Q: What about my cardiovascular system, don’t I need to do some cardiovascular exercise during the week?
A: There is a multifaceted myth involved here. The truth is your heart and vascular system are always functioning. They are designed to provide fuel and remove waste for the many systems of the body. The single greatest demand on the fuel delivery and waste removal process is the skeletal muscular system used at a high intensity. All exercise involves the cardiovascular system. It operates and adapts according to the demand and its available resources. As soon as the demand is removed the heart rate decreases.
The body’s cooling system operates along the same lines, meeting demand. Perspiration is merely an effect that exercise, along with other factors will likely bring on. Is it necessary to do “perspiration” exercise as well? There is of course a mistaken belief that sweating in and of itself is healthful. This also is preposterous.
The exercise or activity is not the only factor determining heart rate. Ingesting caffeine raises heart rate. Can this be substituted for the “cardio” activity since the heart rate is the target. This will not offer any lasting benefit regardless of how many pretend TV doctors say that it will. Heart rate is not the issue. The confusion has been perpetrated by the effort to achieve an activity for the “magical” 20 minutes of elevated heart rate. In allowing for the duration the intensity necessarily is reduced. We’ve just eliminated the exercise for the sake of the “cardio”.
Many recommend the “cardio” to balance the weight lifting. Understand that weight lifting is not exercise. The purpose of exercise is to use strength profoundly to stimulate growth. The purpose of weight lifting is to conserve strength as much as possible while moving a given load. Weight lifting is a skill. While it does involve using great strength, using the strength is not the purpose.
The big question is: If the heart rate is the all important thing and the duration of it being elevated is important, then - Why isn’t hypertension a good thing? The heart rate is always high and it takes very little to increase it even more. The logical conclusion is that increasing the heart rate is not at all a cause of healthful conditioning, it is ancillary. It is simply a residual effect. The association is confused and it will remain confused for the sake of convenience because a pleasant sensation comes with most activities that increase circulation.
The following are questions posed to me in an interview for an upcoming book and my responses.
Q: What exactly does a personal trainer do?
A: Let’s start with some important semantics. Training is a process of controlling a behavior in response to a given stimulus. It’s what we do with animals. It involves reinforcing a desired behavior by satisfying some appetite and developing an association between the stimulus or trigger, the behavior and the reward. Skill conditioning differs greatly from physical conditioning. Skill conditioning is a matter of training a desired action such as playing a musical instrument or using correct mechanics in a sport. A golfer wants to train the swing to be fluid, efficient and consistent. By rehearsal it is transferred from a very conscious action to a sub-conscious or even unconscious one.
I prefer the term exercise instructor. Exercise necessarily involves full consciousness. The beneficial response involved in physical conditioning is inherent, it is not trained, and it is a natural reaction (a rebalancing) by the body to counteract the threat which exercise presents (a suddenly exhausted state). Exercise is the process of presenting the appropriate stimulus that will elicit the desired response (growth). As an exercise instructor, I guide a subject through the process of safely challenging their muscular strength to a depth and intensity that crosses some arbitrary threshold triggering the body to adapt with greater strength. My part is to provide objective assessment and careful instruction through the entire stressful process. I am constantly reminding the subject to avoid dangerous practices and unproductive tendencies. When the exercise is done, I advise them on how to maximize the recovery.
Q: What happens at the initial appointment with a personal trainer?
A:The first step is to have them complete a one page questionnaire covering their medical history and previous exercise experience. We talk about any indicated precautions and I want to find out what they already know about exercise and how they hope to benefit from it. I address any incorrect associations that are very common and I describe why the process that I will take them through is different from what they had probably preconceived. I explain the real objective of the exercise session and how that results in long term benefits.I cover several general safety considerations of exercise that need conscious attention. I explain that our early sessions will move from my very conservative estimate of their strength level to finding the right level that seriously challenges them while we rehearse maintaining strict form. The first session especially is concentrated on proper positioning and noting all equipment settings.
Q: Do people need exercise equipment to get in shape?
A:The short answer is: No, specialized equipment is not a necessity for improving one’s physical condition. There are however limitations to how challenging exercise can be without equipment or with inferior equipment and the ultimate level of benefit is consequently limited. Better equipment does allow better opportunity for results, but it can’t guarantee those results. The key factor is the quality of effort that is put into the exercise. The purpose for the specialized equipment is to remove obstacles to the intense effort. The equipment can’t do anything directly.There is an opposite extreme that is often overlooked. Some people can improve their physical condition by reducing their activity level. A mistaken association exists that work output volume is the key factor for exercise effect, when in fact the attempt to increase the volume necessarily reduces the intensity and therefore the quality of effort.
Q: What is a healthy amount of weight to lose each week? Why is it a bad idea to lose more weight than this each week?
A: The important factor is not the measure of weight but is the proportion of body composition. Losing weight from any source other than fat is not healthy. The first priority is to provide balanced nutrition to maintain lean tissues while exercising to stimulate growth so that the body prioritizes metabolic processes to that lean tissue maintenance. A slight calorie deficit then will metabolize stored fat without creating the starvation response of protecting and increasing the fat stores. One pound a week is a reasonable average for a person who carries significantly more fat than is needed to maintain good health. As the body rebalances, the rate of reduction will vary some. It will likely appear to reverse temporarily at times. The important thing is a slow progress over time, the absolute measure at any instant in time is not significant.
Q: If someone belongs to a gym, how can they get their personal trainer into the gym they’re a member of?
A: This is a matter of learning the policy set by the gyms management. Some facilities have personal trainers on staff and will not allow an independent contractor to work inside their facility. Some facilities invite the independent contractor and have a policy in place whereby the facility is compensated for the contractor’s use of it. Some facilities charge a member their standard rate for personal training sessions and then the gym compensates the independent contractor a percentage of that amount. In any case the management will certainly require a trainer to have the minimum of a certification which they recognize, liability insurance coverage and CPR and first aid training.
Q: There seems to be a lot of talk about these “cleansing diets”, where people just drink lemon juice with cayenne pepper and some sort of syrup for 30 or more days. Is this safe and/or healthy? Why or why not?
A: It has always frustrated me that gimmicks seem to be easier to promote than the truth. This type of plan preys on the tendency toward compulsive behaviors. While detoxifying is a good idea, sudden and dramatic changes tend to provoke protective mechanisms that have the opposite effect of that which is intended. Maintaining a balance is a normal function of the body and it is well equipped to handle and remove small amounts of toxins. An overloaded system does not get overloaded suddenly and the body will gradually accept the toxic condition as normal and tend to resist any sudden change. Shocking the system will have unintended consequences. The body will react to maintain the established norm even if it is not optimal. On the other hand if a proper balance of nutrients is supplied then the system will gradually unburden itself and move toward a healthier norm.
Q: Is weight lifting a good idea for people who have high blood pressure?
A:There is an important distinction to be made. Weight lifting is a sport, it is recreational. There are specific skills involved in weight lifting that are not useful for anything else. Lifting weights is a good idea only for competitive weight lifters. Anyone outside the healthy range of blood pressure should definitely not engage in such competition.Using weight as resistance to muscular strength in a controlled manner is effective as exercise. It is the challenge to muscular strength which puts the demand on the vascular system stimulating improvement. The process must be cautiously controlled. Patience is needed as the adaptations occur gradually. During exercise, many instinctual behaviors must be avoided to prevent unnecessarily raising blood pressure. Breathing freely and maintaining a calm focused demeanor are essential.
Q: Is it dangerous to take supplements?
A:Fads, gimmicks and hype are rampant. There are no easy quick fixes. The human body has mechanisms to keep itself in balance. Don’t try to forcefully override nature. Concentrate on stimulating the growth mechanism.Supplementation may be helpful when a nutrient imbalance is present. The first priority must be to determine the reason for the deficiency. If it can be corrected by diet, that’s the best path to follow. If it is related to some medical condition that creates a greater than normal demand for a given nutrient then the condition must be dealt with. Proper balance is the objective. Nutrients are used because there is a demand for them. If more of anything is supplied than demanded the excess is wasted at best or worse it likely hinders proper balance in potentially dangerous ways.For example, it’s been popular to push calcium supplementation to guard against osteoporosis. In some cases (where an actual deficiency exists) calcium supplementation can be helpful, but if other nutrients and the natural bone growth process are lacking instead, then adding more calcium will not help and will probably lead to kidney stones because the extra calcium creates an imbalance and has no use.There is also an issue with the quality of supplements. Manufacturing processes vary widely. Fillers that are used are frequently objectionable and may make up the majority of the product. Herbs are a popular supplement; however they can act in detrimental ways especially along with medications.
Q: Every day, there seems to be a new “health food” product on the grocery store shelves. How can people tell if a food item is really healthy or not?
A: There are no “super” foods. There are no evil foods. The important thing is proper balance. Any single food item is not intrinsically healthy or unhealthy, but how it fits in the context of the entire diet is the proper basis for choosing it. Reading labels is a big step in making healthy choices. Keeping a food journal is a very good way of getting an accurate measure of what is really consumed. First consider the macronutrients, carbohydrate, protein and fat. Does the food choice fit into proper balance with the rest of your daily intake? Next consider micronutrients. Does the food provide any vitamins, minerals or phytochemicals that would otherwise be deficient? Hype can easily lead to overemphasis and that can mean something else important gets neglected.
Q: What is the difference between “good fats” and “bad fats”? Which foods contain these good fats and which foods commonly contain bad fats?
A:Fatty acids are essential nutrients for various functions in the nervous system, endocrine system and general health of cells. Healthy fats are generally unsaturated fats that are liquid at room temperature, in other words, oils. These are most often from plant sources; olive, corn, soybean, peanut and canola oil. Fish oil has gained tremendous notoriety as a healthy fat.Unhealthy fats are saturated fats that are solid at room temperature and tend to raise serum cholesterol. They are commonly from animal sources; beef, pork, butter, cheese and cream. Coconuts are a plant source of a saturated fat.Trans fats and hydrogenated fats are also unhealthy because they raise cholesterol like saturated fats do. They are altered to give foods characteristics such as a creamy texture much like a saturated fat does.
Q: Why is whole wheat bread so much better for you than white bread?
A: White bread is an obvious example of processed food. A high level of processing including the use of preservatives is designed to make supplying food economical. The down side is, of course, that the overall quality of nutrition is compromised. A healthy digestive system is well equipped to handle whole foods. Separating necessary nutrients from waste products is a natural part of the process of digestion. When foods are highly processed before consumption the balance of the process is interrupted. This might be helpful short term when starvation is an issue, but long term an imbalance becomes more problematic. The fiber missing from the white bread vs. the whole wheat can mean a shorter gastric emptying time. This means that blood glucose is raised more quickly bringing a hungry sensation sooner. Fiber is also important for the health and function of the bowel. The fiber could be supplemented, but we’ve already covered that.
Q: What is a medical release and when is it necessary?
A: A medical or physician release is an exercise specific form letter signed by the client’s physician or a qualified medical professional that authorizes the client’s participation in the exercise and indicates any restrictions that should be observed. It is a good idea for everyone to have a release from their doctor when beginning a formal exercise regimen so that the doctor has a basis for any changes that may be observed and can offer specific advice from the patient’s medical history. A release is absolutely necessary in cases of heart disease, respiratory disease, a history of cancer, bone disease, neurological disorders, recent surgery, abnormally high or low blood pressure or heart rate and medications that may require precaution.When exercise has begun it needs to be discontinued at least temporarily and a specific release obtained any time the subject experiences chest tightness, radiating arm or leg pain, loss of bladder or bowel control, numbness, increased joint pain, active infection for 2 weeks, unexplained change in blood pressure or heart rate, unexplained weight loss or gain, intense pain while sleeping or disorientation whether these occur during exercise or between sessions. Proper exercise is a matter of preventive health care. With a physician’s input exercise can be its most effective and with effective exercise the physician’s care can be most effective.