The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 9: Your body will fall apart at 30 years old

Unless you find the fountain of youth, aging is pretty much inevitable. I say “pretty much” because we all age differently. Some of that is due to genetics. And some is due to lifestyle. I remember when I was in my 20s, I was told by 30-something year olds that once I hit 30, everything would go to shit. I’d feel different, and staying in shape would be tough. I never understood why a number would matter so much. Why not 29? Or 34? Why was 30 this magical age where we go from youthful, calorie burning, fit and hangover-free kiddos to old, tired, fat, hangover-fighting people, remembering better days? Having now spent a few years in the “over 30” category, I am now warned and cautioned relatively frequently that my days of being fit, improving as a runner, and eating pizzas and pints of ice cream will catch up with me any day now. So today’s blog is about that magic number, and what’s true and not so true about the “over 30” theory.

Genetics are something we cannot control. If you can look into the physical, mental and emotional aging of your siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents and so on – there are some clues for what you may be able to expect. Some traits, diseases, weaknesses and so on are genetic. Others are brought on by other factors. So your mother isn’t necessarily a clear example of what you will look like, feel like, and be capable of when you are her age. Though you can expect some similarities. Hormone levels play a huge role in how we age – from mood, energy level and sex drive to muscle density, bone density, and so on. Men and women naturally experience a dip in hormones at some point in their life. The dip or change in hormones, combined with perhaps less activity can naturally lead to weight gain, fatigue, and change in mood.

The cool thing is that while we can’t control our genetics, we are pretty darn in control about our choices we make in our lives. Our happiness, quality of life, stress level, sleep, hydration, activity, nutrition choices – all greatly factor into how we age. And while there are certainly things that cannot be helped, like work deadlines or sick children, choosing to eat well and exercise regularly can help many of us age in a slightly more graceful manner. Here’s some helpful info on exercise and being active, food and lifestyle adjustments you can try to make.

Now, if you are an athlete, your body may at some point need extra recovery time and there will be a time those personal records tend to stop happening. But lifting heavy can greatly help our bodies age, and runners can certainly achieve very impressive things after 30, 40, 50, or 60. I’ve had athletes in their 50s and 60s achieve things many folks in their 20s can only dream of doing. And personally, I am faster at almost every race distance in my 30s than I was in my 20s. And I am definitely in better shape. Other runners will peak in their early 20s, but those are usually folks who were running and competing in high school, and quite possibly now feel the consequences of pushing a body still growing and developing.

While we cannot fight Father Time, there are things we can do to stay as active, energetic and strong as possible. So remember the next time you don’t feel like going to the gym or eating a big bowl of greens, that doing things that are good for you are always worth it. This article from Harvard Medical School breaks down how we age when exercising versus not. It’s a good reminder that some changes as we age we cannot really feel, but those changes are important.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 8: Cleanses are good for you

The cleanse/juicing/toxin myth is a topic that fuels some strong opinions and emotions. Why this topic fuels such passion (and bad research and advice) has surprised me over the years. It certainly is a topic many talk shows (hello, Dr. Oz) spend lots of time promoting. And while “rebooting” your nutrition for a day or a week usually isn’t a bad thing, there’s little evidence there’s any good to come from extreme measures.

We’ve all been there – we get to a breaking point where nutrition has spiraled out of control. It can be as simple as realizing you’ve consumed french fries every day for the last week or month, or have been seriously skimping on your fruit and veggie consumption. Or maybe you have gotten into a habit of skipping breakfast but feasting on the office baked goods midmorning, and you want to break that cycle. Often we want to do something epic, something to shake things up and to make the change seem “real.” Perhaps that’s why extreme measures like cleanses are so popular.

To understand the whole theory behind cleanses, you need to understand toxins. Most cleanses are advertised and credited with flushing our bodies of toxins. Toxins sound bad, right? Like, ewe. So without doing any research, you’d probably be on board and eager to “cleanse” yourself. But here’s the thing, if you spend 5 minutes actually reading something medically and scientifically backed up, you’ll quickly understand why the whole cleanse/toxin thing is complete BS and simply a great way for the health industry to make a fortune. The toxins that naturally exist in our bodies are processed by our liver and colon. And they do a pretty awesome job. In fact, unless you have an extreme medical condition, or were somehow poisoned, our bodies are equipped to handle and process everything in an extremely effective manner. So the whole idea of fasting or a cleanse of some sort is silly. Still wanting to read more on toxins? Here’s a good read.

Now if you are still interesting in juicing or fasting, and understand that there’s no guaranteed benefits, keep in mind that these extreme measures are not sustainable. And while you will drop weight (you’ll lose the weight of food in your stomach, for one thing), you may also end up losing muscle mass and no fat. So the number on the scale will go down, but is that the end game? Here’s an interesting view on juicing, fasting and some recent research.

So if you now understand toxins, fasting and cleanses, and want to overhaul your habits or nutritional choices, try to eliminate processed foods for a week. You’ll reset your relationship with food, and be very aware of the choices you are making. You will also never risk being deficient in your macro’s – so your blood sugar and energy levels won’t be all over the place, and you shouldn’t feel starved.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 7: Runners shouldn’t lift

It’s a common belief that weight training, especially with heavy weights, will make us bulk up. If you’re a runner, that probably sounds like bad news. After all, runners want to be as light and lean as possible, and additional weight makes running more challenging. This belief is completely false. In fact, runners should embrace the weight room in their gym. You may find your form and stride to improve, and injury risk to go down. But even if you’re on board with the concept, it can be hard to figure out how and when to include weight training to your running schedule, especially if you are diving into something intense and time consuming like marathon training. Today I’ll debunk the weight training/runner myth, and also give some tips as to how to include weight training into your running schedule.

Training specificity is important for improving. So if you are training to improve as a runner, you need to be running! However, it can be very helpful to incorporate yoga, cross training and weight training into your routine to support your running goals. So while much of your time should be spent running, most of us would benefit from not just running. For one thing, injury risk can go up as mileage or intensity increases. And while running can certainly make us strong, it’s not enough to strengthen our upper body, core, and even lower body in a way that will make use our best. We need more. The good news is that a little time in the gym lifting heavy can go a long way. For runners, strength training is a key component in boosting performance – both for speedsters and endurance junkies. Adding the strength and power you get from weight lifting will help you run faster. It will also help maintain good running form, even when fatigued. If you run longer distances, it is important to have good form when fatigued because this will help prevent injuries, and help with efficiency in those late miles. Short distance and long distance runners alike can benefit from strength training.

If time and energy are limited, aim for 2-3 gym sessions per week. Stack them on days you are already working hard – track, tempo, long run days – for example. If you can get in a 30-60 minute routine, working head-to-toe, focusing on lifting heavy and good form, you will see and feel improvements in your running. If you don’t have access to gym equipment, or are short on time, this article may be very helpful. There are some basic things you can do at home and with your own body weight. Something is far better than nothing! When at the gym, try aiming for moves that incorporate multiple muscle groups can be really helpful. You’ll get more out of your training, won’t need as many exercises, and when you run, you are using tons of muscles at a time, so isolating one muscle per exercise isn’t as helpful for a runner. Use the heaviest weight you can for 3 sets of 8-12, with good form. If you can handle more than that, you need to increase the weight. Be sure to have a protein-dense snack or meal after your weight training session.

Breaking down 5 Myths About Strength Training and Running, Coach Jeff offers some good advice and insight. Hopefully you are now on board and eager to add some serious weight training to your training calendar. You can anticipate some big payoff – few injuries, better and more efficient form, and faster times!

 

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 6: I don’t need sleep

I don’t know how, where or when, but at some point we as a culture have decided that sleep is a luxury. That if you don’t sleep much, you are badass, stronger or work harder than the person in the office next to you or on the race course. Somehow sleep has a stigma that’s bad. Sleeping makes us lazy. We should be working more. Doing more. Socializing more. Sleep should be last priority.

Well, that’s wrong. Really, really wrong. Sleep is incredibly important and necessary for humans for many different reasons. It’s good for us. We are usually healthier, happier, stronger, and better at pretty much everything when rested. We should prioritize sleep with eating good food, hydrating, and exercise. Statistically, people who don’t sleep much or well are heavier, less focused, and less happy. Some jobs require long hours, or perhaps you have small children who wake up early. There are certainly many challenges for navigating how to prioritize sleep. But you may find you are more productive at work or have more energy or patience as a parent if you get some quality zzz’s. You will probably also consume less calories (usually snacks) if you get in 7-9 hours of sleep. Still making excuses for why your 4-5 hours per night is enough? Here’s a study from Harvard Med that should hopefully convince you to at least try to prioritize sleep a bit more.

I often stress for my athletes the important of rest days. The adaption to the training happens when we rest and recover, not while we are actually training. Skipping out on rest can have consequences, or simply prevent you from maxing out all the benefits of your training. Sleep is the best form of rest/recovery. If a runner has to choose between sleep and a run, I will sometimes suggest they opt for sleep. It’s usually better to train less but have better quality workouts than to be dragging your tired butt through too much. Here’s a helpful article on sleep, running, and general health.

At the end of the day, everything is about balance. Just try to remember that sleep, food, hydration and exercise are necessary for a happy and healthy life.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 5: No pain, no gain

It’s been ingrained in gym culture, sports, and perhaps our common conception of exercise: it’s supposed to hurt. Perhaps this is why so many people hate to exercise or run. While yes, there is definitely discomfort that can come and should come with training, that is very different from injury pain. The lines between the two seem to often blur, and that’s not a good thing. So today let’s clarify what sensations should be associated with exercise and which ones should not – and how to recognize the difference and make good decisions when those pains arise.

When ramping up training, or jumping into something new, it’s important to build the work load carefully and consistently. Not doing so will increase both injury risk and general discomfort. For runners, for example, this is why building base mileage is necessary before tackling intense runs. Or why going from absolutely no exercise to 3-hour gym sessions will practically destroy many of us. And rightly so. You are shocking your body!

Discomfort can come in a few different forms – pain while in the act of training – running hard on a track isn’t comfortable, or pushing out that final rep of chest presses – but that’s not injury pain. That’s the discomfort our body will adapt and grow from. The heavy leg feeling towards the end of a long run can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially when pushing the time on your feet. But again, this is the kind of stress our bodies need to experience to learn to run longer. A day or two after training, it can be normal to feel soreness, tightness, or weakness. While there are things we can do to help alleviate that discomfort (hydration, rest, compression gear, stretching, foam rolling, light exercise, ice baths), that discomfort is simply part of athletic gains. This discomfort isn’t an injury. It’s simply your body going through the process of learning and adapting. The good news is that the more of a habit your training becomes, and the stronger and more adaptable your body and brain, the harder you’ll need to work to feel discomfort. This isn’t to say that you’ll feel amazing and agile at mile 23 of the marathon, but it will mean mile 14 won’t hurt the way it maybe did 4 months ago.

Injury pain is very different from discomfort. While there’s a stigma that badass athletes train, race and compete through injury, that’s a really bad way of handling yourself, your attitude about your body, and your goals. There are always exceptions to the rules. For example, many NHL players are expected to play through broken bones during the playoffs. And I’ve known many a runner opt to still run a marathon with tendonitis. Are those decisions smart? No. Worth it for that person or team in the situation? That’s a personal decision. But we need to be careful and remember than training through an injury doesn’t make us a dedicated, badass warrior. It makes us idiots, with usually big consequences down the road.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between discomfort and injury. Remember that unless you are actually a doctor, looking things up online or talking to your lifting or running buddies is not the smart course of action. See a medical professional. A diagnosis, especially early on, can make a game-changer. Some injuries like runners knee, ITB, shin splints – can be managed and not totally derail training or racing, But a torn rotator cuff, tendonitis, a muscle tear – these are things we should rarely train through. It’s important to know what you’re dealing with so that you can make smart choices. If you can’t see a doctor right away, take a few additional rest days and see if that helps. If it does, carefully ease back into your activity and see how it feels. If it doesn’t help, you definitely need a medical opinion before training again.

An overwhelming number of runners say they battle injuries as part of their sport. I find that sad, and a statistic that doesn’t need to be so high. Smarter training, self awareness, and remembering that each and every runner is different and you need to learn and listen to your body, can help you not be part of such an overwhelming statistic. Look, I get it. I have said yes to races, runs with friends or team mates, and pacing opportunities with my clients when for my own body and training, it wasn’t a smart idea. Sometimes the risks don’t have huge consequences and we get lucky. But other times we pay the price.

Just remember that pain is a signal our bodies give our brain that something is stressed or hurting. Signals should never be ignored. We only have one body. Do your best to keep it healthy and happy.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 4: Eating fat will make you fat

Depending on your age and generation, you have quite possibly heard quite a few conflicting theories on food, nutrition and fat. Does eating fat make you fat? No. In fact, you need fat in your diet. Obviously you shouldn’t eat only fat, but that’s true for every macronutrient. Fo a long time, fat has had a bad name. Think about how many packages at the grocery store proudly advertise “fat free.”

It’s not fat that makes us fat. It’s calories. And to be fair, fat has more calories per gram than protein, carbohydrates, alcohol, and so on. Fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein have 4. So you while you can consume more carbs/protein at a lower total calorie count, it’s not the fat that is a factor in weight gain – it’s simply the calories. In fact, some studies suggest that people on a reduced-fat diet are prone to consuming more sugars and starches, which can cause weight gain, diabetes, and other health concerns. And while a high-fat diet can also be an issue, moderation is usually best. But if you are a healthy person, you should make it a point to get in some fat – eggs, salmon, peanut butter, olive oil, avocados, most nuts, dairy, meat – all can be good sources.

Cutting all fat can be incredibly harmful, and it’s not uncommon for someone looking to lose weight to cut as much fat from their diet as possible. Be careful. Your brain needs fat to function properly. And our bodies rely on it for dozens of things – like energy, absorption of certain vitamins, and feeling full longer – as fat can take a while to digest. Now this isn’t me suggesting you only eat foods that are deep fried. Not all fats are created equal. If you are looking to lose weight or have more energy, avoid fried foods and look for good sources of fat. Stay away from white/simple starches and stick to whole grains. Load up on fresh or steamed veggies and fruits, and lean meats. Moderation really is the best way to keep your body, brain and mood satisfied, fueled, and energized.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 3: There’s a perfect running shoe

I am asked all the time for my advice on the perfect running shoe. It’s one of the most common questions my private clients and runners at the studio ask me about. Sadly, the answer isn’t so easy. There is no perfect running shoe for everyone. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t the perfect running shoe for you, because there probably is. But it will be a completely different shoe from the next runner.

It can be overwhelming to shop for a new running shoe. Especially if you aren’t happy with your current shoe, or your current model is being discontinued or remodeled. Once you find the right shoe, it’s like magic. Nothing should hurt, and the shoe should almost feel like an extension of your leg or foot.

There are dozens of running shoe brands out there. You can probably name at least a couple off the top of your head. Now, each brand has there own line of shoes – models varying in support, weight, shape, terrain, for runners who pronate, runners who supinate, and runners with a neutral landing. Some runners are incredibly light on their feet, while others are quite heavy. Some land front or mid-foot, while many heel strike. There are also trends in shoes – from the minimalistic trend (hello, Vibrams and Nike Free) to the maximus trend (hello, HOKA ONE ONE) – and each brand usually embraces those trends and markets towards them. It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

So how do you find your perfect pair? Bring your old running shoes with you when shopping for a new pair. The wear and tear can give some clues regarding your form and needs. A gait analysis can’t hurt, if you are completely confused. However, I find many of us run “differently” when on a treadmill vs. outside, or when we know we are being analyzed and video taped, instead of what we naturally do while out on our own, especially as we fatigue and form/stride can be compromised. Speak up about aches, pains, and injuries. These can also be helpful clues. And finally, listen to your body. The shoes should feel good. Maybe even great. If they don’t, they aren’t right. Maybe not the right brand, or simply not the right style – and that will be true in all brands across the board.

Lastly, please change your shoes frequently. Shoes can wear out quickly, especially if you land heavy on your feet, carry extra weight, or use your running shoes to walk and stand. It’s far cheaper and easier to replace shoes than to deal with doctors and physical therapist appointments. And remember, you are shopping for function – NOT fashion.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 2: Running is bad for your knees

If you are a runner, you’ve probably been asked this a thousand times: Isn’t running bad for your knees?

And if you’re not a runner, perhaps that’s your belief or assumption. In general, the answer is no, running is not bad for your knees. That’s an old wives tale. In fact, I’d argue that it’s in fact good for your knees. However, we are all different. And so is running good for your knees? That depends. Here’s a NY Times article discussing why runners don’t tend to get arthritis in their knees.

Any highly repetitive activity can have consequences. Overuse is a common issue for many athletes – be it a basketball player jumping, a tennis player and their elbows, or a dancer and their hips. Doing something repetitive day after day, year after year can cause problems. However, when supplemented with other activities, done wisely, and with good genetics, running can keep humans active, agile, strong, and enjoying a sport they love way into their golden years. While I’d argue running isn’t bad for many of us, I’d also argue that many runners don’t supplement their running wisely or train in a smart manner.

Statistically, many runners overtrain or train with little purpose or guidance. Many runners also don’t respect their body’s need to recover and rest – be it rest days during the week, or taking some significant time off after completing a big goal race, like a marathon. In fact, I’d argue most runners are pretty stupid when it comes to their training choices. I’d be the first to admit I’ve made those mistakes and learned the hard way. Sometimes runners simply don’t know any better, or they have FOMO and cannot force themselves to take time off. I’d also argue that most runners don’t strength train or cross train enough. So a flawed training schedule or plan can lead to angry knees, hips, shins, feet, tendons – the list goes on. So if a non-runner asks the average runner about their injuries or knees, they may hear their opinion on knees and running validated.

It’s important to understand that body weight, shoes, form, and running surfaces can also be factors in how happy your joints are with your weekly miles. I’ve found many of my runners with a history in martial arts and track and field events like long jump tend to have issues with running and keeping their knees happy.

If you still aren’t buying the whole “running is good for my knees” concept, here are five expert opinions. For many of us, the benefits far outweigh the possible damage or consequences of running. Just remember that you only have one body, and you should run, train and race with the big picture in mind – active decades to come – not just your races on the calendar this year.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 1: Spot Reduction

For the 12 days leading up to Christmas, I am releasing a blog debunking and discussing 12 commonly believed myths that are fitness, health, and running related. Day 1 features the topic that gave me the idea, thanks to the behavior of some folks in my gym. So here we go.

Spot reduction. It was a big fad for a long time. Apparently many folks still buy into it. Essentially, many people think you can focus on and target specific body parts for fat loss. While we can certainly target certain muscle groups for strength and muscle gain, fat loss doesn’t work that way. So while a thousand crunches may make your core muscles stronger, you will not specifically lose fat in your core or see those muscles unless you lower your body fat percentage.

When thinking of body fat, picture your body as one big organism. You can lose body fat from your overall body, and in that process see and feel reduction in the spots desired, but you cannot control where you’ll lose your body fat first. If you are looking to drop fat, you need to reassess your nutrition and exercise habits. It’s also a good idea to look at your genetics. We are genetically made differently. If your family members tend to carry their weight in their upper body, the odds are you may too, or that it will be the hardest place for you to lose it. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But it may take a whole lot of discipline in both training and nutrition then say losing fat and seeing definition elsewhere.

If you are looking to drop body fat, a combination of weight training, cardio, and a good nutrition plan will help you achieve your goals. Just try not to focus on your “target area,” or you’ll lose your mind and wind up frustrated. Remember your genetics. For example, I will never have a super tiny waist. Part of that is bone structure, the other part is that I can easily gain weight in the love handle region. But on the flip side, genetically I will probably never have heavy legs. Know your body. Embrace it’s strengths. Acknowledge your weaknesses or imperfections. And stop spending time doing a thousand crunches or buying miracle gimmicks. There are literally a hundred better ways to improve your body in the gym than crunches. If you are interested in some additional reading, here’s a good option.

Post-Marathon Advice

corky_fitness-2642finalwsharpeningflatwebSo you just ran your goal race for the season, and are riding a high and eagerly filling your calendar for next year. First, congrats! It’s an exciting feeling to finish your goal race – especially a marathon. It’s also common to set new goals, get excited for the future, and get back out on the road to get back to work!

Relax. Rest. Recover. Most marathoners jump back into running or running hard way too soon after their goal marathon. I understand the excitement. And many runners get nervous they will lose the fitness they spend literally months building. The idea of taking a few weeks off sounds unacceptable. There’s a fun half marathon in a week or two. There’s that Turkey Trot – I can’t possibly miss it!!!! Yes. You. Can. You need to remember a few things after crossing that finish line. The choices you make in the few days/weeks following that goal race can have huge implications on your future as a runner. I know, you may feel decent. But that doesn’t mean your body is actually recovered. In fact, injury risk is extremely high after a goal marathon, and immune systems usually drop briefly. This is your prime opportunity to get sick. Or injured. And you may not feel injured until a few months from now.

It’s a blessing but also a curse to have so many races hosted every weekend. The feeling of missing out, skipping an opportunity, not running with friends – I get it. But it usually isn’t worth going and putting your body through stress when it isn’t ready. The consequences could mean being forced to stop running for a few months or even a few years. And don’t underestimate mental burnout. Your brain needs some time to rest, reset and be on board to train for your new and exciting goals.

Maybe now you are on board with the recovery for a few weeks, but not happy about it. Okay, here are a few tips and things you can do to enjoy this time while losing minimal fitness and staying active in the running community:

  • Volunteer or go cheer at upcoming races in your area.
  • Ease into some easy cross training a week or two after your marathon.
  • If you dealt with injuries during training, address them now. See a doctor or physical therapist. Address weakness, tightness, and habits. We all have them.
  • Revamp your nutrition and cut back a bit on all those carbs and focus on fruits, veggies, lean proteins – try new recipes and have some fun in the kitchen!
  • Maybe try yoga, pilates, and a weight training routine during your recovery.
  • Catch up on sleep, your social life and any projects that were on the back-burner while marathon training.
  • Throw a party to celebrate your achievement! You may inspire a few friends to run the next year.
  • When the dust settles, write about your race experience. What worked well, what was tough or a mistake, and be honest. Your running journey will adapt over time. Learn from each race.
  • When you ease back into running, do it with no pressure or expectations of time. leave the watch at home and go by effort and simply enjoy the miles.
  • Trust that your body will bounce back and loss in fitness will be minimal, while injury risk will be extremely low and your body and brain will be ready to dive back into working hard.

Congrats again on your recent achievements! Now recover. As I say to my athletes, the rest and recovery is just as important as the hard work. Now is the time to really embrace that process. I want you clocking happy, healthy, and strong miles for years to come.