Like A Spartan!

Filed under :Exercise, Health promoting

Spartan Who? 

The Spartans were an elite class of Greek warriors who prided themselves on physical fitness, endurance, fighting ability and all-around toughness.

Spartan workout:

“The ancient Spartans did not have barbells or gym equipment to train. They had to rely on their natural resources and body weight for resistance in strength training. They would often run for several miles through the hills that surrounded their city, then jog in teams carrying huge logs over their heads. To train their upper bodies they would do pushups, lift heavy clay pots and bench press the body weight of their training partner.”

To get your body into “Spartan” shape; perform circuit training routines lasting 60-120 minutes, 3-5 days a week. Rather than just lifting weights and performing conventional bodybuilding exercises, focus on body weight exercises with little rest between sets. Incorporate challenging exercises such as; uphill sprinting, traveling pushups, squat jumps, etc.

Spartan Diet:

“The ancient Spartans were skilled agriculturalists. They tended to farms that they used to generate their own livestock, dairy, produce and grains. A Spartan warrior ate a diet that mainly consisted of whole grain barley, whole grain wheat, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, legumes, fish, quail eggs, chicken eggs, olive oil and meat. Sugar was unknown to the Greeks, so the Spartans never ate it!”

Diet is part of the deal, so you will not get a Spartan body without the Spartan eating style.  Basically avoiding sugar, eating complex carbohydrates and a protein rich diet will do.  Make sure to control portion sizes (there is such a thing as a “healthy overeater”).  Eat small frequent meals throughout the day and drink lots of water (and only water).

If you follow the spartan lifestyle I cannot guarantee that you will become a Spartan, but you will see the results in your body; have more energy, feel stronger, and more confident! HOОRAY!


The HUGE misconception about working out and bulking up!

Filed under :Exercise

Working in the fitness industry I get a lot of questions about “bulking up”.  People are afraid to work out because they think that they will gain muscle weight and look “big”.  I figured out one effective way to show those concerned individuals the answer to their worries.  I just say: “look around the fitness center, how many people you see here that are big and buff?” (Usually no one is, besides possibly a few men where their goal and workout plan is to bulk up).  After I make this comment the individual will usually look around the room and agree with me. 

There is a HUGE misconception about working out and bulking up, especially for women.  I can’t stress enough how hard it is for women to bulk up: it requires a lot of hard work, many hours at the gym, and the right diet.  As a matter of fact, it’s so hard that women that do try to build muscle weight will turn to ergogenic aids, or in worse case, illegal supplements. 

So, why is the general population so concerned and confused about the matter? Same reason we are confused and mislead about everything else that we may see in the media.  The fitness magazine buffed cover girls, or the commercials that sell fitness equipment.  I can guarantee you that they did not get to look the way they do by “using an ab-chair for 10 minutes a day”! It took them many hours of hard work and training with professionals to get the look. 

As a fitness professional, I see it as part of my job to address this concern and to try and fix what the media has ruined.  Exercise is good for you in so many ways besides “building muscle”. Do not use the excuse of “I will bulk up if I exercise,” or blame your lack of weight loss on “building muscle underneath the fat” – I’ve heard that too many times!

Try to get at least one hour of cardio three days a week and at least two days of resistance training. I can guarantee you that you will not bulk up, but will get in great shape!

Why Do People Run & Continue Running?

Filed under :Exercise, Health promoting, Run Club

“I run because it makes me feel refreshed and gives me a sense of accomplishment.”  This is the answer I give when someone asks me “Why do you run to exhaustion?” and “Why go through the agony of long distance running?”

I believe that we are all runners by nature (check out my previous post ).  Some of us were lucky enough to discover this at one point in our lives.  The other group of “non-runners” (for now) didn’t have the opportunity to experience the thrill of long distance running and therefore may not be as understanding and, even worse, may criticize the runners.  This may be due to ignorance, lack of understanding, or lack of experience.

Before I started my “running journey” I couldn’t understand runners myself.  I didn’t criticize; I was just unfamiliar with the experience and maybe even a bit jealous of the runners out there.  I was too afraid to try it.  Back then, I didn’t discover yet the fact that we are born to run.  Then, one day I ran and I understood it (just like that!).  Today, I try to help others understand what I did.  I love motivating others to run and help people realize their true running potentials. 

It doesn’t matter if you run 1/2 mile or 10 miles – you still accomplish something great.  If you ask an endurance runner for the reason they run they will have more than one answer for you.  People that do not yet grasp the reason for running, criticize running, or want to get inspired to start running need to begin understanding the concept of running and realize that it’s more than just going outside and getting a workout.  Almost like in yoga – you need to deepen your practice and this may come with time.

It can take a few runs, or maybe a few years to find that feeling that pushes you to run, that makes you forget the “exhaustion and agony of running”, that makes you go further and makes you want to participate in running and racing events and just makes you want run for yourself.

Once you realize your running potential and experience the exhilaration of the sport – you will be a changed person. Next time somebody asks you with a shocking expression, “Why would you run a marathon? That’s crazy!” you will have an answer and a smile on your face.

I asked around a few runners for their reason to run over and over again:

“I run because it makes me feel young and happy.”

“…Reduce stress and stay in great shape.”

“…For the thrill and accomplishment.”

“I participate in running events to help raise money for charities and cross that finish line.”

“I used to have bad lifestyle habits, I needed the discipline and a new addiction, running was the answer and I’ve never looked back.”

Feel free to share your reason for running and help inspire others!

Luxury or Necessity?

Filed under :Exercise, Health promoting

One of my favorite things to do is sleep.  Many people view this as a luxury, something you do if you have the time for, or don’t think much of sleep at all.

Sleep is actually a necessity! It is not “something that you get to do when you die” as many people love to say harshly to someone that complains to be tired. It is something that you do when you are tired and your body asks for it.

Sleep is as important to our body’s health as eating food and drinking water.  Did you know, you can actually die faster from lack of sleep then lack of food? The usual recommendation is 8 hours of sleep per night.  However, this may not be true for all individuals.  Today we know, with the help of several research studies, that we all differ in the amount of sleep that our body requires every night. This difference is in our genes!  Some may feel well rested at 6 hours per night and others need 9 hours (including me).

Many people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night. This may cause you to feel tired during the day. This in turn can basically ruin your whole day by having a bad attitude, getting fewer things done, and actually consuming more unhealthy foods (craving sugary fatty foods). The first thing people usually do is get help with some natural remedies (which don’t always work) or go straight to the meds (which can cause dependency with other unwanted side effects).  What you should really turn to is getting more physical activity into your day to help with the quality of your sleep at night.

A recent study, featured in the journal for Mental Health and Physical Activity, concluded that people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.  I have been experiencing this for years but most people need hard evidence to be convinced. The study looked at more than 2,600 men and women, ages 18-85 – 65% improvement in sleep quality was reported.

I love to remind people that physical activity is not just good for the waistline, heart, or mind. Physical activity has many more benefits, such as a better quality sleep.  A better quality of sleep means a better day, and the cycle keeps on going with positive outcomes!

We all reach a stage in life in which we know the number of hours of sleep we need to feel great the following day (I realized my number was 9 early in life, for others it might take longer to learn).  Make sure to give it to your body.  Don’t skip on sleep during the week and try to make it up on the weekends – you can never make up sleep. Your skipped it, you lost it!

To improve the quality of sleep, exercise on a regular basis – you will feel the difference on your first night. Remember that sleep is not a luxury, it’s a necessity!



Filed under :Exercise, Health promoting

As the weather changes, from sunny long summer days to shorter gloomy ones, our bodies internally also experience quite a transformation.  As we transition from summer to winter, our bodies acclimatize to the weather.  When this acclimatization happens our immune system is “stressed out” for a period of time and during this time we are more likely to contract a cold or the flu virus (if we come across the “bug”– sick person or an infected object).  The chances of getting a cold or the flu continue to be very likely throughout the whole winter period which is considered to be the cold/flu season.

There are a few things that we can do to protect ourselves from contracting a cold or flu.  We have the ability to strengthen our immune system by: having a healthy diet, a regular exercise regime of a moderate intensity, reduced stress, and getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night.

To most, stress reduction and getting 8 hours of “shut eye” is no surprise – but a regular regime of moderate intensity exercise routine might be new information.  In the last decade, there has been a large focus in research about exercise and strength of the immune system.  The research findings have been very consistent showing that a moderate intensity exercise (30 minute daily physical activity on most days of the week) has an amazing effect on preventing people from getting sick, compared to sedentary people that are twice as likely to contact the cold or the flu.  On the other hand, vigorous physical activity may make you more susceptible to contacting a bug. This is due to its temporary inflammatory effects which leave your immune system weekend for about 24 hours following the exercise time.  For untrained individuals, vigorous activity would be any physical activity that makes you feel extremely sore 24 hours following the activity.  Running a marathon is definitely a vigorous activity – you are more likely to get sick after the race.

However, if you already feel sick you should avoid exercising. For one, because you may be weak, needing to hydrate your body and focus on getting well, and second so that you won’t spread the bug in the gym (by touching the equipment and breathing on other people).

You may already be very familiar with ALL of the benefits of having a regular exercise regime.  Now, you can add strengthening the immune system to your list!

Born To Be This Way…

Filed under :Exercise, Health promoting, Run Club

Humans were born to be physically active.  Biologists today suggest that the human species is an endurance predator.  Hundreds of thousands of years ago we were in constant motion, since then our genes didn’t change much but our lifestyle did.  Bernd Heinrich, is a biologist and an author of the book “What Animals Can Teach Us about Running and Life,” described how our human ancestors were hunting antelopes by driving them to exhaustion.  Although, antelopes may seem as very fast animals, they are sprinters; while our metabolism allows us to keep going (therefore, we are capable of completing very long runs).

Nowadays, we do not have to hunt or run away for our safety.  This lack of activity is disrupting to our biology – physically and mentally.  We have to activate our endurance metabolism to keep our bodies and brain in optimum.  This doesn’t mean that you have to run 10 miles a day, this simply means that you should start moving, walking, jogging, or doing any physical activity that you enjoy (varying in intensity on different days of the week).

There are many misconceptions about running or doing vigorous physical activity (70-90% of your HR). The main one is – cause of injuries (especially joint or knee injuries).  The reality is that injury doesn’t always have to do with: intensity, duration, or frequency.  Injury just happens.  It’s possible to try to prevent it with appropriate measures and reduce its severity.  Overuse injuries are the most common ones and can be prevented by allowing sufficient recovery time between workout periods.  In reality, your body gets stronger with exercise.  Your bones, muscles and joints become more resistant to injury with more physical activity.  Your knees are not like car tires that run out at a certain point; they are capable of repairing and building on new tissue to become ever stronger.  Think about it this way; you can see your muscles get toned and become stronger with exercise.  You can’t see your bones or joins, or the chemical processes in your brain, but as your muscles tone up, all of these other part of your body do so as well.  When you are being physically active, your whole body participates in the positive changing process.

We may be born to run, but we are also programmed to take advantage of plentiful periods and conserve energy.  Food is usually not far from hand, about several steps to the fridge.  Therefore it is important to make an extra step to incorporate some physical activity into our lifestyles.  Making goals, workout schedules, signing up for group fitness or various races is a great way to stay committed!

You were born to be physically active, push yourself, and see how much you are capable of!



Targeting This, Toning That…

Filed under :Exercise, Health promoting

The reality is that most people are not satisfied with their physical appearance, mostly due to weight issues.  Overall body fat or especially local fat distribution is typically the main concern.

When consulting with nutrition or fitness specialists, people ask how to reduce the amount of fat in a certain area/part of their body.  For example, an overweight woman might ask how she can get her arms firmer with more muscle definition/tone, or a man asking how to get rid of the “beer belly”.  These kinds of people usually assume (or prefer to assume for the sake of ease) that activating the specific muscle under the adipose tissue (fat) will decrease the amount of fat in the desired area. People often will work out a certain part of their body with the intention of decreasing the amount of fat in the area (bicep curls to decrease arm fat or crunches to decrease belly fat).  This is a very big mistake that so many make, which leads to frustration and basically no results.

A human body has a certain amount of fat cells.  When fat is stored in these cells the body decides where to store it as well as where to dispose of it (fat loss).  This fat distribution is affected by factors such as age, genetics, and gender (hormones). It is basically impossible (or at least very tough) to target the loss of adipose tissue in a desired area.  When the body is losing fat, the fat is basically removed uniformly throughout the body.  Usually, the toughest part to get rid of that fat will be the abdominal area (It’s most practical to carry fat in that area; due to human anatomy, it is the center of the body).

Therefore, if you want to lower the amount of fat in a certain part of your body, you will have to make a caloric deficit as well as increase in energy expenditure (physical activity).  Cardiovascular activity lasting about 60 minutes, about 5 times a week is best.  Your body will dictate where you will lose the fat (usually uniformly).

When you do not have excess fat weight on your body, you may use the basic principles of strength/weight training to target a specific muscle group in your body or tone certain areas.  Specificity is basically the main principle you would want to apply in this situation; in which you apply or perform exercises that target the desired outcome or perform particular movements to train for a certain sport or athletic event.  For example, for hockey players – targeting the inner and outer thighs is best, basketball players – should target the shoulders, etc.

It’s important to remember that there is no easy way out when it comes to your physical appearance and health.  To feel your best you should: aspire to live a healthy lifestyle, eat right, and exercise at least 30 minutes a day preferably all days of the week.  When you rich the healthy body fat, you may start working on specific areas of the body for toning and muscle definition.


Running Distance

Filed under :Exercise, Run Club

I always believed that running as a physical activity is mainly a “mental” sport (I would say 90% mental while 10% is physical). What I mean by this is that if you can: sustain your mental endurance, avoid getting bored and know how to push yourself – running will come easy to you.

For a person that never tried running before (besides gym class or a treadmill) the most challenging thing is to start. When you try to run for the first time; your distance might be short, you might not know the right pacing (to sustain your run for a long distance). This may get some people frustrated, people tend to avoid frustrating things, therefore decide not to do it again. After all, you should not give up! It’s ok to start for only a short distance, with small strides, slowly – see where your comfort zone is, learn your body. Once you know the right pacing for you, you can increase your distance (again gradually). Keep your runs consistent, make a schedule for the days ahead (that way you are more likely to follow it), keep a running log, and map your miles.

Once you overcome all the obvious obstacles and stop the excuses you will actually start enjoying it. You will begin feeling the joy of accomplishment, the great feeling of improvement, and of course the chemical and physical consequences of your body while running and the “after high”.

I did this all upside down. I was very physically active in all different kinds of activities from cycling to martial arts, but I avoided running. I was basically scared of it, due to some past experiences in gym classes. Then last summer I ran my first 10K race! Without any training or running experience – that was the day I fell in love with running! I was forced to do it, to finish the race, and when I was done, the feeling was amazing.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, get in a better shape, or reduce stress – running will get you there. Here are some tips from my own running experience: stay consistent with your training, get some good music on your MP3 player, keep changing your running paths to keep it interesting, don’t focus on “running” while running, find something fun or smart to think about, keep yourself motivated by telling yourself how good it will feel after the run, fuel your body right and keep hydrated, and sign up for a short (5K) or longer (10K) race which will keep you motivated.


The Right Training To Improve Flexibility

Filed under :Exercise

In the history of sports and physical activity, it has been believed that improvement of flexibility via stretching reduced the risk of exercise related injuries. Nowadays, there is very limited evidence from research to support the concept that stretching will prevent injuries. In some sports, high degree of flexibility can even induce the likelihood of an injury. One example is in contact sports where less flexibility increases shoulder stability, hence less likelihood to get injured.

Although, improving ones flexibility may not decrease the chance of exercise-induced injury, it is still important to be able to move joints through a full range of motion in some sports. For example, having good hip flexibility will increase the range of motion for Muay Thai kicks and other martial arts.

There are two types of stretching; static and dynamic. As their names imply, static stretching is continuously holding of a stretch position, where dynamic stretching is when movements are not controlled. Both techniques can result in improvement in flexibility, although static stretching is considered to be the superior one. The reason for that is simple; less chance for injury, less muscle spindle activity, and there is less chance of muscle soreness.
Research has shown that thirty minutes of static stretching exercises, twice per week, improve flexibility in about five weeks.
It is recommended that the stretch position is held for 10 seconds at the beginning of a flexibility program and increased to 60 seconds after several training sessions. Each stretch position should be repeated about 3-5 times and progress up to 10 repetitions.

In general, stretching is good for the body for many additional reasons, such as: reduce muscle tension, increase blood circulation, increase energy levels, and most important, it feels very good!

Don’t forget to enjoy your stretching!


Filed under :Exercise, Health promoting

Stress… Some may feel it occasionally, while others may become chronically stressed out.

Most people turn to medications or psychological therapy when it comes to chronic stress, anxiety and depression.
Medications may be the first solution to such problems, which I am highly against for most cases. While I do believe that some counseling may be beneficial to relieve stress and it may involve a friend, a family member, or a professional.

I believe that most of stress, anxiety, and depression can be treated or at least alleviated by performing some kind of physical activity. About two decades ago, such a statement would not be well recognized by the public and most physicians, while today there is much research that supports this.
Still, today, when you go to the doctor with one of the above issues the most likely treatment would not be exercise. Not because the doctor does not believe in its powers, but because of the health system industry, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies. There is too much money involved, and exercise can be obtained practically free.

For example, take the natural evolutionary response that we have developed over millions of years which helped us survive thus far: the “fight-or-flight” response. Severe stress activates the emergency phase which mobilizes the body and the brain. The main point is to mobilize the body to relive the consequence on the response; run, jump, basically “move”. For example, when a lion attacks a zebra, the zebra will not stand in place and stress out what should it do next. The zebra responds physically by running away. While in the modern world, we do not get to run away from a stressful situation, instead we dwell on it. Imagine you are at work and your boss approaches you in regards to a mistake you have made. You may start feeling the natural stress response, but you can’t act on it. By acting on it, you could have slapped your boss and start running away. Instead, you listen, stress out and dwell on it. This response if left untreated will convert to biological stress and express its damaging effects on the body.

Therefore when we exercise in response to stress, we do what human beings have evolved to do – it’s that simple! In certain situations we may not be able to respond immediately to the stressor, as in the above work place example, however we can relieve that response by exercising afterwards. It’s a great idea to exercise after a work day.

By exercising regularly, stress will not accumulate. Additionally, exercising regularly will also resolve the chronic stress problems that so many people experience.

For sudden immediate stress or frustrations I would suggest performing outburst of physical activity, such as jumping jacks, short brisk walk, or anything else you can come up with.

Basically, my main “Rx” for stress would be physical, not verbal, or chemical (i.e. medications).
Try this next time – you will see how much this can actually help you!