Monthly Archives: July 2016

When Less Is More

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Runner resting in urban park

“Less is more.”

We have all heard this phrase at one point or another.

On surface level, of course, it is quite an oxymoron. However, this phrase indeed holds true in many walks of life.

When it comes to training, this phrase certainly has considerable merit for many of us.

We all want to be bigger, leaner, faster, or stronger. We want to challenge ourselves and unleash our body’s full physical potential. However, MORE is not always the answer.

Year after year the fitness industry has made considerable progress in understanding the importance of proper recovery in a quest for improved performance. However, as a whole, understanding has not translated into application.

People still widely glorify phrases like, “no pain, no gain” or “there’s plenty of time to rest when you’re dead.” They tag their ridiculous gym-selfies with #nooffdays. They still think crossfit is cool. Apparently there’s still even enough interest to keep The Biggest Loser on the air.

People love the idea of pushing their own limitations, oftentimes, however, to a fault.

Let me clarify and say that there is absolutely a time for pushing yourself to the limit. You are going to have to challenge your body to progress. However, pushing the body’s limits is not for everyone and certainly for not everyday, or even on a regular basis. Training at such a high intensity or volume regularly is going to be counterproductive and reckless for just about everyone.

When it comes down to it, your progress toward your goals and your ability to boost your performance are going to be determined by your ability to recover.

In order to maximize your progress, whatever your goal, it is going to be essential to learn how to manage your training appropriately in order to maintain progress and to keep your body and nervous system fresh.

Learning how to properly incorporate a deload, or “back off,” period is key for keeping your body fresh and preventing the accumulation of fatigue and the potential injuries and setbacks that come with it.

 

What is a Deload?

Deloading is essentially a period, generally of a week or so, during which you lower volume (reps and sets) and/or intensity (% of maximal exertion or weight lifted) for the purpose of recovery, injury prevention, and improved performance.

 

What’s the Purpose of a Deload?

The idea behind a deload week or phase comes from what is called the General Adapatation Syndrome, or what some might call the Law of Supercompensation.

Let’s quickly break this General Adaptation Syndrome down into 4 phases

 

1) Alarm Phase

The alarm phase occurs when you apply a stress to your body in the form of training or working out. In this phase you will see a decrease in performance due to general fatigue.

 

2) Resistance Phase

In the resistance phase, your body adapts to training to return energy stores and performance to baseline levels.

 

3) Supercompensation

Progress comes in the supercompensation phase. This is when you body adapts to training by boosting performance above the previous baseline level in order to leave the body better prepared to handle the same stressor.

Essentially your body then requires the less energy, or effort, in order to perform that same amount of work.

 

4) Overtraining

The fourth phase is what we are going to refer to as overtraining. Overtraining occurs when the body is pushed too hard for too long.

Consistently pushing the body beyond what it is capable of recovering from can often result in injury. However, even if injury is avoided, overtraining will cause the body and nervous system to begin to essentially shut down, drastically decreasing performance, so that they can finally recover.   When the body reaches this point it can take days or even weeks to recover.

So either way, if you reach this point of overtraining, you’re really setting yourself back considerably, whether it be with injury or accumulating fatigue.

 

How does this apply to your training? 

If you have been training for any significant period of time and you are training at a high enough volume or intensity to stimulate adaptation (or a high enough level to elicit change), then you need to take periods of rest to allow your body to recover.

That said, when we talk about the frequency with which you should take time to deload, or back off, things get a little less black and white.

As with just about everything, it will depend on a multitude of factors, such as:

How long have you been training? What does your training look like? What is your goal? How old are you? How well do you recover? Etc…

 

Deloading Frequency for Beginners

 

If you are a beginning lifter or new to training, taking time off will not be quite as vital to your success.

Early on a majority of your progress will be neurological. You will learn to coordinate and execute new movements, then increase the efficiency with which you perform such movements.

Until your body becomes more efficient, you will not need to put it under a tremendous amount of stress in order to progress. As long as you aren’t consistently pushing your body beyond what it can handle from a recovery standpoint, you should be able to go 2, 3 or even 4 months without having to take time off.

 

Deloading Frequency for Strength

For those who have been training for a significant amount of time, the frequency with which you take time off is really going to depend on your goal.

If your goal is strength, you are likely going to need to deload with greater frequency. As a general recommendation, intermediate lifters pursuing strength goals should deload at least every 6-8 weeks.

Advanced lifters, on the other hand, should look to deload roughly every 4 weeks.

This is because you become more efficient with greater experience. This requires the more advance lifter to train at a higher intensity, or subject his body to greater stress, in order progress. The greater stress requires more frequent periods of rest.

Depending on the phase of training, elite level powerlifters may require a deload period as often as every 2 weeks.

 

Deloading Frequency for Fat Loss or Bodybuilding

Now, if you are a bodybuilder or your goal is strictly fat loss, you likely don’t care too much about what you bench, squat, or deadlift. Or, at least it takes a back seat to physique or dropping unwanted pounds.

If you are a bodybuilder, or simply looking to achieve a leaner physique, you should deload just often enough to stay fresh, prevent accumulating too much fatigue, and keep progress going.

So, barring you being a beginner, or new to training, it is generally a good idea to back off roughly every 4 weeks before your body becomes too well-adapted to the program.

After a period of deloading, you can switch up some variables to provide a new stimulus to the body and to promote further progress. This can be changing sets and reps, altering rest periods, varying exercise selection, progressing to new exercises, or any combination of these.

 

What to do on a Deload Week

Now, you know when your scheduled deload week rolls around you need to lower volume and/or intensity. But how much?

Well, there’s not necessarily one particular way in which to go about it. Some may be fine maintaining intensity and decreasing volume. Some may need both. However, a good recommendation is to cut the volume of your highest training week by 50-60%, along with a slight decrease in intensity.

So, if your highest week had you performing 5 sets of 5 reps at an intensity of 9-10 out of 10, your deload week could consist of 2 sets of 6 at an intensity of roughly 7-8 out of 10.

While you may not be crushing heavy sets of bench press and squats or getting a massive pump, these training weeks will essentially provide you with the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

As you give your body and nervous system some much-needed time to regenerate, take the opportunity to spend a little more time on mobility work, clean up your technique on your bigger lifts, or learn a new complex movement.

This way, not only will you enter your next training cycle refreshed and ready to dominate some weights, you’ll be moving better, working more efficiently, and may have added a new exercise added to your arsenal.

So, while some may prefer to just simply listen to their body and others may attempt to go 100% all of the time, I am confident you will find that taking a planned deload week or period will deliver better and more consistent results in the long-run and help you avoid the setbacks of overtraining and injury.

6 Strategies for Better Sleep

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Clean white pillows and fresh bedding on a bed in a hotel room

When all is said and done, and our lives on this earth are through, nearly every single one of us will be able to look back on our lives and say with the utmost confidence that we spent about 1/3 of our lives in our bedrooms.

Kind of crazy, right?

Our bedrooms have served us many purposes over the years. They were where we built some magnificent blanket forts and had some epic playtime. In our teens, they became a refuge from our parents. In college, they were part study, part kitchen, and part living room.

All that said, both then and now, our bedrooms are above all else, our sleep environment.

So, today we are going to cover 6 ways to manipulate your sleep environment to get better, more restful sleep.

 

  1. Associate your room exclusively with sleep

Your days of bedroom blanket forts are over.

The first step to setting your sleep environment is to get your brain and body to associate your bedroom exclusively with sleep.

Many of us are guilty of using our bedrooms for several extra-curricular activities, such as working, watching TV, texting friends, or playing games on our phones. This causes our brains to associate our bedroom with too many activating stimuli.

Conversely, our goal should be to make our rooms a refuge for relaxation and recovery. In order to do so, some steps must be taken.

What you shouldn’t do:

Start by removing any blue-light emitting object from your room. This includes TV’s, phones, tablets, and computers. If you use your phone as an alarm, keep it in your room unless it presents an overwhelming temptation to use for any other purpose. If this is the case, go old-school and get an alarm clock, and leave your phone and computer out in the living room.

In addition, if possible, keep any work related materials out of the bedroom as well. Finish any night-time work outside of the bedroom, then perform your pre-bedtime routine to prepare your mind and body for sleep. This way, by the time you enter your bedroom, you are more likely to leave the stressors of your daily grind behind you and focus on getting some crazy-awesome sleep.

What you can do:

So what, other than sleep, should you be doing in your bedroom.

Simply put, your bedroom should primarily be used for sleep and sex. Outside of that, limit activities to reading, performing breathing exercises, meditating, or any other relaxing parts of your pre-bedtime routine.

 

  1. Get your room as dark as possible

The big step to setting your sleep environment is to get your bedroom as dark as possible.   Any bit of light, natural or artificial, can stimulate the brain, suppressing the release of melatonin. This can lead to delayed onset of sleep and reduced sleep quality.

In order to get your bedroom as dark as possible, start by blocking-out all outdoor light. Hand up a set of black-out curtains to prevent any outdoor light from coming into your bedroom.

Next, remove any light-emitting devices from your room. As previously mentioned, leave your electronic devices outside of you bedroom. In addition, look for any other devices that may be emitting light, and remove them from your bedroom. If you use an alarm clock, simply turning the screen away from you can make a positive difference. If you are reading in bed before going to sleep, make sure you are using a low-wattage lamp.

Finally, make sure the lights throughout the rest of your house are dimmed or turned off.  We want to make sure there no light from adjacent rooms or hallways getting in. Also, remember that dimming indoor lighting after sundown will be helpful in allowing your body to prepare itself for sleep prior to bedtime.

 

  1. Keep it quiet

Unbeknownst to us, our brains continue to register and process sounds while we are asleep. Exposure to noise during sleep can alter our blood pressure and heart rate, cause a shift in sleep stages, or even wake us up.

We are more vulnerable to sound during stages of light sleep versus deep sleep, meaning our we are most apt to be awoken during while in valuable REM sleep. Sometimes, we may wake so briefly that we may not remember it the next morning, however it still adversely affects our sleep quality.

White noise serves as a tool to help drown out noises in our sleep environment. It works to reduce the difference between constant background noise and other sudden noises, such as slamming doors, car engines, or loud roommates.

You can use a fan, air purifier, or even a smart-phone app to create a constant ambient noise to help drown out other indoor and outdoor noises. As long as the sounds is soothing and consistent it should help you get to sleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

If you are looking to go the phone-app route, I highly recommend Sleep Machine. It’s a free app that allows you to pick from several sounds, adjust the volume as you see fit, and sleep like a baby.

 

  1. Appeal to your sense of smell

Another subtle way to improve your sleep quality is by adding a lavender scent to your room.

As weird and oddly specific as that may sound, research has shown that exposure to a lavender scent at bedtime helps lower blood pressure and heart rate and induce sleep. In addition, other studies have shown exposure to lavender aromas to increase deep sleep, as well as, improve subjective ratings of energy and mood after waking.

To experience these benefits, try putting lavender oil in your bath or a humidifier, or place a lavender scented oil diffuser near your bed.

 

  1. Adjust your ambient temperature

The final adjustment to your sleep environment is room temperature.

Our internal temperatures follow a circadian rhythm closely related to our sleep/wake cycle. As we near bedtime, our body’s physiological demands decrease, eliciting a drop blood pressure and heart rate, along with body temperature. When this drop in body temperature occurs, it triggers the feeling of sleepiness. Setting your sleep environment to the right temperature can help initiate this signal, aiding you in getting to sleep faster and sleep more restfully.

So then, what’s the ideal temperature for sleep?

Well, this will largely depend on the amount of clothing and bedding you use. Studies have shown that maintaining a consistent body temperature is crucial for quality sleep, as a variance in body temperature during sleep disrupts REM sleep. That said, research has also shown that a temperature of 19°C, or roughly 66.2°F, yielded the highest subjective ratings of sleep quality.

So, when setting the temperature of your sleep environment, above all else, find an ambient temperature that is comfortable and allows for a consistent body temperature throughout the night. In doing so, it is advisable to set your thermostat to 66.2°F and adjust clothing and bedding as needed.

If you have a sleep partner, try using different sheets. First off, this will eliminate the occasional match of tug-of-war in the middle of the night. In addition, since the internal body temperatures of men and women slightly differ, due to body fat distribution and hormonal differences, this will help both parties sleep comfortably.

 

  1. Maintain a sense of order

Whether you want to call it a sense of order, pride, responsibility, or whatever, studies have shown that making your bed every morning can lead to better sleep along with several other benefits.

Seriously, that seemingly pointless chore your parents nagged you to do every morning when you were little has some serious benefit.

Surveys performed by the National Sleep Foundation show that people are 19% more likely to get a completely satisfying night’s rest if they make their bed on a regular basis. If that doesn’t get you to buy in, making your bed has also been shown to be what is called a “keystone habit.”

In his book, The Power of Habit (which I highly recommend you read), Charles Duhigg explains that research has shown there are certain habits that, once formed, consistently lead to the formation of other new habits. These are referred to as “small wins” or keystone habits. In this case, researchers have found that people who form a habit of making their bed on a regular basis are generally more productive, have a greater sense of well-being, and, among other things, are more likely to stick to a budget.

So, yet again, it seems as though mom and dad truly knew what was best for you.

 

Your Call to Action

I know this has been a lot of “This study says…” and “Research shows…,” so lets break things down and sum everything up.

  1. Dedicate your room to sleep. Cut out the working in bed, watching TV in bed, and talking on the phone for two hours with your girlfriend while in bed.
  2. Make your bedroom appealing more appealing to your 5 senses. Find what you need to add and/or remove from your bedroom to do this.
  3. Get in the habit of making your bed every morning.
  4. Have sleep of epic proportions.
  5. Start winning at life.

Hammer out numbers 1-3 and even greater sleep quality and recovery will follow, leading you to achieving new levels in your health and performance.