Category Archives: Exercise science

180 bpm – The perfect running cadence?

natural fitness 8At a class recently I was asked why I teach 180 beats (or foot falls) per minute is the most efficient. My answer was “because science said so”. So to prove that I wasn’t lying and to make up for my brevity in the initial answer, here is the science:

Check out this blog post from one of my favorite bloggers Alex Hutchinson of Sweat Science (now writing at Runner World). I came across it when I was first looking into running cadence and it remains (in my opinion) one of the most succinct writings on the topic. Be sure to check out some of the original articles linked in there as well as the video. He has a little more on the subject on the blog as well so be sure to check out the other posts.

This post is actually linked in the above one but it’s definitely worth a read by itself, from Dave Munger at Science Based Running

And just to offer some counter point to the theory check out this post from Peter Larson writing at Tread Lightly on how 180  is not the be all and end all.

 

At the end of the day I believe that 180 is a good target for most people to have, especially if there are not experienced runners. But as you can probably tell there is plenty of information out there on the subject so read up and inform yourself.

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What blogs I’m Reading

I’ve come across a few really interesting articles and blogs over the past 2 weeks so rather than reiterate them, I thought I might just share my top 3 thought provoking blogs for the week.

This first one is entitled “No Shoes No Problem: Why Not Train Barefoot?”  from Imprint – the University of Waterloo’s official student newspaper. It talks about the ‘modern’ trend for people to go barefoot.

In a similar vain is “Finding a Sustainable Running Stride” from the New York Times’ ‘Well’ section, written by Tara Parker-Pope. A good mini analysis at some of the alternative running styles that are starting to emerge into the popular market. Touches on Chi running, POSE technique and little on Barefoot. Good read for those interested in learning about different styles.

Lastly is a good one on the effect of Gluten on the body in “No Gluten, No Grains” from Jo Svendblad’s Nutty Kitchen blog. Good information on why to eat primal/paleo and some great recipes too!

Enjoy :)

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Training in Nature to find your nature

Nature: it’s rough, unpredictable and at times dangerous. So why would anyone want to train in these conditions? Well for exactly those reasons.

Our bodies are extremely good at adapting to situations. This is one of the underlying principles of strength and conditioning training, we stress the body and in response the body adapts to better tackle the situation the next time we encounter it. However because of this, our bodies can become extremely well adapted to a response if we continually give the same stimulus. For example if we run the same path, same distance on the same terrain every day, our bodies become ‘used’ to doing it, and as such end up doing it in the easiest or most efficient way possible. Which is great right? Well it is and it isn’t.

Becoming efficient at a form of movement is basically the goal, but we also want to continue to progress, grow and become stronger, faster and generally more capable human beings. And that is what we lose, that ability to continue to grow, when we don’t modify our training.

So to come back to the point, training in nature – where everything is different – will invariably give us this varied stimuli that we need. Every rock that you pick up or tree that you climb is a different size, shape or weight. It will require a different grip, hold, and strength to move or climb. Ergonomic hand holds are vary rare in the real world so to train with devices designed to be used by us is, in a way, defeating the purpose of training.

So yes it’s sometimes difficult to hold, slippery, unmanageable or just plain tough, but this is the whole point of it – to fully utilise the nature of our how our bodies work, we should utilise the nature of our environment.

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Semantics of the ‘Workout’

What is a workout? Is it pushing yourself hard for 30-60 minutes? Hitting the gym? Going for a run? Working up a sweat with 10-15 minutes of warm ups and a 5 minute cool down. I was recently forced to think about how I define a ‘workout’ when I sat down with a friend who is about to start training with me.

I kept using the word ‘workout’ when it suddenly occurred to me that our individual concepts on what a workout is may be very different. Having worked in and around the fitness industry for a few years now, I know that the norm is a one hour workout with warmup and cool down included, and this is probably the way most people would view a workout. There where many times when I was training people in the past that I would find myself padding out or filling in time to the end of the session just because they expected to go for one hour. Needless to say this is not how I do things anymore. As I explained to my friend, this is not how I train myself, so why would I train others differently.

To me the word workout is a very broad term encompassing many different activities. It doesn’t need to be ‘for time’ or have as many rounds as possible, it just needs to be me moving in some way. Some days it’s climbing a tree. Some days it’s walking (or chasing) the dog. Whatever the goal of the particular activity I’m doing, what I definitely don’t focus on is the time. If practicing scaling walls takes me 5 minutes then that may be it for the session. The point being that I don’t tailor the activity to the time.

Something else to consider in the time of a workout in relation to the intensity is the risk of injury. Obviously the more tired you are, the higher the risk of doing something wrong and thus the possibility of injury. So if you have gone hard at the start and continue to exercise after, you are putting yourself at a higher risk of injury. Do you really need to keep going to fill in the time? Or have you completed the ‘workout’ you set out to do?

Having a structure is a great idea and the one hour session does make a lot of sense, especially if you’re starting out, but try to consider it as a plan that can be deviated from rather than the hard and fast rule. Another problem I often hear in relation to the time of a workout is “I don’t have time to workout”, well my answer is shorten the workout. Tailor the activity to what time you do have and get back to the ‘plan’ of a longer workout when you do have the time.

So don’t feel constrained by the feeling that your workout needs to be a certain length of time. Focus more on the goal of what you are setting out to achieve rather than the goal of filling out time, there’s probably something else you can be spending that time on, and if you are struggling for time in your life don’t drop activity from your life all together just remember – doing a little of something is better than doing a lot of nothing.

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Warm ups – are they really necessary?

Cavemen probably didn’t take 5 minutes to ‘warm up’ before stalking their prey. Or running from from a predator for that matter. So why do we insist on the need to almost ritualistically perform a set routine before we workout? And does it even help?

The short answer, sadly, is yes we do need to perform this. Warm ups have been shown to increase performance and decrease the chance of injury during activity. So why do we need to this? Well here is my theory – Our lives today are filled with movements (or more specifically lack of movement) that are inherently unnatural or just fundamentally different to the movement patterns of our ancestors. So much so that now when we attempt to do any of these movements, which would have been everyday activity for our fore bearers like swimming, running, climbing, etc, we need to ‘remind’ our body how to do it.

Keeping this in mind, you should use the time set out for warm ups as a chance to help correct these poor movement patterns brought about by modern life. Do drills to increase range of motion in joints and that help ‘switch on’ muscle groups (i.e. slow deep squats for the hip/knee/ankle joints). Crawling, rolling, walking, balancing are also great ways to help this process (for a variety of reasons). In effect what you are doing is rehabilitating your movement patterns, or hitting the ‘re set’ button on them (what I like to call ‘resetabilitation). Once you’ve re set the movement patterns to a more natural default, movement within a workout or activity should be easier and safer.

Once your body gets used to being put through these sorts of movements, the need to warm up for every activity decreases. This isn’t, however, a carte blanche for never doing warm ups again, rather a shift in the concept of what exactly a warm up entails. Instead of just getting your body physically warm before an activity, you should be getting it physically and mentally alert and prepared.

The result being that when we really need to perform under pressure, like when we are in an emergency of some kind, we won’t need to say “Wait, time out everyone. I just need 5 minutes to warm up” (kind of like Zombieland Survival rule #18: Limber Up). We’ll just be able to do it.

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Can sitting kill you?

Whilst researching the topic of the negative effects of sedentary behaviour on the body I came across these articles, both by Alex Hutchinson (writing for The Globe and Mail and blogging on Sweat Science), on the ill effect that sitting for long periods of time can have on the body.

The more recent one from Sweat Science, is a good synopsis of how sedentary behaviour, in particular sitting, has an effect on how our bodies handle sugar. The answer, according this Australian study, is not very well. Apparently the test group that sat (as oppose to those who had walking breaks) had a much higher spike in blood sugar levels. So, without getting too technical, insulin, which should be taking care of the blood sugar levels, isn’t doing it’s job. This makes sense when you consider the fact that exercise causes an insulin like effect on the body, causing you to take up sugar out of the blood (that’s why exercise is really handy for people who have diabetes too!)

For more of a background on this subject, check out Alex’s article in the Globe and Mail.

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Remember to Breathe

Breathing. It’s something that most of us don’t give a thought to in our everyday lives. This also applies to us when exercise, that most of us don’t think to much about it until we are out of it. But breathing the correct way can be as important to exercise as the exercise itself. Breathing the right way during exercise can make tasks easier and can help prevent injury.

An efficient cardio-vascular system is an obvious benefit, but breathing can help us in other ways. During lifts we can use our breath to brace our spine, creating a stronger core and helping reduce the risk of injury. By holding our breath and slowly releasing during strenuous activity, we increase the internal pressure and create a more stable area throughout the lower spine (lumbar) region.

To do this, we need to ‘breathe through the stomach’ (Although known as breathing through the stomach, this isn’t actually what we’re doing, as you’ll see). The point is to breath deeply, utilising more of the lungs, especially the lower part which generally doesn’t get used. This requires using the diaphragm, which sits in between the lungs and area below (termed ‘the stomach’). The diaphragm,  pushes down to cause the lungs to draw in air, and it’s this pushing down that causes the organs below to be pushed down and expand outward, giving the illusion that we are drawing breath into the ‘stomach’.

In contrast solely drawing air into the chest by expanding the chest means that we are utilising less efficient smaller ancillary muscles through out the chest area and can result in a less effecient breath intake. In reality by using the ‘stomach breathing’ technique, we are just drawing more breath into more of the lungs, filling them to a higher capacity than we usually do. Gray Cook – author of ‘Movement‘ – teaches a similar idea in his “alligator breathing” exercises, where he gets the client to lay face first on the ground and concentrate on breathing through the stomach instead of the chest (the result apparently looks like an alligator!)

Breathing technique is really quite simple, yet I see it neglected more often than not. So how is it implemented in exercise? An easy rule of thumb is: Breathe in during the less hard work, Breathe out (in a slow, controlled manner) during the hard work. Imagine you are doing a push up (or even better actually do one). On the downward phase (eccentric) draw a nice big breath in through the nose, ensuring you practice using your diaphragm. On the up phase (concentric) breathe steadily out through the mouth, expelling evenly through the effort. Easy!

So next time you’re tackling something hard, whether it be lifting something heavy or moving your own body around, give a thought to the quality and quantity of your breath. It will probably make what you’re doing easier and might even save you some pain in the long run.

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Online Paleo Resources – My Blog Roll

After receiving an email last week asking what, if any, resources are online to get information on paleo/primal health and fitness I decided to put together a list of some of the blogs and websites that I regularly go to for information or inspiration. Hopefully you’ll find this helpful:

Paleo Community/Information

- General information and news about what’s going on in the primal world

Naturally Engineered (naturallyengineered.com) – This blog by David Csonka, a writer and natural health enthusiast. A grat way to keep in touch with current events in Paleo fitness and health, as well as get some handy information on different training techniques

Arthur De Vany’s Evolutionary Fitness (www.arthurdevany.com) – Arthur De Vany could be described as the godfather of the Paleo movement. He’s been preaching this for a long time now and has a wealth of information behind him, although this doesn’t stop him from being very up to date on happening at the coal face of health and fitness.

Hunter-Gatherer (hunter-gatherer.com) – This blog by John Durant shares his transition from ‘normal’ office worker to professional caveman. The blog now follows his sometimes random musing and tips on how to live wild in the modern world.

Diet

- specifically on the Paleo diet

Robb Wolf, The Paleo Solution (www.robbwolf.com) Robb Wolf is arguable the biggest name in the Paleo diet game, with his bestselling book “The Paleo Solution” propelling him into

Mark’s Daily Apple (www.marksdailyapple.com) Mark Sisson is one of the big names when it comes to the Paleo diet and lifestyle with several books to his name, but if you want get back to where it all started for him check out his frequently updated blog

Olliemoves (www.facebook.com/pages/Olliemoves/180421172027695) Created by Brad Osborn –  Decathlete, volleyballer and naturally movement enthusiast – this facebook page tracks his diet and weekly physical activity summary with daily status updates (on diet) and video content. Well worth a look.

Workouts

- although the nature of Natural Fitness doesn’t lend itself towards formalised workouts, it’s still good to keep in touch with what the rest of them are up to

Zombiefit (www.zombiefit.org) O.K. it’s a bit of a strange concept for some to get their heads around but bear with me. Zombiefit basically asks the question if the world was taken over by Zombies tomorrow would you be able to survive? So by preparing for this impossible scenario we can become ready for improbable scenarios. That aside the workouts on this site are usually quite good though they definitely tend towards parkour skills

Crossfit Football (www.crossfitfootball.com) Those of you who know me know that I don’t have a lot of love for the Crossfit concept as a whole, but there are still some who can actually do a decent program, and this is one of them. The basis of having an actual performance outcome grounds CF football and makes its workouts a little more structured and realistic.

Exercise Science

- for when I need to ‘geek out’ on exercise

Gray Cook, Physical Therapist (www.graycook.com) Gray Cook is the creator of the Functional Movement Screen  (FMS) and author of several books. His insights into movement specifically and fitness generally, especially with performance in mind, are well worth a read.

Michael Boyle’s Strength Coach (www.strengthcoach.com) Michael Boyle has long been known as not only one of the most experienced trainers of Strength and Conditioning for athletes, but also one of the best trainers of other Strength and Conditioning coaches. His ideas are always well thought out and add a valuable voice in what is becoming a crowded area of training.

Sweat Science (sweatscience.runnersworld.com) Although this has recently moved to the Runner’s World website it doesn’t appear to have affected Alex Hutchinson’s skill at collecting and concisely presenting information on the science of all exercise, not just running. His ability to quickly summarise studies and present it in laymen’s terms makes this a very informative and easy to read blog.

Inspiration

- Because sometimes we all need that extra motivation to get out the door

Movnat (www.movnat.com) Movnat founder Erwan Le Corre has an amazing ability to convey what natural movement is all about and why it is important for us, not only as individuals but as a species. This is the site that really ignited my passion for natural fitness as an actual system. I highly recommend checking out the videos on this site and the testimonials are always helpful for motivation.

Strengthbox (www.strengthbox.ca) This site is dedicated to Greg Carver’s gym in Toronto and his fitness philosophy, one that is closely aligned with Movnat. Great video content and photos to help inspire and motivate.

Well hopefully you’ve found at least some of these pages useful. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is a good snapshot of what’s out there. It should be enough to get you started at least. So happy reading and hopefully happy training!

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Training to come back from injury – it’s about training smarter not harder

Getting fit can be hard, not only physically but also mentally. This is no more evident than when someone who has once had a good level of fitness tries to regain the fitness level they once had, and ends up injured. The gap between expectation and reality is often much larger than people realise, and more often than not the end result is usually the same – injury.

People recovering from injury or starting to get fit again who have previously been at a mid to high level of fitness often find it extremely hard to understand that their body cannot do what it previously did. They often try and squeeze a lot of training into a small amount of time, going too hard too fast, and end up at square one injured again.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, the most important thing to do is pace your training and train “smarter not harder.” Even though you may not feel like you’re getting the most out of every workout, at least you’ll be able to continue to train. At the end of day, training consistently is much more important than blitzing yourself in every session.

Here’s a few little tips for those who are new to training or are getting back into it after some time off:

1. Plan your workout schedule

Write out a week long schedule and plan when you are going to work out and how intense you are going to work out. This lessens the chance of you throwing in random high intensity workouts when you’re feeling like you need to punish yourself.

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Missed a workout? Had a blowout on dessert last night? Don’t sweat it. If you view your fitness goal as a long journey, small little things like these won’t matter in the long run. Just make sure you get back to your normal routine and make these little instances the exception, rather than the rule.

3. Err on the side of caution

When coming back from an injury, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If something is starting to hurt or doesn’t feel right, don’t continue. Make sure you get adequate rest and allow your body to heal before getting back into it. Just like paracetamol though, if pain persists please see your Doctor.

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The science behind barefoot running

After having a conversation recently with a physiotherapist who asked about the science behind my barefoot running belief, I decided to make a list of my top picks for articles about barefoot running. This is far from an exhaustive list (there are loads of articles available even in local press) but if you want to an understanding of the science, these links will get you started…

#1 Barefoot Running – M. Warburton

An interesting analysis of the efficiency and rate of injuries in different running populations.

#2 Mechanical Comparison of Barefoot and Shod Running – C. Divert, Et Al. 

A study of impact forces of barefoot running on treadmills.

#3 Barefoot-Shod Running Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect? – C. Divert, Et Al.

A good counter-point to the ‘anti-shoe’ crowd. Good food for thought.

There’s plenty more out there, but some of it is a little restricted (unless you have institution log in). As I find more articles (or you guys do) I’ll post them into the comments.

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