Thursday, August 2, 2012

How are these “custom” programs being designed?

I’m sure by now you have seen, heard or even done some of these “customized” fitness programs out there.  Typically, what you are buying is a DVD with a man or woman showing you a series of exercises that helped them achieve the body they have, which conveniently happens to be the body you want.  Here’s the problem though.  If 5,000 people buy this DVD program, you have 5,000 people doing the exact same thing – so how is this a customized program?  Maybe the customization comes from the fact that this fitness guru has broken the program into 3 categories: Beginner, Intermediate and Expert.  Ok, so if that’s the case, how is it determined what your fitness level is?  Let’s face it, any way you slice it, these are not customized programs.  There are several key elements that are needed to know before designing a true, customized fitness program. 

Let’s take a look at three of them….

First, posture is very important when designing or having an exercise program designed for you.  It can show you possible reasons for pain or discomfort, signs of previous injuries and let’s you know what exercises should and should not be implemented in the program.  For example, a man who sits at a desk all day with poor posture has rounded shoulders, forward head carriage, posterior pelvic tilt and chronic shoulder pain wants to start a fitness program to loose 20 pounds for his wedding.  Let’s say he pops in that DVD that we mentioned earlier and the first round of the program has him doing push-ups, shoulder presses, bicep curls sit-ups and mountain climbers.  Do you think these exercises would help the man’s posture and shoulder pain or make it worse?  Most of these exercises promote flexion (push-ups, sit-ups, and mountain climbers) and due the man’s poor posture, the shoulder presses are not the best idea unless done with proper form and good posture and bicep curls are usually done with the shoulders coming forward – usually a sign that the person is using too heavy a weight or has just developed a faulty movement pattern. 

Secondly, assessing someone’s core functionis crucial.  Now, if you’re thinking core function is based upon how many sit ups you can, guess again.  A few of the assessments that I use to test someone’s core function can be humbling because it might look and sound really easy, but when push comes to shove, only the stable triumph. 

Lastly, we need to look at length tension relationships.  How can a program be designed before we know how flexible someone is or how overly flexible someone is?  A common problem that happens to people, especially in yoga classes, is they over stretch their muscles.  Don’t get me wrong, I love yoga and I think it’s very beneficial, but if your muscles are already long and possibly weak, why would you stretch them ever further?  What we need to do is find out what is already short and tight & long and weak, then stretch and strengthen the muscles appropriately.      

So, with everything listed above, do you see how and why these things are so important to know before you or trainer just starts to throw you on a machine or have you do their new favorite workout?  If you are already working with a trainer, or are thinking about working with a trainer, ask them if they test or know how to test these 3 elements.  I guarantee that if these 3 things are properly addresses and taken into consideration when designing or having a program designed, it will be far more superior to these other “customized” programs because now you have a program that is designed to improve posture, core stability, flexibility and overall function. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

To Work-out or Work-in, That is the Question

After reading the title of this article, you might be saying “I’ve heard of working-out, but what is this working-in you speak of?”  Well simply put, working out uses or expends energy and working-in promotes or builds energy in the body.  There is always an opposite (yin and yang) effect with everything.  In this case, working out is yang (catabolic) and working in is yin (anabolic).  Working-in is a coined phrase by Paul Chek of the C.H.E.K Institute, which follows the ideas and practices of tai chi, qi gong, and yoga to build energy and rejuvenate the body. 
Doing exercises that cultivate energy in the body are so important because it helps bring balance to the mind and body.  There are so many stressors that people are faced with everyday.  The obvious ones are work, money, relationships and family, but how about circadian stress (not getting enough sleep), nutritional stress (eating processed and unhealthy foods), electromagnetic stress (you have a cell phone, computer, TV and microwave, don’t you?) and finally – physical stress (working out).  All of these factors can add stress to our body and of course too much of anything is never good.  To give you an idea, think of a cup of water being half full.  The water represents stress and the cup is your body.  Well, keep adding water (stress) into the cup (body) and eventually there is going to be a big mess to clean up (pain, disease, cancer, etc…). 
Don’t get me wrong, working out is important and can be very beneficial, but not if your cup is almost full from everything else.  Also, the type of exercising you’re doing is extremely important.  Cardiovascular exercise is so over abused these days due to marketing and false information; people are doing more harm than good.  Just think about it… if you jump on the treadmill and run for 45 minutes, you are putting 45 minutes of stress on your body.  But if you go to the weight section and do a typical 4 sets of 10 with 4 exercises (depending of your rest and tempo), you are only doing about 15-20 minutes worth of work, therefore putting a lot less stress on the body and also increasing your anabolic hormones in the process. 
So how does one work in?  You let your breathing dictate your movement instead of letting the movement dictate your breathing.  Let’s use the squat as an example.  When using a moderate to heavy load to squat, you would typically inhale before going down into the squat, followed by exhaling on the way up.  However, when you’re working in, you would perform what’s called a breathing squat, which has you inhaling as your stand up (supination) and exhaling as you go down (pronation).  The speed of descent and ascension will be determined by your breath.  As you exhale - go down into the squat; when you feel the need to inhale – stand up… it’s that simple.  This technique can be applied to any movement pattern.  If you are doing it right, you should be able to work-in on a full stomach with no problems or discomfort.  Also, you should NOT sweat or feel tired afterwards (feeling relaxed does not mean tired) – if you do, slow down!  Again, you are building and storing energy, not using and losing it.
Finally, now that we know the why and the how, let’s look at the when.   Good news… you are able to perform a work-in exercise everyday!  More specifically, let’s say your feeling sluggish after a long day from sitting at that desk, but you really, really want to do something – this is the PERFECT time!!  You’re going to get the benefit of building energy and pumping the system at the same time.  You can get creative with it by doing a small work-in circuit by itself or throwing some in at the end of your regular work-out session to calm the body down.  Keep an open mind and have fun with it. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Make shoveling your workout!

Winter is here and Philly has it's first snow of the year.  Even though we only has a few inches on the ground, as I was out shoveling I saw a lot of people hunched and bent over trying to lift the icy mix and fling it off to the side.  Also, don't think of it as work.  Turn it into a fun little workout by using the tools you are given... a shovel and white, icy resistance. 

So how can you turn shoveling into a workout?  First, use good form!  Snow, depending on density, can have a decent weight to it.  Couple that with the fact that the weight (snow) is roughly 4 feet away from your body, depending on the length of your shovel, so lifting with incorrect form could really be the straw that breaks the camels back - or yours.

Next, switch it up and make sure you are giving both sides of your body a turn - just like you would work both sides of your body at the gym.  Then, get creative with it.  Here are few ideas for you...

1.  You could do a deadlift pattern (again use good form and keep a straight back).

2.  Explosively throw the snow over your shoulder and behind you.

3.  And one that I did today, stand behind the shovel with both hands on the handle and vigorously start to plow the snow with quick bursts pushing.

4.  Don't start out with a shovel, but use a broom.  Take a good stable stance and start sweeping from side to side, working in the transverse plane, getting a good twisting workout. 

Doing these 4 movements for 30 minutes is perfect right before a nice lunch or dinner. 

Please comment and share some of your creative exercises that might like to do with the shovel and the snow...

Thanks for reading and stay healthy!


Friday, December 16, 2011

Old Sayings: Cliché or Truth?

We all hear people quote old sayings from time to time or maybe you can remember quoting one yourself not too long ago, but have you ever thought about how the saying came to be?  Why was it said in the first place?  Was it to make a group of people chuckle or are some of these sayings words of wisdom that were meant to be passed down from generation to generation?  I hear people say things such as, "you are what you eat" or you're eating "empty calories", but I wonder if they know what they are referring to.

Take my example of the famous "you are what you eat" saying.  Many people don't realize that this is actually a true statement and we literally are what we eat.  If you don't know what I mean, stick around.  The tissue in our body is made up of everything we put in our mouth.  Every ounce of food and drink contribute making our muscles, tendons, ligaments, cells, etc...  That is why it is so important that we eat good, high quality, organic food.  A lot of people talk about the price of organic food, but what price can you put on your health?  If people were to cut out the unhealthy snacks, frozen dinners, cupcakes and other crap (just to name a few) and replace those items with some high quality food, they would be shocked at how much better they would feel.  Also, remember that even though the food costs more (who cares if it's better for you) you wind up eating less of it.  Why?  Becuase organic food has quality not quantities of crap, additives and preservatives.  Ahhh, there's another saying, "it's about quality, not quantity" (but I think I covered that).

Now let's take a look at "empty calories".  I think this is most commonly used when referring to alcohol.  Working at a bar in college, I heard this from time to time.  Someone would be on a diet and say they didn't want a drink because it was "empty calories" and they didn't want to waste them, but then they would order a soda and fries.  That clearly shows right there that this person probably heard that saying somewhere, picked up on how to use it in a sentence and never looked back.  I'm not saying they should have had a drink, but don't use a perfectly logical saying (and in the right context) like "empty calories" and then order a soda and fries!  An "empty calorie" is something that takes more nutrition for our body to process than it gets back in return.  Not only are you not giving the body what it needs, but now the brain tells the body to keep eating because it doesn't have enough nutrition, which leads to over consumption of food. 

It's like going to the bank everyday to get change for a $20, but you only get $10 in ones - you're giving more than you're getting.  Well, if do that everyday for a few months guess what, you're going to go bankrupt.  It's the same with nutrition!  Unfortunately, people are going nutritionally bankrupt from putting "empty calories" in their body and they are becoming... "what they eat".  A perfect example is the guy from Super Size Me (by the way, great movie and if you haven't seen it, rent it).  He would chow down a Big Mac, a Super Sized soda with fries and an apple pie and still be hungry!  Why, cause there's no nutrition in that garbage and his body wanted him to keep eating to accumulate something it could use.  

Eating right and staying healthy shouldn't be a chore, it should just be.  Since when is it cool to be unhealthy and unfit.  We only get one shot at life and we are all lucky to be here.  There are plenty of healthy foods and treats out there that taste good!  Let's live the best life we can, the healthiest life and the happiest life.  When your healthy and happy, you're not bouncing from doctor to doctor, worrying about going on a fad diet for beach season or trying to remember if you took this or that pill.  We need to start making better food choices and make sure we are taking responsibility for our own health because after all, we are the ones that can make a difference.

Thanks for reading and stay healthy!


Flatten Your Abs!

People in gyms across the country are struggling with loosing excess fat in their midsection.  Everyone wants to flatten their tummy and the first two things people think they need to start doing is… more sit ups and go on a diet!  I’m sorry to say, but this is not the answer.  Today you can walk into a gym and watch someone do sit up after sit up for months and nothing changes.  Also, you can see someone go on some cookie cutter diet and not lose a pound.  So, why is this?  Because there is no lone secret exercise or a one size fits all diet.  We are as different on the inside as the outside, which means different foods and proportions will affect certain people differently.

The first step to flattening your abs is to start eating right for your metabolic type.  As part of my program, I show you how to determine your metabolic type.  A person’s metabolic type will determine the amount of proteins, fats and carbohydrates that are needed with each meal.  Do you really think the diet of an Eskimo would be the same as someone from the Caribbean?  Of course not!  An Eskimo will have a diet high in fats and protein (whale blubber, fish, and seals) with very little carbohydrates.  The opposite will be true of the person from the Caribbean.  They will have a diet primarily of fruits and vegetables with much smaller amounts of animal proteins and fats.

The second step is to start moving.  Humans are designed to move and be active, not sit at a desk in front of a computer screen.  Our primal ancestors would climb trees, hunt and carry their food along with jumping and lunging over obstacles.  My point is we need to be a little more primal than high-tech.  I guarantee you will get a greater overall benefit from doing pushups than using a chest press machine.  Next time you’re at the gym, see which one gets your heart pumping more.  Doing dynamic and compound exercises is the key to having a healthy, lean and strong body.  Recruiting multiple muscle groups at once will burn the most overall calories and keep the body in a fat burning state for hours after the exercise.

So, how does all this tie in with flattening your abs?  A proper diet (designed for you) along with exercises (if done correctly) such as pushups, wood chops, squats, lunges, pull-ups and deadlifts all help to strengthen the core musculature.  By doing these types of primal movements (pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, lunging) you will be able to burn more calories and start building a stronger, healthier and more stable body. 

Thanks for reading and stay healthy!


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Can weak abdominals cause knee pain?

A few very common problems today that I see and hear about today are poor posture, weak abdominals and chronic knee pain. Did you ever think that all of these problems could be interconnected and related somehow? Let’s take a look and see how it all fits together.

First, we have to look the abdominal wall and the pelvis. The pelvis is supported by the abdominals, so if the abdominal wall looses coordination or doesn’t work properly the pelvis will tilt forward. To give you a visual, think of pouring water out of a bucket by tipping it forward. So if your pelvis is not supported and tips forward, this causes a shift in your spine to balance out the weight, but it also causes your knees to turn in. Contrary to that, if you tip your pelvis back, your knees will go outward. You can easily stand up and try it for yourself to see what I mean.  When the knees turn inward it is called pronation. When the knees are pronated this causes the knee cap (or patella) to shift laterally. If the knee moves laterally while walking it will start to wear the cartilage out, this then triggers a chronic inflammatory process in the knee joint.

An extreme case of weak abdominals is called Visceroptosis.  Visceroptosis means that the abdominal wall is so dysfunctional that the organs behind it can not properly be supported.  A quick test you can do to see if you have visceroptosis is to take a couple deep breaths (in through the nose) while standing and observe how much effort it takes.  Then do the same thing while lying down on your back.  If you can breathe much easier while lying on your back it could indicate visceroptosis.  

Getting the core functioning properly is very important on many levels and these are just a couple of examples mentioned in this article.  There's no point to going to the gym and doing 100 sit-ups if your abdominal wall is so screwed up it can't support the pelvis.  I recommend having a thorough assessment to make sure your abdominal wall is working properly and helping to support the rest of your body.

Thanks for reading and stay healthy!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vitamins... The Solution or Problem?

How many people do you know that take some sort of vitamin everyday?  I would be willing to bet that most people would say almost everyone they know takes a vitamin.  Unfortunately, all "vitamins" today are not created equal and the vitamins that are in so many household cabinets might not be as good for us as we think.  Natural, organic vitamins in nature are found in a complex, which includes minerals, trace minerals, enzymes and co-enzymes, that no scientist or laboratory can duplicate.  Mostly all vitamins people buy today are synthetic vitamins, where the one vitamin is isolated from the complex making it an incomplete product. 

So, what does it matter if the vitamin is separated from the rest of the complex?  For example, if B1 is removed from a B Vitamin Complex supplement, can't we just take a B1 vitamin to "complete" the complex?  No, you cant.  I know some of you were hoping I would say yes, but sorry, nature doesn't work that way.  There are so many other things (minerals, enzymes) that the body needs to properly process the vitamin.  Another example of isolated supplements not being effective is beta-carotene. 

In an article from one of the worlds greatest nutritionists, Dr. Royal Lee, he says, "Beta carotene is a precursor the body can convert to vitamin A. Unfortunately, as a supplement, synthetic beta carotene is usually 'stabilized' in refined vegetable oils. In this trans fatty acid form, oxidation occurs and the chemically 'pure' beta carotene can no longer act as a nutrient, because it was changed. Almost all synthetic beta carotene is produced by the Swiss drug giant Hoffman-LaRoche. This form can no longer be converted to vitamin A. The best it can be is worthless, and the worst is toxic".

To give you some evidence of a real life situation, the book Food and Nutrition by E.W.H.  Cruickshank, MD shows an experiment using Vitamin D.  The experiment took a group of three chicks (no, not women) that were fed on the same diet.  The first group received no vitamin D at all, the second group was given a synthetic vitamin D supplement and the third group was given natural vitamin D preparation made from cod-liver oil.  In the no-vitamin chicks, sixty percent died. In the  synthetic-D group, fifty percent died. However, in the natural vitamin D  group, there was not one death! 

The major issue with taking vitamin isolates is that it can create other vitamin deficiencies.  Reason being is that the body uses its vitamin stores to try and complete the complex because it just got an overdose of a certain vitamin and doesn't know what to do with it all.  If you think about it, it's a great way to keep the vitamin companies in business.  For example, if you go to the doctor's office complaining about bleeding gums he'll probably tell you that you have a vitamin C deficiency, then you're gonna go home and eat them like M&M's.  A month later you go back and he says, "glad to see your gums have stopped bleeding, but now you have a vitamin E deficiency".

My recommendation is to get your vitamins for natural, organic whole foods.  You don't need a multi-vitamin if you have a well balanced, diverse diet of fruits, vegetables and meat.  I've asked this question before about other things, but how did we survive millions of years without a GNC multi-vitamin.  I personally don't believe that science can outsmart Mother Nature.

Thanks for reading and stay healthy!