Tag Archives: personal health

It’s Not a Burden: The Benefits of Wearing A Mask During Gym Training

The author in his mask at the gym

Okay, so most of us live somewhere where a mask is required in any indoor public place. Assuming your state hasn’t closed all gyms (hello, California!), many see this as a huge bummer while working out at the gym.

In fact, gyms have been the most difficult offenders regarding enforcement of indoor mask policies. People just don’t want to wear them while doing intense exercise (though many local governments have permitted mask removal when performing cardio exercise on a machine).

Instead of seeing the required use of a mask as a burden or shackles holding you prisoner to The Man… recognize the two key training benefits wearing a mask is providing you.

  1. Constricted breathing trains your breathing

The biggest complaint about masks in gyms is that you need to breathe harder to exercise, and the mask interferes with breathing. I’m not going to pull punches: Yes, masks by design constrict your breathing. The intent is to keep any germs you have out of the public airspace, but the flip side is that it makes taking air in more difficult. Your lungs themselves don’t have muscles, so the associated core muscles that keep them going have to do more work.

However, because your associated lung muscles are working harder per breath, this is actually a workout for those muscles. You are effectively making your breathing stronger, and once you can train and compete without a mask you will improve your overall oxygen intake.

Many people don’t breathe, take in oxygen during exercise, as effectively as they could. Wearing a mask will force your body to adapt your breathing patterns and muscle usage to maximize oxygen intake.

Even though it wasn’t the intent of the law, this policy is actually helping you get stronger and better.

  1. The mask is to some degree an air filter

So while the mask obviously won’t stop most viruses from getting into your windpipe, they do however filter out dust, allergen and dirt particles you otherwise would have breathed in.

Recall that people in heavily polluted Chinese and Indonesian cities walk around in public wearing these masks. The masks do filter out most if not all of the pollutants in your immediate airspace.

Most don’t realize that indoor air is generally far more polluted and dirty than outdoor air. The air is enclosed and very few people and businesses employ ground-level air filtration systems. Most don’t clean or replace their HVAC air filters more than once every few years, if ever. The air you breathe indoors is often rather unhealthy.

In fact, if you don’t own one already, I recommend you buy a cheap electric air filter for your home, at least for your bedroom if not other rooms you frequently use. Also, if you can keep them alive, get some house plants: They also help a bit with air quality. But I digress….

Your mask is actually cleaning the gym air you’re breathing in. By being forced to wear one, you have improved the quality of the air you breathe during gym workouts (and of course you breathe more heavily during these workouts, needing more oxygen) by a lot. Again, this was not an intent of the mask policy, but it is a useful and healthy side effect.


So instead of getting mad about having to wear a mask, recognize the unintended ways that it’s actually helping you train healthier and get better.

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A Truth About Coaching and Personal Training

Where most people really need to work on themselves is in:

  • The Kitchen. The oft cited, never sourced adage is that 80% of your body comp depends on your diet, and abs are made in the kitchen. Debate the stats all you want but this is the truth. You can’t outwork a sub-optimal diet.
  • The Bedroom. (I don’t mean hanky panky either.) People need to get better sleep. Even well-trained athletes struggle to get consistent, high quality sleep. A lack of high quality sleep produces a snowball effect of stress, hormonal deprivation, and general fatigue that follows you wherever you go.
  • Their own minds. We all have our motivations, insecurities, anxieties, that drive us or hold us back. For many people, whatever they think they’re going to find in the gym or in therapy/medication is something they need to reconcile within themselves. It can be a general insecurity, something bad from the past, etc.

This is a fundamental issue I discovered with the use of personal training, even as I was studying to become a CPT. For the vast majority of people I could end up working with, I could only address the at-best ancillary concern of developing a workout program. I could not address let alone solve the underlying problems behind why they felt they needed it. And I cannot reconcile the salesman’s mindset to take their money because those underlying problems ultimately don’t matter as much as the need to train.

This is not totally the industry’s fault by any means. Trainers are just trying to earn a living. You paying for personal training pays their bills. Don’t take this as a fundamental indictment of personal trainers. Hell, all trainers are battling the exact same challenges I just listed. These needs and challenges are just as true for CPTs.

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Thinking about the Wim Hof Method of breathing

https://www.ratemds.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Feature-Foto-Blog-Wim-Hof.jpeg
Here is Wim Hof relaxing in some ice cold weather while wearing almost nothing, thanks to the positive warming effects of his signature breathing technique

A Dutchman named Wim Hof has created a unique breathing method that effectively supercharges your body.

I first learned about the breathing technique years ago from this 2016 Men’s Journal post from Scott Carney. Carney was posting an excerpt from a book he was releasing, but I was more drawn to the idea of a breathing method not only warming you up in Chicago (where I lived and ran during the deadest of winters), but also hyper-oxygenating your blood and better equipping yourself to perform athletic feats.

The Wim Hof Method is basically this:

  • You forcefully breathe in, out, and again, for 30 repetitions where each inhale and exhale only lasts a second.
  • After the 30th exhale, you then hold your “breath”, or in this case lack thereof, for as long as you reasonably can.
  • Finally, when you need to breathe, inhale only halfway, then hold this breath for 15 seconds.
  • Exhale, then take a normal deep breath. Breathe normally.

Ideally, you do this whole sequence about three times. The idea is that your blood oxygen kicks up to the max during the 30 strong breaths. Then the lack of oxygen as you hold your exhale drops your blood oxygen so rapidly that stress hormones kick in and this provides a ton of benefits. Plus, once you’re breathing again, your body becomes a lot more efficient at absorbing and utilizing the oxygen drawn for a short while after.

Carney mentioned being able to perform dozens of push ups beyond his typical means after doing the Method. Personally, while intrigued at that, I was also intrigued at the accounts of being warm while shirtless in ice cold weather. I didn’t plan on shedding any clothes during winter workouts, but I liked the idea of being warmer.

At first, I tested the breathing warm-up before Racing Team workouts on Wednesdays in the summer and fall. While I’m not totally sure how much it helped my performance, I certainly performed well in those speed workouts. I liked going out to the meeting point early on workout days, and this was a good warm-up to do while waiting for everyone else to straggle over.

I’ve used it periodically since. It was never something I adopted religiously. Often I did it when I felt I needed to improve my energy before a tough workout: I always did these after work, and energy levels generally aren’t the highest on a weekday at 6pm. If it was going to help improve oxygen intake and usage, then why not try it.

I’ve definitely used it before winter races or post-work runs, when temperatures were below freezing and I simply was not warm. I think it helped a good portion of the time, though so did starting to run and getting 15-30 minutes into said run. Still, if at a start line and it was going to be a while before we could go, I definitely practiced the method, and I do think it helped some.

I’m not looking to draw any sort of study or conclusion from the Wim Hof Breathing Method. I think, regardless of what conditions you run in, it’s worth a shot… provided you’re careful about how long you hold that exhale after the 30 breaths. You obviously don’t want to pass out or suffocate by accident.

I’ll recommend you do what I did when I first started: Pick a pre-determined amount of time to hold that exhale that you know you can handle, and start with that. I would start by trying for 30 seconds (and obviously, nothing wrong with chickening out at 15-20 if you find it’s getting rather tough). Over time, you can gradually increase the time held as you get comfortable or begin to find holding that exhale too easy.

Obviously, in Las Vegas, I have no need to get warmer. And right now I’m not running a whole lot.

However, I noticed my sleeping oximeter levels (91-93%) are lower in Las Vegas than they were in the Midwest (though my waking oxygen levels are well above 95% like they should be). Some of that is the high altitude and dry air, sure, but it’s a concern. I am also mindful of the lung and breathing risks that could come with Coronavirus.

I wouldn’t mind practicing the Method just to improve my general oxygen availability, not to mention recalibrate my body to maximize any potential benefits from a shortage of oxygen. Re-reading writing about Hof’s method does tip me off that maybe my periodic lower levels during sleep are also suppressing inflammation in the body and promoting healing. They tend to drop lower during deep sleep periods, per my tracker. Can this “practice” with the Method help enhance that effect or provide it during waking time?

In any case, the Method is worth a try, especially now with me focusing on strength training and less on running for now.

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Ten Things You Should Do To Survive the 2nd Wave of Coronavirus

This is not necessarily a post about running, but more of a general health post. To some extent it definitely applies to everybody.

With regard to the Coronavirus and our continued lockdowns, I think re-opening society now is the right decision, even though I am certain a new dangerous wave of COVID-19 will hit the world in the fall or winter. And I don’t think it will make much difference how much we’re outside our homes during summer. Though instituting lockdowns was probably a smart decision, staying locked down now isn’t benefitting us.

We are actually a lot safer mingling in hotter conditions, especially given most will want to do so outdoors. As with most illnesses, the public exposure risk of Coronavirus is largely tied to people being confined together in close quarters for extended periods of time.

While the virus is continuously mutating and other strains of the virus are spreading now, these current mutations are not as substantially dangerous as the wave that forced our lockdowns in March. Our immune systems are equipped to handle it. However, I do believe a new wave will come later this year that probably will be dangerous and kill many.

Your health is the key

I also realize that the vast majority of the people who have died from the Coronavirus carried a variety of other health problems:

  • Many were of elderly age
  • Many are overweight or obese
  • Many have other contributing health problems that led to COVID-19 killing them

Some health problems aren’t necessarily curable or preventable. Obviously, you can’t avoid getting old. Of course, some chronic health conditions are not preventable. Immuno-compromising conditions make getting any illness or health issue a potential grave danger.

However, a lot of health conditions stem from obesity, poor diet and poor lifestyle habits. All of the above are avoidable and (at least over a long period of time) curable.

Anyone significantly concerned about the Coronavirus, whether they feel personally at substantial risk or believe that loved ones are at substantial risk, needs to approach this summer as their one opportunity to safeguard themselves against a likely 2nd wave of Coronavirus this winter.

If you’re out of shape… if you’re overweight… if your diet is poor… if you have health conditions stemming from any of the above… now is the time to tackle your personal health and improve these issues as best you can now, before the next seriously dangerous wave of the virus strikes later this year.

The 10 Things That Can Help You Survive A 2nd Coronavirus Wave

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Avoid the Novel Coronavirus (and other illnesses)

Coronaviruses are in general quite common. You may actually get one once every year or two. However, we’re experiencing mass panic over the current novel coronavirus strain, which has killed a few thousand people in China among the many thousands infected, and sent entire nations into a panic.

There are a handful of truths regarding this novel coronavirus:

  • Most of the people who contract the worst form of the novel coronavirus will make a full recovery without any required medical intervention, just like most people who get a common cold or the flu.
  • The death rate of the novel coronavirus is actually quite low. About 1-2% of people who have reportedly tested positive for it have died from it, and almost all of the deaths have been in China and Italy, where tens of thousands (again, nearly all known cases) have been diagnosed. Virtually all of the people who have died from the novel coronavirus either have seriously compromised immune systems or live in abjectly unsanitary conditions (and that’s assuming all stats are accurate, which is highly questionable). Sure, I’d be worried about the health of either population, but the vast majority of those reading this are in a much better situation.
  • Regardless of anything anyone does, there’s little people can do to prevent its overall spread, quarantines or not. It’s an airborne virus, and a common type of virus at that. It’s like trying to eradicate or quarantine the flu or common cold. Good luck.
  • The current quarantines are more a product of systemic panic than necessity.
  • Other governments are semi-thoughtlessly following in kind with their own over-reaching quarantines, not realizing they’re parroting a needless overreaction from a totalitarian government. This never minds major events that have elected to cancel said events in response to the hysteria. In most cases, they’re making a panic-driven mistake.

All of this said, this novel coronavirus strain is worth concern, the same way any major flu strain or flu season is worth concern.

As always, there are things you can and should do to safeguard yourself from illness and give your body the best chance to flush and resist that illness should it find its way into your system.

However, I have useful advice beyond the standard “wash your hands, take your vitamin C, avoid crowds, etc”. Here are some tips for you to help your body and immune system withstand any potential exposure to any illness, not to mention the novel coronavirus.

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Losing weight and specific needs with training

After returning to Las Vegas, I gained about 15 pounds before arresting what was clearly not a positive trend.

I have since lost about 5 of those extra pounds and am working on the rest, while also training for the Vancouver Marathon. I had to first correct the most important factor behind that weight change: Diet. I like my family’s home cooking, but they like to eat too much. I had to correct any controllable eating patterns I had fallen into, and eat better quality food as well as eat less of it.

I had eating patterns that made sense for me living in Chicago, where I traveled everywhere on foot and trained at a higher volume of running than now. Living in Las Vegas, where I now need to drive just about everywhere, and didn’t need to walk nearly as much, I needed to pare down how much I ate.

Still, even ramping up mileage in training for Vancouver, even now that life’s gotten a lot busier between my CPT study and work demands… I struggle quite a bit to get my scale weight to move downward.

I decided to look towards history for answers… and by history I mean my own personal history:

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Training progressions, stabilization, and running health

I’m learning a borderline unfathomable amount of information from my Personal Trainer course, and a lot of it applies just as well to running as it does to general strength training.

It’s hard to get into much of what I’m learning right now, especially given I’m studying for new material through the accelerated program and I need to focus on processing all that information on top of still trying to ingrain the previous information.

One thing that sits with me is the NASM structure to training progression known as the OPT model. The basic premise is that, before you should work on maximizing strength and athleticism, you first need to work on and improve the stabilization of your existing muscle systems.

The idea is that your muscles have some natural imbalances, and jumping right into swolework or athletic drills not only can risk injury but also further solidify and thus complicate those imbalances.

Someone with an incredible amount of strength or athletic development might actually be surprisingly weak in a key core muscle group, and if this person has recurring injury or performance problems that weakness could be a key factor in their problems. It may seem like a step back to work solely on stabilization basics, but in reality improvement here avoids bigger, longer setbacks in more serious situations.

Going back to running… even prior to this training, I could watch someone run for a few moments and immediately point out what kind of injury problems they either have dealt with or will deal with. I could see mechanically what was limiting them.

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