Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Exercise Boosts Brainpower

High Intensity Interval Training.

  I've always felt that exercise clears my head, and makes my mind sharper. But there seems to be some new research that actually backs those feelings up.

HIIT Strengthens Memory
  A study from University of Montreal tracked participants for four months as they followed a workout regimen that included: two 40-minute sessions of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), two 30-minute circuit weight sessions, and one moderate intensity workout per week.

  As could be expected, participants lost weight, decreased waist circumference, lowered insulin levels, and increased maximum oxygen intake. The new take-away however, showed that subjects saw a 10-25% improvement in brain functions such as speed, recall, and short-term memory.

  A more in-depth study is in the works to narrow down the effectiveness of interval training and weight training together, versus exercise in general.

  Physically speaking, HIIT (my first blog about interval training) is the most-beneficial, and most time-efficient way to exercise. But now there seems to be an added bonus to testing out HIIT!

Intervals benefit our brain!
Examples of (HIIT) interval training:
  Tabata: 20 seconds 'on', 10 seconds 'off' for eight total minutes.
  Timed intervals: Time on & time off depends on fitness level. If you're just starting out try a 1:2 ratio: 30 seconds on, 1 minute off, for example.

  If you're not doing a timed/ratio interval, there's a more precise way to gauge your exertion and recovery time based on maximum heart rate.

  When you're doing interval work, you want to work around 80% (or higher) of your maximum (this is HIGH intensity after all!).

To find maximum heart rate: 220 - age = maximum heart rate. For example, mine would be 220 - 32 = 188. In this instance, 80% of my maximum is 150 beats per minute (188 x .8). So when I am executing the 'on' portion of the interval, I want to ensure my heart rate is reaching at least 150.

  For the rest period, when your heart rate is back down around 60-65% of your maximum (for me 112-122), rest time is over. It's time to get back to work and start another interval!

To find heart rate: Find pulse on wrist or neck. I can never find it on my wrist, so that never works for me. But theoretically, you can find it there! Count the beats for six seconds, then multiply by 10 (or add a zero).

  Again, using me as an example, when I have 15 beats in six seconds my heart rate is roughly 150 beats per minute (you can check just after you've completed your interval to see if you're putting forth the right amount of effort!). And when I count 11 or 12 beats in six seconds my heart rate is between 110 and 120 beats per minute, so rest time is over!

  It may sound difficult, or too confusing, but it really isn't once you get the hang of it! Or you can make things really easy by using a heart rate monitor, but another gadget really isn't necessary.

  Try the intervals for 20 minutes. As you get stronger, and build better endurance, you can add time to your workout. Here are some more example interval training workouts if you're just starting out.

  Let me know if you see (and feel!) some results! And as always, don't forget to warm up and cool down!


Monday, January 28, 2013

Ballhog or Too Passive?

Poland: Trying to make the right play.

  LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant.

  But not in a game of one-on-one. Let's take a look at their on-court mentalities. 

  I look at LeBron James as the ultimate team guy. He could average 35-plus points a game if he wanted to. But he has the mentality that: 'I'm going to do whatever my team needs me to do, to win'. His biggest criticism is that he doesn't take the big shots. And that he doesn't impose his will on each and every play.

  On the other hand, take Kobe Bryant. His biggest criticism is that he tries to do it all on his own, that he doesn't involve his teammates enough. I think his mentality is: 'I'm going to do whatever I have to do, to win'. He will take those big shots, every time. He imposes his will every time down the floor.

  Two enormously talented basketball players, two vastly different approaches and mentalities.

  LeBron and Kobe are two extreme examples, on the biggest and brightest stage. But you can see these mentalities on any basketball court in the world, no matter the level.

After a big NCAA Tournament win. Buffs on the scorers table!
  Where do they come from?

Natural Instinct
  One thing I've heard over and over from my coaches, even from the time I was just starting out, is 'Sabrina, you need to look to shoot more.'

  I jokingly had one coach in high school tell me he'd pay me for every shot I took over 15 in every game. At least I think he was joking. One way or the other, I never saw a dime.

  Some kids you have to tell the opposite -- that they need to pass more; involve their teammates more.

  And I'm willing to bet those comments, or suggestions, follow them for the rest of their careers, just as they have followed me.

In Poland vs. Wisla. 2006-2007.
  You can try to be more something, but your natural instinct always will shine through, and be present more often than not.

  If an on-court mentality is something you can be taught, (to be more-selfish, or to be less-selfish on the basketball court, etc), I must be a really bad learner.

  And I don't mean to sound as if I am patting myself on the back. 'Not shooting enough' has been one of my biggest stumbling blocks as a basketball player.

Playing Traffic Cop
  Being a facilitator has always been my nature. Ensuring my teammates are in the right spots, making sure things are running smoothly, a coach on the floor so-to-speak. Being a play maker.

  That's all well and good, but sometimes you need to throw that mentality out the window, and play ball.

  Just get it done. No matter what the play calls for, or where anyone is supposed to be.

  You can see how playing the role of facilitator can be a deterrent: you're focused more on others, rather than yourself.

Colorado vs. Illinois -- freshman year.
  That said, I like the way I play. I feel like I always try to make the best basketball play for my team in every situation. And being versatile has always been a source of pride for me.

  But the grass is always green on the other side, isn't it? You always think something else might be better. And this is no different. Maybe if I played a different way, it'd be better?

  Unfortunately it's a little too late in the game to be making any drastic changes, so I guess I'll never know. 

Learning a Different Mentality
  Can you cultivate demanding more of yourself on an individual level by playing an individual sport (something I never did competitively)?

  In individual sports, obviously, there's only you. You have to make the play every time. By competing in that capacity, you practice being the aggressor, and it becomes second nature. Then when you go back to your team sport, you have those experiences to fall back on.

  The perfect player would have the ability to go outside their comfort zone. They would be able to put their natural instincts aside, and play to what the situation called for. Is that possible on a long term basis?

   This is more so me wondering aloud: Where do our competitive mentalities come from? And can they be learned, or are they innate? What do you think?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cardio or Weights First?

Team workout in Germany.

  You've made it to the gym, what should you tackle first? The weight room, or the treadmill?

  Even the experts can't agree. Many of them have different answers, and different preferences. But truly, the answer depends on what your goals are. What are you trying to accomplish in your workouts?

  Are you trying to get stronger, improve cardiovascular training, or lose weight/fat?

Train With Your Goals in Mind
  Ironically enough, your fitness goals will tell you what you should do first! If your goal is to become stronger, and increase muscle: hit the weights first. If your goal is to increase aerobic endurance, or lose body fat, perform your cardio first

  The ultimate, most-efficient way to exercise is to do both, cardio and weights, at the same time via circuit training. If done at a high pace and intensity, circuit training can be considered a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

  The key to circuit training is that there is no rest. At least not the kind we're used to seeing. Never are you just sitting or standing (in between sets) idly doing nothing. Your rest time is active rest, either by moving to a different muscle group, or doing a cardio interval, as the muscle groups you've just worked, recover.

  By training in this fashion, your heart rate is always elevated, working both cardiovascularly and muscularly.

Weights First, Hypothetically
  If you prefer to focus on one thing at a time -- strength training and cardio separately -- it is said to lift weights first.

  You should do strength training first because at the start of your workout, there's more blood sugar available to burn through. Your muscles will have a more powerful contraction, resulting in a more powerful workout. You get the most out of your muscles by lifting weights first, and then finishing with cardio.

  Hypothetically, you burn through the available sugar (during the weight session), and during the cardio session, your body moves into burning a higher percentage of stored energy (fat). I say hypothetically because there really isn't much research to back up this assertion. 

Personal Preference and Consistency
  I also look at it like this: what do you prefer? What is your routine? In my opinion, whatever keeps you going on a consistent basis, is the right way to go.

  For me, I prefer to do my cardio first because I like my muscles and body to be warm when I start lifting and doing more-explosive exercises. But, I also am not throwing around extremely heavy weights either, so needing a high level of power isn't as necessary. I have not 'maxed out' (or anything close to it) in the weight room in quite some time!

First season in Sweden. 2008-2009.
  You also might find yourself skipping the second part of your workout (because you're tired from the first part, or are running short on time), so do whatever you enjoy doing the most, first. You're going to put a better effort into something you enjoy over something you despise!

  Likewise if results are most important to you, do what coincides with your goal, first. So if you do skip part of your workout, it's not the part that's the most important!

  I can speak from experience about this too. On the occasions when I do lift before running, I find myself lagging and wanting to cut my cardio workout short. And I always want to get a good cardio burn in, so I prefer to focus on my cardiovascular goals. 

  All in all, despite what you are good at, or what you like, it all comes down to what your goals are, and how much you value accomplishing those goals.

  If you have a goal to lose stomach fat, doing 1000 sets on the bench, or any other muscle-isolating lift, isn't going to help you reach that goal. And vice-versa: if you're trying to get more explosive muscles, running for hours on end on the treadmill isn't going to get you any closer to accomplishing that goal.

  Take a look at what you want to accomplish, and go from there!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls & Benson Bridge.

  Ever read a 'things to do in Portland' article?

  If so, I'm willing to bet Multnomah Falls makes the list. In fact, it's probably somewhere near the top of those lists.

  Funny thing though, even though I grew up in Oregon, and lived in the Portland area from the time I was eight, it took me until I was almost 30 to finally make it to the famous waterfall along the Columbia River.

  My mom and I were in training. We had committed to hiking Mt. St. Helens mid-summer 2010 with a group of several other ambitious (read: crazy) people. In order to be somewhat prepared for St. Helens, we knew we'd need to do some training hikes in the months leading up.

  So, we bought a hiking book about the Portland area: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles and started looking for some interesting outings.

  Multnomah Falls just happened to be one of those hikes.

The Falls
Me & Mom!
  Multnomah Falls is situated 30 minutes east of downtown Portland, along the Columbia River -- the border between Oregon and Washington.

  You might think an attraction like this would be difficult to get to, that it would be isolated, or in the middle of nowhere. But not Multnomah Falls. Extremely easy access, just off the freeway, and plenty of parking.

  The waterfall itself is quite a sight to see. In total, it's 611 feet, and drops in two major tiers. The upper fall drops 542 feet (165 m), while the lower fall tumbles 69 feet (21 m).

  The falls are visible from the freeway -- the way I had always seen Multnomah Falls prior to finally visiting that summer. But the view from afar doesn't quite allow you to  fully understand its power and beauty.

Wahkeena Falls.
  From a distance, it looks like a narrow, quiet phenomenon. Up close, it's quite another thing. Standing in the shadows, with the mist falling down on you, the roar alone lets you realize the magnitude of the falls.

  Unlike many waterfalls in the west, Multnomah Falls does not dry up in the summer season (but then again, I don't know if anything in Oregon ever dries up!), so visitors can appreciate the falls year-round. Though if you visit in the winter, or other wet months, I would expect the ground to be slippery.

The Hike
  The particular hike we did was the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop. Starting from the Wahkeena Trailhead, and ending at the touristy Multnomah Falls Trailhead. If you love waterfalls, this hike was tailor made for you. There are 10 named waterfalls on this loop, along with smaller intermittent cascades, and creeks sprinkled in throughout the trip.

Columbia River view from the hike.
  Aside from the numerous awe-inspiring waterfalls, the terrain and surrounding scenery is gorgeous as well. There's the view of the Columbia River Gorge anytime you turn around. You also have the feeling of being deep inside a forest. There are the old growth trees surrounding you -- both fallen on the ground, lying across the streams -- and towering above you. Dark green mosses cover rocks, and so on.

  It's Oregon at its best!

  It was mid-way through the Wahkeena-Multnomah hike that I asked my mom why they (my parents) had never brought my brother and I up to Multnomah Falls as kids. It was a spectacular hike, with beautiful views and scenery. And even though it was fairly long (almost five miles in all), there's a paved path throughout most of it, so it is fairly accessible for everyone.

Interesting terrain along the trail.
  I cannot say the hike to Multnomah Falls sufficiently prepared us for what we would encounter on Mt. St. Helens, but it was a good starting point. The hike does get steep at times, so your legs, and your lungs, better be ready.

  If you have little kids or aren't much for hiking, I suggest starting at the Multnomah Falls trailhead, hiking to the falls, and returning (not doing the loop). Up and back, it's 2.6 miles. Still, you can expect a pretty steep walk. This side of the trail can be pretty busy, so keep that in mind!

  I've since been back to Multnomah Falls each summer since I first hiked it. It's beautiful, and you hardly realize you're breaking a sweat as you go from one waterfall to another. A great way to spend an afternoon!

  If you ever find yourself in the Portland area, make sure you visit Multnomah Falls -- you won't be sorry!

Lots of pictures below....

Almost there! Multnomah Falls from the trail.
The start of the hike -- Wahkeena Falls.

Break time in the forest!

Yet another waterfall.

Columbia River Gorge. Washington is just on the other side of the river.

More forest scenery. Who can name these?
Lots of fallen trees along the way.
Deep inside a forest??
Fallen trees across a creek.
Rene getting after it on the trail!
At the base of the falls.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Foods That Heal

So many years on the court has made for sore joints!

  Achy knees? Sore ankles? Yeah, me too.

  After years and years and years of constant pounding, running, and cutting, my joints are starting to get a little angry at me. I'm actually a tad surprised it took this long.

  Being somewhat crippled (I say that jokingly now) as I grow older has always been in the back of my mind. But running, jumping, cutting, all in all: abusing my body, is part of the job. There's no way around it. I'm just trying not to let 'somewhat crippled' become a reality.

  This season, for the first time ever, I've had sore knees. And more often than not, I wake up to ankles that take a few minutes to warm up when I first jump out of bed in the morning.

  My question is this: can I stop it?

  I'm a person who, no matter how long my career as a basketball player lasts, will always be active. I've blogged about how much I enjoy running. And working out, and being active on a daily basis will always be a part of my lifestyle. Not doing anything isn't an option.

I may need more than the occasional physio tape.
  Sure, I can adjust. I can swim, I can bike. I can do lower-impact activities. But I don't enjoy them nearly as much.

  Outside of changing my activities, what can I do?

No Drugs
  I don't like taking pills. Whether it's over-the-counter medication or prescription, taking pills is my last resort -- only in extreme situations. They are extremely hard on our bodies, and only mask the under-lying issue. I have a future blog on NSAIDs -- Advil, Aleve, etc -- in the works, to explain why I'd rather not take pills. But that's for another day.

  We know how to aid our muscles' recovery, but what about our joints'? I'm trying to find other solutions. Solutions that are easier on our bodies than pills.  

Tart Cherry Juice
  Tart Cherry Juice affects the body's ability to recover from strenuous activity. Mostly, it aids the body in muscle repair after exercise and strength training. Because the juice also has notable anti-inflammatory capabilities, it can alleviate joint pain (due to arthritis, gout, and I'm hoping, over-use).

  A study done on Hood to Coast (a 196-mile relay in Oregon) reported that runners experienced significantly less pain after the race if they drank tart cherry juice in the week leading up to the race.

  Other tart cherry juice benefits: it's very high in anti-oxidants -- including the heavy-hitter Quercetin (see below), and it's a natural source of melatonin, so it may help you sleep more-peacefully!

  Dosage: Eight to 12 ounces, twice per day (the equivalent of 100 tart, or Montmorency, cherries per day).

What I loaded up on during Christmas.
  One downfall: The stuff is a little pricey. Make sure it's 100% tart cherry juice or concentrate! When I first looked for it at the store this summer, I found watered-down, or other juice-mixers, were easier to find (and easier on the wallet!). So if you're looking for the benefits, make sure it's 100% tart cherry!

  If you're curious, sweet cherries have not been shown to have the same effect.

  I tried tart cherry juice on occasion this past summer. But I didn't drink it often enough to really decide if it was anything that was of benefit to me. Since my knees and ankles were achy the first half of the season, I thought I'd give it a try during the second half of the season. So, I came back to France with a couple bottles of tart cherry juice concentrate.

  I will be diligent in the dosage, and let you know what I think!

Healing Foods
  We can help heal ourselves with food instead of pills. Believe it or not, our diets can provide a lot of healing powers. Even when injured, what we eat can actually get us back on our feet sooner rather than later!

  Here are a few easy ways to adjust our diets:

  Foods can hurt us, or they can help us. Instead of opening up the medicine cabinet, let's give our food a chance to be our medicine.

  As always, if you have any tips or tricks, I'd love to hear them!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

'Good Game'

Poland days.

  In sports, what qualifies as 'playing well'?

  It's a very broad term, with vastly different meanings.

  I came across a tweet earlier this week from a basketball coach, Kevin Eastman, and it got me thinking on the subject. Here's the tweet:

  @kevineastman: Your stats may be good but that is not how you should judge your performance. It should be judged against your standards & not just stats!

The Stat Sheet
  Far too often, a player is quick to grab the stat sheet and check their line following a game. I've always wondered, what are they looking at? Where do their eyes go first? What do they value the most? They already know the final score, so they're not checking that!

  To many, players and fans alike, playing well (in basketball) is defined solely as scoring a lot of points. Personally, I think that's a naive way to define it, the lazy way -- the novice's way.

Post game -- Germany.
  Different players have different skill-sets, and different roles. With that, each players' abilities alter a game in different ways. So points alone might not do their game justice.

  There are players who have an unbelievable ability to put the ball in the basket. So yes, their role may be that of scorer. But if a 'scorer' puts up 20 points, it doesn't give him a free 'good game' pass. What if it took him 25 shots to get his 20 points? What if he isolated himself from his teammates, and took poor shots? What if he did nothing on the defensive end of the floor?

  Or what about a point guard -- she dished out nine assists -- good game? What if she also had seven turnovers, or didn't make the right plays at the right times?

  As competition gets better, the game gets more intricate, and roles are more specifically defined. The point of the game will always remain the same: put the ball in the basket. But not everyone can be a scorer.

Hyped bench -- Sweden.
  What do YOU bring to your team? What is YOUR role?  

  By themselves, stats have no value in my book. Basketball has too many game-influencing factors to be defined solely by numbers.

A Feeling
  For me, playing well has always been a feeling inside me. I know when I play well. I know when I play poorly. I don't need the stat sheet to tell me. And I don't need any one else to tell me.

  I play to my own expectations. 

Warming up in Dunkerque.
  Yes, you need your coach's input about specifics to your team, whether it'd be a strategy, or a particular play. But even so, I know.

  I smile sometimes when talking to friends about their own games. I'll ask them, 'how did you play?' Some will shoot back their stat line -- how many points they scored, or how many rebounds they grabbed.

  But that's not what I asked, I think to myself...

  Basketball is more than just stats, or numbers on a board. It's about winning. It's about your team. It's a feeling.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pseudo-Health Foods

  Many of us are trying to be more health conscious with our eating habits. Like anything though, there are trends that come and go, and in the realm of nutrition, it's no different. What are the fad foods of the moment? The super-foods, so to speak? The food that no one's heard of before, but will suddenly make us that much more healthy?

  Sometimes there ARE super-foods, or new discoveries nutritionally. But on the other hand, often times, we are misled.

  What foods are touted as being healthy, when in reality, they are high in sugar, calories, or fat (or all of the above), thus not 'healthy' for us at all? There's nothing more frustrating than being misguided by hype and public opinion.

  It's easy to get caught up in what the advertisements say, and what everyone else is saying and doing. Let's be honest, if it's popular, many of us think it's right, per se. So when we think we're doing ourselves a favor, or being 'good', we really aren't.

  Let's weed through the hype. Here are some foods that fall short:

  It's not that all of these foods are 'bad' for you. Many times it's the quantity of them can make them less-than-healthy.

  When all else fails, read the labels!

P.S. Bear with me as I teach myself how to use Photoshop. Hopefully I'll have some fun graphics for you to check out!

Jillian Michaels Podcast 11/17/2012
Daily Dose with Jillian Michaels