Sunday, January 23, 2011

Organized Training!!!

Since we have been discussing plateaus and how to get the best out of your exercise in general, a very important and effective way to reach our exercise goals is - periodization! As the name suggests, periodization means organizing, designing and planning your workout, focusing on specific goals - accomplished one at a time and yet covering all goals, over a period of time!

Periodization is popular in the sports and athletic circles, whereby athletes are given planned workouts focusing on specific areas like strength training, hypertrophy, agility training or endurance training.In simple words, Periodization deals with altering the exercise and training to target certain benefits at a certain time of the year and to help the athelete “peak” (performance wise) for big events.

The benefits of periodization are -

* The focus on one component of fitness, maximizes the results with respect to that component.For example, when one is training to maximize endurance or speed, it is necessary to minimize hypertrophy (muscle growth). If not done properly, it can hinder your performance by not only adding way too much extra body weight, but also in other ways!
* It can avoid plateaus, overtraining and over use/stress injuries!
* It can avoid boredom, and improve motivation and adherence to the workout

The modern approach to periodization was developed by a Russian sports scientist and usually begins with a general physical preparation phase(GPP) where the training intensity is kept low and the volume is kept high.

This helps to develop some basic hypertrophy, strengthen ligaments, tendons, other connective tissues, and helps build a foundation from which further training takes place. As the training continues, intensity gradually increases and (frequency and duration may change as well) to become more sport specific while the volume reduces.

Individual programs can take into account, your personal schedule, injury history, and goals.Each phase has a different set, repetition, and speed scheme to target various areas of training.

Is it an attitude plateau?

Sometimes results of any exercise activity performed repeatedly with no progression, get stagnated due to no additional stimulation for the body to respond and develop in the process!
There are some ways to break out of it, as we have discussed which include total rest or active rest, varying the activities and checking the nutrition and water intake!

However, this is also a good time to question yourself, and see whether it is just an 'attitude' plateau!What we mean by that is, are you simply 'feeling' tired or bored of your workout? And feel hopeless, as if you're never going to get results! Interestingly, the mind-body connection is so unmistakably accurate, whether you believe it or not, that this attitude of yours can actually make you resist any tangible results, that may have been otherwise possible to achieve.
Another reason why it is very important to watch that attitude of ours, is because of the mental-emotional connection to food intake and exercise! So, after an initial bout of enthusiastic effort at exercising, motivated by the initial good response of the body when you begin any exercise activity, in a few days you feel de-motivated if the results are not matching your 'expectations', watch it!
This is usually accompanied by a feeling of 'what is the use' and pessimism.And if you are an emotional eater, then this feeling is enough to get you back right to where you started!

Our body works in simple ways. Short-term efforts give short-term results. Long-term results need patience and consistency in sticking to your exercise routine, rather than a yo-yo of sporadic and heroic outbursts of enthusiasm followed by laziness and binging! So an attitude plateau is best avoided by planning and following a process to reach your goals, instead of constantly being in search of short-cuts and quick fixes!
A possible solution is 'periodization'! More on that next week!

Remember that you can’t continue doing the same thing the same way and expect different results. If what you’re doing is not working, make changes!

Get Unstuck

In the past week alone, I came across a large number of people, who have been going through what is popular in the fitness jargon, as the ‘plateau’, and which in lay man terms is - reaching a stage where the progress stagnates and results are not coherent with the efforts invested, with respect to exercise! The most common experience is when you lose weight consistently during the initial few months after beginning an exercise routine, and then seem to stay on a constant weight without any further progress!

Dreaded by many fitness enthusiasts, a plateau is common after –

* Performing the same exercise, repeatedly without any progression for more than three to four months
* Changing exercises frequently even before the body begins to respond to it
* Exercising heavily (long durations, many times a day) and without adequate rest, often leading to overtraining
* Exercising without any periodization or planning thereby leaving little scope for progression

The human body adapts to any stress in about 4-6 weeks time. Therefore, any exercise movement performed repeatedly, without any progression (in the form of changing the number of repetitions, form, weight used etc.) leads to no additional challenge on the body, in order for the body to develop additional muscular or cardiovascular strength and endurance to deal with it. So, it may seem like our regularity and dedication to our fitness routine is not bearing the desired results and may de-motivate or frustrate many!

However, at this stage it becomes necessary to understand that instead of working harder, we need to work smarter. Working smarter may need a complete paradigm shift – try telling someone who is thinking on working out twice a day, to break the plateau – that he/she needs to instead take a break from working out completely and rest, and you will be lucky if you can escape with just a shocked look!

There are however, some measures that one can take to break the plateau like –

Take complete rest – Our body, responds and develops the strength and endurance, that we are working for, only when the body is resting. Rest can mean many things – from getting adequate sleep at night, taking a complete break from any exercise activity to changing the activity to something entirely different from the present one. Sleep is an important factor, since the growth hormones are secreted at night, when we are sleeping and help build our body. Not indulging in any activity can be termed as ‘passive rest’ and may not be very useful in the long run. A better alternative is to take ‘active rest’ – which may range from leisure walks, to Yoga or any activity that is less intense and different from the present activity.

Over a period of time, it is not uncommon to observe a plateau in the results of your workout, despite putting in the same or even extra effort! And as observed, it usually happens due to the amazing ability of the human body to adapt to any stress placed on it, in a month’s time. Other reasons include overtraining, lack of rest, no overload or performing repetitive exercises.

Some ways to break beyond the plateau are –

Vary the Training – Instead of weight training every day, as a part of your routine, cut down the volume by doing it 3-4 times a week, and on the other days, take active rest through walks, other cardio exercises, dance, yoga or some sports activities etc. Another option could be to do circuit training, with low weights on one or two days of the week.

Get lots of sleep – A good sleep of 7-8 hours, at night is essential for the body to recover and develop itself against the stress. The human growth hormones are in action only during night, when we sleep, and hence a good night’s rest is essential. Taking power naps during the day is also a good option!

Check your diet – Usually, a very good way to break out of the plateau is to check your diet routine or modify it, or even start one in case of some of us who believe more in exercising and less in managing our diets! It is important to note, that diet, does not mean – as is commonly known to be – cutting down food intake or not eating at all, but more of finding healthier alternatives for your usual high calorie options. For example, a mid-day snack could be a bowl of sprouts or raw veggies instead of something high in calories like chips or biscuits.

A very important case here, could also be that you are not eating enough, and your calorie intake needs to be increased, ofcourse through healthy options. An expert nutritionist or dietician could be helpful at this time.

Wearing the right outfit!!

Health and Fitness, through working out is the new favourite sport, across a large cross-section of the society, as per recent research! And it is not surprising that people take it up seriously, right from choosing a proper place, to choosing the right clothes, shoes and even water-bottle! Many of the leading sports brands have a range of workout accessories, right from wrist-bands, head-bands to water-sippers and the like!
Though the accessories need not always be a necessary option, when it comes to clothing, it becomes important to pay attention to our choices!

Though it is common to see ladies wearing traditional outfits like salwar-kameez or saree, when out for a walk outdoors, when it comes to working out at health club facilities, most ladies seem to be pretty confident about sporting trendy sports wear like track pants and T-shirts. Most health clubs also strictly require female members to do that, since it helps reduce injury and mishaps due to the clothing that could get caught in between machines. Men, even otherwise do not have to go through major transitions as far as clothing is concerned!

However, even if one has chosen to wear sportswear, the quality and type of the material used, also becomes of primary importance! While the traditional instruction has been to wear ‘comfortable cotton’ apparel, since it soaks up the sweat which almost always accompanies a workout! Needless to say, silk or purely polyester options are then definitely out of the question!
However, what fitness experts over the years have come to observe is that, cotton materials may be good at absorbing sweat but they are not good at managing it, so as to make the person feel comfortable. Also, since cotton gets wet, when drenched in sweat, it covers the body with a cold, wet layer of clothing which could lead to temperature differences between the body and the surrounding!

The type of clothes, and more specifically the material they are made from, are very important factors to be considered, not just from style or comfort point of view, but also from a scientific point of view.
Since, every exercise activity is associated with the release of sweat, it becomes necessary to find effective ways to manage it. Sweating is mechanism to cool the body, and hence the clothes worn by you must absorb it in them, since otherwise the layer of wet clothing clings on your body and stops the process of evaporation and prevents the body from 'breathing'!

· Let's start with the appropriate clothing for winters -
The cold temperatures of winter, cause a huge temperature difference between the body and the environment. While it is obviously impossible to wear sweaters and woolen clothing to help keep you warm while working out (wool and the allied synthetic materials are good isolators and restrict the heat within them, thereby proving to be bad at transferring the heat outside!), multiple layers of clothing is a good way to keep yourself warm, and at the same time ensuring good transfer of heat to the environment.

· There are many materials (like Dri-Fit etc. by some leading brands) available in the market these days, that claim to have excellent sweat absorbing abilities and help keep the body dry.
People are known to change their T-shirts, in the middle of a workout, if it has gotten wet and uncomfortable. Lycra cotton is also very commonly used to make sportswear and exercise clothing. The key is to wear ‘breathable’ materials.

· The type of clothing may also differ slightly based on the kind of workout too, like for example, a Yoga workout may need extra stretchable clothing, and synthetic clothes may hinder the movements.

The clothes also need to be loose enough to accommodate all movements, but at the same time, not be too loose that it hinders the workout by getting stuck in any machines etc.

Multi Gym – Compact and healthy!

Multi-gyms at home or at a society club house, are a great way to keep your exercise routine going, especially during winters or rainy season, when stepping out of the house to go to your health club may not feel like an attractive option! Needless to mention, there are also many people who use the multi-gym at all times, whether in the comfort of their own homes, workplace or the clubhouse.

A multi-gym is also a good option to be installed at the workplace, if employee well being is am area of interest to the management.
Some of the features of multi-gym machines are as below -
They are very versatile, in that they usually have exercise equipments arranged for almost all body parts, right from chest muscles, back to thighs and abdominals. Some common exercises are bench press, lat pulldown, leg curls, abdominal crunches, tricep pushdowns, bicep curls and in some models, leg press as well.
The space requirement is really compact as compared to the total space that all these machines individually, will occupy. It could be as small as 5 x 5 feet, and hence are ideal when there are space constraints. Also all movements during the exercises also fit in close to the periphery of the machine, and hence there is no need for too much space clearance on either side!
All seats are comfortable and at similar adjustable heights, very much like the regular machines. They also have the usual ranges of resistance or weight plates like the regular machines.
Though they are perfect for weight training, they offer absolutely no options for a cardio workout. A good workout must have a good balance between the cardio, weight training and stretching parts. Hence it is necessary to find ways for a cardio workout in addition to weight training.
Also, multi-gyms are expensive machines, and hence getting them for personal use is a good option, only in case one is serious about fitness and working out. Also, since it may be un-supervised, it is necessary to have some prior experience of working out to get the form and technique of each exercise right, either at a health club or under a personal trainer to avoid injuries and strains.

Winter Woes!!

Winter is here and one of its common side effects is laziness, with a generous dose of exceptions, mind you! However, it usually is a time of low motivation, especially for the early morning workout enthusiasts thanks to the cozy comfort a blanket can give!

Here are few tips to keep in mind during winters and also to stay motivated –
Due to low temperatures, muscles and joints need more time to loosen up and get ready for workout. Hence not only is it essential to not skip the warm-up, it also becomes essential to extend the time of a warm-up session to anything upto 15 minutes and also to start slowly with some low-impact cardio activity like walking or stair climbing etc. Starting your warm-up with a jog or jumping can be extremely injury-prone.
Another very important area to be taken care of, is the way you get up in the morning. Since the muscles are not very flexible at that time, it is essential to adopt right postures during getting up, to avoid lower back pain or other problems. Some correct techniques are to turn to your right and then get up with the support of your hand and shoulders, or lie down on your back and rock yourself up by folding the knees and getting them close to the chest.
Rest in-between the workout is also best done actively and dynamically, instead of passively like sitting down or stopping completely, since the body temperature may fall down.
If workout during mornings is becoming difficult to adhere to, shift the timings to anytime later in the day, preferably before night. Needless to say, anytime is better than not working out at all!
Having a workout buddy works best during this time, to keep yourself and your friend motivated.
Make sure to cool down your body adequately after a workout, before stepping out into the open to avoid extreme changes in temperature which can cause distress to the body.
Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration since though the thirst level is low during winters, the body continues its metabolic activities causing loss of water
Winter time also sees an increase in appetite, and hence it is essential to eat freshly prepared, hot, nutritious and healthy foods, instead of satiating hunger through junk food and the like.

Post-Marathon Recovery!

Recovering after running a marathon is as essential as training for the marathon. A marathon run places heavy demands on the runner – physiologically and mentally and hence it becomes essential to rest and regenerate in order to ensure a smooth transition back into one’s normal routine.

Here are some useful tips –

The last few meters during the marathon usually see a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, which can cause the legs to feel heavy and fatigued. Therefore it is advisable to not stop immediately after the run and engage in some dynamic cool-downs like a gentle jog or run for a few hundred meters to remove the lactic acid from the blood stream. A massage, hot-bath or sauna can also help to relax the muscles. Changing into dry clothes immediately after the run can also help feel better.
The heat generated during the long run causes loss of water from the blood stream and can lead to dehydration. Therefore it is essential to replenish the body water level by drinking adequate liquids and fluids. Liquids and fluids need to be taken in periodically and regularly in small amounts over the next couple of days, instead of gulping down large quantities of water just after the run.
The body also loses a lot of minerals and essential nutrients through sweating and water loss. Therefore, it is important to replenish the reserves of these minerals by consuming nutrient-rich foods for the next couple of days or even weeks depending on the rate of absorption, physical activity etc. Eating some snacks high in carbohydrate, sugar and salt content, immediately after the run is also a good idea to temporarily restore blood sugar and sodium content in the body. Coffee or alcohol, immediately after the race, is not advisable since they will lead to more dehydration!
It is advisable to rest well and get at least 8-10 hours of sleep. Also, engage only in light exercises like cycling, swimming or walking and light stretching for 30-40 minutes and not engage in intensive or heavy training at least for two to three weeks after the race.

It usually takes two to four weeks to recover fully from a marathon, depending on many factors like nutrition and supplements, physical activity status at work or home, mental and emotional status etc. However, it is better to keep yourself active through light physical activity instead of merely sleeping and resting the whole time!

Marathon Training – The D-day!

After discussing the training and nutrition plans over the entire training phase, building up to the final day of the marathon, it becomes equally important to take care of the diet and nutrition on the final day of the race.
The final day eating plans can be broken down into two phases – before the race and during the race. On the final day, there is usually no physical training practice. It is also important to eat well, and not fast so as to maintain good liver glycogen levels, as well as stable blood glucose levels.

Usually, food items with low glycemic index like complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fiber-rich foods etc.) and some healthy fat sources (like nuts etc.) are advisable. The fat content will ensure a consistent release of glucose into the blood stream.
High glycemic index foods are a complete no-no since they spike up the blood glucose levels temporarily leaving with extremely low blood sugar when the spike dies down leading to pre-mature fatigue and exhaustion during the early part of the race itself. Some examples of high glycemic index foods can be biscuits, chocolates, bakery items etc.

Interestingly, moderately high glycemic index are more suited to be eaten during the race, since they will give a temporary boost to the blood sugar level! Examples of food items that can be eaten during the race are energy bars, gels and energy drinks. The key is to eat light and consistently inorder to avoid a heavy stomach which could hamper performance. Some nutritionists recommend 0.5 gms of carbohydrates per kg body weight, as the normal amount of carbohydrates that can be ingested during at intervals during the race!

Keep sipping water or energy drinks, consistently inorder to avoid dehydration. Avoid trying any new foods during the race and stick to those you are comfortable with and like.

Marathon Training – The Final Leg!

Following our discussion over the last few weeks about nutrition guidelines during training for marathon, one of the most important parts of the whole planned approach to nutrition intake comes towards the last week before the final day of the event.

In a well-planned physical training program for the marathon, the intensity of physical training reduces in the last one or two weeks before the final day. The frequency, duration and intensity of the training schedule drastically reduces, towards the last week before the final day, and hence nutrition intake has to be modified accordingly to avoid gaining any additional and un-necessary weight!

However, during the last week before the final day, a special nutrition plan – called the super-compensation plan or more commonly carbo-loading plan is recommended, in order to boost stamina and endurance and avoid fatigue (or commonly called “hitting the wall”) during the early hours of the run.
Carbo-loading basically consists of depleting and depriving the muscles of carbohydrates for a few days, and then loading them again, both through diet modification! So, during the last seven days, before the final day, from a carbohydrate percentage of 60%-70% during the initial training period, decrease the carbohydrate percentages to as low as 40% during days one through three, while reducing your exercise duration accordingly. And then on the fourth day, increase carbohydrate consumption to 70%, even though your exercise intensity is gradually reducing. Finally on days five and six, the carbohydrate percentage remains at 70%, while all activities are completely stopped, or in other words, they are complete rest days!

Needless to mention, the percentages of macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats during and their sources, during the carbo-loading diet plan are important and require expert guidance of a sports nutritionist. As a general rule, sources of carbohydrates having low glycemic index (so as to prolong their absorption into the blood stream as glucose) are good options!

Marathon Training – What to eat and what not to eat!

Proper and balanced nutrition during training for a marathon is the key to a successful and injury-free performance, as well as to maintain good health post-marathon!

Here are some guidelines, however, nutrition plan during this time, must be designed by a nutrition expert, since the focus is not on weight-loss or weight-gain but on boosting the body’s ability to use the food consumed to provide energy continuously and for extended periods of time!

Salads, complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables must form the base, followed by adequate intake of proteins and fats. Carbohydrates can form almost 65-70% of the total food intake, until the Carbo-loading phase a few weeks before the final day.
Proteins from animal sources (except red meat) are the best for consumption. However for vegetarians, soy protein can be helpful. Protein supplements like whey or soy can also be used to ensure adequate intake of proteins. For primarily non-vegetarian eaters, including vegetables is equally important!
Fried foods and junk foods like burgers, fries, cakes and pastries and too much oil for cooking must be avoided. Fats from good sources like nuts, olive oil can be included to fulfil the fat requirements.
2-3 litres of water on a daily basis, is essential to avoid dehydration and also to ensure smooth functioning of body systems during the rigorous training periods.
Alcohol and coffee intake must be avoided or limited to avoid dehydration and other negative effects on performance due to excessive water loss caused by sweating.
Most nutritionists advice supplements of vitamins and minerals, during this time especially for vegetarian people, since meat and poultry provide some essential nutrients that vegetables cannot.

Concentrating on fulfilling the calorie requirements mostly during the day and reducing the calorie intake towards the evening, is also recommended to keep a check on weight gain.
Also, it is important to get adequate sleep (atleast 7-8 hours) inorder for the body to work efficiently and optimally.

Good Marathon, Right Nutrition

As discussed last week, a planned approach to nutrition during Marathon training is as essential as physical training.

A good nutritional plan basically consists of three stages – nutritional plan during training, few weeks before the final day, and that on the final day. Since nutritional requirements during the marathon training are higher than usual, it is important to eat the right kind of foods to avoid any additional weight gain which will increase the challenge on the body and hamper performance.

Carbohydrate-rich foods (Carbs) form the major component of diet during this time, followed by proteins and fats. Carbs are stored in muscles, liver and blood as glucose, and are easily available for providing energy. The rate at which the energy is released depends on a factor called as the ‘Glycemic index - GI’ (or another factor called glycemic load, closely related to glycemic index) of the carb consumed.
A low GI (usually complex carbohydrates) food gets into the system slowly, and thus ensures a slow and steady supply of energy. This helps to maintain stable and adequate blood glucose levels and ensure continuous supply of energy for longer distances. Simple carbohydrates usually have high GI and enter the system and get depleted fast, causing extreme variations in blood glucose levels, extreme highs followed by extreme lows. Some examples of low GI foods are whole grains like barley, legumes and pulses like kidney beans, soyabean, wheat bran and vegetables like green leafy vegetables, cauliflower etc.
Polished rice, bakery items like white bread, cookies, ready-to-eat cereals are all examples of high GI foods. Low GI foods also help avoid additional weight gain!
Therefore, usually complex carbohydrates form a major component in the nutritional plan (almost 65% - 70%), followed by proteins - for growth and repair, and fats – for proper functioning of the body systems, during the training.

The nutritional pattern changes as you approach the final day, with many techniques that are used to ensure stable energy supply for longer duration on your final day