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Training Intensely in the Female Body

I have had questions over the years regarding how to train while dealing with the normal hormonal fluctuations (menstrual cycle) that women have to contend with. Most recently it came up again, so I thought it a good topic for the weekend.

 

 

I’m going to break this down in the most basic of terms for the take home message.  Here we go!

 

When dealing with the menstrual cycle, there are three phases that we can look at in order to plan out the training.  Cycles typically last around 28 days and that works well in breaking down the training into 4 week  blocks.

 

The first phase after the period is the follicular phase which last about 14 days.  For simplicity lets just say that your body is producing hormones that are preparing the follicle to become an egg.  This is a good time because the hormones present in this phase make it a good time to hit the training hard.  You feel strong, your metabolism is a furnace and you feel strong in the gym.

 

The second phase is ovulation where the follicle is transforming in the egg.  This from day 10ish to day 17ish. But from a training standpoint you can think of this as a transition period.  Hormones are still high, so strength and output are strong, but changes are occurring hormonally that start to diminish motor control.  So this would not be a good time to learn a complex new movement or play super competitive, athletically demanding sports.

 

The third phase is the luteal phase, and this is the time when the egg and uterine lining are preparing to shed and thus ending in your period, so the last 14 days.  Due to the hormonal make up during that time energy is lower and symptoms of PMS make training at previous levels challenging.

 

So, all right we have a rudimentary understanding of what happens and the corresponding training sensations but how do we put this into our training so that we can maximize our intensity and absorption?

 

Basically, the first two weeks after your period you are good to go, crank it out and hit it hard.

 

The third week, you will maintain training intensity but allow for some of those training days to not be on par with the previous weeks. 

 

Once into the fourth week with full symptoms of PMS and your period, continue to exercise but allow yourself to back it off a bit so that you do not over tax your system.  This is important anyway because we should always have a “deload” week so that we can better absorb the training and refresh for the next cycle.

 

Super simple, but this will help to alleviate any frustrations some of you may be having when your body is pushing back right when you want to keep pushing forward!

Why We Do What We Do?

After getting a “report” from one of our clients about another studio and their level

of ineffectiveness, my typical reaction is one of disgust by which then fuels a rant

that many find humorous. But as I have grown softer and more reflective in my

years, I have chosen a different path.

Instead of pointing out the miss dealings of our industry and the wayward paths of

our competitors, I would like to just tell you what we do.

We train.

We plan an approach that when applied with the requisite intensity AND frequency

will improve your fitness level, without a doubt. More likely, you will get into the

best shape of your life. We are very clear about what is expected, and the

consequences of not applying yourself to the program.

We are safe.

We do the basic movement patterns, period. We are not in the entertainment

business. Even a simple bicep curl, when done with the weights, reps and form I

have seen and heard about can cause injury, so the more complex the movement,

the longer the learning curve and time needed to gain mastery. So prescribing,

jumps and highly technical moves WILL result in injury for the general population.

If someone says it is boring, I like to remind them that only boring people find life to

be boring.

We are hard.

Yes, it is hard – because that is what the body and mind need to adapt. Suck it up,

buttercup.

We will get you fit.

Without a doubt, and on that journey you will learn something about yourself that

no one can teach you. You will battle your demons, and place those demons on

people outside of you – until you have finally pushed through to the other side and

realize that the only one getting in your way is you. It is an amazing thing to watch

people go through that and reach a level of acceptance – and right at that moment

you see their fitness rise – powerful stuff. Because, in order to get fit, you have to be

willing to confront all of those voices telling you otherwise, quiet them and then

SQUAT them. Because you can’t be fit if you don’t squat!

We will not lie to you.

Truth is refreshing, it can suck also, it all depends on perspective. We will give you

the real answer, usually not the one you want to hear, but the real answer. We do

not buy into the notion of “that is good enough” – that is a 21 st century cop out. I

punish myself with extra of something if I ever utter those words.

Example, I was mowing my yard and did a section too fast so that the grass was

uneven. I looked over it and said “ ah, that is good enough” – I then said an expletive

and mowed it again. So, in class if you say to yourself “that effort was good enough,

at least I’m here”, crush your next interval – and likewise if you ask me how was my

effort – I will say it is a good start, but it could be better!

We keep it simple, but effective – operative word, effective!

Nutritional Eating – What?

I’m not sure if any topic has been written about more, at least in the last 30 years, than nutrition and dieting.

 

If you go back to your elementary school days it was a topic covered in great detail.  I’m sure you can remember the charts and food groups.

 

Yet, we struggle with proper nutrition as a society, why is that?

 

I did this the other night with my boys (they are 11), we had some leftovers from the weekend and I was also making dinner that night.  Now don’t be jealous, but I was preparing grilled pork chops with a side of applesauce (organic both of them) and sautéed green beans (organic).   I placed that meal on one plate and then heated up the leftovers of which were meatball pizza and a pasta and vegetable salad.  I showed the boys both of them and asked them which plate was more healthy and nutritious and why.

 

Hands down, without hesitation they chose the pork chops and green beans, as I’m sure you all did.  And when I asked why, they said the pizza and pasta salad combo was not as healthy and had a lot of extra calories.  I asked if the pizza and pasta salad combo had any good things in it and they answered yes, the cheese and sauce on the pizza and the vegetables in the pasta salad.  Then I asked what was not nutritious in the pizza and pasta salad and they answered the crust and the pasta.  Now, we switched to the pork chops and green beans.  I asked why that was nutritious and they said it was real food, you know the kind you grow.

 

So, fascinating right.  Good, solid answers with an understanding of what is healthy and what is not given the simple nature of the questions.  So clearly the education system and guidance at home has taught them what is healthy and not.  Also, I believe that this would happen in the majority of the households in America, for both adults and children.

 

So, why is it that we eat less nutritious food (we had pizza and pasta salad in our refrigerator!) and as a society struggle with weight??

 

My belief: affluence, abundance and choice. 

 

We have the money to buy what we want, when we want it.  We simply lack the discipline to eat how we should and know.

 

My grandmother use to talk about the “Great Depression”, and I was fascinated at the austerity they dealt with, yet she said they always had enough to eat.  They grew or raised everything: chickens, eggs, pork, beef, milk, vegetables, fruit, grains and traded for what they didn’t raise on the farm.  They ate their three squares a day of the four food groups (now a days it is five, fruits, vegetables, dairy, grain, protein foods).  The three squares a day is getting a bad rap of late, but humans like routine and it does help plan your day.  We need to only adopt this simple plan or one like it that involves healthy choices and we would well be on the way to correct the many ills that are affecting our society from a health standpoint. 

 

Somehow we have gotten so far away from sensible eating we need to right books about “diets” that were the norm in a less confused time.  The Paleo Diet is a perfect example.

 

So, discipline is the key.  Eat the five food groups from reputable sources, prepare them in a way that preserves their natural flavors, control the portions and hold yourself accountable.  Do that and then when you stray, which everyone does and should, you can manage it with little repercussions.  Imagine not spending every waking minute consumed with what you are going to eat next!  I know you do, because I hear it all day long!

 

Trust the knowledge you have, be realistic in your vision, and enjoy food, real food!

 

Hiking! The Lost Activity.

We don’t hike anymore.  Sure on occasion we amble through the trees of Central Park – but to actually plan an excursion – it is not done, at least at the frequency we should.

 

Why hiking?  We could go for a run or a walk and call it good so why go through the extra effort and find a place to hike?

 

Because!!

 

  • Health and Fitness – if you put on your best hiking shoes, load up your camelback and head out the door and cover 10 miles on rough terrain, you will hit muscles and fatigue yourself in ways you would not thought possible.

By carrying extra load, going up and down hills, and constantly adjusting to an undulating path your lungs and muscles will be burning in the most pleasurable way!

 

  • Exhilarating – the feeling you have after returning from your hike is akin to euphoria. You will be hyper aware, energized, happy and completely excited about life.  The next few hours following your hike you feel like Einstein, ready to solve all the world’s ills.

 

  • Disconnect – nothing is better for you than to only be focused on the next step. Bring your phone, but turn it off.  Just breathe, step, listen, and see.  The few hours will feel longer and stress will dissipate.  Nothing better for the body and mind than to rid yourself of the white noise and zone in on a simple task.

 

  • Nature – We evolved in the wild. Something stirs within us when we get out in the trees.  If you haven’t experienced it in a long time or if you have never – go out and get yourself in the environment that made us the species we are today.  It stimulates us to think and act, and who couldn’t use a little help thinking and then taking action?? (rhetorical question)

 

  • I’m sure there is more! The benefits of hiking are endless.  I have never met someone who didn’t enjoy a well thought out hike.

 

So now, the question of where?  We are in the concrete jungle, where can we go for a hike?  Well, let me tell you….

 

Right across the G.W. Bridge is Palisades Park, and in the park there are numerous trails to take advantage of, but the one gem that I like is The Long Path.  It literally goes all the way to Albany!  Super easy to get to, simply take the A train to the 175th Street Subway Station and walk across the G.W. Bridge and hook up to the trail on the other side!  Follow this link Long Path to learn about the trail history and map.  You can also buy a map from the New York – New Jersey trail conference.

 

Training regularly at As One will more than prepare you to handle a 3+ hour hike, but I would not do much more than that my first day out. 

 

If you are in the city on the weekend and trying to fill your day do this:  Call a friend (never hike alone), put on some good hiking boots, fill up your camelback and fill it with you favorite snacks, charge your phone (for emergencies only!), buy a subway ticket, grab a coffee an bagel for the ride to the G.W., then set off on a day of fun and adventure.  And I guarantee you will be kicking yourself on why you had not done that sooner!!

You Know What, a Goal is Important….

Right now you are saying, duh Mark – we know that.  Yes, I’m sure you do but even the doctor needs reminding to eat his apple every once and a while.

 

I just had this epiphany (for the 1000th time in my life) about giving yourself a goal to focus and reinvigorate your training and fitness pursuits.  I spent the last three months kind of preparing for an event and had pretty good success with the outcome, and at the end of it I found myself once again saying – “ you know, if you would have focused harder on your training – you could have done even better.”  You don’t know how many events I have done and said the same thing!

 

Let’s take a look at what a goal or goal event will do for you:

 

  • Gets you excited! – As soon as you sign up for something you are all jazzed about it, talk to everyone about it, and immediately start planning to prepare for it like an Olympic athlete.

 

  • Focuses training – At least once, look on youtube, or google to see either the event or what people have done to prepare for the event.

 

  • Seek out more information on how to appropriately prepare for the event. Talk to people in the know (As One) and past participants on their thoughts and experiences to help you take away the unknown.

 

  • Try your best to do it in a group – Obligation to the group is a fantastic motivator, and makes the prep work even more fun.

 

What are your choices for events?

 

Events can be self- made or organized and there are plenty of options out there. 

 

Here is a quick list:

  1. Hike somewhere interesting and challenging
  2. Sign up for a bike ride
  3. Run a race
  4. Sign up for an obstacle course race
  5. Sign up for a triathlon
  6. Paddle Board Race
  7. Pick a day and create a challenge workout
  8. Do an unassisted pullup
  9. Do an As One workout as prescribed

 

This is just a beginning list, really it could be anything you come up with that will require you to focus and prepare.  Goal Setting

One more point, the reason I have not listed aesthetic goals is that they never seem to work in the long run.  Certainly losing weight (if you are overweight, not because you want to chase the elusive six pack) is important for health reasons and also for performance, but as the primary focus, it is easily derailed because losing weight as a goal can be frustrating and disheartening.  Losing weight should be a secondary goal to an actual event or counter-acting a health issue.

 

So, I encourage you to find something fun and interesting, schedule it and then prepare for it at the best of your ability.  It will breathe new life and vigor into your training regime and open you up to new possibilities!!

 

Let us know and we can help!

 

 

Full Range of Motion, Damn it!

Ok, let’s get this locked in – you must do an exercise through its full range of motion, period!

 

So the obvious questions are:

  1. Why? Because, if I don’t go through the full range of motion it is easier.
  2. What is the correct full range of motion for the exercises?

 

Now for the answers.

 

Why?

Well, the answer to this could be long and esoteric, but I like to break it down into simple take home messages.

First, performing a movement through a full range of motion means you have the appropriate flexibility of the muscles around the joints involved in the motion, and the joint has the appropriate mobility to move through an optimal range.  So why would this be important?

If you read my last post, we do all this so that we can enjoy a long and active life.  If you can move more easily and without putting undo stress on your system – then it will make the golden years a bit more enjoyable.  An example is back pain, the majority of reported back pain is due to lack of proper flexibility and mobility of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC).  Which means that the muscles around and attaching to the low back, hip and legs are tight (and weak, but that is another topic).  Now let this go unchecked and you like 80% of the population will have some degree of back pain.  Ever try, biking, hiking, tennis, etc with low back pain – no you haven’t because you can’t – get my point.

So by doing every repetition to its fullest range of motion, you are establishing optimal joint integrity and health.

 

Also, work is force times distance over time.  So to do more work, and therefore, more fitness, simply move the body and weights through a greater range of motion!!

 

And no less important, there is no standard on which to improve if you do not go the full range.  A half rep does not challenge the system near as much and it rarely ever improves the conditioning level of the individual.  We see the greatest improvement in those that challenge the range of motion on every rep.

 

What is full range of motion?

 

Well, for the exercises we use at As One – let’s lump them into three categories:

Hip Girdle

Shoulder Girdle

Core

 

Hip Girdle – squats, lunges, deadlifts  and the like.  When squatting, the thigh should be able to end up parallel to the floor at the bottom of the motion, with the heels in contact with the floor and the knees tracking over the third toe or a little further out.  The spine will remain straight even as it pitches forward into the lap during the descent.

 

You will here us barking at you to “drop those hips” while squatting, or to “keep the spine straight” when deadlifting as you attempt to take the weight to the floor.

 

Shoulder Girdle – pushups, pullups, and rows.  There is not one upper body exercise that should be done without the shoulders depressed (we say “ away from the ears”), shoulder blades retracted (we say “pinch your spine”) and the chin slightly tucked.  So full range in this set up for the pushup is at a minimum upper arm parallel to the floor at the bottom of the movement, and at a maximum, putting the chest on the ground.  The chest is the only thing that should touch the ground when doing the pushup.

For pullups, you are going to a dead hang with elbows extended to a minimum of chin over the bar.

Rows are to be done with a straight and stable spine and the shoulder blades pulled down and back until the shoulder blade can travel no further to the spine and then the upper arm finishes in the plane of the body.

 

Core – we will perform all core exercises with a slight posterior pelvic tilt (your front hip bones rotated slightly up).  Whether we are doing rower sit-ups ( low back should stay in contact with the floor) and when planking so that we can intensify the contraction of the abdominal muscles.

 

Obviously, it is difficult to get a true understanding of proper range of motion with out doing them but the point of this is as you hear me scream out some of the keys, heed my prompts, redouble your efforts, don’t care about how fast that guy is going beside you and learn to perform these exercises to the highest level!!

 

We are relentless on execution here at As One! Take advantage of this to improve these movement patterns, minimize structural problems and be able to measurably improve on all fronts!

Health and Vitality or Body Conscience? Modern Society and the Fitness Industry Are Missing the Point.

With the amount of emphasis in our society placed on exercise, nutrition, fashion and anything to do with looks – you would think that we would be the  “healthiest” age of the whole human existence.  How far from the truth could that be. 

 

We have an increasing obesity rate, pharmaceutical sales in the billions, youth who are incapable of basic human movements and in those that do exercise and watch what they eat are primarily motivated by a body ideal that is unattainable.

 

The reason we exercise (along with getting enough sleep and eating with proper nutrition) is to be healthy.

 

 Hmm, what is healthy?  Well, keeping the body strong so that we can enjoy an active life, stave off the onset of diseases which dramatically impact the quality of life as we age, and to interact with our environment and people around us – is a good start.

 

Does our modern society and fitness industry support this definition?  No, they do not:

 

First, accessibility – we can get anything we want at the push of a button.  Gone is the challenge to do anything, therefore, why do we even have to move?

 

Second, abundance – hungry or think your hungry?  Grab what your heart desires on every street corner.

 

Third, exercise – here we go, our industry doesn’t sell training, it sells sex with pictures everywhere of individuals who are shown half naked with a body that is not attainable by 99% of the population.  If it is attainable, it can only be held for two weeks max, and then they tell you its possible by not working hard and doing exercises and classes that do little or nothing to improve health let alone increase metabolism or fitness.  We need a serious reboot. 

 

We exercise, eat right and get the sleep we need to be healthy and vital for as many years as possible!  You do not want to take meds to counteract poor health markers or to improve mental and psychological well-being.  You do not want to carry 30 lbs or more of extra fat, and you most certainly do not want to be consumed every waking minute about how you look!!

 

This does take effort and discipline, but doesn’t everything??!!  We built As One with this in mind.  Healthy bodies and minds working together to get it done and enjoying every lung busting step on the way.  And when all the others have moved on, we will still be cranking it out the right way.

Just Burning Calories or Training With a Purpose

A major trend we have seen in the last 25 years and with the rise of the boutique gym has been the development of three types of exercisers (if that is a word ).

1. The “better than nothing” gym goer – this individual “does his/her time”, meaning that they go to the gym and utilize the same machines at the same intensity day in day out, read their book and listen to their show while “exercising”. This has been coddled by the big box commercial gyms who have taken the qualified fitness professional out of circulation in order to grow the bottom line.

2. The “ I am going to do as many classes as I can “ boutique goer. Typically, they have way too much time for whatever reason and fill that time with H.I.I.T training, spinning, yoga, pilates and anything else they can fit in. This has been fostered by the rise of the boutique studio, where most of these are programmed with largely ineffective programs designed by unqualified “coaches” who sell the facility as opposed to trying to give the client the training they need.

3. The “ training for something “ gym/boutique goer. This individual gets it. The understand quality over quantity, have learned what exercises/classes are safe and intelligent and approach each training day with the appropriate focus and intensity. Few and far between, these places have highly motivated fitness professionals providing training protocols that are effective in the realm of their expertise.

Now, lets break them down to see which one you are and which one you should strive to be.

1. Unfortunately, “better than nothing” goers always self limit and never effect any change. The body requires appropriate levels of good stress (intensity) to adapt and change. If you want to get more fit, lose those inches and harden yourself against the ravages of aging, you have to put in some effort and demand your metabolism to adapt. Progressive overload is the key here, push to reach new heights and levels, one more pushup, 10 more feet, etc. do this and inches will go away and strength will rise and energy will increase.

2. The “I am going to do as many classes as I can” person is on the path to destruction. I cannot sugar coat this, chronically injured with some type of nagging injury, they are hollow looking from adrenal fatigue, fall asleep at the drop of a hat, always put in the same effort or less and never really get anywhere. They have pushed their bodies beyond any ability to adapt and are always looking for something new to add thinking that more will solve their dilemma.

3. The “training for something” goer is where we all need to be! When you train for something (this could merely be training for life, not just an event) you learn about it! You become a student, pay close attention to detail, seek out the best to learn from, and get involved in a community of like-minded individuals. You are realistic with your goals, you do not chase fads and ideals not conducive to attaining a lifestyle of health and fitness. You show up to train hard and let the effort speak for itself, not public perception or a scale.

Everyone can get to number 3, but it will take some soul searching and introspection for some of you that will be difficult. Take the challenge, come out on the other side and reap the benefits!

High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T)

So much has been written and studied about this way of training, yet many discussions I have with members and others demonstrates to me there is a lot of confusion surrounding the latest famous acronym for the fitness industry.

 

So let’s break it down:

 

High Intensity – the best way to define this is to go as hard as you possibly can – now pay attention – for the given length of interval and subsequent rest period.  So if we are doing a 30 second interval followed by a 5 minute active rest period – that 30 second interval had better be everything you can give in 30 seconds, or the stimulation will not be great enough to elicit an adaptation to the demand.

 

But if I go from a 1 minute interval to a 15 rest period and then follow that with a 1 minute full body exercise, the accumulation of the two minutes of work will attenuate my overall output and I will have to pull it down a notch in order to complete the requirements and be able to keep it going.  Capish?

 

So when we design the program of the day here are some questions to ask yourself before you jump in:

 

  • How much rest after each interval if any? Our programs are typically designed to be done over 45 minutes, if the rest intervals are short (15 seconds and less) this program is about maintaining a steady output , albeit, high output for the duration.  If we are giving you longer rest or following the interval with exercises that are not that demanding, now you need to step it up a bit and press the interval.
  • How long is the work interval? Shorter work interval – higher output, longer work interval – lower (yet demanding) output.
  • What are the exercises involved? If we give you Jacobs Ladder, burpees, Stepmills and Kettlebell Swings – you will need to be very careful with your pacing because of the demand these exercises have on your system will make it very easy to over cook.  But pushups, bike, situps and ski erg do not have the same muscle mass activation, you can press these harder and still have enough in the tank to finish.

 

That is a good basic understanding to H.I.I.T. programming and usage.  The word is intensity, you have to go hard, and that can be uncomfortable – but that is the zone where all the good stuff happens.  What you are doing is demanding the body to work and then forcing it to adapt.  When that happens you get stronger, more conditioned and the metabolic shift helps you drop some inches.

 

Let me know if you have any questions!

Why We Love: The Step Mill

Why We Love: The Step Mill

Step Mill: A Love Story. 

By Mark Merchant – Coach, Poet, and Stair Climbing Advocate

Great piece of equipment – nothing is better at improving cardiovascular, cardio

respitory and local muscular endurance than climbing stairs and this piece of

equipment gets all the good (going up} with out the bad (going down can be

troublesome to the knees).

That is why we have them in the studio!!

But the equipment will not make you fit on its own, you have to use it correctly!!

The reason stairs are so effective is that you must lift your body weight up,

repeatedly. When you have large muscle groups working at a high rate and load, the

demand on your physiology to do the work is tremendous and therefore demands

adaptation.

But the demand sorta kinda sucks, so there can be a tendency to grab on to the hand

rails, but in so doing you are diminishing your effort. Here is why:

When you place your hands on the rails you will reduce your bodyweight and

therefore the weight that you are lifting by 10-30% (we tested it!). Now by

decreasing the load your legs need to lift, you go faster, but faster is not better in this

instance. All going faster does is raise your heart rate, which is not a bad thing, but

we want bang for the buck and carryover. Holding on does not prepare you to deal

with the effects of gravity, otherwords, dealing with your weight. If you go hiking,

stairclimbing, anything where you are going up – you will have done a great

disservice to your preparation, because your legs will be weak relative to your

weight and you will be sucking wind far sooner than you would have expected, then

getting upset that you are struggling thinking that you have been training really

hard and questioning your fitness.

 

So, get your hands off the rails, slow it down and develop strong legs, enduring lungs

and heighten resolve!!

 

Come find out why we love the Step Mill and all the other equipment that we utilize in every workout. Come alone or bring a friend – your first class is free

Get Your First Class Free! Sign Up Now