This article was authored by Sergeant Michael Volkin, best-selling author of military exercise books and inventor of Strength Stack 52 fitness cards. The views expressed in this article are those of Sergeant Volkin.
In the age of the Obesity Epidemic, thousands of new diet fads coupled with an overload of health and fitness information, there are really only a few key tips you need to keep in mind to stay healthy and fit. If you Google “best health tips” you will get over 1.3 million results. How is anyone supposed to sort through 1.3 million results?! Even if you do, how will you know which tips are true and which aren’t? I’ve refined these tips down to only the best of the best. The tips below are not only true; they are timeless, meaning they will be true for generations. So if you know nothing about fitness or are an expert trainer, keep these tips in mind to be in top shape.
1) You Are What You Eat – The next time you want to put yourself in a bad mood, go grocery shopping and actually look at the nutrition labels, ingredients and packaging claims on the food you normally buy. Products are often labeled “natural,” yet have high-fructose corn syrup in them. In fact, natural products can technically have pesticides in them and not even be mentioned on a nutrition label. This is actually allowed according to the FDA. I could go on with shocking statements about what is omitted from nutrition labels, but the bottom line is always try and cook your own unprocessed food. When possible; steam or boil your food. Your body will thank you in both the short and long term.
2) Stay Hydrated – This is one tip I can’t stress enough. Many experts recommend drinking eight glasses of water a day. Although healthy, this is a general guideline that has simply been passed down from generation to generation without any real scientific merit. The proper consumption of water aids in digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, maintenance of body temperature and more. When you feel your mouth is a bit dry, it means your body has been craving water for about 20 minutes. To answer the question all you beer lovers are asking right now, yes beer is mostly water but it also contains alcohol, which causes dehydration. A major—yet hardly ever discussed—advantage to water is the positive affect it can have on dieters. Those on a diet should be extra vigilant about drinking water. Doing this will reduce your urge to drink calories from other liquids, and it is much easier to drink calories than eat them. In addition to these benefits, water is also great for energizing muscles, flushing toxins out of your body and keeping your skin looking healthy.
3) Embrace Nano-Sport Periodization – Day after day I see the same people in the gym doing the same exercises over and over and over. Your body has an amazing ability to adapt, thus reducing the effectiveness of your workouts over time, unless you change your routine often. Nano-sport Periodization is a phrase I coined for my fitness product Strength Stack 52, a deck of bodyweight fitness cards that keeps workouts dynamic and challenging. Nano-sport Periodization will ensure your workouts are efficient, dynamic and effective. First, let’s define Nano-sport Periodization:
Nano: Small or mini
Limit your workouts to 30 minutes or less. Many scientific studies claim 1 high intensity and fast workouts are the most beneficial for a healthy body.
Sport: Playing a game with a challenging component
Have you ever played a sport with friends and realized after a half hour you are dripping with sweat and have burned more calories than you did all week in the gym? That’s because the power of a challenge brings out the best in people. A challenge stimulates your mind to force your body to another level. That’s because competition is fun, doesn’t adhere to a routine and stimulates a desire for you to win. It is human nature to be competitive and incorporating competition in your workout will push you harder.
I cringe when I see people in the gym with workouts printed that have pre-designated rep counts. Using an arbitrary number to determine the end of the set is not beneficial. For each set you should be testing your limits, not stopping when you reach a pre-designated number.
Periodization: Dividing exercises into segments of varying intensities
Almost every city in America now has CrossFit gyms, a term that hardly anyone knew existed 10 years ago. CrossFit focuses on multi-joint and full body exercises, which has proven to be beneficial to your health and an efficient way to get an effective workout. By working out in a group, as CrossFit enthusiasts do, you are getting out of your comfort zone and varying your workouts either by endurance, strength, time, or a combination of one or more of those.
4) Recovery is Key – Last but not least, let’s discuss recovery. One of the most common causes of injury to athletes is overtraining. Resting properly allows your body to repair muscles and tissues. Between sets at the gym, rest 30 to 90 seconds, this allows your muscles to recover with the proper oxygen and blood flow needed to repair properly. Workouts with multi-joint movements require more rest than workouts with single joint movements. If you are sore the day after your workout, you don’t need to take the day off. The soreness you are experiencing is called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). DOMS is caused by microscopic tears inside the muscles. First, determine how sore you are. If your muscles are sore to the touch or if you feel your range of motion is limited then take a day of rest or better yet, stretch your muscles. If you are just lightly sore, then do a light aerobic or weight lifting workout.
If you are sore before any physical activity, spend 5 to 10 minutes cycling to warm up your muscles and increase blood flow. Be cautious about lifting weights when you are sore. Lift weights no more than 30 percent of your one-rep max to prevent exacerbating the soreness and causing injury.
1: Further Reading
Anderssen and Stromme. Physical activity and health – recommendations. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen, 2001; DOI: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11875902
Burgomaster et al. Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans. The Journal of Physiology, 2005; DOI: http://jap.physiology.org/content/98/6/1985.full
Chmidt et al. Effects of long versus short bout exercise on fitness and weight loss in overweight females. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2001: DOI: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11601564
Jakicic at al. Prescribing exercise in multiple short bouts versus one continuous bout: effects on adherence, cardiorespiratory fitness, and weight loss in overweight women. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 1995; DOI: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8963358
Little et al. A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. The Journal of Physiology, 2010; DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.181743
Talanian et al. Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. Journal of Applies Physiology, 2007: DOI: http://jap.physiology.org/content/102/4/1439.full.pdf
Trapp et al. Metabolic response of trained and untrained women during high-intensity intermittent cycle exercise. American Journal of Physiology, 2007; DOI: http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/293/6/R2370.short