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Stress and Fitness: Work IT Out!

In a fast paced world where the fine line of work and relaxation has been blurred with wireless technology and the development of the home office, workers as well as families have become more and more susceptible to stress-related illnesses.  Stress is a natural element of our behavior and our body handles stress by injecting “stress hormones” into our bloodstream when we are feeling the burden of work, financial pains, spousal military deployments, and so many other “stressors” to name.

Physiologically, stress wreaks havoc on the body today.  The same thing happens to your body when you are stressed at work or family issue as it does when you are in an emergent fight or flight situation.  However, when in an emergency usually you are able to physically exert yourself to help relieve the stress hormones that are rushing into your bloodstream that some say is equivalent to 5-6 Red Bulls!  In a nutshell, Adrenaline Cortisol are some of the stress hormones that affect our response to a stressful situation, but can also affect our health long term if not dealt with properly.  When at a home office or cubical during work, it is difficult to exert yourself physically in order to reduce these stress hormones.  Don’t get me wrong, there are good things that come out of stress hormones like getting pumped up for a presentation or competition or the rush of adrenaline before a fitness test.  These can help you perform better.

What Can You Do Now? To reduce stress our body is wired to burn it off.  If you can go for a quick walk, stay away from caffeine and sugar for a few hours, and take some deep breaths, then you will come back less stressed and ready to focus on the task at hand.

Stress Busters – A Three Side Attack:  If your day is typically stressful at work, home, or dealing loved ones who are ill, you need a full broad-side attack on stress OR you will feel the burn that stress can leave.  By not dealing with stress, you are susceptible to a damaged immune system, cardio-respiratory distress, increase body fat, increase blood sugar, and even acne.  Here are the best ways to handle stress:

1)      Exercise Reduces Stress – By far, this is the best remedy to fighting a stressful day.  Many like to exercise after work.  This is a great way to burn off the stress even if it is as simple as a 20 minute walk before or after dinner.  However, exercise also causes a temporary increase in cortisol which can leave you a bit jittery if you are trying to go to sleep with an hour or two of exercising.  So, if you exercise in the evening, arrange it that you will have 3-4 hours before you are trying to fall asleep for a more restful sleep.  *Note – your cortisol levels will actually be lower in a few hours IF you exercise than if you decide to skip working out.

2)      Diet – Where have you heard this before – “proper exercise and diet.”  Well it helps with stress too!   Foods rich in anti-oxidants like many fruits and vegetables are your best bet for snack foods and should make up a larger percentage of your overall meal preparation.  Limit foods high in sugar and drinks high in caffeine in order to have a more relaxing evening prior to sleeping.

3)      Sleep:  People who exercise actually sleep better than those who do not.  Some people with insomnia also have high levels of cortisol in their blood stream when trying to fall asleep.  See the Importance of Sleep article for more tips on successful sleep and napping.  But regardless of diet and exercise, if you are not getting enough sleep / rest, you will not handle stress very well and succumb to the side effects of a stressed out life.

See related articles for more pointers on exercise, diet, and sleep.

Exercise

Sleep

Food Habits

Thanks for the e-mails. Keep them coming at stew@stewsmith.com.

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Upperbody / Abdominal Training Programs – Fast or Slow?

This week I received an email from a website viewer who asked,
“What is better – more abdominal exercises faster or fewer stomach exercises slower?”

My answer to this question is both – BUT it depends who you are and what your goals are.  If you are simply trying to lose weight and inches, doing fewer stomach exercises slower and more deliberately is very effective and safe.  In fact, you can drop the number of reps you need to do by a factor of ten, if you hold each crunch for ten seconds.  For this type of exercise you want to exert yourself on the UP and DOWN portion of the exercise, meaning you stay flexed and control the ascent and descent of your body.  Just doing ten crunches and holding them for ten seconds each is safer and more effective than doing 100 crunches fast.  Do this 2-3 times in a workout and you have a great abdominal routine.

However, if you are in the military or law enforcement and need to score higher on your physical fitness tests in situps or curl-ups, then you need to practice doing the exercises faster, but to a pace.  A pace that produces a good score is 20 situps in 30 seconds.  This would give you 80 situps in a two minutes time period.  By increasing the pace to 25 in 30 seconds, you can get 100 in 2:00.  So, it makes sense to practice more abs exercises at a faster pace with the exertion only occurring during the UP portion of the exercise.  Relax and let gravity take you back to the starting position (floor) thus saving the abdominal energy for the ascent and a better score.

Here is a quick little workout I developed the other day with a client who thought he could not do 1000 abs in one session with me. We also got in 400 pushups. This one is for 250-400 pushups below. We could have done 1500 probably. IT is not really as hard as it looks, but you will get a great pump and feel it in your belly tomorrow. No rest on this one…

Set #1) 100 crunches your choice
25-40 pushups (regular)

Set #2) 50 regular crunches
50 reverse crunches
25-40 pushups

Set #3) 50 Left crunches
50 Right crunches
25-40 pushups

Set #4) 100 L/R Crunches with bicycle of legs
25-40 pushups

Set #5) 50 Double Crunches (Reg/Reverse mixed) at same time
25-40 pushups

Set #6) 100 Flutterkicks (or regular crunches for those with back problems)
25-40 pushups

Set #7) 100 Leg levers (or 50 left crunches / 50 right crunches – back problems)
25-40 pushups

Set #8) 100 scissors (or 50 reg / 50 rev at same time)
25-40 pushups

Set #9) 100 situps in 2-3 minutes (or 50 left / 50 right crunches with bicycle of legs)
25-40 pushups

Set #10) 100 abs of your choice
25-40 pushups

That will equal 1000 abs exercise and 250-400 pushups.  Drop the pushups to 10 each set and still get 100 pushups in a workout.  Give this one a try.  It is fun and very quick.

This one is for those who are just beginning:

Get creative with your fitness program! That is what it takes when you are traveling on business or on vacation. Recently, my family and I took a trip back home to Florida to see my parents and we decided to drive from Maryland. After driving about eight hours the first day, we stopped at a hotel that did not have a fitness room and the pool was closed for the season. I was tired but knew I would feel better if I did a few exercises. The benefits of exercising and stretching after sitting idle for hours are numerous and include the following:

Loosen up tight joints and muscles

Increased blood flow to extremities

Increased attention span

Better nights sleep

This is the program I did for only twenty minutes right in the privacy of my very own hotel room. No equipment necessary! The super set is a series of exercises to be repeated with no rest. For the upper body superset, simply do five to ten pushups then roll over and rest your pushup muscles by doing ten crunches and continue on with the two different versions of pushups and crunches.

Superset; Repeat 5-10 times

Pushups – 5-10 reps

Crunches – 5-10 super slow 10-second reps

Wide pushups = 5-10

Reverse crunches – 5-10 reps

Close / triceps pushups – 5-10 reps

Double crunches – 5-10 slow 10-second reps

(*try the pushups slow too at 5 seconds up/5 seconds down)

As you can see, there is really no excuse why you cannot exercise any day of the week whether you are traveling, working long hours or staying at home with the kids. With minimal equipment and time sacrifice, we can all fit exercise in our lives and stay healthy for many years to come. Good luck. Make fitness as much a part of your day as taking a shower and brushing your teeth.

If you are interested in more of these type of workouts and running and swimming and weight training routine, check out the StewSmith.com Fitness Store. Feel free to email the author of the eBooks sold here at stew@stewsmith.com .

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The Importance of Sleep when Training Hard

Sleep – How important is it to those who exercise often as well as to those who do not?  Scientists have been studying sleep patterns for decades, so there is plenty of research on the importance of sleep in our daily lives.  Sleep also affects performance in between workouts during high intensity training programs like military and law enforcement training.  I guess the old saying – “Well Rested – Well Tested” also applies to taking Physical Fitness Tests.

The best training plans will not work if sleep and nutrition are neglected.  Without adequate sleep (eight hours a night), there is not enough rest for muscle cell growth and repair.  In fact, when you sleep, growth hormone is produced and protein synthesis in the muscles occurs IF you eat foods with protein during the day.  For adolescents especially, sleep is critical as growth can be impaired if quality and quantity of sleep is lacking.

Lack of sleep can also affect your mood and increase hormonal stress levels which will have a negative impact on performance.  Now, one night of missed sleep is not going to have many negative affects on your performance, but several days in a row or a few weeks of interrupted sleep combined can lead to similar symptoms of over-training syndrome.

In the military or law enforcement professions, sleep may not occur at regular intervals and the quality may be lacking.  The following list can assist in getting a good night sleep and help achieve some of the many benefits sleep produce:

Never Oversleep: You cannot catch up on lost sleep.  Over sleeping (10+ hours) can change the body’s patterns and make it more difficult to fall asleep the following night.

Exercise or hard physical work:  Those who work hard during the day or exercise will have an easier time falling asleep compared to those who do not.

Sleeping area should be calm: Calming music, cool climate with a humming fan or de-humidifier (seasonal) to drown out exterior noises will make the place you sleep more conducive to quality sleep.  There are many sleep technology CDs on the market that have been proven to help with quality of sleep.  Check out this one I have been involved with – Military Sleep Fit.

Avoid Active Evenings: If possible do not exercise 2-3 hours prior to sleep or be highly active prior to sleeping.  Relaxing a few hours prior to sleep works well for naturally preparing the body for quality sleep.  Avoid watching television in bed.

Recovery and growth will take a backward step in your training program if you do not prioritize sleep, so get to sleep if you want to grow bigger, faster, and stronger.  Feel free to email me if you have any questions at stew@stewsmith.com.

Remedial Fitness Training for the Military

This week an Army Reservist of 20 plus years emailed me for some help. This question, and the need for a basic program, is universal throughout the military ranks — active and reserve. There is a growing trend in remedial fitness.

Stew,

I have corresponded with you in the past and a while back you sent me an intermediate level fitness program that I was using to augment my fitness training program to some of the reserve unit individuals. I am in need of a basic level training program and I will explain why…

A fitness program ONLY during the battle assembly weekend or once a month does not cut it, and some individuals lack the self discipline and motivation to maintain a consistent fitness program between battle assemblies. Therefore, I had a good percent of individuals that failed their last APFT.

Unfortunately, because the command does not want to get rid of some of these PFT failures, I have to continue in providing as much help to these individuals as I can. Therefore, an advanced or intermediate program for them to follow is way out of their league. Do you have a beginning program that you can send me?  The active soldiers of now are not the active soldiers of yesterday…

Signed — Frustrated old soldier….

I understand completely! If you can, make people access this PDF file on the internet – it is a basic plan that will help people start to get fit again.  It is a basic level PT and will help people to build the habit of fitness. Tell them to do it on their own, and when you drill you will be following this plan or at least an ARMY PFT depending on the week…

I too was in your shoes when I dealt with PFT failures and I realized that these remedial PT groups needed to be taught HOW to workout. Too many US citizens / service members (I’m afraid) do NOT know HOW to PT or run. Now, in times of war, it pays to be lighter, smaller, and quicker in order to be a smaller and more elusive target. So try to motivate them in that fashion as well.

However, focus on teaching a basic level of fitness, building good habits, and adding basic fitness such as stretching, walking / running, light PT, and drinking water to their lives. The frustration will be less on you if you expect less out of them during the first few months. Let them see progress and if they do not progress well with the plan in a 6-8 week period, drop the hammer on them with a fairly difficult PT session. You can say, if you kept up with the daily beginner program, you should not have any trouble with this workout. Take them as they advance and PT them harder, but you have to give them a plan that works.

The plan I have here works…it will help people lose up to 25lbs if they just following the simple directions:

1. Stretch Daily! This is very important if beginning a fitness plan. See Stretch article.

2. Drink more water — up to a gallon a day
3. Do something everyday — even if that is just walking after dinner. This plan has that for 45 days straight — It is easy too.
4. Repeat above — do not worry about food intake YET, but if not results are seen in 3-4 weeks THEN focus on a food plan as mentioned in the
Lean Down Article in the StewSmith.com Article Archives.

Enjoy — I know it is difficult dealing with kids half your age who you are twice as fit as, but remember many of them just do not know how to PT. Good luck. Keep the sending the emails. I am getting to them one at a time at stew@stewsmith.com .

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Refresh Your Workouts

Is your workout program getting old?  Tired of the same weight training cycle, circuit routine, or cardio exercise?  Many people get into a rut by repeating the same old plan week after week.  Your body needs change in order to best stimulate muscle growth and caloric expenditure.  So if you are not sure how to change things, here are a few examples of how to change the most common exercise routines.

The most common weight lifting plan is a split routine where lifters will complete the following chart week after week.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Chest and tri’s

Bench press

Military press

Triceps

Back/Biceps and legs:

Pullups

Pulldowns. Squats

Leg extension

Leg curls

Bicep curls

Cardio Option

Day

Usually bike or treadmill for 30-40 minutes

Repeat Monday Leg Day

Squats

Leg ext

Leg press

Leg curls

Back and Biceps:

Pullups

Pulldowns Rows

curls

This plan is fine for a few weeks, but repeating the same exercises over and over without change can actually slow down growth no matter how hard you exercise.  If you are a lifter, add calisthenics into your workout to maximize burnout immediately after lifts such as:

After each set of bench press – try a max set of pushups.  After a set of military press – try a Lightweight Shoulder workout as mentioned in the Shoulder Article

On leg day, try a short (3-5:00) cardio routine of biking at high levels of resistance in between sets of squats and leg press exercises.

Another great way to change the routine is mix days together like:  Do all upperbody one day – Chest, Triceps, shoulder, back and biceps.  Legs can be done mixed with cardio on the other days like this:  Sprint 100m followed by squats, lunges and heel raises.  Repeat that several times for a cardio and leg workout like no other.

The Same Old Circuit Routine

Many circuit programs are popular in gyms these days.  Circuit training refers to a group of machines or calisthenics exercises repeated back to back with very little rest time in between exercises.  The goal is to get as much completed in a short period of time so you completely work all your major muscle groups.  These are very effective in building lean muscle mass and creating a cardio vascular component to your lifting routine.  However, the same exercises in the same order week after week can limit the positive affects of building lean muscle mass and increasing your metabolic rate.  Simply change the order of your routine or try lighter weight with more repetitions.  Doing your repetitions super-slow is a great option to do weekly.  Each repetition will take 20 seconds – 10 seconds up – 10 seconds down.  This is tough to do.  Also add crunches in between each exercise or jumping jacks to spice up the circuit.  See the Circuit Article for more tips.

The Same Old Cardio Routine:

Many people will go to the gym, hop on a treadmill, bike or elliptical glider for 45:00 a day several days a week – week after week.  This can bet boring and your body can get used to the similar exertion level and actually not burn calories as efficiently after several weeks of the same routine.  Spice it up with some intervals – where you speed up the pace for 1-2 minutes and slow it back down to an easy pace to catch your breath for a 1-2 minute period.  See Interval Workout article for more ideas

Instead of just one machine for an hour – try all three – Bike, Elliptical, or treadmill for 20:00 each – resting with an abdominal routine in between each 20:00 set.  See Rest with Crunches article for better ideas to mix abs with cardio workouts.

Hope these ideas will refresh your workouts.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me at stew@stewsmith.com..

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