Sunday, April 27

An eventful fortnight!

Let's start with good news. Word has spread that I'm available during the day to cover classes so I've been busy teaching at my regular clubs. I also contacted a bunch of other health clubs in the area and got positive responses from many of them - I've already been contacted to cover classes, which will hopefully build up to keep me busy with 2-3 classes a day. Enough to earn a decent basic wage...

I've also decided to develop further in the fitness profession by qualifying as a personal trainer. Taking an intensive course means I should be qualified by September, although most of the work will need to be done in the next two months. This will hopefully allow me to work not just as a personal trainer in a gym (a good steady wage) but also to train in the way I think is unbeatable - no fancy machines, weights sessions, etc. Just good old-fashioned hard work using basic principles - shuttle runs, rope skipping, medicine balls, benches, running, exercise that use nothing but gravity (press-ups, etc.) to increase conditioning... oh, and cycling, of course!!

Now for the bad news - on Thursday, I was on my way to a class I'd agreed to cover and riding my moped on a clear, dry day. While riding along on a main road, a car pulled out from a side turning right in front of me, leaving me with only two options: brake sharply and skid into the back of the car or dodge to the right and overtake (the opposite lane was empty, fortunately). At this point the woman driving decided to make a sharp right turn in front of me without looking, indicating only as she made her turn. It's difficult to describe how it feels in a split second to realise I had nowhere to go at this point, that a collision was inevitable, realise my best option was to avoid going over the car by sliding into it sideways, then feeling the jarring as my shoulder took the brunt of the impact, landing on the ground in agony.

I managed to stay conscious throughout - unfortunately - and have to give credit to the bystanders, the police and ambulance crew for getting there so quickly. I managed to thank all those involved, despite the pain... and thank scientists for inventing anaesthetic - it made the unimaginable pain more bearable, although I did feel like everything was happening in a distant dimension! On Thursday night I was so drugged up on morphine that I got fed up of the noise in the ward and went into the toilets, where I promptly fell asleep in a chair for four hours - I was found by the nurses at 6am after they searched for me, fearing I was wandering around the hospital like a zombie!

Anyway, diagnosis was a fractured scapula (shoulder blade) and thumb, as well as the usual cuts and bruises. I was determined to be discharged the next day - I had a Spinning weekend workshop to attend! - so I refused the pain killers and spent most of my day working on my mobility. The risk was that I might need surgery but I could not spend another night/day in that bed without getting cabin fever. The surgeon finally saw me and was impressed that I managed to regain about 40% mobility in my arm/shoulder, so he discharged me in time to get a decent night's rest before going to the workshop the following day. I also got rid of the thumb splint, so I could use it despite the fracture. Funny thing is that the shoulder is not the source of my main problem - it's the muscles in my arm cramping up whenever I try to engage them. It means I can ride a spinning bike one-handed but not be able to tie my shoe-laces!

So, an eventful few weeks. Luckily, I only have one class tomorrow evening and another two on Tuesday before heading off for a week's holiday in France. No cycling, unfortunately, but it'll do me good. When I come back I'll be ready to head off to the Schwinn Revolution event - a weekend of spinning classes, in my case two rides on Friday, eight on Saturday and five on Sunday. I'm not going to let a measly fractured shoulder stop me from riding!

Oh, the best part is that the surgeon wants to see me the week after to check on my progress... wait till I tell him what I've been up to! Hehehehehehe

Saturday, April 12

The BadAss Wombles of Central Park!

Yo! Wombles in the 'hood!

I've just seen this campaign on this morning's BBC News and it's the best laugh I've had in ages.

The problem is that only 1% of new children's programmes are made in the UK and that naturally impacts onto our language and culture. As a way of illustrating this, PACT (the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television) produced this gem to a launch their new campaign.

Not loading? Click here!

The only thing I would add, to show how much our language has already been influenced by imported TV, is to correct Great Uncle Bulgaria - they're called "children", not "kids"!

And what IS a "fannypack"? Sounds like a box of Kotex/Allways Ultra...

Sunday, April 6

Post-exercise sauna

Exposure to heat is widely used as a traditional therapy in many different cultures but does it really have the benefits we would associate with it (improved circulation, stronger heart, etc.)? I recently came across some old (2001, 2004 and 2006) medical papers on the benefits of saunas - the first looked at the benefits to patients with coronary risk factors, the second at how regular sauna use reduces stress factors and the third at the effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of athletes.

In the first study, 25 men with at least one coronary risk factor and 10 healthy men without coronary risk factors were enrolled. Patients in the risk group were treated with a dry sauna for 15 min and then kept in a bed covered with blankets for 30 min once a day for two weeks. They found that the repeated sauna treatment improves impaired vascular endothelial function in the setting of coronary risk factors, suggesting a therapeutic role for sauna treatment in patients with risk factors for atherosclerosis.

For the second paper, 28 subjects with at least one coronary risk factor participated in the study. They were randomly assigned to either the sauna group or the non-sauna group. As in the first study, subjects in the sauna group were placed supine in a dry sauna for 15 minutes. After the sauna, they rested on a bed with a blanket for 30 minutes. This occurred once a day for two weeks. Subjects in the non-sauna group were placed in supine position at room temperature for 45 minutes a day for two weeks.

The coronary risk factors measured were body weight, heart rate, blood pressure, hematocrit, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting plama glucose and urinary 8-Epi-Prostaglandin F2a (a marker of oxidative stress). All subjects were admitted to the same hospital and ate the same meals throughout the two-week study period. On admission and after two weeks, urine samples were taken after an overnight fast.

Results of the study showed that repeated sauna therapy significantly reduces levels of urinary 8-Epi-Prostaglandin F2a, a marker of oxidative stress, or destruction caused by free radicals, which may lead to diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, according to recent research. Systolic blood pressure in the sauna group had also decreased significantly after two weeks and it was significantly lower than that of the non-sauna group. The authors suggested a combination of diet, exercise and repeated sauna therapy as the best method for preventing lifestyle-related diseases, such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes mellitus. The good news is that repeated sauna therapy can be used even for patients who are unable to exercise, e.g., due to injury.

I then wondered whether these beneficial effects could be used for improving athletic performance, which led me to find the third study (good old Google!). They performed a cross-over study in which six male distance runners completed three weeks of post-training sauna bathing and 3 weeks of control training, with a 3-week washout. During the sauna period, subjects sat in a humid sauna immediately post-exercise for 30 mins. The performance test was a 15-min treadmill run to exhaustion at the runner's current best speed over 5 km. The test was performed on the 1st and 2nd day following completion of the sauna and control periods, and the times were averaged.

Plasma, red-cell and total blood volume were measured immediately prior to the first run to exhaustion for each period. Relative to control, sauna bathing increased run time to exhaustion by 32%, which is equivalent to an enhancement of 1.9% in an endurance time trial. Plasma and red-cell volumes increased by 7.1% and 3.5% respectively, after sauna relative to control. Change in performance had high correlations with change in plasma volume and total blood volume, although the correlation with change in red-cell volume was unclear. They concluded that the physiological adaptations to 3 weeks of post-exercise sauna bathing produced a worthwhile enhancement of endurance running performance, probably by increasing blood volume.

So which is better - dry or humid sauna? Dry is where infrared rays are used to induce heat, whereas a humid sauna is either a hot steam room or the Finnish-style sauna where water is added to hot rocks to create a mist.

So I tracked down the results of yet another study, which compared changes in hemodynamic and thermoregulatory functions during 10 mins of humid sauna bathing and those in a dry sauna. Subjects were 7 healthy young men. Blood pressure, heart rate, skin temperature at chest, forearm, thigh, and leg, skin blood flow at forearm, and sweat rate were measured at 1-min intervals throughout the experiment. Total sweating and change of hematocrit were also measured for dehydration analysis.

Blood pressure and heart rate were higher and total sweating greater in dry bathing than humid. Mean skin temperature in dry bathing was higher than that in mist bathing, i.e., you feel the heat more on the skin than "in your bones". This suggests that the heat stress of the dry sauna may be stronger than that of the mist sauna, leading to dehydration by sweating. On the other hand, changes in skin blood flow and sweat rate during the mist sauna were increased much more than those during dry sauna. The mist sauna may thus be safer physiologically and provide more effective vascular dilation and sweating than the dry sauna.

In short, if you want decrease your risk of coronary disease, improve your athletic performance, your endurance and stamina or if you just want a good sauna - (a) it's good for you and (b) head for the humid kind (I must admit to never having seen the dry kind...)


Repeated thermal therapy improves impaired vascular endothelial function in patients with coronary risk factors

Masakazu Imamura, Sadatoshi Biro, Takashi Kihara, Shiro Yoshifuku, Kunitsugu Takasaki, Yutaka Otsuji, Shinichi Minagoe, Yoshifumi Toyama and Chuwa Tei
J Am Coll Cardiol, 2001; 38:1083-1088

Repeated Sauna Therapy Reduces Urinary 8-Epi-Prostaglandin F2a

Akinori Masuda, Masaaki Miyata, Takashi Kihara, Shinichi Minagoe and Chuwa Tei
Japanese Heart Journal, 2004, Vol. 45, pp. 297-303.

Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners

Guy S.M. Scoona, William G. Hopkinsb, Simon Mayhewb and James D. Cottera
J Science and Medicine in Sport; Vol 10, Iss 4, Aug 2007, 259-262

Effects on changes in hemodynamic and thermoregulatory functions during mist and dry sauna bathing
Kawahara Yuko, Nagata Mayumi, Niimi Yuki, Miwa Chihiro, Iwase Satoshi
Autonomic Nervous System Journal, 2002, Vol 39, No 4, pp 402-408

Spinning class: Cadence Pyramid

Previous rides had involved increasing cadence with the same level of resistance or increasing resistance while reducing cadence. In this ride I wanted to combine the two, to demonstrate adaptability to a fast cadence and ability to work harder at those cadences. All be clearer when I explain the ride itself.

Starting off with a short warm-up, we start with approx 4 minutes at 80rpm, with HR around 60%; ideally, resistance should remain more or less the same while building up cadence to 4mins each at 85rpm (HR 63%), 90rpm (66%), 95rpm (69%), 100rpm (72%), 105rpm (76%) and to a max of 110rpm (80%). As resistance remains unchanged, the increasing cadence will mean a progressively higher effort level, although adjustments may be made along the way if that level has been over- or underestimated. Some discomfort may be experienced whenever cadence is increased but enough time is there to allow legs to adapt to the new demands. Should it be difficult at any time to maintain the faster cadence, resistance should be lowered to a more comfortable level, as the aim of the first part of the pyramid is to build up cadence, not work the legs into the ground!

Once the maximum cadence (110rpm) has been reached, it's time to work back down the other side of the pyramid. However... (well, you didn't think it was going to be THAT easy, did you?) as cadence decreases so will the effort level. To prevent this, resistance must be added to maintain HR at around 80% and ensure that the slower cadence does not feel too easy. One thing that has been noticed in my classes when coming back down the pyramid is that (a) where it was uncomfortable to increase cadence to, say, 105rpm, it felt more manageable when coming down from 110rpm to that same 105rpm cadence; and (b) as more resistance has beeen added, more work is being done at any of those cadences than when working our way up the pyramid. Oh, and HR will rise from 80% to 85% or even 90%, as most riders will over-estimate the amount resistance needed, especially towards the end of the ride at 85rpm and 80rpm. On the profile below, mine reached a peak of 87% just before the cool-down.

It is an excellent class to develop a smooth, fluid pedalling technique at high cadences and then to increase the workload taken at each cadence level. For a bit of variety, some jumps and/or standing flats (aka running, maintaining cadence out of the saddle) may be used, but ensure HR does not increase out of control.

Warm up - 2 mins
80 rpm - 4 mins
85 rpm - 4 mins
90 rpm - 4 mins (hour class only)
95 rpm - 4 mins
100 rpm - 4 mins (hour class only)
105 rpm - 4.5 mins
110 rpm - 4.5 mins
105 rpm - 3.5 mins
100 rpm - 3.5 mins (hour class only)
95 rpm - 4 mins
90 rpm - 3.5 mins (hour class only)
85 rpm - 4 mins
80 rpm - 4 mins
Cool down - 6 mins


Adagio for strings - William Orbit
It ain't over till it's over - Lenny Kravitz
Angel - Shaggy
Lullaby - Bond
All I need - Air
Soweto Daal - Wasis Diop
Sweet Harmony - The Beloved
Walking on Sunshine vs. Grease - Katrina and The Waves vs. Grease
Shine - Aswad
Hey Mama - Black Eyed Peas
Sexual Healing - Marvin Gaye
Faith less - Cass & Slide
Karma - Alicia Keys
I predict a riot - Keiser Chiefs
Easter Song - A Man Called Adam