Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Over Reaching, Over Training and recovery

I recently turned 30. I'm not old by any means but this means I'm officially not a kid any more (thought I still feel like one most of the time). This also means I can't train like I'm 21 anymore and expect to be recovered from one workout to the next. I need to pay attention to training volume, diet and recovery these days and if I miss piece of that puzzle, I begin to fall apart. I have a few general practices I follow in my daily routine and I'd like to share them with you in the hopes of helping to ensure you are recovering fully between workouts.

Recognize over reaching to avoid over training 
 What most people believe is over training is really just over reaching. In fact, it takes quite a while
and a lot of effort to become truly over trained. Over reaching is when you are beginning to exceed your optimal training volume and you aren't recovering properly. The first sign of this is usually decreased interest and performance during workouts. If you get to the gym one day end the weights feel extra heavy it's usually a good idea to back off that day and just nip it in the bud. This is hard to do sometimes, especially for us gym rats who are generally inclined to just push through it. I can speak from personal experience that if you get to the gym and you really aren't feeling it, you are dragging your ass through the warm up and all the weights feel extra heavy, dome something light and get outta there. Learn to listen to your body. This is the first and most effective step in avoiding injury.

Some other tell tale signs of over reaching include...
Lack of appetite
Loss of libido
Craving sugary foods
Difficulty sleeping
A general feeling of overall tiredness

If you are starting to feel a few of these symptoms you should probably back off on your training for a bit. Take an extra rest day, eat a little bit more and relax. Remember that you don't get stronger while you are in the gym. You get stronger while you rest. Nobody ever got weaker from one extra rest day. It takes about three weeks of not doing anything before you start to loose strength so and extra day and even the occasional week off will only do you good from time to time.

Over training
Real over training take a long time to achieve. It involves many hours of exercise beyond what the body can recover from. If you start to reach the state of being over trained you will know it. Most people over training will start to develop cold like symptoms, Moodiness, aches and pains, lack of interest in eating, activities and sex. Intense cravings for sugar and often it will be accompanied by weight gain from all the extra cortisol your body will be producing. This is not a fun state to be in. I have been there and my performance plummeted across all aspects of my training and it has taken quite a while to recover from.

If you do become over trained you need to take an immediate week off of training. At least seven days. Make sure you are eating enough and drinking enough water. Get back into the gym slowly and pay close attention to how you feel because it is easily to slip back into the state if you have not allowed yourself to fully recover. Over training leads to injury and should be treated like an injury itself.

Fortunately it takes a long time to reach that state. Most people recognize it when they are in the over reaching stage and are smart enough to back off on time.

Maximizing recovery
As soon as I finish a workout I like to get a quick source of easily digestible carbohydrate and protein into my system as fast as possible. I like to carry a banana and a couple of packets of honey with me to the gym. That way as soon as I finish stretching, I open a banana and some honey and dip that banana into the honey. This is delicious and it gets glucose into my system as right away to replenish my muscles. From there, I usually head to right to lunch or supper where I eat lots of meat and vegetables and some fruit.

It's that easy. A small glucose spike right before leaving the gym via honey and banana and a good quantity of real food as soon as possible. This works great for me, I find that by doing this my recovery is fantastic and I can attack each workout full on.

For some people this is not really that feasible. If you work out at an odd time and it isn't easy to get to a meal right after then I'd recommend bringing a source of protein with you to consume shortly after your workout. First this I'd recommend is real food such as chicken and fruit. Otherwise you may want to look into bringing a natural source protein powder. I know it's not exactly caveman given that it's from dairy and usually pretty processed, however, you do want to take advantage of your window of opportunity and get protien and carbohydrate within half an hour of your workout. Therefore, in this case I do recommend making a concession. Always take your post workout protein with carbohydrate and avoid added fats to maximize absorption.

Drink it! I know you hear it everywhere you go but without it you can't function. Drink it before, during and after your workout. You do not need any fancy sports drink, you do need water. It's easy and convenient. I have a metal one liter bottle of water, it goes every where my bag goes. I drink two a day, more if I work out extra hard or it's extra hot out. It is that important! If you drink water, you will have more energy, will recover better and you will be in a better mood. Look at your pee if it looks like apple juice you need to rink more. If it loos like lemonade you are doing ok. If it looks like apple cider you need to go to the hospital for intravenous re hydration.

I did a full article on stretching. I finish every workout with a thorough session and stretch my entire body. It is my favorite part of the entire workout, when I get to cool down, recenter myself and reflect on the workout. I can spend an hour stretching pretty easily. Though I don't necessarily recommend spending that long stretching, you should spend at least 10 minutes at the end of each workout. Stretching begins the recovery process by loosening up tight muscles and increasing blood flow, allowing damaged tissue to be transported away and new tissue growth to begin.  Expect an article soon with some basic stretches and start making stretching a priority.

If you are following the caveman lifestyle then you know the importance of eating properly. Your body functions in relation to the quality of food you put into it. If you eat like crap expect your recovery to be crap as well. So look back over some of my earlier posts and make sure you are putting the right food into our system.

The vast majority of your tissue growth occurs when you are sleeping. You have to make getting
enough sleep such a priority that you are almost willing to kill to get to bed on time. If you don't sleep you won't recover, that's the bottom line. You won't recover and you won't perform well enough to get the results you want. I know lots of people who stay up late playing video games every night and wonder why they feel like crap all the time. And these guys don't even exercise. I can only imagine how they'd feel if they had even a moderate amount of activity from which they'd have to recover.
Make sleeping a priority and see how much better your feel.

You need you down time as well. Look forward to your days off the gym and make the most of them. Take the time to pursue activities you love which are good for your mind and soul. If you do this you will feel invigorated, motivated and happy. Happy, relaxed people have more energy so take time to relax and do something you love every day.

These are my rules of recovery and I apply them to every workout. Take the time to place more emphasis on the things that will help you recover as well and it will not only benefit your workouts but you will have more energy and get more enjoyment out of you day to day activities as well.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Yes they are a fact of life.

Especially to those of us who regularly pursue some degree of physical activity on a regular level. We do our best to avoid them because, let's face it, injuries suck. Nobody likes to be laid up on the sidelines watching our friends have all the fun.

Unfortunately though, for most of us, an injury eventually becomes an inevitability. Be it from a momentary laps in judgment or attention. Or from some unforeseeable factor that just happens to be gunning for us, pretty much everybody is eventually going to be experiencing an injury.

A sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligament. Which is the band of connective tissue which connects the end of one bone the the end of another. The degree of sprain indicates the amount of damage done. First degree being just a stretching of the ligament to a fifth degree which is a complete tear.  Some joints prone to sprains are knees, ankles, and wrists.

A sprain is usually caused by some form of trauma, such as a fall or blow, which knocks a joint out of alignment such as a football tackle.  Physical characteristics of a sprain generally include pain, swelling, bruising, loss of movement and instability of the affected joint.

A strain is the stretching or tearing of the muscle or tendon.  Often caused by forcing a muscle to move beyond it's normal of range of motion to contract too forcefully without proper preparation. Strains are often experienced by athletes trying to perform without warming up. As with sprains a strain can range from first degree to fifth degree and a fifth degree strain can lead to loss of function if not repaired medically. Sprains are often accompanied by pain, spasm and reduced strength and function of the affected muscle or tendon.

Treament for sprains and strains
When suffering a soft tissue injury it is important to get ice on it as soon as possible. The first 24 hours are the most crucial and ice can literally be the difference between being stiff for a couple of days or being laid up for a couple of weeks. Ice for 24 - 48 hours keeping the ice on for 20 minutes and off for 10 minutes at a time. Wrap the ice pack in a thin layer of cloth such as a t-shirt so you don't freeze the surface tissue but not so thick that you insulate the injury from the cold. If you are active  in sports it is a good idea to keep Styrofoam cups filled with water in the freezer. That way if you experience a sprain you can peel back the Styrofoam and massage the tissue.

A fracture is a crack or break in  a bone. Usually caused acute impact or sudden stress, a fracture can also be caused by repetitive stress over time. Acute fractures are generally accompanied by pain and swelling at the fracture site, a complete fracture can also be angulated or in some cases pierce the skin and stick out. If you experience a fracture immobilize the area to the best of your ability and get to the doctor as soon as possible. If a fracture is bad enough it can cut off blood supply and cause permanent damage

When experiencing any kind of injury the first thing you should do is follow the mnemonic...

This will help the healing process by immobilizing and protecting the injury so as to not make it worse, and will help control the pain and inflammation.

I recommend against using anti-inflammatory such as Advil and Aleve. These interfere with the body's natural inflammation process which is a necessary part of the body's natural healing process. Using these drugs will hamper the body's ability to heal. Ice should be used to keep the inflammation from getting out of hand and to help with the pain but I say again, except in extreme cases, stay away from drugs.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stretching and Flexibility

Flexibility is  a key component of health, wellness, athletic performance and just retaining mobility as we get older. It is an essential yet often overlooked part of a regular training program.

All too often after an intense workout many of us opt to just head out the door without spending the time to do a decent cool down and stretch out. This slows down the recovery process and allows us to become less flexible over time which will hinder our sought after training results. So I'd like to take a few minutes to have a look at the various types of stretching

Static stretching
Quite possible the most commonly practiced form of stretching and arguably the least effective. Don't get me wrong, static stretching definitely has it's place. It helps limber up tight muscles and increases blood flow to tissues helping along along the recovery process. Static stretching is performed by moving a muscle as far as possible into a stretch and holding for 30 - 60 seconds There are definitely more effective forms of stretching out there though which are proven to get much faster results in the search for increased flexibility. Though I do like to use static stretching as a companion to PNF stretching which I will get into later.

Yoga comes in many different forms today and is essentially meditation combined with resistance stretching. Though my experience with yoga is limited I do highly recommend it's practice as both a means to strengthen and limber up the body and free the mind as well.

Yoga generally follows a series of poses which range from simple to quite challenging and emphasizes proper breathing as well. There are a great many internal and external benefits to be gained from doing yoga on a daily basis and anybody who thinks it's not a challenge worth doing or is only for the ladies should just give it a try and find out for themselves. I remember one day walking to class behind a fairly muscular gentleman  who seemed to be walking as if in a great deal of pain. When I asked him if he had a rough workout yesterday, he replied. "No, I did the hot yoga last night".  'Nuff said

Dynamic stretching
Dynamic stretching is often done as a warm up and should be done before every work out. Often movements which "rehearse" the workout about to be done are used to "grease the groove". Essentially one moves their joints through the entire range of motion without forcing them beyond what is "normal". This primes the central nervous system for the workout about to be done which primes the body to do certain movements more efficiently and reduces the chances of injury. Movements often used in dynamic warm ups frequently include lunges, squats, push ups, pull ups, jumps all using full range of motion.

Two examples of dynamic warm ups which I personally use frequently are the core performance warm up developed by Mark Verstegen and the Bergener warm up. Developed by world class Olympic lifting coach Mike Burgener which I do to grease the groove every time I do olympic lifts.

Resistance Stretching
Resistance stretching works under the belief that a muscle has to contract in order to properly stretch. Essentially one resists the stretch while moving through the stretch itself.
This type of stretching has been brought to light by Bob Cooley and many athletes nw claim that it has done wonderful things for their athletic performance. Olympic medalist swimmer Dara Torres credits her ability to win swimming medals into her 40's with Cooley's methods and has since gone on to her own branch of resistance stretching called meridian stretching.

Resistance stretching blends many aspects of Yoga with traditional chinese medicine and is claimed to open up energy meridian pathways within the body allowing for freedom of flow of energy. I have followed Cooley's method for quite some time and I can attest to his claim that his method creates greater body awareness.Whether I think that resistances stretching has brought great increases in my flexibility, I can't say I'm positive either way. I have always paid great attention to improving my flexibility and when I switched over to his method,  certain areas that I may have neglected have definitely improved while other areas have tightened up since I haven't paid quite as much attention to them while following his book. All in all, I do highly recommend it as a starting point to teach someone the value of flexibility and each them how to improve their whole body flexibility.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF stretching)
Quite possibly my favorite type of stretching for after I work out. PNF stretching requires that you move into a stretch as far as you comfortably can and then contract the stretched muscle. Build the contraction over three to five seconds  so as to not injure yourself and hold the contraction for 10 to 20 seconds of as long as you can. Then relax, breathe out and allow the stretch to move into a greater range. this method brings immediate increases to flexibility. I use it myself and have found great success with it. I use it by following about three cycles of contract/relax and then I hold a static stretch in the final position for 20 to 30 seconds before coming out of the stretch gently.

PNF works by essentially shutting off the muscle's stretch reflex. When a muscle moves into a greater range than it is used to it tightens up in order to prevent from moving too far and causing injury. So it is not the length of your muscles that limits your flexibility. You can potentially be far more flexible than you believe yourself to be right now. PNF tells the muscle to relax by forcing it to contract and then relax telling it that it is ok to move to a greater range of motion.

Practiced regularly PNF stretching can lead to great increases in flexibility but must be done with a degree of caution. Don't move into a range that causes you pain or force to muscle to stretch too far. It is possible to over stretch a muscle and that would be counterproductive.