Thursday, January 31, 2013

Training for Fat Loss vs. Training for Fitness

The other day I overheard a certified trainer(!!) saying that since she was only working out once a week, she wanted the session to focus on upper body toning and abdominal definition.  Oh, and she only had four weeks to do this.

So, by my math... a total 4 hours out of 476 (assuming she was sleeping 7 hours a night, which in our current society is a generous estimate) were going to be put towards this goal - the mythical "muscle tone" that is the fitness equivalent of a unicorn.  (This post is too short for me to go into dispelling all of the inherent wrongness of the first paragraph, but to understand why the concept of training to "tone up" annoys me so much you can see the actual definition of "muscle tone" here...)

"I'd like better upper body muscle tone and a six pack, please..."

Now, my opinions both of her ability/knowledge as a trainer and, therefore, the certification process that she went through aside (ugh),  I couldn't resist posting onto my Facebook wall a comment that said something to the effect of: "Training for fat loss and training for fitness, although related, are not necessarily the same thing"... which actually generated a number of comments/questions (both on the wall itself and directed to me).  So, as suggested by a friend - I thought I would elaborate.

Firstly - keep in mind that there is a difference between "Training" and "Exercise"... it is important to understand this concept from the beginning.  Not sure what I mean?  Read this first...

Secondly, it's not that you can't achieve fat loss without training for it specifically (and this is why they're related), it's that there are ways of training that are more effective for it than others.  The problem is that we have developed into an impatient, "fix-it-fast" society with a global case of physical-health ADD, and we change our targets on a weekly, or even daily, basis. ("Wow, what a crazy weekend of debauchery.  I know I'm training for an Ironman, but could we do some extra cardio and abs today to make up for my terrible eating and drinking?")

So, essentially what I was trying to say in my terse (and unintentionally cryptic) Facebook post is that you need to look at what your primary goal is, how much time and effort you're willing to put into that goal, and then set your program based on those variables.  Yes, fat-loss can occur with a huge variety of different training modes and methods - but some are simply more efficient/effective than others and you have to decide what is most important to you.

Oh, and just to beat the metaphorical dead horse, in the end it doesn't matter what you're training for.  Barring some sort of medical disorder (which is a smaller percentage than our society of finger-pointing would have you believe) - if you're eating healthy you will lose weight.  So regardless of your goals - set your starting point with nutrition.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Movement is My Meditation

I signed up for the UBC Olympic Triathlon this March and the increased volume of training combined with busy days has left me feeling a little rough around the edges.  In an effort to combat my fatigue, give my soul a chance to breathe and my body a break I decided to register for a yoga class once a week.  I start this Friday. 

I’m looking forward to a much needed change of pace but I’m worried about the “meditation moment” found in most classes.  You know that moment when you sit in silence and are supposed to clear your mind but think about everything you could, should, and would be doing if you weren’t sitting in a warm room, with a bunch of people, not moving. That moment worries me. 

This is me "meditating".

As I was telling someone about this the other day I realized that it’s not the "meditating" that gets me, it’s the "not moving".  Now, before you jump to conclusions and peg me as “Type A” give me a chance to explain.  

To me, meditation is the moment when you think without thinking and you are who you are.  It’s when peace presides over the body, mind and soul - which is exactly what I think some yoga instructors are trying to help people achieve.  The problem is I don’t think everyone meditates the same way.  Case in point: I’ve learned that movement is my meditation

When my body is moving, I am at peace.  It’s in these moments that I am my most creative, I am able to make the best decisions and I feel completely at ease.  I could be cleaning my house, lifting weights, going for a run, or taking our dog for a walk.  It doesn’t matter what I’m doing as long as I am doing something.  I know it sounds counter-intuitive, you would think that in order to “shut down” you should literally “shut down” - but it works for me.  And, that’s the point.

Whatever it is and however you practice it, you need to “shut down” - to restore your soul, relax your body and quiet your mind.  Find your peace... wherever it may be.

~ Sasha 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Heart Rate Monitors - How Are You Using Yours?

I've utilized a heart rate monitor in my training protocols (both for myself and with clients) since I started in the industry about eleven years ago.  But I have to admit something - I believe that I used it wrong for the majority of that time.


I know, shocking - but really, that's what happens when we learn and develop new systems, both as individuals and on a much grander scale.  Now, to be clear - when I say I used it wrong I don't mean that I had it hooked up incorrectly or that I didn't understand how to set the various functions - but rather, I focused on the wrong aspect.

Calories.  I tracked the calories, and I had my clients track their calories.  How many did you burn during this session - how many during the week?  The month?

I feel that this was my mistake.  Why?  Because how many calories you burn is only one part of a much bigger picture - and frankly, it's also one of the most irrelevant.  For two reasons - firstly, depending on what type of training you're doing, you may not be burning a lot of calories... which does not make that type of training any less effective.  And secondly, if you're worried about fat loss, then (at best) how many calories you burned during a session is simply going to highlight the need for a proper nutritional plan and, at worst, demotivate you when you realize that the ass-kicking session you just finished didn't even burn a third of the crap meal that you ate the night before.

So with this in mind, I'm still a huge believer in heart rate monitors - but I'm going to recommend you try using it in a different way.  Stop tracking how many calories you're burning during sessions, and start tracking the heart rate itself.
  • How high does it get during different types of exercise?  Is there any variation between workouts, or are you always red-lining?
  • What is your average, as well as the maximum reached, during the same workout in different weeks?  How does this relate to the quality of your eating, and the quality of your sleep?

The reason I'm suggesting you watch these things is because they give you so much more insight into the bigger picture, offering clues and hints at over-training, lack of recovery, poor nutrition and poor sleep habits... all of which can impact the quality of your training sessions much more than "how many calories" you've burned.

Give it a try for a month - what have you got to lose?


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Avoid Cold-Weather Weight Gain

The winter months can feel long, and the cold, wet weather makes sitting on your couch next to the fire far more appealing than heading outside. These are also the months when it’s easier to hit the snooze button and burrow under the covers rather than getting up and getting moving. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to let yourself get caught up in the doldrums of the weather and missing out on some of the great activities that these seasons have to offer.

There are a lot of ways to stay on track with your fitness over the long months leading up to the spring and summer, but more often than not many of us use it as an excuse to hibernate from our health and wellness.  As a result of this, the appearance of nice weather often brings with it the added stress of getting ‘back’ in shape.  Instead of letting all of your hard work fall by the wayside, why not find ways to stay fit?

Looks like he missed the memo.
This year, instead of heading indoors, why not change up your routine and try something new? There are lots of great outdoor activities that can be done on your own or, better yet, shared with the entire family.  Head down to your local arena or outdoor rink for an afternoon of family fun, or check out one the local mountains and try something that only this season has to offer, like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. 

Instead of hibernating and creating more work for when the days get longer, explore some of the fun ways to get outside that aren’t available other times of the year.   You never know – you might find a whole new passion that you’ve been missing out on all this time!

~ Sasha

Monday, January 7, 2013

What Are You Doing It For?

Before anyone starts training regularly with us, we bring them in for a consultation - a chance to sit down and discuss their goals, how we'd go about achieving these goals, and so on.  Quite often, the individual I'm meeting with will tell me that they'd like to run a 10km race/half marathon/full marathon... to which I follow up with a single question:


Now, (very) occasionally the response is something like "Well, when I did the marathon last year, I felt great right up to mile 23, but then I hit the wall... which really sucked, because I was heading for a personal best.  I'd like to see if I can improve that....".

Unfortunately, the number of people who answer this way are rare - more often, I receive a blank look.  So I'll go a little further and ask "Do you really, really, love running?  Is running a passion for you?" - because if it's not, then I have a little morsel of truth for you: running is hard.  It's hard on the body, it's hard on the mind, and believe me, if you're not doing it out of a passion for running - then it's just that much harder, and you're probably not going to stick with it for very long.

This can be applied across the board, to all facets of health and fitness.  No matter what your starting point is, your journey is going to be a roller coaster - there will be good times, bad times, and times when temptation and/or apathy can feel almost impossible to overcome.  And if your goal is some extrinsically driven motivation then, unfortunately - failure is almost guaranteed.  The day-to-day has to be tied into the long term passion, so that every time the temptation to eat badly or to skip a workout pops up... you will overcome it. 

If you can't find a way to enjoy the journey - you're never going to get to the destination.