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.

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

Spinning isn’t scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you’re wearing

Spinning class / Image credit: Duvine.com

Spinning isn't scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you're wearing

At its very core, spinning is a cardio workout on a stationary bicycle in a group exercise environment. Despite the rise in studios with their expensive merchandise and inspirational mantras, spinning is not an elite activity that should be only attempted by those looking for a transformational experience. It can be intimidating to set foot in these highly curated environments and feel out-of-place in your worn gym clothes.

But if you are curious about trying spinning, here’s what happens once you enter the darkened world of the studio.  It’s not scary. It’s fun, challenging, and highly individualized. And you are in control of the workout the entire time.

At your first class, make sure to get the instructor’s help setting up your bike. Every studio has slightly different equipment so it’s worth checking in with the staff about proper form. If you need to clip in with special spinning shoes, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get the hang of it. Even between studios, each bike may have their own particular quirk. It helps to step into the pedal and snap down as if you were in motion. Like any piece of equipment, the more you are familiar with it, the easier it gets. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help clipping in.

Most spin studios are incorporating one session of arm exercises as part of the 50-minute class. Make sure to check the weights on your bike and adjust as necessary. The arm workout is not long but it can be challenging. Choose a weight that you think you can work with and will accommodate biceps, triceps, and shoulder reps.

During the class, the instructor may turn up the music or their microphone very loudly to encourage an atmosphere of intensity. Some studios have earplugs available so don’t be shy about grabbing a pair (or bring your own!) if you are sensitive to noise. It’s better to be comfortable than in pain — some of the instructors are loud. Really loud.

Throughout the class, you’ll be guided through each song. The instructor will suggest how much tension to add to the bike. You can adjust as necessary. Because spin is an individual exercise in a group activity, it’s ideal for people who are just starting out or recovering from an injury. You can work at your own pace or even feel free to change up the activity. Studios are usually dark, even candle-lit, so it won’t be obvious if you are unable to keep pace with the pack. Do your own workout or follow the instructor. As long as you are challenging yourself, you’ll be fine.

In other blogs, we’ve discussed exercise types that are conducive to forming cults of personality. Lead by charismatic instructors or studio owners who believe their own hype, these people can cloud the true purpose of the activity. Spin has recently become one of those places where aesthetics appears to be more important than athletics. Don’t be dissuaded. By focusing on what is happening inside the studio, and ignoring the racks of t-shirts with inspirational sayings, you will be treated to a 50-minute workout that will push you and have you returning for another session.

The Choose Your Own Adventure Cardio Workout

Cardio workout: guys playing basketball. Image credit: Tim Mossholder / Pexels

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cardio Workout

When you commit to strength training, you are building muscular endurance and strength while keeping your bones and joints healthy and strong. Fat loss is a side effect.

To balance out the good work of strength training, I recommend that my clients participate in some kind of cardio exercise. And cardio is not an exact science. There’s no X times of week + Y speed = Results. Cardio does burn calories but it also helps you keep your heart healthy and prevents disease.

Should I do cardio in the morning or in the evening?

Studies say that you should exercise first thing in the morning. They also say you should exercise in the evening. I say you should exercise when it’s most convenient for you. If this means going for a quick run on your lunch break or waking up at 5 AM — the most important part in finding a place for exercise in your day. Make it part of your schedule and find a time that works for you. You know when’s not a good time to exercise? Never.

What kind of cardio should I do?

The kind of cardio you should do is the kind that you like. Forget about keeping an eye on the calories burned square on the machine. Those numbers are estimates and often exaggerations. This means there’s no point looking for the machine that burns the most calories — instead find something that you enjoy. Some people love spending the focused 30 minutes on an elliptical, catching up or rewatching their favourite TV show. Others would describe this as one of the circles of hell. For others, hiking on the weekend or taking a dance class contribute to their cardio.

Like my advice when it comes to finding exercise time in your schedule, the same goes for cardio equipment and type of cardio. The most important thing about cardio is that you do it.

How Long Should I Spend on Cardio?

If you’re getting started, you should spend 20-60 minutes on cardio, three to five days a week. If you are new to training, three days a week is a good start. If you are more experienced, I would aim closer to the five days a week to increase your heart rate. And this doesn’t mean that you need to run five days a week. You can mix it up with a combination of classes, activities, and cardio machines.

Cardio is one of the few things in life that really is all about you. So be selfish and find that me time. It’s your adventure, so what will you choose?