Coconut Oil has been getting bad publicity for decades due it its high content of saturated fat. But researchers are finally giving coconut oil the respect it deserves.
Although it is true that coconut oil is loaded with saturated fats, researchers are finally recognizing that not all saturated fats are harmful. Coconut oil is unique in that it contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs).
So What Are the Health Benefits of Coconut Oil?
Weight Management – MCFAs are processed directly in your liver where they are immediately converted into energy rather than becoming stored fat on the body. Because this increases your body’s metabolic response, it also helps you to burn more calories. You’d also be happy to know that coconut oil is actually lower in calories than most fats and oils.
Digestive System – MCFAs are actually are very easy for your body to digest. In fact, coconut oil put less strain on your digestive system than even that of popular mono-saturated fats, making it an ideal cooking oil.
Immune System – Coconut oil contains high levels of lauric acid, which is found in mother’s milk. This vital nutrient has strong immune boosting effects.
Beauty and Anti-Aging – Other health benefits of coconut oil include soft, shiny dandruff-free hair when massaged into the scalp regularly, and smooth, soft, youthful skin when used as a daily moisturizer. Many users actually report diminished wrinkles and facial lines after using coconut oil regularly. I’ve even met women that even find it great as a gentle make-up remover and men that use it as an after shave lotion.
So after years of bad press, coconut oil has finally received the credibility it deserves. When going out and picking up your own batch of coconut oil, please ensure that it is virgin coconut oil that you are getting rather than hydrogenated (processed) coconut oil, which has none of the beneficial health properties of virgin coconut oil.
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It is a common misconception that there must be a trade-off between flexibility and strength, when in actual fact, increased flexibility is critical for attaining increases in strength and athletic performance. Interestingly, this misconception again has to do with stretching from a bodybuilding or weights training point of view rather than strength building perspective.
Stretching & Bodybuilding Bulge
Immediately following exercise, the muscles retain what is commonly known as “pump”, wherein the muscles fibers are shortened. This shortening of the muscle fibers, particularly emphasized during isolated weights training, is due mostly to the repetition of intense muscle activity. If the muscles are not stretched in conjunction with training, over time they remain shortened and are unable to return to their original length. Shortened muscle fibers give the muscle a bigger bulkier look, as the volume of fibers are bunched together in a smaller area as oppose to fibers that are elongated, similar to a shorter person with the same weight (body mass) as a taller person. This muscle bulge look due to shortened muscle fibers is beneficial from an aesthetic bodybuilding position, but from a functional strength and athletic performance point of view it is detrimental.
Explosive Power – Range of Motion
When the muscle fibers have become shortened due a lack of stretching, not only do they decrease in length, but the muscles also decrease in their range of motion. The most difficult range of the motion to get power and strength out of during any movement is the initial and final 5 degree range. This is because when muscles are at their longest point of extension, they have the least amount of muscle filaments sliding past each, responsible for causing movement and contraction.
These 5 degrees are the most critical however when performing virtually all physical movements. It is the initial and final range of motion where most of the explosive power is required. The amount of force that can be generated at the start of a movement determines the speed and power at which the remaining of the movement can be executed. Likewise, the force that is generated at the final stage of a movement determines its effectiveness in the carry-over or non-movement phase, and the efficiency of which the movement can be repeated.
When a muscle becomes shortened and its fibers are bunched, the number of muscle filaments sliding past each other when they are stretched to their longest point (initial and final 5 degrees) is markedly diminished. Herein, the ability to generate explosive power where it is needed the most during functional movements is significantly decreased.
Explosive Power – ATP re-creation
In order for movement to occur, the body undergoes a series of chemical reactions to make energy. It basically has to turn a stored high-energy compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) into a kinetic energy compound called adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Once used, the ADP has to be re-created back into ATP so that it can again be broken down and used, repeating the cycle over and over. The ATP to ADP energy process causes a toxic byproduct called lactic acid to be created. As the process repeats, this toxic waste accumulates in the muscles and causes it to lose ability to re-create ATP effectively.
When the muscle fibers have become shortened due to a lack of stretching, they have to work extra hard to create power when performing functional movements that require the muscles to lengthen and move through their entire range. This extra effort requires the ATP to ADP process to occur more frequently. This causes the working muscles to become not only filled with blood more blood, but also filled with greater accumulation of lactic acid and other waste by-products. The result is that the muscles ability to perform is short lived due to rapid fatigue, and need longer periods of rest and recovery to re-create the ATP needed to continue exercising.
Furthermore, the buildup of lactic acid will cause post-exercise soreness and increased recovery time needed between workouts. Although delayed muscle onset soreness (DOMS) may be a good indication of that you have trained hard, it can also be an indication of your muscles having worked ineffectively and that enough time has not been dedicated toward the stretching phase of your program.
Static stretching of the pumped muscle helps it to become looser, and to regain its full range of movement. It also helps to remove lactic acid and other waste-products from the muscle. While it is true that stretching a muscle will make it appear visibly smaller, it does not decrease the muscle’s actual size or inhibit muscle growth. It merely reduces the “tightness” (contraction) of the muscles so that they do not remain shortened. From a bodybuilding perspective however, the aim is to have the greatest amount of muscle contraction or muscle bulge. Hence it serves no purpose for a bodybuilder to stretch.
Stretching – Injury Prevention
Most sports and physical activities require the muscles to work through its entire range of motion. When the muscle fibers are shortened and have lost their ability to stretch to their full range of motion, their susceptibility to tearing and become damaged increases dramatically during physical activity and sport. Furthermore, not only do shortened muscle fibers diminish its strength when at its full range, but the stabilizing control of the muscles is significantly weakened as well. This puts the ligaments and tendons of the joints at greater risk of injury when in full extension, as they are not properly supported by the surrounding muscles.
Stretching – Critical for Maximum Strength
From athletic point of view, stretching is evidently essential in order to utilize the maximum performance ability of the muscles, to preventing injury, and to decrease recovery time and maximize training progress. But a testament to that stretching is of critical importance for increased strength is the ‘strongman’ athletes affirming flexibility as an extremely important part of their training regimen. Many of these athletes advocate stretching every day; dynamic stretching as part of a warm up, and static stretching post exercising. But if stretching (loosening) is performed too much in the absence of exercise (strengthening), it is possible for the muscles of a joint to become too flexible and unstable.
There is a tradeoff between flexibility and stability. As you get looser or more limber in a particular joint, less support is given to the joint by its surrounding muscles. Excessive flexibility can be just as bad as not enough because both increase your risk of injury. Once a muscle has reached its absolute maximum length, attempting to stretch the muscle further only serves to stretch the ligaments and put undue stress upon the tendons (two things that you do not want to stretch). Ligaments will tear when stretched more than 6% of their normal length. Tendons are not even supposed to be able to lengthen. Even when stretched ligaments and tendons do not tear, loose joints and/or a decrease in the joint’s stability can occur (thus vastly increasing your risk of injury).
Finding Balance in Your Stretching & Strengthening
Like most things in life, stretching and strengthening requires a balance. Most people that are not familiar with Yoga assume that it is solely a practice of stretching, when in actual fact, Yoga involves a balanced combination of strengthening and stretching exercises. Although stretching is often seen as a separate issue to exercising, they should actually be considered as counterparts to one and the same initiative, and hence should both be performed just as industriously.
Prior to commencing your exercise program, perform dynamic stretches after you have warmed up.
Post exercising, perform static stretches after you have warmed down.
It is important not to rush your post exercise phase by static stretching immediately following your workout. The muscles are at their shortest range immediately after exercise, and attempts to elongate them and increase their range of motion can cause the muscle fibers to tear. Stay mindful, relax into your static stretches, remember to breath – stretching deeper with each exhalation, and do not stretch your muscles beyond their limitations. It is more beneficial that you hold a stretch for a longer duration than pushing it beyond its limits. The key is consistency. Increased strength, athletic ability and flexibility will come from the sum of small effort, repeated day in and day out.
Happy Strengthening and Stretching!
Many people confuse stretching with warming up. Although stretching is a crucial part of the pre-exercise phase, it is indeed separate from the warm-up in both nature and purpose. Warming up is literally the process of warming the body up. It is moving the body through a sequence of simple dynamic movements with the purpose of facilitating increased blood circulation. This in turn increases muscle neural activity for coordination, elasticity and contractibility of the muscles, and increased efficiency of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Stretching should only be performed after the warm-up, as stretching a cold muscle can result in immediate tear of the muscle fibers.
A second crucial mistake people often do is they perform passive stretches for their pre-exercise stretching routine, rather than dynamic stretching. Few people realize that there are many different types of stretching that serve for different purposes. Passive stretching is what comes to mind when most people think of stretching. It is also referred to as relaxed stretching or static-passive stretching and involves assuming a position and holding it with some other part of your body, or assisting increased range by use of own body weight, a partner or some other apparatus. This type of stretching should actually only be used as part of the post exercise phase.
Just after warming up and prior to exercise, light dynamic stretching should be performed. This involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. It is not trying to force a part of the body beyond its range of motion, but is gently rotating or swinging through the torso and limbs to reach the limits of your range of motion.
Note: Do not confuse this with ballistic stretching! Ballistic stretching is bouncing into a stretched position using the stretched muscle as a spring (e.g. bouncing down repeatedly to touch your toes).
During dynamic stretching, the aim is to not increase in flexibility, but simple to bring the body to the limits of its dynamic flexibility as preparation for putting the body through dynamic activity. For sports specific activity, the last phase of a warm-up should consist of the same movements that will be used during the athletic event but at a reduced intensity. Going through the motions of the sports specific activity is beneficial as it improves coordination, balance, strength, and response time, and can reduce the risk of injury.
Unfortunately, the limited session time of personal trainers has seen more people going straight into passive stretching directly after an intense exercise phase. The problem with this that immediately after exercise the muscles are at their shortest range, and attempts to elongate them past their normal range can be damaging to the muscle fibers.
All workouts should be followed by a warm-down phase. This involves moving the body through the same movements as during the exercise phase, only significantly less intense. The duration of this phase should be directly correlated to the intensity of the exercise phase – the more intense the workout, the longer the warm-down. Once breathing has returned close to normal respiration rate, light dynamic stretching can be performed followed directly by passive stretching.
Light warm-down movement immediately following maximal exertion has been proven to be a better way of clearing lactic acid from the blood than complete rest. The stretching phase is to aid in elongating the muscle fibers shortened during exercise and to further assist in removing lactic acid accumulation in the muscles.
A light warm-up or warm-down followed by passive stretching is a good way to reduce lingering muscle tightness and soreness even the next day, even when performed without the conjunction of a workout. It’s very important that you relax into it and not strain and tense against the stretch. Doing this does not allow your muscles to adjust to and relax in the stretched position, and may instead cause them to tighten up further. Regular muscle massage is another way to assist in reducing lingering muscle tightness and soreness, but just as with the stretching, remember to stay relaxed when pressing on those painful knotted areas.