The message is simple (but it is worth repeating)

Movement, Diet, NOT FOOD, Everyday

A new beginning, of sort, so time to get moving again.

To get the ball rolling, not because of the new year but because of the launch of the No-brainer Fitness Facebook page (yes, I finally did that; one thing off my list, hooray!), I thought I’d re-visit the message of No-brainer Fitness.

Although it is the time of year for lists of resolutions and things to do, don’t be mistaken: This is NOT a list of resolutions.

It is much simpler than that. It is what should always be on your mind, every year, every day, every moment. To the point that it becomes automatic or, as I put it, a “no-brainer.”

About that name

By the way, for those of you curious about it, that is the point of the name “No-brainer Fitness.”

It is what Zen is all about. Far from being a mystical philosophy or esoteric design principle, Zen is about practicing something consciously so much and so systematically that thereafter you simply do whatever it is you have practiced without having to think about it anymore.

Anything you put your mind to long enough, practice hard enough, becomes second nature. Something in which your brain no longer needs to take an active part. Thus, a “no-brainer”.

The other meaning, that of something which makes perfect sense, and does not need to be thought through much, or at all, is also valid. Moving more is such a thing.

So let’s get back to it

One thing you need to know about No-brainer Fitness is that, although I get side-tracked at times, and try to infuse the posts with my own type of humour, I always get back on track.

Therefore, what you need to know about No-brainer Fitness, is that it stands for one single, very simple prescription, and two secondary recommendations:

1) Move more

Movement is the key to fitness and health. It has been shown time and time again, be it in terms of the effect of exercise on body functions, brain activity, and as was recently reported, our ability to age well and remain healthy and active for a long time.

Some the prescription is to move more, move all the time, move everyday. Not necessarily training for a specific sport, which is great and I encourage, but at least get into the habit of NOT being sedentary and using energy-saving devices like cars and elevators all the time.

2) Don’t diet

So you’ve gained some weight over the years (who hasn’t?). Your sedentary lifestyle and sitting job are causing your mid section to expand faster than the rest of the universe? What’s the solution?

Go on a diet, of course!

WRONG!!!

The problem is, in a large proportion (pun intended), that you do not move enough. So the solution cannot be to change what you eat. At least, that is true in the same proportion as the cause of the problem.

So the first recommendation is to NOT go on a special diet, NOT focus on what you eat, and NOT obsess over your weight. And I’m not alone in saying it. (That, by the way, is a link to an excellent and very refreshing blog post by a dietician.)

Rather, get moving more, and slowly learn to listen to your body. Because, guess what, if you listen, it will tell you what it needs, and over time you’ll get to eat better, without counting calories or obsessing about food. (Obsession of any kind, even obsession about training and exercise, it NOT healthy.)

For more specific food advice, I defer to those who know more than I do on the subject. I prefer to stick to a simple (no-brainer) approach: Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants.

3) Cut back on NOT FOOD

Which of course does not preclude me from making further suggestions about what NOT to eat.

You see, the “Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants” statement above is not originally from me. It seems simplistic, but for full effect you have to consider what “food” actually is. And for that, you need to remember that we are, fundamentally, animals.

Animals eat plants and other animals. At least, that’s what omnivores like us do. They don’t eat inorganic matter, stuff that does not grow on plants or that don’t move of their own volition.

The way I like to put it, “food” is anything that comes directly from plants, or that has been transformed mechanically and/or chemically from plants by other living creatures. Another way of putting it: food is biological matter that has been minimally transformed by means other than other animals’ biological processes.

Yes, I know, it can get messy and scientific-y. So often I use a shorter definition: If you can’t find it in nature in the form you eat it, then it’s probably overly processed, and you should pass.

For instance, things like coffee, doughnuts, soft drinks, and booze, are what I consider NOT FOOD. (For more on that, feel free to read a couple of my past posts.) When’s the last time you came across a free-flowing river of coffee? Or a tree in which Coca-Cola bottles grow? Or dug up a plant and found perfectly shaped and wrapped Hershey Kisses in its roots?

You get the point.

Cut back on those NOT FOOD items is my second recommendation; you’ll not only remove unnecessary calories (and in some cases drugs) from your body, but you’ll make room for the real taste of food, and the refreshing feeling of water going down. And that’s why you should do it.

That’s it

The rest, as they say, is details. (That’s also, as they also say, where the Devil lives, but that’s another story.)

If you insist on seeing this as a list of resolutions for the new year, then consider that you don’t need a list. You need only one item:

Get moving more!

You body will do the rest; just pay attention to what it tells you in the process.

I’ve now taught you everything you need to know. But feel free to keep an eye on this blog, and like the brand spanking new Facebook page… (Please?)

Picture from Pixabay.

Injuries – A causation guide (of sort)

Injury, Movement, Training, Exercise, Triathlon

Move, move a lot, but make sure you don’t end up injured this year.

To start off the new calendar year, I thought I’d touch lightly on a very serious topic.

So this post will have a very serious component, and a more humorous one. (You’ll have to guess which is which. I’ll make it easy.)

Anyone talking about training, exercise, and racing of any king, has to talk about injuries. I’m a triathlete, and a triathlon coach, so of course I know about the topic, and I cover it with the athletes I coach.

When talking about this topic, we have to first share an understanding that injuries can, and do, occur. That comes with the territory of training. There’s no denying it. (Anyone who does, is selling you something, and most likely lying.)

Indeed, injuries (or pain perceived as injury by a newbie to exercise) is the primary cause for quitting an exercise regimen or training program. It seems a reasonable thing to conclude: If movement is what caused someone to get injured, then stopping to move is the solution. (That seems to be the reasoning of many General Practitioners of the medical profession, to the frustration of many coaches, including me.)

But not moving is, overall, worse for your health than moving.

As a matter of fact, the best way to prevent injuries is to move more, not less, but to do so in a reasonable way. By reasonable I mean by using the correct techniques, and doing only as much as is necessary to stress your body into getting into better shape (once it has sufficiently recovered).

The Main Culprit

Let’s face it, athletes are often their own worst enemy: overuse (over-training) is the primary cause of injury in athletes. And that’s why you should have a coach, and, equally importantly, why you should listen to him or her!

Preventing injuries that can occur through intense training (and over-training) is obviously priority #1 of any coach. And that is achieved through well-balanced programs that include strength training and sufficient rest.

And constant reminders to athletes to take their rest days.

Once injured, the best approach is not to stop all activity, but rather to take some rest (complete rest at first, then some other activities can be recommended by a competent physiotherapist or even by the coach). Interestingly, that’s frequently how people get started into doing triathlon; through having to do other sports than the one in which the injury occurred.

A single-sport approach to training increases the risk of getting hurt, so triathletes have a slight advantage in injury prevention.

However, triathlon also has a bunch of other types of injuries you can fall prey to, so you have to keep them in mind, and be careful. If, in running, injuries typically come to feet, ankles, knees and hips from bad training (bad form, too many impacts, running too fast, too often, too long), in triathlon the same thing can happen, but to more parts of the body (shoulders, back, etc.). So you need to work on more parts of the body to fix an injured triathlete.

And in some cases you also need a mechanic…

The Other Causes

So, to balance this post, here are the main causes of injuries for triathletes, from the least likely to the most common, and tongue a little in cheek:

10) Drowning. Very, very, very unlikely.  Recovery is usually impossible. Near-drowning is another matter and can lead to the encounter of interesting people, but is not recommended as a potential dating strategy due to its risky nature.

9) Getting beaten during the swim (kicks, fists, etc.). It can hurt a lot, and even cause mild injuries, but usually one recovers pretty quickly, and completes the race. The injury can last for a while, from bruises to muscle cramps, and can have some long-term effects (fear of swimming in a crowd, which is just a little less scary than being naked in a crowd).

8) Getting hit by a car when running. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

7) Getting hit by a car when riding. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

6) Missing a turn while riding. Particularly when the road is slippery, but the main cause is usually going too fast on a road that is not well known. So “pilot error” is a factor. Consequences range from scrapes and bruises to broken bones. Recovery (and returning confidence) vary accordingly.

5) Getting hit by a cyclist when running. Hitting a runner or a cyclist while riding. Recovery depends on how fast and how heavy the hit… and any subsequent altercation between the runner and cyclist.

4) Colliding with another swimmer in the pool. Either through carelessness on your part, or because the other swimmer is a nincompoop. Again, recovery depends on how hard the hit and the ensuing argument, but is usually fairly short.

3) Swallowing lots of water while swimming; can lead to serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems, especially if the water is salted or chlorinated. Recovery usually comes shortly after vomiting.

2) Over-training (a.k.a. abusing your own body); doing too much, too fast, too long, in all three sports.  Rest, and a consultation with your coach (or a psychologist) typically helps… We’re talking fasciatis, tendinitis, stress fractures, etc., and things that typically happen to runners’ legs, but in our case can also happen to shoulders (swimming) and the back (cycling). Some cases require extensive leave from the sport, so never underestimate the risk of wanting to do more, or obsessing about racing.

1) Falling on your side, from your bike, while trying to un-clip your shoe at a stop sign or light. You can get bruised (hip and arm) or even break something (wrist, arm, collar bone). But most of the time the damage is limited to the ego, and recovery can be very fast if you just laugh it off. But this is by far the most common cause of injury for a triathlete, so un-clip soon, and often.

As you can see, the main causes are mostly accidents.  You have to remain tuned onto your body, but also and particularly aware of your surroundings at all times, during races and training sessions.

And that’s a lesson that valid all the time. The more mindful you are, the more attuned to your body and surrounding, the safer you will be. And the more healthy you’ll be.

Have a great year of moving a lot!

Fitness, Injury, Triathlon, Movement, Rest

Just because it is still early in 2015. Have a great year of fitness!

Pictures from Pixabay.

You had better stand up to read this

Sitting, Chair, Daily, Movement

Sitting too long is BAD for you.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then you want to stand up before reading this.

Standing now? Good.

Now we can begin.

It won’t take long because the topic is essentially simple: Except for a “lucky few” who still have jobs demanding that they spend a lot of time moving about, we tend to spend far too much time sitting.

Far too much of the work we do appears to require us to be sitting. At least, the work environments for a wide range of modern careers involve sitting at a desk.

The rest of the time, we are sitting in our cars, at tables having food, or on couches watching others move (typically on a screen) but staying put ourselves.

Although it is not a topic that’s been much in the news (yet), research findings point very accusing fingers to chairs as being a problem. Why?

1) The act of sitting does nothing for our metabolism. It is so convenient that our bodies essentially perceive the position as almost total rest. Even for people who have a good training routine, spending a lot of time sitting (presumably at work in their case) undoes the benefits of regular, intense exertion.

2) Perhaps more pernicious is the fact that the sitting position, in which we end up spending a lot of time, is exactly the wrong position for our muscles and bones to be in. Weight-bearing structures in our legs adjust to the sitting position because that’s what our bodies do; in doing that, they lose their ability to handle the standing position, including walking and running bouts.

The second effect is also responsible for a gradual loss of capabilities in the elderly or injured: folks who start having problems moving about and obtain assistance from wheelchairs and electric scooters rapidly come to require them all the time. Their bones and muscles become weaker, so they use the chairs more, and enter a vicious cycle.

What are we to do?

For starters, do what you are (or should be) doing right now: Stand while you do other things like read, talk on the phone, think, etc. In fact, any other position than sitting is better.

Second best, but a good habit to take: While it is difficult to do some types of work while standing, you must program regular “stand up moments” into your work routine. (Whether you use those moments to go tell jokes to your colleagues, or just stand by the water cooler for the latest gossip, is entirely up to you.)

Never sit for more than an hour at a time. Take frequent standing breaks. Try to do more of your work while standing. The benefits go beyond fitness and health: moving about while talking or simply thinking about a situation is also reported as providing more dynamic conversation and better ideas.

Not quite ready to take my word for it?

Then keep on standing a while longer, and read this article in Scientific American.

I waited until the end to provide the link, in the hope of keeping you on your toes, or at least on your feet, a little longer… You can thank me later.

Picture from Pixabay.

Sometimes, you just gotta take some time off

Rest, Sickness, Exercise

Sometimes you just gotta rest…

I have a confession to make:

Although I’ve completed an iron-distance triathlon, a couple of half iron distance races, and 3 or 4 marathons (beyond the one of the annual Ironman(TM) race I participate in) every year for the last 7 years, and you could say I’m in pretty good shape (for my age), sometimes I take time off.

In fact this year I’ve taken quite a bit of time off for various good reasons. There was minor (but cumbersomely placed) surgery in the spring and a lot of traveling throughout the year (not to mention a stress fracture in my left foot during a marathon). But one of those reasons is why I’m taking some time off right now: I’m sick.

Exercising regularly and being careful what I eat, my health has never been better. This I know objectively, as well as through the way I’m feeling. But I’m still exposed to a lot of bacteria and viruses just by remaining minimally social, using a lot of public transit, and living with a healthcare professional (who happens to be exposed to a lot of stuff at the hospital).

So once in a while I get sick.

Not often, mind you, and, because my immune system is in great shape, it never lasts very long. I take a couple of days of complete rest from training, even going as far as spending most of that time in bed, and in no time I’m up and about doing my regular activities again.

Some folks might try to convince you that by training hard, or eating particular foods, or consuming a specific supplement, you will never get sick. That’s utter nonsense! Such people are trying to sell you something. They are also either lying through their (cavity-free, no doubt) teeth, or at least suffer from some sort of selective memory syndrome.

The simple truth is that, unless you live completely isolated from all other human beings, everyone gets sick once in a while.

However, what is well demonstrated in the medical literature and backed by a lot of athletes at all levels is that exercising regularly, even training hard (but without over-training), strengthens your immune system. Combined with taking good rest when you are sick, and continuing to eat well, you will heal faster and recover from the little bout of whatever ails you if you exercise regularly.

The key is to move a lot, on a daily basis, and rest well when you get sick. No great secret, no magic bullet. Just working with your body.

This being said, I’m going back to bed. If my cats will give me a bit of space on it…

Picture from Pixabay, and not of one of my cats (but of the same species)

An Ideal Vacation

Training, Vacation, Exercise

Do you put your feet up on vacation? Here’s a different idea.

Here’s my idea of the ideal vacation:

Get up a little before dawn and head to the beach in your swimsuit and goggles. As the sun rises, dive in and do a 30-60 minutes open water swim. Spend a few more minutes checking out the local wildlife (a.k.a. cute fish; barracudas should be avoided). Climb back on the beach, shower away the salt, dry yourself a little, then head off to breakfast.

Rest for a few minutes, perhaps updating your Facebook status or just lounging by the pool (no one else there yet at that time). Then get dressed to go cycling. Get on the bike and ride 2-4 hours. Get back and eat some lunch. Rest by the pool for a few minutes, or head to bed for a nap. Don’t fall asleep on a chair in the sun!

Before the afternoon is over, put on running shoes and head out for a run. Nothing fancy; 45 to 90 minutes. Enjoy the scenery and the warmth. Once done, have a nice shower, and go get some dinner.

Lastly for the day, spend a quiet evening relaxing in good company. Hit the pillow around 09:00 or 09:30 at the latest (trust me, you’ll be tired). Sleep well, dreaming of flying (a dream I often get when swimming in the ocean during the day).

Repeat, varying the durations and intensities, for a few days in a row (5-6). Some days are harder and faster, some are long and slow. No need to do all three sports on all days, either. Optional, at the end of the week: after a day of mostly resting, do a triathlon or some other race (could be as little as an Olympic distance, but a half Ironman or even a full is possible).

If you can afford it, spend a few more days relaxing and optimizing your recovery by moving some more, at a lower intensity. But even if you need to pack up and leave the very next day, such a vacation is sure to have re-charged your batteries for a while.

How does that sound? Have you had the chance of doing something like that before?

Swimming, Exercise, Training, Cozumel

Our swim “buddy” in Cozumel. Yes, it is a barracuda. No, it was not “relaxing” to have that near us as we swam.

This past September my wife and I spent 10 days in Cozumel. On the eighth day of our vacation I accompanied her through her first half-iron distance triathlon (without drafting). So we got to enjoy a fabulous 6 days of training in the heat, and a fantastic race (also in the heat).

Whether you are runner, cyclist, swimmer, or an “all of the above” enthusiast, variations on that theme can be a great deal of fun: Training camps, destination races, training vacations, etc. Going away just to train is an ideal way to dramatically increase your fitness level a few weeks before an “A” event, or to kick-start a new season. Or simply to have a different kind of vacation, a more active kind of vacation.

It sounds like the training regimen of a professional athlete, you say? To some extent, it does. It can be a taste of it, but without the pressure of having to perform. The best of both worlds, so to speak.

But the “ideal vacation” I described above does not need to be very intense, or for athletes only. It can be modified in various ways to make room for sightseeing (be it the volcanoes of Hawaii, the ruins of Mexico, the shops and museums of a large city) and the intensity can be adjusted to your own needs. Of course, the rest of the family can tag along, enjoying the other activities of the place while you are out training.

You can obviously do it at home, taking a week off from work to focus on training. We call that a “crash week” in training lingo. Keep in mind the downside of staying at home to take a training vacation: you can all too easily get sucked back into normal home stuff, and lose the focus on the training-resting combination that is what gets your fitness level to go up. Also, at home, you might have to cook, whereas on a training vacation, if you plan it well, someone else does it for you.

I prefer such a training vacation to be in a warm place, with an ocean to swim in and decent roads for riding. Trails for running are a big plus, but not mandatory.

You can find such places on your own, perhaps by organizing it around a marathon or triathlon event you wish to participate in. Probably not one where you want to do a PB, otherwise you’d be in taper mode and training less. But for shorter races, and without being too competitive, you can get both a great week of training and a fun event.

A better alternative is to simply sign up for a training camp.

It’s the kind of thing you can improvise for yourself, for instance by booking a week at an all-inclusive resort in Cozumel and taking your own training program along. However, the packaged deals, including coaching supervision, offer many advantages, and can be obtained for not much more money than going on your own.

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, leave me a message: I’m working with people hosting such a camp in Costa Rica in March, and there’s still room for a few athletes of all levels. It would be my pleasure to be your coach there.

Winter is coming (in the Northern Hemisphere). A training vacation is really ideal for fighting the winter blues. Not to mention getting ready for a new season.

Swimming, Training, Vacation

The author, enjoying a bit of post-swim fish sighting.

Photos credits: Sacha Veillette and Sophie Tremblay-Paquet