Improve flexibility, reduce stress, boost circulation: don’t forget stretching after working out

athlete exercise fitness stretching / image credit: pixabay.com

Improve flexibility, reduce stress, boost circulation: don't forget stretching after a workout

So you’ve finished a workout. You’ve taken an hour for yourself and pounded it out on the treadmill, kept up pace in spin class, or sweated it out lifting weights. It’s time to move on with your day. You take a moment before heading out the studio door. Should you spend time stretching? Do you really need to lie down and pull yourself into a deflated pretzel before removing your sweaty clothes? Is stretching that important?

The answer is yes. Stretching is essential. If you haven’t stretched, you haven’t completed your workout. It’s easy to ignore stretching — especially when you’re in a rush. However, if you aren’t stretching you’re missing the full benefits of your workout.

The most obvious benefit of stretching is improving flexibility and range of motion. This ultimately improves your physical performance and helps reduce risk of injury. In aiding your range of motion, your body requires less energy to make the same movements. This makes future workouts more efficient.

Flexibility isn’t the only benefit from stretching. A 2013 study evaluated how heart attack patients responded to stretching as part of their rehabilitation. Among the findings: regular stretching improves circulation. This increases blood flow to your muscles — which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness. If your muscles are already contracted because you haven’t stretched, they will be less effective during exercise. Regular stretching will relax all of your muscles and enable them to be more available during exercise.

The benefits of stretching aren’t purely physical. There are mental advantages as well. Stretching is a great way to alleviate stress. A buildup of stress causes your muscles to contract, making you feel tense and uneasy. It also encourages the release of endorphins, providing a sense of tranquility and euphoria.

Now that we’ve outlined just some of the benefits of stretching, you need to incorporate it into your routine. There are also a number of apps, like lolo fit’s Performance Stretching, that can guide you through a varied routine that you customize based on your workout. Whether it’s stretching with a foam roller or post-running, these apps target the muscle groups that need attention — relieving you of the guesswork associated with determining the best stretch for your activity.

So it’s time to stop thinking of stretching as a luxury and embrace it as a necessity. You’ll feel stronger, more flexible, and happier.

Is your diet the main saboteur on your journey to wellness?

When your diet is your biggest saboteur. Image credit: The Telegraph

Is your diet the main saboteur on your journey to wellness?

If you took a sample of people who were dedicated to exercising regularly and asked them why they started, most would say they wanted to get “healthy.” But we know that being “healthy” isn’t a real goal. When you dig a little deeper, you learn the truth about what motivates individuals to include exercise in their lives.

I was out of shape.

I had a physical coming up.

I had a family reunion/bar mitzvah/wedding in six months.

I couldn’t fit into my jeans.

Exercise is usually the first step in a healthier lifestyle. It’s easy to add in and you feel great when you’re done. It taps into our endorphins and makes us feel a sense of accomplishment. Exercise is its own reward.

But exercise isn’t everything. It’s just an important part of the bigger picture. So when I ask you what might be standing your way, keeping you from achieving your goals, what do you think it could be? If you exercise six times a week but fail to see progress — what could be sabotaging your success?

It might be your food. In fact, it probably is your food.

Many people who have had food issues for most of their lives don’t look at food as the barrier to success. When we have a relationship with food that goes beyond fuel, it’s difficult to see it as something that stands in our way. For many of us, food represents so much. It’s non-judgemental and been a constant throughout our lives. We socialize over meals with friends and family. We treat ourselves after a particularly difficult day. And we never examine how boredom, routine, and emotions tie into how we eat, what we eat, and when we eat.

It’s funny how quickly people defend their food consumption habits.The number of times that I’ve heard “it’s not my food, I just need to exercise more” is no longer surprising. Food always gets a pass — and it’s because unpacking our relationship with food is more difficult than unpacking our relationship with exercise. But without an examination of how you use food in your life, your goals will continue to slip away.

To start, keep a diary of what you eat and when you eat (more about the importance of food tracking can be found here). Spend some thinking about your relationship with food and figure out what role it has played in your life. Moving forward, what role should it be playing? How will you make this shift? Can you do this alone, or do you need help?

If you have a trainer, take the time to talk about food. Do they have any suggestions on how you can form healthy habits? Can they recommend strategies to help re-contextualize your food relationship? Trainers aren’t just focused on how much you lift. They are your partner in progress towards your goals — so don’t be afraid to admit how food might be your main saboteur on your road to wellness. You might be surprised to learn that they have faced a similar challenge, and can offer you non-judgemental support and solutions.

Related links:

Can You Exercise Off a Bad Diet?

How Bad Diet Could Be Causing You Injury and Illness

Consent cards turn yoga studios into safe spaces

Consent cards make it easier for yoga students to indicate whether they welcome hands-on adjustment. Image credit: yogabysarah.com

Consent cards bring respect for personal space back to the yoga industry

Consent cards / Image credit: Yoga Standards Project / yastandards.comA couple of months ago, I wrote about my feelings about yoga. I was tired of the commercialization and the guru culture that permeates so many studios. While I loved how yoga made me feel and the health benefits, I had conflicting feelings about yoga culture. As yoga shifted from a physical meditation practice to a lifestyle, we compromised the intention behind the act. However, we also gained new practitioners — open to challenging themselves and attempting a new approach to wellness.

The yoga studio developed a reverence akin to a religious space and spirituality was often intertwined with exercise. As yoga studios began to spring up everywhere — just walk three blocks in any major city and see if you can’t find a yoga studio — we also became complacent to some of the more unsavoury practices going on behind those walls.   

As the #MeToo movement has grown, we’ve seen yoga studios called out as locations for sexual assaults. From those who gave their names to entire practices to specific teachers who performed handsy hands-on adjustments, yoga joined the number of industries where abuses of power were not discussed. By shifting the focus from the yoga practice itself by exalting those teaching it, the power shifts dramatically from student to teacher. That quiet spirituality we were asked to embrace became synonymous with not speaking up.

Fortunately, through exposés and public sharing, we’ve started to reclaim yoga studios as the safe spaces they were always intended to be. At a recent visit to a local Toronto studio, I was asked to take a Consent Card and place it next to my mat. One side featured the words “It’s OK to offer me hand-on adjustments during this class.” The other read “No thanks I’d prefer not to receive hands-on adjustments today.

This is how yoga students are taking their power back and silently informing instructors of boundaries and offering consent. By actively flipping the card to either side, the student is making a conscious decision whether or not they want to be adjusted. And for those of us too shy to tell an instructor they don’t want to be touched, they are ideal. For many students, their reverence for their teachers put them in vulnerable positions. Also, consider some of the trickier poses that we hold in class. I know there have been times where I’ve been in camel pose and seen an instructor walk by … and have thought to myself “just keep walking … just keep walking ….” Depending on the day, hands-on adjustments can go from being helpful to intrusive. For those of us protecting injuries, we are fearful that a simple correction may push us beyond a place of comfort.

As studios realize, like most industries, how easily power has been abused — the responsibility is theirs to protect their students. Consent Cards will not separate the teachers from the abusers, but they are a step in the right direction. We need to proudly take one at the start of a class and display it honestly. We also need to encourage all yoga studios to partake in this practice. After all, how can you focus on inner peace when you’re worried about being touched inappropriately in the guise of correction?


 

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Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

Electronic muscle stimulation provides an intense and high-energy workout. Image source: Ebenezer Samuel / Men's Health

Electronic Muscle Stimulation: a high-intensity workout, but you need to be prepared

If you love to learn about new exercise and fitness trends, The Future of Fitness explains it to you in a way you can understand and separate the hype cycle from actual results.

Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is muscle contraction using electric impulses. When you EMS train, the impulses are generated through electrodes placed near the muscles being stimulated. A number of studios have sprung up touting EMS Training as more efficient than traditional workouts. But what’s it like to be strapped into a bodysuit that makes you look like you should be fighting zombies instead of doing squats?

The first thing to know about EMS training is that your studio will provide you with the high-tech undergarments that you see on their site. These are meant to be worn without underwear (no sports bras!). They are tight. Really tight. Then, the studio trainer will spray you with water. The suit you wear will also be sprayed with water. This allows for increased conductivity. Each electrode will be adjusted to your specification, and you’ll feel a tingling sensation, a vibration, that focuses on a specific muscle group.

You’ll be led through a High Intensity Interval Training routine (6 seconds on, 4 seconds off) through a number of exercises like squats, mountain climber, side planks, and bicep curls. Working with a trainer who will adjust the pulses in the electrodes throughout the 20-minute workout, you will sweat your way through the circuit. You’ll also burn a number of calories.

The next day, you’ll feel sore but nothing unusual after a good workout. Also, depending on your shoulder strength, you might feel the pressure of the suit.

There’s no doubt that EMS training burns calories, but is it a good workout? I would recommend that if you want to try EMS, you should already be familiar with basic exercise moves and intensity. You should already know how to  perform a proper squat confidently, because the workout moves fast. While the trainers will adjust the activities, you need to be secure in your own abilities and understand your limits. Asking for alternatives to replace exercises you already know are not good for your body is essential. Like most training situations, you need to speak up and let people know when you are uncomfortable or in pain (and not a good pain).

I also wouldn’t recommend EMS to people with claustrophobia. The pressure of the suit combined with the increased intensity of the pulses may trigger feelings of being trapped. The workout moves quickly, so your heart rate will increase. Combine these factors with a new studio and a trainer you don’t necessarily know and it may make for an uncomfortable environment.

However, if you are curious — and feel physically and mentally prepared for a fast moving workout in a heavy suit — you should give EMS a try.


Have you done EMS? How was it? Awesome? Traumatic? Meh? Let us know in the comments!

Canada’s joining the trans fat ban: what does this mean for you and the way you eat?

WHO targets trans fat in policy recommendations / Image source: wotw.com

Canada's joining the trans fat ban: what does this mean for you and the way you eat?

It’s no news that trans fats are dangerous. For years we’ve been hearing how this type of fat, found in some foods, contributes to our risk of heart disease. Trans fat increases bad cholesterol (LDL) and decreases good cholesterol (HDL) — which leads to the buildup of fatty deposits.

This September, Canada joined a number of countries in banning trans fat. Denmark became the first country to eliminate trans fat from its food supply in 2004, and since then, countries across Europe have followed suit.

But what do you need to know about the trans-fat ban?

Why would anyone put trans fat in food?

Do you mean, why would anyone inject a dangerous additive that leads to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes in their bake-at-home croissants? Trans fats enhance the taste and texture of food — making it “richer.”  They also act as a preservative and allow manufacturers to extend the shelf life of products. Trans fats are also cheaper to product than animal fats.

I don’t eat trans fat … do I?

Trans fats can be found in commercially baked and fried foods made with vegetable shortening. These include fries and donuts. They’re also in hard stick margarine, shortening, and some snack and convenience foods.

But I never buy those foods!

Do you like microwave popcorn, crackers, or frozen pizza? All of these may contain trans fats. If a label mentions “partially hydrogenated oils,” it’s probably covering up for trans fats.

If there’s a ban, I don’t need to worry.

You still need to check labels and make sure your favourite foods do not contain trans fat. The Canadian government is allowing a grace period of two years for retailers to remove products from their shelves. If a product was packaged before September 15, 2018, it can still be sold. As previously mentioned, trans fat is a preservative. Even in 2020, you may still find in-date products containing this additive.

But it’s good news?

Definitely. Anything that bans trans fat is good. However, we still need to be diligent and not assume that with this legislation trans fat foods will automatically be banished from our shelves.

Want to know more about the trans-fat ban?

https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/trans-fats-health-heart-disease-canada-1.4824852

https://www.dietitians.ca/Dietitians-Views/Food-Regulation-and-Labelling/Trans-Fats.aspx

http://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/the-facts-on-trans-fats

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/5/14/17346108/trans-fats-food-world-health-organization-bloomberg-gates