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Posts Tagged ‘cardiovascular training’

Why dancing is one of the best exercise routines

If you picture a scene in the amazon rain forest full of animals, what is going on?

If they aren’t mating, eating or trying to eat or avoid being eaten, they are singing, dancing and playing.  I’m not saying animals are better than humans, because they are not as developed and don’t have the ability to reason, inspire or create metaphor.  However, I think we often forget that we are animals too. We’ve lost a lot of our instinct and what actually works for us to make our lives better.

In that way we can certainly learn a lot from them.  So let’s go back to that scene and let’s look at the animals singing, dancing and playing.  It’s marvelous when you think about it.  It’s a cacophony of the senses.  They are really in the moment, in the flow and doing great things without effort.  We can really struggle with that.

Our world has moved so fast that we’ve devised a lot of education, lifestyles and practises that were created without thought as to whether we are designed for it.

As a result we are often stuck in the analysis part of the brain, which only makes up a meager 2% of the grey matter.  The rest of it is based on sensory images, and we seriously neglect that to our cost.  Our perceptive ability and potential is often hugely hampered as a result.

In the previous articles, we’ve talked about using more of the brain while exercising to get better results and also to enhance the rest of our lives.

We’ve talked about sport, coordination, balance and ambidexterity.  Well, what about music?  RHYTHM.

So important as well.  Rhythm connects our auditory sense and kinesthetic sense.

What do nearly all top sportpeople, dancers or athletes have in common?  Great rhythm.  Wouldn’t it be a good idea then for us to look at this important factor?

Would a dance class for exercise be a good idea?  Of course it would.  Sure you are using more of your brain, you have to coordinate, get in the moment, stay in rhythm, connect with other people and also keep your balance.

It’s a marvelous thing to do.

If you watch a monkey swinging from a tree, a quick lizard moving at pace along the ground, or a gazel taking off on a sprint what you see is fluid movement.  It is in beautiful natural rhythm.

Dance is a great way to connect this up.  Team sport is also a great way to develop it.  A good team movement is all about rhythm.  It’s not quick, cohesive and elegant without it.  But dance is an easier way to develop this because rhythm in team sport takes some individual development first.

For strength, you can also master bodyweight movement using good technique, rhythm and copy animal bodyweight movements like the lizard walk.  There’s a flow, coordination, balance and rhythm to those movements you just can’t get with a conventional weights exercise.  It will also show in overall results; how you look, how you feel and how you perform.

Really consider taking a dance or zumba exercise class.  It will do wonders for you, even if you start with two left feet.  You can start to get great results just by improving and practising a few times a week.  You only have to look at the enjoyment, posture, fluidity, muscularity and tone of a professional dancer to see what it can do for us.

If you start you’ll be gaining those things too.

All you really have to do is keep showing up to enjoy yourself.

Why the brain is the most important ‘muscle’ in the body

In sport, training, and physique building everyone talks about strength, speed and muscularity, but the truth is a lot deeper than that. It’s really about the brain and then we branch out from there.

Everything we do is controlled from the brain. If we develop the brain, we develop everything else.
You may think I’m full of it at this point, but hear me out.

When you strength train you are commanding your brain to create a denser network of neurons that create better wiring that travels down to your muscles, to make them contract harder.

When you develop a skill you are doing the same thing, except this time you are developing fine motor skills or hand eye coordination or movement patterns. All of the above come under the bracket of procedural memory. Your brain is learning to do something better, putting the blueprint in place mentally and in your neurological system, to do it automatically. It is creating more dense networks and faster wiring for certain tasks. It will also create the necessary hormones, body fluids, building blocks to do that task.

This is one of the reasons that I talk about focusing on the muscles you are using in a strength exercise, because it switches the brain on more; and the more of your brain that is engaged, the more you will gain from the workout.

Let’s take this one step further though:
What if we super engage the brain? How could that impact strength training, physique and hand eye coordination?

A lot, as it happens.

So how do we really light up the brain?

Well more of the brain’s cortex is taken up with the hands than any other part of the body. If we develop our hand eye coordination and hand-forearm strength then we are really lighting things up in the grey matter. If we also do that while working ambidextrously we are really taxing (and developing) our brain.

This will make you better at just about every other thing you do.

This is why it is important to play sport, especially ones that require a lot of coordination. Ever notice how much easier it is to do a lot of running when you are playing a game or a match? More of your brain is switched on in chasing the ball, controlling the ball, doing skilled tasks, keeping an eye on opponents, the pattern of play and just having fun etc. Therefore it will provide more of its abilities and resources to help you improve. As a result, you’ll get a lot more from it.

We’ve always sort of known that sport is important to society, but now we are getting more ‘proof’ through neuroscience. We learn a lot about personal development and team work by sport. We also learn about competing. However, we are also directly developing our brain in many different ways and increasing our blood flow to the cerebrum.

The effects of this are far reaching into all aspects of our lives. This will help you in just about every area.

So take up a sport or two, a team sport or a team and individual sport and also try to develop your skills ambidextrously. The greats are nearly always good on both sides or play the opposite way to their natural dominance. Check it if you don’t believe me: Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most talented snooker player of all time, is ambixdextrous. Rafa Nadal in full fitness at his peak was untouchable, he even beat Federer on grass at that point, and he’s right handed but plays left handed. All the great soccer players are either two footed or left footed in a righty world. Tiger Woods is left handed but plays right, Ben Hogan was left handed but played right, Phil Mickelson is right handed and plays left. The best soccer goalkeeper of all time, Peter Schmeichal played handball as a kid (you have to use and develop both arms to play handball). The left side of the body is connected to the right brain and vice versa, and both sides of the brain have abilities the other side doesn’t. We want to engage and amplify all areas and also communication across the hemispheres as much as possible. If the spacial awareness, rhythm, vision, reasoning, interpersonal, sensory, impulse control, and decision centers are all switched on and communicating… skill level is greatly heightened. The greats with ambidexterity are using more of their brains!

This isn’t inbuilt either, it is about development. Then it looks like it is natural two sidedness, but there’s no such thing. There are many accounts of people who acquired an injury to one side and over time developed the other side to be just as good. And of course, as stated earlier, many of the great sportspeople play the opposite side to their usual dominance. If you develop both sides your brain creates that motor cortex structure, if you neglect one side it never develops.

This is another reason why bodyweight exercise trumps repetitive weights routines. You have to learn to control your own body, balance and coordination to do bodyweight exercises correctly. They are also bilateral as they get harder, in other words you start to do them one side at a time (like a one arm push up).

You can also greatly develop your memory directly, and memory is connected to everything you do. You have images for how to do simple tasks, complex skills, for how things work, for things you’ve learned etc.

There was once a study done of London black cab drivers before and after they had memorised 25,000 streets. Their hippocampi region of the brain was 10% bigger after! The brain is very much changeable and very adept at learning skills if you practise them. It will literally change its structure to get better.

So when not playing sport but doing a simple exercise (like push ups or running etc.), you can also recite the capitals of the world or something else you’ve memorised. You’ll find that you actually accomplish more physically because more of the brain is switched on. You are creating more hormones and your neurons are connecting and communicating more across the regions of the brain. This makes you better at everything.

So start using more of your brain, it will lead to greater results in all areas of your life!

Creatine: Is it good, and is it safe?

Creatine is one of the few very good supplements worth the money. It works to increase energy, muscle size and power.  It’s not uncommon to see increases of 10% in strength/power output and 8lbs of muscle gain from creatine alone.

My advice is to use creatine monohydrate. This is the most common and most researched form of the substance. It is also perfectly safe (according to the 150 research papers I’ve viewed on it). *See the end of this article for safe dosages and monitoring any reactions

There are other forms of creatine, creatine ethylester (CEE), that is broken down into creatinine, which is toxic to the body. I strongly suggest you avoid this type of creatine or anything other than creatine monohydrate, because this is the one we know works best and is also completely safe.

The buffered Ph neutral creatine called KreAlklyn is a madey uppey type of creatine. It is just mixed with creatine salts and baking soda. They then tell you that creatine monohydrate will be largely broken down into creatinine in the body, unless it is buffered like theirs is.

This is not true. Creatine monohydrate mixed with water is Ph neutral and very little degrades into creatinine (not enough to be significant in any way). Plus KreAlklyn is used at a much lower dose, because it is said to be ‘much more effective since it isn’t broken down’. Again, creatine monohydrate isn’t broken down into creatinine, except minutely. The research is sound on this, so therefore KreAlklyn is just giving a very small and ineffective dose of creatine monohydrate plus baking soda. It’s a cod.

Regarding other forms of creatine, they are either less effective or simply creatine monohydrate dressed up in a prettier dress (for probably double the price).

Regarding dosage, an effective dose of creatine can be anywhere up to 35g per day. A good guide would be your bodyweight target in pounds * 0.15 = grams of creatine per day.

Most people will be around the 20-25 grams per day range.

Creatine monohydrate is pretty cheap to buy and, in my opinion, definitely worth purchasing if you are an athlete or a regular gym goer.

You do hear about the so called dangers of creatine, so I am wary in that sense.  However, I have read a lot of research papers on creatine, so have scientists I trust and I don’t see the negatives people talk about. I only see positive effects in performance & cellular and mitochrondrial health.  I’ve also used it at various times and only experienced benefits. There were no negative effects in my creatinine levels or other markers of health.

It has to be considered that there are many conflicting pieces of information and strong negative views on every type of diet out there as well. Creatine is naturally occuring in foods, especially meat. It is simply three amino-acids, which are perfectly natural.

Also make sure you are buying from a reputable source.  I buy creatine monohydrate from myprotein.ie because they provide an independent certificate of analysis for label accuracy and purity, with every batch.  This ensures you are getting what you paid for and also that there are no contaminants.

You just have to see how you react to things, because everybody is different and not every diet or supplement will work for you. The best thing we can do is decide whether we want to try it, and if we do… experiment with safe dosages, see the results and monitor any potential downsides before and after, with a health professional.

Then you can decide whether you want to continue with it or not. It’s not the biggest deal in the world, training and diet are far more important. However, creatine can also make a significant enough difference to size and performance to warrant serious consideration as a training aid.

 

 

 

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Does jogging make you slow?

Yes and no.

If you only jog for a number of months then you will get considerably slower. I experienced this myself first hand lately. I started playing soccer again after years and years of not playing, aside from maybe one game per year.

I was still speedy in those intermittent games (so long as I wasn’t socialising the night before), no pace had been lost. My stamina had been very poor though, because I’d only been strength training, playing golf and watching my diet.

This year I wanted to also get great cardiovascular fitness as well. So I added jogging three times per week to my regime.

I’m starting to play soccer regularly now. Stamina has improved considerably on the pitch, but I can’t believe how much pace and speed I’ve lost. I can keep on going and going, but my ability to keep up intense work (work capacity) and speed are almost non-existent.

So I’ve learned from this and have added sprinting and interval work into my regime. My speed is coming back and the better work capacity should follow soon as well.

To be honest, it’s not a bad idea to build an aerobic base of stamina first, because first and foremost you need to be able to keep going and also it helps your recovery from hard sessions.

As disappointed as I was with my loss of speed, the fact is I probably gave a better overall performance than the days when I had the speed, but lacked stamina.

Even when slow, I’d arrive in goalscoring positions and get back to defend a lot more, and this gives you more chance to use your hopefully decent skills and finishing. I also had more in the tank than other players as the game wore on, and started to influence the game more and score more.

It’s not easy to go straight into a full fitness regime so maybe this was a decent approach. However, I’m happy the speed is coming back. It’s a great thing to have, not just for running, but it also hugely helps your ability in having quick feet for skills and tackling.

The plan I have now is to play two 1.5-2 hour five a side games per week and do one tempo interval session as well, to cover aerobic fitness. All other sessions will be based on skills, strength, speed, agility and flexibility.

I’m replacing all jogging with the games and a tempo interval session, which is running repeats at 75% of max for 10 seconds and resting a minute or until heart rate goes to 130 bpm, and doing this for 15 to 30 minutes depending on if it is a light or full session. This is basically aerobic training done by easier sprints and work capacity training. It’s not full out intervals, which are great for work capacity, and it’s not jogging either. It’s intervals for aerobic capacity and some work capacity.

This is what sprinters do for conditioning. They are afraid of jogging causing a loss of speed and so am I now!
However, I’m not sure jogging would have any effect on speed so long as you maintain your sprint and speed work. Some boxers and mma fighters maintain blinding speed with regular jogging on top of their speed routines, so that suggests it isn’t a problem if not done in isolation.

But it may be better for athletes that need maximum speed to stick to games and tempo intervals. It is something to consider, it may be more specific to the needs of certain types of sports. In soccer for example, it is all bursts and recovery, which is more suited to tempo intervals and outright speed training on top of games and regular training.

All in all this is something that needs consideration. If you want to build an aerobic base from scratch you are probably better starting with walking alternating with jogging and building up to jogging. However, if you also need or want speed, then beware that this cardio work alone will take all speed away (over a period of months).
Have speed work as part of your routine as well, if so required.

Why I love heart rate monitors and why you should too

Training intensity is crucial for injury prevention, optimal progress, knowing what cardiovascular system you are improving, how hard to train and many more things.

Heart rate monitors give you feedback.

They will tell you how hard to train and even how often. This is invaluable.

Based on your age and maximum heart rate you can work out the heart rate zone you should be training in. For aerobic fitness you will want to be staying in the 70-80% zone. Any higher than this for long periods on a continual basis and you run the risk of injury or burnout.

This will also derail progress because you won’t be recovering properly. You need to train hard enough, but not over do it.

With modern heart rate monitors you can even set the heart rate zones so that it beeps when you go out of a particular zone. This really helps in my experience. There’s no ambiguity.

It’s also very easy to stick to a progressive plan this way.

The best heart rate monitors I’ve used are Polar fitness watches. They are great. Also beware that most HRM’s on machines aren’t always accurate for some reason. You are better off just biting the bullet and getting a proper one.

Nowadays there are also Heart Rate Variability or HRV testers. These are really useful in indicating how well you’ve recovered and how hard to train on any given day. This is also really useful because it can be hard to know when to go all out and when to train easy. This gives you physiological markers that tell you what would be best. There is a sweetspot for the most effective training and it is enough stimulation to force adaptation but not so much to burn you out.

If you overtrain you are open to injury, underperformance or adrenal burnout, and this can totally derail your training until you heal.

I use a HRV monitor called ithlete everyday. It cost £40 and comes with an app. You wrap the sensor over your index finger and plug it into your phone. The app then tells you what condition you are in today, how recovered you are and how hard to train. It is so useful.

These tools give you a better plan, one that is more enjoyable, more definite, increases performance and helps you stay clear of preventable injuries.

I highly recommend making a relatively small investment in these training monitors that will give you benefit for years to come.

Is High Intensity HIIT Cardio Better For Fat Loss Than Steady State Cardio (Like Jogging)?

It is better for fat loss, but not as good as using both.

They both have pluses and minuses when it comes to burning body fat.

High intensity is great at releasing body fat and steady state is great for burning it off so that it doesn’t go back to fat storage.

Either type of cardio will burn body fat, under the right circumstances.

However, from the research and our experience HIIT is superior for fat loss because it encourages sugar to be converted into glycogen and put into carbohydrate storage in muscles. It encourages this more than sugar being converted into fat and put into fat stores. It also does this more than steady state cardio.

That’s not to say steady state exercise encourages fat storage. That’s not true either, it’s just not as effective for changing body composition.

But using both will give you the best results. HIIT is better for teaching the body to mobilise fat, and steady state is better at teaching the body to use fat for fuel. You can also do more steady state than HIIT, which means you can train more by using both, leading to greater results.

A lot of people are trying to suggest that steady state is bad for you. It’s not. Any bad results are due to overtraining, plain and simple. Too much of anything, too often, is bad for you. With steady state, overdoing it just takes longer to show up and does so in a more subtle fashion than usual, and that’s where the confusion comes from. Problems that arise from steady state overtraining are also nearly always accompanied by a lack of resistance training and excessive prolonged calorie restriction.

Using a well designed program and good tests to see when you need rest, will avoid this problem. We have a top quality cardio program in our book Precision Physique: Module 2 training, which covers all types of cardio in the one program. We also make sure you don’t overtrain.

If you do cardio correctly it is a very good fat loss strategy. And if you are strategic in using all types of cardio, then the results are even better.