Fitness

Can Pilates Improve Your Oxygen Saturation Levels?

Can Pilates Improve Your Oxygen Saturation Levels?

Pilates was one of the fastest growing fitness trends of the past few decades. Dancers and celebrities popularized Pilates as they enjoyed the fusion of core strengthening calisthenics with focused breathing. In addition, physical therapists and athletic trainers use modified Pilates techniques for injury rehabilitation and prevention.

Through the years its popularity grew despite a few controversies along the way. Back to our title question, Pilates may improve oxygen saturation while strengthening your core muscles. Read on for details...

What Is Pilates?

Compared to other mind-body practices, Pilates is a new kid on the block. German immigrant Joseph Pilates developed the method nearly a century ago based on his fusion of techniques and concepts borrowed from gymnastics, yoga, meditation, martial arts, calisthenics, and other disciplines. It is a little different from traditional mind-body practices since it primarily focuses on physical conditioning with an emphasis on mental focus and controlled breathing.

Professional dancers were among Pilates early converts as they enjoyed the improved core strength, body control, and injury prevention benefits from Pilates. In fact, Joseph Pilates originally referred to his method as "Contrology."

In the 1960s, George Balanchine invited Joseph Pilates to teach his method to dancers at the New York City Ballet. Ever since, Pilates was popular with dancers, actors, and celebrities. In time physical therapists also started adapting Pilates training methods. Today most major gyms and specialized boutique studios offer pilates classes.

Benefits of Pilates for Fitness

Pilates devotees enthusiastically raved about the benefits of Pilates for nearly a century. Researchers started studying the effectiveness of Pilates more recently with mixed results.

Various studies indicate people who practice Pilates with good technique over time see the following benefits:

  • Improved flexibility and mobility
  • Trunk stability
  • Core and pelvic floor strength
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved posture
  • Improved coordination and athletic performance in some sports.

(Source Time Magazine article "Here Are the Health Benefits of Pilates" published February 2017 and some of the linked studies.)

"All Pilates exercises flow from the “five essentials” – breathing, cervical alignment, rib and scapular stabilization, pelvic mobility and utilizing the transverses abdominis." (Source "Pilates: how does it work and who needs it?" Published in 2011 in Muscles, Ligaments, Tendons Journal.)

Anecdotal evidence exists that the controlled breathing and concentration relieves stress for many people who don't have the interest in meditation techniques.

Some respiratory therapists use Pilates breathing to help patients including those with COPD. A 2014 study found that Pilates style breathing was not as effective as Diaphragm breathing for patients suffering from COPD, but that may in part be due to their physical limitations. They found Pilates breathing techniques improved patient's SpO2 or blood oxygen saturation for both healthy subjects and those with COPD. However, Pilates breathing increased respiratory volume only for the group of healthy subjects. (Source "Respiratory pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and pilates breathing in COPD subjects." - linked to in the sources section.)

Pilates and Your Biometrics

Some trainers recommend taking a yoga or Pilates class on days when your HRV is lower. They see mind-body exercises including yoga, tai chi, and Pilates as active recovery workouts. Of these disciplines, yoga and tai chi are the most studied. Pilates is a little different since it is a form of physical calisthenics that fuses breath and focus techniques from more traditional mind-body practices.

Pilates is known to help improve core strength, mobility, flexibility, muscle control and blood oxygen saturation. It may even help you recover between vigorous workouts. Use your Biostrap to track your own biometrics including HRV and your blood oxygen saturation. See for yourself whether these metrics trend up as you progress with your Pilates practice.

Sources and Resources

Respiratory pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and pilates breathing in COPD subjects by

Karina M. Cancelliero-Gaiad, 1 Daniela Ike, 1 Camila B. F. Pantoni, 1 Audrey Borghi-Silva, 1 and  Dirceu Costa 1 published in "Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy."

Pilates: how does it work and who needs it? By June Kloubec published in "Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal."

Romana's Pilates website, Romana Kryzanowska was Joseph Pilates protege who  inherited his New York City studio after the death of him and his wife.

Here Are the Health Benefits of Pilates by Markham Heid in "Time Health".

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle Outside the Gym

Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle Outside the Gym

‍Whether you’re a CEO or a full-time student, it’s a daily challenge to find time for your health alongside professional and social responsibilities. The average American works 47 hours a week, or six days, leaving little time for the gym, but it’s vital to maintain a healthy lifestyle even when you can’t make it the gym or fitness classes.

The essential components of a healthy lifestyle include physical activity, balanced nutrition, socialization, and mental wellness. It’s necessary to maintain each aspect in order to feel your best, but holistic maintenance takes work.

Stay Active

Consistent physical activity is important in maintaining overall health and mental well being while also reducing the risk of many chronic illnesses. It is recommended adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity with some muscle strengthening activities at least two days a week. Brisk walking, jogging, or even biking are all aerobic activity which will increase your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and blood oxygen levels. High HRV increases the parasympathetic response, which promotes relaxation, digestion, sleep, and recovery.

Instead of spending hours on the treadmill or in spin class, try walking to grab coffee and lunch, or even to pick up light groceries. Take the few extra minutes to walk or bike to work and regularly take the stairs instead of the elevator. Youtube can also be a valuable resource for at-home workouts such as yoga and circuit training.

Healthy Eating

The typical American diet now exceeds the recommended intake levels or limits in calories from solid fats and added sugars, refined grains, sodium, and saturated fat. Americans also eat far less of the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Healthy eating has an immediate impact on energy and alertness, and over time helps reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

A busy lifestyle challenges healthy eating habits, but planning ahead can have a positive impact. Instead of going out for lunch, prep healthy meals at home. Drink water or tea instead of soda to stay alert throughout the workday and pack fruits and vegetables for snacking. At home, buy fresh produce and lean meats for meals, or sign up for a healthy meal service which delivers pre-prepared dishes or healthy ingredients for cooking.

Mental Health

Stress is one of the largest contributors to poor overall health and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. High levels of stress negatively impact sleep, decision making, and socialization. Lower stress levels lead to better mental health resulting in increased productivity, reduced risk of chronic illness, and stronger relationships.  

Clearly, mental health is directly related to physical activity and diet. This balance is key as physical activity leads to lower stress, and better sleep. To further improve mental health, get enough sleep each night and seek small ways to relieve stress, such as yoga or daily meditation— even 10 minutes a day can improve attention span, immunity, sleep, and overall brain function.

Biostrap helps ensure you maintain a healthy lifestyle inside and outside of the gym. By tracking your every move at a clinical level, Biostrap’s metrics can be used to inform your overall well being and help you make healthier choices every day.

How Endurance Exercise Can Help You Achieve a Lower Heart Rate:

How Endurance Exercise Can Help You Achieve a Lower Heart Rate:

Many people use their heart rate as an indicator of their fitness level, and for good reason: this method is tried and true. Daily measurement of resting heart rate can help determine fitness levels as well as oncoming sickness and stress. What is is though about exercise that helps us to lower our heart rates? What exercise is best to achieve these optimal results?

Your Heart:

For starters, let’s begin with the heart. The human heart is roughly the size of a fist and weighs anywhere from 10-12 ounces. Your heart has four chambers: two upper chambers called the atria and two lower chambers called the ventricles. All four chambers work in unison to help pump blood throughout your body and supply working muscles (during exercise) oxygenated blood.

The heart also consists of three distinct layers of the outer wall: the epicardium (outermost layer), the myocardium (the middle layer), and the endocardium (the innermost layer.) All three of these layers are a part of the pericardium. These layers contain the muscles that help the heart to contract muscle.

Your Heart Rate:

Heart rate, or pulse, is the number of times that your heart beats within a minute. Heart rate varies from each individual and can be a great gauge for knowing your heart-health, as according to the American Heart Society. Changes in heart rate can be a product of many factors.

These factors can include, but are not limited to:

  • Underlying heart conditions
  • Exercise adaptations
  • Body position (resting, sitting, standing)
  • Mental Stresses

Exercise and its Effects on Heart Rate:

In relation to heart rate adaptations, there are two forms of exercise that fall into this category: endurance and strength exercise. Endurance exercise is referring to activities that are of sustained duration and intensity that keep your heart rate elevated for maintained periods of time. This type of exercise elevates heart output and occurs in reduced blood vessel resistance. Examples of this would be: swimming, cycling, and/or running. Strength exercise involves short bursts of heart rate contractions. Strength exercise involves activities such as lifting. Usually most sports involve a combination of both strength and endurance.

In response to endurance training, the heart rate experiences changes in resting and submaximal bradycardia (slow heart rate), according to Dr. John Mandrola, a cardiac electrophysiologist practicing in Louisville, KY. These adaptations lead to increase in cardiac muscle and function, improved ventricular function, and an increase in resistance to restricted blood flow.

Another adaptation your heart experiences through endurance exercise is a predominant increase in left ventricle mass and thickness. As stated before your heart contains 4 chambers. The left ventricle is located in the bottom left portion of your heart below your left atrium. Your left ventricle is the thickest of your heart’s chambers and is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to your body’s working tissues. With an increase in the the thickness of the ventricle, you are able to produce more forceful contractions, allowing your body to pump more oxygen rich blood to your body’s working muscles.

What does this all mean? To sum it up: the easier it is for you heart to pump blood, the lower your heart rate will be. With a slower heart rate, the left ventricle has more time to fill up with oxygenated blood to deliver the necessary nutrients to the body. Having stronger contractions to pump the same amount of blood throughout your entire body will eliminate the need to increase the heart rate. For the same outcome, you will have a reduction in the amount of beats per minute. According to Len Kravitz, a University of New Mexico professor, regular endurance exercise can result in a resting heart rate decrease of five to twenty-five beats per minute. This is why measuring your body’s resting heart rate daily is a good measure of increasing fitness. You can mark down data trends for your heart rate. Always remember that while you may see decreasing heart rate trend patterns, there may be some hiccups along the way. Heart rate, as discussed earlier, can be easily affected by environmental stresses, mental stresses, and even sickness.

Intensity and Duration:

In order to achieve a lower resting heart rate, it is recommended that you exercise at least 150 minutes in an aerobic zone. It is best to always consult with your physician prior to beginning an exercise program. When starting out, always increase steadily week by week.

Having a lower heart rate is not only a good measure of fitness, but also a step in the right direction towards having a healthy heart. If we are able to reduce the amount of beats per minute our heart works, think about the effects that would have on us in a day, month, or year! Endurance exercise can help us achieve these goals and understanding the physiology behind it can help us to learn more about the ways to improve our heart’s health!

Zumba and The Challenge of Dance Fitness

Zumba and The Challenge of Dance Fitness

Zumba is a workout where you can dance like nobody's watching. Or, depending on what motivates you, dance like everyone is watching you -- on stage or in a club! Either way, you experience a vigorous aerobic workout in a fun, motivating environment. Don't just take our word for it, listen to the science!

Zumba and The Challenge of Dance Fitness

Dance fitness is not new. Over the years dance aerobics trends came and went. The spandex leotard-clad jazz inspired aerobics dancers of the early 1980's and today's Zumba dancer have a few things in common once you look past their attire and musical choices. Both are a fusion of the worlds of dance and fitness.

At an elite level, dance is an athletic artform that requires a high level of fitness. Many adults take dance technique classes for fitness. However, the stop and start nature of classic dance classes along with detailed technique explanations break the flow of the workout.

At a more casual level, social dancing is a fun way to enjoy light-to-moderate exercise. Well designed dance fitness workouts, like Zumba, fuse basic technique from performance dance, with the fun of social dance while structuring it as a fitness workout. Win - win - win!

What is Zumba and the Origins

Zumba is an aerobic dance workout to infectious Latin and world dance music. The workout follows an interval structure mixing high-intensity intervals with lower intensity recovery periods. Zumba is an international franchise you find classes in most cities and over 180 countries throughout the world.

Zumba founder Beto Perez apparently taught an aerobic dance class in his home country of Colombia in the mid 1990s. One day he forgot his standard dance exercise music, so he went to his car to get a Latin dance music cassette tape. As he taught, he drew from his professional and social dance experience to cue Merengue, Salsa and Rumba moves to fit the music. His class loved it and that inspired him to develop what became the Zumba format. Little did he know his forgetfulness would lead to an international craze!

Benefits of Zumba

  • Zumba is a full body aerobic workout (see the following section to learn about Zumba's effectiveness as a workout).
  • It is a fun activity for people who love to dance and who love Latin music.
  • Zumba promotes a culture of inclusiveness that helps newcomers feel comfortable.
  • Classes are available in most cities or towns throughout the USA and Canada (and beyond).
  • People of all fitness levels get a good workout through Zumba due to the interval training element and the room for individual interpretation.
  • Many find their Zumba classes are a great social outlet.
  • Choreographed dancing may improve coordination, balance, and even help improve memory.

Over the past decade, dance fitness craze Zumba swept the world. 15 million people from 180 countries flock to Zumba classes. The immense popularity inspired some to question whether Zumba is a good workout.

Is Zumba and Effective Workout?

The fitness professional association the American Council on Exercise (ACE) studied the effectiveness of Zumba in 2012.

ACE found that their test subjects achieved heart rates ranging from  127 to 177 beats per minute (BPM). The average was 155 BPM which is a vigorous aerobic workout for most people at 80% of the average predicted Maximum Heart Rate.

ACE also measured that participants burned between 6.1 and 12 metabolic equivalent (METS). METS are an estimate of oxygen consumed and energy used that researchers use as a basis of comparison.  A vigorous activity scores at least 6 METS, so Zumba solidly meets that criteria, according to the ACE-commissioned study. The average participant burns 359 calories per class (this varies by age, gender, size, and fitness level).  

We always promote using your own biometrics and perceived exertion to pace your workouts and to evaluate results. Individual heart rate response is highly variable depending on fitness, age, and genetics. However, researchers test a range of participants and use averages to look for trends beyond individual variation.  

ACE's numbers indicate that Zumba is an effective cardio workout. More importantly, Zumba fans report that they have fun. You are more likely to be consistent with a fitness program if you enjoy it and find it beneficial.

"It’s a total-body exercise—a good, high-energy aerobic workout,” explains researcher Dr. Porcari. “Zumba fitness is also good for core strengthening and flexibility gains because there are lots of hip and midsection movements.”

Another researcher commented: “The surprising thing is that it doesn’t matter what fitness level you’re at—our research shows that in Zumba classes everyone is working out at the zone that’s recommended for improving cardio health,” says Luettgen. “Both fit people and less-fit people are going to get an equally good workout.”

This is just one of several studies that prove that structured full-body dance workouts like Zumba are effective. In 2014, another research group conducted a study involving women who participated in either a 12 week soccer program or a 12 week Zumba program. Both groups saw similar results in terms of aerobic fitness and fat loss. The soccer group had slightly better results in some areas, but lung capacity as indicated by improved VO2 Max results improved the same for both groups of active women.

Given all these science-backed results, you may wonder whether there is a downside? A 2013 study explored whether there was an increase injuries among Zumba participants. While the population used just 49 people, they found that 29% experienced injuries.

One member of the research team noted: "Zumba is based on dance moves, and our findings are similar to injuries observed among dancers (lower extremities, hip, and back injuries) according to a systematic review in the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science"

The researchers noted the injuries were most common among participants who took four or more classes a week. They also advise Zumba enthusiasts to take preventive measures like:

  • Pay attention to form and technique as poor posture and technique commonly cause workout, dance, and sports injuries.
  • If possible attend smaller sized classes with an experienced instructor so you may receive technique correction.
  • Wear appropriate shoes that allow you to pivot.
  • Stay hydrated before, during, and after class.
  • Cross train with other activities to minimize the risk of overuse injuries.
  • Allow adequate recovery time between workouts, people sometimes forget that fun dance-based workouts are vigorous activity.

Workout recovery is essential in improving fitness through any program including Zumba. A good heart rate monitor along guides your pace during the workout. Tracking trends in your biometrics like Resting Pulse and Heart Rate Variability help you manage your workout and recovery schedule like an athlete (or a dancer!)

Fitness wearables, like Biostrap, help you enjoy all the benefits of a workout like Zumba while minimizing the risks.

Sources and Resources:

Zumba website

https://www.zumba.com/en-US/

Research Studies Mentioned:

American Council on Exercise (ACE) commissioned study "Zumba Fitness: Sure It’s Fun But Is it Effective?" By Mary Luettgen, M.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Carl Foster, Ph.D., Richard Mikat, Ph.D., and Jose Rodriguez-Morroyo, Ph.D.

https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/2813/zumba-fitness-sure-it-s-fun-but-is-it-effective

"A Survey of Musculoskeletal Injuries Associated with Zumba" published in Hawai'i Journal of Medicine & Public Health. By Jill Inouye, MD, Andrew Nichols, MD, Gregory Maskarinec, PhD, and  Chien-Wen Tseng, MD, PhD.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3872921/

"Do soccer and Zumba exercise improve fitness and indicators of health among female hospital employees? A 12-week RCT." published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. By Barene S1, Krustrup P, Jackman SR, Brekke OL, Holtermann A.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24151956

Hydration is Performance

Hydration is Performance

Hydration is key. I am sure many of us have heard this during exercise or performance. That quote really is the absolute truth. Our bodies are made up of more than 50% water so it’s no surprise that proper hydration of our bodies is vital to getting the most of of ourselves. Even slight signs of dehydration can be detrimental to our performance. Though many may believe that dehydration affects only endurance athletes, this is false. Improper hydration levels can affect power and sprint sports as well. Sometimes it is not enough to be hydrated prior to exercise, but to also be consuming water during and after as well. If we know this information on fluid levels to be true, then how can we prepare ourselves so that we do not find ourselves in a hole?

Hydration and the Body:

So how does hydration help us even outside of sport and performance? It is no secret that without water, humans can only survive for a few days. Slight decreases in fluid levels can bring changes even to our brain! The brain is made up of more than 80% water, and dehydration can bring upon mood changes as well as changes in alertness and concentration. Aside from our brain, almost every system within our body is also affected. An additional system that is affect is our body’s circulatory System. Water helps us to regulate our body’s core temperature. When our core temperature rises above our normal thermoregulatory rates, additional stress is placed upon us which can impede our energy systems. This adjunct effect on our energy systems can decrease both performance and recovery.

Hydration levels also help to regulate our body’s blood pressure. Being in a state of dehydration makes your blood more viscous, or thicker. When your blood becomes “thicker” this increases your heart rate since it takes more effort for your heart to pump the blood throughout your body. With the increased heart rate, coupled with a decreased amount of blood in your body, this yields a fall in blood pressure.

Without water, we would not be able to properly carry essential nutrients to different systems of the body. It also aids in the removal of waste. Water helps to rid of blood of waste and since it is the majority of the makeup of our blood, helps to ensure that our cells are receiving the proper nutrients.

Dehydration also affects the body’s ability to process fat into the muscle. With this energy transport limited, the body uses up the available glycogen that is present.

Hydration and Performance:

Now looking at hydration from a sports perspective we can start with a known fact: losing as little as 2% of body weight in fluids can have diminishing effects on an athlete’s performance. Take for example a female endurance runner weighing 125 pounds, losing 2.5 pounds of fluids in body weight will yield a decrease in performance. If many of us went and ran 8 miles on a humid, 90 degree day  and weighed ourselves before and after exercise we will most likely have lost well more than 2.5 pounds. Now take that level to a loss of 3% in body weight, and you are entering the realm of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

During exercise, an athlete can sweat various amounts. Typically, athletes can lose anywhere from 5-10% of body weight during a competition. If not replenished, we can see the diminishing effects that would have on our ability to perform.

Aside from stating that athletes can experiencing diminishing effects, let’s take a look at some of the specifics. When in a state of dehydration, our body’s ability to produce a high cardiac output is altered. This means that our heart is unable to pump at its highest capacity during exercise activities. This decrease in cardiac output also effects of body’s ability to perform at VO2 max efforts and increased fatigue with increased effort.  

We can also experience a decrease in our skin’s blood flow. What does this mean exactly? Well, when we experience vasodilation of our blood vessels (when they open) it is an essential mechanism for the transport of heat from our body’s core to the periphery. When this happens, we rely on our body’s sweat and the process of evaporation to take away heat from the surface of our skin. This physiological mechanism occurs to allow our bodies to function for effective temperature regulation. When exercising in the heat, and not properly rehydrating, this process is alter are we then become “overheated.” Our body cannot effectively keep our core temperature regulated.

As stated previously, dehydration affects our bodies ability to transport essential nutrients. This is highly important during performance as our energy systems are altered. When our body uses up our glycogen stores quickly (due to hydration as we discussed earlier) our muscles no longer have readily available energy to continue working. When asking our bodies to perform under fluid restriction, we undergo stress on both the cellular and whole body. When our glycogen stores are completely used up our body then relies on our fat stores as a source of energy.

Hydration Strategies:

Knowing some of the effects that dehydration can bring an athlete, implementing a hydration plan can be just as important as a nutrition strategy. When deciding how much fluids you should be taking on, always keep in mind the duration and intensity of the exercise you are performing. It is always best to keep in mind that thirst is NOT a good indicator of hydration status. When you begin to experience thirst, know that you are already experiencing effects of dehydration. It is also best to remember that you may need to continue drinking even past the point of when you feel quenched. You may still be in a deficit of 25-50% hydration levels. 

It is also good to point out that as the saying goes, “water follows where sodium goes.” Sometimes it is necessary to consume a sports drink of nutritional drink that contains sodium to ensure that your muscles are receiving the proper amounts of fluids. If consuming only water, most will be excreted through the urine as waste. Not all fluids consumed should include sodium, but drinks taken prior to high intensity exercise should have a small source of sodium. Some helpful tips are as follows: - 17-20 fluid ounces 2.5 hours prior to exercise - 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes during exercises - at least 8 ounces of water post-exercise

Hydration may be the key to success! If our bodies are made up of more than 50% water, why not keep it that way! Starting a performance or training day at full hydration levels can play a major impact on the outcome. So why not get ahead with a simple secret of fluid intake. It may be the differences between seconds, or whether you are the one who gets to the finish line.

Managing Stress With HRV, Resting Heart rate, & SPO2

Managing Stress With HRV, Resting Heart rate, & SPO2

Elite athletes use Heart Rate Variability (HRV), resting heart rate and other metrics to manage their training regimens and recovery time. Intense training stresses the muscles, hormones, heart and lungs. By tracking these biometrics, athletes optimize their mix of recovery time and training. They train smarter, not just harder. Exercise is a form of physical stress. Mental and emotional stress also affect your body.

Both mental and physical stress may disrupt homeostasis. This can lead to metabolism issues, insomnia, heart problems, hormonal imbalances, and chronic illness. Stress management and stress reduction improve both quality and quantity of life. You can use HRV and other key biometrics to track the success of your stress management program and to plan for “recovery” just like an elite athlete.

Before we discuss applications, it helps if you understand what these biometrics measure and how stress may alter these readings in the short and long term.

How Stress Affects Your Heart and Your Oxygen Levels

Heart Rate and Stress

Most health-conscious people recognize that stress impacts well-known metrics like heart rate and blood pressure. Have you ever found that your pulse and blood pressure were higher than normal at the dentist’s office? If so, you experienced this phenomenon.

Resting heart rate measures how fast your heart beats while you rest. Many people take a resting heart rate in the morning as a quick barometer to their cardiovascular health.  Your heart rate varies day to day, and moment to moment. The following factors may alter day-to-day resting heart rate:

  • Caffeine consumption
  • The previous day’s workout
  • Quality of sleep
  • Hydration levels
  • Hormone cycle fluctuations
  • A large meal or alcohol the night before
  • Stress levels

If you consistently follow a well-designed training plan you may find that your average resting heart rate decreases along with improvements in your physical fitness.

However, as a measure resting heart rate is limited. Due to genetics, some people just have faster resting heart rates than other people. Some hormone imbalances like low thyroid levels may decrease your average resting heart rate. Due to these reasons, you may benefit even more from tracking more sophisticated data points.

SPO2 and Stress

SpO2 stands for peripheral capillary oxygen saturation. It estimates how saturated your blood is with oxygen. A healthy, fit person usually sees a SpO2 between 95% - 100%. Illness, altitude, heart disease, smoke inhalation all affect SpO2.

Your SpO2 measure may not vary quite as much as your resting heart rate and HRV, but a sudden drop often indicates stress to your body. Traditionally athletes who train in higher elevations track SPO2 to help ensure they are getting enough oxygen. With the right device this is an easy metric to track along with resting pulse.

HRV and Stress

HRV measures time between your heart beats. When you are at an optimal state of rest and wellness, your heart is ready to respond to life’s demands. The space between heartbeats varies a little depending on your needs. When your system is “stressed,” your resting heart rate may appear the same, but there may be less variation between the heartbeats.

Tracking HRV informs you of subtle changes. For example, people sometimes find their HRV decreases a couple days before they notice cold or flu symptoms.  

Factors that influence HRV include:

  • Quantity and quality of sleep
  • The previous day’s workout
  • Caffeine or alcohol consumption
  • Emotional and mental stress
  • Nutritional habits
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Illness or injury

To learn more about these metrics, download our free white paper “The Definitive Guide To A Healthy Heart.” In the meantime, the following tips and techniques help you manage your stress.

Five Techniques To Use Biometrics in Your Stress Management Program

Take Baseline Readings

Take regular, ideally daily, readings since many factors affect biomarkers like HRV and resting heart rate. Try to take the measurements at a consistent time under similar conditions. For example, you may take your baseline reading shortly after you wake up, before you eat or drink anything, and while relaxing. A higher HRV reflects a more optimal state than a lower HRV reading. A lower resting heart rate or pulse also reflects a more relaxed state.

If you notice your HRV and SPO2 trending upwards, this is a sign that your wellness and stress management efforts are working. If your resting heart rate and blood pressure trend downward, this is also a sign of success.

Look at the Big Picture

Have you ever heard the phrase “fighting fit”? In general, maintaining a high fitness level prepares your body to better deal with stress. However, the combination of acute emotional stress *and* physical stress from a vigorous workout may weaken your body and mind. Factor your stress levels with your workouts. Take it easy if you are dealing with major stress like a family emergency or a big deadline.  

Light-to-moderate exercise like walking, yoga, dancing, or recreational sports may give you an outlet to recover from stress. Alternately, in some cases you may actually benefit more from a power nap or practicing relaxation techniques than a workout if your stress levels are very high.

Consider Yoga, Tai Chi, or Meditation

Since deep breathing and relaxation temporarily elevate HRV (and lower pulse) these markers may also help guide your practice. Emerging research indicates mindful practices like yoga and tai chi may increase HRV, SPO2 and decrease blood pressure and resting pulse. Some tech-friendly yogis even take an HRV reading during relaxation post at the end of their practice.

Reduce or Manage Your Life Stress

Athletes don’t want to overtrain as they prepare for either a marathon or a sprinting race. The same applies to you while working on big projects, moving, or experiencing another major life change. If possible, simplify your life. Learn to say no and avoid taking on too much.

Take Care of Yourself

Generally when you take good care of yourself, your HRV, SPO2, and resting heart rate tend to improve. Even better, your body and mind are ready to face life’s challenges. The following healthy choices may improve your HRV in both the short and long term:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Drink enough fluids
  • Enjoy moderate activity most days and improve or maintain your physical fitness
  • Avoid smoking
  • Spend a few minutes relaxing each day whether you prefer to meditate, pray, do yoga, or practice breathing exercises.

Take control of your stress levels and your fitness. You can customize your lifestyle and measure results by tracking key metrics like HRV, SPO2, and resting heart rate. In the past, only elite athletes had this opportunity, but now these tools are  available to you. Thanks to fitness wearables like Biostrap you can easily take these metrics at home.

Sources and Resources:

Caffeine and its Effects on Performance

Caffeine and its Effects on Performance

For some of us, ingesting caffeine is second nature, just like breathing. We have our routines of waking up, eating breakfast, and drinking a cup of coffee. First caffeine intake of the day. Some of us will continue this trend and around the 2-3 o’clock hour find ourselves reaching for that second cup of coffee. Second (...sometimes third) intake of caffeine in the day. It is a habit, and a habit that isn’t necessarily a bad one at that. Caffeine helps to wake us up, keeps us feeling alert, and prevents us from needing that mid afternoon nap. Most are aware of the “feeling” caffeine can give us in our day to day life, but are we aware of its benefits in sport and performance?

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a drug that acts as a natural stimulant for the central nervous system. It is considered a psychoactive drug, which simply means that it is a substance that can alter standard brain function and can alter changes in standard mood, behavior, and perception. One of the most prominently known effects of caffeine is that it blocks a chemical reception that triggers the commencement of drowsiness.

Caffeine can be found in a multitude of different plants native to South American and East Asia. As stated before, the most well known source for caffeine (at least to most humans) is the coffee bean! This bean stems from the Coffea plant and the caffeine is extracted by steeping the plant in water.

For statistical references, the American population drinks around 400 millions cups of coffee per day, quite the number!

Pros and Cons of Caffeine Consumption

There are two sides to every story and caffeine is no different. It is important to note that caffeine can metabolize at different rates in individuals so effects are always varying. Some associated risks with caffeine consumption is can stem from when individuals consume more than 500-600 mg/day. When individuals exceed that limit, it can result in insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, and upset stomach. These effects can be crucial to athletes when thinking about preparation. Proper amount of sleep is vital to recovery for training and allowing the body to re-energize for the next day's training load. If ingesting caffeine too late at night, this can decrease the rate you fall asleep, as well as your ability to stay in a deep sleep. Another downside to caffeine consumption is the timing of the consumption. If not consuming caffeine at the right timing, you can miss the peak window and experience bouts of nervous energy that is exceeding the “recommended amount,” and can cause too many “pre-race jitters.”

On the other hand, there are many positive effects to caffeine consumption. Caffeine consumption has been shown to benefit performance in endurance sports. To fuel our muscles, our body utilizes Glycogen. When Glycogen stores are depleted, this is the point when exhaustion sets in. Another fuel our body uses, secondary to Glycogen, is fat stores. When Glycogen is still available, our bodies can utilize our fat stores as well. How does this relate to caffeine? Well, caffeine helps to promote our muscles to using fat as our fuel. This is beneficial since we have much more fat stores than readily available glycogen. When our bodies are signaled to use fat, this delays the depletion of muscle glycogen. That’s good news for athletes! Caffeine can help us to sustain energy levels further into activity, without having the all too familiar, “bonking feeling,” or “hitting the wall.”

Another benefit from ingesting caffeine comes from the effects this stimulant has on your brain! Drinking that cup of coffee, or taking a caffeine tablet, may alter our idea or perception of how hard we are going. This can allow us to put aside our own mental fatigue and focus on our physical exertion.

When to Ingest Caffeine Prior to Performance?

Think that caffeine could be the right boost for you? Then determining the peak time to take caffeine is important. As a note: always practice different times of caffeine ingestion during training. You don’t want your first experience with caffeine to be on race day!

It has been found that ingesting large amounts of caffeine does not yield better responses within our bodies. Less is more definitely applies to this situation. You want to find the smallest amount that produces the desired results. This allows you to decrease the potential for negative effects, while still benefiting from the positive effects. Ingesting caffeine in the window of 2-4 hours prior to competition (varies upon the individual) can help an athlete achieve the maximal effect on fat stores. This is a great timeline for endurance athletes. If you are participating in shorter events, then ingesting closer to competition will yield a caffeine peak much sooner. Some may suggest to decrease caffeine consumption in the days/week heading into a performance. There have been studies to both support and refute this claim. If this specific situation of caffeine abstinence helps you, then go for it!

Ah caffeine. The thing some of us crave from the minute we wake up. It has been around to help us stay alert, stay up to finish a late deadline, and now to help us with our sport performance. Whether we chose to consume caffeine through coffee, tea, pills, or gels, it seems these days the options are endless. Deciding whether caffeine is the right choice for your performance goals, is a very individualized decision. If you are someone who experiences more of the negative side effects from consuming caffeine, then it may not be the right choice. If on the other hand you experience limited negative effects and benefit more from the positive, then playing around with appropriate doses and timing may be the key to your next performance goal.

There are many, many forms of caffeine to choose from: coffee, teas, sodas, pills, gums, gels and shots

Caffeine should be tested in training—both before and during runs—to assess individual response. It’s better to err on the side of caution when considering the source, amount and use of caffeine before and during training and racing.

Monday Workout: 5 Killer Exercises to Destroy Back Fat

Monday Workout: 5 Killer Exercises to Destroy Back Fat

Monday is like back fat.

You usually don’t see Monday coming because you’re having so much fun over the weekend - hanging out with friends, downing a couple beers for during happy hour, BBQing outside with the family, and indulging in more than your fair share of sugar-laden desserts.

But just because it’s out of your line of sight… doesn’t mean it doesn’t creep up on you. And in the corner of your mind, you know Monday will strike back. Similarly, unwanted fat can accumulate on the back and give you a half-expected surprise if you:

  1. Don’t exercise
  2. Have a poor diet
  3. Don’t workout your back muscles

Dr. Nina Cherie Franklin, a health expert and life strategist, explains that the emergence of back flab stems from atrophy (a state in which muscles lose their size & strength) of the back muscles and an excess in body fat. The back muscles atrophy if resistance training is not involved.

So why is training your back worth it? The benefits are:

  • Better looking body & aesthetically appealing (Picture a V-shape for men. And the illusion of a smaller waist for women)
  • Sturdy posture
  • Prevents future back pain & injury
  • Improves your overall fitness
  • Gain lean muscle

Let’s be honest. If you’re like most people, Monday is the most dreaded day of the week. Monday typically means it’s time to buckle down & get to work.

For many, this means sitting behind a desk for many hours. In addition to accumulating fat in your back area, back pain can become a serious problem. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, your risk of back pain increases if you:

  • Work at a desk all day
  • Have poor physical fitness
  • Are getting older (As early as 30)
  • Are overweight

Your back is half your upper body! Unlike your arms, abs, and lower body, you can’t see your back as readily. Therefore, it’s easy to neglect your back muscles. It becomes the norm to take for granted the back muscles that allow your body to perform essential movements throughout the day… until you experience an injury or feel an abrupt pain.

A strong back is essential to be able to perform the most basic movements in your everyday life. According to Harvard Medical School, 4 out of 5 Americans experience some form of lower back pain in their lives. This, oftentimes, leads to a debilitating and painful experience.

Imagine having a sharp shooting pain each time you bend over to pick up an object. Or struggling to perform household chores, such as vacuuming or lifting to take the trash out.   

Needless to say, your back plays an important role. Get a solid start to your week by strengthening your back. Grab your wearable tech to help log your progress & quantify your back’s transformation.

Here are 5 killer exercises to strengthen your back muscles & destroy back fat:

1. Upright Row: 4 sets : 12-15 reps

‍You can use dumbbells as al variation:

2. Lat Pulldowns: 4 sets : 12-15 reps

3. Pull-Up (Or Assisted Pull-Up): 4 sets : 12-15 reps

4. T-Bar Row: 4 sets : 12-15 reps

5. Seated Cable Row: 4 sets : 12-15 reps

Do a lateral low pull variation if a seat is unavailable:

The benefits of using wearable technology to track elevations effects.

The benefits of using wearable technology to track elevations effects.

Altitude training camps have long been the secrets to success for many athletes. Escaping to remote areas at 5,000 feet plus of elevation for weeks at a time can reap many benefits for a person’s fitness. Taking the cardiovascular gains you receive at elevation to a performance at sea level, and an athlete can feel like an entirely different person! The question is: how can we determine as athletes or maybe even as coaches, determine if we are receiving the benefits of altitude or experiencing the negative effects? Recording and tracking biometrics such as RHR and SpO2 can help us determine altitudes’ effects.

Altitude:

Most people can say that if they have ever been to a city or town at altitude, some tasks are a little bit harder to perform. Tasks such as walking up stairs and hiking have all the sudden become much more difficult than when you were 1,000 meters lower. Why is this?

The quick and dirty answer that some may rattle off that there is less oxygen at altitude than at sea level. This statement is false. There is the same amount of oxygen at 6,000 feet as there is at 200 feet. The different is the atmospheric pressure at elevation. When a person is at sea level, the atmospheric pressure is at 14.7 pounds per square inch. What does that mean? It means, that oxygen can easily pass through a membrane in our lungs and enter our blood. At altitude, let’s say at 5,000 feet of elevation, the atmospheric pressure is at 12 pounds per square inch. This lower air pressure makes it much more difficult for oxygen to enter the vascular system of our body, thus making us feel more out of breath at a similar effort. Now let’s just think about what it must feel like on the top of Mount Everest, with an atmospheric pressure of about 4.2 pounds per square inch!

Training At Altitude:

Training at elevations greater than sea level can impose changes to a person’s daily training regimen. Since altitude has a difference in the atmospheric pressure as discussed above and we have a harder time processing oxygen to our blood, this means that our body’s carry less oxygen in our blood to our working muscles. With this decrease in oxygen to the working muscles, this reduces our body’s ability to work at it’s absolute aerobic capacity. What does this mean for us? It means that at elevation, we are not able to hit our absolute maximum efforts due to the reduction of oxygen in our working muscles. Workouts that are made to target maximal effort would have to take into account the elevation, if you were to compare the same effort to one performed at sea level. For example: for a runner to perform a workout that is 5x1000 meter repeats and they run each repeat in 3:30, this would be equivalent to the same runner performing this workout at 5,000 feet of elevation and running 3:40 per interval. Though the effort is the same, the body is unable to run at the same speeds and recover in the same time period. If the runner were to do this same workout at altitude and complete it in 3:30, they would be exerting more of an effort, or “digging deeper”, this type of effort repeated can lead to overtraining in individuals.

Biometric Measurements at Altitude and What We Can Learn:

When training at altitude, it is important to track biometric data so that we can see trends develop in our fitness. These data trends can give us better insight into how our bodies are responding to altitude and if we need to make changes. Some biometrics may be suited for specific athletic endeavors such as high altitude climbing:

SpO2: For people who partake in high altitude climbing, SpO2 sensors can be beneficial in determining a few different factors. One factor would be monitoring for AMS, or Acute Mountain Sickness. AMS can happen to individuals who are unhealthy and healthy. AMS does not have to occur when high altitudes either, it can affect individuals at low altitudes as well. Effects of AMS can include headaches, lightheadedness, and general illness at saturation levels of even 94%. Normally, a healthy individual’s SpO2 measurement is 99%, so a decrease in 5% doesn’t seem like much, but in AMS it can be enough to kickstart symptoms. When hikers begin to drop large percentages in their SpO2 that is when more severe symptoms can occur. Individuals can lose consciousness, and potential brain cell death when dipping below the 55-40% range. In the long term, AMS can lead to conditions such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, where fluid collects in your lungs.

To help combat this, and to ensure you know where your body stands at all altitudes, climbers can use Pulse Oximeters to read their oxygen saturation levels. Having the ability to read low SpO2 levels can help a climber determine if it is in their best interest to descend to get back to lower elevation or if their body is adapting to continue climbing. It is good to point out that at high altitudes, even the best pulse oximeters can come up with incorrect readings, so it is always best to listen to your body!

Resting Heart Rate: As discussed earlier, the amount of blood your working muscles receive at altitude is limited. Due to the limitations on oxygenated blood, our body’s cardiovascular system tries to combat this by increasing our cardiac output. [Cardiac Output = Stroke Volume x Heart Rate] This is to help get more blood pumping throughout our system in an effort to supply enough oxygen to our muscles. As we arrive at altitude and acclimate, our heart rate is increased due to the change in atmospheric pressure. At the same time our stroke volume is decreased during work. As we remain at altitude for longer periods of time, trends in our resting heart rate will begin to form. You should see your RHR begin to decrease back to the same values as they were at sea level. When you begin to see this trend, this is when acclimatization is occurring. This process can take up to two weeks, and sometimes more in certain individuals.

Tracking your RHR trend therefore can help you determine when you body has finally become adapted to altitude. Prior to acclimating, if you push training workouts too hard, it may increase your risk for injury or overtraining. As stated before, each person acclimates differently from another, therefore every person’s training program may be different. Keeping track of relevant information such as fatigue levels, perceived rate of exertion, resting heart rate (taken each morning), can help shape a training program that is tailored specific to an individual's’ needs.

Many professional and amateur athletes have discovered the benefits of altitude. There are hundreds of research articles backing up the positive effects higher elevation can have on performance. On the flip side, there are also studies to show that the effects of altitude are not always for a benefit. Today, we have biometric trackers can help us make this choice on our own. Whether you’re a competitive runner looking for the extra edge, or a climber looking to seek your personal limits, science and biometrics has a place in your daily training.

 

When Measuring SpO2 is Beneficial

When Measuring SpO2 is Beneficial

It seems that each week there is new technology being released that allows individuals to access even more data related to their fitness. 

From watches that track your movement based on satellite positioning, to cell phones that are able to read a person’s heart rate just by the touch of a finger, there is no piece of information that goes unturned. Finding a fitness tracker isn’t the problem, sometimes the hard part is determining what readings are beneficial are which are not. Helping to narrow in on biometrics that are conducive to your specific fitness goals can help save not only money, but the headache of figuring out the functions of your tracker. One of the more up and coming fitness tracking devices are Pulse Oximeters. This relatively new (to the fitness/health sector) fitness trackers brings up these similar types of questions: what are Pulse Oximeters, and is this something that will help increase my fitness, or bring me closer to attaining my fitness goals?

SpO2

By definition, SpO2 is a measurement of the peripheral capillary oxygen saturation. Peripheral is pertaining to our bodies veins and arteries. This measurement is an estimate of the amount of oxygen in our blood expressed as a percentage of the amount of oxygenated hemoglobin to total hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen in the blood. Most people have heard of hemoglobin in relation to the blood disorder, anemia.

Effects of Low Oxygen Saturation:

When you body’s oxygen saturation percentage dips below 95%, you will begin to experience the effects of hypoxemia. Hypoxemia means that there is a low amount of oxygen in the blood; this leads to hypoxia, or low oxygen in the tissues. These conditions can lead to a person experiencing shortness of breath, headaches, fainting, and even confusion.

How SpO2 is Measured:

Pulse Oximetry is used to measure the blood’s oxygen saturation. This technique of measurement is a non-invasive calculation of the peripheral oxygen saturation. This technique also provides a measure of the individual’s cardio-respiratory function. Pulse Oximetry used to be used in only clinical practice for patients. Now biometric tracking devices are using it with a target audience of the fitness and sports performance populations. Pulse oximeters are useful in the hospital setting, but who really benefits from them in fitness applications?

Applications of Pulse Oximetry Measurement in Fitness:

While Pulse Oximetry may not have many applications in the general fitness population, it can have useful application in sport specific situations. These types of situations include when people are working out at levels hovering below, at, or above their VO2 max. Measuring your SpO2 can be beneficial during these specific workouts to show athletes and their coaches a specific work rate an athlete can sustain before their bodies begin to require more oxygen than is being produced. When individuals are able to look back at their data after a workout, they will be able to see the trend lines of their oxygen saturation percentage dropping. When the oxygen percentage begins to show a declining trend, this means that you are working above your body’s limit. 

How can this be applicable? When knowing your body's’ limits, you can tailor workouts to increasing your body’s VO2 Max by “pushing” your own limits. 

For example, a cyclist could ride multiple two minute intervals increasing their power until they hit a point when their oxygen saturation begins to drop. This application does not only apply to cyclists alone, but many different disciplines of sport across the board that require an athlete to hit high, sustainable limits for a certain length of time; runners, cross country skiing, and swimmers are a few examples.

Another application for using pulse oximetry can be in high altitude events. People who partake in high altitude climbing can use SpO2 biometrics to help track their bodies limits and oxygen levels. A climber can use this measurement to also help them moderate their effort levels during an ascent. If they saw that during a certain part of their effort, ie: increasing altitude, that the oxygen percentage is decreasing; they could determine if that specific workload was in a sustainable range. If their O2 saturation levels were decreasing this can help them to reevaluate their effort. It may mean decreasing their rate of ascension or that continuing the climb may not be in the best interest of their body’s health.

Data is constantly evolving in the fitness industry and the ability to produce marginal improvements is constantly being tested. The  fairly new market of Pulse Oximeters for gathering fitness data is just one of the many new products to be introduced. There are clinical and sport specific applications where it’s information proves beneficial. Determining if you are part of this population of individuals can help you determine if investing in the measurement of your oxygen saturation is necessary.

7 ways to increase your HRV for athletic competitions

7 ways to increase your HRV for athletic competitions

For years, athletes have tried to find ways to perform better in competitions. Many have even taken extreme and even unethical measures to achieve greatness. 

New research and developments in the science of the heart, however, have quite possibly found what competitive athletes have been searching for: a safe and effective way to improve athletic performance. 

Heart rate variability HRV is a measure of the time between consecutive beats, and can be used to individualize workouts, helping athletes achieve an optimum performance level. A higher HRV would indicate that you are relaxed and experiencing a low level of stress, while a lower HRV shows a higher level of stress, thus a need for recovery, rest, and sleep. 

With this in mind, an athlete looking to perform better in competitions would want to cater his or her workout schedule in such a way to ensure that competition falls during a period when HRV is high. And to help you do that, we’ve brought you seven ways to effectively increase your HRV for athletic competitions. 

1. Train hard

While having a high HRV is good for competition, it is important to note that having your body in a constant state of rest isn’t necessarily the route you want to take, either.  

You need stress, because without stressors, your body won’t know how to cope when faced with them. Most training plans will implement sessions of high intensity training (HIT) to shock the body so that it will  be able to better acclimate to these types of things.

Keep in mind, however, that just as you will perform better in competition with a higher HRV, the same rings true for hard workouts. By monitoring your HRV, you will be able to know which days are best to schedule that hard training session. 

2. Rest

Your must train hard to perform well, but you must also know when to back off. A body in constant stress mode can only go so long before it begins to break down. In fact, studies have shown that a consistently low HRV can lead to overtraining and burnout. 

If you want to be able to have a sustainable training plan that will lead to an eventual increase in athletic performance, your HRV needs to reset, which means that you must take time to rest and recover. 

3. Trust your training

A surefire way to cause unnecessary stress or lower your HRV, is to stress out before a competition. In fact, a recent study of college students found that the more anxious and unprepared you are for a test, the lower your HRV will be. 

Transfer this to athletes, and it means that you must train well and trust in your training to keep your HRV from tanking.

4. Get a hobby

If you are an athlete who is constantly thinking about preparing for the next competition, it is only natural that your stress levels will have a difficult time coming down because there is no balance. However, if you can find things you like to do outside of your chosen sport, then you will find balance and your HRV levels will, too.

5. Find meaningful work

Being a competitive athlete doesn’t mean that you are actually getting paid the big bucks that pro athletes do. In fact, many, if not most Olympic athletes have outside jobs completely unrelated to their chosen sport. 

Due to the fact that in order to not only pay for running shoes, gear and competition fees, but to afford living expenses, you will need to work a paying job. And research says that if you want to keep the stress level down and the HRV levels up, find a job that you actually enjoy doing. 

6. Practice Yoga

Nothing will bring your resting heart rate down and your HRV up better than Yoga. This age-old practice was designed to build balance and strength while at the same time focusing on breathing and meditation.

Yoga is the perfect way to add a supplemental strength training exercise that will also allow your body to recover and your HRV to rise

7. Get outside in nature

Research shows that focusing on slow breathing increases heart rate variability. And While breathing in the air produced by your treadmill fan may provide a bit of refreshment, it is nothing compared to the fresh, natural oxygen that comes straight from the source.

Take a walk in the mountains. Go to a park where trees line the perimeter. Get outside away from the busy city to breathe the fresh air and enjoy what this earth has to offer. 

Then, when it comes time to toe the line of that marathon, suit up for that open water swim, or max on power cleans, you will be rested with the high HRV to prove it. 

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.

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.

5 reasons you should implement strength training into your heart healthy lifestyle

5 reasons you should implement strength training into your heart healthy lifestyle

Cardiovascular exercises such as running, biking and swimming have long been known to improve the body’s cardiovascular health. Heck, it’s in the name for goodness sake!

For this reason, millions of people looking to strengthen their heart and improve heart rate and blood pressure will often use such exercises to do so. However, while cardio exercises are a key ingredient in the quest for a healthy heart, doing them is not the only way.

Say what? 

It’s true! According to research conducted by Dr. Scott Collier of the  College of Health Sciences’ Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science at Appalachian State University, resistance training has some similar effects as aerobic exercise in lowering a person’s blood pressure.

If you’re still not convinced, here are some reasons you should implement strength training into your heart healthy lifestyle. 

1. Stimulates muscle growth

For many, lifting weights equates to bulging muscles. And for some, that is the desired goal, while for others, it is a deterrent. For those who are put off by big muscles, rest assured that strength training does not always — in fact it rarely means that you will have abnormally large biceps. But it does mean that you will have muscles that are needed for your body to function better so your blood flows better through your body. 

So, forget the barbells and grab the soup cans, and start lifting.

2. Improves blood flow

Have you ever looked at your arms after lifting weights, only to find that your veins are bulging out? Well, the large appearance of your veins has absolutely nothing to do with increased blood flow, but the bulging muscles behind them do.

As your muscles grow through resistance training, your blood flow and circulation improves greatly, making it so that those veins you see are moving healthy amounts of blood to and from your heart.

Keep in mind, however, that your heart is also a muscle. And while it may not grow in size like the rest of your muscles, by doing regular strength training, you will increase its capacity to pump blood at healthy rates. 

3. Decreases blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension affects about 85.7 million, or 34 percent, of American adults, according to the American Heart Association. This can lead to heart disease, stroke and even death.

The good news is that research has found that strength training can lower blood pressure, reversing the path that can lead to devastating heart problems.

And it isn’t just new research that says so. In fact, a study conducted back in 1984 and published in the US National Library of Medicine found that hypertensive adolescents who participated in weight training maintained the reductions in blood pressure achieved by endurance training. The study also found that strength training may even elicit further reductions in blood pressure.

4. Protects your body from injury

If you want to be healthy, you need to have a body that allows you to exercise. And a key factor in preventing injury is by keeping your muscles healthy through implementing strength training in your fitness regimen.

The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least twice per week, stating that doing so “gives you the ability to perform everyday activities and helps protect your body from injury.”

5. Helps you ease into an exercise regimen

Many looking to improve their heart’s health could find that aerobic exercises like running, biking, swimming and even running are difficult. 

Dr. Collier stated in his research findings that “there are a lot of people with orthopedic or obesity limitations who can’t walk or run long distances. For them, that type of exercise would be contraindicated.” 

By doing simple strength training and resistance exercises such as seated leg lifts or arm curls, you will get your body moving and your blood pumping so that you will eventually be able to do more. 

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Determining Proper Glute Muscle Function

Determining Proper Glute Muscle Function

Your glutes: everyone has heard about them, but not everyone knows how to use them. Inactivity of your glutes to lead to a plethora of issues, stemming from hip pain to even shoulder pain. That itself, is a whole series of articles. For now, we can focus on determining whether or not each of us actually activates our glute muscles properly. After figuring out if you are or are not firing your muscles properly, you can then proceed to changing routines to incorporate exercises that can either help strengthen our butt muscles, or initiate proper muscle firing patterns. For now, we will begin with the basics.

What are the glutes?

Your glutes are not just one individual muscle, instead they are three muscles that work together to help achieve a specific action. The muscles are: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Each muscle of the “gluteal group,” perform their own job to aid in movement.

The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three muscles and is also the most superficial. This means that it is the muscle closest to the surface. This muscle is the one that gives your backside some shape. The glute max is one of the biggest power producing muscles within your body, which is why it is crucial that we are activating it correctly! In terms of movement, the glute max helps our body to perform movements associated with the hip and thigh. These movements include: extension of the hip, lateral rotation of the hip, and specific areas of the glute max help to adduct the hip. The gluteus medius muscle is the next largest muscle of the group. This muscle is located on the lateral (outside) aspect of the hip. The glute max overlaps the glute med only posteriorly. The glute med helps our body to perform simple tasks such as aiding in stability for walking, running, and single leg weight bearing. As stated before, the glutes all work in conjunction with one another and the glute med assists with rotation and abduction of the hip joint.

The gluteus minimus is the smallest of the three muscles in the group. The glute min lies inferiorly (underneath) the glute max and the glute med. Though it may be the smallest, it’s role in stabilization is pivotal. The glute min acts in a supporting role for the three gluteal muscles and it’s functions mimic those of the two other gluteal muscles. The glute min provides assistance with walking, running, extension, and abduction.

What can aid in proper glute function:

Strengthening your glutes day in and out is not the only key to unlocking your glute potential. In order to ensure that you can have fully functioning gluteal muscles you should be considering two things: pelvic tilt, and hip tightness. In order for our bodies to utilize our backsides, we have to make sure that our front sides are completely accessible. This means that we must have flexible hip muscles. These muscles include: tensor fascia latae, iliotibial band, hip flexors (including the psoas and supporting adductor muscles.) The reason we must be sure we have flexible hip muscles is due to the positioning of our pelvis. If our pelvis is not properly tilted, this being the “neutral” position, then we are shutting off all access to our glutes. If the hip flexors are tight and pulling your pelvis forward, we have lost all use of the glutes. This can lead to lost power and efficiency, and most importantly lead to injury and overuse. Not utilizing our glutes, puts a greater added stress to muscles that are normally used to specific movements which then have to bear a greater load of force than usual.

Common Signs of Glute Inactivity:

Over time, improper glute functioning can lead to injuries that most times are overlooked. Inactive glute functioning may not be the first villain that may jump to your head when experiencing pain, but it is always one to consider. Some common signs of inactive glutes are: knee pain, quadricep tightness/excessive fatigue, and hip flexor tightness/excessive fatigue. Gluteal function may not be the underlying cause, and you should always consult your doctor or physical therapist for these and other issues.

How to tell if your Glutes are Active:

Simply squeezing your butt may not be enough in glute activation. One of the best ways to determine if you have proper glute function is through performing glute focused exercises and understanding what you are feeling throughout. It is also important to understand the result of your exercises to determine if you have proper function.

One exercise to test is a double/single leg bridge. You can perform two sets of fifteen repetitions and analyze after how you’re feeling. If you feel that you are fatiguing during this exercise due to your hamstrings, it is time to figure out why. This exercise should be performed with a neutral pelvis and initiated through your gluteal muscles.

Another exercises to help determine glute activity would be a single leg squat. It is best to do this exercise in front of a mirror. You do not need to go fully to the floor with the squat to perform this exercise properly. As you begin the squat, pay attention to your knees. Are they remaining stable? Or are they wobbling or diving into your midline? Knee stabilization is key in glute function and improper stabilization means that your glute is not working properly to support this.

The gluteal muscles are more than just a muscle to tone. They are crucial to healthy hips and knees and can help us stay pain free! Maintaining proper glute function is crucial to a healthy and active lifestyle. The first step for many of us, is to determine whether or not we are properly utilizing our largest set of muscles. As the old saying goes, “use em’ or lose em’.”

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.