Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mind Matters

Have you been in a situation where you have been a regular fitness enthusiast and yet not got any results? Or rather, you have been ‘trying’ to lose weight, but the scales just won’t budge! And you wonder why it is so difficult to achieve your desired weight and then feel like giving up?

History has recorded many leading psychologists and scientists proving that it is indeed the mind that controls the body. All bodily manifestations of disorders, diseases and discomforts have their origin in the mind. This has been around as commonsense since centuries but just that it has not been given its due importance.

What is most important to realize is how our thoughts and corresponding actions over a period of time manifest into diseases and disorders. The word ‘dis-ease’ itself shows that something is not at ease! So, sometimes you must have come across people who have developed diabetes after a close one’s death or someone who has developed tumor due to childhood abuse. Trauma usually manifests itself as some chronic disease or disorder.

The power of our human mind to heal itself without external help is unimaginable. That does not mean that medications are not necessary. It just means that along with medications, using the power of the mind can give more effective and faster results. Medications are usually required to bring a disease or disorder under control, initially. However, once under control you can learn to use the mind power to root out the cause of the disease or the disorder.

As a proof of our tremendous power, there have been many cases like the “Miracle Man”, so called because he used his mind power to get him out of a complete paralysis due to an accident. There have been many other people who have cured themselves of their cancers, tumors and paralysis – miraculous things, which otherwise sound impossible!

Protein Supplements – The what and how!

Taking it up from last week, protein supplements are the most commonly found and used supplements these days thanks to the ever popular desire of people to have a “toned” body.

Protein supplements come in two to three types – the egg protein, milk protein or soy protein.
Protein sources of animal origin like eggs and milk, have a high biological value, that is they are better ingested and absorbed by the body as compared to those of plant origin like soy.
Egg protein (albumin) has the highest concentration of protein per unit and hence is generally
highly concentrated. Milk protein (whey, casein) come in close in reference to the quality of protein.
Soy protein has a relatively lesser concentration of protein, but is ideal for those who are lactose intolerant or intolerant to egg proteins and vegetarians!

Proteins are basically a structure formed by amino acid molecules which in turn have nitrogen molecules in combination with oxygen and hydrogen. These nitrogen molecules have a tendency to form gas in the process of digestion, and hence too much of protein- whether natural or supplements cause gas problems (flatulence) and digestive discomfort. The only one way to avoid this is to drink lots of water, throughout the day. This is a very important practice to be done by all those who are on protein supplements, else you can expect liver, kidney and other problems down the line.

Depending on the goal, proteins are usually taken before or after the workout, and usually after a strength training workout. It is highly recommended to consult a nutritionist to determine your dosage and the number of times you need to consume it. Usually, the human body requires 0.8 to 1 gm of protein per kg body weight, which can vary depending on the goal.
It is also usually better to fix up a routine and time for the protein intake and follow it so as to reap maximum benefits.
Remember to consult an expert and not go by the popular opinion, or self-proclaimed masters who believe “one size fits all”, when it comes to supplements. They have the power to make or break your life!

Performance Supplements – Do I need them?

Supplements… now that is a common word thanks to our gym trainers, nutritionists, fitness freaks and of course media! Are they good for you? Do you need them? The answer, ironically is as straight as a curve!

This is one issue where if there are ten people, they will have thousand opinions – some due to selfish motives and some due to half-knowledge about the advantages / dis-advantages of these items.

Supplements have been used since ages to provide nutrients which are missing or not consumed adequately in a person’s diet. These nutrients come in the form of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids which are usually consumed over and above the regular diet. These micro-nutrients help the body to perform at optimum levels and thereby improve the quality of life.
However, over the past few decades, thanks to the spotlight on body-building and body-image, a new form of supplements have emerged as a favourite option amongst many fitness enthusiasts.

Yes, we are talking about the performance supplements – the most popular being the Protein supplements which are quite commonly consumed these days even without an expert guidance.

Proteins have their basic function as building blocks of our body and are found in every part of the human body right from cells to hormones. Inadequate amounts of protein in the diet means that the body uses up stored reserves of protein, which are usually the muscles for their basic function, and as such this defeats the purpose.
Resistance training targets individual muscles and causes microtrauma (micro wear and tears) of the muscle fibers, and hence increases the need for proteins to heal the microtrauma through building newer tissues. Hence, usually the need of Proteins is emphasized if you are into weight training, and especially so if you are a man!

However, when this becomes an issue is when people abuse the supplements, use it as a fad, especially without expert advise. It has been proven time and time again, that a diet can be made rich in protein and that alone can suffice the need for proteins in the body without any need for supplements.
It is only in extreme cases and some medical cases, that one needs to use supplements since they come with their own set of side-effects and problems.

The Exercise – Eating Story!

Do you go to workout early in the morning? Or do you go after work in the evening? Do you feel hungry during the workout? Or do you get low on energy just minutes after starting the workout?
Majority of us fit into at least one of the category, with exceptions ofcourse!

For best results, it is advisable to eat something light but complex carbohydrates like chapati, bread, oatmeal cookies, salad one-hour before the workout. Complex carbohydrates ensure that blood sugar levels are maintained over a long time which means, you have a steady flow of energy. Fatty, sugary foods like biscuits, cakes, chocolates cause instant rise in blood sugar levels but they come down equally quickly! So, after the instantaneous ‘feel-good’ feeling, the blood again goes low on sugar and on energy and you might feel hungry!
Incase you workout early in the morning or you get hungry very close to workout timing, eat a simple carbohydrate like an apple or light fruits, so as to maintain the blood sugar levels and energy during the workout.
Avoid taking in milk or other protein foods just before workout, since proteins have long digestion times and tend to remain in the stomach, causing a heavy feeling. Proteins have their basic function as building blocks of the body, and hence it makes sense to eat them after working out, which is when the body is constantly working to produce energy.
In case you have a strength training workout coming up, then it is best to eat a high protein - medium carbohydrate diet around 3-4 hours before workout for optimum results. In case you workout late at night, remember to eat an early dinner at around 7 pm to maintain blood sugar levels, and avoid binge-eating post-workout which will also be late night! The body metabolism is very sluggish by night and hence the tendency of the body to store food as fat is very high! Post-workout, try to eat some fruits, salads or soups.
Life is really very simple!

Is it eating you up?

Are the thoughts in your head constantly hovering around eating? What to eat before the workout, what to eat after workout, what to eat at breakfast, at lunch, at night or in-between?

Within limits, this is a positive sign of your interest in getting healthier. Needless to say, there are many cases of this becoming an obsession with many people, especially ladies, girls and aspiring models – girls and guys both!
Ancient wisdom says “ Eat like a king in the morning, farmer in the afternoon and beggar in the night” ! Inspite of the hundreds of fancy diets that you can find online or suggested by your well-wishers (those ever-ready with the “ It worked great for me.. You should do it too! suggestions), it does hold some credibility!

Breakfast can be made the significant meal of the day with a higher amount of Carbohydrates, inorder to compensate for the low blood-sugar levels due to overnight fasting! Skip the breakfast and these blood sugar levels drop so much that you start getting irritable, lose interest & concentration, may have difficulty speaking, or even get depressed. This also leads to sugar-craving which could lead into indulgence in sweets or excess coffee or tea or taking in a heavy lunch – which then gets you uncomfortable!

Presently, the suggestions made by nutrition experts are to have 5-6 meals spread across the day, which is basically to ensure that your blood-sugar levels are maintained throughout. Too much gap between meals reduces the blood-sugar levels and leads to craving! If the craving cannot be controlled, one ends up ingesting too much food, which later gets stored as fat. Hence control cravings.

It is always a good option, though to keep the dinner early and light. Avoiding carbohydrates is a great option if you are watching your weight, especially trying to reduce the paunch!
If you workout in the morning, try to eat an apple before the workout.

Get Creative with your Workout!

More ideas to get creative with your workout!!
Every once in while, try to get out in the open, outside the gym for your Cardio routine.

Cross Training is a great way to spice up your routine. It is also a favourite mode of performance training for athletes!
Simply put, it means training in different ways, using 2 or more different types of activities to improve overall performance – can be applied to resistance training, cardio training or a combination of both.

It also helps break the plateau in case of achieving results as is usually observed after months of performing the daily routine exercises. The results tend to stagnate or proceed very slowly, since the body has adapted to the routine and now does not consider it a challenge any more!
Also, the chances of adherence increase since the activities can be planned according to your interest. Also, it is ideal for the busy working professionals, who find it difficult to follow the resistance training and cardio schedule as is generally prescribed in a gym, due to time constraints.
Another significant benefit is that it helps prevent Repetitive Stress Injuries, which occur due to the wear & tear produced at the joints, if same intense activities are performed consistently over a period of time.
A routine can be designed using different Cardio methods – for example, instead of using Treadmill everyday or Elliptical Cross Trainer or both day in and day out, break the routine by doing an outdoor activity like biking, swimming or mountain climbing 2-3 times a week.

Every activity involves atleast some different set of muscles. For example walking and biking – both being cardio activities involving legs, target slightly different set of leg muscles!
And the beauty of such combinations is that along with the cardio component, the muscles can also be strengthened and skills like agility, balancing etc. can also be worked on. It focuses on the entire body and performance also.

Spoilt for Choice!

Enter a Gym and you will find one hundred and million machines that shout out their effectiveness towards keeping you fit and healthy! But you can afford only 30-40 minutes before you start work!
My friend calls it the 7’o clock dilemma – since he finds it easy to follow the schedule designed for him when he reaches the gym at 6.30am, but when that becomes 7am, he has to spend nearly 10 minutes just to decide what to do on that day!!!

Well here are some suggestions – whether you are like my friend or you just want to be informed!
We will start with Cardio machines. In case you are pressed for time and are not following any rigorous exercise schedule or trying to participate in a competition(!) – always opt for 30 minutes of a cardio workout.
The Cardio machines popularly seen in any gym are – treadmills, elliptical cross-trainers, upright cycles, recumbent cycles, steppers and rowing machines.
Treadmills provide the simplest and the most natural form exercise since they simulate the act of walking and can involve the full body muscles besides targeting the cardiovascular system primarily.
They are designed to provide resistance, incline angles and different speeds at which you can move.
The incline option simulates climbing a slope and puts the focus on particular muscles more than the others, as compared to walking on a flat ground.

Always choose a speed which keeps you slightly out of breath, and enable you to maintain the speed for atleast 10 to 30 minutes. In otherwords, instead of running for 5 minutes and exhausting yourself, choose to walk for longer durations, increase your stamina and then progress on to running.
Remember, fat burns in prolonged activities which last for atleast 20 to 30 minutes and to sustain such durations, the intensity can be lower to begin with and gradually increased over a period of a month.

Although treadmill walking or running is simpler than walking or running on a road outside, it can still provide an effective workout, particularly in the winters!
The treadmill, which we discussed last time is one of the most popular machines in the gym. There are so many people, who do not feel like they did a cardio workout if they do not walk on it for atleast 10-15 minutes!
However, one of the other popular machines is the Elliptical Crosstrainer – my personal favourite too!
It is called elliptical since the path followed by the motion caused by your legs is an ellipse!

The beauty of the Crosstrainer is that it is a highly non-impact machine – as in since the feet are constantly in touch with the feet-pads and there is no lifting and placing of the feet, there are no chances of impact. Impact forces act when your feet is lifted off the ground and then placed down, as is the case in walking.
In this case, as per Newton’s Laws of motion, the force exerted by your feet is countered by and equal and opposite ‘impact’ force which is subjected to the sole of your feet and travels upward towards the ankle, knee, hip and the spinal joints.
Hence, we call jogging as a high-impact activity. The body is usually designed to accommodate these impact forces without causing any problems – however, which can go wrong in case of excessive impact caused due to faulty movements. Hence it is a good option for the elderly age groups.

The Crosstrainers offer a very good cardiovascular workout, which uses the upper and the lower body simultaneously. They usually have the ‘incline’ and the ‘resistance’ functions, as was seen in the treadmills. The incline usually works on varying your stride length, which then affects the perceived exertion of the movement.
Remember to keep your complete foot on each of the pads, and not just push with the ball of your feet. Also, remember to keep the shoulders relaxed and the neck looking straight.
Once in a while, you can also try it out without the hand motion – this calls for higher balance and thus tines your core muscles!
Continuing the discussion on different types of Cardio machines and their effectiveness lets move on to discuss the third favourite Cardio Machine amongst all gym freaks, coming in strongly after the treadmill and cross-trainer!!

The loyal old stationary cycle - based on the lines of the cycle used as a vehicle by a lot of people even now! There are primarily two kinds of cycles – upright and recumbent. The main distinguishing feature is that the cycle is primarily a lower-body intensive machine, with very little effort exerted on the upper body, unless moved.

Upright cycle is the one which emulates the conventional cyclical motion with the feet pushing on the pads in a circular motion, moving against gravity in an upright position. It works in a plane perpendicular to the flat ground, which is technically called the Sagittal plane.
The upper body and the core muscles also get focused during the movement thereby intensely working out the whole body. However, a major part of the body-weight comes on a small area of the lower-back in contact with the seat and hence could cause discomfort.

Recumbent cycle is the one in which the torso and the feet pads are at an angle and the motion is slightly elliptical and moving against the machine-generated resistance along with gravity. It puts the user in a reclined position and is better supported at the lower-back and hence more comfortable.
The weight of the body, especially the upper part is spread over a larger surface area and hence there is less pressure on the lower back. It also does not place any stress on the shoulder or wrist muscles which are quite possible in the upright cycle.
Also a very interesting fact is that in the recumbent cycle, the legs are near to the level of the heart – a fact which enhances venous return to the heart and also helps build endurance.

However, the abdominal and the core muscles also relax in this position and hence are not acted upon as a side-effect, which happens easily on an upright bike. Also, some people find the structure very cramped as compared to the upright cycle.
There is nothing too good or bad…. Take your pick!
The last few of the most commonly found cardio machines after the Treadmill, Cross Trainer, Cycles – Upright and Recumbent are the Steppers and the Rowing machines.

The Steppers as the name suggests are machines that simulate the action of stepping or in other words climbing an elevation like a stair case or something like that.
The Steppers are considered to give the benefit of a cardiovascular workout since they use the larger muscle groups of the legs and involve the whole body. The machines come with resistance adjustments top increase or decrease the intensity of the workout.
However, as compared to the other cardio machines, they rank pretty low on the effectiveness of the workout. The primary effect of the climbing movement is on toning the rear leg muscles especially those of the glutes (muscles of the butt).

However, if the angle of the knee in the bent position is greater than 90 degrees, excessive forces are placed on the knee cap (patella) and hence these technical details have to be taken into consideration while performing the movement so as to avoid long-term negative effects to the knee.

The rowing machine is also a popular cardio option in the west, especially because it involves both the upper and the lower body while working out. The primary muscles targeted are those of the lower back, Latissimus dorsi (of the upper back), hips, arms and of course the legs.
It is a very high-energy and demanding workout and can be used effectively to have a great workout.

However, one of the common mistakes that people make is tense their shoulder muscles while performing the rowing action which can then lead to stiff neck and shoulder muscles. Hence kindly take care to keep the upper body relaxed while performing the action.

To Eat or not to Eat!!

How early should I eat before working out? When should I eat after my workout? Questions, questions and more questions!

Needless to say, the common sense that prevails is to eat at least 1-2 hours prior to any exercise activity if it is a heavy meal and something light like fruits etc. can also be consumed 30 minutes prior to the exercise activity.

The reason for this can be explained on the basis of exercise physiology, which deals with the study of body response during exercise. As per the science, during exercise, there occurs “blood shunting” where blood from the non-target systems are diverted to the active target systems like the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular cardio-respiratory systems more.
Now, depending on the kind and amount of food consumed, the food can stay in the stomach for more than 2 hours sometimes. In such cases, if there is not enough blood flowing the system, it becomes difficult to complete the digestion and absorption processes, and short-term and long-term problems could arise. Also, the presence of food could exert unnecessary pressure on abdominal walls which could lead to complications. Light foods like fruits, due to their intrinsic nature, pass through the digestive system quickly and easily, and hence do not cause any problems.

Similarly post-exercise, give some time for the heart and the lungs (cardiovascular and cardio-respiratory systems) to return the blood back to the digestive system, so that any food ingested can be processed and absorbed efficiently. This return process usually takes atleast 30 minutes to an hour to complete depending on the preceding activity and the nature of cool down. However, during this time water intake can be done to replenish the body fluids. Relaxation procedures in the cooling down routines help to get to the state of equilibrium faster.

Check List!!

Hi all. Wish you a very happy and healthy new year.
By now, I hope you all have been following a good cool down routine instead of skipping it just to save 3-5 minutes! If not, the new year is the right time to start!

Usually, the stretches during the warm up phase (note: after an initial cardio warm up) are quite dynamic and must focus on the active part that will be used in the following main workout.
The ones after a workout, for cool down purpose are usually slow and done by holding the stretch for more than 20-30 seconds, and again focus on the active body parts used during the main workout routine.

Here is a general checklist of all the stretches that must be included in your warm up routine –

o Shoulder and neck – neck tilts, shoulder rotations, elevations etc.
o Upper back Stretches – full arm rotations, reaching out moves etc.
o Hamstring Stretches (Focuses on the back of the legs) – Forward bends, high kicks etc.
o Quadriceps Stretches (Focuses on the front part of the leg) – standing leg curls etc.
o Calf Stretches – (Back part of the lower part of the leg) – heel touch etc.
o Lower back Stretches – Forward bends – full and half, criss-cross forward bends etc.
o And many other muscles like – anterior tibialis (front part of the lower leg) as in toe touches, hip flexors as in back taps, Gluteus as in knee-ups and kicks.

Ask your trainer for the right technique and lots of variety in each stretch!
Perform each dynamic action 8-10 times for better effect.

Remember not to hold the stretches for a period of time since it has a relaxing effect and hence lowers the heart rate which was elevated through the warm-up. Since the core workout routine follows the warm up, lowering of the heart rate is not desirable for a better workout.

Creative Cardio

I admire people who look forward to their 1 hour of treadmill or cross-trainer, day after day, after day without feeling a tinge of boredom!
For the rest of us who cannot even think of more than 15-20 minutes on any machine, fret not! There are many creative ways to ensure a cardio workout that lasts atleast 30 min to an hour.

One of the easiest and most popular ways is – Interval Training. Other options include cross-training, boot-camps, circuit training etc.
The basic concept of Interval Training is to alternate periods of high intense and low intense activities and thus extend the total period of exercise routine. In special cases, the low intense activity could also mean rest, however it is not useful if your target is a cardio activity to burn fat!

You can really use your creativity to spice up your routine. A few examples are given below -

a) Incase you cant sustain the treadmill/cross trainer beyond 15 min either due to boredom or low capacity, alternate the 10-15 min of cardio with callisthenic (using your own body weight and no additional weights) workout using either abdomen or leg exercises.
Perform a couple of sets of 3-4 exercises of each muscle group and then return to the Cardio machine. Remember to end with a stretching based cool-down.

b) You can also alternate cardio machines with other cardio activities like a jog in the surrounding area, skipping, stepping, climbing steps up and down or spot jogging.

c) Another way is to alternate Cardio machines with weight-based activities, using low weight – high reps especially of the upper body like for example push-ups or pull-ups. You can also focus on legs using exercises like squats, lunges or step-ups.

The combinations can be many, as you can see above. The only care to be taken is to ensure that all activities leave enough energy to perform the next activity and hence, it is preferable to alternate high intensity activities with low-intensity ones! End with a proper cool-down for best results.

Stretchy Stories!!

The human body is an amazing piece of art! And understanding it can take a long, long time but you can only appreciate its beauty if you do understand it! There is a defined logic behind each and every occurrence in the body, and hence we can devise ways to keep it fit.
Last week we saw how important it is to cool down your body after a bout of exercise, and one of the most popular ways to do that is by stretching the active muscles.

Stretches are again of 2-3 types –
Active – when you perform the stretch on your own, till your comfortable range of motion
Passive – when someone else assists you to stretch
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching – when someone helps you to stretch using a slightly different procedure. This is usually used in a lot of rehab situations.

Stretching mainly targets the connective tissue, that is- the tendons that attach muscles to bones, and then the interconnected muscles, in that order. The flexibility of the connective tissue is a major factor deciding the range of motion around any joint.

I am sure all of us at some point of time, may have fallen asleep while being seated – at office, in a bus or anywhere..
The head usually falls to one side and, if it goes beyond a safe limit, the neck automatically jerks you up, and you try to keep your head upright!! The same is the case when you twist your ankle – you twist and suddenly jerk up to the original position.
This is called as the stretch reflex and is body’s natural mechanism to avoid injury due to over stretching. There are receptors in the connective tissue and the interconnected muscles that define the comfort level of your stretch…

However, while stretching in case of muscles which are shortened over a period of time, it is important to hold your
stretch comfortably for more than 20 - 25 seconds in order to re-align the muscles to their original lengths and avoid unnecessary activations of the different receptors.
Never perform any stretch when the muscle is cold. Always use a mild warm up and then perform the stretches.

Ways to be ‘Cool’!!

Now that we know the importance of cooling down after any bout of exercise, let’s check out the different ways to cool down effectively.

Simply put there are 2 types of cool down – Active and Passive

The aim of any cool down is-
o To gradually shift the body from activity to rest
o To get the heart rate down to the resting levels, gradually. Any sudden change, as is the case if you abruptly stop the activity that you were performing, can lead to complications
o Restore the normal blood flow to the different parts of the body – since while performing any activity, blood flow in the body is shunted from the inactive parts like the digestive, urinary systems to the active sites. So it is essential to restore the normal blood flow
o To restore the muscle fiber lengths to their original states

Actively cooling down is when you merely reduce the intensity of the activity that you were earlier doing and stop gradually. For example, if your main activity was jogging, and you want to stop, you gradually reduce the intensity of the jog, till you are just walking along and gradually stop.
If you were performing any other activity, you can also walk on the treadmill or elsewhere for 5-10 minutes and gradually stop.

Passively cooling down is when you do active or passive stretches towards the end of the workout. This is the most common form of cooling down. The stretches are usually for all the leg muscles (hamstrings, quadriceps, calves etc.), lower back muscles, upper back muscles and neck muscles apart from the active muscle that was worked upon.
Stretching works on the muscle fibers and also helps ease blood flow to the targeted body part.

Hence you will see that, a combination of active and passive stretches will give you the best results. Active cool down gets the blood flowing to all parts of the body and the stretches will work on the individual muscle level to give you a total cool and refreshed feeling!! A complete cool down process should last atleast 5 minutes and each stretch should be held for atleast 20-30 seconds for maximum benefit.

Cooling You Down

Woke up late in the morning – but don’t want to miss the morning Gym session! So? You decide to hit the weights directly, just skip the warm up and cool down – they are just a waste of time!! Do, I sound familiar?

Many of us consistently skip the cool down whenever we are in a hurry. Unfortunately, the negative results are not immediate but in fact they manifest themselves weeks or months later in the form of aches, shortened muscles, strains, muscle pulls and other postural problems.

Incase of any activity, be it a cardio activity like walking on the treadmill or a resistance-training routine, there are continuous muscle contractions that take place. The muscle fibres in a muscle are the ones that cause the contraction. When the activity is stopped, due to the repetitive nature of all activities, the muscle fibres are still in contraction, and have not returned to their original resting lengths.
Over a period of time, these fibres adjust themselves to the new shortened length causing the muscles to shorten.

Our musculo-skeletal system can be best represented by a camping tent – with one pole in between (skeletal bones and spinal column) and strings on all sides (muscles). So the moment one string tightens up, the pole starts leaning towards it. To compensate this and restore balance, you have to pull and tighten the strings on the opposite side – which means increase the tension in that string!

Thus you can see that the muscles get imbalanced and can even spoil the posture. The intermediate effects of this consequent tension in some muscles can lead to aches, referred pains, muscle pulls, strains etc. For example, if your calf muscles are tight, especially in case you jog, then this can cause a pain in the shoulder muscles and back - neck muscles, as a referred pain!
Moreover, as we have covered earlier, during a cardio activity, majority of the blood supply is diverted to the leg and active muscles. So, when the activity is suddenly stopped, due to gravity, all the blood pools in the leg thus causing temporary reduced blood flow to brain which may lead to dizziness, nausea, fainting.
Hence, it is very essential to reduce the intensity of the activity gradually and then stop,

Sweat out the myth!

Imagine if we could just sweat out all our excess fat every summer which would keep us slim-trim till the next summer and this cycle would repeat! And in between you can eat all that you want! There’s nothing wrong with imagining, is there? Well, not every thing can be that simple! That’s no fun!!!

There seems to be a wide-held notion that if you sweat more means that you are burning more calories, and the reverse – that if you don’t sweat much means that you are not burning enough calories.

From last week’s discussion, sweating is a mechanism to control the body temperature. When your body temperature starts rising, sweating helps to cool it down. However, most of the water content of the sweat comes from the water present in blood. Remember, blood has high content of water. It is this water that is lost due to sweating, and nothing else. Fat deposits are not exactly vascular unlike muscles and even then sweating does not in any way indicate fat is burning or your losing muscle, as some people think!

That is why, the moment you drink water, this water content in the blood is replaced and your weight back is to normal! Hence the ineffectiveness of sauna and steam in long-term weight loss.

You can, not sweat much and still burn calories. The process of burning calories does generate heat but depending on your body’s thermoregulation system you may or may not sweat accordingly.
However, the problem arises only in case the thermoregulation system is not functioning optimally, and the all the heat generated has no means to dissipate.

Moreover, sweating helps in flushing out the toxins from the body and leaves you glowing and feeling fresh! Remember to carry a napkin and wear sweat or cotton absorbent materials to increase the comfort while working out.

Is it necessary to sweat?

They say “opposites attract” – Guess its true…My friend hardly sweats after an intense aerobic session, but me – I literally rain on myself! So, is it necessary to sweat while you are working out?
To start with, sweating is a mechanism (thermoregulation) used by the body to maintain the normal core body temperature (homeostasis), of around 37o C, which is prone to fluctuate especially with intense activities which generate a lot of heat while generating energy.
So, sweating means that the body is allowing itself to cool down and maintain the status quo.
What happens during intense activities is that the blood flow to skin (larger surface area) increases, so as to dissipate heat, and at the same time the sweat glands increase their output. The process of evaporation takes place on the skin – and as the sweat evaporates, it cools the body. So, sweating is actually a good sign.
Infact if you don’t sweat much, you must take care to take some breaks, sip water (not drink!) so that your core body temperature does not go too high.

Incase the temperature goes very high, either due to excessive sweating and loss of water or due to no sweating, sometimes dehydration also sets in, which may lead to heat strokes or other problems. The basic symptoms include feeling dizzy, nausea, high pulse rate, hyperventilation etc. The body uses these as its own natural mechanism to ensure that the body temperature and the safety of our internal organs is maintained.
Excessive sweating also causes loss of salts from the body. It is advisable to limit yourself to sipping water and that too just 3-4 times in an hour, since excessive water will further dilute the available salt content in the blood. This can lead to another condition – hyponatremia (less salt in body) which could lead again to dizziness, nausea, headache, muscle weakness etc.
So a safer bet is to hydrate yourself through out the day, and not just drink while working out since you are thirsty!

Breathing right!!

Have you ever experienced a situation in which you have searched the entire house for something, only to find that you were holding it in your hand all the time!! Even if you do not belong to the absent-minded lot amongst us.
Similarly in case of exercising, your search for results has very simple companion – your breathing technique! Didn’t think there was a technique for breathing ???????
If your trainer has guided you right, then while lifting a weight (usually) - when the muscle contracts, you exhale and, when you are putting it down – when your muscle relaxes, you inhale. Is it important to maintain this sequence?

To start with, as we have learned, there are 2 basic processes – inhaling and exhaling.
When we inhale, we take in oxygen which then gets dissolved in the blood, and this oxygen-rich blood is pumped by the heart to all the muscles and organs. The muscle then contracts while exercising. This contraction temporarily constricts blood flow through the arteries passing near muscle and later releases some waste products, which are carried by the blood to the heart and lungs for purification.

So, moral of the story? When you contract your muscle, always exhale, so that the direction of blood flow near muscles and that from the heart don’t become opposite. And when the muscle relaxes, inhale, so that the pure blood pumped by the heart reaches the muscle to prepare it for the next contraction.

Whatever you do, please avoid holding your breath – simply or through Valsalva Maneuver – when you are lifting weights, to avoid blackouts and other health problems.

Cardio activities call for deep breathing through nose and mouth, for better endurance. Connoisseurs of Yoga may have different beliefs, some logical others not so much.

Facts Unlimited…

Lets explore some more facts which are essential for a safe, useful and result – oriented exercise program –

§ Weight training workout designing is a very interesting and detailed procedure, ideally, but of course usually not taken seriously by our lesser trained programmers.
What I mean to say is that, its not just any muscle, any time for how many ever repetitions. There is a logic, order, method and technique to be used. For example, functionally speaking, the muscles of the leg and lower back are “endurance” muscles – that means they help to keep your body erect the whole day (if needed) without much fatigue.

§ As such, your training program must focus on increasing the muscle endurance of these muscles.
A simple technique would be to work the lower back muscles with lesser weight and more repetitions, thereby increasing the time the targeted muscle is under stress. It is pretty obvious that if the weight is very high, then you cannot sustain it for a longer duration.

§ Similarly, all repetitions must be performed in the complete Range of motion – which is the movable range available at any of your joint. Any motion which does not use the naturally available range gives rise to shortened muscles and a distorted appearance, and may be postural problems as well.

§ Also, please try to control the urge to show –off your strength or crane your neck to your side to look at the beautiful people arriving at the gym, when you are working out to avoid injury to the neck. Always look straight ahead and keep your body upright and relaxed. The world can wait!

§ Always use the help of a trainer (Spotting) when you are lifting heavy weights over your head or when you are lying down and lifting heavy weights to avoid shoulder injury or fatal accidents. Follow the right techniques and form while lifting weights.

Counting is the key!!

Of all the six body parts – chest, back, biceps, triceps, legs and shoulders, the ones of the chest, back and legs are considered to be the larger muscles.
§ Depending on the fitness status, the workout is divided into a 2-day or 3-day split, where in 3 muscle parts and 2 muscle parts are targeted on a single day.
§ Usual combinations include, synergistic muscles – the muscles around the main target muscle which assist in the particular movement – with the larger muscle group being targeted first.
§ E.g. while performing exercises for the chest, the triceps group of muscles also get involved. Hence, it makes sense to train them on the same day. However, amongst other reasons to support this order, the larger muscle being the chest group of muscles, the order is Chest – Triceps.
§ The same way, the usual combinations are Back – Biceps, and Legs – Shoulders. These combinations are not a rule of thumb, but just very commonly found and hence taken as an example.
§ Please remember the combination of muscles and the order is decided by your goals and targets as well as the different principles of weight training (Joe Wieder’s principles and many more..)
§ Most commonly used principle is the “Pyramid principle” – where you start with less weight and more repetitions in the first set, and then progress onto more weight and slightly lesser repetitions in the next set and so on. The logic is quite simple- that the heavier the weight, the lesser is your ability to repeat the movement frequently.
E.g. this would look like, 1st Set – 5 kg x 15 reps, 2nd Set – 7.5 kg x 12 reps and may be 3rd Set – 10 kg x 8 reps.
If this looks like what your workout card looks like, please understand, that every set, the focus must be on completely exhausting your effort (the last rep must be nearly impossible), and not strictly follow the counting! Use the counts as a guideline and decide for yourself..

Like I mentioned earlier, the focus of this article series is to enlighten you as to how a workout is designed, so that you know why you are doing what you are doing! Please solicit your trainer’s opinion too!!!!