Archive for December, 2008

Workout of the week- Eliminate lower body stiffness

December 31, 2008

So exactly ten years ago last night, I was a 17 year old senior playing against what I regarded as a bunch of old men in my school’s annual alumni soccer game. For the most part, these rag-tag seniors lacked skill, hadn’t run in months or years and couldn’t put a shot on frame to save their lives.

Flash forward to 2009 and the tables have turned. Last night, a group of alumni (myself included) squared off against the Santa Fe High Schools boys soccer team. And despite having not played in years in most cases, we actually won 4 to 1.

Simply running out on the field and playing against instantly brough back fond memories of former glory (my high school team actually made the state final four and several regional competitions). While I fared well in comparison to my teammates in terms of fitness, my legs were as stiff as a board this morning.

Interestingly, this stiffness is the clear difference between the body of a teenager versus that of even professional athletes in their 20s. As we age, our ligaments, muscles and tendons gradually lose elasticity even if we are more active than ever before.

With this in mind, Mike Robertson, an authority in the field of mobility, recommends adding a day of mobility work for every decade of life. In my case, two days (I am 27) should work for now.

With this in mind, here is the sequence of mobility and drills to address stiffness after high intensity exercise involving your legs.

Lengthening techniques:

Areas of focus:

  • IT bands
  • Hamstrings
  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Adductors

Mobility drills (performed after stretching):


Fitness trends for 2009

December 29, 2008

Ready to adopt a new workout program in the new year?

A survey by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) predicts that fitness programs that are easy on the pocketbook will shine in 2009.

The group is out with its top 10 fitness trends for the upcoming year, after surveying personal trainers, group fitness professionals, and lifestyle and weight management consultants.

For the second year in a row, boot camp-style workouts are predicted to be the top fitness trend for 2009. Boot camps, group classes that aim to strengthen large muscle groups with pushups, squats, and lunges, can burn up to 600 calories during one session.

Another trend? Getting more for the money, says ACE Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, in a news release. “The overarching theme for fitness in 2009 is getting more bang for the buck.”

Bryant says, “Consumers will engage in workouts that provide multiple benefits due to time and economic limitations.  We will also see continued trends from 2008 including boot-camp style workouts, technology-based workouts, out-of-the-box programming, and an increased interest in fitness for those who are over 50 years old.”

Here’s the ACE’s top trend rundown:

  1. Boot camp-style fitness programs.
  2. Workout plans that are less expensive.
  3. Specialty classes like Zumba, Bollywood, Afro-Cuban, and ballroom dancing. These classes are set to rhythmic music and aim to increase cardiovascular fitness while folks have fun.
  4. The basics. Fitness professionals believe that people will want to return to basic fitness programs.
  5. Circuit training. Circuit training blends strength training and cardiovascular activity at different intensities. Another plus: gyms can set up their own circuit for members to follow.
  6. Kettlebell training. These iron weights, traditionally used in Russia, aim to develop whole body fitness and core strength.
  7. Boomer fitness. A focus on fitness led by people 50 and older.
  8. Technology-based fitness. Using high-tech gadgets like iPods to help keep workouts engaging, plus an increase in interactive fitness video games.
  9. Event or sports-specific exercises. A focus on the simple things, like basketball or volleyball games, or day bike rides.
  10. Mixing it up. Low-intensity cardio or weight training on one day, followed by a high-intensity workout on another day.

SOURCES: News release, American Council on Exercise.

New Years Training revalation #2: Systems over workouts

December 27, 2008

One thing I have always disliked about personal training is the pressure to sell a client on a single workout. While there is something to be said about an exciting and fresh exercise routine, that thirty minutes or hour rings hollow without consistent progression.

Ask yourself: what am I doing on a daily basis to assist in achieving my goals? Whether running, strength training or core work, at least thirty minutes to an hour three to four days should be spent focusing on your goal area.

With this in mind, I now devote a greater amount of time to a greater portion of my time to designing programs for clients to do at home. By following our instructions both in and out of the gym, you are given an effective blueprint to consistent results.

Some other habits of highly effective progression include:

  • Regularly logging your food
  • Tracking exercise minutes per week (shoot to increase this total slightly every workout)
  • Planning your weekly fitness goals
  • Communicating with your trainer to fine tune your fitness plan

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Four revalations for a new year of training

December 25, 2008

A client of mine once said that “every six months, you realize how little you knew six months ago)” and as we grow and develop, we all have moments which redefine what we believe to be true.

In my training career, much of what I learn comes through observation and the last year at Peak Fitness has certainly been an education. Looking back over this time has forced me to reconsider many of the lessons I learned in books and seminars with solutions which work best in practice.

With this in mind, this week’s series of blogs focuses on the four defining moments which have shaped (and reshaped) my beliefs about fitness, goal setting and the secret to long term results:

Substance over style:

As a personal trainer, I often feel as if I play the role of choreographer in order to make my workouts interest and effective. But with the sheer volume of workouts, exercises and training styles available, it can be hard to pick and choose exercises for a solid workout.

While certain exercises may look exciting, the fundamentals of good training are as basic as considering your needs. If you are seeking weightloss for example, does it make sense to learn to stand on a stability ball or push press hundreds of pounds overhead?

Because time is limited, I always attempt to focus the on either metabolic, core or strength training exercises which suits the client’s goals. Beyond this, it is important to stick to a core group of exercises to familiarize one’s self with movement patterns and proper form.

And regardless of whether your goal is muscle gain, toning up or losing fat, full body workouts have been shown to be ideal for improving fitness. With this in mind, some essential elements for any program include:

  • Vertical push- Push presses, shoulder presses
  • Vertical pull- pull/chin-ups, lat pulldowns
  • Horizontal push- Push ups, bench press
  • Horizontal pull- 1 arm rows, Inverted rows
  • Knee dominant exercises- Lunges, squats (two or one leg)
  • Hip dominant exercises- Deadlifts, Kettle bell swings
  • Metabolic exercises- Squat thrusts, jumping jacks, speed squats
  • Core stability exercises- Planks, bridges
  • Core strength exercises- Deadbugs, curl ups

A new take on emotional eating

December 15, 2008

Around the turn of every year, millions of Americans suddenly hit the gym, swearing off carbs and join the weightloss rush to beach season.

For most, this means a steady diet of veggies and chicken in order to keep blood sugar steady and low in order to burn fat. In addition to weightloss, low carb eating can result in dramatic health benefits– improved mood, focus and energy-for diabetics in particular.

But before simply cutting out your oatmeal (or French fries), it is important to note this formula doesn’t apply to everyone. While diabetes– the inability to properly store  sugar in the blood– results in excessively high blood sugar, hypoglycemia is a a state in which the body produces lower than normal blood sugar levels.

Resulting in an inadequate supply of blood glucose to the brain, hypoglycemia can produce symptoms such as sweating/warmth, anxiety, shaking of the hands and feet and feelings of numbness.

As opposed to diabetics, individuals diagnosed with hypoglycemia need regular infusions of sugar to keep blood glucose (sugar) levels stable. And because exercise has been shown the lower blood sugar levels (in some cases causing hypoglycemia), this combination is not exactly the ideal formula for weightloss.

But with a few modifications, weightloss and good health can go together with a balanced routine.

Reading the signs:

So how do you know if this means you? According to the Mayo Clinic,  If glucose levels become too low, as occurs with hypoglycemia, it can have these effects on your brain:

* Confusion, abnormal behavior or both, such as the inability to complete routine tasks
* Visual disturbances, such as double vision and blurred vision
* Seizures, though uncommon
* Loss of consciousness, though uncommon

Hypoglycemia may also cause these other signs and symptoms:
* Heart palpitations
* Tremor
* Anxiety
* Sweating
* Hunger

While there may be causes other than hypoglycemia, a sudden manifestation of these symptoms signals a need to check blood sugar. Sustained blood sugar levels below below 70 g/dl are a tell-tale sign of hypglycemia-a blood sugar monitor can be purchased for around $20 at most drug stores.

When it comes to working out, hypoglycemics’ quickly learn the most important meals of the day are those directly before and after exercise.
Because the effects of exercise vary with intensity levels, the key to exercise is knowing how to eat for different activities.

Light or brief exercise

Examples: Walking, jogging, gardening, etc
Duration: 45 min or less

  • A small intake of rapidly absorbed carbohydrate is usually recommended 30-60 minutes prior to exercise
  • Examples include gatoraide, a small bowl of instant oatmeal, or a bowl of Cheerios (as a last resort)

Intensive, strenuous or prolonged exercise

: Moderate strength training, treadmill running, spin class, etc)
Duration: Over 45 minutes

  • Careful monitoring of BG levels is recommended to help in matching insulin and food to the intensity of exercise
  • Extra slowly absorbed complex carbohydrate will be necessary 2-3 hours before exercise and especially at bedtime following strenuous exercise in the afternoon or evening
  • Examples include slow cooked oats, grits, beans, any carb with protein
  • The bedtime snack also containing fat and protein may help to prevent nocturnal hypoglycemia

High-risk and/or high-activity exercise or sport (when hypoglycemia would be potentially dangerous)

: Interval training, water sports, climbing, skiing, diving, etc
Duration: Over 60+ minutes

  • Extra rapidly absorbed carbohydrate must be available throughout the period of strenuous exercise
  • 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise are recommended
  • Delayed and nocturnal hypoglycemia may be prevented by special attention to increased snacks especially before sleep

Five minutes to better glutes?

December 8, 2008

Lets face it: there is nothing sexy about glute activation. In fact in our litigious society, personal trainers would do well to steer clear of most discussions involving the glutes (butt) all together.

In the context of training however, activation exercises for your sitting muscles (hips and butt)-which have been turned off by chronic inactivity— act like an alarm clock signaling inactive muscles to fire correctly. The problem is these movements generally consist of leg lifts and bridging performed on one’s back at a canter.

But because these movements are part of a “Warm up” sequence, we face with clients is including activation work that also cranks up the intensity. Luckily, both aims can be achieved in short order with an x-band or piece of thera-tubing and around five minutes.

Waking up the rear:

So how did your backside get to sleep in the first place? In most cases, hours of sitting forward and standing in place causes tightness and over activity in the hip flexors (muscles that push the hips backward) along with excessively lengthening and weakness in the glutes (which extend the hips forward)

Over time, this imbalance causes a loss of hip extension (the ability to push the hips forward) forcing the lower back to assume this activity in place of weak glutes. And while much has been written about exercises to strengthen the gluteus maximus (or the butt), this is only one a trio of muscles responsible for shaking your ass.

While the Glute Max acts to extend the hip, the gluteus medius and minimus attach to the outside of the femur and abduct (move away from the centerline of the body) the leg.

In women, a wider pelvis creates a tendency towards knock knees (knees turning inward) by increasing the angle between the femur (upper leg) and the tibia (lower leg). This angle leads to a natural tightness of the adductors (inner thighs) and inhibition of the gluteus medius. With this in mind, it is important to include an exercise for each gluteal muscle in your warm up to assist in exercises involving the lower body.

The key here is including a movement for each motion of the hip (extension, flexion, abduction) followed by metabolic exercises to get the heart pumping.

To this end, the following sequence of movements lasts around a total of five minutes and is an excellent way to boost the tempo of a standard warm up:

Set up:

  • These pairings can be utilized as part of a dynamic warmup or part of the workout itself.
  • If time allows, these pairings should proceed Active Isolated Stretching (stretches held for 1-2 seconds) of the hip flexors, piriformis and IT bands.
  • Each pairing consists of a set of a dynamic flexibility exercise followed by a metabolic drill.
  • The entire sequence of exercises should be performed as a circuit.

· A1- High Knee Marches
· A2- Jumping jacks
· B1- Hip extension walks
· B2- Eight point bodybuilders
· C3- Iceskaters
· C2- Speed squat

Protocol: March forward twenty yards utilizing the first drill and immediately perform thirty seconds of exercise two. Repeat this circuit twice.

Food for thought: Terrell Owens secret to fitness success

December 3, 2008

It can be easy to get discouraged about fitness in the beginning, but the solution to our goals is not a magic pill or training style, but a state of mind. For NFL star Terrell Owens, this begins with consistency on a daily basis:

“Fitness is more than physical,” he writes. “It is the melding of the mind, body and soul.” Find a routine that works best for you, and use the book as a guide to help achieve your overall fitness goals, he said.

If you are having trouble getting going, stop worrying about how you will manage and simply do something on a daily basis. Whether this means walking, riding a bike or even playing games with the kids, the point is you do a little more than you did the day before.

With a few weeks of designated exercise time under your belt, structured exercise will be come that much easier.


Quick fixes for foot/ankle pain

December 3, 2008

With the NY Marathon a mere 11 months away, numerous triathletes, marathoners and weekend warriors alike will hit the pavement over the Christmas holiday to begin the run up to race season. And while a base of fitness is vital to improving your performance, another benefit of starting early is the opportunity to prevent injury.

As man’s most fundamental weight bearing exercise, running is a great way to build strong bones and joints while strengthening the muscles. Done correctly, this age old movement utilizes the hamstrings, calves and glutes to absorb and redistribute force to add spring to your step. But without proper posture, an externally rotated foot or stiff hamstrings can become a jackhammer on the body rendering each step an exercise in pain.

In particular, one ailment which commonly affects runners with day jobs of the sitting variety is a lack of ankle mobility. This is important because without the ability to flex and extend properly, the bones and joints of the ankle, lower leg and knee quickly become prone to pain and stress fractures brought on the by the high impact activities (running, walking, etc)

While we often hear sitting causes tightness in major muscles, the calves– which act to extend and flex the ankles-have the greatest affect on stiffness in your feet/ankles. Because these muscles are overlooked in many strength training programs, the calves fail to receive the attention (either via stretching or strengthening) necessary to effectively move the ankle.

to evaluate the foot’s ability to plant and flex ,try this ankle mobility drill

Throughout this drill, the bottom of your front foot should stay down until the knee touches the wall.
If your heel raises off the floor, chances are your ankle has long some degree of mobility.

Poor ankle mobility may also explain pain elsewhere in the lower body (knees, low back, feet). With this in mind, restoring range of motion and preventing injury can be accomplished through a four part strategy (brought to us by the National Academy of Sports Medicine):

1) Inhibit muscular lesions:

It is important to release trigger points which may have formed in fascia and soft tissue. This can be achieved by utilizing a foam roller, tennis ball or other small flat object to roll along tight muscles in search of trigger points.

These will appear as lumps, or tight/slightly painful spots along the muscle. Once these areas are identified, press down on each for 60-90 seconds or until the spot has dissolved noticeably. In the case of the ankles,
tight muscles in need of release often include:

2) Lengthen tight muscles:

After eliminating trigger points, lengthening tight muscles can be achieved through static stretching (stretches held for 30 seconds). Generally these stretches should be performed three times throughout the day for the first three weeks to restore length and at least once per day thereafter for maintenance.

The areas most in need of stretching include:

3) Nervous system activation:

The next step after muscle length has been restored is to condition the ankle joint to respond detect and respond properly to various plane of motion. This is done through activation and mobility drills to improve range of motion. Because we naturally lose mobility as we age, how often these drills should be performed is based upon the decade rule-add one day based for each decade of your life.

For example, a thirty year old would perform three days of mobility drills while a forty year old would perform four. Each drill should be performed for two sets of 10-12 reps.

These drills include:

4) Integrate motion:

Once the ankle is fully free to move, the objective becomes bearing weight again with fully integrated movement. This can be done initially by simply standing on one leg and progressed to tasks such as squatting down, hopping in various directions and walking barefoot on a treadmill.

Some suggested progressions include:

* Begin with the first exercise for 2-4 weeks and progress down the list. Perform one of the above exercises as a warm up before running/jogging or lower body strength training.

5) Preventing future injury:

As ankle mobility is restored, the key to preventing future injury is strengthening the structures responsible for cushioning the lower leg. Because the calves (and to a lesser extent the hamstrings) are most often neglected in strength training programs, these areas are often weak and unable to perform their function.

With this in mind, try these exercises to improve running form: