Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How To Survive The Holidays Without Resembling Santa

Well, it's that time of year again.  Starting on Halloween and going through January, there are sweets, cakes, and foods that belong on the Naughty List all over the place.  For those of us trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it can be pretty rough waters.  Never fear-- here is a great plan of action to survive the holidays fit and satisfied!

If all goes accordingly, you'll still be able to fit through the chimney come December...

1)  STAY ACTIVE.  The holidays is not the time to get lazy.  Keep moving.  Play touch football.  Swing your kettlebells.  Do your bodyweight exercises.  Do sprint drills.  Whatever it is that keeps you moving, do it.  My workouts are short and intense, lasting 30 minutes or less most of the time (unless I decide to go for a marathon swing session).  This holiday season, I'm planning to do two days a week of clean and jerk workouts with some easy light-to-medium swing work on my off days, and hopefully one day of heavy pressing and deadlifting only because I love it.  This kind of training keeps your metabolism elevated while not overtaxing yourself.

2)  FIND SOME "YOU" TIME.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again-- stress is a killer, and it keeps the pounds on, too.  Holidays are a prime time for stress, what with in-laws and families and cooking and prepping and cleaning and whatnot.  Take some time out and relax a bit.  Make sure you are getting enough sleep, too.  All your hard work won't pay off very well if you don't rest and de-stress.

3)  EAT HEALTHFULLY.  On the holidays?  How?  I'm glad you asked.  My holiday table will be filled with healthy dishes such as roasted root vegetables (something like this, perhaps:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/wolfgang-puck/roasted-root-vegetable-medley-recipe/index.html ), Brussels sprouts (lots of great, simple recipes to be found out there, like this one:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-brussels-sprouts-recipe2/index.html ), collard greens (here's my favorite recipe:  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Citrus-Collards-with-Raisins-Redux-352451 ), and such.   Recipes that call for flour will be made using sprouted flour (I buy it online from here:  http://www.amazon.com/Organic-Whole-Grain-Sprouted-Flour/dp/B004GOXWT2 ) or, at minimum, whole-grain flour (not ideal, but if I run out of sprouted flour, this is what I turn to next), and recipes calling for sugar will be made using erythritol ( http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=erythritol&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=11946179746172974924&sa=X&ei=ovTLTvaaEMqsiQLJx7nPCw&ved=0CHMQ8wIwBA ) whenever possible, and when it is not possible, I will be using coconut sugar ( http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=coconut+sugar&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=5196319203539187094&sa=X&ei=3_TLTuvDCu7KiAKG5Oi6Cw&ved=0CHkQ8wIwAg ).  I tried this great experiment last year on my unsuspecting partygoers, and everyone was shocked that I did not cook these foods using sugar and white flour.

What are your holiday health and fitness plans?  Post 'em here!

I wish you and yours a very happy and healthy holiday season.
This was last year's Thanksgiving table at my house.  :)  'Twas yummy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's a Stretch.

A lot of my clients ask me about stretching-- when should they do it, how long they should do it for, how often they should do it, etc.  And I generally tell them they can stretch on their own time if they want, but not before or while they are exercising.

First of all, if you are stretching to increase flexibility, research shows that you will need to stretch both the target muscle and its opposing muscle (for instance, hamstrings and quadriceps) for a minimum of 5 minutes each, which would mean 20 minutes for one set of muscles (one target and one opposing per limb).  That's a little longer than you've been stretching, huh?  Not only that, but about half of the effects of an eight-minute stretch are lost within 30 minutes (Ryan ED, Beck TW, Herda TJ, Hull HR, Hartman MJ, Costa PB, Defreitas JM, Stout JR, Cramer JT. The time course of musculotendinous stiffness responses following different durations of passive stretching. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2008a: 38: 632639).  Not the most efficient way to gain flexibility, in my humble opinion.  

He stretches, probably.

A lot of us have been raised with the idea that stretching reduces injury and helps us perform better when we play our sport/do our activity.  However, research is pretty fuzzy on this.  There are a plethora of studies showing that stretching will decrease strength and power in the short term (for instance:  Avela J, Finni T, Liikavainio T, Niemela E, Komi PV. Neural and mechanical responses of the triceps surae muscle group after 1 h of repeated fast passive stretches. J Appl Physiol 2004: 96: 23252332, McBride JM, Deane R, Nimphius S. Effect of stretching on agonist – antagonist muscle activity and muscle force output during single and multiple joint isometric contractions. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2007: 17: 5460,   Manoel ME, Harris-Love MO, Danoff JV, Miller TA. Acute effects of static, dynamic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscle power in women. J Strength Cond Res 2008: 22: 15281534.   As far as injury prevention goes, several studies show that stretching has no effect ( for instance, Van Mechelen W, Hlobil H, Kemper HC, Voorn WJ, De Jongh HR. Prevention of running injuries by warm-up, cool-down, and stretching exercises. Am J Sports Med 1993: 21: 711719, Pope R, Herbert R, Kirwan J. Effects of ankle dorsiflexion range and pre-exercise calf muscle stretching on injury risk in Army recruits. Aust J Physiother 1998: 44: 165172), while others show that it might possibly have a positive effect in reducing muscle strains (  Ekstrand J, Gillquist J, Liljedahl SO. Prevention of soccer injuries. Supervision by doctor and physiotherapist. Am J Sports Med 1983: 11: 116120 Bixler B, Jones RL. High-school football injuries: effects of a post-halftime arm-up and stretching routine. Fam Pract Res J 1992: 12 (2): 131139)  

So what does this all mean?  Honestly, it means more research is needed.  My own personal take is that stretching likely doesn't have much benefit unless you really enjoy stretching.  And when it comes down to it, if you feel like you improve from it, then you should do it-- no one else's body is quite like yours, so if your system responds well to stretching, then no one should stop you from continuing your practice. 

What do I recommend instead?  I've found mobility work to be very useful for my strength and flexibility needs.  I'll post more on that another time.   Stay tuned.  :)

What do you think?  Do you stretch?  Does it help?  Post your thoughts here!