Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Which Rest Is Best?

If you’ve wondered what circumstances call for “active rest” (taking it easy while still moving) versus “static rest” (stopping completely) between sets, let us clear something up right now; static rest is never the ideal choice.

For that 60- to 90-minute period while you’re working out, the only reason you should come to a full and complete stop would be an emergency situation (as in, you're about to pass out).

That said, there’s so much more to your rests than simply resting. Just how much should you decrease the intensity? How should you be moving your body? Does it depend on the nature of your workout? We asked Hicham Haouzi, certified personal trainer and Tier 4 Coach at Equinox Columbus Circle to weigh in.

“Resting periods during workouts serve two purposes,” Haouzi says. “To get your heart rate down, and to reduce the buildup of blood lactate”—the natural byproduct of exertion that makes your limbs feel like spaghetti and can cause muscle cramps, soreness and joint pain.

Here, four ways to ensure your rests fulfill their duties:

1) Monitor your heart rate

Rests during workouts train your heart to slow down quickly—an important signifier of your fitness level. Regardless of the nature of the exercise you’re doing, recovery periods should get your rate to approximately 65 percent of your heart’s max.

2) Mind the clock

Recovery periods should last anywhere from 20 seconds to two minutes, depending on the power of your workout. If you’re doing intense cardio intervals that make your ticker pound at 90 percent of its potential, then you might need all 120 seconds to get back to that 65 percent range. Rocking some squats? Then maybe you only need a minute. (Holding dumbbells, too? Bump it up to 90 seconds.) The point: Rests shouldn’t be indefinite. Over time you develop a sense for matching active periods with the appropriate recovery.

3) Weave it in
You know how your group fitness instructor has you take your weights to the rack after all those lunges, or put your mat back when you’re done with abs? She’s not a neat freak. She’s sneaking in some active rest. Build that movement into your rest routine by cycling through a circuit of, say, five to eight different exercises. The 15 to 20 seconds it takes you to get from one station to another is your active rest. “If you do 30 minutes total for your workout, then you get five minutes of active rest without even realizing it,” Haouzi says.

4) Do what feels good

Active rest doesn’t have to mean walking (or running in place at the traffic light). Haouzi often has clients stretch any muscles that feel tight, work compressed tissues on a foam roller or do yoga poses that offer relief from whatever resistance work they’re focusing on that day. “I’ll even put clients’ water bottles across the room so they have to walk to get to it,” Haouzi says. “It’s about staying both physically and mentally engaged while you rest.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Better Than Botox

For a society obsessed with youth, we often overlook the most important panacea to the aging process: movement. Movement forces the body to gather sensory information and mechanical energy in order to fire up the muscles. Staying active, researchers repeatedly find, is the key to aging well.
Sound obvious? Sure. But the question remains: How much should you move and what kind of movement best staves off the aging process?

First, consider the bad news: At around age 40, our body’s muscular system begins to atrophy due to the slowing of muscle protein synthesis; our nervous system thins its dentritic branching and loses its active synapses (which makes us move more slowly); and our connective tissue becomes less vibrant and springy (reducing joint mobility). Battling this aging process takes concentrated effort, and — even for those of us who exercise regularly — we may not be doing enough.

The key: Blending resistance training with dynamic moves (lunges, shuffles, group fitness classes) allows you to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of movement — which counteracts the negative toll the stress hormone cortisol can take on both the muscle and nervous system, speeding aging. Weights and cardio alone can’t compare.

Consider this your anti-aging checklist:

1. Choose neuromuscularly dense exercises

These are movements that require a high involvement and recruitment from the entire body. A squat in combination with a shoulder press, a lunge in combination with a biceps curl, for instance. Studies have shown that when using neuromuscular dense exercises at intensity, balance improves, cognitive function improves (by the release of agents such as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and hormones are released that support and maintain muscle tissue.

2. Move throughout the day

Take every opportunity to move when possible. Use stairs. Walk with a headset when on the phone instead of remaining seated. Take brain/movement breaks all day. By moving our bodies on a regular basis—not just at lunch or after work—we encourage positive adaptive changes in our nerves, muscles and connective tissue. Day by day, movement by movement, this enhances our vitality.

3. Stand up

We sit too much during the day; stand up during your workout. You’ll ease pressure on the spine and increase foot strength—something that’s essential to maintain or develop as we age.

4. Rest

For every 30 minutes of training, take 5 minutes of rest. This work/rest ratio allows tissues to recover and rehydrate, slowing the aging process.

5. Systematically progress

Start with basic drills before adding complexity. This will ensure that the neuromuscular system can adapt appropriately. For example try a forward lunge before a transverse plane lunge. Planar progression ensures that the body can adapt based off of a successful movement pattern. This is called motor learning. 'Chunking' the exercise into bite-sized pieces makes this learning occur more quickly with increased effectiveness. Progress too quickly, and you will only confuse the nervous system and positive adaptations will not take place.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

6 Reasons for Muscle Cramps


We are sure that all of you have already had their experiences with painful muscle cramps – be it during or after training or even at rest.

How does a cramp occur?

Muscles exist of a large number of muscle cells. With the help of mineral ions, also called electrolytes, your brain sends electric impulses via the nerve pathway to those muscle cells. This chemical energy gets transformed into mechanical energy within the cells: Your muscles react and move your skeleton.

In case of miscommunication – meaning that the nerves send too many, too strong or just wrong signals or that muscle cells cannot process the correct signals adequately – your muscles cannot react properly. This leads to erratic, lagged or conflicting contractions which we perceive as painful cramps.

                                          Why do miscommunications occur?

1. Mineral deficiency

There are several causes for a muscle cramp. Often, it is tied to a magnesium deficiency. In fact, the cause of a cramp often is an impaired concentration of electrolytes – however, it does not always have to be magnesium.

Through sweat, your body loses a lot of fluids during exercise and thus important minerals. To keep your body supplied with minerals during a workout, it is critical to drink enough water before, during and after training. Water provides essential minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. They all play a role in the communication between the nervous and muscular system and therefore are important.

2. Dehydration

However, the concentration of electrolytes does not have to be causal itself. In general, it can also be dehydration. Without enough liquid, your body cannot transport nutrients smoothly which is also the case for minerals. So it might be that your minerals are in balance but that there is not enough liquid for them to reach their destination.
Both aforementioned reasons are mainly responsible for muscle cramps – which is why we again want to point to the huge importance of sufficient hydration.

3. Blood flow disorder

Another major factor is an impaired blood flow, e.g. due to bad posture and form, one-sided loading or just shoes that are too tight. During a workout, your muscles need oxygen as fuel to convert chemical energy into mechanical energy. If the blood vessels do not convey enough oxygen, muscle cells cannot process impulses correctly and tense up.

4. Overload

Training for too long can also lead to muscle spasm. After too intense effort, meaning that you train well beyond muscle fatigue, your muscle cells are irritated. This makes them hypersensitive for any orders of the brain: the electronic signals are too strong for the drained muscle cells and cannot be processed properly.

5. Cold

Very cold temperatures – especially sudden changes from warm to cold – can lead to heavy tension within muscles which in turn can eventually result in a cramp.

6. Anatomical and medical reasons

Other and rather rare reasons can be misalignments in legs, hips or trunk as well as constrained nerves and vessels but also illnesses – from a simple cold to diabetes – and side effects of drugs. Whenever you are suspicious of those factors, you should consult a doctor.

                                              How can I treat cramps?
Many people are almost paralyzed when they experience muscle spasm and just hold the aching spot. Instead, the opposite is necessary: Active but cautious stretching of the muscle and activation of the antagonistic muscle to slowly release the contraction.

For example, if your calf hurts – one of the most common cramps – it is useful to pull your toes towards yourself and thus tense its antagonistic muscle on the shin. In doing so, the calf gets stretched and relaxed. It can also be helpful to carefully massage it lengthways. As soon as the tension ceases, you should slowly move the muscle again to remove potential contraction residues.

The best treatment however still is prevention. Besides a sufficient intake of fluids and minerals which is needed to ensure supply and transmission of electrolytes, two aspects of training are often neglected: A warm up before the workout and a thorough stretching afterwards.

Fresh fruit such as apples or fruit juices (ideally freshly squeezed) are also often used as a preventive. This is because fruit contains a lot of minerals which your body can utilize quickly due to the fruit sugar.

Warm and cold showers as wells as heat baths can also be quite helpful to accustom the muscle to temperature changes and to increase blood flow.