When I’m driving my kids to school and heading to work, I see a ton of people out in the mornings for a walk. Sometimes with an animal, and sometimes holding a set of Nordic poles. Enjoying nature, and getting in a great workout, right? Well, as with anything – it depends.
The top thing I hear from potential clients who are overweight and want to lose weight and get more active is “well, I walk.” The invention of the FitBit and devices like it have made getting in 10,000 steps a day a bit of a craze. And I’m all for people getting more active and healthier, but for the majority of people who really want results like weight loss, more strength and pain reduction, simply going for a walk isn’t going to get you there very quickly, and here’s why:
Walking Isn’t Intense Enough
To change the body, you need to provide a stimulus that is beyond what you normally do. Now, most people will think walking for 20 minutes is great – and if it’s more than you normally do it might be. However, most people simply go for a stroll at lunch and expect to lose weight. Simple math will tell you that this walk burns 140 calories, which is replaced as soon as you eat an apple. Even five days a week the calorie equivalent is basically one good solid hour long workout of high intensity. This is again, better than nothing, but please don’t expect any miracle weight loss.
Nordic walking at 4 MPH (which is quite fast for most people) burns 220 calories in 30 minutes. This is with the added pole movement. It feels great – and can be excellent for your mental health – but for fitness it is a bit lacking.
Walking will make you better at – walking. Unless you’re getting your heart rate up significantly you’re not getting any cardiovascular improvement. Unless you’re performing some body weight movements along the way (which is very easy to do) you’re not getting any strength improvements. So, what’s the benefit? One might be getting away from a seated position for a little while and destressing in the outdoors, but this again won’t give you any benefits for strength or weight loss.
People Use It To Justify Overeating
The amount of times I’ve heard “well, I went for a walk” at Starbucks while a person digs into a caramel latte could fill ten books. It’s the equivalent of the ladies who do Zumba or Aquafit at the gym and then promptly order a sugar loaded smoothie at the juice bar (often because they think it’s healthy – thanks, smoothie bar owners), instantly replacing every calorie they just burned. Plus, because they went to the gym that day I’m sure an extra glass of wine is fine at dinner. And then they wonder why they aren’t losing weight. Unless you’re paying attention to your nutrition weight loss simply isn’t going to happen. It’s a massive part of the equation.
This does not mean that you need to severely restrict your diet! There are simple changes you can make to support your new healthy habits (read my article HERE if you want some tips). You can still enjoy social time with friends and drink green tea or something that isn’t loaded with calories.
It’s Easy to Overdo It
I deal with overuse injuries on a daily basis. In fact, just because I spent the past weekend in Toronto and walked everywhere even my joints are a bit stiff today. If you suddenly take yourself from zero to a hundred without any progression then it’s easy to run into problems in your hips, knees and feet and ankles quite quickly. Then you get discouraged and stop. Many people join a group or start walking way too far way too soon because “it’s just walking”. It’s still loaded movement and repetition. The last thing we want is for you to get discouraged or injured before you even start, and walking is one of the chief culprits for this. Don’t even get me started on running.
So What are your Solutions? Again, there are some easy ways to ramp up something as simple as a walk and it doesn’t mean you have to run, enter an idiotic boot camp or kill yourself. In fact, for beginning exercisers this is a recipe for disaster.
It’s fairly simple to increase the intensity of a simple walk into something that will provide some results:
Get Your Heart Rate High, Even For Short Intervals
Studies show that increasing your heart rate to over 83% of your maximum for even four minutes can have a remarkable effect on your heart and lungs. This doesn’t mean you need to run – simply walk faster and with deliberate speed. It won’t take long for your heart rate to increase to the point where you are getting out of breath and you feel your muscles burning. Then stay there. Use the timer on your phone or other device and hold onto that level for 3-5 minutes. Even one minute has an effect, you just have to do more intervals. This is called interval training and it’s been proven to be the most effective method for increasing heart and lung capacity.
Add Some Strength Work
People seem to think that strength training is this horrible thing you need to do in a gym. Almost daily I provide simple isometric exercises for people they can do literally anywhere against a wall. In your office, at home or even at the gym with zero equipment required you can still generate strength. Do me a favour right now and find a wall. Stand with your back to it, rotate your foot out and left the side of your foot into the wall. Feel your butt fire? Great – push a bit harder and hold it for 30 seconds. Hang onto something if you need to for balance. You just gave your glute a workout. Most people while walking barely use their glutes at all because of the motion they are doing – so do this simple isometric (and a few others) in between those interval bouts – and give yourself some strength work at the same time.
All day long you’re going to pick things up, put them down, rotate your trunk, sit, sprint for the bus and many other things that need joint strength. It’s easy to add this into your daily walk with isometrics or bodyweight movements.
This may seem like a simple breakdown – because it is! Taking something like walking as a healthy habit and turning it into something much more effective over time isn’t difficult. If you’re trying to introduce this into your life, feel free to reach out for more detailed suggestions. I have an entire isometric at home system that I can share with you.
And, as always feel free to comment, tweet, add me to Facebook and reach out if you need anything!
I have clients who constantly talk to me about nutrition. I’m not an expert (even though my first certification ever 17 years ago was in nutrition) and usually will refer out if someone is looking for specific advice. Meal plans can be found readily online (for free, don’t know why people pay money for them), but people simply don’t stick to them.
However, there are some universal nutrition items that come up in everyone I deal with who is trying to lose weight or change their body composition. These are some harsh truths, but I hope they resonate with you. It’s nothing complicated. As with exercise, people obsess about the last 10% when they should be focused on the first 90 for real results. These are simple fixes and don’t take a lot of effort to adjust, but the results in a period of time can be staggering.
Here’s a quick list of 5 nutrition basics that you’re probably NOT doing:
You DON’T eat vegetables, or enough of them.
Most of us default to vegetables being a second thought when it comes to what goes on our plate. It’s a side at a restaurant that isn’t even considered beyond what kind of topping you’ll get on your baked potato. We will also eat fruit instead of vegetables and consider that just fine because it’s the same thing. Well, it’s not.
Fructose is more easily converted into fat – if you’re overeating, which most of you are. If you’re eating within your caloric energy requirements then it gets converted into blood sugar like any other carb and you use it for energy. However, if you want to remove that small risk (and greatly reduce your calories to boot) try changing out your banana for some carrot sticks or celery. 1 large banana is 140 calories and a cup of carrot sticks is 50.
You don’t get rid of starchy carbs when you can.
“Hey, instead of the pasta or mashed potato side can you just double my vegetables or give me some rice?” said nobody in any restaurant EVER. They will do it, by the way all you have to do is ask. This falls under the heading of portion control. One small serving of (1 cup) ravioli can be 200 calories and a cup of broccoli is 30. In a restaurant where you can actually control what they make and that you are PAYING FOR is where most people don’t limit the choices they should.
When was the last time a restaurant gave you a portion that was 1 cup? Again, never. This leads to overeating. If you now look at menu items in a typical restaurant you will see how loaded they are in calories (thank God for that) and that you can eat literally half and be just fine.
You don’t limit your added sugar intake.
One of my clients’ husbands literally took one step and started drinking his coffee black instead of double double at Tim’s. He dropped 8 pounds in two months DOING NOTHING ELSE. Traps like specialty coffees at Starbucks or protein smoothies which are touted as good for you are the worst culprits. I can’t count the amount of women who would do a group exercise class and then head down to the front desk for a “healthy” smoothie loaded with frozen yoghurt, replacing every calorie they just burned plus extra and wondered why they weren’t losing weight.
There is hidden sugar in many things we consume all the time, so adding more into it isn’t a good idea especially since again – more sugar in the blood gets converted to stored fat FIRST. Believe it or not, if you eliminate it for a couple of weeks you may go through withdrawal. That’s how prevalent it is in many things.
You don’t track your calories. Honestly.
Fitbits and other wearable devices have made exercise accountability easy and mindless. If only there was something you could do to track your calories. Oh wait, there is! There’s probably about 100 apps you can load onto your phone, and god forbid you have to type something into a database and press a couple of buttons.
Many of my clients complain it’s too hard and I give them my patented withering look. It takes five minutes a day. Literally. Delay the Netflix queue and input it and BE HONEST. If you had a handful of M+M’s at work, that goes in there. If you had sugar in your coffee or a glass of wine, it goes in there. You don’t stop recording on the weekend because “you were bad” and feel guilty. This is called self control and consistency, both of which are exactly what you need to lose weight.
You indulge “once in a while”.
Be honest with yourself. If you were, you would realize that the reason your weight isn’t under control is because you reward yourself and indulge way too often. Once a week MIGHT be fine for some people, for many it isn’t if you have a serious goal and a commitment. If you’re exercising intensely several times a week (which again, most of you aren’t – be honest) then you can get away with more.
That means ONE drink at Starbucks, not 3-4 times a week. That means ONE decadent dessert a week, not a couple of cookies every night. It means getting in touch with the reasons you’re eating the stuff, not just eliminating it. All those brownies, chocolate, sodas, restaurant food and French fries add up over time. And it takes time to eliminate them. Yes it tastes good. And yes, it helps when you’re stressed or feel like you need a hit to calm you down or feel better. But if it’s contrary to your goals then just STOP. Take a good look at your habits and figure out what patterns you have or what your relationship with food is and adjust it accordingly. Easier said than done I know, but it is the right step to take if you want to get your weight and health under control.
There you have it.
Did any of these resonate with you? Maybe more than one of them? Well, the best time to start a new habit is today. Don’t worry about days past and failed diets and bad things you have done previously. Today you can start a new habit. Start with the five items here and work on them and I can guarantee that you’ll be in a better place months from now. Get CONSISTENT.
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Any active person has had it happen. You are doing whatever activity you enjoy and suddenly feel a bit of a pull, cramp, sharp pain or something not quite right. Hopefully you’re smart enough to stop what you are doing and not push through the pain to complete whatever you are doing, but maybe not.
Then the inflammatory feeling starts kicking in. Your tissue will feel full, there may be lingering low level pain or sometimes acute high level pain when you move. Sometimes you can’t move without your body telling you not to through a jolt of pain. Often this is a bit indicator of the severity of whatever injury has happened.
So you realize that this is beyond a simple pull, mild strain or simple fatigue. You’ve done something that may require intervention and some sort of attention. You’ve injured yourself.
First things first: if you have acute high level pain and can’t move a limb or joint please GO TO A HOSPITAL. You will wait a while because musculo-skeletal injuries aren’t triaged as a priority but at least you will likely get some imaging immediately. There may also be things going on underneath the surface you have no idea about so better safe than sorry.
If that’s not the case, what is your next step. Well, there is a simple routine that you should follow, and it can be done in this order:
This is what you do immediately. The biggest thing to do with any injury is STOP MOVING IT. Don’t stretch it right away, don’t think that you can “push through the pain”. You will make things worse. Stop what you’re doing. Your body is very intelligent and is already doing what it needs to in order to start fixing things. Give it a chance and don’t make things worse.
Don’t ignore pain. Pain is a signal saying “QUIT IT”. Your body is literally telling you to stop what you’re doing just like taking your hand off a hot stove. Once you have stopped moving, the next step is…
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Is the pain acute with movement or does it come and go, for example it stiffens up during sleep or is painful at different times of day?
- Is my strength compromised for certain movements, ie can I not pick something up, reach over my head or extend my leg without a problem?
- Is there soft tissue damage? Swelling is one thing, but bruising typically means a much more severe trauma that requires attention faster.
The more you have information, the easier the next step will be because you can figure out which practitioner to see first and not waste your time. Have a soft tissue problem? Massage might be best? A serious joint issue? Maybe an osteopath or chiropractor (more on this later in the article). Arming yourself with answers and figuring things out on your own can be valuable in not wasting your time. That leads us to…
This does NOT mean going to someone like me and asking them what it is, because I have no authority to diagnose anything even with my years of experience. What is does mean is going to someone with the words Doctor in front of their name and ideally getting some testing and/or imaging. I always tell my clients to push for imaging because ultrasound and x-ray can reveal things simple testing cannot. If MRIs were more easily accessible that would be my default for many things. For those of you in Canada, remember that some provinces (ie Quebec for those of us in Ottawa) do allow paid MRI’s – you just have to pay for it.
As much as I appreciate the access to General Practitioners or walk in clinics, regular MD’s have little to no experience with bone and joint injuries and often will suggest exactly what I just said anyway, so don’t waste your time. And if a GP does give you a “maybe it’s this” diagnosis please get it confirmed by someone with experience and ideally imaging as I said.
Be proactive – once you have a diagnosis, learn everything about it that you can. It will not only educate you on what the injury is, hopefully it will make you realize WHY it happened and how to prevent it in the future. Often during my initial consultation I have found that clients have never had their injury properly explained to them by anyone and have no idea what happened to them and why. Knowing the why is very important for any recovery model. And that allows me to discuss…
After you have a diagnosis, depending where you get it the first suggestion is always physiotherapy. It’s covered under benefits, didn’t you know? The only problem is that there are lots of other ways to treat an injury and in my experience physio yields the worst results overall for my clients and others I have spoken to. If I was going to suggest the order you should look into things and why, here’s my list. Again, not to knock any practitioners – there are lots of good and bad ones out there – this is simply my experience in dealing with all of them frequently.
#1: Osteopath. These people frequently have had experience in another modality and decided to move into osteopathy. From an assessment and treatment perspective the results from these practitioners seems to be consistent, and they don’t ask to see patients frequently.
#2: Massage Therapist. With the disclaimer that this is for soft tissue injuries only, a good massage therapist can help with things like scar tissue, blood flow to improve tissue and relieving stiffness and immobility. This should be included with any recovery plan.
#3: Chiropractic – Again, with the disclaimer that this does NOT mean back cracking or neck cracking. A good chiropractor who knows other treatment protocols like ART or myofasical release, or even relieving nerve entrapment are usually your best bet.
The thing with chiropractors is that a lot of them are salespeople who try to lock you into long term treatment plans where you see them three times a week – please don’t fall for this and if it is suggested, find another practitioner. This generally doesn’t have any interest in your recovery, it has interest in your wallet and benefit plan. If you need to see a practitioner three times a week they need to justify it.
#4: Physiotherapy. Again, there are good physios out there. The problem is that in my experience they are few and far between. Look for someone who doesn’t use outdated methods, someone who will actually spend time with you individually (not hook you up to a machine and walk away or leave you with an assistant), and who will progress you session to session properly.
How long does it take for proper recovery? The general rule for serious soft tissue injuries is 6-12 weeks, more serious damage like tendons and ligaments can be up to 3-6 months. Anything requiring surgical intervention can be 6-12 months. This is not carved in stone, but it will give you some perspective in that you need to assume that this is a long term fix and not a temporary thing.
In my opinion surgery should always be a last resort. It is done when there is no other option for restoring tissue. Full tears, severe arthritis, and things like broken joints often carry this load and it is totally necessary. If you have the option, see how well you can get first without it and then see about surgery if all else fails. Realize that if you meet with a surgeon, they are going to likely push for an operation – that’s their job. You have options, consider them all wisely before making a decision that can affect your body for the rest of your life.
As a final note, the number one thing I see that causes injuries to recur is that the person rushed back into exercise and doesn’t do what they need to do to fully recover. This just makes things worse and more often than not will result in a worse injury down the road. Listen to your body and ease back into exercise. Sometimes my clients have to start off ridiculously easy and it drives them crazy, but it takes time for recovery and having a guided path is absolutely essential.
So you’re hurt – there are lots of options for you to pursue and the good news is an injury doesn’t have to be the end of the world. If I told you the laundry list of injuries I’ve had (including a disc herniation and multiple tears in various places) you would be surprised – but I can still move easily and lift heavy things without a problem. Be smart, apply things properly and keep moving forward.
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This article is in no way intended to offend any red haired people. Just a quick disclaimer because hey, I’m Canadian and I don’t want to offend anyone.
When I talk to people about fitness it is usually about an overall picture of wellness. This includes strength training, cardiovascular work, mobility, stress reduction and of course nutrition. There is another component that frequently gets ignored, ostracized and sometimes even laughed at by some athletes even though it is usually one of the first thing I recommend to many people:
This means rest, of course. A lot of people don’t understand the concept. It also means other things though.
I tell my athletes all the time that the workout is one part, but how your body responds to the workout is another thing entirely. Your tissue starts adapting to whatever stress you have put it under immediately. Often, if the workout is quite intense even your CNS will have taken on quite a bit of stress and need time to adapt and recover. Muscles have micro traumas that need to repair, inflammation is generated and even organs like your heart can have taken a bit of a beating. The actual deep science is well explained here.
Does this mean you can’t train the same muscle or movement daily? Of course not. The body will adapt over time and if you are an experienced exerciser then it is easier to frequently subject the body to load and force and have it respond in a positive way. The body is a remarkably adaptive thing. However, if you want it to improve, then you have to give it a chance to get stronger and sometimes this means doing nothing at all.
The time it takes to sufficiently repair tissue varies according to a bunch of variables, but here are a couple of the criteria I use with clients to give them a checklist to see if they need more recovery:
Is it SORE? This doesn’t mean that you can’t work it again, but if your muscles obviously can’t control the movement or you have restrictions then it is probably a good idea to let them rest. I always suggest a long warm up process and see how things feel – if after this you still feel sore and tired then let it go.
Are you FORCING the workout? You may need a rest day if you feel like you can’t give 100% effort and you’re just driving yourself further into the ground. Instead of making things better often this will actually make things worse.
Can you CONTROL your movements adequately? This means you can use good form in a weightlifting movement, achieve proper cadence or turnover in an endurance workout, or maintain position if doing a static pose as if in yoga. Lack of control means either your nervous or muscular system can’t work as hard and likely needs more rest.
This also does not mean that recovery can’t be ACTIVE. My athletes often do a short recovery run or bike after their long workouts. This moves the tissue in question, puts extra blood flow through it and can actually speed the recovery process. Taking a day to focus exclusively on mobility and release work can also help this process, and if you’re planning on working out intensely I’d actually suggest that it is mandatory to have at least one day devoted to this process.
This can mean warming up the tissue that needs attention with light movement, then working on adding blood flow into the fluid. Massage is an excellent technique for this. Many people make the mistake of going too hard into their tissue with hard foam rolling and really hard stretching, which can often be counterproductive over time.
Strength and mobility does not disappear overnight or even after a few days. However, if you over train and cause an injury this can set you back for weeks. Think of it as a risk/reward scenario and that it simply isn’t worth the risk for a possible minor short term gain. Too many athletes force themselves back into exercise too soon without taking the proper care and making sure that things have properly healed.
Always remember that exercise should be a life long endeavor and you can’t force things to heal faster. Taking the time to recovery properly as part of your program means that you will be able to improve more frequently and make progress without any setbacks. This essential part of fitness should not be overlooked by any serious athlete.
If you want to know more about recovery or have any feedback feel free to contact me, comment or find me on Facebook and Twitter at @paradigmottawa. Also, please share this with any athlete you think might need help with the recovery side of things. Thanks for reading!