Tag Archives: muscles

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 11 – How Exercise May Fight Aging

(This is part 11 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

According to an interesting new study, regular exercise throughout adulthood may protect our muscles against age-related loss and damage later. The study finds that active older men’s muscles resemble, at a cellular level, those of 25-year-olds and weather inflammatory damage much better than the muscles of sedentary older people. The study also raises some cautionary questions about whether waiting until middle age or later to start exercising might prove to be challenging for the lifelong health of our muscles.

Why Wait?

Physical aging is a complicated process, as any of us who are living and experiencing it know. Precipitated by little-understood changes in the workings of our cells and physiological systems, it proceeds in stuttering fits and starts, affecting some people and body parts earlier or more noticeably than others. Muscles are among the body parts most vulnerable to time. Almost all of us begin losing some muscle mass and strength by early middle age, with the process accelerating as the decades pass. While the full causes for this decline remain unknown, most aging researchers agree that a subtle, age-related rise in inflammation throughout our bodies plays a role. “A lot of studies show that higher circulating inflammatory factors in people are associated with greater loss of muscle mass,” says Todd Trappe, a professor of exercise science at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., who oversaw the new study. Since it was already widely accepted that physically fit people tend to have lower levels of inflammation in their bodies than inactive people. So, the researchers wondered, would active, older people also have more and healthier muscle mass than other older people? And if so, what might that tell us about how human muscles can optimally age?

Some Profound Results

In the study, it was noted immediately that the men’s thigh circumference reflected their ages and lifestyles, with the young athletes sporting the burliest legs, the elderly athletes slightly smaller ones, and the inactive elderly men the spindliest. The researchers found that inflammatory responses differed in the men. The young athletes displayed the least amount of inflammation in their blood and muscles at the start of the study and continued to do so after the workout. While their muscles flared briefly after exercise with inflammatory cells and related gene activity, the microscopic examination found that countervailing anti-inflammatory signals were also increasing and should soon cool the inflammation. A similar response occurred inside the muscles of the elderly athletes, although their inflammatory markers were slightly higher and their anti-inflammatory reactions a bit lower. But in the untrained elderly men, inflammation was much more of a bushfire, spiking higher than among the other men and showing fewer cellular signs of resolving any time soon. Taken as a whole, these results suggest that long-term exercise may help aging muscles remain healthy in part by readying them to dissipate inflammation. But on the flip side, sedentary living seems to set up muscles to overreact to strain and remain inflamed, potentially leading to fewer muscular gains when someone does exercise. More important, the findings should not discourage middle-aged or older people who have been inactive from starting to visit the gym. Even if inflammation gets in the way a bit at first, your muscles will respond and grow and eventually should start to resemble those of people who have been exercising lifelong.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for the conclusion of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit
Day #6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia
Day #7 – 5 Ways to Improve Eating Habits Without Counting Calories

Day #8 – How Age Affects Workout Recovery
Day #9 – Fitness and Nutrition Tips From the Healthiest Countries
Day #10 – 5 Bodyweight Exercises That You Can Do Right Now

12 Days of Fitness 2020: Day 6 – The Real Science Behind Fascia

(This is part 6 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

Most of you have probably never heard of fascia, or if you have, it may be in the context of “blasting” it to treat cellulite. But talking about fascia has become somewhat trendy recently, and not only in the context of looking better in your swimsuit. A Google search returns more than 79 million hits for the term, and there is even a conference that is entirely devoted to fascia research.

What is Fascia?

According to Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, fascia is “a sheet of fibrous tissue that envelops the body beneath the skin; it also encloses muscles and groups of muscles and separates their several layers or groups.” But this definition is incomplete. Fascia can actually be classified into four types, each with different properties, functions and characteristics. The superficial fascia surrounds the body and includes subcutaneous fat; the deep fascia surrounds the musculoskeletal system; the meningeal fascia surrounds the nervous system; the visceral fascia surrounds body cavities and organs. In mainstream medicine, fascia is rarely considered in isolation as the cause of chronic pain disorders. One exception is plantar fasciitis, a painful and relatively common condition in which the fascia that is responsible for maintaining the arch in your foot is inflamed. The inflammation is directly attributed to a stiffening and a decrease in the flexibility of the fascia. Fascia, like most connective tissue in the body, stiffens with age, overuse and injury. The direct role of fascial changes in causing pain and structural changes in conditions such as chronic lower back pain, headaches and cellulite is less clear. Some body work practitioners including massage therapists, osteopaths, Rolfers, craniosacral therapists and physical therapists claim that fascial restrictions (essentially tightening) — caused by injury, inflammation, trauma, disuse, overuse, misuse or abuse — play an important role in contributing to the pain associated with a wide array of conditions including migraines, fibromyalgia, headaches, lower back pain and women’s health issues. Fascia specialists claim that treating these fascial restrictions with a variety of methods, including proprietary bodywork methods and/or specialized tools, is an important aspect of overcoming these chronic and painful conditions. But what does the science say? Is fascia really that important, and if it is, is there anything we can do to “fix” the fascia and get rid of the pain?

Is Fascia Real Science?

Despite the growing interest, the science of fascia, its clinical relevance and how best to treat it (assuming it is clinically relevant) remains controversial, and there is very limited high-quality research to evaluate and support it. There are two major challenges to fascia research and scientific validation. First, there are major issues with the definition of fascia. Many in traditional medicine consider fascia as simply the tough, fibrous connective tissue surrounding muscle tissue and separating soft tissue areas (including fat) throughout the body. But those who focus on treating it have a broader definition that includes a more dynamic component of fascia (not just the less flexible fibrous tissue), called the extracellular matrix, which is made up of fluid, proteins and carbohydrates. Newly discovered features of the fluid filled spaces referred to as interstitium exists within and between all tissues in the body. Many researchers believe that interstitium is a component of fascia, and since it is fluid, it can be manipulated. Though many fascia manipulation advocates claim that lengthening the restricted fascia is the key to successful treatment.

Do Fascia Treatments Work?

Treating fascial restrictions evolved from the work of Ida Rolf, a pioneering female scientist in the 1920s who developed a method of treating fascia called Structural Integration (commonly referred to today as Rolfing.) According to the official Rolfing website, the method works “to release, realign and balance the whole body, thus potentially resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain.” This type of treatment, performed over a number of sessions, improves the movement between layers of fascia surrounding structures including tendons, nerves, muscle and ligaments. The concept of modifying the fluid component of fascia better known as myofascial release is a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion.” The major issue with putting so much emphasis on fascia and how to treat it effectively is that it is highly unlikely that fascia ever works or can be treated in isolation from other tissues. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves play an essential and more clearly established role in many chronic pain conditions. The complex interaction and interconnection of all the tissues involved presents a significant challenge to defining and isolating the relevance of fascia.

The bottom line is if a bodywork practitioner or specialized tool (myoballs, foam rollers, etc.) claim to be treating your fascia to relieve your chronic pain (or help you get rid of cellulite), you may indeed get the hoped-for results, but it’s a lot more complicated than just fixing the fascia.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 7 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – 7 Ways to Stop Overeating Forever
Day #2Sleep Facts That May Surprise You
Day #3 – Why Losing Weight Through Exercise is Hard
Day #4 – You Are Never Too Old to Exercise
Day #5 – 6 Ways to Adopting a New Habit

What You Thought You Knew About Fitness is Wrong

Confused Woman Scratching Her Head
Confused Woman Scratching Her Head

In today’s day and age of social media, it seems everyone becomes an expert: political, financial, spiritual, technical, nutritional, and of course, physical. Behind the shroud of computers, tablets, and smart phones, the “experts” offer and voice their views and opinions on everything and anything and sadly have many believing in what they’re saying (selling) without little proof of their claims. Furthermore, what’s reported in the media is usually more attention grabbing than evidence worthy. Through my years as a fitness professional, I’ve seen thousands of gurus and media morsels leaving bits of useless wisdom that many have taken as gospel becoming fitness “experts” themselves. Every time I head to the gym to work out I often struggle and bite my tongue as I witness the result of what sheep following sheep looks like. After a recent visit to the gym, I was inspired to write about what so many are doing or saying wrong, most likely unbeknownst to them in the hopes that it helps you.

Cardio is a very inefficient method of burning fat. Aerobic (cardio) exercise is a great and critical component of fitness. It strengthens and improves the cardiovascular system responsible for delivering oxygenated blood to all working organs and muscles in addition to lowering blood pressure and hundreds more of key physiological processes. Doesn’t sound too exciting, huh? I would guess most people doing “cardio” are of the mindset that they’re working off the pounds (fat) more than the other benefits. The reality is you burn little to no fat at low to medium intensities (most of what I witness people doing); the longer you go doesn’t equate to more fat being burned; the amount of calories burned while exercising equals energy spent during the activity, not the amount of fat burned. To efficiently burn fat requires you to “torch” it – work at higher intensities for shorter bursts of time, a level most have to work up to over time.

You don’t have to lift iron to build muscle. You cannot ignore enough the value of adding strength training to your routine. It’s the only “anti-gravity” exercise we can do. The result: strengthening of muscles and skeletal structures; the ONLY way to change the shape of the body; a much more efficient fat burner as it increases the body’s energy requirements during AND after the work out. The good news is if the weight room still “scares” you, you don’t have to lift iron to build muscle. Balls, bands, bodyweight, etc. are some of the many other tools available to build muscle. The most important concept to understand is that in order to build muscle you need these three components: mechanical tension on the muscle (resistance), muscle damage (stress at the cellular level that spurns new growth), and metabolic stress (intensity).

Stretching before a workout is unnecessary and could be counterproductive. Perhaps that school gym teacher from back in the day left his/her mark with you but we’ve come a long way since then. Number one, stretching a cold, tight muscle could create a bigger problem. Number two, stretching a muscle creates more joint laxity that may not be beneficial to movement. Your best bet? Warm up the muscles and the body with light activity or soft tissue manipulation (i.e. self-myofascial release) in tight spots. Still like to stretch? Be my guest but there’s a better, more effective way.

It’s not necessary to train like a bodybuilder. No disrespect to those who train to be a bodybuilder or figure competitor. It’s very hard, dedicated work that involves more than just the weight room. But for many more than not, bodybuilding is not something they’re training for and no amount of weight training is going to make them look like a body builder without all of the other components. Train for your goal, not your aspiration.

It’s physically impossible to lengthen and/or tone muscles. Two of the biggest buzz words in fitness that I’m sure sell tons of programs and magazines. Here’s a sobering anatomical fact: your muscles are the length they’re always going to be without of course cutting muscle origin and insertion points or lengthening bones! Muscles always have “tone” (tonality) otherwise they wouldn’t work. Muscles can get leaner (translation: stronger, tighter, shapelier) and more defined (translation: less body fat between them and the skin).

There’s no magic to your exercise order. Variety is key with your workouts, particularly when it comes to what and when you do it. Most stick to a pattern that they’ve mirrored for years and wonder why they’re not getting anywhere when it may have worked for them initially. Change it up – the order of the exercises, the type, the sets, the reps, etc. Don’t be married to what you think is the perfect program. The perfect program is one that evolves and progresses over time.

You don’t need to use EVERY piece of exercise equipment in the gym. One of the few advantages I see to belonging to a gym or health club aside from the social aspect is the variety of options. But to the novice or pseudo-expert, that really doesn’t make a difference. It can be overwhelming and intimidating but most of the stuff is duplicates or multiple versions of achieving the same goal. It’s like knowing the difference between two high-end sports cars – if you don’t know the difference in their engine and driving capabilities, your decision might be influenced only by the color of the car.

Sweat/post exercise soreness is not good indicators of workout success. It’s a known physiological fact: some people just sweat more than others. It’s not a badge of honor – it’s a very efficient cooling mechanism that some have. For those that don’t sweat much, it’s not always indicative of workout intensity but a less than efficient cooling mechanism. Regardless, it’s not a score card to even be concerned with. As far as muscle soreness goes, it sometimes happens when a new exercise/muscle pattern is learned, or more mechanical stress/tension was introduced. Some get sore 24-48 hours after a workout, some longer. Again, it depends on the amount and type of stress that was introduced to the body and how YOUR body responds. But comparing it to others is like comparing apples to oranges.

The longer the workout, the less efficient it becomes. More is not necessarily better; it’s just more. Those who claim to be at the gym for an hour or two are physically in the building for that time but I would challenge just how much real work is done during that time. Intensities dwindle; fuel supplies diminish at the muscles, anabolic hormones decrease, etc. as time moves on. Time is never an excuse to get in a quality workout. Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to fitness.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

12 Days of Fitness 2015: Day 11 – Foam Rolling 101

(This is Part 11 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful blurbs and tips to keep your fitness in focus over the holiday season)

foam-rollerFitness fads come and go and I only endorse or use the ones I know are worth their merit. Some are not always obvious or popular in the public eye while others are everywhere you look. Take for example the foam roller; a compressed, often cylindrical piece of foam where people roll themselves on in some bizarre looking horizontal dance. Today, foam rollers can be found almost anywhere from gyms, rehab centers, and homes to specialty stores and big name retailers. Why? Because they work but it takes a better understanding and appreciation of how and what they do that makes them a valuable tool in your arsenal.

It’s All About the Fascia

Fascia is the connective tissue beneath the skin that surrounds the muscles. It is made primarily of densely packed collagen fibers that permeate your muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. There isn’t a place in your body where fascia doesn’t exist. Over time with training and/or physical activity, the muscles become tight and the fascia starts to thicken and shorten to protect the underlying muscle from further damage. Sometimes the fibers and fascia contract so much they form trigger points, which manifest as sore spots needing to be released. The problem is fascia also has the ability to contract independently of the muscles it surrounds and it responds to stress without your conscious command.  That means fascia can impact movements, for better or worse.  When fascia becomes restricted, adhesions form causing soreness, restricted movement, gait change and potential injury.

Enter the Foam Roller

Foam rolling, a type of myofascial release, is the application of pressure to eliminate scar-tissue and soft-tissue adhesion by freeing up your fascia. Once a technique only performed by skilled physical therapists and massage therapists, self-myofascial release through the use of a foam roller can be very beneficial. The good news is fascia and trigger points can be released. Even better, once released, every one of the problems tight fascia and muscles have caused usually clears up. The goal of using the foam roller is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that it and other structures can move more freely resulting in decreased muscle and joint pain, increased circulation and improved mobility, balance and gait for peak mobility and performance. But like anything that is good, too much or improperly utilized methods can be more detrimental than beneficial.

Beware the Foam Roller

Foam rolling can be the savoir for those who are chronically injury-prone, those who train hard, or those chronically stiff from sitting at a desk all day — if used the right way. If not, you risk irritating, and possibly injuring, your body further. Here are some of the most common mistakes when using the foam roller

  • Rolling directly on an injured area. Seems counter-intuitive but as most things in relation to the body, unless it’s blunt trauma, the affected area is generally the symptom, not the cause of the issue. When it comes to foam rolling and myofascial release, constantly working the area of pain could create more inflammation and tension in the area, further tensing the muscles and fascia. What to do instead: Slowly foam roll your way away from the pain center to the connecting muscles. Once you hit the attachment areas, work those thoroughly. Then proceed back to the area of pain and work gently at first. Visualize yourself “melting away” the tightness. Not only will you avoid inciting excess inflammation this way, but you’ll target the real source of your injury.
  • Foam rolling too quickly. Foam rolling initially even if done properly hurts. Period. Human nature is to roll through or endure pain quickly. Unfortunately, foam rolling quickly doesn’t accomplish the objective – releasing fascia and relaxing muscles. What to do instead: You need to be slow and deliberate in your movements. While it may feel better to go fast, releasing fascia takes time. Once you find a sensitive area, slowly work back and forth over the spot. Again, be thoughtful and think of foam rolling like melting through the muscle and fascia.
  • Staying on one spot too long. While this may sound contradictory to the previous statement, it’s not. Staying on one spot for too long might irritate a nerve or damage the tissue, which can cause bruising and further inflammation. What to do instead: Be gentle at first. Start with half your body weight, using your hands or other leg to adjust pressure, and slowly work into full body weight. The maximum amount of time you should spend on any one area is 20 seconds or so. After this, you only risk irritating the spot more than you’re helping it. If you have a really troublesome area you can always come back for another session in the evening when the muscles have had time to relax.
  • Using bad posture and form. Foam rolling is hard work and I almost guarantee you’ll break a sweat. Just as with a strength training exercise, it’s easy to let your form deteriorate, especially if you are tired. What to do instead: Understand your anatomy a little better. Don’t approach foam rolling haphazardly. Stay focused on your form throughout your entire session and if you’re not quite sure how to do it properly, find someone who has the experience to show you.

 

See you tomorrow for Day 12 of the 12 Days of Fitness.

 

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Day 1 – Chew Your Food
Day 2 – Fitness for the Road
Day 3 – The Many Names of Sugar
Day 4 – Side Stitches: Causes and Treatments
Day 5 – The 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Feel Hungry When Trying to Lose Weight
Day 6 – 10 Rules of Fitness
Day 7 – Which Are You – A Chronic Dieter or A Healthy Eater?
Day 8 – What Happens When You Skip Your Workout
Day 9 – The Truth About Lactic Acid
Day 10 – Better Nutrition Starts With a Better Plan

12 Days of Fitness 2014: Day 2 – Common Strength Training Mistakes to Avoid

(This is Part 2 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

too-lightEven before my days as a fitness professional, I spent a lot of time in gyms, including backyard, basement, garage, as well as brick and mortar buildings. Through my own experiences and subsequent educational background, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how the muscles work, how they adapt, and how they grow. But despite all of that, I still learn something new every day that just keeps it that much more fascinating. So imagine my disbelief and frustration when I see those who are clearly investing the time to lift weights, whether it be to build strength, change the shape of their body, or improve some level of performance, and they’re going about it all wrong. It’s not just about proper form either as there are exceptions and individual characteristics to consider (we’re not all built the same) in each case. The lifter from beginner to the experienced is guilty of making the mistakes too as it pertains to strength training and here are a list of some of the most common ones to avoid.

Using Too Much Mr. Mo-Mentum

Certain power movements require some momentum to complete but not every day, standard lifts. I’ve witnessed way too often when a person uses way too much momentum and swinging when they lift. Momentum doesn’t work a muscle through the full range of motion. Instead, it works towards improving your reversal strength. When you lower a weight down (eccentric contraction) and immediately reverse it (concentric contraction), there is a large amount of stored kinetic energy. This energy acts like a spring and ends up neglecting the beginning of the concentric phase of the movement. It’s like driving a manual transmission without first taking your foot off of the gas to step on the clutch.

Pumping Ego Instead of Muscles

A lot of people, men in particular, are afraid to use the amount of weight they should be using rather than the weight they’re attempting to lift. They’re more afraid to be thought of as weak rather than sensible as they proceed to load up a bar with weight they can’t lift correctly. Train smart and progressively by using the right amount of weight and don’t worry what others think. If being in a contest is what you want, there are plenty that you go train for.

Using a Reduced Range of Motion

There are times when partial reps have a benefit – like when you’re trying to train your sticking points. For most people though, they should be lowering the weight and raising it through the full range of motion. Unless you want to get really good at doing quarter squats or partial pull-ups, you must carry the load from beginning to end as much distance as safely possible.

Neglecting the Lower Body

Men are by far more guilty of this than women are. It’s the beach body mentality – arms and chest get priority. Unless you want to look like Mr. Potato Head standing on tooth picks, you need to be training your lower body with the same intensity as your upper. Your quads, hamstrings, hips, and glutes are huge muscles – much bigger than your chest, biceps, and triceps. Adding muscle to these areas will do amazing things for your physique.

Not Having a Plan of Periodization or Progressive Overload

I’ve seen this way too many times when you can tell the day of the week by the body parts that are predominantly being worked in the weight room. With that, the same exercises done in the same order with the same weight for the same number of reps. If you’re going into the gym and doing the same thing each time, you’re never going to make any real progress. You must plan your workouts so that you’re continually getting stronger over a period of time. You might have to push forward with weight and then back off some before pushing forward again, but the overall trend should be up if your goal is to get stronger.

Unknowingly Creating Muscle Imbalances

Antagonistic muscles, the muscles that are opposite the muscles getting worked, need to be trained in balance. In addition, stabilizer muscles often get neglected, which keeps them weak and leads to injury when lifting heavy weight. Make sure all muscles in your body, however small or unnoticed, are being trained equally.

Trying to Spot Reduce With Exercise

Using the leg extension, leg curl, abductor/adductor, or glute machines aren’t going to help you tone up your butt and legs any better than any other exercise. That’s because fat loss cannot be targeted with a specific exercise. Fat loss is systemic, not localized. Use strength training to work your entire body and to create a metabolic environment that’s conducive to fat loss. Your diet will take care of the fat loss.

No Respect For Rest

You stimulate growth when you train, but you grow when you rest. Training and recovery are equally important. Your muscles must be recovered if they are to work at their max capacity. Depending on the intensity of your workout, the amount of work you did, and your diet, you may need 48 hours or more to fully recover.

Overdoing the Isolation Exercises

Isolation exercises are fun, but they are the long route to results. Compound movement exercises, such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, bench presses, etc., that use multiple muscle groups at once, are much more effective at building muscle and strength. Make the core of your strength training program composed of compound exercises, and then use the isolation movements to work on weak points to compliment the bigger muscles.

Not Doing a Proper Warm Up

The best way to avoid injuries when weight lifting is to be properly prepared. Warming up for weight lifting doesn’t get the attention it should as in other physical endeavors. You should at the very least get your heart rate up and blood to the muscles before asking them to move resistances heavier than they experience on a daily basis. Doing some dynamic warm-up exercises before a workout can help prevent injury and even improve performance.

See you tomorrow for Day 3 of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

 

Building Your Birthday Suit

Online_Retailer_of_Bespoke_Custom_Made_Suits_Shirts_Trousers_and_Skirts_for_Men_and_Women_67778_imageFirst impressions are big for you never get another chance. Whether it’s an interview for a new job or a hot date, making a good first impression is paramount. Before a word can even be spoken, the first impression weighs heavily on your physical presentation: how you carry yourself, how professional and well-kept you present yourself, and of course what you’re wearing. Now, far be it from me to offer advice on what one should wear to an interview or first date (I’ll leave that to the

The Center Piece – the “Suit”

For the analogy I want to draw here, let’s just imagine putting together a professional ensemble that begins with a great suit. The suit is what makes the biggest impression – its color, its shape and contours, how well-fitted it is, etc. It becomes the center piece of the outfit. When it comes to your physique, the “suit” is comprised of the major muscle groups: chest, back, legs, and core musculature. They are the most important because they make up over 85% of your body. Whether you want to improve, define, or strengthen your physique, it’s vital to train these muscle groups as the focus of your workouts. In terms of musculature, 2/3 of all the muscle mass in the body is below the waist. If you want to make overall changes to the body, you have to work the legs. The next largest muscle group is the back – big, powerful muscles that not only strengthen and support the spine, but are key in all pulling motions. Next are the chest muscles. Whether you’re a man or a woman, the “pecs” are also important to posture as they balance the forces of the back muscles and are involved in most if not all pressing motions. And finally, the core musculature is important for posture, balance, strength, and stability of the spine, and most important is the link between the larger muscle groups of the lower body and the muscles of the upper body. Just as with selecting the perfect suit, your workouts should focus first on the body’s center piece working the larger muscle groups of the body. Then you can focus on the finishing touches.

The Extras – the “Accessories”

Once a great suit is selected, then comes the accessories which will often take a great suit to an awesome suit. Shoes, belts, jewelry, ties, scarfs, etc. can certainly raise the level of the suit, but in and of themselves don’t’ make the suit. Same with your physique. The “accessories” of the body are the arms, shoulders, calfs, and even some of the core musculature, primarily the superficial muscles of the abdominals. Often times when someone says they want a stronger or leaner physique yet see diminishing returns, they focus too much time on developing the “accessories” and do not devote the time to fully develop and build the “suit”. Training the arms only or doing abdominal exercises until you’re blue in the face with little attention paid to the bigger picture will lead to frustration and diminished returns. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with a nice set of arms and good looking abs, but you’d be better served focusing your energy on the large muscle groups first (the suit) and then complimenting that training by hitting the extras (the accessories).

Fashion 101

Proper training has more to do with what you do than how much you do. Spending whole exercise sessions on just training the “accessories” will not produce the same yield as training the “suit”. When you train the “suit”, the “accessories” get worked as well and if you train them properly and intensely enough, they won’t need a special training session all their own. Focus your training on the “suit”, compliment with the “accessories”, and you’ll have one fine looking birthday suit!

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

12 Days of Fitness 2012 – Day 7: 3 Surefire Ways to Get the Physique You Desire

www.womenshealthbenefical.blogspot.comToday’s holiday fitness tip is short and to the point, just as it should be when you approach your workout.  Forget about thinking you need to put in an hour at the gym or making the excuse that you just don’t have the time. Get at it and get on with your day.

#1: Use High Intensity Intervals

Contrary to what mainstream fitness has been saying for decades, long slow cardio is not the most direct route to fat loss. It’s true that moderate intensity, steady state exercise uses primarily fat oxidation as fuel, but that isn’t the total picture. Why are high intensity intervals so much more effective? Interval circuits place such an intense demand on the system that it takes your body up to 36 hours to work its way back to homeostasis (a normal state). That means you’ll incinerate calories for hours after you finish training, even if you’re just lying on the sofa. That aftershock of fat burning potential is called EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). Plus, high intensity interval training is fast! You no longer have to spend 30 minutes to an hour jogging your life away on a treadmill. You can spend more time doing other things.

#2. Train With Full-Body Movements

A complex movement is an exercise that involves multiple joints and muscles working in a single movement (i.e. squat) versus an isolation movement which only requires one joint and generally one muscle (i.e. biceps curl). Putting it all together hits the body harder than training a bunch of isolation exercises, and it requires greater resources to recover from, which means you get a greater training effect. If you’re used to conventional gym routines, this will blow you away as you’ll be able to do more total work in less time. A properly programmed full-body routine ensures that your body remains balanced. You won’t waste time dealing with overuse injuries, or overcompensations created by doing the same repetitive movements in the same planes day after day. And you won’t have to mess around with split routines (legs one day, upper body the next, chest and back day, etc). You can hit it and forget it all in one session.

#3. Don’t Get Stuck In Simplicity

If you’re not teaching your nervous system new tricks, you’re losing the body composition battle on two fronts. First, you’re limiting your output. If your nervous system isn’t firing on all cylinders, you won’t be able to lift, push, explode and pull as much or as fast as you should. That means less muscle gain and reduced fat loss. Second, learning a new skill is much more CALORICALLY EXPENSIVE than repeating a skill you’re good at. If you don’t add new skills, you severely limit your fat burning potential. But there’s a fine line to walk. If you just throw random new skills at your body without developing long term motor coordination, you’ll only get random results — and you’ll limit the performance capacity..

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

See you tomorrow for Day 8 of the 12 Days of Fitness

My 2012 Fitness Challenge personal update – 35, 000 push ups done as of publishing time

 

 

The Dangers of Sitting – Part 2

backpainIn my last post, The Dangers of Sitting, I discussed some of the compelling research that proves some of the negative effects of sitting as it pertains to metabolism and negating the benefits of exercise.  In this post, I’ll talk about the dangers of sitting in relation to the biomechanics of the body.  While most would agree that sitting more is probably not very good for their waistline, it will surprise more that some of the more common physical ailments that bother them everyday have their roots from….tah dah…..sitting.

To Sit, Or Not To Sit

You sit in your car; you sit at your desk; you sit watching TV; you sit at the beach; you sit at the park; you may even sit working out.  There’s certainly no shortage of places to sit and what’s fun to watch is when you go out and there’s a wait to sit for dinner there’s almost a jockeying if you will for being the one to get the last seat available.  But isn’t there something to be said for “taking a load off” and “getting off your feet”? Sure, but when you consider the average person sits 9.3 hours per day, there is a slow and often quiet breakdown of some major supporting structures to the body occurring that overtime lead to some debilitating issues.

The Thigh Bone’s Connected To The Hip Bone………

Without making this an in depth anatomy lesson, the bones associated with sitting are the femurs (thigh bones), the hip complex, and the lumbar spine or low back.  There are multiple muscles involved as well, but as a basic overview they are: the hip muscles (glutes, inner and outer thigh muscles, hip flexors – see figure); the posterior thigh muscles (hamstrings); the low back muscles (erector spinae); and to a lesser extent the muscles of the top of the thigh (quadriceps) and the muscles of the lower leg (calf muscles). As a group, these muscles coordinate and cause movement of the bones associated with movement up and down from a seated to standing position and vice versa.  When they work together, everything is hunky dory. When they don’t work together properly, someone or something is going to pay.

The Biomechanical Cost of Sitting

Let’s assume that you’re sitting in the ideal position of 90° flexion in the knee, 90° flexion at the hip, and you’re sitting up straight. Follow me now – the hamstring group begins on the posterior of the hip and inserts behind the knee.  Since the knee is flexed (bent at a 90° angle) the hamstring is tightened, or shortened.  The hip flexor group originates on the anterior portion of the spine (lumbar and sacral region) and inserts on the top of the femur (upper thigh).  Because the hips are flexed when sitting, this also causes a tightening and shortening of these muscles.  Still with me? Understand that for every muscle action in the body, there is an opposite action, so while all these muscles are tightening and shortening, something else must be lengthening and weakening. Three of the quadriceps muscles (one actually crosses the hip and thus is flexed – rectus femoris) are relaxed and since also not bearing any weight while sitting, are not sufficiently able to provide the strength and stability for the knee.  Not a problem at this point, but in time it can lead to many other problems.  The gluteal muscles (the ones some at the health clubs are trying to tighten by you guessed it, probably sitting down) are lengthening and getting weaker as a result of a flexed hip. You heard of the term “secretary butt”? It’s a real phenomenon as not only do the gluteal muscles get weaker from sitting for prolonged periods of time, they lose their muscular tone and widen if you will, no longer providing support to the hips and back, which leads us to the final straw.  Without sufficient muscle strength of the hips to provide stability to the bottom of the spine, tight hip flexors that continue to pull the hips down and forward (known as anterior pelvic tilt), thigh muscles that provide insufficient stability to the knee, and hamstrings that do not provide counter balance to a anterior tilting hip, and you have one heck of a recipe for imminent disaster.  Problem is, the effects of sitting are not always very apparent.  They usually manifest themselves by something completely innocuous happing, such as a back going out from bending over to just pick up a pencil, or a knee giving out during a friendly pick up game of basketball, or hip pain from swinging a golf club, or worse, a bulged disc from raking leaves.  It must have been the guilty activity. Nope. Said activity was only the straw that broke the camel’s back so to say.

Simple and Effective Ways To Keep You Safe

In a nutshell, don’t sit. But reality prevails so here are some things to consider when not sitting is out of the question;

  • Invest in a really good chair; one that provides good lumbar support and allows you to sit comfortably upright.
  • Get up every 15-20 minutes or so to answer the phone, get a drink of water, grab some fresh air, etc.
  • Practice good sitting posture.  The issues mentioned above are assuming you’re in the ideal sitting position of 90° flexion in the knee, 90° flexion at the hip, and you’re sitting up straight.  Any deviance off of this posture and the recipe for disaster is even worse (i.e. slouching, super cushy cushions, etc.)
  • Stretch the muscles of the thigh, hips, and low back regularly; take a yoga or Pilates class; visit a qualified massage therapist.
  • Exercise regularly to keep those muscles moving, limber, and working to provide the joint stability they were designed for.
  • Unless there was blunt trauma, most muscle, joint, and body part pains and discomforts are caused by tight, unbalanced, and weak muscles. Do yourself a favor and get moving.  Even the tortoise keeps moving.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

My Top 10 Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment – #1 The Shake Weight

(This is the final in a 10 part series in which I am reviewing some of the products sold as exercise equipment, fitness solutions, etc. on infomercials, magazine ads, and cable shopping networks.  Unlike most of the ads for these products, this isn’t based on a double blind, major university backed study.  It is simply my professional opinion based on my fitness experience and knowledge in the hopes that it will save you some time, aggravation and money.)

Get Sexy, Toned Arms & Shoulders in just minutes per day using the Shake Weight!!The Shake Weight

Well, we have reached the end of My Top 10 Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment.  Mind you, this list was for the gimmicks sold on TV, not the abundance of useless equipment that fills health clubs; that’s for another time. I could have created a Top 20, 50, or even 100 list of the most useless pieces of exercise equipment and it still wouldn’t have covered it all.  Aside from the equipment, such as the Hawaii Chair, the Ab Doer, and the High Tech Ride Ijoy, there are also the useless gimmicks such as the Sauna Belt, the AbTronic, and countless others that could make a book all their own. I see a new one just about every other week and as is proof from my list, abdominal gimmicks seem to proliferate the market the most.  But when I first saw the Shake Weight I thought it was a joke…really, like some kind of twisted Saturday Night Live skit. (actually, SNL did do a parody skit, click here to see video parody) To my utter amazement, the Shake Weight (over $40 million in sales) is for real.  How gullible has society become and where does it ever end?

Just For the Women

It is the fear of far too many women that resistance training will bulk them up.  It is a completely unfound fear when in reality resistance training will do more to change the shape of a woman than just about anything she will do exercise wise. There are too many factors, such as the amount of circulating testosterone, total volume lifted, rate of protein synthesis, calories consumed among other things that have to be present in order for women to show much muscle hypertrophy.  A small percentage of women have higher than normal circulating testosterone levels (yes, even women have testosterone naturally occurring in their bodies as do men have levels of estrogen in their bodies) and the grotesquely enormous muscular women got that way artificially. I have always been amused by the woman in the weight room standing in front of the mirror while bicep curling a 5 lb. dumbbell because she only wants to “tone” her arms and not get manly arms. What she doesn’t understand is that she would tone her arms more effectively and noticeably with a heavier weight done correctly to muscular failure.  This woman is the target consumer of the Shake Weight manufacturer.

By merely shaking the Shake Weight, it is guaranteed to tone, trim, shape, and flab blast the arms and shoulders through what the makers of Shake Weight call “dynamic inertia”, which is nothing more than describing the forces moving back and forth from the momentum caused by the Shake Weight’s motion.  The result: the muscles of the upper extremities (arms, chest, and shoulders) are contracting quickly to decelerate and create more momentum.  Will the muscles burn and get tired? Probably.  Will it be enough to strengthen and tone the muscles of the upper extremities? Hardly.  And yet again, the Shake Weight is sold on the promise of spot reduction (eliminating fat from a body part by working that body part) and spot toning (defining a desired muscle by working that muscle). It may work the targeted muscle, but not enough to elicit the change that is sought.

Just For the Men

The popularity of the women’s Shake Weight was so pronounced that someone at Shake Weight HQ decided it would be a good idea to promote a men’s only Shake Weight. When you watch the ads for the women’s Shake Weight it promotes toning and sculpting and not increased size and strength.  The men’s Shake Weight promotes size, definition, strength, and will build muscle.  Wait a minute.  Isn’t that what most women don’t want? Isn’t that what the men would want? What makes the men’s Shake Weight so different? Nothing, except that it’s a little bit heavier (women’s is 2.5 pounds; the men’s is 5 lbs). Hmmm. Do you see now why these things are so ridiculous? They think the average consumer won’t notice or care to notice the difference because they’re too emotionally wrapped up in why their arms are so flabby.  Well, sadly it was enough to generate over $40 million dollars in sales. May be four years of college and 16+ years of real world practical experience have taught me nothing.

Here’s My Answer to That

Wake up people! There is not one single exercise, device, supplement, or diet that is going to make you healthier or more fit than you currently are all on its own.  It requires a lifestyle; a lifestyle of moderate, consistent exercise; healthy and balanced nutrition; stress reduction and plenty of rest.  It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just needs to be better more times than not. It requires a discipline that doesn’t necessarily need to be a hardship, but it needs to be automatic.  For some, it will take more work than others, but no matter how hard the effort or path you follow, the end result undeniably outweighs the journey.  Take responsibility for your own health for ultimately in the end, you have no one to point the finger at but yourself.

My Conclusion to This Series

I hope you enjoyed this series of My Top Ten Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment. I have a lot of pride and a lot of passion for my profession and it is not only my duty but my honor to educate and touch as many people as I can who seek true health, real fitness, and the knowledge they not only need, but deserve to hear.  So as I’ve ended all of my posts and til I post again….

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

In case you’ve missed them, here are My Top 10 Most Useless Pieces of Exercise Equipment so far:

#10 The Jump Snap
#9 The Thigh Master
#8 The Ab Roller
#7 The Red Exerciser
#6 Leg Magic
#5 The Ab Circle
#4 The Bender Ball
#3 6 Second Abs
#2 The Ab Lounge

 

Bodyweight Training

‘Tis the season for the flood of infomercials pushing the latest fitness craze or ground breaking piece of exercise equipment.  After the holidays have passed and the masses have made their resolution to become more fit in 2006, late night and weekend airtime will be saturated with ad campaigns designed to capture that desperate audience. The truth is, the best piece of exercise equipment you will ever need will not be found on TV.  It is state of the art, truly one of a kind, better than anything man can build, and best of all it won’t cost you a dime! In fact, it’s priceless! Sound too good to be true?  Well, look no further than your reflection because that priceless, one of a kind, state of the art piece of exercise equipment is your body.

The thought of looking at themselves in the mirror can sometimes conjure up feelings of fear, disgust, or gleaming admiration (or may be a combination of the three) in an individual. Unfortunately in society today, we tend to measure our worth through our outward appearance. But beneath the clothes and other superficial cover-ups is an intricate network of nerves that coordinate muscles, which move a system of bones and joints to create movement.  Our bodies, truly magnificent pieces of machinery, are capable of doing well more than we could ever possibly imagine.  Ever see a Cirque de Soleil show? While this is not a call to become a contortionist, there is really no other piece of equipment you need to exercise other than your body.  In fact, using the body as an apparatus for performing exercise is not a new fad or phenomenon.  It is as old as the human species itself, disguised more recently under the category of bodyweight training.

Bodyweight training, simply stated, is any exercise that involves using the body as a means of resistance, or more technically put, working against gravity.  Walking, for example, is as basic a bodyweight exercise as there is.  Problem is, too much of the population is not doing enough of it. Bodyweight training however, goes well beyond even something as basic as walking.  Some of the other better known types of bodyweight training are calisthenics, such as jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.  (Who would have thought that your high school gym teacher might have been on to something?); plyometrics, otherwise known as jump training, used predominantly in sports conditioning to develop quick, explosive power; yoga, an ancient but recently popularized form of bodyweight training in which the connection between the mind and the power of the body is emphasized.  Still have reservations about bodyweight training?  Think about all of our service men and women? They do not use fancy gym equipment to get in shape.  How about gymnasts or ballerinas? They too seldom if ever use more than their own bodyweight to develop greater strength and stamina.  Some consider ballerinas to be the best athletes in the world and they will not be found grunting under the squat bar! The list goes on and on.  Bodyweight training, plain and simple, is an effective means of getting in shape and as with traditional training when properly manipulated can produce considerably measurable results. How is that so?

The muscles of the body work with the levers created through the bones and joints thus creating the required movement. With bodyweight training, the movements are not used to move equipment or other exercise modalities. These movements are used to move the body against the always present forces of gravity and ground reaction forces (the work of our bodies against the weight of the earth). Unlike most traditional strength training techniques, bodyweight training is more functional and effective because it allows the individual to work in a three dimensional, or multi-planar, environment to overcome forces of gravity.  But even better than that is it does not cost you a thing. No down payments, no refinancing, no excuse for not being able to get to a gym, etc. Bodyweight training does not require special instructions, special equipment, or a specific place to do it.  So then, how did something so primal become so technical?

There are reasons too numerous too list, but at the root of the problem is that we as a population have gotten away from one of the benefits of being human, which is movement.  If a sedentary life is what we were designed for, we would have been born rocks! Bodyweight training is what our great, great, great ancestors relied on for their exercise, except that they did not refer to it as exercise.  It was their way of life.  Fancy equipment and techniques were not necessary because the land provided enough obstacles all on its own.  Bodyweight training is a return to a simpler time and is a reminder of just how state of the art, beautiful, and powerful our bodies really are.

Featured in March/April 2006 of Philly Fit Magazine