Exercise and Your Heart: Find Your Target Heart Rate

February 10, 2014

   As a fitness trainer helping people to maintain a healthy heart is truly close to my own heart. In the interest of your own heart health, before jumping into an exercise regimen you should clear it with your doctor.

   Regular exercise that gets your heart beating is the key. But how much? Here are some basics about understanding how to gauge the right amount.

Resting Heart Rate

   First, know your resting heart rate, which is the number of times your heart beats per minute while doing no activity. It’s best to check it in the morning after you’ve had a good night’s sleep and before you get out of bed.

   The average resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. There are some factors to consider. The better fit you are, the lower your resting heart rate will be. And as you get older it will test higher. But in general, too low or too high of a pulse could be a sign of something that needs a doctor's attention.

   Take your pulse on the inside of the wrist on the thumb side. Use the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) to press lightly over the blood vessels on your wrist. Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to find your beats per minute.

Maximum Heart Rate

   Maximum heart rate is the highest rate your heart should be allowed to go during a workout. Exercising at this level is awesome if you're training for the Tour de France or the New York Marathon. But for the rest of us maximum heart rate is important because it's the data point that helps map out a program.

   To find your maximum heart rate, take 220 and minus your age. If you're 53, for example, your maximum heart rate is 167.

Target Heart Rate

   Your target heart rate is the key to exercising for heart health whether it's on a stationary bike or in a sea kayak. A range between 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate is your target heart rate.

   So, for the 53 year-old with a maximum heart rate of 167, you multiply .50 x 167 for the low end and .85 x 167 for the high end. Rounded it's a range of 84 to 142 beats per minute. Exercise you do that gets your heart beating in the range of the target rate is what you want.

   That's a pretty wide margin. For my clients who are just starting out, I train them at their lowest end of the range and develop a program to help them to higher levels over time. A heart rate monitor is the piece of equipment that will help you keep tabs on how fast your heart is beating.

Rules of Thumb

   If you're straining at, say, 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, you're probably taking on too much and you should back it down. You don't have to exercise that hard to get a heart benefit and to stay in shape. Some people can actually achieve 50 percent of maximum heart rate with a brisk walk. Everyone is different.

   If your workout feels light at 50 percent of maximum heart rate - if you can have a conversation without having to stop talking to take breaths - the intensity is probably too low. Push yourself to exercise at a higher target heart rate.

An FFL Real Review: The Garmin Forerunner 15

September 14, 2015

   I’m a believer in using whatever motivates you to succeed.

   For some it’s the dog. Waking up in the morning to their canine friend hounding them to take a walk. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt but in the end both appreciate getting out. The American Heart Association did a recent study that confirms dog owners have a lower rate of obesity, heart disease, anxiety, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

   Other people are calendar driven. It’s a gift. The appointment arrives and they just do it. I’m not sure that’s what Nike had in mine when it came up with their slogan, but it works for them (and me). Then there are the fitness gadgets. It’s like having a dog/calendar on your wrist. Some of these trackers, like a Swiss Army knife that does too much, can be overwhelming . Fortunately you can turn some of these features off so there is less for you to learn all at once.

   Less is often more.

Garmin Forerunner 15

   So, on the less is more theme, one tracker I've been impressed with is the Garmin Forerunner series. I've been using the Forerunner 15 and it's focus on one kind of activity is its strength. However, I would not recommend it for everyone. This watch might not be the best device on the market for those whose goal is to lose weight. Fitbits and other similar activity trackers do a better job. But those for whom it's designed have a good chance of loving it.

   Where the Garmin Forerunner 15 excels is for anyone who is taking up power walking, jogging, or running.

   Let's say your doctor has told you to exercise more. And not just move around but engage in a daily regime. This focused activity is something the watch can track. It does this in two modes simultaneously. The base mode is your daily number of steps. The watch will track them daily and there is no button pushing required. For optimal fitness set your daily steps for 10,000 per day. The watch comes with a default of 7,500 (that's kind of active, more in the upper couch potato range). You'll want to reset it to 10,000.

Power Walking

   The other mode is the stopwatch. At the beginning of your walk, hit the colored stopwatch button. The watch then connects to the GPS. The is how the watch tracks your distance walked. 

   Hit the colored button again, the stopwatch then begins to measure your distance as you move. When your walk is finished, hit the button one more time and stop the stopwatch.The Forerunner 15 displays the time, steps, distance and pace. Simply save the "run" and the watch returns to its original state. When you look at your daily steps for the day you'll see that all the steps from your power walk have been added to your total.

   This device is basic and a powerful tool without being too complex. One thing many realize after using it is how inactive they actually are. I've heard it many times: "Wow, my normal day of activity is way off the mark from what it should be. 10,000 steps is a lot more activity than I'm used to."

   Many of us get into a habit of moving less and less as our lives change, and we age not realizing how little we actually are moving. Using a tracker will help you realize that your body is capable (and even wants) to move more. Once you know what 10,000 steps in a day feels like, and once that becomes your new normal, it becomes a platform for you to improve your health at any age.

   There are a few useful features you can turn off or on depending on where you are in your development. One of them is the "Move" alert as in the above picture. You'll hear a beep when you haven't walked at least 200 steps in the last hour. I find this to be less useful once you've shifted to 10,000 steps/day as your new normal. When you're hitting your daily goal regularly, turn this feature off.

Jogging & Running (and Power Walking, too)

   For runners, the Forerunner (and as I write this it occurs to me how Garmin came up with the name!) has a heart monitor feature that I found tested beautifully.

 The heart rate monitor is the best indicator of how well your heart rate changes over time of use. This isn't just for Olympic athletes. It is a helpful tool for anyone getting their heart healthy and maintaining it. Exercise is beneficial to the heart and can help manage high blood pressure among the many other benefits. 

   Rather than just exercising and hoping you're helping your heart, a heart rate monitor offers a picture of what's actually happening, giving you more control. Knowledge is power. There's a heart rate alert you can set which tells when to back off or do more depending on your heart exertion goals.

   Is it possible to exercise and stay off the medications? Yes. But as you know, if you're thinking of getting a training device always consult your doctor first. 

   If you really want to get fancy there's a "Run/Walk" feature for intervals. If you're new to jogging or running, instead of biting off 1 or 2 miles right away, the feature can be set up to tell when to walk and when to run. Over time you can reset the intervals to walk less and run more. The same feature can also help competitive athletes with speed training, as the watch alerts you when to do sprints during a training run.

   If you want to run (or power walk) at a certain pace (minutes per mile) the watch can alert you when you're off pace. You can also set the watch to pause. So, if you stop for, say, a phone call coming in or you bump into a friend on a trail at Fiscalini Ranch, the watch doesn't include the time and inactivity spent during the pause, which would throw off your actual numbers. And you can set the watch to beep at you each time you hit a mile. I found that feature interesting but not needed unless you're really mile-oriented.

Clunky Software Design

   The software's downside for me is that is has far too many buttons, window panes, menus and views creating too much to learn for my needs. I'm not saying Garmin Connect doesn't work. But while the watch is good because it allows you to focus and doesn't require a lot fuss, the software feels like just the opposite. I don't need another computer app to manipulate and then spend time admiring all the data it can display.

   There are only a few things I need to know: how am I doing? i.e., how many steps in a day now compared to the start of my program? A person can look at the calendar in the app and see that they're taking too many days off, even though they thought they were right on. That's really useful.

   It took me awhile to figure out how to access the core pieces of data I needed. You are probably more tech savvy then me so maybe it will take you less time to find your way around, get the data you need for your particular goals, and customize the app.

   Once you do get familiar with it, there are a few notable nice things about the features. The best one I used was the course/map feature. I went in and literally constructed a course on Fiscalini Ranch trails which not only shows the distance but elevation loss and gain of the terrain. Then, I walked that course with a heart monitor. When I returned to my computer and plugged the watch in, the Garmin Connect software showed my performance on the course--my pace, my steps, my calories burned, and my heart rate at every stage of the walk.

   How cool is that? 

   If I were trying to burn a certain number of calories or speed up my pace, I'd have the data to monitor my progress.

   I haven't even touched on all the software's features because I had a specific purpose in mind when I chose to use it. It does more when it comes to tracking and setting parameters for your training sessions and these are additional features you may find useful.

   By the way, I'll be reviewing more fitness tech in the future and I'm calling these "real reviews" because I'm not being paid to give them, nor am I receiving free products. I'm just telling you what I think as a personal trainer. 

   I'd give the Garmin Forerunner 15 an A as a great off-the-shelf ready-to-use device. The software gets a C because it isn't so very user friendly. Although I think it can be mastered.

3 Great Exercises to Tighten your Butt & Legs

June 9, 2014

   As a cyclist I am always looking for effective ways to cross train my legs. I've found some exercises that work your core, quadraceps, hamstrings, glutes & calves. These three leg exercises are my favorite.

   Leg workouts are great for a number of reasons. They help to improve your cardiovascular endurance and core strength. That means they can help with weightlifting, too. Leg workouts also help to increase and maintain bone density. This can help to decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis. In addition, strengthening the legs will help to put less stress on your bones and joints. 

  So, perform each exercise one time then repeat all three exercises two more times. 

Dumbbell Step-Ups with Alternating Legs

   Start with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing the sides of your legs. The right leg steps up on a step or bench extending your hip and knee. The left leg steps up so both legs are on the step. Right leg returns to floor and left leg follows. Remember to keep your torso upright. Continue the sequence for 1 minute. Repeat it with your left leg for 1 minute.

   Do this exercise 3 times a week.

Dumbbell Step-Ups with One Leg

   Start with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing the sides of your legs. The right leg steps up on a step or bench extending your hip and knee. The left leg hangs straight as you extend the right leg, then shift your weight coming down on your left leg. Raise your body up and down on your right leg for 30 seconds. Repeat on your left side.

 Perform this exercise 3 times a week.

Backward Lunge with Forward Leg Kick

   From a standing position, step back with your right foot to perform a reverse lunge, keeping the other foot planted. Instead of just returning to the standing position, push with your planted (left) leg and kick your right foot out in front of you. After you kick, perform another reverse lunge without stopping to begin the next rep. Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat the previous steps.

   Do this exercise 3 times a week.

   When these are done regularly they will increase your stability and strengthen your legs.

Working Out With An Injury

May 26, 2014

  Can you still work out if you have been injured or if you're suffering from chronic aches and pains? Of course you can.

   There are rarely reasons to take a hiatus from exercise. After all, you use your body parts every single day. I would encourage you to do whatever you can to keep your body moving. It enhances your body's ability to improve circulation. Your blood contains oxygen and promotes repair of injuries and cell growth and repair to the affected area. The cells in the body regenerate and repair by reducing the size of the damaged tissue and replace it with new living tissue. This is important in the recovery of your injured area.

   There is also a well recognized interrelationship between hormones, nutrition, and wound healing. When tissue is repaired, the anabolic process of protein synthesis requires the action of anabolic hormones. When outside forces such as exercise occurs, it helps to maintain or increase lean body mass as well as directly stimulate the healing process through anabolic or anticatabolic actions.

   Of course, you are going to have to modify your routine a bit…. Don’t think of an injury as an obstacle it is merely an opportunity to concentrate on other body parts.

Look at the injury as an opportunity

   Repetitve motion can in itself create an injury. We frequently work the same parts in the same way, even though we know it is best to mix up the way we exercise a body part. Use this time to work on different parts of the body more intensly. One thing you don't want to happen while healing in one spot is muscle atrophy from lack of exercise everywhere else. Let's say you have tendonitis in your elbow. Use this time to work more intently on your core, shoulders, or legs. It might be a good time to learn some core pilates exercises or yoga meditation.

Was the injury preventable? 

   Sometimes we get so caught up in the endorphin rush we forget that our body does need to rest between activities. Pushing too hard or too often can be harmful. Overuse can strain or sprain muscles and without enough rest to rebuild they can get injured more easily. If we continue to weaken that body part, over time it can become a chronic injury. Are you warming up and stretching enough afterwards? Working too hard when you're tired or in pain? Awareness of your body's limitations can help in staying injury free.

Will it work for me?

   Absolutely. My client Jerry had a chronic knee and back problem. We discovered that he would sit on the couch for long periods of time, usually after playing ping pong and pickleball. That sitting put a big strain on his back. Years of backpacking and hiking had weakend his otherwise healthy right knee. We worked on developing a stronger core and upper body while the other parts healed. Once healed we returned to the injured body parts strengthening and stretching them as well as the muscles surrounding. Once he could play again, his pickleball game quickly began to improve due to his added upper body strength.  

What can I do?

   Always consult your physician first to make sure you’re healthy enough to exercise during your recovery and to find out what if any movements you might need to avoid. Then try to get back in to your routine, which you've worked hard to maintain. Let's say you ran or did cardio 3 times a week regularly and for now you cannot be on your feet. Try swimming, arm cycling, seated recumbant biking or even chair aerobics to get that heart rate elevated the way it's used to being worked.

The Rice Principle

   As a general guideline, the acronym RICE should serve as the basis of treatment for most minor injuries. R stands for rest – that is, either take a few days off or reduce your training intensity and volume. I stands for ice – ice the affected area to reduce pain and swelling. A good guideline is to ice the area for 15 minutes every two hours to reduce pain and swelling. C stands for compression – apply pressure to the area with an elastic bandage or wrap to minimize inflammation and damage from excessive swelling. E stands for elevation – that is, elevate the affected limb to assist in the drainage of fluid.

  The bottom line is to keep the body moving. The healing process will improve faster and you will feel better from head to toe.  

4 Great exercises that support your core and abs

May 18, 2014

   Our abdominals are a set of muscles that make up our core. They include many interconnected muscles that run up the back and stretch down to the butt; and the front and inner thighs.

   Abdominals are key in supporting the spine and contributing to good posture.  When properly exercised, these muscles help to improve posture and balance.

   Core stability is essential for movement and to maintain an upright posture. These muscles also play an important role in lifting things that require extra effort, such as a heavy weight from the ground to a table. Without core stability the lower back is not supported from the inside and can be injured due to strain. It is also believed that insufficient core stability can result in lower back pain, and lethargy.

   So, I'd like to share a few of my favorite core/abdominal exercises with you.


   Lie on your back with your knees bent toward your chest. Hold a three pound dumbbell with both hands. Extend your left leg to 45 degrees, keeping your right knee bent. Lift your head and shoulders and move the dumbbell to the outside of your right knee, pressing into a crunch with a twist (shown above). Pull your left leg in to meet your right leg and reach the weight up toward the ceiling, keeping your shoulders and head elevated off the floor. Now repeat step 2, but this time extend your right leg and keep your left knee bent. That’s one rep.

   Do 10 reps 4 times a week.

   Lie on your back on a stability ball with your feet hip-distance apart on the floor and knees bent 90 degrees. Place your right hand behind your head and your left fingertips on the floor for balance. Brace your core and lift your left foot off the floor. Extend your left leg, keeping the foot flexed.

   Crunch up, twisting your right shoulder and rib cage toward your left knee while simultaneously stretching your right leg straight. Keep your foot on the floor. Return to starting position with you left leg lifted and right leg bent. That's one rep. 

   Do 15 reps on each side. Repeat 4 times a week.

   Lie on your back with knees bent 90 degree. Straighten your arms by your sides and lengthen your fingertips. Press the back of your shoulders against a mat and slide them down away from your ears. Focus on keeping your back on the floor. Inhale and slowly move your knees to the right. Then exhale and return to starting position. Repeat on the left. That’s one rep.

Do 5 to 8 reps. Repeat 4 times a week.

   On your back raise your right arm and left leg to the ceiling, keeping both straight. Keep your palm facing the center of your body with your foot pointed to the ceiling. Keep your lower back to the floor. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat with your other arm and leg. Increase gradually to 20 seconds, holding on each side.

   Repeat on the each side 3 times. Repeat 4 times a week.

   You should notice improvement in as little as three weeks.

Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Athletic Performance?

April 7, 2014

   Did you know that consuming alcohol after a workout, practice or competition can cancel out any physiological gains you may have received during your session. Not only does long term alcohol use diminish protein synthesis that results in a decrease in muscle build-up, short term alcohol use prevents muscle growth, which is one of the reasons we work out so hard.

   Now, I'm not saying you should become a teetotaler. I like wine tasting and here in Cambria we live in one of the world's great wine regions. But if you're trying to make progress — whether you're a walker or an elite athlete — it's wise to be judicious about alcohol consumption. We know a lot more about its effects on athletic performance today than we did back when Tour de France riders drank wine on their bikes during a race!

In view of Alcohol Awareness Month in April, here are some effects to be aware of on athletic performance when drinking alcohol:

Human Growth Hormone — To build bigger and stronger muscles our body needs sleep to repair itself after a workout. Because of alcohol's effect on sleep the body is robbed of HGH or human growth hormone. HGH is a part of the normal muscle building and repair process and the body's way of telling itself your muscles need to grow and get stronger. It can decrease this secretion by as much as 70 percent.

Testosterone — One thing that is essential for muscle development and recovery is testosterone. But alcohol triggers the production of a substance in your liver that is toxic to testosterone. And yes, testosterone is important for women too. According to Clif Arrington, of anti-agingmd.com based in Hawaii, says it can improve memory, boost energy, revive your interest in sex, and in general increase your entire sense of well being.

Dehydration and Muscle Cramps — Alcohol slows down the body's ability to heal itself. Alcohol is a toxin — toxins travel through our bloodstream to our body's organs and tissues. By the time you become severely dehydrated your body no longer has enough fluids to get blood to your organs. In extreme situations an individual can go into shock which can be life threatening. 

Vital Nutrients — Not only is alcohol lacking any nutritional value it also inhibits the absorption of thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, folic acid and zinc. Thiamin is essential to optimal performance. It plays an important role in metabolizing carbohydrates. Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells. Folic acid is involved in the formation of new cells. A lack of folic acid causes megoloblastic anemia which is a lowering of oxygen carrying capacity. This will effect one's endurance. Zinc is essential to your energy metabolic process.

Energy Source — Once absorbed through your stomach, small intestines and cells, it can can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells. This disruption changes their ability to produce ATP, adenosine triphosphate, which is your muscles’ source of energy. ATP provides the fuel needed  for muscle contraction.

   So given all this information I will conclude that, yes indeed, alcohol does affect athletic performance. And let's face it whether we are running our first 5k, powerwalk, marathon, triathalon or just trying to build muscle and stay healthy it can effect our ability to reach our goals. I truly believe that we are all athletes in our own way and the more information we have to figure out the best way we can achieve our goals the easier it is to make those decisions along the way.

Muscle Mass and Aging

March 31, 2014

   Your skeletal muscles, also known as lean muscle, are the muscles that attach to your bones and are under voluntary control. As you age your skeletal muscle mass starts to deteriorate. I'm writing this post with the thought that I can give you a realistic sense of what happens to your muscles as you age, and then I'll conclude with the good news about weight bearing and aerobic exercise.

   Starting at age 40, muscle mass begins to decline. It accelerates by 50. Bone mass or density loss in women after menopause is common and our bones begin to lose calcium and other minerals. The rate of muscle loss is faster than the muscle we gain. Our bodies don't work as efficiently as they used to, which leads to a slower metabolism and fat accumulation. Muscle weakening or atrophy sets in. The reasons for atrophy are many. I will share four of them with you: age, sedentary lifestyle, medications and disease.

Age Related Changes in Muscle

   Muscles lose their size and strength as we get older, which contributes to fatigue, weakness and less tolerance to exercise. This is due in part because the number of muscle fibers start to reduce in size and numbers. Muscle tissue is also replaced more slowly. As the nervous system changes, muscles become less toned and the ability to contract them gets more difficult. Bone structure changes result in a loss of bone tissue, calcium and other minerals making this another contributing factor. Joints lose their lubrication (synovial fluid) becoming stiffer and less flexible.

Sedentary Lifestyle 

   You've heard the saying, "use it or lose it". Inactivity causes our joint cartilage to shrink and stiffen, reducing joint mobility. A sedentary lifestyle causes muscles to lose their mitochondria. The main function of the mitochondria is to produce energy for various parts of the body. It burns fat or sugar for energy. If the body does not need energy, fat gets stored. This fat increases the number of fat cells in the body making it harder to lose weight. Being sedentary increases the body's capacity for fat storage, which results in a greater chance for developing high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol. A common thought is that this inactivity causes transdifferentiation (a conversion of one differentiated cell type into another) resulting in the muscle cells changing to fat cells. The body gets signals that it no longer needs those muscle cells.


   There are a few medications prescribed for specific conditions that cause muscle weakness. One of those medications is systemic corticosteroids, often prescribed for people with asthma or inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Statins are used for preventing and treating atherosclerosis that causes chest pain, heart attacks, strokes, cholesterol and diabetes - muscle pain is one of the side effects.


   Many chronic diseases commonly cause muscle weakness. In some conditions this is due to reduced blood and nutrient supply to the muscles. Chronic kidney disease, anemia, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, depression, peripheral vascular disease, chronic pain are some of these diseases. Osteoporosis is a disease directly related to the gradual loss of bone proteins and minerals resulting in fragile bones making an individual more at risk for fracture.

Exercise and Strength Training

   The good news is that strength training can address just about all of the above issues. And, you can start - with a doctor's approval - at any age.

  The beneficial effects of strength training include replacing muscle, reducing fat, increasing metabolic rate, relieving or decreasing low back and arthritic pain, lowering blood pressure, minimizing osteoporosis, enhancing glucose utilization, mitigating depression and improving blood lipid levels.

   The amount of exercise on regular basis should be reasonable and represent a doable commitment of time. Lets face it, if it becomes another chore we will discontinue it like all the rest of those disliked chores. Aerobic activity should be 5 days a week of moderate intensity for a total of at least 150 minutes according to ACSM guidelines.

   Muscles are the engine of the body. Strength training enables these muscles to get stronger, helping us to use them more effectively and with less effort. For musculoskeletal fitness the recommendations is 8 to 10 resistant exercises performed 10 to 15 times each as a set 2 to 3 days a week, according to ACSM guidelines.

   I strongly feel that exercise and strength training are essential to living a healthy and productive long life.