Preventing Injuries and Improving Performance

Preventing Injuries and Improving Performance

If you’ve ever experienced an exercising-related injury, you know how incredibly irritating it can be. You were making progress in the gym, feeling awesome and dominating your workouts, then you run into a roadblock, an injury. Like many things related to our body, prevention is the key to injuries. This article will give you tips and strategies to add to your routine to make sure you prevent injuries before they prevent you from going to the gym.

What is a muscle strain?

Before you can prevent injuries, you need to understand why they happen. There is a ton of research about exercise-related injuries and it can get very complicated. I’m going to keep this as simple and short as possible but encourage you to do your own research, if you are interested.

For the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on muscle strains, which are one of the most common type of soft tissue sports injuries and are caused by activities that require muscles to stretch and contract at the same time, like strength training. The muscles most susceptible to strain injury include the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip adductors, hip flexors, abdominals, calves, and biceps. Sometimes you may hear someone refer to a muscle strain as a “pulled” or “tweaked” muscle. A muscle strain is the stretching or tearing of muscle fibers. The muscle tissue becomes overloaded and reaches a breaking point where a tear or partial tear occurs. Most muscle strains happen because the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contact too strongly. There are also fatigue-related muscle strains from sustained postures and strains caused by too much exercise. Strains come in varying degrees of severity, including “partial” (a few torn fibers), “subtotal” (a bunch of torn fibers, with some remaining intact), and “complete” (the entire muscle is ripped in two and there can sometimes be a “pop” sensation).

How do our bodies heal?

Once a muscle strain occurs, the body begins the healing process with an inflammatory response, which could typically last anywhere from 3-5 days. This time is crucial for recovery and when you need to make RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) a priority. When a muscle strain occurs, you would think that the body would repair the tear with new muscle but that isn’t the case. Instead, the tear is repaired with scar tissue which is made from a very tough, inflexible fibrous material. The scar tissue tries to draw the damaged muscle fibers back together, resulting in the injury site being surrounded by a bulky mass of scar tissue.

Unfortunately, the scar tissue that is formed is never as strong as the original tissue it replaces. In fact, it is often less flexible and can impair muscle function. Since this area is weaker and less flexible now than it was before, it is more susceptible to future injuries. It shouldn’t be surprising then that the strongest predictor of injury is history of previous muscle injury. So what can you to be rehabilitate this area to regain its maximum strength and flexibility? The scar tissue needs to be realigned and smoothed out to become integrated with the muscle fibers, which can be done through deep tissue massages. This will accelerate the healing process and help restore muscular balance long term.

How do I prevent injuries and improve my performance?

There are multiple strategies you can use to both prevent injuries and improve your performance including, but not limited to: regularly incorporating mobility exercises, dynamic stretching, adequate warm-ups and cool-downs and foam rolling into your exercise routine; doing yoga to increase your flexibility and range of motion; getting regular massages to loosen up your muscles and release fascia; and, allowing your body to recover between workouts.

In the gym

What you do before a workout is just as, if not more important, than what you do during a workout. In order to improve your performance, your body needs to be ready for the movements. An adequate warm-up prior to training consisting of low-intensity aerobic activity, mobility exercises and dynamic stretches can help increase range of motion, muscle temperature, and elasticity, which will allow you to perform better and decrease chance of injury.

During your workouts, it’s essential to lift with proper technique and ask a coach when you aren’t sure if you are doing a movement correctly. Before adding your “workout weight” to the bar, you need to warm your body up with sets at a lower weight. Then, rather than speeding through a set of strength training exercises, allow yourself long enough rest periods between sets. These rest periods should be long enough for your breathing to slow down, but not long enough for your muscles to get cold. If you are given 20 minutes to complete the strength portion of the workout and finish it in 10 minutes, you aren’t allowing yourself enough rest time between sets. If you don’t enjoy standing around, add in some core exercises or ancillary movements that will help you perform the lift better. Ask a coach if you need ideas!

Allowing your body adequate time to recover between workouts is essential to building muscle and preventing muscle strain. Continually loading fatigued muscles will not result in gains. Rather, you will notice decreased performance and an increased potential for mechanical failure and injury. We can usually tell when our body has been pushed to the limit, but the hard part is honoring the rest our body needs. Doing one more set when you feel exhausted after multiple challenging sets isn’t worth it, nor is working through an exercise when your body is in pain. While we want you to challenge yourself and your potential, you need to know and respect your limits. A potential PR is not worth an interruption in training due to an injury.

Outside of the gym

Unfortunately, our work isn’t done when we leave the gym. What we do after a strenuous workout to restore our muscles is crucial. If you typically come to class then don’t do any mobility exercises, yoga or fascia release on your own, I challenge you to incorporate some of this work for a couple weeks to see if you notice a difference. Foam rolling, mobility exercises, yoga and massage will help with recovery and may prevent potential muscle strains.

Mobility Exercises: Mobility refers to our ability to move freely without stress on the body. By working on mobility you will be able to prevent injury and execute exercises with more power and efficiency. Lack of mobility is easily seen in large, compound movements like the squat. If you cannot get below 90 degrees, keep your heels on the ground and your knees turned out, there is likely a mobility issue occurring. Good news though, it is beneficial to start mobility exercises at any point and improve your functional range of motion! Many of the exercises we do before class target mobility issues, but if you have a specific area you would like to work on, ask Coach Liz or Dan next time you’re at class.

Yoga: It’s safe to say that a yoga class is much different than a class at GFSC. While we may love the high-intensity, powerful movements we do at GFSC, it’s important to balance it out with some slower, low-impact movements like yoga. The thought of having to be quiet and listen to your breathing for 60 minutes throughout a yoga class might make you nervous, so do it at home instead! Hellllooo YouTube! My favorite part about doing yoga videos at home is that you can do as little or as much as you want to. Only have 5 minutes? There are still videos that will leave you feeling great after 5 minutes of yoga. Also, you don’t have to worry about what to wear, if your leggings are see-through or if you’ll fall over onto your neighbor during downward dog.

Here are some yoga videos that have been made specifically for people that like lifting weights (tip: search ‘meathead yoga’ in YouTube):

Massage: Repeat after me, “I need to schedule a massage.” Great, now go visit Kelly at Massage in Davis for a massage! It seems like we view massages as special occasions or as a healing method  after we’ve already gotten injured. However, regular massages are key to helping our body perform at an optimal level, especially when engaging in strenuous exercise. Sports massages will improve your performance by:

  • Increasing blood flow to the whole body
  • Reducing your chance of injury by improving muscle flexibility and range of motion
  • Eliminating metabolic waste products like lactic acid after hard exercise
  • Shortening the recovery time needed between each workout
  • Reviving muscles and improving connective tissue to areas that have been injured

Trigger Point Release with Foam Rolling and Lacrosse Balls: While these are the easiest of the list to complete, they tend to be easily forgotten about. I finally put my foam roller right by the TV stand, so I see it anytime I sit down to watch TV. You can get some of the benefits from massage on your own by using a foam roller and a lacrosse ball to put pressure on fascia to release the tension that has built up. Here are the basics to doing trigger point release on your own:

Roll on the foam roller/ball until you feel a “trigger point” or “hot spot.” You’ll know you found one when it hurts. When you find a trigger point, stop and just rest on the foam roller for 10 to 20 seconds. It’s the pressure, not the rolling, that smooths fascia.

Avoid applying pressure on bones and joints. Just muscle.

You can come to class early to do this, stay after class or do it at home. YouTube is also a great resource for finding videos to guide you through this process. You’ll be amazed at how much better your body feels after releasing the fascia.

If you aren’t sure where to get started with mobility exercises or trigger point release, attending the brand new “New You Workshop” beginning on Saturday, July 21st would be a great place to learn about body mechanics. Kelly, a therapeutic and sports injury massage therapist and a GFSC athlete, will be leading classes on Saturdays at 10am to help you peak your performance, rehabilitate injuries and prevent future injuries from occurring. Check it out!

Staying on Track with Your Goals During Summer

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Staying on Track with Your Goals During Summer

School is out and the sun is shining- summer is here! Backyard BBQ’s, vacations, pool days and sunburns are upon us. Because of summer break and much needed vacations, our routines tend to change during this time of year.  This can be a refreshing and welcoming change to our regular schedule, but can sometimes make it hard to stay on track with our goals. Here are some tips to help you stay on track while still soaking up the summer sunshine and fun:

Tip #1: Stay hydrated

Hydration is critical to performing and feeling our best, especially during the hot summer months. When we are running around from one place to another, we can forget about the importance of staying hydrated. By the time you actually feel thirsty, you’re already on the road to dehydration.  Carry a refillable water bottle with you wherever you go and give yourself a goal number of refills throughout the day. If you know you’re going to be out and about for awhile, especially with kids, consider getting a large beverage cooler with a spigot that you can fill up at the beginning of the day to make sure you have water with you all day long.

While drinking water is the number one way to stay hydrated, the Institute of Medicine claims that we get about 20% of our daily water intake from food. Food with a high-water content, like many fruits and veggies, provide volume to make us feel full with relatively low calories. Additionally, consuming these fruits and veggies also means we are benefiting from the vitamins and minerals they contain. During summer, many of the seasonal fruits and veggies have a high water content. In fact, watermelon is about 92% water per volume (1 cup of watermelon contains about ½ cup of water) and it has some fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, magnesium and lycopene. Other high water content foods to enjoy this summer are strawberries, cucumbers, celery, lettuce, bok-choy, radishes, zucchini, tomatoes and bell peppers.

Tip #2: Focus on simple meal planning

Multiple hour meal prep sessions aren’t as fun when the beautiful weather is calling your name. Keep your meal plan simple, so you can easily knock it out in 30 minutes or less and enjoy the rest of the day. An easy formula for meals to remember is a protein source + veggie(s) + complex carbohydrate (sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, etc.). Fill each category with whatever is on sale or seasonal that week. If you are buying seasonal, local produce, the quality should be so good that the flavor of the vegetable will shine through with just a little oil, salt and pepper.

Summer also lends itself to grilling instead of sweating over the oven or stove. Grilling, in general, can be a much healthier form of preparing food. Consider grilling lots of vegetables and a versatile protein (like chicken) for dinner Sunday night then enjoy the leftovers in multiple ways throughout the week. For example, you can add leftover grilled vegetables to eggs, salads, tacos, sandwiches- the options are endless!

Tip #3: Embrace movement in all forms

While we still want you to come to the gym regularly, summer provides countless options for movement. Try to expand your idea of being active beyond the gym. The longer days make post-dinner walks enjoyable and the milder mornings make it easier to go swimming or biking. Just a quick game of tag with your kids is a great way to stay active and reduce sedentary time throughout the day. Some places for active adventures in and near Davis include:

  • The Putah Creek Reserve
  • The Arboretum
  • Kayaking at Lake Solano
  • Disc golf in Davis or Vacaville
  • Davis Bike Loop
  • Numerous pools and parks

If you still have trips to plan for the season, consider planning “active vacations”. Besides feeling great from moving around and exploring new areas, active vacations tire everyone out so you will sleep well despite not being in your own bed. Remember that your idea of an “active vacation” is unique based on your fitness level, ages involved and interests. While some people may enjoy an all-day hike, you might prefer a morning walking tour instead. Regardless, both options allow for a day of exploring on your feet that helps you maintain your physical activity levels on vacation. Just do what works best for you and your family when you plan an active vacation.

Tip #4: Drink water with or in alcoholic beverages

Ice cold beers, chilled wine and cocktails, might sound like the best way to quench your thirst on hot summer days, but keep in mind that they are also dehydrating. It’s best to enjoy a glass of water in between alcoholic beverages. These delicious beverages will also affect the way you feel tomorrow, which may or may not influence the likelihood of you sticking to your workout routine. This is where it helps to set a game plan ahead of time. Give yourself a limit before going into a social situation with alcohol, so you’ll still feel good the following day.

Another trick to enjoying alcoholic drinks over summer while still sticking to your goals is choosing lighter beverages. For example, vodka or gin mixed with sparkling water and fresh citrus and/or herbs is a great way to keep the drink light and low in sugar. Wine spritzers also create a lighter beverage and make the wine last longer- it’s a win win! You can use frozen fruit to help keep your beverage cold too. Finally, if you don’t want to drink alcohol (you’ll feel better than everyone else the next day), make yourself a fun mocktail with kombucha and sparkling water!

Tip #5: Party food…is it worth it?

Just because there is food at a party, doesn’t mean you have to eat. If you are hungry and it looks appetizing, please fill up your plate and enjoy! However, I recently noticed that I often feel obligated to eat something at food gatherings, just because the food is there. A question I’ve been asking myself recently is, “Is it worth it?” For example, let’s consider a cookie purchased from the grocery store vs. homemade cookies. Usually, homemade cookies are always worth it. On the flip side, I know how typical store bought cookies usually taste and it’s not something that really satisfies me. But, I will typically grab one just because they are there then I get half way through it and ask myself, “Why am I eating this?”. This seems to happen a lot with chips and salsa too. Are they delicious chips and fresh salsa or is just the regular old stuff you’ve always had? Thinking of food this way, especially when there is way too much to choose from at a party, helps me prioritize what I really want and thoroughly enjoy it.

Tip #6: Go easy on yourself and soak up every minute of summer

Yes, all of these tips above will help you stay on track this summer and feel healthier. However, I believe the most important tip is to simply go easy on yourself and soak up every minute of summer with friends and family. Be in the moment. Engage with the people around you and don’t dwell on something if everything doesn’t go as planned. Some days, you might have to miss the gym and that’s ok. Some days you may have had every intention to make a nourishing dinner, but you end up getting takeout instead and that’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just move on and remember that it’s the decisions you make over a long period of time that add up to influence your health. So, in this season, do what you can to stay on track and give yourself the leeway for life to happen then roll with it.

How to Mentally and Physically Prepare for the Get Fit Challenge

How to Mentally and Physically Prepare for the Get Fit Challenge

When you heard about the Get Fit Challenge, what was the first thing that came to mind? I’ll go out on a limb and guess that it wasn’t pure joy and excitement. Likely, your thoughts were leaning towards thinking this is “impossible”, “too hard” or “not for me”. Well, I’d like to challenge those doubtful thoughts, because the Get Fit Challenge is for you and you can most definitely do it! With some physical and mental preparation, everyone at Get Fit has the ability to conquer the Get Fit Challenge. Here are some tips for preparing yourself to dominate this Challenge:

Change Your Mindset

This might be the most important part to you succeeding in this challenge. We can be our biggest supporter or our biggest critic- what you say to yourself matters. Imagine you are halfway through the deadlifts and you tell yourself either: A) I only have 25 more reps, I’ll break it up into 5 sets of 5. I can do this. OR B) I’m only halfway there. There’s no way I can finish this. Which scenario do you think will set you up for a success and a mostly enjoyable experience?

Positive affirmations are extremely powerful. They can help us believe in ourselves and get through difficult moments in life. If you’re not sure what this looks like, here are some positive affirmations you can say to yourself between now and the Challenge:

  • When you sign up for the Get Fit Challenge (you should do that now, by the way): “I am awesome for pushing myself to do something new and intimidating.”
  • When you make it to the gym in preparation for the challenge: “I am so proud of myself for making it to class today. I am making myself stronger and healthier, because I matter.”
  • When you practice lap swimming, even though you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing: “It doesn’t matter that I’m not sure what I’m doing. I am pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to do something new that will benefit my physical and mental health. I will feel great after this!”
  • The day of the challenge: “I am so ready for this challenge and can’t wait to finish it.”
  • During the challenge:
    • During the run: “With every step I take, I am one step closer to finishing.”
    • During the swim: “I am becoming a better version of myself with every lap that I swim.”
    • During the weights: “I am powerful. I am strong. I can do this.”

The Swim

While mentally preparing yourself is extremely important, there is some physical preparation you should do as well. When I’ve talked to people about the challenge, the swim is hands down the scariest part. If you’ve never swam laps or don’t know how to swim, this is a great motivator to learn something new. Remember, we are changing our mindsets, so “I don’t know how to swim” becomes “I need to learn how to swim for this Challenge”. A great way to learn how to swim in a safe environment is to join the Get Fit triTRAINed program and learn from our experienced coach, Nick Walejeski.

http://www.getfitdavis.com/tritrained.html

For anyone that knows how to swim but hasn’t swam laps before, you just need to get in the pool. It may seem intimidating, but remember everyone in the pool is there for their own workout and they are all looking down at the water. No one is paying attention to you. We frequently keep ourselves from trying new things, because we worry what others will think of us. Well guess what, I think it’s absolutely awesome when people go outside of their comfort zones and try new things, like lap swimming. I’m going to guess that most people feel similarly, because we all know how hard it can be to try something new. So, just get in the pool!

Equipment can make swimming more enjoyable when you’re just starting out. A pull buoy allows you to keep your legs afloat while just using your arms and a kickboard lets you only use your legs. Both give you something to hold onto and let you practice one part of the stroke at a time. Once you feel pretty comfortable with kicking and pulling, you can put it all together for freestyle.

Twelve laps in the pool might sound like a lot, so let’s break it up! Can you do 3 rounds of 4 laps and take short breaks in between instead? No one said you have to do all 12 at a time. You could even do 6 rounds of 2 laps. Just do what works for you!

The Run

People either love or hate running. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. The good part about the Challenge is that it is only a 1-mile run. If you come to Get Fit Strength and Conditioning regularly, I guarantee you that you can run 1 mile. Remember those positive affirmations we talked about earlier? Say it again and again, “I can do the 1-mile run”.  If you don’t believe me, why not start practicing now? The more you practice, the more confident you will feel on race day.

Similarly to the swim, the 1-mile run does not mean you have to run the whole time. If running is not your jam, try using intervals to make it more doable and enjoyable. Run for 1, 2 or 3  minutes (choose what works best for you) then walk for 1-2 minutes and repeat until you complete the mile. This strategy will also help you save energy for the rest of the challenge, like the strength-based movements and the bike.

The Strength

Like the swim and the run, there is no rule that says you have to do all the reps at once. Break up the 50 reps into 5 sets of 10 reps or 10 sets of 5 reps. Do whatever makes it seem easier to accomplish and will allow you to still enjoy the experience. Ultimately we are all here to just have fun and get healthier! Another way to look at completing the strength part is to use the clock. Every minute, you will complete as many reps as you can for 30 seconds then take a 30 second break. This will help keep you on pace, if you are worried about taking too long of breaks. When you’re practicing, play around with each method to see which one you enjoy using the most. Also, if you’d like more experience with strength training, you should check out the brand new Powerlifting classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30PM in the Functional Training room. http://www.getfitstrengthandconditioning.com/programs

50 Dumbbell Press

The best part about this exercise? You’re laying down! It will be a nice break for your legs after the run. The dumbbell press is safer on your shoulders than the regular barbell press and requires more core engagement, since you are using two separate weights.

Check-out these video tutorials, if you’d like to learn step-by-step instructions:

https://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/chest-exercises/videos/dumbbell-floor-press

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNdi7VEf2Ew

50 Sit-Ups

Out of all of the exercises in the challenge, the sit-up is probably the easiest one to prepare for. You can do them pretty much anywhere, so try to sneak them into your day here and there. Need a break at work? Do some sit-ups. Watching TV? Do some sit-ups. Early to class? Do some sit-ups. The key parts to this movement are to have your feet planted, tighten your core before you sit-up and exhale as you sit-up. Since we are going for speed in the Challenge, you can use your arms for momentum to help improve your time by bringing your arms behind your head on the ground and then flinging them forward when you sit-up.

50 Deadlifts

Now that your legs have recovered from the run, it’s time to get them working again! Deadlifts work pretty much every every major muscle group, so be prepared for this exercise to make your whole body burn, in a good way of course. I highly recommend preparing for this exercise and practicing holding onto the barbell for multiple reps. Our grip can be a limiting factor if we aren’t prepared to hold onto that bar for a while. Some other things to consider when doing a deadlift are:

  • Keep your abs tight the entire time, and keep your back straight. Don’t arch or roll your back.
  • Keep the bar as close to you as possible. You may even get a few nicks on your shins, if you are keeping the bar close enough.
  • You aren’t using your back to pull the bar up past your knees. The power comes from a hip thrust and your glutes.
  • Everything should move in unison. As you pull the weight up, your legs should straighten as your hips come forward. Basically, your knees should NOT straighten while you are still hinged over. Your hips, knees and feet should all form a straight line at the same time.

For more in-depth information about how to do a proper deadlift, visit: https://stronglifts.com/deadlift/

Bike

The fact that this 2-mile bike ride is on a regular spin bike and not an assault bike is really all that matters. You will zoom through this part of the Challenge straight to the finish line. If you’re worried about swimming, running and biking all in one challenge, the Get Fit triTRAINed group is a great way to practice and get some great advice from experienced coaches. http://www.getfitdavis.com/tritrained.html

Remember, just have fun!

You can be incredibly prepared for the Get Fit Challenge, but might not enjoy it if you aren’t ready to just have fun. Let’s be real, this Challenge is not going to qualify us for any olympic event, so let’s just go out there and have a great time together. It will be a much better experience if we cheer each other on and don’t compare ourselves to each other. I look forward to cheering you on and encourage you to come to Get Fit Davis or Get Fit Davis Sport to register today!

This one’s for the Ladies: Lifting Weights is Making me Bigger. Fact or fiction?

This one’s for the Ladies: Lifting Weights is Making me Bigger. Fact or fiction?

When’s the last time you were perusing the magazine rack while waiting to pay for your groceries and picked up one of the “female” targeted fitness magazines? Practically every issue claims to have the secrets to “tone” our bodies, how to lose weight in an unrealistic amount of time or how to target a certain “problem area” with this one amazing exercise. Don’t forget that they also have a super realistic meal plan where we would only be consuming about 1200 calories a day. Sounds super doable and healthy right?

If you haven’t already guessed, I have beef with the messages these magazine send to women, especially teenagers and young adults. I will admit that they have improved in the last 10 years, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to bust all these myths promoted to women. For example, the age old legend that women get “bulky” or “big” by lifting heavy weights is still supported by various fitness programs and promoted in the media. Because of these messages, we start to believe that we shouldn’t use more than 8 lb. weights. I don’t know about you, but I regularly pick up a lot of things that are more than 8 lb. (grocery bags that I overfill because I forgot my reusable bags, kids, furniture, etc.), and I want to have the strength to do that without injuring myself.

Sure, sometimes you do see women (usually professional bodybuilders or athletes) that look like they are “bulky”. This is because they dedicate their life to look like that. They spend hours a day lifting heavy weights, taking supplements, eating a very strict diet…it’s a full time job! It would be extremely hard or nearly impossible for a woman to come to GF Strength and Conditioning classes 3-4 times per week, lift heavy weights that are really challenging and get a body like a bodybuilder.

Now that we’ve addressed the myth, let’s look at the reality. When you pick up heavy weights, your muscles will absolutely get stronger but not necessarily bigger. However, if you’ve never lifted heavy weights before or don’t have a ton of muscle to start, it may seem like you’re getting “bigger”. This is because you start to build muscle before you lose the fat surrounding the muscle, which may result in you feeling or thinking you are getting “bigger”. Maybe you might start to think “I’m going to take a break from this class or use lighter weights, because I’m getting bigger and don’t like it.” Before you make that decision, let’s explore what is happening and what you should do about it.

What is happening

First things first, we need to recognize and admit that everybody has different body compositions, shapes and sizes. While exercise plays a role, there are so many other factors that go into it some of which are out of our control, like genetics. Your body is genetically predisposed to storing fat in certain locations in a certain order.  When you start to lose weight, your body will lose the fat you currently have in a certain order as well and this order is different for everyone. Despite what the magazines tell you, no amount of targeted exercise will change how and where fat disappears.

However, heavy compound full-body movements that require us to use many muscle groups are more effective than targeted exercises like bicep curls. When you lift lighter weights for multiple reps (20+) you are building muscular endurance, not strength. In order to build dense, strong muscle, you must pick up heavy things and continue increasing that weight as you get stronger.

The reality is that your body absolutely will change from lifting heavy weights. Women with little to no muscle will probably increase their muscularity rather quickly. This won’t be anything dramatic, but it will be noticeable and very healthy as it is important for women to have muscle as we grow older. Some parts might get bigger, others will get smaller and your body may change shape altogether. Your body is in a state of transition. One thing that will definitely happen is that your whole body will get stronger and that’s pretty awesome.

As your body gets stronger and you continue to gain muscle, you will begin to lose fat (as long as you are also fueling your body with nourishing foods and staying hydrated). The time this takes will vary for everyone. If you are someone with a lot of body fat to lose, you will lose that body fat and become smaller over all. But if you are someone with just a little bit of body fat to lose, you might notice a few things feeling bigger before you start to notice your overall size decreasing. Remember, we are all different, so this will vary based on your body composition, lifestyle and genetics. Most importantly, do not quit and do not stop coming to class. If you want to see and feel results, this is the last thing you should do. Please, DON’T STOP lifting heavy weights because you think you are starting to look “big”. Keep at it and you will start to see the results you are hoping for in addition to feeling stronger and more confident at the gym.

Why women should lift weights

Strength training is the best training technique a woman can do to change her body composition and improve health outcomes. The huge benefit to strength training is your body’s ability to burn fat during and after exercise. When you lift weights, your muscles are broken down, and then rebuilt over the next 24-48 hours. While your body is rebuilding those muscles, it’s recruiting more calories and energy to make the process happen. Basically, this means you are burning more calories even after your workout (aka the “after burn”). Also, lean muscle mass naturally burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. Pretty neat right? The key part here is that we must lift heavy weights to create this lean muscle mass.

While “looking good” is often a main exercise motivator, it’s important to recognize all of the benefits, both physical and mental, that exercise provides. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that people in general are quite stressed. From work, to kids, to home life, to maintaining a social life…there’s just a lot going on! Exercise, strength training especially, is very effective at helping us manage and alleviate stress. I personally think there is nothing better than lifting weights and feeling strong to help me cope in difficult situations. So, next time you need to blow off some steam, try hitting the weights as a healthy and very efficient coping strategy!

Strength training also improves sleep quality, specifically making it easier to fall asleep faster, spend more hours in deep sleep and wake up less throughout the night. Sleep is critical for your ability to recover after lifting weights. We need to give our body that time to rest and recuperate so aim for 7-9 hours a night to reap the physical and mental benefits of strength training.

As women age, we are at risk of losing bone density and muscle mass. Postmenopausal women, in particular, are at a greater risk for osteoporosis because the body no longer secretes estrogen. The earlier you begin lifting weights, the better off your body will be. However, you will experience benefits from lifting weights and decrease your risk for osteoporosis even if you start later in life. Specifically for older adults, strength training will improve your balance and decrease your risk of bone breakage from falls. Have I convinced you that every woman should be incorporating strength training into their life yet?

What should I do?

What happens when you try something new in life, maybe a new job? There’s usually an adjustment period before we start to feel comfortable in that new role. Rather than getting frustrated, you give yourself time to adjust. You need to practice that same compassion with your body when it’s experiencing a transition. Yes, you might gain a little weight after a few weeks of strength training, but in a few more weeks, consistent effort in the gym will give you the results you’re really looking for.

In addition to being patient and not giving up, remember that the foods you eat play a major role in this process as well. While I could shout the benefits of strength training from the rooftops, nutrition is the main factor in determining our body composition. As the saying goes, “you can’t out train a poor diet”. In addition to eating nourishing foods and staying hydrated, you need to make sure you’re eating enough food. Remember those fitness magazines that tell promote the 1200 calorie diets? Please don’t do that. If you only consume 1200 calories per day and try to exercise (especially strength train) your body will not be very happy, you won’t have energy and your body may go into “starvation mode” and hold onto calories instead of burn them. Eat enough food to provide your body with energy to get through the day and your workouts. If you’re not sure what types of foods and how much you should be eating, talk to Coach Liz about setting up a consultation!

Finally, probably the most important thing you can do is to change your mindset. Ask yourself, why am I so concerned with being smaller? Why does the thought of being “bigger” as my muscles grow, make me want to stop something I know is extremely good for me to do? If it makes me feel great, why am I so concerned about how my body looks? Women, unfortunately, have been sent the message for generations that we need to be smaller and take up less space. Well, I say it’s time we change that. Let’s start celebrating strong quads that allow us to hike up mountains and give our kids piggy back rides. Let’s start celebrating strong shoulders that might not fit perfectly into blouses, but allow us to carry all of our grocery bags in one trip. Strength training allows us to feel incredible, powerful and confident in everything we do, so unless you absolutely hate lifting weights, do not quit. Keep coming to class to get stronger, have fun and improve your overall health and well-being, because you are worth it.

Strategies for Setting Goals

Goals-1

Strategies for Setting Goals You’ll Want to Work Towards

Have you seen the newest piece of equipment at GF Strength and Conditioning? It’s meant to challenge, motivate and push us out of our comfort zone. Yes, you guessed it! It’s the humongous goals board and we are pretty excited about it.

What did you think when you first saw the goals board? Did you get excited about the opportunity to work towards something, did you get a little nervous about writing a goal on the board, or did you just wonder how long it took to hang it perfectly straight (I did!)? The way we think about and develop goals has a huge impact on how successful we are at achieving our goals. Goals can be energizing, but they can also be intimidating. It’s essential that we don’t let fear keep us from setting goals, because goals allow us to translate our health and wellness visions into realistic behaviors that can have a tremendous impact.

A common time for people to set goals is at the New Year. People start off the New Year with great intentions, but those intentions can only take you so far. It’s pretty common to see class sizes start to dwindle about 3-4 months into the year. This doesn’t mean that the people that stopped coming to class gave up on their goals. It probably means that they didn’t develop a goal that would set them up for success.  We want you to come to class and find new ways to challenge yourself, at the gym and in your life, all year long. Here are some questions to ask yourself when developing goals to make sure you are setting yourself up for success.

Motivators — Why does this matter a lot to me, right now?

We all have different motivators and reasons for wanting to pursue a goal, so it is important to identify reasons that are strong positive motivators, for you, right now. Before writing a goal on the board, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who do I want to be?
  • How does this goal connect to my values?
  • Why do I want to accomplish this goal?
  • What is important to me about this goal?
  • How will working towards this goal make a difference in my life?
  • How will working towards this goal make me feel?

Write down the answers to these questions and refer to them frequently. Your answers to these questions should invigorate and excite you. If they don’t, then you either need to dig deeper or rethink your goal. Motivation is what helps keep us going when times get tough and if you don’t have a strong motivation for a goal in the beginning, then it probably won’t be there in the end.

Find a method that works for you.

I go back and forth between writing everything down and using Google Drive to record our meal plans. I created a template that I insert the meals, sale items and grocery list into weekly. I like the Google Drive method, because I can access it from my phone for grocery shopping. I’ve also had way fewer “Crap I forgot the list moments!” since I started using this method. It can also be fun to involve friends and family by creating a shared meal plan folder. Life is much easier when we create community!

Outcomes — What results do I want to achieve?

An outcome is probably what most of us have written on the board right now- this is the end result, the bigger picture, our vision. We usually know more about what we want than about how we are going to get there. Outcomes usually reflect our feelings, needs, values and desires that can motivate and sustain behavior change. While outcome goals provide us with a vision and direction, they do not lead to behavior change. With a clear plan, however, we know what to do in order to achieve our desired outcomes and to make our goals a reality.

Behaviors — What activities do I want to do consistently?

Behavioral goals are the actions we will take to achieve our outcome goal.  For example, let’s say you have a 3-month outcome goal to do at least 10 pull-ups in a row. How are you going to achieve that? This is where your behavioral goals come in. These goals should enable you to think about and identify the specific actions and behaviors you want to do next in working towards your outcome. They answer the question, “Now what?”

Effective behavioral goals:

  • Break down large goals into incremental goals that meet you where you are currently at.

For example, if you currently do not go to the gym then you shouldn’t make your first behavioral goal to go to the gym 5 days/week. Be realistic about it. Starting with 3 days, then switching to 4 then finally 5 days would make it easier to integrate into your life.

  • Are specific about the “how” and “when” details.

This is crucial because it gives you a timeline to accomplish the goal. For example, if you are going to go to the gym 3 days per week, what days and time will you go? Include that specific information in your behavior goal. It is like the difference between putting something on your schedule now versus “getting around to it” when there is time.

  • Include only one measurable behavior per goal.

For example, “I will go to the gym 3 days/week and go to yoga 2 days/week” has two measurable goals in it. Split them up into singular goals. This makes it easier to measure and assess why something is or is not working.

Evolve as you work towards your outcome. Trial and correction, not trial and error, is how you continue with goals when times get tough. Goals are learning experiences. We don’t fail at goals, we learn from them. Setting weekly behavioral goals allows you to check-in with yourself and adapt your approach instead of give up on a goal. This is where keeping a journal really helps.

Strengths — What strengths, talents, and abilities will I draw upon?

We all have our own strengths that we can use to our advantage. It’s essential to recognize these strengths and determine how we can use them to help us achieve our goals. Take some time exploring what your own strengths are — you might even ask other people what strengths they think you have. Hey, a little positive affirmation never hurt anybody! Once you’ve identified your strengths, determine how you can draw upon these strengths to help you work towards your goals.

Another strategy to use, is the confidence ruler. Ask yourself, “What is my confidence level on a scale of 0 to 10 for achieving this goal (10 being the highest)?” Based on the number you chose, you can explore why you didn’t pick a lower number and what it would take to increase your confidence on the scale, go from a 8 to a 9. Generally speaking, if you are at a 6 or lower you may need to reevaluate the goal, make changes and design strategies so that you will feel confident in your ability to achieve it.

Challenges — What challenges will I overcome?

In a perfect world we could work towards a goal and not experience any challenges. But, as we all know, life isn’t perfect, so we must anticipate challenges. How we overcome obstacles makes a huge difference in our experience with a goal. We can set ourselves up for success by anticipating challenges we may face and developing solutions. For example, let’s say your behavioral goal is to go to the gym 3 days this week, but you know that work is really hectic at the moment and let’s just throw a sick kid in there too. Instead of not making it to the gym and forgoing movement that day, could you have some YouTube videos or 10-minute high intensity at-home workouts onhand? Instead of saying “I can’t make it to the gym today, so I’ve failed”, say “I can’t make it to the gym today, but I can do [insert workout here] instead.”

Supports — What support team and structures will I put in place?

Repeat after me, “I am not alone”. People are more successful at working towards their goals when they have a support structure. You can have social support and you can create an environment that supports your goals. For example, if you want to foam roll daily for at least 5 minutes, then take the foam roller out of the closet and put it where you spend most of your time. If you want to eat 3 servings of fruits and veggies a day, place a bowl with fresh produce on the counter. You are creating an environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice.

When it comes to health, fitness, and wellness, people are generally accountable only to themselves – and that often isn’t enough especially when we are just getting started. Building in accountability through our social network helps us remain on track. Also, it’s just nice to have someone to talk to about our goals and challenges. The coaches at GF Strength and Conditioning are here to help you accomplish your goals, but we need to know what they are. Write them on the board, talk about them with us frequently, share your experience with the other athletes in class – we are all here for you.

Check-In with yourself — How am I doing with this goal

It’s helpful to review your goals on a weekly basis. You can do this while driving to work, before bed or in the shower. All you need is a few minutes to ask yourself these questions:

  • What went well and what did I learn working towards my goal this week?
  • Tip: Always focus on what you accomplished, rather that what you didn’t accomplish. Use reframing positive terms, even when it feels like you didn’t make progress. This will give you the confidence to keep going.
  • What percentage of achievement did I reach for this goal – e.g. 100%, 75%, 50%, or 10%?
  • What contributed to this level of success?
  • What kept it from being lower?
  • What could have made it higher?
  • What do I like about this goal?
  • What did I learn from this experience?
  • What challenges did I face along the way?
  • Do I think this goal is too ambitious, too cautious, or just right?
  • When I think about this goal, what feelings does it stimulate and what needs does it meet?
  • If I were to set a new, more ambitious goal, what would it be?
  • On a scale of 0-10, how confident am I in my ability to sustain this behavior for the foreseeable future?

Your mindset is the most important factor in working towards your goals. How are you talking to yourself about your goal progress? How are you supporting yourself when times get tough and it seems like nothing is going the way you planned? These are the moments that make the difference. Remember, progress not perfection. Celebrate all the small steps you make along the way and for the love of God, please do not compare yourselves to others. We so often think that other people are doing something better than us, but we don’t actually know what’s going on in their lives. Only compare yourself to yourself, learn from your experiences and work to be a better version of yourself everyday.

Spring Break doesn’t have to mean a break from your workouts. Keep it moving with…

Spring Break doesn’t have to mean a break from your workouts. Keep it moving with this fun workout.

I am not famous for many things…actually I’m not famous for anything. However, the Deck of Cards workout is something I can say I am at least well known for.

My roommates from college might shake their heads in disdain and remember when I convinced them to go to a park for this super fun workout. Sometimes I have to remember that my definition of “fun” is different from others.

The lucky souls that attended my boot camp classes in San Diego would probably just laugh out loud and remember the buckets of sweat shed during the deck of card workouts we did as one big happy family. I’m not going to lie, I greatly enjoyed watching their faces and reactions when they walked in on a Saturday morning, saw the board and realized they had 45 minutes of sweaty fun ahead of them. On multiple occasions they accused me of stacking the deck with higher number cards and even took the deck to count it themselves. Sure, I took a few 2’s out, but who really want to do 2 reps of anything? 10 reps is way more fun.

The Deck of Cards is one of my all time favorite ways to move, because it is adaptable to any situation. You can do it by yourself or with friends. You can make it easy or a gut buster. You can use your own body weight or equipment. You can do it indoors, outdoors, anywhere!

With spring break upon us, our ability to get to the gym might be impacted. We may have to travel, entertain out-of-town guests or figure out what the heck to do with the kids. Although we don’t know what spring break will throw our way, we can have some tricks in our back pocket to make sure we still find time to move our bodies. Instead of not going to the gym, we can find alternatives. The deck of cards workout would be a fun workout to do with family or friends and can be done at any time of the day. Let us know if you try it out!

The Deck of Cards Workout

What you need: A deck of cards or the Deck of Cards WOD app (it’s free!)

Directions:

  1. Assign an exercise to each suit. For example, hearts could be squats.
  2. Make the jokers something special. For example, hold a 1 minute plank for each joker.
  3. Decide how many repetitions the face cards will be. I usually assign 10 repetitions to all face cards, but you could also do 11 for a jack, 12 for a queen, 13 for a king and 14 for an ace if you’re feeling really frisky!
  4. Pull your first card! The number determines how many repetitions you will do. Ex: If you pulled a 6 of hearts, that’s 6 squats. Get movin’ pal.
  5. Keep pulling cards until you complete the deck. It’s your workout, so you determine the pace. Go as slow or as fast as you want to go. Take as many or as few breaks as you need. Depending on your pace and the exercises you choose, this could take anywhere from 20-45 minutes.

Here are some example workouts:

Workout #1 (body weight)

Hearts = Squats

Spades = Push-Ups

Jacks = Sit-Ups

Clubs = Jumping Jacks

Joker #1 = 30 walking lunges

Joker #2 = 1 minute plank

Workout #2 (with equipment)

Hearts = Thrusters

Spades = Russian Twist (complete repetitions on each side)

Jacks = Single or double arm swing (use kettlebell or dumbbell or a jug of water!)

Clubs = Renegade Rows

Joker #1 = 25 Burpies

Joker #2 = 25 plank jacks

Are you getting the most bang for your buck in your workout? 5 strategies to increase your…

Are you getting the most bang for your buck in your workout? 5 strategies to increase your intensity

It’s easy to go through the motions day in and day out, but what happens when we step outside of our comfort zone? What happens when we push ourselves to do those things that make us uncomfortable? According to some inspirational quotes, we only ever truly grow when we challenge ourselves. However, stepping out of our comfort zone isn’t always easy or appealing. In fact, the majority of us tend to avoid it at all costs.

I am definitely guilty of going to the gym and just going through the motions. Some days, that’s perfectly fine and enough for my body. Heck, getting to the gym can be hard enough on its own! But, will I ever grow or reach my goals if I don’t push myself a little harder? Probably not. I likely won’t be able to do that nagging pull-up that I’ve always dreamed of doing, if I don’t actually give it my all when we practice them. I likely won’t be able to get lower in my squats, if I don’t push myself to do mobility work. I likely won’t improve my cardiovascular fitness if I never try to increase my intensity on the assault bike.  Our coaches can motivate and push us to work harder, but that only goes so far. How do we learn to push ourselves on our own?

I recently got a Fitbit and came to the realization that I tend to stay in my comfort zone during class. Sure, I push myself and feel out of breath, but only to a point of slight discomfort. The Fitbit tells you if you’re in the “fat burning”, “cardio” or “peak” zone based on your heart rate, which they calculate using your age. Is it entirely accurate? Probably not, but it’s a decent estimate to guide you in your workout. I found that I was in the fat or cardio burning zones for the majority of the workouts. I thought I was pushing my limits, but the number flashing in my face was basically telling me that I wasn’t trying hard enough.

To be clear, being in the fat burning or cardio zone is not a bad thing. You are exercising and doing something good for your body and that is amazing and rewarding in and of itself. However, the reason that GF Strength and Conditioning is unique is because it uses exercise methods that are scientifically proven to have profound effects, if done correctly. Research shows that high intensity exercise performed for short periods of time with rest can be more effective than long, steady state cardio. Basically, you get more bang for your buck—score! Additionally, strength training with heavy weights is one of the most effective ways to burn fat and build muscle. Plus, you just start to feel stronger and that’s useful in all areas of life!

Of course, there’s always a caveat. In order to reap all the benefits from high-intensity interval training and weight lifting, you have to do them correctly. You have to push yourself to get in the peak zone during a conditioning workout. You have to start with a challenging weight during strength training exercises and continue to add weight as you get stronger. It should be uncomfortable, but it’s shouldn’t be painful. Exercise should never be painful.

Like I said before, just moving your body is awesome. You can’t expect to jump right into a workout at GF Strength and Conditioning and go all out if you haven’t done that type of movement before. But, you will get there and you will notice the difference in how you feel both physically and mentally when you push yourself. Here are some tips to help increase your intensity and get out of your comfort zone, when you’re ready for it:

Tip 1: Remember, it’s only temporary

One of the reasons I love GF Strength and Conditioning is because the workouts go by quickly, and I am never doing the same thing throughout the whole workout. Also, we rarely do the awful exercises (I’m lookin’ at you, assault bike) for more than a minute. Knowing I only have to work for a given amount of time or reps lets me know that the struggle is only temporary. That burning sensation throughout my whole body will end as soon as that timer beeps and I can get off this damn bike. Keeping this in mind makes it easier to push yourself for that given amount of time. You only have to go all out for 3 reps or 30 seconds then that part is over. How many times have we heard Coach Liz say, “You can do anything for 30 seconds”? Probably a lot, but it’s true. Instead of thinking, “Ugh, I have to do this for 30 seconds” think “I only have to do this for 30 seconds” then go for it! Your mindset is incredibly powerful.

Tip 2: Set small goals

Life challenges can be made easier by breaking them down into smaller parts. Workouts are no different. Setting small goals throughout a workout can make a world of difference on your experience during class and how hard you push yourself. Are you giving yourself a rep goal during an interval workout? Before every Tabata or timed round, give yourself a goal number. If you hit that number and feel like you can do one more rep, then go for it! If you don’t hit that number the first round, try again. Hitting your goal reps during the interval will feel rewarding and you will likely try harder than if you didn’t set a goal. You can do the same thing with weights. If we are increasing the weight throughout the workout, ask yourself what you want the weight on the bar to be at the end of the workout. You may or may not get there based on how your body is feeling that day, but that’s not the point. The point is that you are giving yourself a goal to work towards and learning from your experience.

Tip 3: Be nice to yourself

How you talk to yourself matters. We can be our biggest supporter or completely destroy our mindset through the words we say to ourselves during a workout. Let’s try being our biggest supporter during a workout instead of our biggest critic. First, congratulate yourself when you get to the gym, because that is truly the hardest part and you did it! You made the commitment to yourself to improve your physical and mental health by walking through those doors. Then, choose the words of affirmation that you plan to constantly repeat to yourself during class when all you want to do is quit. One of my favorites to have on repeat in my head when the workout gets tough is, “You will be stronger because of this, keep going”. Does it sound corny? Sure. But it’s going to sound a lot better during a grueling AMRAP workout when you’re telling yourself that you’re strong and kicking ass instead of telling yourself to just give up because you can’t do it, speak it into existence. We talk to ourselves in our heads more than to anyone else, so make those words kind, supportive and positive.

Tip 4: Visualize the future

Yoga classes often begin by setting an intention for your practice. Why can’t you have the same experience at GF Strength and Conditioning classes? You can. Envision how you want to feel at the end of the workout. Do you want to leave there knowing you gave it your all? Do you want to leave knowing that you added 5 more pounds to the bar than you usually do? Are you just hoping to make it through class because well, it’s just one of those days? Either is completely fine, but know what you are hoping to get out of your workout when you go to class.

Have you been struggling to master the snatch and feel exasperated when you see that movement on the board? Try visualizing yourself doing that movement with ease and absolutely destroying the workout. I played volleyball in high school and as a 5’3” athlete with a pretty pathetic vertical jump, I shouldn’t have been determined to be an outside hitter. However, all I wanted to do was spike the ball over the net. My coach told me to imagine getting up and over the net before every game and slamming the ball down. During the actual game, I would channel that feeling and it gave me the confidence I needed to give it everything I had to get that ball over the net. Allow yourself to explore what it would look and feel like to succeed at a movement that is currently challenging and then go for it! You can’t improve if you never try.

Tip 5: Workout next to someone that pushes you

Sometimes I use all of my brain power just to get to the gym. After a long day at work, I know a workout will make me feel a hundred times better, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to physically get to class. Usually, 98% of my mind is saying just go home, so I use all of my energy to quiet it and get myself to the gym. By the time I get there, it’s unlikely that I have the mental energy left to push myself.

Since we tend to mirror other peoples’ actions, I’ve found that I try harder if I’m working out near people that are pushing themselves or are stronger than me. If you are competitive, this tip is especially helpful. If I know that I just don’t have the oomph to go hard on my own, I will strategically place myself near someone during the workout that is going all out and will try to keep up with them. The important thing to remember is that you are not comparing yourself to this person. Rather, you are using them as inspiration to push yourself harder.

While pushing yourself and increasing your intensity is crucial to your workout, listening to your body and resting are just as important. If you are feeling dizzy, faint or just sick during a workout, it’s probably a good idea to take a break. It’s likely that you are dehydrated or haven’t fueled your body properly for the workout. Being uncomfortable is expected during a tough workout, but making yourself ill from exercise is not normal. Additionally, you cannot go hard and all out every day. Your body needs to recover. You should only do high intensity workouts 3-4 days per week max. Integrating some low impact exercise into your week like swimming, yoga, walking and/or biking is an ideal way to use new muscles and reduce overuse injuries. Even though coaches can push and motivate you to work harder, you know your body the best. It’s crucial that you listen to your body and know when you’ve reached your limit. Remember, exercise can be uncomfortable and hard, but it should not be painful.

Let’s recap. We can keep going through the motions every day and not see many changes, but is that really why you are coming to class? Probably not. I’d argue that all of us are going to GF Strength and Conditioning to get stronger and healthier, both physically and mentally. We all want to improve and get stronger. Let’s step outside of our comfort zones together and let’s support each other to push harder at every class. Remember, strength isn’t given, it’s earned.

https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs40279-015-0365-0.pdf

http://www.physiology.org/doi/pdf/10.1152/japplphysiol.01098.2006

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-015-0365-0