How To Keep Warm When Running In Winter

Runners don’t necessarily hang up their shoes when winter rolls around, and then hibernate for four months while the snow melts. They keep running. They sign up for marathons. They might do a little more strength training at home or use the gym’s treadmill, yes, but many prefer to stay outside even when its coldest. That’s because there’s something magical about taking a jog while it’s snowing out. 

When running in fall or winter, most runners use a layering system. When hiking, it’s easy to shed layers and place them in a small backpack until you need them again — but when running, the extra layers are more of an encumbrance and need to be tied around your waist instead. You still need them.

When using new clothing or running in winter for the first time, make sure you don’t stray too far from home. If the clothes end up too thin, you’ll want to be indoors before hypothermia can set in. 

First and foremost, don’t wear any cotton clothing. Always look for merino wool, synthetic, or waterproof down clothing options. Here’s a list of what you need:

  • Footwear. You’ll want a pair of wool socks — not too thick and not too thin — that will keep your feet warm in cold, wet weather, but will also fit in your shoes or boots. Because you’re running, you’ll probably want a pair of breathable trail runners. Try adding insulation and buying a size up if necessary.

  • Hands. You’ll want to protect fingers from frostbite as well. A form-fitting fleece glove will keep your hands toasty, but you’ll probably want a shell to keep the digits dry. Try a slightly thicker weatherproof brand of glove or mitten, but make sure you can still move your fingers easily.

  • Head. In super cold weather you’ll want a balaclava to cover your entire head. These can be complemented well with a buff, bandana, or neck warmer. Add a hat only if necessary. Try a pair of ski goggles to protect your eyes from the sun and wind.

  • Base Layer. Start with a pair of form-fitting fleece or synthetic long underwear. You can find merino wool for this as well. These should cover both your legs and torso.

  • Mid Layer. Some people skip this layer entirely depending on the temperatures. Try a fleece hoodie to trap more body heat and keep your head a little warmer.

  • Outer Layer. Find a puffy jacket made of synthetic or down material. These are thin, lightweight, and trap a lot of heat.

  • Shell. You’ll want to protect yourself from rain, sleet, and snow. Find a wind-breaking and waterproof coat and pants, as lightweight as possible. Keep in mind that shedding your pants will be a more difficult task in winter!

How Running A Trail Marathon Can Help Train Your Leg Muscles

If you routinely run or jog for exercise purposes, then you’ve probably at least considered the possibility of a half-marathon or marathon. Have you tried training for one? Almost everyone can run almost thirteen miles without any major side effects, but it’s at this point that the least healthy among us will begin to suffer from any number of unwanted consequences — tendinitis, stress fractures, severe dehydration, or even hallucinations!

That’s why training for such an event is so important.

Gradually increasing the amount of exercise week by week will help reduce the potential for injuries and increase the chance that your muscles will build up instead of break down. That’s the goal. But there’s one major problem for many runners who decide to tackle this admirable obstacle: pavement hurts! If you’ve ever walked and ran mile after mile on sidewalk or asphalt, you know what we mean. Not only can your feet succumb to injury on the hard surfaces, but your toes will also start to go numb. It’s not fun.

No one wants to experience these phenomena, but what can you do to prevent it?

One possibility is training to run a trail marathon instead. These races usually take place on popular local trails, where runners will travel up and down hills or along ridgelines. While this might sound even more difficult than a normal marathon, there are several benefits — and it might not be as hard as you think. 

First of all, running on uneven, slanted surface forces you to keep alert at all times — so counter-intuitively, it can help prevent injuries that result from reduced awareness. Also, you’ll build leg muscles you’re not accustomed to using during a run on level ground. Last but not least, running on soil can actually hurt less than running on pavement.

We’ll be the first to admit that it takes a well-rounded and strong physique to make it through a trail marathon. Sometimes it’s more about mental toughness than physical fortitude or lasting endurance. As long as you keep one foot in front of the other and don’t look “up” too often — seriously, never ever look up — then you’ll be fine.

We recommend the Iron Mountain Trail Run at the end of August for those who live in or around southwestern Virginia. There are even 50-mile ultramarathon options for those seeking an even greater challenge! The race takes off from Damascus, VA, a place often referred to as Trail Town USA. It’s known as one of the most hiker-friendly destinations in the country and is a great spot from which to embark upon other outdoor adventures like riding, hiking, or backpacking.

Put Away The Fitbit, Find Some Friends To Join You In Good Health!

We all have that aunt who just loves her fitbit: she loves it so much that she starts shaking her hand in the air while she slurps down the second or third margarita after noticing that she only has a few more “steps” to take before reaching the daily 10,000. Well believe it or not, she might be onto something. Fitness trackers aren’t as good as we think they are, for all the high technology they implement to determine whether or not we’re getting enough exercise to stay healthy.

Turns out friends are a better measure of overall health than traditional fitness tracking devices.

While that doesn’t mean you should slurp down margaritas, it does mean you should pay more attention to your personal relationships than your devices (big surprise there). Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame have concluded that these very devices lead people astray. Our heart rate won’t tell us whether or not we’re stressed, just like those 10,000 steps won’t tell us whether or not we’re getting enough daily exercise. 

Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications Nitesh V. Chawla said: “What we found was the social network structure provides a significant improvement in predictability of wellness states of an individual over just using the data derived from wearables, like the number of steps or heart rate.”

Researchers say the results could change how employers balance incentivizing with interpersonal relationships in the workplace. For example, providing fitbits may not be enough. Instead, it would be a good idea to create a forum where employees can share their life experiences to develop closer relationships, which will do more for overall health than those silly steps ever could. 

Machine learning models showed a 65% higher rate of being able to predict a person’s happiness, a 54% higher rate of predicting a person’s own predictions, a 55% higher rate of being able to predict a person’s attitude, and a 38% higher rate of being able to predict a person’s success — but only after accounting for social network structure and fitness tracking data together. 

What constitutes a social network structure? Every aspect of a typical relationship is included in this metric; is there a balance between the relationship and life, are the subjects close, are they connected by more than just devices, and do they give back to one another in the relationship. It turns out all this greatly affects how much activity a person obtains throughout the course of a day, which means the overall number of steps is typically greater for those people who form closer bonds!

The Role Of Genetics In Personal Fitness And Why It Matters

Not everyone thinks the path to personalized fitness goals is so easy. Those of us who sink into this mindset find any excuse to keep from achieving those all-too-important aspirations. Ask them, and you’ll be told they’re not excuses at all: they’re explanations. Is there something to it? After all, we also hear incredible success stories about obese people who have lost hundreds of pounds.

“I’m fat because my dad is fat, so this is a waste of time.”

“I’m too old.”

“I’m too busy.”

“I have kids! Don’t you see me cooking and cleaning?!”

How much do those excuses really matter? Scientific research continues to shed light on the long-asked question. According to the Department of Kinesiology Professor Stephen Roth at the University of Maryland, each of us pretty much rolls the dice when we’re conceived. No matter what numbers are facing up when the dice land, though, they mostly signify annoying handicaps and little else. Hard work can help us break past those seemingly unbreakable, but false, limitations.

We know that obesity is a strong factor for people who don’t want to exercise, and who can blame them? About seventy percent of those cases are due to genetics. Research shows you can work toward a healthy body weight through good nutrition and a strict regimen of routine exercise, though.

Here are the traits and activities that are most inherited from our parents:

  • Muscle mass; 50-60 percent.
  • Muscular endurance; 45 percent.
  • Height; 80 percent.
  • Aerobic fitness potential; 40-50 percent.
  • Likelihood of competing in various sports; 66 percent.

You might notice these factors come into play if you simultaneously start training with a buddy who is about your age, height and weight, and has about the same muscle mass as you. Don’t be surprised if one of you starts to outpace the other for no apparent reason. You were born that way!

Those factors that aren’t inherited but affect your ability to train include environmental factors such as diet, sleep, exercise patterns, etc.

It’s worth mentioning that most of these concerns matter most to world-class athletes who really do have to put in the extra effort to achieve their fitness goals. But for you and everyone else who isn’t training for the Olympics, it’s mostly about making a routine and sticking to it. While that may seem impossible, it really only takes the right motivation.

Another thing to note: scientists have only closely studied a few hundred of the 20,000 genes that comprise the human blueprint. That means we know a lot, but not nearly as much as we need to know to give a definitive answer. It might be that sometime in the future we can use gene editing techniques to add or remove a needed base pair to make our fitness goals that much easier!

Exercises To Help Remove Stomach Back Fat

Sadly, our genetics play a role in where we store fat on the body and sometimes it’s the back. Also, sometimes our back can appear bigger than it really is due to our posture. The best way to remove the back bulge is to focus on cardio with targeted strength moves while also working on your posture.

Sports activities such as rowing or boxing help tone back muscles while also helping burning fat all over since they also get your heart pumping.

For those who like to lift dumbbells, a bent over fly lift is another good way to tone back muscles and burn back fat. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend over at the hip. Then stretch your arms out at your side about shoulder height.

But you don’t need to go to a gym to fight unwanted back fat. There are simple exercises that you can do at your desk at work to help maintain your posture and reduce back fat. Seated spinal rotations and shoulder shrugs will help stretch those back muscles and reduce tension in that area.

To do a seated spinal rotation, cross your hand over your chest and turn to the left until you feel a stretch. Turn slowly to the right sight until you feel a stretch. Repeat this three times. For shoulder shrugs, place your hands in your lap, take a deep breath and raise your shoulders up while keeping your neck muscles relaxed. Exhale and lower your shoulders. Repeat 3 times.

Other protips for when you are at work:

  • Park your car far away from the main entrance. This will get you to increase your step count easily
  • Always take the stairs
  • On a conference call – invest in headsets so you can walk and talk
  • Set the reminder on your Fitbit so you can walk every hour
  • Find a local coffee shop that you can walk to during your break

With these tips you should be able to wear those strapless dresses in no time!

How Do Frogs Jump So High, And Why Can’t We?

Have you ever watched a frog hopping along in front of you? Have you ever watched one really jump? Have you stopped to wonder how they possibly do it? A frog can propel itself into the air at about 20 times its own body length on a good day. If humans could do that, we would soar about a hundred feet into the air! The longest frog jump on record ended at a shocking 33 feet and 5 and a half inches. So how did he do it?

The answer might surprise you: scientists don’t really know for sure. Bummer!

The leading theory is that the jumping prowess comes from the long tendons inside frog legs. Just before a jump, the tendons stretch taut while the muscles shorten. All the potential energy is stored in those tendons wrapped around the frog’s ankle bone, which then act as a spring to catapult the frog into the air after a quick joint movement. Muscles are important, but it’s the tendons and joints that work the real magic. Believe it or not, about 25 percent of a frog’s size is its legs. That’s probably why we eat them!

The frog species studied for the purpose of the aforementioned research made the jump in about a fifth of a second. Pretty fast.

This information helps explain why most humans are such lousy jumpers. Not only are our leg muscles much more miniscule in proportion to our overall mass, but our tendons don’t have the mechanical capability to act as a spring either. On top of that, our joints aren’t built to weather that kind of spring-like landing even if our tendons and muscles were up to the task. Just imagine what it would feel like if you fell from a hundred feet!

The kind of strain caused by the relationship between mass and gravity is the biggest biological contender to high jumping. Grasshoppers can jump high. So can cats and kangaroos. But the ability of the latter two animals is much more restricted because of their larger size. We can only jump so high before the landing would kill us.

All that aside, strengthening your leg muscles can help reduce the strain on your leg joints and tendons. You’re less likely to incur injury from overuse during exercise if you’ve properly trained your muscles. Think like a frog! Work on those leg muscles!

How To Improve Joint Function And Reduce Pain

Working out can wreak havoc on different parts of your body. When you run or walk or do squats with heavy weights, your knee joint might start to hurt. It can be a sign of any number of ailments.

Pain might be caused by something as simple as tendonitis, which you’ll notice more when going up and down stairs. If not treated, this can become worse.

Another cause is chondromalacia patella, which occurs when the cartilage is damaged.

In some severe cases, you might be diagnosed with osteoarthritis. This often occurs when the cartilage inside the joint has deteriorated so much that the bones start to rub together. This causes severe pain and inflammation, and over time will lead to the bones wearing down even more.

Any of these conditions might eventually require surgery when left untreated, so it’s important to seek a diagnosis from a medical professional before you attempt to do anything to fix it on your own.

If you’ve been exercising frequently, then there’s a good chance you have chondromalacia patella. It occurs most frequently in runners, a group of people who aren’t used to quitting their exercise regimen when the going gets rough. Unfortunately, the condition doesn’t leave you with many options.

First, stop engaging in the activities that make the pain worse. Do NOT try to run or jump. Try to avoid stairs. Don’t squat, kneel, or sit with your knees bent at an angle. When sitting, you might not notice any discomfort until you stand, and by then the damage is done. If you’re female, then avoid wearing high heels.

Next, ask your doctor about exercises you can do from home. You might ask about the potential benefits of physical therapy if your doctor suggests surgery as the only way to fix your condition. A physical therapist can teach you how to do a straight leg lift. The exercise can be done when lying down with one leg bent at a 90-degree angle in order to focus on the quadriceps muscle in the other leg. Raise the leg to a 45-degree angle, hold it in the air for a few seconds to feel the strain, and then repeat.

Keep in mind that the focus is on the thigh muscle, not the joint itself. If you feel too much pain, then you should discontinue the exercise.

I Can’t Do A Thru-Hike; I’m Not Fit Enough!

Backpacking through remote regions of the country, going up and down hills, burning more calories than you could ever possibly consume–these aren’t obstacles for the faint of heart. A lot of people would never even consider something as physically and mentally demanding as a thru-hike because they think they aren’t fit enough for normal hiking, much less something that could take weeks or months to finish–if it can be finished at all.

Here’s the good news: thru-hiking usually isn’t about physical hurdles so much as psychological barriers. The attitude you need is probably different from the one you have. “Yes I can” is what you need to be telling yourself. If you can get off the couch to walk around the block, then you’re probably healthy enough for a thru-hike. If not, a quick visit to the doctor is the fastest way to get an answer.

Obviously this is a general statement. Not everyone can safely undergo that kind of physical exertion. If you’re older and overweight, there are steps you need to take before you even think of doing this. But believe it or not, it’s the combination of factors that should stop you. Simply being a senior citizen shouldn’t get you down. Being overweight shouldn’t get you down.

You know those people who’ve spent their entire lives eating whatever they want without gaining a single pound? Yeah, those guys. They’re the ones who are going to have the most trouble.

Don’t believe it? Reason it out: when you go thru-hiking, you need to consume as many calories as possible because your body’s metabolism is going to speed up and burn them off like crazy.

A few extra pounds is a good thing, because it means you’ll be able to push further and faster than the skinny people who already had fast metabolisms to begin with–if you don’t have an ounce of fat to burn, then you’re going to have to carry more food weight. And that means you’re going to slow down.

There’s no real way to prepare for a thru-hike. Sure, try to exercise. Gain some endurance, increase your stamina, do whatever makes you comfortable. But your body is going to take a beating no matter how you prepare, and the only way to get fit for a thru-hike is to thru-hike. If you’re not sure about your capabilities, then simply start with a shorter trail. Enjoy a three-day weekend trip along a segment of a nearby trail, and see what you can do!

Don’t Use Bad Knees As An Excuse Not To Exercise

Who has ever used the excuse of “bad knees” to get out of an exercise program, or to get out of having to get up at 5 a.m. to go to the gym?

Well the truth is, that excuse doesn’t fly anymore. Why? The “bad knees” you feel don’t come from the knees themselves; they come from the lack of balance and strength in the muscles around the knees – the muscles designed to protect the knees.

For knee health, the keys are the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. When those are not balanced in their strength and flexibility, knee pain can result. Instead of using “bad knees” as an excuse to get out of exercising, and they should now be a reason to get back into exercising those legs.

No more excuses, only reasons.

Whether you are working out at a gym or using alternative methods such as PRP therapy, the legs are vitally important in supporting the entire body. Any pain in the hips, knees or ankles can be traced to the muscles of the legs not having the strength to bear the weight and force of the body.

Following are some exercises that you can do to help those “bad knees” become good again – and they have very little to do with the knees themselves. It is recommended you do two sets of each, with 30 seconds rest in between sets.

  • Kneeling hip flexor stretch. Make sure to keep your pelvis tucked underneath as you move to each side so your feel your hips stretch. Thirty seconds each knee.
  • Calf stretches. Hands against a wall, arms pressed outward without locking elbows, stretch one leg behind you, keeping the heel of the foot on the ground. Stretch 30 seconds per leg.
  • Standing hamstring stretch. Put heel on top of a bench or small table, stretching leg out straight (no locking the knee) and bend forward over your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds then switch.
  • Use a resistance band around your legs, just above the knee. Keep legs shoulder-width apart. Go down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and knees are pushed out. Return to start for one rep and do 15 for a set, two sets.
  • One leg squat. Standing a 12-inch-high bench or box, letting one leg hang over the edge. Squat light normal, but go down until your hanging leg’s heel just brushes the ground, then drive yourself back up through your other heel. Down and up is one rep, do 15 reps per set, on set on each leg.
  • Hip raises. Use a resistance ban d just above your knees. Lay on your back, feet on the ground, knees bent. Raise your hips off the floor slowly until there is a straight diagonal line from your hips to the shoulders. Hold for two seconds, then slowly lower down to compete one rep. Do 15 reps per set.

Is Fitbit Even For Fitness Anymore? Should It Be?

We are a fitness society these days. Exercise, dieting, watching what we eat, counting the calories that go in us at meal times and leave us when we’re in the spin class – we have been tracking our fitness for quite a while.

So imagine the craze that came about when technology allowed us to purchase fitness trackers such as market-leader FitBit. To wear a device on your wrist that can measure your heart rate, your steps taken during the day and give you recommendations about how to improve your health, it is needless to say that fitness trackers became all the rage.

However, health has sort of a scientific tinge to it, which means that most healthy people can fit into a range of heart rate, blood pressure, calorie intake and the like. In other words, if a fitness person does the same run every day, he or she will eventually know how many calories he or she burns, what his or her heart rate is during and after the run, and so on.

After a few months or routine, the FitBit doesn’t really serve its purpose anymore, because by now we can predict what it will tell us. So after a few months, fitness trackers become pretty useless. So how to fix it, so people can keep their fitness trackers longer and actually use them?

The FitBit Charge 3 addresses the issue by turning its fitness tracker into a smartwatch. Now, the fitness tracker doesn’t have to be predictable anymore – it can develop more ways to be useful and practical on our wrists for those times when we’re not exercising or watching calories.

But this now begs the question, whether this will e the future of fitness trackers in that they will have to jump into the smartwatch competition in order to stay relevant? And if so, does it mean that smartwatches currently in the market will then adapt and become fitness trackers to serve their own dual purpose? Should this be the new wave of fitness wearables, or the new thing in smartwatches?

It sounds like a Catch-22, but it could come down to how the market bears out. Will the health and fitness nuts buy the fitness trackers because they double as smartwatches, or will they buy the smartwatches that have fitness tracking applications? Either the wearable market will become convoluted in the next 12 months, or more clarity will appear.

The marketplace is about survival of the fittest. And we are a fitness society, at the end of the day.