Fitness & Diet Expert Nick Sortal

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May 13, 2009

Q: I walk five miles every other day. Would it be a good idea to cycle on my off days? How many miles would you suggest I cycle? -- Ozell White, Plantation, FL

Instead of looking at miles, look at time.

Sounds like you walk about an hour. An off-day, which bicycling would be, presumably would be a day with less of a time commitment. So, cruising around for 30 minutes (wearing a helmet!) a couple of days a week would be a good balance.

That said, Debbie Hickey, of the Sheinberg Family YMCA in Weston, Florida, also suggests some kind of strength training, either with a set of dumbbells at home, or a few body-weight challenges, such as push-ups, sit-ups or planks.

"Strength training is the secret weapon to increasing your metabolism," she says. "Following cardiovascular exercise, you experience afterburn and continue to burn calories for a short period following your workout. If you strength-train consistently, you add muscle, which is metabolically active [365 days], 24/7."

A pound of fat burns about two calories a day. A pound of muscle burns 35 to 50.

"Consistency is key. Strive for some moderate activity most days of the week," she says. "But most of all, have fun!"

May 1, 2009

Q: They say swimming is great exercise, and I'm up to swimming a half-mile in less than 20 minutes. But it's so boring! What can I do? -- Jim Jackson, Hollywood, FL

A: You're right. A 20-minute swim, with no break is boring. And it doesn't get you much fitter or faster. My guess is you're going along at a pace fast enough to make it to the end, but not fast enough to get your heart rate beyond 60 to 70 percent of capacity, the fat-burning zone. You need to race yourself, just like going only for long jogs can get boring. Try to do a lap, usually 50 yards, in less than a minute. Rest 15 seconds, then go again. If you do this nine times, then kick 250 yards and do a steady warmup and cooldown of 100 yards each, your half-mile gets a lot more interesting. If you need some sample workouts, Gale Bernhardt of Active.com supplies plenty of options.

April 29, 2009

Q: What are the best exercises for the midriff? I am almost 60 years old. -- Susan Jackson, Elk Grove Village, IL

A: If you're looking to reduce just one body part, it's not going to work, says Debbie Hickey, wellness director at Sheinberg Family YMCA in Weston, Flordia. You either lose everywhere, or you lose nowhere.

"There is no such thing as spot reducing," she says. "But the good news is your muscles are there -- hiding under a layer of fat."

Hickey suggests strength training, which tones your muscles and burns more calories 24-7, even while at rest. Then include regular cardiovascular exercise (jogging, stair machines, etc.) to help reduce your body fat.

April 22, 2009

Q: I walk five miles every other day. Would it be a good idea to cycle on my off days? How many miles would you suggest I cycle? -- Ozell White, Plantation, FL

A: Instead of looking at miles, look at time. Sounds like you walk about an hour. An off-day, which bicycling would be, presumably would be a day with less of a time commitment. So, cruising around for 30 minutes (wearing a helmet!) a couple of days a week would be a good balance.

That said, Debbie Hickey of the Sheinberg Family YMCA in Weston, Florida, suggest some kind of strength training, either with a set of dumbbells at home, or a few body-weight challenges, such as pushups, situps, planks or those resistance bands you can buy at Target and other stores.

"Strength training is the secret weapon to increasing your metabolism," she says. "Following cardiovascular exercise, you experience afterburn and continue to burn calories for a short period following your workout. If you strength train consistently, you add muscle which is metabolically active 365/24/7."

A pound of fat burns about two calories a day. A pound of muscle burns 35 to 50.

"Consistency is key; strive for some moderate activity most days of the week," she says. " But most of all have fun!"

April 10, 2009

Q: I don't really care about how fast I can go on my bicycle, but I want to be able to go day after day. Any advice? -- Bernard Goldstein, Boca Raton, FL

A: Get your body in better shape by doing planks. That builds up your stomach muscles -- your core -- and mirrors the upright position that can keep you pedaling longer without breaking down. For a good plan, hold up upper body on your forearms. Keep your elbows beneath your shoulders and your knees on the floor. Squeeze in your core muscles, and form a straight line from your head to your heels. Hold for 30 seconds, if you can. Do three planks, with 30 seconds rest in between, a couple of times a week.

The other way to work your core is to trigger yourself at certain times of the day: One idea is to straighten up and suck in your gut during each commercial or each traffic light.

April 1, 2009

Q: I've always had weak ankles. Now, whenever I do any of the exercises that require you to stand on one leg on the Wii Fit, it's my ankle that is wobbly and makes me unstable. Are there exercises that strengthen ankles? -- Debbie Eberlin, Boynton Beach, FL

A.: According to Christina Leon, who has a new program called athlekinetix.com. There are four basic movements that the ankle can perform: Plantar Flexion (pointing), Dorsi Flexion (flexing), Inversion (point toes inward) and Eversion (point toes outward) and you need to strengthen the muscles that contribute to all the possible movements to prevent that "wobbly" feeling you are describing.

Do this on Wii Fit or anywhere else:

1. Stand on your toes, with your heel as high as you can lift it and hold there for 10 seconds initially. Repeat on the other foot. Do 15 times. Use a chair or counter for balance and support.

2. This one can be fun: Place one foot out slightly in front of the other and lift the toes of the front foot, keeping the heel on the ground. Now, tap your toes up and down - not too quickly - think "impatiently waiting for someone" toe tapping.

3. Sit comfortably on the floor or on a mat and extend your feet in front of you. Point the toes inward as far as you can and then out. Hold in each position for 10 seconds.

4. Get creative: Use your foot as an air brush and draw pictures or write your name in the air moving only your feet. This will work the ankle in every direction.


March 30, 2009

Q.A weekend story by The Associated Press told of a study that says triathlons produce more per capita deaths than other races. And, while I didn't get any questions about it, I still want to answer. But I don't do that make-up-a-fake-question thing, so I'll ask myself: Nick, what's it about? -- Nick Sortal, Plantation, FL

A: Nick, I'm glad you asked.

Generally these kind of stories make me raise an eyebrow. They remind me of the famous I Love Lucy episode at the batting cage:

Lucy: Well, Vivian, I hit twice as many balls as you did.

Vivian: Yes, Lucy. But that means you hit two and I hit one.

But in this case I give the AP reporter credit. She points out the numbers are still low, and provides practical advice, like don't race without getting a doctor's checkup.

And if you're like me, yes, when you first hit the water, your heart speeds up. (Sometimes I tell myself to swim as slow as I can, just to get the heart rate down.)

So I'd add one more tip: Go practice the swim in an ocean with a couple of friends beforehand, or better yet, make your first race a relay, so you do only one of the three disciplines.

Any thoughts?


March 26, 2009

Q: What workout routine can I use to strengthen my legs so I can get back on the basketball court, and at the same time build size to them? I also want strength to be able to play basketball and have some explosion and agility because I had a possible hyperextension some years back. -- Orlando Fernandez

A: Focus on on barbell squats and lunges, says Doug Jackson, who runs Personal Fitness Advantage studio in Plantation, Florida, and has an e-mail signup for fitness tips.

"The squats will develop the power and the lunges will help with functional strength and agility," he says.

To develop strength and muscle size, he suggests two workouts: Five sets of 5- 8 reps of squats, increasing weight on each set. Workout one is: Two sets of eight to 10 lunges at a challening weight; three sets of eight to 10 leg curls on a weight machine A few days later: Three sets of 12 to 15 squats, increasing weight on each set; two sets of 12-15 lunges at a challenging weight; three sets of Stability ball leg curls, as many reps as possible

Focuses on these basic movements and getting stronger.

"I'd also discourage him from adding in too many other exercises for the legs," Jackson says. "More is not always better.

"Also, since he seems to have had some knee issues, it's important that he listens to his body, starts slowly, and doesn't ignore and work through any sharp pains."

March 17, 2009

Q: I've been going to the gym for eight months now, and this past four weeks I have been going every day. My question is, is it bad to do abs every day? I've been doing buns too, will the muscle grow if I do it every day?

A: They need rest and recovery just like all of our other muscles, says Tori C. Plyler, a personal trainer with Life Time Athletic in Boca Raton, Florida.

"Abdominals are muscles too!" she says.

The more detailed answer, from Plyler:

A common misperception about sore muscles is that the tissue itself is actually sore. The pain you feel in your muscles when you are sore is actually localized edema, or swelling, around the nerve endings corresponding with the muscle.

Do not work sore or fatigued muscles. That inflammation brings nutrients and healing to your muscle fibers. Training a single muscle every day will further delay the recovery and rebuilding of the muscle; it may produce some short-term growth but will lead to overtraining and fiber damage in the long run.


March 12, 2009

Q: How do I go about increasing my distance running? I've been stuck on a mile and a half now forever. I started running at the end of January.

A: You need to systematically expose your system to increasing amounts of exercise stress (distance and speed).

One way to do that is to increase the number of days you run; if you run three days a week now, run four, says Alan Miller of Cooper City, who teaches a running technique called ChiRunning.

Try selecting one of those days as a run/walk day and run/walk 2 miles. The walk breaks will allow you to cover the distance without fatiguing. Then slowly take away the length of the walk breaks.

You can also increase your pace on one or two weekly workouts. Say, 100 yards fast, then recover , then do it again, says Miller (email ChiTraining@BellSouth.net).

And finally, be patient. I know it feels like forever -- I'm competitive, too -- but it has been only six weeks. Even runners in the best of shape say they increase their mileage only 10 percent a week.


March 10, 2009

Q: I have been walking now for about 17 days. Four miles, walking briskly. I'm 5 feet, 7, weigh 189 pounds and do no other activity. I eat a balanced diet and have gained two pounds. What's up with that?

A: Walking is not a particularly effective way to lose weight, especially if you take into account the calories that you would be burning anyway during that time.

For example, let's say you go to the mall and walk for an hour at a reasonably brisk pace (3.5 mph). Let's assume you weigh 170 pounds. You would burn 297 calories, according to one fitness expert, but that includes the calories you'd burning anyway - even if you were sitting quietly at home watching TV. That's about 80 calories.

So when you calculate net calories, that's only 217 calories. It takes 3,500 calories to burn one pound of so it would take you over two weeks to lose one pound of fat. The current recommendations for weight loss, based on the science, is at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity such as walking every day.

Other thoughts: 1) the new activity may increase your appetite and you unconsciously eat more and/or 2) you actually, and again unconsciously, do less moving around the rest of the day. But let's put weight loss aside. Think "health" instead. That's where your walking has benefits. Studies have shown daily walking to reduceyour risk of a heart attack by some 20 percent. It is also protective of Type 2 diabetes and improves insulin metabolism.


March 4, 2009

Q: I have been dieting and exercising for over a year now. I do 45 minutes on an elliptical trainer at least four times a week, and then I lift weights for a very solid 30 minutes. I lost 20 pounds the first three months, but nothing since then. I am not putting on muscle mass, or losing fat. Nothing is happening. Why?

A:You could be overtraining. "Our bodies need time, good nutrition and sleep to repair the damage done by intense exercise and daily life," notes Tori C. Plyler, a personal trainer with Life Time Athletic in Boca Raton, Florida. Recovery time is an extremely important part of any training program; you may need more rest between your workout days.

If you are overtraining your metabolism will be negatively affected. When your metabolism slows down it can make fat loss and muscle gain nearly impossible. Ideally, a metabolic assessment profile can be used to determine the optimal heart rate for burning fat during exercise and for preventing overtraining.

If you don't feel you are overtraining, changing the method, intensity, or duration of your strength training and cardiovascular workouts could be the jump-start you need. If you are used to the elliptical, try the treadmill, for example.


March 3, 2009

Q: I have been working out at a gym for many of the past 25 years and I very much enjoy being strong and the burn I get from a good weight workout but the gym has become a stale, boring place for me. Any suggestions? -- Evan Sade

A:That is a comment many people are making these days, according to Christina Leon, who has been in the fitness biz for 25 years. She says that's why she created the Athlekinetix program. (Sorry for the promo, folks, but it is in response to the question, and there are many, many in the fitness industry who vouch for her.)

"It is a non-stop, 70 exercises in an hour, no repetitions workout that utilizes all the toys possible - the glider discs, BOSU ball, dumbbells, Body Bars, Foam Rollers.... if your gym has it, we use it," she says. It's harder than a boot camp, maintains the high heart rate of a spin and incorporates the muscular endurance and strength of a weight training session, she says. Her other suggestion: Other than that, try getting outdoors to a boot camp class or try taking your workout to the beach.


Feb. 25, 2009

Q: When working out with weights, and doing two different musclegroups in the same workout, say for example chest and back., is itbetter to do all chest exercises first, then move on to back? Whatif you can handle heavier weight if you alternatechest/back/chest/back than you can handle if you just did all chestexercises one after the other? Which way is more beneficial? --Natalie, Deerfield Beach, FL

A: Alternate 'em. The practiceis known as "supersetting," and a.) can make your workouts moreintense and b.) shorten the time you spend in the gym. "Alternatingmuscle groups is very time efficient and there also seems to besome physiological benefits to it," says Doug Jackson, who runs Personal Fitness Advantage studio in Plantation, Florida, andhas an e-mail signup for fitness tips. But he cautions people tochange the order in which they work their body parts. "So if onmonth one you work chest first, make sure to work back first onmonth two and so on. Failing to change the order in which you workbody areas can lead to muscle imbalances and injuries," he says.Feb. 18, 2009

Q: Why do cyclists riding on road bikes insist on wearing lycrabike suits when shorts and a T-shirt work just as well on a normalworkout when there is no need to be aerodynamic when not racing? --Ralph in Orlando, FL

A: It's part style and partpracticality. Style first: Part of getting into a cycling mind-setis to look the part, I'll admit. My thinking goes, 'Oh, I have onmy bike stuff, so I can't just pedal halfway; I need to do thisseriously.' Kind of like Tiger Woods in his red shirt eachtournament Sunday. The practical part of this is visibility; thelouder, more colorful jersey, the better the chance cars will seeyou. (In the South, some cyclists wear American-flag jerseys; theyfigure drivers might hit a cyclist, but no way they'd hit a flag.)Also, a T-shirt can act like a sail and catch air. You make a goodpoint about no need to be aerodynamic; but whether I'm racing ornot, I don't want to do extra work. Plus, I love the extra pockets.I even wore my solid blue bike jersey cruising Shark Valley thisweek. And those black pants? Well, there's a little padding inthere, so, no, gym shorts are not as good. If it's either-or, Ineed the pants way more than I need the jersey. Anyone else havethoughts?


Feb. 17, 2009

Q: To lose weight, what is the most effective method ofcardio?

A: Losing weight happens when we're burning morecalories than we're consuming. Which means, burn, baby, burn...Whether it's a treadmill, a stationary bike or some gizmo you seeon a TV infomercial, No. 1 is finding a cardio machine that youprefer. As Tori C. Plyler, a trainer with Life Time Athletic in Boca Raton, Florida, notes, enjoyingyour exercise regimen increases the chances that you will stay withit for a longer period of time. She suggests finding something thatyou like to do for at least 45 minutes, then gradually kicking upyour intensity. Change up your routine to avoid plateaus, she says."Behavior modification is usually harder than the exercise itself,"she says. So is finding a program you'll stick with over a periodof time. "The key to success is consistency," she says. Personally,I've been on this craze of just playing along with whatever's onFIT TV. I've kind of hit a slump, and jumping around in my ownhouse -- and not having to dream up something to do, but merelyfollowing Gilad or whomever has been a welcome change.


Feb. 13, 2009

Q: I hear bench presses are bad for women over 50. What's thedeal?

A: Several physical trainers jumped on a line inmy story about how to pick a personal trainer. In the article, Iquote Jill Boyer-Holland of Hollywood, Florida, a senior trainer for 25years through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. Thecomment came in the context that people should make sure a traineris tailored to the clients' age and abilities. Bench presses inthemselves do not "increase" the risk of osteoporosis, she says.Being female, over 50, Caucasian and menopausal increase the risk.(Increased risk of osteoporosis has been linked to diminishingestrogen levels.) "As we age postural problems caused by ourworking environment and the pull of gravity over time tend to bowthe shoulders forward, collapsing the rib cage downward and in theworst case scenario cause an abdominal protrusion (pot belly)," shesays. Bench presses can exacerbate this problem, she says. So woulda failure to balance your workout with chest opening exercises,such as the seated row, reverse fly, etc. Like everyone, shesuggests exercises to improve core stability and posture. "Pushupsare the gold standard," she says. "It is not that bench presses arebad - it's just that there are other exercises that work better,faster and involve more muscle groups - they give you a bigger bangfor you buck."

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