Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Here is another exercise you can add to your joint-stabilizing repertoire. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to balance on one leg and perform more sophisticated movement with no risk of injury.
To build strength and mobility simultaneously in your hips and ankles: Stand on one leg and hinge at the hips with a neutral spine, keeping the glutes (muscles of the butt) and the abdominal muscles engaged. One leg travels up in back as far as you can hinge forward keeping a neutral spine. The other foot in anchored on the ground. If this strains the back at all, bend your standing knee until the posture is comfortable, but still challenging. Slowly straighten the spine back to standing, training the glutes to aid you in hip extension. Repeat eight times on each leg.
Another good one for hip and knee stability: lay on your side against a wall with your back, butt and heels pressed firmly against the surface of the wall. Wearing socks, raise your upper leg as high as you comfortably can, still keeping both heels, your butt and back in contact with the wall. This will train your abductors (outer hip muscles) which will in turn stabilize the hip and benefit your knee.
You can also train these important hip stabilizers by walking sideways with resistance tubing around your ankles.
To build mobility: Stretch your hip flexors by kneeling on one knee and leaning slowly forward until a stretch is felt in the front of the hip of your trailing leg. The foot of the other leg, which is bent at a 90-degree angle, should be firmly planted on the floor to provide stability.
Make sure to keep your core tight and your forward leg far enough in front of you so that you don't over flex your forward knee.
Next week, I'll give you one more set of exercises to amp up strength, stability and mobility in the joints, this time, the thoracic spine.
Start integrating each of these exercises into your own routine, and you'll gradually increase your ability to take on more challenging movements.
301 Battery St. SF CA 94111
Thursday, August 6, 2009
In order to be confident on one foot through a healthy range of motion, you must possess both stability and mobility in the leg. If any one joint becomes locked up or immobile, it will transfer force into the joint directly above or below it, putting you at risk for injury.
In the case of immobile hips or ankles, the knee is at risk because it's the next joint in line, and, unfortunately, knees are highly susceptible to injury or torque. Hip and ankle joints are crucial to the stability of your leg, as they keep your knee in the correct position over the foot. To protect your knee joints, it's important to have stable and mobile hips and ankles.
Generally speaking, I train the body to be mobile in the ankle, stable in the knee, mobile in the hip, stable in the lumbar (low back) spine, and mobile in the thoracic (mid back) spine.
If any of these "mobile" joints (ankle, hip, thoracic spine) lacks the ability to move in any plane of motion, the force of movement instead gets transferred onto the closest "stable" joint (knee, lumbar), putting that joint at risk for injury and eventually causing pain and dysfunction.
Over the next few weeks I'll post a few of my favorite exercises for both strengthening and improving mobility in the "mobile" joints. Over time, these will give you an edge on one leg. Here's the first one:
To build lateral strength: stand on a shallow ledge, such as a curb, with the inside of your foot on the ledge and the outside (or lateral foot) off the ledge. Hold the outside of your foot up level with the inside, using the strength of your ankle. This exercise is especially helpful if you tend to "supinate" the foot (roll onto the outside habitually). If you tend to roll onto the inside of your foot ("pronate"), do the opposite, placing the outside of your foot on a one inch ledge and holding the inside of your foot up. If your ankles are generally weak, do both.
To build mobility: Sit on your heels, "Japanese style", for 20 seconds, two or three times. Or, take a downward dog (yoga style) and bend your knees alternately back and forth, slowly, to isolate and stretch the calves.
As always, have fun, be safe and don't do anything that causes any level of pain.
301 Battery St. SF CA 94111
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Using periodization brings a focus to different elements of your fitness and creates a healthy, strong body.
An example of using periodization would be the following routine:
After you complete the first seven weeks, you start the cycle all over again, altering only one variable in each exercise to make it more challenging. This is referred to as using a TRAINING PROGRESSION. For instance, you can add more repetitions or weight to your weight training exercises. If running, increase the distance incrementally through each cycle, or add bigger hills.
As long as you manipulate only one variable at a time, you'll ensure a steady and sustainable rate of progress and reduce your chance of injury. You should always feel in control of whatever exercise you are doing and be able to perform it with good form. If you find yourself unable to complete an exercise with good form, it's a sign that you're progressing too quickly and you need an easier variation of the exercise.
Work with your trainer on customizing a periodization routine, and progressions that work for you. Be organized and diligent. You'll be surprised at how much and how quickly you will improve with a consistent effort and a little structure.
301 Battery St. SF CA 94111
Monday, July 20, 2009
Foods that are digested quickly have a high GI and raise blood glucose and insulin dramatically. Foods that are digested more slowly don't raise blood glucose or insulin levels nearly as high and are considered “low GI”.
This is very far from an exact science. The GI of a food is affected by how much of it you eat, how you combine it with other foods, how it is prepared, what time of day you eat, and even what you have eaten the day before.
However, these general guidelines can help you plan your eating to keep your energy level on track. Foods with a high GI will deliver a short burst of energy (great if you are about to take a run or a spin class); foods with a low GI will deliver longer, sustained energy and are generally better for a stable metabolism.
To be smart about your eating habits, avoid eating foods with a high GI if you are simply going to sit on your sofa. They’ll end up stored as fat, make you gain weight, and you’ll feel tired as soon as your blood glucose level drops.
In general, foods with a low GI are better for your overall health and energy level. Use high GI foods sparingly, unless you need quick emergency blood glucose replacement to keep going or to keep your energy level from crashing.
Here’s an easy chart to help you figure out which foods are low GI and which are high.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
- Sagittal: an imaginary vertical plane that cuts our body into left and right halves Motion along the sagittal plan moves us backward and forward, like when walking or running. The goal is to employ both sides of the body equally.
- Frontal: this vertical plane divides our body into the front and back. When you move along the frontal plan, therefore, you move your front and back parts equally. For instance, jumping jacks.
- Transverse: Diagonal or rotational movement, like when you plant your feet and twist around to look behind you.
The bulk of training takes place in the sagittal plane, as does the majority of movement in general. However, it's important to spend time training in the other planes of motion as well.
One good frontal plane exercise is side arm raises, which tone shoulder muscles that don't always get a lot of love. Squat presses (combining a squat and an overhead press) are king calorie burners as they work every muscle in the body while combining frontal and sagital plane movement.
Along the transverse plane, rotational exercises are crucial core strengtheners once sufficient strength in the sagital and frontal planes has been achieved. In order to protect the spine during twists, it's important to maintain a neutral spine. This means we train the hips and ankles to mobilize properly to allow the body to rotate without using the spine to flex or twist. This is a crucial concept and one that must be mastered by everyone who trains with me.
301 Battery St. SF CA 94111
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
More specifically, having a strong supple core supports your back muscles, which helps to prevent and heal back injury and ensure a strong healthy spine.
Last week I brought up the concept of oppositional muscle groups. In all sets of oppositional muscles, there is an agonist (the muscle group that is in charge of moving a body part) and an antagonist (the one that resists movement). Lower back muscles and abdominal muscles respond to each other like this. When the abdominal muscles contract (shorten), the low back muscles relax (lengthen)
In training, we work to bring these sets of muscles into balance, by strengthening and empowering the core belly muscles so that they do their share of the work. This allows back muscles to relax and stretch, increasing the length and height of your spine, making you taller and, more importantly, decreasing the risk of injury.
You can bring awareness into your core in little ways by remembering to engage your belly while walking, standing, and even while simply sitting. This gentle, consistent toning will encourage your belly muscles to step up and support proper posture, allowing your back to relax a bit.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
For instance, we love to have strong quad muscles to define our upper legs. But for the quads to be toned, the hamstrings must be flexible and strong as well.
This is because these two muscle groups work together to create movement at the knee. When you bend your knee walking up a steep hill, the quads lengthen and the hamstrings shorten. When you straighten your knee back out (when walking down the hill), the quads contract to strengthen your leg, and the hamstrings relax to allow that to happen.
Here’s where it gets complicated though… the hamstrings can’t relax entirely, or your leg would lose control of the step. Instead, the hamstrings know to relax and extend just enough to accommodate the straightening of the leg, and yet still keep it all under control. A little bit of tension in the hamstring ensures that you don’t hyperextend your knee and lock your leg.
Some other examples of opposing muscles:
• In the upper arms, the triceps and the biceps
• The core muscles and the lower back muscles
• The upper back muscles and the pectoral (chest) muscles
Together, each pair of muscle groups work together in an intricate and harmonious way through an intricate neurological feedback loop that allows for healthy and efficient movement. That’s why it’s important to give equal attention to your opposing muscle groups when planning a workout.
A good trainer will ensure you keep your opposing muscle groups in harmony, and make sure your routine includes plenty of diversity of movement in three planes of motion.
A couple things to keep in mind:
- Balancing pushing and pulling exercises in the upper body is a good place to start.
- In the lower body we make sure you bend at the hip without movement in the spine, and that your knees ankles and hips can flex and extend in tandem.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
How to lose fat?
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill (at least no healthy one) that will make you lose weight and get in better shape. The short and unfortunately obvious answer is:
Eat smaller portions - the size of your fist five times a day. Do not skip meals! Starvation will throw your metabolism into lockdown.
And... burn more calories.
At the end of the day (and your workout), what determines your calorie loss is how hard you’ve pushed yourself, and for how long.
How to get stronger?
The solution is again straightforward:
Lift heavier weights.
More precisely, favor heavier weights with fewer repetitions per set. And rest longer between sets. The repetition range should be roughly 3 to 6.
How to grow your muscles?
If you want to focus on growing a particular muscle (or muscle group) – for instance, your quadriceps (upper leg muscles) - the key is to shoot for a lot of sets on that muscle group, with minimal rest between sets. Shoot for 12 repetitions divided into 4 sets each of 3 different exercises. (This type of muscle development, incidentally, is called hypertrophy.)
How to get toned?
Refer back to how to lose fat. Most of us already have a six-pack hiding somewhere under a layer of fat. From a health perspective, a little bit of belly fat is a good thing. However, if you want to see your abs, you’ll get closer by performing interval training and resistance training on major muscle groups than you will by doing specific abdominal training. That’s because the interval and resistance training will burn the fat that’s hiding the six-pack you already have.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
When I set up a training plan for a client, the three main factors I customize are:
By manipulating the levels of these factors, we individualize your training to suit your long-term fitness goals (and your present lifestyle and schedule).
At the same time, I follow a general pattern when training clients, based on a formula that I’ve found builds long-term, lasting results.
Ideally, your training should progress from high volume and low intensity (in other words, frequent workouts on the easier side) to high intensity and low volume (less workouts with higher intensities) over a period of two to three weeks.
Then, we drastically drop off your overall effort level for a crucial recovery week, allowing muscle mass to thoroughly rebuild (we touched on this in last week’s blog), before beginning the progression all over again, with renewed focus.
This general cycle repeats each month, making premium conditioning and sports readiness possible over just a three-month period.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
To follow up on last week’s blog, it’s a great idea to take one or two days of rest every week. This time off from hard exercise allows your body to integrate the effects of your training.
You don’t build muscle while you are working out. You build muscle during the post-workout recovery period. Creating new muscle cells happens in two parts:
- You create tiny, healthy tears in your muscle tissues through exercise
- Your body then naturally builds new cells to fill in the gaps.
This is why it’s essential to rest your bones (and muscles) between training sessions.
If you are an activity junkie, “rest” can consist of low-impact workouts that don’t jack up the heart rate, light loads in the weight room, or activities such as easy jogging, walking, cycling, or restorative yoga.
If you are not so much an activity junkie, consider simply taking two consecutive days off each week. It’s good for the muscle, and it’s good for the soul.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Studies confirm that shorter, more frequent workout sessions have more powerful and lasting results than longer, once- or twice-a-week workouts.
Exercising even just ten minutes a day beats an hour only once a week.
The most strategic way to capitalize on this proven theory is a training style called periodization: on a weekly basis, vary your workouts between hypertrophy work, endurance work and strength work.
For instance, during a training week, this would be an ideal routine:
- MONDAY: a pure weightlifting session
- WEDNESDAY: an interval session with lower volume weight training
- FRIDAY: a variable pace endurance workout outdoors (get the added health bonus of fresh air!) or on a cardio machine with lower volume weight training
On TUESDAY and THURSDAY, take active recovery days consisting of moderate to easy cardio.
Be sure to schedule two days in a row each week with very light or no exercise to allow your body to thoroughly regenerate.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
• The Muscular System
• The Nervous System
• The Energy System
Most training people do in the gym tends to focus exclusively on the muscular system. Both gym members and trainers tend to obsess over the size, shape and tone of specific body parts. This type of training is called Muscular System Development (MSD), and it’s activated when we do straight-up strength and hypertrophy training work (the progressive increase of load on a muscle or group of muscles). Lifting weights is a perfect example of MSD.
But just like in eastern medicine, where the body is treated systemically and every part is considered to impact every other, in training it’s crucial think about how the Nervous and Energy Systems affect an individual’s capabilities and overall fitness. If we ignore these elements, we’re missing 2/3 of the picture.
Training the nervous system is called Nervous System Development (NSD). Anytime we bring speed, power, agility or skill work into our training, we’re directly using and developing our nervous system. An example would be explosive lifts such as Olympic lifts or kettle bell work. A little of these type of exercises go a long way toward making you faster, stronger and more resistant to injury.
The Energy System is engaged when you do cardio and long-duration conditioning work such as distance running, cycling or swimming. In other words, any physical activity that requires stamina and endurance results in Energy System Development (ESD).
Together, the health and development of these three systems leads you to your peak performance and total body fitness. When you integrate these three training modes every week, your fitness increases in each category steadily and you don't overdo any sinlge one. It’s easy to overdo any one of these by making it your sole focus.
With my clients, I focus on finding a balance between MSD, NSD and ESD and ensuring they all develop steadily.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Core training is actually about the prevention of motion by using your core muscles to stabilize while you move other body parts. In all core movements, you should hold your body as if you are standing upright with good posture. For prone exercises, this concept still applies, but the body obviously has a different relationship to gravity.
With these things in mind, here are some basic core strengtheners for you to practice as “homework” between your sessions with me:
Develops whole core strength, including the muscles that support the hips, as well as shoulder strength
- Lay on your stomach.
- Position elbows directly under shoulders, with forearms flat against floor at a right angle.
- Lift up hips to neutralize the spine. If this is too difficult or causes any level of strain or discomfort in your low back, spike your hips up as much as necessary to relieve low back. No sagging!
- Squeeze quads and butt and brace your core, drawing the belly button in.
- Tuck chin to create a straight line from ears to heels.
- Hold for 1 minute.
Tip: to ensure that your alignment is perfect, try this one beside a big mirror and take frequent glimpses at the position of your body to make sure you aren’t sagging and that your arms are at a supportive right angle.
Develop lower abdominal strength
- Lay on your back.
- Locking your pelvis in neutral position while depressing your low back to the floor, lift both legs to the sky to attain 90 degrees at the hips.
- Lower one leg slowly toward the ground until you feel your core strength begin to engage.
- Switch leg positions slowly and continue for 12 repetitions on each side.
- For a stronger challenge, lower your leg until your heel almost touches the ground. If you feel overly challenged, limit the depth you lower your leg to.
Tip: It’s important to really listen to your back and any pangs of discomfort. Once your core muscles stop doing the work, your back will take on too much strain. That’s when you know it’s time to stop.
Develops glute (butt) muscle activation
- Lie on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees, feet hip width and flat on the floor.
- Place and squeeze a rolled up towel between your knees and squeeze gently.
- Take your hips to the sky by firing your glutes.
- Hold for one minute with a straight line between your hips and knees. If you feel the burn more in your hamstrings (backs of your legs) or spinal erectors (low back) you are not using your glutes enough. Bring more weight into your legs and squeeze harder.
Tip: In the beginning, the easiest way to fire the glutes is to squeeze your butt. As you get stronger and more adept, try firing your hamstrings and glutes straight up instead of together.
Work the obliques (love handle area)
- Lie on one side with your forearm on the ground and your elbow beneath your shoulder. Your arm should be at a right angle.
- Hold your body in a straight line and flex your toes toward your shins. Engaging the core, pull your body up to support your body weight between your elbow and bottom foot. Don’t sag.
- Push your hips forward and hold for 45 seconds.
- Repeat on opposite side.
Of course, there are dozens of core exercises and hundreds of variations, but these are a well-rounded group of staples to establish in your routine. Remember, if you want a tougher workout, do multiple sets. Don't kill yourself in any one set. You always want to perform any exercise you are doing with a high degree of proficiency. Also, if your back feels any level of strain, stop immediately. This is a sign your abdominal muscles can no longer support your spine in the position you are in.
Ultimately, your goal is to use your core in all exercises and even in your daily posture. Just by holding a tall, neutral spine in any exercise, and slightly engaging your abdominal muscles, you are working the core. Get in the habit of continually reminding yourself to draw in the belly and brace the core in any lift you do at the gym.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
There's so much information floating out there about "good" and "bad" fats, and that information seems to constantly change depending on the day and the source. It can be hard to determine right from wrong. Which fats are acceptable to eat, which fats are necessary for heart and whole body health, and which ones will make us, well, fat?
Here's a basic breakdown for you.
LDL- low density lipoproteins = BAD cholesterol (sticks to arterial walls)
HDL- high density lipoproteins = GOOD cholesterol (doesn't stick to arterial walls)
Saturated Fats- come from animal products and palm and coconut oils (non-essential fats)
Unsaturated Fats- come from plants and are essential to the body
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (the good fats) come from whole food sources like nuts, seeds, avocadoes and high-quality oils (olive and vegetable).
These good fats are thought to lower LDL levels. (LDL is the type of cholesterol that clings to the walls of blood vessels, eventually building up and causing cardiac problems.) They are essential to the healthy functioning of your body. You could not live without these fats, in limited amounts.
Saturated fats (the bad fats) are found mostly in foods that come from animals, such as meat and dairy products, and also in palm and coconut oils. Saturated fats are not essential to your body and can be easily cut out of your diet.
Your total dietary intake of all fats should be limited to 35% of your total caloric intake. Of this, the majority of fat should be of the good variety. Of course, that doesn't mean you should deprive yourself of your favorite foods or stop eating meat entirely (unless you are vegan). Meat and animal products can be healthy for other reasons, and everything in moderation!
One easy way to spot the good and the bad? Saturated fats are solid at room temperature; unsaturated fats are liquid.
In defense of fats
Fat is the richest energy source the body has. (Although it is not the most readily converted to usable energy.)
Fat is essential for our cell membranes, brain function, the health of our reproductive and immune systems, and for healthy skin.
Fat insulates our nerve cells, keeps us warm, balances our hormones, keeps skin healthy and arteries supple, lubricates joints, and is a vital component in every cell in our bodies. We would not be human, or even mammalian, without it.
However, if you don't burn them off, the body likes to store calories from fat as fat. Same with processed carbohydrates. Veggies and fruits, on the other hand, tend to be burned off first.
Creating change: There are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat. So, to lose a pound a week, you need to create a 500-calorie-a-day deficit. Your body will then burn those extra calories from your fat stores. This is a manageable amount of calories to cut out of your diet. Small changes can make the difference. An hour workout can burn up to 900 calories.
Start by cutting out empty calories: foods and beverages that have calories but no nutritional benefit. The calories from these foods tax your digestive system and contribute to unwanted fat storage. You can make a big difference by eating less processed foods and no sweetened beverages and for some, limiting alcohol intake.