Friday, August 29, 2014

Its All About The Heart

One thing many exercisers, endurance athletes specifically miss is the concept that in order to improve aerobic capacity and speed, you have to vary the intensity of workouts on both ends of the spectrum. Some days you will push hard and other days you will barely move, all by design. Heart rate training is an effective tool to help you achieve optimum fitness.

Heart rate-based exercise training has been around for years. It is an effective way for people with a wide range of goals—from weight loss to elite-level athletic performance,  to monitor and control the intensity of their workouts. One of the most common mistakes in cardio exercise programs is failure to vary the intensity of workouts in a practical way.

The concept of heart rate-based training is simple. Heart rate has a well-known positive correlation with exercise intensity. As the workload increases, so does the demand for oxygen. Heart rate will also increase in order to supply the increasing oxygen requirement in the attempt to sustain the activity. 

The heart rate response to exercise stimulus is highly individual. There are a number of factors that influence individual heart rate responses to exercise. The most important factors are as follows:

Size: Larger individuals typically have lower resting heart rates.
Age: Maximum heart rate tends to slowly decline with age.
Fitness: Aerobically fit individuals are able to sustain higher heart rates for longer periods of time.
Heredity: A number of genes influence resting heart rate, maximum heart rate and innate aerobic fitness level.

Because each person has a unique heart rate profile, effective heart rate-based training requires that target heart rate zones be individually customized. There is an excellent book titles Heart Rate Training by Benson and Connolly that provides methods for establishing HR Zones.

A common mistake made in cardio exercise programs is training at the same moderately high intensity in most, if not all, workouts. The majority of exercisers regulate their cardio workout intensity primarily by perception of effort. Research has shown that when men and women "go by feel" in cardio workouts, they consistently select an effort level that which is just below the lactate threshold or anaerobic state and may be described as a moderately high intensity.

According to endurance fitness expert, Matt Fitzgerald, the problem with training at the same moderately high intensity day after day is that it is simply not as effective as a program in which intensity is more varied. Research has suggested that a program in which 80% of total training time is spent below the lactate threshold, 10% is spent at the lactate threshold, and the remaining 10% is spent above the lactate threshold yields greater cardiovascular fitness improvement than a program of equal volume in which 70% or less of total training time is spent in the lower intensity range.

Other studies, according to Fitzgerald,  have demonstrated that most recreational athletes do as little as 45% and seldom more than 70% of their training in the lower intensity range. This tendency to push the pace a little in every session creates a burden of chronic fatigue that prevents the exerciser from fully adapting to the work being done, and also prevents him or her from performing optimally in the highest-intensity workouts. This some workouts need to be much slower and less intense in order for the training effect to produce results.

Most individuals will regulate their workouts ineffectively. The proper use of a heart rate monitor, however, can help exercisers avoid wasting their time. With a little self-study and application a Hear Rate monitor with an individually constructed exercises plan can dramatically improve your fitness.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rest and Recovery

How do you feel after your workout? It’s a simple question but one that many individuals don’t ask themselves and if they do, they don’t pay attention to the answer. Are you physically and psychologically ready for your next workout? Or are you exhausted, experiencing extended, fatigue with aching joints, mental fog and lack energy? If so, you may be experiencing overtraining syndrome.

According to exercise physiologists, it’s important for athletes and those who exercise to remember that although hard physical training and exercise can improve performance and health, to reach fitness goals there is a critical phase in one's routine that must not be overlooked. This phase is recovery. According to George L. Redmon, PhD, ND, during this phase, there must be a maximal reloading of cardiovascular output (the heart's efficiency) and muscular systems (increasing glycogen stores and mitochondria). Without adequate attention to this end stage of your physical output, you will never reach your long-term performance goals safely and effectively.

Overtraining syndrome is a state of burnout resulting from the combined negative emotional, behavioral and physical symptoms that occur as a result of persistent training without proper recovery. The usual first sign of overtraining is persistent fatigue that exists after several days following a hard strenuous workout. If your body is in a state of overtraining, you will cease to make progress and your performance will plateau and decline. This is a direct result of the volume and intensity of your exercise routine, which supersedes your ability to recover from it.

According to George L. Redmon, PhD, ND, while the most significant symptom of overtraining is fatigue, researchers insist that knowing the overall signs of overtraining is extremely important, as many symptoms are not immediately realized. For example, changes in mental attitude and personality, as well as changes in sleep patterns and gastrointestinal disturbances (soft stools and diarrhea) can gradually progress. Other subtle physiological changes of overtraining include reduced immune function (frequent colds, generalized flu-like symptoms), elevated morning blood pressure and waking pulse rate. Other aspects of overtraining  may include :

Blood sugar abnormalities
Headaches and anxiety
General malaise, moodiness
Longer time to recover
Increased susceptibility to injury
Muscle soreness; joint tenderness
Irritability and increased defiance
Loss of appetite
Depression and loss of motivation

It is important to know that proper recovery is the key to improving performance. Overtraining to continued exhaustion without pre and post recovery plans not only sets you up for failure, it can be detrimental to your health. Here are some strategies to help you with recovery and avoid or recover from overtraining syndrome.

Give yourself time to recover in between sets or workouts
Fuel up nutritionally before and immediately after an intense workout. For aerobic endurance workouts over an hour a combination of simple carbohydrates and protein is best.
Keep yourself well hydrated before, during and after your workout
Know your limits—start out slow
Be sure to get 7+ hours of sleep every night and if possible, on those days with aggressive and long workouts, try and sneak in a nap. Your body produces growth hormone only during sleep which is key to rebuilding damaged muscle fibers.

If you are not currently into to what your body is telling you, stop and learn to listen to it.  It is important to recognize when your workout routine has gone beyond normal without any strategy that includes rest and recovery. The most harmful factor of overtraining, according to Dr. Philip Maffetone the author of Training for Endurance, is that without recovery, even a low-intensity workout can result in overtraining symptoms as perceived by the body and also the brain.

By having a well-thought-out workout or exercise routine plan in place to provide your body with the right tools that foster proper recovery, you will be in a better position to ensure that your rest is recovering and promoting the growth and improvement in performance you are looking for.


Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, Group Exercise Instructor, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014


One of the nice things about competing in triathlons is the variety you experience from swimming, biking and running.  It’s a nice mix of aerobic activity that also provides the challenge of mastering all three disciplines.

Like most triathletes, the swim is not only the weakest sport of the three; it is the one that can cause the most angst and emotional stress. Swimming is a very technical sport and with the added drag of the water, even small flaws in technique can have a huge negative impact on efficiency in the water. Add to this swimming in open water with several hundred our thousand other triathletes and the mental part of the sport can make the difference between success and not completing a race.

Recently May and I visited a swim coach to help us improve our swimming since we are both active triathletes and one can never have too much coaching!  While there were many things that were interesting and impressive our about our new coach, what intrigued us the most was how she began our session. She didn’t ask about our technique, strengths or weaknesses, she began the session talking about the mental aspects to swimming, in particular in open water triathlons and provided us a set of mental tools we can use should the need arise.

Swimming is not the only sport that can cause mental stress and impede performance. While swimming in the unknown can frighten many people, I have known folks that have an equal fear of riding their bike or running in the dark or in cold weather.

The tools she provided are very simple to apply and can be used for any sport or life situation and I simply call them “the Rainbow.”  There are three mental states a person can be in defined as GREEN – Stress Free, YELLOW – Stressful and anxious feelings, and RED – Extremely stressful and all out panic. Your goal is to always be in a Green state and should you move to yellow or red, you need find your way back to green.

In the green state you are stress free and all is well. This is likened to “The Zone” where you can function at your best and without thought. This is the ideal state. Spend some time thinking about what this feels like and make mental notes of your performance while green.

In the yellow state, you begin to feel uncomfortable or stressful. This may right before the swim start at triathlon or if you get bumped in the water in an open water swim.  To help back to green have some “yellow card” thoughts such as recalling your best race ever, remembering your best swim, bike or run and the best comeback from an adverse situation.

In the red state, you are in an all-out panic. Timing here is critical as the body’s fight or flight mechanism will take over quickly.  To move back to green you need some “red card” thoughts such as thinking of your dearest family members, your most memorable personal achievement or a moment you changed someone’s life for the better.

By understanding what the green state feels like and creating yellow card and red card thoughts you can practice these emotion changers daily so you can easily call on them when the need arises.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, Group Exercise Instructor and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Organic, Natural and Healthy

If you are interested in your health, you likely are (or should be) concerned and knowledgeable about what food you eat to fuel your body and activities.  While a lot of progress has been made regarding food labels, there are a numerous caveats with food label terminology and associated labeling laws that can leave consumers scratching their heads or worse, making poor choices.

Much confusion abounds over the terms, organic, natural and healthy. Used frequently, advertising agencies want us to believe these terms are synonymous with healthy.  Just because a food is labeled organic, natural or healthy, consumers need to be educated to make good decisions to determine if a food labeled as such is indeed healthy.

Organic is defined as containing carbon. All edible foods contain carbon and organic, in food terms, is defined as free of chemical pesticides and certain farming practices or production systems. According to the National Organic Program (NOP) the organic label can be placed on food if the produce is 95% or 100% organic.  95% organic may contain 5% if ingredients not grown organically and they must be listed on the label.  100% organic must no contain pesticides and must contain all organic ingredients with the exception of water and salt and ingredients must be listed on the label.

One advantage to organic food is that it is better for the environment.  However, according to Shari Portnoy, Registered Dietitian and Certified Food Nutritionist, more than 1400 studies have concluded that organic food is not healthier food.  Organic food is a healthy production system, not a healthy eating system.  If you care about the environment, buy organic. If your main concern is your health, focus your diet on healthy food selections, mainly fruits and vegetables.

Confusion also abounds over the term “GMO,” genetically modified organism or bioengineered foods. GMO food is one that has been produced using a living organism in the process.  The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that between 70 and 75% of all processed foods in America may contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants. 

While the main benefit of GMO foods is drought and disease resistance, the FDA says genetically modified foods do NOT require special labeling unless the composition of the food product is changed.  Many of today’s grains are GMO modified and some studies are revealing these foods can be contributing to the obesity epidemic in today’s society.

The term “natural” has not been clearly defined by the FDA, though it is extensively used on food labels. Although not defining the term, the FDA doesn’t object to the term being used for foods without added colorings, artificial flavorings and synthetic ingredients.  Unfortunately the term “synthetic” can be manipulated to be allowed into natural foods. 

When shopping for food, beware of product terms as they are not as regulated or defined as we are lead to believe. Advertising agencies and marketing teams work hard to “sell” us that a product is healthy when that may not be the case.  Also be cautioned of any food that says ‘fortified with vitamins and minerals.” If a food has to be fortified with vitamins and minerals, it means the product is highly refined that all the good qualities have been stripped away in the production process.

Eating healthy takes some effort and education.  One way to eat healthy is to make sure the majority of your diet is made up of fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb to follow is if a food comes in a wrapper, box or sack, there is a high probability it is highly processed and not nearly as healthy as other choices.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Should Runners Diet?

One of the main reasons people take up running is to lose weight. Running is an excellent choice as it provides the aerobic exercise to light the fires that burn fat and calories.

Once the commitment is made to lose weight, many people may over do the tactics.  They often combine their running schedules with diet programs that include counting calories or assigning "points" or percentages to carbohydrate, fat and protein consumption.  That is a dangerous combination that will usually lead to failure.

According to’s Jason Fitzgerald, soon after many runners start these diets, their running takes a nosedive: plummeting energy levels, decreased performance and a constant feeling of sluggishness. Dieting almost always goes hand in hand with a reduction in calories and, very often, carbohydrates—the body's preferred fuel source for running. This leaves runners struggling to feel and perform at their best.

Restricting calories, especially the ones your body needs for aerobic performance while training can cause slower recovery from long runs or hard workouts. You also may not be able to finish your most challenging workouts, and your ability to handle a higher workload will be cut dramatically. It can also lead to mental and physical fatigue.

If your goal is to utilize running as a means to lose weight, traditional dieting is a bad idea. So how do you lose weight when adopting an exercise program? Here are some guidelines to follow that will help you lose weight while still getting the fuel you need to train well.  Instead of focusing on calories or specific amounts of carbs, fat and protein, follow these guidelines to help you shed pounds and feel great on your runs.

Avoid extra sugar. Even though carbohydrates are your preferred fuel source, most runners consume way too much simple sugar and processed carbs every day. If you're struggling with weight issues, excess carbohydrates in your diet could be the issue.

Limit dessert foods, sports drinks (except immediately after a long run or hard work out) or soda, and carb-heavy foods that offer limited nutrition like crackers, white bread, white pasta (go with whole wheat) and plain bagels.

Eat fruits and vegetables. The vast majority of Americans don't get the recommended number of servings per day. These foods are the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat.

Always include vegetables with your dinner each night as the benefits are substantial.

Focus on "real" food. Eat nutrient-dense foods and limit your intake of processed foods. Real foods are minimally processed with as few ingredients as possible and include high-quality cuts of meat, vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts and whole grains like wild rice and quinoa.

Use food strategically. Many runners carbo-loading constantly, but the ideal runner's diet plan is more strategic. Use carb-heavy meals strategically a day or two before big workouts, and eat fewer carbs if you're running less.

If you're feeling sluggish or slightly over-trained—symptoms include fatigue, soreness, poor performance in your workouts or lethargy—recognize that you might just be under-eating. Food is fuel. Try cooking a few healthy, hearty meals and eating a little more than usual. Combined with a few good nights of sleep, you could be back on track in just a few days.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.