Ever since my cross-country days, I’ve had it drilled into me that ice baths are important after intense workouts. Have I been misled?
You haven't necessarily been misled, but you know how the Internet works these days. For every article telling you something is good to do, there is another article saying that the same thing is bad to do. Sometimes the research is valid and new, peer-reviewed studies can lead to breakthroughs in what we know to be true. Other times, however, incomplete research and “pseudo-science” challenge our beliefs—simply for the sake of creating confusion or even selling a product.
After strenuous exercise, micro-tears in the muscles can cause pain and inflammation. Ice has long been recommended to decrease the inflammation, swelling, and soreness that accompany hard workouts. There is some new legitimate research though that says while ice may provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation, it may also inhibit future development of vascular and muscular strength. These researchers recommend taking easy cool-downs instead of using intense cold therapy. Adhering to this recommendation, a cyclist might do an easy, low-resistance, 20 to 30 minute cool-down instead of heading right for the bucket of ice.
“[Ice baths] shouldn’t be used after every training session,” exercise physiologist Jonathan Peake said. “But if you’re in a playoff phase of the season, icing or cryotherapy isn’t going to be too harmful and might actually have some psychological benefits.” Even if it’s all just a placebo effect.
I’ve been hearing my friends talk a lot about Strava recently. Is it an app? A website? What’s the hype all about?
Simply put, Strava is both a website and an app that allows you to log and track workout data from your GPS device, record your runs and rides, track your progress, and join challenges at no cost.
There are a lot of websites that already allow you to do this, so what makes Strava unique? In addition to its ease of use, Strava was one of the first to allow members to compete in different real-course challenges. For instance, let's say you want to take a nice long bike ride and include a Cuernavaca hill repeat session in there. You can log on to Strava and see who else has logged this “segment” and then compete to become either the KOM (King of the Mountain) or QOM (Queen of the Mountain) on that particular stretch of road. Some athletes love this concept because it brings out their competitive nature and forces them to work harder on a particular workout—especially since others will be able to view it online. Others dislike the competitive and voyeuristic nature of the app.
(Believe it or not, there are some people who simply like to ride their bikes for sheer pleasure and not competition.)
Are there any advantages (or disadvantages) to sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair while working at my desk?
Stability balls have been touted as a way to get strong with relatively little movement, all while combating long hours at a desk or cubicle. Let’s be honest though: if you’re looking to burn extra calories or gain a quick six-pack, you'll be sitting on that ball for a long time. A pubmed.gov article confirmed that, on average, stability ball adopters only burned four extra calories per hour than their chair-sitting co-workers in a traditional workday. (That’s 32 extra calories in eight hours.)
You can certainly burn more calories going for a walk every hour or even hitting the gym on your lunch break.
If stability, balance, and good posture are your goals however, then a stability ball may help as it requires focus and strength to maintain good posture. Like any new form of exercise, start with small increments and work your way up to longer periods. Eight hours on Day One may lead to slouching issues, balance trouble, and potential neck pain as your body adjusts to the change. And make sure you get a ball that is the right size for you and your desk arrangement. You don't want to be in a forced position where you are reaching for your keyboard or sitting too low or too high.
Perhaps most importantly, make sure you are on good terms with your co-workers. They may have a high temptation to give the ball a little nudge. You know, just to see how strong your core is.