Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wake up to Water.

When we get up in the morning, the first thing that most of us do is rush to the kitchen to get our early dose of tea or coffee. I used to do the same until I was convinced otherwise when I read this article on my favorite health website

The reasoning is very simple. If we got a good nights sleep of 8 hours, it means our body was deprived of food and water during those 8 hours and we will be extremely dehydrated when we get up. So it makes perfect sense to hydrate our body first thing in the morning. Of course, there is no reason why we shouldn't drink our tea or coffee, but this should happen after drinking the water.

The amount of water that you drink first thing in the morning is important. It should be 2 glasses (around 500 ml). It has been scientifically proven that drinking around 480ml of chilled water in the morning boosts your metabolism by 24% for 90 minutes after you drink the water. This means:
  - You will burn more 24% more calories for 90 minutes without doing anything.
  - You prepare your body for the breakfast that will follow.

I know that drinking 2 whole glasses of water first thing in the morning is not easy. It took me couple of weeks to get adjusted to it. But now it is part of my daily routine.

I should also mention that drinking lots of water through out the day is also important. Make sure you drink at least 8 glasses of water during the day. More if you are doing workouts.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Interval Training

In my earlier post, I wrote about HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). HIIT will provide the fastest results in terms of fat loss and other fitness goals but the rewards come with significant risks that may not be acceptable to most individuals who have embarked on a fitness journey.

Once you start getting comfortable with running, (preferably with a solid foundation built using the couch-to-5k running program), you are ready to jump-start your fitness objectives with interval running.

Interval running is the more palatable form of intensity training. The basic premise used in HIIT (warm-up, series of intervals, and cool-down) still applies, but the focus of interval training is to run these intervals at a more acceptable speed (as opposed to all-out sprints witnessed in HIIT).

Let's see how this will work in practice. You will notice that the table that I have used here is almost identical to the one used in HIIT. The only difference is the timings.

Warm up Jogging10 minutes-
Run2 minutesRun at 80% of your maximum speed
Jog2 minutesLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Run2 minutesRun at 80% of your maximum speed
Jog2 minutesLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Run2 minutesRun at 80% of your maximum speed
Jog2 minutesLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Run2 minutesRun at 80% of your maximum speed
Jog2 minutesLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Run2 minutesRun at 80% of your maximum speed
Jog2 minutesLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Run2 minutesRun at 80% of your maximum speed
Cool down Jogging10 minutes-

That's 42 minutes total jogging/running. It might be challenging to most beginners but it is something you can aspire towards. If you are just starting off, you can easily modify the above formula to reduce the total time to around 20-30 minutes. For example, instead of 2 minutes, you can reduce the interval times to 1 minute each (which will result in 31 minutes total). Similarly, the warm-up and cool-down runs can be reduced from 10 minutes to 5 minutes, and so on.

Mix and match to suit your running requirements. The core objective here is to push your heart rate and bring it back down. Then keep repeating this for 4 to 8 times.

What are the benefits of interval training? Since you are alternating between jogging and fast running, you end up working both your heart (aerobic) during the jogging phase, and your muscles (anaerobic) during the fast running phase. If you would like to know more scientific details of the benefits of interval training, this article is highly recommended.

Since the duration of intervals is a bit longer, exact timing of the intervals is not very crucial. You can still use the Gymboss timer that I mentioned in HIIT, but you may be better off using a customized music mix that gives you audio cues when to start your intervals and when to slow down. This way, you can listen to some favorite music while doing the training. My favorite mixes are those created by Nike. These mixes can be purchased directly from iTunes and are specifically designed for interval running. The mixes are created by famous personalities like Lance Armstrong, Alberto Salazar etc.

Good luck.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Coopers Test

The "Coopers Test" is a test of physical fitness. According to Wikipedia, It was designed by Kenneth H. Cooper in 1968 for military use. The objective of the test is to run for 12 minutes and determine your fitness status by looking at the distance completed (based on your age and gender).

Running 12 minutes is very tricky. If you start off the test with a sprinting run, you'll burn out quickly and will not be able to keep the pace. If you run too slowly, you will not achieve a good distance in the alloted 12 minutes. So the key to running this successfully is to keep a nice and constant pace that can see you through the 12 minutes.

The following table is a guide to determine your fitness level based on the distance completed in the 12 minutes.

Cooper test (Athletes & Juniors)
AgeVery goodGoodAverageBadVery bad
13-14M2700+ m2400 - 2700 m2200 - 2399 m2100 - 2199 m2100- m
F2000+ m1900 - 2000 m1600 - 1899 m1500 - 1599 m1500- m
15-16M2800+ m2500 - 2800 m2300 - 2499 m2200 - 2299 m2200- m
F2100+ m2000 - 2100 m1700 - 1999 m1600 - 1699 m1600- m
17-20M3000+ m2700 - 3000 m2500 - 2699 m2300 - 2499 m2300- m
F2300+ m2100 - 2300 m1800 - 2099 m1700 - 1799 m1700- m
20-29M2800+ m2400 - 2800 m2200 - 2399 m1600 - 2199 m1600- m
F2700+ m2200 - 2700 m1800 - 2199 m1500 - 1799 m1500- m
30-39M2700+ m2300 - 2700 m1900 - 2299 m1500 - 1899 m1500- m
F2500+ m2000 - 2500 m1700 - 1999 m1400 - 1699 m1400- m
40-49M2500+ m2100 - 2500 m1700 - 2099 m1400 - 1699 m1400- m
F2300+ m1900 - 2300 m1500 - 1899 m1200 - 1499 m1200- m
50+M2400+ m2000 - 2400 m1600 - 1999 m1300 - 1599 m1300- m
F2200+ m1700 - 2200 m1400 - 1699 m1100 - 1399 m1100- m

Since I fall in the 40-49 age bracket and I am a male, I need to run more than 2500 meters to get the "Very Good" grade. Based on my run data that I post regularly to Nike website, I knew this was possible; if I increased the tempo of my runs.

I decided to give this test a try. To prepare for the run, I stopped running for 2 days to ensure that my body is fully rested. I went early morning on Saturday and did a nice 30 minute warm-up run. There were no aches and pains anywhere, so I decided to give it a shot. I hit the treadmill at 14kph and started my run.

Once I crossed 8 minutes, I knew I could hold the pace for the remaining 4 minutes, and perhaps even increase it in the last 2 minutes. And that is exactly what I did. I increased the speed to around 14.5 after 10 minutes, and really let it go in the last minute by cranking the speed up to 15kph.

How did I do?


That distance is good enough to get the "Very Good" grade even if I was half-my age. That is just incredible. I am patting myself with self-congratulatory taps and high-fiving imaginary friends.

The run did come with a very harsh lesson. Since I was using my iPhone 3GS to time the run and the distance, I needed to shut it down exactly at 12 minutes. The iPhone is a touch-screen device and it has no hardware buttons to act as a stop-watch. This mean I need to swipe the keyboard to unlock it, and then hit the stop button. It would be quite dangerous to do something like this while running at 15kph, so I decided to stop the treadmill (instead of gradually reducing the speed). Big Mistake!!. The sudden deceleration messed up my head. I could see things slowly going dark. Instinct made me hit the speed button on the treadmill so that I could start walking again and I slowly started walking again. It felt like I was in some kind of a dream and when I opened my eyes, I had no idea where I was and what I was doing there. It took me a few seconds to realize what happened. I was this close to falling over from the treadmill.

If I am to do this test again, I will only do with with someone else timing me - and after ensuring that he/she has an oxygen pack handy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I am feeling Blue - But in a good way.

Back in January, when I started using the Nike+ running system, I realized it was going to be an excellent motivational tool. The system encourages you to set goals, or join challenges with people from all around the world.

In addition to the above, it rewards your runs by assigning you a "level" depending on how many kilometers you have run. Levels (and the associated colors) are assigned as follows:

Yellow (0-49km, 0-30mi)
Orange (50-249km, 31-154mi)
Green (250-999km, 155-620mi)
Blue (1,000-2,499km, 621-1552mi)
Purple (2,500-4,999km, 1553-3106mi)
Black (over 5000km or 3107mi)

I just hit level "BLUE", which means I have run over 1000K since I started using the Nike+ system. Here's my run summary.
Running at an average of 5 minutes and 30 seconds for each kilometer (that's equivalent to running at 11kph on the treadmill), I have burned enough calories to drop my weight by 20 Kg (using the general rule of thumb that every 3850 calories you burn results in 1 kg of weight loss).

I started using the system in late January (a little less than 5 months ago), so it also means I have been running an average of 200 kilometers per month.

At this rate, I should hit the "PURPLE" level somewhere in February 2011.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)

What if you could spend just 3 minutes on exercise each day and get a rock-hard body that would make even a professional body-builder jealous? Would you do it?

If the answer to the above question is "Yes", then the solution is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). The basic idea of HIIT is to do a series of short bursts of intense runs with a recovery period between each run. The objective of HIIT training is to jump-start your metabolic rate to a super-high level and keep the rate high - long after the training session is completed.

Let's see how this would work in practice. The following table shows a typical example of a HIIT session.

Warm up Jogging3 minutes -
Sprint30 secondsRun at your maximum speed
Walk/Jog30 secondsLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Sprint30 secondsRun at your maximum speed
Walk/Jog30 secondsLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Sprint30 secondsRun at your maximum speed
Walk/Jog30 secondsLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Sprint30 secondsRun at your maximum speed
Walk/Jog30 secondsLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Sprint30 secondsRun at your maximum speed
Walk/Jog30 secondsLet your heartbeat slowly recover
Sprint30 secondsRun at your maximum speed
Cool down Jogging2 minutes -

The total time spent is 10.5 minutes, out of which only a measly 3 minutes is real exercise, 3 minutes is a warm-up jog, another 2 minutes for cool-down and another 2.5 minutes for the recovery between each run.

And that's all you need to do for around 3 to 4 times a week to torch away all the fat in your body and replace it with rock-hard muscles if you combine the above exercise routine with a proper diet!!. Sounds amazing, doesn't it?

So the question is: If this training is so effective, why is everybody not doing it? The answer, as it turns out, is very simple. If done exactly as prescribed above, it's freaking damn hard. Think of it this way: If you have not puked your guts out at the end of the session, you haven't done it properly. Even if you did not puke, your heart rate would have shot through the roof and you will be gasping for breath nearly an hour after the workout is completed.

You can vary the number of times (anything between 6 to 12 intervals is fine), and the duration (20 seconds to 1 minute should be the range) to keep your workouts varied and interesting. For example, you could run hard for 1 minute and recover for 2 minutes and repeat this for 8 times. It all depends on your fitness level and the torture you are willing to submit your body to.

Since the runs need to be exactly timed, a dedicated timer designed for HIIT sessions is a good investment. I purchased the Gymboss timer from Amazon. It's pretty easy to setup and allows you to define the number of intervals you wish to run, the duration of each run and the recovery period after each run. It's a tiny little gadget that clips to any part of your clothing.

Once it is setup, you do your warm-up run and hit the big button. It will emit a loud beep to indicate the start of your intense run and give another beep to tell you to recover and so on.

If a timer is not your thing, and you prefer to listen to customized music with orders barked to you through the headphone, you can try Workout Muse which creates customized HIIT audios.

The ideal place to do HIIT workouts is on an athletic field track or an open stretch of running area, that allows you to speed up to your maximum potential. Some people do HIIT workouts on treadmills or cross-trainers but these are not true HIIT workouts because it takes time for a treadmill to get up to speed and running at maximum speed on a treadmill is a disaster waiting to happen.

HIIT would be an excellent choice for me; to achieve my objectives for a six-pack, so you may ask me why I am not doing HIIT workouts. Well, I gave it a try. And as I mentioned above, it is just too darn hard. The risk of injury (running at 100% of your effort level) increases greatly. At my age, that risk is not acceptable.

I suggest HIIT workouts for younger people who are already is good shape and want to improve their strength and endurance without any muscle loss.

For the rest, a better alternative is Interval Training (which is what I do). I will explain about Interval Training in the next article. Interval training is a perfect balance between the extremes of HIIT workouts and sedentary jogging at a steady pace over a long duration.

Enjoy this fine example of a HIIT workout.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Are you a loser?

"The Biggest Loser" is a TV show that takes overweight contestants and gives them the tools (training and diet) to lose weight. The contestant that loses the most amount of weight wins the title of "The Biggest Loser", and lots of cash. When the show first started airing in Kuwait, I was immediately hooked (and inspired) by it.

The training of the contestants is overseen by Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels. Both have gained fame through the show, and are now fitness superstars in their own right. The spin-off from the TV show has resulted in plenty of fitness videos, books, and even video games

Because I love Bob Harper's holistic view on fitness, I decided to pick up a few of his fitness videos.

I had never tried home fitness videos before, so I was very surprised by the quality of these videos. I particularly love "The Boot Camp Workout". It's a six-week program that starts with a 30 minute workout (5 minute warm-up, 20 minute workout and 5 minute cool down). The workouts increase to 45 minutes in the 3rd and 4th week, and end up with 55 minutes in the last 2 weeks. 

These workouts are HARD!!. If you follow the instructions exactly as shown on the screen, you will be completely drenched half-way through the workout. The workouts are a combination of resistance training (using dumbbells and resistance bands) and cardiovascular workout. A medicine ball is also recommended, though not compulsory.

Even though I am focused on running these days, I still do these workouts once in a while. They are a  nice change from the regular running and gym workouts, and an excellent tool for those who don't have time to go to the gym.

RATING: 4/5.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nike+ Running System explained.

Earlier this year (somewhere in January 2010), I purchased the Nike+ system to keep track of my running and I have become addicted to it ever since. It has motivated me to run more and enjoy running at the same time.

Let me be clear. Nike+ system does not assist you in running. That is entirely all up to you. The system just records the distance that you run and allows you to keep track of your daily progress on the official Nike site. You can also join online challenges with other Nike+ runners, which in turn, motivates you in your running goals.

This official video from Nike+ explains how the system works.


1. The Sensor. The Sensor is a sort of a pedometer - though a highly sophisticated one. It is very accurate in detecting the pace, and distance run. When I do 10K run, the difference between the distance reported by the treadmill and the sensor is perhaps less than 100 meters. If you feel there is a problem in computing the distance, the sensor can be very easily calibrated.  Ideally, you should purchase Nike+ shoes that have a special pouch in the insole where the sensor sits comfortably. I have the Nike+ Bowerman series shoes that I find very comfortable for long distance running. I'll write about running shoes in another article.

If you don't want to use Nike+ shoes, you can use any regular running shoes, and place the sensor on the laces by using a simple strap-on pouch like this one from Marware. Some people just tie the sensor in a small plastic bag and tie it around the laces. My recommendation would be the Nike+ shoes.

2. The Receiver: This is where it gets a little complicated because there are different options available depending on your style of running. If you like to listen to music and also keep track of your running, then you need to buy either a iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch or iPod Nano. If you have an iPhone 3GS or an iPod Touch then you are good to go as the receiver is already built inside these 2 devices. You do not need anything further. However, if you want to go the iPod Nano route, then you need a separate receiver called the "Nike+ iPod Sports Kit". If you buy the sports kit, then you don't need the sensor, as it is bundled inside the kit.

If you don't want to listen to music while running,  you can buy the Nike+ Sports band that is sold by Nike. The sports band also comes bundled with the sensor so there is no need to buy the sensor separately.

So in Summary:
   1. If you have the iPhone 3GS or iPod touch, you need to buy the sensor.
   2. For iPod Nano, you buy the Nike+ iPod Sports Kit.
   3. For Nike+ Sports band, everything is bundled inside and you don't need anything else.

3. Start Running. Once you link your sensor to your device, you can start running. I use the iPhone 3GS for my runs, because it helps me to listen to music and also attend to the phone in case someone calls me up. Once I finish with the running, just upload the run data on your computer and it will automatically sync with the Nike running site

I am not a fan of the flash-heavy website, but it gets the job done. They also have a mobile optimized website that automatically shows up if you browse using a mobile device.

The website keeps track of all your runs and you can check your total runs, average running pace, calories burned etc. You can set targets (for example 100 kilometers in 1 month), and try to achieve the targets and earn medals.

The system has helped me keep fit and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to stay motivated in running.

Adidas has recently come up with their miCoach system, which is a more sophisticated version of the Nike+ system as it uses the heart rate monitor to better keep track of your running. I haven't tried it since I am addicted to the Nike+ system, and Nike has recently countered the miCoach with a heart rate monitor that integrates with the Nike+ system, so I will most likely buy that when it becomes available on Amazon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Couch-to-5k Running Plan.

When I decided to get back into shape, I followed the couch-to-5k running program. I might have not followed it exactly to the letter, but I followed the basic outline of the program to get back into shape.

The key to this program (and its success), is the gradual increase in intensity which allows your body to adapt slowly to the change, and reduce any risk of injury.

When it comes to fitness, the usual scenario goes something like this:
You make a new years resolution to get into shape. The very next day, you visit your favorite sports shop and pay for an expensive treadmill, the most expensive shoes that you can find and branded running clothes (not realizing that sports shops jack up their prices during new year to get suckers like you). You get the treadmill installed and decide to give it the best you've got. You run till you feel sore. The next 3 days, you hobble like a 90-year old and decide never to get back on the treadmill again. Your wife decides to use the treadmill as a clothes hanger.

Do you realize the main flaw in the above plan?

You just can't push your body from a sedentary lifestyle to an active lifestyle in 1 day. It needs to be slowly coaxed into it. "Learn to walk before you run" is an old-age adage that is very apt when it comes to our body.

The Couch-to-5K program gradually coaxes your body to run over a period of 9 weeks (that's over 2 months). The time spent each day also gradually increases in order to avoid any injuries to your body.

The key elements of this program are as follows:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keeping a Food Journal

When I started researching on health & fitness, the person that started popping up regularly on various fitness topics was Tom Venuto. He is perhaps the only fit person who is capable of reducing his body fat percentage down to 3.5%. According to this site, The minimum that is considered safe and acceptable is 5% for men and 12% for women.

After visiting his website, and his blog, I thought it would be a good idea to purchase his book "The Body Fat Solution".  It's a must read for any fitness enthusiast. Though his recommended workouts focus mainly on resistance training (rather than the cardio activities that I enjoy), his nutrition advice is spot on for everyone.

One of the key nutrition advice he gives in his book is to maintain a food journal. According to Tom, you should write down everything you eat during the day. At first, I thought this was a bit much. Did he expect us to keep a book and a pencil to write down every time I put something in my mouth?

In retrospect, I should have followed his advice the very same day. Keeping a food journal is one of the key tools in your drive and success towards a healthier lifestyle. The reason is very simple. When it comes to our food intake, we always under estimate. For example, did you know that 1 tablespoon of olive oil contains 119 calories? Well, I had no idea how calorie dense this food is, until I started looking closely at the food that I was eating and the calorie contents of each food.

An excellent resource for figuring out your calorie intake is Calorie Counter Database. It has nutritional information on almost every food item.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could just type in the food that we have consumed during the day and somehow get a daily log of our calorie intake? As it turns out, there are plenty of free resources on the net that allow you to keep track of your daily food intake and shows you exactly where you stand in terms of your calorie requirements.

I started using one such tool provided by My-Calorie-Counter. Not only does the site allow you to keep a food journal, it also allows you to keep a blog.

The food journal keeps track of your daily food intake, and displays calories and other nutritional information against each item that you consume. You can even create your own food such as a home cooked ethnic dish that may not be available in the database. You will have to estimate the calorie contents of the food and (optionally) provide other nutritional information such as fat percentage, carbohydrates, proteins etc.

In addition to the food intake, the journal also allows you to keep track of your exercises and determines whether you are going over or under the daily allocated calorie budget.

I strongly recommend everyone who is serious about their heath to start keeping a food journal.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How many Calories do I need?

When you set out to get into shape (whether to lose weight, maintain your current weight or gain weight), one of the first thing you need to figure out is how many calories to consume each day.

The reason for this is very simple. The amount of calories you take in (through food) and the amount of calories you spend (through exercise and other daily activities) determines whether you will lose weight or gain weight. Everything else is irrelevant. Remember this simple rule. It is not the type of food that you eat which will make you lose weight. It is the amount of calories you consume.

So how do you determine your daily calorie needs? The jury is still out on this one as to the exact formula to be used to compute your calorie requirements. Dietitians use different formulas to arrive at something called the BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) of each individual and then factor in your activity level to determine your daily calorie needs.

Let's see how this works in reality. All formulas need the following 5 bits of information. Age, Weight, Height, Gender and Activity Level. Some calculator use metric values and some imperial values. I have listed my vitals stats in both for this exercise.

Vital Stat Metric Value Imperial Value
Age 44 44
Weight 72 Kg 159 Pounds
Height 172 cms 5' 7"
Gender Male Male
Activity Level Active Active

Armed with this information, let's see what the internet has to offer.

1. Mayo Clinic: This is a very slick looking calculator that is offered in both metric and imperial units. When I plugged in the above numbers, It came with the result of 2350 calories per day for me to maintain my current weight.

2. Free Dieting: Another good calculator. This one allows you to enter weight in either Kilos or Pounds but weight has to be entered only in imperial unit. The result I came with is 2294 calories per day.

3. Calculator.Net: This one uses the St. Jeor equation that is also mentioned on the site. When I plug in my numbers, I get 2433 calories per day.

So each site comes us with different results for the same input data. The difference between the lowest number (2294) and the highest number (2433) is 139 calories which is about 1 chocolate bar!.

So which formula to rely on. In my case, I decided to play it safe and rely on the lower values. This works out to somewhere around 2200 calories per day for me.

Once the daily calorie needs are determined, the simply rule of thumb is:
  - Decrease your calories by 500 to lose approximately 1 pound per week (about 1700 calories for me).
  - Increase your calories by 500 to gain approximately 1 pound per week.

So there you have it. My next article will discuss what kind of food I consume that constitutes those 1700 calories.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Running and a Six-Pack. Is it possible?

First Blog Entry.
This is my first blog post, so let me start by giving a brief introduction about myself.

I was a long-distance runner during my college days and represented my college in the 5K and 10K runs. It is the only form of exercise that I was good at, and it helped me to maintain a trim and fit body.

That is..until I came to Kuwait, got married, and had 2 kids. Stressful work, family commitments, and living in a country with harsh climate meant that fitness took a backseat.

My fitness got a kick-start when a colleague at work casually inquired if I was pregnant. This was about 3 years ago. That question haunted me for a few weeks and I finally decided to do something about it. I really wish I had taken a picture of myself at that time to serve as a reference image, but, alas, I was too embarrassed of my body at that time and never took a self-portrait.

I initially started on my fitness journey by purchasing a treadmill and religiously started using it. At some point, I realized that the treadmill was not sufficient and invested in a stationary bicycle. I added some home fitness videos (more about this in a later post) to the mix.

Though I saw some difference, it was not the difference I was hoping for. I soon realized that I needed to join a proper gym, if I wanted to move to the next level. Last year, the whole family joined the Nautilus Fitness Center (part of Crowne Plaza, Kuwait) and I started working out seriously with a dedicated trainer.

There were some moderate improvements, but again, the improvements were below my expectations. Further research and reading made me realize that I was ignoring the main aspect of fitness. A proper diet plan. After some analysis, I finally selected a good diet plan and it was at this point that I could see my body responding the way I wanted it to be.

This is Have I reached my goal? Hell no. My objective now is to carve a nice six-pack and this blog will serve as a journey to help me achieve this transformation.

Since my main form of exercise is long distance running, the big question remains: Can you carve a six-pack through running?. I really don't know. Research indicates that you can. I plan to test this theory by documenting everything that I do and the type of food that I eat.