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The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers PT.2 - Runner's Best Friend?

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The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers PT.2 - Runner's Best Friend?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how fitness trackers, in general, don’t do a whole lot for us in our big-picture workout pursuits. They can give someone a good ballpark on total calories burned, heart rate,VO2 max, and steps, but they are not always super reliable. That being said, I want to reiterate how I closed then; if you like it, use it. One of the biggest pros of a fitness tracker is its usefulness as an external source of motivation and accountability; I can’t argue with that. However, if you’re reading this, you may be interested in how your tracker can help you run better, faster, or longer. Let’s dive in.

Out of the gate, I should point out that the trackers I wrote about in Part 1 of this tracker talk, namely the Apple Watch, won’t really be our focus here; it fits more of an everyday fitness crowd. That’s well and good, but I want to get a little more run-specific. I want to focus on watches and wearables that are specifically designed for runners, and how they work to improve your run.

Garmin and Fitbit have great watches (Garmin’s Forerunner series and the Fenix 5 Plus, the Fitbit Iconic) that link to Strava or Runkeeper or whatever app you like. These watches have the best GPS capability as well so that your run tracking actually reflects your location and speed accurately. Additionally these trackers have the HR tracking capabilities that you would find on any other fitness tracker. They’re not great, but a good estimate for tracking rate over time as you run.

So why does a GPS watch (or even an Apple Watch or Fitbit matter)? Why would you want one? There are a number of pros and cons, and while I could go on all day both ways, I’ll list the heavy-hitters here.

  • One of the biggest reasons runners invest in high quality running watches (or in this case, even an Apple Watch) is because it allows you to ditch your phone; whether you’re bluetoothing through a watch to wireless headphones or rolling music-less, the GPS equipped watches allow you to track your run, keep up with important notifications if needed, and give you a sense of security keeping you connected as you’re out on a run.

  • One of the biggest reasons you may want to skip the watch: it’s not necessary. While it’s nice to be able to view your running metrics (the depth of which will more than likely correspond with how much you pay for your watch in the first place), you can train effectively without a watch based on your perceived effort. While more information is nice, it’s not necessary, and you certainly don’t want to become reliant on some kind of expensive tool to get a good workout in. Sometimes it’s OK to keep it simple.

  • Finally, one of the reasons you may want to go all in on a running watch is that wearables have been shown to be effective motivators. According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, fitness trackers and running watches do a really good job of motivating people to get their miles in. Specifically, through these wearables integration with fitness-specific social networks, like Strava, allowing for the formation of a community and competitions (both digitally and out in the real world). They also are a good way to track a “me vs. me” competition, making tracking progress super simple.

So, once again, here’s the bottom line: if you like it, use it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting down and dirty with data and tracking your runs using a cool watch; they really can give you a lot. That said, just take your data from your wrist computer with a grain of salt. It’s just one small tool in your arsenal. Don’t forget the basics and don’t let the numbers run your life. The most important thing is to consistently get your miles in and keep enjoying your training. If a running watch or tracker makes that easier, then go for it.

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Do Compression Socks Really Improve Running?

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Do Compression Socks Really Improve Running?

Compression socks can improve performance, decrease lactic acid buildup and minimize muscle soreness, right? If you’ve been running for longer than a year it’s likely that you heard at least one of these statements regarding compression socks. Some runners will swear that it works and others will say it’s a myth. If compression socks can increase running performance how might they do so, and what does the research say?  

Understanding the Claims

Before we get into the knitty gritty of physiology, let’s start with compression socks role in blood flow and venous return. Our heart’s number one job is to pump oxygen-rich blood to our muscles and organs. When we run the demand for oxygenated blood increases so, in order to fill the new requirement, our heart beats faster and we breathe harder. Once our muscles take the oxygen out of the blood and dump in waste products (like lactic acid) our body has to work twice as hard to get the deoxygenated blood back to the lungs and heart to be refueled. Bringing blood back to the heart is more challenging due to gravity, so our body uses our muscles as pumps. Everytime our calfs contract they squeeze the veins in the lower leg, giving the oxygen-poor blood an extra boost. Once the blood finds its way home the whole process starts again.

But what does this have to do with compression socks and performance? Well, the more blood we can send back to the heart the more oxygen-rich blood we can send to our muscles. If a muscle has a higher supply of oxygen it can continually convert that oxygen into energy through the mitochondria. Considering compression socks constantly squeeze the calf, it would make sense to assume that the added pressure would contribute to muscle contraction causing even more blood to be sent back to the heart. The more blood we send back to the heart, the more lactic acid byproduct we are getting rid of. If we can get more oxygen rich blood to our muscles while simultaneously removing lactic acid then running performance should improve! What these statements have in common is “if.”

What do the studies show?

I was able to find multiple studies that pointed towards a clear answer - YES! Compression socks have been shown to increase performance and reduce muscle fatigue during bouts of exercise. In the studies done, they had two trials where runners run without compression socks and then again with compression socks (to put it simply). In every study the experimental group that ran with compression socks did better on the second trial. But why? This is where the studies begin to diverge from popular opinion. One of the biggest factors for increased performance was athlete perception. Preconceived notions of the effectiveness of compression socks may have added a placebo effect which would result in higher performance. Although it may seem logical that lactic acid concentrations were lower in subjects using compression socks, studies found that groups wearing and not wearing the socks had no difference in acid concentrations after a bout of exercise. However, the studies did support and find a significant difference in recovery during bouts of exercise; but it may not be why you think. The constant pressure applied by the compression socks inhibited inflammation. When muscles are damaged during exercise an inflammatory response is created to remove any waste and breakdown muscle to form new, stronger muscle. Therefore, the compression socks were able to hinder inflammation because of the lack of room necessary causing a temporary increase in recovery rate during bouts of exercise. As for any other possible benefits of compression socks (like an increase in venous return) there just isn’t enough data to support a definitive answer.

Final Thoughts

We may not know exactly why compression socks work, but they do! Their effects on running performance are clearly seen through a multitude of studies. If you’re still skeptical, try them! Maybe you’ll hit a new PR.

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Transformation Bootcamp

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Transformation Bootcamp

Why is our Transformation Bootcamp Different from Others?

A lot of times, people are so scared of the word “bootcamp” because they think they need to be fitness enthusiasts to do it. When people hear the word “bootcamp” they automatically think “intense burst of exercises” and get scared. But here at P4L, we take our education very seriously. This is not your typical “no pain, no gain” environment. Instead, during this 4 week period, we will build you up from the ground up.

Here’s why our bootcamp is different from anyone’s else’s. First, every person joining our program goes through a 30 min assessment that includes an inbody assessment, PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire), and a brief functional movement screening. Personalized nutrition guidelines will also be provided along with a 30 min complimentary consultation with our health and wellness coach, Marley Wiley. This ensures that all of our boot campers are well aware of their own bodies and know what muscle groups they need to focus on and what movements they should avoid. These elements tell us what fitness level you will be at and therefore, we can match you with a perfect partner with similar goals, personality, and fitness level throughout this 4 week period to keep you accountable.

There will be four phases during this four week period. First week, we will focus on stabilization and endurance. Second week, we will focus on strength endurance/hypertrophy. Third week, we will focus on max strength and lastly on the fourth week, we will focus on power. This is based on NASM’s scientifically proven OPT model. What’s most important is that this is a 10 people max bootcamp. If safety is your concern, you can take that off the list.

And don’t worry, no class will ever be the same. Even though this is a structured program, everyday will be different.  We will incorporate a mixture of strength and conditioning work, cardio boxing, and metabolic conditioning/HIIT training to give you the best results possible. Kettlebells, barbells/dumbbells, plyometrics, sled push, battle ropes, assault bike, core focus work, medicine balls...you name it, we got you covered. Here at P4L, we value two things: education and community. We will provide the support you need to help you reach YOUR goals in a FUN and SAFE way. This bootcamp will bring you into a community of others who keep you accountable and encourage you to show up everyday! So sign up now and get in the best shape of your life!

*We encourage all levels of fitness from beginner to advanced to participate*



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Exercise Aids Parkinson's Disease Patients

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Exercise Aids Parkinson's Disease Patients

When you think of exercise, you probably picture people struggling to lift heavy objects while trying not to slip in their own puddles of sweat. You probably see the same people on the machines, the same meatheads in the free-weight area, and the same elderly people cruising along on the cardio equipment. But while those meatheads add to their puddles of sweat and dream about eating a meal other than chicken breast and steamed veggies, some of those on the cardio equipment may be quietly fighting an uphill battle with no concrete victory ahead.

The battle against Parkinson’s disease has been noted since the early 19th century. James Parkinson first published his findings about the disease which later took his name in his classical essay The Shaking Palsy in 1817. Parkinson’s Disease (PD) currently affects over 6 million people worldwide, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed every year in the U.S. alone. Since age has been deemed the number one risk factor for PD, this number will only continue to grow with lengthened life expectancies and the aging baby boomer generation. However, researchers recently discovered that exercise helps to slow the neurodegeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the basal ganglia.

The Science Behind Parkinson’s

PD is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning: symptoms worsen as time goes on, because cells continue to die. Dopaminergic neurons are the cells which continuously die out. These specific brain cells produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine works to help control motor functions, memory, and pleasure, among other things, so a dopamine depletion would impair one’s motor functions (a.k.a. voluntary movements). The depletion of dopaminergic neurons occurs in a brain region called the basal ganglia. Since dopamine works to control movement, the most noticeable symptoms of PD are the ones which affect motor functions like: tremors, rigidity (stiffness), and bradykinesia (slowed movement). PD symptoms may be managed, but not cured. The disease has no known cause or cure. The symptoms progress in severity as time goes on BUT exercise can slow the progression and make symptoms more manageable!

Exercise’s Effects on Parkinson’s

Exercise as an intervention for PD has shown to increase dopamine production through the formation of new neuronal connections, leading to more pathways for production. A study performed at the Cleveland Clinic showed the shear effectiveness of exercise on PD patients. Researchers found that exercise on a tandem bicycle activated the same brain regions affected by PD. The results indicate that the exercise was just as effective as medication for the disease. Findings like these may eliminate the need for medication so early on in the treatment process, making treatment much more affordable while simultaneously introducing an inexpensive alternative treatment. A German study found that forced exercise improves the walking patterns in PD patients. Since PD affects the motor functions of patients, researchers sought out a way to improve their walking patterns. Findings indicate that forced exercise elicited long-term positive effects on PD patients’ walking, combatting the dopamine deficiency. The combined effects from these studies show promising evidence that exercise can be used as an effective treatment to aid in the fight against Parkinson’s.

References

Alberts, J. L., Phillips, M., Lowe, M. J., Frankemolle, A., Thota, A., Beall, E. B., & ... Ridgel, A. L. (2016). Cortical and motor responses to acute forced exercise in Parkinson's disease. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 2456-62. doi:10.1016/j.parkreldis.2016.01.015

Bear, M. F., Connors, B. W., & Paradiso, M. (2016). Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.

Stuckenschneider, T., Helmich, I., Raabe-Oetker, A., Froböse, I., & Feodoroff, B. (2015). Active assistive forced exercise provides long-term improvement to gait velocity and stride length in patients bilaterally affected by Parkinson's disease. Gait & Posture, 42(4), 485-490. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2015.08.001



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The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers

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The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers

It’s 2019, and the days of simply tracking our run times with a Casio watch bought in aisle six of Target are a thing of the past. Joking aside, seriously, the fitness wearable market has exploded in the last couple years. I’ll bet someone sitting next to you while you’re reading this has an Apple Watch on, or maybe you do. Smart watches and fitness trackers like Fitbits or Whoop bands have given us the ability to observe a plethora of information about how our body functions throughout the day. The big question that comes with all this available information then becomes how accurate is it?

I’m going to have to burst your bubble and tell you - not very. That being said I think they do have a lot of applicable uses (I even wear one myself). The problem arises when people get stuck on the number (or rings if you’re an apple watch user) on their wrist and forget to see the bigger picture.

To be frank, fitness trackers as a sole tool to engage in and succeed in weight loss or increase one’s level of fitness do not work. A study out of the University of Pittsburgh that ran for 2 years between 2010 and 2012 found that, in a study population who combined a weight loss program with a fitness tracker versus a group who just used the weight loss program without the tracker, the non-tracker group lost more weight (results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association). Let me break down why this happens (and why it happens more often than you’d think).

1.    How do fitness trackers work?

There are several ways your typical fitness tracker works. First, when it comes to the original function of wearable trackers - step counting - trackers use accelerometers, which are three-axis motion sensors to tell you how you’re moving through space and how many steps you’ve taken. Honestly, this is hard to screw up and most fitness trackers have decent accelerometers in them. From there the functions of trackers become more in depth, and the accuracy of the metrics they track may fall off.

The next major step in the tracker game was heart rate tracking. Most popular trackers, Apple Watch, Garmin’s Vivosmart series and Fitbit, track heart rate using optical sensors (that little green laser thing on the back) to light up the capillaries in the wrist and count the heartbeats. That is about as accurate as it sounds; shine a light at your skin and watch what happens underneath. The point is that they’re really just taking a guess at how fast your heart is beating. It was a good try though.

2.    How accurate are they?

The data collected by trackers are put through an algorithm to tell you all the other metrics you may desire to know. For a lot of people, calories burned is at the top of this list. The tracker needs to account not only for heart rate, but also body metrics (height, weight, age, etc.). Now, companies like Apple or Garmin don’t make these algorithms public, so then it becomes a bit of a guessing game as to how much they can be relied upon (Wearable.com).

3.    So what?

So now you might be questioning why anyone would purchase a tracker, or if Apple can really be that good. Well, let me tell you why trackers are so popular and why you may still want to go buy one.

According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, fitness trackers do a really good job of motivating people to be active in a variety of ways. Specifically, one of the best ways found was through fitness trackers’ integration with social networks, allowing for the formation of community and competition based on the metrics that can be tracked by your wearable. They also are a good way to track a “me vs. me” competition within ourselves to beat our steps, miles walked, or active calories burned a day.

Also, fitness trackers are evolving. A lot of the research on their accuracy is fairly old now, and while new studies haven’t been done to quantify the newer tracker’s accuracy, based on the research going into not only the hard, numeric data but also the psychological and mentality edge fitness trackers may be able to offer (via goal setting, competition, etc.) we can at least hope that they’re becoming more intricate, useful tools rather than just another screen we carry around.

Bottom line: if you like it, use it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a good pulse on where you’re at day-to-day health wise. And, in a growing fitness technology market, a cheapish watch or band is a great, cost-effective way to do that. That said, just take your numbers with a grain of salt, and don’t make your Apple Watch your new Bible. It’s just one small tool in your arsenal. Don’t forget the basics and don’t let the numbers run your life. The most important thing in any exercise endeavor is to have fun and stay consistent. If a wearable fitness tracker helps you do those two things, then go for it.



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