12.28.2012

Epic Workouts of All-Time History!!!


Have you heard about the brutal spectacular creative fun miracle workouts they do over at Club Awesomefit? You know, where they have those circuits?

assisted power cleans with 300% body weight X 3,
directly into upside down ladder climbs X 3,
then resist mid-sized SUV as it rolls down hill X 90 feet
then jump rope on one leg while juggling 20-pound kettle-bells X 2 minutes
then 200 meter sprint against fire hose spraying electric eel water
finish it off with the "core" exercise that expert trainer guy in Utah calls "The Bloody Turd" X  2

rest 52 seconds then repeat, oh, say...um,...X 7.

It's some wild, cray z stuff.

Seriously though. I remember the time when we squatted and chin-uped and rowed and over head pressed some challenging heavy loads for multiple sets of 6 to 10 reps for about 40 minutes and then exhausted, went running over hill and dale and in the Yellow Breeches (stream) for another 45 minutes. I remember when two others and I Farmers Walked 170 pounds for over 1.5 miles. Then there are these little "ditties" we do called 500 days...

Yeah, I've done some epic work outs. But...[the whole point of this writing is the BUT...]

NOT OFTEN.

Really, the 99.9% of us do not need to engage Enormous Brutality of Vomit and Utter Desolation 3 times per week (or even once per week) to obtain or remain in fantastic shape and condition. Here is why pushing your body to the absolute limit can in fact do more harm than good.

1. You won't keep it up. 

By definition truly Epic workouts are, well, EPIC. You simply cannot keep that up for weeks and months. Some other aspect of your life WILL suffer. And if you don't burn out mentally, your body will reveal the truth. You will be chronically tired and crabby. Studying or vacuuming the house or playing freeze tag with the kids will be monumentous feats of will. The blessing of exercise will be pure black dread. Your body will break down with injury.

2. You achieve less than you think.

There is definitely a time to crush your body, mind, and spirit with pure misery in absurd doses of effort. Epic workouts demand and megafy mental fortitude and physical conditioning. But notice that I didn't say "produce strong mind and body." Epic workouts are far from the best way to truly improve strength - strength in terms of your ability to generate more force and/or to properly control body segments during functional movement.

How are you supposed to learn and ingrain more healthy and efficient movement patterns while suffering physical exhaustion? How are you going to improve your limit strength when your body is simply struggling to survive second-by-second self inflicted torture?

Thin guys (and gals), how do you expect your muscles to tear down and then supercompensate by doing only a few heavy reps and then grinding away on a rowing machine, track, or stationary bike 3 or 4 days per week? Death Circuits typically give your mind and body insufficient time under tension to evoke much strength gain and drastically cut into your ability to recover from all physical activity.

If you're training to increase size or strength, then focus. A program that is properly designed with size and strength emphasis will provide plenty of conditioning effect. But don't expect to be an elite endurance king while you pack on 10 or 15 pounds of muscle. It's just not happening.

Or go ahead and learn the hard way like me, spinning your wheels for a good six years until you understand that you need to train hard and smart.

Along those same lines...

3. You teach the brain that endurance comes first. 

This strength-endurance is desirable if you're primary interests involve mountain climbing, Crossfit type competition, or a Spartan type obstacle race and you can already easily move your body weight with your upper body (as in rope climbs and chin-ups).

But low reps of powerful movements (weight training and plyometrics) with ample rest between sets are far superior for improving the physical and neurological properties of what we call "explosiveness." You wouldn't try to learn any skill like proper pitching or jump shot or high jump technique while in a state of exhaustion. And so you should treat squatting and sprinting and jumps etc. with the same regard.

No matter what other training tools they use, "slow footed" athletes simply will not increase their running speed if they fail to include relatively short distance, all out sprinting efforts in a state of minimal fatigue. Repeat sprints done with sloppy running technique and little rest periods at 87% effort (in order to merely survive the workout) will not turn an average athlete into a speed demon.

Those short duration workouts that emphasize power over efficiency do not have that epic feel to them. But then again, it is in fact MIGHTY epic to throw an 87 mph fastball, to dunk a basketball, to jump over 4'6", or to explode off the starting block. Epic work outs really don't help you with any of that. If you're not yet able to easily do body weight pull-ups and dips and you can't squat or jump very well for one rep much less 80 reps, then you probably need less grueling grinding and more training of the brain for explosive effort.

I didn't learn amateur gymnast skillz at the age of 36 while in state of exhaustion:

video

In summary, this is not a call to be lazy and call it working out. Plain hard work is always called for and often in short supply. There is also a time and place for Epic Workouts, but they can easily be misused and abused. Sometimes it's fitting to remember the words of Kanye.

'Cause when you try hard, that's when you die hard. 


12.26.2012

fitness and faith weird dream


In the dream I carried Claire (my one year-old) in my left arm and led my wife and other kids through a set of tall heavy double doors.  We were eight minutes late for the 5:30 session or service or ceremony or whatever was about to begin. I was relieved that the greeters and associates had left their posts in the lobby. We were free to roam and observe.

We made our way forward and came to a great hall, at least 100 yards wide and so long that I couldn't even see the far wall ahead. A small sign on the left said Worlds Gym. One on the right simply said Church. I froze to watch for what seemed like a moment but was probably much longer. From what I could tell, people were readying for a ceremony to begin.

There was no official division or designation between the two halves of the great room. People were free to occupy either side, but most seemed to stay relatively put. The density was greatest near the far right and left walls, and gradually decreased to a fairly wide desolate strip extending down the middle of the room. Only a few people wandered over that carpeted fissure. Every now and then a person or entire family would march firmly and directly from one side to the other, but the middle was otherwise barren.

Next I watched the ceremonies, each side with their own rites and rituals, music and behaviors. There was much to behold. The typical attire of the left consisted mostly of lycra, bare skin, and performance gear. The more modest and attractive attire on the folks to the right was stuffy and confining. I saw a young man on the right become red in the face from tearing the inseam of his pants while bending over to reach for his rambunctious toddler. An attractive middle aged women on the left stepped on and off a scale four or five times.

Most people remained facing their near wall, having practically no interest in the events taking place in the other half of the room. Many cheered a leader or speaker preaching the way to good health, good fortune, and happy living. I heard each make mention of purpose and sanctification.

Bursts of shouting and excitement came from the more zealous members on each side. Some wiry teenagers on the left pumped their firsts and chest bumped. Apparently something good had happened, but I missed it. Whatever happened was done and over, and after the celebration they just stood there awkwardly. A young man on the right genuflected and knelt in silence in close proximity to a black woman dancing with both palms held high.

Only skeptics and curious wanderers peeked over a shoulder to see what was happening on the other side. A few brave souls wandering about the fissure gathered near the middle with their faces to the far unknown wall so as to keep watch on both left and right. That seemed like a reasonable place to start, so I walked slowly near them so as to eavesdrop on their conversation.

They we're having a debate of sorts, all appeared more humble than the zealots. One lady pointed out that the older members on the right seemed happy while those on the left seemed to be in drudgery. Someone else asked the question of each leaders motives.

Then one in the group noticed me lingering around eavesdropping. He turned to me in a somewhat dramatic fashion.

"Excuse me, may I help you?"

And then I woke up.




12.11.2012

Gym Quitter

Today I came across a scrap of paper while looking for a tape measure in my toolbox.

It was a training diary (well, of sorts) from 2005. I scribbled out the resistance and reps implemented with my new training gear. For about $1200, this consisted of:

LA Sea of Chrome
1. A "rack" - with 4 sturdy uprights and two cross bars for spotting yourself. This also includes a chin-up bar, a stand for dips, and a low/high pulley attachment.
2. An adjustable bench.
3. A barbell and 300 pounds of plates.
4. Two fairly junky adjustable dumbbells.
5. A chin-up/dip belt to add resistance to those movements.
6. An old but sturdy stationary bike. Ugly green, of course.
7. An old CD player.

I've added more weight and some other gear here and there, but even today the home gym is little more than that.

Ah, 2005, the year I quit traditional gyms. I learned a TON through that process. The first major lessons being:

1. No b.s. I've elaborated on this concept some here and here:

I Pick Things Up and Put Them Down 
The Best Time to Train

Yeah. No excessive talkers, unsolicited advice givers, grunters, women marketing butt floss, and other typical bullshit that goes on in big commercial gyms.

2. I finally got stronger! I was 28 then. The resistance and reps listed on that scrap of paper are unimpressive given the fact that I had already been training HARD for about 9 years. I mean, most of the working weights that I used then are what I use now for my first or second warm up sets.

The real reason that I got stronger is because training at home limited my options and thus focused time and physical resources on what really matters in training: PROGRESSION.

I previously lifted 3 to 4 days per week at a gym in Harrisburg and played intense street (basket)ball at least two days per week. With the home gym, it wasn't long until I was weight training only 2 or 3 days per week because the workouts were so much more intense that I needed extra recovery days.

No more seated leg extensions. No shoulder abduction machine or pec dec. No more this, no more that. These days I've settled on a "main stay" program that has me lifting just two days per week for about 1 hour. I see progress like never before. That's what cutting out the fluff and wiser recovery will do for you.

3. The social aspect of training is critical.

Descending to your own basement by yourself at 7 p.m. or a.m. on a dreary Wednesday in November to do battle with a "big" exercise that nearly freakin killed you last week is just plain TERRIBLE. I cannot under emphasize the importance of having others to go into battle with you, to encourage and inspire and showboat with you.

I trudged to the basement solo for close to a year before inviting a brother from basketball over. Best. Idea. Ever. I've forged some truly meaningful friendships and really gotten to know every person who's trained with me on a regular basis. I've witnessed people change mentally and physically. And importantly, we really kicked some ass.

4. This is not for everyone.

Driving yourself into the floor with minimal variation in a select few exercises is super effective AND efficient.  But it's not for anyone who constantly craves something new or feels that they really do need a whole warehouse full of high tech chrome gear to achieve anything. It's not for the semi serious person who just wants a decent calorie burn, "pump," or goes to the gym with the mindset of "getting in shape for swimsuit season."

But it is for busy parents and professionals who have 30 minutes tops. It's for any person who views that walk down stairs as a mind and body and spirit pilgrimage to known territory with uncharted potential. It's for the brave soul with butterflies in his stomach, eager to square up against something that nearly flattened him last week and take on .5% more. It's for the person who wants not just a big bench press or sick abs, but to walk up the stairs as a different person.

But yeah, abs are a decent side effect...

12.01.2012

The New Measures of Fitness


There are 5 traditional components of physical fitness:

1. Cardiovascular Fitness
2. Muscular Strength
3. Muscular Endurance
4. Flexibility
5. Body Composition

Sounds nice? Well I think that delineating these into separate compartments is pointless when it comes to how well the body functions.

the "Sit and Who Cares" test
I mean, it's the year 2012 and college students are still taught how to perform the Sit & Reach test. Meanwhile, our ability to sit on the floor and reach past the toes has practically no bearing on how well we actually move when reaching and running and lifting and sitting.

And really, who cares if you're 3 percent body fat but can't easily reach both arms overhead or make a lateral cut without buckling a knee?

Why, goodness why, do so many people still think that completing a marathon is THE holy grail of fitness? I've worked with many who have a cardiovascular system capable of delivering massive volumes of oxygenated blood to the top of a Red Wood through a crazy straw but have not the strength or controlled mobility to reach to the ground without their spine weeping.


So you think I'm a big strength guy? The bench press is completely unimpressive. You want to lay on your back, drop weight onto an air inflated chest, and bump it up into a four inch lifting motion? That's like the opposite of fitness. Haven't we all seen huge barrel chested gorillas who could lay down and press a car from the ground but not catch up with a baby toddling toward the street?

And as much as I love dead lifts as a total body measure of strength and mobility, I've seen too many mega lifting tanks who probably couldn't jump over the barbell if they tried. [Plus heavy dead lifts just don't lend themselves well to higher repetition ranges.]

Yoga is cool. Maybe it's fun to do. I don't know, I haven't spent much time in it. It's great to be able to stand on one foot while putting on your socks, which would actually make a decent measure of balance-strength-flexibility. But I doubt that yoga trains or captures the body's ability to control body segments when dealing with momentum and gravity at the speed of regular life.

What if there are even simpler and better ways to boil the relevant principles down to a minimalist set of fitness tests? While hand stand push ups and power cleans are pretty awesome, we need simple tests that are fairly low on risk and skill demands. So may I propose:

The New Measures of Fitness

Jumping. Vertical jump is good, but tuck jumps are even better because they require more timing, coordination, trunk strength, and flexibility. If you can tuck jump over 4 feet, you are one adequately strong, powerful, flexible, physically fit cat who could probably complete a marathon without much undue training.

 Pull Ups. I don't care about the size of your chest or arms or your body composition. Those things will have taken care of themselves once you can use just the upper body to pull yourself up from a dead hang. If you can do 5 pull ups with 25% of your body weight added, you are one strong person with far better than average body composition.

20 Rep Squat. How much weight can you squat 20 times? Take all the time you want but each squat must be of sufficient depth and you can't rack the weight. Let me tell you that there may be no better test of strength, stability, total body range of motion, stamina, and GUTS than high rep squats.

For example, if your 20 rep squat score is low because you can't reach sufficient depth without racheting and straining, then you probably lack core strength, good thoracic posture, and/or hip or ankle flexibility and you don't HAVE to test all these things separately.

If you can squat 1.75 X your body weight for 20 solid reps, you can do just about anything. Hiking or lifting or swimming or biking or generally being awesome will come easy when you've spent time working on sufficient posture and strength and stability etc to be able to safely push yourself on squats.

If you think I've missed a specific test of cardiovascular fitness, then try a hard set of 20 rep squats. Okay, well, you could include the mile run or the "beep" test if you still think necessary. But in almost every facet of life, I'll go with the person with a better 20 Rep Squat over the person with a better time in the mile run. 

better than sitting on the couch, yes, but...

learn to squat!


11.14.2012

biceps routine amazingness

Today I'm going to share with you my very own, highly confidential, secret biceps routine. Of the stars. But first a functional anatomy review.

The biceps originates from a few structures at the front of the shoulder and inserts into both bones below the elbow. It functions to flex the elbow, supinate the forearm (turn the hand and wrist palm up), and flex the shoulder. In everyday movements, the biceps is an important anterior stabilizer of the shoulder.

But you don't want to worry about all the supinate this and stabilize that. You want GUNS! And with that, we're going to get right down to business.

The first exercise in my bicep routine is something called a bicep curl. You pick up something that's heavy and you bend the elbow. Lower it semi slowly so the elbow is straight, and you bend it again. Repeat. Do two or three sets of six reps, once or (if you must) even twice per week.

Are you ready for the great unveiling of what this may look like?


Really though, direct arm work (bis and tris, anyone?) should be an afterthought. If you must, do a set or three after your hard and heavy pull-ups and rows, squats, dead lifts and presses. Strive to progress the resistance, just like any other exercise.

Once you're able to dead lift two times your body weight for reps and do an equal number of chin-ups with 30 or 50 added pounds, then I'll hear your arguments about selective recruitment of the long head of the triceps and building a peak in the short head of the biceps. No, never mind. I don't want to hear about it even if you're a hulk with bowling balls bis blocking you from wiping your own... Okay never mind.

I've no more time for that than a 4th set of bis.


11.09.2012

Tuck Jump Big Butt Paradox

Not functional. Not the ideal, on a few levels. Advertising fail.

I've written before about how much I love tuck jumps. I catch myself eyeing up fences, retaining walls, and other items fit for normal domestic use. But I'm labeling them. My pulse quickens at about the 5 foot mark.

"I'd get over that. Probably."

The tuck jump is an explosive total body effort. You leap off two legs to go on or over some kind of target. They are a critical ingredient in any program designed for increased power and speed.

Jumping over a chair or fence or theraband (less penalty with failure) or onto a rock or picnic table - those are tuck jumps. Thousands of reps on an agility ladder and hundreds of burpees and billions of leg raises won't achieve what a max effort tuck jump will.

Tuck jumps make you commit. The brain takes an automated approach to generating maximal force off the ground, including timing and coordination of multiple body segments. Try doing a series of high effort tuck jumps and see how your abdominal and low back muscles feel the next day.

There's no pacing with tuck jumps, which is part of their magic! You are not trying to be graceful or even particularly quick. Simply get up and over, higher and higher still!

The butt is a funny thing when it comes to tuck jumps. It gets in the way and knocks the bar down. But then again, it's what gets you up to higher capacity in the first place. So please don't lose that butt. [Or insert your own mandatory Sir Mix-A-Lot reference).

                                      5 foot 3 inch fail, due to butt.

video

Most typical sport movements require tremendous hip strength and power. You simply cannot have a scrawny celebrity butt and be powerful and athletic. Nobody ever sprinted hard or launched high due to a big barrel chest, hulking biceps, or bulky thick calves.

It's the hips! So move on your squats and single leg squats and dead lift variations. And plyos. Many people benefit greatly from a few corrective type moves to turn on the circuitry to those muscles (like glute bridges, hip hinge reaches, kettle bell swings, etc).

If you get a bigger more muscular looking butt, most people should be saying "good." But really, who cares? If you can raise your entire body up and over 50 inches (or so) and land on two feet, most fitness and aesthetic concerns will have taken care of themselves. You don't need to run a marathon to establish that you are fit. Some yoga or cross fit or "quick feet" drills may have their place.

But if you lift weights and jump things, you can learn to do just about anything well.

 - - - - -

11.06.2012

Is knee pain inevitable?


For the first time since shoulder surgery in May, I went up strong and dunked with two hands yesterday. I was in a good mood all day after that. Yes, that's how awesome lame I am.

It was a big deal because I'm somewhere near the edge of down hill. Basketball, heavy lifting and most of the other things I like to do inflict far more impact than most 36 year old knees can take. I feel old man aches after over-doing it. 

The knees felt great for a few weeks after surgery forced a few weeks of rest upon me. No, I wasn't taking the post-op percocet. I should be thankful for the ability to move well at 36, perhaps stop with the high impact stuff while I'm ahead. Yeah, I'm going to seriously need a 12-step program for that. You don't just tell an addict to stop.

Runners run. Lifters lift. And so on and so forth. Because that's what they do. They will accept ache as the years wear on. Nobody ever said that basketball or tennis or jogging day in and day out was good for your knees.

Physical therapy is no magic bullet or miracle cure for the reality of time. It is no substitute for common sense or surgery or even ibuprofen. I would have to say that knee some degree of kneee pain is inevitable if you remain active like you're supposed to.

But I can tell you that many have some mechanical issue(s) that they can improve. It may be related to movement patterns, footwear, habits, or impaired strength, range of motion, and structural issues at other joints.

The knees usually take the brunt of dysfunction anywhere in the lower extremities because they are (1) weight bearing hinge joints with less degrees of freedom that (2) involve some of the strongest muscles with (3) the longest leverage in the body and (4) take on an insane amount of repetition.

If for any reason you walk down a flight of stairs with either foot turned out a bit too much, there's a significant amount of loaded twist and flex, twist and flex, grinding on your meniscus right there. And just last week I was able to help someone with knee pain by simply working on their gait pattern and first toe range of motion. They were habitually jogging around a problem they had ever since having surgery on their first toe.

Nobody runs or jumps or lifts or swims forever. But you often can delay the inevitable. You would be surprised what a little moderation in running and increased hip and core strengthening can do for the life of a runner. People with and without structural foot issues should be excited about what a shoe suited to their foot type and activity can accomplish.

And aging strength athletes? I'm sure I'll keep you posted. Today is deadlift day. No Advil today, I promise.

 - - - - -  

10.28.2012

move at the speed of heavy

"When weight training to gain size and strength, it is best to lower the weight slowly. The lowering phase is what tears the muscle fibers, thus stimulating a growth response." 

Does it matter how fast you move during a resistance exercise? Sure. But there's no formula. Slower does not equal better, as the statement implies.

Who are these by-the-book exercise people who actually implement a two second concentric (lifting) phase and a four second eccentric (lowering) phase? I appreciate their understanding of the academics, but moving that slowly looks ridiculous in almost any context.

[Excuse me as I go pick up my 1-year old daughter for 2 seconds, remove her from the bowl of dog food, and relocate her to another section of the living room with 4 second lowering technique.]

"Dad, what the hell?" 

It's true that the eccentric (lowering) phase of resistance exercise is key to muscle growth and, later, strength development. The magic lies in the fact that muscles are literally shredded (and likely quite perplexed) when you ask them to simultaneously generate lots of force and lengthen. Afterwards, you cut the muscle a break, and the repairing process begins.

But the duration of lowering is not the whole story. Guess what else shreds muscle fibers and stimulates the entire body towards growth and various awesomeness?

Loading! Iron! Heav-ey! Every muscle in in every person can move drastically less load with a 2:4- second rep than they can with a more functional and less weird looking pace of say, 1:3.

So the bottom line is that lifting slowly does provide a longer eccentric time under tension (good for stimulating more growth), but also necessitates a lighter load (not as good for stimulating more growth). And now we bring in the big guns to settle the dispute!

[Enter the Central Nervous System, strutting with lats flared.]

CNS is king when it comes to movement. The CNS derives more benefit from non pencil-necked rep speeds, and especially flourishes in the "survive or be crushed" tempo. Handling more weight and accelerating it quickly develops the fastest and largest number of high threshold, powerful, bigsexy motor units. Heavy loading and high speeds streamline neural drive to the muscles in numerous ways. Ways that actually mean something when you're trying to chase down a soccer ball or wide receiver or 90 mph fastball or curious toddler.

So the faster the better then?

Not really. Speed kills...if it means failing to control a massive load in any way, shape, or form.

Instead try this 4-step guideline to YOUR best rep speed*.
  1. Step 1: Load the thing! After you have done time ingraining correct movement patterns. Warm up and then us enough weight that you don't have energy to worry about counting seconds.
  2. Step 2: Lift it. Attack the movement with deliberately furious fury, as if you're going to throw/push/pull the resistance through the roof. In reality, the load moves relatively slowly because, again, the weight is heavy!
  3. Step 3: Put it down. Don't throw down. Don't slam weight plates so everyone in the gym knows what rep you're on. Don't levitate/hover. Don't bounce it off your chest to test the integrity of your sternum. Lower it under control so you don't get injured
  4. Step 4: Repeat
  5. Step 5: Have a MASSIVE bucket of power to draw from, and apply to whatever it is you like to do.
*Results may vary. It will take more than 90 days...sorry P90 [blank] mentality.
 - - - - - -

10.19.2012

the best time to train [5:38]

I cleared the area of costumes and toys before moving into the first warm-up set. Racking the weight, I glanced at the clock on the basement wall. It was 5:38. Was it a.m. or p.m.? What does it matter? This writing, the one you're reading right now, has everything on  diurnal and circadian rhythms.

It was just last week that I trained at a massive Gold's Gym in Tulsa equipped with every tool that elevates form and function. It was also loaded with cutting edge distraction; chrome, lights, and every contraption that makes you think you're accomplishing something while actually working very little. The approximate usage was 30/70, respectively.




I have nothing against Gold's, but was happy to be back in my basement. The mega-gym concept would be on it's way out if it weren't for the socialization aspect. People are (hopefully) catching on. The largest barriers to health and fitness are NOT:

1. Equipment - You can get what you call "a crazy lot" done with minimal gear. Weight/fat loss and cardiovascular health are easy. For other goals, a decent home gym that allows you to load up on resistance for the purpose of body recomposition including size/strength gain can be had for $1500. (No you won't acquire super human strength and rippedness by pulling on elastic tubing and waving around 3 pound dumbbells.)


2. Exercise and Diet Gnosticism - Yes we need trainers and rehab people who know what they're doing for the purpose of efficiently achieving specific goals while managing injury risk. But generally speaking, there's not a single American in poor shape for lack of some secret fitness knowledge. "Don't eat (much) crap" and "Find some regular physical activity that you enjoy or at least tolerate" will take 99% of us a long way.

3. Comfort - "No pain - no gain" is totally a half-truth. But to expect the numerous physical and mental benefits of exercise without discomfort is like asking for a shower without getting wet. The stress of controlled loading and impact and striving and straining is the real magic behind resilient bodies and minds.

4. The Great Exception - By definition, we cannot all be exceptions to all the basic rules of human physiology and life as we know it. Yes we are unique individuals. But your special metabolism simply can't gain, lose, improve, tolerate? While everyone else is granted 168 weekly hours to find a few hours to train, that's just not enough for you? You have pain or a disability that keeps you from doing everything?

It's possible that any one of those could be true for the rare exceptions. But for you, in the long-term, I doubt it.

The barriers to health and fitness have always been and will always be:

1. Time.
2. Motivation.

We usually have a choice in whether or not a hectic, no-time-for-anything season of life becomes a chronic condition. Write exercise into your schedule as if it's a life giving, brain saving, body conditioning, stress busting, depression dampening, disease fighting miracle. Because it is.

If attaining fitness means waking up early and packing clothes and driving through traffic before a long work day to do a "shoulders and calves" routine, then I have no time for training either. Training the body as a functional unit is efficient and effective. Unless you enjoy spending 6 days per week watching others flex at themselves in the mirror, feel free to let the body part split routine up to the oily tan body builder guy.

Never under estimate the social aspect of getting out of the home environment and into a crew of like-minded people. On the other hand, some would never get around to training if they had to go out. Either way, find accountability and inspiration to get it done. I'm thankful to train mostly at home with friends large and small (my kids).

I've found 5:38 to be the absolute best time to train, especially when busy and drained, stressed and in need of some perspective. Actually, I always train at 5:38.

Haven't changed the batteries in that clock for years.
 - - - - -

10.03.2012

Gait training is worth a shot

I'm sitting at Atlanta International Airport waiting for a lift to some foot and ankle education. Passing time is a combination of people watching for entertainment and the typical gait analysis I do at work.

As Yogi Berra said, you can tell a lot by just lookin.'

"Excuse me, I'm a licensed physical therapist. May I offer some suggestions regarding your gait?"

While never going that far, I can't resist analyzing, scrutinizing, and pondering how and why a person moves the way they do. Wonder! I mean, each leg with 29 bones and hundreds of joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments more or less doing their job, and people are walking around like it's no big deal.

How you walk is absolutely who you are. I'm not sure if one can claim that gait dictates personality, but that often seems to be the case. You can see the worry or stuck-upness or peace in the way the heel lifts from the floor.

Or maybe that person just really has to get to the bathroom.

Clients in the clinic often say something like, "My mom walked that way and I've been walking that way for years and that's just how I walk." And they're right.

But they and mom also had prematurly osteoarthritic knees or hips, warn lumbar discs, persistant plantar fasciitis, or metatarsalgia that has not responded to a myriad of treatments. A sincere attempt at rewiring some basic movment patterns in the family system is worth a shot.

Now it may take some serious mental effort and corrective stretching and strengthening. To get the toes pointed somewhat straight ahead via the foot, ankle, knee, and hip. To improve balance or create a little more bend with less rotational torque of the knee. To increase loading of the ball of the big toe, or maybe all of the above. Some issues require a different shoe, shoe modification, or orthotic that encourages rather than hinders a person from climbing out of the old rut.

You don't have to change 100% from the old pattern to some theoretically perfect gait pattern. Even moving, say, 50% differently can have a huge impact. I've seen plenty of instances where a new gait equals a new person.

Gait training won't create a totally new you, of course. But it certainly has the potential to provide you some freedom.

 - - - - -

9.13.2012

the perspective diet

[Here's a topic that's been on my mind as of late. written for submission to The Oracle Project.]

It was well over a decade ago that I decided not to buy into any nutrition movement. The organic variations. The low carb. The raw food. The blood type. The vegan. On and on they roll in and out of style.

Maybe it's because I'm not a nutrition expert. I'm not. Maybe it's because I've been blessed with relatively good health (so far) and haven't been subject to desperation. But what I am is a health conscious person who cannot do any of it.

Specific diets are justified in the name of health, wellness, or fitness. They explain illness with a clear cut nutritional imbalance. There are rules, of course. When obesity, illness, etc occurs (and it will), it's because of something you did not follow correctly regarding the diet. Pretty soon your left with drinking raw, certified organic beet juice, wondering why you're still tired and stuffy in the nose.

Many diets are bad religion.

The gurus seem to miss that what "works" are the basics that we've known for decades: most people (well, Americans anyway) eat too much, eat too many processed foods, and move far too little. They seem to forget that humans have proven relatively resilient through the ages, thriving and healing (miraculously in my opinion) on a great variety of dietary habits. Do they also forget that all of us eventually wear out and become ill and die?

It is main line science and not fringe dietary conspirists that progress our understanding. For example, it's reasonable to follow a specific dietary regimen for specific conditions like gluten intolerance or genetic predisposition to high cholesterol. We now know that starchy carbs are easy to over eat, natural sources of fat and cholesterol are good for you, and that we can benefit from more omega-3 fatty acids. Just like many other areas of life, the diet gurus take an ounce of legit science and run with it, offering answers to every malady with scant evidence for benefit beyond what generally clean living provides.

If it turns out that any of the diets do provide such above and beyond benefit, I'm skeptical that they're worth the numerous costs. I suspect that all the extreme behaviors are unnecessary at best. Maybe a dose of perspective is the perfect recipe to those of us who imagine that bananas have too many carbs, that inorganics are simply unacceptable, or one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is really needed to achieve a certain aesthetic.
My aunt putting aside her own self, her time and money
 and comfort to serve the people of Sierra Leone.

While the majority of people throughout the ages have starved and suffered extreme malnutrition, we sit at our computers worrying about or even arguing over whether or not it's optimal to cook our carrots and homogenize our milk. I think we would all tremendously benefit from a few weeks of service in one of the many parts of the world where they eat rice for dinner and have no lunch at all.

And now I'll offer something beyond criticism.

Prior to ascribing to any specific dietary rules and spending thousands of dollars on proactive or reactive health care, I thought to at least try the following:

1. Try not to over eat.  Always easier said than done where food is actually available.

2. Get the majority of daily calories from minimally processed foods.

3. Move more. The perfect diet will not accomplish for your body and mind what physical activity can.

4. Rest. As if it really matters - one of my own greatest struggles.

5. Laugh.

6. Serve others. While diet and exercise are all about me, less self focus cures many ailments.

7. Give thanks. Practice gratitude (see point number 1). Read up on it. Gratitude may be the closest thing we have to a miracle on demand.

If you disagree or simply have to narrow your focus, at least go with the final two.


8.30.2012

Lessons at Donegal Elementary



It was a beautiful September afternoon in 1988 when I stepped onto the field behind Donegal Elementary.

About once per week, toward the end of practice, the Donegal Browns football coaches lined up the 5th/6th grade team to scrimmage the 7th/8th graders. The idea was to practice with a full team of 11, as each team alone held insufficient players to field a full offensive and defensive side of the ball. Of course this mostly meant 11- and 12 year-old children getting pummeled by raily and mustached 13- and 14 year-olds.

Parents and cheerleaders often gathered at the edge of our field to watch the action. I was the starting quarterback and defensive safety of the 5th/6th grade team, football obsessed, and loved the challenge. 

On offense, our line caved under the weight and speed of the older players. As usual. I remember one offensive series where after being sacked on three or four consecutive plays, I shirked a few defenders to gain some yards and view open field, only to be dragged down from behind by the collar of my shoulder pads. The actual tackle strained my neck. The idea of being caught from behind inflamed my ego.

Still, we gained a few yards against the big guys before our turn on defense.

I remember the play when Kevin Keslar took a hand-off straight up the middle through a gaping hole in our defensive line. I read the play unblocked, accelerated directly forward, fully committed to shutting him down. We both ran in low and  

BOOM.

There was a bright white light. Then dark orange. I found myself in the defensive huddle not knowing how I got there. I had a mild headache and drifted around for a few plays before practice ended. That was the first time I experienced damaging, educating - you are neither an exception nor invincible in this world - pain.

Nobody told me to prove something against the older players or to take scrimmages so personal. Nobody taught me to tackle by leading with my helmet. Nobody taught me about concussions. If they did I sure wasn't paying attention.

That's how concussions happen. Sure, they also occur accidentally. But this was no accident. You can advocate for rules and equipment and player education. But coaching oversight and a naive kid on center stage in a contact sport is far more than enough to create problems.

Relative risk and reward.
Glory and pain.
Not everyone wins.

This is the nature of life. It's plenty to learn for a young boy.

I still think football and other contact sports are worth it, to some extent, but that's based mostly on personal tradition. I really don't have any good answers.

- - - - -


8.26.2012

Red Bull Bull

I recently overheard conversation at the water cooler about members of a local high school soccer team drinking Red Bull before a game.

"...And I can't believe those girls can get away with that."
"Yeah, that stuff is terrible. Probably illegal." 

I held my tongue, suspecting, wondering how many gallons of morning coffee and afternoon loaded frozen coffee drinks these middle aged women consume in order to spin the rumor mill and travel from desk to copier.

Reports indicate that over 50% of collegiate athletes and over 30% of all adolescents consume energy drinks. Statistics don't indicate what percent of these are for party or X-box binges?

Are energy drinks dangerous?

If by dangerous you mean relatively safe and effective for enhancing the ability of the body to utilize fat for energy (and therefore endurance exercise performance), enhancing muscle activation at both the brain and neuromuscular junction (and therefore strength and power performance), lessening rate of perceived exertion, decreasing reaction time, and increasing concentration, focus, and motor memory...

[I have plenty of references if you like.]

58% more acceptable than a Red Bull


Then sure, energy drinks are wicked dangerous. The Red Bull police should let the coaches, parents, and athletes decide governing bodies of competitive sports decide what is admissible in their own arena. There are no bans on energy drinks, at least right now (though some committees ban caffeine in outrageous amounts).

The line is beyond grey. Ban Monster and Rock Star, but not Starbucks Refreshers energy drinks? What about having a Mountain Dew before the game? Three Mountain Dews? Ban Vegas Fuel from scholastic baseball but not ski club?

So yeah, I'm pro energy drink. I don't drink them because coffee is my caffeine vehicle of choice. Either way, restraint is definitely in order:

1. Use energy stuff only when you need an edge. Energy drinks are no substitute for consistent, smart, and intense training with appropriate rest and recovery. No, you don't need the eye of the tiger for a Game of Thrones movie marathon. Regularly using energy drinks just to get through a typical day calls for a serious life evaluation. There is something wrong (or soon to be) that you can't blame on Red Bull.

2. Know about diminishing returns / Don't be stupid. Feeling amped is relative.The more you go to the edge, the less you get out of it. If you use too much of anything too often you will want and need higher doses more frequently. Suddenly you're caught in a downward spiral that leaves you bungee jumping from an airplane into a graffiti strewn skate park for a first attempt at an ollie kick flip. Without elbow pads.



But seriously, adrenal fatigue is real. Take inventory of your overall caffeine intake. Athletes should make efforts to save any caffeine for when it counts. Check labels. Make sure that for every 4 hours hype you spend at least 32 chill.

For example, a 175 pound athlete would have the best dose response (effectiveness without side effects) at about 400 mg of caffeine. For comparison, a generic cup of coffee has approximately 150 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces, and Pepsi contains about 35 mg per 12 ounces. Most energy drinks contain about 75 to 100 mg of caffeine per serving, plus taurine and a few other ineffective ingredients.

3. Treat caffeine (and other ingredients in energy drinks) like a drug. 

Because they are. Make sure that you're using the effective, mildly addictive drug for what it's worth and it's not using you. Do you imagine there's anything in this world, much less any drug, that is healthy or beneficial in regular high doses? You are not an exception. The body knows the truth, sooner or later reveals the truth.

Otherwise I'll have to get Red Bulled up to defend you at the water cooler.

 - - - - -

8.16.2012

beyond calorie burning

Most people know plenty about the idea of energy balance, calories in - calories out. What many don't fully understand, despite the millions of diet and exercise resources out there, is that exercise is an inefficient and sadistic way to work at day-to-day energy balance.

Remember that time when you huffed and puffed, strained and dripped sweat on some exercise contraption and 30 minutes later your face dropped as it reported that you burned 340 calories? You stepped down deflated, wondering if the stupid calculation accounted for boredom and hustle.

The bad news is that 340 was probably ball park accurate. And your body would have used almost one third of that to simply maintain itself on the couch. So all you profited from the disciplined effort was a measly 250 calories, and you blew nearly half of that by tasting your friends energy drink and eating two of those purple tootsie roll things.
= at least 90 minutes on the treadmill

Thirty of your limited minutes on this earth, plus preparing and driving to and from the gym, all for 150 calories? As the band Switchfoot said, we were meant to live for so much more than burning out on machines that accomplish little more than calorie burning. Or something like that.

Don't get me wrong. Activity is better than inactivity. Jogging, biking, Zumba, and elliptical...ing all pay dividends for your cardiovascular and mental health. And if you enjoy endurance activities or compete at them, have at it. The claim here is that these forms of exercise are not nearly as important as most people think for the purposes of energy balance.

Without sounding too sophisticated, not eating crap is clearly the most efficient and effective way to achieve the energy deficit required to lose weight and get in shape.

The good news is that all the time on the treadmill or stationary bike or elliptical isn't necessary. The bad news is that there will be no more weak excuses about not having time to get in shape.

Before marching over to your local gym under dark of night with torch and pitchfork, please know that exercise is important, but maybe not in the way that you thought. Exercise signals the body to retain muscle when it's dealing with a calorie deficit.

The body knows that muscle is costly, metabolically speaking. When you take in less calories than you expend, it's the first thing to go. Yet having more muscle means that the body burns more energy every second of every day which in the long-term means that you can eat more burritos without tipping into calorie surplus.  Besides, muscle is functional and looks good and is the root of all awesome.

farmers walk  !
 Now, which of these two activities sends a bigger and better "signal" for your body to retain muscle as you cut a slight calorie deficit? Which requires more time to effectively "get in shape?"


recumbent bike (zzz)
It has been shown that endurance exercise on top of a calorie deficit causes only a slight retention of muscle and decreases bone density as compared to cutting calories and doing no exercise at all. Meanwhile, all those who regularly lift relatively heavy things are enjoying diamond-like bone density, enjoying each others company over meatball subs while riding the train to Awesomeville.

So in summary, you can devote much of your life to learning how to properly take in calories and then burning those calories or you could try:

1. Be active. Find physical work that you enjoy or is productive, basically anything that doesn't involve computers or TV or video games.

2. Lift heavy things for 30 or 60 minutes, including a little corrective/prehab type work, two or three times per week.  **Do this in order to build and retain muscle so that you're not caught on the treadmill of more and more exercise and less and less food just to maintain energy balance.**

3. Eat foods that are minimally processed. Load up on vegetables (if you have to) and lean protein. Loosening the diet about once a week supposedly helps both psychologically and physiologically. So live a little too.

Local to Mechanicsburg, I would suggest the knowledge and accountability over at http://www.synergyfitnesspt.com/
- - - - -

8.09.2012

kinesio tape - what's the deal


Do you want to know what's the deal with kinesio tape? Me too, especially with all the recent proof positive that it makes you a cool and attractive Olympian.

I've read the sparse amount of peer review research on kinesio tape. The two decent studies that I came across were not terribly well controlled and found marginal improvement at best. Let me know if you'd like the references.

But I hear things about kinesio tape. I've tried it on my patients, giving a total disclaimer something like "This is an adjunct treatment for your condition but this is why I would like you to try it." Sometimes I've even plainly stated that I'm skeptical but some people report good results. Then I've answered questions to the best of my ability, and watched.

Most clients like it. When I ask them an intentionally open ended question like "What do you think?" they almost always say that it helps. The clear results in my highly nonscientific study is point number one in the case for kinesio tape.

Point number two in the case for kinesio tape is another experiment from when I severely tore my pectoral tendon in mid May. Now this was an injury that would clearly require reparative surgery. There was a massive amount of internal bleeding that crept down my arm at a rate of inches per day, ballooning up my bicep and showing through the skin.

Two or three days after that injury, I applied the tape to only half of the bruised area. "Chew on this, kinesio tape, if you're so great at decreasing myofascial friction and intramuscular adherence and improving lymph and blood circulation."

I could hardly believe my eyes the next morning. The tape turned a huge blotch of underlying hematoma into broken up bands that corresponded exactly to the tape placement. The whole area felt less blocked up. Yes, there was, oh, 23.45% less blockiness, if you want it scientifically.


I've carefully considered various aspects of this treatment. I've done some research and personal experimentation. There's one primary reason as to why I remain skeptical on the legitimate clinical effectiveness of kinesio tape. And I've found that the number one point against kinesiotape is...

CUTE COLORS.

And a close second point against kinesio tape is...

NEEDLESSLY ELABORATE TAPING PATTERNS.

Really? If kinesio tape is to be taken seriously, the promoters need to lose the cute colors and simplify the process. Don't tell me for a minute that the difference in the elastic properties of sky blue versus black versus pink tape result provides a minimum detectable effect on fluid or soft tissue variables beneath the skin. And there's simply no circulatory, lymphatic, or muscular anatomical justification for that cool octopus tattoo thing running down your abs.

Conclusions:

Since the side effects are nill, there may be some benefit (including psychological and looking cool), and there's no cost to me beyond a roll of tape, I'll keep the experiment rolling. I'll give clients full disclosure so they know their roll in helping me find what's the deal with kinesio tape.

 - - - -

7.16.2012

Spartan Race Review

Some friends and I signed up for the PA Spartan Sprint, supposedly 3 miles of various obstacles. Five miles of mountainous terrain that takes the average participant well over two hours to complete is not a sprint.  

Map of actual race course.
A freakin Gatorade at the 45 minute mark would have been paradise. But no, the guys and I (and everyone?) produced 90 plus minutes of intense activity in the heat on four dinky cups of water.

This race was a marathon of misery and awesomeness.

Yes, 5+ miles is much different than 3, when every mile includes carrying and dragging buckets of rocks and cement blocks, tire flipping, creeping through gravely mud, and (the worst) running, walking, crawling, collapsing to evaluate your existence, on double black diamond ski slopes under the July sun.

There was much climbing and carrying and pulling, me with 1.5 arms. Just a few months ago I estimated that this event was out of the question following another little event known as Torn Pec and Surgical Repair.

There were hoses and hecklers. Hill-mud, hill-mud, hill-mud. There were walls to scale, some of them 8 feet tall. No one told you not to lunge down rocky terrain. There were no warnings about wiping out on the balance logs.

Some of the hundreds of spectators should have been participants. Some of the thousands of participants would have made better spectators.

There were many people trying to make it over the walls, failing horribly at stacking and stepping and boosting. Not even close. Many were sitting on the ski slopes, head hung between legs, unable to go on and too far to turn back. The task was nothing for the faint of heart and lets just say that there were many who signed on with a false sense of their abilities.

Make no mistake, merely completing this race is definitely an accomplishment.

The guys and I came in the top tier of the Open Division contestants. Our times would have placed us ahead of the middle of the one Elite Division that took place earlier. For our first race, for any race, I'm extremely proud of Kyle and Cort and Ben, and of our showing.

If we do it again next year, we will take specific training a little more seriously and enter the "elite"  heat. We may actually have to try doing more hill endurance type misery.

Arrooo.

7.06.2012

how to build huge calves


Visiting a local gym to assist a client transitioning out of physical therapy, I heard a strange noise coming from behind, making it difficult to hear the person in front of me. I turned to witness a man groaning. Moaning. Squinting with face to the ceiling.

He was doing seated calf raises.

This one goes out to you, Seated Calf Raise Machine Calf Crusher.

The man wasn't asking for advice. He was working them calves. It was impossible not to judge him.
I mean, he was at the gym. Strength training. He could have been doing a lot worse with his time. But all the moaning and yelling and Big Dawg drama was just begging for attention of some kind. I was tempted to go ask him what his Seated Calf Raise Machine Goals are.
If you want to know how to build huge heavy chunks of blocky bulk that extend to the top of your feet and make you feel like you're running around with cinder blocks duct taped to your shins, then you should ask someone else.

Perhaps they will share their Secret Russian Seated Calf Raise Machine Routine, shouting spittle in your face until you blow that thing up. Because the soleus muscle is preferentially recruited when the knee is flexed and the gastrocnemius is on slack and blah blah blah.

But if you want to be strong and fast and efficient, and you're feet and ankles are in relatively good health and you care about functional anatomy, you should probably get off the seated calf raise machine. And the standing donkey calf raise machine.

If you really want your calves to function well and maybe grow a little, you should try my very own

Calfy McCalverson Anti-Calf Routine.

Squat and/or Deadlift: Once or twice per week, for a lot of weight and a lot of reps. Just do it, and you will grow the right stuff in the right proportions, all over.

Single Leg Jump Rope: Once or twice per week do this as a warm up or as a finisher. Do 100 jumps on both legs to tune in and don't even look at your calves until you can do 100 single leg jumps in a row on each leg. 

Hill Sprint with *Special* Recovery: Sprint up a fairly steep hill and walk down backwards with nice long controlled strides.

Caution - You will be VERY sore in the calves the day after walking downhill backwards between hill sprints. You will stir up achilles tendinopathy and other ankle/foot related problems if you do any of this too-much-too-soon. So go slow, okay?

If you're relatively heavy or have structural foot issues, you need to pay particular attention to the right foot wear and slow progression. These exercises are all fairly aggressive in terms of strain and impact. You may need to do months of prehab before your muscles and tendons are ready for this.

If you manage to achieve the resolve and the type of body that comes with these exercises done on a fairly regular basis and you still CARE about the size of your calves...

Well, I truly don't know what to tell you.

But I definitely have someone to introduce you to...

- - - - -

7.03.2012

Lessons from Blake

Blake went through the Slippery Rock DPT program at about the same time as I. We were like minded and got along very well. Actually, everybody liked him a lot.

Blake was in excellent physical condition. He carried around a massive upper body: chest and tris, back and bis. His legs were tiny. Blake was an intelligent and kind How Much Ya Bench caricature. But this wasn't due to neglect. On the contrary, he squatted and leg pressed twice per week, to exhaustion.

His legs were simply tiny (relative to his upper body) because he did...
sooo
much
cardio.

Blake jogged often. He stirred away on a stationary bike almost every day for at least an hour while studying. And he wouldn't let up, as someone in his family had suffered a cardiovascular event in their 50s. 

At about the same time, I lifted harder, quit running around so much (school and having a life necessitate that), and allowed my legs to recover. I went from barely being able to dunk with one hand to dunking in games and throwing down 2-hand reverses.

I doubt that Blake needed all that cardio, that an active 25 year-old who eats very healthy and exercises regularly requires that to stave off any genetic predisposition to heart disease. But the point here is that you can't have it all. If long duration activity and fatigue made people into powerhouses, we'd have a lot more of those walking around.

You cannot be great at endurance events and as fast and powerful as you possibly can be. If you're untrained or deconditioned, you can improve all areas simultaneously for a while. If you want to be fast in the 800 meter dash or marathon, there are a ton of track coaches and trainers eager to run you into the ground with endurance exercise.

And that's absolutely fine if endurance events are your thing. 

But if you want to gain "foot speed..."
If you want to gain explosive strength for leaping and accelerating and hitting...
If you want to get jacked and awesome...

(And from the questions I hear, this is what a lot of people are after...)

You must lift heavy things for low to moderate reps. You must sprint and jump and accelerate full-bore, teaching your brain the art of explosive total body effort. You must push yourself without chasing fatigue for the sake of fatigue, which short circuits your long-term progress.

You must rest well, and do just a little heavier - higher - faster the next time. 


elite boxer, football lineman, basketball forward, wrestler, and marathon runner

6.27.2012

Hip Flexibility for Pitchers

Hip range of motion is critical for pitchers to maintain the health of their throwing arm and to attain peak performance. Any pitcher experiencing shoulder or elbow pain should look toward the hips, and all higher level pitchers (say, over the age of 16) should sporadically check on a few key issues.

Pitching demands adequate hip internal and external range of motion on both sides. There are two moments where hip function particularly comes into play:

1. The moment of shoulder/pelvis seperation. This is when the upper half and lower half of the body are (very) temporarily rotating in opposite directions, effectively winding up stored elastic energy from the powerful hip and trunk muscles to be transfered to the scapula and shoulder.
If the trail leg (right leg on a righty) doesn't have sufficient hip external rotation range of motion, the pitcher will often appear to be "opening up" his torso too early. In addition, he may shorten his stride length because the trail leg simply cannot push off over a long distance as the upper body moves down the mound.

The player who is told to "quit flying open too early" may become frustrated when he struggles to correct his form. When he is finally able to stay "closed" longer, the extensive adjustments needed to make that happen come at the expense of velocity and accuracy. This pitcher may need to devote a few weeks or even months to some serious hip mobility work in order to sync everything up.

2. The moment of leverage and then deceleration off the front leg during and after ball release.

Adequate hip internal rotation of the lead leg is needed for the pitcher to efficiently block with the lead leg and "catapult" the force generated in the lower half to the throwing arm. Inadequate internal rotation will cause the pitcher to cut their arm path short and/or shorten their stride length.

Lastly, it's good to remember that even in an otherwise healthy person, pitching creates what pitching demands. Pitching is a high speed, asymmetrical activity that does create problems over a bazillion reps.

The lead hip that is internally rotated and flexed forward all the time gradually loses hip extension and often pulls that half of the pelvis into a posterior tilt. The trail hip that is extended and externally rotated all the time often loses some flexion range of motion and pulls that half of the pelvis into an anterior tilt. For this reason, many pitchers will create a situation where their dominant leg is functionally longer than their stride (forward) leg. This is usually an easy fix, as the pitcher basically stretches each hip into the opposite planes of motion that they go through when throwing.

Part II - Stretches and strengthening to gain and maintain adequate hip mobility.

6.21.2012

I carry all of my stress in my shoulders...

Clients with neck, shoulder, and head pain often explain their problem in these terms. I ask them about their stress because that's relevant. But the fact that someone relates their pain to psychological stress isn't very helpful from an orthopedic perspective.

I could lightly touch the shoulders and neck while uttering low pitched hmmmms between telling them their muscles are tight. And perhaps they are tight. But diagnosing and treating a chronically painful condition based upon tight muscles is misleading at best.

Ultrasound and topical creams like Biofreeze are rarely helpful for more than a few days. Massage has it's place. But Chronically tight and sensitive muscles are a symptom of something else, and I'm not willing to throw my hands up and say "oh well it must be fibromyalgia."

I won't deny the existence of myofascial pain syndrome. But please remember that health care providers diagnose fibromyalgia through a process of ruling out other issues.


While locking wayward daughters out of the house or punching annoying coworkers in the face may be legitimate short- and long term solutions to your stress, I can offer a few more practical suggestions. If you're looking for a confirmation of tight muscles and a massage, these are probably not for you.

1. Remember that psychological stress is, well, psychological.
Psychological stress absolutely effects the body in a myriad of ways. It's good to keep in mind that pain is purely a psychological event. While stress alters our perceptions, especially our pain perceptions, it does not literally bind our bodies in whack positions. Gravity, fatigue, and arthritis have that covered.

2. Your posture is probably bad.

In my 11 plus years of treating clients with headaches and neck pain (many of whom also have fibromyalgia), I recall very few who have had those symptoms with good posture. It's far more plausable to assume that poor posture causes pain and tightness that's exacerbated by stress than it is to say that stress causes tightness and bad posture.

When posture is poor, the head, neck, and upper back muscles all must work overtime just to hold the head up. The only thing stressful to the muscle tissue itself is the weight of your head! Thoracic kyphosis and forward tilted (protracted) scapula also work against you, as they give many of those same muscles a poorly positioned, unstable base from which to work.

3. Your poor posture probably begins in your thoracic spine.
Stretch his neck? The neck
has nowhere to go!

Pretty much everyone who sits for any length of time aquires some degree of tightness through their thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is the base of the scapula, cervical spine, head, and about a zillion muscles. All efforts to stretch and correct the neck aren't going to work until your thoracic situation is improved.

4. Your trunk and back muscles are probably weak.

Your back muscles have likely suffered misuse and neglect. Due to postural changes noted above, they don't have the right line of pull to do their jobs effectively. The muscles that transition the upper back to the head take a pounding, which tends to cause them to heighten their tone. Viola - tight muscles! Massaging those rocks does help for a time and there is value to that, but it does little to correct the problem.

5. You're not being nagged enough about your posture.

Impossible, you say? Well, did you know that stretching doesn't fix poor posture? Neither does joint manipulation or strengthening. While those give you the potential to improve your posture, the only thing that improves posture is constant attention to your posture. Wiring the brain into a new habit of sitting tall and standing tall and moving tall is definitely a lot more difficult than exercising. Go ahead and try it.

So, the moral of the story is "mechanical treatment for mechanical problems."

And stress? I'm no expert on that, but I've found that Luke 6:28 seems to work a lot better than punching people.

 - - - - -

6.14.2012

purpose -> fun -> fitness -> purpose


It's undeniable - exercise is uncomfortable. And very, very good for you.

bodybuilding =  inverse mooning ?
Physical activity tremendously benefits our mental health. It's the only way to steer clear of one modern self destructive road, the wide road that leads to disuse atrophy and heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and on and on. Exercise helps you do things, real things, not just run 26 miles or flip tractor tires or stand on a stage in front of strangers looking un-pretty in a speedo.

I apologize if bodybuilding is your thing. I just never was a fan of, "Hey look at me standing here." My bad.

The less healthy you are, the less opportunity you have to experience this world, to play and work and serve others. Research shows that those who are active and fit don't live much longer than those who are not, but the quality of life is radically different (as are health care expenditures).

So why do people choose not to be active? [It is a choice for the far majority of us.]

While physical activity reminds people that they are hurting and out of shape, sitting on the couch or computer chair doesn't. And even children have learned that exercise is boring and painful. And who wants to do that?

Young or old, it needs to be fun. Note that I didn't say easy or pain free. The best type of exercise is absolutely what you find fun. And one of the best ways to make it fun is to set specific, performance based goals and train toward them with purpose.

Feeling good about how you look in jeans and being able to eat human sized portions of normal food without getting flabby and being able to roll and tumble with your children are meaningful goals. But they're not performance based goals that make hard training fun.

Justin over at Synergy Fitness recently posted on of those e-card things.

One of the greatest things in life is when you realize that 
your body just achieved what it couldn't have done two weeks ago.

True That! The pushing, striving, achieving, that, THAT REALLY IS FUN.

Maybe you want to dunk a basketball. Or walk a 5 k race in less than one hour. Or cycle a century or be able to pull twice your body weight right off the dead ground. Whatever the goal, you cannot afford to haphazardly drone through the motions. Forty five minutes of elliptical trainer here, a set of bicep curls there, a set of machine lateral shoulder raises if you feel like it...how boring and miserable!

Just like anything else in life, you have to do more than just show up.

For those of you interested in looks (And who's not?), please remember that form follows function. You cannot mold your body into the appearance of a cut, resilient warrior by doing random cardio and the seated ab twist machine. Aim at fit, you you'll get "hot" thrown in. Aim at "hot," and you'll get neither.

Train with purpose. You won't always feel like it. But choose to, and then go make it count. Plan, work, achieve, plan again. Have fun!

- - - -

Purpose looks like...

Cort, training for strength-endurance (and continued awesomeness) as he prepares for the Spartan Race. This was the finisher, a little somethin' we like to call "30 ROCK" done between bouts of Farmers Walks with 170 pounds:




30 Rock = ~55 lb rock for 30 reps: 10 over heard presses, 5 step-ups each leg, 10 "goblet" squats

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6.06.2012

Muscle Memory is Real (And Important)

Everyone from medical experts to casual sports fans has used or heard the term muscle memory. It's often brought up in the context of a trained athlete or fitness enthusiast having time off from physical activity due to an injury, scheduled rest, or off-season.

"He has the muscle memory to make a quick come-back."

cross section of skeletal muscle
Everyone nods their head with the understanding that an athlete who is currently deconditioned but has invested time in training and competition will recover his or her physical abilities much faster and to a greater extent than a relatively untrained person.

And it's true! But how do muscles remember? If you ask them to do anything more than shorten, they'll just sit there all jacked, with a blank stare on their face. Although it sounds 14% less cool, muscle memory is technically motor memory. The key player in motor memory is, of course, the brain, which can't do a darn thing for itself but is great at shooting orders. 

What exactly does the brain "remember?"

1. Desire. First of all, trained people often want to regain their physical abilities. They have tasted and seen what life is like as a solid force of a person and usually have great motivation to avoid the alternative.

2. Previously trained brains have learned how to suffer. They are willing to put up with the misery, even embrace it, because they realize the triple pay off. They know that "no pain, no gain" is a half truth, and can easily discriminate between physical damage and beneficial discomfort.

3. The brain remembers the circuitry of skilled movement. Riding a bike is, well, like riding a bike. The neurological motor plans of lifting, running, jumping, throwing, etc, last much longer than the actual physical ability to perform them. Deconditioned athletes reap the rewards of having worked through thousands or tens of thousands of well executed repetitions in the past. The body may be soft and weak, but the brain hasn't forgotten.

4. On the more technical side, through consistent and regular training, the brain learns how to signal the muscles more efficiently. Through rate coding (bundling nerve signals in the most efficient manner), motor unit synchronization (getting various muscles and parts of muscles on the same page and working together), and reciprocal inhibition (getting opposing muscles to relax and even contribute through improved stabilization), the brain literally knows how to get more out of the body.

5. When a muscle is exercised, nuclei are added, and they're not lost when muscles atrophy. Some scientists think this is an additional reason why previously trained people do bounce back more rapidly than untrained folks.

In summary, muscle memory is a brain skill, earned through years in the training trenches, that's not easily erased by a little time off. Go out and get you some!

Bonus: Muscle memory can be "built" quicker and to a greater extent by getting powerful and efficient in a few basic exercises rather than switching your program every other week. Muscle confusion is like, so 2007.