Fitness

The Importance of Exercising with a Heart Rate Monitor

The Importance of Exercising with a Heart Rate Monitor

Sometimes it’s hard to determine just how much is too much when it comes to training. It’s easy to overdue a workout and place yourself in a theoretical “hole” for the next workout. It can also be just as hard to determine reasons why a workout may feel great one day, and then terrible the next. With the addition of using a heart rate monitor, you can track normal and irregulars patterns of fatigue, dehydration, and resting heart rate. Knowing these data points can serve as biomarkers to establish baseline and threshold heart rates. With this information, you can learn from your body, and use it as a tool to prepare and recover properly for your next workout or performance.

Progress Tracking:

One way heart rate monitor provide significant information is through data trend patterns. Keeping track of your day to day workouts can help establish trend patterns in your fitness; this can be done with something as simple as a notebook. By using a heart rate monitor during every workout you can record the data that coincides and mark down a baseline measurement. Take for example a runner training for a 5k race: if they do a workout the first week of training that yields an average heart rate of 174 beats per minute then they can record this information and store it for future reference when completing the same workout to “test” their fitness. If this same runner performs the identical workout 5 weeks later and their average heart rate is 165 this can provide good insight to the runner’s increased fitness. This increase in fitness can be attributed to the cardiac muscle growing stronger which allows the heart to work less at the same amount of work. The heart is now “working smarter, not harder.” Measuring fitness is a key benefit of training with a heart rate monitor for athletes or anyone trying to reach a performance goal. It allows you to visually see progression which can also help boost your confidence in the training you have been following.

Hydration Status:

If you are training and performing while dehydrated, sometimes you may not realize you are in this state before it is already too late. It is true that if you only begin to drink when your body signals that you are thirsty, then you are already in a state of dehydration. If you are below 2% of water loss, you will begin to suffer from performance losses due to dehydration. Training with a heart rate monitor can help to quickly spot dehydration through statistics and not just speculation.

When you begin any form of exercise, you will undergo an increase in your heart rate. This is a normal response, and should last between the first 1-3 minutes of exercise. From this point, your body should establish a baseline heart rate and respond accordingly to increases in effort and exertion. A phenomenon that is associated to similar rises in heart rate response is known as Cardiac Drift. Cardiac Drift can be explained as an increase in heart rate over time and accompanied by a decrease in stroke volume. Stroke volume is the volume of blood pumped by the heart. This phenomenon occurs when the effort level remains constant. It has been suggested that cardiac drift is related to rises in our body’s core temperature and water loss. During an increase in our core temperature and dehydration, our body increases blood flow to the skin to help cool us down. This increase in blood flow to the skin restricts the amount of blood our working muscles are receiving during an effort. If adequately hydrated, we would not experience this upward trend in heart rate since each of our organs would not have to compete over the demand of blood flow to these specific areas.

To visualize this scenario we will take the same runner used in the previous example training for the 5k. Say this runner typically has an average heart rate of 154 beats per minute during a normal endurance run when properly hydrated. You could create an environment where the runner didn’t consume fluids for the hours preceding an endurance run and have them start the run dehydrated. Comparing data from hydrated states to dehydrated states, you would see a statistically significant rise in heart rate in the dehydrated state.

Establishing Heart Rate Baselines:

Prior to beginning a fitness or training program, it is good to establish your body’s baselines (heart rate, VO2 Max, lactate threshold, etc.) Having these baselines established can help you get the most from your workouts, and allow you to train within your body's’ limits, not beyond them. Having the ability to realize when you are overtraining at an exact instance can help speed up the recovery process and allow yourself to get the intended benefits from a workout, not added fatigue. Once you have established baseline levels of heart rate (this is done through a VO2 Max test) you can set heart rate zones and tailor your workouts around these zones. Working in zones above what is meant to be targeted can place your body in a deficit and make it even harder to recover from than what are expected. You can also incorporate heart rate zones and thresholds to increase your levels of fitness by establishing workouts that focus on hitting high heart zones (lactate threshold) as well as holding baseline average heart rate for base season miles of running (or riding!)

There are many benefits to training with a heart rate monitor. From the science perspective, it is a good measurement for data collection. From the mental side of sport and exercise, it is a great way to visually see increases in fitness, and validation that your hard work is paying off! No matter what your goals are, fitness or performance based, the addition of heart rate based training has a place in both. From simple measurements such as knowing your resting heart rate, to high performance baseline testing, using a heart rate monitor can help you achieve success.

What Is The Best Macro Ratio For You Based On Your Phenotype (Body Shape)?

What Is The Best Macro Ratio For You Based On Your Phenotype (Body Shape)?

“Spaghetti LEANguine” - that’s what kids used to call Sam back in middle school. He always stood with his back hunched, towering above all the other teenagers around him. Right now, he’s 27 years old, stands 6 feet tall, and works at one of Fortune 500’s companies.

No one has called Sam ‘spaghetti linguine’ in years. But on occasion, he heard this remark from a new acquaintance:

“Wow. You are so tall. And SO skinny.”

He hated his scrawny and lanky body. He loathed being introduced to new people - he knew it was only a matter of time before he’d hear that dreaded comment he was all too familiar with his entire life. Last year, he decided enough was enough. He hit the gym nearly every day, strength trained hard, and dialed in on his diet. Over time, he steadily gained lean muscle and dropped his body fat percentage below 10%.

Pete (a short, pudgy 29 year old guy) is Sam’s coworker. They worked in the same department and ran into each other on a daily basis. Pete noticed Sam’s transformation and was shocked by Sam’s progress.

“Sam, what’s your secret? Tell me EXACTLY what you did because I want to lose my belly fat and get into better shape.”

Enthusiastically, Sam shared with Pete his gym routine, what to eat, and what not to eat. Pete followed Sam’s advice and adhered to all directions - especially Sam’s diet tips.

After 3 months, Pete saw his own transformation. But not in the way you would expect.

Pete felt strong - He was able to lift a lot heavier than before. But he didn’t look leaner. In fact, he appeared a bit fatter.

Pete was incredibly upset and demoralized: “I followed everything Sam told me to do! I worked out regularly. I ate clean! I ate tons of chicken, rice, and broccoli! Why don’t I have a fit body?”

Why didn’t Pete getting the same results? What went wrong?   

The simple answer: calories.

Calories and Macros

But let’s investigate this conundrum in detail. Calories is only one puzzle piece to the big picture.

Another crucial factor that must be accounted for is macronutrients. Counting macronutrients (generally referred to as macros) has gained popularity over the past few years. There’s even a niche for this lifestyle called IIFYM - If It Fits Your Macros.

Here’s the cold-hard truth: there is no perfect macro ratio. The human body is complex. A plethorna of variables (such as sleep, accurate activity tracking, the quality of the food you eat, etc.) contribute to long term changes. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Everyone has different genes, lifestyles, and goals. The best approach to figuring out your macro ratio is to follow a guideline (based on your phenotype) and tweak it as you go.

But before figuring out which macro ratio is optimal for you, it’s important to understand what macronutrients are and how they function in our bodies.

What Are Macronutrients?

Macros are the chemical compounds you ingest. When you look at a nutrition label, it displays how many grams of each macro - carbohydrates, proteins, and fats - are in a single serving. Macros plays numerous roles in the optimization of the body. Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, explains that “We cannot live without all three of these macronutrients even for a short period of time, as they’re needed for everything from growth and development to sustaining circulation and providing the brain with enough energy for cognitive functioning.”

Major function of each macro:

  • Carbohydrates (glucose) -  body’s #1 source for energy. Used immediately. Stored away in muscles or fat for later use
  • Proteins (amino acids) - builds and maintains lean muscle mass
  • Fats (fatty acids) - regulates hormones

All macros fuel our bodies with energy.

  • 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

From a weight gain or weight loss perspective, macronutrients correlate with calories. Body composition, on the other hand, may be altered by macro ratios.   

The Best Macro Ratio Based on Your Phenotype

The physique of a 21 year old, male football player looks significantly different from a sedentary, 52 year old female. Every person fits into one of these body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Some individuals are a combination, depending on their body composition. Therefore, it would be ineffective to apply a ‘one shoe fits all’ method to macro ratios. You may have to modify your macro numbers based on how your body reacts to different macronutrient percentages.

But everyone has to begin from square one. Where you start is just as important as taking the first step. These 3 macro ratios (based on your phenotype) can help save time and errors in your health and fitness journey. Obi Obadike, MS., ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, recommends the macro ratios listed below as a foundation.

Body Type #1: Ectomorph

From the story above, Sam represents the classic ectomorph.

  • Skinny
  • Narrow frame
  • Has difficulty gaining weight (muscle or fat)
  • Speedy metabolism
  • High carbohydrate tolerance

Macro Ratio for Ectomorphs:

  • 55% carbohydrates
  • 25% proteins
  • 20% fats

Body Type #2: Mesomorph

Mesomorphs have an athletic and muscular body.

  • Wider shoulders & smaller waist
  • Gains muscle easily
  • Can gain fat more easily than an ectomorph
  • Symmetrical frame

Macro Ratio for Mesomorphs:

  • 40% carbohydrates
  • 30% proteins
  • 30% fats

Body Type #3: Endomorph

Using the story from above once again - Pete represents the endomorph.

  • Gains fat easily
  • Gains muscle easily
  • Larger frame
  • Has difficulty losing weight
  • Low carbohydrate tolerance

Macro Ratio for Endomorphs:

  • 25% carbohydrates
  • 35% proteins
  • 40% fats

If your body type is similar to Pete’s, don’t eat like Sam. That’s a formula for disaster.

Tools to Help Configure Your Macro Numbers

Calculating Your Macro Numbers:

It is entirely possible to calculate out by hand the number of carb, protein, and fat grams you need each day. This allows you flexibility and complete autonomy over the numbers you’d like to input.

But this is also time-consuming and tedious for many. There are plenty of tools online to compute your macro numbers. Many of these sites also take your goals (fat loss, maintenance, or muscle mass gain) into consideration. Here’s a couple:

  • If It Fits Your Macros - This calculator is the most comprehensive if you’ve never calculated your macros before.
  • Katy Hearn Fit - This one allows you to customize your nutrition plan. You can choose how many grams of protein and fat you’d like to allocate per lb. of body weight.

How Training with a Fitness Tracker can help Improve your Running Performance

How Training with a Fitness Tracker can help Improve your Running Performance

Old school stopwatches definitely have their place and purpose when it comes to training, even in today’s fast paced technology driven society. Calculating quick laps on a running track is as easy as a touch of a split button on a simple Timex watch. Now, with the ever changing fitness industry, people have more options than ever to find ways to increase their game with data driven training programs. If you’ve decided to make the next step up to elevating your running performance, you’ve probably given some thought to updating your equipment and training program as well. Increasing your mileage, joining the local running clubs for track workouts, and investing in a lighter pair of trainers have all probably crossed your mind when you plan out your future training; but did upgrading your fitness tracking device? Investing in technology may be just what you need to set new goals and most importantly, achieve them.

Need a little help deciding why a fitness tracker might be the fit for you? Continue on to read some of the many benefits data can supply for your running:

Feedback:

Whether it is short or long term tracking, fitness trackers can monitor it all. Keeping up with your weekly or monthly mileage has never been easier than it is now. Most fitness trackers will keep a running total for miles covered, averages, and personal bests. Store the data on your wrist device, or upload the data to your computer. Analyzing your training has never been easier or faster. Being able to track trend patterns in your fitness is one of the best ways to determine if a training plan is working for you. Having data fields that can analyze increases in overall fitness which include: heart rate averages, VO2 max, and sleep data. Fitness changes do not happen overnight, and sometimes it is hard for us to see the big picture when we are living day to day. Having a program that charts out monthly fitness trends will allow you to make necessary changes to training that will improve your performance.

Motivation:

Running long miles or solo workouts are never an easy task. Having training partners can make even the toughest of runs seem enjoyable. Though technology may not be able to replace a real life training partner, it can certainly try to help! Fitness trackers now have many different features that make it more enjoyable than ever to achieve your personal goals, without losing focus. Most devices will include storage for personal achievements and notifications when a personal best has been broken. They also can help you stay connected to friends and training partners through online programs that allow you to upload your runs and rank your times. This can help to create a competitive social environment to boost your incentive for your next workout.

Biomechanics:

We don’t all have a coach attending every run to inform us when our running technique is starting to slip. That would be great, but it is not always possible. Now with the technology in fitness trackers, you can! Think of it as a personal running expert on your wrist.  Some fitness tracking devices allow the user to analyze their running form during or after a workout. The technology in these devices can break down each runner’s running dynamics to help analyze. This means you can track your cadence, stride length, ground contact time, and the oscillation of each foot strike. An average runner strikes the ground around 180 steps per minute, that’s 5,400 steps for even a 30 minute run. That’s 5,400 reasons you should be aware of foot placement and body position to ensure that you are getting the most out of your stride. Just one step closer to narrowing in on your performance goals.

Injury Prevention:

One of the biggest keys to achieving higher levels of running fitness and performance is through consistent training. The key to consistent training? Remaining healthy. Massages, dry needling, acupuncture, and nutrition are all great ways to help ensure that your body can recover from training and is ready to go for the next session or race. Aside from the pre-hab and rehab we do to help our bodies, what about listening to our bodies? Fitness tracking analytics can help determine fitness levels as well as specific training loads our bodies undergo during a workout. 

This is based through analytics such as heart rate, intensity factors, duration, and speed. Our bodies respond to varying training efforts differently and require specific recovery times for each. Being able to see this data can help determine what the next training day should be; whether you’re truly rested for a hard session or maybe that your body needs an easy day to reset. Being able to take a step back and ensuring that you are not overtraining is one of the most useful metric fields a watch can do to help you reach your optimal performance goals. As the saying goes, “work smarter, not harder.”

Whether you are training for your local 5k or the big championship, having a set plan in place to achieving your performance goals is the best path to success. Mapping out key milestones to achieve your fitness goals can help launch an idea into a reality. Having a fitness tracker to oversee and collect data is one of the best investments a runner can make to guarantee that they are getting the most out of each workout. From being a personal training partner to a biomechanics expert, fitness trackers can be the final addition a runner may need to boost their performance and reach their personal goals.

Recovery: Using Biometrics to Listen to Your Body

Recovery: Using Biometrics to Listen to Your Body

Recovery: one of the most understated tools in an athlete’s repertoire. 

No matter how hard you train, lack of proper recovery will catch up with you eventually and lead to diminishing losses. It is also one of the most limiting factors when it comes to training; you can only train as well as you recover. 

Take for example a person who works out more than once a day. After the first workout, it is crucial to replenish what your body has lost so you are able to get the most out of the second session. 

How can you avoid this? More common methods such as frequent massages, foam rolling and stretching are great benchmarks to begin with. These methods are great for muscle recovery and ensuring the body has proper mobility when going from workout to workout. 

What about recovery tools that aren’t so easy to see with the naked eye? What we think of as 'recovery' with today’s technologies has largely shifted from your standard eight hours of sleep to being able to monitor your body’s metabolic functions—from blood levels to muscle oxygen levels. It can be easy when training values such as heart rate, sleep patterns, and blood levels are tracked consistently. This can show trend patterns that people can follow and see exactly where they are deficient. This is made even easier by wearable technology that can track this data for you.

What metrics should I be monitoring?

With clinical-grade fitness trackers at your disposal, the question is no longer how to monitor your body's signs of rest and recovery, but which metrics to look into. We'll break down the benefits of a few biometrics that can serve as tell-tale signs of your bodies well-being.

Heart Rate:

Monitoring your heart rate is now easier than ever with today’s advancing technology! Using wearable devices can accomplish this through heart rate straps and now wrist heart rate measurements. 

Tracking your heart rate each morning can help develop patterns for your body’s RHR, or resting heart rate. Keeping a log of your resting heart rate each morning can show trends in both decreases, as you get fitter, as well as increases. 

It's important to note that increases are not necessarily indications of “loss of fitness,” but rather can be used to track “overtraining.” Heart rate values can begin to rise overtime with lack of proper recovery and a sign that your body is being overworked. When your body is working in overdrive to keep up with the amount of added stress placed upon it, it becomes more susceptible to illness and fatigue. Illness also contributes to elevated values in your body’s RHR, working harder to fight off infection.

Heart Rate Variability:

Another critical value to measure based off of Heart Rate is Heart Rate Variability, or HRV. HRV is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. This is measured by the peak waves of the heart beat itself. You can see this on an ECG (echocardiogram.) Many different factors can influence this value and is not limited to exercise alone, and the HRV can help detect modulations in the nervous system. 

The body has two different systems that influence the rate of your heart beat. These are the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS.) To put it simply, the SNS can speed up your heart rate based on external and internal influences, while the PNS is the opposite, and works to slow down heart rate. Acute stresses can affect these systems such as mental stress and aging.

These added stresses slow down the HRV, while exercises acts to reverse these effects in an effort to speed up your HRV. Why is this important to you and recovery then? Keeping track of HRV over time will show trends in training adaptations, both positive changes and negative. Different types of training effect HRV and are indicative of training loads that suit each individual best. For example: interval training at high intensities results in a delayed HRV response as compared to longer sustained durations. Recovery time is then hampered and crucial to an athlete especially after high intensities. The negative effects will be seen in trends overtime that will show significant decreases in the frequency and time between heart beat intervals. Overtrained individuals will be hypersensitive to these changes and will be reflected overtime.

This information of heart rate variability is crucial for individuals to serve as a parameter to manage their fatigue and establish baselines for exercise intensity. It is important to note that these measurements should be taken immediately after exercise each time to insure proper readings.

Nutrition:

It’s no secret that replenishing lost energy stores is a key component to your body being able to adapt and recover to exercise and training loads. This intake isn’t limited to food alone, but the often neglected hydration levels of each individual.

In regards to hydration: the general rule of thumb to use is to never finish a workout with a weight loss greater than 2%. Anything above a 2% loss is indicative of performance decrease. Aside from weight loss, dehydration can lead to a greater amount of built up fatigue. This is due to loss of blood volume following exercise, which requires your heart to work harder to pump blood to all of your body's’ organs. If blood is not properly distributed, or is not in adequate amounts, your muscles won’t receive the sufficient amount of oxygen they need. Without proper amounts of oxygen in the muscles, fatigue begins to set in, reducing your body’s ability to perform at its optimum level. Along with lack of oxygen to muscles, without proper hydration the synthesis of protein for muscles is decreased. If this is hampered, the rebuilding of muscle repair will be delayed and further reduce your body’s ability to recover properly. It is important to note that during and after exercise it is crucial to replenish your body’s lost electrolytes through hydration. Remember that water follows salt into your body’s cells. Having a sport specific drink can help replenish the crucial electrolytes lost, as well as help to restore carbohydrate levels again.

In the past, it wasn’t so simple to find a way to quickly detect hydration levels. Most of the time going off of urine color was the route people went. Most of the time if you’re already thirsty, you’re passed the mark for dehydration. Now, thanks to wearable technology, athletes are able to detect skin hydration levels almost instantaneously.

Now more than ever, it is becoming increasingly easier for athletes to track biometric values to help increase their training and recovery. Tools that allow athletes and coaches to analyze heart rate, hydration, and other essential biometrics can help ensure that each individual is benefiting from training as well as recovering to ensure optimal success. Making sure that all of the details are being closely monitored can set individuals on the path to success. 

You spend all of your time working hard to achieve your goals, don’t let the small things get in the way!

Step Up Your Game

Step Up Your Game

Counting steps is all the rage as advances in wearable tech intersect with calls to increase physical activity. Even folk who rarely see the inside of a gym are circling the block once last time before bed to reach the magic number. But is the number of steps the best measure of fitness? What other metrics should we be looking at? And are all steps the same?

Credit for the concept of pedometers has been given to Leonardo Da VInci, Thomas Jefferson and others. The parent of Biostrap and other modern  accelerometers was the digital display, spring-levered pedometers which emerged in 1995. Steps, for the first time, could be used to measure ambulatory physical activity with reasonable medical accuracy. Today’s researchers and clinicians use accelerometry as the foremost measure of physical activity and sedentary behavior.

Let’s Get Physical

Why do we measure steps? Because physical activity is the number one health factor within our control. And what gets measured, gets done.

In 1953 doctors discovered the link between physical activity, cardiac disease, and mortality. The London Transport Workers Study compared the health records of bus conductors (ticket takers) who constantly moved up and down the bus steps, with the more sedentary bus drivers. A striking contrast emerged. The increased physical activity was directly linked to less heart attacks and reduced mortality. Exercise, it seemed, had a protective effect on heart health.

Medica research continues to amplify this finding. Just this year a study of healthy non-smoking Glasgow postal workers connected time spent sitting with significantly higher coronary heart disease and waist circumference.

“Walking is the simplest form of exercise,” per Harvard Medical School, “and using a pedometer is a good way to get yourself to do it.”  The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that step counters walk 2,000 more steps a day and increase overall physical activity by 27%. Other longitudinal interventions have helped inactive people  increase steps by 2500 per day.

The Magic Number

The current counting craze originated in Japan fifty years ago with walking clubs and a catchy slogan of Manpo-Kei (literally, ‘10,000 steps’).

Why 10.000? “It’s not 100% about physical activity,” says Jamie Logie of

Regained Wellness. “10,000 steps is roughly the amount it takes to lose 1 pound a week. A pound of fat contains 3500 calories and to burn 500 calories it requires around 10,000 steps. Over the course of the week taking that many steps a day burns 3500 calories or one pound of fat. That’s in the healthy range.”

Don’t Just SIt There. Do Something.

A sedentary lifestyle is hazardous to your health. Many of us remain sedentary at work and rest. SItting at a desk. Watching TV on the couch.New evidence indicates that decreasing sedentary behavior is just as important as increasing physical activity.

Movement, any kind, brings myriad health benefits. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans increased recommended levels of physical activity.

“Too much time sitting,” says Logie, “is linked to decreased mineral bone density and excessive weight. Excessive sitting also decreases an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase or LPL. LPL can help burn fat. When you sit for 2 hours or longer you essentially turn it off.”

Reaching the magic number of steps is key, but even more significant is the range, variability and timing of those steps. It’s not enough to step up physical activity. For maximal benefits, you must also avoid sustained spells of sitting.

Short breaks of movement stoke the metabolism, and promote heart health and circulation. Think of it as interval training. Alternating sitting and moving has a far greater cumulative health impact than taking 10,000 steps all at once then remaining idle the rest of the day.

10,000 Steps Australia says adults may struggle to reach 10,000 steps without planning. Choose to be active with a series of small decisions. Avoid prolonged sitting. Park farther away from the grocery store. Get out of your chair to channels instead of using the remote. Walk out of the room during commercials (even empty the dishwasher or throw in a load of laundry). Waiting for the train? Circle the lot or pace the platform. Standing in line at the bank? Move your feet. Look for new ways to move. Take an extra flight of stairs. Use part or all of your lunch break to move. Find a ‘steps buddy’ to walk with you at home or work.

Movement specialist Janis Isaman agrees it takes planning and effort. “Leave the car at home and walk to work, for example.”

“Make it a point to never go more than 30-60 minutes without getting up and moving for at least 5 minutes,” says Logie. “It's about spreading steps out so your entire day doesn't have long periods of sitting.”

(Not) Everybody's Doing It.

But easier said than done.

Researchers have classified five activity levels:

  • <5000 steps/day = sedentary
  • 5000-7499 (excluding sports/exercise) = low active
  • 7500-9999 includes volitional activities (and/or elevated occupational activity demands) = somewhat active
  • >10000 steps/day = active
  • >12500 steps/day = highly active

Yet only 49% of Americans are physically active enough.

Is 15,000 the new 10,000?

Maybe 10,000 is just the start. A new study out of  Scotland found that, when it comes to physical activity and health, the more the better. 15,000 steps is superior to 10,000.

Isaman concurs,, calling 15,000 the minimum for physical and mental health. She recommends that her clients start with a baseline measurement and increase from there. “Someone who is taking 4,000 steps likely can't jump to 15,000 easily in a week. So 10,000 is a good starting place. But it doesn't make you fit -- it makes you not sedentary.”

Researchers caution that increasing recommended minimums might discourage ordinary folk from trying. High guideline can have a demotivating effect on low-fitness people. If evidence-based minimums seem unattainable, people might abandon their efforts. Some activity (any activity!) is always better than no activity.

Cardiologist David Sabgir MD FACC founded Walk with a Doc. Frustrated by his patients inability to get moving, he offered to walk with them. “7500 steps a day is great. That is fairly equivalent to 20-30 minutes/walking a day or 150 minutes a week. These are awesome target equivalents.” Steps are popular, he says, because with wearable tech they’ve become “an objective measure that we don't need to think about and they have scientific data to back them up.”

Wearable technology can help motivate you to keep moving,” says Logie, “and keep you accountable in a small way. The issue is the majority of people stop using their fitness trackers after four months.”

Roderick Benman certified Master Fitness Trainer A+ Fitness LLC says measuring steps can provide a good sense of confidence, but it’s only a part of overall fitness. There is a lot to consider,” he says, “for instance, your heart rate. You may walk 14,000 steps in one day but your average heart rate was 104-110 bpm. If your fitness goals are weight loss, then the heart rate is ideal. So when considering how many steps one should take, make sure you factor in heart rate, and know what your fitness goals are.”Wearable tech can give us the entire picture across all metrics.”

Laura Arndt, NSCA-CSCS, CEO of Matriarc says, “Use the step counter as just one way to judge activity and don’t rely on it as the only tool for health improvement. Your muscle mass to body fat ratio, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and overall BMI are part of your health make-up.”

Arndt recommends that her clients wear a step tracker for a week, average their scores, and resolve “to improve by 5-10 percent per week until they reach their goal number of steps.” Runners, she adds,  will actually take less steps than walkers for the same amount of distance.

Tech as a Double Edged Sword

Ask any parent: kids glued to technology aren’t physically active. A study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine identified technology as a key factor in physical activity and recommends more research. It’s a double-edged sword with positive implications: “Technology has contributed to an increase in sedentary behavior but has also led to innovative physical activity interventions.” Wearable tech doesn’t just measure progress. It actually motivates people to do more.

“People have become fascinated with tracking their levels of physical activity,” says a recent report in Sports Medicine. “This is part of a larger movement known as ‘the quantified self’ in which people seeking knowledge through numbers, and use technology to acquire data on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of physiological variables, environmental exposures, and psychological mood states”.

Health-minded folk have been measuring steps for fifty years. This is no fad, it’s a bedrock of fitness, especially for non-athletes who benefit from external motivational support. Even for the superfit, as tech grows more advanced and ubiquitous, there will be a corresponding increase in potential health benefits. MIT Technology Review calls it The Measured Life. And that’s a step in the right direction.

Ultra Racers: What's it Take to Run 100 Miles?

Ultra Racers: What's it Take to Run 100 Miles?

Running a 26.2 mile marathon is on many a bucket list. Rooted in Greek history, the distance attained legendary status when Phidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce a victory. The word itself is a ubiquitous metaphor for any sustained effort. But for some people, 26.2 miles is not enough. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

Ultrarunning begins where the marathon ends. It’s defined as any distance greater than 26.2 miles.

But did you know that Phidippides was also the first known ultrarunner? He died suddenly after running more than 175 miles in two days (culminating in the marathon). That’s right, ultrarunning is so badass that the guy who invented it died doing it.

Phidippides’ death in 490 B.C. hasn’t discouraged the runners who’ve followed. The training is mind numbing. The trails rocky, remote, and arduous. There is little prize money or glory. “Some people think I’m crazy to run 100 mile races,” says ultra coach Keira Henninger, “I think I’m the luckiest person on the planet to experience a physical and emotional journey in the most beautiful landscapes in the world.”

So how hard is it to run 100 miles? And what happens to your body when you do?

Your body on Ultras

Running an ultra is not for the faint of heart. Raceday risks include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Blurred vision
  • Insect bites or stings
  • Cuts and bruises
  • Heart problems
  • Respiratory ailments
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Hyponatremia
  • Hypothermia
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Muscle cramps
  • Stress fractures
  • Blisters

Each organ of the body is impacted by the effort.

The Heart

Running an ultra stresses a runner's heart during and after the race. Most finishers exhibit elevated Troponin I, which can indicate heart damage. There is continuing debate whether it causes lasting damage. Sustained exertion impacts each side of the heart differently. The left can become stronger through running. The right side, however, can dilate and weaken. For some vulnerable runners, this dilation and related scar tissue can cause cardiac arrest. There is a slightly elevated post-race risk of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat and temporary cardiac dysfunction.

In some regard, ultra are less risky than marathons. Marathoners spend the majority of their race at 75 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate. Ultrarunners stay in the 50 to 65 percent range. This lower intensity lessens the risk of raceday cardiac events.

Outside magazine calls the heart a Runner's Ticking Time Bomb, reporting that one in 200,000 runners will experience cardiac arrest, and one in 50,000 will experience a heart attack from coronary artery disease during a marathon. For this reason, doctors recommend more pre-race screening.especially for ultra which tend to be held in remote areas away from trauma centers or critical care centers.

Heart attacks can mimic normal race exertion. Sweating, difficulty breathing, chest pain-all can be both normal parts of extreme running. Or signs of a heart attack. Gordon Tomaselli, a cardiologist at the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center, explained an athlete’s ability to run right through all the warning signs. “”you can be totally asymptomatic, and your first symptom is sudden death.” It’s important for runners to be cardio-cleared before undertaking ultras.

Phidippides cardiomyopathy

The sustained cardiac effort of an ultra can tax the heart with volume overload. This syndrome is named for the speculative cause of death of the first marathoner, Phidippides.

Limbs and Joints

Ultrarunners average 5000 strikes of the foot to the ground per hour.. This has a colossal cumulative effect on the joints, especially the feet and knees. Stress fractures are common. Toenails often turn black and fall off. Joint pain may arise during the race and continue after it’s finish.

Muscles

Runners use glucose for energy. Lactate is a byproduct of the breakdown process, but can also be converted back into energy. At some point your body can no longer convert the lactate. Acidity in the muscles builds up. This is called the lactate threshold.

Arm fatigue can leave you unable to hold your water bottle.

Foot-eye coordination can help avoid stumbles and falls as muscles tire.

Central fatigue can strike, along with exercise-associated collapse syndrome, where a runner’s muscles simply stop working. Training before the race, and pacing and restr during the rest, is key to performance, recovery, and injury prevention.

Although the intense driven runners who seek out ultras are not naturally inclined to hold back or pause for a spell, resting smart can mean the difference between finishing the race or dropping out. Otherwise runners will ‘bonk’ or hot a wall, a full depletion of energy described as a “unique and instant kind of despair”. If your heart rate is too fast the heart is straining to maintain blood volume and deliver oxygen to your muscles. A slowing heart rate can signal fatigue as the pace slows and the body demands less oxygen. Appropriate pacing, hydration, and fueling promote a steady heart rate.

Mind over Matter

Training and race day efforts are overwhelmingly physical. But focus and mental toughness also play a significant role.

Tracy Gariepy ran 300 miles from North Carolina to Georgia to raise money for Girls on the Run. “The human body is capable of FAR more than you give it credit for,” says Tracy, “your mind will attempt to pull you out of the race long before your body really needs to. But you walk (or crawl) away from an ultra a different person than you were when you toed the starting line.”

Science has even quantified how much mental toughness counts. Measuring traits such as confidence, the sense of being in control, concentration, determination, and acceptance of responsibility, researchers found that mental fortitude accounted for 14% of racing success. The ability to set goals and refocus efforts significantly improved race results.

Salt Levels

Our bodies naturally balance sodium and water. But the exertion of ultras can challenge this survival mechanism and our electrolyte balance.

Runners who finish 100 miles have temporarily abnormal (elevated) kidney values as they flush the remnants of broken muscles from their blood . Cola colored urine is a dangerous sign of possible rhabdomyolysis which can lead to organ failure. Weight gain during a race is another signal that runners are not sufficiently excreting water and salt.

Runners in hot climates are 10 times as likely to have a brain centered heat stroke than a cardiac event. Hydration, cooling, and salt intake can prevent a life threatening event.

Caloric Intake and Digestion

Unlike shorter distances where runners can get by on the odd post-race banana, ultra runners need as much as 80g of carbs an hour to maintain their energy. Runners are burning 400 -600 calories an hour. They need supplemental calories to replace the glycogen depletion. Ultra aid stations can resemble picnics with sandwiches, pasta, burgers, candy, even beer. to eat during the race.

This food poses a special problem for the ultra runner. But running triggers the parasympathetic response. Adrenaline courses through the body. Blood moves away from the internal organs to fuel and oxygenate the muscles. This dulls appetite and slows digestion. 60 percent of runners will get nauseous, perhaps from lactate build up as they reach the lactate threshold.

You must keep eating,” says ultrarunning expert Kieran Alger, “It’s a horrific notion and a cruel trick but the thing you desire least is the thing that’s going to cure you.” As cortisol levels rise the body targets fat stores to prevent muscle fatigue.

Sleep

Sleep deprivation. It’s possible the hallucinations experienced by some ultrarunner are the body’s attempt to make up for lost sleep. Dean Karnazes author of “The Road to Sparta” has run for three days and three nights straight. He said eventually he ends up sleep running: “falling asleep while in motion, and I just will myself to keep going.”

Environmental Risks

Remote settings complicate emergency medical treatment. Race doctors need to be ready for everything from trauma, acute coronary syndrome, heat stroke, hypothermia, hypoglycemia, exercise-associated hyponatremic encephalopathy, severe dehydration, altitude illness, envenomation, anaphylaxis, and bronchospasm.

Besides the physical and mental risks, ultrarunners face environmental dangers on the trail: from lightning, falls and animal attacks. This is not hypothetical. In June 2016 a trail runner was killed by a bear in Alaska.

In 2014 Adam Campbell finished third in the Hardrock 100 ultra distance trail run, after being struck by lightning at mile 60.

An Old Man’s Game?

UltraRunning Magazine reports two thirds of the runners are men, and more than half are over 40. Unlike shorter distances where youth and speed are an advantage, ultras rewards patience and conservation of resources When it comes to pacing and planning, experience counts.

Born to Run?

Author Chris mcDougall says humans are born to run. But he acknowledges, “Usain Bolt can get his ass kicked by a squirrel. That would be an Olympic event: turn a squirrel loose, whoever catches it gets a gold medal.” What’s remarkable is that women become more competitive as distances get longer, and older man can complete ultras at speeds comparable to their youth.

Training

Racing an ultra requires obsessive focus. MMA Fighter Jayquan Jackson stresses preparation: “80% of your muscles are made in the kitchen,“ he says. “Even if you are in great shape, don't expect to just wake up one day and be a marathon runner. There will be many days where you don't feel like running, many days where you don't want to get up, and many days where the idea of going outside makes you want to shove cake in your face until you pass out. Consistent boosts of motivation is key.”

When it comes to training, a focus on time not miles can ensure a runner is ready but not overtrained.

“Burning around 14,000 calories in a day is a challenge,” says Carson Robertson an ultra runner and chiropractor, “and doing it without serious injury takes training.” Robertson, who teaches Anatomy and Physiology adds, “To me 100 miles is like motorcycles. You either get it or you don't.”

Shawn M Talbott, PhD has completed more than a dozen ultra marathons. “I like ultras imore for the mental challenge than for the physical challenge, “ says Talbott, a nutritional biochemist, “they are almost certainly not “good for you” in terms of health effects - but they are very good for the “soul” and for finding your mental limits.”

Other Races

An ultra race is any distance over a marathon’s 26.2 miles. There are many varieties.

The Longest Race

The Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race is the world's longest certified footrace.Entrants run from 6am to midnight for 52 days. They must average 60 miles a day.

The Secret Race

Barkley Marathons, the world’s toughest and most secretive trail race was featured in a documentary. “The only prize,” says the The New York Times, “is that after 100 miles, they get to stop.” Also known as The Race that Eats its Young, the entry procedure is an off-putting complex mystery, many runners get lost, and less than 2% finish.

Triumph of the Human Spirit

That an ordinary person can physically train to run 100 miles for three days and nights is amazing. The fact that folk continue to seek these races out, and finish them, is a testimony to human will and aspiration.

Blisters? Heatstroke? Bear Attacks? Endurance running is not for everyone. It offers an exquisite intersection of mental challenge and physical prowess. Those than can do it, often choose to do it again.

“You could experience 10 hours of rain, 12 hours of sun, a headwind for 50 miles,” says running coach Kyle Kranz. “It's cliche, but upon completion of your first ultra marathon, you sort of get a sense that you're pretty fricken awesome and capable of more than you thought.

And that’s exactly why, hard as these ultra races are, folk will continue to run them.

Calisthenics: The Ultimate Beginner’s 7 Day Guide

Calisthenics: The Ultimate Beginner’s 7 Day Guide

What is a gym to you?

Seems like a simple question.

For some, this place may be a sanctuary for the fitness devoted:

A pseudo-religious experience where your barbell lift MUST be executed with perfect form. Your rest MUST precisely be 30 second intervals. You MUST run on the treadmill for a minimum of one hour. And don’t you dare try to strike up a conversation with someone plugged into their Beats by Dr. Dre Headphones... lest you receive the death glare.  

For others, it’s more of an anthropological adventure. Think about it - when else can you enter a public space where people give each other unspoken, socially accepted permission to be in ridiculous body positions. I can’t think of too many.

Maybe you think that going to the gym is the only way to become truly fit and healthy. But that is far from the truth! You don’t have to sacrifice fun for fit. As a matter of fact…You can have both:

You can train like a ninja!

Yes, you heard me right. Calisthenics is ninja training.

What is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is bodyweight training. Any movement that ONLY utilizes your bodyweight can technically be considered calisthenics.

According to the Centers for Disease for Disease Control and Prevention, only 21.7% of adults 18 years of age or older met the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. Most fitness activities tend to lean towards aerobic or anaerobic exercise. Calisthenics, on the other hand, are a balanced combination of both.

So why should you do calisthenics? Here are a few reasons why:

  • Become stronger & leaner
  • It’s fun!
  • No gym membership costs
  • No fancy equipment required
  • Choose WHEN + WHERE to exercise

If you’re like most fitness beginners, you haven’t worked out in ages. And if you’re the type of person who hates learning complex things, you probably avoid the gym like the plague. The beauty of calisthenics is that it’s straight-forward. But don’t let the ‘easy-to-understand’ movements fool you. Calisthenics will kick your butt.

So how should a beginner start calisthenics training?

With the help of Madbarz, we’ve put together the ultimate beginner calisthenics workout plan you can start immediately:

1. MONDAY: No Equipment Day

No Equipment Workout:

4 Cycles:

  • Max Plank (Hold plank for 30 seconds if you’re a complete beginner)
  • 8 Squats
  • 8 Lunges (each leg)
  • 8 Push Ups
  • 8 Laying Down Leg Raises
  • Max Mountain Climbers (Do 20 each leg if you’re just starting)
  • 8 Pike Push Ups

This routine is the BEST WAY to start calisthenics because it doesn’t require a single equipment. You can do these in your living room, bedroom, office, in the park - wherever! These foundational exercises will help build up your strength and endurance to perform advanced movements in the future. Think of these as your calisthenic building blocks.

2. TUESDAY: Basic Beginner Day

Basic Beginner Workout:

4 Cycles:

  • 7 Close Hands Chin Ups
  • 5 Pull Ups
  • 6 Dips
  • 15 Push Ups
  • 5 Leg Raises
  • 9 Jump Squats
  • 15 Australian Pull Ups

This workout introduces you to calisthenic exercises that require some sort of bar to hang from. Pull up bars are cheap & you can easily get one online or pick one up at a sporting goods store. Most of them will fit your door-frame without causing damage. If you’re feeling outdoorsy, find a park near you that has bars or a playground!

3. WEDNESDAY: Rest Day!

4. THURSDAY: On The Go Day

On The Go Workout:

4 Cycles:

  • 20 Wide Push Ups
  • 20 Mountain Climbers
  • 60 Second Wall Sit
  • 15 Clap Push Ups
  • 30 Second Superman Hold
  • 30 Squats
  • 60 Second Plank

5. FRIDAY: Fat Removal Day

Fat Removal Workout:

4 Cycles:

  • 100 Meter Run
  • 5 Dips
  • 45 Second Jumping Jacks
  • 8 Push Ups
  • 30 Second Alternating High Knees
  • 30 Second Mountain Climbers
  • 15 Second Plank

6. SATURDAY: Beginner HIIT DAY

Fat Removal Workout:

4 Cycles:

  • 15 second sprint (Run as fast as you can!)
  • 45 second walk (Don’t stop in place. Keep walking)

1 Cycle:

  • 30 second sprint (Run as fast as you can!)
  • 1:30 second walk + recovery

4 Cycles:

  • 15 second sprint (Run as fast as you can!)
  • 45 second walk (Don’t stop in place. Keep walking)

1 Cycle:

  • 30 second sprint (Run as fast as you can!)
  • 1:30 second walk + recovery

We’re throwing in a beginner’s high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout because it’ll really boost your cardio & calisthenic stamina. HIIT sessions are also proven to be incredibly effective when it comes to fat loss.

7. SUNDAY: Rest Day!

Don’t forget to wear your Biostrap and share your calisthenics progress with the Biostrap community! We want to see you transform yourself into the strongest & healthiest version of you.

Heart Rate Variability and Overtraining

Heart Rate Variability and Overtraining

Every athlete wants to be faster, stronger, better. How do they improve? Training. Elite and amateur athletes alike carefully calibrate their training program to ensure constant progress. But is there a limit?

One of the most amazing things about the human body is our ability to become stronger as needed. Let’s say you’re asked to carry a large boulder from point A to point B. It’s so heavy that you can barely lift it. When you reach point B, arms quivering, you drop it with a relieved grunt. The next day it may seem even harder to carry the same stone. Your arm and leg muscles are sore. But keep this up daily, and guess what? WIthin a week, the rock won’t seem as heavy. You’ll lift it easily. You’ll walk more quickly. Your muscles have gotten stronger from training. Now you’re ready for a heavier rock.

What if, though, on the second day they handed you a rock double the weight? And then extended the distance you had to carry it? You would falter. Become discouraged. Risk injury. You couldn’t finish the task, and definitely would not become stronger. Overtraining occurs when our activity exceeds our ability to recover from the activity. It can derail even elite athletes. Because the treatment for overtraining is prolonged rest (weeks or months), preventing overtraining should be a goal of any training regime. And measuring heart rate variability can help.

Recovery

How do we build strength? When we exercise, our muscles contract. This stress and effort cause microtrauma to our muscle tissue. Our bodies repair this damage by fusing together new muscle fibers. As the fibers thicken, our muscles grow. But this repair process doesn’t happen while we exercise. It happens when we rest.

Recovery is a period of rest between intervals of exertion. It is essential to building strength.

Overreaching vs.Overtraining

Athletes are competitive by nature. We push. ‘Pain is just weakness leaving the body’,  we tell ourselves. This mindset, however, puts athletes at risk for overreaching or overtraining.

What’s the difference? It’s one of degree. Overreaching is trying to do too much, too soon. Overtraining is doing too much, too often, without sufficient rest.

Overreaching is sometime classified as ‘functional’ overreaching (healthy striving that eventually leads to increased performance) vs. ‘non-functional overreaching’ (NFO). If an athlete does not respond to rest after 2 to 3 weeks of rest, overtraining syndrome may be diagnosed.

An overtrained athlete finds that no matter how hard he works, his performance plateaus, or diminishes. He feels stale. Unwell. Overtraining is not just a physical problem. It can sap motivation, trigger mood disorders, and leave an athlete unable to continue training at all.

It’s a conundrum. You only get stronger/better/faster by increasing your training load. But without without breaks in training and healthy sleep, the body cannot recover. Rest between training bouts is essential. Sleep allows the body to mend tissue, consolidate learning, and renew energy, and is a valuable balm against overtraining. The quality of sleep can be monitored via SpO2 and blood oxygenation.

Robert Herbst is an 18 time World Champion powerlifter who supervised drug testing at the Rio Olympics. “Overtraining,” says Herbst, “can be hard to predict. Many of us have had days where we are tired from work or exams at school and warmups have felt terrible, yet we have had a great workout or performance. On other days where we have done everything right-had a good night's sleep, eaten well, relaxed-we have performed poorly.

Overreaching, over time, can result in overtraining. Rest will no longer make you stronger. Exertion will no longer improve your performance. Even your metabolism can be affected.

The Science and the Symptoms

Overtrained athletes are susceptible to infection, especially in the respiratory tract. They have higher markers of oxidative stress. Disturbed sleep. They are fatigued. Often apathetic or depressed. They lose their appetite. They may have signs of systemic inflammation. The most significant symptom is unexplained underperformance.

It’s a complicated assessment. Fatigue, for example, is both a cause of, and a symptom of, overtraining. Mood dysregulation is a symptom of overtraining, but can also be a factor. Pain, poor sleep, respiratory distress can each be a cause, or a symptom, of overtraining. Because of the multi-causal nature, it is important to develop a healthy baseline and monitor biomarkers for deviation before overreaching segues into overtraining.

Though overtraining has been deeply studied, there is no fixed definition and the exact process is not understood, Theories include low muscle glycogen, central fatigue hypotheses, glutamine hypothesis, oxidative stress, hypothalamic hypothesis, cytokine hypothesis.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV)

The autonomic nervous system hypothesis centers on heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is the variation in timing between each heartbeat. Healthier hearts have a wider diversity of spacing between beats. HRV helps measure autonomic efficiency. It declines with aging, but exercise slows the decrease in HRV associated with aging. Physical exercise improves our vagal tone, which is why athletes have lower resting heart rates and high heart rate variability. High HRV is a sign of cardiovascular health and fitness.  

Measuring HRV and identifying patterns help athletes maximize performance but avoid overtraining. Measuring HRV daily can help an athlete identify decreases and adjust training.  In one studya reduced HRV was seen soon after awakening in overtrained athletes, suggesting increased sympathetic tone.”  Research indicates that negative effects of overtraining on the automatic system is reversible. The cure? Rest.

A study of heart rate variability in middle-distance runners found that HRV was a better tool than resting heart rate to evaluate cumulative fatigue. Another study determined that HRV was a reliable marker in differentiating between international and national level soccer players. A 4 year study of elite nordic skiers found that “HRV was significantly lower in fatigued athletes. This research supports HRV as a key tool to optimize individual training profiles.

Avoiding Overtraining

Even 15 years ago researchers struggled with the difficulty of measuring biomarkers to assess overtraining.

Wearable tech has brought the sports lab into the home. Athletes can now measures sleep, blood oxygen saturation, SpO2, respiration, heart rate and heart rate variability with a single device. An analysis of these values, and the trends or patterns, helps athletes modulate training, avoid overtraining, promote recovery (the micro tears which regular exercise engenders) and prevent - or recover, from injury.

Overtraining can be a serious issue that takes months to recover from and can compromise an athlete's performance.

Optimal training is training designed specifically for an individual athlete, tailored to his or her abilities and aerobic capacity. Research shows that long term changes in HRV (> 4 weeks) are a reliable indicator of physiological adaptation in athletes. Understanding their unique individual HRV fingerprint can help athletes adjust training and maximize performance.

Cardio fitness is so significant that the American Heart Association recommends that it be measured as a ‘fifth vital sign’, alongside blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, and respiration. Heart rate variability (HRV) has traditionally been used to evaluate cardiovascular and metabolic health. Athletes are now harnessing its power to set training regimes, evaluate progress, and avoid overtraining. Recovery is an essential component of any training regime. Routine measurement of HRV helps athletes stay in the growing zone, and out of the slowing zone.