Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Race Week: Just Observing

I am so excited for Race Week.  This Sunday is Madison Marathon and I'm excited for different reasons.  As Katie and I grow our family, we're in a season where I need to take some time off from training and competing.  For months I've gotten myself excited for this weekend because so many friends and family are running this year's Madison Marathon.

My sister is running her first half.  My father-in-law is completing his second, but first without injury.  My soon-to-be sister-in-law and her dad are each doing the full.  Cousins Matt and Amanda are doing their first half together.  Our friends Kate and Laura are running the half; Laura did a full in Chicago last year.  My cousin Kelly is running after doing Chicago last fall with Laura.  I'm probably missing someone.  Sorry.

Well when I think of race week I think of realized preparation.  You've logged the miles, you've trained your body, and hopefully you've envisioned race day.  There's so many details that go into training for a full or half marathon.  I'm just so excited for all these friends and family to be able to compete with themselves on Sunday.

All that is left is a short run, two days of rest, and some nutritional prep.  I've always been a good eater.  Using food as fuel is very important.  I'm a firm believer in carb-loading.  When your body needs energy (and Sunday your body will NEED energy) it is going to the carbohydrates first.  So load up on pasta and bread on Saturday night.  Don't get sick, but eat a little more than usual.

On race day, I like to eat the following:
  • banana
  • bagel with peanut butter
  • one of Katie's homemade muffins
  • coffee (yes, one cup)
  • and probably another one of those muffins

This may be too much for you, but as I said - I like my fuel.  Don't change your routine too much, but don't run on an empty stomach.  You'll need nutrition on race day.

To all my friends and family, I'm honored to be watching you in all your glory on Sunday.  You've worked hard and are going to accomplish a big feat.

Enjoy the run.

Monday, May 17, 2010

EIM - Exercise is Medicine

When I decided to pursue my certification as a personal trainer, I knew wanted the best.  And the gold standard in exercise and fitness is the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).  They are the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world:
ACSM’s Mission Statement reflects this goal: The American College of Sports Medicine promotes and integrates scientific research, education, and practical applications of sports medicine and exercise science to maintain and enhance physical performance, fitness, health, and quality of life.
With some experience in the industry, I have grown to love the work of ACSM.  Their newest initiative is called Exercise Is Medicine.  The idea is to get physicians to consult with each of their patients about the importance of exercise at each visit. 

It's a very ambitious initiative but it's already caught my attention.  Doesn't it make sense?  Think about it: exercise IS medicine.  Anyone who has exercise has felt the immediate benefits.  And anyone who has worked out for an extended period of time knows the long-term benefits and improved quality of life.

I share this with you in an effort to motivate you to make a change this month.  Sure, today is Frog Jumping Day, this week is Salvation Army Week, and pretty soon it will be Go Skateboarding Day (which actually sounds kind of cool).  But May is also now Exercise is Medicine Month. 

Let's make this simple:  Join the comments section below and tell me what kind of exercise you're getting that isn't normally part of your routine.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The New Recovery Drink: Chocolate Milk

(This post doesn't necessarily belong in the current series on Exercise Programming, but it's posted as a supplement.  Enjoy!)

At this point I hope that everyone has begun to incorporate some of this material into their exercise program.  My goal is for this website to be a resource for you, a place where you can get all your exercise information and motivation.  Need more?  Find me on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

If you've started to ramp up your exercise program, your body is working hard and needs to learn how to recover.  Our last post talked about the importance of stretching to facilitate muscle recovery.  One of the biggest omissions from an exercise routine is the area of nutrition.  Today I'm giving you permission to enjoy one of our favorite kids' drinks: chocolate milk.

Sure, you should drink the chocolate milk because you just had a great workout and "you deserve it."  But that's not why I'm telling you to drink it.  Current research has found that chocolate milk has the perfect balance of carbohydrates to protein to facilitate muscle recovery.  (You can read an interesting article with more details at here.)

I can already hear the experience athletes: "Hans, the last think I'd want to drink after a long run or bike ride is chocolate milk."  I can hear you because that's what I was thinking until I tried it.  It's way better than you'd think.  After I finished the Madison Marathon last year, they had small cartons of chocolate milk available for all the runners and it was the best drink I had all day.

If nothing else, go run for 30-40 minutes and cap it off with a glass of chocolate milk.  And if you're wondering which kind to buy, it doesn't matter.  I mix Hershey's syrup with 1% milk.  Bottoms up!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The X-Factor: Stretching and Flexibility (Exercise Program #4)

In the first two post of this series I have thrown a lot of information at you regarding cardio training and strength training.  Let's ease up a bit and do something a little less stressful, like stretching. Muscles work very hard. They stretch and contract in a brilliant way to provide us with the ability to move dynamically. This does not come without consequences. When you use your muscles for excessive movements, you're actually tearing and changing the composition of the muscles. Stretching is one of the best ways to recover from an exercise bout.

Notice we haven't talked about stretching until after our workout.  This is because active stretching is done most effectively after muscles are warm.  Also, there is very little evidence to suggest that there is any benefit to stretching before your exercise session.  If anything, the stretching will take some of the "bounce" out of your step, and could hinder higher levels of performance.  But this is beyond the scope of this post.  What you need to take away is this:  
  1. warm-up before exercise (light jogging to break a sweat; not stretching)
  2. stretch after exercise (muscle recovery)
You might be saying, "Hans, I've always stretched before a run.  It feels good."   I don't doubt that, but I'm just communicating the research which says muscles should be warm before a workout (they're not if you haven't run yet) and that there's little to no benefit to stretching before the workout.  Conversely, stretching after exerting your muscles is great for recovery of all that muscle activity.

So what kind of stretches are we talking about?  Glad you asked.  For the purpose of this post, I'm going to offer three stretches for the biggest muscles you'll be using:

  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Calf (gastrocnemius)
Here's the hamstring stretch:

And if you have really tight hamstrings, you'll want to increase the stretch of the muscle like this:

Here's the quadriceps stretch:

And finally, the calf:

Do you stretch enough?  Most likely, no.  And to be honest, neither do I.  Don't take it lightly.  I've gotten a lot better over the years in my stretching and you should too.  As we get older, our muscles take longer to recover.  Injuries happen much more readily.  If you have any questions or would like some other ideas regarding your stretching, you can find me in the Comments Section.

Looking forward to the next post?  I'm about to give you a recovery drink that will make you say, "REALLY?!!?" 

(Updated research:  I just found this related article on - Want a better workout? Don't stretch before)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Strength Training (Exercise Program 3)

Strength training is an important component to an exercise program.  It also seems to be the most confusing part of the program for new exercisers.  There are many different variables in a lifting program: days, sets, reps, weight, rest.  But don't worry - I'll explain the essentials here and have you feeling stronger within two weeks, guaranteed.

Why strength training?  The easy answer that fits every individual is that strength training makes life easier.  That's right, when you are stronger you are able to do the ADLs (activities of daily living) much easier.  You can take those two flights of stairs because your legs don't get tired that easily.  You can bring in 4 bags of groceries instead of two.  You can pick up that box for storage, climb the step ladder and heave it over your head without fear of falling.  You name it, it will be easier after just two weeks of strength training.

The other reason I like to focus on is increased confidence.  When you've spent time "pushing weights around" and adding some strength to your frame, your frame and your confidence display your hard work.  You walk a little more upright.  You move around better.  You feel more confident in your body - both men and women.

As I noted earlier, strength training is probably the most confusing part of the exercise program.  This post will make you familiar with the essentials so you can start lifting this week.  Remember - think of this training in terms of progression.  Strength training provides the greatest feedback in terms of accomplishing a goal and moving forward.

First, some definitions:

  • repetitions (reps): number of times a weight is lifted, ranging from 8-15
  • sets: number of times a group of reps are completed, ranging from 2-4
  • weight: come on, you know what weight is

Some debate exists on how often strength training needs to occur (per week) for benefits to be seen.  At minimum you need to lift two days per week.  This is mostly for maintenance, but it's a good place to start.  Ideally I have my clients lifting three to four days per week.

Without me being able to demonstrate the proper technique of these lifts, I'm giving you homework.  If you are unsure of how these lifts should be done you should search YouTube for proper technique.  As always, I'm available for individual consultation in the comments section or on Facebook (

So how do you put together a strength training program?  Let's start with two days per week and six lifts.  (Remember, you have to look these up for proper technique)

  • Bench Press
  • Bent-over Row
  • Bicep Curl
  • Tricep Extension
  • Military Press
  • Squat

There are a couple reasons for me including these lifts but all I want you to walk away with is the understanding that these are the building blocks for a complete strength training program.

How much to lift?  That's up to you, and it will require some trial and error.  Your goal is to lift each weight 8 times (reps) and do this for three sets.  You should lift in the order listed, and you can do two exercises at a time, alternating.  So it would happen like this:

  1. bench #1 followed by row #1 (which would be first set)
  2. do this for a total of three sets
  3. move to curl #1 followed by extension #1 (which would be the first set)
  4. do this for a total of three sets
  5. finish with military press #1 followed by squats #1 (which would be  - you guessed it - the first set)
  6. do this for a total of three sets

Have I mentioned I'm available in the Comments Section?  You can also email me at Hans416 [at] gmail dot com.   (Sorry, I'm a little paranoid about spammers.)

Two weeks.  

That's all you'll need to grow out of the first set of weights you started at.  You'll see increases within two weeks if you lift 2-3 days per week.  All the gains won't happen that fast or that often, so enjoy it while it's there.

Strength training is important for so many aspects of your health, both mental and physical.  I'll write about that more in later posts.  Have you experienced any benefits of strength training?  Share your experience with me and this community (you're not the only reader, mom) in the Comments Section.

Do you know someone who would enjoy this post?  Please consider sharing the link via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Happy Training!!