by Anthony Adragna

Attention Canadians: there are several upcoming Spartan races in your country (click here for a list of upcoming events).

Now, a survey by Statistics Canada suggests that a large number of Canadian citizens could use the health benefits that doing a Spartan race yields.

Fewer than 1 in 10 young people, out of the 1,600 whose movements were recorded in the study, obtained the minimum recommended levels of exercise. The vast majority spent their time inside being sedentary.  Many spent up to half of the day inside watching TV or similar activities.

Leading expert of Canadian fitness Kelly Murumets told the BBC: “It is urgent that all Canadians take action so that we can reverse this dangerous, societal trend. We need to inspire and support our children by being good role models and leading active, healthy lifestyles.”

Young ladies performed far worse in the study than their male counterparts. Only 4 percent of girls obtained an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, compared to 9 percent of boys.  Even worse, the laziness only increases with age. Children under 15 spent 8.6 hours of their days sedentary, but that number rose to 9 hours once they hit 15.

The results are even more dismaying because the government recently lowered exercise standards so that more people could meet the minimum guidelines.  Between 2003 and 2009, obesity levels in the country rose from 13% to 19% among males and from 15% to 17% among women. In 2009, half of Canadians reported themselves to be moderately active, in stark contrast to the results of the study.

“We have a physical-inactivity crisis in Canada,” fitness activist group ParticipAction president Kelly Murumets said in a statement. “It is urgent that all Canadians take action so that we can reverse this dangerous, societal trend.”

The numbers could certainly discourage you, but if you find yourself in the same position as many other Canadians (or people all over the world), then take this moment to change your physical activity regiment.  Get off your couch, and participate in something awesome. Like a Spartan Race.

image credit Science Daily

by Anthony Adragna

Planning to participate in an upcoming Spartan Race (hopefully the answer is yes!)? If so, here’s another reason to tackle the challenge. Recent scientific studies suggest that endurance and resistance training could lead to increased brain function in athletes. In short, training for your next race could make you smarter.

The benefits of endurance exercise have been fairly well established over the years.  Several studies linked aerobic exercise to increased levels of blood flow to the brain. Many researchers believe that activity, also called neurogenesis, is essential to creating new blood cells, and have linked these forms of exercise to the creation of new memory and thinking cells.

Now, scientists believe that weight training and other forms of resistance exercise could provide the same benefits. So far, their studies have been limited to animals. In order to mimic conditions similar to those of humans, researchers in Brazil tied weights to the tails of rats and made them climb a ladder repeatedly. Another group of rats ran on a treadmill, while a third remained sedentary. Those groups with physical activity appeared more intelligent by the end of the study.

In Japan, meanwhile, researchers added weight to the running wheels of rodents. Those rats with the additional weight, gained more muscle mass and appeared smarter than those under standard conditions.

Though the scientists stress the same types of results have not yet been proven in humans, these studies, according to one researcher “look promising.” The reasons for the greater performance in rats (and humans, for that matter) remain mysterious. However, the new scientific evidence offers one more reason to get off your couch and push your body to new heights.

image courtesy of Science Daily

by Jess Murden

When I started CrossFit, all of the people at my gym were total strangers to me.  I was sweating profusely, working my rear-end off to lift certain weights, and all of these strangers started encouraging me.  They had no idea who I was, but they understood what I was going through.  They understood that I was working hard in the pursuit of weight-lifting glory.  Before I knew it, we were sharing beers on a Friday night together and a sense of camaraderie in the gym.

I understand that it’s hard to translate the idea of camaraderie into the workplace. I too have experienced meeting co-workers and trying to establish a relationship with these people who were brought together by similar resumes.

On average, we spend about 40 hours each week with our co-workers.  That’s about 10 Starbucks coffee breaks and 6 power point presentations spent with the same people.  But at the end of the workweek, do we really know our coworkers any better than we did on Monday morning?  And if we don’t, how can we expect to our office to function together harmoniously?

Everyone that is part of a team, the workplace included, knows that each individual brings certain strengths to the table.  Without one of the strengths, the team is incomplete.

However, what many teams fail to do is build off each other’s strengths; they lack the sense of camaraderie necessary to make a successful team.

Case in point: there’s no better source of camaraderie than fighting together.  And I don’t mean fighting over whose cubicle is bigger or whose vacation days were extended.  I mean true grit and downright dirty competition, fighting that tests your physical and mental strength.  I mean the Spartan Race.

Gather your company together.  Even better, break it down by department.  Have the PR Department try to outrun the Advertising Department.  Make ridiculous t-shirts, and beast through a muddy obstacle course.  Competing in a Spartan Race will boost that sense of camaraderie.

There are difficult obstacle.   Endurance will be pushed to the max.  However, EVERYONE is feeling the same physical and mental strain.  EVERYONE is in it together.  At no point is an individual strength overlooked.  Every strength brings a certain advantage to the team.  This race fosters no-ego.

Battling and winning a Spartan Race together will draw your team closer, fostering a sense of comradery that can translate into the workplace.

Deadlines and luncheons just got that much easier.

Spartan Reenactors | image credit 300spartanwarriors.com

by Harmony Heffron

The heyday of Sparta was about 2,600 years ago. Despite the centuries that have passed since the fall of Spartan society, there are still those honoring the image of these great warriors today.

On a normal day they are teachers, musicians, students and other normal members of society, but a few days a year they transform into something completely different.

They become Spartans.

Sporting typical Spartan costumes, shields and spears they personify some of the greatest warriors in history. They serve as a great reminder of the people that are as much of a  fascination and inspiration to us today then they were thousands of years ago.

In the last few years Spartan enthusiasts have started a few clubs where like-minded individuals get together to share their love of all things Spartan and to plan their reenactments. Jim “Doc” Stamps, member of the Greek reenactment group ‘Spartan and Amazon Warriors’ says,

To some of us it’s hobby, to others it’s a passion, but whatever the individual reason might be, we all do it with pride and also to honor the brave 300 and other Greeks who gave up their lives at Thermopylae in 480BC so we can have democracy today!

Spartan reenactment groups participate in parades and festivals.  A group called ‘The Hellenic Warriors’ even visits schools to teach youngsters about the real lives of the Spartans.

We’re happy to see Spartan habits and costumes pop up in today’s society, but all we ask is: why be a Spartan only a few days per year?  Why be a Spartan only in parades?

Be a Spartan EVERY DAY.  Bring the Spartan Spirit of courage, determination, and resilience into your daily life.  Sign up for a Spartan Race and it won’t matter what you are wearing–everyone will know that you are a member of the world’s toughest warrior nation.

Juli Goldstein via her twitter feed

by Anthony Adragna

An especially interesting note from Florida: Ms. Florida 2009 Dr. Juli Goldstein is an active long-distance runner. Though she ultimately fell short in her bid to become Ms. America, Goldstein proves that the balance of work, exercise and beauty can be found.

For more than 11 years, Goldstein has been running. She finds time in between her busy schedule as a marine mammal veterinarian at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.  She finds that one of her biggest challenges is one that most of us face on a daily basis: time.

“As a full time marine mammal veterinarian, a part time veterinary consultant, community volunteer and Ms. Florida, my schedule is always different. Running has become such an important aspect of my life that like brushing my teeth, it is something that I just need to do daily. Many of my patient treatments and ideas come to fruition during a run,” she told Runner’s World in a profile piece.

To stay fit, she runs 5-8 miles a day, 5-6 days a week for an average of 30-40 miles on a weekly basis. Goldstein balances her runs with 1-2 days of core training every week.

Goldstein stays motivated because of the other people around her who are not as fortunate. She points to the soldiers who suffered traumatic injuries in battle and now cannot walk.  Running also allowed her to get through the first year of veterinary school, which was a challenge.

In the future, she hopes to run the Badwater Ultramarathon. This year she plans to work on the crew of the first woman to run that race 10 times.

As Ms. Florida, Goldstein wants to balance her passions for running and philanthropy. “The message I want to spread is whether you run 2 miles or 100, ANYONE can make a difference in their community by lending a head and raising awareness through running,” she said.

Photo from Dr. Juli’s Flickr

Geico Caveman | image credit scrapetv.com

by Jess Murden

The Geico Caveman is my new boyfriend.  Well, not really.  But if he was, I would be able to cook us tremendous meals and would score major points for being the perfect girlfriend.

Here’s what I’m getting at: Paleo.

The Paleo Diet (derived from the Paleolithic era) is a lifestyle that most CrossFitters and extreme athletes follow.  It consists of a basic diet of lean meats, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts.  That’s right, no starchy carbs (bread, pasta, anything wheat based), dairy, whole grains or legumes.  The more protein the better.  Carbs come from fruits and veggies, and fat intake comes from healthy fats, such as avocado and coconut.  If you can kill it, hunt it or gather it, chances are you’ve tapped into your caveman roots and are eating Paleo.  Don’t rule it out yet.

When my CrossFit coach first told me about the Paleo diet, I looked at him with utter disgust.  I could tear into a whole sleeve of Oreos and then go right to bed.  Pasta was like oxygen to me.  Peanut butter and jelly was a mere snack.  I popped brownies like most people pop Tylenol.  At this time, I was still “in shape,” yet I was eating all the wrong foods.  I was participating in what I like to call “the replacement diet.”  I would eat whatever I wanted and then go workout.  Rinse and repeat please.  No bueno.  I wasn’t progressing.

Much to my strong resistance, I took my coach’s advice.  I started out just by eating “clean.”  I slowly integrated the staples of the Paleo diet while cutting back on the intake of my replacement diet.  Within two weeks, I was eating completely Paleo.  I’m not going to lie; the first two weeks were difficult.  I was in a sugar withdrawal.  I wanted an apple fritter like an addict needs their fix.  But I just kept telling myself, “You don’t want to be the weakest member at the gym.”  Hell to the no.

I fought and I won.  Results were almost immediate.  I was leaning out and simultaneously getting stronger and faster.  I was less lethargic.  Awesome.  It’s now my six-month anniversary of eating Paleo and I have yet to fall off the bandwagon – and I don’t plan on it.  Each time I increase my push press weight or get closer to my first muscle up, I thank my caveman ancestors for leading me down a path away from diabetes and obesity and onto a healthy lifestyle with peak physical performance – minus the beard, please.

Past Survivor Winners in FL | image credit ew.com

by Anthony Adragna

On TV, they are portrayed as mental and physical survivors, enduring countless tests and extreme hardships. But, none of the winners of Survivor have competed in a Spartan Race, much less the Spartan Death Race.

Well, Spartan Race has challenged the 20 past winners of the TV spectacle to test their bodies and minds by competing in the ultimate of challenges―the Spartan Death Race, this June 25-27 in Pittsfield, VT.   The prize is pretty sweet: should any of the Survivor competitors actually win the Death Race, they’ll walk away with a cool $100,000.

Spartan Race creator Joe DeSena believes the Survivor veterans lack the physical and mental traits necessary to finish the Death Race, let alone win it.

“Compared to Spartan Death Race, their TV show escapades are a Caribbean vacation,” said DeSena.  ”They claim to be survivors; I’ll believe it when I see one of them survive the physical and mental challenges we put our competitors through.  In fact, I’ll even pay their entry fee ($400) if they have the nerve to give it a try.”

Over the last three years, fewer than 50 people have actually completed the course. Events are kept so secret that competitors have no idea what challenge lies ahead.  Last year, only 20 of the 150 entrants finished the race. At the beginning, competitors must sign a waiver stating, “I may die.”

In addition to the $100,000 that could go to a Survivor veteran, someone could win $100,000 for winning 6 different Peak Races (www.peakraces.com). Those include a 100-mile snowshoe race in February and a 500-mile ultra run later this year. You could also receive $100,000 for winning the entire 2011 domestic Spartan Race series.

Image credit workout911.com

by Harmony Heffron

A lot of women, even fit and athletic women, have a fear. That fear is of weights and strength training.

Close your eyes and you can picture her. Heaving giant muscles, masculine in frame and attitude, sweat dripping down her face.  She lifts weights that weigh as much as a small car. One look at her at the gym and you decide that maybe you’ll just stick to the treadmill, because lifting weights will just make you bulk up too much. Right?

Wrong!!!

Women’s bodies do not produce nearly as much testosterone as men’s. This means that it’s IMPOSSIBLE for a woman to gain muscle mass in the same way that a man does. That woman at the gym who seems so big is likely taking steroids (supplemented testosterone as well as other things) to bulk up like that.  I promise that will not happen to you! No matter how many reps you do, or how heavy the weights that you lift, unless you have a unique genetic composition and spend all day at the gym you will not turn into a lumbering gorilla. A woman’s body is simply not designed to become hugely muscular.  .

What weight training WILL give you is more energy, increased strength and a more toned and sculpted body. There are even benefits you may not have ever thought about.  According to the Mayo Clinic, strength training can also reduce your risk of osteoporosis, reduce your chances of injury and sharpen your focus.

As you start adding weights to your exercise routine there are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Warm up! Move your muscles before you try to lift with them.  Do whatever makes you feel loosened up and ready to go.  Stretching and a few minutes on a treadmill or elliptical machine is what I do.

2) Start slow and build up. You don’t want to injure yourself by lifting weights that are too heavy before you are ready, yet at the same time you want to lift weights that are heavy enough that you can just complete the desired amount of reps. This link will shed some light on the best size weights for you.

3) Breathe. I know it sounds obvious, but this is extremely important! By breathing in and out properly, you will increase the benefits of your strength training while reducing strain.

Good luck lifting!

Image Credit: Photodisc/Getty Images/Getty Images Stock

by Keith Grogg

The question of whether to have that cup of coffee or not before heading to the gym is something I’ve asked myself time and again. Should I risk adding the jitteriness and increased heart rate caused by caffeine to my already heart pumping workout?

I’ve finally gotten a satisfying answer to this question.  According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, the consumption of moderate amounts of coffee is not harmful and in fact has many positive health effects, including reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease, liver damage, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and the development of gallstones. What’s more, coffee stimulates the metabolism and the survey found that coffee “…has also been shown to improve endurance performance in long-duration physical activities.”

And it’s little wonder. Check out the ingredients on some of your favorite energy supplements at the health food store, and you’ll see that many of them contain caffeine or guarana (a fruit native to the Amazon that has twice as much caffeine as coffee beans.)

Coffee in moderation can be an extremely beneficial stimulant to get energy for those tough workouts. But instead of loading up with a large amount of caffeine right before your workout, try caffeinating with light doses several times leading up to your workout. This technique will help you avoid a drowsy caffeine crash mid-way through your workout.

A healthier office life? image credit treehugger.com

by Anthony Adragna

Looking for something to break up the daily routine of sitting in the office? Want to form a stronger community among your co-workers? Need to test your body in new ways, both physically in mentally? Strive to push yourself and your body to their outer limits? Those are just some of the benefits of signing you and your office up for an upcoming Spartan Race.

5) Break Up the Routine: Sitting in the office day after day, week after week can get DULL quickly. Maybe your office has seen productivity decline in recent months or perhaps company morale is at a low period. Sure you can crunch dollars and make trades, but your office needs a new challenge. Competing in a Spartan Race will force your employees outside of their comfort zones and push them to their limits.

4) Form a Stronger Community: You spend hours working with these people, but how well do you really know them? Doing a Spartan Race will allow you spend more time your co-workers outside of work. You’ll train together, support each other, challenge your bodies and minds, and find common connections from those experiences. There is no better way to come together as a company. 

3) Get Healthy: No matter if you are an active gym animal, or a lazy slob on a couch, the Spartan Race experience will help you get healthy. Surviving the race means preparing your body and mind for these new challenges. That preparation will hopefully lead you to eat better, work out more, and honor your body.

2) Test Your Body in New Ways: Even if you’re an avid exerciser, it’s unlikely your body has been tested in ways like this. Ducking under barbed wire, leaping through fire, carrying 28 pounds of pennies on your back… those are some of the potential challenges on your course. You may think you’ve pushed yourself to the limits, but you haven’t run a Spartan Race yet.

1) Push Yourself to the Limit: Negotiating that million-dollar deal may seem like the hardest thing you’ve done in your life, but that feeling will change after completing a Spartan Race. After finishing one of these endurance tests, you’ll be ready for anything your work can throw your way.  If work’s getting hard, let one of these races show you what a real challenge involves. By the end, you’ll want to go back to work.

6) Hone Those Skills You Need to Be Successful at Work: In the boardroom, you need to be fierce and aggressive to get the best results.  A Spartan Race forces you to rethink how you approach problems, and makes you think on your feet. The mental strength you’ll gain from one of these races will allow you to remain strong back at work, when faced with tremendous challenges.