Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How Oppositional Muscle Groups Work Together

The body is composed of sets of oppositional muscles that work together to create stability and range of motion. Each muscle group is just as important as its opposing muscle group, but some get more glory than others.

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.

Lark Miller
phone: 415.250.5236

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How to Lose Fat, Get Stronger, and Be More Toned

The burning questions that many of my clients want to know:

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.

Lark Miller
phone: 415.250.5236

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Three Month Training Cycle

Just as it’s important to alternate workout sessions with rest in each training week, your bigger-picture training schedule also involves phases of intensity versus phases of recovery.

When I set up a training plan for a client, the three main factors I customize are:
  • Training volume
  • Training frequency
  • Training intensity

    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.

    Lark Miller
    phone: 415.250.5236
  • Wednesday, June 3, 2009

    The Importance of Rest

    Taking appropriate rest between training sessions isn’t just a compassionate way to treat your body; it’s a mandatory element in building strength and muscle mass.

    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:

    1. You create tiny, healthy tears in your muscle tissues through exercise
      (or stretching)
    2. 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.

    Lark Miller
    phone: 415.250.5236