Why it’s important to have rest days?

screenshotWe’re always told to stay active and get regular exercise. But whether you’re training for a competition or feeling extra motivated, more isn’t always better.

Those who know me personally would have heard me say “less is more” when it comes to optimal health and performance. Yes, it’s important to be active, but how many hours do you really need?

With the energy mismatch created my modern diets excessively high in carbohydrate and overly processed foods its easy to understand why many people think they have to exercise upwards of 15 to 20 hours per week to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

Having days of low activity or rest allows the body to recover and repair, both physically and mentally. It’s a critical part of progress, regardless of your fitness level or sport. Failing to rest appropriately can result in overtraining or burnout which basically is the opposite of what you want to achieve.

Here are some of the benefits of taking rest days:

Recovery
Contrary to popular belief, a rest day isn’t about being lazy on the couch. But it can be, in part. It’s during this time that the beneficial effects of exercise take place. When you’re resting, you’re allowing the body to make physiological adaptions.

Your muscles store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. During physical activity, your body breaks down glycogen into glucose to fuel your workout.

Rest gives your body time to replenish these energy stores before your next workout or competitive event.

Prevents muscular fatigue
Rest is necessary for avoiding exercise-induced fatigue. As mentioned before, exercise depletes your muscles’ glycogen stores. If these stores aren’t replaced, you’ll experience muscle fatigue and soreness.

Your muscles need glycogen to function, even when you’re not working out. By getting adequate rest, you’ll prevent fatigue by letting your glycogen stores to be replenished.

Reduced risk of injury
Regular rest is essential for staying safe during exercise. When your body is overworked, you’ll be more likely to fall out of form, drop a weight, take a wrong step or make a poor decision.

Overtraining also exposes your muscles to repetitive stress and strain over time. This increases the risk of overuse injuries, forcing you to take more rest days than planned. This ultimately leads to lost training time and in turn a potential failure in progression.

Improved physical performance
When you don’t get enough rest, it can be hard to do your normal routine, let alone challenge yourself.

Even if you push yourself, overtraining decreases your performance. You may experience reduced strength and endurance, slower reaction times, and poor agility.

If this is not addressed over time, this reduced output may become the new performance standard as the athlete may think they have hit a training plateau and begin to seek an additional challenge to continue progression, when actually a slight reduction in training load may be all that is required.

Rest has the opposite effect. It can increase energy levels and prevent overall fatigue, which prepares the body for more consistent and successful workouts, which can produce optimal mental and physical performance outcomes.

Improved sleep quality
While regular exercise can improve your sleep, taking rest days is also helpful.

Physical activity increases energy-boosting hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Constant exercise, however, overproduces these hormones. You’ll have a hard time getting quality sleep, which only adds to fatigue and exhaustion and resulting in reduced mental and physical performance.

Rest can help you get better sleep by letting your hormones return to within a normal, balanced state.

The take away
Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned athlete, regular rest and recovery is crucial to maintain optimal health and performance.

The best way to make the most out of your rest days is to conduct low impact activities, such as bodyweight movement pattern training, biking, walking or yoga. These activities will help you stay active while letting your body recover and recharge.

The Kettlebell Swing

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The Swing – for legs and conditioning that won’t give up.

The kettlebell swing is exactly what the name implies. A swing, or hinge movement. The athlete will swing the kettlebell from between the legs up to approximately chest level and back, for repetitions, using the hips to power the movement, similar to if the athlete was jumping.

As mentioned before, the swing is more of a hip hinge than anything else. Designed to maximise explosive hip strength and power.

When done properly, there is minimal compressive and shear stress on the lumbar spine because the spine is neither overly flexed, or extended during any point of the swing.

The arms are not used actively, meaning the shoulders are not forcefully elevating the kettlebell.

The kettlebell is being swung forward by a forceful hip drive and the kettlebell “floats” to approximately chest level.

The height of the kettlebell is actually irrelevant because the hip power is the focus and not the actual elevation of the kettlebell.

Here are a few points on how to teach the swing.

Hips first
A natural athlete moves from the hips, never from the back or knees. A hips-first movement pattern is the safest for your back and knees. It’s also the most powerful.

Whilst standing up, place the edge of you hands into the creases at the top of your thighs. Press your hands into the creases and “hinge”, sticking your butt out while keeping the weight on your heels. This will teach the athlete to go down by folding at the hip joint rather than bending through the back. This is probably the most important part of teaching proper swing technique.

It’s the same on the way up. Hips first. Drive up with the glutes and hamstrings, not the quads and definitely not the back.

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The box squat
The box squat is similar to sitting down on a chair. Powerlifters originally thought up the box squat to improve squatting depth, technique and power.

To start, revisit the hip-crease drill. Once you have mastered the movement pattern it’s time to progress.

Pick up a kettlebell by the handle and hold it in front of you. It’s likely that you will need it for balance, at least for the first few repetitions. Stand approximately a foot or so in front of a stable bench or box facing away from it. Lower the body by creasing at the hips and pushing the glutes backward.

Keep pushing the glutes back. The knees will bend naturally. Remember, hips first.

Don’t let the knees drift too far forward. If you don’t feel the hamstrings tighten when you lower, then you’re squatting wrong.

The knees should track the feet, with the feet pointing slightly outward.

Push the kettlebell forward to counterbalance, and remember to keep sitting back. Continue to sit back under control until your glutes touch the box. If done correctly, you should feel tightness across the top of the quads and a stretch along the hamstrings.

Now it’s time to stand up. Rock back slightly. Now rock forward and stand up. Do this by planting your feet into the ground. Shins upright.

The moment that you feel that your weight has loaded your feet, push your feet hard into the ground.

Tense the glutes, and drive the hips forward until you stand up. Full hip extension. Lock out the hips by cramping the glutes.

This might sound a little exhaustive, but attention to detail is what makes it safe, and effective. If you’re going to doing something, do it right.

The box squat is a basic skill often overlooked when teaching movement patterns, but once it has been mastered, you will find that many drills will build from this foundation and will become a lot easier to master.

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The condition:
Swing the kettlebell between your legs and then in front of you up to chest level for repetitions.

The swing standard:
Maintain the box-squat alignment during swings and when picking up or setting down the kettlebell:

  • Keep your head up;
  • Keep a straight – not to be confused with “upright” – back;
  • Sit back, rather than dip down.
  • Extend the hips and knees fully on the top: the body must form a straight line;
  • The kettlebell must form an extension of the straight and loose arm(s) on the top of the swing.

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A simple look at optimal human health

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Homo sapiens, or modern day humans are basically hairless sweaty apes with large brains and small stomachs. This is how we evolved:

  • Wake up with the first light of the day;
  • Eat one (maybe two) meals of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from bones of other animals;
  • Be naked in the sun all day;
  • Swim in the ocean;
  • Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water;
  • Watch the sunset;
  • Go to sleep on the earth in darkness.

Humans lived every day like this on the East African rift for 300,000 years in perfect synchrony with the daily and seasonal rhythms of the sun, the earth, the moon and stars.

Lets expand a little all of the points mentioned above:

Wake up with the first light of the day
Humans have detectors for light in the skin (melanopsin) that detect the first rays of morning light before sunrise and wake you up by releasing cortisol.

Watching the sunrise and the all the varying frequencies of the morning sunlight are absorbed by the eyes and skin to build hormones, neurotransmitters and set the circadian rhythms of every cell in the body.

Eat one (maybe two) meal of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from the bones of other animals
One meal consumed during the day allows for beneficial intermittent fasting for the rest of the day and ketosis at night during sleep.

Humans evolved larger brains and immune systems than our primate ancestors by accessing the fatty acids and other key nutrients such as DHA & iodine from the marine food chain, along with the marrow from the bones of other animals.

Fruits and vegetables traditionally varied geographically throughout the seasons, so make the most of a the variety of these foods available to you.

Be naked in the sun all day
Humans are basically hairless primates that can run around on two feet. This adaptation allows for several evolutionary advantages, such as the increase of the amount of sunlight that the skin is able to absorb.

Visible sunlight is absorbed into the skin to convert or produce hormones, such as Vitamin D, which is critically important to optimal human function.

Other benefits include an improved circadian rhythm, increased blood flow, brain function, dental health, mitochondrial function and sex hormone production.

Swim in the ocean
Humans have traditionally lived near the oceans and river ways and have evolved over time to eat seafood. Swimming in the ocean provides another source of electrolytes, salts, and other micro nutrients that may be difficult to obtain through the modern diet.

Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water
Humans have always been moderately active animal. Nomadic by nature, they had to walk or run everywhere, and had to carry their belongings with them as they moved from location to location.

Humans also have a great need for a daily supply of fresh clean drinking water. The human body is roughly 60% water, with the brain and heart being composed of approx. 73% water. Additionally, plasma (the liquid portion of your blood) is approx. 90% water. Plasma helps carry blood cells, nutrients and hormones throughout the body.

It’s possible for the body to survive several weeks without food, but the body can only survive a few days without water.

Watch the sunset
The eyes and skin pay attention to the waning frequencies of light at sunset to prepare the hormones of the body for sleep. The absence of light at night is a signal to release the hormone melatonin to facilitate regenerative sleep at night.

Go to sleep in darkness
The absence of light is a very important signal for cellular circadian rhythms and metabolism. Proper circadian rhythm promotes quality sleep, helps keep the cells healthy and contributes to optimal performance.

Concluding
A very simple look into a template for optimal human health. Remember, there is no one size fits all. However, by applying these practices to the modern environment of generally poor nutrition, constant over stimulation, inadequate time in the sun and disrupted circadian rhythms, we may be able to prevent and even reverse many of the chronic diseases that affect so many people today.

Humans need to relearn what is a species appropriate diet and lifestyle. The diet and lifestyle that previous generations have lived which shaped our evolution throughout history. The closer you can emulate this natural lifestyle, the less likely you will develop one of chronic diseases of life.

Protein shakes before or after your workout

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Protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth. It is an essential macronutrient that is required for optimal function.

For this reason, many people consume protein supplements in the form of shakes along with their workouts.

However, the optimal time to have a protein shake is an often debated topic.

Some believe it’s best to drink a protein shake before a workout, whereas others argue that after a workout is ideal.

Myself personally, am a fan of the train fasted, compete fed philosophy.

How much protein do you require?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight.

The RDA is the estimated amount of a nutrient a person needs to avoid a deficiency. It doesn’t specify the amount needed to optimize body composition or health and performance.

Most research suggests that people who routinely strength train may need double the RDA, or 1.6 g/kg, to support muscle recovery and growth.

A protein shake is a good option between meals, either as a snack or around your workout. They typically contain 25–30 grams of protein per scoop.

The magical 30 minute window
Many people within the health and fitness industry believe that drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of completing physical activity will maximize their results in the gym.

Previously, it was been thought that consuming protein within this window gave the athlete the best opportunity to build new muscle mass. More recent research however, suggests that this window is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited to the post-workout window.

Today, it has become widely accepted that total protein consumed throughout the day is probably as important to building lean muscle than the actual timing.

Whilst I am a fan of training in a fasted state, I do use branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) on occasion and my morning coffee is usually combined with some collagen. Whilst technically it breaks the fast, the collagen provides a small amino acid boost pre-workout, fuelling the muscles and generally resulting in improved physical performance.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who just don’t respond well to training without eating or drinking something beforehand. If you fall into this category then a protein shake post-workout will still contribute to muscle repair and growth.

That being said, here are some of the benefits of taking some protein during the pre-workout window.

Increased protein synthesis
Pre-workout protein, specifically BCAAs, will help fuel the muscles during physical activity. BCAAs do not need to be processed by the liver, so after being consumed, they head directly to the blood stream to be used by the muscles.

Taking protein prior to your workout primes the pump, starting protein synthesis during, rather than after your training session.

A pre-workout serve of BCAAs increases amino acid delivery to the muscles during physical activity. Taken alone or as part of a complete protein, such as whey protein powders, BCAAs inhibit muscle breakdown. The result is an even higher level of net protein synthesis.

Carryover effect post-workout
There is also a carryover effect of nutrients taken pre-workout. Protein synthesis can stay elevated for as long as 3 hours after consumption.

What does this mean? Consuming protein pre-workout will elevate amino acids within the blood both during and after your workout is over. This elevation of blood amino acids will not only trigger protein synthesis but help prevent excessive post-workout muscle breakdown.

Fat burning
Taking BCAAs along with some coffee pre-workout can be extremely beneficial during periods of low carbohydrate consumption. Adding BCCAs pre-workout, when glycogen stores are low (they will be if you eating a low carbohydrate diet), will increase fatty acid oxidation (aka fat burning) during periods of intense physical activity.

In summary
The nutrients consumed around your workout are critical to building and maintaining your physique.

While protein shakes around workouts and between meals are helpful, make sure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. Consuming protein from quality food sources should be your primary goal.

Additional supplementation using protein shakes can help you meet your goals.

While the post-workout shake has long been the go-to for many bodybuilders and athletes, consuming some protein in the pre-workout window may be even more beneficial, by supporting intra-workout muscle growth.

If you are generally healthy and getting a good amount of quality protein throughout the day, then a serve of BCAAs pre-workout will provide an adequate boost during your workout.

Foods for heart health

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Heart disease accounts for nearly one third of all deaths worldwide.

Your diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your overall risk of heart disease. In fact, certain foods can influence your blood glucose response, blood pressure, trigylerides and cholesterol levels along with total inflammation, all of which are risk factors in heart disease.

Here are some foods that can improve your overall heart health.

Salmon
One of the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of irregular heart beat as well as plaque build up in the arteries. Wild caught is preferred over farmed.

If you’re not a fan of salmon or seafood in general, then fish oil supplementation is another option. Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure.

Blueberries
Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, blueberries can protect against oxidative stress, decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.

Citrus
High in flavonoids that are linked with a reduced rate of ischemic stroke caused by blood clots, and rich in vitamin C which has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, like atherosclerosis.

Tomatoes
Cardio-protective functions provided by the nutrients in tomatoes may include the reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.

Extra virgin olive oil
Rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), extra virgin olive oil may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

Avocados
Avocados are particularly rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and vitamins C and K. Regular consumption has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors by improving cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.

Butter
Butter is rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and other beneficial compounds like butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid. High-fat dairy products like butter have been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.

Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

In summary
The link between nutrition and heart health is getting stronger each year. The foods that you put on your plate and ultimately into your mouth can influence just about every aspect of heart health, from blood glucose responses, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and overall systemic inflammation.

Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced whole food diet can help keep your heart in good shape and mitigate many of the risk factors associated with heart disease.

Using the evolutionary exercise template to boost performance

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What did our primal ancestors do for exercise? Well, for a start, exercise for them wasn’t anything they had to think about. It was life.

There were no gyms or running tracks. No spin rooms or Zumba classes. It was just the surrounding environment. Everyday. This meant moving and exercising to gather food, build shelter, or simply to survive.

An evolutionary exercise program can be defined as one that is similar in principle to what our ancestors did on a daily basis.

Move often at a slow pace
Early humans spent much of their day walking around hunting and gathering their food, along with seasonal migrations to new territories following food sources.

Low level aerobic activity throughout the day will build stronger blood vessels, bones, joints, and connective tissues.

Some easy ways to incorporate low level aerobic activity could look like this:

  • Walking or riding your bike to work;
  • Parking your car as far away from your destination as possible and walking the rest of the way;
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator;
  • Take frequent breaks at work to get up and walk around; or
  • Take a walk outside during your lunch break.

You may even want to try a standing desk if possible. On weekends or after work, try going for a hike or even a swim. The possibilities are infinite.

Find ways stay active every day, even on your rest days. The benefits of being mobile are endless, especially as you enter into older age.

Sprint every now and then
Our ancestors didn’t spend hours upon hours exercising, and neither should you. For early humans, life depended on being able to outrun animals, either in the form of hunting them (persistence hunting), or to avoid being hunted by them. They would only work hard when it was absolutely necessary.

These short bursts of high intensity physical effort increased the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH helps to maintain, build, and repair healthy tissue in the brain and other organs. This hormone can help to speed up healing after an injury and repair muscle tissue after exercise. This helps to build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat.

HGH is released in proportion to the intensity (not the duration) of the physical activity.

Lift heavy things… and carry them
Just like sprinting, early humans had to use quick bursts of energy to lift and move heavy objects. They would have to move large rocks or logs to build shelter, carry firewood or large animal kills back to their camps.

These types of high intensity workouts help release testosterone that boosts metabolism and improves muscle strength and size.

The best movements to mimic this type of activity are the basic movement patterns:

  • Loaded carry;
  • Hinge;
  • Squat;
  • Pull;
  • Press.

This includes exercises like the squat, deadlift, pull-ups, push-ups and farmers walks.

The biochemical signals created by these very brief, but intense muscle contractions generated a surge of HGH, prompting an increase in muscle size and power.

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Rest, relax and recover
Exercise is utterly pointless and even counterproductive without proper rest, relaxation, and sleep. You need to eat well and eat enough, let your muscles rest and recover, and have enough downtime to reap the benefits of exercise.

If you want a better quality of life, to be strong and have the ability to run fast and for distance so that life is generally easier for you. Then get your rest and recover well. You don’t need to be in the gym every day. Enjoy time socially with friends and family. Read a book. Visit a museum or art gallery. Give your body some time to physically recover.

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In summary
You don’t have to spend hours every day in the gym to be physically fit. It’s actually the opposite if you’re after general physical fitness. Depending on individual goals and competitions you may need to spend additional time completing sports specific training.

However, if you want to be healthy, strong and mobile into old age the basic template can be fairly simple to apply, follow and easy to achieve.

The Goblet Squat

Created by strength coach Dan John and named after the position in which the weight is held, the goblet squat is one of the simplest ways to learn and reinforce the basic squatting movement pattern.

It can be used as a mobility trainer, a warmup activity or as part of your workout proper. The goblet squat is so versatile that it might be the only squat you need in your workout.

The set up & execution
Similar to setting up for the kettlebell sumo deadlift, the athlete should take a comfortable stance, with feet slightly turned out.

With a dumbbell, holding it vertically by one end. Hug it tight against your chest. If you’re using a kettlebell, hold it by the horns. A medicine ball can also be used.

With your elbows pointing down and head facing forward, lower the body down and back into a squat, keeping the chest upright at all times (making sure not to fall forward or have excessive rounding the back).

Allow the elbows to brush past the insides of your knees as you descend. It’s okay to push your knees out. If your heels come off the ground at any stage, your stance is likely too narrow.

Finally, if mobility isn’t that great, squatting to the point where your elbows touch your knees if fine. In time, mobility and depth will increase.

Now, return to the standing position with a full hip extension (standing tall).

Pretty simple.

As mentioned earlier, the goblet squat is a great tool for teaching the squat in general and can be used as a mobility trainer. There isn’t a real requirement to go heavy, as higher volume sets with lighter loads will work very well.

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Taking the time to master the basics
Something that has been instilled in me throughout my military career is to be “brilliant at the basics”. A great lesson that can be applied to almost all aspects of life.

The mistake most people make is that they try to move too quickly into complex movement patterns before they have mastered proper form first. Often sacrificing technique for time or load.

If you really want to optimise your overall athletic performance, take the time to master the simple patterns first, like the goblet squat. You can alway add complexity to your programming later.

The simple movements patterns can also make the some of the most demanding and challenging workouts.