Today marks the first official day of my 2014 summer vacation. I’m looking forward to spending quality time with family, relaxing and indulging in outdoor activities I don’t have the opportunity to do at home. It reminds me of one of my more popular posts from last summer. You can bring a healthy lifestyle with you on vacation without feeling food deprived or over-taxed physically if you have the right attitude – see the opportunities rather than the limitations. Bon voyage!
Every Thursday, the Personal Journal section of The Wall Street Journal is geared to health and fitness. I look forward to reading it and often articles in it inspire my blog posts. One recurring article is “The (Fill in Blank) Workout” where an “average” person is selected and we get a sneak peek into that person’s exercise and diet regimen. I loved this feature when I was studying for my personal training certification but it has since become the one article in the section I’m most likely to skim over if not skip altogether. Why? It doesn’t feel authentic, inspiring, or particularly healthy.
It usually features someone who’s pretty hard core into a particular workout style or recreational sport. The average person reading about the workout regimen of Joe Amateur Tri-Athlete isn’t going to see themselves anywhere in Joe and will find his fitness lifestyle to be intimidating rather than inspiring. But, even more of a turn-off is the unrealistic picture that’s usually painted. Brutal, vigorous, long workouts most days a week. Many require professional supervision to get started, if not on-going. Most people don’t have the money or time to invest in this type of regimen, never mind the desire. I sometimes wonder if the people featured in the article actually keep to the schedule or if it’s embellished.
But the most suspicious part of these features comes at the conclusion of the story when the reader is treated to a “typical” menu of the featured person’s day. Often the person claims to be following a current diet fad – vegan, gluten-free, Zone, South Beach – and a quick scan of the menu reveals a calorie intake consistent with someone on a weight-loss plan, not someone with a vigorous exercise routine. Most menus fall short in terms of complete proteins and several micro-nutrients required for the average person, never mind someone working out at close to professional athlete level. If Jane Amateur Tri-Athlete really is working out as much as she says she is and really is following the diet she’s giving us, she’s at risk of over-training, injury and mal-nourishment. I’m just not buying it.
So, in today’s blog, I’m featuring me. Here is a peek into my real fitness life:
Weekly Workout Schedule
Sunday: 50 minute strength and stretch: Exhale Spa Core Fusion Total Body Sculpt DVD (10 minutes upper body, 10 minutes thighs, 10 minutes glutes, 1o minutes abs, 10 minutes stretches)
Monday: day off
Tuesday: 20 minutes high intensity cardio-strength combo: Exhale Spa Core Fusion 30 Day Body Sculpt DVD (I cycle through the 14 different 20 minute workouts offered on the DVD), stretches included
Wednesday: 20-25 minute step (8 inch step) routine, followed by stretches
Thursday: 20 minute full-body, circuit strength workout (cycle through body weight, free weight, medicine ball, stability ball & stability disk exercises), followed by stretches
Friday: 30 minute jog outside or, in inclement weather, 20 minute HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout inside, followed by stretches
Saturday: 50 minute walk with steep hills, followed by stretches
Sample Daily Menu
Breakfast: 1 cup Trader Joe’s 9 Grain Cereal, 1 cup 1 % milk, 1/3 cup blueberries, 12 oz coffee (2 tsp sugar, 1 Tblsp half and half)
Lunch: 1 slice 100% whole wheat bread, 1 Tblsp natural creamy peanut butter, 1 oz Terra chips, 1 med fresh peach, 1 cup 1% milk
Snack: 1/4 cup low-salt cashews
Dinner: Quesadillas made with 1 Fiber One wheat wrap, 1/4 cup black beans, 1/4 cup shredded reduced fat Mexican blend cheeses, 2 Tblsp mashed avocado & 1 Tblsp reduced fat sour cream; tossed salad (spinach, shredded carrot, scallions, cucumber, celery, avocado, dried cranberries, 1 Tblsp crumbled gorgonzola) dressed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette; 1 cup 1% milk
After Dinner: 1 oz dark chocolate, 3 oz red wine
Water: between 32-48 oz, depending on workout load for the day
Keep in mind a few things. First, this is where I am today with my workout schedule. This doesn’t even resemble where I started about 25 years ago. For many years, I did only cardio 2-3 times a week. What I did for cardio changed over the years as well. I started with aerobics classes and moved on to stationary biking and then a rowing machine.
After several years, I had gotten to the point where I just couldn’t put myself on the stationary bike or rowing machine anymore – I was bored and completely unmotivated. I found jogging, my step routine, HIIT workout and Core Fusion DVDs when I was looking for ways to escape the machines. The result is a varied routine with all things I enjoy.
Also, I decided to simply record today’s food intake to reflect an actual day in my diet. But, today is Monday and my day off from exercise. I’m careful to watch my calorie intake on my more sedentary Mondays. The rest of the week I consume more proteins, complex carbs and fats than are reflected here.
The purpose of opening the door into my personal fitness world isn’t to brag or even to present the “right” way to fitness. It’s to demonstrate that a fitness regimen doesn’t have to be worthy of a feature in a major newspaper to be good. I guarantee no matter where you are in terms of your attitude toward exercise or the amount you do, I have been exactly where you are at some point in my life. Just like career and personal aspects of one’s life each take many twists and turns, so too does one’s fitness journey.
Even so, my schedule likely looks modest compared to many of my colleagues in the fitness industry. (Granted, most of them are half my age!) That doesn’t concern me. This is the routine that works for me, it’s the one I love. Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, I have no doubt it will look quite different. And I’ve no doubt I will still love it.
You can have a fitness routine you love too. But, you’ll never find it looking outward, following directives, mimicking others. You can’t be concerned with how your routine compares to others. To find something you truly enjoy, it has to come from your own heart and soul. That’s the path to real fitness.
I’ll begin with two caveats. This post isn’t specifically about my area of expertise and I have an axe to grind. Still, my area of expertise – fitness from the perspective of exercise – is most definitely a field of the sciences. Those of us who train the public to exercise rely on exercise studies to give us the knowledge we need to do our jobs well. In addition, exercise and diet are undeniably interwoven in the realm of fitness. While I cannot prescribe a specific diet for any individual, I rely on nutrition scientists to establish general dietary guidelines that I then recommend to my clients. So, no, I’m not a scientist, doctor or registered dietician. But I am an educated fitness professional and my axe to grind is specifically with the industry I depend upon to get it right in order for me to do right by my clients.
First I don’t, nor should you, expect the experts to always have the right answers. The term exact science is, in many ways, an oxymoron. Scientists develop hypotheses and then use the scientific method, a clearly defined protocol, to test them. The more variables in the experiment, the trickier it is to infer definitive correlations, associations or causations with a high degree of accuracy. From the perspective of variables, the field of nutrition is one of the more difficult to test. Plus, compared to other fields, nutrition is still in its infancy. Therefore, it should be expected that new theories and results will continue to come forth for the foreseeable future. It should also be expected that some studies will contradict other studies. But, this is how science works. Clinical studies should be ongoing, perfected and repeated which then hones and fine tunes what we come to understand about the links between nutrition and health. This is how we learn. So, my beef isn’t necessarily with the studies themselves or even their outcomes. The problem seems to be, increasingly, that terribly flawed studies and conclusions are making it into the mainstream and being passed off as “settled” science. And, worst of all, sweeping new recommendations are made to the public even though no one really has the evidence, much less proof, that these new guidelines are healthier than the status quo.
One iteration of this phenomenon is what I call the rogue scientist. This scientist has an agenda and will find funders with a vested interest in the same agenda. I don’t call what this person does real science. He manipulates the experiment, data and conclusions – in other words, completely throws away the scientific method. This person, upon completion of his study, will by-pass peer review to go straight to the press or a publisher. This is usually where fad diets get their genesis.
One of the more recent examples of this was “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell, a biochemist from Cornell who conducted an epidemiological study (much less reliable than clinical studies) in China funded in part by the Chinese government. Among his conclusions was the assertion that consumption of any food sourced from an animal (dairy, eggs, meat, fish) causes cancer. His study was lambasted by nutritional experts who pointed to missing data, flawed data and conclusions that didn’t match Campbell’s own data. Campbell, therefore, by-passed the peer review process and went straight to a book. He then gained notoriety when celebrities adopted his dietary recommendations and the New York Times glowingly endorsed his book. Despite having no endorsements from the scientific or nutrition community, many people bought into this one suspect study.
As infuriating as rogue scientists are, a non-professional can easily identify them with just a small amount of research. (See my post on this here.) Far more troubling is the latest bit of evidence trickling in that the peer review process itself is flawed. If we can’t rely on the industry to mete out the sound studies from the flawed, we are left with bad science all around.
I am reading “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” by Nina Teicholz. (You can read excerpts from the book here.) I’m only one-quarter of the way through the book, so I’ll save a post on the book itself for after I’m finished. But I’ve read enough to understand that some in the nutrition community began an assault on dietary fats – beginning with animal fats, then all saturated fats including tropical oils and ending with all fats in general – nearly a century ago. About 50 years ago, reputable agencies, such as the American Heart Association, and the U.S. government got on board and began making dietary recommendations for our entire population based on the belief there was a scientifically-proven link between dietary fat and diseases, heart disease in particular. What’s shocking is this all happened on the assertions of one scientist in the absence of any clinical studies arriving at these conclusions. And, the epidemiological studies used to advance this notion were inconclusive and, in some cases, completely contradicted by other similar studies. They were challenged by a few courageous scientists along the way – who simply wanted to hold back on the wholesale alteration of an entire nation’s diet until clinical studies could be done – but these men and women were shouted down by those who now had a vested interest in protecting their own reputations and funding sources.
As I’ve been reading, I’ve counseled myself to remember that this is one author making this assertion and she, like anyone, also has an agenda. But then I read “The Corruption of Peer Review Is Harming Scientific Credibility” by Hank Campbell in today’s Wall Street Journal. You can read the article here. Campbell lays out how the scientific peer review process has been watered down and corrupted making it difficult to sort bad science from good science. We’ve had evidence of this in the study of climate as we’ve learned that NASA and NOAA fudged historical temperature data to advance the notion that the planet continued warming after global temperatures had stabilized. So, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise to me if Ms Teicholz has stumbled upon the same dysfunction in nutrition science.
I think the important take away from all of this is that, unfortunately, there is no industry that can remain free of people who are or will become corrupt. Corrupt scientists do real damage to the credibility of all scientists and, when talking about health, do real damage to real people. The best we can do is take a buyer beware attitude. When it comes to your health, don’t take one book, one doctor or one study at face value. Be skeptical, even cynical. And, if you’re inclined, get active. I’ve written this post and, perhaps, I will write more on this topic. I’m angered over the manipulation that is being foisted upon us by those we should be able to trust. You should be too.
We are heading into the heart of summer and, particularly in places where the water sport season is short, people are itching to turn each sunny day into waterskiing and surfing nirvana. While the first instinct when thinking about strength training for these activities may be lower body, these recreational sports rely specifically upon excellent balance for optimal performance and injury prevention. I contend a balance training workout that primarily targets the core for strength training is most beneficial. I recommend this workout not only for surfing and waterskiing enthusiasts but also for those who participate in skateboarding, gymnastics, horseback riding, dance and balance-centric winter sports like snowboarding and figure skating. This would also be a great workout to compliment mind-body activities such as yoga and martial arts.
Activity-Specific Workout of the Month Defined: A 30 minute strength and stretch training workout tailored to benefit those who engage in a particular recreational sport or activity. The workouts will be challenging and safe for the novice but will also offer progressions for the experienced. If your children participate in these activities, know that strength and flexibility training is not only safe for kids but beneficial as well. The workouts will have minimal equipment requirements so they can be done anywhere. The goal is to properly strengthen and stretch the key muscle groups involved in the activity so the participant can achieve performance improvements and reduce the risk of injury. Click on the exercise to link to examples and step-by-step descriptions provided by www.acefitness.org.
Strength and Flexibility Training for Balance-Centric Activities
Concept: The primary strengthening focus is the core – abdominal and back muscles – as the core is responsible for stabilizing the body when balance is challenged. Secondary targets for strengthening are the thigh and hip muscles as the legs are providing the base of support in most of the activities involved in balance-based sports. The flexibility portion focuses on the core and hips because being limber in these areas is just as important as being strong when external forces cause one’s center of gravity to be in constant flux. While I prefer to structure Workouts of the Month around using little to no equipment, the best way to train balance is to use unstable surfaces within a workout. Therefore progressions include using common balance training equipment. Fortunately, many of these props are space efficient and affordable. (*Examples of common balance training devices and price points are listed below.) Be sure you can master the base exercise with excellent form before incorporating a progression. Perform this workout 1-3 times per week, allowing a minimum of 48 hours rest between workout sessions, starting several weeks before and continuing throughout the season:
Warm-Up: 2-5 minutes of high knee marching, swinging opposing arms to shoulder height as you lift knees to hip height.
Strength Workout: Perform the following exercise circuit in succession with no rest between exercises:
Front Plank: Hold for 10-30 seconds. Strengthens entire core. Progression: hold plank for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, return to plank for 10-30 seconds
- Side Plank with Bent Knee: Hold for 10-30 seconds each side. Strengthens entire core including obliques with balance challenge. Progression: Side Planks with Straight Leg, hold for 10-30 seconds each side
- Squats: 8-16 repetitions. Works quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes. Progression: Single Leg Squats, 8-16 repetitions each side or Squats on Stability Prop*, 8-16 repetitions
- V-Ups: 10-20 repetitions. Strengthens core. Three progressions are included in the exercise. Master each progression before moving onto the next one.
- After performing each exercise once, rest for 1-2 minutes and repeat the circuit (front plank through v-ups) for a second set of each exercise. After performing the circuit twice, perform the flexibility workout.
Flexibility Workout: Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds
- Warrior I: full-body stretch with emphasis on hips & thighs
- Standing Triangle Straddle Bends: stretches back & outer thighs
- Cat-Cow: stretches core
- Leg Cross-Over Stretch: opens up the hips & stretches the outer thigh muscles
- Childs Pose: targets core and provides instant relaxation to end your workout
The keys to safe and effective strength training are the same regardless of gender or age – proper warm-up, form, breathing, load, progressions and stretching. The cues for these exercises provided by ACE Fitness (via my links) are excellent and, if followed, anyone can perform this workout safely, even a novice. It’s important to focus on your own body’s feedback and listen to the cues your body is providing you. Adults are much better at reading those cues than children. For this reason, if any of these exercises are new to your child, I recommend having a professional (such as your child’s coach, gym teacher or sports trainer) review the proper form for each of these exercises with your student athlete.
Now, go catch some waves!
*Common balance training equipment: Stability Air Pads ($10-50), Wobble Boards ($20-100), BOSU Trainer ($100+) – Important Note: if you have a history of knee or ankle injuries, be sure to check with your orthopedist before working with this equipment.
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
Click on the link to view previous Activity-Specific Workouts of the Month: Hockey & Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding & Figure Skating, Golf & Softball, Distance Running, Racquet Sports, Swimming, Waterskiing & Surfing, Cycling, Rowing & Desk Jockeys, Track, Field & Court Sports, Throwing & Pitching, Dancing, Downhill Skiing