Exercise is Medicine
Many people look at physical activity mainly for the purpose of losing weight and looking better, often hoping for quick results. At times with this mindset, the results aren’t as fast or dramatic as hoped and in turn a lot of people give up. It’s too hard; too much work for too little reward. No matter how hard you try there are certain limits to the changes you can physiologically achieve to your body. As soon as you stop seeing and feeling the changes to your body you are likely to become disappointed and seriously question the value of the effort you are putting into the exercise program. This is because exercise was simply a means to an end, in this case unrealistic changes to your body, rather than a behavior that truly connects with who you are as a person.
This week I was asked a question that certainly comes up from time to time; which is better, machines or free weights? The answer really depends on what the intention of the exercise is. Both forms of resistance training have a lot to offer and can be a beneficial part of many training plans. Let's take a look at some key features of each.
Features of Exercise Machines
Before we can properly discuss the features of exercise machines it's important to make a few small clarifications about just what we're talking about. A wide variety of exercise machines exist ranging from cardio equipment such as treadmills and ellipticals to resistance machines like the leg press or even to free cable pulley resistance stations. For the purpose of this discussion we'll be focusing on machines that guide the movement such as a seated row, or leg press and so on. Cardio equipment is great, but comparing it to free weights is a discussion for another day. Cable pulley stations are actually a lot more similar to free weights than to other machines so they will also not be included in this analysis.
What's better for weight-loss, diet or exercise? Is it true that weight-loss is 80% what you eat and 20% exercise? Why does it get harder to keep off the pounds with age? I get asked questions like these frequently, but rarely have the time to really give an answer that I believe is sufficient at explaining the answer effectively. Therefore, I'm constrained by time to give soundbite answers that are mostly correct. In today's article it is my hope to delve a little bit more deeply into what the science really says about these things and help improve awareness.
It is said that the only constant in life is change. However, when it comes to improving our health, fitness, and body composition the changes that need to be maintained can be elusive to put it mildly. So why is it that changes that are desirable seem to be so difficult, while changes that we don't appreciate just seem to find their way into our lives?
A lot of my female clients will tell me that they don’t want to build muscle; they just want to “tone” their muscles. To achieve the toned appearance they’re looking for, in most cases it is ultimately necessary for women to build muscle and lose fat – doing both at the same time is certainly challenging, though not impossible. The best way to do this is to incorporate strength training (also referred to as resistance training) and cardio. In fact, strength training can help you achieve your weight loss goals faster than cardio alone. Cardio has its place, and is recommended for heart health and fat burning, but it’s generally not sufficient for most people to reach their goals. In fact you can also achieve cardiovascular benefits from strength training.
Calories In vs. Calories Out – This is still the bottom line on weight loss, gain or maintenance, so in a simple world, you might think that you can accomplish this simple math any way you like, cut calories extremely low while doing no exercise or burn 1000 calories a day on the treadmill and not worry about what you’re eating. Unfortunately, neither of those options will really work out the way you would hope.
I’m often asked what works better for weight loss, diet or exercise. Most often the pre-conceived notion is that diet is more important than exercise for weight loss and people are quite certain of this. Technically this is true. Studies have shown that participants who follow a specific nutrition plan will lose more weight than individuals who exercise but do not change their nutrition habits, however the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story.
Weight lost by diet alone will not be all from fat. In fact, a large percentage of the weight lost will be lean muscle mass. This is not ideal. Muscle requires calories to survive. Fat doesn’t. If the person loses muscle, his or her metabolism will slow down, resulting in a downward spiral, where it becomes necessary to further cut calories to maintain the weight loss or lose more weight. This can be extremely frustrating, often ending up abandoning the weight loss efforts and then gaining back the weight and usually more.
I've received a lot of questions from clients regarding how to eat before and after a workout. Eat too much and you'll be left feeling sluggish and bloated for the workout. Eat too little and your stomach will be screaming at you and you won't have the energy to carry on. So what should you do?
While I'll try not to get too deep into the science of it (macros, nutrient timing, and hormone responses can get a bit confusing), I'll suggest some general guidelines to consider.
Well it's that time of year when hearts are everywhere with Valentine's Day fast approaching. It just seems fitting (cliche?) to have a quick article about heart health to go along with it.
So today I just wanted to bring renewed attention to The Canadian Heart Health Strategy and Action Plan. The plan has seemed to go under the radar and not really get much attention - although it's been around since 2009 it doesn't appear to have received sufficient funding and media exposure to be anything more than another list of recommendations that the public is unaware of. Since improving health and fitness is what we are all about in the YWCA Fitness Department, I thought it'd be helpful to try and help get the word out about this kind of initiative. The main thrust absolutely seems to be looking at the policy side of things by helping to change the entire landscape of health understanding and access to services on a large scale. Clearly improving the health of Canadians is a noble commitment, but the cynical side of me feels that waiting for favourable policy changes will take too long to make a real difference in the lives of those reading this and their families.
In part 1 we talked about how to use specificity for developing strength and in part 2 of this series energy systems were discussed in the same context. Part 3 is going to discuss flexibility.
Specificity and flexibility
Flexibility refers to a muscles elasticity or ability to lengthen. Inflexible muscles restrict movement around the joints they cross, while flexible muscles allow for freedom of movement. Training flexibility is important because, just like all other fitness attributes, if you don't use it - you lose it. As far as specificity goes, this simply means that flexibility training should be done for specific muscles that cross joints.
Energy Systems - Basic Primer
Energy systems are the ways that our bodies convert substrates (think food) into energy (a compound called ATP - adenosine triphosphate) to power physical activity. For simplicity we're going to discuss energy systems in three categories.
The ATP/PC system uses the very limited supply of stored energy in the muscles. This makes the energy instantly available in a powerful and short burst, but it runs out quickly as well. Count on this burst lasting up to ten seconds, any longer and the energy will need to come from a different energy system, such as the glycolytic pathway also known as the lactic acid system.
Energy produced by the lactic acid system is drawn from carbohydrates. Sugar in the blood and muscle stores called glycogen are broken down into ATP (energy). This system can produce a fairly substantial supply of energy, but in order to create energy this fast the carbohydrates aren't broken down completely causing a build up of lactic acid. The build up of lactic acid will cause an individual to slow down and rely on the aerobic energy system after about two minutes.
Finally, the aerobic system can use the power-house of completely breaking down carbohydrates and fat for energy, which allows for a nearly endless supply of potential energy. It just takes longer to make this energy available, so the power (work per unit of time) output isn't as great in the short-term, but over the long term this is the primary energy system that fuels activity.