Archive for October, 2008

Can exercise make you sick?

October 28, 2008

For new fitness seekers, a well planned exercise program can vastly reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease, improve mood and even strengthen the immune system.

This is made possible by a systemically stressing the body to encourage the formation of stronger muscles, bones and joints. But while this process is certainly dependant upon the effort of the individual, this doesn’t mean more is always better. One mistake I often notice when assigning new clients a fitness plan is to perform “double duty” on cardio and strength training provided in the program.

While many would reason more effort leads to more calories burned, the unfortunate side effect does not give the body proper time recover and results in chronic pain and soreness– and that is not all. For those that constantly engage in this practice, the beneficial affects of exercise listed above actually begin to reverse.

With proper recovery time, the body becomes weakened and susceptible to illness. Known as over training syndrome, this inability to allow for proper rest can result in the following symptoms:

·         Lethargy
·         Insomnia
·         Reduced training capacity
·         Depression
·         Loss of lean body weight
·         Illnesses
·         Headaches
·         Increased injuries
·         Anxiety/poor concentration

Overtraining comes in two varieties aneroebic (strength training) and aerobic (long form cardio). While overtrained anaerobic exercisers like weight lifters usually experience sympathetic symptoms. Aerobic exercisers such as joggers usually have parasympathetic symptoms. Generally, the sympathetic symptoms speed up bodily processes while parasympathetic symptoms slow processes.

Trainees experiencing sympathetic overtaining symptoms may have an increased resting heart rate, blood pressure cortisol and/or triglyceride levels whereas victims of parasympathetic overtraining may experience decreased resting heart rate, blood pressure and/or body temperature.

Some experts contend that sympathetic overtraining is far worse because of how the body inherently uses its own functioning capacity to force performance at levels higher than can be safely managed, thereby making the body more susceptible to serious injury.

In both cases, these issues can easily be addressed in short order by performing planned periods of exercise (or periodization) Generally coming in for to eight week cycles, this periods of exercise gradually ramp up the intensity while lowering volume to ensure over training does not occur.

Four week cardio cycle
Long distance
Short distance (Timed)

Week #1
1.5 miles- Long distance
1 mile/8 min- Short distance

Week #2
2 miles- Long distance
1 mile/7:45 min- Short distance

Week #3
2.5 miles- Long distance
1 mile/7:30 min- Short distance

Week #4
3 miles- Long distance
1 mile/7:15 min- Short distance

Four week strength training cycle

Week #1
3 sets per exercise
10 reps per set
35-40 total sets per workout
30-40 total per exercise

Week #2
3 sets per exercise
8 reps per set
25-30 total sets per workout
25-30 total reps per exercise

Week #3
4-5 sets per exercise
4-6 reps per set
25 total sets per workout
20-25 reps total per exercise

Week #4
4 sets per exercise
3 reps per set
20 sets per workout
15-20 total reps per exercise

At the end of each cycle, it is also important to include a “deload” week in which you back off volume and intensity to allow your body to recover properly. When it comes to strength training, a good rule of thumb is to cut your volume in half on each exercise while including unilateral exercises (dumbbell presses, one arm rows, one leg squats) to address strength imbalance which may exist.

One arm DB press
10 x 3

One arm row
10 x 3

One leg squat/split squat
10 x 3

Weighted plank hold
3 x 60 sec

* Perform as a circuit two to three days per week.

For cardio, replacing long distance running with sprints is an excellent means of  maintaining intensity while allowing the body to recover.

Day #1:
300 yard shuttle run
3 sets

Day #3:
40 yd dash
6 reps

Day #5:
300 yard shuttle run
2 sets

Day #3:
40 yd dash
4 reps


Stop headaches now

October 20, 2008

f you are anything like me, your head is throbbing after a long week of work. Especially in the wake of recent events, the stress of every day life can elevate blood pressure, strain your muscle and seemingly put your head in a choke hold.

But despite the conventional belief that tension headaches are caused by stress, the most recent evidence points, the most compelling and current evidence points to a central nervous system dysfunction as the underlying cause of tension-type headaches.

Thus, the muscle ache of tension-type headache is thought to be a result of increased sensitivity of the nervous system and pain from occasional or long-term imbalances in brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, enkephalins).

Studies show that some people with primary headache disorders respond to medications that specifically target and influence the pleasure hormone serotonin. In fact, depression may be an underlying cause in some people with chronic tension headaches. Depression and some sleep disorders are linked to serotonin.

With this in mind, the culprit behind your headache might just be your diet. Starchy carbohydrates encourage the production of serotonin-which explains the sleepy sensation you may feel after a large carb meal.

By contrast, weightloss and low carb diets which are often devoid of starchy carbs and high in protein feed this imbalance by signaling the brain to produce tyrosine, a hormone which wakes up the brain, in place of serotonin.

Step #1: Efficient eating

Signs of serotonin and carbohydrate depletion go hand in hand. In fact, they can nearly be classified as one in the same. They include:

An inability to concentrate or perform complex tasksChronic insomnia Emotional distress and fatigueIncreased use of the bathroomTension headaches
Tension type headaches often begin after about 3-4 days of low carb and grow worse a and more frequent as time goes on. In this case, the best medicine are starchy carbohydrates. These include:

  • Yams
  • Brown Rice
  • Grains (Oats, Barley, Cereal, etc)
  • Corn

Because carbs are stored as fat only after your muscle stores are filled, the trick is to consume such foods 1-2 days per week (even on a diet) to ensure a balance. This can be done by replacing the majority of your protein portions with the starchy carb listed above while keeping your calories constant.

Step #2: Build thoracic mobility:

Located directly below the head, the thoracic (or middle) spine governs the body’s ability to twist efficiently. Imobility in this area restricts bloodflow to the head-in turn aiding to cause migraines and strain. With this in mind, the idea is to compress the spinal vertebrae to release stored tension.

This can be accomplished with a simple homework assignment:

  • tape two tennis balls together to form a “peanut” shape.
  • Lie on your back with the balls just under your spine just above your lower back with your hands behind your head.

tennis balltennis ball curl uptenni ball hand motions

  • Perform five crunches, then raise your arms above your chest and alternate five times with each arm.
  • Move the ball up your spine 1-2 inches and repeat for each vertebrae until you are just above the shoulder blades and the below the base of your neck.
  • Perform two sets before your workout.

Protecting the body against economic stress

October 6, 2008

After working as a trainer in New York City, one thing I quickly learned from those in finance is that economic crisis often precedes physical pain. With each dip in the market comes bouts of back, neck and shoulder pain and so it has come as no surprise that I have observed a record number of complaints amongst our clients lately.

While this may seem, at times, seem a bit melodramatic, the link between emotional stress and physical pain are very real. Financial pressures, long work weeks, and medical problems typify common anxieties and everyday stress. Prolonged stress can become chronic, resulting in muscle tension sometimes felt as a stiff, achy neck or back.

While over half of adults over the age of thirty have experienced some disc herniation or spinal trauma, these often occur without any symptoms whatsoever. In this way, the stiffness and tension resulting from emotional stress often explains why back pain flairs up on occasion for no reason.

With this in mind, the only real way to protect against sudden back pain is to understand what you are dealing with. Perhaps the easiest way of doing so is the Mackenzie Posture test

In the wake of a bulged disc, the Mackenzie pose takes tension off of the nerve which has been affected-thus causing temporary relief. In a standing position, this pain is often characterized by tingling down the leg.

Those who find relief in this position have most likely experienced some degree of herniation. While it is impossible to completely repair the disc itself, the goal of Mckenzie exercises is to realign the disc to it’s proper position.

This involves a series of yoga- like poses specifically intended to extend and flex the spine in to balance. To help determine whether this applies to you, consider:

  • Have you experienced episodes of back pain over the lat few years?
  • Are there periods in the day when you go from little or no pain to sudden pain?
  • Are you generally worse when sitting for prolonged periods or standing up from sitting?
  • Are you generally worse after prolonged bending?
  • Are you generally worse after waking up, but better after a half an hour?
  • Are you generally better when lying facedown?

If your answer is yes to most of these questions, the following sequence is the perfect warm up/cooldown for exercise and realigning the spine after prolonged or sudden pain.

Pose #1: Lying press up:

flexion two

  • Begin by Lying face down for 2-3 minutes and letting the muscles of the back totally relax.
  • Next, place your hands under the shoulders like a push up and push the top half of your body up as far as pain allows
  • At the end of the exercise, your back is extended as much as possible and your arms are straight.
  • Perform 10 reps of ten second holds in this pose.
  • This pose can be used to treat stiffness and prevent the occurrence of pain once you have recovered.

Pose #2: Standing back extension:

flexion two

  • Stand upright with your feet slightly apart. Place your hands in the small of your back with your fingers pointed backwards
  • Bend your trunk backwards as far as you can, using your hands as the fulcrum
  • Perform 10 reps of ten second holds in this pose.

Pose #3: Lying back flexion:

flexion twoflexion two

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor
  • Bring both knees up to your chest
  • Place both hands around your knees and gently pull your knees as close to your chest as pain permits.
  • Perform 10 reps of ten second holds in this pose.

Pose #4: Seated back flexion:

flexion two

  • Sit on the edge of a chair with your knees and feet well apart and rest your hands on your legs.
  • Bend your trunk forward and grasp your ankles or touch the floor with your hand.
  • Hold on to your ankles and pull yourself farther down.
  • Perform 10 reps of ten second holds in this pose.