Measure, Track and Burn Body Fat.

Now is the perfect time to get into peak shape. The weather is cooling and the holiday eating season hasn't yet begun. This issue will give you the tools you need.

Measure and Track Body Fat
Start by visiting trainercary.com/bodyfat for a simple online app that measures body fat. All you need is a tape measure and internet access, and you can see where you're at today and easily track progress in the future. This app is reasonably reliable, and can be more accurate than the handheld bio-impedance monitors. Do it with a friend, and track your progress together. Do it in your office and have a competition! If you'd like to learn more about measuring body fat, I've got an in-depth review of bodyfat measurement techniques.

When is a Deficit is Good Thing?
Calories are a measure of energy. A pound of body fat is equivalent to about 3500 calories. Take in 3500 more calories than you burn, and your body will store the excess energy as a pound of fat. Burn 3500 more calories than you take in and a pound of fat will disappear. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you need to burn 35,000 more calories than you take in.  An energy deficit is a good thing when it comes to burning fat.


For safe, effective weight loss, plan on losing about 1-2 pounds per week. Reduce your weekly caloric intake by 7000 calories, or increase your weekly caloric expenditures by 7000. Or split the difference and go for 3500 of each. You should lose about 2 pounds of fat per week following this simple formula.

Don't skip meals or reduce calories below 2000 without seeking medical advice. These approaches are not safe and usually don't work. The body goes into "survival mode" when it is deprived of needed calories and may actually reduce the amount of fat that is burned. You also may not be able to exercise as hard if you don't have the energy.

Maximize Your Cardio
Did you know that there is a scientifically proven way for most people to burn an extra 500-1000 calories a week without spending any more time working out? With Interval Training, your body continues to burn calories at a higher level for 1-3 hours after you exercise, so you'll burn an extra 100-200 calories per session. If you're doing 45-60 minutes of cardio 5 days a week, it adds up quickly.

An effective interval training program will typically involve 2 minutes of cardio at 65% of your maximum heart rate alternating with 2 minutes at 80%. You'll want to see your doctor before beginning a challenging new program, and it may help to meet with a fitness professional to set the heart rate targets and review cardio programming.

The publishers of Men's Health and Prevention magazine recently interviewed me for a web article about Interval Training, which goes into more detail on the subject.

Build Muscle to Burn Fat
A pound of muscle burns 40-50 calories a day, a pound of fat burns about 5 calories. Strength training is to build "lean muscle" is effective in two ways. You burn calories while doing the exercises, and your body will burn more fat while at rest. And you don't have to bulk up to do it - training in a range of 15-20 repetitions will give you that lean toned look without the added bulk. Focus on the larger muscles like legs, back and chest for maximum effectiveness, because the bigger the muscle the more calories it burns at work or rest. For a variety of fitness programs at every level, visit trainercary.com/exercise-programs.


Interval Training for Weight Loss and Performance Improvement

Interval Training can help you lose weight, improve performance in running and strengthen your heart. I was recently interview for an article on this subject.  Read more in "The Best Interval Training Technique for You" at Fitbie, produced by the publishers of Men's Health and Prevention magazines.


The Top 10 Exercises and Stretches for the Office Worker

Whether you've been lifting weights for years, playing sports, competing in marathons and triathlons, playing basketballs or soccer, or just starting out, most of you face the same challenge: transitioning from sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day to physical activity. (The same goes for many other occupations---cops, cab drivers, pilots, and judges are a few examples of people who tend to sit a lot face similar issues.

Proper conditioning can help avoid injuries, improve performance, and deliver better results. How? By correcting the postural distortions and muscle imbalances that office work creates.  Read on for the recommended exercises and stretches and links to an illustrated program.
The Problem:

Public Enemy #1 - The Chair Long periods of sitting can lead to tight hip flexors and weak core, including weak extended gluteals, tight and arched lower back and sagging abdominals. Over time, these imbalances can contribute to lower back pain, difficulty balancing, and less efficient movement.
Accomplices - The Keyboard and Computer Screen Leaning forward and working in front of your body for extended periods tends to tighten muscles in the chest and front of shoulder, overstretches the upper back, tighten the upper trapezius while overstretching the lower and middle trapezius, rhomboids. Breathing can become less efficient, the misalignment of the shoulder can lead to less force production in chest and shoulder exercises and increase the likelihood of shoulder injuries (especially to the rotator cuff).
It is a simple matter when you break it down: Stretch the muscles that get short (tight) all day long, and strenghten the muscles that get overly extended. For the most part, these muscles are on the opposite sides of the body. For example, chest/back or hips/glutes.
A Few Words About "Cardio":
Cardiovascular exercise is THE most important exercise you can do - but the definition is somewhat misused.   Exercise scientists and the government define "cardio" as anything that increases your heart rate, and recommend a minimum of 30 minutes a day. "Cardio" is not exactly the same as aerobic exercise - an activity is aerobic when your perform it for one minute or longer (at which point your body uses the aerobic energy system, fueled by oxygen).

Depending on your fitness level and goals, cardio could be brisk walking, stair climbing, dancing or running 5 miles. It could also be weight training. In fact, circuit training with limited rest between exercises can burn a similar number of calories and produce some of the same benefits as aerobic exercises. If you want to maximize your weight loss and conditioning, a trainer can assess you and give you a personalized target heart rate for your cardio training.

The trick with cardio is to find something that is comfortable for you to do and holds your interest. Your exercise and flexibility program can support your cardio training. Whether you're just starting out or competing in triathaons and marathons, you can improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.


And Now...The Top 10:
•Chest Stretch - Targets chest and front of shoulders; can improve posture and breathing and reduce risk of shoulder injuries
•Kneeling Hip and Quad Stretch - Targets hip flexors and quadriceps; can improve posture and reduce risk of low back and knee pain and injuries
•Calf Stretch - targets calf muscles and can reduce risk of knee and hip injuries and also help with Achilles tendon and plantar fascia
•Foam Roll Iliotibial Band - the IT band is difficult to stretch, and can contribute to many problems including knee pain and injuries
•Hip Abduction - Targets the gluteus medius and maximus; can indirectly help relax the IT Band and reduce the risk of knee injuries and low back pain and injuries.
•Rear Delt (Reverse) Fly - Targets rear deltoids, lower and mid trapezius and rhomboids; can improve posture and breathing and reduce risk of shoulder injuries
•Row - targets lats, rear delts and retracts the scapular, can improve posture and breathing and reduce risk of shoulder injuries
•Squat - Targets glutes and leg muscles, can improve posture and reduce risk of back and knee injuries.
•Leg Press - Targets glutes and leg muscles, can improve posture and reduce risk of back and knee injuries
•Plank - Targets the transversus abdominus and other deep abdominal core muscles, important for protecting the back and spine, and improving posture and breathing.

Visit trainercary.com for an illustrated program and 14 others that you can print and forward to friends.

The Fine Print 
These are typical exercises recommended for office workers, different exercises may be appropriate for you. Schedule your fitness assessment with a Certified Personal Trainer for your personalized recommendations. See a doctor before beginning any exercise program, and seek professional input if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, heart disease or any other medical condition. Proceed cautiously at your own risk.


Do Those Advertised Exercise Programs Work?

Miriam tells me that the men in her office have been doing that pre-packaged structured weight training program that you've seen marketed on television and heard about in the office, and now they've hurt their shoulders.  John suggested that I write about this same program.  My daughter Megan asked if I knew about the high intensity workout videos that they're doing in her dorm. 

There are many structured program packages sold today, they pretty much tell you what to do every, give you a log to track progress, and promise great results.  I can't name the programs, but these comments inspired this report.

Research has shown that at every fitness level, following a structured exercise program and tracking progress works better than doing an unstructured workout.  XpressLine at NYSC is an example of a good structured program for beginners, and is actually proven by research to be effective.  You'll also get similar benefits from most exercise videos, books, classes or working with a trainer.  Why?

Following a structured program does a better job of keeping you consistent.  (It works the same way with diets too - food logs and weigh-ins work!) In most cases, the differences between programs can be less important than the degree to which you actually follow a program.  It helps if the program is interesting and fun, if you can get a friend involved, and if there is variety and progression of difficulty. 

BUT...The questions with these programs are whether the program is right for you.

The pre-packaged structured programs generally don't do two things that can be very important to make them the right program for you: 
  1. they don't help decide which exercises are right or wrong for you based on assessment of your posture, movement patterns, and any muscle imbalances or injuries;
  2. they don't coach form, and help modify and progress or regress exercises so that they are right for you.
Megan's intense workout videos involve mostly calisthenics, some plyometrics, and constant movement.  There is some concern about proper exercise form, but college age kids can take a lot of physical punishment.  Since the exercises don't involve weights and are mainly familiar movements, they're not quite as risky as some of the other programs.  For people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and above...you need to be a lot more careful.
The program Miriam and John asked about uses weights, along with other exercises.  Miriam's co-workers probably have the typical "Wall Street roll," rounded and possibly elevated shoulders from working at a computer all day.  A program that is heavily into exercises like overhead presses, lateral raises and shrugs is probably not appropriate and could cause pain or injuries.  

Structured programs focus on a general fitness goal, but everyone does the same exercises. Videos and classes have the added benefit of someone leading and motivating you.  In classes, the group exercise instructor can also help with form and some group exercise instructors may be able to help with exercise selection (note: unlike physical therapy or most personal training certifications, the group exercise certification does not include assessment-based exercise prescription). 

Some pre-packaged programs make a big deal about muscle confusion.  They're right.  Research shows that your body adapts to an exercise program within about 4 weeks, and you hit a plateau.  (We call it the SAID principle, specific adaptation to imposed demand).  So most programs "periodize," meaning they change the program about every 4 weeks.  A good example would be going from two sets of 15 reps at a moderate weight to three sets of 10 at heavier weight.  There are different types of periodization, depending on goals and frequency of exercise.  Is muscle confusion a breakthrough?  Hardly.  They've done a good job of packaging a long-established technique called "undulating periodization."  That means you alternate between several different workouts and change as often as each exercise session.

Is it really better to do different exercises in each workout?  Arguably not.  The benefits are that it may keep the workout interesting and your body doesn't adapt to the training stimulus - however, research shows that the adaptation takes about four weeks.  The disadvantages of frequent changes:
  • an increase in  delayed onset muscle soreness and
  • difficulty in perfecting form and technique.  
In some ways, delayed onset muscle soreness is a marketer's dream.  Many people will think that because they feel sore for a few days they must have gotten a really good workout.  It just isn't so.  Delayed onset muscle soreness is experienced because of the change in routine, not because of more or less effectiveness.   Changing your routine too frequently is probably overkill.  You don't need to experience constant soreness to get results.

Very few of us buy a suit off the rack and have it fit us perfectly, shouldn't we make sure our exercise program is well tailored to us?  In some ways, you can think of the assessment at the start of your fitness program as getting measured for a bespoke suit.  However, a flight from India or a few long, tense days at work can also have a profound short term affect that you might want to address in your programming. 

Common postural and movement impairments seen among office workers are rounded and elevated shoulders, anterior pelvic tilt (tight hips/protruding buttocks), knock knees, and turned out feet.  Sometimes these can be noticed on sight, sometimes they require advanced movement screening to bring them out - in other words, they come out when you perform movements or exercises.  If your posture and movement patterns aren't right, you can experience injuries, ranging from tendonitis to sprains and tears to arthritis. In addition, you can't generate force properly so you won't be able to perform as well in working out or sports.  There are some exercises that you just cannot do with proper form - eliminate them from your program and try to improve your posture and movement patterns with corrective exercises.

Want to learn more about personalizing your program?  Visit the Mini-Assessment page at caryraffle.com for a brief overview of common postural and movement issues, exercises to avoid, and corrective exercises. 

Exercise progression refers to continually overloading the body's system by changing the exercise stimulus (see muscle confusion above). Increasing weight and/or repetitions is one way to progress, but shouldn't be the only way.  To truly overload the body and experience continued improvement in your fitness, also challenge your balance and stability.   Visit the Training Programs page at caryraffle.com for a progression of three mini programs for any fitness level. Additional progressions might include dynamic movement with weight and explosive power (Plyometrics) if appropriate.  Regression refers to reducing that overload; there is plenty of room for fine-tuning when it comes to exercise programming.

Progression and periodization can also help avoid repetitive motion injuries.  Exercises done over and over again in the same way with similar equipment become like working the assembly line in a factory.

People working on their own with structured programs, videos, or classes often either don't progress soon enough, or progress too quickly and don't workout with proper form.  I've been in the awkward position of group exercise instructor with that person - call them confident, cocky, or showoff - performing the most advanced version of the exercise I'm leading with horrible form.  Don't be that person. Monitor yourself strictly, make sure that the postural and movement problems noted above don't sneak into your workout as you progress.

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