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Happy New years friends,
I hope 2021 finds you all safe and well as we continue to navigate the COVID19 situation.
For me, for the first time in 23 years I find myself in a very different professional situation. This is the first time in 23 years that I am not actively working in a sports medicine or fitness environment day in and day out. Truth be told, it is much easier to get fit and stay fit when you work in a fitness facility and are around exercise equipment and motivated people all day ever day.
I have recently left the daily grind of the fitness world to launch a new business, KidSTRONG Auburn (www.kidstrong.com). Stay tuned for more information on this.
Due to this, I have had to become much more intentional about my fitness plan. So today I wanted to share with you some tools you can use to help track your fitness progress. Many of these tools are free (with an option to pay for more features) and a few of the tools require an investment in your health... and the best part is, they can all be done at home. Also an important note, I am NOT a paid promoter for any of these apps, equipment or services... shoot, I am not against being paid to promote them, I have just settled on them after trying several different apps and services and these are the one I currently utilize.
The Home Gym:
This part requires the investment, so I figured I would knock this out first. Personally, I enjoy and prefer to workout at a traditional gym or fitness facility such as Orangetheory Fitness. After my wife passed away in 2017 I did not want to leave my then 12 year old and 6 year old home alone at 5 am while I went to work out (early mornings typically work best for me due to after school sport activities). So, I turned my garage into a gym with the following equipment:
- Wall mounted rack/rig (Rogue)
- Barbell (Rogue)
- Bumper plates (Rogue)
- Bench (Rogue)
- 1 Medicine ball (Perform Better)
- resistance/ assistance bands (Rogue)
- TRX suspension trainer
- Yoga mat
- A few DB's ( I want more)
All this fit into my garage and I can still pull the Jeep in as well. The initial investment was a little over $1,000. Not too bad really and I can do absolutely everything I need to.
- Heavier DB's
- Landmine attachment for rig
- various size plyo boxes
I use several tools to help me track my fitness progress. I am firm believer that if your are not tracking your fitness you are not actually training. How do you know if you are improving if you are not tracking. Below is a list of the tools I use and how I use them.
- Iron gains app- I use this app to track my strength training. I create my own programs, utilize their exercise library, and add new exercises if needed. It is very basic but it allows me to track my strength gains from session to session. Some of the others I have tried recently are Iron Pro and Fitbod
- Apple watch and OTF Burn- I am obsessed with closing my circles. I use my heart rate monitor from OTF and link it with my Apple watch to get a more accurate (real time) heart rate reading. This also tracks my calorie expenditure as well. Important note regarding tracking calorie expenditure... the are all gross estimations. Do not treat these as anywhere close to 100% accurate. It does however help me "ball park" my caloric needs.
- Elite HRV- I am fascinated by Heart Rate variability (HRV). I will discuss this more when I talk about the Whoop band below in my "Sleep/ recovery" section. Elite HRV is a great free app that can be utilized with most hear rate monitors. I find that chest straps work best. They also sell there own devises, But I have not used or purchased these. HRV is a great tool to measure recovery. This will key you in on how hard to should be training and when there is potential of a negative impact on your body due to lack of recovery or illness. The following was taken directly for the Elite HRV website. In short, HRV is an accurate,
non-invasive measure of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – which
responds to everything: how you exercise, recover, eat, sleep and
Unlike basic heart rate (HR) that counts the number of heartbeats per minute, HRV looks much closer at the exact changes in time between successive heartbeats (also called inter-beat intervals, RR intervals, NN intervals, etc).
By trending short HRV readings on a daily basis, our adaptive algorithms learn what your “normal” Autonomic Nervous System patterns look like, help you gain insights into your nervous system, stress and recovery activity, and then automatically guide you in improving those patterns over time.
- Pedometer- I utilize the pedometer app on my iPhone to track my daily steps. It links to my Apple watch so I don't have to have my phone glued to my body all day. Now that I am working from home I find myself sitting much more than usual. It is generally accepted that most people should walk at least 10,000 steps per day. Doing this will help you body fight off common conditions and diseases that can be attributed to inactivity (heart disease, stroke, depression, etc.). There have been several occasions where I have strapped on the shoes at 10:30 pm to take a long fast paced walk to get my 10, 000 steps. My 10,000 step streak was at 147 straight days until I went on an 11 hour road trip that broke my streak. My goal for 2021, is a streak of 365 days.
- Weekly meal planning. I know everyone has heard this, it is an absolute must. When I neglect to do this I easily will end up ordering out 3-4 days per week. This is not only expensive, but can also be challenging from a nutritional value standpoint.
- Command station: I have a area right off my kitchen that I call my command station. Here you will find our weekly meal plan and schedule. You will also find our weekly "responsibility" chart that the kids use to earn "commissions" for task they can do around the house (My version of chores). This has nothing to do with nutrition but I figured I would throw in a pic.
- Meal planning and shopping is usually done on Sunday or Monday morning.
- Family involvement- This is important to me. I was taught how to cook at an early age and this has greatly benefited me as an adult. The method is simply, I simply explain everything I am doing as I cook and this has lead to several positive unintended results:
- My kids ask me if they can help... I rarely ever ask them if they want to cook or help me cook. They just do.
- Both my kids read nutritional labels when we go grocery shopping. They know what to look for and what to avoid. I never actually taught this to them, they just watch me, and again ask questions.
- This has led to great nutritional conversation, such as why processed foods should be avoided. And, why do we look for items that have no added sugar and why we limit our sugar intake. Why does our body need protein... and healthy versus bad fats.
Tracking nutrition progress and seasonal intermittent fasting.
I don't believe in counting calories for the long term. In my opinion it is not sustainable for daily use and if often very inaccurate. People typically grossly underestimate their caloric intake. With that said, most people are creatures of habit and eat the same things throughout the week. Because of this, occasional and short term nutritional tracking is important to be sure you are eating the correct types of foods and amounts to help you reach your goals. I will typically track my meals for about 2-4 weeks. This allows me to learn and adjust. And then, like I mentioned earlier will rely on my habits to sustain for a while.
I experiment with intermittent fasting occasionally throughout the year. There is a lot of data out there in regards to the benefits of intermittent fasting for various reasons. From improving cell function, weight loss, lowering insulin resistance... leading to decrease risk of diabetes, to improved heart health, reduced inflammation and many more. But I dont experiment with intermittent fasting for any of those reason so I will not dive into that today.
So why do you experiment with intermittent fasting? For me it is simply for discipline. I practice a 16-8 fast. I use the "Life" app to help me track my fasting time, but I typically fast from 8 pm until 12 pm. The great thing about this schedule is I am asleep for a large chunk of it. Eating is often habitual and emotional, and I find myself snacking late at night, typically after the kids go to bed while I am watching TV or working on the computer. I am not necessarily hungry... I have just formed a habit of eating during this time. And as you can imagine, the foods I snack on have little to no positive nutritional value. Fasting helps me remain disciplined with my meals.
So, on occasion throughout the year I will practice intermittent fasting. This is also the time that I do most of my nutritional tracking. Since I am only eating (read: fueling) for a specific 8 hour period I need to be sure I am refueling with the appropriate amount and types of calories. This is important as all calories are not created equal!
There are several really good apps for this. I have been using the "Lose it" app.
- It is free (paid options available)
- Very easy to track
- has a bar code scanning option for tracking foods
- Links with my exercise apps to include calorie expenditure and steps (remember, just am estimate)
- Gives you an easy to understand breakdown of your macros (proteins, carbs, and Fats)
Sleep and recovery are probably the biggest missing link in most people fitness plan... and probably the most important, maybe behind nutrition. As a matter of fact I dedicated an entire blog post to this topic, you can find it here. Here are the tools I use to track my sleep and recovery.
- Halo Band: I recently started using the Halo band about 2 months ago. The Halo band is Amazons entry into the world of "fitness wearable". My hopes is that it would be similar to the Whoop band which I really liked. Although it does not quite live up to the Whoop band (yet), here is some of the cool things it will do
- track activity
- Track heart rate 24/7
- Perform picture based body fat scan. I am not completely convinced in the accuracy of this. I have access to an "Inbody" device and there is a large difference between the two and I am very confident with the accuracy of results from the Inbody.
- Measure tone of voice. This is a little questionable as well. Are your conversations positive? Concerning? Angry?, etc.
- Educational resources
- ~$3/ month after the initial purchase of the band. I purchased before it was released and paid $69.
- Whoop band: I absolutely loved the information that the Whoop band gave me... however, I no longer use or wear the device. The only reason I discontinued this was the monthly price. To me it was a little steep at $30 a month for a 6 month commitment. You can lower the monthly price by committing to a 1 or 2 year agreement. You can decide if the price is too steep for you, lets talk about the great features. In short, it utilizes HRV to measure sleep, recovery, and strain
- As I stated earlier, I am a big fan of HRV to help predict proper recovery and potential illness. The whoop band does a great job of this in an easy to understand format via the app.
- How much sleep do you really need to recovery based on strain and HRV? Whoop will tell you. Maybe its 6 hours for me and 9.5 hours for you.
- Sleep. Whoop measures quality, efficiency and consistency of your sleep. This all ties back in to recovery and how hard you can or should train
Click the link above to learn more. I highly recommend this product if you feel the price fits within your fitness budget.
- Sleep cycle app: I have been using this app for about 10 year to track my sleep and I really enjoy it. You will get much of the same data from Whoop and the Halo band so you really don't need them both. I continue to use both, mainly because I like the gentle wake alarm feature of the Sleep cycle app. This might be a paid app now, but I have been using it for so long it is free for me?? Great sleep app though and I also highly recommend this one. Here are a few cool features
- measure quality of sleep (deep, REM, awake)
- tracks snoring
- weather, and how it affects your sleep
- resting HR
- Many many statics and how you rank among other Americans and those from different countries (sleep quality, regularity, time you went to bed, wake time, time in bed, time asleep, how long it took to fall asleep, etc)
This is something very new for me. Practicing mindfulness by keeping a daily journal. I have only been using this app for 7 days now so not much to report. I am using an app called Day One journal app
So welcome to 2021. I know as a country we are off to a rocky start, but using these tools will allow you to take personal responsibility for your health. There is still mixed information regarding COVID 19 in general, but there is sound research on how the effects of exercise can help reduce the likelihood of several diseases including COVID 19.
Be well, and as always... Win The Day!