people, which is why this information is so often scoffed at.  I think people assume it’s too simple, too provincial or too quaint to possibly work.  But it is the truth.

As un-romantic as it sounds; it works.

I think it’s tragic that treating illnesses and pursuing health and fitness with diet and exercise alone is considered a radical approach, but surgery and drugs are administered in droves every day.  Both surgery and drugs have terrible, debilitating side effects and neither one tends to address the root of a given problem. Stick to the basics and you’ll see; nature has given us everything we need to thrive. Just take it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Perfect Balance

I don't have the body I want.
The Perfect Body

In my mind, my body is inadequate and unfinished. I've thought that since as early as I was self conscious. I always had a perfect image of what I wanted to look like, but alas, I've never achieved it and never will.

However, I'm fine with that. Because many years ago I came to terms with the fact that I'm not willing to sacrifice what it takes to get the body I want.

It was a tough realization at first, but once I embraced it, it was a great weight off my shoulders.

I have struck that delicate balance between what I'm willing to do and how I'm willing to look.

I feel like this is the key to happiness; not having the perfect body, but having the body that suits you perfectly.

I do still strive for that impossible dream, every day. The way I keep myself on track, though, is to hold that ideal in my mind. I don't need to achieve it, but it is there as a guidepost. I can envision myself walking around in that body. The things I would do and wouldn't do are quite clear to me. And I have a pretty good idea about how people would act around me. It's pretty clear.  I can hear it and see it.  It moves and has sound and is in color.
This idealized vision of my fantasy self informs my decisions.

I don't always listen. Sometimes I listen to the long haired, pot bellied, stoner, high-school dropout in my psyche that wants to stay up late and eat junk food watching TV on the sofa. Ah what a life!! Pure comfort.

Because of my desire for that perfect body, I've spent many years trying to shut this dude out (among others vying for attention in this psycho-drama). But it was through communicating with the Comfort guy that I was able to accept that my body's inadequacies are my choosing. Not only that, but it is a sliding scale.  I know that the more I struggle and sacrifice, the closer I can get, and when I want to be fat and lazy, I can do that, too. But I choose somewhere in between and I love it.

In fact, when I want to, I could put in a whole lot of effort and focus and eventually have that body that I dream of. The key is, 'when I want to' bad enough.  And I'm just not that kind of guy. I like my pleasures and I don't like pain or suffering.... and you know what?  My body isn't that bad.
Good Enough For Me

I thought that having the perfect body would make me happy. But it wouldn't. It would be nice to have, but I wouldn't be happy because of all that is required to achieve it. Once I realized that it was the state of 'happy' that I was after and not 'perfect body' it was so much easier to find!

Putting the perfect body in perspective finally made me happy.