Bad eating habits can affect everyone – even avid runners

running at sunrise

Conventional wisdom says you can pretty much eat whatever you want if you’re an avid runner, as your body is burning off all of the excess calories. But is that really true? New research now suggests that avid runners need to pay attention to their diets as well when it comes to the potential for heart disease.

As a 10-mile-a-day runner, Dave McGillivray thought he could eat whatever he wanted without worrying about his heart. “I figured if the furnace was hot enough, it would burn everything,” said McGillivray, who is 59.

But a diagnosis six months ago of coronary artery disease shocked McGillivray, a finisher of 130 marathons and several Ironman-distance triathlons. Suddenly he regretted including a chocolate-chip-cookie recipe in his memoir about endurance athletics.

“My first reaction was, I was embarrassed,” he said.

As race director of the Boston Marathon, McGillivray is a high-profile exhibit in a growing medical case against the devil-may-care diets of many marathoners. Their high-mileage habit tends to lower their weight, blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels, leading them (and sometimes their doctors) to assume their cardiac health is robust regardless of diet.

“‘I will run it off’—that attitude clearly prevails among the marathoners themselves, almost sometimes to an arrogance,” said Paul Thompson, a veteran marathoner who is chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital.

A growing body of research shows the error of that thinking. A study published in the current edition of Missouri Medicine found that 50 men who had run at least one marathon a year for 25 years had higher levels of coronary-artery plaque than a control group of sedentary men. A British Medical Journal study published this year compared the carotid arteries of 42 Boston Marathon qualifiers with their much-less active spouses. “We hypothesized that the runners would have a more favourable atherosclerotic risk profile,” says the article. As it turned out, that hypothesis was wrong.

Many assumed that extreme-endurance sports could help prevent heart disease, but now the research suggests this extreme activity may actually cause problems.

We should be careful of course to jump to conclusions after several studies, but certainly this raises questions and challenges old assumptions.

It also brings us back to some common sense notions that moderation in diet and excercise can be the best combination. Pushing anything to the limit – whether its your diet or your activities, can lead to risks.

One Quick Chest Workout That Leaves You Crying

The chest is composed of large, powerful muscles, capable of withstanding intense force and trauma. That being said, it usually takes extra focus and effort to significantly wear them out and leave you with that lingering, ever-so-sweet soreness.

Since added work is necessary for peak chest stimulation, workouts are often structured with Arnold-style immensity, from the countless numbers of sets, to the fine-tuning exercises that can go on ad nauseum. All of the aforementioned can mean a serious time commitment in the gym, but what about if you only have a few minutes to tear it up before you have to head out?

The answer is: The Nemen (Nee-men) Special, which can reduce your mighty chest musculature straight down to rubble; all in one exercise.

What you will need: A bench, 45 lb barbell, eight – 10 lb plates (these weights may vary due to individual strength), preferably a partner, and a hearty appetite for suffering.

The exercise resembles that of a lightweight bench press drop set, with maximum repetitions being executed at each weight increment. If done correctly, meaning you attack each interval intensely and are 100% unable to complete a repetition on your own, you will be getting double takes from your fellow gym-goers as they walk by and chuckle at the image of you painfully struggling to rep out with just the bar.

Set 1, Four tens per side: To failure.

A spotter should help you with the last one or two reps, then once the bar is racked, remove the weight with as much speed as possible – time is of the essence!

Set 2, Three tens per side: To failure.

Set 3, Two tens…

Set 4, One ten…

Set 5, Just the bar!

By set 5, you should be working up a sweat, perhaps be slightly winded, and defintiely have a hearty exhaustion permeating your upper body. Although the bar is, well, the bar, the load should be adequate enough to reduce your pecs to a whimpering mess and you should get to the point where you need a spot to rack it.

Congratulations, you now know one of the most time-efficient chest nukes; next time you are lookign to quickly shred your pecs before class/work/a night out, give the Nemen Special a try!

 

 

PAIN TOLERANCE: The Most Underrated Exercise Variable

As yet another year in the new millennium gets underway, it isn’t a secret that scribbled next to ‘Quit smoking’, or ‘Cut back on alcohol intake’, many a resolute soul jotted down earnest promises regarding the acquisition of fitness and health. In other words:

Get ripped.

Get a six-pack.

Pack on ‘x’ amount of lean muscle.

Lose ‘x’ amount of fat.

Complete particular endurance event.

Return to pre-pregnancy body.

Lower blood pressure.

And so on and so forth, et cetera, et cetera.

In fitness terms, an entire year is a long time; definitely sufficient enough to complete a transformation that would make even Voltron blush. However, if the modus operandi is faulty, no amount of time or trendy new exercises and equipment will yield the results you really deserve.

So where do you go for that extra edge? That one X-factor that will separate your killer new routine from the ones that do little more than cause mass boredom and a hopeless staring contest with your anything-but-broken-in running shoes.

What if there was a variable regarding training that most people never considered and ever had the option of seeing listed alongside a workout routine? Not only is this tidbit free to everyone, but also incredibly potent and if learned correctly, can morph any dull exercise into award-winning training and allow an individual to truly succeed with their physical endeavors.

This variable is Pain Tolerance, or, in other words, one’s ability to confront and digest the party platter of discomfort brought about through hard exercise.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that the type of pain in question here is healthy strain derived from proper exercise and NOT joint pain, heart pain, or any other skeletal pain that comes from improper form or poor health and could potentially be dangerous and damaging. Regardless, this distress can take many forms, from a quad-searing burnout on the leg extension to a chest-annihilating giant set on the bench press; even a screaming in the lungs from a personal best at running the mile.

There is a quote that gets tossed around a lot in cycling that simply goes, “To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain.” We may not all be cyclists or even have the slightest inclination to don a skin-tight cycling kit and ride up a few mountains, yet that is the truly great thing about pain tolerance: it applies to everything physical.

Sure, if someone has a great pain tolerance yet goes into the gym and trains like a drunken Richard Simmons, he/she is not going to automatically be on the road to reaching true results, yet when that person does in fact learn to execute their workouts with the precision of science-based routines, it is safe to say they will surpass another doing the same routines due to the fact that they have taught their mind to turn the volume down on that pesky voice in the back of your head screams, “QUIT!”

Pain is tied into working out at the most basic levels. It truly is a physiological variable, although a more scholarly exercise physiologist or personal trainer may use language that disguises pain with smug terms such as ‘lactic acid buildup’, or ’100% VO2 max’ – AKA, “THIS IS BRUTAL!”

Let’s think about some real life exercise situations. When you walk into the weight room and are looking to start off with some bicep training, you may head over to a weight rack, pick up a barbell, then begin doing focused curls. The muscle fibers in your biceps will soon contract and relax in unison with each exertion and your mind perceives this strain as a form of pain.

It hurts, burns, whatever, the main point is that when attempting many exercises, pain is going to a one of the first and most unruly people knocking at the door of your workout party with one goal – crashing it. One of the main things that sets a successful, results-based exerciser apart from one who flounders aloofly and never loses the weight or gets the strength/muscle, is what he/she does when the pain enters the room.

Are you the type of person who begins the repetitions yet drops the barbell and curses, “Damn, that is really painful, let me grab a lighter weight or cut back a few reps”, or do you confront the pain head on and say, “YEAH? SO WHAT? I’m getting this fitness no matter how much you scream and complain,” and proceed to push pain to the side and break through its limitations?

We’ve all seen shows like the Biggest Loser, where a frustrated trainer watches as client after client easily bails on a particular workout and claims they simply can’t go on. When you see something like that occurring, truly analyze what that person is basically saying: it is clear as day that they are not familiar with the physical pain needed to really make results and this unfamiliarity is too shocking for their system to cope with, causing the mind the give up.

The thing is, that is OK! It doesn’t make them a bad or lazy person, it is just that their previous way of life and absence of physicality has left them with a currently very poor ability to digest the stress and pain tied to hard training and it will take some time before they can speak that language.

It is similar to a situation where a shredded workout guru with the utmost masochistic prowess suddenly makes a resolution to become versed in Russian History, yet on their first lesson with the professor, flounders under the heavy course load and cries out at the amount of focused, relentless studying needed to master the material. It isn’t that they will never be able to give a brilliant oration on Rasputin and the Tsars, it’s just that most human beings need time to adjust to the stresses necessary for seriously excelling above the norm.

So how does one gauge his/her pain tolerance? You probably already have a good concept of this, yet here are two great ways to get a feel for it:

Leg extensions: (Even better if done at the end of leg day). Set the weight to about 50% of your one rep max and begin doing focused, squeezing-at-the-top reps, and continue this until that familiar discomfort starts growing out of your quads and attempting to smack your motivation around.

Preacher curls: Grab a similarly graded weight and begin doing concentrated reps. Preacher curls and leg extensions are great ways to gauge pain tolerance because they are completed in a fixed motion and do not require any real form. For instance, if two people were doing squats, there would be a whole myriad of factors that may throw off the delegation of work to the muscles.

With these exercises, and many others like it, you can easily become familiar with what true physical and mental exercise strain feels like, and acclimating yourself to such an extreme will do wonders for every other motion you attempt to do work with.

There have been countless cases of athletes who, according to high-tech lab tests and pages of results, shouldn’t have outperformed their counterparts yet did so because there is no number or test that can quantify a humans ability to dig deep and really desire something.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” -Vince Lombardi.

That’s it for now. Remember, when trying to fulfill your fitness goals this year, try taking a little detour from browsing the newest workouts or equipment and instead focus on being comfortable with the uncomfortable – your workouts will thank you.

The Rowing Machine: King of Cardio Equipment

It is of the utmost importance to any exercise-oriented individual that an adequate amount of cardiovascular exercise is completed regularly. Whether you are a bodybuilder with 22″ arms or simply a lean yoga enthusiast, the rule applies across all levels. Without a properly trained heart and lungs, your body misses out on a whole slew of health benefits and a decreased risk of heart problems; not to mention creating a disproportionate distribution of vitality within your body. Sure, your biceps have veins thicker than a garden hose, but what about what’s on the inside?

A dedicated gym goer may look at his/her six pack and scoff, “Cardio? My aerobic-free training has me leaner than ever and sweating it up on the Stairmaster for an hour isn’t my idea of a worthwhile workout.” OK, valid point, but a high performance vehicle is for nothing if the goods under the hood are garbage. Moreover, if you pack on muscle yet refrain to train your cardiovascular system, your physicality will resemble a hulking Toyota Tundra with the dinky engine of a Honda Civic. Struggling.

So, why rowing; better yet, why the rowing machine? Well, considering rivers that weave through your neighborhood with adequate boat houses are scarce, the rowing machine is the best substitute to mimic the movement and reap the rewards of such activity. Better yet, you never have to worry about bad weather, and even better than that, a great cardio workout can be accomplished in a fraction of the time that one may be looking at when getting on board an elliptical or treadmill.

The majority of people are under the assumption that rowing is an upper body intensive movement. Although there is some truth to that statement, the driving force in a successful rowing motion is derived from the lower body, where the body’s powerful leg muscles are able to sustain prolonged exertions that only they can deliver.

Need more reasons to try the rowing machine? How about the fact that the word impact can’t even be found in the same sentence as rowing machine, unless the word ‘low’ is front of it. Unlike running, which places unnecessary stress and trauma on the knees and ankles,  rowing favors a far more fluid, floating sense of power and work. As your body moves back and forth over the rolling seat, your joints praise you as they are gently coerced into the flexion and extension of various limbs.

Still need more reasons? One of the greatest aspects of the rowing machine is that it is a cardio exercise that trains your whole musculature; not just your lower body, as many machines do. When stepping away on the Stairstepper, one can feel the sole distribution of strain compiling itself on your legs, while the upper body remains slack and in complete boredom. The rowing machine ties the two sides together, with the legs generating the massive power and force for each stroke and transferring it up the body, giving your abs, arms, shoulders, and of course, back, an awesomely toning workout.

If you have located and affirmed the presence of a rowing machine at your local health club, here is a great way to get introduced to the motion:

  1. Adjust the foot stretchers: Each machine is equipped with a platform to strap your feet into, both in socks or with shoes, and it needs to be adjusted so that the strap rests atop where the balls of your feet are, and also so that your bending motion isn’t inhibited by the strap.
  2. Set the fly wheel resistance: 10 is heavy, 1 is light – to put it simply. Personally, I like to warm up in the higher digits (7-10), and then commit to my workouts between 4 and 5, as most university programs suggest.
  3. Set the clock: The rowing machine has a great computer for tracking your workouts, but for now, simply hit ‘Just Row’, or begin pulling on the handle and the clock will start on its own.
  4. Row!

Of course, it isn’t so easy to master the rowing stroke on your first few tries, so keep in mind these pointers:

  • Always begin each stroke with lower leg perpendicular to the ground and your seat as far up as can be achieved. At this point, your should be fully outstretched and grasping the handle.
  • Legs first! When driving, press off with your glutes, quads, and calves and drive your legs down to full extension.
  • Back second! once the legs are down, lean back with a straight back and begin to transfer the speed of the fly wheel to your upper body.
  • Arms in third! Once you have achieved a slight posterior lean with your straight back, pull the handle into your nipple line with by retracting your scapulae and flexing your arms.
  • The ‘finish’, or end of the stroke goes exactly in reverse order: Arms back out, back over, then slowly move back up the slide with the legs, ready for another stroke.

Sample Warm-Up:

20 strokes arms only

20 strokes arms and back only

20 strokes half leg extension

40 strokes full leg extension (full strokes)

Sample workout: 1 x 3000M, 1 x 2000M, 1 x 1000M, 1 X 500M, 1:00 rest in between each.

As you may notice this is a descending pyramid type of workout and it is great because mentally, the workload becomes easier and easier as you pass through each interval.

Select workout, then select Interval Variable, then enter the first distance, followed by the three others; then the rest.

The first 3000M should be done at 60-80% of your VO2 max, with that intensity increasing until the last 500M goes by at an all-out effort.

That’s it for now, I hope you can look into incorporating the rowing machine into your next workout and join the thousands who swear by rowing as the King of cardio.

 

 

A runners journal part 1

Jamey Codding is scheduled to run his first marathon in Chicago on October 9th. Jamey was a competitive runner in the past, but mainly ran 5K’s or under. He began running again after a long break and has had to educate himself on in-race hydration and nutrition. If you’re interested in running at all, and want to start off on the right foot, you’ll definitely want to read the first part of his series, Training for Marathon #1: Hydration and Nutrition.

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