Ask Amanda: Dom-d-dom-dom-DOMS

A lot of my clients like to work out with me twice per week with a day in between – Monday/Wednesday, for example, or Tuesday/Thursday.  And almost invariably, that second session gets one of two responses:

  1. cancellation.
  2. complaints about soreness (“…but it wasn’t this bad yesterday!”)

This condition, friends, is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and it’s a super common thing.  DOMS kicks in 24-72 (most commonly: 48) hours after the exercise or activity that causes it, and comes from the microtears in muscle tissue that occur with intense (read: challenging) training.  The more pronounced the eccentric contraction that caused the tear, the more intense the feeling of soreness will be two days later.  Behold:

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Movements like the biceps curl, above, tend to produce more prominent DOMS because the eccentric (“down”) phase is so stressful for the muscle being worked.  The same is true for squats, deadlifts, and push-ups, which is why these movements tend to produce DOMS at a higher rate.

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Whether or not you develop DOMS is not a sign of how “good” or “hard” your workout is, however – typically it is a function of doing something new or different to your body rather than something more difficult.  For example, one of my worst cases of DOMS in recent memory was after hitting the driving range with my Dad for the first time – I wasn’t used to gripping a golf club, so I was hyper-focusing, and all that grip meant my forearms felt like I’d been bouldering the Grand Canyon for a few hours – and lasted a few days.

Soreness is not a bad thing, nor a good thing – in my professional opinion, it’s just a fact of environment, kind of like how you get sweaty when it’s hot outside or shiver when it’s cold.  You get sore when you challenge your body to perform new, heavier, unfamiliar, or explosive movements.  You experience soreness when you are growing your muscles (i.e. hypertrophy), and you get it when you’re training for endurance events, and you may even get it from something seemingly innocuous – like jumping on a trampoline, or carrying luggage up a staircase.

The big divide I see with my clients that do experience DOMS is what they do about it – meaning, do they cancel the next session?  Push through?  Figure out a way to avoid it next time?  If you are someone who suffers from that “hit by a truck” feeling after each and every workout, here are some (non-foolproof, but worthy) strategies to try:

  • Tart cherry juice.  Yep, just sippin’ on this sour swill has been linked to decreased post-workout inflammation.
  • Ice and cold.  Whether it’s a refreshing shower, a bag of ice on overworked areas, or if you’re a real boss, a stroll through the cryo chamber, getting your bod chilled out in a hurry can stop the development of DOMS by slowing down inflammatory processes.
  • Sports massage.  Forget the image of lying comfortably in a lavender-scented zen spa – sports massage is brutal, painful, and not for the faint of heart – but it’s one of the “luxuries” that keep professional athletes mobile, so you know it works.  If you are a continuous DOMS sufferer, I suggest trying to get a session once every week.
  • Compress yourself.  I’ve seen shin splints and calf cramps all but disappear from clients who just start wearing compression socks or sleeves – and similar reports from those who wear recovery compression leggings or tops.  It’s a small change that can prevent a large dose of soreness – worth the somewhat ample investment.
  • Not being a wuss.  Yep, tough love – there is a major difference between being sore and being injured, and if you’re honest with yourself, you know when you’re just trying to get out of a workout.  Active recovery (walking, swimming, yoga) is actually a better strategy than lying in your bed complaining, and it’ll get you more results, too.

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One final point – though I’ve sort of made it above, but it bears repeating – soreness is not a good or bad thing, inherently.  It doesn’t mean your workout was successful or unsuccessful; it doesn’t mean you’re out of shape or in shape; it doesn’t signify much except that you used your body in a way (or to a level) it hasn’t been used before, and it’s giving you a signal that it noticed.  So buck up, stretch out, slap on an ice pack, and keep moving – if you let the DOMS get you down, you’ll never be able to move forward in your fitness gains.

What’s your best remedy for soreness – DOMS, immediate, or otherwise?

Ask Amanda: Sunny Side Up

As winter  approaches (in the Northern Hemisphere, sorry Aussies – save this entry for like, May or June) and the days are getting shorter, I find that a lot of my clients struggle more with sticking to their exercise routines.

Sure, there are lots of other factors affecting workout adherence around this time of year – holidays that center around unhealthy food, festive parties and events taking over the schedule, and demands from kids and family for costumes, cupcakes, party prep, and what-have-you wiping out even the most dedicated exercisers.

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But I want to focus on something near and dear to my own heart: the sun.

I have always, always been a morning person (much to the chagrin of many of my friends and my long-suffering sleep-a-holic husband), but I qualify that with this: I am actually a sunshine person.  When the sun is up, I want to be, too – and when it’s dark outside, my spirit and motivation are black and sad (ok, dramatic, but you get my point).

This being said, being this type of sunshine person (especially in my line of work, where a “late” morning starts at 7:30am) is all well and good when it’s summertime and the sun is out at 5:15am – but not so much when it’s the dead of winter, the weather is already freezing and it’s pitch black until 7:45.

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Add to this my current situation – living directly on top of the equator, where the sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm daily – and where I still must get up at 5-5:30am (in the aforementioned soul-crushing darkness) at least five days of the week, and you’ve got quite a pickle.

I present all of this information as long introduction to a great #AskAmanda question – how in the hell do you get motivated to exercise when it’s dark outside (whether that means early in the morning, or later after work when your energy is shot)?

First of all, don’t make darkness an excuse.  I know you guys are probably up to here with my no-nonsense advice when it comes to getting your workout in, but I only offer up the tough love with just that – love.  In reality, only about the first two minutes of waking up in the darkness really sucks (you know, those glorious first two minutes after the alarm where your bed is so warm and your PJs are so comfy and you just want to live in your bed forever and ever).  Once you get up, flick on a light, and get moving, life isn’t so hard.

Second, set up a decent mini-ritual to look forward to.  For me, it’s a piping hot pot of really good coffee (right now that’s Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice, imported from the States and literally giving me life for the next few weeks).  For you, it might be a shower with a really nice-smelling soap, putting on a podcast you’ve been waiting to listen to, or saving a certain breakfast food you really enjoy for “only” the days you wake up for a workout (treat yo’self).  However small and whatever it may be, make it special to you, and it’ll matter.

Third, sleep in your (clean) workout clothes.  Sure, this may be easier said than done (I tend to wear compression gear for my workouts, so I’d actually prefer not to sleep like a cased sausage), but it’s a surefire way to make the journey from bed to gym a bit shorter, a lot easier, and using a lot less brainpower (a superb thing when you’re just struggling to tie your shoes at 6am).  If this is too much, at least lay out your clothes and necessities so that there is no dread, confusion, or struggle in the morning – just pick up, dress, and go.

Next, consider being a bit silly (especially if you live alone).  Wake up and put on “Baby Got Back” and bust a little 5:45am move in your mirror.  Buy one of those complete crap gossip magazines and commit to 30 minutes on the treadmill to read it.  Download a hilarious YouTube workout video and do it in your living room while wearing baggy sweatpants and an old college T-shirt.  Nothing is too stupid if it makes you laugh AND gets you motivated enough to skip the snooze button and commit to a lil’ old workout.

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My final tip is this: if waking up in the darkness (or again, dragging yourself to the gym after work once it’s already dark) is too painful, find another time to work out.  Maybe you need to commit to a lunchtime power hour.  Perhaps it’s a 3pm living-room booster while the kids are taking their naps.  You might be the type that can space out three 10-minute HIIT workouts throughout the day so you don’t have to wake up a half hour before the sun.  Whatever time you can consistently work out is the best time for you to be working out (path of least resistance and all that, guys).

Whether it’s changing seasons (hello, winter) or lack of seasons (hello, Singapore), there will be shifts and changes in even the most established routines from time to time – and it’s up to you to roll with the punches, re-prioritize, and figure out a “new normal” that fits your needs, schedule, and preferences.  If you make it happen, it will happen – so in the great words of the NIKE marketing gods: just do it.

When do you like to work out?  What are your strategies for getting up before the sun?

Ask Amanda: Friends in Small Spaces

Imagine the scene: you’re all pumped for your new workout routine, and you’ve got it all figured out.  You’re going to wake up early, pop into the gym before work, kill your workout, take a nice leisurely shower, and head to the office feeling accomplished and productive for the day ahead.

Now imagine how it really works: your alarm goes off at an unthinkable hour, you rouse yourself after a few snoozes with just enough time to squeeze in maybe a half hour workout, you speed to the gym in record time…and immediately realize that everyone else has the same idea you do.

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When you arrive at the gym, it’s so crowded you can’t get on a single machine, all the treadmills have a waiting list, and the shower room is so packed you’d be waiting until next Tuesday to try and sneak in even a quick one.  You shrug your shoulders and think, hell, I tried.

So many of my clients are too quick to admit defeat when it comes to facing a rush-hour status gym, but friends: there IS a solution.  The strategy is to carve yourself out a small corner of space, dominate a couple pairs of dumbbells, and focus on using the equipment in the gym that is chronically underutilized but effective.

Such as?

First off, forget the ellipticals even exist (I wrote a full post on this and other “gym sins” a while back) and get yourself onto a machine that matters for your warmup.  If you have access to a rowing machine, fantastic – it’s a quick, effective full body burn that will help you break a sweat within the first five minutes (click here for a sample rowing warmup).  Nearly as good is the stepmill (NOT the stairmaster, guys – the one that actually looks like a set of stairs), and if all else fails, pop on an empty treadmill and kick that mother up to a 10% incline (try walking at least a 3.5mph/6.0kph pace).

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No machines?  No problem.  One of the best warmups (and HIIT-style cardio intervals) you can do is jump rope, and there are so many different ways to do it you’ll never get bored.

Now that you’re nice and warm, grab two sets of dumbbells (one heavy for rows, one lighter for curls and presses) from a nearby rack – or in lieu of DBs, get a kettlebell (more on this below).  With only these pieces of equipment you have nearly limitless combinations of exercises you can perform, and without the “crutch” of a weight machine or rack you can work balance, stability, and core engagement in addition to the basic muscular development work.  Five key compound movements I recommend in every full-body dumbbell workout (start with three sets of 10 reps each) include:

Don’t worry, kettlebell users – I have a circuit for you, too.  Consider alternating the following five exercises for time (I usually start clients at 30 seconds per movement), making sure to work with a weight that is challenging but allows you to maintain form:

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Now let’s imagine the worst-case scenario – your gym is SO crowded you can’t get anything but a space on the mat.  No worries – your body is the best piece of equipment that money can’t buy, and it’s available to you 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world.  The key to using body weight for exercise is to make your movements powerful, explosive, and intense – and complete a full range of motion with each one.  Some ideas for the best time-saving body weight exercises are:

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Finally, remember that a crowded gym is not the only place you can get a good workout – consider buying a bit of your own equipment and taking your workout to a nearby park, joining an outdoor bootcamp or working with a personal trainer outside, or even building a decent home gym.

Options for fitness are limitless – you just have to find what works for you (and sorry – I still haven’t figured out a reasonable trainer tip for battling those locker room showers…).

Where do you work out – and what types of moves are in your go-to routine?

Ask Amanda: At the Core of the Issue

The keyword used to be “flat abs” and then “six pack” and more recently, “core stability.”  Everyone wants that carved-out, washboard-flat, super-toned tummy – and about 1% of us want to do the actual work that looking like that entails (this article, about the high cost of getting super-lean, is worth your time).

Such is life, eh?

A recent few clients have been asking me about core training – what it actually means, how important it is to do it, and what is the best way to train the core most effectively (without doing a million crunches per day) – so as always, I am here to help!

First off, your core is made up of several muscle groups that cover both the front and the back of your torso.  Much like the “big chest, poor posture” syndrome (see below) I see in a lot of weight-training men, the quest for flat abs has left a lot of folks with puffed-out rectus abdominus (the muscles on top of the stomach) and a weak lower back, which is pretty much a recipe for back pain (and frustration).

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The major muscle groups that make up what most of us call the “core” are the abdominals (rectus, external/internal obliques, transversus), the erector spinae, and the quadratus lumbar.  In shorthand – your abs and your mid-to-lower back.

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It is crucial to make sure you are doing work that targets all of these groups, both dynamically (with movement) and isometrically (with a deep, held contraction).  Crunches are fine, sure – as long as they’re done with proper form, within reason (in terms of number), and as part of a larger core program that uses other methods as well.

There are two core stability programs I love to use with clients – one is called Stop & Go, and the second is called Plank & Crunch.  Both focus on using all parts of the core muscle groups in different ways, and all improve functional health for the relief of back pain and overall weak middles.  Check them out below:

STOP & GO

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Perform the paired exercises listed, back to back, for 20 seconds each without rest.  Between pairs, rest for 20 seconds, then move on to the next exercise.  Once the set becomes easy, start to increase the time in each exercise (30 seconds, 40 seconds, etc.)

STOP / full plank / GO / mountain climbers

STOP / boat pose / GO / in-out crunches

STOP / side plank / GO / side plank leg lifts

STOP / table top / GO / reverse plank leg lifts

STOP / forearm plank / GO / plank knees-to-elbows

STOP / Superman hold / GO / swimmers

PLANK & CRUNCH

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Complete 20X (10 per side, if single sides are used) of each of the exercises below, aiming for minimal rest between movements.  Alternate the plank and crunch movements to ensure adequate recovery from each position and rest the neck accordingly.  Once one round is easy, aim to complete all the exercises twice.

PLANK / plank hold / CRUNCH / bicycle crunch (shown)

PLANK / knees-to-elbows (see above) / CRUNCH / reverse crunch

PLANK / twisting hip plank / CRUNCH / leg drops

PLANK / up-down plank / CRUNCH / butterfly crunch

PLANK / side plank twists (each side) / CRUNCH / lumbar extensions

I recommend that my clients incorporate some form of core training every time they work out (whether it’s a dedicated set, like those above, or incorporated into an overall strength program using apparatuses like TRX, Bosu, or a balance board for instability).

And finally, guys – I wouldn’t be a good trainer if I didn’t tell you for the hundredth time that lean abs are made in the kitchen.  You will never – EVER! – have a six pack if you eat tons of carbohydrates, intake a grip of sodium, suck down the soda and alcohol, and don’t watch your saturated fat intake.  The real, hard talk is this – most of us already have abs, they’re just hidden underneath the layer of android (central) fat made up of what we eat.

So, in summary, here’s the cold hard facts on core strength: get up, plank down, crunch out, and keep the white stuff (sugar/salt/flour) out of your system.  Easy, right? 😉

What are your favorite ways to work your core?  Share!