We NEED. More. Yoga.

Yesterday I practiced yoga for the first time in months. It was a basic practice – relatively speaking. Very different from the forms of power yoga that I prefer. But this practice was a gentle reminder of what I have been missing in my training regimen. Yoga. Stretching. Lengthening.

What we often miss photo (33)

Stretching. Lengthening. Decompressing – both physiological and psychological.

I am guilty of not stretching as much as I should. I diligently stretch after running – other than that, rarely.

Our muscles need stretching – especially if we are putting in the work. Weight lifting involves continually contracting muscles. While proper form also includes lengthening, this is not always enough to allow the muscles to reach full length. I will not pretend to be a yogi – I am far from being a yoga expert. But I have done my research! (Don’t I always?)

Injury prevention – Research has shown that yoga has injury prevention properties. I would attribute this to the lengthening of muscles. The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Corrective Exercise protocols incorporate lengthening into the four step program design. Unfortunately, corrective exercise is often only incorporated into training regimen after an injury has occurred. Why not use yoga as a tool for injury prevention?

Yoga & mental health – Yoga is known to be a ‘mind-body’ fitness practice. Some view this as getting in touch with your soft, gooey insides. I argue that ALL exercise requires mind-body awareness (Markula, 2004). Yoga has been shown to improve self efficacy and confidence and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms (Junkin, Kowalski, & Fleming, 2007; Markula, 2004; Rahimi & Bavaqar, 2010).

Relaxation – At the core of any yoga  practice is centered breathing. This necessitates focus on breathing. This allows our minds to relax and be free of the thoughts and worries that bog us down. Further, focusing on lengthening muscles allows those and other muscles to relax. Tension melts away.

Pain management – The benefits of pain management are well known and widely accepted. Time and time again, research has shown that yoga reduces back pain and other chronic aches and pains.

The bottomline

We could all use a little more stretching. I like the structure of incorporating a consistent yoga practice – and now realize I need to add that focus back into my program. As with all fitness professionals, not all yoga instructors are created equal. I would strongly urge you to read the American College of Sport Medicine’s resource on Selecting and Effectively Using a Yoga Program. Further, it is my personal opinion that instructors with 500+ hours of training are leaps and bounds ahead of their counterparts.

Looking for yoga that you can do at home? Debbie Williamson is your woman, with both DVDs (kids too!) and downloads. After traveling the country and experiencing many different styles of yoga and instruction – she is by far my favorite!

References

Junkin, S. E., Kowalski, K., & Fleming, T. (2007). Yoga and self-esteem: Exploring change in middle-aged women. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology29S174-S175.

Markula, P. (2004). “Tuning into One’s Self:” Foucault’s Technologies of the Self and Mindful Fitness. Sociology Of Sport Journal21(3), 302-321.

O’Donovan, G., Blazevich, A. J., Boreham, C., Cooper, A. R., Crank, H., Ekelund, U., & … Stamatakis, E. (2010). The ABC of Physical Activity for Health: A consensus statement from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Journal Of Sports Sciences28(6), 573-591.

Rahimi, E., & Bavaqar, S. (2010). Effects of yoga on anxiety and depression in women. British Journal Of Sports Medicine44i68-i69.

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Response: Why four workouts a week may be better than six

Are you a sedentary woman between the ages of 60 and 74? If not, then the research recently reported in the New York Times does not exactly apply to you. The article, Why Four Workouts a Week May Be Better Than Six, boasts a large picture of a young woman holding a dumbbell – in the online version this is all you see before you scroll down to begin reading. Let us assume that the girl in the picture is 30. Does a 30-year-old female have the same physical needs as a 60-year-old female? Maybe.

And honestly, this research is telling us something that fitness professional already know (or should know). Lifestyle and general health exercise guidelines recommend exercising 4-5 days a week.

Getting the right dose of exercise

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is dedicated to researching (including meta-analyses) human needs for exercise and the benefits associated with exercise. The ACSM designates experts to develop annual position statements – incorporating ALL research into a concise recommendation. These statements are free and available to the public on www.acsm.org. You will notice that Apparently Healthy Adults and Older Adults have different statements and recommendations. This is because of the obvious differences in needs and concerns for contraindications (older adults also have different dietary needs, requiring far fewer calories with age). Further, there is a position specific to weight loss and prevention of regain. Another specific to resistance training. And more.

If you currently work with a fitness professional, ask him/her if they have read these. Seriously! If he/she has not, you may want to consider spending your money more wisely, for example find yourself a new, qualified fitness professional. While these documents are somewhat dense in information, a fitness professional should not have issues reading and applying the recommendations. And it is my opinion that not reading these documents and applying the recommendations to the needs of your clients is professional negligence.

Apparently healthy adults

According to the ACSM, an apparently healthy adult (i.e., asymptomatic) is encouraged to engage in strength or resistance training 2-3 times a week and cardiovascular/aerobic training 2 times a week. Further, a healthy adult should set a goal of 150 total minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. More activity may be required for significant weight loss goals (see the weight loss position statement). More activity may also be required to achieve certain fitness and athletic improvements. NOTE: These recommendations do not include 6 days a week, as the research for the older adults looked at, but to state 4-5 days a week. Interesting? Sure reads to me like the research is adding validity to what we professionals already know!

photo (13)Increasing physical activity

Ideally, in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we should not have to think so hard about it – “did I get all my exercise in this week?” In the beginning, maybe. But is is important that you work on comfortable increases in activity (i.e., not forced activity). Research shows that doing too much too soon will lead to burnout more quickly. This is often because we do not see the anticipated – often unrealistic – results, therefore the costs do not outweigh the benefits and we quit.

The bottomline

Popular media distorts research and cherry picks information to fit their needs and make it appealing to the audience. While the article does state that the research was performed in older women, they use the image of a younger woman and the author never clarifies that the recommendations based on this research is truly limited to a subpopulation – older, otherwise sedentary women. (Journalistic ethics frustrate me to no end!)

Also, you cannot rely solely one piece of research. You may not know who funded it, what biases exist, what the limitations were, etc. And the ACSM has done the meta-analyses for us in many instances. NOTE: ACSM is just one example of a reputable agency that has done this.

Lastly, I do not expect YOU to read all the position statements, but fitness professionals should. If you are dedicated to developing your own fitness program, GO FOR IT! Read it and apply it. Is it too much information for you to digest? Many fitness professionals will sell you a program to follow (I know I do) and it is much more cost efficient than personal training.

P.S.

My friends are beginning to instigate me by sending me articles (like this one) that they know will aggravate me! You can blame them for feeding my soap box!

MYTH – If you are skinny, you are healthy

You know your friend, the one who is skinny as a twig, but lives on candy, chips, and ice cream? And to add fuel to that envious fire burning inside you, she does not exercise – unless of course carrying laundry down the stairs counts as exercise to you, but it does not in my book.

Now ask yourself, do you consider her healthy?

I have news for you: Simply being thin is not akin to being healthy. There is such a thing as being skinny-fat. Being skinny-fat is about much more than physical appearance. In fact, your dress size has absolutely nothing on the much bigger issue – YOUR HEALTH. In many cases, the skinnier you get, the more you’re actually at risk for health problems! Low body weight could mean someone has low lean muscle mass.  And low muscle mass and high body fat percentage has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and even cancer.

We live in a culture obsessed with weight, but there is a difference between being thin and being healthy. That difference lies in body composition.

What is body composition?

Most medical offices and health insurance companies use Body Mass Index (BMI) to measure body composition – because it is easy. Unfortunately, easy and accurate are not the same. According to BMI, most of my colleagues and I are classified as overweight to morbidly obese. So what does that have to say about health and fitness professionals? BMI does not account for lean mass!

Body composition is a measure of lean and fatty tissues. A healthy body composition is determined by the percentage of body fat versus lean muscle mass. Ideally, you want your body fat percentage low and lean muscle mass percentage high. An altered body composition arises when the percentage of body fat is too high. The ACSM recommends adult men to have between 10-22% body fat, while women should have between 20-32% body fat.

Being overweight is often used synonymously with an altered body composition; however, excess body weight is not a definitive assessment for altered body composition. Just as thin is not synonymous with fit and healthy. Extreme athletes or weight lifters can have a body weight that is considered outside of a healthy reference range (BMI), but their body compositions may be optimal due to the high amount of lean muscle. Muscle actually weighs more than fat. That’s easy to forget sometimes! This is one reason stepping on the scale can be so frustrating and why it’s important to get measurements taken every four weeks.

The best advice I can give: Judge your progress by how your clothes fit and feel, not by the number on the scale. This is how I typically do it and I tend to avoid the scale.

How can you improve your body composition?

Certain weight loss programs can actually be harmful and counterproductive to improving body composition. In some cases, weight loss programs result in excessive loss of muscle along with fat. Why? Because our energy reserves are in our muscles. An example of such a program is The Biggest Loser.

When we deprive our bodies of energy (e.g., restrictive dieting), we force our bodies to dive into those energy reserves.  It’s far more important to focus on FAT LOSS. Studies have found that the most successful way to slow the aging process is to maintain a healthy muscle mass along with eating a balanced, low-calorie diet. And unfortunately, maintaining muscle mass as we age is difficult because we naturally lose muscle—unless we work to keep it.

  1. Losing weight does not mean you have a healthy heart. On the other hand, getting fit and eating a healthy diet can dramatically improve heart health.
  2. Losing weight alone does not lower your cholesterol, but regular exercise and healthy eating will.
  3. Simply losing weight is not going to lower your risk of contracting certain types of cancers, but regular exercise and mindful eating can.
  4. Losing weight cannot prevent osteoporosis, boost your immune system, lead to healthier pregnancies and childbirth, improve your physical performance, or prevent the loss of muscle. However, by adopting a regular exercise routine and a healthy eating plan, you can!

So what does this mean? Losing weight is not the important part of getting healthy. The important things to consider are healthy eating, regular exercise, and generally taking care of yourself! Skinny-fat or fat-fat your #1 priority should be to adopt a healthy lifestyle and get fit for life!

Is your personal trainer qualified?

As more and more people are realizing the benefits of regular exercise and seeking ‘expert’ advice, the demand for personal trainers is growing. With this increase in demand, fitness chains, privately owned facilities, and corporate wellness centers do not necessarily hire the most qualified trainers. Unfortunately, not all personal trainers are qualified to deliver the results that they promise. A qualified personal trainer can develop a safe, efficient, and effective exercise program but an unqualified trainer could do more harm than good!

Think about the people you hire to perform services—physicians, real-estate agents, childcare workers, hair stylists. They all have one thing in common: They are required to obtain state licensure. With the exception of fitness professionals, all other health-care professionals such as physicians, physical therapist, athletic trainers, or registered dietitians are required by state laws to receive either licensure or state certification to practice in their respective fields of expertise. A fitness professional observes as you push your cardiovascular, muscular, and nervous systems; drive your heart rate and blood pressure; and strain your joints and ligaments — but there’s less oversight for these individuals than for the woman who waxes your unibrow!

Who can be a personal trainer?

Because of the unregulated fitness industry and the high demand for trainers, fitness facilities typically hire low-cost, and often unqualified, fitness professionals. In fact, the fitness industry is so loosely self-regulated that it has spawned several hundred certifications that just about anyone off the street could earn.  Consider the following examples.

The American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA) is one of several online personal training certifications. The AFPA is located at a P.O. Box in New Jersey. The cost for the AFPA personal training certification is $315. According to the online certification process, the AFPA claims to have produced over 57,000 certified personal trainers and fitness professionals worldwide. The AFPA requirements are that you must be at least 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or GED, and have basic familiarity with anatomy and resistance training. There is not even a requirement for CPR certification! Prospects must pass the test with a minimum score of 90%. But if a prospect fails, the AFPA will mail the tester the incorrect questions and give the tester two weeks to make corrections.

The National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) offers a Certified Personal Trainer Certification and gives you two options for becoming certified. First option, you can attend a 2-day workshop/lecture that commences with an exam for $399. Second option, you can choose to ‘Test Only’ for $249. NETA does not require candidates to attend their workshops or even purchase their study materials as a prerequisite to the exam!

Similarly, a recent job posting for a national franchise gym lists only the following requirements:

  • Motivated, self-starters who want to help people achieve their personal best
  • Career minded individuals that want to grow with a great company
  • Team players with a desire to be part of the best
  • Individuals who are passionate about fitness

There are no education or certification requirements. Are candidates meeting these meager requirements qualified? You can’t deny the facts and research supports that they are not qualified.

Trainer qualifications

What makes one personal trainer more qualified than another? Malek and colleagues (2002) developed and used the fitness instructors knowledge assessment (FIKA) exam to measure a fitness professional’s knowledge in the areas of nutrition, health screening, testing protocols, exercise prescription, and special populations (e.g., individuals with diabetes or hypertension). Their key findings include:

  • Fitness professionals with 5-18 years of experience had no more knowledge than those with less experience, with overall scores of 44% and 42%–equivalent to an ‘F’ on any grading scale.
  • Those with at least a bachelor’s degree in exercise science scored higher in ALL areas than those without a degree did, with overall scores of 68% versus 37%.
  • Fitness professionals with ACSM or NSCA certifications scored higher than those without one of these certifications, with overall scores of 83% versus 38%.
  • Those holding both a bachelor’s degree and either ACSM or NSCA certifications scored 85%, the highest scorers, while those with neither scored only 36%. The average score was 55% for those who held either a bachelor’s degree OR a certification.

This and other research supports the proposal that a qualified personal trainer must, at a minimum, hold a bachelor’s degree in exercise science-related field and a certification from a nationally recognized organization, such as ASCM or NSCA. 

According to Melton and colleagues (2008), other characteristics of a qualified trainer include:

  • Knowledge in basic sciences and nutrition
  • Able to work with a diverse group of clientele
  • Uses behavioral strategies
  • Positive/supportive leadership style
  • Strong communication skills

As the fitness industry continues to grow at astronomical rates, Malek (2002) and Melton (2008) and colleagues also recommend that state licensure be required for fitness professionals. While several states have proposed such legislation (e.g., New Jersey, California), Louisiana is currently the only state to pass licensure legislation for clinical exercise physiologists.

The bottomline

In recognition of the abundance of inadequate trainers for people to choose from, ASCM published guidelines to help people find a qualified trainer: Selecting and Effectively Using A Personal Trainer. As mentioned, there are more personal trainers now than ever, making it difficult to discern the good from the bad. Don’t fall victim to the poorly regulated fitness industry. Be certain that the trainer you entrust will help you achieve your goals in a safe and effective manner.

THINK – you are putting YOUR LIFE and YOUR future someone else’s hands. And you deserve only the best!

References

ACSM (2005). Selecting and effectively using a personal trainer. Retrieved from http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Brochures2&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=8103.

Malek M. H., Nalbone, D. P., Berger, D. E., and Coburn, J. W. (2002). Importance of Health Science Education for Personal Fitness Trainers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16(1), 19-24.

Melton, D.I., Katula, J.A., Mustian, K.M. (2008). The current state of personal training: an industry perspective of personal trainers in a small southeast community. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(3), 883-889.