Why Size Does Not Equal To Strength

 
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FACT: SIZE DOES NOT always EQUAL TO STRENGTH. I understand where the logic comes from. The opposing belief seems viable when comparing a toddler to an adult; in which case then yes, size will likely equal to strength. Here I am speaking about the context of physical fitness and athletic performance in adults because although this principle applies to children and young adults when comparing them within the same age category, it’s hard to compare growing children because neither age group are physically mature yet. The truth I want to highlight is that size is not a true measure of strength due to the complex structures which exist within the human body.

On several occasions, in a group class setting, I’ve had women react with complete surprise at how strong I am for such a small person. In Asia, I would say I’m of average size, but I guess to the rest of the world I am what some would consider petite. I am 160cm (approx. 5’ 2’’) and my weight fluctuates between 47 kg-50 kg (approx. 103-110 lbs), but through my athleticism and commitment to training over the years I’ve been able to develop great strength for my size.

Here’s what’s important to understand. Muscle strength is not a matter of size, rather, muscle strength is a matter of force and velocity, which simply put is what allows for muscle contraction to occur. It’s possible to be small in appearance and size but strong in strength. Force is defined as strength or momentum which propels physical action or movement, while velocity is defined as the speed of the movement.

When training for strength, understand that there’s a whole lot more going on under the skin than just lifting, pushing, and moving. What needs to be classified is whether you’re training for size or training for performance and endurance. This difference in classification is what will differentiate between the type of training that’s best to achieve the desired goal. At its scientific level, muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth can occur in two ways: myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Neither of the two are better than the other, nor do they exclusively occur independently of one another, but the distinction creates an emphasis on why defining the goal for training matters.

First understand that each muscle fiber is an individual cell with multiple nuclei. Contraction or shortening of the individual muscle fiber is ultimately responsible for contraction of a whole muscle. Myofibrillar hypertrophy is an increase in the size or thickness of the cellular structures of the muscle fiber through the increase in myofibrils within each muscle fiber. An increase in myofibrils improves the force-production of individual muscle fibers because myofibrils is what contains the contractile (active) proteins: actin and myosin, which what makes muscle contraction possible. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase in the volume of the semi fluid which surrounds individual muscle fibers but doesn’t contain the contractile proteins actin and myosin. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy prioritizes on muscle fibers which contain the proteins used for tissue repair and growth. The increase in volume is what people refer to as muscle “pump,” as this situations creates increased cross-section of muscle fibers, but the enhancement in appearance and size is caused by an increase in semi fluid, but the semi fluid does not impact the contractile capacity of the muscle fibers and therefore does not impact force production. This is why identifying the goal to training is important.

Not all training are made equal because beyond the aesthetic and physical efforts there’s a lot of complex physiological, neurological, and chemical reactions and relationships which occur underneath the skin; beyond what meets the eye. This is why cardio may not be the best for weight loss and why strength training is advocated by many health professionals, because if size alone is what’s desired then there are specific methods of training which are more favorable to such goal while the same is true if performance is what’s desired more. At the end of the day, this is why narrowing to more specific goals and having a clear understanding on what the desired outcome is, beyond just being toned and fit is important.


Resources: 

McCall, Pete. “10 Things to Know About Muscle Fibers.” ACE, 7 May 2015, www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5411/10-things-to-know-about-muscle-fibers.

Neumann, Donald A., et al. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. Third ed., Elsevier, 2017.

 

Why The Most Common Goal Being Set Is A Cause For Failure

 
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It’s time to get specific, very specific. One of the most common things I hear as a fitness professional is “I want to get toned and fit.” That’s a good goal, at least the desire for improvements is there, but that’s also one of the most generic and un-motivating goals anyone can set for themselves. Honestly, it’s a ‘goal’ that sets most for failure. Here’s why:

Reason #1 - The desire lacks a specific goal for individuals to work towards.

Here’s the reality, in the world of health and fitness, there’s no real limit to how healthy or fit a person can get. The longer I work on my health and fitness, the more results, the more benefits, and the more gains I reap. Health and fitness is a spectrum versus a singular achievable destination. I know exactly how long my flight from Singapore to Bali was, but with health and fitness, there’s no real measurement to the distance because there’s always room to do better and there’s always room to improve. I can continue to improve my flexibility, improve my strength, increase my endurance, increase my muscle mass, reduce my fat percentage, etc. because the capacity for improvements is endless.

Reason #2 - The desire is undefinable.

Everyone has a different preference and definition to what “toned and fit” is because it lacks universal identification. Toned and fit is a description, not an identification. Body type preference also comes into play here, what I find toned and fit may be too much or too little for some people’s expectations. For example, some people may want larger bulkier muscles, while others want leaner muscles, or others want bigger butts while others prefer to focus on their abs. There’s a multitude of desires when it comes to what each person wants, so if I can’t even define what I want, how can I expect to achieve it?

Reason #3 - Everyone’s body is different.

Everyone has a different idea of what the ideal body is but the reality is, each person is born with different body types, with different genetics, with different metabolisms, and therefore with different capacities. Before identifying what is my ideal body type, there must be an understanding of the reality of each individual’s body. Each body is beautiful in their own way, but genetics and physiology is something we’re born with, therefore the limitations of this reality are also inherent.

SOLUTIONS:

Solution #1 - Identify the desires and intentions.

Everyone has different desires as to what the ideal body is. Identifying what this means within the context of one’s own body and what this means for each person is key to the success of each individual’s health and fitness journey. This is Why Identifying What Drives You Is Important. There also first need to a be a clear understanding of the why. Why do I want to embark on this health and fitness journey? Understanding our desires and motivations is an important first step because Intention Matters. What I am driven by is different to the person next to me, so I should expect that how I motivate myself is different too. Identifying these critical components will help to identify the goal.

Solution #2 - Come up with specific goals.

Once I understand the why, I am then able to identify specific desires and motivations to help me identify specific goals. “I want to be able to do 10 push-ups because I want a stronger upper body,” “I want to be able to do a 20kg (approx. 44 lbs) deadlift because I want more shape to my butt,” “I want to be able to jog from my house to the gardens without stopping because I want to work on my endurance,” the possibilities are endless, but the main thing to remember here is to come up with one or a few specific goals to keep you motivated and start with the why! Of course, once you’ve achieved the goal, cross it out and set a new one!

Solution #3 - Accept that each body is different.

Accepting and working with what I have to achieve my healthiest and fittest self is the first step to a successful wellness journey, here’s A Beginner’s Guide To Working Out, which explains several criteria to get right in order to aid a successful fitness journey. These criteria listed are what I believe are key components to a successful health and fitness journey. The main point to draw on is on accepting and celebrating the body we have been blessed with and to work on optimizing its potential.

Everyone has the capacity to improve their health and fitness, but there are too many fad diets and fad workouts out there which mislead people’s expectation of themselves. Especially with the rampant existence of media nowadays, there’s a race towards perfection and unrealistic aesthetic reaches.

The shift that’s needed in the health and fitness world is an acceptance towards all different body types. Not everyone is tall and lanky, but that is the projected ideal for females in this world. Not everyone is big boned and chiseled, but that is the projected ideal for males in this world. What’s more important is to keep moving forward towards a healthier and fitter self, because what’s more liberating is the freedom to love one’s only body and to treat it like the holy temple it really is. Meaning to do whatever it takes to help this body I have to achieve its best potential.

Each body is unique, each body is different, each body has its own capacities and therefore its own potential so why not work towards its personal best, rather than drowning my mind and my body with unrealistic and unachievable expectations of what society and media have deemed as worthy?

 

How To Take Your Sweat To The Next Level: The Mind-Body Connection

 

Mindfulness and mindful practice is a force in today’s pop culture: from meditation to hygge (the Danish cultural phenomenon) to meditation apps and meditation studios, the world is pushing forward with strong momentum towards a more conscious lifestyle.

Humans are incapable of living without a functional brain; where dysfunctions in the brain can impact a person’s ability to live and lead a normal life. It’s no surprise then that muscle contraction and body movement depend and originate in the brain.

The basics to movement and muscle contraction is this: the Central Nervous System (CNS), which encompasses the spinal cord, the brain, and the nerves, is a quick communication channel that acts as the control center for movement and muscle activation.1 (Side Note: There are more complex depths to this relationship, but for my current purpose, this brief explanation is sufficient.)

The human body wouldn’t be this miraculous marvel if it didn’t have a brain and the same is true for the brain if the opposite were true. The brain’s capacity is limited to the body it belongs to. Exercise culture tends to focus a lot on aesthetic benefits, but if the body is nothing without a brain and if the brain is only limited to the body that it is in, then what’s more intriguing to understand is how exercise benefits from cognitive function and how cognitive function benefits from exercise.

A study by Duke University found that the prefrontal and frontal region of clinically depressed and older participants were enriched in an exercise-versus-medication study of 84 individuals.3 Those who exercised found improvements in memory, “as well as in executive functions pertaining to planning, organization and intellectual multitasking.” Neuroplasticity, the brain’s lifelong capacity to adapt and change, is part of the reason why this is possible. The relationship and dependency of the brain and the body are what is worth paying attention to because each plays a significant role in defining the capacity and capabilities of the other. The physiological reality is that without the brain humans are nothing.

Here’s why this is important & how this information can help you take your sweat to the next level by optimizing the mind-body connection:

1. To optimize my sweat time, I need to participate in mindful sweat sessions

As highlighted above, the body depends on the brain and the brain depends on the body. If exercise is treated as a mindless activity, where my mind is contemplating about what to wear this weekend versus staying conscious of the movements and muscles I am working, then I am falling short on optimizing on my sweat time. I am putting in the time and most of the work, but cheating myself from reaping the full benefits.

2. To optimize my sweat sessions, I need to think about the muscles being worked

It’s not necessary to know the anatomy of the whole human body, but the more I know the more it helps. Think of it like this, when I first started texting, I had to look at the keypad in order to type. After sometime typing became much more automatic. Now as I type on a touch screen, typing without looking is possible, but I am much more accurate with my texts if I look. This analogy can be applied in regards to muscle activation in exercise; especially when it comes to the more dominant muscles. Although muscle activation can happen quite automatically, especially if the exercise and movements are familiar, thinking about the muscles as I move will create better accuracy.

3. To avoid a plateau, I need to continue to stimulate my brain and my body.

Think back to when toddlers first learn how to walk. Learning how to walk was difficult for everyone. No baby came into this world knowing how to use his or her limbs. It took months of growth, months of practice, and more than a couple of tries before the mind was able to direct the body to walk.

Learning how to walk is the same as learning how to exercise correctly. We all started at zero at some point and everything needs to be learned, but once it’s learned it tends to become automatic. This is why I don’t believe in doing just one type of exercise. I am an advocate for cross-training because it is only natural for the body to adapt. If I want to optimize on challenging both my mind and my body, then I need to also challenge myself with varied types of exercise. The more unfamiliar I am with the activity, the more challenging it becomes for my body and my brain. Therapists and trainers working with older populations have even started to incorporate brain games to help improve overall reception to training.3

4. To help motivate myself to exercise, I should think about the benefits of exercise beyond aesthetics

Aesthetic gains win people’s attention, but aesthetic gains are such a small part of the real benefits of exercise. There’s what feels like an infinite list of the benefits: from physical health to mental well-being, to improved mood, and so much more! (Check out What Happened When I Added Weights and What’s To Gain With Strength Training).

In understanding the essential connection the brain has with the body, it’s easy to see why I like to place emphasis on training beyond the physical body and beyond aesthetics. The mind is a powerful tool and if we want our body to optimize on function and health, it requires more than just physical health, attention to the mind and mental stimulation is also necessary.

Resources:

1. Hargrove, Todd. “The Central Nervous System.” BETTER MOVEMENT, 2008, www.bettermovement.org/blog/2008/the-central-nervous-system.

2. McGrath, Brent. “4 Tips To Help Train Your Brain For Massive Gains: Mind Muscle Connection!” Bodybuilding.com, 16 June 2010, www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-tips-to-help-train-brain-massive-gains-mind-muscle-connection.htm.

3. Myers, Carrie. “Creating the Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.” ACE Fitness, www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1748/creating-the-ultimate-mind-body-connection%20/.

 

 

My Bare Minimum

 

Everyone has ambitions and dreams. Even when we’re speaking about things of smaller significance to our larger life, there’s the ideal and then there’s reality. How my week unfolds tends to go differently than how I had imagined it Sunday night. Some of us are realistic thinkers who tend to imagine our week much more accurately. Then there are those of us who are dreamers who find it hard to replicate the week we imagined to the week we have. No matter where we sit on this spectrum, the future never goes according to how we imagined it, so when I am having one of those weeks; the kind of week where nothing goes to plan, I default to my bare minimum list.

I want to highlight this is my BARE MINIMUM list! It is therefore not an ambitious list. It is a list which highlights what I consider ESSENTIALS to my week. In other words, these are the things I find as essential as breathing, to keep my head up through a tough week.

#1 - At least two heart heavy workouts per week.

Disclaimer: I am not on a full teaching schedule yet, so I know this will have to adapt once I am on a full teaching schedule.

There are various types and intensities of workouts, but honestly, I can never feel satisfied unless I go through a workout which pushes me to my VO2max range. This is that feeling where I’ve worked so hard I am left gasping for air and unable to talk. Why would I want such a thing? Well, because I want to know I’ve challenged my heart. When I am having an off week and I can’t get to my workouts as regularly as I’d like to, then a moderate to high-intensity cardiovascular exercise (an exercise which increases the heart rate) becomes my priority! Remember, the heart is a muscle!

#2 - Meditate every morning (at least on the weekdays!)

Meditating for 15 minutes in the morning, via the Headspace app, has become a major priority in my life. I do it either first thing after I wake up or right after a morning workout. I also prefer meditating on an empty stomach. It’s one of those simple and life-changing habits which has helped me kick start my day in a positive and productive way.

#3 - EAT LOTS OF CARBS!

This may come as a shock to most reading this, but eating lots of healthy carbs is a top priority throughout my week. I am an active person, so even on an off week, I have more to gain from fueling my body with this essential source of energy than not! I tend to have a lower appetite when I am not at my usual routine and when I am in a lousy mood from a bad week, so I’ve gotten into the habit of consuming lots of complex carbohydrates (grains, legumes, starchy veggies like potatoes) no matter the circumstance or situation.

#4 - Leave the booze for the weekend (unless I have work on the weekends, then I opt out completely)!

The main reason for this has to do with how I sleep. Anytime I drink alcohol, I can’t sleep as soundly as when I don’t. I also wake up much hazier than when I haven’t had any booze, so when I am having a more difficult week I choose to cut the booze. It’s a sure way to set myself up for a better week.

 

How Long Did It Take?

 
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There’s one question that people ask me that gets me smiling (because it is a nice compliment), but at the same time also frustrates me (because of the myth that usually leads people to ask this question): “how long did it take you?” There are variations to the question people ask me. The most common of which is, “how long did it take you to get to where you are?”, “how long did it take you to get that body?”, “how long did it take you to get abs like yours?”, “how long did it take to get as fit as you?” and other versions of these. I don’t highlight this to show off the number of compliments I get, I highlight this point because of how baffling it is to witness the strength of this myth. People are led to believe that achieving optimum fitness and health can be done within a specified time frame, but this myth is what’s stopping so many people from achieving the body they want because reaching your optimum level of fitness and health is a lifelong endeavor.

Whether it’s a couple of weeks or a number of days, there’s a strong belief that to achieve health or some type of fitness goal I will only need to commit myself to ‘x’ number of fitness-focused and healthy eating days. Here’s where the confusion lies: health and fitness do not have a definite end.

Remember health and fitness exist within an indefinite spectrum that’s specific to each individual, so how long I take to lose ‘x’ amount of weight might not apply to another. The other issue with this is that a lot of the common ambitions aren’t specific enough, “I want to lose weight,” “I want to lose fat,” or “I want to be more toned and lean.” These goals, although relevant, are too generalized. Instead, state a specific weight you want to drop to or state the range of fat percentage to body mass you want to achieve (that’s within the healthy range). The goal can even be more related to routine, like how many sweat sessions clocked in during the week. The main insight to understand here is that health and fitness take thought and commitment. It’s not about setting realistic and individualized goals for yourself. When people ask “how long did it take you?”, for the most part, what they’re really asking is “how long will it take me?” I am here to tell you that that’s not how fitness or health works because, at the end of the day, it’s about finding a routine that works for you. Not for me or anyone else. It’s about finding what you enjoy, what works with your schedule, what works with your circumstances and once you find what sticks to commit to it for as long as you’re living, breathing, and are able.

This means committing to regular sweat sessions with varied intensities, listening to the body when it needs rest, dedicating enough time and effort towards proper recovery (yes, that means quality sleep as well), eating right (at least 80-90% of the time because we all know indulgence is just a fact of life sometimes) and understanding that it takes more than just a couple of weeks or months to truly be healthy. Health is a never-ending spectrum, we can either be healthier or less healthy but there’s no definite health which every person can strive towards in the same way. Health is an individual achievement that’s also dependant on so many other biological, psychological, environmental, and physiological factors which is out of most people’s control. Our task is to appreciate and value the body we’ve been born with, to care for it as best we can, and to elevate the body to the best potential it can reach. Overall the main thing to take away is not “how long will it take,” rather, the question to ask is, how much longer will I wait before I start to elevate my body towards its full potential?

 

Apparently, I Have Great Skin!

 
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It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about my skin regimen, so I’ve decided to type it up into a post. Here are some of my MUST DOs when it comes to cleaner and healthier skin.

#1 - I Wash my face before I step out of the house

We all know how important sleep is when it comes to rest and recovery right? All the work which tends to go unnoticed when we’re at sleep is also what goes on with the skin when we’re asleep. At night and when we are asleep, the cells in our skin are repaired and regenerated.

One of the first things I do when I get out of bed is to wash my face with my face wash. I am usually up before the sun’s out, so washing my face in the morning also helps me to wake up, especially when I can’t rely on the sun to wake me up. But, other than that, because the skin goes through its regenerative processes at night, it’s always good to make sure I start the day with clean skin. Skin free of unnecessary oils and dead skin which might have been left on my face throughout the night.

#2 - I Wash my hands and face every time I get home

There are so many things that can disrupt the skin when we’re out and about. Living in a hot and humid tropical climate like Singapore, it’s hard to ignore the impact the outside world has on my skin. Aside from the sweat, there’s a whole host of other things such as dirt, pollution, and dust, that’s happily sitting on the skin’s surface so the first thing I do when I get home is, wash my hands then my face!

It’s important to wash my hands after coming back home because I never know what I’ve touched, whether I was touching something on the bus or the train, to the handles on an escalator, there are more chances than not that I’ll end up transferring those germs onto my face if I don’t wash my hands.

#3 - I don’t use foundation

This is a personal preference but I do not like the feeling of foundation on my skin. I’ve tried enough foundation in my lifetime to say that foundation, no matter how lightweight or natural marketers try to make me believe it is, is still not a friend to me. I instead use a light face primer, which evens out my skin but doesn’t block the pores.

#4 - I Give my skin a break from makeup

I'll go a day or two each week without any makeup because we all know everyone needs a break and that includes my skin! This is usually a great time for me to amp up my skincare and add a mask before I hit the sheets to give my skin the R&R it deserves.

#5 - I carry face wipes in my workout bag

Washing my face after a workout isn’t always convenient. What if I was working out outside? If I don’t have access to a tap, my next solution is to carry face wipes.

#6 - I don’t use face moisturizer at night

I am not a scientist or a dermatologist, but like how using chapsticks can cause a dependency on chapsticks (i.e. lips will get very dry if you stop using chapsticks), I’ve stopped moisturizing my face every night. I read somewhere that because the skin is regenerating at night, it also means that this is when the skin adjusts its level of moisture (i.e. how much oils it naturally produces). I used to suffer from oily and dry skin, but once I stopped moisturizing every night this problem went away. My best guess is because now my skin is able to adjust to its condition more accurately, without the aid of external moisturizers, its natural production of oil (for moisture) is more accurate. Previously my skin compensated the dry skin by producing more oil. I still use moisturizers in the morning when I need it and face oils at night once or every other week.

#7 - I use sunblock on my face, most days

You caught me! I am not perfect and I am not as consistent with this as I hope to be, but using sunblock on the face is important if I want to maintain my skin’s health. Other than protecting itself against harmful rays, protecting the skin against the sun also means preventing wrinkles and freckles, which are signs of sun damage. Older Asian ladies with their umbrellas, long sleeves, and large golf hats may find you laughing at them now, but they’re the ones laughing later!

#8 - I drink fresh carrot juice every day (no sugar added please!)

Honestly, I am not sure what the science behind this is. I also drink carrot juice every day primarily because I freakin love carrots and I love carrot juice, so it’s more for personal pleasure than anything else. Although the statement of, “we are what we eat,” is so true when it comes to skin, so I am sure consuming this bright wonderful liquid has something to do with my skin’s health.

#9 - I recently switched to all natural products

I recently switched to all natural products and other than helping to eliminate some dryness, I should say that switching to all natural products didn’t make a dramatic difference, my skin was doing fine before but at least now I know my products are better for the environment as well.

If there’s anything else you’d like to know about my skin regimen, feel free to drop me a message on Instagram or on my e-mail. I’d love to help you find your best skin!

 

Are You Wasting Your Warm-Up?

 
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I used to ignore a warm-up, especially when I am working out by myself I tend to go straight into my workout or do the bare minimum because I didn’t grasp the value of warm-ups, but with all the reading that I’ve done towards my certification, it’s clear how important warm-ups are, not just as a way to prevent injury, but also to enhance performance.  

Now, think about how much effort it takes to coordinate a TED conference. Thousands of people, multiple speakers, various rooms and spaces, the participants, the logistics involved and so much more right? Now, this level of coordination is equivalent to how much effort and moving parts are involved in each body when it comes to completing a workout. There are so many layers to movement, from the cellular to the physiological, to the mind that requires coordination. Think of the various fibers and cells in a muscle group. Now visualize the various joints and muscles involved in various movements. Finally, think about the connectivity of all the elements required to produce force and movement-- and all of this in one body. If you realize the multifaceted operations required to produce force and movement, it is easy to understand why a warm-up and how we warm-up is so critical.

Walking on the treadmill or jogging around the block for a couple of minutes might have been the golden standard for warm-ups before and maybe add on a couple of stretches here and there. These efforts are better than doing no warm-up at all, but newer research has shown the advantages of a dynamic warm-up and the ineffectiveness of static stretching (unless a person is preparing to perform a sport that requires flexibility [i.e. gymnastics or dance]) in a warm-up.

What is a dynamic warm-up?

Dynamic warm-ups which are also known as “movement preparation,” includes “integrated movements that can improve muscular strength, mobility, stability, balance, coordination, agility and/or even power. Warm-ups can include foam rolling, balance exercises, yoga-type movements, agility drills and even plyometric drills.” (1) To put simply, a dynamic warm-up is a focused approach to warming up the body as a whole connected system versus individual moving parts (i.e. different muscle groups).

What are the benefits of a dynamic warm-up?

  • Elevate the body core temperature
  • Enhance kinesthetic awareness
  • Optimize range of motion (ROM)
  • Igniting the neuromuscular system
  • Increasing blood flow (i.e. enhance the efficiency of the uptake and transport of oxygen in the bloodstream for muscle function)
  • Enhance motor unit excitability

Increase preparation for the main workout (i.e. practicing fundamental movement skills before increasing the demand on the body)

These benefits can easily be overlooked because most of us aren’t thinking about the body in such a detailed way when it comes to exercise, but when we investigate the science (as revealed above), a warm-up is critical down to the cellular level.

Why is static stretching ineffective in a warm-up (unless someone is preparing to perform a sport that requires flexibility [i.e. gymnastics or dance])?

Contrary to popular belief, static stretching may actually inhibit optimal performance for a workout because static stretching is what improves muscle elasticity. In simple terms, what muscle elasticity contributes to is a decrease in tissue viscosity and although this may sound beneficial, tissue viscosity is what lowers the force-generating capacity of the contractile properties of a muscle. This is a problem because the contractile properties of muscles (i.e. eccentric, concentric, isometric, and passive stretch) (2) are what is necessary to assist in generating force and creating movements for most workouts. If the contractile properties of muscles are inhibited, then the muscles ability to perform is also inhibited. But, let’s not confuse this with the value of static stretching post-exercise for recovery (which is another topic on its own).

I think it’s easy from an exercisers standpoint to observe workouts through shallow lenses. Let’s be real most of us (including myself at one point) saw exercise only as a means to an aesthetic goal and maybe as a health goal, but few of us take the time to consider exercise through a scientific lens. With a narrow perspective, it was easy to ignore the specific properties which impact our workouts, but my deeper understanding helped me to change my warm-up habits to optimize my performance.

References:

1 McGrath, Chris. “A New Approach to Warming Up For Your Cardio Workout.” ACE Fitness, ACE Fitness, 8 Aug. 2013, www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3456/a-new-approach-to-warming-up-for-your-cardio-workout.

2 “Muscle Physiology - Types of Contractions.” Muscle Physiology - Types of Contractions, University of California San Diego, 31 May 2006, 10:05, muscle.ucsd.edu/musintro/contractions.shtml.

 

Why Is It Harder for Women To Lose Weight?

 
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A client had expressed frustration at the fact that her husband was showing much more progress compared to her. They were working out the same amount and pretty much eating the same foods, but although she was proud of her husband, she was also confused about why the same amount of work and effort didn’t bring her the same monumental transformation which her husband had. In the midst of her frustration, I realize her concern is not unique. You see, weight-loss is part physical, part mental, and part biological and when it comes to biology, we have zero control over the DNA and the body we’ve been given. The good news is that it doesn’t mean that we can’t overcome the challenges which are innate to achieving a healthier self, but there are more scientific explanations to this and here are the facts to face:

#1 - More Testosterone in Men

Thanks to biology, men possess more testosterone in their bodies, which leads to a greater percentage of muscle versus fat. While women produce more estrogen and progesterone which tends to promote more fat storage. The result of this places men at an advantage because when it comes down to it more muscle equals to more calorie burn, “as the amount of muscle mass an individual has is directly proportional to metabolism, and thus caloric expenditure.” (3) The fact to face here is that the truth of each journey is in our DNA and biology.

#2 - A woman’s body requires more fat to be healthy

Let’s remember that fat (despite the terrible rapport it gets) is an essential component to health and the body’s ability to survive. “A certain amount of body fat is necessary for insulation and thermoregulation, hormone production, cushioning of vital organs, and maintenance of certain body functions.” What is important to recognize is, when it comes to weight-loss, there are different needs between the genders. “For men, essential body fat is between 2-5%; for women, it is between 10-13%. The remainder of body fat is stored throughout the body in adipose tissue..., acting as a readily available source of energy or to cushion and protect vital organs.” (3) In other words, part of a woman’s biology is geared to hold onto fats, because aside from the internal functions fats assists with, fats are also essential for a woman’s reproductive abilities.

#3  - Science reveals, men are wired differently when it comes to being HANGRY (hunger driven anger)!  

Whether a woman is hungry or not, a woman’s response to food is different to how a man reacts to food. In a study by, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted in 2009, brain scans reveal that even if a woman is not hungry the region of the brain which controls the drive to eat is activated simply by being shown food. This is not the case for men (1). What this research reveals is that women tend to eat, not just because they’re hungry or to satisfy a biological need. For women, there is a labyrinth of motivations when it comes to eating.

#4 - Women are prone to more hormonal shifts

Concluded in a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women are more emotional eaters compared to their male counterparts. This emotional drive towards food also causes a secondary impact to reach towards “foods that will ignite the reward center of the brain, which tends to be the sugary, fatty, salty, hyper-palatable foods,” which are also food which are likely to cause weight gain, says Pamela Peeke, author of “The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction.” (1)

#5 - Fat Distribution

Generally, men will hold more excess fat around the belly area, while women’s fat storage is more spread out across the body. When it comes to weight-loss, men who lose weight will appear to have more progress because excess fat is contained around the belly area which is a prominent and more noticeable area. For women, because fat is distributed in all areas of the body, weight loss is less noticeable and is more gradual in its progression. (4)

It’s important to understand that eating and weight-loss is a much more complex topic than what tends to be portrayed. Beyond the physical aspects, eating and weight-loss is also about the mental conditions in which each individual operates from. What’s critical to recognize is that there is no such thing as a one size fits all solution. We’re all different. From our DNA and biological makeup down to the environments we live in. What matters most is about recognizing the unique aspects of each individual body, each life, and each progress. It’s also about taking matters into our own hands and making educated decisions on what will work best for us. There may not be one solution that’ll work for everyone, but the greatest news is that there is a solution that’s right for you that’s waiting to be discovered. So ask yourself, what is right for you and make it happen!

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Resources:

1 Allen, Jennifer Van. “Why It Really Is Harder for Women to Lose Weight.” The Washington Post, 12 Aug. 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/weight-loss-it-really-is-harder-for-women-research-shows/2014/08/12/0a95c1aa-1d9b-11e4-ab7b-696c295ddfd1_story.html?utm_term=.e2ffe7049018.

2 Green, Daniel J, and Cedric X Bryant, editors. ACE's Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. American Council of Exercise, 2010.

3 Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. 5th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, n.d. Print.

4 “Do Men Lose Weight Faster Than Women?” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/features/do-men-lose-weight-faster-than-women#2.


 

 

Is Cardio Better For Weight Loss?

 
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When I think of cardio, I used to think about running, cycling, swimming, maybe rowing, and activities of a similar manner. Cardio was narrowly defined within these types of continuous activities. What I’ve come to realize is although I heard the word “cardio” thrown out a lot, I didn’t really know what this word actually described. First, “cardio” is short for cardiovascular and for those of you who are still in the dark, cardiovascular is defined by the Merriam –Webster dictionary as “of, relating to, or involving the heart and blood vessels” (1) and “used, designed, or performed to cause temporary increase in heart rate (a cardiovascular workout).” (2) By these definitions, it’s obvious why the activities I listed above are only a very narrow allocation of what cardiovascular entails. My first awakening was to expose myself to the breadth of what cardiovascular workouts actually includes.

Secondly, before receiving an education in personal training, I didn’t realize how misguided the question “is cardio better for weight loss?” is. Like many, I used to be one of those people who believed, in order to lose weight, I need to do a lot of cardio. But now, when I am asked this question, I am often perplexed on how to answer. For one, there are so many types of cardiovascular activities, so asking whether cardio is better for weight loss also depends on which type of cardiovascular workout. Secondly, if weight loss is the only goal, there are other ways-- like nutrition, to help achieve such goals. I now understand that this question is more an indication of the lack of knowledge in regards to weight loss and working out in general, which is why someone would be asking such a question. But, here are some things to remember:

# 1 - Not all cardio is made equal.

Let’s outline the two main types of cardio. There is aerobic and anaerobic training, which can be further classified as steady-state training and high-intensity interval training. To put it simply, the differences in cardio training depends on the level of oxygen and where energy is derived from.

Steady-State Training/Aerobic Training:

  • Aerobic means in the presence of oxygen

  • “Characterized as large-muscle, rhythmic activities (e.g., walking, jogging, aerobics, swimming, cross-country skiing),”1 which typically recruits type I muscle fibers (3)

  • Is performed at 50-65% of maximal aerobic capacity (at an RPE [rate of perceived exertion] of 3-5)

  • “…can be sustained without undue fatigue for at least 20 minutes.” (1)

  • Is typically performed in one consistent bout without rest intervals

High-Intensity Interval Training/Anaerobic Training:

  • Anaerobic means without the presence of oxygen

  • Tends to include explosive movements, which typically recruits type II muscle fibers (3)

  • Is performed at 80-95% of maximal aerobic capacity (at an RPE [rate of perceived exertion] of 7 or higher) (2)

  • Can’t be sustained for extended periods of time (about 30 seconds to 3 minutes) (2)

  • Includes bouts of work and recovery intervals, which are equal to or longer than the work time (2)

# 2 – There is research to support which cardio is better for weight loss. This is one example.

  • Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, ran a study which concluded high-intensity exercise equals to a higher calorie and a higher total number of fat calories burned. (1)

  • “Subjects performed two 30-minute bouts of exercise: a relatively low-intensity bout and a relatively high-intensity bout.”

  • “The results, show that for the low-intensity exercise, subjects burned a total of 240 calories, with 96 of those calories (41%) coming from fat.”

  • “During the high-intensity bout, a total of 450 calories were burned, with 108 of those calories (24%) coming from fat.”

Therefore, although there was a higher percentage of calories from fat in people who performed the low-intensity bout, but notice that the total number of calories burned was less than during the high-intensity trial. This data shows that although in terms of percentage, more fat was burned during the low-intensity bout, more calories were burned during the high-intensity bout and weight loss is about how many calories you burn in total, regardless of the source of those calories.

What’s important to understand when it comes to weight loss is that there are multiple ways to achieve this goal. Whether it’s through nutrition or strength training, if weight loss is the only goal cardio is not actually necessary. What broadens the need for cardiovascular activities are if the goal is more than just weight loss and is more a health goal. Unfortunately when it comes to weight loss there are a lot of fad theories and products out there! Weight loss is a much more complicated topic than meets the eye, especially when you also factor in the various unique factors which impact an individual’s capacity for weight loss. There’s no blanket rule book that’s right for everyone. It is the responsibility of the individual to explore the different avenues towards weight loss and to commit to a lifestyle change that works for them.

Resources:

  1. Green, Daniel J, and Cedric X Bryant, editors. ACE's Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. American Council of Exercise, 2010.

  2. “High-Intensity Interval Training.” ACE Fit | Fitness Information, ACE | The American Council on Exercise, www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness-fact-article/3317/high-intensity-interval-training/.

  3. Jr., Paul Hovan. “Is Cardio Really the Secret to Fat Loss?” Www.ISSAonline.edu, ISSA, 10 Aug. 2016, www.issaonline.edu/blog/index.cfm/2016/is-cardio-really-the-secret-to-fat-loss.

 

How Do You Know If You're Doing Enough

 
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Here are some of the questions that linger in my mind after my sweat sessions: “how effective was my workout?” “why are things getting easier?” “why don’t I feel as challenged as I did a few months ago?” “why am I not dropping weight as fast as I was?” “why am I not seeing results as fast as I was?” Honestly, the whirlwind of unanswered questions used to multiply in my mind when it came to evaluating the effectiveness of my fitness routine.

Like most people, I am eager to see results and keen to feel the difference the next time I workout, but what I found challenging was how to evaluate myself because I’ve always been active all my life. I never lost my fitness routine, even after my days as a high school athlete, aside from when I was ill or injured. Measuring effectiveness became an afterthought (or sometimes not a thought at all), because what I knew was that I was meeting the minimum recommended hours by health experts. All I thought about was as long as I am working out and sweating I am improving my fitness. Not until my education in personal training do I now understand some of the important principles to think about when evaluating the effectiveness of my routine:

#1 - Progression

What’s important to consider in regards to progression in fitness is, “how am I progressing my fitness?” or “how am I progressing the challenge I place on myself?” As humans we tend to complain about boredom when things get too ‘routine’, but the truth is we are also uncomfortable with change (whether mentally, physically, or in other aspects in life).

In fitness, it is important to keep the body challenged. The body naturally adapts to exercise, think about doing your first push up (or lack of ability to do a proper one), then think about the progression between the first attempt to the most recent attempt (that is if you’ve been working on them of course!). There’s a drastic difference in ability thanks to our body’s ability to adapt!

This is why progression is important, without progression, the body becomes stagnant. Progression is the key to improving our level of fitness and this can be done is so many ways, but here are some tips:

  • Increasing repetitions
  • Increasing weight(s) used for a specific exercise (e.g. I can complete 12 repetitions of chest presses with two 7kg [approx. 15.4lbs] dumbbells, therefore I can induce progression by increasing my repetitions or to increase the weight I lift).
  • Increasing frequency of training (e.g. instead of twice a week move up to three or four)
  • Incorporating new workouts (e.g. if you’re a yogi, maybe adding a circuit class into the week would be handy)

#2 - Regularity

It is important to maintain regularity in training routines because any progress made or any physiological adaptations the body makes is impermanent. Yes, you heard me right! What’s at play here is the principle of reversibility and the principle of diminishing returns. In simple terms, these two principles outline the unavoidable physiological truth in which the body operates with; adaptations can happen positively or negatively, it is part of the body’s natural state of development.

This is why I advocate for fitness as a lifestyle choice rather than a method for weight loss because the strength of the weight loss industry tends to cloud this distinction.

#3 - Overload

Overload identifies the specific need in strength training to increase the weight load or resistance in order to maximize the capacity for strength development. This is important because not everyone does strength training, especially as a female in Asia, there’s a certain taboo to the idea of strength training.There’s a great fear in getting too big or too muscular, but the reality is in order to achieve more strength and get stronger, strength training, whether with weights, body weight, or resistance is important (remember: the more muscles we have the more calories we burn at rest). There’s a whole lot to gain with weights and strength training in general, but the main benefits are to assist in progression and more importantly the health and physiological benefits which come with it; like an increase in bone density.

There are plenty of reasons to train and sweat but having a better understanding of the full scope of the benefits which go along with training is also beneficial in helping to create longevity in routine. These guidelines helped me to understand the value of getting comfortable in discomfort. Following the same routine is always what's comfortable, but it’s more important to challenge the body in order to catalyze positive development in my health and fitness. We all want to make all our efforts count, so it’s time to stay conscious about what we do!

 

A Beginner's Guide To Working Out

 
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I am lucky I've always been an active person, even as a child, so I have never really been a beginner to working out; nor was I ever a beginner at the gym. Although, I do remember how nervous I was stepping into a gym for the very first time in high school. For those of you starting your journey for the first time, I can sympathize how intimidating this realm is, especially with all the boutique studios and new concepts popping everywhere. First off, I applaud you for taking this first step! Here are some key things to think about before you begin this journey!

#1 - Love Your Body

A lot of people who start their fitness journey enter with a mindset of not being happy with their bodies versus wanting to become healthier. Therefore a lot of people are committing to fitness in order to achieve weight loss, look leaner, or look better in general. Having these desires is normal and OK, but what’s troubling is when this mindset also leads to an expectation that working out is the answer to all insecurities. Everyone’s first step is to first accept and love their bodies because no matter how hard you work out, the reality is, there’s a barrier to the satisfaction we can derive from aesthetics; especially if we don’t accept and love ourselves and our body first.

I grew up as an insecure child and teenager. Weight was always a pain point because I was always the chubby one in my family. Later on in life, I gained 9kg (about 19lbs) in University and my insecurity skyrocketed. Despite making some progress in my health and fitness, like losing some weight, increasing my level of fitness, eating healthier, etc. None was ever enough. I remained always dissatisfied because no matter how hard I trained if I don't prioritize the condition of my mind over the aesthetics, insecurities will disrupt the journey.  

#2 - Know Your Body Type

We exist as a species with varied body types. Not just between genders, but even within the classifications of gender, there are different classifications of body types. Remember these classifications act as generalizations. The real truth is every individual body (even between identical twins) are unique to that individual. Each person on this planet possesses a distinct combination of characteristics and traits that make them unique.

In regards to fitness, these differences matter as it impacts each individual’s capacity in fitness. Not everyone is made to be the next Michael Jordan. No matter how hard I try (and let’s discount gender for a moment) I will never be a pro-NBA player because I am 160cm (5ft. 2in.) Neither will I become the next Usain Bolt. The reality is there are differences in which we are born with, which extends far beyond just height and is more specific to things such as; our body composition, the types of muscles we have, our resting metabolic rate, are we naturally more flexible, and so much more. What’s important is to maintain an honest and realistic approach to the differences in our bodies.

There are also plenty of online resources available to try and figure out what body type you are and what’s the best routine for your body type. One of the best ones I’ve come across is here. It takes you through a quiz to identify your body type based on your answers to different questions. The results also specify what kind of workouts are best for your body type.

#3 - Evaluate and Accept Your Level Of Fitness

I’m a massive believer in investing in proper form first before trying to do advanced workouts. The reason is, once someone has learned something he or she will become accustomed to the way they’ve been taught and over time these wrong movement patterns will become habitual actions which are automated. If you’re a beginner be honest about it. If you’re in a class setting, don’t be intimidated or ashamed to inform your trainer where you think you’re level is. It’s better to do something correctly and safely rather than trying to do something too hard and risk injury. Even if the person next to you is crushing one-legged burpees, don’t feel the pressure to keep up because, for all anyone knows, that person might be a superhuman robot (HA!).

Understand that it’s OK to be a beginner is the first step. There’s no shame in being honest about where we are because everyone started as a beginner, at some point. No one was born fit! Everyone worked hard to get to where they are! The sooner you start the longer you have to achieve greater results. Fitness is a lifestyle and it’s important to maintain consistency because physiological adaptations to fitness are impermanent, unless maintained.

Taking care of our bodies, our health, and an overall care towards well-being takes work! But, it is one of the most rewarding aspects of life, because it’s the gift that keeps on giving!

 

Overtraining Is A Real Thing

 

There’s something about exercise I didn’t use to think about too much because I used to think more exercise equals to more gains. I mean everyone is always on and on about how great exercise is for pretty much everything, so the logical belief is more exercise and the harder I work the better it is for me. Here’s the truth I learned through personal experience and my education as a personal trainer, rest, and recovery just as important as the time I put in sweating it out.  

Truthfully, there’s a level of addiction I must admit to training at higher intensities. I live for it! It’s the kind of thing I don’t mind getting up at 7am every day for because I know it’s always a thrill to get the rush of endorphins after each session. On top of my fast paced circuits, I started to incorporate weights into my routine too. This really upped the ante for me because adding weights not only increased the challenge, but also the results. It was an absolute rush! But, after several weeks of training at high intensities 5-6 days a week, things started to take a turn for me.

I no longer left sessions feeling energized, rather I left training sessions feeling sluggish and exhausted. I struggled to keep my energy up throughout the day. I was constantly fatigued and had endured prolonged DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Another very interesting symptom was the change in my appetite. Having a high appetite is the norm for me as I have always been a very active person. I remember feeling confused. Initially, I didn’t think about it because fluctuations in appetite (especially for a woman) isn’t out of the ordinary. What ran through my mind at the time was how unusual my fluctuation was. Typically my appetite ranged from having a high appetite to a monstrous appetite, especially during certain periods of my menstrual cycle.  What raised a red flag for me, was realizing the reverse relationship between my appetite and how much energy I was burning. (Remember: I was training 5-6 days a week at high intensities and on average was completing circuits at about 75-85% of my maximum output for at least 45 minutes each session, and sometimes even scheduling two workouts a day). With this kind of energy output, my body should be screaming for fuel, but the reverse was happening.

Another thing I noticed was the fact that I felt my workouts were getting harder (when I was essentially doing similar things at similar intensities). I found it more difficult to complete some of the same exercises. It didn’t make any sense at all. How can I find these exercises more difficult when I’ve been training harder? How can my fitness level drop when I have been training harder? These were the questions which ran through my mind. Until I came across the subject of overtraining syndrome in my education as a personal trainer.

The known symptoms of overtraining are varied in people. It ranges from physiological to emotional changes, and therefore is very specific to the individual who are experiencing the symptoms. The symptoms I endured may be shared with others experiencing overtraining, but the symptoms aren’t mandatory.

For reference, here are the known symptoms:

  • A decline in physical performance with continued training

  • Elevated heart rate and blood lactate levels at a fixed submaximal work rate

  • Change in appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Multiple colds or sore throats

  • Irritability, restlessness, excitability, and/or anxiousness

  • Loss of motivation and vigor

  • Lack of mental concentration and focus

  • Lack of appreciation for things that are normally enjoyable

What I learnt is how important it is to dedicate proper attention towards rest and recovery. I need to be realistic about my level of fitness and allow a realistic progression versus an everyday burnout. I need to accept that my body is not made to go at 100% everyday. It’s about embracing the cycle of work and recovery.

Source:

Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. 5th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, n.d. Print.

 

My 3 for 3 Rules & Principles for Fitness

 
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If you read my posts, there’s a recurring theme to the message I advocate for: health and wellness is a lifelong journey! Here are the rules (some slap in the face truths):

  1. There are no shortcuts.

  2. There are no quick fixes.

  3. The length, consistency, level of effort and commitment will likely match the result

Here are the key principles to understand:

Principle #1 - Reversibility

“The principle of reversibility pertains to the losses in function experienced after the cessation of a training program. Regardless of the gain in fitness achieved through a regular exercise program, those improvements will be reversed to pre-training levels…”

This is why when someone tells me, “Oh I used to do HIIT sessions 3 times a year ago” or “I used to run everyday a few years ago” becomes-- within the context of fitness level-- becomes insignificant. The good news is, our muscles do have muscle and motor memory, so people who have done some type of training or was an athlete in their younger days will generally fare better in terms of movement compared to a complete beginner, but in terms of fitness level, unfortunately (depending on how long you’ve stopped) you might be back to square one!

Principle #2 - Diminishing Returns

First and foremost it’s important to realize that fitness is a personal journey. From birth, we possess a unique genetic makeup which are factors to our fitness journey and potential. Furthermore, the combinations of these factors, like resting metabolic rate, muscle to fat ratio, and so much more are attributed to the individual. Here’s the truth: no two persons are the same. There’s no way two people can react in the same exact way to any exercise or nutrition program. There are common goods which are shared, but ultimately health and fitness is an individual journey, in which “performance outcomes among various exercises are highly individualistic.”

“The principle of diminishing returns suggests that the rate of fitness improvement diminishes over time as fitness approaches its ultimate genetic potential. The response to physical activity is not only associated with heredity but is also highly influenced by an individual’s current level of fitness,” because the capacity to improve also depends on the starting point. This means two things. One, what were gifted with at birth is a major component to the rest of our fitness journey. The reality is that there are just some of us who were born to be athletes and some of us who aren’t.

Secondly, although our genetic basis matters, training, in general, is proven to improve overall health for everyone. The only real reality to face here is that the more fit a person is the smaller the window of improvement is versus someone who’s starting from sedentary. In other words, the beauty is that no matter where you are, there’s always room for improvement! (Unfortunately, it just doesn’t mean we’ll all be the next Usain Bolt by committing to training).

Principle #3 - Specificity

First, of, it’s important to understand that in regards to the energy used during exercise, the body relies on three energy systems: phosphagen, anaerobic glycolysis, and aerobic glycolysis. For the current purpose, I will only go through the latter two very briefly. In simple terms, anaerobic means producing energy without the need of oxygen, while aerobic means requiring oxygen. The reason why this is important in regards to training programs equates to how the body uses energy through different training programs. “The principle of specificity explains the outcome of a given type of training program such that the exercise response is specific to the mode and intensity of training. In other words, only physiological systems emphasized during a training program will improve.”

Why does this matter to this discussion? The principle of specificity really emphasizes the three points above: there are no shortcuts, there are no quick fixes, the length, consistency, level of effort and commitment will likely match the result. If I want to train for endurance, I need to put in the work and hours that will help my endurance. If I want to train for strength, I need to commit to the right kind of training to achieve strength. If I want to work on getting bigger (i.e. aesthetically increasing the size of my muscles), I need to train in a specific manner to focus on muscle hypertrophy.

What I am trying to highlight is what the health and wellness journey really requires. There’s no such thing as minimal effort to produce optimum results. The real questions are on understanding what do I desire, what is my goal, what is realistic, and how much commitment am I willing to put in?

Source:

Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE's Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. American Council on Exercise, 2012.

 

Creativity Sits In Discomfort

 

Moments of change, spontaneity, and discomfort is where I discover creativity. A feeling of letting go, of freedom, and a complete surrender to the mysteries of the future. Disrupting routine in order to stay agile in a world that's unpredictable and cluttered with ups and downs. Life can't be perfect. It never is and that's what’s beautiful about it. My goal is to live an inspired life, where creativity takes center stage to dictate my everyday decisions. In the face of such ambition, I reflect on the what’s necessary in order to create more opportunities for creativity.

Routine is something that’s ingrained in my everyday. From the moment I wake up, to how I get to work, and to my rituals before bed. There’s a multitude of routines that make up my day. The problem I see happening in my life is when I get too comfortable in a routine, it becomes harder to shift gears. It’s hard to shift behaviors I am so accustomed to because as creatures of habit it’s hard to reverse or do something different from what I am so used to doing. For example, I am incredibly routined in how I get ready for bed. Whether I am at home or traveling I do things in almost the exact order each night. For example, I always wash my hands, then brush my teeth, and then wash my face. When I don’t do it in this order (although rarely) I become aware of a feeling of slight discomfort. The feeling I am greeted with is similar to that feeling of accidentally leaving something behind because when a routine is disrupted, change is forced.

Moments of change is where discomfort is found. In discomfort is where I am forced to react versus performing tasks out of habit. The novelty of each situation activates my mind to think critically towards a solution. If a game of solitaire deals the card in the exact same way each time, then each move isn’t strategically calculated after a few times playing, rather each move becomes intuitive. But, solitaire is a game which always presents a new problem. Each new deal presents a new challenge to solve. A game like solitaire requires the player to think critically in order to win. This type of cognitive thinking required is similar to when change replaces routine. It’s where a reaction is enticed and creativity is catalyzed.

Creativity is usually what’s born out of a desire to do something different or a means to solve a problem. The aspects surrounding a creative moment may be similar or creativity may be born out of the same circumstance, but to truly award something as creative, novelty is a factor. For example, to label an imitation of a painting as creative is false. Although imitating great works by the world’s greatest painters requires a sophisticated skill set which is difficult to possess; yet the art which results is not born out of creative imagination, rather, the art which results is only of imitation. By definition, creativity is “the ability to create” and being creative is “marked by the ability or power to create,” it’s about “having the quality of something created rather than imitated” (Merriam Webster dictionary online). If I am surrounded by the same routine, although creativity is not impossible, creativity can become stagnant due to the lack of change. The lack of disruption limits the capacity for diverse stimulation. The lack of novelty limits opportunities of discomfort and therefore change, nor creativity becomes unnecessary; which is why creativity I believe really only sits in discomfort because when we are uncomfortable is when we are forced to make a change.

 

The Real Power Of The Mind

 

The following commentary is part of my series of reflections after reading the incredible book The Emotional Life of The Brain by neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson and contributor, science journalist Sharon Begley. I am mesmerized by the profound truths discovered through Davidson’s thirty-year commitment to understanding emotions and personality through his work on the brain. What’s even more exciting (at least for myself) are the revelations which support the importance of the mind in relation to the brain.

Davidson's research agrees with a hypothesis I have always believed and try to advocate that my attention is due to how my mind operates because thought alone is enough to change how I experience the world; and even more compelling, how the brain functions. What I found so fascinating about this read is the deeper education I received in expanding my understanding of the brain.

_____________________________________________________________

The newer findings in neuroscience prove just how powerful the mind is in relation to the functions of the brain. The research revealed in The Emotional Life of the Brain confirms the heightened connection between the mind and the brain. Therefore, the attention given towards the well-being of the mind is even more important as research points to the significant implications of the mind over brain function, as “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

Dated neuroscience dogma falsify the widespread understanding about the connection between the mind and the brain. The problem which has permeated through the decades is that most are uninformed of the specific advancements in this field, “the decades-old neuroscience dogma” promoted “that the adult brain is essentially fixed in form and function,” but the latest research confirms that this “is wrong.”  (The last time I learned anything about emotions – in a textbook and classroom setting, was back in high school and there was no mention on how the brain is involved because the research was dated).

What’s accurate to say is, that “the brain has a property called neuroplasticity, the ability to change its structure and patterns of activity in significant ways not only in childhood, which is not very surprising, but also in adulthood and throughout life. That change can come about as a result of experiences we have as well as of purely internal mental activity—our thoughts.” This is an incredible departure from the past understanding of the brain and of mental activity. The profound discovery is in how the brain is constantly able to change and adapt “throughout life.” That in itself is a riveting truth!

The adaptive capacity of the brain is illustrated by how the brains of people who were blind from birth was able to adapt, despite a lack of sight. For the blind, reading braille, “the writing system based on tiny raised dots that the fingers slide across,” is an experience which witnesses “a measurable increase in the size and activity of areas in the motor cortex and somatosensory cortex that control movement and receive tactile sensation from the reading fingers.” From the deprivation of sight, the brain adapts its functions and the blind’s “visual cortex—which is supposedly hardwired to process signals from the eye and turn them into visual images—undertakes a radical career change and take on the job of processing sensations from the fingers rather than input from the eyes.” Who would’ve thought that no part of a functioning brain will go to waste despite other functional misfortunes. If it’s a working brain, it’s smart enough to adapt use its capacity for worthwhile and significant endeavors.  Even more so, the adaptive capacity of the brain is influenced by more than just sensory stimulations.

What the book goes on to clarify is how “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally—in other words, our thoughts and intentions.” The example used in the book is how athletes are able to “engage in mental imagery, focusing on the precise sequence of movements required to execute, say, a forward two-and-a-half pike,” can cause “the regions of the motor cortex that control the required muscle [to] expand.” This is a tremendous shift in my understanding of how the brain works, because this validates the strength of the mind’s influence. Further, how much value and importance is necessary when considering my mind and how it impacts the quality of my life because, “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

If thought alone can create such an impact, then doesn’t the quality of thoughts matter more than ever. If thought alone can influence change my brain’s networking, then isn’t investing more time and energy to devote to my mind’s well-being become even more significant. Paying attention to mental health—or the health of our mind (which I feel is an underrated topic)— is paramount. Investing in our mental state is a worthwhile endeavor.

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Resource: Begley, Sharon, and Richard J. Davidson. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live - and How You Can Change Them. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.

 

What's To Gain With Strength Training

 

All too often the attention on exercise tends to focus on weight loss, especially for people who are new to exercise. Weight loss is probably the most common motivator for someone to exercise in the first place, but what I want to encourage is an understanding of the benefits of exercise beyond the aesthetics. In particular, let’s talk about strength training and why it is important.

First let’s define lean mass. Lean mass is the body’s weight minus the fat. In other words, it is part of the body’s composition which factors out fat from the body’s overall weight. Too often, especially in women, there seems to be a great fear against muscles. This belief that muscle is something to run away from is probably why strength training is never important on a lot of female workout agendas. Most will really only ask about cardio because that’s what a lot of people think is the way to lose weight, but here’s the real truth: more muscle equals to an increase in metabolic rate or in other words, more muscle equals to more fat burn.  

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"...here’s the real truth: more muscle equals to an increase in metabolic rate or in other words, more muscle equals to more fat burn..."  

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Aesthetically I understand where the fear comes from because I used to have the same fear. Ironically, even though I’ve been athletic throughout my life, one of my biggest fear with strength training before was the fear of bulking up. (For those ladies who likes bigger muscles, more power to you! There’s no right or wrong to how we look but it does come down to personal preference and I prefer a leaner frame). In regards to bulk, what it comes down to is how strength training is administered, but that’s a whole other topic in itself. What I want everyone to understand now, is about what’s to gain with strength training?

#1 - Increase in metabolic rate

The truth to face is that as humans we are working against time. Aging is a real thing and the fact is each year, without training, the body loses its proportion of lean mass. “A woman who does not strength train loses about 0.5 pounds (0.23kg) of muscle each year” (329). More specifically, adults who lack resistance and or strength training “lose about 3 pounds (1.4kg) of muscle every six years” (343). One of the issues with loss of lean mass is a decrease in metabolic rate. Muscles are an active component of the body. Whether at rest, in sleep or in motion, muscle is what uses the energy we consume. Strength training results in increased lean mass (or more muscle), therefore an increase in metabolic rate.

#2 - Increase in bone mineral density 

The body works in such mysterious ways. Understanding the relationship between strength training and bone density was a revelation to my knowledge. Muscles act as shock absorbers and stabilizers in the body. When stresses are implicated to the body through strength training like lifting heavy weights, the body’s method to adapt is by increasing bone mineral density, where “studies have shown a 1% to 3% increase in BMD [bone mineral density] as a result of resistance-training program.”

 #3 - Helps to increase calorie burn at rest (when you’re not working out)

 What this means is even when you are not working out the body is burning and using the fat stored in the body for energy. Based on the research done by Hackney, Engles, and Gretebeck back in 2008, the increase in resting metabolism lasted for three days in their test group. Their research concluded that the “repair and muscle-remodeling process require increased energy for at least 72 hours following challenging strength-training session.”  

Here’s the best news of all, the benefits listed above doesn’t even factor in the added benefits during a strength training session. What’s listed above only touches on some of the post-strength training benefits, so what are you waiting for?

Source:

Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. 5th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, n.d. Print.

 

Damn That Diet!

 

The diet industry is a powerful industry. In some regards, it also intersects with the health and wellness industry (or maybe some people don’t even recognize the difference) but, in my opinion, there are glaring differences in the messaging and objectives of these industries. The cloud of confusion is caused by the fact that the multi-billion dollar diet industry appears to resemble the health and wellness industry. What becomes hard as a consumer is how to identify the differences.  

The following distinctions are personal. Once upon a time, before I got to where I am today, I fell for a lot of these fad products, diets, and plans - also of course, to my own failures with them. The following list should help weed out the fads. Look out for this type of messaging:   

#1 - Quick and short term solutions.

If the objective is to actually help me with my health journey, then what will be promoted should be a long term solution versus a short term solution. If it’s genuine, then the solution will likely share ways on how to maintain long term progress versus stopping at quick and easy single solution. Many of the fad products and diets tend to make it seem like it only takes a few minutes or little commitment to achieve a healthier self. If it seems fast and easy, it’s likely a sham!

#2 - Short term commitment to achieve optimum results.

There are no shortcuts to wellness! Real health is constant progress, there’s always room to improve and do better. The more time you put in the more benefits you’re rewarded with. The messaging of minimal commitment to reap optimal rewards is a very good indication that it’s a fad!

#3 - Achieving a specific drop in weight within a specific timeframe.

The physiology of each person are so varied that stating exactly how much weight can be lost within a specific timeframe, which applies to everyone, is absolutely bonkers! Everyone has fluctuations in things like metabolic rate, muscle mass to fat ratio, and many other variations which shape our ability to lose weight. Therefore, the speed at which we are able to build muscle and lose weight are dramatically varied. Working to improve health and wellness is an individualized story. It’s about you and your journey. Don’t forget that!

The multi-billion dollar diet industry tends to brush shoulders with the genuine pursuit towards health and wellness. The industry leads people to believe that quick fixes are what works, but in reality the false messaging that’s been fed buries the truth in what wellness and health is really about. It’s more about a lifetime of choices. It’s about how one chooses to live majority of their days. True wellness extends far beyond the physical and goes as far as the quality of our thoughts, our intentions, the inner workings of human emotion, the human brain, and so much more. Real wellbeing is an all encompassing pursuit, that touches on so many facets of life. There’s no such thing as a quick fix, but the great news is, there’s always room to grow!

 

Rest Days Are OK

 

With the increased popularity in paying attention to our health and spending more time on fitness, a re-education on training in a healthy way is important. The standard belief is more training equals to more benefits. Here’s something to consider. If everyone’s level of fitness is different, then doesn’t it make sense to say that everyone’s threshold on how much they can push their body is also different. Doesn’t it also make sense to say that our rest days should be relative to our level of training. If a friend trains hard everyday, don’t default and think that’s what’s right for you too. Yes, training everyday can be a good thing, but the level of intensity and what’s appropriate for me as an individual is important to consider. If Lilla works out at 80-90% capacities 6-7 days a week, that doesn’t mean that’s what’s right for me. Remember fitness is an individual journey.

I get it the idea of taking a break or skipping a day may seem daunting towards the goal, but remember rest is when muscles have the time to repair itself. Time dedicated to rest is when I reap the benefits from my hard work and don’t worry I didn’t understand this before either, which is why I want to share my journey.

There was a point in time where taking rest days made me nervous and drowned in guilt. I was aiming to train 7 days a week at high intensities. At one point I had pushed myself to a breaking point. This happened in the days of my past when I was obsessed with losing weight.  Honestly, there was no regard to my actual health or wellbeing. There was no concern for rest and recovery. All I could think about was how can I lose weight faster? My answer was to push myself harder, until one day I pushed myself so hard I literally pushed myself into a fever. My body was left shattered and shaking in cold sweats. Is this what the pursuit of health and wellness is? Is this what fitness is about?

One thing I’ve learned is that caring about my body is so much more than just weight loss. Although fitness is a means to achieve a healthier me, it isn’t a subscription to do more and more. In my mind fitness was the only way to lose weight and there were recurring thoughts which polluted my mind:

  1. I am a disciplined individual, so training 7 days a week is and should be achievable.

  2. If I take a break (even for a day) I am going to gain weight.

  3. If I take a break (even for a day) I am being lazy and sabotaging my chances for weight loss.

  4. If other people can, so can I. (This was from a false belief that the fittest individuals worked out everyday).  

What I realize now is how important rest and recovery is in regards to improving performance, optimizing the benefits, and in general improving my well-being. If my real goal is to achieve a healthier self, then it is impossible without rest days. Rest days is when my hard work pays off. It’s when the muscles repair itself! It’s when the muscle tissue re-develops.

I can’t say this enough, but rest is part of a healthy journey. Giving our bodies adequate rest time each week is important and it is what is standard even in the most serious athletes. Without a doubt the world’s top athletes probably pay more attention to rest and recovery than most would think. Let’s think back to Michael Phelps and the evidence of his cupping treatment at the Rio 2016 Olympics. What runs true is the more serious the athlete the more attention and time is dedicated to quality recovery. What athletes are continually reminded of is what we should consider for ourselves as well.

 

 

Why I Love My Foam Roller

 
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Looking around, a lot of the current messaging associated with fitness is about stronger and bigger muscles, tougher workouts, and an increased obsession for extreme levels of fitness: think CrossFit, Spartan Race, and Tough Mudder. The world of fitness has come a long way since aerobics in the 80s with Jane Fonda or tae bo in the 90s with Billy Blanks.

Personally, I think what’s not talked about enough in today’s challenge hungry fitness world is the importance of rest and recovery. This might be a recurring topic in my blog, but it’s because I believe that for most of us, not enough time or attention is spent on rest and recovery. One of my favorite ways to spend recovering is using my foam roller. There’s a variety of foam rollers available out there. Different sizes and shapes. What I think it comes down to is preference and pain tolerance.

First, let me briefly explain anatomically what goes on under our skin and why foam rolling is a superhero in recovery. Introducing the fascia, “a densely woven, specialized system of connective tissue that covers and unites all of the body’s compartments” or simply put, the facia is this awesome family of tissues that helps our muscles stay contained within the right areas. It helps our muscles move in the right direction and function correctly. With the type of strains working out places on our bodies, especially higher intensity workouts, the fascia can become tight and therefore restricted in its range of movement.

Foam rolling helps the fascia and surrounding muscles in a couple of very important ways:

1 Reduces muscles tension

Reducing muscle tension is key to performance, because stiff muscles can mean shorter time to fatigue and therefore suffered performance.

2 Helps to increase flexibility and therefore increases range of movement of the muscles

By applying pressure through the use of a foam roller or a ball, the muscles are forced to relax. The tension we implement to our muscles, specifically the relationship between tense to relaxation is a key component to keeping our muscles happy and working at optimum levels.

3 Improves arterial function and therefore the delivery of blood to our muscle tissues

Let’s not forget what goes on deep in our bodies every time we move. Good blood flow is necessary in order to maintain proper muscle movement and function. Blood is what oxygenates our muscles. Inadequate delivery of oxygen to our muscles equals impaired performance and shorter time to fatigue.

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Source: Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. 5th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, n.d. Print.

 

 

Decisions Are Game Changers

 

The gravity of a decision or decisions differ in the minds of individuals. There are varying perspectives on the inherent power a decision can lead to, differences in how one goes about a decision, what one classifies as a decision, or whether decisions are easy or a constant battle with indecisiveness. Where people fall under such criteria is not what’s peculiar or fascinating, rather what I find compelling about decisions are the sheer power decisions can have in one’s life. Even the most spontaneous of decisions, made in a split a second, can create ripples in my life. Let’s face it, decisions are game changers!

I may be stating the obvious here, but decisions are part of our daily contemplations. Decisions are so essential to our specie, that the human brain even possesses the capacity to make decisions unconsciously (say hello to the subconscious mind! No stopping my brain choosing to dream about flying frosty donuts last night. Oh, that was a lovely decision brain. Hats off to you!) In a sense, sometimes the process towards a decision may operate within the subconscious. With such operative capacities, doesn’t the importance of decisions become crystal clear?

When it comes to decisions, especially in terms of life habits, it is not enough to make a decision without considerations of my environment. If I decide I want to commit to at least three days of yoga a week, but I either don’t have access to a yoga teacher, class, or studio, then that decision is invalidated as it is unrealistic for me to start a yoga routine without access to yoga (unless of course, in the world of technology, yoga through apps have become very popular). But again, it all comes down to a decision. In this case, a decision about my level of realistic commitment. Recognizing the context and environment of my daily decisions is what has helped bring success to healthier pursuits.  

Environment is a major component to decisions which I had dismissed as important before. Just like the availability of a yoga studio to help me commit to a yoga routine, the environment I surround myself with (this includes the activities I do, the friends I am around, the job I choose, etc.) matter a whole lot when it comes to healthy decisions. Think about it, it really doesn’t help to have a bag of chips lazing around in the pantry if the intent is to avoid such foods.

Before becoming a trainer, I worked at a startup for a fitness app and platform. The company’s culture and employees thrived in a healthy lifestyle environment, so it became easy to maintain a healthier lifestyle. At my previous jobs, where commitment to health and wellness varied between individuals, I was judged for my healthy meals. A lot of people thought, eating healthy meant I was dieting and trying to lose weight, when in fact I ate healthy to feed my body proper nutrition. It wasn’t about weight loss, it was about feeding my body right. Eating healthy is a decision I choose to make (I admit it’s not one I make  all the time everyday) for my body. Without a clear understanding of my intent, it becomes hard for some to understand why I choose to eat a healthy bowl of grain and salad versus a plate of fried noodles.  

Recognizing the power of a decision and the environmental influences around has transformed how I approach healthy decisions. It’s easy to blame ourselves when we give in to, let’s say, cravings or societal pressures (“why aren’t you eating any french fries or having more beer”) but I’ve realize how important it is to also always reevaluate the subconscious operations which influence my decisions; whether by the environment or by my introspective reactions. Taking a step back and identifying what aspects in my environment propelled me to make less than ideal decisions about my health and eating habits is time well spent.