The Skinny on Fat and Muscle, Part IV

In this, the final installment in our four-part series on muscle and fat myths, we’ll set the facts straight on muscle weighing more than fat. It is a misconception that you’ve likely heard or read before–maybe even here on these very blog pages. It’s never our intention to mislead, but the reason this myth gets passed on and repeated so often is that it is almost true–clearing up the inaccuracy lies in comparing volume rather than actual weight.

What Weighs More: a Pound of Feathers or a Pound of Iron?

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Image by Next TwentyEight

Ever come up against this brain teaser? The initial response from anyone who doesn’t take about 3 seconds to think it through is that feathers are lighter than iron, but a pound is a pound, no matter what you’re weighing. According to Shape magazine, it’s simply that muscle tissue is denser than bulky fat tissue, so a pound of fat takes up more space than a pound of muscle. To be fair, if you’re comparing the same mass amount of muscle and fat, yes, the muscle will weigh more. However, comparing the volume of a pound of muscle to a pound of fat, it’s not like comparing apples and oranges. It’s more like grapefruits and tangerines. American Council on Exercise Professional Trainer Jason Greenspan says a pound of fat is grapefruit-sized and a pound of muscle is approximately as big as a tangerine.

The Type of Tissue Makes a Difference, Too

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Muscles are active even when you aren’t, so they’ll still be burning fat and calories long after you’re done working out.

Muscle and fat tissue are almost opposites when it comes to tissue type. While muscle is an active tissue that burns more fuel–i.e.: calories and fat–than other types of tissue, fat is considered adipose tissue, according to Science Daily. Even within adipose tissues, there are sub-types of fat, but the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science says fat tissue is less active metabolically speaking, so it doesn’t matter a whole lot whether you have mostly white fat or brown fat. If you are carrying more fat than muscle, most of that tissue is sitting there doing pretty much nothing for your metabolism.

The Scale is a Liar

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Though you can’t necessarily trust the scale to tell you how lean you are, the tape measure will never lie to you.

These facts about fat and muscle mean you can’t count on the scale to accurately measure how you’re doing on your weight loss goal, especially if you are following the best weight loss advice which is to incorporate cardio and resistance training with diet modification. The exercise will build muscle while the entire program will simultaneously help reduce fat, resulting in the number on the scale staying at the starting point for awhile or even going up a bit, even as you’re seeing yourself slimming down. Many times, the pounds you see on the scale could undermine your confidence and resolve, so it’s best to track your progress in other ways. Use a tape measure to assess your problem areas such as your waist, hips, and thighs. Pay close attention to how your clothes fit, and don’t be afraid to look in the mirror–naked. Once you start seeing more muscle definition and less jiggly bits, you might say “goodbye” to the scale forever.

 

The Skinny on Fat and Muscle, Part III

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Many people want to get rid of fat in certain areas of their bodies, but you can’t target specific spots for fat loss. Image by Debra Roby

It’s Week Three of our four-week series, and this time around we’re re-visiting a topic that has been touched on in the past. This one merits review because it is a stubborn myth that just won’t die: spot-reducing fat. From ab rockers to electric belly belts to balance boards that have you twisting the night away–the flood of workout equipment that targets fat deposits on specific areas of the body confirms that, no matter what research and reality proves, people desperately want to believe they can burn fat from their “problem” areas. That doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of the excess baggage around your midsection or the ample acreage in your back 40. You just need to understand what works best to reduce fat, but it helps to have patience, too. 

Not To Bust Your Bubble…

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If you’ve got time and the energy to do crunches for 2 hours, you might be able to lose a miniscule amount of belly fat.

If you’ve been desperately searching for proof that you really can spot-reduce, you may have come across the study published in the American Journal of Physiology which found that, in certain cases and with specific exercises, spot reduction of fat can occur. HOWEVER, the loss was minimal–Train Magazine compared it to trying to reduce the amount of sand on a beach by removing a few grains. The part of the research to latch on to is that increasing blood flow seemed to be the key to kicking up fat burning in certain spots. In the study, researchers did that by having the subjects perform one exercise for 2 hours. Don’t have that kind of time or willpower? We have a solution for you in just a second… 

How Your Body Burns Fat

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When you kick into fat-burning mode, your brain will pull fat resources from all over your body rather than one specific spot.

The liver is your body’s go-to source for energy, according to Bodybuilding.com. It stores glucose which it dispenses into your blood stream throughout the day to supply the energy your body needs to function and to perform every physical activity you do. When you burn more energy than your liver has stored, your body has to tap into excess energy that has been stockpiled elsewhere, i.e.: fat deposited on various parts of your body. Yale Scientific points out that you can’t control where your body takes that fat from. Rather than burning fat from your abs, if you’re doing 100+ crunches for instance, your brain will flood your bloodstream with hormones that will tell fat cells all over your body to release a bit of what they’re holding, kind of like passing the hat for contributions. 

An Effective Fat-Burning Plan

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Include resistance training as part of your “spot reducing” plan–the muscles you build will encourage fat loss from your entire body and they’ll look great once the layer of fat is gone.

Earlier we stated that you can reduce fat from your problem areas if you have patience and a plan, so here it is: cardio, sculpt, and adjust your eating habits. Cardio exercises–particularly ones performed in high-intensity intervals–are an effective way of increasing the amount of energy your body burns, and fine-tuning how and what you eat will help ensure you burn more calories than you take in to perpetuate the process. You don’t even have to go on a crash diet, especially if that type of plan hasn’t worked for you in the past. Start with small adjustments like ditching soda and drinking more water, switching to skim milk, and eating more fresh vegetables and fewer pre-packaged foods, then continue to adjust from there. 

As for sculpting, the Huffington Post points out that resistance training will tone the muscles beneath the fat you want to get rid of, so they’ll be strong and sculpted even before the fat comes off. However, resistance training serves another purpose, too. According to WebMD, muscle burns more calories than fat does, even while you sleep, so your body will become more efficient as you build your muscles in preparation for bringing them out from beneath the fat.

 

The Skinny on Fat and Muscle, Part II

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Eating any type of calories–fat as well as others–will only make you fat if you eat more than you burn. Image by Tony Alter

It’s week two of our four-week series debunking fat and muscle myths, and the falsehood we’re looking at this week is that eating fat makes you fat. One of the first dietary changes everyone from everyday people to bodybuilders make is to cut the fat but, as with most health and fitness issues, you need to be smart about it, paying attention to how much and which fats you cut. The advice that you need to eat fat comes from many experts, including the American Heart Association, a surprising source. It points out that fat

That means that even competing bodybuilders should only reduce fat, not drop it from their meals altogether, according to FitnessHealth101. And if it’s useful for competitive athletes, then no one should cut fat from their diets entirely. Of course, the key to eating fat–or any type of calories–without getting fat is to burn more than you consume. Plus, the right kind of fat could be the secret you’ve been searching for to weight loss success.

Get Lean Eating Healthy Fat

Okay, read the title of this section again and concentrate on the word “healthy.” Not just any fat will help you lean-up, but the right kind can. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that eating certain fats helped people lose weight. It turns out unsaturated fats cause the small intestine to produce oleoylethanolamide, a compound that sends a message to your brain that you’re full. Eating these fats help you lose weight by making your feel satisfied, so you’ll eat less overall. Plus, they provide energy for your body in addition to all the other benefits listed above.

Where to Get the Good Fat

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Avocados and salmon are just two examples of foods that contain healthy fats.

There are a number of different kinds of fat, but only two types of unsaturated fats–monounsaturated and polyunsaturated–and they’re both good for you. They tend to remain in liquid form at room temperature, but can solidify when cooled. You should definitely be a label reader, and keep an eye out for either or both of them in foods you eat. It’s useful to know going in what foods are sources for these healthy fats. According to Harvard Health, the best sources of unsaturated fats include avocados, peanut oil and most types of nuts, olive and canola oils, corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. What’s more, Harvard Health also recommends omega-3’s as another type of healthy fat. You can always get them by taking omega-3 supplements, but many foods are naturally high in this healthy fat such as

  • walnuts
  • flaxseeds
  • sardines
  • salmon
  • mackerel
  • soybean oil (not the hydrogenated type)

More Good Health News on the Fat-Front

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Olive oil is a fat that is not only vital for maintaining healthy, but can actually reduce your risk of issues such as heart disease and high cholesterol.

Many people have a mind-block against fats because they associate eating any type of fat with high cholesterol and heart disease as well as gaining weight. The truth is, not only can monounsaturated fats help you lose weight, but they can also help lower your risk of several health issues including cholesterol and heart problems. In fact, a study by Lukas Schwingshackl and Georg Hoffmann found that when several fats including animal and vegetable fats were compared, only olive oil was found to reduce risk of cardiovascular issues including strokes and death. So, healthy fats can help you live leaner and longer, too.

The Skinny on Fat and Muscle: Debunking the Myths, Part I

I have a friend who wants to be a competitive bodybuilder and has done an amazing job of creating an enviable physique. He is hard as a rock with definition so thorough every muscle is visible in detail. And lean? He’s at four percent body fat, but that’s where his problem lies. He is months away from competition and won’t be able to maintain his physique, so his chances of winning will dwindle with each day.

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Sure you look great now, but it will be hard to maintain that physique if the competition is more than a week or two away.

We got to talking, and I realized that, even though there’s a lot of good information out there about building muscle and minimizing fat, there are also still a lot of myths. Plus, even though the good information is readily available, so are the myths, and sifting through the fallacies to find the facts can take a lot of time–and competitive bodybuilders who are just starting out don’t have the kind of time they need for the trial and error it takes to find out which advice to follow. So! Because I have been a competitive bodybuilder, am currently a personal trainer, and have done the trial and error thing myself as well as sifted through the research, I’ve dedicated the next 4 weeks to setting the fat and muscle facts straight–one myth at a time.

Can You Gain Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time?

Today, to kick off our four-part series, we’ll look at whether or not you can gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously. Logically, it shouldn’t be able to be done. As BuiltLean points out, fat loss is a catabolic process while muscle building is an anabolic process–one requires burning more calories than you take in and the other requires increasing your nutrient intake. If you cut your calories by too much, you’ll end up burning muscle along with the fat instead of building lean mass. The good news for everyone–bodybuilders and Average Joes alike–is that it can be accomplished if you’re smart about it.

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Gaining muscle while loosing fat requires a balancing act. Cut your overall calories, but also swap out most of your carb calories for protein.

Muscle and nutrition expert Mark McManus points out that you need to pay as much attention to the kind of calories you’re eating as you do to the amount. Yes, you should reduce the number of calories you eat in a day to create a fat-burning deficit, but just make sure you’re reducing mostly carbohydrate calories and replacing some of them with protein calories. That advice isn’t just McManus spouting a theory. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that subjects placed on a low-calorie diet all lost weight, but the group of people who’s diets were low-cal but high in protein lost the most body fat.

My advice to my bodybuilding friend is to back off of the cardio. Also, relax your diet a little. You need to feed your muscles enough to maintain your mass, and any fat you gain can be shed in the last few weeks before you compete. At that point, if you’ve put on more fat weight than you want, increase the intensity of your workouts and even add a little cardio back into your regimen if you want to. Also, before you make that call, get an outside perspective. Don’t simply look in the mirror because you’ll think you’ve gained too much fat. Bodybuilders are notoriously overly critical of themselves and, like a person suffering from anorexia, can see more fat on their frames than is really there. Actually get your body fat measured by a professional to see where you’re at so you don’t go overboard trying to cut fat and end up losing muscle.

No, Muscle and Fat Don’t Metamorphose

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You can’t turn fat into muscle, but you can replace one with the other using a combination of diet and exercise. Image by Maggi Bautista

A myth related to gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time is that you can turn fat into muscle–or the reverse, that if you don’t exercise and eat right, your muscle will turn into fat. Although many exercise programs, diet plans, and workout equipment salespeople claim they have the secret for turning fat into muscle, according to Bodybuilding.com, that’s an impossible feat. Fat and muscle are two very different tissues, and one cannot become the other.

One can replace the other, however, and you can replace fat with muscle when you reduce calories and carbs and increase protein. For anyone starting at square one in preparing for a bodybuilding meet, the expert advice is to bulk up initially, then shed the fat once you’ve met your muscle building goal. That means eating high protein throughout your training, but not worrying about cutting calories or carbs until you’re ready to start leaning up for the competition.

Train hard, stay clean!

–Matt

Taking Off the Last 10

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Last 10 pounds have you stumped? Don’t give up yet!

Applause, applause for everyone who stuck with their New Year’s Resolution and is working out and watching what they eat. According to Statistic Brain, you are in an elite group considering that almost 60 percent of people who make resolutions crap out after only one month. So, if you’re hanging in there more than three months later, good for you! You’ve likely seen some terrific results by now, even if you haven’t reached your ultimate goal. Don’t let that small detail convince you to quit now. If you’re down to your last 10 or 15 pounds of weight loss and have plateaued, here are some tricks you can try to move forward and hit your target. 

Adjust Your Eating

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Little adjustments such as eating smaller meals and/or eating more frequently throughout the day can get your metabolism burning again.

Nobody likes the word diet, so let’s say “eating plan” instead. If you’ve found an eating plan you can live with and even like, you might be loathed to make changes, but adjusting a few things about how you eat could be just what you need to lose a bit more weight. Prevention interviewed four women who successfully took off their last 10 pounds, and all of them did it by making small changes to their eating plans. One woman put more protein into her meals. Remember to stick to eating the same amount of calories, so you’ll need to cut back a bit on other food groups. Another didn’t do anything more than eat smaller portions–of the exact same foods she was cooking for her family. See? Nothing earth-shattering.  

Web MD recommends fiddling with the number of meals you eat, such as dividing your daily calories out over three meals and two snacks if you’re used to only eating three times a day. Bodybuilding.com says to eat homemade more often, and that might be the one tip that finally does the trick. According to the Orlando Sentinel, over half of U.S. adults eat at restaurants three times a week or more, and eating even just one meal out each day can make your weight go up by 2 pounds in a year. If you must eat out while you’re trying to lose weight, at least make healthy choices. Pick the leanest foods on the menu and commit to taking home half of the portion you’re served, instead of cleaning your plate.  

Tweak Your Workout

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If you aren’t already resistance training, give it a try. If you are, change up your routine to push your body back into fat burning mode.

Here’s the thing: you’ll get better weight loss results if you combine a healthy eating plan with exercise. Like it or not, them’s just the facts. So! If you’ve been trying to take it all off with diet alone, add a workout into the mix to jumpstart your metabolism. If you’re already working out, then changing up your routine will get your metabolism going again to finish off the final 10. Try a new workout and increase the intensity. You’ve heard us harping on HIIT for sometime now, but that’s only because it works. Switching to High Intensity Interval Training will give you more bang for your workout buck when you not only perform different exercises than you’re used to doing, but you do them with increased intensity in a format that’s been proven to kick your metabolism up a few notches and keep it burning for hours after you’re finished working out.  

Does it all sound too simple? Good. That means it’s doable. With a tweak here and an adjustment there, you can get rid of the last 10 pounds to hit your weight loss goal!

 

 

 

6 Health Issues That Cause Weight Gain

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Illness could be at the bottom of sudden, unexplained weight gain. Image by osseous

The human body is a complex piece of machinery. It runs well when everything is in perfect balance, but when illness strikes, the resulting imbalance can throw many elements out of whack, such as your weight. You might think you’re doing all the right things, but if you’ve experienced sudden, unexpected weight gain that you can’t seem to shed with any amount of diet adjustments and exercise, it’s probably time to see your doctor. Gaining weight is a symptom of a variety of different medical conditions but, with a complete physical and a thorough blood test, your doctor could diagnose an issue early enough to treat it effectively. Plus, you’ll be better able to manage your weight.

Malnutrition

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You can eat a lot but still be malnourished if you aren’t eating foods that provide the nutrition you need.

You might associate malnutrition with starving, but WebMD says the more accurate definition is not getting sufficient amounts of essential nutrients to maintain optimal health. That means that even if you’re eating three full meals a day, you still won’t get adequate nutrients if those meals are made up of the wrong foods. According to MSN Health, not getting proper nutrition can slow down your digestion and metabolism which can cause significant weight gain. Malnutrition is one of the easier issues to deal with. Just start eating healthier, even if it means consulting a dietician.

Ovarian Conditions

Cysts in the ovaries can make it difficult to conceive, but polycystic ovary syndrome (also known as PCOS) can also cause weight gain. Health website NHS Choices says PCOS causes a frustrating cycle of putting on weight which triggers the body to produce excess insulin, which causes more weight gain, which causes more insulin production…you get the idea. The weight gain with PCOS will sometimes respond to diet adjustments and increased exercise, but many times prescription medication is required to get a handle on the problem.

Cushing’s Syndrome

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Weight gain is one symptom of Cushing’s Syndrome, a disease that can be brought on with the use of steroidal medication.

Not many people are at risk of developing Cushing’s Syndrome. The National Institutes of Health that as few as two to three people in a million are diagnosed each year. Steroid medications or tumors can cause Cushing’s Syndrome. One of the effects of the disease is heightened levels of cortisol, which is a well-known cause of weight gain. The good news is that identifying the factor at the root of the disease can help get the weight off. Removing the tumor or adjusting or changing medication should result in easier weight loss.

Thyroid Issues

03091704We talked about hypothyroidism a few weeks back, but any condition that affects the thyroid’s ability to function properly will also affect weight. In addition to hypothyroidism, Healthline lists Hashimoto’s Disease as another thyroid condition that can cause weight gain. Hashimoto’s Disease can actually damage the thyroid, and that is when you’ll notice the pounds aren’t coming off as easily as in the past. Any time the thyroid isn’t functioning as it should, medication may be required. Working closely with your doctor as well as getting enough rest, eating healthy, and exercising are the best ways to deal with weight gain due to thyroid conditions.

Depression and Other Emotional Disorders

03091706Your overall health can be affected by your emotions, and dealing with issues such as depression (including postpartum depression) and bipolar disorder often bring weight gain along with distressing emotional symptoms. The hormones your body produces when your mood is negative can slow down your metabolism and increase your appetite, a combination guaranteed to make you gain weight. Plus, when you’re depressed or going through a manic low, you probably won’t be inclined to work out. The ironic thing is that working out and eating healthier can make you feel better emotionally. That’s not to say that medication isn’t required, especially in extreme cases, but the exercise/diet adjustment combo is worth a try as part of treating the condition and, as a side-effect, it will help take the pounds off.

Cancer

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Image by Steve Davis

Not to incite a freak-out, because not all weight gain can be attributed to cancer, but sometimes it can. Cancers that can affect hormones, such as ovarian or pituitary cancers, will also affect body weight. Naturally, treating a condition as serious as cancer takes precedence over losing weight, but the healthy diet doctors recommend for cancer patients will help. Often, the weight of the tumors themselves accounts for part of the weight gain, so removing them results in instant weight loss. With the tumor gone, it will no longer affect hormones that influence weight gain.

Want to Lose Weight and Shape Up? Take a Break!

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Use your work breaks for exercise–you’ll shape up and still have time to pour a cup of coffee to take back to your desk.

Among WebMD‘s top excuses for not working out, not having the time and simply not wanting to (“I don’t like to move…”) are probably the most common. Yet, whatever justifications you use, you know as you’re uttering them that you really do need to exercise. It’s understandable for work to get in the way of physical fitness and not to want to give up off-work hours to do something you don’t want to do, so exercise breaks are the logical answer. Instead of hitting the break room for a cappuccino and a cruller during your twice-daily breaks, use them to get fit. Between the morning and afternoon breaks, you’ll get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day, and there will still be enough time to pour yourself a cup of coffee afterward, though you may not need it after exercising. The best part? You won’t have to forfeit your lunch hour or your evening.

Fitness Break Rules

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Set your watch or computer alarm to remind you when it’s time for a Fitness Break.

You need a plan if you’re going to make fitness breaks work for you, and you’ll have to stick to the plan, too. If you don’t take breaks on a set schedule, set the alarm on your watch, phone, or computer for mid-morning and mid-afternoon to remind you when it’s time for a fitness break. Then decide what type of workout you’ll do. Do you want to do 10 minutes of plyometrics? 10 minutes of yoga?  10 minutes of body weight exercises? Or maybe you want to challenge yourself to master one specific exercise like Leah Wynalek did. In an article for Prevention, Wynalek talks about taking push-up breaks for a month to enhance upper body strength and conquer the exercise she’d never been able to do.

One more helpful hint: write down the workout, whatever it is. If you’ll be doing more than one exercise during your breaks, having it in writing will help you remember everything, so you don’t waste time or skip an exercise. More than that, however, having it in writing will help you stick to the plan so it’s more likely you’ll achieve your goal, according to Forbes.

A Fitness Break Workout

Whatever workout you choose to do on your break will be effective, and the options you have are endless. If you’re at a loss for ideas, Fitness has a ton of ideas–everything from a 10-minute belly dancing routine to tone your tummy, to calorie blasters and metabolism boosting workouts. Here’s one to get you started, a 10-minute workout similar to the one fitness expert Ben Greenfield shared with the Huffington Post

  • 50 step jacks or jumping jacks
  • 15 push-ups
  • 15 side lunges, per side
  • 15 body triceps presses
  • 15 prisoner squats

Dealing With a Cervical Herniated Disc

Neck injuries can be sudden, or they can creep up on you. Maybe you wiped out on your rollerblades and, other than a scraped elbow and some overall soreness, you didn’t think you were injured. Then, after an aggressive workout a couple of months or even years later, you start experiencing pain and weakness in your shoulders and arms and possibly tingling in your hands. While it could be a new injury brought on by the workout, it could also be the old injury coming back to haunt you if a disc in your neck became herniated after your fall.

A cervical herniated disc, also known as a bulging disc, isn’t a condition that will go away quickly on its own, especially if you continue to try to push through the pain and work out. A short break from some exercise is required, and you should absolutely see a doctor or chiropractor for treatment so you can recover as soon as possible.

Injuries Not Required

Image by Beth Punches

Sports injuries, like a rollerblade wreck, can easily cause a disc in the neck area of your spine to become herniated. However, Spine Health reveals that those pesky discs can spontaneously start bulging for no apparent reason in people over the age of 30. However you acquire the condition, the result is the same. The inner, gel-like core of a disc sitting between two vertebrae squeezes out and presses up against the nerves in your spine. Because of the tight fit between your neck and spinal cord, it doesn’t even have to be much of a bulge to cause pain to run down your shoulders, through your arms, and into your hands.

Treating a Herniated Cervical Disc

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Chiropractic treatment can be an effective way to control pain caused by a herniated cervical disc. Image by Michael Dorausch

You might try to tough it out for a day or two, but the pain that’s a symptom of your condition will likely have you calling the doctor. That’s all for the best because the sooner you get treatment, the sooner you can get back to life as usual. Whether you consult a medical doctor who specializes in treating the spine or a chiropractor, either will likely prescribe rest from strenuous activities for at least a few days–maybe longer, depending on the severity of your condition. Giving up your workouts can be almost as hard to deal with as the pain, but relieving the pain is top priority and will mean you can get back to exercising.

As for actual treatment, WebMD says that conservative, nonsurgical treatment is usually the first thing doctors recommend and, unless the injury is severe, it’s best to try to avoid surgery. Over the counter medications are typically sufficient for relieving inflammation and pain, but your doctor may prescribe something stronger if aspirin or ibuprofen aren’t cutting it. He might also fit you with a soft collar to apply traction to your neck which draws the vertebrae apart enough to pull the bulging disc away from your spinal cord. Your doc may also refer you to a physical therapist to learn some exercises that will protect and strengthen your neck, or he might even show you how to do them himself.

Exercises to Avoid, Exercises to Do

No. You read that right. Part of your treatment for a bulging disc in your neck is exercising, but not necessarily the hardcore, heavy resistance you’re used to. According to LIVESTRONG, you’ll need to avoid activities that put pressure on your neck, arms, and shoulders, as well as ones that strain your spine in general. You’ll probably find it next to impossible to lift your arms over your head when you have a herniated cervical disc, but you shouldn’t be lifting anything over your head with that condition anyway. If not being able to exercise makes you crazy, do some cardio on the elliptical. Because it’s practically zero-impact and you remain erect while working out on an elliptical machine, it’s the preferred way to exercise with a neck injury. A stationary bike is fine, too, as long as you remain upright and don’t lean forward. Doing so puts you in a position to crane your neck back, which will aggravate the injured disc.

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Your doctor or PT will have you do lateral neck bends for a bulging disc in your neck.

But what about these exercises that your doctor will want you to do?  HealthLine lists a few neck-friendly exercises and stretches including

  • head lifts
  • chin tucks
  • neck extensions
  • lateral neck bends
  • neck rotations
  • scalene stretches

Doctors and physical therapists alike have found MacKenzie exercises to be effective for helping eliminate pain from the extremities so the disc can become better. Unfortunately, herniated discs don’t really heal, although you can manage them with proper exercise and lifestyle modification. Yes, that means you may not be able to compete in powerlifting meets anymore and will have to do your neck stretches and exercises as often as you do a resistance workout. If that means your disc will slide back and stay where it belongs, leaving you pain-free, it’s worth it.

Strengthening Your Neck

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Shoulder shrugs done with resistance bands are as effective as dumbbell shrugs, but they aren’t as likely to aggravate your injury.

Take advantage of the times when your herniated disk isn’t acting up by incorporating neck-strengthening exercises into your routine. Building up the muscles in your neck and shoulders will support your cervical spine to minimize opportunities for the disk to bulge again. According to Bodybuilding.com, some effective exercises are

  • barbell and dumbbell shrugs
  • front dumbbell raises
  • side lateral raises

Even if you favor free weights as your preferred form of resistance, consider working out with resistance bands the first couple of weeks after your doctor has released you to exercise again. Bands are as effective as iron but won’t be as stressful on your neck, shoulder joints, and tendons.

Losing Weight With Hypothyroidism

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Gaining weight that’s hard to take off is one effect of a malfunctioning thyroid.

Last week, a reader reached out and requested help with losing weight. While that is a typical issue we deal with all the time, this person is dealing with a not-so-typical roadblock: hypothyroidism. According to Web MD, it’s a disorder of the thyroid gland, also known as underactive thyroid disease. When the thyroid doesn’t perform as it should, not producing enough thyroid hormone in this case, all kinds of health issues can arise including slowed heart rate, fatigue, inexplicable weight gain and difficulty taking weight off.

The fatigue and slowed heart rate alone can make you want to skip exercising, or will at least interfere with how vigorously you go at it, but exercise is one of the four key things you can do to control your weight with hypothyroidism. With your body working against you, you have more of a challenge ahead of you than other people do, so don’t get discouraged if your progress is slow at first. If you get serious about doing the things that can help you lose weight, you really will see results.

Work Closely With Your Doctor

Your doctor is a valuable partner in the quest to lose weight with hypothyroidism. Image by Vic

Even under normal circumstances, everyone’s body is different. That’s why different exercise regimens and diets affect everyone differently. If you have hypothyroidism, getting your doctor’s input every step of the way on your path to weight loss will help you tailor a program that works for you. Let your doctor know how your medication is affecting you, such as how it makes you feel and the ways you see your body reacting. He should be checking your reverse T3 levels on a regular basis anyway and may adjust your prescription a few times to get it right. Also, make sure he knows about other medications you are on as well as vitamins and supplements you’re taking. Discuss planned dietary changes and the type of workout you’d like to do, as well. Your doctor may have some helpful advice for you in both areas.

Fine Tuning Your Diet

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Reduce processed foods and get more lean protein, whole grains, and fresh vegetables to fine tune your diet and encourage weight loss if your thyroid isn’t working right.

One of the problems with hypothyroidism that makes it hard to lose weight is that the hormonal imbalance it causes affects the signals your body sends to your brain. One of those signals is hunger, and you may find yourself craving carbs or thinking you’re hungry when your body really doesn’t need the fuel. You do still need a reasonable amount of calories, though, so going on a reduced calorie diet isn’t the answer. According to Dr. Kent Holtorf, doing so when you have hypothyroidism can reduce your metabolism and keep it burning slow (in starvation mode) years after you ditch the diet and increase your caloric intake.

The solution is to continue to eat the number of calories you need to function and keep your body healthy but make them quality calories. Avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and products made with white flour including pasta, pastries, and bread. Structure meals to include quality protein, fresh vegetables, and healthy fats–go organic, if you can. Also, Everyday Health points out that digestive function can be slowed along with metabolism for people who have hypothyroidism. To help with digestion as well as keep you from overeating, cut your meal size, but increase the number of times you eat in a day, eating smaller but more frequent meals.

Move It to Lose It

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If hypothyroidism leaves you drained, resistance exercises are effective for helping with weight loss.

OK, we just told you not to go on a reduced calorie diet, so here is where you burn those “extra” calories instead of cutting them. If hypothyroidism has you feeling too fatigued to do a HIIT class, start out slow and go for a walk instead. If you have the energy, kick it up a notch and do an aerobics class or turn that walk into a jog or run. Once you start exercising, you’ll have more energy and will eventually be able to increase the intensity of your exercise. Experts advise that resistance training is just as important for your health–and even more so with hypothyroidism patients–as cardio is, so you should include regular weight lifting or resistance band training days in your workout schedule. Plus, for those who just don’t have the energy for cardio, resistance training is an effective way to work exercise into your lifestyle. It burns extra calories and it builds lean muscle which, in turn, helps increase your metabolism to–that’s right!–burn even more calories. Once you have your energy back, resistance training in a HIIT format is ultra-effective for burning fat and building muscle.

Getcher Z’s

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Incorporate relaxing rituals into your bedtime routine, like taking a relaxing bubble bath. Image via Pretty Gossip

Hormonal imbalance typical with hypothyroidism can also interfere with sleep, but adequate sleep is essential for losing weight. In fact, a study done at the University of Chicago found that getting adequate rest increases the amount of fat you can lose with diet and exercise. Eating cleaner and exercising can help you get a better night’s sleep when you have hypothyroidism, but there are additional things you can do to get better quality sleep with an overactive thyroid to help take off those fat pounds. Everday Health suggests:

  • keeping your bedroom dark to stimulate your body’s melatonin production
  • turning the thermostat in your bedroom down, somewhere between 65 to 70°F
  • sleep on a supportive but comfortable bed, even if it means getting a new mattress
  • don’t eat a large meal right before bed, but do have a light snack of carbs if you’re feeling peckish
  • develop a calming bedtime routine and follow it every night, i.e.: listen to soothing music, soak in a warm bath, or read a book (a real one–not an ebook, because they have backlit screens that can make you feel more awake rather than relaxing you).

HIIT the SAQ to Supercharge Fat Burning and Beat Boredom

It’s only February, but if you’re already bored with your workout routine, a change is called for. We’ve talked before about the benefits of mixing it up when it comes to exercise. Doing so helps you meet your goals because it encourages your body to continue to burn fat, build muscle, or whatever you’re training for as well as keeping things interesting mentally, so you’ll be less likely to bail on exercising. 

PFC Bruce Case, with U.S. Army Europe’s Charlie Company, Brigade Support Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, improves his agility with cross-step drills during Mission Essential Fitness training in Bamberg, 21 April 2011.(U.S. Army Europe photo by Mark Ray)

PFC Bruce Case knows that SAQ exercises are a great way to get in cardio exercise without getting bored. Image by U.S. Army Europe

The cardio part of your workout can be difficult to change satisfactorily, however. Sometimes it feels like you’ve done it all: running, biking, rowing, aerobics classes, swimming…In the quest to keep things interesting, it’s time to HIIT the SAQ. Speed, Agility, and Quickness drills are nothing new. Soccer, basketball, and football players and many other athletes have been doing them forever. While some use special gear for their SAQ workouts, equipment is not required. You can do most of the exercises anywhere with assistance from nothing more than a clock with a second hand. You’ll need that to keep track of the time you spend working out and the time spent resting between rounds. Performing SAQ in this way delivers a double benefit: you’ll increase your fat burning capabilities plus you’ll improve your agility and speed, too. 

Using SAQ for HIIT

You can turn almost any workout into High Intensity Interval Training by doing a set of exercises quickly and for time (as many reps as possible within a predetermined timeframe) and taking a short rest between exercises. So, it’s logical that you can take a set of SAQ exercises and do them in a HIIT format. The bursts of intense activity combined with short breaks are what kick up your metabolism for efficient fat burning and weight loss. 

SAQ Exercises

If you’re not familiar with exercises for speed and agility, you’ll have a hard time putting a workout together. Loads of football and soccer websites such as Total Soccer Fitness and Training offer sample workouts and exercise suggestions. There are the basic, better-known training moves such as ladder drills, squat jumps, and step jacks (a walking jumping jack, forward two steps, then backward two). Add in skaters, plyo split lunges, and lateral lunges, and you have enough exercises for an effective workout.  

For example, do three 30-second rounds of ladder drills with a 10 to 15-second rest between each one, then do three 30-second rounds of squat jumps, resting 10 to 15 seconds between. Continue on through each exercise, completing as many reps as possible during the 30 seconds of work. With a 45 second warm up and cool down on either side of your workout, that gives you an intense 15-minute regimen that should be easy to fit into any schedule. 

When Should You SAQ?

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Your body needs fuel before and after a SAQ workout, so have a light snack of carbs pre-exercise, then eat some protein afterward–eggs and turkey bacon are a great choice for an effective recovery meal.

When you do your SAQ workout is up to you, but if first thing in the morning is the only time you can exercise, don’t do it before breakfast. For the longest time, conventional training advice was that you could maximize fat burn by working out in the morning on an empty stomach. It might sound logical but, science doesn’t back that up. First off, if you’re performing HIIT workouts, you’re already enhancing after-burn–continuing to burn calories even after you’ve stopped working out. According to a study published in Sports Medicine, the type of fuel your body burns post-workout depends on what kind it burns during the workout. Basically, if you burn carbohydrates during your workout, your body will switch to burning fat afterward, and burning fat during a workout will cause your body to use carbs later on.

What’s more, you can only benefit from doing cardio on an empty stomach by going at a low intensity for an extended amount of time. How extended? A different study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that “fasted” workouts produced no difference in amounts of fat calories burned until after an hour and a half. That means you’d have to work out at a lower intensity six times longer than if you just did SAQ exercises in a HIIT workout. Bottom line, grab a light snack of carbs before your workout, then eat some protein and a few more carbs afterward. Your body will be fueled and primed to burn more calories more efficiently, and you won’t be bored with your new, quick and easy workout.