Sunday, January 20, 2008

Never Too Cold to Exercise

On days like today, when the Green Bay Packers are playing the New York Giants in temperatures of -23ºF, one can wonder if there is ever a time when it's too cold to exercise.

The answer from experts: No.
(The answer from my friends Alicia and Karen: Chris, are you out of your mind????)

But back to the experts. John W. Castellani, an exercise physiologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, says heat causes more injury to athletes than the cold ("Too Cold to Exercise? Try Another Excuse," New York Times, January 17, 2008).

The key I have found, and experts agree, is dressing for success. Wear the right clothes: warm and dry makes a difference. Layer to prevent overheating with layers that can be adjusted as the athlete warms up, wear a hat, consider gloves and wear lip balm.

(Hint: cotton t-shirt under a cotton sweatshirt covered with a windbreaker won't help, no matter how many t-shirts you wear. Trust me on this one; some of us make mistakes so others don't have to. Sweat means wet clothes, and wet means cold. Remember that sweat is designed to cool down your body.)

Layers should include clothing that wicks away moisture. Check athletic stores and catalogs for suggestions.

Never underestimate the power of the hat. The body's heat quickly escapes from your head, the part of your body that always has plenty of blood supplying your brain. Even on cool (not cold) days, I wear a headband that keeps my ears warm.

I don't wear gloves, but my shirts all have really long sleeves. Wait, I take that back: I wore gloves in Central Park when the temperature didn't quite reach the 20s.

When you step outside, you should be cool — not toasty warm, or you'll overheat.

If you're worried that you'll freeze your lungs by breathing frigid air, don't. Your body warms up your breath before it reaches your lungs. Dry air, however, is a problem, no matter the temperature; athletes with respiratory problems should visit their physicians for guidance.

Freezing air can be dangerous for extremities, such as ears and fingers. Beware frostbite and protect yourself with gloves, hats and, if it's bad enough, balaclava. However, watch for overheating (as noted above).

Finally, experts say to keep moving. Hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperatures drops below 96ºF, and exercise generates heat. Water, or sweat, takes heat away from the body, so don't overdress and don't wear clothing that stays wet from sweat.

So, don't stay inside out of fear. Take to the road, the field, the diamond, the track — and be safe and smart.

See you outside!
- Chris

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Brazilian Jui Juitsu: What's Up With That?

My 15-year-old son P.J. and I were watching the ultimate fighting championships and it seemed to me that most competitors were practicing what is known as Brazilian jui jitsu.

I also have seen athletes using Brazilian jui jitsu in many other sports competitions and contests.

I don't want to take away from these very talented, very dedicated martial artists. However, after doing further research and watching the ultimate fighting championships, I can't believe that these practitioners continue to win tournament after tournament.

To be a successful all-around fighter, grappling and groundwork are essential tools. However, I find it hard to believe that this in itself is a fight-winning practice. Most of the fighting begins with one opponent making a low reach to the other opponent's knees. I cannot imagine that no one has found a defense against this -- like simply jumping backward or kicking your opponent in the face when he goes down to grab your leg.

I know these fighters are tough and they train hard, and I really would not want to fight any of them. However, I find it hard to believe that Brazilian jui jitsu is considered one of the best combat forms of martial arts.

For the fans of the ultimate fighting championships, note that you never see a true kung fu stylist, aikido stylist or even a true muay thai fighter. There are better fighters out there who just are not competing.

So take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of all martial arts before deciding Brazilian jui jitsu is the ultimate.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thoughts on Fencing (per Reader Request)

I was lucky enough to do a little fencing many years ago. We practiced with foils.

Fencing teaches good balance and body posture. What I find most fascinating about fencing, however, is that the footwork is linear but the foil manipulation is circular.

If you have ever practiced Chinese martial arts, you have used techniques where you block a punch with a circular block then slide the blocking hand in for a strike. I think you will find some of these same principles in fencing.

Good luck, have fun and thank you for your comments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Picking the Right Martial Art for You

It's been a while since I have done a martial arts blog, so the next few entries will be martial arts-focused.

For the person just getting started: unless you are living in a big city, the styles of martial arts available for instruction are slim. However, with a little bit of knowledge, you can find the right martial art for you.

When determining which art you might want to study, take into account your personality type and body type.

Would you consider yourself a high-energy personality or low-energy personality?

If you are a high-energy person, first look at the external matial arts: judo, jui juitsu, tae kwon do, shotokan and ishin ryu. (These are the most common. There are others.)

Judo and jui juitsu are more wrestling styles than punching and kicking styles -- so if you are stocky and enjoy falling, throwing opponents and wrestling, these are the arts for you.

The other arts mentioned so far fall under "karate." What we need to know here is that tae kwon do is 70 percent feet and 30 percent hands. If you are more of a puncher than a kicker, this art is not for you.

There are differences in the other arts already mentioned, and I can discuss this further in future entries. All I will say right now is that some arts are more circular in motion while others move in a more linear direction.

For those of you with a low energy level -- luckily, there are only a few true internal martial arts: tai chi (including qi gong) aikido, hsin i and pa qua.

If punching and kicking are for you, I recommend tai chi or hsin i.

If you prefer to control your opponent with wrist locks and throws, you should try aikido.

Pa qua has a reputaion as being a devastating martial art with complex footwork.

If you are on the more agile side or have experience try to find a pa qua sifu (chinese teacher).

I could spend many bytes discussing this topic, but I hope this entry gave you some good basic information.

If you need more information, please leave comments below on this entry and I can provide more information in the future.

For M.C.

Sorry this took so long to write, MC, but here ya go.

Any time people go on a diet or start an exercise regime they almost always see results immediately. More times than not, however, they are going to plateau.

Here are a few key ingredients to lose that stubborn weight:
  1. Add weight training. This is the only true way to change the shape of your body. Weight training also allows your body to burn more calories for an extended period of time after you lift.
  2. On the days you do lift, lift before you do your cardio. This will allow your body to get to the fat burning stage of your cardio workout faster. Remember: it's really about a calorie balance. If you take in less than you burn, you have to lose weight. I also want to add: while you are at a heavier weight, the workout load is more intense. As you lose weight, the activity becomes easier -- hence the plateau.
  3. On all cardio workout days, be sure to add interval training. For example, while jogging, take a minute or two every quarter- or half-mile and add a sprint for a minute or two. This burns more visceral fat.
  4. This is for MC's friend: for your special medical concerns, be sure to drink extra fluids to stay hydrated. Also, do not run outside when the temperature drops to the 30s to preventexcessive (and possibly dangerous) dryness in your eyes and mouth.
If you need anything else please do not hesitate to ask. Just click on "comment" at the end of this entry.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Calories: A Primer

Happy New Year!

A lot of people will begin the year with a pledge to get in shape and improve their health.

Those are worthy goals — but ones that, from the fitness guru messages, workout DVDs and self-help and health books on the shelves, appear to be harder than it should be.

So let's start the year with a simple formula: calories = weight. It doesn't matter whether your calories come from sausage, bread, watermelon or latte after latte. Calories equal weight. If you consume more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

Cut your calories, you lose weight.

Boost your metabolism with exercise, burn more calories and feel better, and lose weight.

Now, having said that, realize that not all food is equal. Some food has a higher nutritional value than other food. The key is to eat food with a higher nutritional density: you can consume fewer calories while still ingesting the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. Make sure your plate has a good balance of color and texture.

Don't diet! "Diet" translates to "deprivation." Instead, increase the amount of healthy food you eat every day and decrease the food with little nutritional value — but don't deny yourself your favorite treats. Rather, allow yourself a taste from time to time. You don't have to have a sundae every night, but a spoonful or small scoop of strawberry ice cream (or better: ice cream with fresh strawberries, or frozen yogurt with fruit) a couple of times a week will curb your cravings and won't cost you all that much.

If you're really serious, keep a food diary and write down every single thing you eat — including the sugar in your coffee and those lemon drops you mindlessly consume every time you pass your co-worker's desk to get to the copy room. Once you see what you're really eating, you'll see how to adjust your food consumption accordingly.

So, go take care of yourself. Be honest with yourself, love yourself and put your health first this year. You deserve it.

- Chris