Saturday, July 21, 2007

Muscles in Balance

It is no mistake or coincidence that the Tan t'ien, the source of the body's energy in Eastern meditation as well as martial arts, is located in the body's core (three finger widths below and two finger widths deep to the navel). The core is the center of our body's strength, the "powerhouse" and foundation for all of our movements. The muscles that comprise the core, which span the lumbar spine, pelvis and hips, must be strong and work functionally with the rest of our bodies to transfer force through our legs to our shoulders in a squat or deadlift, through our feet into our hands in an overhead press, or through our lats into our arms in a pull-up. Without strong and functional core musculature, you simply cannot expect to lift heavy and safely.

However, weight training is only one aspect of the use of our core muscles. The core is the source of a powerful swing of the bat in baseball, a knockout uppercut in boxing, or a cross-court pass in basketball. The core stabilizes our spine and prevents dangerous shearing forces from causing damage to the joints of our vertebrae, helping to keep our backs healthy and pain free.

Ironically, the muscle that we think of first when we hear the term "core training," the rectus abdominis (your six pack...or keg, depending on your diet!), really serves very little importance when it comes to stabilizing the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. The deeper muscles, such as the transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, and the muscles of the pelvic floor do all of the work 'behind the scenes' while the rectus abdominis gets all of the press and photo opportunities.

Besides the external obliques, the muscles of the core are often an afterthought in most weightlifter's routines (or not even a thought at all if they're not familiar with basic functional anatomy!). Lucky for us that our bodies are smarter than we are: by using the compound lifts as the majority of our exercise selections (squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, pushups, etc), our core muscles will be active with every rep, developing and improving along with the rest of our lifts throughout the course of our workouts. This isn't to say that you shouldn't worry about core training as long as you're squatting, either; rather, you should choose your additional core work with care to compliment the functional role that these muscles already play in your daily activities as well as your gym work.

So skip the sit-ups and ditch the crunches: they were never going to do much for you anyway (abdominal definition has far more to do with body fat levels than it does with endless amounts of crunches and leg lifts. Don't believe me? Have a look at some of my clients' results: I guarantee you that they have never performed a single crunch while working with me!). Instead, fill your accessory core work with a healthy dose of side bridges, overhead squats and rotational work...

...Or you can just do what this guy does:



As you can see, the muscles of our core work together so that the rest of our muscles can work together too. They are the foundation that our Body Temple is built on, like the chassis of a car or the roots of a tree. So whether you're a breakdancer or a martial artist, never forget that your power stems from your Tan t'ien.

-Jonathan

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Running Away From Strength Training?

When I have the time (which, unfortunately is growing less and less abundant lately!), I enjoy making the "rounds" on some of my favorite fitness forums such as JP Fitness, World Fitness, and of course my own Accelerated Strength private forums, exclusive to my online training clients. Personally, I feel that online forums can be a wonderful place to interact with people that share similar interests in health and fitness, as well as a fantastic resource for information and knowledge (and not to mention the occasional Off Topic oddity).

Last week, I answered the following question posted on one of the forums...I thought that it was a great question that I've been asked a number of times by recreational and competitive runners alike looking to improve not only their running time but their injury prevention as well, and I thought that you might all like to read it too:

Q: My friend, a distance runner, needs some advice. He's lifted before and isn't new to lifting, but he's wondering if there are certain lifts and or programs that he should do to help him for his sport (distance running, cross country) I've heard that weight lifting can help prevent knee pain.

Any advice for him?

A: There have been repeated studies of distance running and the effect of heavy weight training to not only improve short term muscle power and stride power in long distance runners, but the ability of a properly balanced weight training routine, along with appropriate soft-tissue work and energy systems training to improve running times, joint health and stability and reduce overall injury risk.

Your friend should be using traditional strength exercises performed at low volumes (1-3 sets, periodized) such as deadlifts and RDL's, as well as unilateral work such as reverse lunges, step-ups and lunges, in a mixture of heavier (4-6 rep range) and somewhat lighter (8-15 rep range) to improve strength and joint stability. He should address soft tissue at the IT band and quads, hip flexors and hamstrings, as well as glutes, adductors and calves, and be mindful not to overstretch (which has no conclusive indication in the literature for being injury preventive and can in fact possibly increase injury potential if it produces hyperflexibility at the joint). He should use at least 1-2 interval sessions and even sprint work as well to supplement his longer runs: he'll see improvements in short-term power and acceleration as well as improved muscular endurance from them.

-Jonathan

Monday, July 16, 2007

Planning for Change

Accelerated Strength is finally up and running! Even though I had fallen terribly behind schedule with different projects and time demands that came up along the way, in the end I think that it’s turned out better and more complete than I had ever originally imagined. The pros at Local Wisdom truly outdid themselves and I really think that it shows. The feedback so far has been very supportive, and I couldn’t dream of having a better final product than this!*

The fact is that no matter how well we plan, obstacles to our goals are bound to eventually occur and that ‘perfect’ plan or strategy, such as my website launch, needs to be adjusted. After all, as I’ve said before, “life happens!” How we handle those new issues and alterations to our initial approach can sometimes be more important than the original plan itself.

This certainly happens to us as fitness enthusiasts all of the time: perhaps it’s an unexpected lunch meeting when you’re trying to watch your diet, or having to stay late at work to finish a project when you’d normally be leaving for the gym. Whatever that unexpected scheduling conflict or temptation might be, how we handle it can be the difference between overall success in reaching our health/fitness goals, or a string of skipped workouts, poor diet choices and dismal results.

If you find yourself in such a situation, just remember these important rules:

-Whatever the situation, you know what your goals are: keep them in your actions, not just in your head.

-No matter the temptation, whether it’s a sugary snack or a distraction from your workout, these are short term ‘wants’ vs. the long term ‘needs’ of your goals. Be able to recognize the difference between the two and make the better choice. For instance, a bowl of Cap’n Crunch for breakfast because you’re running late isn’t a need, even if it is damned tasty: make the smarter choice of some cottage cheese and fruit or even a protein shake or smoothie, which can be prepared and eaten just as quickly and will be the better choice. If the Yankees are playing the Sox, just TiVo the game and watch it after you get back from the gym. You’ll even get to fast forward through the commercials, meaning that you’ll be able to probably catch up to the game live before Mo Rivera comes out to save it in the 9th (I’m going to be getting some hate mail from that last sentence for sure!).

-If you’re tight on time, there are many ways that you can shorten your workout and still accomplish what you need to. First you must decide what your goals, as well as the most important aspects of your workouts in achieving those goals, actually are. For example, if you’re interested in fat loss or strength, you can first shorten or eliminate completely your cardio/endurance training for that day. If you still need to squeeze out more time, either reduce the volume of or eliminate entirely any accessory work that you have as part of your routine (this would be any isolation work for arms, shoulders, calves, abs, etc). From there, you can reduce the total number of sets that you would normally be performing for your core lifts. Instead of five sets of five, make it two or three sets of 3-5 reps. That will give you more than enough stimulus and intensity for a good response. Never skip out on your warm-ups, however: these prepare your body for activity and ensure that your workout will be safe and successful!

-When all else fails, get creative! If you absolutely can’t make it to the gym, you still have plenty of options: eight rounds each of tabata burpees and dive bombers will take a total of eight minutes, and leave you gasping for breathe and dripping with sweat! If you have even just one dumbbell, you can perform a circuit of one-armed snatches, suitcase deadlifts, lunges, one-armed bent-over rows and pushups, giving you a quick and effective full-body workout.

By using your head and keeping yourself focused on your objectives, you can overcome any obstacle or temptation that might come your way. Being able to steer around the bumps in the road and finding the alternate route to get you to your destination is what makes the trip challenging, interesting…and ultimately fun!

*On a more personal note, I wanted to send a special thank you to my clients:

When I first contacted my friends Shawn and Mike at Local Wisdom (along with a special thanks to Pinaki, Chris and Maria, who worked so hard to get AcceleratedStrength up and running, as well as to the rest of the Local Wisdom ‘family’: thanks again, guys!), I had just started taking on distance clients and I had maybe a handful of online clients at most. I realized that in order to expand and grow as a business, I would need to have a website acting as a resource for my clients and an opportunity for others to find out more about me and what I could offer to someone looking for online fitness consulting. What I hadn’t planned for was just how quickly my business would actually grow through word-of-mouth alone. My clients were more than happy to recommend me to their friends and family members at every opportunity.

I’m only as successful as you all are, and all of your dedication, hard work and effort towards your programs makes my job easy. I’m grateful for having such excellent people to work with, and your constant support has always meant so much to me.

Thank you.

-Jonathan

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Robertson Training Systems Interview

Hey everyone! I just finished an interview with Mike Robertson for the Robertson Training Systems Newsletter this week, and it was a blast. Mike is easily one of the most knowledgeable and nicest guys in this industry (or any other industry, for that matter), and it's always a pleasure to talk with him. If you still haven't signed up for his fantastic newsletter, what are you waiting for???

Along with the interview is a great tip about balancing orthopedic health and performance from Mike, as well as an awesome cooking/nutrition tip from
Mike Roussell!

I hope that you enjoy the interview!

-Jonathan

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Truth About Cardio

Hey everyone...If you get a chance, take a look in this month's issue of Men's Fitness Magazine: I contributed to a short article titled "The Truth About Cardio" on page 28.

Tiger Woods is on the cover...nice!

-Jonathan

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

Jenny came across this article from Yahoo! Health that I think really makes a good distinction in the difference between happiness and the means by which we obtain that happiness (or not...). Whatever your fitness goals are, make sure that they are real and tangible goals, and not just vague concepts of being "thin" or "happier" which are difficult to quantify and even more difficult to recognize and appreciate once they're achieved.

-Jonathan