Do you find it difficult knowing how hard to exercise? The reasons could be many, but one comment I hear time and time again from our clients as they start their journey back to exercise is: I want to get back to it, but I want to make sure it’s safe. I want to be confident that I don’t hurt myself or overdo it.
We all know that exercise is good for us, and that probably we should do more of it. But there’s often a large bridge to build between that knowledge and actually having a plan to implement. And often a larger one when it comes to actually implementing the plan!
As exercise physiologists we are great at delivering tailored exercise sessions face to face with clients, considering all your specific needs. We are are also good at writing and teaching you programs that you can follow on your own in between sessions (regardless of the time gap between our contact with you), be it using your own gym, or home programs, or running, etc.
What we often hear though is: “I wish I could have you with me 24/7 to keep me accountable!”, and “but I wasn’t sure if I should exercise because of how I was feeling”… and this could be due to fatigue, sickness, etc.
Knowing how hard I should exercise
So our biggest challenge has been to find a way to help you know how hard you should exercise, and when. How to progress your exercise and activity based on your specific current fitness, energy levels, etc.
As university trained exercise professionals we know what you should be doing, and we can draw a very good line on a graph to suggest how that exercise should progress. But let’s face it: what sounds good in our studio may be very different to implement once the rubber hits the road for you; once you have to choose on a daily basis if, when, and how hard to exercise.
But wouldn’t it be great to have an exercise coach at home with you 24/7 – ok, maybe not one that will be nagging you consistently! – but one that can encourage to be more active, that can tell you its safe to go that bit further, to push a bit harder?
Well, after years of posing this challenge to ourselves, waiting for technology to catch up with our plans and desires; and months of in-depth research of the tools currently available to us, we have found the right partner for our collective needs! And it comes in the form of an unobtrusive, yet incredibly powerful wrist band called Whoop!
Whoop – my exercise coach at home
In a previous blog I described the way the Whoop band, worn around your wrist as in the picture featured above, monitors your sleep, and hence your recovery levels. It then uses that information to recommend how much exercise you can do that day based on your recovery.
What I love about the Whoop system is that it also takes into consideration the overall ‘load’ – they call it ‘strain’ – that you are under. In that blog I explain how all your life commitments, activities and pressures result in a measurable physiological ‘stress’, or strain. So Whoop takes into consideration how tired, fatigued, stressed – or full of beans (!) – you may be, and recommends the right level of activity you can do that day. This makes sure you progress appropriately to ensure it is safe!
My motivator to push a bit harder!
The picture below shows the display that Whoop gives you when you are exercising, if you chose to record an ‘activity’. What you see in the middle is a number showing you the amount of ‘strain’ (physiological load) that you have accumulated during that session. Around it is a guide showing you what the optimal level of strain for that session should be, based on your overall daily strain levels, and your recovery over the previous night – genius, right?!!
What you can see is that I was well within my optimal levels. So what that display did was to encourage me to push a bit harder, to go a bit longer, as I knew I could get away with it. It indicated that I could maximise that exercise session to get the best outcome from it without risk of overdoing it.
So now we have a perfect partnership. Our team of exercise physiologists can teach you the right exercises to do, specific for your needs. They can guide you through how to progress those exercises and when. And your Whop band can assure you of how hard you can exercise. And if your goals are to get fitter and stronger, Whoop can guide how hard you should exercise to maximise your outcome.
Because your Whoop band and phone app can unobtrusively guide your activity levels, by showing you your current levels of ‘strain’, it can be a great motivator to encourage you push that little bit harder to achieve your goals.
I would love to chat further with you about how this great piece of technology can you assure you that you are doing the right amount of activity, but most importantly, how it can motivate you stay on track!
Click here for more information on our Whoop health coaching service.
About The Author
If you are like me, you need to be told NOT to exercise, instead of TO exercise. Do you feel guilty, or perhaps even grumpy if you haven’t exercised in a couple of days? are you the one who on a holiday needs to exercise first thing in the morning so you can “tick that box” – and then dive into the breakfast buffet?! Is exercise one of those behaviours you have now just built into your life, like brushing your teeth, because it is good for you? yes, it makes you feel good, it helps to de-stress you, and its part of your health insurance, right?! But what if sometimes it works against you??
Some background to stress and recovery
This is a very practical blog, but a bit of background is important. Exercise works because it is a form of ‘stress’ for the body, that we need to physiologically adapt to. In the right doses, and with the right recovery, exercise makes us fitter, stronger, healthier and more resilient. But you know this. You feel it. intuitively.
Interestingly, the body doesn’t know where stress comes from. And it comes in many forms: yes, physical stress; but also in the form of the more commonly known emotional, or psychological stress; but also, toxic stress; inflammatory stress, etc. And these from many sources, such as the foods we eat; physical pain and injury; lack of sleep; toxic relationships; deadlines; financial pressures; public speaking; sick parents; our kids in trouble, etc, etc…. you know: life!
In the right doses, we can adapt to all those stresses. We can get more resilient, and develop a capacity to deal with all of them better, to lift the threshold line. As long as we actually adapt. And we do that by having the right balance between ‘stress’ (or strain) and recovery.
The balance between strain and recovery
Now, the word stress stresses me out. I much prefer, in this case, the word strain. Strain speaks to me of an overall tension; and overall load; that is useful. It achieves things.
Ok, one last bit of back ground, just to make sure we are on the same page. All that stress (strain!) can be positive if we actually benefit from it. If we get something out of it. If it leads to a positive outcome. And the crux of the argument here, is that we only adapt to strain when we recover. That’s right, you don’t get fitter while you exercise. You don’t get stronger while you lift weights. Those exercise bouts are the triggers for adaptation. but your body will only adapt while it recovers. And recovery comes in the form of the right nutrition, active recovery strategies such as massages and meditation, rest (knowing when NOT to exercise), and the all important SLEEP!
My new recovery coach
So let’s go back to your and my personality: the “I have to exercise today…”. We feel this way because we are convinced that today’s exercise bout will be good for us… but what if it’s not? what if our bodies (and minds) would actually do better having an easier day? can we bring ourselves to having an extra day off? or perhaps to just do some light stretching and foam rolling?
Since exercise is actually another form of stress, could that extra session actually tip us towards illness or injury, rather than away from it?? Well, there’s a plethora of evidence to suggest that the answer is unfortunately a resounding YES!
So what would it take to convince you to have an easier day? In my experience, hard objective data is typically what convinces me to change my mind… and sometimes someone to hold that data right in front of my eyes and force me to stare right at it!! does that resonate? I know that we have a LOT of clients at iNform like you and I. So over the last few months we have been doing some in depth research into existing tools that can measure how much strain our bodies are under and how well they recover, particularly while we sleep. We have looked at almost every activity tracker, exercise watch and smart watch in the market, and we feel we have found a winner.
Yep, my new recovery coach (with a little bit of accountability from my exercise physiology colleagues) is my new Whoop band. Funny name, but an incredibly powerful and smart tool to make sure we optimise our exercise, strain and recovery to get the most out of every day.
In a nutshell, it calculates the overall ‘physiological load’, or strain’ that your body underwent during the day. It then recommends how much one should sleep to recover from that strain. Based on how you actually slept, it rates your recovery and recommends the amount of strain you can get away with the following day. Very simple concept, supported by very smart technology! and it has helped me make some good decisions (against my initial intuitions) with the help of quality objective data displayed in easily understood displays.
I’ll tell you more about it in my next blog, unless you want more info earlier, in which case flick me a question in the comments below! I would encourage you to check it out at the link above, and keep an ear to the ground, as there’s a little offering coming up to iNform clients very soon!!
Click here for more information on our Whoop health coaching service.
About The Author
I’m going to do something that I would never otherwise willingly do, and that is to plagiarize someone else’s work. But the article written by Josh Glancy in this weekend’s The Weekend Australian’s Inquirer is too good and on point to not make you aware of it. Josh’s article is based on an interview with Greg Lukianoff and Jonthan Haidt, who wrote “The Coddling of the American mind”. At iNform we have just instituted a No Snowflake Policy so this article resonates so strongly that I’m just going to pass on my summary of his words.
As a society we are starting to employ iGens, the generation made up of those born after 1995. they entered University around 2013, and the workforce as we speak. Now, of course this does not apply to every person, or perhaps even a majority of people, born in this period. But many factors in the last couple of decades have led to a coddled and over protected generation with a tendency for low resilience and ‘catastrophising’ what are otherwise bad and unwelcome events into disastrous ones.
Creating iNform’s No Snowflake Policy
What led the team at iNform to create the ‘No Snowflake Policy’ were a small number of members of this generation who came in with a tendency to think in binary terms; their arguments driven by emotions, by how things make them feel, rather than pointing to facts or rationality; and with little capacity to think beyond themselves and their circumstances and idealistic desires. We see the iNform ‘business’ as an elite athlete, a body at peak capacity; where every part of it is incredibly important, but only effective if it works as a part of the greater whole. Needless to say, snowflakes would not be a productive part of this organism!
As highlighted by Lukianoff and Haidt, this is not a political or ideological problem, but one of mental health; primarily due to over-protective parenting that fails to equip children to deal with confusion, adversity, and risk. And why? Maybe because increases in safety and technology are making our lives so comfortable that we now recoil from comfort! “safety has now taken on an almost religious quality” with the downside being children not feeling enough control over their lives.
We grow and develop as a consequence to adaptations to exposure. So with restricted exposure to risk and danger; fear or freedom; injury or adversity; these ‘young adults” first exposure to risk, adversity or pain is likely to be overly traumatic. The consequences to this can be severe, including anxiety, depression and even suicide (with rates for all these climbing over the last decade).
An over emphasis on academic achievement has also led to a decrease in ‘free play’ in children, which is when they get to learn the basic principles of team-work, compromise and conflict resolution… all in the sandpit or playground. For an example of how this is being tackled by Australian school’s, read the recent ABC article on the ‘Anti-cottonwool Schools‘.
Concerningly, we are also starting to see the outcomes of the snowflake effect in young adult’s capacity to deal with their first significant injury. As they have not had a chance to experience their body’s amazing capacity to heal and recuperate, this first sign of ‘something wrong’ is often catastrophised disproportionately. Luckily we have the skill set in-house and with our network of health professionals to get these clients back on track!
Working with clients on a day to day basis, and of course also having multiple other conversations about health topics with other people, I get the privilege of hearing people’s beliefs about health and exercise. Experience over two decades as a health professional has given me multiple opportunities to see the link between our beliefs and health outcomes. I know this is nothing new, and I hope you don’t glaze over when I start talking about ‘beliefs’…! But I do wonder how often we stop and take stock of the things we believe… and about the actions we take, as these predispose the outcomes and results we see.
For example, consider comments like the ones outlined below, and lets consider the beliefs that may give raise to them, and then the results they may lead to in regards to changing and improving health:
- I get all the Exercise I need by walking
- I’m scared to lift weights because I’ll injure myself
- I was told Running is bad for my knees
- And there are many others, influenced by the latest diet fad or new exercise modality.
The issue with most of these beliefs, is that most of them are received from people who give advice with good motives, but often without the appropriate education, experience, or scientific rigour that extends beyond n=1.
This is exactly why we created iNform!! We could see that people are often influenced by multiple sources of information, and as we all well know, these are not always factual.
The Link between Beliefs and Health Outcomes
Why is this conversation important? Because your beliefs will determine your actions. And your actions will determine the outcomes and results you get!
If you are mathematically minded this looks something like BELIEFS x ACTIONS = OUTCOMES
Most of the health advice we read focuses on changing our actions to affect our outcomes/results. This is clearly an important part of the process, after all, the majority of people fail to create change because of lack of actual action! But for those that have the motivation to start, and even start to implement good behaviours (actions), why is it that for most those behaviours don’t last? I would suggest that it is because their behaviours are not married to their beliefs. If there is a disconnect between what you believe, and what you have been externally motivated to do, those behaviours are unlikely to last.
So the first step I would encourage you to take is to examine your beliefs. What do you actually believe about health and fitness? for example, do you believe the eating well is important to you? Do you believe that to create physical change, you are likely to have to ‘step up’ the activities you do? Do you believe that physical pain is something that you can actually change? I would suggest that to take the next step you actually spend some time writing these beliefs down.
Once you have outlined your beliefs, we should explore as to whether these beliefs are based on evidence, to ensure that they actually lead to the changes you are after!
So are your health beliefs actually factual?
What I mean by the question above, is, are they supported by scientific evidence? Are they provided by professionals trained to understand scientific evidence and provide such advice? And importantly, is that advice tailored to your particular needs? Part of the problem with the example beliefs I outlined above is not that they are totally wrong… in fact, in some circumstances they may be right… But the fact that they can be right doesn’t mean that they are always right! They may only be right because of a combination of a number of other confounding factors, that may or may not apply to you. This is exactly where an educated, qualified and experienced health professional comes in. We can help you discern whether there is scientific support for your beliefs, and help you see clearly through the fog of popular opinion and unsubstantiated fads. We can help you work through pre-existing experiences, concerns and fears, to enable you to start positive action towards the sort of outcomes that will help you live the life you want! We are always happy to sit with you to work through this process with you. Please do contact us (or post a question below) if you feel this applies to you!
About the Author
What would you say if I told you that there’s a health component that is more important for healthy ageing than the COMBINED effects of smoking, obesity, and diabetes?? Yet, the average GP is unlikely to mention this to you, much less actually test it. Could they be missing one of the most important assessments they should be taking at your check up? and consequently, not giving you some of the best health advice you could be getting?? Ok, enough with the cryptic questions. This is going to be a short but powerful article, because I know you don’t have time to waste. The answer to these questions is aerobic fitness. That’s right, your aerobic fitness is your best health predictor and effector. Not sure how, or if, you should tackle this? Read on!
Aerobic Fitness is your best health predictor
The graph below shows the highly significant effect that cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF, or aerobic fitness) has on premature death, particularly with its effect compared to other more commonly discussed health issues. I am truly baffled that while this SHOULD be common knowledge to health and medical professionals, they rarely apply it as part of their assessment or targeted treatment!
Attributable fractions (%) for all cause deaths in over 53000 participants in the Aerobics Centre Longitudinal Study. This is an estimate of the number of deaths in a population that would have been avoided if a specific risk factor had been absent. That is, if all smokers were non-smokers or all inactive persons were
getting 30 minutes of walking on at least 5 days of the week.
Effect of increasing fitness
Sure, you have been advised by your health professional that you should exercise more… that you should get out for a walk or two during the week. The graph below shows us two critical things about this advice. First is the obvious difference in protective effect of general physical activity vs fitness. You are busy, and ‘exercise time’ is hard to schedule, so the last thing we want is for you to not get the best possible return on your time investment! This data show the multiplied protective effect that increasing your fitness has on your health compared to just ‘being active’. While your low level general incidental activity is important, having a focused and safe approach to improving your fitness will reap huge returns on your investment.
Second, if you don’t know where to start, this data show that just getting underway will give you great returns. In fact, as the graph shows, even if you shift the needle from being very inactive or unfit, to being just in the lowest quarter of either ‘active’ or ‘fit people’ you achieve the greatest return on your investment! For example if you are in the lowest 10% of either ‘active’ or ‘fit’ people, you get very little protective effect; but if you move to the 25th percentile in activity levels, you get about a 10% protective effect, but a whopping 40% protective effect for being in the 25th percentile in FITNESS levels!!
Estimated relative risk of cardiovascular disease by fitness and physical activity.
Williams, PT (2001) MSSE 33:754-761.
Let me summarise the point I’m trying to make: While being generally active (such as going for regular easy walks, etc) is good for your health, spending time getting FITTER will give you multiplied returns, in body composition, general capacity, and primarily in health, so you can get the most out of life for as long as possible! So if you are short on time, and have high expectations on your investments, then this makes a lot of sense. NOW, if you are concerned about increasing the intensity of your exercise due to health issues, or risk of injury, please get in touch with us. We have proven systems to improve your fitness in a safe and progressive manner.
I’d like to thank Associate Professor Lance Dalleck from Western State Colorado university for presenting to the iNform team and sharing his expertise on this topic.
About the Author