Heavy Lifting for the Ladies

As they say, “strong is the new skinny.” Women are turning more and more to building muscles instead of simply dieting and losing weight.

And this is a good thing.

In the 1960’s, thin was in. And girls often made calorie restriction the beginning and end of their “fitness” plan. By the 1980’s, aerobics and running replaced starvation and we all took a healthy step in the right direction. But the endless cardio was often erroneously coupled with too little strength building and fat free diets. The idea was simple, don’t eat fats and perform tons of cardio and you’ll be skinny. The goal was still to get smaller. To weigh less.

Thankfully we’ve come a long way since then. Crossfit and fitness competitions drove more and more women into the gym with the boys. And the results of  lifting heavier weights than they had historically done was surprisingly healthy and attractive. Healthier and more attractive than the female fads of the past.

Aerobics and cardio of the 80’s and 90’s had “skinny” as the end result.

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Is It Time To End Weight Cuts in Combat Sports?

Weight cutting through dehydration may not only increase risk of concussions, it may lead to long term neurological deterioration affecting athletes in more areas than previously thought

(see article below for details)

In the realm of combat sports, athletes are paired off against opponents of the same size. This is obviously done for fighter safety. Having a 220 pound wrestler grabbing and throwing a 140 pound opponent would be dangerous for the smaller athlete. Hours before competition (in jiu jitsu and wrestling tournaments) or a day to a day and a half before competition (in kickboxing, boxing and MMA fights) athletes have to be weighed in order to make sure they are at their competition weight (or below, but never above). Theoretically this keeps fighters safe.

Unfortunately, this may not be true. As can be expected, athletes are doing anything they can to shrink their body weight as low as possible in hopes of fighting other athletes that are smaller than them. This is usually achieved by dehydrating the body severely in the days leading up to a weigh-in. Fluids can be replaced rather quickly and therefore, the athlete who can drop the most water in a short time will be the more muscular and heavier athlete in competition. In a real sense, there are two events happening: a weight cut competition and a fight.

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Hurt But Not Disabled: How To Navigate Injuries and Improve

In May of 2019 I completely tore my ACL while wrestling. Within 10 seconds I continued grappling (from the ground only) for about an hour. Next day the swelling and pain let me know something was wrong (I had not confirmed the tear via MRI at that point). I started rehabilitating the knee and cautiously grappled. Within a month I worsened the injury while grappling. Unfortunately, the next day, I was scheduled to run the Tough Mudder at Whistler in British Columbia. I taped my leg up like a mummy and ran the 16 K trek up and down the world famous ski resort. About one and a half months after this, while grappling, I dislocated the medial meniscus and it shot out the back of the knee joint. Not having x-ray vision, I did not exactly know this at the time, but a later MRI revealed it. Finally, at that point I stopped grappling completely and turned simply to rehabilitation while I await surgery. Continue reading

What Is The Best Type of Exercise?

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One of the most common questions a health care provider gets asked is “what is the best type of exercise?” And one look at the internet and you can see why people ask this question. There must be 1000’s of programs available online. Each professing to be the new “hit” workout program. So to the untrained eye, it must seem like being caught in a hurricane of advice.

Behind the question “what exercise should I do?” is the hope that there is a quick fix program that will allow someone to quickly get into shape. I hate to break it to all of you but, there is no such system. Anyone claiming to have discovered a short cut and wants to sell it to you has only discovered a short cut into your wallet. Be wary.

“What about P90X and other “fast acting” exercise regimens?”

I am well aware that certain programs are incredibly intense and will therefore trigger metabolic changes faster than others. Heck, if we all had to hike 60 km per day for the next 3 weeks, we’d all be a bit less chubby. The problem with the “new” type of programs like P90X or Insanity is that they are, for most people, unsustainable. You may get through the first 90 days, but can you live the program as a 365 day per year lifestyle? Most cannot. Injury or burn out will get most of you.

This does not mean you won’t ever be able to become super fit. It just means the most successful way to get there will be the gradual one. See my “easy does it” article on ideas to slowly increase your fitness levels. It is certainly not the only way to do it, but it does provide you with a blueprint. But the principle is to ease the body into fitness instead of trying to make up for lost time by going nuclear and tearing your body apart.

In regards to what type of exercise to perform, this is a more difficult question to answer. Everyone is very unique. What works for one individual may not work for another. And if you factor in our personalities (not just our bodies) you have to realize that just because your body likes an exercise, your mind might not. And if you hate something, you will probably psychologically burn out and stop doing it. Interestingly, it seems that what fits your body almost always fits your mind, so this should not be a problem for most of you.yoga-exercise-14020804086s6

Another question that needs to be answered is “what are your goals?” If you are training to improve your performance in a specific sport, you will need to ask the advice of those who regularly train athletes of your variety. If you are like most people, you simply want to look and feel better. In that case you could benefit from what I would label a “basic fitness and aesthetics” type of workout. Essentially this incorporates a variety of different types of exercises ranging from endurance cardio to heavy weight lifting. Always consult a professional trainer if you have no exercise background just to make sure you are not lifting improperly and hurting yourself.

Here is a brief example of this “basic” program:

– once per week, do a 40 to 60 minute cardio type of workout. Whether this is cycling, swimming, running or a boot camp or exercise class, the intensity should be something you can maintain for at least 40 minutes. Also, the system it most challenges should be your cardiovascular, so it should be a constant motion class, not 40 minutes in the gym pulling weights around.

– once per week do a 20 minute high intensity training program. Crossfit is one such method but you can do your own high intensity circuit using body weight exercises or weight lifting circuit. The point is, you are again in a (mostly) constant motion scenario (i.e.: no rest between exercises) for 15 – 20 minutes. So the intensity should be quite high and prevent you from going more than 20 minutes.

– once per week do a heavy lifting workout. This should last approximately 30 minutes and only cover 2 muscle groups. You’ll want to chose weights that you can safely lift (do not overdo it!) and have a professional show you good technique. You should always have a spotter with you on heavy days. Chose a weight that allows you to perform 6 to 8 reps. Do about 3 to 4 sets for each exercise before moving on. Only do 3 types of exercise for each of the two body parts you choose to train that day. Take about 60 to 90 seconds rest between each set. Your goal is not to sweat as much as possible, but to lift as heavy as you safely can for two body parts. This triggers your strength development, which is a unique affect on the body. Always rotate which body parts you place in this “heavy lifting” category so you can rest your body and develop it thoroughly.

– twice per week do a “bodybuilder’s” workout. Whichever muscles you did not work on your “heavy lifting” day, spread it out over the two “bodybuilding” days. So, let’s say you did chest and back on the heavy day, you can break up the two bodybuilding days as follows: day 1: legs and shoulders, day 2: biceps and triceps (I would do some core exercises on each of the 5 exercise days). “Bodybuilding” type workouts use weights that allow you to hit the 10 to 20 rep ranges. And you will do 3 to 4 different exercises for each of the two body parts. This means about 12 to 16 sets per muscle group.

– once per week do a “body awareness” workout. The goal of this workout is not to sweat or change your physique, but to learn to feel and use your body. Yoga is a great way to achieve this and will help you become more flexible as well. Professional trainer Ido Portal has some great body awareness routines for you to use. You want to challenge your balance and coordination with these types of workouts so you can increase your ability to master your movements and increase your range of motion.

Again, nothing is set in stone. If you are not happy with the above workout, find something that works for you. Even if it is simply playing a sport in a recreation league. The basic goal is to get and stay moving and to start at your level of fitness. With the above program, either slowly layer in the days until you have worked up to 6 days per week or lower the intensity dramatically to prevent over training.

Best of luck!

Set goals… and actually reach them

1-1266409857RRS3The Olympics are over and the new school year is around the corner. I don’t know about you, but watching world class athletes run, jump and swim at peak performance inspires me.

I love goal setting. Yet in the past, I set too many goals with too many deadlines. I started on a lot of journeys that did not end where they were supposed to. So I refined my goal setting methods.

One thing I tossed out was the big deadline. This is that “etched into stone” date at which you want something completed. I see this as the biggest motivation killer. What happens if you get sick? Or injured? Or have a family or personal crisis? Have a goal in mind for your journey, but do not add a set date.

Instead, make a weekly routine up that is broken down into daily tasks. Make them reasonable. For example, if your goal is to increase hip flexibility and the amount of weight you can squat, start small.

MONDAY: squat with same weight you have been using but add 3 reps. Stretch for 12 minutes instead of 10. squats

Then, every time you squat, add either 1 rep, or 2.5 lbs per side (5 overall). Usually do both, back and forth. If you hit the wall, don’t add anything for two or more weeks, just keep squatting without going backwards on your reps or weight. Slowly add 30 seconds here and there to your stretching.

Off you go on a slow but risk-free and fully realistic journey towards constant improvement.

People often over shoot their goal setting and force unrealistic changes onto their lives. Life does not work this way. Change has to be gradual but constant. So slowing down the demands actually increases the speed of results. If you are driving a car and you want to make a 90 degree turn, you cannot go immediately to a 90 degree without turning the wheels 1, 2, 3… 10… 25… 75 degrees and so on. Life is about increments, not instantaneous results.

If you can introduce a slow, flexible, daily routine towards improved performance, you will successfully change your long term life style towards your goals. Whether they be financial, relational or health oriented.

Dream big, act small. Get there!

Smart Rest

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If you’re a professional or amateur athlete, or you’re just a fitness fanatic, you may want to consider resting more…

Over-training is a phenomenon that is becoming better understood. Many enthusiastic athletes forget to listen to their body as they pursue excellence. But this will serve to decrease performance in the long run, not improve it. Many fitness participants follow gruelling schedules and push themselves hard. If you are in the category of people who train regularly you will want to realize when over training begins to set in and you’ll also want to adopt a “smart rest” program as part of your training.

The first goal of being well rested and therefore in peek performance condition is to ensure you are not already in the state of over-training. Here are the most obvious signs of this condition:

  • often getting ill/sick
  • low mood, feeling depressed
  • low motivation
  • trouble sleeping despite feeling exhausted
  • chronic fatigue
  • injured often
  • constant thirst
  • performance decreasing even though training harder
  • a resting heart rate (first thing in morning before getting out of bed) that is faster than normal for you

If you have 4 or more of the above (especially the resting heart rate), you qualify as being over-trained. It’s high time to take some time off. A solid 3 weeks of no exercise followed by one or two weeks of very low intensity, part time exercise will do you much good. Then head into a 2 week period of moderate exercise and then finally, take another full week off.

OVERTRAIN REST

Be warned, if you are drastically over trained however, it could take several weeks — even a few months — to recuperate. Which is why you want to listen for the beginning signs of over training and not the drastic symptoms.

If you are not over trained (have less than 4 — or none — of the above symptoms) you will want to incorporate “smart rest” techniques to ensure you never get over trained.

What is Smart Rest?

Very simply put, smart rest is pro-active breaks in your training that allows your body to recuperate before you ever go near the over training zone. As we train hard, week in and week out, our multiple body systems can start to fall behind in recovery. This can be our nervous system, our psychological state, our immune system or our musculoskeletal system. Depending on what other stresses are going on in our lives and how well nourished we are, any one of those systems can start lagging behind and cause over training to set in. By pro-actively resting before anything falls far behind, we are protecting ourselves from over training.

How Do I Implement Smart Rest?

Once every 6 to 10 weeks (you decide by listening in on how your body and mind are feeling), take an entire week off training. During this time, you can go for walks, but no exercise. None. You will want to push the fluids more than usual during your week of rest and you will want to stay away from alcohol and high sugar foods. Nutrition, hydration and rest are the antidotes to over training. Make sure you are going to bed early and on time during this week of rest.

smart rest chart

Not only will smart rest prevent over training but it keeps your body and mind working at their peek. This will prevent mental burnout as well as injury. Remember, you are not to wait until you are starting to over train to implement smart rest, you are supposed to inject one full week of rest once every 6 to 10 weeks regardless of how well you feel. This is what maintenance looks like. You are building a fence at the top of the hill instead of having an ambulance at the bottom.

Try it out and see for yourself the benefits of smart rest!

Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT): the fountain of youth?

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Since the ancient alchemists of Egypt, mankind has been looking for the “fountain of youth.” A substance, supplement or incantation that will keep us in the prime of life for… well, forever. Modern man is no less obsessed with pursuing never-ending vitality. Over the past several years a new candidate has emerged for the title of verified “fountain of youth.” It is abbreviated “TRT” but stands for Testosterone Replacement Therapy.

Testosterone: what does it do?

Among many other functions, the hormone testosterone performs the following:

1. increases bone density
2. increases energy levels
3. increases muscle mass
4. increases production of red blood cells
5. increases mental acuity
6. increases aggression

As men hit their fifth decade of life (40-49 years of age) they lose about 1% of their overall testosterone production per year. Not surprisingly, it is common for 40-year old men to seek testosterone replacement therapy in order to compensate for lowered sexual, work and/or sports performance.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)

TRT is usually administered at 125 mg per week. This is considered the “physiological dose” as it mimicks the average production of testosterone in the average male. At first, this dosage is assisted by the man’s already naturally produced testosterone. So the early usage of TRT will be felt more acutely. As time goes on, however, the male testes produce less and less due to the incoming testosterone from the therapy. This is one of the down sides to TRT: your body loses its ability to produce its normal, maximum amount of testosterone and you are forced to take TRT long-term to keep from experiencing unusually low testosterone levels.

Before going on TRT you should have your testosterone levels checked. Some people warn that you should make sure the lab you use knows the difference between free-testosterone and total body testosterone. Free-testosterone is the only testosterone you have in your body that you can actually access, the rest being bound up and non-available. Personally, I don’t think this is necessary as I don’t know of any condition that would give you a high total body testosterone count but a low free-testosterone count. They come in combination. If one is high, so is the other. If one is low, so is the other. A normal total body testosterone count for males ranges from 225 to 1,110 nanograms of testosterone per deciliter of blood (ng/dl). The average being about 650 ng/dl. So if you are below the 225 ng/dl limit, you may want to talk to your doctor about TRT. However, if you are a man and have a “low” testosterone count but are not experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • chronic lethargy
  • inability to get or maintain an erection
  • low sex drive
  • breast tissue growth (gynecomastia)
  • balding

…then you may be fine with the levels of testosterone in your body. This may be natural for your genetics. If you have both a low count (below the normal range) and have the above symptoms, TRT may be right for you.

Are There Any Risks with TRT?

Yes.

However, they are not well known or well established. Because testosterone increases red blood cell production it has been found to increase stroke and heart attack risks. The reason for this is simple. When your hematocrit count increases (number of red blood cells per given volume of blood plasma) the thickness and “stickiness” of your blood also increases. With chronic synthetic testosterone levels comes chronic increases in blood thickness and “stickiness” which makes the heart work harder to pump blood and puts more pressure on vessel walls. It also increases the chance of blood clot formation. A November 2013 article in the Journal of the American Heart Association stated that testosterone replacement drugs increased chances of heart attack in men by 30%. And a January 2014 article by the UCLA research department (in conjuction with the National Institute of Health) made the dramatic statement that shortly after use, men under 65 who were on TRT had twice the chances of heart attacks. More time will have to pass before we know the full correlation between TRT usage and heart health, but we do have some red flags thus far. TRT drugs have now surpassed Viagra in total yearly sales in the U.S. (according to drugs.com). Millions of men take TRT-type drugs every year in the U.S. so we are bound to start picking up trends as time goes by.

Many urologists warn of the possible increase in prostate cancer risks for men using TRT. This has not been as well established as the above mentioned heart health issues. Actually, it is mainly based on theory. For years, oncologists and urologists have seen that men with low testosterone have better chances of recovering from prostate cancer. This has led to the long held belief that high testosterone equals higher chance of developing prostate cancer. However, this link is, so far, only theoretical.

What is my advice?

I do not give medical advice as I am not a medical doctor. What I tell you is only my professional opinion and I stress that you should make this decision with your medical doctor as well as your own thorough research. You are making long term health decisions and so you should be involved in the data gathering process.

However, my advice is to stay away from TRT if you are not genuinely suffering from hypogonadism. This accounts for most people. Having a lower testosterone count can be like having a high or low score on the Body Mass Index (BMI). In short, it does not mean much. I am of average height for a male but I am muscular for my age, so I score as “moderately obese” on the BMI. But anyone who looks at me will know that I am perfectly healthy. And my blood work and endurance would prove it as well. Therefore, if you feel good and do not have any symptoms of hypogonadism I would not be bothered by your total testosterone count unless it is much lower than the 225 ng/dl bottom limit.

Most TRT users are males in their 30’s and 40’s who want to perform athletically and sexually at their peak levels. They are young enough to remember what they used to feel like energy-wise and how they used to be able to train harder and recover more quickly. In short, it appears most TRT users are not truly hypogonadic. I can understand the attraction of having a veritable “fountain of youth” at your disposal, but I also know that there is no truly natural way to cheat Father Time.

Be aware of the risks, be informed and then be at peace with your decision.

Diabetes Type 2 – is there a cure?

Please understand that this article is focusing on Type 2 diabetes resulting from middle aged obesity. Type 1 and juvenile diabetes are genetic and not to be treated the same way as lifestyle-caused Type 2 diabetes.

If your family doctor has diagnosed you with Type 2 diabetes as a consequence of being middle aged, sedentary and have a high sugar diet, this article is for you. Follow your medical doctor’s advice regarding medication. Until you are able to implement dietary and exercise strategies for a prolonged period of time, it is wise to be on medication. However, I highly recommend commencing lifestyle changes immediately to minimize the amount of time your body is medication dependent.

Run any and all advice in this article by your family doctor before implementing it. It is crucial that your doctor be a team member in every decision you make in this regard.

The main problem with diabetes Type 2 is when someone has one of the following issues:

1. The pancreas stops producing insulin

2. The pancreas produces too little insulin

3. The body develops a resistance to its own insulin

One theory regarding the link between obesity and diabetes is that the fatty tissue developing around the pancreas interferes with its normal functioning. Therefore obesity can alter proper insulin production. Another theory states that eating a diet rich in high sugar foods causes the pancreas to trigger far too many insulin “injections” into the blood stream and the body eventually reacts by developing a resistance to its own insulin. Unfortunately, because insulin allows the body to absorb blood sugars (removing them from the blood stream and storing them in muscles, fat and organs), being non-responsive to it prevents the body from clearing sugar out of the bloodstream. Too much blood sugar causes serious health side effects. Hence the need to store blood sugar in body tissues and therefore the dangers of becoming resistant to your own insulin.

Here is a basic approach to necessary lifestyle changes if you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes:

1. Stop smoking: As if we needed anymore reason to quit smoking! However, because of the artery-hardening effects of smoking, the diabetic cannot smoke. Heightened blood sugar also increases arterial hardening and this is a deadly combo.

2. Start exercising: One of my favorite go-to prescriptions for Type 2 diabetics is swimming. Because many of these patients are over-weight, swimming prevents body mass from causing joint injury. Treading water, deep fit aqua fit classes or just plain swimming 4 to 5 times per week for at least 30 minutes. This is perhaps the most important aspect of a diabetic lifestyle. It seems to truly help regulate blood sugars.

3. Clean up your diet: Heavily restricting foods that have high glycemic indexes (e.g.: potatoes, processed sugars, etc) is the number one dietary “law” of diabetes recovery. Replacing these with lean proteins and high fiber foods (e.g.: fruits and vegetables) is a sure-fire way to help alleviate diabetic strain on the body. There is a more aggressive way to tackle the dietary challenges of Type 2 diabetes and this involves a short term use of the Atkins diet. One of the few scenarios in which I approve of the Atkins Diet is in the case of Type 2 diabetes. The “low to no carb” rule of Atkins can be great if done for a 6 month period. During Atkins, the body is receiving too little carbs and must therefore generate energy by purging the body’s existing sugar stores (which is overloaded in overweight individuals) and then, when the stores of carbs are depleted, the body breaks fat down into fatty acids and ketones to substitute for carbs. This helps not only alleviate high blood sugar but decreases body fats as well. Again, please discuss any dietary or lifestyle changes in this article with your medical doctor before embarking on them.

4. Get good sleep: Although the exact link is poorly understood, poor sleep over a prolonged period of time has been linked to increased risk of many diseases including diabetes.

5. Eliminate alcohol: Alcohol has a very high sugar content and should therefore be avoided.

Once you have made the following changes to your lifestyle for 6 months or longer, you should begin to see a significant improvement. It is possible to eventually have your fasting and post meal blood sugar levels in the normal ranges simply due to lifestyle changes. At this juncture, you can begin discussing changing your medications with your medical doctor.

A healthy lifestyle is a cure to many, many chronic ills. Best of luck!

Brain Fitness – part 2: DEEP BREATHING

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Athletes pay big bucks to go into hyperbaric oxygen tanks and essentially give their bodies oxygen baths. With the increase in atmospheric pressure and a pure injection of oxygen, the body’s tissues (muscles, organs, nervous system) get a hyper-dose of O2 which increases the rate and depth of healing and repair. In fact, stroke victims are being placed through a series of hyperbaric oxygen tank treatments to create an increase in healing of the affected brain areas. As great as this is, many folks cannot afford regular hyperbaric treatments. Luckily, there is a natural alternative.

Although not as intensive as hyperbaric treatments, this natural hyper-oxygenation method is risk-free and can be done anywhere, any time. It is simply the art of concentrated deep breathing. Essentially it consists of reaching a state of near hyper ventilation by repetitive deep breathing for a prolonged period of time.

deep breathing 2Studies have shown that deep breathing not only gives an increased dose of oxygen to the brain and body tissues, but it ignites the body’s “relaxation response.” This response is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system and does the opposite of the stress response (controlled by our sympathetic system). Stress tends to constrict capillaries and shorten our breaths, resulting in hypo-ventilation. So it may be time to incorporate deep breathing to not only enrich your brain, but relax it as well.

It can be done daily or every two days. Try and avoid doing this on a full stomach. Find a quiet, relaxing area, preferably where there is fresh air. Sit or lay down, whatever is comfortable. Begin taking deep breaths. You’ll want to adhere to the following basic rules:

  • fill stomach up first, then chest
  • breathe slowly, at least 2 to 3 seconds inhalation, hold for 1 second then release for 2 to 3 seconds
  • do at least 15 breathes in this manner

As you get comfortable deep breathing, you can adjust it to your liking. Some people like taking 5 or more seconds to inhale. There is no right or wrong, as long as you follow the basic guidelines above.

Personally, I enjoy deep breathing outdoors as the air is much more fresh. Don’t be surprised if you feel the tips of your fingers or toes tingling once you’ve completed several breathes, this is one side effect to hyper oxygenation. If you are light headed or nauseous, you may want to pause momentarily.

Regular deep breathing is beneficial for anyone. It helps counter stress. It helps athletes decrease recovery time. It is not as popular as regular exercise and good nutrition, but it is a highly recommended health habit.

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Is Too Much Cardio Bad for Your…. Heart?

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Although most people do not get enough exercise, new research states there may be a group that gets too much. Namely, long distance athletes. This seems counter-intuitive. How could doing something that is good for you be bad for you? Yet we’ve all heard the adage “too much of a good thing.” In regards to long lasting (i.e.: one hour or more) endurance training, evidence is emerging to show the negative impact of ultra-endurance training on the heart muscle and body.

Perhaps the most stunning example was a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2011. Researchers examined a group of older men who had completed at least 100 marathons in their lifetime. Those who had trained the most had scar tissue build up in the heart muscle. Suggesting that the heart had been pushed too far, too often. **One thing to keep in mind is that it is still not known for sure if a build up of scar tissue in the heart outweighs the other benefits of ultra-endurance. Time will tell. This article is simply food for thought.

Training as an endurance athlete may very well be “too much of a good thing.” Occasional long-lasting cardio workouts are fine, but the grueling training involved in triathlons, marathons and other ultra-endurance events might be over doing it.

Other negative effects of over-training your endurance capacity is a decrease in immune function, insomnia and build up of scar tissue throughout the body.

So What Can I Do That is Safe?dumbbell

Short duration, high intensity workouts are emerging as the preferred — and healthier — method of achieving optimal fitness. Resistance training, sprints and other high intensity exercises allow individuals the ability to change their metabolism and fitness levels with no apparent side effects. Cross fit-type workouts – if performed with good technique to protect the body – are an example of exercise that lasts relatively short durations (typically around 20 minutes or less) but are high intensity and can radically transform physiques for the better.

Rest assured, there are many options for you if too much intensity is not feasible for you.

If you are a long distance runner, swimmer or cyclist, you may want to vary your training to avoid the pitfalls that may await you if you over do the time in training.