Winter Running – What to Wear

As our running groups get set to start I have had a lot of questions about winter running gear and instead of answering them individually I will attempt a somewhat comprehensive blog post.

To start the three most important tips.

  1.  Layers are the key to warmth. One heavy layer is nowhere near as effective as two to three quality thinner layers.
  2. Check the weather conditions, both current and forecasted. Most weather sites do hour-by-hour forecasts these days.
  3. Dress like it is approximately 20 degrees warmer. While you may be a little cold to start running is a hot and sweaty activity and it will not take long to warm up significantly.

The base layer should be made of wicking material. Wicking material is material that pushes moisture to the outside away from the skin. In winter running your long-sleeved shirt, pants (tights or leggings) and socks should all be made from wicking material. Also known as athletic wear this material is widely available in sport and department stores by all the major manufacturers. Top-of the line makers include Patagonia, Mountain Equipment Coop, Under Armour and Nike.

The next layer is often fleece, fleece-lined or wool. Especially the lightweight merino wool. For many this is just a sweater or a vest, socks, gloves and a hat. The advantage of wool is that it produces heat even when wet and is therefore very good to have during the seasonal changes or in regions where precipitation can change quickly between snow, sleet and rain.

A third layer, when necessary, is a windproof or waterproof layer. As you are producing a lot of heat when exercising you want to avoid the 100% non-breathable material (usually cheaper polyester items) as you will quickly overheat and become very uncomfortable. There are many types of jackets, pullovers and pants available that fulfill this function. In fact it is the winter wind that is the most uncomfortable for cold weather joggers. On a windless day most say that they are fine in just the first two layers even to as low as -20 but that all changes the moment a cold, bitter wind springs up. Windy runs also motivate people to include ski masks or balaclavas in their arsenal.

Winter running shoes can be the same pair you use the rest of the year though the more mesh on your shoes the colder your feet will be. The more gore-tex in the shoe upper (everything above the sole) the warmer and more waterproof it is. Ice cleats, spikes and removable traction devices are also available and work with varying degrees of success.

Another consideration in winter running is light. For much of the winter there is considerably less daylight and the chances that you will be running in the dark are greater. Reflective clothing and headlamps help. A lot of the quality athletic wear is made with reflective stripes or piping these days and if not you can buy bands to wear around your wrists and ankles that are reflective. A forgotten aspect for many in winter running is that running in the daytime when it is sunny is a very bright experience. Sun reflects strongly upwards off snow and ice and a good pair of sunglasses is recommended in those conditions.

Look for weather updates on local or national weather sites such as and


Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

Image A few simple steps can help you avoid a traditional Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s weight gain.

1. Portion Control – Remember that there is a lot of food during this time of year and eating more of it than you ever did is not your goal. This year try to eat a little less than before and do it by taking a little less on your plate. You will still be satisfied and most likely still feel full so try for a few less of each item available.

2. Eat slower – The abundance can lead to rapid eating. Eat slower and give your digestion a chance to function. You will find you eat less this way.

3. Hydrate – Keep up or even increase your water intake. It will help with the digestion and flushing of all the rich food and help you eat less. Make a glass or two of water part of any meal.

4. Have Smart Meals too – You know the big meals are going to be there but ensure that the other meals you eat during the season, the breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks that are not part of the celebration, are of a high quality. Good sensible meals of healthy ingredients in between the feasts will help to offset any excess.

5. Don’t Abandon Your Exercise Routine – Time gets tighter and more stressful during the holiday season but the first victim of this pressure cannot be your time at the gym or yoga studio or wherever you get physical activity. Not only will this help prevent weight gain but it plays an important role in dealing with the stresses of the holiday season.

Recent studies show that holiday weight gain is not as much as many people believe it is, with only 10% of people gaining more than 5 pounds, but holiday weight is usually not lost by a large percentage. As it accumulates over a few years this weight gain becomes a significant factor in the obesity problem. Follow these five steps so that you can avoid getting stuck in the chimney yourself a few years from now.

Me and My Foam Roller

It was almost love at first sight. First touch perhaps. It seems I now have some fairly intense feelings for a small tube of compressed styrofoam.

I am not alone in this either. Foam rollers have been around for awhile. You can even get them at Wal-Marts these days. Nevertheless I tried it for the first time just a few months ago.

Among my other loves is Thai Yoga Massage ( but the knots in my muscles, specifically my legs and especially in my calves, were so big and tight that I was not receiving the full benefit of the massage. It is hard to have a deep tissue massage when any pressure on your tissue is too painful to endure.

It was after a difficult massage that I was introduced to the foam roller. Fifteen minutes later the tension in my legs, which is where I tend to store it, was greatly reduced and the big, hard knots had broken up a little. Since then I have been doing a leg routine (see below) almost daily and the difference is significant.

Foam rolling is a form of self-massage or myofacial release that has been found to greatly improve muscle and tendon tension, as well as breaking up knots and scar tissue.  It does not replace massage but sure augments it. Now that I have added it to my routine I am finding the benefits are everywhere. Of course I can have massages now without it being painful but I also find it easier to get to sleep with more relaxed legs. The first time I went for a jog immediately after foam rolling was shocking. It was like having new leg muscles. Usually no amount of stretching before a run gets me loose enough to avoid a slow start until my stride feels long and comfortable. But after foam rolling I was there immediately. My run was so fast and easy I have to add some distance to feel like I am working as hard.

My Legs Routine

The Quads

You may need to go a little slower at first and I won’t lie to you, at the beginning there are spots where it will hurt a lot. But it is worth it.

The IT Bands 

The Glutes 

The Hamstrings 

The Calves 

Take your time in the beginning and work those painful spots. Stop on them and rock back and forth as best you can. If you cannot put all your weight on it right away work up to it. Trust me you will enjoy it after just a short time.


Test Yourself for this Disease Spreading through America

Overview & Facts
EX-Skusightis. While not new, it is a growing problem in the United States. This causes people with so much potential to lead unfulfilling lives by having an excuse for everything. Although they really know they should do something, it is in their best interest, they will always have a solid reason why they can’t. Exercise is one area where sufferers of EX-Skusightis are particularly prevalent. Check the following list of “symptoms” to see if you potentially have this disease:


1. “I just really hate exercise.”

2. “I can’t afford a gym membership.”

3. “I never see any changes in my body.”

4. “I don’t know how to exercise.”

5. “I have to many other responsibilities and can’t make the time.”

6. “I just can’t seem to stay motivated.”

7. The SyFy channel is running a Babylon 5 marathon this week so I’ll start next week.”

8. “I am too tired.”

9. “I’m just big-boned and will never be skinny, so why should I bother?”

10. “I am too stressed.”

11. “I’ve got good metabolism, I don’t need to exercise.”

12. “I need to lose some weight and get in better shape before I go to an exercise class.”

13. “I don’t have any nice workout clothes or sneakers.”

14. “I’ll start once I finish all the cookies, chips and ice cream at home.”

and so on.

Diagnosis & Tests
Sit down and make a list of every excuse you make not to work out including any of the ones above. Look at the logic behind them. Are they as illogical as number 12 above? Do they not even ring true? You may have this horrible disease.

Another test. Are you sitting on the couch right now? Are you eating corn chips while sitting on the couch right now? Are you sitting on the couch, eating corn chips waiting for ESPN6 to replay the highlights from last year’s Professional Bowing Association Des Moines Open? Have you turned off your cell phone so no one can interrupt this high point of your day? If you answered “YES!” to any or all of the above you probably are a sufferer of EX-Skusightis or its more serious counterpart Sofipotatiosis (see below).

Related Diseases:

Sofipotatiosis – A serious disease that often follows EX-Skusightis. The symptoms are many. Too many to list here but all revolve around movement and the near total lack of it. One benefit of the disease is that you sometimes get your picture in the newspaper but this benefit is mitigated by the fact that the picture is of the Fire Department is using a heavy-duty winch to transport you out of the front picture window.

Treatment & Care
Get up. Get out. Be active. Don’t listen to the disease. Come talk to us at SPHERE! We have answers to all the excuses except number 12 which makes our brains hurt.

What to Expect from the Learn-to-Run 101 Course

This eight-week course is for non-runners and novice runners of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. Its intention is to help you make jogging an enjoyable, safe and regular part of your lifestyle.

Enjoyable because it will provide a supportive, motivational group atmosphere that is conducive to having a positive exercise experience. See the earlier post “Everybody Wants a Friend with Benefits” ( or the masses of research available on the internet regarding this topic. Safe because the classes are carefully organized around themes of  injury prevention, proper pacing and personal safety. And regular as the course is designed to allow you to find the pace, and frequency that works for you, your schedule and your goals.

Eight consecutive  Mondays at 6pm starting October 17 the group will meet for a one hour class. The class will consist of; a 15-minute talk on one of the important areas of beginner running, followed by a short warm-up, a carefully paced run and a cool-down stretch. For the first three weeks the runs will be gentle with walking periods and the focus will be on the correct biomechanics and building some stamina. The next four weeks will see the walks become less frequent and the running phases gradually increasing in length. The final class will be where we reach our goal of jogging for a full thirty minutes.  In addition to the Monday classes everyone is welcome to join the Saturday run at 12pm* in which a run at the same pace is repeated. This second class of the week is optional and does not include a talk but is recommended.

Themes covered during the course include stretching, correct shoes, good running posture and form (biomechanics), safety, watches heart monitors and other gear and many mor

* This day and time is negotiable within the group in an attempt to conform to everyone’s schedule

If you have questions or want more information please feel free to email me at

Does a Workout Give Your Metabolism a Big Boost Afterwards?

 This is something I  have heard before and wondered whether it was true or not. Doing a little internet research and asking an experienced fitness professional made me realize I had opened a large can of worms.

There are a great many factors that determine your metabolism rate, some of which you can control like food intake and amount of exercise and some which you cannot like gender, genetics and body type.

Proper scientific research, or perhaps the lack of it, is full of claims of definitiveness, controversy and contradiction. Which really does not help matters. But after a brief explanation of the science involved I will attempt to answer the burning question. Does a solid workout on the treadmill mean you can hit the Dairy Queen for an extra-large Blizzard on the way home and at least come out even?

The science. Metabolism rate is largely measured in terms of oxygen consumption needed (and therefore calories burned) to perform body functions. It is calculated by looking at your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) and your Physical Activity Energy Expenditure (PAEE).

Your RMR is the number of calories needed to maintain your vital body functions and is usually about 65-75% of your daily calorie expenditure. You do not have much control  over what your RMR is but there is a way to calculate it.

The TEF is the calories needed to digest, absorb and store the food you eat each day. It accounts for 5-10% of your daily calorie expenditure.

The PAEE is calories burnt during activity. Any activity. From the fidgeting you do looking for the remote in-between the couch cushions to running a marathon. This activity accounts for 20-30% of daily calorie expenditure.

Now remember we are discussing metabolic rate here. Calories taken in verses calories burned is, of course, the crucial equation for fat loss but not exactly what we are looking at in this post. We want to know whether our workout gives us such a boost in metabolism that we do not return to our normal RMR for a long period. As much as 24 hours in some claims.

The answer on the 24 hours seems to be a pretty definite NO. But there is some effect. Sorta. Kinda. If you do the right thing.

Research has found that with cardio exercise…This is a good time to underline that we are talking cardio here as strength training produces a different set of results. But with cardio the intensity but not the duration does seem to slow the body’s return to normal RMR by A COUPLE OF HOURS.

Was does this mean for you? Well if your usual cardio is the treadmill or some jogging it may be time to consider some sprints. A well-thought of workout involves sprinting all out for 30 seconds then jogging or walking (depending on what you can manage) for 90 seconds and repeating that eight times. A sixteen minute cardio workout that kicks your ass with its intensity.

If you like the sound of that then good. But do not drop the duration workouts for intensity ones. It is spending time in the fat-burning zone of your heart rate that really gets to the stored fat. Cyclists and long-distance runners tend to be the leanest athletes for a reason.

If you read all of this post looking for a YES on the extra-large Blizzard sorry it was so long and wordy. You didn’t really think it was going to be there did you? Get the sample size or better yet a yogurt.

Foods That Fuel Your Workout V – Quinoa

  The Queen of Protein. Quinoa can be added to almost anything, is excellent warm or cold, cooks easily and stores very well. Why is it taking so long for this ancient grain to re-establish itself in the world diet? It is gluten-free, full of iron and manganese and, as stated, an excellent source of protein. It is very low on the glycemic index for a carb as well.

Foods That Fuel Your Workout IV – Refried Beans

  Not actually fried, the beans are cooked and mashed creating a delicious spreadable paste. A half cup gives you a quarter of your   daily fibre needs and twenty percent of your daily iron needs. Add some salsa and your iron absorption improves. Plus you get 15g of protein, fuel for your workout and a tasty meat alternative. Some canned versions are very high in sodium so read the labels carefully.


Are You Wearing the Correct Shoes?

There are a lot of different types of shoes available on the market. A trip to your nearest sports superstore will show you a wall with more choices than you want. But which ones are right for you? The answer is essentially “some of them”.

This post is looking at workout shoes rather than specialized shoes. Basketball shoes, cycling clips, trail runners etc are not covered in this post. Just basic workout shoes that can be used for running, cardio workouts and anything that involves some form of impact. Cross-training and Aerobic shoes do this but are enhanced for more lateral movement. We are looking for the pair of shoes that is comfortable, enhances performance and helps with injury prevention.

Basically there are three types of shoes. Cushioning shoes, Stability shoes and Motion Control shoes. Which one you should choose is largely based on how your foot pronates during exercise. Pronation, most pronounced when you are running, is how your foot rolls inward and flattens out after striking the ground. After pronation your foot supinates (rotates outward) and your weight transfers to the ball of your foot. It then becomes rigid in preparation to propel you in the appropriate direction. Overpronation is fairly common, oversupination is far less common. The perfect stride is rare but many people are close enough that they can stick to the basic cushioning shoes.

If you go to a store where the staff is trained in shoe selection they can help you choose the right shoe. Many can do it after watching you walk barefoot and doing one or two deep knee bends. If you pronate a lot your feet lean inwards and your knees are over the inside of your feet when you bend. If you supinate it is the opposite. Someone who pronates usually has low arches, a supinator usually has high arches.

So how do you know if the store has trained staff? Well you don’t until you ask but a good indicator is to look at how the shoes are displayed on the wall. Shoes displayed with the instep facing outwards are a good indicator as this is where you will visually find all the information about the shoe. Shoes facing outwards are showing the prettier side.

Another excellent way to tell what kind of shoes you need is to look at your current workout shoes provided you have been using them for a while and usually them mostly for workouts.

  • Look at the upper part of the shoe from the back (at eye level). The imaginary centerline should be perpendicular to the ground. If it leans inward you pronate, outward you supinate.
  • Look at the midsole from the inside (remove the insole) and see if one side is more compressed

A final way to determine your correct shoe is to look at your footprint. The easiest way to do this is to step on a piece of paper with wet feet.



 1. With this footprint you have a low arch and pronate.

 2. This footprint shows no pronation or supination

 3. This high arch footprint has a lot of supination.


If you pronate or supinate somewhat you need Stability shoes. Stability shoes have extra cushioning and multidensity midsole material. For most shoes this is a light grey section within the white of the sole, easiest seen on the instep. If you pronate or supinate significantly you need Motion Control shoes. These shoes have considerable support in the sole and maximum rear-foot stability to hold your heel in place better. If you have no pronation or supination then Cushioning shoes are good for you. These shoes provide comfort and stability but do not have any specialized components.

Other than choosing a store with a knowledgeable staff and knowing about pronation you should also consider:

  • Shop in the afternoon to get the best fit.
  • Try on both shoes
  • Keep them on for at least 5 minutes
  • Your biggest toe should not be pressing against the end of the shoe.
  • The heel should be snug, no slipping.
  • They should be comfortable on day one. Don’t expect a break-in period to change a shoe that doesn’t feel right.
  • What works for your friend doesn’t necessarily work for you. Feet are different.
  • If you find a good shoe  for you stick with it but keep in mind manufactures sometimes change the specs of a particular shoe.

While it is tempting to look at shoes in terms of brands the reality is that all of the major brands are producing good shoes. You need to find the one that suits you. Next time you need a new pair of shoes try to keep this information in mind.


Most of this information comes from an excellent book, Running: The Complete Guide to Building Your Running Program by John Stanton (isbn 9780143176091) and from the websites of many of the shoe manufacturers.

Foods That Fuel Your Workout III – Blueberries

Free-radical killing, cell-strengthening blueberries are the third food in our series on workout foods. Best raw or dried this native North American fruit is also a major winner in fibre content and studies have linked the blueberry to better urinary tract health and better vision. A half a cup added to cereal, yogurt or smoothies will give you 45g of carbs or about an hours worth of jet fuel for your workout.