Deadlifts and dopamine

In an effort to keep the blog organic, I often write about whatever is going on in my life at that given point in time (narcissistic, I know). So, what is a girl to do when there really isn’t much going on at all. It would be an understatement to say that I have been feeling slight uninspired… or maybe just a little lack luster. I have been in a constant flux of wanting to be big; wanting to be lean; wanting to be strong. Just in general, wanting to do something, but not quite knowing what that something is, which does not make for great programming.

 

One of the main reasons I gave up competing was because I wanted to live a more balanced life. The thought of missing the gym, and not caring about it, seemed like a good idea at the time. But in all reality, that’s just not who I am.  I still find myself cancelling dates, turning down plans, and staying in on a Friday, so that I can still hit my workouts. Now, I know this is not even close to comparable to a prep. Because I do in fact, still go out for beers, eat the occasional whole pizza, and openly partake in work BBQs and such.

 

I’m not trying to preach how ‘it’s a lifestyle” or anything like that. But when I think about it a little more, it really is a huge part of my identity. The reason I stress about missing the gym isn’t because I’m afraid of gaining weight, or as a punishment for the food I ate, or even to get bigger at this point. It’s my “center”.  It’s “me’ time. It is the one constant in my life that anchors everything around me. So, while other people may think of it as vanity, for me it’s my sanity.

 

One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. I don’t think this is any huge surprise to anyone. This is both relevant to mental and physical stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So it’s more than just an outlet to “let off steam”, but an actual physiological coping mechanism.

 

While on the topic of human chemistry. Exercise also releases endorphins, which induce that lovely feeling of euphoria. This of course can be obtained through other things, like drugs, love.. even food. But exercise seems like a great alternative. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, exercise is a common recommendation for people suffering from depression and anxiety. In some cases, regular exercise has been even as effective as medical intervention (prescription aids).

 

In one specific study, the chemicals that are released during and after interval training helped alleviate the symptoms associated with diagnosed anxiety disorders.

 

Especially relevant to myself, as Alzheimer’s runs in my family. Studies have shown that exercise can help protect the brain against cognitive decline, that begins after age 45. In addition, especially between age 25 and 45, exercise boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.

 

It’s also not that big of a surprise that most “gym rats” aren’t big drinkers. This has more to do with chemistry, than the obvious points of avoiding calories and hangovers. The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food…love.  Since the brain doesn’t differentiate the source, some people go more self-destructive routes to get their dopamine fix.  

 

Lastly sleep. Sweet sweet sleep. Which might be my favorite thing after the gym and food (and maybe puppies). For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping aid for people with insomnia. Just avoid taking pre-workout too late in the evening. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises your core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep. You are essentially manipulating, and self-regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. Just try to avoid working out too close to bedtime, or it will have an opposite effect.

 

So next time you try to tell someone they don’t “need” to workout, maybe they do. Don’t assume to know what everyone’s internal motivation.

 

Your Fitbetch,

JP xoxo

Modern Mobility

I often feel like a bit of a broken record, constantly apologizing for my busy life. It often seems the old cliché of “The only constant is change” could be the ongoing theme of my life. Since my last post, written from the cozy indoors of a lovely Santa Monica coffee shop, I have since had the opportunity to start a new job in a completely new sector, booked multiple trips (both work and pleasure), made the move to power lifting, as well as managed to successfully injure myself, through my own stupid stubbornness.

As previously mentioned, I am not one for new year’s resolutions. I believe in constantly setting both short and long term goals. One thing that I have been working on has been doing both more things that scare me, but also things that bring me happiness. I have often shied away from spontaneity for fear of being irresponsible, or just because I can be a bit of a “type A” rigid planner. I can successfully say I have managed to inch, maybe even step, outside my comfort zone.

In this trend of trying new things, and being a little less rigid in my thinking, I have been exploring different modalities of mobility. I will admit, mostly because I have managed to break myself once again. Turns out, when discovering and programming for strength, you can not, in fact, lift with the same volume, a stubborn all or none mentality, that you can with body building.  Many body builders walk around sore and broken, wearing it like a badge of honor. I am guilty of this mentality. I had become so used to always going to failure, burning myself out, with that depletion style, that I just couldn’t get around the mind set of lifting at 60% or 80% of what I knew I was capable of doing. The irony of which is that I fully understand the difference, as well as the effect it has on your CNS, yet I am in fact, my own worst enemy.

So, to make a long story short, I managed to screw up my left side pretty badly. It started with what I assume was a minor strain, which led to some compensation. However, being the hero that I am, I refused to not continue with my training. In fact, not only did I not rest it, but I probably overdid it, with my “mind over matter” mentality, pushing and pushing. Constantly adding more weight, and not easing off. This just lead to more imbalances, until what was just my hip, was then also the outside of my trochanter, my hams, my glutes, and now down into my calf. I have successfully screwed the whole kinesthetic chain.

So, in an effort to get back to doing what I do best (beating myself up apparently), I finally accepted that maybe this whole mobility thing was worth a try. I will fully admit that with a plethora of research out there I will often read, research, and believe what affirms what suits my own mentality or goal. I think we all have some cognitive bias in that regard. So my idea of mobility has mostly been, do the movement you plan on executing, in the full range of motion, but with less weight. Simple enough, right? If you’re going to squat today, do squats with an empty bar, and just hang out at the bottom, if it feels good, give er’. As of late, this is just not cutting it. So, now I find myself strapped into a table, being painfully manipulated, laying on mats, grimacing, and limping around like an invalid.  

So here is the thing. Not everyone is the same, duh. However, s small part of the populations is what we call “hypermobile”. While this sounds great (and was when I was a cheerleader and did more yoga), this is actually pathological. Too much mobility results in bone not staying where they should stay, and extra stress on the joint. Tendons and ligaments do not actually “stretch out.” You cannot make them longer. Their function is to transmit force, which connect muscles to bones, the force of muscular contraction is transmitted to the bone it’s attached to, thus moving the bone. And since tendons are in fact elastic, a sudden dynamic load causes a very small temporary change in length and a subsequent rebound, such as when you jump, or lift weights. But during normal muscle contraction, if the tendon changed its length not all of the force would move the bone – some would be lost as the tendon stretched. Just like a short piece of chain, a tendon pulls the bone with all the force of the contracting muscle because it does not stretch during the contraction.

Ligaments anchor the joint as it moves, so that the bones which articulate at the joint change their relationship only with respect to their angle. This allows the joint to function as a fulcrum. An excessive amount of “stretching” will cause a rupture. If anyone case ever seen this, it is NOT pleasant.

Therefore, you cannot change the length of either a tendon or a ligament with “stretching” and why would you want to? I’ll take a pass on the whole rupture thing. This leads me to my next point. Fascia. It is the only connective tissues that you can affect with stretching. If you are unaware of fascia, it is essentially the semi clear plastic wrap that keeps your muscle bundled together. It usually becomes problematic when effected by tiny scars called “adhesions” that form between them and their underlying muscle or between adjacent fascia.

So, maybe this article has once again, been a little self serving, but since neither ligaments or tendons are designed to stretch, this would mean any increase in flexibility primarily involves the muscles that control the position of the skeletal components. So really, “mobility” can be considered learning to use any muscle in a way that requires you to teach them to lengthen more readily.  Aka, squat if you’re going to squat, press if you’re going to press, and if you suddenly can’t do that explore alternative therapies that can either assess your faulty movement patterns, compensatory issues, or Fascial Stretch Therapy (FST).

**As an aside, if you love doing yoga, or just like the feeling of stretching, go for it!! This is not intended to discourage anyone from doing anything they love or makes them feel good. Heck, I still love a good pigeon pose. And there is something to be said for the placebo effect. This is my quick and dirty summation of what anatomy dictates, and intended for a “health” audience.

Your fitbetch,

JP xox