Working out while injured? Yes, you can!

March 30, 2009

Now that spring is in the air, it’s likely that more of us will be emerging from our hibernation caves and taking to local parks, beaches and trails for more activity. It’s also the time of year where even gym rats and exercise enthusiasts start stepping up their activity levels as well.

As a fitness professional and expert, this is great news and after all, this is what we tout every day, “get off the couch, get active, exercise!!”

But there is a down side. Injuries. Sad but true, it can happen to anyone from novice to pro athlete, especially when trying to take the game to next level and raise the bar.

If you suddenly succumb to an injury, some negative things start to happen. If you’re a newbie, an acute (sudden) injury may make you want to pack it in. Sure, it’s safer on the couch than in that kick boxing class if you sprained an ankle or pulled something in your shoulder. If you’re already a conditioned athlete, fitness fanatic or on your way to becoming one, an injury can even cause some mild depression. It’s true what they say, exercise is addictive and when you miss your fix, even for just a couple of days, you start to feel down, irritable and anxious.

Before I bum you out any more, there is a beacon of light. You can take this promise to the bank because I stand behind this completely: an injury can be a blessing in disguise. I ought to know! I’ve had 2 spine surgeries from degenerative discs and bone spurs in my neck plus a myriad of sprained ankles and bouts of tendonitis due to my inherited skeletal structure. Not to mention, all sorts of nasty rips and tears from over use and “accidents”. I’m not sure if I can blame that part completely on genetics. Unless of course I inherited my stubborn will and OCD….hmmmm.

Anyway, the upside is an injury – if you don’t let it get the best of you – will force you to Cross Train! If you got your injury doing the activity you do most (anything from running, to playing basketball, volleyball or even yoga), then this is the time for you to break out of the box and try new forms of exercise or learn a new sport. For example, when my doctors told me bike riding and running aren’t good ideas for me anymore because of my neck and disc problems, I joined an Outrigger team, then learned how to row crew and joined a rowing club. I also got certified to teach Pilates as another alternative to traditional gym workouts. Believe it or not, it was after my spine injuries that I got into the best shape of my life!

I was just telling a friend with a calf injury that he can do plenty of cycling, upper body weight training circuits, Pilates and the good old elliptical machine at his gym while he’s healing. And, what about swimming? Most people with a leg or foot injury can usually swim to their hearts content (once the swelling has subsided and the affected area is on the mend).

Cross training simply means varying your workout routine so you don’t always perform the same movements or condition the same area of your body day in and day out. Performing different activities requires you to use your muscles in different ways. For example, if you play a lot of “start and stop” sports like basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc., try doing a steady cardiovascular workout like a Spinning class, or jogging, elliptical machine for 45 minutes to an hour with no break (stay at a moderate to moderately high intensity for most of it) a few times a week. If you already do a lot of cardio machines at the gym or run every day, try doing a couple of Boot camps and Pilates classes each week. You’ll be surprised at how sore and winded you get when you start doing something out of the norm! I don’t care how much time you spend biking, talk to me after you take a Vinyasa Flow yoga class or even a Salsa dancing class.

Cross training is so good for you because varies the areas of your body that you place stress on when you do your usual workout or play your specific sport. After a while of doing the same movements over and over, your body becomes extremely efficient… at those particular movements. But it limits your overall fitness. Eventually you may stop seeing any improvement (see my blog post on “fitness plateaus”). The beauty of cross training is that it will develop other areas of your body that you may have been neglecting. And best of all, cross training is known to reduce risk of injury from repetitive strain or overuse! Hallelujah!
What’s that you’re saying? You already cross train enough? Maybe you lift weights once or twice a week, do stair stepping or treadmills and alternate that with your Spinning classes…. Well, that is definitely a start, but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Kick it up a notch with boot camps or circuits workouts. And if you have access to rowing classes or even real rowing, watch and see what happens to your legs and upper body.

There’s no truer saying when it comes to exercising while you have an injury than, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” There is always an alternative. Or maybe you haven’t seen the documentary film “Murderball.” If you’re injured and feeling sorry for yourself, I highly recommend renting it!

Here’s a few of the many reasons you should cross train:
• It reduces exercise boredom
• It gives you a higher level overall fitness
• It conditions more areas of your body
• It improves a variety of skills such as agility and balance
• It reduces your risk of injury
• It allows you to rest some muscles while others work.
• And, here’s the clincher: It enables you to continue to train while injured….. ding, ding, ding!!

And now for my final two tips of the day:

1 – If you’re injured, make sure you give yourself time to heal. Many athletes try to come back from an injury too quickly… I’m guilty too. If you do, you risk developing a secondary injury trying to make up for lost time or by compensating for the injured area by overusing other muscles.
2 – Beware of using poor technique. Something I see too much of is people learning a new sport or exercise without proper instruction or coaching. This will almost certainly lead to an injury or at least a bunch of undue discomfort and pain. Most people need some professional coaching or instruction when they start doing something new. It’s best to learn the proper techniques and develop good form right from the start. An instructor can help you modify exercises to fit your unique needs.


Seasonal Training / Preventing Fitness Plateaus

March 9, 2009

Those of you who have been taking my Spinning classes for a while (especially those of you who have been with me for the 15+ years I’ve been teaching) know that the seasonal training program we’re on works!

If you have not taken my class or are not familiar with the terms “seasonal” or “periodized” training, then let me back up.  I am a huge proponent for what my old boxing coach called “shuffling the deck” or surprising your body.  You’ve probably heard that doing the same routine day in and day out, year after year is a good way to maintain the status quo, but not a good way to improve your fitness level.  For those of you who have a set routine you follow, (i.e. – 3 mile jog 5 times a week, followed by 100 crunches and 25 push ups), you should be commended for you discipline!  However, you are not doing your body a favor if you have been doing the same routine for several years.   The upside of course is that it gets nice and easy to do once you’ve been at it for a while, making sticking to your workout a habit – and that’s good!  But the down side is after a while you may actually lose fitness.  As crazy as that sounds, it’s true!  Just like your body builds tolerance to drugs, like antibiotics, your body also builds total tolerance to a workout routine.  When that happens, you will stop seeing results, meaning you have plateaued.  If you think of what a plateau looks like, you know at the end of it, there’s only one way to go…. down.   That is what happens to your fitness level.  It actually starts to decrease! 

If you have a trainer, your trainer should be varying your workout.  If you don’t, then it’s time for you to start spicing things up.  You can find a new toy – try getting into a cool new exercise machine at the gym.  Personally I’ve got a jones for the new elliptical machine at Sports Club/LA – the Precor 100i – because it requires more coordination than other elliptical trainers with arms.  On the 100i, (I’m not being paid for this by the way!),  you can simulate an easy jog or run against resistance going full throttle!   Anyway, back to the point – start by varying your intensity levels if you are especially partial to activities like walking, jogging, swimming or cycling.   This means don’t stay at the same intensity level for you whole workout.

Here’s an example of how to add interval training to your Cardio routine:  Mons./Weds./Fris. do your regular routine. On Tues. and / or Sats. perform intervals where you walk, jog, swim or cycle at a comfortable intensity for 5 minutes, then go hard for 1 – 2 minutes (you should feel some muscle burn and get a bit winded).  Keep doing this cycle for whatever amount of time you typically exercise (the 5 min. “off” and 1 – 2  min. “on” format can be varied to whatever feels like a good challenge for you, but not so hard that you feel defeated when it’s done).   Then on Thurs. go extra easy for a longer amount of time than your typical session.  

That is just one example of a standard cardio interval training program.  If you do a resistance training routine, then you can shake off the dust by learning new exercises that are more dynamic (incorporating more muscles groups at once doing  or more complex movements).   It can also be as simple as moving up in weights, adding more reps, “super setting” a few of the exercises into one set or switching the order of the exercises.  For example, if you typically do “Military Presses” for shoulders, then “Skull Crushers” for triceps , reverse the order and you will see that suddenly you can use heavier weights or do more reps for your triceps and that the shoulder presses will now feel harder!

If you have trained with me before, or take my Boot Camp class, then you know we never do the same routine twice.  We may do the same exercise or super set a few weeks in a row, but not in the same order.  It’s not just because I’m a little ADD!   Hey, when it comes to designing work outs, having a little ADD can be a benefit.

If you take my Spinning classes, you may be aware that I do “Seasonal” training.  Meaning, every 9 weeks we change our overall focus.  One season is about building strength and the endurance to climb hills at a slow pace for a long time.  Another season is focused on maintaining and sustaining a certain speed for longer and longer periods of time.  Of course we also do a pure “interval” season, and that’s coming up fast…. we start the last Sunday of March!!  It all comes together in the summer for “racing” season.  That’s when we really shuffle the deck!  Each class is a surprise to keep your body guessing.  Why do I do this seasonal training with Spinning in particular?  Because for those of us who have been doing it for years and years, it prevents us from reaching the dreaded plateau!

As a member of the American Council on Exercise and a certified ACE instructor and trainer, you can read more about “Periodized Training” in an article from their Fit Facts archives by following this link (provided by permission):

Enjoy it…. and fit will happen!

The skinny on low-intensity exercise and burning fat!

February 27, 2009

Does exercising at a lower intensity burn more fat than at a higher intensity?  Yes.

Will you lose weight faster exercising at a lower intensity than at a higher intensity?  NOOO!

There’s been a long-standing myth in the fitness community that exercising at a lower heart rate (“the fat burning zone”) is the best way to burn fat vs. exercising at a higher heart rate. If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is not true!  It’s all about percentages and if you’re not clear on how the percentages of fat calories relate to overall calorie expenditure, you’re likely to believe the myth.

Around 2 decades ago, researchers found that fat is primarily used as the fuel source for light aerobic activity and that carbohydrates stored in the body (which convert to energy faster than fat), are primarily used as the fuel source for higher intensity exercise.

Percentage-wise, more fat calories are burned during low-intensity exercise.  For example, approximately 60% or more of total calories burned during light exercise may come from fat, whereas around 35% or possibly less of total calories may come from fat during vigorous workouts.  However, when you do the math, higher-intensity exercise still burns more calories from fat, and more calories overall, in the end.

Here’s a good hypothetical scenario: 

A 140-pound woman does a one-hour walk for exercise at a light to moderate intensity (60-70% max heart rate – no huffing and puffing), she may burn around 192 calories.  If 75% of those calories come from fat, then that equals 144 fat calories (144 calories came from fat out of the total 192).  Now, if she steps it up a couple of notches and jogs at a moderate to moderately high intensity (70-80% max heart rate – a little huffing and puffing, or heavy breathing), she’ll burn around 288 calories.  If only 50% of those calories come from fat, she’ll still burn the same number of fat calories (144), but she will have burned nearly 100 more calories in that same hour.  Remember, you have to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat (and those calories can come from carbohydrates or fat), so exercising at the higher intensity will get you there faster!

Low-intensity workouts can still help you lose weight, it just takes a whole lot longer.  Our hypothetical woman would have to walk for around 90 minutes to burn the same number of total calories as a one-hour jog.

On the other hand, one of the major benefits to higher intensity exercises (such as ones that build muscle strength like circuit training with weights, boot camps, cycling or running reasonably hard) is that these activities require your body to work at a much higher metabolic rate.  That means your metabolism stays up long after your workout is over.  This is what is referred to as “afterburn.”   At the end of the day, the more muscle you put on your body, the more calories you burn all day long.  For example, even at rest, each pound of muscle on your body can burn approximately 30 to 50 calories a day.  Muscle is what’s known as “metabolically active” tissue.  Fat on the other hand is lazy and only burns only around 3 calories a day! 

But back to the original point…. The possible upside to doing low-intensity exercise is that it’s less intimidating and easier to stick to for people who are just getting started on a fitness program.  Therefore, if you’re out of shape and need to start exercising regularly you may enjoy it more if it’s low-intensity.  Then, after you’ve been at it for a little while, you may get the urge and motivation to kick it up a few notches

How many calories can you eat a day for FREE? Calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate.

February 22, 2009

Ever wonder how many calories you burn a day?  Have you been sick in bed with the flu and unable to eat?  The amount of calories your body burns just to keep your systems running, like breathing, circulating blood, processing thoughts, building new or repairing damaged cells, etc.  All this stuff requires energy from the body, so even if you’re sitting around watching a 24-hour “Three Stooges Marathon”, all those systems are still working even if you don’t move from the couch.  This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).  It’s quite simply the amount of calories you need to consume a day just to stay alive.

It’s not terribly difficult to get a decent estimate of this number.  Just grab a pen and paper, or launch the calculator application on your computer and let’s figure it out!

Step 1:  If you’re a woman multiply your body weight by 10.  If you’re a man, multiply by 11.  (The reason men calculate their bmr using the number 11 instead of 10 is that they usually have 10 to 20% more muscle than women do.)

Now how hard was that?  That means if you’re a 130 pound woman, you really can eat 1,300 calories a day, do literally nothing and not gain pound!  Pretty cool huh?  The bummer is most people eat more than that .  A double cheeseburger, large fries and soda will take you to around that mark in one meal.  Fortunately there are great tools on the web if you want to know how many calories are in just about anything you eat. is one of the several sites I like to use.

Now, if you’re reading my blog, chances are you already work out, or want to start working out regularly.  So, let’s get a more accurate number for that BMR, shall we?

If you’re not bed ridden or watching a marathon of re-runs on cable, you have some sort of activity level to factor into your BMR, even if it’s just going to and from your desk job.

So, to get a more accurate BMR number, simply multiply the original BMR number (your body weight times 10 or 11), then multiply that by:

.2 if you do little more than go to and from work and run errands (very sedentary)

.3 if you a lightly active (shopping, walking your dog, light household chores, a couple of hours of aerobic exercise at the gym per week etc.)

.4 if you’re moderately active (exercising most days of the week for an hour or more at a moderate to moderately high intensity)

.5 if you’re very active (competitive level, very athletic, exercise junkies… you know who you are!)

Hint:  if you think you’re somewhere in between multiply by .35 or .45, for example.

Finally, it’s thought that basic digestion makes up about 10% of your calorie burning so take that original BMR number (your body weight times 10 or 11) and multiply that by .10.

 Add all these numbers up and viola!  That’s approximately how many calories you can consume a day without gaining or losing. 

For example, the BMR of a 140-pound woman would be 1400.  If she is moderately active for example doing a lot gardening and goes to the gym a couple of times a week, we multiply 1400 by .4 which equals 560.  Then we also take 1400 – the BMR – and multiply that by .10 for digestion.  That equals 140.  Now we just add 1400 plus 560 plus 140 to get 2100 and that would be her daily caloric needs to maintain the status quo. You might wonder if you can eat all those calories as milkshakes, French fries or pizza (ok, maybe that’s just me), but all calories are NOT created equal.  I’ll save that for a future blog!

Unfortunately, we haven’t accounted for age in this equation.  The bad news is  as we get older our calorie needs decline.  For women, this is usally after 25 or 30 years old – hey, don’t shoot the messenger!  Then, approximately every decade or so after 30, our metabolism decreases around 3 to 5%.  If you’re 40 now, you’ve probably started to notice that, right? 

One reason is we typically become less active as we get older and pesky hormones – especially for women – also change our bodies, not to mention our moods!  In short, the less muscle we have, the less calories we burn.

But there is some good news!  No matter what your age is, it’s never too late to increase your muscle mass!  Lifting weights and strength training can actually reverse a decade’s worth of lost muscle.  It is proven that the human body can continue to build muscle through resistance training until we kick the bucket.

One final note:  genetics also affect metabolism.  You know those lucky few who can eat whatever they want and never seem to gain wegith?  Well don’t blame them, blame their DNA because a fast metabolism can be inherited!  genetics also affect metabolism.

Welcome to my blog about all things health & fitness…. day 1

February 12, 2009

Chances are you’re here to get some tips or advice on getting in shape, eating healthier and working out.  I’ve been a fitness professional for almost 2o years!  OMG, am I really that old?  That’s almost half my life.  And frankly, that is exactly how it all started, half my life time ago.  I was a pretty skinny kid who ate like crap.  Many of you who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s know what I’m talking about.  Fruit Loops were “enriched”, Wonder Bread was “enriched”.  Sounded good to our moms, and so did antibiotics… given to cows!  Well, you may have heard that anything “enriched” is pretty much junk food.  Oh, well, maybe you haven’t heard.  The reason why foods like cereals and breads get enriched is because all the fiber and nutrients got bleached out of it, so they had to put something back into it so you wouldn’t just be eating empty calories (food with zero nutritional value ).  So moms, if you think your kids are getting their daily dose of vitamins and iron thru enriched products, you might want to give them an extra multi-vitamin to be safe.  But better yet, just have the whole family eat more whole foods…. like apples, oranges, kiwis and grapes instead of the fruit flavors that Toucan Sam  and Kellogg’s want you to feed your kids.  Tip:  try anything from Kashi brand, Barbara’s, Nature’s Path, or Cascadian Farms (owned by General Mills – there’s really no escaping them in the cereal isle!).  Anyway, you’ve probably heard all about the questionable use of hormones and antibiotics in milk already, so I won’t go into that here.

But I digress.  This is my first blog and it’s purpose is to tell you why I became a fitness expert.   The reason I got into the whole business and lifestyle of promoting health & fitness is because half my life time ago, I wasn’t all that healthy.  I thought sleep was overrated and for losers who didn’t have a jamming social life.  I thought any kind of salad was health food and sushi wasn’t fattening.  And I spent most of my time at rock & roll clubs, playing music and trying to build my tolerance to drinking alcohol!  (Fortunately that didn’t kill me!).  When I graduated college and was in the worst shape of my life, I joined a gym.  My free training sessions introduced me to  the gym’s new-fangled Nautilus equipment and my arch nemesis – the Stairmaster (the PT 1000 I think it was called.  Somewhere there’s probably a museum for this T-Rex of torture!)  My program, according to Amir, my free trainer for the day, was to do the Stairmaster for 20 to 30 minutes at least 3 times a week.  No prob I thought.  With my sweaty hands slipping down the rails, my legs and lungs burning and aches in my black high-top Reebok donning feet, I looked at the screen of flashing red dots only to see the countdown clock saying “25:00 remaining”!  How did this happen to me?  I demanded an answer from God.  But there was none.  I looked at the giggling flab on my belly, stopped my feet and sank to the bottom of the machine.  I stepped off demoralized and saw a long road ahead of me.  I took a few steps towards the horizon, then those steps became strides, the strides became leaps, and then I got tedonitis!  But that story is for another blog.

Fit happens!