Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring into Fitness!!

Question: I have a very simple question for you…how often should I weigh myself?

Answer:  Assuming you’re trying to lose weight, it really depends on where you are in the weight loss process and how sensitive you are to the results. If you’re in the early stages of active weight loss, I’d only recommend weighing in once every one to two weeks. Keeping it to a minimum will help you focus more on your behaviors. After all, consistency is key when it comes to both diet and exercise, and obsessing about the numbers on the scale won’t change anything. And let’s not forget that it can take some time for the scale to start trending down, especially if you’ve just started an exercise program. However, if you’ve reached your weight loss goals, and you’re now in maintenance mode, I’d recommend weighing yourself more frequently. That’s right—I said more often, and there’s actually research to support this. The logic behind it is simple. If you’re weighing more frequently, you’ll be able to quickly identify weight gain trends and respond accordingly. A couple days each week is probably enough to keep you at or near your target. There’s one last point that’s important here, and it sort of goes without saying. The number on the scale is just one aspect of the weight loss process. In other words, tracking other metrics of success, like how you’re feeling, your circumference measurements, and your body composition are just as important!       

Question: People keep telling me that MOST supplements simply don’t work. If that’s the case, can you tell me which ones do work well?

Answer: I would agree that there are many supplements out there with very strong marketing, but little research to support either their efficacy or safety. That said, there are some tried and true supplements that may help improve health and/or performance, but the decision to use them or not depends on what your specific goals are. Without knowing much more about your particular situation, here’s a short list of what I like to call foundational supplements that may be beneficial in one way or another:

  • Multivitamin/ mineral
  • Fish oil
  • Sports nutrition bars
  • Sports drinks
  • Protein powder
  • Pre- and post-workout formulas
  • Creatine
  • Caffeine

These are generally considered to be safe supplements that either promote health or provide some ergogenic benefit. However, this is by no means an exhaustive list, so my advice would be to talk to a registered dietitian so they can help you determine whether a specific supplement is appropriate for you.


Question: A friend of mine keeps telling me I should be doing more compound movements. What does this mean and what are the benefits?

Answer:  Your friend is right! Isolated movements are really more appropriate for targeting weak areas or for rehabilitating after an injury. Today’s fitness trends typically involve more functional movements that mimic real-life activities. That’s why compound exercises are becoming so popular. They’re essentially just multi-joint exercises that work several muscles at a time. Examples include pull-ups, push-ups, squats, lunges, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, dips, and even jumping rope. And this is only scratching the surface when it comes to compound exercises. There are numerous reasons to incorporate more compound movements into your training. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Provides a full body workout in a shorter period of time
  • Improves coordination, reaction time, and balance
  • Provides cardiovascular benefits by keeping your heart rate elevated
  • Decreases risk of injury during sports
  • Burns more calories
  • Allows for heavier lifts that will build strength faster

I highly recommend adding compound movements to your workout regimen, and if you give them a try, have fun with them and get creative. Think of new ways to use stability balls, medicine balls, Bosu balls, bands, kettlebells, ropes, and, of course, your own body weight to work multiple muscle groups at a time! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

February Questions Answered

Question: What do you think about meal delivery systems like Seattle Sutton? Are they worthwhile if weight loss is my primary focus?

Answer:  These types of programs can be a great option, but it depends on what you’re looking for. Many people like the fact that all the prep work is done for you. Let’s face it—lack of time and energy to cook is a significant barrier to healthy eating and all of the rewards that come with it. Others like the fact that you can choose a particular calorie level, and I’ve also heard people say that meals have been quite fresh and tasty, which was actually a bit of a surprise. The downside is that sometimes these plans can be almost too easy, which makes the transition off of the program that much more difficult. You still have to educate yourself on how to eat healthy for the long-term, and these programs don’t necessarily help you do that. They can also be quite expensive, especially if you continue to grocery shop and add other foods as snacks between meals. In the end, you have to look at all of these factors and make the best decision for your particular situation.

Question: Can you help me to clarify the issue of rest intervals when strength training?

Answer:  Absolutely. Rest intervals can vary greatly depending on your goals and the type of training you’re engaged in. If your focus is on highly explosive and intense multi-joint movements like squatting, deadlifts, and cleans, then you could take up to 5 minutes between sets for recovery. However, most casual exercisers that incorporate strength training as part of their workout regimen would be fine with a 2-3 minute rest between sets, assuming you’re only working one muscle group at a time. A newer training style (or several actually) involve virtually no rest between sets. Things like compound sets or supersets, or even whole-body circuit training, focus on shorter, higher-intensity workouts where rest in minimized throughout the workout. These days, people want to get in, get out, and go home, so the only rest they get occurs during the transition periods from one exercise to the next. The moral of the story is that if you’re looking to enhance strength and power, focus on longer rest periods, but if a more cardiovascular type of strength training is important to you, focus on constant movement!


Question: What are your thoughts on energy drinks? Good, bad, or indifferent?

Answer:  I’m a big advocate of living a healthy lifestyle and putting quality foods and beverages into your system. That said, in my humble opinion, energy drinks really don’t qualify as healthy beverages. Generally speaking, they’re loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners, ridiculous amounts of B vitamins, various stimulants, and probably a few goodies you’ve never even heard of. Not my ideal pick-me-up, pre-workout beverage, or thirst quencher. If I’m a bit low on energy on a given day, I would rather focus on other factors that I can control. How was my sleep the last few days…have I been consistently eating and drinking throughout the day…have I been under any stress as of late that may be bogging me down? These are things that I can probably remedy with subtle lifestyle changes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having an occasional energy drink is going to cause harm per se, but I just think far too many people rely on these types of products to get them through their day. Ultimately, they’re devoid of nutritional value and they’re simply a crutch for most folks. Bottom line—I  think it’s important to focus on diet quality as much as diet quantity, so my advice would be to try and find a healthier alternative.

Monday, September 19, 2011

September Fitness Tips

Expert answers to your health and wellness questions

By Shelby Hill

Question: I’m not a particularly great cook, and I seem to eat a lot of boxed foods. Is this a problem if health is one of my primary goals?
Answer: It really depends on the specific foods you’re eating, but it’s definitely advantageous to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables and all-natural whole grains as possible, not to mention fresh meats and seafood. That said, convenience, price, and several other factors most likely play into your food choices as well, so choosing the best foods 100% of the time may not be all that practical. My advice to you would be to move in the direction of fresh foods as much as you can, given your particular lifestyle. And remember, you don’t have to be a great cook to reap the health benefits of nutrient-dense foods. They may taste better if you know how to properly prepare them, but it’s pretty easy to throw together some chicken or fish with a cooked whole grain and some veggies for a quick and easy (and healthy) dinner. I would also recommend taking a basic cooking class so you can learn a new skill—one that will continue to pay health dividends moving forward.

Question: I hate getting sick. Can you provide some tips and hints to keep me healthy throughout the winter months?
Answer: I’m with you—being sick sucks! Luckily, there are a couple tried and true habits that will help you avoid the latest bug. First of all, wash your hands frequently, and by all means, avoid touching your face (especially your eyes, nose, and mouth). Drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of sleep (people forget how important this is to a healthy immune system), and get a flu shot as well. It goes without saying that a healthful diet is ideal, but I would also recommend a good quality multivitamin/ mineral supplement too, since most people struggle to eat a balanced and varied diet on a daily basis. But to me, the most effective way to avoid illness is to stay away from people that are already sick. This can certainly be a challenge, especially if you have kids, but do your best. Put these tips to good use, and you should be able to skirt through the winter with nothing more than the occasional head cold, if that!

Question: I’m big into weightlifting, but I’m not a huge fan of cardio. Is there a way for me to enhance heart health without hopping on one of the traditional pieces of cardio equipment for 45 minutes at the gym?
Answer: Yes—absolutely! Cardio doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get on the bike, treadmill, or elliptical. You simply need to get your heart rate up and that can be accomplished during your weight training sessions. Doing compound sets or supersets, or intense circuits with very little rest, will definitely get your heart rate kicking, and these provide the fitness and health benefits you’re looking for. You can get active in plenty of other ways too, without feeling like a hamster on a wheel. Try playing one of your favorite sports or go hiking in a nearby park. Even tubing or sledding in the wintertime can provide a good cardiovascular workout. Just think outside the box a little and keep the focus on fun!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August Trainer Tips

Expert answers to your health and wellness questions

By Shelby Hill

Question: I usually skip breakfast, but I keep reading how good it is for me. What are the best options for breakfast foods?
Answer:  Eating breakfast in the morning is a great way to jumpstart your day. It helps boost your metabolism and keeps you focused longer at work. Some say eating something is always better than nothing, and while this is generally true, there are some foods that are much more beneficial to include in the day’s first meal. Eggs are always a great way to get protein and healthy fats into your system, and also keep you feeling full longer. Whole grains are another crucial component to remember for your breakfast. Whole wheat toast with a sugar-free fruit spread is healthy option that contains anti-oxidants and fiber. Fruits and vegetables should be incorporated when possible—they supply nutritious carbohydrates that keep the body energized and feeling awake. I’m assuming everyone is waiting for their beloved cup of coffee to make this list. Well, fear not, coffee is also a low-calorie option, assuming you’re not ordering a large caramel swirl sugar-filled latte. Adding some fat-free skim milk to black coffee is an excellent way to get your daily calcium requirements and it also contains numerous vitamins and minerals. Whether you eat your breakfast on-the-go, or make time for a formal sit-down meal, be sure include healthy options, while still keeping your breakfast convenient to you.

Question: I work inside all day and don’t see much sun. Should I be supplementing with vitamin D?
Answer: It depends. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is absorbed in conjunction with calcium, promoting healthy bone growth. Vitamin D can be ingested through food or supplement, but it can also be produced by the body when in direct sunlight. The daily recommended amount of vitamin D is 10 μg. This is including any vitamin D absorbed from UV rays. Fortunately, that only requires a short amount of sunlight (about 15 minutes) to get the daily recommendation, depending on where you live and how intense the sun rays are. During the colder months, vitamin D can be ingested from foods such as: fish, milk, mushrooms, and fortified cereals. If all of those approaches don’t seem to work, supplementing vitamin D is a feasible option that should be discussed with your doctor in advance.

Question: All of my runs tend to be on flat ground. What are the benefits of running hills?
Answer:  Hill running is one of the best workouts to consider when training for races. It helps build muscle, improve speed, and can take your endurance to a whole new level. Picking the right hill to run can sometimes be a chore—it’s important to find one that isn’t too steep or too flat. You should find a hill that is about a quarter mile long and steep enough to provide a challenge, but flat enough that you aren’t putting too much strain on your ankles and shins, causing injury. Always begin a hill workout with a short 5-10 minute warm up. Loosen the muscles so that they are primed for a strenuous run. On your first hill workout, aim for 4 repetitions—run up the hill, jog down, repeat. Gradually increase repetitions when you begin to feel stronger and ready. The results of hill running are both physiologically and biomechanically rewarding. An avid hill runner will likely have an increased oxygen capacity, stronger and more defined leg muscles, and improved stride length and frequency (increased length from running uphill, increased frequency from running downhill). Another benefit from frequent hill running is the ability to “relax” when running, keeping the upper body from tensing up. Running hills for every workout is not recommended and can enhance injury risk, but adding a hill workout every 7-10 days is a sure way to reach noticeable and satisfying results.