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“A sound mind in a healthy body.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 8.43.17 PMThere’s a well known Latin quotation, which has been said to me countless times, by my father, as it was recited to him, in his youth, by my grandfather. “Mens sana in corpore sano,” translated, roughly, means, “A sound mind in a healthy body.” 

We exercise and eat well for many different reasons.  Whether the goal is athletic performance, better health, or good looks, regular physical activity also demonstrates a capacity to permeate the depths of the physical body, and improve one’s cognitive and emotional state.

Drawing upon my personal experiences with melancholia and emotional disquiet, and by observing the not-so-subtle improvements which occur in my clients, I’ve become convinced that we possess a wellspring of healing power, within each of us.  Just as exercise can be used to prevent and treat many physical ailments, so can it bring about profound changes in mood and well-being.

How does it work? A physically challenging activity can immediately trigger potent neurochemical changes. Stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol are diminished. At the same time, a soothing release of endorphins, which are the body’s built in pain-killing, mood-boosters, floods the brain.  Studies have also shown that exercise can stimulate the growth of new brain cells. Some of these young neurons are specifically designed to release the neurotransmitter GABA, which hushes squirrely brain activity. In effect, these are calming neurons which prevent anxious states of mind.

How long until I feel better? Similar to pharmaceutical antidepressant therapy, exercise therapy can take several weeks to kick in. This is one, of many, reasons why the occasional clanging of weights or monthly spin class is of little value. Consistency and committed dedication are of the essence. In other words, you are what you do each day. Be that as it may, I regularly enjoy an immediate improvement in my disposition, during, or as the result of, a well-executed workout. As a strength and conditioning specialist, my most rewarding moments aren’t found by having someone heave mountains of iron onto their shoulders. They’re found while provoking a client’s innate ability to improve his or her emotional orientation. As their body temperature rises, and respiration quickens, the corners of their mouths turn upward, and their brow releases its hold.  This response is predictable, observable, and reproducible. The client leaves the session, metamorphosed, with altered mental energy, brighter eyes, and an invulnerable grin. I am, in a neurological sense, a drug pusher.

How to? If you’re feeling bottomed-out, and struggling with tricky emotions, a good first step is to add a mental health professional to your team. For many people, the optimal approach to exercise therapy, is to do so, while taking advantage of standard antidepressant therapy and counseling.  Just like medication and counseling, each person has unique needs, in terms of their personal exercise protocol.  In my opinion, and based on professional experience, a conservative approach, with measured increases in intensity, works best. In spite of my obvious personal bias, I believe that investing in an experienced personal trainer is as valuable as any investment one can make.
Good trainers listen. They know how hard to push you, and when to reduce intensity. If your trainer says, “No pain, no gain,” run away. FAST.  A great trainer is fiercely observant, and pays attention to everything.  They watch joint angles, breathing and heart rate, facial expressions, and even changes in facial skin color. They write programs specific to each client’s goals, ability level, and past fitness experience. Just like physicians, good trainers are hard to find. I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the best in NYC, and I’m overjoyed and proud to be sharing my expertise with WNY.

How else does exercise benefit the mind? Forget about the intricacies of neurology for a moment, and imagine how you would feel, in the possession of a powerful body, with lower body fat, and upright stature. Imagine feeling fantastic after ascending three flights of stairs, rather than panting and feeling nauseated. Picture yourself fitting into your favorite outfits, perfectly. How would that make you feel? Pretty good, I think. Coupled with consistently healthy dietary habits, commitment to physical training can also be of benefit to cognitive performance.
In addition to frequent exercise, getting enough good, deep sleep is critical for mental health. It’s also important to look into relaxation techniques and stress-management strategies. For many people, some type of devotion to spiritual practice can make a significant difference.

Is exercise a replacement for psychotherapy? I don’t think so. No matter how fast you set your treadmill, you can’t run away from your worries and troubles.  No man has built his chest muscles to be bulletproof enough to protect the delicate essence of his heart. Training can provide a tremendous advantage, but like all other modes of therapy, it is limited.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can benefit from exercise, my personal email address is dailyfitcoach@gmail.com.

Flipping the 24s

A colleague of mine asked why I’ve been doing kettlebell flips so much lately. There are a number of things that set this exercise protocol apart from traditional resistance training. In addition to the pure strength, conditioning and hypertrophic adaptations, kettlebell juggling and flipping:

1. Challenges hand-eye coordination
2. Satisfies the mind’s desire for skill-acquisition
3. Involves aspects of fun and play, which are lacking in many exercise protocols

Shoe Review: Vivobarefoot Neo Trail Men’s

Vivobarefoot Neo Trail Men's

The type of shoe I choose to wear depends, largely, on the specific activity in which I am to engage, and the features of the particular surface, underfoot. Lately, I’ve been testing several models of, so-called, minimal shoes. The idea behind minimal or, “barefoot,” shoes is simple. In fact, “simplicity,” is the main concept underlying minimal shoe design and function.

Human architecture and biomechanics are the result of more than just a few years of evolution. Since the day our shaggy forebears peeked their heads up over the tops of tall grasses, our bones, muscles, and connective tissues have been evolving to equip us with a seamless, efficient relationship with the most jagged, slippery or uneven landscape. The job of a good shoe is to keep the foot performing safely on a particular terrain, while neither interfering with perception of the ground nor affecting proper coordinated movement. After a week of testing this shoe, I’m not a bit reluctant to say that it’s one of the best I’ve ever owned.

The Vivobarefoot Neo Trail is designed for just what its name suggests; trail running. I spend a lot of time off-road, but I mostly keep my running, jumping, lunging, and squatting to flat, synthetic surfaces, roads, and some grass. It’s not that I don’t enjoy trail running. I just happen to live in New York City, where the terrain is, regrettably…city.

The shoe has an extremely rugged outsole, rigged with multidirectional lugs which are designed to grip terrain. These cleat-like lugs (attatched to Vivobarefoot’s ultra-thin, puncture-resistant sole) feel like they’re giving my foot an advantage in sturdiness, even on pavement and gym flooring. Everything from sprinting to deadlifting feels awesomely natural and well-grounded.

The zigzag, lace-lock structure of the upper shoe looks like something Batman would wear to soccer practice. It’s damn badass and tough-looking for a zero-drop shoe. As secure as my foot feels, the first thing I noticed when I tested the shoe, was the ample roominess in the toe box. In retrospect, it was this unrestricted opportunity for my toes to splay and my foot to flex, which instantly sold me on this shoe. Since I picked up the Vivobarefoot Neo Trail Men’s shoe a week ago, I’ve been nothing less than elated to look great and move naturally as I rip through workouts, pedal my bike, and zip past poorly-hoofed pedestrians on the sidewalk.

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