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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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Dieting Is Budgeting

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Dieting Is Budgeting

I was recently discussing the topic of nutrition and fat loss with a client and came up with a simple analogy to explain the process: dieting is budgeting. Since budgeting is a skill that a lot of us have already, I thought that this would be a valuable analogy to allow for the reappropriation of that existing skillset. A good analogy is a great way to reframe the way you think about something, and being in the right mindset to approach a process is important to set yourself up for success. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this analogy holds up well when explaining a number of important dieting concepts - let’s explore this a bit further.

First, let's start with the basics. Your calorie expenditure is like your income, and your calorie consumption is like your is like your monetary expenditures. What happens when you spend more money than you make? You accumulate debt; in this analogy, debt’s the same thing as body fat. It also tends to accumulate slowly over time, eventually becoming an insidious problem. One day your debt can suddenly feel insurmountable, just like one day realizing how much fat you’ve gained. Debt is hard to pay off all at once - you need to make sure you’re still allocating enough money for bills, food, and other basic needs. Similarly, it’s not a good idea to crash diet too hard. You need to make sure you’re ingesting enough food to meet your micronutritional needs (vitamins, minerals, etc). Ultimately though, you need to create a surplus and start paying down your debt - that is, you still have to eat at a caloric deficit to drop fat.

With that idea in place, how can you reframe your approach to dieting to actually kick start a successful fat loss diet? Think of it like this: with budgeting, you can’t make money magically appear out of thin air. So, when you increased expenditures in one area, you have to reduce expenditures in another area; you can take this same approach to eating. If you have a really heavy meal (aka splurge on a big expense), then that’s okay, but you’ll have to cut your budget elsewhere. Otherwise you’re going to “overspend” and go into “debt,” which, again, means that you’re going to add fat. Most people choose to balance this out on a daily basis, but you could certainly also do it over the course of a few days or a week. So, if your overeat one day, you can cut extra calories the next day, or something of the sort.

Alternatively, as a means of budgeting, you can increase your income with some other revenue stream like a second job - this job is exercise. If you want to be able to spend more money, you need make more money. If you want to be able to eat more, you need to expend more. However, I caution taking this to an extreme; it’s much easier (from a time investment standpoint) to cut spending than it is to get a second job. It’s also much easier to eat less food than it is to try and exercise away a bad diet. As I’ve said many times before, you accomplish the same thing by running three miles as you do by skipping out on eating a plain bagel.

Another component of this analogy is the idea of a passive revenue stream. Everyone loves making money with an upfront investment that really pays off in the long run. This equates to building muscle mass, and is why I advocate prioritizing resistance training over other forms of exercise for fat loss. When you build muscle mass, it increases the amount of calories you expend both at rest and during exercise - it’s like a multiplier to energy expenditure for everything you do. Ideally, you layer exercise that mostly just accomplishes energy expenditure on top of this, but the muscle mass itself will do quite a bit on its own.

So, let’s summarize:

  • Calorie intake is like money you spend

  • Energy expenditure is like your income

  • Debt accumulation is like fat accumulation

    • To pay down debt, you need to make more money than you spend; to lose body fat, you need to expend more calories than you consume

  • You can cut expenditures or you can increase income (balance your budget from either or a combination of both); you can reduce calorie intake or you can exercise more (balance your energy budget from either or a combination of both)

  • Passive revenue is like muscle mass

Try to take these concepts and use them the next time you’re making decisions about what to eat, how much to exercise, and how to balance these aspects of your health and well-being. Good luck!

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Dieting and Weight Loss

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Dieting and Weight Loss

One of the first things that people ask me when I tell them that I’m a strength and conditioning coach is “what diet should I do to lose weight?” Recent social media trends have made people more aware of the different diets out there, ranging from vegan, to paleo, to keto. All of this emerging information on dietary restrictions and regimens is good because the prolific posts tend to help people become much more informed about nutrition in general. However, they also leave a large majority of consumers confused about which diet reigns supreme.

The diet that’ll lead to your weight loss is the one that works for you. A diet shouldn’t be looked at as purely a constraint used to lose weight - diet is defined as the foods that a person or community habitually eats. Simply put, a diet that works for you may differ greatly from the person next to you.

A successful diet or nutrition plan is one that puts you at a slight caloric deficit and maintains enough protein intake so as to maintain as much muscle mass as possible. A slight caloric deficit should be around a 15-20% reduction in calories from the caloric intake needed to maintain your current weight. Your goal calories for maintenance can be found via our InBody body composition analysis or a DEXA scan - both of these tests will show your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is how many calories your body burns at total rest. An example: if my BMR was 2000 calories, my body would burn 2000 calories in 24 hours if I laid in bed and didn’t move an inch for said 24 hours. To get your maintenance calories, add in how many calories you burn daily from walking around, working out, and doing other day-to-day tasks. An Apple Watch or FitBit can estimate how many extra calories you burn daily. If you don’t have some type of watch or device to track this, 300-400 calories is a decent enough estimate for the typical San Franciscan for ‘active’ calories. Normally, protein intake is recommended to be at around 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, fats at ~30% of total calories, with carbs filling in the gap in calories. To begin planning your macros, weigh yourself and divide that number by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Then, multiply that number by 1.5 to determine how many grams of protein you’ll need. To find your calories that come from fat, multiply your goal calories by 0.3. To convert calories of fat to grams of fat, divide that number by nine since there are nine calories per one gram of fat.

Study upon study has shown that when dieting for weight loss, a slight caloric deficit and sufficient protein intake elicit the best results. Multiple studies have altered the number of calories which come from fats and carbs - while maintaining protein intake and a slight caloric deficit - and the comparison between groups determined that the ratios of carbs to fat doesn’t play a significant role in weight loss. This isn’t to say that you can only eat fats and protein or carbs and protein to bring about weight loss, though. Carbs serve as our body’s main fuel source for the various energy systems in the body, and fats work to regulate hormone balances and neuronal activity in the body. So, it’s very important that when planning your macronutrient breakdown, you don’t leave one or the other out of your daily intake.

To put this all more simply, dieting for weight loss is like a cup of water. If you pour too much water in the cup, it overflows and spills. Think of the water spillage as extra calories that get stored as fat. If you fill the cup to the brim, you’ll be at maintenance. If you leave a couple of inches of space of the cup unfilled, you’ll be at a slight deficit.

With an efficient and correctly prescribed exercise program, attention to your macros, and consistency, the odds are very much in your favor that you will lose weight. Make sure to make small sustainable changes to your daily routine so that these changes aren’t lost after a couple of weeks. Throwing yourself into the deep end of dieting will not be sustainable in the long-term, so go with small behavioral changes for the best results!

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Play - The Forgotten Asset

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Play - The Forgotten Asset

Let’s be honest here: sometimes adult life’s routines and responsibilities can get a little boring, sometimes to the point of driving us a little crazy. I’m not just saying this because I just became a dad - I’ve always felt invigorated, alive, and present when I’m deeply engaged in play. The definition of playing is “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose”. It’s the freedom to connect mind, body, and spirit together in either an organized or unorganized fashion - with physical activity usually involved. Adults may have a hard time balancing work, parenting, networking, etc., and thus have a hard time achieving a state of balance. Thus, we may actually need structure when we partake in physical activity, such as a personal training session. This allows us to be as efficient as possible with our use of time, on top of getting professional coaching recommendations. I firmly believe that attending a class or session is necessary as a part of our weekly physical activity/exercise routines, or else I wouldn’t be in this business. Exercise is done to improve health and fitness, and should be structured in a way such that it works toward a goal. Now, that’s something you should do two to five times per week, depending on your availability and goals. But - how about just being physically active via play just one to two times per week? I don’t want to hear that you don’t have time to play! In fact, I believe it’s a vital aspect of life. If you can’t engage in play during the week other than your time at Perform For Life (or any other fitness facility you attend), then your coaches/instructors should damn well incorporate it into the programming.

“What are some examples of play? Isn’t that what we did as children?”

Examples include joining a rec league, learning how to throw a football for the first time, or just getting your friends or family together to play kickball (or sloshball - easy on the beer, of course). These are some examples, but it can really be anything to you. My passion for play started early in childhood - I remember my parents telling me to go to outside and play and return in time for dinner. I’m not embarrassed to say that I have vivid memories of going to my backyard and playing an imaginary game of baseball, emulating my favorite players batting styles for sometimes hours at a time. In adulthood, when I begin to feel in a rut, I usually turn to play and find that part of the reason that I’m feeling the way I am is because I’m not making the time to do something in which I truly enjoy myself. If I really reflect on why it’s such a powerful resource, I believe it was always an outlet for me during stressful times from childhood and into my adult life. In some ways, there can be a powerful meditation component to it in the sense that we can be fully present and forget all of our worries. I can let loose, have fun, and truly enjoy myself. My recommendation to you is to figure out a way to do something weekly that you will not think twice about cancelling on - something you’ll stick to. As a starter, try something that involves improving a skill, whatever that may be. Just go out there and play!

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Sciatica - Or Something Else?

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Sciatica - Or Something Else?

Do you have low back pain that radiates behind the glute and down the back of the leg? This may seem like an oddly-specific question, but these are actually the symptoms of an extremely commonly diagnosed issue called sciatica. Actually, to be more accurate, I should say commonly misdiagnosed issue. Let’s get into it. 

Sciatica, as I mentioned before, causes people to experience pain or numbness in the low back that often radiates down the back of the hip and leg. This happens when a herniated disc in the lumbar spine compresses the sciatic nerve.

sciatica.jpg

The sciatic nerve is a very large nerve originating from the lumbar spine innervating the hip and leg. As such, a bulging or herniated disc can easily impinge the nerve, which sends pain and discomfort along the nerve’s route. Sciatica is a serious issue and individuals suffering from it often go through extensive physical therapy, use medication for inflammation and pain management, and in some cases even undergo surgery.

However, a huge issue, as I alluded to before, is the misdiagnosis of individuals with similar or identical symptoms who do not actually have sciatica. So how it is that some people with similar or even identical symptoms may have an issue that isn’t sciatica?

Let’s talk about another issue called piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome is a condition in which the piriformis muscle, a deep hip stabilizer and external rotator, spasms and causes pain. The piriformis may also irritate the sciatic nerve which runs through its fibers to cause pain, numbness, and tingling that runs from the glute down the back of the leg. This should sound familiar - the symptoms are nearly identical to those of sciatica.

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The bigger problem is that these issues - pain, numbness, and tingling radiating down a limb - are not just sciatica or piriformis syndrome symptoms, but symptoms that could arise from a nerve entrapment anywhere in the body. When nerves get compressed by muscle spasms, tightness, or a bulge from a herniated disc, they become irritated - and may cause some or all of the suffering we’ve discussed.

Identifying the true issue is extremely important because that will determine what the appropriate treatment is to bring someone out of their pain and suffering. If someone has piriformis syndrome or nerve entrapment because of tight muscles, a skilled bodyworker can work to relieve tightness and very quickly do away with someone’s pain and issues. However, if someone has true sciatica - a bulging lumbar disc impinging the nerve - more serious action needs to be taken to address and solve the problem.

If you’re suffering with pain similar to what I’ve described, be sure to seek multiple opinions and get an MRI or X-RAY to see what’s actually happening with bones, discs, muscles, and connective tissue. If you aren’t 100% sure about the cause of the issue, start with a less aggressive, non-invasive route before considering more serious options like medication and surgery.

Sciatica, as I mentioned before, causes people to experience pain or numbness in the low back that often radiates down the back of the hip and leg. This happens when a herniated disc in the lumbar spine compresses the sciatic nerve.

The sciatic nerve is a very large nerve originating from the lumbar spine innervating the hip and leg. As such, a bulging or herniated disc can easily impinge the nerve, which sends pain and discomfort along the nerve’s route. Sciatica is a serious issue and individuals suffering from it often go through extensive physical therapy, use medication for inflammation and pain management, and in some cases even undergo surgery.

However, a huge issue, as I alluded to before, is the misdiagnosis of individuals with similar or identical symptoms who do not actually have sciatica. So how it is that some people with similar or even identical symptoms may have an issue that isn’t sciatica?

Let’s talk about another issue called piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome is a condition in which the piriformis muscle, a deep hip stabilizer and external rotator, spasms and causes pain. The piriformis may also irritate the sciatic nerve which runs through its fibers to cause pain, numbness, and tingling that runs from the glute down the back of the leg. This should sound familiar - the symptoms are nearly identical to those of sciatica.

The bigger problem is that these issues - pain, numbness, and tingling radiating down a limb - are not just sciatica or piriformis syndrome symptoms, but symptoms that could arise from a nerve entrapment anywhere in the body. When nerves get compressed by muscle spasms, tightness, or a bulge from a herniated disc, they become irritated - and may cause some or all of the suffering we’ve discussed.

Identifying the true issue is extremely important because that will determine what the appropriate treatment is to bring someone out of their pain and suffering. If someone has piriformis syndrome or nerve entrapment because of tight muscles, a skilled bodyworker can work to relieve tightness and very quickly do away with someone’s pain and issues. However, if someone has true sciatica - a bulging lumbar disc impinging the nerve - more serious action needs to be taken to address and solve the problem.

If you’re suffering with pain similar to what I’ve described, be sure to seek multiple opinions and get an MRI or X-RAY to see what’s actually happening with bones, discs, muscles, and connective tissue. If you aren’t 100% sure about the cause of the issue, start with a less aggressive, non-invasive route before considering more serious options like medication and surgery.

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