Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Move to Elemental Fitness Lab

Notifying everyone that might see this blog that I have opened a new facility in Portland, Oregon, and have moved my blogging activities to the new website: http://www.elementalfitnesslab.com/

Please check there for all sorts of new information and multi-media content.

And thanks for reading!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Of Mice and Men

As my poor clients that are forced to listen to me ramble on know all to well I am absolutely fascinated with the history of physical culture. We've all heard stories about martial arts masters of yesteryear or strongmen do incredible feats well into their later years, but how many older people do you know these days that can even physically function well in daily life?

Having personally seen many older individuals perform impressive physical feats I've always believed it to be the case that one of the main attributes that allows them to do so is they never stopped moving. Never stopped exercising.

This article in the New York Times takes a look at the effects of exercise on mice genetically engineered to age quicker. And in particular it looks at the effects on mitochondria, which power the cells of our body.

Many scientists consider the loss of healthy mitochondria to be an important underlying cause of aging in mammals. As resident mitochondria falter, the cells they fuel wither or die. Muscles shrink, brain volume drops, hair falls out or loses its pigmentation, and soon enough we are, in appearance and beneath the surface, old.

The researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the impact that exercise had on the animals’ aging process, Dr. Tarnopolsky said. He and his colleagues had expected to find that exercise would affect mitochondrial health in muscles, including the heart, since past research had shown a connection. They had not expected that it would affect every tissue and bodily system studied.

Yes we can debate if this study has any validity for homo sapiens, but there is other medical research going on regarding mitochondria. My brother has been working in sports medicine for about 30 years, and over the past 10 years has been involved with cold laser "acupuncture" in which the laser directly affects mitochondria and he has seen some remarkable affects on the speed at which people regain better function, and recover faster from damaged tissue.

But back to physical culture, It is astounding to see historical pictures of active individuals long ago and see how good their posture, physical stature, and body composition appears to be. And they didn't even have treadmills or health clubs stuffed full of high tech machines. Huh.

What they did was move, pick up weight and carry it around, swing from ropes or bars, and in general use their entire body. And I'll hazard a guess they didn't eat to much fast food or anything from a box.

This picture of a Hawaiian surfer circa 1890 is one of my favorites.

He looks more fit and stronger than just about anyone you are likely to see in a gym these days. And I bet he can out paddle, swim, or run anyone in your gym.

And if one were to go to a gymnasium in the 19th Century it's a good bet it would look something like this.

Talk about equipment that forces you to move your own bodyweight instead of plodding along on a treadmill.

While training Karate in Japan I had access to some traditional weights used in Okinawan Karate. Some of Okinawan, and some of even older Chinese origines. Needless to say it was impressive to see older guys demonstrating incredible body control and strength with these stone, wood, and concrete tools.

And finally, my good friend Peter Parsiliti and I contributed to a Men's Health article in which we write about how to use three pieces of equipment - kettlebells, TRX, and the VipR, that will make you move better.

First move better, than move often - as they say.

Friday, February 25, 2011

And the Oscar Goes to...

Friday again and it's time to for the media round up. A little bit pressed for time today so you'll have to settle for this guy, who got completely snubbed by the Oscar committee for this DeNiro-esque bit of method acting.

It was a fun segment to shoot though, and it's good to see kettlebells being more accepted by the general public. With any luck KPTV will have me back on more segments talking about fat loss training and other topics.

Coincidentally an article I wrote for Men's Health UK is online too. I don't know why kettles and I are omnipresent this week, but I'll take it. This is not a bad little workout for anyone that only has 30 minutes.

Compounding your isolation
In our recent article on the top 10 muscle-building mistakes, personal trainer Chris Bathke lamented the scores of gym-goers who spend every session pounding specific muscles with ineffective movements while ignoring the bigger picture. Escape from your isolation and use his compound kettlebell exercises workout to build full body muscle fast. "After four weeks not only will your shoulders and back be more injury proof, but they'll look substantially better," says Bathke.

Programme loading…
"This type of workout will work shoulder, core, and hip stability that exercises done lying on a bench won't," says Bathke. Do it twice per week for four weeks and choose weights that are challenging but that you can complete with perfect form. Together with chin-up and squat work on another day you'll see good progress.

Sets and reps
Turkish Getups 3x3 reps each side
Renegade Row 3x5
Kettlebell clean and push press 3x10 each side
(Rest 60 seconds in between sets.)

"Each consecutive week add one rep per set until you can comfortably do an extra 4 reps per set, then increase the weight and drop the reps back to the initial level," says Bathke.

1. Kettlebell clean and push press
Begin with the bell in front of you on the floor. Perform a swing and clean the weight up into what’s called “the rack position” with the bell resting in the crook of your elbow between your shoulder and wrist. Next, drive the weight overhead ending with the elbow locked out and arm next to your ear. “Initiate the overhead portion of the lift with a slight dip and leg drive,” advises Bathke. To finish the lift, drop it back into the rack position, then down into a swing and repeat. Try to look as cool as this guy throughout.

See an example of this exercise here.

Works: This movement just about does it all. “The posterior chain is used in the clean portion, while the press hits your pushing muscles. Grip endurance, shoulder flexibility, and shoulder stability will all really be taxed,” says Bathke.

2. Kettlebell renegade row
Assume a push-up position with each hand on the handle of a kettlebell. Do a full range push-up, then while holding your torso and hips still row one KB at a time. Row each side once. This is one rep. “The goal is to not allow your hips to move, nor your body to twist while rowing,” says Bathke.

See an example of this exercise here.

Works: “The renegade row is a great movement to work both core strength and horizontal pushing and pulling muscle groups.”

3. Kettlebell Turkish get-up
Start lying on the floor. Bring the kettlebell into a locked out position straight up with your right hand. Your right shoulder should be pulled back into the floor to stabilise the joint. Your right leg will be cocked, with your right foot alongside your left knee. Pushing off your right foot, roll onto your left hip and up onto your left elbow. Push up onto your left hand. Holding yourself up on your left hand and right foot, raise your hips up off the ground, and thread your left leg back to a kneeling position. You should now be in a lunge position, right foot on the floor, and KB locked out overhead. “Make sure that your elbow is not flexed,” says Bathke. “From the lunge position brace your core and shoulder and drive through your front heel to rise up to a standing position.” To complete the movement, simply reverse the process until you are lying flat on the ground again.

See an example of this exercise here.

Works: Turkish get-ups boost shoulder stability and strength, anterior core strength, and glutes/hamstring/quadriceps. “In other words it works pretty much everything, which is why experts such as physical therapist Gray Cook utilise it with everyone from average Joes to pro athletes,” says Bathke.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Fitness Info Roundup

Friday is a day I usually have some time to relax with a cup of Portland's famously great coffee and catch up on reading fitness information.

1. Listen here to an hour long audio conversation between my friends Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove talking about topics relevant to trainer and fitness lay person alike. Two of the absolute smartest guys in fitness.

2. Women's Health magazine has two good articles in this month's issue (the one with Matt Damon on the cover). The first, by Adam Campbell, is about why women should lift weights, heavy weights, to lose fat. The second is on how jogging to lose weight doesn't work very well, but running (i.e. sprint intervals) does.

3. Anthony Renna, who runs the excellent Strength Coach podcast now has 4 episodes of this StrengthCoach.tv up on youtube. Check out some cool fitness facilities.

4. Dan John in his typical fashion has a witty and informative article on the benefits of kettlebell swings in terms of fat loss and movement quality. I'm convinced it is not possible for Dan to open his mouth or type something that doesn't contain a golden nugget of knowledge.

5. Physical Therapist Gray Cook now has a series of short audio interviews with Laree Draper on his site where he answers common questions about improving how we move. If you are anything like me each episode will require a couple of listens to fully grasp the wisdom of Gray's words.

Alright, time for some more coffee...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Because 11 is Louder than 10

If you haven't guessed by the title of this post my latest article on the Men's Health UK site is inspired by the greatest music documentary ever made.

The one and only Spinal Tap.

MH asked me to write an article around 3 challenging movements for 2011, and I thought these three fit the bill. In fact, 3 sets of 5-8 reps of these might make for a nice little workout on it's own.

Because 11 is louder than 10

We all like a challenge. Too much, sometimes. As we hit February, the impatience of the resolution-toting masses means the gym soundscape of treadmill-pounding feet and whirring weights will be more frequently punctuated with yelps of pain than usual. Taking on dangerously taxing exercises is a temptation many can’t resist, and injury is the inevitable result. Truth is, though, you absolutely should be aspiring to nail some hardcore moves this year. But you need to prepare for them the right way. PT Chris Bathke introduces some challenging exercises to integrate into your workout.

Hard: Kettlebell Turkish get-ups
Graduation Side planks and overhead reverse lunges.

If you can side plank for two sets of 30 seconds each side and perform two sets of eight overhead reverse lunges with each arm you’re ready to attempt some Turkish get-ups. (Perform the overhead lunges with a dumb-bell in one hand rather than a bar-bell in both.)

Execution Start lying on the floor. Bring the kettlebell to a locked-out position straight up with your right hand. Your right shoulder should be pulled back into the floor to stabilise the joint. Your right leg will be cocked, with your right foot alongside your left knee. Pushing off your right foot, roll onto your left hip and up onto your left elbow. Push up onto your left hand. Holding yourself up on your left hand and right foot, raise your hips up off the ground, and thread your left leg back to a kneeling position. You should now be in a lunge position, right foot on the floor, and kettlebell locked out overhead. “Make sure that your elbow is not flexed,” says Bathke. “From the lunge position brace your core and shoulder and drive through your front heel to rise up to a standing position.” To complete the movement, simply reverse the process until you are lying flat on the ground again. Here’s a step-by-step run through.

When you are comfortable with the movement, start off with two sets of three reps on each side. “Gradually increase the reps until you can do five each side, then increase weight,” advises Bathke. “Kudos if you eventually can do one rep with half your bodyweight overhead.”
Harder: Feet-suspended pike press-ups

Graduation Press-ups and feet-suspended pike ups (same movement as detailed below without the press-up).
Don’t attempt the following move until you can execute 20 perfect press-ups and 10 feet suspended pike ups.

Begin by putting your toes into the straps of a TRX or another suspension tool, then flip over and get into a press-up position. Pull your hips towards the ceiling while keeping your torso straight and avoid bending your back. “It should look like you are coming up into a handstand, so have someone check your form,” says Bathke. Bring your hips back down into the pushup position and complete a press-up, chest to floor. You should find the press-up harder than normal; your feet hanging in the air means your core must work harder to stabilise your lower body.

Mastered the form? Start off with three sets of five and see how vertical you can get your body while maintaining a straight spine. “To challenge yourself further increase your reps, change your hand position on the floor, or wear a weight vest,” says Bathke.

Hardest: Pole vaulter pull-ups
Graduation Pull-ups and hanging straight-leg raises.
Before attempting pole vaulter pull-ups ensure you can perform 10 pull-ups and 10 hanging straight-leg raises.

A favourite of competitive pole-vaulters, this advanced pull-up variation simultaneously taxes your pulling muscles and core strength. Raise your body upwards as in a standard pull-up. When your collar bone reaches the bar, raise your legs in front of you and continue until you are effectively upside down with your legs over the bar. “Your finishing position should ideally resemble a pole vaulter just as they are about ton go over the bar,” says Bathke. From here, lower your body and legs under control back to the start position. This is not an explosive movement. Aim to raise over two seconds and descend over two seconds. And obviously, make sure there’s enough clearance above the bar before you start.

At first if all you can manage is one rep then that’s still an impressive feat. Do two or three sets of one rep and the following week attempt two good reps. “Aim to work your way up to doing 10 consecutive reps,” says Bathke. Your newly stacked back, biceps and core should make up for all the wry glances your acrobatic grunting attracts.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Do These Shoes Make Me Weak?

In no way do I consider myself an expert on foot biomechanics, or any biomechanics for that matter. Whenever I do read some technical study or text on the subject my eyes glaze over in about a minute. However, one of the most often asked questions I get concerns shoes and the use of orthotics.

I can't tell you how many injured recreational and competitive runners I see that wear orthotics, but who are 1. Weak 2. Have significant joint restrictions in the hips and ankles 3. Possess some tissue/muscle tightness or restrictions, and want to know how they can get rid of nagging pain or tightness and get back to running.

Hint: All of those issues are related.

What I do know about the subject from working with practitioners such as Lenny Parracino, Gray Cook, Bill Hartman, and reading work by Gary Gray, Thomas Myers and others is that what happens at the foot when we move affects much of the rest of our body, which is why this article in today's New York Times really struck a note.

Some key quotes:

Then what, Dr. Nigg asked in series of studies, do orthotics actually do?

They turn out to have little effect on kinematics — the actual movement of the skeleton during a run. But they can have large effects on muscles and joints, often making muscles work as much as 50 percent harder for the same movement and increasing stress on joints by a similar amount.

As for “corrective” orthotics, he says, they do not correct so much as lead to a reduction in muscle strength.

In fact, he adds, there is no need to “correct” a flat foot. All Jason needs to do is strengthen his foot and ankle muscles and then try running without orthotics.

Dr. Nigg says he always wondered what was wrong with having flat feet. Arches, he explains, are an evolutionary remnant, needed by primates that gripped trees with their feet.

“Since we don’t do that anymore, we don’t really need an arch,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Why would we? For landing — no need. For the stance phase — no need. For the takeoff phase — no need. Thus a flat foot is not something that is bad per se.”

Whoah - more stress on the joints and it makes you weaker. Sign me up huh?

There is a lot to digest there, but I'll preface that by saying according to very smart osteopaths, PTs, and podiatrists I have heard speak on the matter there is a time and place for orthotics.

However, those same practitioners seem to agree that if there is not an acute injury, defect, or some outstanding reason then as the quotes above state orthotics may do more harm than good.

I have fairly high arches, which would lead "experts" at a running store to prescribe supportive shoes, and probably inserts. However I wear nothing but minimalist footwear such as Nike Frees and have recently been test wearing some free/five finger-like prototypes from Adidas, and can say for certain my feet, knees, and back are stronger and feel better when I train or walk around in these shoes and worse when I wear crosstraining shoes with more arch support.

In addition, I have had thorough assessments and treatment done by Dr. Parracino, who specializes in mechanics and builds orthotics. Despite doing a comprehensive gait and movement analysis while barefoot he didn't see any foot related problem but traced my back issue back to a hip capsule matter.

That along with the aforementioned work by Gray Cook etc... leads me to believe some of what that article addresses may apply to our shoes.

And what are the typical crosstraining shoe if not a low grade orthotic? It provides artificial support to the arch, and will affect how the foot moves and thus alters how the joints, bones, muscles, and tissue in the ankles, legs, and hips receive and produce force.

In 2009 Univ. of Texas Basketball strength coach Todd Wright gave an interesting talk at the Perform Better Summit on foot biomechanics and told us about a top NBA prospect he was training that was having some severe back pain that was preventing him from playing. Todd had exhausted his ability to fix this kid, so had him assessed in person by Gary Gray, who after watching this player move promptly traced the problem back to one of his feet. Something in his foot/sub talar was altering his gait, which then increased the stress up the kinetic chain, causing compensation in his back to the point of dysfunction.

Instead of prescribing orthotics Dr. Gray had Todd train this kid barefoot in the gym and do a battery of corrective work designed to fix the faulty movement pattern. Todd said the kid's back was quickly back to normal and he went on to sign a fat NBA contract.

Todd now has most all of his basketball players train barefoot in the gym. Other smart coaches and trainers, such as Jon Hinds, also advocate minimalist footwear or going barefoot.

We should be cautious however in saying everyone should train a certain type of shoe or barefoot if there is reason to suspect a foot issue. However, it seems we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to research on movement quality and shoes.

For more resources I highly recommend Gary Cook's book Movement and Thomas Meyer's Anatomy Trains.

For more detailed information on the foot and how it relates to joints up the chain check out this excerpt on the joint by joint approach by Gray Cook.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Feedback To Keep On Track

No matter the vocation feedback is an important aspect of competency. We are constantly receiving feedback from our bodies, and should be training to improve the quality and perception of that feedback loop so that we move better.

When training another person I may ask for feedback to supplement what I see in how the person moves so that I can more effectively improve their performance and thus the results.

But once in awhile it's the clients that provide feedback on my performance, and more often than not it makes me feel pretty damn good about what I do. Over the first few days of this year I've gotten a couple of gems worth sharing.

The first is a person that had to go in for some intestinal surgery. This person's nurses were impressed that after only a couple of days she could sit up and roll over without pain, which the nurses attributed to the function and development of core musculature.

The surgeon further complimented her on a lack of visceral fat, which we all know to be the more dangerous sort, and which probably complicates the surgeon's job when digging around in there.

Made me feel pretty good about the real world benefits of the training we have been doing in the gym.

Another client is two weeks out from her due date for her first child, but you would never know it by how she is still kicking ass in the gym. Another person much earlier in her pregnancy that just joined our pre-natal small group training program couldn't keep up with her in Tuesday's training session.

I have expected her and the other women now in their third trimesters to start coming in complaining about back, shoulder, and neck pain, but that hasn't happened. I haven't seen any of their strength levels drop off either, which seems to help in making their pregnancies easier to get through.

Just goes to show the benefits of showing up and being consistant.

Another person had joined the Movement Program in order to address pain he was having while training for a marathon. All the typical symptoms - knee pain, IT tightness, hip/lumbar discomfort. We spent a couple of months improving his movement quality through getting his hips, ankles, and thoracic spine more mobile while improving glute function, core strength, and scapular function.

Funny thing. About the time he could do a respectable squat without compromising his lumbar spine, and when his scapula were properly moving his shoulder in a good range of motion he noticed that the pains had disappeared and he no longer became as fatigued on his runs.

That's not to say there isn't much room for improvement in our training at Edge, but I hope to be fortunate enough to receive more feedback like that in 2011. I know that I'll put in the many hours of continuing education to help make that happen.

As you move into the new year take a few minutes to review your progress over the past year, and consider what that tells you about what to change or improve concerning strategies to hit your goals.

One more shameless plug. We will be holding a workshop on smart goal setting and developing strategies to reach those goals on Saturday, Jan. 22nd, from 11am-1pm. See the Edge site for more information.