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!