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To Stretch or To Not Stretch?

There are so many questions and confusion when it comes to stretching. Do we do it? If so, how often and when? Will we die if we don’t?

When it comes to stretching, the opinions are divisive. Some say there’s nothing beneficial about stretching before or after exercise, some say it’s actually a risk to stretch before activities, and others swear that you’ll explode if you don’t stretch before jumping into a workout. So, who is right?

There are a few different ways to stretch. That’s right, not all stretching is the same!

Static stretching is what most people think of first. This involves a stretch that is held for a longer period of time, while holding the same (static) position. Another type of stretching is dynamic stretching. This involves using movement and momentum to propel the muscle into an extended range of motion. There is also Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching. This type of stretching can be used to increase mobility by opening a new range of motion that was not available prior to the stretching. It uses a sequence of contracting and relaxing muscles to basically trick your brain into allowing a greater range of motion.

It seems that there is research to support any argument about stretching, largely because the research is inconclusive at best. There is a consensus that there may be benefits to stretching before exercise, provided that the stretching is not deep, static stretching. There is little evidence to support the idea that not stretching before exercise is detrimental, and you certainly won’t explode. That said, stretching is completely different from warming up before exercise. Stretching is not a warm up, and should not be used as a warm up. Stretching can help prepare the muscles for the stretch they might encounter in the activity you’re about to do, but that won’t prepare your muscles to do the WORK that the exercise demands.

For the average Joe stretching before exercise is neither definitively beneficial nor harmful. More elite athletes, on the other hand, do need to weigh the evidence that there is a temporary reduction in the ability to produce force following a stretching session. This means those in power sports, or sports that do not require a special flexibility or range of motion are better off to skip the pre-game stretch for maximum performance, unless its followed by some type of movement or other explosive type of warm up before heading into practice or game performance.

Stretching post-exercise has largely the same results in terms of studies as pre-exercise stretching. Although there is a marginal increase in reports of less muscle soreness when post-exercise stretching is completed.

It is important to note that the trials that have been completed have centred around static stretching and have not explored other kinds of stretching. It is also important to note that there are no studies that have looked at the chronic effect of stretching, as all have focused on the acute effects of stretching.

So, what does that all mean? More or less, stretch if it makes you feel good, and don’t feel guilty if you don’t. At the very least, getting your stretch on won’t hurt!

Kristen Hansen, BA, CSEP-CPT, PFT-NAIT, NASM-CES, FRCms
SVPT Fitness & Athletics

Exercising vs. Training

As summer winds down, and we approach ‘fall back to fitness’, many will be seeking the fitness routine they had before summer shenanigans. So as you get back into your routine, ask yourself – are you training or are you just exercising?

Exercise and training might often be used as synonymous terms, but there are a few important distinctions between the two. Exercise can best be thought of as physical activity that serves an immediate purpose and effect. It is done for its own sake, whether that is during the workout or immediately after. This “effect” or “purpose” can include burning calories, getting a pump on, getting sweaty, or as a way to blow off steam & de-stress. Training, on the other hand, is utilizing physical activity to achieve a definite performance objective, which is often long-term. The difference between exercise and training is a question of intention.

Training is a process designed to achieve a specific result. It is a pre-determined progression of activity designed to satisfy a long-term performance goal. Training is less about the workouts individually than it is about the process of utilizing the workouts to reach the ultimate training goal, or the cumulative effect of the individual workouts. The results are reached by progressing week after week, tracking progress and adjusting as needed. Training is about long-term improvement for a specific purpose, which often means displacing the immediate feeling of having achieved a goal until that goal is realized down the line.

The primary goal of exercise is, generally, to keep you healthy. Exercising can produce immediate results, and results over the long term even; however, training is deciding on a goal and using physical activity to achieve that goal. Long-term results from consistent exercise are a welcome by-product but are not the outcome of intentional physical activity. Any program that features exposure at random to various types of physical stress cannot produce a specific physical adaptation. Past a certain point the adaptation that occurs naturally with exercise will stop, a point that occurs relatively quickly.

Should we all be training? Not necessarily. It’s more about your specific goals. If the goal is to maintain health, exercising might be sufficient, and the most important thing would then be to choose exercise options that motivate you to continue and be consistent. Jumping from program to program or choosing random workouts can be a great way to exercise without getting bored. For those who have specific goals, a long-term training program with trackable results is more appropriate.

Kristen Hansen, BA, CSEP-CPT, PFT-NAIT, NASM-CES, FRCms
SVPT Fitness & Athletics

Steady State or Interval Cardio?

There are two types of cardio people: those who choose aerobic exercise (i.e. running, jogging) and those who choose anaerobic exercise (i.e. HIIT, intervals). Although both are technically cardio, doing just one type is not enough and a well-rounded program will include both types.

Generally, exercise done in short bursts up to two minutes in duration will utilize the anaerobic system primarily. This includes any short burst of activity that can only be maintained for about two minutes, usually referred to as intervals. Exercise for an extended period of time at a slow or moderate pace, will utilize the aerobic system primarily, and is often referred to as “steady-state cardio”.

Those who prefer aerobic exercise (aka runners and cyclists) tend to neglect interval training, while those who prefer interval training (aka metconners) tend to neglect doing steady-state cardio. If cardio is cardio, why should it matter if I prefer hard and fast or long and slow?

Whether you should focus on anaerobic or aerobic exercises is entirely dependent on what your goals are. Ideally, you’re doing a mix of both in a balanced program. Aerobic exercise will help build endurance and increase cardiovascular health overall, while interval training will enhance muscle strength, power, size and speed.   Aerobic exercise helps build a bigger window in which you can perform intervals, or a aerobic base.  Without an aerobic base, you won’t be able to do a lot of intervals.

While each type of exercise will build and produce different results and develop different skills, the two types of training can function together to make you faster, stronger, and healthier overall. Training exclusively by one type of exercise will limit the progress you can make, and actually increases your chance of injury. Incorporating anaerobic training into an exercise plan that is mostly aerobic will lead to increased speed, power output, economy, increase VO2 max and decrease the chance of injury.

The way to improve cardio performance is to train at and above your threshold. This means to improve aerobic capacity (read: become a better runner) you need to incorporate training intervals that mean you’re working near your current aerobic threshold. On the flip side, those who only train using intervals will not increase their steady state endurance. What this means is that the metconner who also does steady-state cardio training will be able to work harder for longer (read: get more done in each interval).

Both interval and aerobic exercise should be incorporated into a balanced exercise plan. This balance will allow the two systems to complement one another and will maximize results and increase overall health, while minimizing the chance of injury.

Kristen Hansen, BA, CSEP-CPT, PFT-NAIT, NASM-CES, FRCms

Training Through Injury

So, you’re injured. Now what?

While it’s true that the first priority should be recovery, this doesn’t mean that you should stop training altogether. Sometimes injuries are caused by overuse or overtraining, which means you might need to back off on your training. In this case, your body isn’t able to recover properly resulting in a chronic injury. If the injury is acute, that is caused by one incident, this means that the affected area should rested, but you can continue to train around the injury.

If you’ve injured yourself, talk with a physician or physiotherapist first. Get your injury diagnosed by a professional who is qualified to advise you whether or not you can continue training. Don’t Google your injury and self-diagnose. Having a proper diagnosis will mean that a trainer will have a better idea of the course of action to take post-injury and will also inform how the injury should be rehabilitated. Better yet, having your trainer and physiotherapist working together will ensure a more complete approach to recovery. Knowledge is power – take the initiative and be active in your own recovery by getting assessed properly right away.

If you choose to work around an injury and continue to train during your recovery, then truly work around the injury. Don’t do things that “sort-of hurt” or get better after a warm up set. If there truly is pain during the first movement, you’re doing more damage than you are helping yourself. Adrenaline and endorphins can make you feel better when you’re actually doing damage. If you’re hurting, you’re not healing. Bottom line: if it hurts, stop.

Be careful not to allow this to create other injuries from compensating or only training one way. It’s fine to train one side when the other is injured but be aware of compensating patterns and how the movement will affect other areas. For example, if you have injured one shoulder, you can train the other but be aware of how this constant unilateral training will affect the neck and back on both sides of the body.

Injury recovery can be separated into two aspects: physical and mental. The physical component of recovery is the physical healing of the injured tissue. Whether you’ve suffered a strain, sprain, dislocation or fracture, the injured tissue needs to heal, meaning it must be rested. The mental component of recovery is training the brain. When we are injured, our brain flags whatever movement resulted in the injury, and usually also flags movements that resulted in pain after the injury. What this means for many people is that the movement triggers a feeling of pain long after the injury has healed. The brain needs to be retrained to learn that these movements are safe again. Typically, this can be done by completing the movement under control, slowly, under different types of load and through the full range of motion repetitively. This process involves learning to differentiate between pain and discomfort. You can train through discomfort, but never train through pain.

At the end of the day, recovery is almost always an active process whether you’re training your body or your mind. Don’t let an injury get in the way of your goals, just adjust your course of action.

Kristen Hansen, BA, CSEP-CPT, PFT-NAIT, NASM-CES, FRCms

MEAL OF THE MONTH FROM REVIVE WELLNESS: Breakfast Quesadilla

Breakfast Quesadilla

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 8” whole wheat tortilla

Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Add spinach and cook until wilted.
  2. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, then pour over the spinach.
  3. Sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder and pepper over the eggs and stir well.
  4. Allow the eggs to set and cook through.
  5. While the eggs are cooking, lay the tortilla out flat and sprinkle cheese over the whole thing.
  6. Add the egg mixture to half of the tortilla and fold in half.
  7. Return the tortilla to a clean pan and allow to get crispy and the cheese to melt.
  8. Flip and repeat on the other side.
  9. Serve and Enjoy!

 

Nutritional analysis per serving: 435 calories, 27 g fat, 23 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate (24 g available carbohydrate), 4 g fibre, 621 mg sodium

Created by Revive Wellness Inc.

Now try the ‘Move of the Month’ on their blog!

 

Spinach and Feta Chicken Burger

Serves 4 (1 burger per serving)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground chicken
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • ½ cup feta cheese

Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in a pan on medium high heat.
  2. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool.
  3. Once cool, combine with the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
  4. Preheat grill to high heat.
  5. Form the mixture into 4 patties.
  6. Place on grill, reduce heat to medium-high heat.
  7. Cook for 15 minutes on one side, flip and cook for 8-10 minutes, until cooked through.
  8. Serve with your favourite toppings and Enjoy!

 

Nutritional analysis per serving: 265 calories, 10 g fat, 27 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate (11 g available carbohydrate), 2 g fibre, 454 mg sodium

Created by Revive Wellness Inc.

Now try the ‘Move of the Month’ on their blog!

“I Will Start When…….”

Getting into a routine is arguably one of the hardest things to do as an adult. It never seems like the “right” time to start or to get back on track. Let’s be honest, it’s also freaking hard in the beginning. Understand that there is NO perfect time to start. Life will always be there, getting in the way of the ‘perfect window’. This window may exist here and there, but realistically, long term, it won’t always be there. So you have to just start, regardless of if life is messy at the moment. Whether you’re just getting back into fitness, the first few weeks back are rough. You’re tired, you’re sore, and it feels like it just won’t ever get better.

It’s easy to fall into feeling like fitness just isn’t something that is for you, or that the “fit” people on Instagram have some gene that you just weren’t gifted with. The truth is, it’s hard for everyone. No matter what level you’re at or were at, if you’ve fallen off the wagon and have decided to jump back on it, the tough reality is that it will be hard to comeback. The good news is, that this phase doesn’t last forever. Once the initial shock has worn off, you’ll settle into routine, and things won’t seem so impossible.

Following are a couple tips to getting into (or back into) a fitness routine.

(1) The first hurdle is talking yourself into just STARTING. It always seems like there is a better time coming up where it would be more ideal to start. Typically, we’re in a busy period, or things at work are exceptionally stressful or the weather isn’t just cooperating with your vibe. There are infinite reasons to start at some point in the future. But we all know what that next Tuesday quickly turns into next Saturday and that turns into next Wednesday. It will never feel like the right time to start a new fitness program. Just like it never feels like the right time to buy a house, change jobs, have kids, etc.. This is just the way that life works, and the best thing to do is set those excuses aside and start today, not tomorrow. And starting doesn’t have to be 100% effort – it can be as simple as just going for a walk, or 10 minutes of physical activity.

(2) The flip side of this is that life sometimes throws us curveballs that mean we need to adjust our sails. Sometimes things really do become too much, and we need to take a step back for a minute to deal with other life problems and stresses. This is called SELF CARE and it is just as important to your heath as your fitness routine. If you have to take some time off, that’s OK, don’t feel guilty, and don’t panic. Just do what you can, when you can and don’t delay getting back into routine when life settles down. Progress isn’t linear, and you won’t lose all your “gains.” Muscle memory is a thing, and fitness comes back faster than when you’ve already reached that level before.

(3) Most importantly, whether you’re starting your fitness journey for the first time, or just jumping back onto the wagon, make sure you choose what works best for you and do something you enjoy. There is no one-size fits all fitness plan. Try new things, new sports, new classes, and find what works with your schedule and doesn’t spark feelings of rage rather than fitness-induced joy.

Finally, a few things to remember. Fitness and health is truly a journey – there will be peaks and valleys, and it will NEVER be perfect. Seeking perfection is a set up for failure. The most important thing you can do after you start is to KEEP GOING, even if that means a once a week, a quick 20 minute walk or whatever gets you moving.

There is no more perfect time to work on your health and fitness than right NOW!

Kristen Hansen, BA, CSEP-CPT, PFT-NAIT, NASM-CES, FRCms

Exercise Won’t Give You a 6-Pack

Weight loss (fat loss) is the #1 reason people seek out a personal trainer. (Note: there is a difference between weight loss and fat loss, and most people want the fat loss, so we will continue with that phrase). And we will also note that everyone has a 6-pack, it’s just a matter of if we can see them or not.

If your goal is fat loss, a good personal trainer will stress that fat loss starts in the kitchen, and exercise should supplement your fat loss goals. We stay in our lanes. We are not registered dietitians, and while we can give general advice on how to improve your nutrition (drink more water, eat less processed foods, cut back on sugar, eat more whole foods, fruits and veggies), we are not experts in what exactly you need to create the safest and most effective environment in your body for fat loss.

(Side Note: In my opinion, if a trainer pushes you to try the latest and greatest diet trend out there – Keto, Paleo, etc. – or pushes you to buy some type of shake they sell – RUN for the hills. Personal trainers should be teaching you exercise, fitness and physical activity – not selling you diets and shakes.)

So with nutrition being the single most important variable in fat loss, why is there such a focus on exercise? People are misinformed thanks to the internet, and continually think that they can out-train bad nutrition. You can’t. Exercise isn’t going to burn off the bad food or excess calories you ate. In fact, the whole “burn up to 600 calories” per workout (and for 72 hours after!) is bunk. It’s misleading and has been proven by science to be inaccurate for years…decades, in fact.

This is why you see so many personal trainers peddling nutrition, because they KNOW that it’s crucial in their clients’ journey to getting results (fat loss). You often see “fat burning workouts” or the best “fat burning exercises” all over the internet. Well, sorry…but it’s all BUNK.

Do you burn calories when you workout? YES. But not as much as you think, and not enough to be your one and only fat loss strategy. The quantity of calories you actually burn in a workout session is lower than you’ve been led to believe, and the extra calories you burn from exercise only account for a small part of your total energy expenditure during the day – somewhere in the range of 10-30 percent. The remaining 70-90 percent comes from your resting metabolic rate, the energy used to carry out the host of physiological processes that are constantly occurring in the body. (Be wary of activity trackers, as they tend to overestimate the caloric burn from these processes.)

Do you continue to burn calories for many hours or even days after your workout? NO. Depending on the specific type of training you are doing, your metabolism stays elevated post-workout for about the length of time you trained, but not much beyond that. And certainly not for days! And at this point, I am sure HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has come to mind, which is one of the most popular fitness trends being marketed as purely a fat burning workout, especially in the Edmonton fitness scene. The science has been out that true HIIT can definitely improve V02 max, and improve blood sugars. However, the energy expenditure is just not enough because of the duration of the session. True HIIT sessions (and that is where you are literally working at your MAX heart rate for the work periods) are only meant to be done for anywhere from 10-20 minutes. While many studies show that HIIT can help with fat loss (negligible) than other forms of exercise, the biggest factor in that was, of course, nutrition and appetite suppression (nutrition!).

I would add (as a shameless plug) SVPT Fitness + Athletics has NEVER ever marketed or sold so-called fat burning workouts, fat burning exercises, weight loss shakes, or any kind of supplements. We have never made false claims about training to entice clients into our gym. And we have been successfully in business for 10 years.

We take pride in refusing to spread inaccurate information. We don’t even believe in putting an emphasis on exercise for burning calories. We put the emphasis on quality movement that will benefit your health and your life. We know that if you want to lose fat or have long term weight loss goals, it is all about the food! This is why we partnered with dietitians to help our clients navigate those waters. It’s the best way for them to learn the most effective ways to lose fat and keep it off over the long term.

BUT WAIT…does this mean you don’t have to exercise to lose fat? NO. You still need to exercise so you can do ALL the things you want to in life. So you can be independent. So you can prevent injury. So you can golf into your 70s, or hike into your 60s. So you CAN LIVE A FULL LIFE. Exercise shouldn’t be a punishment to burn off something you ate, or earn something you want to eat. Exercise should be your tool to live life to the full. Exercise GIVES life. Exercise improves health. And when you improve health, you improve quality of life.

Here is why you still need to exercise, regardless of your goals:

  • Joint health
  • Muscle strength, growth and maintenance\
  • Improve blood pressure
  • Improve blood sugars
  • Improve mood
  • Decrease stress, anxiety, fatigue
  • Improve attention
  • Improve sleep
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Prevent disease and illness
  • Resilience
  • Independence
  • Longevity
  • Vitality
  • Resilience

….the list is extensive and can go on even further. Essentially, we just move less than we did 50 years ago.

Exercise is excellent for health and wellness; it’s just not that important for fat loss. So don’t expect to lose a lot of fat by ramping up physical activity alone. If your workouts are soul crushing every day in an effort to “burn more calories” or “burn fat” to get to your fat loss goals, you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Not just that day or that week, but long term. The hormonal ramifications of soul crushing workouts every day are huge, not to mention that you are also risking burnout and injury.

With all of that said, it’s still awesome to challenge yourself with a really tough workout every once in a while. It simply has to be programmed properly – both to occur at the right time, and to include movements that won’t get you hurt. This is where seeking the advice of a fitness professional can help you.

If weight/fat loss is your goal, please seek the help of a registered dietitian to learn about food, proper eating habits, and your caloric range to help you get to your fat loss goals safely and effectively. At the same time, realize the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise. While exercise is still an important part of the fat loss puzzle, remember that it shouldn’t be the ONLY piece.

Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT*D, CFSC