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.
As always, if you enjoyed this feel free to share and like it, or subscribe to my Facebook page. Comments are also always welcome.
Wow, it has been about six months since I’ve posted a proper article on my site. Due to lots of personal stuff and my business exploding in May time to sit down and write has been minimal at best. I also have some exciting side projects that I have been working on, but I wanted to touch base with my readership and let you all know what is in the works.
First of all, for those of you who haven’t experienced it yet, ISOPHIT has become an integral part of my practice. The results have been nothing short of amazing for providing new stable joints and allowing people who have limited range of motion to strengthen muscles without having to risk any issues. I’m still offering FREE workouts on this apparatus if you want to experience it any time, just contact me.
I’m heading to Toronto in October to finally take the first part of the ISOPHIT certification program (I took the second part in April) and gain some more knowledge about the apparatus and how to apply it effectively. It’s really a game changer.
The second part of the Joint Injury Management Series is almost completed! Due to schedules I don’t know if I’ll be able to roll it out this year and may have to wait until next year to get it going, but that just means I can do it back to back with my initial course again on the knee. This one focuses on the shoulder and will help fellow trainers and other therapists learn pathology and solutions for things like rotator cuff problems, labral tears, tennis elbow and more!
The third exciting thing is I’m finally putting together a short Ebook on total back care and recovery from back injury. I’m excited to say that this offering will be FREE and will provide comprehensive information about your spinal health including recovery movements, strength movements and some things you can focus on to make sure back injury never comes back once it’s gone!
So essentially besides training my clients all the time I have a lot on the go. If you have any interest in anything I’ve discussed please let me know and I’m happy to sign you up for updates and get you on my mailing list for the new Ebook and course offering. Just click on the subscribe button at the top right!
And, as always you can follow me on Facebook and other social media outlets.
Just a quick update for today, but much, much more to come in the future from the Institute!
Finally the finishing touches to my back pain series. This was prompted by the epidemic of back issues that have been posted all over my social media lately. It seems that this winter many people have decided to “throw out” their backs. And this is something that is completely avoidable. The problem lies in that you’ve already likely done it to yourself. Now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
In July I wrote two articles on back pain. The first one which you can find here was about identifying what and why back pain typically occurs. The second one, which you can find here was about movements you can use when you’re feeling stiff or sore to help provide relief for general stiffness and soreness.
This part is about the exercises. Now, most therapists and trainers would identify that you need “more core strength”. What does that actually mean? Many people will think that yoga, pilates or even just simple crunches will do the trick. As I said in Part Two, the “core” is a very complex thing and can’t be isolated into one or two muscles. You have to strengthen the entire complex, and this stretches from the pelvis all the way up to the shoulders and even down into the legs.
So how do you begin? Well, a good place to start is by working on movements that you have to perform daily anyway.
My number one exercise to develop and improve back strength and resolve symptoms of back pain: The Deadlift.
In fact, if you were only allowed to do one exercise for the rest of your life, this would probably be my first recommendation.
Pretty simple, right? Picking something up and putting it down. This is not actually true. There is a lot of proper technique and intention behind this movement and I strongly suggest you have a competent coach (not your “brother-in-law who lifts”) teach you the movement and all of its’ parts. It includes the ability to squat, hip hinge and also keep your spine engaged throughout the movement, all individual components that you need to be aware of.
The good thing about this exercise is that it can be regressed so that my 103 year gold Grammie can do it, or progressed to an Olympic lifting level. It is very versatile and hits most of the muscles in your body in a very good way. One of my goals with any of my clients (even those with compromised backs) is a good solid deadlift.
My second choice for back strength actually involves the hips more than anything. Strong hips (and you can feel free to think “glutes” here) are essential for spinal integrity. Therefore my number two is: Hip Thrusters.
Now, this can be an uncomfortable position for many so I typically suggest starting this movement on the floor, then progressing to a Swiss Ball for mild loads, then a bench or modified floor position for heavier ones. You also need to make sure that your legs are in the proper position and you can actually hinge at the hips before you can do this properly. Again, please consult a professional coach to help give you the right technique.
Easy regression is an isometric hold in the up position (on the floor or a mat) for 15-20 seconds to start. Focus on pushing through the heels and pretending you’re holding a pencil between your butt cheeks and not letting it go.
Now, we also need a movement that takes place in the frontal plane – which means up and down if you’re standing up. This makes sure that the spine is being trained with forces that it will experience frequently. One way that people frequently hurt their backs is by extending a load over their heads they have no business lifting.
Most people also have very little upper body strength in relation to their lower body or vice versa. Men are horrible at this because they want to have a big upper body and never make their legs strong so their poor spine is like a pipe cleaner balanced with a big rock on top of it – and easily collapsed.
Therefore my next exercise for proper back health is very simple: The Pull-Up.
I realize that most people can’t do one full pull-up properly. Therefore I’ve given you two pictures that show easy ways to do these assisted in a gym or at home. If you need more ideas feel free to email me or google it and you’ll find a few more. I have at home clients do this with a bed sheet and a door frame sitting on the ground.
This movement not only is great for loading your spine in a frontal plane, it also hits those often neglected upper body pulling muscles that don’t get a lot of use. I encourage all of my clients to get to the stage where they can do pull-ups without much assistance. There are also a variety of choices in terms of grips and adjustments to enhance the strength in your shoulders without wrecking them. Please be careful and progress things appropriately.
Oh, and yes there is some debate over whether this is a frontal or sagittal plane movement. I believe it is a frontal plane movement. If you want to debate it, feel free to call me out.
There is a long list of complimentary exercises that I would add to this list. Some of them include:
- Overhead Pressing
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Back Extensions and Reverse Back Extensions
- Loaded Planking with movement
- Lateral Side Flexion
- Loaded Trunk Rotation
- Split Squats
And the list can go on. However, if you want to get started on the path to good spinal strength, these three are your first and best bet towards good spinal strength.
You might also notice that none of these first three exercises are traditional “core” exercises. However, all of them load your spine quite nicely and give you the benefit of adding strength in a bunch of other places as well. This is essential for total body health.
All of these exercises can be progressed and regressed by a competent coach. Always remember that exercise is tailored to the individual, and a good coach will adjust your program based on need and result (and goal).
I’m planning on putting together a proper E-Book on Back Strength coming soon. If you would like a free copy, feel free to subscribe to my site by adding yourself to the list at the side, or follow me on Twitter at @strengthottawa, Instagram at @strengthrehabottawa and on Facebook at Strength Rehabilitation Institute of Ottawa. I’m also always interested in your thoughts and feedback, so feel free to Share this as well on any social media.
Take care of your backs!