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cold water immersion

Research Update: Can Cold Water Immersion Improve Recovery?

Cold water immersion (CWI) therapy has been reported to offer distinct health benefits, with numerous health influencers, fitness sites, and medical studies offering confirmation of its benefits. However, we wanted to look at the science behind CWI therapy to help determine how effective it can be in improving performance. Are there benefits? Let’s take a look below, as we cover the research and ask, can cold water immersion improve recovery and aid in performance development?

What is Cold Water Immersion

CWI therapy is the practice of using water that’s around 59°F (15°C) to treat health conditions or stimulate health benefits. It’s also known as cold hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is one of the basic methods of treatment widely used in the system of natural medicine, which is also called water therapy, aquatic therapy, pool therapy, and balneotherapy.

Reported Benefits of CWI

Scanning both popular and research literature, there are several reported CWI benefits. These include:

  • Reduce swelling
  • Reduce painful sensations in association with muscle pain
  • Reduce the feeling of fatigue
  • Regulate localized blood flow
  • Regulate localized tissue and internal temperature
  • Regulate heart rate
  • Reduce muscle spasms
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Reduce muscle damage
  • Improve range of motion

Research Findings of CWI

In reviewing the research on CWI, CoreTek focused on the following three questions:

  1. Does CWI research suggest it provides benefits in recovery? (any signs it works?)
  2. Does any CWI research suggest it provides benefits in excess of other recovery means? (does it have anything special that other techniques cannot provide?)
  3. Are the requirements of any effective CWI therapy within the capability of the traditional athletes? (if it does work, can the average person implement the therapy?)

Our review of research found multiple journals with recent, or relatively recent, studies that assess CWI, either on its own, or as part of a larger review of hydrotherapy effectiveness.

Does CWI Provide Recovery Benefits

According to a study of evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, cold exposure to a small surface area produced compensatory vasodilatation in the deeper vascular system resulting in increased blood flow to the tissues underlying the site of the exposure. The same study found that immersion at 14°C increased the metabolic rate by 350 %, heart rate by 5 %, systolic blood pressure by 7 %, and diastolic pressure by 8 %. Additionally, plasma noradrenaline increased by 530 % and dopamine concentrations by 250 %. Repeated CWI was associated with a reduced frequency in infections, increased peak expiratory flow, lymphocyte counts, and expression of gamma-interferon. Lastly, the study noted that CWI < 15°C, which is one of the most popular methods used after exercise, significantly lowered ratings of fatigue and potentially improved ratings of physical recovery immediately after immersion with a reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness at 24, 48, 72, and 96-hour follow-ups.

A more recent study in the Journal of Physiology that compared the effect of CWI and active recovery on inflammatory and cellular stress responses in skeletal muscle suggested that CWI is no more effective than active recovery for minimizing the inflammatory and stress responses in muscle after resistance training. In this study, participants were provided CWI five minutes after the training session or an active recovery consisting of low intensity using a stationary bike. Blood and tissue samples were taken 30 minutes, and 1, 2, 24, and 48 hours after exercise, and were compared to pre-exercise samples. The authors concluded that current findings do not suggest CWI mitigates the stress-related signals that stimulate the cellular movement of HSPs (Heat shock proteins are a large family of molecular chaperones that are well-known for their roles in protein maturation) after exercise. One interesting aspect of the study, noted by the authors, was muscle soreness. The authors noted that a reduction in muscle soreness after intense exercise may be the most consistent effect of CWI, and that this aspect was not part of the study.

A final study we will offer is from the international journal Research in Sports Medicine. This focuses on the effects of CWI with a higher CO2 concentration (CCWI) on aerobic cycling work efficiency. The authors concluded that a reduction in heart rate following immersion was the largest at CCWI compared to the other conditions. They concluded that CCWI is an effective intervention for maintaining repeated cycling work efficiency, which might be associated with reduced blood lactate levels and heart rate.

With these studies, and other studies we considered, our view is that CWI can provide a benefit to performance training recovery – however, you should be fully aware that the effect of CWI treatments on exercise performance and recovery are distinct, and influenced by many factors including the duration, timing, magnitude, individual responses, and nature of the activity. As with training programs, there is no universal standard for therapies – what can work for one person’s physiology, may not work for another.

Does CWI Offer Unique Recovery Benefits

So if we have answered if cold water therapy can improve recovery, what are its unique benefits? Well, none – if you follow the research.

Many studies have looked at CWIs effects on weight loss, immune system improvement, body fat composition, recovery times, etc. While studies have shown that CWI can possibly impact these areas, many of the same studies identified that other recovery techniques or recovery methods produce comparable results. What we keep coming back to is the way a recovery program makes the individual feel, and in that regard, the perception of CWI, or reaction to how one physically feels as a result, may be the primary indicator of its success. In that, many studies have directly linked preference to an activity to one’s perception of its success. If CWI is a preferred recovery method, then the psychological aspect of that preference also needs to be considered.

How to Administer CWI

Using CWI therapy methods is not difficult. However, as exposure to cold can have varying reactions on each physiology, we recommend you attempt gradual exposure to cold water, before taking a (literal) plunge. Below are four basic ways to conduct CWI:

  • Gradual Shower: Work up from warm, and get colder. We recommend waiting a few minutes at each temperture change, and gradually drop the temperature.
  • Cold Shower: Just start at cold, and keep it there. You will likley find this helpful, and easiest to endure if you just finished an intense workout where your body temperature and metabolism are both elevated.
  • Ice Bath Immersion: Add ice to water until the temperature is between 10°C and 15°C, and stay submerged for only 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Short Cold Water Swim: First, follow all safety protocols for swimming. Second, be very careful in this technique, as whereas in the other techniques you can rapidly remove yourself from the cold if there are issues, swimming in cold water is not something you can easily get out of if you have have temperatue issues. A buddy system is helpful in this one.

Most important in administering CWI is to listen to your body – and if you have any health concerns – check with a physician before attempting any of these. We do not encourage you to ever start a new fitness, recovery, or nutrition program without first researching how it affects your own unique condition.

Conclusion

So, can cold water immersion therapy improve recovery? Generally speaking, yes. However, the research suggests its level of effectiveness, when compared to other recovery therapies is not incredibly unique. The biggest item we noted in our review of the research is how it altered the research participants’ perception of recovery. That is, it clearly improves the perception of how the body feels. We suspect that is linked to the chemical stimuli triggered by the CWI effect, notably in dopamine levels. But to offer a final caveat, there are certain medical conditions in which CWI can offer direct benefits, as several studies indicated – however, as those benefits pertained to medical conditions and not exercise recovery, we excluded those from our commentary and assessment.

As with all areas of your health, if CWI is of interest, we recommend you seek professional guidance on how best to implement new techniques into your performance training efforts. Only by working with a specialist who can answer your unique questions, and adjusts a training, nutrition, or recovery program to your unique needs will you see the most benefit.

– Train Hard!

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killer body weight workout

Killer Body Weight Workout Pyramid

To complement our recent interview with a member of the Italian Special Forces, we wanted to offer you something from our own experience to help blast your fitness day and engage in a killer workout with just your body weight.

The story is simple. A few years ago, a CoreTek member had the opportunity to tag along with an active-duty Navy SEAL on their daily gym routine. At the gym, the question was simple, what are we going to do today? He responded, nothing much, just a pyramid me and some of the guys do… Well, somewhere in that gym, is still part of our member’s fitness ego, curled up in the fetal position.

So for you all to try, and blast out your routine, here is the pyramid:

Killer Body Weight Workout 10 Level Pyramid

Each level consists of the following, multiplied by the level number:

3 Push Ups

1 Pull Up

1 Dip

3 Sit Ups (you can substitute four count scissor kicks)

You perform each cycle non-stop, moving from exercise to exercise – and, your rest between each level is only along as it takes to move back to the first exercise.

So the first two levels would look like:

3 Push Ups, 1 Pull Up, 1 Dip, 3 Sit Ups, 6 Push Ups, 2 Pull Ups, 2 Dips, 6 Sit Ups, etc. And just to be clear, level 10 would be: 30 Push Ups, 10 Pull Ups, 10 Dips, 30 Sit Ups

You work up to level 10, rest 1 – 2 minutes, then starting at level 10, work your way back to level 1. If you get to a level and cannot do the full amount of any exercise, that is the top of your pyramid. You then stop, rest 1 – 2 minutes, and starting at that level, work back down to level 1.

One trick we noted the SEAL did to help – he had a bottle of water between the pull up bar and dip area, and would grab a quick sip walking between them – but not actually stopping.

Give this killer body weight workout a go, and we expect it will add a blast to your routine. We recommend doing this once a week to keep variety into your performance training.

– Train Hard!

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Interview: The Special Forces Performance Mindset

We’ve put out quite a few articles on how to support your performance – with fitness, nutrition, recovery – but this month we wanted to provide a treat by giving you a glimpse into an aspect of performance not found in the everyday fitness routine – you know, the kind of performance only found when skydiving with a full scuba kit strapped to you. Well, we wanted to bring to you a “special” guest for this, so we went looking to find one to speak about the special forces performance mindset. CoreTek Performance Fitness had the opportunity to speak with Master Chief Giuseppe La Russa, a member of the Italian Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei COMSUBIN. In case you are wondering, those are the Italian Navy’s SEALs.

We asked Giuseppe ten questions about his time in special forces and how performance factored into his service and experience. What you will see is that his answers flesh out three key areas of performance: focus, training, and adaptability. While these came into play at different parts of his experiences, these are aspects that you too can bring into your approach towards performance training. They equally apply to your training, nutrition, and recovery. We will focus on these in future performance articles, but for now, enjoy the interview…

We must never give up in the face of any problem that life throws at you, we must be aware that there is always a remedy or a solution to everything

Master Chief Giuseppe La Russa

The Interview

CPF: How did you get started in the special forces?

GLR: In 1982 I was in the non-commissioned officer school of Taranto, and participated in a conference conducted by Incursori instructors, in which they showed us videos explaining their lifestyle. So me and a dear friend of mine, intrigued by this, decided to submit applications. After the NCO course, I was immediately deployed to a large but very old ship for four months, after which they transferred me to another smaller one based in Sicily, where the task was to carry out patrols along the Libyan coast. On this ship, I suffered greatly from the sea and my desire was to take my leave.

One day the Commander calls me and informs me that they had accepted my application for the raider course, which I had done at the time, fascinated by those videos, even though I didn’t know what the word Incursor meant, or what this activity actually included. I was only sixteen years old and I had no awareness of the importance and the real tasks that were carried out by the operators belonging to this group. He also told me that if I managed to finish this course, I would avoid sea tours in the future, so I accepted. This was why I am part of the special forces today. However, I do not deny that the journey was hard and tiring.

CPF: What is the mindset that best allowed you to get through training?

GLR: I can answer this question briefly, I DID NOT WANT TO GO BACK ON BOARD TO SAIL. The suffering was enormous as was the willpower that never left me. The relationship of brotherhood that we have established between us adventure companions during this journey was fundamental to get to the end, we helped and comforted each other. The difficulty in passing this course can be understood from the fact that at the beginning we were about 70, on the day of the training after a year, there were only 6 left.

CPF: Did that mindset help with later service, or did it have to evolve to cope with new challenges?

GLR: I certainly had to change my mind after the course. The challenges I had to face were very different from what I had imagined, from watching those famous videos, I had to adapt to operational needs. When we arrived at the department we were divided into teams. I was assigned to an operator much older than me who had to follow me in training and in my professional training. It was really hard, especially the first three to four years.

CPF: What would you say is the key to special operations performance success?

GLR: What is the key to success? It is a bit difficult to answer this question. I’ll try. I think this, both in the operation and in the training and is nothing more than concentration, training, obedience and respect.

CPF: How would you recommend someone bring a special forces mentality into their regular life to improve performance?

GLR: Well, it is not easy, unfortunately, the military mentality is difficult to make it coincide with the civil one. The military are used to obedience, to respect rank and seniority, especially we in the special forces are used to respecting the latter. From my experience, I could give some advice, we must never give up in the face of any problem that life throws at you, we must be aware that there is always a remedy or a solution to everything.

CPF: What types of training did you find most challenging? 

GLR: For me it was the underwater part. By breathing oxygen and being underwater for more than two hours, the body suffers from fatigue.

CPF: How did injuries affect your performance? How did you recover?

GLR: Let’s say that I was one of the luckiest, I have had very few accidents. The first accident that happened to me was the fracture and explosion of the index finger of my right hand, in this case I had some problems at work, being also a rock climbing instructor. For a long time I could not do my job, but with willpower and determination I was able to get in shape to start over. Later I had a broken shoulder, in this case, the problem was less serious, because I was outside the operations department and my main activity was intelligence. Also in this case, thanks to physical activity and willpower, I returned, let’s say almost operational.

CPF: How would you describe the mental training needed to perform at a special forces level?

GLR: I think mental training is essential. The operators who are part of the special forces must always be very focused, especially when you have to conduct operations.

CPF: How did special forces training transform your views on training and performance?

GLR: Physical training is modified according to operational needs, you have to be very flexible in this field. In my long career I have had to adapt to several changes.

CPF: What was a typical day of special forces physical training and what mentality did you find best suited for it?

GLR: The typical training day of the special forces is: start with about an hour of physical activity, which can be running or gym, then continue, with a more targeted training, which includes: diving, patrolling, rock climbing, parachuting, shooting range activities or navigation on high-speed boats.

– Train Hard

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Build Muscle and Lose Fat: Top Three Tips

The myth that you cannot build muscle and lose fat is just that – a myth. You lose fat by calorie deficit? And you gain muscle by eating more? Right…, so how does that possibly come together? Well, it comes across as an unachievable performance goal because most routines that attempt this fail to consider our top three, yet science-backed, tips for how to build muscle and lose fat.

So let’s grab some science, and bring on the top three tips to build muscle and lose fat…

1. Maintain Healthy Protein Levels in Your Diet

To build muscle, your body needs to synthesise more muscle protein than it breaks down – simply put, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein. Protein also plays an important role in weight loss. Evidence suggests that eating protein can stimulate your metabolic rate and burn more calories in addition to reducing your appetite. Check out a study by researchers at Maastricht University that demonstrated even an increase in protein from 15 to 18 percent of calories reduced the amount of fat people regained after weight loss by 50 percent.

What is a healthy protein level? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training. Protein intake should be spaced throughout the day and after workouts.

2. Manage Your Calorie Intake

This is where it can get tricky. You need to own up to managing your calorie levels if you want to build muscle while burning fat. But keep in mind since you are attempting to do both, the results will not be as noticeable or as fast as if you were only doing one or the other. That is, if you were building muscle, and bulking, your calorie intake and workout routine would readily add mass, while in contrast, a calorie reduction with high weight training and cardio could lower fat quickly. But in this instance, we are working to walk between these goals.

The first thing you need to do is figure out your maintenance calories – that is, how many calories you burn on your rest/non-workout days. (This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate, BMR, and is the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest.) There are many ways you can determine this number, but an online calculator is likely the easiest option. Here is one from the Mayo Clinic that uses the Mifflin-St Jeor equation. But understand this number is not going to be your constant intake – it is the guide to figure out your intake. To balance fat loss and muscle building, use the following calorie intake levels, based on your maintenance calories:

  • Weight training day: Increase your caloric intake by 5-15% with a focus on protein.
  • Cardio day: Stick with your maintenance level calories
  • Rest day: Decrease your caloric intake by 5-15%

You need to focus on this part of the effort – calorie management. This is where your program is made or broken. And before we move on, do not neglect to manage your macronutrient levels. We talk about this in our Performance Diet Tips.

3. Focus on Resistance Training In Your Workouts

Resistance training is the best method to build muscle and burn fat – if done properly. You can spend hours in the gym moving weight around, our you can maximize a workout with heavy, compound lifts. It’s not completely that simple – but, just about that simple. Compound movements burn more calories. The very fact that you have to use more muscles to stabilize the weight means that you stress and develop more muscle and burn more calories and fat as a result.

Focus on multiple sets of heavy compound lifts, with smaller isolation motions as finishing moves. This will enable you to keep your focus and energy on the primary lifts. You do not need to get fancy on this – just stick to the basic press and pull motions. You can find numerous online sites with workouts that focus on compound lifts – check them out.

Now keep in mind this is not about toning up, or physique training – as we tend to stay away from that with performance training. What our top three tips to build muscle and lose fat are for is just that – build muscle and lose fat. There are variations to what we call out above, and of course, every body is different – so you will have to see exactly how you respond to the training and diet management. But if you follow these general tips, you will find that losing fat while adding muscle is possible.

-Train Hard!

fitness program failure

Fitness Program Failure: Top Five Reasons

Fitness program failure happens for a reason, and with so many out there, both online and at local fitness facilities, you need to understand the top five reasons why programs can fail – as it will improve your chances of starting one that will work for you. That said, let’s paint a picture…

You just saw this great online program, or maybe it was a flyer at the gym. You know the one…it states you can get (fill in the blank) results in 12 weeks? The fitness guru on the material is in great shape, the sales pitch sounds great, you see lot’s of testimonials, fitness technical terms were all over…you buy it, you sign up, you download it, all excited, and in a month you’re wondering how anyone does it. You’re not alone, and you have probably encountered at least one of the five top reasons for fitness program failure…

1. Time

Having the proper time to follow a fixed workout program can be one of the most challenging aspects. To make the program work, you have to follow its schedule, both in terms of days of the week, but also in duration. For example, say it’s a 90-minute routine, five days a week, for 10 weeks…Can you do that? Many individuals look at plans online, and come away with the age-old “I can do that” and then find out it’s not so simple. There is also no real answer to this challenge outside of the one that you bring to the situation: Either you have the time, or you do not (and do not forget proper rest!). But that is the issue time brings to your efforts to follow a fixed routine, and why you are setting yourself up to see less than expected results if you cannot put in the time the program assumes.

Take away – you are going to struggle to follow the program, and get expected results, if you cannot provide the time the program requires. This is true whether you are using the local gym or working out at home. Do some real research into the program’s time requirements, and lean conservative in your schedule assumptions. And if you are working a home-based program, and do not live alone, then others might affect this too.

2. Acces

Do you have access to the equipment the program calls out? If it is a home-based program, do you have everything you need at home? If not, can you get them? Do you have space for them? Before you think the gym is safe for this element, think again. How many times have you been to the gym and it was packed? You could not get anything you wanted that night? Well, this plays out more so in a fixed fitness program – in that, say it’s leg day on your program, and every squat rack, leg press, leg extension, and leg anything is in use. And it’s the only time you have that day…You see where this is going. If your program is not built with alternative plans for when this happens, it can create a disappointing day.

Take away – consider the equipment and space access expectation of the program. Nothing at home…are you OK with shelling out extra costs to acquire the gear? Have a gym membership…how packed does the gym get during your available workout times? You need to consider how well you can access the program’s needed elements throughout the duration of the program. Even the “at home, no equipment required” program can have access issues – can you access space to workout each day?

3. Program is not for you

This is simply making a poor program selection. It can be for various reasons, but we need to be thinking about how our body responds to types of training, and whether a program we want is a program that will work. This is not a repeat of the Time and Access issues noted above, but rather that the program is not suited for your physiology, personality, etc. If you are not fond of resistance training, then “Muscle Mike’s 10 Week Bulk Up Blitz” might not be your thing…in that are you going to bring the drive to get each workout done? Are you going to follow the program? Will obstacles easily make you put off a session? Or, perhaps the program reflects what you were, but no longer are? That is, maybe that program would have been perfect for the you fresh out of college, but is it perfect for your late 40s and family life? In the end, your ability to avoid fitness program failure is also partly driven by how well it suits you.

Take away – know thyself and choose wisely. Your program is likely not going to have a trainer to adjust it as you progress or have issues – but is a “buy and follow” deal. So take the time to think about what you really can handle and are in the mood to do. While the program is intended to change your body, you need to start by looking at your body. Be real with age, injuries, likes, dislikes, etc. The more honest you are, the better you will pick a fitness program you can follow. You can always build on success.

4. Nutrition

This is where we just need to have some brutal honesty. Your dedication to your fitness program is all thrown into the waste bin if you blow the nutrition side of the process. Hitting every workout, full intensity, week after week is great until you hit the local fast-food drive-through five nights a week. If you look at most of the programs out there, they are going to talk about nutrition. Now some may be trying to get you to buy certain foods, etc – but the bottom line is they are saying the full benefits of the program are only found when the nutrition backs it up.

Take away – there is an old saying: abs are made in the kitchen. That very acutely sums up this point. You need to understand your fitness is made of your nutritional intake as well, and you undermine any fitness program if you cannot maintain proper nutrition. Moreover, you need to look up what is needed for your program too – maybe it’s a high protein, high-calorie, low carb, gluten-free, etc – you might find it’s not easy to follow.

5. The program is…garbage

Well, you knew this one was coming. There is a lot out there for fitness programs. Some are created by educated and trained individuals or teams. They base their routines and instructions on proven and safe processes and information. And there are a lot more from that person who goes to the gym, looks great, can drop a lot of cool-sounding fitness buzz words, recite advice they heard from an expert – but actually are not trained or certified in what they are putting out. In short, they are putting out pseudo-science garbage and setting you up for fitness program failure. And sometimes, it can be dangerous. So if the program is garbage, it’s not going to work. Worst case, it can also risk injury.

Take away – do not be fooled by what the marketing looks like. Take the time to check up on the credentials of the program. Just because someone can pay to have ads always in your face, does not mean they are a quality fitness program creator.

In the end, this is not telling you not to purchase a fitness program. Quite the opposite – a fitness program is a great tool to develop your performance and improve your health and we encourage you to go for it! But, what we want you to be tracking is that there are many reasons these programs can fail, and we hate to say it, but often the reason falls on the buyer, not the program. Do your research, consider our top five tips, and as always…

-Train Hard!

Dumbbell goblet squat at the gym

Ten Great Dumbbell Exercises You Need to Have In Your Routine

Dumbbells…a gym staple and an item found in many home kits. They’re not as effective on overall muscle and strength development and body composition (fat) management as performing heavy, barbell based, compound movements – but are still an important tool in your performance efforts. So, are you bringing dumbbell training exercises into your workouts?

Dumbbell exercises have been shown to activate a number of different muscles and stimulate muscle growth, help improve both muscle force and flexibility, and promote coordination and stability for muscles and joints. Even more, you can use them for a variety of exercises, ranging from simple mobility work to intense resistance training.

While in theory, you could often just replace a barbell with dumbbells for a motion – using dumbbells provides more than just a change in weighted item – dumbbells bring additional muscle action into play – notably in stabilization, that will not only improve your overall physical performance – but will help address muscle and mobility imbalances. They also allow you to introduce more range of motion resistance moves into your kit.

Before we get into our list of dumbbell exercises you should have in your routine toolkit, we also want to make sure you lift properly with them – improving your performance takes a set back with injury, and we want you to keep progressing!

There are two issues that many have found out the hard way by not controlling the dumbbells. First, in some motions, it is easy to get “swinging” with a dumbbell. This motion could involve a limb, joint, or both. As with all weights, movements are supposed to be controlled – you control it up, you control it down. Watch out for “out of control” weighted motions that run the risk of joint injury. Second – watch the joints when using dumbbells – they are not made to hold up well against strains that leverage against their natural alignment. Dumbbells can quickly fall to the side, wrenching an arm or leg in an angle that wrists, elbows, knees, shoulders, ankles, etc are not made to move. Performance is about being a mindful athlete and using a controlled effort in your routine, not throwing around metal for ego.

That said, you better have these dumbbell exercises in your routine kit!

1. Incline Dumbbell Press

incline dumbbell press

Muscles worked: The clavicular head of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and and the triceps

Benefits: Targets the smaller, often underemphasized clavicular head, which isn’t as powerful as the sternocostal head but is nevertheless key to the muscle’s overall power. The exercise forces each pectoral muscle to work independently, so your strong side can’t compensate for its weaker counterpart, helping to prevent and correct muscle imbalances.

2. Shoulder Press

dumbbell shoulder press

Muscles worked: The anterior and lateral deltoids, triceps brachii, pectoralis major, serratus anterior, and external oblique

Benefits: Works all aspects of the deltoid muscle; dumbbells activate more of the anterior deltoid than when using a barbell. Whether from a seated or standing position, the dumbbell exercise engages the core for stability. Avoid locking your elbows, as this transitions to emphasis to your triceps, rather than keep it focused on your deltoids.

3. Bent Over Row

dumbbell row

Muscles worked: The posterior deltoid, brachialis, brachioradialis, middle and lower trapezius, infraspinatus, teres minor, teres major, and latissimus dorsi

Benefits: This motion targets your back and shoulders in the same motion. As a functional exercise, it is a great way to develop muscles and motion used throughout the day when picking up things. Knowing how to properly position your back and brace your abs can protect you from strain.

Alternative to increase difficulty: Assume a plank position to engage your core. You will likely have to decrease weight and or reps.

dumbbell row from plank position

4. Tricep Kick-Back

tricep kickback

Muscles worked: The triceps brachii, and posterior deltoids

Benefits: This helps build a stronger tricep muscle, working all three heads. This will help you not only in daily functional movements, but also support other pressing motions in your training, such as chest and shoulder presses.

5. Twisting Bicep Curl

dumbbell bicep curl

Muscles worked: The biceps brachii (short and long heads), brachialis, and brachioradialis

Benefits: The simple process of starting with your gripped hands facing your body and then moving to the traditional supinated position during the curl helps work both the long and short head of the bicep, while also bringing the brachioradialis into the effort. In short, you activate more muscle fibers that a full range supinated curl, or hammer curl alone.

6. Goblet Squats

goblet squat

Muscles worked: The gluteus maximus, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, biceps femoris, erector spinae, vastus intermedius, sartorius, rectus femoris, medial deltoid, anterior deltoid, and biceps brachii

Benefits: Removes the tension and risk to lower back that a tradition barbell squat might cause, while maintaining focus on your quads and glutes – the major muscles in this exercise.

7. Pullover

dumbbell pullover

Muscles worked: The latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, pectorlis major, triceps brachii, and teres major

Benefits: The motion beings into play many stabilizer muscles throughout your body, such as abs, upper back/scapular region, and the gluteal muscles. This in turn helps develop key strength in muscles critical in supporting many full chain body motions. You can help stabilize the motion by contracting your chest and elevating your ribcage, contracting your gluteals, and keeping your feet flat.

8. Weighted Lunge

weighted lunge

Muscles worked: The vastus lateralis, rectus femorus, gluteus maximus, vastus medialus, adductor magnus, and soleus

Benefits: Adds more functional complexity to the training, and thus can offer more all-around development than quadriceps-focused motions. This dumbbell training exercise uses the gluteus maximus, adductor magnus of the inner thigh, and the soleus of the calf – in short, a compound motion. You also will need to bring in your stabilizer muscles in your back and legs to sustain your balance.

9. Lateral Raise

lateral raise

Muscles worked: The anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, trapezius, and supraspinatus

Benefits: The motion primarily targets the deltoid’s lateral head, with some activation of the anterior and posterior heads. As an isolation dumbbell exercise working the lateral head of the delts, it helps strengthen your shoulders and can help correct strength imbalances between your right and left sides. Make sure the movement comes from your shoulders, not your neck. Avoid shrugging or “jerking” the dumbbells or flexing or extending your elbow as your arm is raised to keep proper form.

10. Fly (Regular or Reverse)

incline dumbbell fly
bent over dumbbell fly

Muscles worked regular fly: The pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid, and coracobrachialis

Benefits: While helping with all-around pectoral development, the motion opens up your chest muscles, which may may help reduce upper back pain, increase range of motion, and reduce tightness in the upper body. Be careful with the weight you use to help obtain a full range of motion without overextending. Avoid bending your elbows excessively as the weight descends or flattening them as the weight ascends to avoid strain on your shoulder joints.

Muscles worked reverse fly: The anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, triceps brachii, rhomboid, and trapezius

Benefits: Helps with a scapular retraction or pulling your shoulder blades in toward each other – which counteracts risks to posture caused by excessive chest training or prolonged periods of work at a desk or driving that tend to round the shoulders. Research indicates specific strength training such as the reverse fly is an effective tool to reduce pain and disability in neck and shoulder areas.

As with all exercise planning, if you have a shoulder, neck, or back injury, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out whether this exercise is appropriate. Dumbbell exercises are a great tool, but can also easily pull a joint, torque your body, or cause other unexpected movements if not properly handled. A key item to remember is to only lift manageable weights you can control in both eccentric and concentric phases, and that heavy weights (beyond what you can control) can result in poor technique. If you feel any pain during the exercise, slowly lower the weights and end the exercise. Additionally, beware of over-training risks with dumbbells, as their use may seem minimal compared to other motions, but overuse can risk fatigue, plateau, or injury. As with any fitness program – safety first.

– Train Hard!

negative effects of excess weight

Research Update: Can Exercise Counter the Negative Effects of Excess Weight?

You’ve probably already noticed in several news organizations the publication of research findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology that assessed the claim that a high cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) might mitigate the detrimental effects of excess body weight on cardiometabolic health, termed the ‘fat but fit’ paradox. Can CRF negate the negative effects of excess weight? Let’s find out…

We’re going to skip to the end of the story for you:

According to study author Dr. Alejandro Lucia of the European University, Madrid, Spain, “Exercise does not seem to compensate for the negative effects of excess weight. This finding was also observed overall in both men and women when they were analysed separately.”

…refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity…

Joint association of physical activity and body mass index with cardiovascular risk: a nationwide population-based cross-sectional study

Study highlights

The specific study notes, “…the present findings, which are based on data from insured active workers across Spain, represent one of the largest studies to date (n = 527 662) and refute the notion that a physically active lifestyle can completely negate the deleterious effects of overweight/obesity.”

Want more data, then try “…a study conducted in 2196 participants reported that although PA was associated with a lower CVD risk within each BMI category during a 30-year follow-up, individuals with overweight or obesity presented with an increased CVD risk regardless of their PA levels…”

Or let this one sink in, “… in line with our findings, a systematic review concluded that an excess BMI is associated with increased CVD risk irrespective of PA levels.” Put another way, physical activity (PA) levels for those with a high BMI, did not alleviate cardiovascular disease (CVD) risks.

We’re not selectively pulling from this study. It shows PA is a good thing for any BMI level, but the study does not find that PA negates BMI or excess weight affects on health or CVD risks.

How did we get here?

The key point to notice is the researchers wanted to use science to test the “fat but fit” claim that has grown in recent years. What has driven this claim in several areas of modern culture is the conflation between a healthy body image and a healthy body. One is emotional, the other physiological. Too many supposed health and lifestyle outlets have been amplifying the belief that all that matters is that you are happy with who you are, and any level of activity is sufficient for health. First, we’re going to stay away from that argument here – there’s too much to unpack. Second, this study shreds that from the physiological aspect.

Third, if you have weight to lose, you have weight to lose. It’s not criticism, it’s about health.

A performance-focused solution

Building your lifestyle program around performance is a solid method to combat the negative effects of excess weight. Below are three tips, each from our performance triad, on how you can tackle your BMI, if needed.

Nutrition: Get serious about what you eat. No really, get f*ing serious about what you eat. Do not go nuts, do not go to extremes. But performance management of your BMI means you own your results. Performance diets are not guesswork, either – you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers. Want more nutrition advice, then check out our article on Performance Diet Tips.

Fitness: Solve your time issues by using short duration, micro-HIIT sessions. These have shown the potential to be more beneficial than traditional exercise routines that rely on steady-state. Sound new? Their not – a 2016 study showed that one minute of intense training within a 10 minute period yielded the same results as a 50-minute steady-state trained group over a 12-week period. See our full Fitness Tip on Micro-HIIT.

Rest: As much as you exercise, and feed your body, a notable portion of your ability to manage weight comes from your rest cycle. Check out a good overview at The Healthy on how sleep helps burn fat. For now, here are some quick tips to help ensure you get proper rest: stick to a regular time for bed, it will keep your body on a schedule, do not over-sleep on the weekends, or off days, as this too will impact your body’s ability to manage its rests cycles, be careful with naps; they are fine, but too many, too long, or at the wrong time, and you can mess up your body’s sleep cycle, and during the day, get as much exposure to light as possible; this not only helps the body develop vitamin D, but also helps tell it to be awake. You can see more from us on rest here.

– Train Hard!

Top Winter Performance Tips

You are not alone if you struggle to maintain your fitness routine during the winter months. Your routine faces shorter daylight hours, harsher weather, holiday events, family gatherings, and of course, lots of food. If you feel like you have to choose between performance and the season, then let’s do a reset on that mentality, and then get down to work with our top winter performance tips!

First, it’s all on you. If you want your routine, then it’s not a choice at all – you just get it done. With the proper performance mindset, you will find you can easily sustain your performance during the winter months.

Second, you are going to have to make some adjustments to deal with the variances of the winter months. Proper planning is about adapting to life’s events to keep you on your performance track.

Third – with all the winter events, you better have some fun and down time in there. Performance is balance. As hard as you push and focus on your plans, you need mental health as well. Time with friends and family, a day or two of rest, and other items are just as important to sustaining your performance as squeezing out one more AMRAP session.

We’ve done cold-weather exercise before – but this time, we’ve selected three tips for each of the performance triad elements – fitness/movement, nutrition, and rest/recovery, to focus on key areas to keep your performance on track.

Exercise

For this part of the performance triad, in the winter months, there are three key tips to keep you on track:

  • Stay Active: Keeping active is the key to coming out of the winter months with your performance levels intact. No matter what the schedule, travel plans, weather forced closures, etc, you can run, jog, walk, do home workouts of bodyweight exercises, yoga, callisthenics, etc. By keeping active, you will keep your metabolism fired up, which will help in many areas: weight management, stress management, hormone balance, and sleep patterns.
  • Dress for the Weather: It can be tricky or at times deceptive to dress for winter exercise. Too much, and you can develop hyperthermia, too little and you risk developing hypothermia. Layering is the best approach. We can break it all down, our send you here, where Very Well Fit has a great article on cold-weather layering.
  • Join a Class: One of the best ways to stay motivated is to develop a means of accountability. If you find yourself wavering during the winter months, a class is a way to impose a sense of accountability to your efforts. Whether because you spent the money, or you do not want to be a no-show in front of others – class membership has been shown to help in fitness routines. If commitment is not an issue – then try taking a class in something you would not do the rest of the year when you are on your normal routine. Yoga, spinning, CrossFit, and others are great ways to keep active, make new fitness friends, and have fun.

Nutrition

With all the food choices, most of which are carb and sugar loaded, it can appear challenging to sustain a performance diet – but we can help with these tips (which all directly tie together):

  • Plan Your Meals: This is a tip that is a constant year round, but likely more important during the winter months when gatherings, family meals, and sweets abound. It can be easy to get caught up in all the food – but this is where meal planning can save you. By planning your meals, you can ensure you sustain proper nutrients, and not face the cravings of an empty stomach vs plate of winter sugar cookies! Planning your meals does not mean you cannot have sweets or those other holiday meals – rather, by planning you will ensure that you are getting proper nutrition at all other times, and not over-indulging when those festive times come.
  • Limit Sugar: Excessive sugar intake is one of the quickest way to add to fat storage. Now this might be hard during the winter season – this is one where you need to focus on keeping your sugar intake under control. But if you plan your meals, as noted above, then you will help keep your body fuelled and it will be easier to resist sugar and all the excessive calories that come with it.
  • High Protein Intake: Protein is a key tool in diet management. It keeps you satiated – meaning you are less likely to indulge in excess eating, and helps your body burn calories by being a denser material to digest. Ensure your meals contain good sources of protein, such as chicken and fish, and you will help control your desire to eat excessive amounts of unhealthy food items.

Rest/Recovery

The third part of the performance triad, and often most neglected is rest and recovery. Your winter performance routine needs to have adequate rest and recovery to ensure you are maintaining a balanced performance pattern. Here are three tips to support your efforts:

  • Get Adequate Rest: While the nights may be longer, many do not get adequate sleep and rest during the winter months. Limited and insufficient sleep can have even more effects on your body than muscle health. If you are one who puts off getting adequate rest, you risk impaired concentration, mood changes, weight gain, and a weakened immune system – something you do not want at the peak of cold and flu season! We’ve listed tips before, here, to help you get your proper rest and recovery time.
  • Stretch/Do Yoga: Recovery means resting your muscles. Not only through sleep, but also through stretching and exercise such as yoga. These techniques will help your muscles rest and recover from resistance training or hard cardio training. By giving your muscles care, you not only reduce the risk of injury, but also aid in their ability to recover and provide sustained performance training. If you are looking for tips on specifics, you can check out our other work on adding yoga to your routine.
  • Vitamin D: Make sure you get as much natural sunlight as possible. Natural sunlight exposure is the easiest and most reliable way for most people to get vitamin D – and the hardest to maintain in the winter months. Normal exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for 10-30 minutes is sufficient time to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and other factors. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in your body fat and then released when sunlight is gone.

If you just finished reading, and are thinking these top winter performance tips sound easy – they are, but at the same time, so many people fall off their performance routines during the winter months because they do not follow these simple steps. So easy yes, but yet not done by so many who come out of winter wondering how they got out of shape!

In the end, do not confuse a performance mindset with difficulty. It’s the dedication during the winter months that makes your performance, not the difficulty. Follow these tips, and watch how you charge into spring weather!

– Train Hard!

yoga for core strength

Best Yoga Poses For Core Strength

Core strength is a common element in most athletic endeavours. It is also an area everyone should consider for overall good health as well. While your core is often engaged in many workout routines, yoga poses offer a means to target your core muscles, to work and develop them.

Before you dismiss yoga as a performance tool, consider that regular yoga practice can reduce your risk of injury and condition your body to perform better in other fitness areas. Yoga is a form of functional fitness, and its motions use both large and small muscles and move in many directions (twisting, arcing, etc.), in contrast to limited bi-directional motions along the traditional sagittal, frontal, or transverse planes.

What is Your Core

Often, the core is confused with the abdominal muscles. Many think, that’s it. While the abdominal muscles are part of the core muscle group, to understand “core strength” you need to understand the core muscles. When we refer to core muscles, we mean major muscles that include the pelvic floor muscles, transverses abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, and diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and trapezius.

If you want to develop all-around core strength, you need to work this entire group, not just parts. This is why so much has been written on why abdominal work alone is not enough for improving core strength. Moreover, if you look at the list of muscles, you can see why a plank is so effective at hitting many of them.

Best Yoga Poses for Core Strength

Our list of poses is intended to work your all-around core. You can put them all together and form an entire core training session, or add 1-2 poses into your regular routine to help provide all-around training depth and variety.

  • Plank Pose
  • Side Plank Pose
  • Upward Plank Pose
  • Bird Dog Crunches
  • Half-Bow Half-Locust Pose
  • Locust Y Jumping Jacks
  • Twisting Boat
  • Listing Boat
  • Figure-4 Bridge

If you find that you enjoy yoga in your performance training, you can check out our other article on simple yoga poses. And if you really want to take the plunge, but are not sure where to start, we recommend checking out Yoga with Adriene – she offers a phenomenal online video selection through her YouTube channel. For the guys, if you want something more focused, check out Breathe and Flow’s yoga for men. Between these sites, you can easily find a yoga session suited to your ability – and help you add to your own list of the best yoga poses for core strength.

-Train Hard!

Top Five Performance Diet Tips

Your training efforts are only as solid as your diet. You might not want to hear that, but the truth is that you cannot out-train a poor diet. And supplements, they are there to supplement – not replace a poor diet. If you want to improve your performance, it only makes sense that you implement these top five Performance Diet tips.

Before you allow images of lettuce and rice cakes to flutter through your mind, you need to understand that the Performance Diet is not about going hungry or starving yourself. Quite the opposite – it is about ensuring that you are obtaining sufficient macronutrient balanced calories to support your training efforts. In fact, you may find yourself eating more than you imagined!

What is a Performance Diet

Let’ start this with what a Performance Diet is not. It is not something you go on, then off, then on again. That’s a yo-yo diet, and those are the exact opposite of a Performance Diet. A Performance Diet is something you follow – it’s a lifestyle, not fad.

It is a diet that ensures you have sufficient calories and macronutrients to meet your daily needs – physical, mental, and recovery. It is a diet that evolves over time, changing with your needs – but always meeting your performance needs – never undercutting them.

Top Five Tips

1. Develop dynamic caloric requirements

Your routine is never static – you will go through periods of intense training, maintenance training, down-time/rest, bulking, cutting, etc. Depending on your program, all these phases have different names. They also have difference caloric intake and macronutrient needs.

You need to work with information sources, nutritionist, or a trainer, to ensure that you are adjusting your caloric and macronutrient needs for each of these phases. For example, a calorie and protein-heavy Performance Diet is perfect for putting on muscle mass – but if you are working to shift your training to perform well in a half-marathon, while the calorie count might remain high, the protein level will not. This is an example of how a Performance Diet is not always a Performance Diet if it does not align with your current needs.

The take away is to keep monitoring your current needs, and adjust your Performance Diet, to sustain performance results.

2. Don’t neglect protein in your morning meals or snacks

Protein is important for your body to repair tissue damage from training – in simple terms, sustain and build your muscles. As it is more dense than other foods, it also requires more calories to digest, and creates a sense of fullness when consumed.

By consuming protein as part of your day’s first meals or snacks, studies have shown this to benefit muscle health and to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, energy expenditure, satiety hormones, glucose regulation and by decreasing the desire to snack at night. Notably, a 2017 study examined the effect of a high-protein breakfast compared to that of a high fat or high carbohydrate breakfast over a period of 12 weeks on glucose and insulin levels following the consumption of white bread four hours after the breakfast meal. The participants who consumed a high protein breakfast showed improved blood sugar control and insulin levels after consuming the white bread.

3. Cycle your nutrients and calories to match your daily needs

Not all days are created equal when it comes to your caloric and macronutrient needs. So do not treat them as such with your diet.

This tip is about looking at your caloric and macronutrient needs at the weekly level, not daily. It enables you to increase your caloric intake on days of long or intensive training, and cut back on days you do not need as much.

You can work out how to cycle particular macros in this tip as well – using high protein and fat on days of intense training – to force your body to use more fat resources for energy while focusing on carbs more during rest days.

This is also a tip in which we are going to point you to a great article on Healthline.com for more reading. We could repeat it all, but just click the link to read a solid, research-based summary on calorie cycling – why it works, and how to apply.

4. Focus on food before supplements

Many people fall into the trap of thinking supplements can make up for poor diets. This is not the case. Your Performance Diet needs to come first from food. When that is not enough, then you can kick in with the supplements – which research has shown to have positive effects on performance.

In a Performance Diet, we are likely referring to adding protein or meal replacement shakes when you lack the ability to eat more, or possibly access to normal food. Running around all day between client sites – OK, protein shakes are a great tool to get in a healthy snack that promotes tissue health and provides a sense of satiety – keeping you from nutrient-weak, yet easy to obtain snack options. Or if you just cannot eat more (sometimes your stomach just says “done!”) – but you know your workouts will suffer if you do not get enough calories – then have a shake.

Studies have also shown that many in developed countries actually do not obtain sufficient nutrient levels from food – even though the caloric intake is adequate. This is another reason to consider supplements – if your diet is lacking a nutrient value necessary for your performance. But the stress to this point is “necessary,” and you should not be taking any supplements that lack a direct value to your performance goals.

If you use supplements, be sure to check they are of quality, without excess filler ingredients or sugar, or other elements that work against your efforts. So even when used on top of healthy food choices, you still need to read the labels when choosing them.

5. Do the math to figure out your needs – do not guess

Performance Diets are not guesswork. Hate to say it, but you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers.

There are several online tools for this, and we’ve even covered it in our Achieving Your Target Weight article. What you need to understand is that while there is some truth to the old saying of “listen to your body” – the reality is more often than not, your body is not accurately telling you what you need to sustain a Performance Diet.

Do the math, trust the numbers.

How to Maintain

The first part of maintaining your Performance Diet is understanding it takes time. Time for you to see real results of the diet change. Why? Because this is about performance – obtaining real performance.

If your performance diet is set right, you will see results, and will be able to sustain them – not just look or feel good for a moment. But give it time. Everyone starts from somewhere…

But as your performance efforts continue, the key to maintaining the Performance Diet is to go back to the books – back to the math and update your needs. For example, if you start your performance journey overweight, without much muscle mass – but now have less fat and more muscle – and are more active, your dietary needs to sustain and grow performance from that point are different from when you started. That might sound obvious, but…

What makes most people give up is the plateau – and while there can be many reasons for one, dietary issues are common. In this, we mean that people fail to adjust their diets to meet their newly found performance levels, and then fail to see more growth. Do not fall into this trap. We recommend that every 2-3 months, you take some time to assess your Performance Diet. Check your calories and macronutrients against your current body and activity, and where you want to go next. Make a plan, and execute…

In the end, performance fitness means owning your workout effort, and your diet. Cheat at one; you fail at both.

-Train Hard!

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