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fitness

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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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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The Move More, Eat Less Challenge

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The Move More, Eat Less Challenge

A few weeks ago, something dawned on me while my girlfriend and I were strolling through our neighborhood in the Sunset. We passed by our favorite local ice cream joint (which is located directly across the street from our gym by some twist of cosmic irony) and were overcome by temptation for the second day in a row. Normally we exercise more restraint, but alas, the ice cream won that day. Jokingly I said, “Well, as long as we workout more times in a week than we eat ice cream, we'll be okay.” I then realized that for most folks, they eat out far more often than they exercise. From that, an idea was born.

Here in San Francisco - where we take our food very seriously - the old adage of ‘move more and eat less’ isn't shown enough love. A lot of people engage in some amount of regular exercise, but the amount of it relative to the volume of food consumed isn't in the best proportion. I realized that most clients I have worked with go out to eat quite a bit more than they engage in vigorous exercise. As such, this version of the ‘move more and eat less’ challenge was born: on a weekly basis, try to get in the gym and perform vigorous exercise more times than you go out to eat.

Every challenge needs some guidelines to be effective. Although I don't want to make a rule set that's overly-specific or restrictive, some structure is needed to adhere to the spirit of the challenge. I'll make some suggestions below to help guide this process.

  1. The exercise session needs to be a minimum of 45 minutes in length, and it needs to be hard. Something like walking through the city doesn't count. Honestly, many forms of yoga or pilates wouldn't really qualify either. I'm not saying they have no value, but the level of energy expenditure is simply not high enough for our purposes. The exercise should increase your heart rate significantly and make you sweat (and not just because it's outside in the heat or in a hot room). If you can't engage in vigorous exercise for some reason, exercising to the level of a brisk walk for 90 minutes would also suffice.
  2. As far as whether or not a meal is considered “eating out” is a bit more subjective. However, a good rule of thumb is if you're selecting your meal based purely on taste, then it should probably count as eating out. If the meal is selected in an attempt to make it balanced and nutritious (and reasonably portioned), then it doesn't add to that count. So, if you cook a giant bowl of fettuccine alfredo at home, that's still “eating out.” Conversely, if you get a grilled chicken breast salad at the lunch spot near work, that's not “eating out.” I think you get the idea; it's about the spirit of how the meal is composed, not the technicality of who prepared it or where it was consumed. Additionally, every 3 drinks (1 beer, 1 glass of wine, or one shot of liquor) you consume in a week is considered eating out. So, if you drink a beer or glass of wine every night with dinner, that's 7 drinks or 2 extra counts of eating out for the week. If you go out to eat and drink a few drinks, then you just ate out twice. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I consider it so impactful that I felt it was worth using our imaginations a bit.
  3. Tally up both of these things, and try to make sure the number of exercise sessions is greater than the number of times you eat out in a week - it's really that simple. Start by trying to do this for a month, but you can aim to make it more of a long-term lifestyle choice as well.

The beauty of this challenge is that it helps you understand just how much exercise is required to counteract poor nutrition habits. For most people, the sensible choice is to change both habits a bit: exercise a few more times per week, and eat out a few less times per week. However, if eating with tons of freedom is important to you, then you do have the option of trying to balance that out with a massive volume of exercise. As well, if you really don't want to exercise much (I recommend against this option the most) or have health issues that prohibit this, then you can be very strict with your eating habits. Try it out and see how it goes!

Hopefully this arms everyone with yet another tool in the battle to enjoy the finer things in life while staying healthy. If nothing else, it will provide you some perspective on your lifestyle. That's all for today… Cheers!


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Why You Should Be Using Kettlebells

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Why You Should Be Using Kettlebells

First, what are kettlebells?! Kettlebells were first developed in Russia and are traditionally cast-iron rounded weights with a handle. Though you may have seen or used one in an exercise class, they’re actually still used a lot by special forces, martial arts masters, and national champion lifters, as well.

What makes this certain type of weight so special, you may ask? It’s because of how many athletic components you’re able to work. Research has shown kettlebell-specific routines to increase strength, strength endurance, general endurance, work capacity, balance, coordination, and agility, and to lower heart rate and blood pressure. A study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2010 found that, during a kettlebell snatch (a type of olympic lift) workout, subjects were burning at least 20.2 calories a minute. This is equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace, and they compared that calorie expenditure to the amount of calories burned while cross-country skiing uphill at a fast pace. With all of these possible benefits that basically cover every spectrum of fitness and athletics, why not train with kettlebells?

If you’re just getting into training and are overwhelmed by all the different machines and weight types throughout the gym, the kettlebell can be your answer to simplify things. I recently earned my StrongFirst Kettlebell Certification, which focuses on 6 lifts that can essentially be the entirety of your workout routine. You may need a couple different weights, but you can basically replace an entire gym full of equipment with just a couple of kettlebells. A national champion track and field thrower, Dan John famously said “with this kettlebell in my bedroom I can prepare for Nationals.” Form and technique are very important while using kettlebells to train, so make sure you’ve got a coach that can introduce you to the basics - as StrongFirst says: “safe execution first, perfect is a journey.” Even with light weight, just because of the nature of the exercises using this modality, you will get a large training effect.

For those athletes out there trying to up their game, this style of training will be hugely beneficial for you, as well. A big component of what makes kettlebell training transfer to sports is the relationship between relaxation and tension that is ever present. To hit a ball it’s furthest, or to throw the most powerful punch, an athlete needs both of these components at certain times. First starting loose so that they can react, then an initial tensing as they initiate the movement, followed by another relaxation period as the arm or bat flies to its target at top speed, and finally when connection has been made, tensing with everything the athlete has against his or her target. With this order, you can achieve maximum speed in the movement while backing it with power and strength. By training with kettlebells, you’re working on these same ideals, especially during the kettlebell swing which, of the main kettlebell lifts, most closely mimics this order. In the swing, you’re relaxed as you swing in the down motion, followed by tension to initiate the movement, relaxation as the bell starts to swing up, and finally achieving full tension at the top of the swing. The swing, snatch, and clean are all considered “ballistic” movements by StrongFirst and will follow this same basic principle, while the get-up, front squat, and overhead press are considered “grinds” that’ll improve the amount of tension and strength your body can achieve. Prof. Leonid Matveyev, a soviet scientist, noted that higher-level athletes could relax their muscles faster, observing an 800% difference between novice and olympic-level athletes in the speed of tension to relaxation in muscles. If you can’t relax your muscles, then they can’t hit maximum speed, which will ultimately hinder how much force you’re able to produce.

What does all of this mean? It means that any level of athlete can gain big benefits from a kettlebell workout routine, whether you’re training for a sport, competition, or just to look better. If you’re looking to mix things up - or to improve your own kettlebell skills - I suggest looking for a Strongfirst SFG certified trainer and get swinging!


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Screw the Scale

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Screw the Scale

I get this question a lot: “I just started exercising, so why am I gaining weight?” I’m pretty sure many of us have experienced this. We start a new training program and the number on the scale stays the same, or even worse, it goes up. Truth is, this is completely normal - and temporary. When we start a new exercise program and our bodies aren’t adjusted to that type of stress, our muscles may become inflamed. Most of the weight you see on the scale is probably not fat, but temporary water weight due to inflammation. However, it could also be an increase in muscle mass. Yay!

Again, one reason you may have gained weight in your first month of training is due to inflammation. When you work out a given muscle, you’re basically causing tears in your muscle fibers. This is usually referred as "microtrauma" and is why you feel sore the next day. But on the bright side, your body heals these little tears and makes your muscles stronger as you continue to lift heavy weights - essentially, your body adapts to the stress. That’s how you can get stronger and more fit: you create adaptation to whatever you’re doing, whether its cardiovascular training or strength training. During the first month of a new training program - especially if you’re new to fitness - there’s definitely going to be a lot of adaptation going on and these fluid build-ups caused by inflammation might show up on the scale. But don’t worry, once your body is adapted to this stress, the scale should go back down. Just keep working hard and trust the process.

Another reason why you might see weight gain within the first few weeks of training is that you’re building muscle faster than you’re losing fat. Muscle is more dense than fat, thus taking up less space. Next time, rather than stepping on a scale, measure your circumference instead. It’s often the case that, if you do gain muscle mass, the scale might go up, but you’ll probably fit better in your jeans.

Often times, we define fitness by body weight. I’ve seen so many people throughout their fitness journeys lose motivation because the scale wasn’t budging. But what does that number really mean? Does that mean they’re not progressing? Not getting stronger? Not becoming healthier? Chances are, the answer is no. Place the scale aside and focus on what really matters. Do your clothes fit better? Do you feel better? Are you happier? If the answer is yes, disregard the scale.

People may not consider the early changes to their bodies as a good thing. The key is to not let that number define your hard work and discourage you from working out or eating healthy. So, instead of weighing yourself, pay attention to what really matters: strength, endurance, health, how you feel, and most importantly, happiness. You’re so much more than just a number! Again, once you’ve been working out consistently, your muscle gains and water weight should stabilize. So keep doing what you’re doing and don’t lose faith. Be patient. Stick with your program. Don’t let any arbitrary number tell you how well or not you’re doing if you’re seeing positive physical changes. Like what successful people say, “Age is just a number.” Well..your weight is just a number, too.


 

 

 

 

 

 

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